The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, January 13

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From ONE, October 1954, page 31.

From ONE, October 1954, page 31.

 Unitarian Church Sponsors Symposium on Homosexuality: 1954. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a long history of inquiry on a large number of contentious topics. In 1954, the First Unitarian Church of Miami hosted a forum called “Homosexuality: Cause, Society, and Crime.” According to a write-up in ONE magazine, the nation’s first gay publication, the attendance “broke all existing records.” The panel included Miami Mayor Abe Aronovitz, psychologist Dr. Syvil Marquit (no affiliation was given), Dr. Jack Capschan of the University of Miami’s psychology department, and Dr. Alvin Winder, psychologist for the Veterans Administration. The psychologists generally agreed that homosexuality wasn’t an illness, but they differed on whether it was “curable” or whether society was the problem. Mayor Aronovitz however pleaded ignorance on the subject, saying he was only there because “in his desire to please, he had instructed his secretary to accept all speaking engagements.”:

He said that there are three or four places in Miami where homosexuals gather, but that the proprietors were not in business to help these people, only to profit monetarily from their suffering. He said that he didn’t want Miami known as a haven for homosexuals or divorce getting or any other criminals, but that homosexuals should not be persecuted or hounded, because they were undoubtedly suffering from a sickness of the mind. To conclude, he added, “They certainly need kindly understanding, but whose rights shall we consider?”

The discussion was then opened to questions from the audience. The first question was “How can we cure homosexuality?” Dr. Kapschan answered with this question, “Is it not possible that instead of sick homosexuals, we have a sick society?” Dr. Marquit added that we must have a wider acceptance of homosexuals. “In other words,” he said, “your sex life is your own business.”

…Then Mayor Aronovitz asked, “I would like to know if there are any individuals who have had the glorous experience of normal sexual relations who prefer homosexual relations?” “I’m sorry to disappoint the Mayor,” answered Dr. Marquit, “but it has been proven that a large percentage of confirmed homosexuals have experienced ‘glorious’ heterosexual relations. Then it was asked “If these, people are to be driven from the bars, beaches, and other gathering places, where would you have them spend their leisure time?” Mayor Aronovitz answered that if society accepted this, it should not be persecuted.

To the question “Is prejudice against homosexuality related to intolerance?” Dr. Kapschan answered, “Yes, research has proven that prejudice is generally against a number of minority groups, not just homosexuality. The authoritarian personality that condemns persons for their homosexual behavior is much more of a threat to society than the homosexual himself. They are psychoneurotics who need psychiatric treatment, not the harmless homosexual who varies from the so-called normal, criticized only insofar as what he does in bed. Prejudice against the homosexual makes an especially good scapegoat for the authoritarian personality.”

ONE’s editors were greatly encouraged by the forum, and hoped that it would “lead to more stimulated discussions by qualified people, sponsored by churches and other civic-minded groups.” Those hopes were short-lived however, as Mayor Aronovitz would go on that year to lead a notoriousanti-gay witch hunt in his city (see Aug 3, Aug 11, Aug 12, Aug 13 (twice that day), Aug 14, Aug 15, Aug 16, Aug 26, Aug 31, Sep 1, Sep 2, Sep 7, Sep 15, Sep 19, Oct 6, Oct 20, Nov 12 and Dec 16).

[Source: Unsigned. “Who’s Sick?” ONE 2, no. 2 (February 1954): 4-5.]

ONE's first issue, January 1953.

ONE’s first issue, January 1953.

 US Supreme Court Issues First Gay Rights Ruling: 1958. It was barely a ruling, just a terse, one-sentence line, issued by the Supreme Court without hearing oral arguments. Reading the one-page document without knowing anything about the cases mentioned therein would leave one without the slightest idea what the whole thing was about. But that was all it took for the US Supreme Court to affirm the rights of the first major gay magazine, ONE, to be distributed by the U.S. Postal Service without its subject matter, homosexuality, being declared obscene.

When ONE debuted in January 1953, it sported a very sophisticated look, with bold graphics and professional typset and design. It  quickly caught the attention gays and lesbians across the country, and circulation jumped to nearly 2,000 within a few months — with most subscribers paying extra to have their magazine delivered in an unmarked wrapper. By today’s standards, ONE is tame. There were no racy pictures, its fiction was mostly limited to depictions of longing and desire, and there was nary any evidence of physical contact on its pages.

