April 7th, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Here’s another one that’s gone without a trace. The address today is nothing more than a small, narrow parking lot next to a Dollar Store in Chicago’s Little India.
Pearl M. Hart: 1890-1975. She was born as Pearly Minne Harchovsky in Traverse City, Michigan, the youngest of five children of Orthodox Jewish émigrés from Russia, and the only child in the family born in the U.S. The family moved to Chicago’s near west side when her rabbi father took a job as a kosher inspector for Jewish butchers. Her passion for social justice began when she left school at fourteen to work in a garment factory to help support the family, and quickly became a leader in the adult/male dominated union. A few years later she began attending classes at the John Marshall Law School, changed her name to Hart, and in 1914, was admitted to the Illinois Bar.
In 1915, she became among the first women adult probation officers in Chicago. Her early interest was in the needs of children, and she set about drafting legislation, serving on committees and speaking to audiences to reform the juvenile court system. Her attention to children led her to notice the problems of women who were passing through the legal system, many of them charged with prostitution. In 1933, she volunteered to serve as the first public defender in the morals court. Before then, women defendants typically couldn’t afford lawyers, and the court’s conviction rate was about ninety percent. Hart reversed that trend after only four months when the conviction rate plummeted to ten percent.
In the 1950s McCarthy era, Hart turned her attention to those who were being accused of subversion against the U.S. government, mostly in defending foreign-born clients who were facing deportation for allegedly working for so-called subversive organizations. One client, George Witkovich, who had received a deportation order, appeared at an immigration hearing and, on Hart’s advice, refused to answer questions about activities and affiliations on the grounds that they were irrelevant to whether he should be deported. The U.S. government sued, she counter-sued, and the court cases led eventually to a 1957 U.S. Supreme Court victory in U.S. v. Witkovich, which held that even non-citizens were protected by the constitutional rights of free association and free speech.
Hart also defended another class of so-called subversive — the sexual kind. Her clients included hundreds of gay men who were arrested for soliciting, or who were entrapped or rounded up in bar raids. Many of the arrests were little more than shakedown operations conducted by the notoriously corrupt Chicago police, and it was common knowledge that bribes paid to the right person would result in the charges being dropped. Hart steadfastly refused to get involved in bribery, and instead demanded jury trials, which also tended to have the same effect. That earned her the nickname of the “Guardian Angel of Chicago’s Gay Community.”
In 1965, she co-founded Mattachine Midwest, a Chicago-based gay rights group, and served as its legal counsel. Most of Mattachine Midwest’s job, according to president Jim Bradford, was “making the police behave.” In a May 1969 speech to the Mattachine membership she urged a “more aggressive” public posture on gay rights, two months before Stonewall.
Throughout her life, Hart remained very circumspect about her private life. She never publicly identified as a lesbian, although she had two long-term relationships. The first was with actress and singer J. Blossom Churan. They met at around 1920 and moved in together a few years later after Hart’s parents died. Churan was Hart’s first great love, but by the 1940s, Churan was bored and began an affair with a physician, Bertha Isaacs. Rather than lose Churan to Isaacs, Hart invited Isaacs to move in with the two of them, and all three lived together until Churan’s death in 1973.
Hart’s second major relationship was with pulp fiction writer and poet Valerie Taylor (see Sep 7). They met in 1961, and became close in 1963. Taylor took an apartment around the corner from Hart’s home and, as she put it, accepted the “neurotic situation” at the Hart residence. Taylor was devoted to Hart for the rest of Hart’s life. But as Hart lay dying of pancreatic cancer in 1975, Taylor was denied entrance to Hart’s hospital room thanks to the hospital’s families-only policy. By the time a friend intervened, Hart was already in a coma.
In 1981, the Midwest Gay and Lesbian Archive and Library changed its name to the Henry Gerber-Pearl M. Hart Library. Hart was inducted in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992 and her home was marked with a Chicago Tribute Marker of Distinction in 2001.
Before she died, Hart had expressed her one regret in life: that she had no sons or grandsons to say kaddish for her. The Mattachine Midwest president reminded her that grateful members of that organization were her sons and grandsons, and they would gladly say kaddish. In 1991, Taylor published her last poem dedicated to the love of her life:
I light yahrzeit candles,
dust your photograph
that watches over my bed
and remember your touch.
You are an institution now,
a scholarship for women lawyers.
As long as I breath
you are a living woman
moving through my mind.
[Sources: Karen C. Sendziak. “Pearl M. Hart (1890-1975).” In Vern L. Bullough’s Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002): 56-62.
Marie J. Kuda. “Legal Pioneer: Pearl M. Hart, 1890-1975.” In Tracy Baim’s Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City’s Gay Community (Evanston, IL: Agate Surry, 2008): 26-27.]
Harry Hay: 1912-2002. Hay was more than just a co-founder of the Mattachine Foundation (see Nov 11; renamed Mattachine Society two years later) which became the first successful organization of gay men (and, to a much lesser extent, lesbians). It wasn’t the first such organization designed to bring gay people together. That distinction went to the short-lived Chicago Society for Human Rights, which didn’t last a year (See Dec 10). But Hay was a curious and tenuous link between the Chicago group and the Mattachines when, in 1930, at the age of 17:
I enticed an “older” gentleman (he must have been at least 33 ) to “bring me out” by finagling his picking me up in Los Angeles’s notorious Pershing Square. Poor guy–he was appalled to discover, subsequently, that I was both a virgin and jailbait. Champ Simmons didn’t really turn me on, but he was a very decent human being; he was gentle and kind and taught me a great deal.
