The Daily Agenda for Thursday, February 5

Jim Burroway

February 5th, 2015

Events This Weekend: NGLTF’s Creating Change Conference, Denver, CO; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) Powwow, San Francisco, CA.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, March 5, 1981, pages 16, 17 of the classifieds section.

From The Body Politic (Toronto, ON), Winter 1974, page 16.

From The Body Politic (Toronto, ON), Winter 1974, page 16.

Toronto Police Conduct Massive Bathhouse Raids: 1981. Operation Soap was a meticulously planned police action, six months in the making. It’s genesis is believed to have been the result of a successful anti-gay political campaign that drove a pro-gay administration from City Hall. At precisely 11:00 p.m. More than 160 police, using an unusual interpretation of an anti-prostitution law banning “bawdyhouses,” conducted a massive, simultaneous raid on four bathhouses: the Club Baths, Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, the Barracks, and the Richmond Street Health Emporium. Peter Bochove, co-owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium remembered:

They leapt the counter and grabbed the cashier and bust the door open. And the first fifty arrived in the first wave. They spread out and very quickly began running around and rounding people up. … The other fifty officers arrived fairly quickly, I guess they must have had them standing by. And then they went out to their police cars and came in with their tools. They came in carting incredible numbers of crowbars and sledgehammers. At that point they were offered the keys to the lockers and the room. They held up a crowbar to me and said, “We brought out own.”

(Photo: Body Politic)

Armed with crowbars and sledgehammers, police herded patrons into the lobbies, with many of them dressed only in towels, and marked numbers on their arms. At one bathhouse, towel-clad patrons were lined up in the snow on the street for questioning. One patron at the Barracks had a different experience:

I was in a room with someone and I heard a noise. I got up to open the door but it burst open and a guy in plain clothes pushed in and shoved me up against the wall, my face pushed hard into the wall. My nose was lacerated and bloodied. The cop kept punching me in the lower back and pulling my hair and saying “You ‘re disgusting, faggot. Look at this dirty place.”

I was choked, and something was jabbed into my neck. Before they took us out of the room, they used a pen to gouge the room number into the backs of our hands.

I was naked. They herded me into the shower room with about 8 other men and we had to stand against the wall with both hands up against the wall. I couldn’t see anything but I could hear a guy choking, and then a cop said, “If you’re having trouble breathing we can give you trouble with your spleen or kidneys.”

I could hear them moving around, kicking things, overturning things. Someone said “Too bad the place doesn’t catch fire, we ‘d have to catch them escaping custody.” Somebody else said, ‘Too bad the showers aren’t hooked up to gas.”

The Richmond Street Health Emporium was so badly damaged by police that it never reopened. Many of those arrested were pressured to reveal the names of their wives and employers. All told, 286 men were charged as “found-ins” and twenty owners were charged with “keeping a common bawdyhouse.”

The mass arrest was Canada’s largest in more than a decade.  The following night, 3,000 protesters staged a mass demonstration that the intersection of Yonge and Wellesly, at the heart of the gayborhood, that descended into a riot, with fires and smashed car windows. When police responded, many of them removed their badges so they couldn’t be identified. The crowd made its way to the Division 52 stationhouse, where they were met with 195 officers surrounding the building. The crowd then moved on to Queen’s Park and the Ontario Legislature, where a phalanx of police dove into the crowd and attacked protesters. The entire confrontation quickly drew comparisons to New York’s Stonewall rebellion twelve years earlier.

The following week, gay community attended a police commission meeting and demanded an independent investigation into the raid, while protesters gathered outside the station. According to the Body Politic, Toronto’s gay newspaper:

Protesters gather outside while community leaders meet with police commissioners.

Protesters gather outside while community leaders meet with police commissioners. (Photo: Body Politic)

During many of the presentations, Commissioner Winfield McKay smirked, or conspicuously yawned. Other commissioners talked among themselves, or stared impassively as (MCC pastor) Brent Hawkes referred them to a Toronto Star story that day revealing that the police operating budget for 1981 is requesting a total of $7.5 million for the intelligence and morality bureaus together, while asking for a scant $1 million for homicide investigation. … The meeting finally dissolved in hoots and jeers as (Police Commission Chairman Paul) Givens told the crowd, “We deny any allegations of police harassment,” and said there was no need for an inquiry and there would be no inquiry.