But what the magazine lacked in raciness, it made up for in political audacity. ONE’s editorial tone was bold and unapologetic, covering politics, civil rights, legal issues, police harassment, employment and familial problems, and other social, philosophical, historical and psychological topics. And most importantly, ONE quickly became a voice for thousands of silent gays and lesbians across the U.S., many of whom wrote letters of deep gratitude to ONE’s editors. But in a sign of those times, all letters to the editor were published anonymously — from “m” in Winston-Salem, North Carolina or from “f” in Beaumont, Texas.

The August 1953 issue was held by the Post Office for three weeks.

The August 1953 issue was held by the Post Office for three weeks.

ONE also caught the eye of the U.S. Post Office. Since its inception, Los Angeles postal authorities vetted each issue before deciding whether it was legal to ship under the Post Office’s stringent anti-obscenity standards. And since homosexuality was illegal in most states, ONE had the added problem of possibly being guilty of promoting criminal activity. The Post Office finally acted in August 1953, holding up that month’s issue for three weeks while deciding if it violated federal laws. The cover story for that issue was on “homosexual marriage,” making ONE the first gay publication to tackle the subject seriously (see Aug 20). Finally, officials in Washington decided the magazine didn’t violate federal laws and ordered the LA Post Office to release it for shipment.

ONE, true to its aggressive stance, reacted defiantly to that move in its October issue by proclaiming in an editorial printed on its covers, “ONE is not grateful”:

ONE's defiant message to the Post Office was splayed on the front and back cover of the October 1953 issue.

ONE’s defiant message to the Post Office was splayed on the front and back cover of the October 1953 issue.

Your August issue is late because the postal authorities in Washington and Los Angeles had it under a microscope. They studied it carefully from the 2nd until the 18th of September and finally decided that there was nothing obscene, lewd or lascivious in it. They allowed it to continue on its way. We have been found suitable for mailing.

This official decision changes our status considerably. Incredible as it may seem to everyone else but us, we have been pronounced respectable. The Post Office found that ONE is obscene in no way, incites no one to anything but thought and doesn’t want to overthrow the government. This decision will also indicate to the timorous deviate that we are a safer bet than once assumed. Many who were contented to be told what to read, will now consider the matter of their own dignity and human rights. Subscriptions will mount astronomically. We are prepared.

…But one point must be made very clear. ONE is not grateful. ONE thanks no one for this reluctant acceptance. It is true that this decision is historic. Never before has a governmental agency of this size admitted that homosexuals not only have legal rights but might have respectable motives as well. The admission is welcome, but it’s tardy and far from enough. As we sit around quietly like nice little ladies and gentlemen gradually educating the public and the courts at our leisure, thousands of homosexuals are being unjustly arrested, blackmailed, fined, jailed, intimidated, beaten, ruined and murdered. ONE’s victory might seem big and historic as you read of it in the comfort of your home (locked in the bathroom? hidden under a stack of other magazines? sealed first class?). But the deviate hearing of our late August issue through jail bars will not be overly impressed.

But as defiant as ONE was in the October 1953 issue, they knew that the threat of closure due to postal censorship still loomed large — that is, if finances and distribution problems didn’t get to them first. Their prediction for astronomical subscriptions didn’t materialize, and ONE was forced to skip the August and September issues the following year. With such precarious finances, the last thing ONE needed was more legal trouble. ONE’s editors asked Eric Julber, their young straight lawyer fresh out of law school, to write a set of rules for the staff to follow — what they could publish, and what they should avoid. When readers began to complain that ONE was too tame, the editors asked Julber to print his rules in the October 1954 issue with a cover declaring, “You Can’t Print It!” Those rules prohibited:

The October 1954 issue of ONE. Ironically, this is the issue that got the magazine blocked by the Post Office.

(1) Lonely hearts ads, seeking pen pals or meetings.

(2) “Cheesecake” art or photos. To readers who ask, “But how about all the girlie magazines?” I can only reply that in our society, visual stimulation of man by woman is tolerated to a far greater extent than attempted visual stimulation of man by man, for what is in law a criminal purpose.

(3) Descriptions of sexual acts, or the preliminaries thereto. Again here, what is permissible in heterosexual literature is not permissible in ONE’s context.

(4) Descriptions of experiences which become too explicit. I.e., permissible: “John was my friend for a year.” Not permissible: “That night we made mad love.”

(5) Descriptions of homosexuality as a practice which the author encourages in others, or waxes too enthusiastic about.

(6) Fiction with too much physical contact between the characters. I.e., characters cannot rub knees, feel thighs, hold hands, soap backs, or undress before one another. (All examples taken from recent contributions).

