The Daily Agenda for Saturday, January 9

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2016

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From a flyer distributed in 1961.] (Source).

From a flyer distributed in 1961. (Source).

The Diplomat in 1959 (Source).

The Diplomat in 1959 (Source).

Drag performer David Hummell began his career in the 1950s. He remembered the Diplomat:

I later moved to Detroit and happened upon a gay bar (The Diplomat) that had just started the very first drag show in Detroit. There may have been touring shows like the Jewel Box Revue but this was the first club to house a drag show. I had just lost my job so I decided to work on an act. Being six foot two I was way too tall to pass as a real female so I concentrated on comedy routines. I had another friend, Joe Price, who also wanted to break in an act so we teamed up and called ourselves The Fono Fools. After playing a few gigs we went to The Diplomat and became part of their show. This was in the late 1950s…

The Dip, as the locals called it, was owned by Morrie Weisberg and “Fat Jack” Bookie Stewart, who was described as “a Mafia-type character who spoke through a hole in his throat.” He also performed in drag. The drag shows were so legendary that straight couples soon arrived to check out the entertainment. But whatever entertainment value a few cutting-edge straight people found there, the Dip remained firmly gay. It was popular with Detroit’s gay community when the city was still the sixth largest in the nation, and it was a beacon to gay people who traveled there from outlying areas such as Ann Arbor, Jackson, Pontiac and Flint. Today, the building is gone, and the hallowed ground is occupied by a Baptist church.

Homosexual Crackdown at the University of Michigan: 1960. The campus paper, the Michigan Daily, headlined its editorial “Homosexual Crackdown of Dubious Value,” and informed the student body that Ann Arbor police had been patrolling campus restrooms, arresting 34 men. The paper said the arrests were “seriously questionable with regard to methods, motives, legality and moral implications.” The paper also criticized the expenditure of public funds “to aggravate the psychological problem of the homosexual, first by enticement, then by arrest, arraignment, trial, and perhaps a prison sentence. This is neither a logical way to spend public funds nor a sensitive way to handle a public problem.” Staff writer Thomas Hayden found the police motives odd:

No major incident-such as an attack on a child-triggered it. The police themselves admit no organized ring exists. Since the state law against indecent conduct between males has been on the books for many years, the suddenly renewed enforcement for no specific reason seems curious. It leaves one to guess that an irrational force in Ann Arbor is overly interested in keeping the city “a decent place to live” and that the police, are hypersensitive with regard to the public image.

What’s revealing about the editorial, however, is that writer didn’t tackle the topic because he thought gay people should be left alone more or less like anyone else. Instead, he engaged a much older argument, saying that gay people weren’t criminals who were responsible for their actions, but were mentally ill and couldn’t help what they were doing:

The situation once more illustrates the cultural lag which puts the homosexual under the heading of “criminal” when he is most often an individual with serious psychological difficulties. …What must be questioned most basically is the state statute itself. It simply is not consistent with advances in modern psychiatry. It is based on an absurd conception of homosexuality as the immoral behavior of stable rational individuals. It makes little attempt to understand such individuals as anything other than criminals, and most frightening of all, it sentences them to state prisons where their environment is hardly conducive for cure.

This line of reasoning passed for an “enlightened” viewpoint in 1960, even among many gay people. It would still take a few more years before gay rights activists would directly challenge the homosexuality-as-illness explanation, and even then it was controversial (see Mar 4). Meanwhile, Michigan’s crackdown would have tragic results for those arrested. At least nine pleaded guilty after a judge threatened them with six months in prison if they insisted on a jury trial (see Mar 12). One man who had been found guilty a week earlier committed suicide two days before he was due in court for sentencing (see Mar 13).

(By the way, that staff writer “Thomas Hayden” who wrote the piece was the very same Tom Hayden who would later co-found the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1968, he and seven others were arrested during protests during the Democratic National Convention. The Chicago Seven (Bobby Seale was tried separately) were charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges. Hayden and four others were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot, but the charges were reversed on appeal. He became a member of the California State Assembly in 1982, and moved to the State Senate in 1992 and served there until 2000. Along the way, his views changed considerably concerning homosexuality since he penned that editorial in 1960.)

[Source: Hal Call. “Calling Shots.” Mattachine Review 6, no. 3 (March 1960): 18-19.]

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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