The Daily Agenda for Monday, December 9

Jim Burroway

December 9th, 2013

Dr. William A. Evans

Gall Bladder Problems Are For Sissies: 1927. Dr. William A. Evans’s column, “How to Keep Well” was the first syndicated health column in the U.S. In 1927, he reviewed (or, more accurately, mocked) the theories of a “Dr. Draper,” who theorized that we were born with whatever fatal diseases that would eventually do us in in the end. “His opinion,” wrote Evans, “is that if you are born to die of gall stones you’ll die of gall stones whether it comes to pass or not.” Dr. Draper also believed that certain shapes and contours of the body and head could be used to identify certain diseases. Draper soon discarded that theory in favor of one in which, as Evans described it, held that “the mental makeup, the character, personality, that he would have us believe is the background for certain diseases.” Evans continued:

Up to now he is working principally with gall stones and gall bladder infections, on the one hand, and ulcer of the stomach on the other. He finds that people who are prone to have stomach ulcers have a mental makeup in which there is great fearfulness. They have but little stability of mood. They make quick adjustments to change in environment. They are ideal opportunities. They are mental sprinters with little endurance. However, after exhaustion they are quickly rehabilitated by food, by short periods of rest and by relief from anxiety. They have heterosexual urges.

On the other hand, the people who are prone to gall bladder disease have great stability of mood, they are phlegmatic, and they have slow reactivity. They have but little fearfulness. They are placid, calm and not given to worries, fears or anxieties. They have more tendency to homosexual urges.


Minnesota State Sen. Allan Spear at a gay rights rally in 1981.

Minnesota State Senator Comes Out: 1974. Democrats sailed into state offices in 1974 in the wake of President Nixon’s resignation due to the Watergate scandal. But State Senator Allan Spear, who had entered the state legislature in 1972 and therefore wasn’t up for re-election that year, was more interested in another election that was taking place half a country away. That year, Elaine Noble would become the first openly gay person to be elected to a state legislature when she won her seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (see Nov 5). “I had not yet met Elaine,” Spear later wrote, “but her example inspired me. If I did come out, I would have company, even though she would be a thousand miles away.”

Shortly after that election, Spear went to New York to speak at a gay conference. There, he met with Dr. Howard Brown, who had founded the National Gay Task Force in 1973 (see Oct 15). “In fact,” he wrote, “the most rewarding part of the weekend was seeing Howard again and having long discussions with him and some of his friends. In the struggle that was going on in my own mind about coming out, nothing was more encouraging than seeing stable, successful professional gay men who were open about their sexuality.”

Spear had already decided that it was best to come out under his own terms rather than have his sexuality brought out in circumstances which were not under his control. He had been in the state Senate long enough to establish a reputation fro being a multi-issue legislator, and his re-election was far-enough off in the future that he felt that it wouldn’t dominate the campaign when the time came. But most importantly, he was ready. “I had crossed the barrier with my parents a year before. Now my friendship with Howard Brown and the example of Elaine Noble had convinced me that I would not be marginalized by coming out. … I picked up the phone and called Deborah Howell at the Minneapolis Star. We made an appointment for lunch at a downtown Minneapolis restaurant called the Normandy Village on December 5.”

Four days later, the Star ran with a front page headline just under the fold reading “State Sen. Allan Spear Declares He’s Homosexual.” Spear was pleased to see that the story was a positive one. “The telephone rang all afternoon and evening. I received only one hostile call, from an elderly constituent who had voted for me and now felt hurt and betrayed. Otherwise the calls were wholly supportive — many from friends, of course, but others from people I didn’t know, both gay and straight, who congratulated me for my courage and wished me the best. The next day, I started receiving letters and telegrams from all over the country.”

Spear would go on to serve 28 years in the state Senate before retiring in 2000 as Senate President. In 1993 he was instrumental in passing the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which provided anti-discrimination protections in education, employment, and housing for LGBT Minnesotans. That project took twenty years to accomplish, but he finally did it with bipartisan support. Sen. Spear died in 2008, and his autobiography, Crossing the Barriers, was published posthumously in 2010.

San Francisco Mayor Vetoes Domestic Partner Benefits for City Employees: 1982. The city by the bay blew the chance to become the first city in the nation to provide domestic partnership benefits for its city employees when mayor Dianne Feinstein vetoed the controversial bill. Inspired by a similar proposal from across the bay in Berkeley (see Dec 5), Supervisor Harry Britt hurriedly pushed a bill providing spousal benefits for the same-sex partners of city employees. It would also allow unmarried couples gain limited recognition of their relationships, including, most crucially during the start of the AIDS crisis, visitation rights in hospitals and at funerals.

