The Daily Agenda for Friday, May 15

Jim Burroway

May 15th, 2015

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Brussels, Belgium; Chisinau, Moldova; Maspalomas, Gran Canaria; Kerry, Ireland; Long Beach, CA; New Hope, PA; Poitiers, France; São Paulo, Brazil; Springfield, IL.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY.

Other Events This Weekend: Bear Watch, Galveston, TX; Urban Bear Weekend, New York, NY.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From the Times of Louisiana Communities (Baton Rouge, LA), July 1981, page 4.

From the Times of Louisiana Communities (Baton Rouge, LA), July 1981, page 4.

Jefferson Withers

 “Writhing Bedfellows”: 1826. Few intimate letters between men survive from the early nineteenth century, which makes this one so remarkable. Back when the nation was young, Jefferson Withers, 22, wrote to his dear friend, James Hammond, 18, a letter which is both frank and playful — even “campy”:

Dear Jim:

I got your Letter this morning about 8 o’clock, from the hands of the Bearer . . . I was sick as the Devil, when the Gentleman entered the Room, and have been so during most of the day. About 1 o’clock I swallowed a huge mass of Epsom Salts — and it will not be hard to imagine that I have been at dirty work since. I feel partially relieved — enough to write a hasty dull letter.

I feel some inclination to learn whether you yet sleep in your Shirt-tail, and whether you yet have the extravagant delight of poking and punching a writhing Bedfellow with your long fleshen pole — the exquisite touches of which I have often had the honor of feeling? Let me say unto thee that unless thou changest former habits in this particular, thou wilt be represented by every future Chum as a nuisance. And, I pronounce it, with good reason too. Sir, you roughen the downy Slumbers of your Bedfellow — by such hostile — furious lunges as you are in the habit of making at him — when he is least prepared for defence against the crushing force of a Battering Ram. Without reformation my imagination depicts some awful results for which you will be held accountable — and therefore it is, that I earnestly recommend it. Indeed it is encouraging an assault and battery propensity, which needs correction — & uncorrected threatens devastation, horror & bloodshed, etc. …

[The letter goes on for two more pages on unrelated matters, then signs off–]

With great respect I am the old

James Henry Hammond

Withers would later become a judge in South Carolina and delegate to the conferences that established a provisional government for the Confederacy. He also served as a Congressman for the Confederacy from South Carolina. Hammond became a Congressman, Senator and Governor of South Carolina, and one of the South’s more important advocate for slavery as a Christian institution, as a blessing and a moral good. the greatest of all the great blessings which a kind Providence has bestowed upon our glorious region.” Slavery was also, according to Hammond, “is not only not a sin but especially commanded by God through Moses and approved by Christ through His Apostles.” Hammond’s personal diaries revealed he made sexual advances on his three teenage nieces, and he detailed his sexual relationship with a slave who bore him several children, and his sexual exploitation of her twelve year old daughter who bore several more children. Neither Withers nor Hammond, from the standpoint of American history, come across as admirable people, yet Hammond has become a modern-day hero for David Barton and others who promote the “Christian Nation” view of American history.

But all of that came later. Meanwhile back in 1826, Hammond replied to Wither’s letter on June 3, although that letter is now lost. But Withers followed with another letter the following September (see Sep 24.)

[Source: Martin Duberman. “‘Writhing Bedfellows’: 1826.” Journal of Homosexuality 6, no. 1 (1981): 85-101. Available online here.]

Gay men wearing the pink triangle as convicts under §175 during the Nazi era.

Gay men wearing the pink triangle as convicts under §175 during the Nazi era.

Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code Adopted: 1871. Germany’s history has been, much more often than not, a history of several separate countries and kingdoms. It had only existed as a unified country for 75 years before it was divided again in the aftermath of World War II. It remained divided until the 1990 reunification, which means that Germany has experienced only a little bit more than a century’s worth of unity. The history of Paragraph 175, the part of the German legal code which criminalized homosexual acts between men, in many ways mirrors Germany’s history of unification and division.