Globe and Mail editorial called the police raid “ugly” and said it was “more like the bully-boy tactics of a Latin American republic … than of anything that has a place in Canada.” Hawkes went on a hunger strike demanding that police be held accountable. Two Toronto aldermen called for an investigation by the Ontario Attorney General, who adamantly refused the request.  But McKay held firm, telling a local television station that the gay community “squealed like a collection of stuck pigs,” and that the cost of am inquiry couldn’t be justified.

February 20 demonstration (Photo: Body Politic.)

February 20 demonstration (Photo: Body Politic.)

Meanwhile, the gay community organized like never before, with 1,400 people joining the Right to Privacy Committee to set up a defense fund for those charged. They also organized a second demonstration on February 20, where 4,000 protesters marched in a peaceful demonstration from Queen’s Park to the 52 Division headquarters. Thirty-five undercover police tried to disrupt that march by trying to provoke fights in the crowd. Several of them were seen helping to carry the front banner. Their actions were later revealed by the Body Politic and the Toronto Clarion, both of which published photos of the undercover officers. Two weeks later on March 6, a “Gay Freedom Rally” was held, which became, in effect, Toronto’s first Gay Pride event.

Court cases stemming from the raid dragged on throughout the next two years. By 1983, 87% of the “found-ins” were acquitted. Thirty-six were found guilty but received absolute or conditional charges. Many owners however were found guilty and fined. Smaller scale raids continued over the next several years. But the raids, which were meant to silence an emerging gay community, had the opposite effect of galvanizing the gay community to organize and become politically involved in the city’s political life and, ultimately, in national politics.

[Sources: “Taking It To The Streets.” The Body Politic (March 1981): 9-12, 16.

“Who Is the Next? Me?” The Body Politic (April 1981): 9-11.

“Brent Hawkes: Hungry for Rights.” The Body Politic (April 1981): 11.

“Uncovering the Enemy Within.” The Body Politic (April 1981): 12.

“Exposing the Big Lie: The Camera vs the Cops As the Plainclothes Caper Unfolds.” The Body Politic (May 1981): 10-11.]

Rep. Jon Hinson Arrested on Sodomy Charge: 1981. The closet can be a crazy place. When Rep. Jon Hinson (R-MS) was running for re-election to a second term in 1980, he admitted that in 1976, while he was working as a Congressional aide, he had been arrested for exposing himself to an undercover policeman at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. At that same news conference, Hinson also revealed that he was one of the survivors of a 1977 fire that broke out at Cinema Follies, a gay theater in Washington’s seedy Southeast (see Oct 24). That fire killed nine people. “I must be totally frank and tell you that both of these incidents were in areas frequented by some of Washington’s homosexual community,” he told reporters. But he vowed to stay with his wife and denied that he was gay, blaming those incidents on heavy drinking, which he said that he had now gotten under control. Mississippi’s Republican party rallied around the Congressman and he was elected to a second term.

But just barely a month into that second term, Hinson was in trouble again. Hinson was arrested, along with another man, for having sex in a public men’s room in the Longworth House Office building. Hinson and the other man were arrested on charges of sodomy, a felony which carried a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. The charge was reduced to attempted sodomy, a misdemeanor — then a standard practice in D.C. —  to which Hinson entered a plea of not guilty and promptly checked himself into a hospital for “mental and physical fatigue.” He finally yielded to calls for his resignation in April and later changed his plea to no contest, for which he was given a 30-day suspended sentence and one year’s probation.

Soon after, Hinson finally came out as gay. He helped organize Virginians for Justice — by then he decided to remain in Fairfax, Virginia rather than return to Mississippi — and became something of a local gay rights activist as a founding member of the Fairfax Lesbian and Gay Citizens Association. Hinson died in 1995 from complications of AIDS.

Boulevard Albert 1er, Leopoldville, 1950s.

