The Daily Agenda for Friday, August 8
August 8th, 2014
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Antwerp, Belgium; Charleston, SC; Eugene, OR; Indianapolis, IN (Black Pride); Madgeburg, Germany; Madison, WI; Malmö, Sweden; Mannheim, Germany; Moscow, ID; New Westminster, BC; Plymouth, UK; Reykjavik, Iceland; Santa Ana, CA; Swindon, UK; Toronto, ON (Leather Pride); Wilkes-Barre, PA; Windsor, ON.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► Congress Holds Hearings on Mattachine Society: 1963. “If these people are a charitable organization promoting homosexuality, I’ve grown up in a wrong age,” Rep. John Dowdy (D-TX) said as the House Subcommittee for the District of Columbia opened hearings on a bill to strip the Mattachine Society of Washington of its fundraising permit. The permit had been award to the group by D.C. officials in August 1962 when the group demonstrated that it qualified for the permit under the Charitable Solicitations Act. Mattachine president Frank Kameny (see May 21) then sent a statement to members of Congress along with excerpts from the Society’s constitution. Noting that gays were barred from federal employment, military service and security-sensitive positions in the private sector, Kameny blasted federal laws as “archaic, unrealistic, and inconsistent with basic American principles. … Policies of repression, persecution, and exclusion will not prove to be workable ones in the case of this minority, any more than they have, throughout history, in the case of other minorities.”
Kameny’s letter ended with an offer to meet with members of Congress. Dowdy, instead, introduced a bill in July which specifically singled out the Mattachine Society for revocation of its permit. A second section of the bill would provide that no solicitation permits could be issued unless the District’s Commissioners determined that the “solicitation which would be authorized by such certificate would benefit or assist in promoting the health, welfare and morals of the District of Columbia.”
During the subcommittee’s hearing on August 8, city officials joined the District Republican Committee in opposing the measure on constitutional grounds. Dowdy was indignant at the opposition. “You contrast that with permitting the solicitation of funds for perversion and morality. Which is more important to the community?” Noting that Congress had passed laws designed to curb the Communist Party, he continued, “As far as I know, all the security risks that have deserted the United States have been homosexuals. Do you place them on a higher plane than communists?” Rep. Basil Whitener (D-NC) joined the fray, asking if the Commissioners “want to repeal the section of the Criminal Code dealing with sodomy.” Kameny was also there. He was just beginning to read a prepared statement when the hearing was suddenly adjourned due to a quorum call on the House floor. His testimony would resume the following day.
► David Wojnarowicz Successfully Sues the American Family Association: 1990. The University of Illinois art gallery hosted a retrospective of David Wojnarowicz’s collages called Sex Series, in which, interspersed among larger scenes depicting social control and violence, were smaller images of sexual activity. While the series was called, Sex Series, the sexual content was hardly the point. “The images I use are just naked bodies, sometimes engaged in explicit sex acts,” he explained. “I know that they are loaded images but I’m not just putting sex images on a wall, I’m surrounding them with information that reverberates against whatever the image sparks in people.”
A $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts paid for part of the cost of the show’s catalogue. Shortly after the show closed, the American Family Association’s Donald Wildmon sent out about 200,000 flyers to Congressional representatives, Christian radio stations, and AFA supporters, titled “Your Tax Dollars Helped Pay For These ‘Works of Art’,” with fourteen images identified as Wojnarowicz’s “works of art.” The “works” were actually small, selected details from the Sex Series, cut from the context of the larger images and the overall work. The flyer also included a small detail of another of Wojnarowicz’s 1979 collage Genet. That detail depicted Christ shooting up with a needle and tourniquet. To add to the mailing’s drama, the flyer was sealed in a separate envelope marked “Caution — Contains Extremely Offensive Material.”
In the process, Wildmon effectively became a collage artist in his own right, appropriating isolated details of images from Wojnarowicz’s works to create a separate work of his own. That was the basis Wojnarowicz’s lawsuit, charging Wildmon with slander and copyright infringement. In his court affidavit, Wojnarowicz charged that “the images represented in the Pamphlet to be my work have been so severely mutilated that I could not consider them my own.” He also told the Washington Post that the AFA had “creat(ed) pieces of their own. They’re not even my pieces, when they’ve gotten through with them.”
In David Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association and Donald E. Wildmon, Federal District Judge William C. Connor ruled in Wojnarowicz’s favor. The Judge ordered the AFA to send a “corrective mailing,” as approved by the Court, to everyone the sent the original pamphlet to, explaining the misleading nature of the original mailing. But because Wojnarowicz was unable to demonstrate any financial repercussions stemming from the AFA’s mailing, the judge only awarded him damages of $1. It would be the first time that an artist successfully sued a right-wing organization. Wojnarowicz insisted on a hand-signed check from Don Wildmon personally, with the idea of using the check in a future collage. Wojnarowicz never found a suitable work for the check, but he never cashed it either. Today, that check is housed in the Special Collections of the Fales Library at New York University.
[Source: Richard Meyer. Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002): 255-261.]
► Rudi Gernreich: 1922-1985. The in Vienna, the only child of a well-to-do Jewish family, he was already drawn to fashion when, on a 1924 family trip to Italy, as he later remembered, “I trailed around after a lady who was obviously of ill repute. . . . Her attire was outrageous, and I was terribly attracted to her.” Back home, he was already spending a lot of time at his aunt’s dress shop, drawing designs and learning about fabrics. His father committed suicide in 1938, and when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Rudi and his mother fled to California. At sixteen, he took a job in a mortuary, washing bodies. “I grew up overnight,” he later recalled. “I do smile sometimes when people tell me my clothes are so body-conscious I must have studied anatomy. You bet I studied anatomy.”