…Champ, the guy I seduced into picking me up and bringing me out into the gay world, had himself been brought out by a guy who was a member of that Chicago group. So I first heard about that group only a few years after its sad end. My impression was that the society was primarily a social thing. But just the idea of gay people getting together at all, in more than a daisy chain, was an eye-opener of an idea. Champ passed it on to me as if it were too dangerous; the failure of the Chicago group should be a direct warning to anybody trying to do anything like that again.
Hay wasn’t put off by dangerous ideas, a propensity which would always mark him as a controversial figure throughout his life. He joined the Communist Party in 1934, and remained a member until the early 1950s. He also became active in theater, where he briefly became the lover of actor Will Greer. In 1938, he married at the urging of his therapist and party members. He and his wife adopted two daughters, but the couple divorced in 1951.
In 1948, Hay went to a party at USC with several other gay men who supported the presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace. It was at that party that Hay conceived of organizing a gay activist group. His first efforts to found the “Bachelors for Wallace” failed, but Hay stuck with the idea of creating an organization specifically for gay people. Finally, on November 11, 1950, Hay and several others met at Hay’s home for the first meeting of “The Society of Fools”, which later became the Mattachine Foundation, named after the Medieval French secret societies of masked men whose anonymity allowed them to criticize the ruling monarchs. As the Mattachines got off the ground, Hay left the Communist Party, which didn’t allow gays to be members.
By 1953, Mattachine grew to over 2,000 members in Southern California. And also by 1953, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red and pink scares were in full swing. With homosexuality being equated with subversion and treason, many Mattachine members became concerned about the communist connections of some of Mattachine’s founders, principally, Hay. They were also concerned that the Mattachine Foundation was being too public and too “radical” in advocating for gay people. When Hal Call and other Mattachine members from San Francisco sought to amend the Mattachine’s constitution to oppose “subversive elements” and to affirm that members were loyal to the U.S., Hay resigned, he said later, to save the organization from investigations related to the Red Scare. (In 1955, Hay would, in fact, be called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.) The Foundation then re-organized itself into the Mattachine Society, elected publicly named directors for the first time, disavowed its prior links with Hay, and reassured the public that the organization had no interest in changing the nation’s sodomy laws.
In the 1960s, Hay and his partner, John Burnside, became involved again with gay activism, helping to found the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO), the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, and, in 1979, a gay spirituality movement called the Radical Fairies. It was during this time when his opposition to assimilationist attitudes within the gay community really began to stand out:
“We pulled ugly green frog skin of heterosexual conformity over us, and that’s how we got through school with a full set of teeth,” Hay once explained. “We know how to live through their eyes. We can always play their games, but are we denying ourselves by doing this? If you’re going to carry the skin of conformity over you, you are going to suppress the beautiful prince or princess within you.”
Hay’s concept of homosexuality, it could be said, was more of a nineteenth century conception than a twentieth century one. He was enamored with the concepts of androgyny, with some of his ideas being similar to the nineteenth-century formulation of homosexuality being a “third sex.” He was influenced by Edward Carpenter, who wrote of gay people as a distinct, well-defined group with its own unique ideals that set if apart from society. Carpenter also wrote of “Greek love” and its pederastic ideals. This perhaps explains how Hay’s radical and anti-assimilationist politics could reach its most controversial limits when, in the early 1980s, he protested NAMBLA’s exclusion from LGBT organizations and activities. He was forcibly removed from the Los Angeles pride parade in 1986 when he showed up with a sign reading “NAMBLA walks with me.” Even some of Hay’s most dedicated supporters and closest friends couldn’t abide this stance. The majority of the gay community had grown, matured, and move in directions that Hays couldn’t accept.
This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of Hay’s legacy that we are left to grapple with. And yet, without Hay’s extremely radical idea — radical for 1950 — that gay people should come together from out of the shadows and begin to ask for simple things like the freedom to gather in bars or not to be arrested or not to have their newsletters and magazines confiscated by the post office, it’s hard to know how long the fruition of a far more radical idea would have been delayed — the extremely radical, impossible-to-fathom-in-1950 idea that gays and lesbians could assimilate, that they could become police officers, run businesses, publish newspapers, serve in the military, run for office, marry, raise children, join PTAs and churches and car pools and homeowners associations and march openly in parades down the middle of public streets in June, and do all of those things without hiding or retreating back into the closet. If Hay saw himself as the sworn enemy of assimilation, his pioneering efforts in 1950 were ultimately what made that assimilation possible. And for that, I think that perhaps the late Paul Varnell put it best:
Hay may have been wrong about almost everything. But in the end we do not insist that founders have the right answers, not even ask the right questions. We can honor them as founders and leave it at that.
Janis Ian: 1951. She was only thirteen when she wrote her first hit single, “Society’s Child.” The song’s subject, about a young girl’s interracial romance, was way too controversial for radio stations to touch when it was first released in 1964. Re-released again, and then again, the third time proved to be the charm in 1967 when “Society’s Child finally made it to number fourteen on Billboard’s Hot 100. She was on the verge of being a one-hit wonder when “At Seventeen” was released in 1975. It hit number one on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary charts, dragged her album, Between the Lines to the number one spot on Billboard’s Album chart, and earned her a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal. She performed “At Seventeen” as the very first musical guest for Saturday Night Live’s debut that year. Thanks to the lyric, “To those of us who knew the pain / of valentines that never came,” she reportedly received over four hundred Valentine cards on Valentine’s Day 1977.
Ian’s career since then has been considerably more low-keyed, although she has never stopped recording and touring. In 1993, her album Breaking Silence broke several silences, including the silence of her closet. She married Patricia Snyder in 2003. In 2008, Ian published her autobiography, Society’s Child, to critical acclaim. Her audio CD of Society’s Child earned a Grammy in 2013 for Best Spoken Word Recording.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?
In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.
When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.
In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.
On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!
And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.
Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.
Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.
Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.
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