Julber also insisted that he review each issue before it went to the publisher. But all this failed to keep ONE out of trouble — maybe because Julber didn’t strictly enforce his own rules. The October 1954 issue turned out to be arguably the raciest to date. That issue featured a fictional short story called “Sappho Remembered,” in which two young lovers touched each other four times, declared their love for each other, and the story had a happy ending. Another feature, a poem, made light of the arrest of several British public figures — including Lord Montagu (see Oct 20) and actor John Gielgud (see Apr 14) — on “morals” charges (“Lord Samuel is a legal peer / (While real are Monty’s curls!) / Some peers are seers but some are queers / And some boys WILL be girls.”). And there were two ads — one for the Swiss magazine Der Kreis (which, postal officials charged, meant that ONE was advertising “obscene materials” because Der Kreis often published beefcake photos; see Mar 16) and another for men’s pajamas and intimate wear (see today’s sponsor above).

That was enough for the Los Angeles Post Office to seize that issue — the one with “You Can’t Print It!” on the cover — and charge the editors with violating the 1873 Comstock Act, which prohibited sending “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” material through the mail. Jubler took the case for free, without the help of the ACLU (which was still defending the constitutionality of sodomy laws; see Jan 17) and sued the the Los Angeles Postmaster Otto Olesen in Federal Court. It didn’t go well. The judge ruled for the Post Office in March 1956, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in February 1957, calling ONE “morally depraving and debasing” because the magazine “has a primary purpose of exciting lust, lewd and lascivious thoughts and sensual desires in the minds of persons reading it.”

ONE then took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. To everyone’s surprise, the Court agreed to consider the case, its first ever dealing with homosexuality. Even more surprising, instead of granting certiorari and scheduling briefs and oral arguments, the Supreme Court simply issued a short, one-sentence decision on January 13, 1958 based on the Appeals court transcript and overturned the two lower courts. The Supreme Court’s order simply read:

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth circuit and was duly submitted.

On consideration whereof, it is ordered and adjudged by this Court tht the judgment of the said United States Court of Appeals, in this case, be, and the same is hereby, reversedl and that this cause e, and the same is herey, remanded to the United States district Court for the Southern District of California. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476.

ONE celebrates its victory. February 1958, page 16.

ONE celebrates its victory. February 1958, page 16.

That case cited in the order, Roth v. United States was the key. Roth was a landmark 1957 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court more narrowly defined obscenity as material whose “”dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest” to the “average person, applying contemporary community standards.” The court also found that “All ideas having even the slightest redeeming social importance — unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion — have the full protection of the guaranties” of the First Amendment. Thanks to Roth sorts of material that had been previously banned could be freely published and distributed — James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and so on. And now with ONE v. Olesen expanding Roth’s application to include homosexual themes, lesbian and gay publications could be mailed without legal repercussions — although many continued to experience harassment from the Post Office and U.S. Customs. Editor Don Slater (see Aug 21) celebrated the ONE decision in the February 1958 issue:

By winning this decision ONE Magazine has made not only history but law as well and has changed the future for all U. S. homosexuals. Never before have homosexuals claimed their right as citizens. Not even the Berdache, nor the Greeks, nor the Napoleonic Code, nor Wolfenden “recommendations,” nor The American Law Institute “recommendations” have managed to mean so much to so many. ONE Magazine no longer asks for the right to be heard; it now exercises that right. It further requires that homosexuals be treated as a proper part of society free to discuss and educate and propagandize their beliefs with no greater limitations than for any other group.

 Jesse Helms Calls Gays “Disgusting People”: 1990. When the three-term Senator from North Carolina stood on the platform at the state fairgrounds before a crowd of 1,700 to announce his intention to run for a fourth term, there was no doubt whatsoever what his platform would be: abortions and gays. “Family values in American are under attack as never before,” he said. “Think about it. Homosexuals and lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other. How do you like them apples?” Helms won that election, and another one again in 1996 before finally leaving the Senate in 2003. Helms is currently dead.

 Charles Nelson Reilly: 1931-2007. He was a very well respected Broadway actor, director and drama school teacher, but he was best known and beloved for his campy comedic roles and as a panelist on the game show The Match Game. His break on Broadway came in 1960 with Bye Bye Birdie. His part was small, but it opened the door to 1961’s Pulitzer prize-winning musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He was also featured in 1964’s Hello, Dolly! Through the 1960s and 70s, he had several comedic guest appearances on television. He was a regular on The Dean Martin Show and made countless appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His campy character and his flamboyant dress marked him as a gay man. He never explicitly acknowledged it, although he would joke about how “butch” he was on The Match Game. No one asked, he didn’t tell, but everyone knew and no one bothered much with keeping the secret. In 2002, he finally discussed his private live in his one-man show Save It for the Stage, which became the basis for the autobiographical independent film, The Life of Reilly. He was too ill to attend its premiere in 2006 at South by Southwest, and he died at home on in 2007.