Boulevard Albert 1er, Leopoldville, 1950s.

AIDS Traced to 1959: 1998. The journal Nature published a short report by a team led by Tuofu Zhu of Rockefeller University. That team examined the genome of an HIV-positive blood sample taken in 1959 from an unidentified man in Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo (today’s Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire). By looking at how the virus has mutated over the past 40 years, and by projecting the mutation of that particular virus (dubbed ZR59) back further, they were able to estimate when the various HIV virus groups evolved from a common ancestor. Zhu and colleagues concluded:

Our results … indicate that the major-group viruses that dominate the global AIDS pandemic at present shared a common ancestor in the 1940s or the early 1950s. Given their ‘starburst’ phylogeny, HIV-1 was probably introduced into humans shortly before that time frame, about a decade or two earlier than previously estimated. …The factors that propelled the initial spread of HIV-1 in central Africa remain unknown: the role of large-scale vaccination campaigns, perhaps with multiple uses of non-sterilized needles, should be carefully examined, although social changes such as easier access to transportation, increasing population density and more frequent sexual contacts may have been more important.


Leopoldville, 1952.

That single serendipidous 1959 blood sample from a man whose name and fate is lost to history provided an important part of our understanding of where the virus came from. Simon Wain-Hobson wrote a commentary in the same issue of Nature explaining its implications:

What else is the position of ZR59 among HIVs telling us? First, it probably means that the global epidemic was indeed founded by a single HIV although, in this respect, it is no different from the annual ‘flu strain.’ Second, the centre of the radiation and ZR59 are a considerable stretch from any simian counterpart, suggesting that HIV had a human history before it went global. Third, the Big Bang seems to have occurred around, or just after, the Second World War. Emerging microbial infections often result from adaptation to changing ecological niches and habits. And, of course, the post-war era saw the collapse of European colonialism and attendant changes in urban and technological traits. As usual, when data are limited we’re in the realm of speculation, meaning that the story is not over. …

In 1959, the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine was awarded to Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg for their work on nucleicacid polymerases, while the world rocked around to Elvis and Chuck Berry. There was fog in the English Channel.

And in 1959, a blood sample was drawn from an unknown HIV-positive man in the Belgian Congo. What he must have gone through afterwards…

[Sources: Zhu, Tuofu; Korber, Bette E.; Mahmias, Andre J.; Hooper, Edward; Sharp, Paul M.; Ho, David D. ” An African HIV-1 sequence from 1959 and implications for the origin of the epidemic.” Nature 391, no. 6667 (February 5, 1998): 594-597.

Wain-Hobson, Simon. “Immunodeficiency viruses, 1959 and all that.” Nature 391, no. 6667 (February 5, 1998): 531-532.]

William S. Burroughs: 1914-1997. A canonical figure of the Beat Generation, the novelist, poet, and spoken word performer’s best-known work is his third novel, Naked Lunch. Published in 1959, it was immediately controversial for its obscene language, unabashed portrayal of Burroughs’s heroin addiction and frank descriptions of sex, including his own homosexuality. Naked Lunch was banned in Los Angeles and Boston, where it became last the work of literature to be prosecuted for being obscene in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court lifted the ban in 1966, following a series of trials that included testimony by Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer in support of Burroughs.

If there was a secret to Burroughs’s art, it was this: He simply put his chaotic life to paper. A longtime heroin addict, he and his wife fled to Mexico in 1950 after Louisiana police discovered letters between himself and Allen Ginsberg discussing a drug delivery. While there, he shot and killed his wife while playing “William Tell” at a party. He was eventually able to avoid imprisonment after witnesses testified that the gun went off accidentally. For the several decades, he was in and out of drug rehab and financially destitute much of the time before finally kicking the habit, temporarily, in the mid-1970s. It was at about that time when friends hit on the idea of booking him to read from his works in bookstores and other small performance spaces. His career as a performance artist was launched, which also revived his literary career. He went on to collaborate with Laurie Anderson, Throbbing Gristle, Kurt Cobain, Ministry, and Sonic Youth. He also appeared in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. He died in 1997 following a heart attack.

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?

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