The Daily Agenda for Sunday, August 3
August 3rd, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
The Cove, located along the northern edge of Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, opened in 1971 and later expanded as a twenty-four hour club and disco that catered to the rough trade kind of crowd. After the rest of the bars closed, the still-unlucky ones could head to the Cove and begin picking among the rest of the leftovers before the sun went up. The music and dancing was said to be top notching, but the bathrooms were known for being among the worst in the South. The Cove closed in 1994 after the city began closing down its remaining twenty-four hour clubs, and the building was later demolished.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► 60 YEARS AGO: A Miami Murder Uncovers a “Colony of Homosexuals”: 1954. It’s funny what it took in 1954 for a major metropolitan area to discover that there were gay people in their midst. I say it’s funny, but it can only be funny today, sixty years later. It was certainly no laughing matter then. In the early morning hours of August 3, a young couple looking for a secluded spot along North Miami’s “lover’s lane” found the body of William T. Simpson, a 27-year-old Eastern Airlines flight attendant, lying in the middle of the roadway in a pool of blood. He had been shot on his right side, his head had severe lacerations and his right index finger had apparently been pierced by something. About 500 yards away, police found his 1950 cream-colored convertible, with the front seat spattered with blood and a .22 caliber shell on the floor. It appeared that after the assailant fled, Simpson managed to get out of the car and stagger to the road before collapsing and bleeding to death.
Five days later, police formally charged two young men, Charles W. Lawrence, 19, and Lewis Richard Killen, 20, with first degree murder. The two didn’t just confess to the murder, they bragged about it. They had been rolling gay men in the area for several weeks. Lawrence would hitchhike and allow himself to be “picked up” by an unsuspecting mark, and Killen would follow in a green Chevy. After the mark pulled over to a secluded spot, they’d rob him. Ordinarily, they’d let the victim go, confident that he wouldn’t go to the police. But Lawrence carried a gun, and for some reason this time he pulled the trigger. One former high school buddy recalled that Lawrence “had an intense hatred of homosexuals.”
In the ensuing investigation, police appeared surprised and alarmed that there were so many gay men in the area. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Local papers had been reporting that Miami’s sheriff deputies and Miami Beach’s police department had conducted several bar and beach raids since the previous November, arresting gay men and charging them with “vagrancy.” When a young girl was murdered in July, police responded, illogically, with five nights of gay bar raids to “make things hot for sex perverts in Miami.” On July 18, the Miami Herald published a letter to the editor proposing a final solution to the problem: “Just execute them all.” But on the same day that Lawrence and Killen were charged, the Miami News‘s front page headline looked as though detectives had stumbled upon an entirely new discovery: “Pervert Colony Uncovered In Simpson Slaying Probe”. They obviously had a hard time understanding what local gays were telling them.
A colony of some 500 male homosexuals, congregated mostly in the near-downtown northeast section and ruled by a “queen,” was uncovered in the investigation of the murder of an Eastern Air Lines steward…. Peace Justice Edwin Lee Mason said today, “I certainly learned a lot during this investigation I never knew before.
“I not only was surprised at the number of homosexuals turned up in the murder investigation but I was amazed to find out that there were distinct classes, not only based on age groups, but also on the ages of the persons with whom they liked to consort and groups based on types of perversion.”
…”We learned — among other things — that Simpson was bisexual. We also learned that there was a nominal head of the colony — a queen.”
Investigators, following a line of thought that possibly the murder might have been for succession of the title, and that Simpson may have been the “ruler” of what the investigators then believed to be a quite small group of homosexuals in Miami asked one man, who made no secret of his leanings:
“Was Simpson the ‘queen?’
“No,” came the response. “The queen is –” Here the man named a person quite prominent in the community.
“How many of you are there,” an investigator said he asked. “Twenty –Forty?”
“Oh, more than that.”
“Make it closer to five hundred,” came the staggering reply.
Dade County’s population was around 700,000 in 1954. Yet for such a large city, tossing around a figure like five hundred, which was assuredly a significantly low-balled estimate, was nevertheless enough to throw Miami’s newspapers in a tizzy. On August 13, the News began a three-part series on homosexuality, with the first installment calling it “A Disease ‘Worse Than Alcohol’.” The following day, the News reported on “How L.A. Handles Its 150,000 Perverts”. “This thing is like cancer,” Los Angeles police chief Thad F. Brown told the News. “It keeps getting bigger and bigger each year. We process about 150 homosexuals a month who are caught in the act.” The paper suggested a solution: “The police in Los Angeles have a policy of harassment.” As Brown explained, “We keep a constant check on bars and restaurants where they hang out. We try to get the licenses of the places catering to them.”
In the third installment of the series, the News warned about “Great Civilizations Plagued by Deviates” — Greece, Rome, and, naturally, Miami:
Police of several communities have watched with growing concern the gathering spots frequented by perverts and two departments have started all-out war against homosexuals. Miami Beach Police Chief Romeo Shepard says he will continue to harass homosexuals in Miami Beach. “I simply want them to get out of town,” said Shepard.
Sheriff Tom Kelly, who staged a big raid on homosexual gathering spots last Saturday, made a similar statement. “I will keep on harassing the homosexuals until they understand they’re not wanted in Dade County,” said Kelly.
The Miami police department has shown a reluctance to bother perverts. “If I ran all of the homosexuals out of town, members of some of the best families would lead the parade,” Police Chief Walter Headley once said.
