TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
The Royal Park Hotel is still there in New York’s Upper West Side, providing budget rooms and hostel accommodations. I can’t find any information about the club, “Bushes,” which catered to a gay clientele with a wink to those other gay hangouts just half a block away in Central Park.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► 110 YEARS AGO: Census Bureau Releases Incarceration Statistics on Sodomy: 1904. Dr. William J. Robinson, editor of the American Journal of Urology, in 1914 combed through the Census Bureau’s statistics released ten years earlier and published the following information:
STATISTICS OF SODOMY
Statistics regarding all crimes in the United States are miserably defective and the results attending an effort to determine the frequency of the offence of sodomy, generally designated as an “offence against nature” is unsatisfactory. We find, however, that on June 30, 1904, there were in American penal institutions 876 prisoners committed for this crime. These prisoners comprised 15.5% of those committed for offences against chastity. Of the total 375 were male and 1 female.
The distribution by states was as follows: New Hampshire, 1; Massachusetts, 20; Connecticut, 7; New York, 62; New Jersey, 12; Pennsylvania, 52; Maryland, 8; Virginia, 3; West Virginia, 1; North Carolina, 4; South Carolina, 1; Georgia, 1; Florida, 3; Ohio, 22; Indiana, 6; Illinois, 20; Michigan, 11; Wisconsin, 6; Minnesota, 8; Iowa, 2; Missouri, 11; North Dakota, 2; Nebraska, 2; Kansas, 4; Kentucky, 6; Tennessee, 5; Alabama, 3; Mississippi, 6; Louisiana, 3; Texas, 29; Montana, 4; Wyoming, 2; Colorado, 5; Arizona, 1; Utah, 2; Idaho, 2 ; Washington, 8; Oregon, 1; California, 30. It will be seen that the frequency of conviction varies greatly in different localities.
In the figures of crime given for the state of Indiana, which are probably the most complete available, the offence in question is not mentioned. In the Indianapolis police court, however there were two cases of sodomy in 1910 and ten in 1911.
[Source: Robinson, William J. "Statistics of Sodomy." American Journal of Urology 10, no. 3 (March 1914): 146. Available online via Google Books here.]
► 45 YEARS AGO: Upper West Side’s Renaissance Blighted by “Parading Homosexuals”: 1969. We like to think that gentrification of older urban neighborhoods is something new. For most cities, it is, and for many cities it has been gay people leading the way, rehabbing run-down homes and bringing entire blocks back to life. But New York’s neighborhoods have been in a constant state of reinvention ever since the Indians moved out and the Dutch moved in. In 1969, it was the Manhattan Upper West Side’s turn when New York magazine noticed its “renaissance,” brought on by a new band of urban settlers moving into the very rough neighborhood, attracted there by cheap rents and readily available housing:
“I was ready for war,” one recent brownstone buyer said. “You know, German shepherd, barbed wire, burglar alarms, punji sticks, the works. But we were delighted to find that with a little caution it could be a relaxed place to live.” … Business, of course, has joined and helped to stimulate the movement to the West Side. Flower vendors who set up their cardboard cartons at the top of the neighborhood’s subway stairs claim business is booming. “Only a year ago,” Monroe, a West 86th Street vendor, said between sales, “flowers couldn’t live on the West Side.”
High end stores, restaurants, theaters were returning to the Upper West Side amidst a $700 million building boom. But the transition from a down-in-the-heels neighborhood to a sought-after address was far from complete:
The same kind of young, successful and relatively affluent middle-class families that moved to the suburbs 20 years ago and to the East Side 10 years ago are moving to the West Side today, and while the neighborhood still has an ample supply of teenage muggers, parading homosexuals and old men who wear overcoats in July, the over-all mood of the area seems to have changed.
This article was published just two days after the Stonewall Rebellion that took place just four short miles to the south in Greenwich Village. Those riots were barely mentioned in New York’s respectable press, and “parading homosexuals” were still seen as a sign of decay. But just a decade later a new generation of “parading homosexuals” would become highly sought-after pioneers in reviving dying neighborhoods, whose efforts today are often praised by city leaders as evidence of renewed economic and creative vigor.
[Source: Nicholas Pileggi. "Renaissance of the Upper West Side." New York (June 30, 1969): 28-39. Available online via Google Books here.]
