The Daily Agenda for Thursday, April 24
April 24th, 2014
Other Events This Weekend: Hill Country Ride for AIDS, Austin, TX; AIDS Walk, Kansas City, MO; Rodeo in the Rock, Little Rock, AR; AIDS Walk, Miami, FL; Side By Side International LGBT Film Festival, Moscow, Russia; White Party, Palm Springs, CA; Splash, South Padre Island, TX.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
The Old Plantation was one of a dozen gay bars operated by Frank Caven and Charley Hott, two entrepreneurs from Dallas, Texas, who operated gay bars and night clubs from El Paso to Tampa. Three of the clubs — in Dallas, Houston and Tampa — carried the Old Plantation name and logo. The Tampa location opened in 1978 and remained there until the late 1980s, when it became Village Station, which in turned closed down in the early 2000s.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
University of South Florida President Denies Hiring Homosexuals: 1963. Dr. John Allen, who became University of South Florida’s first president when it was established in 1957, strongly denied charges that the school “harbored homosexuals” on its faculty. He also denied that the Tampa-based school was “soft on communism,” was anti-religious, or that controversial writings by “‘beatnik” authors were typical of the literature found in the school’s reading program.
All of those charges were levied against USF and other Florida state colleges and institutions by the Johns Committee, Florida’s homegrown version of the McCarthy Red and Lavender Scares from a decade earlier. Named for its first chairman, state Senator and former acting Governor Charley Johns, the Johns committee was established in 1956 to investigate so-called communist links to the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1957, the Florida legislature broadened the committee’s mandate to investigate gays in the state’s colleges and universities, and reiterated that mandate again in 1961. Florida’s leaders of higher education proved eager to demonstrate that Florida’s sons and daughters were safe in their institutions, with many throwing their campuses open to heavy-handed investigators calling individual students and teachers out of class for interrogations.
The results of those investigations were made public in a report in 1963, in which Johns claimed credit for “flush(ing) 71 homosexual public school teachers and 30 homosexual deans and professors of universities,” with an additional sixty-three cases against teachers still pending. Dr. Allen responded, quite forcefully, that his school was certainly not infested with homosexuals. The committee, he pointed out, established only one clear case of a gay teacher among the entire 500 person-staff, which was only “one-fifth of one per cent,” as he put it. That person resigned immediately. Charges had been levied against two others which could not be supported, and reports indicated that they “later left the university for other reasons.”
The Johns Committee, already facing calls for its dismantlement, was in the midst of a legislative budget battle to fund its continued work for another year. Committee supporters triumphed in the state Senate three weeks later, allocating $155,ooo (nearly $1.2 million in today’s dollars) “to finance an even greater study of communism and homosexualism” over the next two years. That budget was more than double the $75,000 the committee was seeking. But the Johns Committee would finally overreach barely a year later with its publication of the famous “Purple Pamphlet,” which was denounced as “pornographic” by politicians across the state (see Mar 17). In response to the outcry, the Legislature finally pulled the committee’s funding in 1965.
[Sources: “Johns Offers to Step Out, Lauds Probe.” Lakeland (Fla) Ledger (April 19, 1963): 1. Available online via Google Newspaper Archive here.
“Johns Committee Charges Denied by College Head.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune (April 25, 1963) 4. Available online via Google Newspaper Archives here.
“Study Communism, Homosexualism: Senate Allots $155,000 To Legislative Probers.” Ocala (Fla) Star-Banner (May 10, 1963): 3. Available online via Google Newspaper Archives here.]
New Orleans Police Institutes Massive Gay Roundup: 1981. In a 1982 article published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Randsell Pierson wrote a very informative piece wondering aloud, “Can the Straight Press get the gay story right?” Pierson had interviewed several closeted gay reporters at the New Orleans Times-Picayune who all said that they feared pitching gay-related stories to their editors for fear of being identified as gay. That silence, Pierson said, helped to explain why homosexuality was still illegal in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Lapses in coverage of gay issues was surprising, and among the many examples that Pierson offered up was this one:
Over a period of three days on the weekend of April 24, 1981, New Orleans police rounded up and jailed more than 100 gay men and women in a series of raids in the French Quarter. Those arrested were charged with “obstructing sidewalks” in front of gay bars. The arrests prompted a vigorous political response from the local gay community, which charged that the police were trying to drive gays out of the French Quarter. A protest meeting attended by 700 gays helped to persuade Mayor Ernest Morial and Police Chief Henry Morris to promise to investigate charges of police harassment. All charges against the arrested gays were subsequently dropped.
Two of the city’s three television stations — WDSU (NBC) and WVUE )ABC) — followed the breaking story and sent film crews to the protest meeting held on the Tuesday following the weekend arrests. The Times-Picayine/States-Item waited five days after the first arrests to report on the story. The account, buried in section 5, said nothing about the protest meeting, which would seem to have been the logical peg, and failed to include in its tally the arrests a group of thirty-nine gay men picked up the previous Sunday. Reporter Allan Katz, who wrote the story, says: “They wanted somebody to do something in a hurry. You would think that because the story was four days old before they assigned it to a reporter they didn’t consider it a major story. About the only time in my experience we really try to relate to gay news is when something really controversial comes up.” Apparently, the arrest of more than 100 men and women in a city not under martial law was not considered “really controversial.”
[Source: Randsell Pierson.”Uptight on Gay News: Can the Straight Press Get the Gay Story Straight? Is Anyone Even Trying?” Chapter 59 in Larry Gross & James D. Woods (eds.) The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999): 368-376.]
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?