A local attorney, E.F.P. Brigham, proposed legislation to deal with the problem:
If a sexual deviate is accused of molesting a child or any person for that matter, and manages to beat the charge in court, the state will still have the right to order a mental examination for the offender.
If the person is found to be a sexual psychopath (and that does not necessarily mean insane) the state will then have the right to institute civil action to put that person in an asylum for the rest of his or her life or until such time as a cure can be effected.
Miami was now in a full-blown panic, which would soon reach the statehouse in Tallahassee where it would rage well into the next decade. House speaker Ted David called for stronger criminal penalties for “confirmed sexual deviants… to meet the needs of Florida’s big cities.” Miami’s mayor, Abe Aronovitz, would make anti-gay campaigns a centerpiece of his administration.
And what about Killen and Lawrence, the two men who were charged with first degree murder? After claiming that they killed Simpson because he made sexual advances toward Lawrence, they were convicted of manslaughter in November and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
► Residents of San Francisco’s Castro Neighborhood Bemoan New Arrivals: 1971. The neighborhood surrounding San Francisco’s Castro Theater located on its namesake street wasn’t always known as The Castro. For much of its history, local residents knew the area as Eureka Valley, a working class neighborhood which had been in decline for several years as families began packing up for the suburbs. Rents and real estate prices fell, opening the neighborhood to an influx of new residents, mostly gay people looking for something a little more appealing than the Tenderloin or the Haight. This led to open hostility between the working class descendants of Irish, German and Swedish immigrants and the very openly gay new arrivals.
This hostility figured in a number of conflicts, one of which occurred on August 3, 1971 when Bob Pettingill, a 39-year-old gay restaurateur (he had opened the Sausage Factory in 1968, and it is still in business today) and former SFPD motorcycle patrolman, was elected chairman of the Eureka Valley Police Community Relations Board. He won the position after housewife Benita St. Arnant, who called all the newly established gay bars in the neighborhood “a public outrage,” dropped out of the race. Pettingill promised to try to patch relations between “the community’s two life styles.” But California Highway Patrolman Frank Crotty was pessimistic: “They have their lives to live and we have ours,” adding that he and others in the neighborhood were” fed up with all the hand-holding in the streets. My wife and child can’t go outside without being scandalized.”
► Michael Hardwick Arrested: 1982. It all started in July, when Michael Hardwick threw a beer bottle into a trash can outside of the Cove, an Atlanta gay bar where he worked. Atlanta police officer Keith Torick, who had been subject to numerous citizen complaints for his abusive and legally-questionable tactics, cited Hardwick for public drinking. That kicked off a long comedy of errors, beginning with Torick’s writing the wrong date on which Hardwick was to appear in court. When Hardwick failed to appear because of the error, Torick got a warrant for his arrest. Soon after, Hardwick went the courthouse, paid the $50 fine (which should have invalidated the warrant), and thought it was all taken care of. But for some reason, his payment wasn’t recorded correctly, and on August 3, that same Officer Torick showed up at Hardwick’s apartment at the highly unusual hour of 3:00 a.m. Torick entered the apartment (accounts differ on how he got in), and discovered Hardwick and another man engaged in oral sex, an act which Georgia’s sodomy law defined as a felony punishable with “imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 20 years.” Torick announced that the two were under arrest. Hardwick shot back, “What are you doing in my bedroom?”
The arrest was humiliating for the two men. Hardwick recalled that when the police officer brought them to the police station, he loudly made sure everyone there knew that he had arrested them for “cocksucking,” and that they should be able to find plenty of what they were looking for in Atlanta’s city jails. Hardwick posted bail within the hour, but was detained for twelve more hours near other criminals who had been told why he was there. Hardwick had never fought for gay rights before, but that moment changed him. “I realized that if there was anything I could do, even if it was just laying the foundation to change this horrendous law, that I would feel pretty bad about myself if I just walked away from it.”
After the local district attorney decided not to press charges, Hardwick decided to sue Georgia’s Attorney General Michael J. Bowers in federal court to overturn the state’s sodomy law. The ACLU agreed to take the case on Hardwick’s behalf. The case ultimately made it to the Supreme Court which, in a surprising move, overturned an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision and held Georgia’s sodomy law (see Jun 30). Surprising because the Court had built a solid case history upholding the rights to privacy for heterosexuals to engage in private, non-procreative, non-marital sexual behavior in the privacy of their bedrooms — under exactly the same terms as Hardwick’s case. But for gay people, that same right to privacy simply vanished. It wouldn’t be until 2003, when the Supreme Court would finally admit that Bowers v. Hardwick “was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today,” that sodomy laws were overturned nationwide in Lawrence v. Texas.
In 1998, Bowers resigned as Attorney General and ran for Governor. His race tanked after it emerged that the defender of the state’s morals had engaged in a decade-long affair in violation of Georgia’s similarly archaic adultery law. That same year, the Georgia Supreme Court declared the state’s sodomy law unconstitutional, because it infringed on a heterosexual man’s rights to privacy (see Nov 23).
Bowers later acknowledged only one regret in the case that bears his name: that his name didn’t appear second “because then it wouldn’t look like I’m the homosexual.” Hardwick died in 1991 in Gainesville, Florida, reportedly from complications from AIDS.
[Additional sources: William Eskridge, Jr. Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (New York: Viking, 2008): 231-233.
Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court (New York: Basic Books, 2001). 277-309.]
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