The Daily Agenda for Monday, June 16
June 16th, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Rawhide opened in 1979 and its name said it all. It was a serious, cruisey, low-frills place that catered to the leather/levi crowd. Its black walls were decorated with Tom of Finland posters and a beat up motorcycle hung from the black-painted ceiling above a red-velvet pool table. The landmark bar closed last year after the landlord nearly doubled the rent from $15,000 to $27,000 per month. The building today houses yet anther one of those West Coast pizza chains that are infecting the gentrifying Chelsea neighborhood. The landlord, without even the slightest hint of irony, hailed the new tenant as “something with a little more local flair where the community would like to patronize.”
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► 60 YEARS AGO: Philadelphia’s Packer Street-Gloucester City Bridge Named for Walt Whitman: 1954. Walt Whitman spent his last nineteen years in Camden, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. More than sixty years later, the Delaware River Port Authority’s Special Committee on Bridge Names voted unanimously to name a suspension bridge, then under construction connecting nearby Gloucester City, New Jersey to Philadelphia’s Packer Avenue, for Camden’s adopted hometown hero in advance of the centenary of the first publication of Leaves of Grass.
The announcement was made, the Centenary was celebrated in 1956, and the bridge’s construction continued with its opening slated for the spring of 1957. That should have been the end of the matter.
And it would have been, until Father Edward Lucitt, director of the Holy Name Union of the Diocese of Camden, Monsignor Joseph McIntyre, and seven other Holy Name Society leaders in Southern New Jersey wrote to complain that “Whitman himself had neither the noble stature or quality of accomplishment that merits this tremendous honor, and his life and works are personally objectionable to us.”
That letter, from December 16, 1956, was motivated by a series of articles in the Camden diocesan weekly newspapers by Rev. James Ryan, who denounced Whitman as a third-rate poet and a scandal to decency. Other Catholic publications picked up on the controversy and went through Whitman’s published work with a fine tooth comb. They criticized a line in Section 32 of “Song of Myself” where Whitman praises the irreligiosity of animals (“They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God”), and especially, of course, “As I Lay With My Head in Your Lap, Camerado.” In January 1957, the Committee received 467 copies of a mimeographed form letter, signed by clerics, nuns and lay people from across Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, which mixed moralizing with then-common red-baiting rhetoric:
We oppose the naming of the new $90,000,000 bridge as a memorial to Walt Whitman for the following reasons:
(1) He is not great enough to deserve this honor. In what way has he inspired or influenced American democracy for good?
(2) He boasted of his immoralities and published immorality as a personal experience.
(3) He held Christianity in contempt, and affirmed himself as the new savior of mankind.
(4) He attempted to teach rebellion against the natural law of God, and the right order established by the tortured experience of the centuries.
(5) His political philosophy, dusted off the scrap heap during the depression, as the Voice of the Common Man, has proved alien to Jeffersonian Democracy, and he is now the Poet Laureate of the World Communist Revolution.
Because the naming of the Bridge in his honor would raise him to the status of a national hero, give aid and comfort to the enemies of our established order of morality and democracy, make the teaching of religious concepts difficult, and bring the common stamp of morality in our heritage into contempt, we ask you to drop Whitman’s name from the Bridge.
Not all Catholics were on board with the anti-Whitman campaign. An editorial in The Ave Maria, published at Notre Dame University, warned against the foolishness of wasting the moral weight of Catholic opinion on “less important matters” when there were other things to worry about (such as the showing of “obscene movies” and “legislation authorizing the distribution of birth control literature.”) The New York Times picked up on the story, which led to a counter-campaign by those who either supported honoring Whitman or resented Catholic interference in public affairs. For at least one letter writer, Whitman’s sexuality was not an issue. “Michael Angelo was a homosexual,” he wrote to the committee. “Why don’t they destroy the Sistine chapel?” Another letter to The New York Post expanded on that theme:
(They) “want to take Whitman’s name off that bridge because he may have been abnormal sexually. If they succeed, their next job is to remove Michelangelo’s statues from the Vatican, tear down St. Peter’s Basilica and throw out all copies of Leonardo’s Last Supper. Da Vinci was actually arrested on a charge of perversion and Michelangelo’s sonnets suggest far more than any of Whitman’s poems.”
In the end, there appears to have been little desire among River Authority officials to consider changing the name. By the time the Walt Whitman Bridge opened to traffic on May on May 16, 1957, the controversy was over and mostly forgotten. Ten years later when the New Jersey Turnpike Authority renamed one of its service areas for Whitman, no one objected. Today, the Walt Whitman Bridge is a part of Interstate 76, which is known locally in the Philadelphia area as the Schuylkill Expressway.
[Source: Joann P. Krieg. “Democracy in Action: Naming the Bridge for Walt Whitman.” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 12, no. 2 (Fall 1994), 108-114. Available online here.
“Dal McIntire” (Don Slater) “Tangents.” ONE Magazine 4, no. 3 (March 1956):7.]
