The Daily Agenda for Monday, August 4
August 4th, 2014
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
The Wreck Room Bar across from what is now the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design opened in July 1972 as the city’s first cowboy/levi/leather bar. It had three rooms and a small outdoor patio, and in keeping with the “wreck” theme, a back room featured a T-Bird’s front end sticking out of a wall and the room with the pool table was decorated with hub caps and chain link fencing, Barrels of free peanuts were set around the bar and the floor was littered with shells. By the following year, it was the home bare for the Silver Star Motorcycle Club which later morphed into a leather club. It’s anniversary parties were legendary. Beginning around 1976, two streets surrounding the bar were blocked off for a free corn roast and brat/burger fry. The bar also sponsored the Wreck Room Classic invitation softball tournament on Memorial Day weekends.
By the late 1980s, the death of one of the owners from AIDS, competition from other bars, the neighborhood’s redevelopment coinciding with the MIAD’s rehabbing an old industrial building across the street all contributed to the bar’s slide. The Wreck Room hosted its final anniversary party in 1994, and its building was purchased by the design school and converted into a student center.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► New York TV Station Airs “Introduction to the Problem of Homosexuality”: 1956. The pioneering WRCA-TV (now WNBC) aired an award-winning weekly panel discussion program called “The Open Mind”. The program, hosted by Richard Heffner, was not only well ahead of its time when it first went on the air in May 1956, it is still an acclaimed syndicated program on American Public Television, which Heffner hosted right up until his death in 2013. On August 4, 1956, Heffner hosted the first televised discussion on the East Coast on homosexuality. And fortunately, the Daughters of Bilitis’s magazine The Ladder featured a review of the program by Sten Russell (real name: Stella Rush). If it weren’t for her review, it might be difficult to reconstruct the discussions that took place that night.
According to Russell, the program featured attorney Florence Kelley, psychologist R.W. Laidlaw, and a clergyman by the name of Dr. August Swift. The program started on a relatively non-condemning note, although it wouldn’t take long for the prevailing prejudices about gay people to take root. When Heffner asked the panel whether homosexuality harmed society and should be punished by law, it was the clergyman who re-cast the question as to whether the law should concern itself with people who were not harming society. Kelley, the attorney, jumped in to counter that the law certainly should apply “when children were involved” — reflecting the common view that gays were child molesters — unless, she added, it was found that “homosexual offenders” could be treated. Laidlaw, the psychologist, said that of course they could be treated, to which Kelly retorted, “Yeah, anything can be treated… but how successfully?” Russell’s account indicated that the program continued along those lines:
The moderator asked if the homosexual could accept himself if society didn’t accept him. The conclusion was that it was very difficult, indeed. The moderator asked if there were cultural factors in the present making for more homosexuality. Miss Kelley asked if homosexuality were [sic] growing or just being more talked about. She cited Kinsey’s books as examples. The moderator said that the matter of national “security” had focused attention on this problem. He mentioned blackmail potential as part of the “security problem”.
Laidlaw said that a homosexual was not necessarily neurotic or psychotic, but that he was more likely to be in certain ways, due mainly to the pressures of public opinion which caused him to have to hide and cover up his actions and desires. Dean Swift was concerned as to the shock children experienced when approached by adult males. Laidlaw said that that depended on the predisposition of the child. Miss Kelley said that she was not worried about the “predisposition of the child,” but that the American Law Institute wished to protect any child from the traumatic shock of any sexual attack.
Despite the obvious prejudices, the program was (for 1956) relatively evenhanded and balanced — as balanced as a program like this could be where people were talking about another group of people who weren’t in the room. But even without the presence of a genuine gay person on the panel, the program proved controversial. New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman threatened to go to the FCC to have NBC affiliate WRCA’s broadcasting license revoked. That did nothing to deter Heffner or WRCA. They scheduled another program on homosexuality the nearly two months later (see Sep 29) followed by another in January.
[Source: Sten Russell (pseudo. of Stella Rush) “The Open Mind: A Review of Three Programs.” The Ladder 2, no. 2 (November 1957): 4-7, 22.]
► Clinton Forbids Denying Security Clearances Due To Sexual Orientation: 1995. President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order officially banning discrimination in granting security clearances based on sexual orientation. For decades, federal agencies routinely denied security clearances to gay people on the assumption that all gay people were subject to blackmail or were mentally ill. A 1953 Executive Order signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower included “sexual perversion” as a basis for firing from the federal workforce (see Apr 27). That ban was lifted in 1975 (see Jul 3), but policies regarded security clearances remained vague. A GAO study found that eight government agencies had already stopped using homosexuality as a reason for denying clearances, including the Defense Department, State Department, the FBI and the Secret Service, but other agencies continued the practice. Clinton’s Order established uniform standards for granting security clearances, and it added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause. This Executive Order came two years after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was passed by Congress.
