The Daily Agenda for Sunday, July 27
July 27th, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
I don’t know much about either of these two bars. The Corner Longhorn Saloon, which got top billing in this paring, is now a parking lot. But the building that housed the Cow Palace had been a long succession of gay bars going back to the 1960s. Before the Cow Palace, it was the In Between. After the Cow Palace, it became the Bolt, the Brig, and finally, the Power House.
TODAY IN HISTORY”
► “The Well of Loneliness” Published: 1927. The lesbian love story was so controversial that three publishers turned it down. When it was finally published in England, it appeared in a plain, discreet black cover. It wasn’t particularly racy; the only sexual description consisted of the phrases, “she kissed her full on the lips,” and “that night, they were not divided.” By today’s standards, the book may seem tame, but in 1927 Radclyffe Hall’s novel caused a sensation in Britain. The publisher sent review copies to only a few select newspapers and magazines who he thought could handle the lesbian-themed content. Most reviewers praised the book for its courage or panned it for its dreariness. But only one found it objectionable. James Douglas at the Sunday Express responded by mounting a massive campaign against the novel. “I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel,” he wrote.
Despite most of the British press’s defending the book, the publisher soon landed in court on obscenity charges. Several authors came to his defense — E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and James Melville among them — but the judge declared the novel obscene. It wasn’t the story line he found objectionable; it was the novel’s plea for tolerance and acceptance that made it “more subtle, demoralizing, corrosive and corruptive than anything ever written.” He ruled that it would “deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences,” and ordered copies rounded up and burned.
The ban and the massive newspaper campaign against the book only served to increase the public’s curiosity and demand for the book, as these things do. And wherever there’s a demand, there’s a supply. And The Well’s supply was met by a publisher in France who shipped copies surreptitiously to newsstands throughout Britain. That had the effect of lowering British officials’ enthusiasm for banning other lesbian-themed novels that followed. A Home Office memo observed, “It is notorious that the prosecution of the Well Of Loneliness resulted in infinitely greater publicity about lesbianism than if there had been no prosecution.” But it wouldn’t be until 1949 when The Well could be published in Britain again — not because any laws had changed, but because the Home Office simply decided to look the other way. It has remained in continuous publication since then.
Surprisingly, the book’s appearance in the U.S. generated a different reaction. Sure, there were attempts to ban it in the U.S. Customs Court and in New York City, where police seized 865 copies from its American publisher’s offices, but both attempts came to naught. When the court cleared the novel of obscenity, the publisher responded by putting out a “victory” edition, and the ensuing publicity raised demand for the book here as it did in England. And despite it’s high price of $5 (about twice the cost of an average hardback novel), The Well would go through six printings and sell over 100,00 copies by the time it was cleared by the courts. The Well of Loneliness has been in continuous American publication since its 1928 debut, and it has served as an inspiration and comfort for countless women in the ensuing decades.
► 45 YEARS AGO: Gay Liberation Front Organizes First Post-Stonewall March Against Police Harassment: 1969. In the days following the Stonewall rebellion on June 28, the Mattachine Society of New York sponsored several discussion groups to try to tap into the newly-energized gay community and figure out what their next steps should be. One problem that quickly emerged was that in the rebellious atmosphere of the late 1960s, most of the younger crowd was in no mood to sit around and hold endless planning meetings. They were looking for something to do now, and that something, in that place in time, meant taking things to the streets.
Meanwhile, a new force had emerged on the scene, the Gay Liberation Front, which was an ad-hoc movement that had emerged just three days after the riot. The GLF’s approach to things was truly radical. It eschewed leadership structures and defined all attempts of control. All decisions were made by consensus — often after paralyzing discussions, arguments and endless political analysis. But the GLF was anything but passive, and many credit it with preventing the momentum of Stonewall from dying out, as had happened so many times before when LGBT people had risen up against anti-gay oppression.
One of the GLF’s first public actions took place a month after Stonewall with a march to demand an end to discrimination and police harassment. A crowd of five hundred gathered for a rally at Washington Square. Martha Shelly, president of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and a GLF founding member, kicked things off: “Brothers and sisters, welcome to the city’s first gay power vigil. We’re tired of being harassed and persecuted. If a straight couple can hold hands in Washington Square, why can’t we? … We’re tired of straight people who are hung up on sex. Tired of flashlights and peeping-tom vigilantes. Tired of marriage laws that punish you for lifting your head off the pillow.”
