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The Daily Agenda for Sunday, December 15

Jim Burroway

December 15th, 2013

TODAY IN HISTORY:
US Senate Committee Issues Report on “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sexual Perverts”: 1950. The Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments issued an interim report which would prove to become a major document of the 1950s anti-gay witch-hunts. The next day, The New York Times carried a story on the report:

“A Senate investigating group labeled sexual perverts today as dangerous security risks and demanded strict and careful screening to keep them off the Government payroll. It said that many Federal agencies had not taken “adequate steps to get these people out of Government.” …

Stressing the risks that the Government takes in employing a sex deviate or keeping one on the payroll, the subcommittee said:

“The lack of emotional stability which is found in most sex perverts, and the weakness of their moral fiber, makes them susceptible to the blandishments of foreign espionage agents.”

The report also noted that perverts were “easy prey to the blackmailer.” It said that Communist and Nazi agents had sought to get secret Government data from Federal employees “by threatening to expose their abnormal sex activities.”

The subcommittee criticized the State Department particularly for “mishandling ninety-one cases of homosexualism among its employees.” It said that many of the employees were allowed to resign “for personal reasons,” and that no steps were taken to bar them from other Government jobs. …

The committee said that it was unable to determine accurately how many perverts now held Federal jobs. It added, however, that since Jan. 1 1947, a total of 4,954 cases had been processed, including 4,380 in the military services and 574 on Federal civilian payrolls. …

In addition to strict enforcement of Civil Service rules about firing perverts, the subcommittee recommended tightening of the District of Columbia laws on sexual perversion, closer liaison between the Federal agencies and the police and a thorough inquiry by all divisions of the Government into all reasonable complaints of perverted sexual activity.

APA “Cures” Nation’s Gay Population: 1973. After years of research demonstrating that gays and lesbians are not mentally ill simply because they are gay, the American Psychiatric Association’s board of trustees approved a resolution that said, in part, “by itself, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder. … We will no longer insist on a label of sickness for individuals who insist that they are well and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness.”

In a compromise to those who fought the finding, the APA agreed to define “sexual orientation disturbance” to describe “individuals whose sexual interests are directed toward people of their own sex and who are either disturbed by, in conflict with or wish to change their sexual orientation.” That diagnosis would provide cover for therapists to continue to try to “cure” gay people, with some of those “therapies” still involving electric shock aversion therapy. In 1980, that diagnosis would be changed to “ego dystonic homosexuality” before it was finally removed in 1986. Today, virtually all major medical and mental health professional organizations agree that homosexuality is not an illness to be “cured” or treated with the goal of trying to change one’s sexual orientation.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
W. Dorr Legg: 1904-1994. Born William Dorr Lambert Legg, Dorr Legg (who also sometimes wrote as Bill Lambert) took a rather intellectual approach to things when he finally joined up with the homophile movement in the 1950s. While studying landscape architecture and music at the University of Michigan in his home town of Ann Arbor, Legg reputedly read Marchel Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past in the original French, just so he could learn something about gays in Europe. After graduating, and after a stint in Florida, he settled in New York City While there, he became involved with the local gay scene, but he was put off by what he saw as fussy queens. But he also discovered the speakies and drag balls in Harlem, and that’s where he became interested in the intersection of gay life with similarly taboo interracial relationships.

In 1935, Legg moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where he took a teaching position at Oregon State College’s landscape architecture program. He remained there until 1942, when the draft claimed so many students that the landscape architecture program came close to collapse. Legg moved back to Ann Arbor where he met Marvin Edwards, and the two became lovers. But with Edwards being African-American, the sight of the two of them together sometimes raised the eyebrows of local police whenever they were out together. So in 1948, they decided to move to Los Angeles, where they felt that the more diverse culture there would be more to their liking.

Once they arrived in L.A., they quickly began to meet other gay African-Americans. Somewhere along the way, Edwards left and Legg met Merton Bird, another African-American, and the two of them founded the Knights of the Clock as a social and support group for interracial gay couples. That made Legg and Bird pioneers in the nascent gay rights movement in more than one way, but Legg gave Bird the credit. He later wrote, “Hostility and harassment were the daily lot of interracial same-sex couples in 1950. … [Bird’s] idea was that by coming together to form a mutual aid society, the group could at the very least offer each other encouragement.”

