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The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, March 18

Jim Burroway

March 18th, 2014

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From GPU News (Milwaukee), September 1977, page 43.

 
Lambda Lounge opened in Appleton sometime in 1977. Before that, it was another gay bar called Doris’ Super Bar. Lambda Lounge remained in business until 1982. The building now houses an Irish pub called the Durty Leprechaun.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
NYPD Back Down From Gay Demonstrators: 1966. The Stonewall Rebellion is often described as the first time that the gays fought back in the face of police repression. That’s not entirely true, as indicated by a brief notice in the May 1966 copy of the Homosexual Citizen, which was published by the Mattachine Societies of Washington, D.C. and Miami.

Police Retreat from Angry Villagers
Greenwich Village has long been known as a homosexual Bohemia. On March 18, New York police erected baracades in an unsuccessful attempt to curb “undesirables” by preventing their entrance to a 14-block area. The barricades attracted a howling, chanting mob of 1500 “assorted undesirables” who forced the police to retreat and remove their barricades. The police experiment was part of Mayor Lindsay’s current push to “clean up and quiet down Greenwich Village.” The police are mapping new strategy while members of the Mattachine Society, Inc. of New York are distributing “If You Are Arrested” leaflets to the surging crowds.

[Source Warren D. Adkins (Jack Nichols, see Mar 16). "Newsfronts." The Homosexual Citizen 1, no. 5 (May 1966): 13.]

William F. Buckley, Jr. Proposes Tattooing “All AIDS Carriers”: 1986. Two op-eds appeared in The New York Times’s editorial page under the heading, “Critical Steps in Combating the AIDS Epidemic.” One was written by Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, and the other by conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. Dershowitz’s column, in keeping with the general hysteria of the day, was not without its alarmist elements. He repeated the belief that “AIDS may, in fact, be transmissible by tears, saliva, bodily fluids and mosquito bites” — a contention that was quickly refuted by those more familiar with the disease. But he also pleaded that “the flow of solid data should not be polluted by personal moralism. … We have a right to know the hard facts about AIDS, unvarnished by moralistic prejudgments.”

That recommendation contrasted sharply with Buckley’s op-ed that appeared on the same page. Buckley acknowledged that many who see homosexuality as morally wrong also saw AIDS as a “special curse of the homosexual, transmitted through anal sex between males.” But that didn’t stop him from trying to claim that those who “tend to disapprove forcefully of homosexuality … (tend) to approach the problem of AIDS empirically.” And how did Buckley “empirically” approach the AIDS crisis?

We face a utilitarian imperative, and the requires absolutely nothing less than the identification of the million-odd people who, the doctors estimate, are carriers.

How?

Well, the military has taken the first concrete step. Two million soldiers will be given the blood test, and those who have AIDS will be discreetly discharged. …The next logical step would be to require of anyone who seeks a marriage license that he present himself not only with a Wassermann test but also an AIDS test.

But if he has AIDS, should he then be free to marry?

Only after the intended spouse is advised that her intended husband has AIDS, and agrees to sterilization. We know already of children born with the disease, transmitted by the mother, who contracted it from the father.

…The next logical enforcer is the insurance company. Blue Cross, for instance, can reasonably require of those who wish to join it a physical examination that requires tests. Almost every American, making his way from infancy to maturity, needs to pass by one or another institutional turnstile. Here the lady will spring out, her right hand on a needle, her left on a computer, to capture a blood specimen.

Is it then proposed …that AIDS carriers should be publicly identified as such?

The evidence is not completely in as to the communicability of the disease. But while much has been said that is reassuring, the moment has not yet come when men and women of science are unanimously agreed that AIDS cannot be casually communicated. Let us be patient on that score, pending any tilt in the evidence: If the news is progressively reassuring, public identification would not be necessary. If it turns in the other direction and AIDS develops among, say, children who have merely roughhoused with other children who suffer from AIDS, then more drastic segregation measures would be called for.

But if the time has not come, and may never come, for public identification, what then of private identification?

Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.

