The Daily Agenda for Thursday, November 7
November 7th, 2013
THE DAILY AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: Buenos Aires Pride, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Florence Queer Film Festival, Florence, Italy; Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, Indianapolis, IN; Mazipatra Queer Film Festival, Prague/Brno, Czech Republic; Bear Pride, San Francisco, CA; Open Mind Fest, Santiago, Chile.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
José Sarria Runs for San Francisco City Supervisor: 1961. He lost, of course, but he also won by losing. Before throwing his tiara into the ring, José Sarria (see Dec 12) was better known as a drag performer and waiter at San Francisco’s Black Cat bar, where he regaled audiences with campy versions of Italian opera. He fought constantly against police raids against gay men and gay bars — he himself had been arrested in an entrapment case. One tactic was for police to raid gay bars and arrest everyone dressed in drag for violating a city ordinance that barred men from dressing as women with “an intent to deceive.” He printed up buttons for drag queens to wear on their dresses reading, “I am a boy.” That tactic effectively ended the raids on drag queens.
When Sarria decided to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961, he became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States. The elections that year were for five at-large seats in which the top five vote-getters citywide were seated. Sarria almost won by default until city officials put out a call for more candidates at the last minute when they realized what was up. Thirty-four candidates ended up running for the five slots. Sarria’s platform was a simple one:
My platform when I ran was “Equality Before the Law.” The San Francisco Court House had just been built and that was the slogan on it and I said, “This is what my slogan will be. I’m going to take it and shove it right down their throat.” I saw that there were two interpretations of the laws and that they were trying to make gay people second rate citizens. I’ve never been a second rate citizen.
Sarria earned nearly 6,000 votes, putting him in ninth place. While he didn’t make it onto the Board of Supervisors, his 6,000 votes effectively defined a significant voting block which could not be ignored in future elections. Sarria’s loss marked a change in San Francisco city politics as a result. As Sarria recalled, “From that day on, nobody ran for anything in San Francisco without knocking on the door of the gay community.”
35 YEARS AGO: Prop 6/Briggs Initiative Defeated: 1978. State Sen. John Briggs had been a part of Anita Bryant’s campaign two years earlier to roll back a gay rights ordinance in Miami, Florida. So when he decided to run for the Republican nomination for California Governorship in 1978, he thought he had hit on the perfect campaign platform: the so-called threat posed by gay teachers in the public schools. He lost the nomination, but managed to get placed on the California ballot Proposition 6, which would have banned gays and lesbians from being teachers. It also would have banned anyone else from teaching, gay or straight, who defended gays and lesbians whether they did so in the schools or outside.
Briggs played to society’s fears of gays as predators. He told the San Francisco Examiner, “One-third of San Francisco teachers are homosexuals. I assume most of them are seducing young boys in toilets.” In September, Prop 6 looked like a sure thing, with 61% supporting the proposal. But several events conspired to lead to the measure’s defeat: with San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk (see May 22) setting the example, thousands of gays and lesbians emerged from the closet for the first time to their friends, families and co-workers. For many gay people, it was their first time engaging in a political campaign. Log Cabin Republicans organized to become a rallying point for other conservative Republicans to oppose the measure, and former Gov. Ronald Reagan came out against it — going so far as to write an op-ed against Prop 6 for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. “Whatever else it is, he wrote, “homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter also came out against it.
But what likely killed the Biggs Initiative was Briggs’s overreach. Briggs started out just wanting to ban gay people from teaching, but he crafted his initiative so broadly that even straight teachers who supported gay rights, publicly or privately, were threatened. Del Martin (see May 5), the San Francisco lesbian-rights activist who had co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, showed how Prop 6 threatened to unleash a witch hunt that would hurt everyone. “All you have to do is point your finger and say, ‘you’re gay,'” she said. “That kind of thing is as damaging to heterosexuals as to homosexuals.” For many straight voters, opposition to Prop 6 wasn’t so much a show of support for gay people as it was a vote for self-protection.
When election day came, Prop 6 went down in defeat, 58-42%. Teachers were safe from political witch hunts. But more importantly, the victory helped to usher the emergence of a truly national gay rights movement out of what had been a series of relatively isolated, autonomous local communities. For the first time, gays and lesbians across America began to see themselves as part of a larger community, which would take visible form a year later when 75,000 showed up for with the First National March on Washington (see Oct 14).
35 YEARS AGO: Seattle Voters Reject Repeal of Gay Rights Ordinances: 1978. While the nation’s eyes were on California’s Briggs Initiative, voters in Seattle were contending with yet another Anita Bryant-inspired effort at the ballot box to eliminate gay rights ordinances. Since Bryant’s 1977 victory in Miami (see Jun 7), she took her anti-gay show on the road to similar victories in St. Paul, Minnesota (see Apr 25); Wichita, Kansas (see May 9); and Eugene, Oregon. Now the steam roller was headed for Seattle.
