The Daily Agenda for Friday, September 4

Jim Burroway

September 4th, 2015

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Atlanta, GA (Black Pride); Calgary, AB; Duluth, MN; Grimsby, UK; Leicester, UK; Québec City, QC; Reading, UK; Stavanger, Norway.

Other Events This Weekend: Splash Days, Austin, TX; Show-Me State Rodeo, Kansas City, MO; Southern Decadence, New Orleans, LA; Gay Ski Week, Queenstown, NZ; Bears on Ice, Reykjavik, Iceland; Sitges Bears Week, Sitges, Spain.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From David, May 1972, page 54.

From David, May 1972, page 54.

Photos from the Miss Sweetheart Contest, 1972. (From David, May 1972, page 46.)

Unidentified contestants at the Miss Sweetheart Contest, 1972. (From David, May 1972, page 46.)

According to Wikipedia, Asheville has been well-recognized in several best-of rankings: One of the “Top 25 Small Cities for Art,” one of “20 Great Cities for Writers,” “a New Age Mecca,” “The New Freak Capital of the U.S.,” “The Hippie Capital of the South,” and the “Happiest City in the South.” It wasn’t always that way. Asheville’s downtown area had been in a state of serious decline until the late 1980s. But it has long been one of the gayest cities of the South, in good times and in bad. The Flaming Ember opened as a gay bar sometime in the late 1960s. In 1972,  David,  a Florida-based gay lifestyle magazine, described what was believed to be Asheville’s first drag show:

With the latest craze for female impersonation contests going around, Asheville, North Carolina decided not to be outdone. The FLAMING EMBERS lounge recently held its Miss Sweetheart Contest, 1972. It was Asheville’s first drag show and the ten contestants performed to a standing room only audience. A selection of songs from Purlie won Robbie the title of Miss Sweetheart ’72. First runner up was Lola with her interpretation of the popular Cabaret and Monica walked off with the 2nd runner up position by doing Bridge Over Troubled Water. A special treat of the evening came when Gary Wilson, the owner, did a show-stopping version of Coronet Man.

Wolfenden Report Recommends Homosexuality “Should Not Be A Crime”: 1957. Home Secretary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1954 appointed a special fifteen-member committee to examine laws in Britain which criminalized homosexuality and prostitution. The committee came about after the arrest of several well-known men that year for homosexuality, including Lord Montagu (see Oct 20) and Peter Wildeblood (see May 19). Those arrests and trials provoked a national debate over Britain’s “gross indecency” law, which criminalized homosexual behavior between men. (Lesbian relations had never been made illegal.) The committee, chaired by Lord John Wolfenden of Reading University, included theologians, psychiatrists, educators, judges, lawyers, and several other leading figures. The Wolfenden committee, as it became known, was tasked with reviewing the medical, mental health, legal, and moral aspects of homosexuality and prostitution, and to report on their findings and recommendations for legal changes.

On of the chief difficulties the committee ran into was finding gay men who were willing to provide testimony. After all, the committee was, in effect, asking people to incriminate themselves for a crime under the same statute that had famously sent Oscar Wilde to prison for two years at hard labor (see May 25). One of those giving testimony was Peter Wildeblood, who had written one book about his arrest, trial, conviction, the appalling conditions of his imprisonment, and his experience of being spat upon by a “respectable looking, middle-aged, tweedy” woman while out the street. His second book included twelve essays describing various gay people he had come in contact with. Both books, along with his testimony and that of two others, helped to inform the Wolfenden’s report.

And so did a study conducted by a Wolfenden member, Dr. Desmond Curran of the Department of Psychiatry at St. George’s Hospital in London. That study, published in the British Medical Journal (see Apr 6), examined one hundred gay men who were under evaluation and treatment for homosexuality. Curran found that none of them could muster anything more than a “slight alteration” toward heterosexuality — and almost all of those who achieved that minimal accomplishment were classified as bisexual to begin with. Curran also found no evidence that homosexuality was an impairment, but was instead “compatible with subjective well-being and objective efficiency … both practising and non-practising homosexuals were on the whole successful and valuable members of society.”

Lord John Wolfenden

After three long years, the committee finally published its recommendations the 155-page “Report on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution.” Known popularly as the Wolfenden Report, its first run of 5,000 copies sold out within hours of publication. The report recommended wholesale revisions to English and Welsh law with regard to age of consent, penalties for sexual assault, the statute of limitations, and, most critically, on the criminalization of homosexuality itself: that “homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence… The law’s function is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others… It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour.”

The Report’s recommendations enjoyed wide support, including from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Goeffrey Fisher, who also served on the committee. The Times of London approved the report, as did the Star, which pointed out that “The present laws are out of date and often cruel in their application.” The Manchester Guardian called the Report “A fine piece of work, interleaving sympathy and sternness.” The Daily Mirror also chimed in: “Now Whitewash. No Prudery. And No Hypocrisy,” went the headline. “What they say may shock the sort of people who shut their eyes to the unpleasant facts of life. But it is the truth.” The Economist urged Parliament to take up the Report’s recommendations: “If the Government cannot pluck up courage to bring in legislation of its own (and it ought to), Parliament should at least be given every facility for a free vote on a private member’s bill.”

Other papers weren’t so supportive. The Daily Express asked, “Why did the Government ever sponsor this cumbersome nonsense,” while the Daily Mail called the recommendations “full of danger.” Its editorial warned, “If the law were to tolerate homosexual acts a great barrier against depravity would be swept aside.”

The Government ended up rejecting the Wolfenden Committee’s recommendations, and it would be another decade before Parliament would take up the task of decriminalizing sex between men (see Jul 28).

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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