A year later, Buckley “withdrew” his proposal under the unique kind of protest that only Buckley could muster:

Sixteen months ago, in a thinking-out-loud exchange with Professor Alan Dershowitz, I suggested that perhaps AIDS carriers should be tattooed discreetly, to guard uncontaminated sexual or needle partners from danger. This proposal reminded everyone of Auschwitz, and I have seen, in print, that Mr. Buckley “wants to tattoo all homosexuals.” It is as though anyone who found a use for barbed wire was secretly a concentration-camp fetishist. Never mind: I quickly withdrew the proposal for the simple reasoning that it proved socially intolerable. I have ever since been waiting for a socially tolerable alternative to be proposed…

But in 2005 when the news media would initiate a new round of hysteria over an imaginary AIDS “superbug,” Buckley was there again, suggesting that the tattoo idea be revived:

The objective is to identify the carrier, and to warn his victim. Someone, 20 years ago, suggested a discreet tattoo the site of which would alert the prospective partner to the danger of proceeding as had been planned. But the author of the idea was treated as though he had been schooled in Buchenwald, and the idea was not widely considered, but maybe it is up now for reconsideration.

The so-called “superbug” was a phantom; but Buckley’s Buchenwaldist proposal was, apparently, serious — serious enough for him to raise it again unapologetically 20 years later.

Malcom Forbes on his Harley-Davidson, on the cover of OutWeek, March 18, 1990. (Click to enlarge.)

Michelangelo Sigornile Reports That A Very Wealthy Businessman Was Gay: 1990. Malcolm Forbes was gay. You knew that, right? Playwright George Osterman knew. He had had sex with Forbes a few times, and was one of the very few willing to talk about it under his own name. “To a degree, he was very charming. I did it for the experience, I mean, I was having sex with a millionaire, It was an experience. It was fine,” he said. A host of New York City waiters knew; Forbes seemed to have had a particular thing for waiters. A former employee at Forbes magazine said that half of the staff knew and the other half just didn’t want to know about it. New York’s gossip columnists knew: Newsday’s James Revson, The Daily News’ Billy Norwich, Village Voice’s Michael Musto. Liz Smith, also at The Daily News, undoubtedly knew, though she claimed to be “too square” to be aware of it. Besides, she was still tending to her own closet at the time. Even Elizabeth Taylor knew — even though the New York Times implied in Forbes’s obituary that he had wanted to marry her, only to strike that reference in the paper’s later editions. And because Michelangelo Signorile put all of that in a cover story for OutWeek three weeks after Forbes died of a heart attack, you know it too:

People talked and, in quite a few segments of the gay male community at least, it seamed that everyone knew someone who’d done it with Malcolm Forbes. He was also quite showy, liking to ride around with his “dates” on his motorcycle. It was not uncommon to spot Forbes on Christopher Street taking a break next to his bike with a hot, young, leathered bikemate by his side. He also would show up — often with young men — at such mixed clubs as Love Machine and Celebrity Club at the Tunnel, where the crowed was predominately gay but was never listed as such or considered a gay club per se. This the contradiction of Forbes: While he tried to keep it all very hush-hush, he behaved many times in a sloppy, seemingly deliberate way, yearning to have fun, and testing the limits of living a closeted life.

Michelangelo Signorile

Signorile’s first job out of college was with a public relations firm that specialized in getting their clients mentioned in gossip columns. That’s where he became increasingly aware of the double standard with which gossip columnists — and journalists generally — treated gay people. Every hint of a heterosexual dalliance was given press, but whenever they became aware of a romance involving a gay celebrity, there was nothing but silence — or a manufactured story of a heterosexual romance. As Signorile became involved with ACT UP in 1989, the group’s motto “SILENCE = DEATH” took on a special meaning. As long as gay people were an abstraction to the general public — as long as gay people were those people, relatively nameless and faceless because those who were well known remained silent — the unique combination of apathy and hysteria surrounding AIDS would continue.

Forbes wasn’t the first celebrity whose homosexuality Signorile reported on. As the features editor of OutWeek, Signorile also wrote a regular column titled “Gossip Watch,” in which he sought to hold New York’s other gossip columnists accountable. Beginning in 1989, he launched a second column called “Peek-A-Boo,” in which he listed the names of some ninety allegedly closeted celebrities. Critics, including many in the gay community, lambasted Signorile for publishing private and “salacious” details, as though being gay itself was somehow salacious. By 1990, the mainstream media began to notice, when Time magazine published “Forcing Gays Out of the Closet,” in which media critic William Henry III coined the word “outing” as a verb, a term that Signorile has always disliked. As he saw it, what he was doing was reporting, and was in no way different from what other journalists were writing about heterosexual celebrities.

As for the Forbes article, Signorile’s portrait was actually somewhat sympathetic. But in the end, Signorile said that setting the record straight, so to speak, was important “for the sake of posterity:

Is our society so overwhelmingly repressive that even individuals as all-powerful as the late Malcolm Forbes feel they absolutely cannot come out of the closet? It would seem so. Much like Congressman Barney Frank before he came out, Forbes was the victim of a virulently homophobic society which he too fed into regularly. He was forced to lead a life of secret pursuits and dark, dirty doings; of exploitation and abuse, His own internalized homophobia far outweighed the commanding authority that any amount of dollars could possibly wield.