The problem, though, was that the gay community in San Francisco wasn’t prepared for the ensuing controversy when opponents, predictably, mischaracterized as an attack on marriage rather than a question of employee benefits. The domestic partner’s ordinance, sometimes called the “live-in lovers’ law,” was attacked by the Roman Catholic Archbishop John Quinn as “offensive to reasonable persons and injurious to our legal, cultural, moral and societal heritage.” The Episcopal Bishop and the Board of Rabbis of Northern California also denounced the ordinance.

When Mayor Diane Feinstein announced that she would veto the ordinance, she told reporters, “On a personal level, this legislation causes me deep personal anguish. I would like to be able to sign the legislation that recognizes the needs of single persons, but such legislation must not divide our community.”

Feinstein’s veto both surprised and outraged the gay community, which she had strongly supported through much of her career. A local fringe group, a separatist Haight-Asbury commune known as White Panthers, had already started a recall petition against Feinstein, and many in the gay community jumped on the “Dump Diane” campaign. The White Panthers’ beef with Feinstein was her approval of strict gun control legislation. Those laws were struck down by the California Supreme Court, but the White Panthers were still sore over it.  Their anti-gay politics were largely unknown, and so many in the gay community leapt at the chance to sign their recall petition. The White Panthers turned in 35,000 signatures, mostly from the Castro Street area. The resulting recall election the following April split the gay community, and Feinstein survived the recall election with 82% of the vote.

Gay rights leaders in Berkeley were watching events in San Francisco closely, and learned some valuable lessons: namely, that getting allies on board and fully educated on the proposal was essential in building the needed political support. Two years later, those efforts would come to fruition when Berkeley became the first city in the nation to provide, first, a more limited form of domestic partnership benefits for city employees (see Dec 5), which could then be expanded upon in the months and years to come. San Franciscans would finally get domestic partnership benefits in 1985.

[Sources: Randy Shilts. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987).

Leland Traiman. “A Brief History of Domestic Partnerships.” The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 15, no. 4 (July-August 2008): 23-24.]

Larry Duncan and Randy Shepherd, taking out a marriage license three days earlier.

1 YEAR AGO: Marriage Equality Arrives in Washington State: 2012. Three days earlier, LGBT couples flooded county auditors offices across the state to take out marriage licenses under a new law that was approved by voters the previous November. After the three day mandatory waiting period, those couples began marrying. Seattle City Hall was transformed into a massive wedding chapel, and remained open on that Sunday with several judges donating their time to marry couples. More than 140 couples have signed up for slots beginning at at 10:00 a.m. In Olympia, four local judges began performing weddings just just after midnight.

Ronnie Paris, Jr.: 2001. He was only three years old when he died on January 28, 2005 at the hands of his father. The abuse had been going on for a very long time. In 2002, the Florida Department of Children and Family Services removed Ronnie from his home and placed him in protective custody after he had been admitted to the hospital for malnourishment and a broken arm. On December 14, five days after this third birthday, he was returned to his parents. Just a month later on January 22, he slipped into a coma while sleeping on the couch of a family friend as his parents attended a Bible study. He died six days later from brain injuries. His mother later told detectives that her husband, Ronnie Paris, Sr., had repeatedly beaten his son, slammed him into walls, and forced him to participate in father-son boxing matches until he would shake, cry, and wet himself. Ronnie’s father did all this because he though his son was gay, so he beat him to keep Ronnie from growing up “soft.” Ronnie Paris, Sr. was convicted of second degree manslaughter and aggravated child abuse and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. If Ronnie, Jr., were alive today, he would be twelve years old.

If you know of something that belongs on the Agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.

Paul Douglas

December 9th, 2013

Re Ronnie Paris: You know, the christianists zealots would look at something 1/10 this vile done by gay folks and broadcast it all over their media empire as an example of the gay lifestyle. Its high time that the stories of suffering and abuse at the hands of the heterosexualists and the christianists be documented and publicized for a warning as to the intrinsic dangers of both.
Seriously, this is so tragic. His father should have gotten the death penalty.


December 9th, 2013

I had forgotten about Allan Spear. Thank you.

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