The Daily Agenda for Monday, March 24

Jim Burroway

March 24th, 2014

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From Michael’s Thing, February 2, 1976, page 50.

 
Harry’s Back East was a longtime gay bar whose origins went back to at least 1968. It probably owed its longevity to its reputation for being a simple, laid-back and friendly establishment. At least one story has it that Judy Garland paid a visit there in 1969 shortly before she died. It was a narrow space, with a very long bar in front that ran the length of the front room, with a separate dance room in the back with a disco ball and a large red light that came on whenever the cops entered the front. That was everyone’s signal to stop dancing and act innocent, lest the cops start arresting them for “lewd” conduct. If the owners weren’t current on their bribes however, all bets were off and everyone was arrested regardless of what the cops found. Harry’s survived that era and continued as a popular hangout until it finally closed in 1982. The location’s latest incarnation appears to have been a restaurant that has recently closed.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
ACT-UP Launches First Protest: 1987. Morning rush hour became ensnarled in lower Manhattan as 250 AIDS activists protested at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. The protest was the result of growing frustration over New York City’s lax response to the AIDS crisis in the city as well as the Food and Drug Administration’s cautious and excruciatingly slow process for approving new drugs to combat the disease. Only one drug, AZT, had been approved so far (see Mar 19), but at $10,000 per year ($20,000 in today’s dollars) it was prohibitively expensive, hard to obtain (it was being rationed), and of very limited efficacy. European regulators had approved several other drugs for use in combating AIDS, but the FDA’s standard process for approval would take the better part of a decade, far longer than most people with AIDS would have to live.

The newly-formed group, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), was born from that frustration, and on the morning of March 24 they took to the streets for the first time. Playwright Larry Kramer, one of the group’s founder, said, “We’ve been told by the leading AIDS experts that there are drugs that are safer to use and more promising than AZT. We want these drugs and we want the Wall Street business community to help us get them.” The group also called for a massive public education campaign to stop the spread of the disease, an anti-discrimination policy for people with AIDS in treatment, insurance, employment and housing, and a national comprehensive national policy on AIDS. Protesters sat down in the middle of the street, resulting in seventeen arrests. After more than a year of protests, including a massive protest in which members of ACT-UP occupied the grounds of the FDA in Washington, D.C., (See Oct 11), the FDA finally relented and instituted a new emergency streamlined process for quicker approval of AIDS drugs.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Grethe Cammermeyer: 1942. She was born in Oslo during the Nazi occupation of Norway, in a home that was across the street from Nazi headquarters. Her parents were active in the resistance, and they used to hide guns under the mattress of her baby carriage, and push her through the streets of Oslo to make deliveries to the resistance. After the war, the family moved to the U.S. in 1951, and she became a U.S. citizen upon turning eighteen in 1960.

In 1961, she joined the Army Nurse Corps to learn to be a nurse. She married a fellow soldier in 1965, served at a hospital in Vietnam for fourteen months, then left the army in 1968 when she became pregnant for her first son. Army regulations at the time didn’t allow women to have dependent children. When that changed in 1972, she returned to the Army Reserves and rose to the rank of Colonel in 1987. Meanwhile, she gave birth to three more sons and entered a period that she called her “identity crisis, as I came to understand that I was a lesbian.” She divorced after fifteen years of marriage.

In 1988, she accepted a position as Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard. While interviewing for a top-secret clearance in 1989, she truthfully answered the question that would get her in trouble: “I am a lesbian.” During that past year, she had been in a relationship with Diane Divelbess, and the two would go on to become lifelong partners. But Cammermeyer’s answer to investigators kicked off an investigation and proceedings that ended with her discharge in 1992. She immediately filed a lawsuit to try to get her job back. In June, 1994, Federal District Court Judge Thomas Zilly ruled that the military’s ban on gays serving openly was unconstitutional. The Pentagon requested a stay of the decision, but Zilly refused, as did the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. To preserve “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Pentagon elected not to appeal rather than risk a higher court ruling that would free others from serving under the ban. Cammermeyer returned to the National Guard, and retired with full military privileges in 1997.

After Washington voters approved a marriage equality referendum at the ballot box in 2012, Cammermeyer and Divelbess became the first same-sex couple to get a marriage license in Island County, where they make their home.

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