The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, March 4

Jim Burroway

March 4th, 2015

Events This Weekend: Belgian LGBT Film Festival, Brussels, Belgium; SWING Gay Ski Week, Lenzerheide, Switzerland; Winter Party, Miami, FL; Leather Alliance Weekend, San Francisco, CA; Sydney Mardi Gras, Sydney, NSW.

Fifty years ago today, the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. declared that “homosexuality is not a sickness, disturbance, or other pathology in any sense,” making it the first gay rights group to take a stand against the recognized authorities in psychiatry (see below). Frank Kameney announced the resolution in the May issue of Eastern Mattachine Magazine:

EasternMattachine1965.05Who among us wants to live in constant self-doubt, wondering whether he is sick. just because of his homosexuality? Who wants to be kept in perpetual suspense regarding his status as a complete human being? Shall we leave it up to the psychiatrists, ministers, government, police — who are so often strangely bereft of the aura of insight, honesty, disinterested, omniscience, and goodness which they’re supposed to have?

No, the duty lies with the organizations which represent the homosexual. It is up to them to defend his interests in a positive fashion, by striving to obtain his civil rights and by offering the individual homosexual a constructive image of himself. It does not show integrity for an organization purporting to side with the homosexual to remain mute on a crucial matter like the question of whether or not homosexuality is an illness, an issue around which so many problems, both individual and collective, revolve. It would be self-defeating for a homophile group in its fight against unscrupulous and cold-hearted official prejudice to keep its opinions in abeyance, as some propose, until effective research has knocked down the straw man which incompetent scientists have set up. We cannot play the role of a passive battlefield, across which the “authorities” fight out the question of our sickness. In the last analysis, WE are the authorities, and it is up to us to take an active role in determining our own status and our own fate.

— Frank Kameny, “Positive Policy.” Eastern Mattachine Magazine 10, no. 4 (May 1965): 23-24.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From the Eastern Mattachine Magazine (Published by the Mattachine Society of New York), June 1965, page 26.

The Golden Calf was located just south of Thomas Circle and operated from 1963 to 1970. It was a popular meeting place for members of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. The entire 14th Street corridor has been redeveloped over the past few decades, with the entire block now taken up with high-rise apartment buildings, condos and offices.

The Arrow, Sydney, New South Wales, March 4, 1932, page 2 (Click to enlarge).

“Wide Open Immorality Among Brisbane Perverts”: 1932. The Arrow, published in Sydney, New South Wales between 1906 and 1933, was a sporting weekly which often augmented its sports and racing coverage with attention-grabbing stories of a scandalous nature (see also Jan 8 and Dec 23). Think of it as sort of a cross between the Daily Racing Forum and National Enquirer. And in the 1930s, there was nothing more scandalous that the “Wide Open Immorality Among Brisbane Perverts” which screamed across page two on March 4, 1932. The immorality? “Weddings” — in scare quotes “Between men followed by ‘ceremonies’ that shock the world”:

THE growth of the pervert population of Brisbane, beautiful capital of Queensland, is astounding, and in the last year hundreds of these queer semi-feminine men have made the city their headquarters.

Now they have evolved into a cult, with two main sects, one on the north and the other on the south side of the town, with the river dividing them. And occasionally they meet at queer, indecent, degrading ceremonies when perverted lusts come into full play and shocking rituals are celebrated.

IN the last two weeks there have been two “weddings” — ghastly, horrifying spectacles of painted men and primping lads united in a sacrilegious blasphemy that they call the “bonds of matrimony.” Strangely enough, they conduct these luridly immoral gatherings absolutely free from police interference, while the fact that these orgies are held is no secret in Brisbane. Professional people have been invited as guests to witness the “weddings”—
astounding revelation that perversion of this rotten type is so openly accepted in Brisbane.

Nowhere else in the world — not even in Berlin, with its open homo-sexual clubs — is there the open boast that there are these ceremonies or the widespread extension of this sordid cult of male perversion.

