The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, February 5

Jim Burroway

February 5th, 2014

Events This Weekend: The Big Gay Out, Auckland, NZ; Belgium Leatherpride, Antwerp, Belgium; Plymouth Winter Pride, Plymouth, UK; Sydney Mardi Gras, Sydney, NSW.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, March 5, 1981, pages 16, 17 of the classifieds section.


Toronto Police Conduct Massive Bathhouse Raids: 1981. Operation Soap was a meticulously planned police action, six months in the making. It’s genesis is believed to have been the result of a successful anti-gay political campaign that drove a pro-gay administration from City Hall. At precisely 11:00 p.m. More than 160 police, using an unusual interpretation of an anti-prostitution law banning “bawdyhouses,” conducted a massive, simultaneous raid on four bathhouses: the Club Baths, Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, the Barracks, and the Richmond Street Health Emporium. Peter Bochove, co-owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium remembered:

They leapt the counter and grabbed the cashier and bust the door open. And the first fifty arrived in the first wave. They spread out and very quickly began running around and rounding people up. … The other fifty officers arrived fairly quickly, I guess they must have had them standing by. And then they went out to their police cars and came in with their tools. They came in carting incredible numbers of crowbars and sledgehammers. At that point they were offered the keys to the lockers and the room. They held up a crowbar to me and said, “We brought out own.”

Armed with crowbars and sledgehammers, police herded patrons into the lobbies, with many of them dressed only in towels, and marked numbers on their arms. At one bathhouse, towel-clad patrons were lined up in the snow on the street for questioning. One patron at the Barracks had a different experience:

We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip… But I think one of the most chilling things was… one of the cops said, looking at all the showers and the pipes going into the shower room; he said “gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas”.

The Richmond Street Health Emporium was so badly damaged by police that it never reopened. Many of those arrested were pressured to reveal the names of their wives and employers. All told, 286 men were charged as “found-ins” and twenty owners were charged with “keeping a common bawdyhouse.”

The mass arrest was Canada’s largest in more than a decade. The following night, 3,000 protesters staged a mass demonstration that descended into a riot, with fires and smashed car windows. When police responded, many of them removed their badges so they couldn’t be identified. The entire confrontation quickly drew comparisons to New York’s Stonewall rebellion twelve years earlier.

In the aftermath, two Toronto aldermen called for an investigation by the attorney general. A local pastor, Rev. Brent Hawkes, went on a hunger strike demanding that police be held accountable. But the investigations went nowhere. The gay community organized like never before, with 1,400 people joining the Right to Privacy Committee to set up a defense fund for those charged. They also organized a second demonstration on February 20, where 4,000 protesters marched in a peaceful demonstration from Queen’s Park to the 52 Division headquarters. Thirty-five undercover police tried to disrupt the march by trying to take over the front banner. Their actions were later revealed to the press. Two weeks later on March 6, a “Gay Freedom Rally” was held, which became, in effect, Toronto’s first Gay Pride event.

Court cases stemming from the raid dragged on throughout the next two years. By 1983, 87% of the “found-ins” were acquitted. Thirty-six were found guilty but received absolute or conditional charges. Many owners however were found guilty and fined. Smaller scale raids continued over the next several years. But the raids, which were meant to silence an emerging gay community, had the opposite effect of galvanizing the gay community to organize and become politically involved in the city’s political life and, ultimately, in national politics.

Rep. Jon Hinson Arrested on Sodomy Charge: 1981. The closet can be a crazy place. When Rep. Jon Hinson (R-MS) was running for re-election to a second term in 1980, he admitted that in 1976, while he was working as a Congressional aide, he had been arrested for exposing himself to an undercover policeman at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. At that same news conference, Hinson also revealed that he was one of the survivors of a 1977 fire that broke out at Cinema Follies, a gay theater in Washington’s seedy Southeast. That fire killed nine people. “I must be totally frank and tell you that both of these incidents were in areas frequented by some of Washington’s homosexual community,” he told reporters. But he vowed to stay with his wife and denied that he was gay, blaming those incidents on heavy drinking, which he said that he had now gotten under control. Mississippi’s Republican party rallied around the Congressman and he was elected to a second term.

But just barely a month into that second term, Hinson was in trouble again. Hinson was arrested, along with another man, for having sex in a public men’s room in the Longworth House Office building. Hinson and the other man were arrested on charges of sodomy, a felony which carried a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. The charge was reduced to attempted sodomy, a misdemeanor — then a standard practice in D.C. —  to which Hinson entered a plea of not guilty and promptly checked himself into a hospital for “mental and physical fatigue.” He finally yielded to calls for his resignation in April and later changed his plea to no contest, for which he was given a 30-day suspended sentence and one year’s probation.

Soon after, Hinson finally came out as gay. He helped organize Virginians for Justice — by then he decided to remain in Fairfax, Virginia rather than return to Mississippi — and became something of a local gay rights activist as a founding member of the Fairfax Lesbian and Gay Citizens Association. Hinson died in 1995 from complications of AIDS.

100 YEARS AGO: William S. Burroughs: 1914-1997. A canonical figure of the Beat Generation, the novelist, poet, and spoken word performer’s best-known work is his third novel, Naked Lunch. Published in 1959, it was immediately controversial for its obscene language, unabashed portrayal of Burroughs’s heroin addiction and frank descriptions of sex, including his own homosexuality. Naked Lunch was banned in Los Angeles and Boston, where it became last the work of literature to be prosecuted for being obscene in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court lifted the ban in 1966, following a series of trials that included testimony by Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer in support of Burroughs.

If there was a secret to Burroughs’s art, it was this: He simply put his chaotic life to paper. A longtime heroin addict, he and his wife fled to Mexico in 1950 after Louisiana police discovered letters between himself and Allen Ginsberg discussing a drug delivery. While there, he shot and killed his wife while playing “William Tell” at a party. He was eventually able to avoid imprisonment after witnesses testified that the gun went off accidentally. For the several decades, he was in and out of drug rehab and financially destitute much of the time before finally kicking the habit, temporarily, in the mid-1970s. It was at about that time when friends hit on the idea of booking him to read from his works in bookstores and other small performance spaces. His career as a performance artist was launched, which also revived his literary career. He went on to collaborate with Laurie Anderson, Throbbing Gristle, Kurt Cobain, Ministry, and Sonic Youth. He also appeared in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. He died in 1997 following a heart attack.

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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