In the early 1800s, what we now know as Germany was actually a fractured realm of some 300 smaller political entities which were, more or less, content to fight or cooperate with each other, as interests and politics dictated. But Napoleon’s invasion of Europe brought about a rising feeling of “Germanness” among the German-speaking people of central Europe. After France’s withdrawal, much of the rest of Germany’s history was marked by increasing competition between the two largest powers, Austria and Prussia, a contest which was finally decided in 1866 when Prussia emerged victorious in the Austro-Prussian war. With Austria sidelined, Prussia formed the North German Confederation with Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau, and the city of Frankfurt. Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria formed alliances with Prussia which brought them into its sphere of influence.

The proclamation of the German Empire at Versailles. Painting by Anton von Werner, 1885.

The Proclamation of the German Empire at Versailles. Painting by Anton von Werner, 1885.

Now it was France’s turn, as the newest threat to the German states, to play a critical role in Germany’s unification. As France sought to increase its influence in the region, the German states which were still independent became increasingly reliant on Prussia for protection. When tensions finally exploded in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, France experience something of a nineteenth-century version of the Blitzkrieg. Prussia, whose armies were much more mobile, quickly overwhelmed the disorganized French. Prussia quickly captured an entire French arming, along with Paris and Emperor Napoleon III. On January 18, 1871, the German princes gathered in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles to proclaim King Wilhelm I of Prussia the first German Kaiser.

This new Germany, comprised of what had been four kingdoms, six grand duchies, five duchies, seven principalities, three free cities and the imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine, each with their own systems of law. Prussia had already begun a process of systematically codifying its laws, and its penal code served as the basis for the penal code of the North German Confederation, which in turn became the basis of the united Germany’s penal code. On May 15, 1871, Paragraph 175 was adopted straight from the Prussia’s Paragraph 143, which read simply:

§ 175 Unnatural fornication

Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.

§175: The Disgrace of the Century!, 1922, by Kurt Hiller (see Aug 17).

§175: The Disgrace of the Century!, 1922, by Kurt Hiller (see Aug 17).

A notable feature of §175 was that lesbians weren’t criminalized under the law. In fact, sexual relations between women were never expressly prohibited. As for the men convicted under §175, they were subject to prison sentences ranging from one to four years. Prussia’s legal code proved a disappointment in some of the more liberal German states, where privacy rights were held in higher regard, and efforts to repeal §175 began almost immediately (see May 6, Aug 17Aug 28.) By the turn of the century, about 350 prosecutions per year for homosexuality were taking place, with a similar number of prosecutions for bestiality. It was about this time that Magnus Hirschfeld (see May 14) co-founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) whose first priority was §175’s repeal.

It might seem that the Weimar Republic years, between 1919 and 1930, would have been the best time to bring §175 to its rightful end. After all, the Weimar years are often regarded as the high water mark for homosexual rights advocacy and culture in the early twentieth century. That was especially true in Berlin during the so-called “golden era” of 1923 to 1929. Berlin’s legendary cabarets, theaters and salons saw an explosion of creativity, and dozens of clubs catered almost exclusively to the newly visible gay and transgender communities. But such liberal attitudes weren’t so prevalent outside of Berlin. Criminal charges for homosexuality rose from a little over 200 for 1920 to a peak of more than twelve hundred in 1925 and eleven hundred in 1926.

Arrests and convictions fell by 1929 to about eight hundred, which is when Hirschfeld’s committee almost succeded in its goal. The Reichstag’s Commission for Law Reform voted 15 to 13 in favor of a resolution to repeal it (see Oct 16). But two weeks later, stock markets crashed around the world and Germany was soon overtaken with political instability. The Nazis came to power in 1933 and expanded §175 to punish a broader range of “lewd and lascivious” behavior between men. This broader measure, which no longer required evidence of “fornication,” resulted in over 8,000 convictions annually by 1937. Many of those were sent to concentration camps, marked with a pink swastika.

Down with §175": A 1973 gay rights poster.

Down with §175″: A 1973 gay rights poster.

Germany was defeated and Nazism vanquished, but §175 remained in place. While allied armies liberated Jews, Poles and other prisoners from the ghastly concentration camps, gay men were sent to German prisons to serve out the remainder of their sentences. In West Germany, arrests and convictions under the Nazi-era §175 continued apace, averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 each year. In 1969, West Germany modified the code to exempt anyone over the age of 21, although, oddly, those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one were still subject to up to five years imprisonment. In 1973, the age of consent was lowered to eighteen, leaving §175 only punishing sex with minors of the same gender, although at a different standard than similar convictions for heterosexual acts with minors. Meanwhile East Germany informally reverted its practice back to the original pre-1935 version of §175 in 1950, although the Nazi revision remained officially on the books until 1968 when homosexuality was officially decriminalized between adults.