…Even the “honeymoon” is celebrated in public amid the plaudits of the rest of the painted men-dolls, dancing round in a hideous circle — the whole scene resembling a nightmare of evil. The ages of these cult-fanatics and perverts seem to range about the same — somewhere between 18 and 25. One young lad was initiated at the last “wedding” at South Brisbane last week — by a public ceremony, in which he stripped like a bride, was clad in fancy raiment, and then his virtue taken from him — in perverted fashion — while an orgy of lust broke out immediately afterwards.

This in Brisbane, in the year 1932! It is almost unbelievable, but true.

More likely unbelievable than true, The Arrow closed by demanding “Police action, speedily, please!”

Cedric Adams

60 YEARS AGO: Minnesota’s Gay Community Responds To Father’s Letter: 1955. The previous Sunday, popular Minneapolis broadcaster and columnist Cedric Adams published a letter in The Minneapolis Star from a father who learned that his son was gay (see Feb 27). According to the father, his son had undergone therapy and “has been salvaged,” but that Minneapolis was still rife with homosexuals with police were doing nothing about it. Adams published the letter in order to, at the very least, “point a finger at the condition.” Two days later, he followed up with a selection of letters from the superintendent of the Minneapolis Police Department defending the department’s policies on policing gay bars (see Mar 1). Adams also published a few letters from readers which, while not exactly enlightened on the phenomenon of sexual orientation, were at least restrained — restrained for 1955 — for not calling for a massive crackdown of some sort which had been common in many other cities across the U.S.

That alone was remarkable — for 1955 — and the fact that it is remarkable for 1955 tells us how far we’ve come in the six decades since then. But what is truly remarkable is that Adams decided to give the last word on the subject to gay people themselves. This was his column for Friday, March 4:

THE HOMOSEXUAL PROBLEM, as touched off by the letter here from a Minneapolis father; sparked by an answer from Thomas Jones, superintendent of police in Minneapolis, and supplemented by an official suggestion from the University of Minnesota, has brought one of the greatest mail responses This Corner has had in several months. In order to be completely fair about the charges and the countercharges, perhaps we should give the homosexuals their chance. The following excerpts from letters are submitted without comment. The opinions expressed are those of the authors of the letters. Please bear that in mind.

“I AM SHOCKED that you, of all people, should stoop so low as to use a letter for a vicious and cowardly attack. Did the father in question ask his son who forced him to go to those bars? The boy was an incipient homosexual seeking his own kind. That son received his homosexual bent from one or both of two factor heredity or environment. The father should know he was responsible on both counts. Why did you pick on one minority for a scathing attack? Why not work toward a happy integration of all men into a society we can be proud of rather than striking at minorities on senseless grounds and forcing them underground?”

“I’VE BEEN A FAN of yours for 20 years, but all of that is shattered now. You have thrown ethics to the wind in attempting to editorialize on a subject about which obviously you know nothing. How can you call any situation alarming, shocking, a social danger, worthy of investigation? Homosexuality is as old as history itself. Many great men and women have been homosexuals and yet lived very useful and worthwhile lives by contributing some of the best works in art, literature and music. No man ought to pass judgment on another man’s way of living. If a man or a woman is born physically abnormal, why not try to help them? If they prefer to be with people of their own sex, why not leave them alone? I am really sincere when I say that I think both you and the Minneapolis father made a vicious attack on an innocent minority of our society. And you class them with thieves, dope addicts and other social misfits. You would have done better to study the situation before you attacked. Careless words, thoughtlessly spoken, can leave scars that never heal. It is so easy to hurt instead of help.”

“HOW STUPID, RIDICULOUS and narrow-minded can you get? It’s regrettable that so many so-called normal people know so little about homosexuals and their problems. I’ve been around for quite some time. And I have yet to find anyone who has been ‘taught’ to be a homosexual. One may be enlightened on the activities of a homosexual, but unless one has a natural inclination it’s doubtful he will become one. Either he w1ll be repulsed by the whole idea or he will experiment with it and if he finds it’s where he belongs, he’ll stay with it. No one taught me to be a homosexual. When I approached the age of 17, I realized what I was, accepted the fact and have been content with it ever since. My parents know that I am a homosexual. They’re completely understanding…

“FEW OF THE THOUSANDS of us In the city are mentally ill. Most of us know what we are and are content to be so. All we ask is to be understood and left alone. I have two suggestions for you and others similarly concerned. Read the book, ‘The Homosexual in America,’ by Donald Webster Corey (see Sep 18) or a magazine called, ‘One,’ published in Los Angeles (See Oct 15, Jan 13). Before the citizens in this area lose their minds worrying about their children becoming homosexuals, let them read the above material and do a little serious thinking. I don’t mean to imply that homosexuality is not a problem, but I do say the problem will not be solved by closing the places we frequent or by sending us off to mental institutions or a workhouse or a prison.”