And what is the significance of bringing all of this out now?

First, for the sake of posterity the truth must be told. All too often history is distorted. One of the most influential men in America just died, and regardless of how we may or may not see him as a proper public figure, he was gay, And that must be recorded.

Second, it sends a clear message to the public at large that we are everywhere.

Third, perhaps gays and lesbians at all levels of society can learn a great deal from the story of Malcolm Forbes, In researching this piece, in an attempt to try to obtain more information about Forbes and get to people who were close to him, I came upon someone who kneW the family very well and who would have been able to discuss intimate details about the man; not merely about sex, but about the the real inner-workings of Forbes’ mind, It was a person who could perhaps provide an insight into what Forbes thought about such issues as gay rights and AIDS, But, after considerable thought, he decided not to speak to me. Currently living a closeted existence with regard to his own family and business, he said, “My choice in speaking to you is between myself and the greater gay community, And — at this moment — I have to go with myself.”

Ultimately, that was the tragedy of Malcolm Forbes’ entire life, Under the guise, perhaps, of doing the best for “himself,” Forbes initiated a senseless, self-imposed prison sentence which benefited no one.

Despite what had become rather common knowledge — and despite Signorile’s efforts to promote to story to other news organizations, the mainstream press remained silent. Several months later, The New York Times, in an article about the “outing” controversy, refused to mention Forbes’s name, referring to him simply as “a famous businessman who had recently died.”

[Sources: Michelangelo Signorile. "The other side of Malcolm." Outweek (March 18, 1990): 40-45. Available online here (PDF: 21.3 MB/108 pages).

William Henry III. "Forcing gays out of the closet." Time (January 29, 1990). Available online with subscription 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).

This your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Comments

POST COMMENT | COMMENT RSS 2.0

Mark F.
March 18th, 2014 | LINK

I lived in Appleton, Wisconsin in September 1977 (I was 17 and in High School there at the time), but I literally had no idea about the Lambda Lounge until today.

Stephen
March 18th, 2014 | LINK

Buckley always knew better than everyone about everything. Loathsome man. When, after many years of hiding, his best friend came out to him by letter Buckley had his wife tell him he would not be welcome in their home again. I know this from the source.

NancyP
March 18th, 2014 | LINK

Expecting a wealthy conservative pundit to have empathy is a fool’s dream. At risk of Godwinizing the discussion, I have the feeling that Buckley would have been Just Fine with Nazi-style extermination, but knew just how far he could express himself.

Timothy Kincaid
March 18th, 2014 | LINK

Nancy,

I have to disagree.

“I have the feeling” is not a particularly useful criterion on which to base this sort of accusation.

Buckley may or may not have secret evil Nazi fantasies. Just as Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Joe Biden may all have had such fantasies. But as excursions into the inside of someone’s head are, at present, impossible, making such accusations are pointless.

However, based on the things that actually came out of Buckley’s head, I see no basis for assuming he wanted extermination. He did not call for extermination nor did he support the calls that some made for quarantine. In fact, irrespective of his own personal views, he opposed both quarantine and even attempts at social opprobrium.

Buckley viewed his position as in the middle, neither supporting gay rights nor leading a moral crusade.

His proposal seems extreme. Especially today in which medications make HIV in many cases a very manageable inconvenience.

But this was not so at the time. And I do recall wishing in those days that there were some way to know whether the lovely charming young man you met carried a virus that, if one wasn’t careful, could end your life within the year.

Also worth noting is that there is a subset within the gay community that self identify. Some HIV+ men have taken it upon themselves to have the biohazard symbol tattooed on themselves. Sadly, this has become a bit fetishized in sub-communities, but nevertheless it may lend some measure of validation to Buckley’s proposal.

I suspect that you have other political reasons for disliking “wealthy conservative pundits”. And there’s no wrong in that. But you do yourself no service by taking a proposal out of its social and time-specific context and extrapolating from it a measure of evil that is not supported by any evidence.

FYoung
March 18th, 2014 | LINK

While in 1986 laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation were far less widespread then laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability, though the gay rights movement had started much earlier, we can nevertheless be grateful that laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability were largely in place by the time AIDS struck. No one knew then how important those laws would become for gay men.

Human rights protections benefit everyone, provided they are universal. Conversely, when one group can be attacked with impunity, no one is safe.

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