Germany’s 1871 unification brought §175 into existence. Germany’s 1990 reunification set the stage for finally killing it off for good. The reunited Bundestag finally repealed §175 altogether as part of the process of harmonizing the penal codes of East and West Germany.

65 YEARS AGO: Homosexual Drives As Menstrual Cycles: 1950. This was a time when Congress was preoccupied with two color-coded scares: The Red Menace of imaginary communists hiding in every cupboard and The Pink Menace of homosexuals working in federal offices. Congressman Arthur L. Miller (R-NE) was particularly incensed over the latter. He was also a doctor and a surgeon, which made this speech during a committee hearing particularly strange:

Some of these people are dangerous. They will go to any limit. These homosexuals have strong emotions. They are not to be trusted and when blackmail threatens they are a dangerous group. … It is found that the cycle of these individuals’ homosexual desires follow the cycle closely patterned to the menstrual period of women. There may be three or four days in each month that this homosexual’s instincts break down and drive the individual into abnormal fields of sexual practice.

Episcopal Church Allows Ordination of Gay Deacons: 1996. An Episcopal Church court threw out a heresy charge and ruled that an Bishop Walter C. Righter, did not violate the church’s core doctrine when he ordained openly gay Barry Stopfel as a deacon, the rank below that of a priest, in the Dioceses of Newark in 1990.

Phyllis Lyon and and Del Marton

California State Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Same-Sex Marriages: 2008. In a 4-3 decision, the California State Supreme Court ruled:

“[T]he language of section 300 limiting the designation of marriage to a union “between a man and a woman” is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute, and that the remaining statutory language must be understood as making the designation of marriage available both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. In addition, because the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples imposed by section 308.5 can have no constitutionally permissible effect in light of the constitutional conclusions set forth in this opinion, that provision cannot stand.”

The decision took effect on June 16, 2008, when gay rights pioneers Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin’s 55-year relationship was solemnized by the first official same-sex wedding in San Francisco. But two weeks earlier, California’s Secretary of State reported that marriage equality opponents had turned in enough signatures to place a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriages on the November ballot. Prop 8 passed, but was later declared unconstitutional in Federal Court. That decision is now working its way through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel has upheld the lower court’s ruling but narrowed its reasoning. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to rule on the merits because the appellants lacked standing. That sent the case all the way back to the Federal District Court which declared Prop 8 unconstitutional in the first place, making that original decision the one that stuck.

Jasper Johns’s “Map,” 1961 (Click to enlarge.)

85 YEARS AGO: Jasper Johns: 1930. He probably best known for his 1955 painting Flag, which is, just as its name implies, simply a painting of an American Flag. His focus on the mundane as subjects have led some to consider him a pop artist with an abstract impressionist streak, but it’s probably more accurate to see him as a ne0-Dadaist. Flag exemplifies that movement by taking an object or a popular image imbued with intense meaning and removing it from its context and thereby reducing it to a simple abstract design. Map (1961) does the same thing. It’s an ordinary map of the United States portrayed in an abstract impressionist style which reduces the iconic image to a series of color splotches and shapes. Flags, maps, stenciled words and numbers — all of these mundane yet symbolic images were subjects for Johns’s paintings.

Jasper Johns receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Johns was born in South Carolina and studied for three semesters at the University of South Carolina before moving to New York to study briefly at the Parson’s School of Design in 1949. After a stint in the military during the Korean War, Johns returned to New York where he met Robert Rauschenberg and they became lovers for eight years. It was through his connection with Rauschenberg that Johns was discovered by the art world. When prominent gallery owner visited Rauschenberg’s studio in 1958 and saw Johns’s work, he offered Johns a show on the spot. At that debut show, the Museum of Modern Art anointed Johns as a major figure in the art world by purchasing three of his paintings. By the 1980s, John’s paintings fetched higher prices than any other living artist in history. In 2011, Johns was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, making him the first painter to receive the award since 1977.

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