“MAN TENDS TO IGNORE this problem in ignorance. The basic chemistry of the human mind and body are born in delicate balance, particularly in the formative years of youth. Disillusionment, emotional insecurity, domination or indifference of a parent tend to upset this balance. There is no sure cure for homosexuality. The taboos of society tend to restrain the victims to secret. Thus is delayed much needed help and perhaps sealing forever the door to a happy life. May I give this advice to parents: Get to your children early in life with the facts and pitfalls of life. Enlighten yourselves — that you may look down in mercy. The homosexual will probably remain until long after our generation is forgotten. If found among your loved ones, give help, aid, treatment. Do not cast them out. Their sorrow is already greater than any you can inflict.” (Parenthetical information added.)

This is a fascinating glimpse into how gay people in the upper Midwest saw themselves: a mix of proud self-acceptance with a heavy dose of internalized homophobia from society’s then-unchallenged message that homosexuality was, at minimum, a defect. It would also take another ten years — as you will see below — before gay activists begin to take a bold step to address that problem.

[Source: “In This Corner, with Cedric Adams.” Minneapolis Star (March 4, 1955). As reprinted in ONE magazine, 3, no. 4 (April 1955): 18-23.]

50 YEARS AGO: Mattachine Society of Washington DC Declares Homosexuality Is Not A Mental Illness: 1965. We often think of Stonewall and 1969 as marking the of the more assertive gay rights movement, shoving aside the prior generation’s timidity and accommodation. But as I’ve written before, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you really wanted to point to a pivotal year which truly marked the beginning of the beginning of a self-confident and assertive stance on gay rights, that year would be 1965, not 1969. That year, began with a San Francisco police raid on a New Years’ Day party (see Jan 1). The community’s reaction resulted in the appointment of the first ever police liaison to the gay community and forever changed that city’s politics. Then later that month, The Washington Post, published a five part series which was the first relatively judgment-free, balanced, mostly accurate and sympathetic portrayal of gay people in a major newspaper (see Jan 31). New York activist Randy Wicker had already organized America’s first public protest for gay rights in New York in 1964 (see Sep 29), and 1965 would usher in the first public protests for gay rights in front of Independence Hall (see Jul 4) in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C., (see Apr 17May 29Jun 26Jul 31Aug 28, and Oct 23).

March 4, 1965 marked another momentous step in the gay rights movement when  and Frank Kameny shepherded this resolution through the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.:

“The Mattachine Society of Washington takes the position that in the absence of valid evidence to the contrary, homosexuality is not a sickness, disturbance, or other pathology in any sense, but is merely a preference, orientation, or propensity on par with, and not different in kind from, heterosexuality.”

This might seem obvious today, but in the 1960s this was still considered a radical step. The mental health community regarded homosexuality as a mental illness, and many in the gay community still acquiesced to that diagnosis. Or, if not that, they often still accommodated themselves to the idea that homosexuality was some kind of a defect or shortcoming or — as one letter writer in Minnesota wrote above in 1955 — something to be pitied.

Getting the MSW to approve this resolution took two years of cajoling and lobbying. Jack Nichols (see Mar 16) had been collecting studies and arguments against the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. At the urging of Frank Kameny (see May 21), Nichols presented a formal statement to the MSW board in Octiber 1963, arguing why it was imperative for the board to take a stand against the APA:

The mental attitude of our own people toward themselves that they are not well — that they are not whole, that they are LESS THAN COMPLETELY HEALTHY — is responsible for UNTILD NUMBERS OF PERSONAL TRAGEDIES AND WARPED LIVES. By failing to take a definite stand, a strong stand … I believe that you will not only weaken the movement ten-fold, but that you will fail in your duty to homosexuals who need more than anything else to see themselves in a better light. (Capitalizations in the original.)

