Events This Weekend: Brighton Marathon, Brighton, UK; Belgian LGBT Film Festival, Brussels, Belgium; Spring Diversity, Eureka Springs, AR; Sunshine Stampede Gay Rodeo, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Dinah Shore Weekend, Palm Springs, CA; Phoenix Pride, Phoenix, AZ.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Steve Suss bought Portland, Oregon’s Focal Point in 1971. Before then, it had been the Fiddler’s Three, Roman’s Tavern, and Somebody’s Place. Suss also owned the adjoining Embers, which backed up to Focal Point. His disco, Castaway’s Lounge, was just two blocks away to the south. The Focal Point/Embers block has been razed and redeveloped, and Castaways is now a seafood restaurant.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Study of 100 Homosexuals: 1957. There had been a string of high profile arrests of very prominent and well-known men in Britain in the early 1950s, including Lord Montagu (see Oct 20), his cousin, Maj. Michael Pitt-Rivers, and journalist Peter Wildeblood (see May 19), all of whom had been charged and convicted of homosexual offenses. Their arrests opened the debate over whether homosexual acts between consenting adults should remain criminalized. In 1954, the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, convened a committee to study the issue under the leadership of Lord John Wolfenden, and they would study the question for the next three years. The multi-disciplined committee, which included theologians, psychiatrists, educators, judges, lawyers, and several other leading figures, was tasked with reviewing the medical, legal, and moral aspects of homosexuality (along with prostitution, as laws forbidding it were also open for discussion.)
One of the psychiatrists on that committee was Dr. Desmond Curran of the Department of Psychiatry at St. George’s Hospital in London. Curran and fellow researcher Dr. Denis Parr, took on the task of preparing a study of 100 gay men, which appeared in the April 6, 1957 edition of the British Medical Journal titled “Homosexuality: An Analysis of 100 Male Cases Seen in Private Practice.”
The men described in this paper were referred to the authors for evaluation and treatment for the following reasons:
- Criminal charge or executive consequences thereof: 30
- Worry over homosexual propensities (for example, “Can I change?”) as the presenting complaint: 25
- Various psychological problems (for example, depression, excessive drinking) rather than direct worry over homosexuality as the presenting complaint: 22
- Pressure from friends or relatives: 12
- Marital difficulties, including impotence: 5
- Homosexual jealousy or deprivation reactions: 2
- Executive problems: 2
- Fear of scandal arising from homosexual acts: 2
The authors noted that homosexuality was a criminal offense in Britain in three very distinct ways. The crime of “buggery,” which was generally interpreted as penetrative anal intercourse, carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The crimes of “indecent assault” and “gross indecency” provided maximum penalties of ten years and two years respectively. “Indecent assault” generally was used for sexual behavior with minors under the age of 16, while “gross indecency” was any contact or exposure of genitalia for sexual excitement.
One problem with the published research on gay men was that virtually all of it was based on clinical or criminal populations, which Curran and Parr acknowledged would not necessarily be representative of the general population of gay men. In their report, they acknowledged that their sample would likely exhibit higher rates of psychiatric problems or criminal recidivism. But when they looked into the files of these 100 men who had been referred to their practice, the authors observed:
…[I]n spite of the probability that any group of homosexuals referred to a psychiatrist might be expected to be heavily weighted in the direction of psychiatric abnormality, no fewer than 51 % were considered to be free from gross personality disorder, neurosis, or psychosis during their adult lives. Only one was certifiably defective and none certifiably insane. They included a number of important and talented individuals of high integrity, successful, efficient, and respected members of the community. Only two had been on any criminal charge other than homosexuality. Very few showed the traditional “pansy” picture of homosexuals; indeed, only 21 were noted to have at all obvious homosexual personality traits, only one of these being a paedophiliac.
As for the treatment programs the men underwent:
The objects of treatment can be arbitrarily divided under four main headings : (1) change in direction of the sex urge, (2) greater continence, (3) greater discretion, and (4) better adaptation to the sexual problem and to life in general.