 Rip Taylor: 1934. I’ll bet you didn’t know this: the King of Confetti, known for his handlebar mustache, wild wigs, crazy props, and compulsive confetti throwing, began his adult life as a page in the U.S. Senate. Explains a lot, doesn’t it? After being drafted to serve in the Korean War, he came home and began his career as a stand-up comic. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was a regular on several variety and game shows (including Hollywood Squares and The Gong Show), and a voice for Popeye and The Addams Family cartoons. His Gong Show gig led to his own brief program, $1.98 Beauty Show, which was produced by Gong Show executive and host Chuck Barris and was on the air from 1978 to 1980.

His schtick is that of an old fashioned gag man, deploying odd props as bad puns, dropping the worst one-liners imaginable, and manically throwing confetti. His show as been a mainstay in Vegas, either as an emcee for a chorus line show or an opening act for Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ann-Margaret. As a result, he was named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year for three years in a row in the 1970s. He’s also had a few more serious roles, including as Demi Moore’s boss in Indecent Proposal and in Broadway productions of Oliver!, Peter Pan and Anything Goes. More recently, The “Prince of Pandemonium” and the “Master of Mayhem” has had cameos in Will & Grace, George Lopez, and the first three Jackass movies. In 2006, he made another notable cameo appearance in his home town of Washington, D.C., as the grand martial for the Capital Pride parade. In 2010, he gave another more serious performance for his one-man show It Ain’t All Confetti.

Here’s a clip from 1987:

 Edmund White: 1940. He was born in Cincinnati and grew up in Chicago, then studied Chinese at the University of Michigan. He worked as a journalist in New York, then moved to France and settled in as a writer. In 1973, he co-wrote the first edition of The Joy of Gay Sex with psychologist Charles Silverstein, and that set him on his course of what one observer called his dedication to sexual truth-telling. His best known work, A Boy’s Own Story, was the first volume in his autobiographical-fiction trilogy that continued with The Beautiful Room Is Empty and The Farewell Symphony. His 2006 memoir, My Lives provides a frank and unflinching account of growing up gay in the Midwest and his life since then. In 2006, he told journalist Steve Dow, “Writing has always been my recourse when I’ve tried to make sense of my experience or when it’s been very painful. When I was 15 years old, I wrote my first (unpublished) novel about being gay, at a time when there were no other gay novels. So I was really inventing a genre, and it was a way of administering a therapy to myself, I suppose.”

White is currently a member of the faculty of Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program. His most recent novel, Jack Holmes and His Friend, was published in 2012.

 Nate Silver: 1978. The math whiz, baseball fanatic, poker player, and political polling savant who accurately predicted the outcome of the 2012 presidential election in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, wants it to be known that he is not a gay statistician, but a statistician who happens to be gay, while “ethnically straight.” To those who take such identity labels oh so seriously, Silver’s remarks challeneged an established orthodoxy, but one that is becoming increasingly irrelevant to those of Silver’s generation. As he once explained in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything”:

My quick-and-dirty view is that people are too quick to affiliate themselves with identity groups of all kinds, as opposed to carving out their own path in life.

Obviously, there is also the issue of how one is perceived by others. Living in New York in 2013 provides one with much a much greater ability to exercise his independence than living in Uganda — or for that matter living in New York forty years ago. So perhaps there’s a bit of a “you didn’t build that” quality in terms of taking for granted some of the freedoms that I have now.

And/but/also, one of the broader lessons in the history of how gay people have been treated is that perhaps we should empower people to make their own choices and live their own lives, and that we should be somewhat distrustful about the whims and tastes and legal constraints imposed by society.

Silver is the author of The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t. In March 2014, he expanded and re-launched FiveThirtyEight blog as a larger data journalism project for ESPN.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


January 13th, 2015

While Nate Silver’s “ethnically straight” statement comes across as a rejection of the gay community, he does have a point. Why do we never hear of “the straight community? Classifying us all by sexual preference is just another way to label and dismiss, and should, IMO, be rejected. What gender I fall in love with is no more indicative of me as a whole person than my hair colour!


January 13th, 2015

Strictly speaking the Unitarian Universalist Association didn’t exist in 1954. It was created in 1961 by the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America.


January 13th, 2015

Has Rip Taylor ever directly acknowledged being gay?

I’m waiting on Barry Manilow as well.

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