The board rejected Nichols’s proposal, he, Kameny and MSW member Lilli Vincenz set about lobbying other members to support a resolution declaring that homosexuality wasn’t a disease. The counter-argument among activists was a rather simple one: Who would you believe? Credentialed doctors or amateur activists. As Kameny later recalled in 2008:

The decade-old gay movement of that time was really huge — there were actually five or six gay organizations in the entire country; that was it. Without being critical, that was a different cultural climate from the present; they were bland, defensive, and overly acquiescent to the so-called authorities and experts of the day.

That was not my personality. I insisted that we were the experts on ourselves as gay people, and on our homosexuality. So we set out trying, as best we could, to tackle what we saw as the problems besetting the gay community.

Furthermore, Kameny was no ordinary activist. He was a scientist, with a Ph.D. in astronomy, and was perfectly capable of evaluating the statistical weaknesses and deviations from the scientific method that prevented much of the published studies of psychiatry from being taken seriously by anyone expecting any level of rigor. As Kameny explained in a letter to New York activist Randy Wicker (see Feb 3):

I think that the major thing wrong is that the professional people tend to make their judgments upon samples limited to those who came to their offices for assistance, and thus in the statistical sense, are sampling extremely poorly, and come out with results based on an atypical group. This is especially true o f the homosexual group.

There are other faults too, of course, and one of the primary ones is a seeming inability, on the part of many of the professional people, to pull themselves away from the value judgments of the society around them, With the tie-in of those judgments to classical religion, convention, mores, etc.; and to look upon the ideal as conformity to the purely statistical “norm” rather than as an “adjusted” conformity to one’s own self and one’s own individuality, as one who is, with the limited assumptions that anyone who is not like everyone else is abnormal (in the non-statistical, defective, emotion-laden sense). There is also a tendency to accept certain widespread phenomena (e.g., heterosexuality) as being so “natural” that they d0 not need exploration or research, that their origins do not need explaining, and that departures from them are automatically pathological…

Kameny and Nichols identified the APA’s stance as the single most important factor standing in the way of the gay community’s goal of equality. As he explained n a 1964 letter to the Dick Leitsch of the Mattachine Society of New York,

IF society calls homosexuality a sickness (and it does) then the entire validity of our entire position, of our demands for equality, of everything for which we stand rests upon our responding to that sickness allegation with a denial… I do repeat: A position denying that homosexuality is a sickness, disturbance, pathology, etc., etc. is the single MOST important position which can be taken, at the present time, by the homophile movement and its individual member organizations.  (Capitalizations in the original.)

Kameny not only argued that homosexuality was not an illness, but he also disputed the mental health profession’s authority to even make such a pronouncement in the first place. This was important because many other gay and lesbian activists insisted that the movement had to defer to the “experts” in order to be credible. Kameny’s retort was to the point: “We are the experts on ourselves, and we will tell the experts they have nothing to tell us.” As Kameny explained in 2008:

The (resolution’s) opening clause — “in the absence of valid evidence to the contrary” — functionally shifted the burden of proof from us to them. If those who believed that homosexuality was pathological had their evidence, let them present it. Until they presented it, it wasn’t pathological. They never did…

After two years of arguing and cajoling, Kameny, Nichols and Vincenz finally got the MSW board to agree to the resolution. Them, Kameny, along with several other activists in cluding Barbara Gittings (see Jul 31) and John Fryer (see Nov 7), began the eight-year task of getting the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

[Sources: Franklin E. Kameny. “Does research into homosexuality matter?” The Ladder 9, no. 8 (May 1965): 14-20.

Franklin E. Kameny. “How it all started.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health 13, no. 2 (April 2009): 76-81. Remarks delivered at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., May 2008.

Michael G. Long. Gay is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014): 70-72, 88.]

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?


March 4th, 2015

How about Alabama and the impeding primacy showdown? Years from now, America will view Roy Moore and the Alabama Supreme with the same disdain that they view George Wallace, Lester Maddox, Jesse Helms, and the Klan.

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