The Daily Agenda for Sunday, June 29
June 29th, 2014
Pride Celebrations Today: Augusta, GA; Barcelona, Spain; Budapest, Hungary; Chicago, IL; Columbia, SC (Black Pride); Dublin, Ireland; Durban, South Africa; Flagstaff, AZ; Harlem, NY; Helsinki, Finland; Houston, TX; Istanbul, Turkey; London, UK; Milan, Italy; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; New York, NY; Oslo, Norway (Europride); Perugia, Italy;Saarbrücken, Germany; St. Louis, MO; St. Petersburg, FL; San Francisco, CA; Skopje, Macedonia; Seattle, WA; Sundsvall, Sweden; Tenerife, Spain; Toronto, ON (WorldPride); Valladolid, Spain (Friday only); Vigo, Spain.
Other Events Today: Canadian Rockies International Rodeo, Calgary, AB; Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Durban, South Africa; Frameline International LGBT Film Festival, San Francisco, CA; Midsummer Canal Festival, Utrecht, Netherlands.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Owners Chuck Renslow and Bill Swank bought the legendary House of Landers (see Jun 24) and transformed the place into Zolar Disco, which Chicago GayLife described as “new disco-bar at Diversey and the ‘el’ stop. … Upstairs at Zolar is the real disco scene, with the sound system that brings to mind the Bistro. Of course, the dance floor is smaller, but the lights. Wow! With the music and crowd noise, I never did hear an el train pass by. Quite unlike when Roby Landers held court in the same place some time back, and the el occasionally drowned out the music.” Zolar didn’t last long however. The disco burned the following March. Unfortunately, the owners didn’t have fire insurance.
► Henry Gerber: 1892-1972. Pro-gay activism in the U.S goes back a very long way, far longer than most people realize. Henry Gerber, a Bavarian immigrant to Chicago, served in the U.S. Army’s occupation of Germany following World War I, where he came in contact with the growing German gay rights movement. He read up on German homophile magazines and came in contact with Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the first organization in the world working to advance gay rights. He observed that the situation in Germany, where gay people were organizing and only one set of laws were in force throughout the nation contrasted markedly with that in the U.S., where gay people hadn’t even thought of organizing, and the laws in the U.S. were a patchwork of different definitions and penalties in each of the 48 states:
To go before each State legislature and argue the real nature of homosexuality would be plainly a job too costly to be considered. The conduct of many homosexuals in their unpardonable public behavior clearly led to public protest against all homosexuals. Here were only two stumbling blocks on the road to reform.
I realized at once that homosexuals themselves needed nearly as much attention as the laws pertaining to their acts. How could one go about such a difficult task? The prospect of going to jail did not bother me. I had a vague idea that I wanted to help solve the problem. I had not yet read the opinion of Clarence Darrow that “no other offence has ever been visited with such severe penalties as seeking to help the oppressed.” All my friends to whom I spoke about my plans advised against my doing anything so rash and futile. I thought to myself that if I succeeded I might become known to history as deliverer of the downtrodden, even as Lincoln. But I am not sure my thoughts were entirely upon fame. If I succeeded in freeing the homosexual, I too would benefit.
Soon after returning to the U.S., Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights (SHR) in 1924 (see Dec 10). With an African-American clergyman named John T. Graves as president, SHR is believed to be America’s first gay rights organization. Gerber also founded Friendship and Freedom, the first known American gay publication. As Gerber explained in 1962:
The outline of our plan was as follows:
1. We would cause the homosexuals to join our Society and gradually reach as large a number as possible.
2. We would engage in a series of lectures pointing out the attitude of society in relation to their own behavior and especially urging against the seduction of adolescents.
3. Through a publication named Friendship and Freedom we would keep the homophile world in touch with the progress of our efforts. The publication was to refrain from advocating sexual acts and would serve merely as a forum for discussion.
4. Through self-discipline, homophiles would win the confidence and assistance of legal authorities and legislators in understanding the problem; that these authorities should be educated on the futility and folly of long prison terms for those committing homosexual acts, etc.
The beginning of all movements is necessarily small. I was able to gather together a half dozen of my friends and the Society for Human Rights became an actuality. Through a lawyer our program was submitted to the Secretary of State at Springfield, and we were furnished with a State Charter. No one seemed to have bothered to investigate our purpose.
Gerber got that charter by omitting any mention of homosexuality in his application. Instead, the application spoke of promoting more general values of freedom and independence. Nevertheless, Gerber found that getting SHR set up difficult, and he had to finance the whole enterprise out of his own picket. He managed to put out two issues of Friendship and Freedom, before running out of money. He tried to seek support among medical authorities, but none would help him. He also had trouble finding people to join his group. “Being thoroughly cowed, they seldom get together,” he observed. “Most feel that as long as some homosexual sex acts are against the law, they should not let their names be on any homosexual organization’s mailing list any more than notorious bandits would join a thieves’ union.” Those who did join had few resources themselves.
The only support I got was from poor people: John (Graves), a preacher who earned his room and board by preaching brotherly love to small groups of Negroes; Al, an indigent laundry queen; and Ralph whose job with the railroad was in jeopardy when his nature became known. These were the national officers of the Society for Human Rights, Inc. I realized this start was dead wrong, but after all, movements always start small and only by organizing first and correcting mistakes later could we expect to go on at all. The Society was bound to become a success, we felt, considering the modest but honest plan of operation.
SHR didn’t last long. Graves’s wife denounced Gerber and his associates to police, calling them “degenerates.” In July, 1925, at 2:00 a.m., police showed up at his apartment with a reporter from the Chicago Examiner in tow and arrested Gerber. Graves and Al the “laundry queen” and his roommate were also arrested. The next day, the Examiner’s headline screamed, “Strange Sex Cult Exposed,” which claimed (falsely) that Graves was arrested while in the middle of an orgy in full view of his wife and children.
The “laundry queen” was pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct and was fined $10.00. Gerber was tried three times, but the charges were eventually dismissed. Charges were also dismissed against Graves. Gerber was nevertheless ruined, fired from his job and drained of his life savings. “The experience generally convinced me that we were up against a solid wall of ignorance, hypocrisy, meanness and corruption. The wall had won.”
Gerber moved to New York, got a job as a proofreader at a newspaper, and then reenlisted in the army, where he served until his retirement in 1945. When gay people finally started getting serous about organizing in the 1950s, Gerber resumed writing about gay rights, sometimes under his own name and sometimes under a pseudonym. He died on New Year’s Eve in 1972 at the age of 80, having lived long enough to see gay rights advocacy take on a new vibrancy in the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in an explosion of advocacy and pride after the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969.
[Source: Henry Gerber. “The Society for Human Rights — 1925.” ONE 10, no. 9 (September 1962): 5-11. Also available online here.]
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