The Family “Research” Council’s Robert Maginnis denounced the move: “In all healthy societies, homosexuality is recognized as a pathology with very serious implications for a person’s behavior. … Even more importantly for security concerns, this is a behavior that is associated with a lot of anti-security markers such as drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity and violence.” FRC hasn’t changed much since then. Rep. Bob Dornan (R-CA), who was never at a loss for words when it came to outrageous statements, called gay people “promiscuous by definition,” and said that Clinton’s action was “something else he didn’t have to do that’s gotten in our face. I wouldn’t trust them with a $5 loan, let alone the nation’s secrets.”
► California’s Prop 8 Declared Unconstitutional in Federal District Court: 2010. It’s hard to believe that only four years have passed since Federal Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision declaring California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional. We’ve been following the case so closely that it now seems like a lifetime ago. While Judge Walker’s found that the case merited strict scrutiny, Prop 8 couldn’t withstand any level of scrutiny under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. He also found that animus against a minority was a critical element to Prop 8’s passage:
Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society. … The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriages may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child.
Judge Walker concluded:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligations to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
The case then went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which narrowed Judge Walker’s ruling considerably, holding that the key thing that made Prop 8 unconstitutional was that it took away a right from just one group of people who were already enjoying that right. According to the three judge Appeals panel, ” Withdrawing from a disfavored group the right to obtain a designation with significant societal consequences is different from declining to extend that designation in the first place, regardless of whether the right was withdrawn after a week, a year, or a decade. The action of changing something suggests a more deliberate purpose than does the inaction of leaving it as it is.”
The decision was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which took the case, heard oral arguments, and then on June 26, 2013, decided that Prop 8’s supporters didn’t have standing to appeal to the Ninth Circuit. That kicked the entire case back down and left Judge Walker’s ruling the final word on Prop 8. Two days later, gays were marrying again, after a nearly five year interruption to marriage equality.
► Virgilio Piñera: 1912-1979. Born the son of a civil servant father and teacher mother in Cárdenas, western Cuba, Piñera’s childhood was about as normal as anyone else’s, but with one exception: he loved to read. Favorites ranged from Proust and Kafka to Moby Dick and Charles Dickens, which hinted at the future author, playwright and poet’s ability to pair ordinary Cuban street slang with a more rarified Spanish. His family moved to Camagüey while he was in his early teens, and that’s where he began writing. His first published poem El Grito Mudo (The Mute Scream) appeared in a Cuban poetry anthology in 1936, and he wrote his first play Clamor en el Penal (Noise in the Penitentiary) the following year while studying at Havana University.
Piñera’s career was an exercise in provocation and controversy. His 1948 play Electra Garrigó, which blasted the values of Cuba’s upper clsase and elicited angry shouts from the audience, many of whom walked out. It also coincided with his exile to Buenos Aires, where he founded the literary journal Ciclón and collaborated with some of the more innovative and revolutionary writers in Latin America. Piñera returned to Cuba in 1958, just in time to see Batista flee and Castro ride triumphant into Havana. Piñera began working on the newspaper Revolución. His 1962 play, the mostly autobiographical Aire Frío (Cold Air), opened to wide acclaim in Cuba and Latin America.
The good times were short-lived. The Castro regime, influenced by the ideals behind Soviet Realism, started clamping down on artists whose work weren’t transparent and easily accessible, qualities that Piñera’s work clearly did not share. His homosexuality only added to his problems. He was arrested during the government’s campaign against the “three Ps” — prostitutes, pimps and “pájaros,” Cuban slang for faggots. He was released soon after, but for the rest of his life few would touch his work, aside from a brief respite in 1968 when a Cuban literary house honored him theprestigious Casa de las Américas awarded for his play Dos Viejos Pánicos (Two Elderly People in a Panic). He died in Havana in 1979 from a heart attack, largely forgotten and officially ignored. But as the centenary of his birth approached in 2012, the official Cuban newspaper Granma declared the year, “El Año Virgiliano” with an officially-sponsored symposium in Havana and the re-staging of Aire Frío and Dos Viejos Pánicos.
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