► Rocky Horror Show Premieres: 1973. The stage musical The Rocky Horror Show premiered in London at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, a tiny 63-seat venue set aside as a project space for new works. Starring Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter — a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” — the musical (set in Ohio!) follows the adventures of young lovers Brad Majors and Janet Weiss who came to the doctor’s castle to call a cab because their car has a flat tire. The production featured lots of catchy songs (“Time Warp” and “Science Fiction, Double Feature”), risqué sexuality and of course, lots of makeup. The show was an instant hit, and the cast was signed for a soundtrack album right after the show’s second night. By the time the show closed seven years and four venues later, it has gone through 2,960 performances and picked up several added songs along the way.
The Rocky Horror Show opened on Broadway on March 10, 1975, but critics panned it and the show closed just three weeks later. That same year, the play was adapted for the film and retitled The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It became a must-see cult classic that has kept art houses in business for the next four decades. Because it is still officially in limited release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the longest-running theatrical release in film history.
► Sen. Lott Likens Gay People to Alcoholics, Sex Addicts, Kleptomaniacs: 1998. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) appeared on Armstrong Williams’s program to talk about abortion, disciplining children (he said he used a belt on his occasionally) and his childhood (growing up in Mississippi in the 1950s and early 1960s was a “good time in America.” And he also spoke on the controversial subject of same-sex marriage, two years after the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. Williams asked Lott what he thought about homosexuality. Lott replied, “You still love that person and you should not try to mistreat them or treat them as outcasts. You should try to show them a way to deal with that.” He said his own father had had a problem with alcoholism, adding, ”Others have a sex addiction or are kleptomaniacs. There are all kinds of problems and addictions and difficulties and experiences of this kind that are wrong. But you should try to work with that person to learn to control that problem.”
President Bill Clinton’s press secretary Michael D. McCurry blasted Lott’s statement, saying it showed how difficult it was getting things done “when you’re dealing with people who are so backward in their thinking. For over 25 years, it’s been quite clear that sexual orientation is not an affliction, it’s not a disease, it is something that is part of defining one’s sexuality.’” Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) seized on Lott’s remarks to demand that Clinton’s nomination of openly gay James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg to be brought to the Senate floor, a move that had been blocked by Lott. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) came to Lott’s defense: “I abide by the Bible… I do not quarrel with the Bible on the subject.” The controversy eventually blew over and Lott kept his job as Senate Republican leader until 2002 when, at a party honoring the 100th birthday of Sen. Strom Thurmond (S-SC) who had run for President as a segregationist Dixiecrat candidate in 1948, Lott said that if Thurmond had won, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years.” Those remarks finally led to his resigning his leadership position.
► Longtime Gay Activists Become First Same-Sex Couple to Marry in California: 2008. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin of San Francisco had been together for fifty-five years when they were finally married at city hall. Their wedding capped a lifetime of advocacy for gay equality. In 1955, they and six other women founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major lesbian organization in the United States. Phyllis edited the DOB’s newsletter The Ladder beginning in 1956, and Del edited The Ladder from 1960 to 1962. They also took turns as head of the Daughters until 1964, when they helped found the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Phyllis was also the first open lesbian to serve on the board of the National Organization for Women in 1973. Meanwhile, Del was heavily involved in getting the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
The California Supreme Court ruled on May 15, 2008, that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the state constitution, and issued a temporary stay to give the state time to implement the necessary changes in its forms and procedures. That stay expired at 5:00 p.m. on June 16. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom selected Phyllis and Del for the honor of being the first same-sex couple in California to marry in a ceremony began at precisely 5:01 p.m.
Phyllis and Del enjoyed two months of officially wedded bliss before Del passed away in August of that year.
► Lou Sullivan: 1951-1991. The pioneering transgender activist had begun identifying as a “female transvestite” in 1973. Two years later, he moved to San Francisco and began identifying as a female-to-male transgender — and as a gay man. This didn’t sit well with the so-called gender specialists of the day, who saw sexual orientation and gender identity as, more or less, the same thing — gay men really “wanted to be women,” just like male-to-female transgenders, with only the degree of that “want” distinguishing the two. The idea that someone born female who identifies as a male but who also is attracted to other men — that just blew their minds, with many saying it just wasn’t possible.
So when Sullivan sought surgery, he was consistently denied it because he was gay. He was able to obtain hormones from doctors who were not associated with gender clinics, and he began lobbying the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (now known as WPATH, World Professional Association for Transgender Health), to recognize that, despite what the “experts” said, he really did exist. Sullivan wrote the first guidebook for FtM people, and he spent the rest of his life as an advocate and an educator as among the first to argue that there was a clear distinction to be made between sexual orientation and gender identity. His efforts eventually paid off, and in 1986 he was able to undergo genital reconstructive surgery. Later that year, he was diagnosed with AIDS, which exposed him to yet another kind of stigma. Just before he died in 1991, he wrote, “I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me that I could not live like a gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.” The Lou Sullivan Society continues to serve the FtM community in the San Francisco Bay area.
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