► Bowers v. Hardwick: 1986. It all started in August, 1982, when Michael Hardwick threw a beer bottle into a trash can outside of an Atlanta gay bar (see Aug 3). A police officer cited him for public drinking. When Hardwick failed to arrive for his court date, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Several weeks later — after Hardwick realized his error and paid the ticket – a police officer went to Hardwick’s apparent to serve the arrest warrant. The police officer entered the apartment (accounts differ on how he got in), and discovered Hardwick and a male companion engaged in oral sex, which Georgia defined as “sodomy” under the law. Both men were arrested, but the local district attorney decided not to press charges. Hardwick then sued Georgia attorney general Michael Bowers in federal court seeking to overturn the state’s sodomy law. The ACLU agreed to take the case on Hardwick’s behalf.
A federal judge in Atlanta dismissed the case, siding with the Attorney General. Hardwick appealed to the Eleventh Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s ruling. Bowers then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled on this date — during pride week — in 1986 that Hardwick’s right to privacy did not extend to private, consensual sexual conduct — at least as far as gay sex was concerned. Justice Byron White, writing for the majority, barely concealed his contempt for gay people. He wrote, “to claim that a right to engage in such conduct is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ or ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ is, at best, facetious.” Chief Justice Warren Berger, in a concurring opinion, piled on: “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.”
Justice Lewis Powell was considered the deciding vote. It has been reported that he originally voted to strike down the law but changed his mind after a few days. In 1990, after Powell had retired three years earlier, he told a group law students that he considered his opinion in Bowers was mistake (see Oct 18). “I do think it was inconsistent in a general way with Roe. When I had the opportunity to reread the opinions a few months later I thought the dissent had the better of the arguments.” His mistake would remain the law of the land for another seventeen years, until Bowers itself was held to be “not correct” in Lawrence v. Texas (see Jun 26).
► 1 YEAR AGO: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin Enacts Law Against “Homosexual Propaganda”: 2013. On June 11, Russia’s State Duma gave its unanimous approval for a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” ostensibly to minors, although the law was so broadly written that it effectively banned advocacy just about anywhere. It effectively prohibits advocating the moral equivalency of gay relationships to straight ones, as well as the distributing of material advocating for gay rights. The law imposes fines of up to 5,000 rubles (US$150) for citizens, and goes up to as much as 200,000 rubles (US$6,600) for officials if such “propaganda” is transmitted via the media or the internet. Organizations face a fine of up to 1 million rubles (US$30,200) and suspension of all activity for 90 days. In addition, foreigners face up to fifteen days detention and deportation.
On June 30, President Vladimir Putin, who had earlier blamed gay people, in part, for Russia’s declining population, signed the bill into law. Protests broke out in St. Petersburg, which had already passed a nearly identical law, which ended when gay rights supporters were attacked and beaten by nationalist skinheads, and then were arrested by police. Additional attacks broke out across Russia, with violent skinhead gangs using social media to lure gay people on the promise of a date, only to torture them and force them to come out to family and friends on video, which the gangs proudly posted on the internet. Dmitri Kislev, anchor of the most popular news program on state-owned Russia 1, told his audience that imposing fines wasn’t enough. “Their hearts, in case of the automobile accident, should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life,” he said. (Kislev was later promoted to head Russia’s re-organized RIA Novosti, the state-owned news agency.)
Putin received praise for his actions from a number of American anti-gay extremists, including Pat Buchanan, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, Linda Harvey, and six American anti-gay organizations including the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families. And all of this was was just seven months before Russia was to host the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, which put the spotlight on the International Olympic Committee. The IOC clearly didn’t want any negative publicity. So instead of moving the games (which, admittedly, would have been a monumental task) or press the Russians to uphold gay athletes’ rights of personal expression, they instead opted for a much easier solution by reminding athletes about their “responsibility” to refrain from doing anything that would embarrass the IOC, their Russian hosts, or corporate sponsors. The Sochi Olympics went off without a hitch, under heavy security. But the new and glamorous face that Russia hoped to present to the world was shattered just a few weeks after the closing ceremonies when Putin’s allies in America were shocked — shocked! — to see Putin violate international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty by annexing the Crimean peninsula.
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