Legg also learned about the Mattachine Society, and he became one of that group’s early members. A few years, following a Mattachine Society discussion group that Legg hosted at his home, Legg, Don Slater (see Aug 21), Martin Block, and Dale Jennings (see Oct 21) stayed after the meeting was over and brainstormed about the pressing need for gay people across the country to have access to news and information about themselves and others. Out of that discussion, ONE Magazine was born (see Oct 15), and Legg became its business manager When ONE debuted in January 1953 as America’s first pro-gay magazine, it sported a very sophisticated look with bold graphics and professional typeset and design. ONE’s slick offering quickly caught the attention gays and lesbians across the country, and circulation jumped to nearly 2,000 within a few months — with most subscribers paying extra to have their magazine delivered in an unmarked wrapper.

ONE Magazine, October 1954.

ONE also caught the notice of federal officials. The FBI tried to shut the magazine down, but abandoned the idea after deciding the magazine wasn’t worth their efforts. But the Post Office was another matter. The Los Angeles Postmaster ordered the August 1953, held for three weeks while deciding if it violated federal laws. (Ironically, the cover story for that issue was on “homosexual marriage,” an issue that is still contentious more than fifty years later.) Three weeks later, the Post Office decided no laws were violated and allowed its distribution. ONE, in its typically brash fashion, proclaimed “ONE is not grateful” on its October cover. A year later, its October 1954 issue was confiscated and this time the Post Office decided that the issue was illegal. Ironically, that issue’s cover proclaimed “You Can’t Print It!” ONE sued, and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. On January 13, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its first ever pro-gay ruling in ONE Inc. v. Olesen, a landmark decision that allowed a magazine for gays and lesbians to be sent through the U.S. mail. (You can read more about that landmark case here.)

While ONE magazine was perhaps the most visible part of ONE, Inc., Legg envisioned the organization’s main mission as educational rather than publishing. At Legg’s behest, ONE, Inc. established the ONE Institute of Homophile Studies in 1956, which became the first institution to provide LGBT studies in the US. The ONE Instutute began conducting annual seminars known as the Midwinter Institute, and published the ONE Institute Quarterly as an academic journal dedicated to the study of homosexuality. Legg, as “Marvin Cutler,” also wrote Homosexuals Today: A Handbook of Organizations and Publications about the nascent gay rights movement.

Legg’s interest in the educational side of the organization at the expense of ONE magazine, coupled with his increasingly authoritarian style, created tensions within the group, principly between Legg and Don Slater, ONE Magazine’s editor and the organization’s librarian. While Slater also saw ONE’s mission as being educational, he also felt that the magazine as playing an indispensable role in that mission. He also feared for the integrity of ONE’s archives, which he believed were the heart and soul of the organization. By 1965, the split on ONE’s board became irreconcilable, and on Easter Sunday, Slater and two others entered ONE’s offices and moved the magazine’s assets and archives out and to another location.

For the next four months, two competing ONE magazines hit the streets: Slater’s ONE was sent to subscribers using the organization’s subscriber list, and Legg’s ONE arrived after Legg re-assembled a rival subscriber list from memory and detective work. Legg and Slater were soon in court, where Legg’s overbearing demeanor, it’s been said, alienated the judge who might have otherwise ruled in his favor. Instead, ONE, Inc., retaining the right to publish ONE Magazine, while Slater’s The Tangent Group, which by then had change the name of their magazine to Tangents, retained ownership of the archives. ONE finally ceased publication in 1969.

Legg’s first-hand experience with police raids and harassment, FBI surveillance and intimidation, and Post Office censorship gave him a deep and abiding distrust of government. That distrust informed his libertarian politics. In 1977, he became a founding member of the Log Cabin Club, a group of California gay Republicans who organized to oppose the Brigg’s Initiative which would have banned gays, lesbians, and their supporters from teaching in the public schools. The Log Cabin Club later changed its name to Log Cabin Republicans. Legg’s libertarian political beliefs however, contrary to stereotypes about gay conservatives, did not amount to an assent to assimilation. He forcefully opposed the idea that gay people should “desperately contort themselves into simulacra of heterosexuality.”

Legg died in 1994. By then, the ONE Institute had stop offering classes due to another legal dispute with a prominent donor. After Legg died, the remnants of ONE, Inc. merged with the International Gay and Lesbian Archives. The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives today is housed at the University of Southern California, and the ONE Archives Gallery & Museum is located in West Hollywood.

[Sources: Wayne R. Dynes. “W. Dorr Legg (1904-1994).” In Vern L. Bullough’s (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002): 94-102.

Martha E. Stone. “Unearthing the ‘Knights of the Clock’.” The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 17, no. 3 (May 2010).  Available online here.]

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).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

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