Seattle had come to the idea of protecting its gay community relatively early, passing a non-discrimination employment ordinance in 1973, and extending discrimination protections to housing two years later. Those bills generated little controversy at the time, but with Bryant’s national barnstorming attracting widespread attention, Seattle Police officers David Estes and Dennis Falk decided to act. They founded a local group, Save Our Moral Ethics (SOME), and launched a campaign to place Initiative 13 on the ballot and repeal the city’s non-discrimination ordinances.
A counter group, Citizens to Retain Fair Employment, rose up the challenge the initiative, but right away they ran into a stark political reality: how do you get straight people to care about such a tiny and reviled minority? CRFE studied the campaigns in Miami and St. Paul and concluded that trying to argue for the civil rights of gay people was a flop. Either the electorate didn’t care or was overtly hostile to that idea. Repeating that same formula in Seattle, they reasoned, would produce the same result. Sure, fighting for civil rights was important, but it would take years — perhaps decades — of dialogue and conversations before the public could be moved to look at gay people as equal citizens. CRFE only had a few months. Clearly they needed a different approach, which that could bring quick results and which hinged on something everyone cared about now. CRFE found that issue: privacy.
So while SOME was throwing mud and claiming that seventy percent of all child molestations were at the hands of homosexuals, CRFE didn’t bother trying to make Seattleites feel good about gay people. Instead, they countered that Initiative 13 would give employers and landlords carte blanche to look into everyone’s private backgrounds, especially those who were single, had roommates, or were just generally not well-liked or thought of as being a little different. One anti-13 poster showed a keyhole with an eye peering through it, while television ads depicted people living in a fishbowl. And nobody’s comfortable with that kind of scrutiny. On election day, Seattle voters drove that point home by defeating Initiative 13 by a whopping 63-37% margin.
Lisa Ben: 1921. Her job as secretary at RKO Studios didn’t involve a lot of work, even though her boss wanted her to look busy. So she used her side project to fill the time. Using five sheets of carbon paper, she would type out her little newsletter twice over, making a total of twelve copies at the most. Each issue consisted of a dozen or so pages of book and film reviews, essays, short stories, opinion pieces, and a smattering of poetry. Between June 1947 to February 1948, she put out nine issues of Vice Versa, which, as modest as that was, is believed to be the first known lesbian publication in the world. She mailed three issues to friends; the rest she hand distributed at her favorite lesbian bars in Los Angeles. And she always encouraged her readers to pass their copies on to others when they were done with them.
Ben grew up an only child on an apricot farm in Santa Clara County. She developed her first crush on another girl while in High School. Devastated when the other girl broke it off, she wen to to her mother for solace, but her mother reacted so badly that she knew she’d never be able to discuss her personal life with her parents again. In 1945, she left Northern California and moved to Los Angeles, where she met other women in her apartment building who were as little interested in boys as she was:
“I don’t know what brought up the subject, but one of the girls turned to me and said, ‘are you gay?’ And I said, ‘I try to be as happy as I can under the circumstances.’ They all laughed. Then they said, ‘No, no’ and told me what it meant. And I said, ‘Well, yes, I guess I am because I don’t really go out and search for boyfriends. I don’t care for that.’ So they said, ‘You must come with us to a girl’s softball game.’ I went with them, but I didn’t tell them that softball bored the tar out of me. I just don’t care for sports. I know that’s very funny for a lesbian to say. But it’s true, I never have cared for sports. I went along to be with the crowd.”
Meeting other lesbians quickly became a priority for her. “The most common way for us to meet others of the same inclination was to frequent the gay bars,” she remembered.” It was easy to form friendships and be invited to the apartments and dwelling-places of these acquaintances … sometimes someone would have a party and invite quite a few friends, who would bring their friends along. There were no lesbian organizations and, of course, one could never place an ad in a personals column!”
There was also no reading material. That’s where she got the idea for Vice Versa, which had the added benefit of helping her to expand her social circle. “When I turned out my first copy I probably knew about four people. And the next month, they introduced me to some more, and I knew, like, ten people. And so on and so on and so on. So it grew. And eventually it grew to more girls than I had copies and I couldn’t turn out anymore!”
The first issue of Vice Versa explained what she had in mind for her magazine. She noted that on every newsstand, there were magazines specializing on just about every topic imaginable:
Yet, there is one kind of publication which would, I am sure, have a great appeal to a definite group. Such a publication has never appeared on the stands. News stands carrying the crudest kind of magazine or pictorial pamphlets appealing to the vulgar would find themselves severely censured were they to display those other type of publication. Why? Because Society decrees it thus.