He began studying art at Los Angeles City College and the Los Angeles Art Center School, but soon abandoned art for dance and joined Lester Horton’s dance troupe. He danced and made costumes for the company, while also freelancing as a fabric designer for Hoffman California Woolens. His work with the dance company would also be influential later, as it taught him about how clothing moves on a body.
It was at about this time that Gernreich entered a brief foray into gay rights. In 1950, he began a relationship with Harry Hay (see Apr 7). Gernreich had just been convicted in an entrapment case, and so he was eager to become one of the five founding members of the Mattachine Society later that year (see Nov 11). But Gernreich never came out publicly. In 1952, he met his partner, Oreste Pucciani, who was chairman of UCLA’s French Department (and who was instrumental in popularizing Sarte among American academics), and the two remained partners for the rest of Gernreich’s life. By 1953, Gernreich had dropped out of the Mattachine Society just as his fashion career started to take off.
Gernreich’s approach to fashion can be seen as am unrelenting campaign to free women from the constraints of traditional sex roles as well as the literally constraints clothing placed on women’s bodies. He invented the idea of unisex clothing for men and women. He also designed the first t-shirt dresses, see-through blouses, and thong bathing suits. While most of his designs — their bright colors, their innovative fabrics and patterns, and their easy comfort — were highly influential trendsetters in the 1960s, his more famous designs were those which involved draping women in less rather than more. Writing for the New York Times, Christopher Petkanas remarked, “When Gernreich designed a mini, he meant it.” His 1964 inventions — a topless bathing suit he called a Monokini, and an unpadded see-through bra called the “no bra” — presaged the braless and topless women’s liberation movement almost a decade later. But they also looked downright Victorian when, twenty years later, he invented the Pubikini, with a low-cut “V” to reveal that down there. That came out just four weeks before he died of lung cancer. Pucciani, who survived him, created an endowment in Gernreich’s memory to the American Civil Liberties Union for the advancement of gay rights.
► Randy Shilts: 1951-1994. The pioneering gay journalist came out relatively early, while still in college at the age of 20, when he ran for student government with the slogan “Come Out for Shilts.” That was in 1971, when coming out was still something of a novelty. It also meant that when he graduated at the top of his class in 1975, he had trouble finding a job. After working freelance, including several articles he wrote for The Advocate which was then a Los Angeles-based monthly newspaper, Shilts was finally hired in 1981 by the San Francisco Chronicle as perhaps the first openly gay reporter in the American mainstream press. The following year, he published The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, the critically acclaimed biography of the slain San Francisco Supervisor and personal friend, Harvey Milk.
When he went to work for the Chronicle, he was given the gay beat. But this quickly proved to be no ordinary ghetto beat, because that very same year a new disease was stalking the gay community. Shilts would wind up devoting much of his career to covering the disease and its impact on medicine, politics, society and, specifically, the gay community itself. His second book, 1987′s And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic brought him international fame. While Shilts was praised for bringing attention to the AIDS crisis, he was also criticized for popularizing the mythology surrounding “patient zero,” an Air Canada flight attendant by the name of Gaëtan Dugas, who was unfairly portrayed as the central figure in bringing AIDS to America. Shilts’s book didn’t make that allegation directly, but Shilts’s naming Dugas as patient zero turned him into the book’s villain. In 2013, Shilts’s editor admitted that he convinced Shilts to make Dugas the “first AIDS monster” as an attention-getting literary device.
“We lowered ourselves to yellow journalism. My publicist told me, ‘Sex, death, glamour, and, best of all, he is a foreigner, that would be the icing on the cake,’” said Shilts’ editor, Michael Denneny, in an interview. “That was the only way we could get them to pay attention. … Randy hated the idea. It took me almost a week to argue him into it.”
It worked. When the book first came out, the New York Times, Newsweek and other publications said they weren’t interested in reviewing a book that criticized the Reagan administration’s and medical establishment’s response to the AIDS crisis. But when new publicity materials focused on Dugas as “the Quebecois version of Typhoid Mary,” as Shilts called him, the New York Post jumped all over it with the headline, “The Man Who Gave Us AIDS.” And the Band Played On shot to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and stayed there for five weeks, and was nominated for a National Book Award. Despite criticisms of its treatment of Dugas, And the Band Played On proved to be a monumentally important work. Before its release, AIDS activists and researchers struggled to draw attention to the growing epidemic. The book is credited for adding thousands to the growing AIDS activist movement, and it remains one of most essential documents of the early political history of the AIDS epidemic in America.
Shilt’s third book, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, was released in 1993, just as the fight over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was heating up. But by then, Shilts was already ill from the disease he covered in And the Band Played On. In fact, he had been tested for HIV while writing And the Band Played On, but he declined to be told the result, concerned that knowing it would interfere with his objectivity. He became ill with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a common opportunistic disease, in 1992, and developed Kaposi’s sarcoma a year later. He dictated the last chapter of Conduct Unbecoming from his hospital bed, but he lived long enough to see that book make it to print and to see And the Band Played On made into an HBO movie. He died in 1994.
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