After more speeches by Marty Robinson and a straight ally who called herself Sister Marlene, the crowd began marching, four abreast, to Sheridan Square, clapping and shouting “Gay Power!” and other slogans, bringing traffic on Sixth Avenue to a halt. When they arrived at Sheridan Square, there were more speeches, appeals for money, and a round of “We Shall Overcome.” Jonathan Black at The Village Voice observed that “gay power had surfaced … A mild protest, to be sure, but apparently only the beginning.”
[Sources: Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 90-91.
Jonathan Black. "Gay Power Hits Back." The Village Voice (July 31, 1969): 1, 3, 28. Available online here.]
► 95 YEARS AGO: Martin Block: 1919-1995. His life was in books, from the early years in which he made deliveries for a book store in New York City, to working at a book store in Grand Central Terminal after a stint in the military, to becoming one of the owners of Studio Book Store after moving to Hollywood. It was there, in 1950, that his friend, Rudi Gernreich, invited him to join an organization that Rudi, his lover Harry Hay (see Apr 7), and others were forming. Block remembered going to his first meeting of what would become the Mattachine Society:
Everybody was scared. I guess people were rather psychotic about it. But because of my background, this business of being afraid of the FBI or the police was a lot of shit to me at the time, as it is now. You see, my father was a socialist, and my mother was an anarchist. When the time came for the meeting, I think Rudi drive, and we took some sort of circuitous route to avoid being followed. Everybody was very worried about Mr. Hoover’s crazy FBI men. I don’t think anybody was interested in following us, but Rudi was fearful. The whole group was fearful…
Block listened to the discussions at that meeting, the talk about forming a new movement to advocate for gay people — and found that he disagreed with every word that was said. But he enjoyed the company, and decided to become a member. But after a few years, Block and several others became bored with the endless theorizing and helpless complaining. After one particularly dull meeting, Block, Dorr Legg (see Dec 15), Don Slater (see Aug 21), and Dale Jennings (see Oct 21) stayed late and talked about doing something besides talking, something that would be useful for gay people across the country. That something, they decided, would be a magazine they called ONE, from a quote by Thomas Carlyle, “A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.” Block recalled that ONE’s mission would be a simple one:
We would not attempt to turn anyone in our direction. We weren’t going to go out and say you should be gay, but we said, “You can be proud of being gay.” You can be proud of being yourself. You could look yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m me, and isn’t that nice?” That in itself was radical. Nobody put it in words, but that was the underlying thought and underlying feeling behind the magazine.
Block became ONE’s president and its first editor when the magazine debuted in January 1953. But because of demands at his bookstore and other family concerns, gave up his editorship in June and was removed as the organization’s president. He remained involved with ONE in various capacities through the 1950s. Later, he became a regular book reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News, the Saturday Review, and the New York Times Book Review. After he closed his own bookstore in the late 1950s, Block became the manager for the book department at Robinson’s Department Store in Pasadena. He died in West Hollywood, California in 1995.
[Sources: Eric Marcus. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1940-1990. An Oral History (New York: HarperCollins, 1992): 37-42.
C. Todd White. Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009): 29-47.]
► Troy Perry: 1940. At fifteen, he was already a Baptist preacher and a self-described “religious fanatic.” He married in 1959 and fathered two sons, but he was not faithful to his wife. He had a few gay dalliances on the side. When the elders at the church he was pastoring found out, they forced him to resign and he moved his family to Southern California and began preaching for the Church of God of Prophecy. While there, his wife found hidden in a mattress a copy of Donald Webster Cory’s groundbreaking The Homosexual In America (see Sep 18). That led to an immediate divorce and an apparent end to his preaching career.
After a stint in the army beginning in 1965, Perry felt called to offer a place for gay people to worship freely. In 1968, he placed an ad in The Advocate announcing a worship service designed for gays in Los Angeles, and twelve people turned up on that first Sunday (see Oct 6). That would be the genesis for the Metropolitan Community Church, the only Christian denomination founded specifically to address the spiritual needs of LGBT people. MCC now has 250 congregations in 23 countries around the world.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?