Hence the appearance of VICE VERSA, a magazine dedicated, in all seriousness, to those of us who will never quite be able to adapt ourselves to the iron-bound rules of Convention. The circulation of this publication, under the circumstances, must be very limited, going only to those who, it is felt, will genuinely enjoy such a magazine. … If the contents interest you and please you, that is the purpose of the magazine. If the material included herein seems rather monotonous, please keep in mind that the entire publication was originated and compiled by one person.
Ben had to end her run with Vice Versa after the Valentine’s Day issue in 1948. That’s when Howard Hughes bought RKO, and almost everyone was let go. Ben’s next job was much busier, leaving her with no time to work on Vice Versa. But by then Ben was enjoying her expanded social circle so much that, as she later said, “I wanted to live it rather than write about it.”
A tiny pebble thrown in the pond — that overused cliché nevertheless perfectly describes Vice Versa’s impact. Copies were passed around and copied some more, like the Samizdat dissident newsletters that were the lifeline of Soviet dissidents half a world away. Very few originals survive; what we have today are almost always copies of copies. Over the next several years, those copies attained near-mythical status as hundreds, then thousands, read Vice Versa. When the Daughters of Bilitis began publishing The Ladder, some of Ben’s Vice Versa material appeared again, this time under her pseudonym “Lisa Ben,” an anagram of “lesbian.” (Vice Versa had carried no byline.) She also wrote some original articles as well for The Ladder.
Writing wasn’t her only talent. After her Vice Versa days were over, she indulged her love of music and began writing and performing a variety of gay-themed parodies. Her aim was to entertain, but to do it in a way that wasn’t demeaning. “I was absolutely appalled at the gay (male) entertainers who would, on stage, make derogatory remarks and dirty jokes about themselves to entertain the non-gay people who came there to be entertained and ‘see how the queers lived,'” she said. “No wonder society had such a bad opinion of us.”
She often based her parodies on older popular songs: “I’m a Boy Being a Girl,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write My Butch a Letter”, and “The Vice Squad Keeps On Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine.” She didn’t take her singing very seriously. But, again, it helped to expand her social circle. “It was always a lot of fun and I found myself attending more and more parties and meeting more and more gay folks, both men and women.” In 1960, two of her songs, “Cruising Down the Boulevard” and “Frankie and Johnnie,” were recorded on 45 rpm and sold by the Daughters of Bilitis through ads in The Ladder and ONE magazine.
But it was those nine issues of Vice Versa that secured her place in history by providing a model for ONE and The Ladder. In 1972, she was honored by ONE, Inc., as “the father [sic] of the homophile movement,” and she appeared in the 1984 PBS Emmy-winning documentary Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community, and she was inducted into the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Hall of Fame in 2010. All of which fulfilled a wish she shared in the fourth issue of Vice Versa in 1947: “Perhaps even Vice Versa might be the forerunner of better magazines dedicated to the third sex, which in some future time might take their rightful place n the newsstands beside other publications, to be available openly and without restriction to those who wish to read them.
Lisa Ben still lives in California, and even though her real name is easy to find on the Internet, she still prefers to be known publicly by her pseudonym. And why not? Tab Hunter has his.
Eric Marcus. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights: 1945-1990. An Oral History (New York: HarperCollins, 1992): 5-15.
Marcia M. Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement(Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007): xxxii-xxxv]
75 YEARS AGO: John Fryer: 1938-2003. You have John Fryer to thank for that fact that you’re not crazy. For many years, he was known only as Dr. H. Anonymous, the disguised gay psychiatrist whose talk at an American Psychiatric Association panel on homosexuality is credited for paving the way for the organization’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. But friends who knew him knew a complicated man: gregarious and charming, difficult and biting, always intense.
He knew he was gay from the age of fourteen, and did little to hide it through his high school and college years. But when he became a medical intern at Ohio State, he understood that it was in his best interest to keep his sexuality a secret from his superiors. His psychiatric residency at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka only reinforced his closet door. There were only about 100,000 people in Topeka, and if he went to a gay bar there, he was almost certain to run into someone connected with the clinic — either as a patient or an employee. Menninger was a very homophobic place, and Fryer soon became depressed. A supervisor noticed and set him up with free therapy with a psychoanalyst. Fryer went out on the limb and confessed everything to her. “There is only one solution,” she said. “Did you ever think of leaving Topeka?”