The authors don’t go into much detail of what kind of treatment the men underwent, saying simply that “treatment consists in a mixture of physical, psychological, social, and environmental measures, in varying proportions according to the case.” In general, it appears to have been confined to psychotherapy or simple counseling, although in some cases the “prescription of medications or environmental adjustments” were noted. As for the attempts at changing sexual orientation, the results weren’t very encouraging:
Of the 59 patients about whom sufficient information was available, 9 (or roughly 1 in 6) reported less intense homosexual feelings, or increased capacity for heterosexual arousal, 3 became more homosexual in preference than when first seen, and no change, even of a minor order, was found in the sexual orientations of the other 47. When a change was found it often amounted only to a slight alteration in the balance of masturbatory fantasies.
Eight of the nine who claimed a “slight alteration” toward heterosexuality were classified as bisexual or “predominately” homosexual (as distinct from “100% homosexual”). What isn’t stated in the article is how many of those who claimed to have experience a “slight alteration” were among the thirty men who faced criminal charges. This would be important; the authors noted elsewhere in their paper that those who were criminally charged had “come in the hope of establishing medical reasons for mitigating the rigours of the law.”
Since the prospect of “slight alteration” of homosexuality was minimal, the only other question remaining was whether there was anything intrinsically wrong with being gay. Curran and Parr found little evidence for it:
Only half the patients showed significant psychiatric abnormality other than their sexual deviation, and such associated abnormalities were often slight. Moreover, many of these abnormalities were explicable as a reaction to the difficulties of being homosexual. Symptomatic homosexuality was rare. If homosexuality is a disease (as has often been suggested), it is in a vast number of cases monosymptomatic, non-progressive, and compatible with subjective well-being and objective efficiency. In our series, both practising and non-practising homosexuals were on the whole successful and valuable members of society, quite unlike the popular conception of such persons as vicious, criminal, effete, or depraved. Only one-fifth were at all obviously ” pansy,” and we found no reason to regard most of the patients as physically, intellectually, or emotionally immature (unless the basic criterion for ” immaturity” is that of being homosexual-a circular argument).
This study, among others, would find its way into the Wolfenden Report later that year, which recommended that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence” (see Sep 4). It would take Parliament another ten years to act on that recommendation.
[Source: Desmond Curran and Denis Parr. “Homosexuality: An analysis of 100 male cases seen in private practice.” British Medical Journal 1, no. 5022 (April 6, 1957): 797-801. Available online for free at PubMed Central.]
Rob Epstein: 1955. He was nineteen years old when he answered an ad in a San Francisco alt-weekly for “a non-sexist person to work on a documentary film on gay life.” That led to his becoming the youngest filmmaker in the six-member collective, the Mariposa Film Group, which The collective produced the landmark 1977 documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives. The film featured interviews with 26 gay men and women, ranging in age from eighteen to seventy-seven, and was the first feature-length documentary by and about gays and lesbians. For the first time, man thousands of gay people saw themselves on the screen, and they flooded the Mariposa Film Group’s mailbox with expressions of gratitude, with many of the crediting the film with saving their lives. Word Is Out premiered at the Castro Theater in 1977, and aired on several local PBS stations the next year.
After the success of Word Is Out, Epstein started off on his own solo filmmaking career. He began working on a documentary about Proposition 6, also known as the Brigg’s Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California’s public schools (see Nov 7). Epstein planned to center his documentary on San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s efforts to defeat the measure. But when Milk was assassinated just three weeks later (see Nov 27), Epstein decided to make the documentary about Milk himself. With narration by actor Harvey Firestein, The Times of Harvey Milk won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1985.
AIDS was the focal point for his next two projects: The AIDS Show: Artists Involved with Death and Survival (1986) for PBS, and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), with Jeffrey Friedman, about the NAMES Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt. Common Threads won his second Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, and it won a George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Television when it aired on HBO.
In 1995, he and Friedman wrote and directed The Celluloid Closet, based on Vito Russo’s 1981 book by the same name, and explored how Hollywood portrayed LGBT characters throughout history. After it aired on HBO, it won four Emmys and a Peabody. In 2000, Epstein and Friedman released Paragraph 175, which featured first-person accounts of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals during the Third Reich. In 2010, they entered the world of scripted, narrative filmmaking with Howl, which portrays the early life of Allen Ginsberg (played by James Franco). Epstein and Friedman are currently working on Lovelace, a biopic about porn star Linda Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried in the title role, with Peter Sarsgaard and James Franco.
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