Leave he did, to the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. That residency lasted about six months until his supervisor there found out that he was gay. “You can either resign or I’ll fire you.” Fryer accepted six months’ severance and resigned. He ended up working at Norristown State Hospital in northern Philadelphia, where he was given the worst assignment: Building 11 as the only psychiatrist for 400 male patients, and Building 13 which housed the chronically incontinent. Fryer set up a behavioral program in Building 13 which rewarded patients who controlled themselves with trips to the Poconos. By the time he was finished, he had solved the incontinence problem in Building 13. He also found himself surrounded by staff that could accept the fact that he was gay.
By 1970, he became a part of what was loosely called the Gay-PA, an underground network of closeted gay psychiatrists who attended the annual meetings of the APA. They watched in 1970 when “outside agitators” — Frank Kameny (see May 21), Barbara Gittings (see Jul 31), among others — picketed the APA meeting in San Francisco in 1970 (see May 14). Fryer later recalled, “We in the Gay-PA commented, ‘Isn’t that nice?’ But we weren’t about to do anything that might expose us.”
But things quickly changed for Fryer. The APA asked Barbara Gittings to be a part of a panel on “Lifestyles of Non-Patient Homosexuals.” Barbara’s partner, Kay Lahusen (see Jan 5), noticed that the panel had gays who weren’t psychiatrists and psychiatrists who weren’t gay. What the panel needed, she said, was a gay psychiatrist. Fryer recalled:
Barbara Gittings called and said, “John, we need you to be on a panel [in May of 1972],” and I said, “Tell me about it.” She said, “It’s going to be a panel about homosexuality, and we need a gay psychiatrist.” I said, “Sooo . . . ?!” She responded, “Well look, you…um…think about it.”
He had a lot to think about. His father had died and he was between jobs. This was not a good time for him to expose himself, either emotionally or professionally. But he had already been thrown out of one residency for being gay and lost another job for the same thing. He knew that his fellow psychiatrists needed to hear about that. So he called Gittings back and said he would do it — on one condition: he couldn’t do it as himself. He would need a disguise. His lover at the time, a drama major, devised one: a formal suit several sizes too big — not an easy task for such a big man to begin with — and a wig and rubber mask that was distorted beyond recognition. He also spoke into a special microphone to disguise his voice.
Speaking as “Dr. H. Anonymous,” Fryer opened with the words, “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” He talked about just a few of the different closets he was forced to hide in: as a gay man who had to hide his sexuality among his professional colleagues, and as a gay man who had to hide his profession among other gay people. “There is much negative feeling in the homosexual community towards psychiatrists,” he explained. “And those of us, who are visible, are the easiest targets from which the angry can vent their wrath.” He also addressed the “more than a hundred [gay] psychiatrists” attending the convention, urging them to find ways to help change the attitudes of their patients, both gay and straight, towards homosexuality. It would be risky, but “We are taking an even bigger risk, however, not accepting fully our own humanity, with all the lessons it has to teach all the other humans around us and ourselves. This is the greatest loss: our honest humanity.”
The panel was a resounding success. That night, Fryer wrote in his diary:
The day has passed — it has come and gone and I am still alive. For the first time, I have identified with a force which is akin to my selfhood. I am not Black. I am not alcoholic. I am not really addicted. I am homosexual, and I am the only American psychiatrist who has stood up on a podium to let real flesh and blood tell this nation it is so.
The next year, Dr. Robert Spitzer, who was in charge of revising the APA’s Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) which defined the official list of mental disorders, met with members of the Gay-PA, and those meetings eventually led to the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973.
But for Fryer, life continued to be difficult. After the 1972 APA meeting, he took a job at another psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia. A medical student learned that Fryer was gay — Fryer later hinted that he may have come on to the student but insisted that it went no further — and went to the Administration. Fryer was called in and told, “If you were gay and not flamboyant we would keep you. If you were flamboyant and not gay we would keep you. But since you are both gay and flamboyant, we cannot keep you.” Ironically, that same administrator had sat in the front row at the APA meeting during Fryer’s talk the year before, and had no idea who he was.
Fryer then took a teaching assignment at Temple University. In 1978, he got his associate professorship and with it came tenure. He could no longer be fired. He was free to be out, and he could also, finally, tell the full story behind Dr. H. Anonymous. Fryer retired from Temple in 2000, and died in 2003 at the age of 64. In 2004, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists endowed an award in his name. The first John E. Fryer Award, sponsored by AGLP and given by the APA, was awarded to Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings in 2006 for their role in that fateful APA panel in 1972.
[Source: David L. Scasta. “John E. Fryer, MD, and the Dr. H. Anonymous Episode.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy 6, No. 4 (2002): 73-84.
Jeanne Lenzer. “John Fryer.” British Medical Journal 326, no 7390 (March 22, 2003): 662. Available online here.]
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