The Daily Agenda for Thursday, March 10

Jim Burroway

March 10th, 2016

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From Michael’s Thing, August 2, 1976, page 18. (Personal collection.)

Not be confused with the more famous Sandpiper on Fire Island, this Staten Island disco was often known as Carmine’s Sandpiper. It wasn’t a gay bar per se (I’m led to understand there were no gay bars in Staten Island at that time, though I’m open to correction), but the Sandpiper was known as a very gay friendly venue since the 1950s. Located in a frame house on a residential street, the Sandpiper was a modest bar during the week, but hosted DJ’s and drag shows on the weekend. Sometime in the 1970s, the Sandpiper became Club Brazil, a full-on gay bar and popular disco. The building has since been torn down and replaced by a cookie-cutter duplex.

Gen. George Washington’s General Orders for March 14, 1776, available online at the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project.

Court-Martial of Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin: 1778. Gen. George Washington’s general orders for March 14, 1776 at Valley Forge, PA., included the following description of a court martial that occurred on the 10th:

At a General Court Martial whereof Colo Tupper was President (10th March 1778) Lieutt. Enslin of Colo. Malcom’s Regiment tried for attempting to commit sodomy, with John Monhort a soldier; Secondly For Perjury in swearing to false Accounts, found guilty of the charges exhibited against him being breaches of 5th. Article 18th. Section of the Articles of War and do sentence him to be dismiss’d the service with Infamy. His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lieutt. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning [March 15] by all the Drummers and Fifers in the Army never to return; the Drummer and Fifers to attend on the Grand Parade at Guard mounting for that Purpose.

This case began in late February with the court-martial of Ensign Anthony Maxwell, who was charged with “propagating a scandalous report prejudicial to the character of Lieut. Enslin.” Maxwell, who had accused Enslin of “attempted sodomy with a private,” was acquitted. Whatever he said, the court-martial found that it wasn’t “prejudicial to the Character of Lieutt. Enslin further than the strict lien of his duty required.” If Maxwell didn’t slander Enslin as the court found, then that evidently meant that Enslin was guilty. Enslin was quickly court-martialed, and is believed to be the first person to be forced out of the forerunner of the U.S. Army on charges of homosexual behavior.

[Source: General George Washington, March 14, 1776, General Orders. Library of Congress’s American Memory Project. Available online here.]

Mattachine Official Appears On New York Television; Follow-up Program on Lesbians Cancelled: 1958. It had been about a year and a half since WRCA featured a panel discussion on homosexuality (see Aug 4), but that program didn’t include any real-live gay people. This time, when WABD decided to host a discussion of homosexuality on it’s lunchtime public affairs program Showcase, the producer contacted Tony Segura, the New York chapter president of the Mattachine Society, about coming onto the program. Segura agreed, on the condition that his name wasn’t mentioned and he could wear a hood while on the air. Those precautions were important: homosexuality was a felony in New York, with punishment of up to twenty years in prison. The program dealt mainly with dispelling some of the stereotypes about gay people, a task that was undoubtedly made more difficult by Segura’s relative invisibility.

Even so, the program proved highly contentious among the higher-ups at WABD. The next day, Showcase was scheduled to host another panel discussion, this time about lesbians with a member of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis participating. But fifteen minutes before airtime, word came down that the topic was cancelled and the guests were to talk about something else — anything else. Because one of the guests, Helen King, had written a book about handwriting analysis, that would be the safe topic of the day, but not before the host for the day, Fannie Hurst, announced that “after the high plateau reached yesterday, the station feels we are a little premature.” The guests quickly exhausted the impromptu topic, and the program ended early as Hurst apologized once more for the fact that the program had “undergone severe censorship,” and expressed the hope that “fear of living” would in time be replaced with enlightenment and human understanding. She closed with a “hail but not farewell.”

[Sources: Philip Jason. “Mattachine Official Participates on New York Television on Homosexual Subject.” The Mattachine Review: 4, no 4 (April 1958): 24-25.

Lorrie Talbot. “A Daughter Watches TV.” The Ladder 2, no. 6 (March 1958): 10-11.

Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 34-35.]

Jack Baker: 1942. Jack first met Michael McConnell in 1966, at a barn party on Halloween night in Norman, Oklahoma. Jack was a field engineer for a firm in Oklahoma City, and McConnell was studying at the University of Oklahoma, working on his Masters degree in Library Science. They dated for a while until Jack got a better paying job at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, a job that he quickly lost for being gay. On March 10, 1967, on Jack’s twenty-fifth birthday — he formally proposed to Michael, and Michael accepted on one condition: that someday, somehow, they would figure out a way to be legally married, and that they would never accept second-class citizenship. That lifelong commitment they made to each other set Baker and McConnell on an audacious path as the pre-eminent pioneers in the marriage equality movement.

In 1969, Baker decided to go into law, and was quickly accepted by the University of Minnesota’s law school. He moved to Minneapolis in September, and McConnell joined him six months later after completing his job assignment in Kansas. Baker was determined to start a gay group as soon as he got to UM, only to discover that one already existed: FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression) had formed earlier that summer, just a few months before the Stonewall rebellion. Baker threw himself into FREE’s work and became its first president. His first major accomplishment came in 1970, when he pushed the University of Minnesota to become the first campus in the country to adopt an anti-discrimination policy for companies that recruited graduates on campus.

Michael McConnell (L) and Jack Baker (R)

Michael McConnell (L) and Jack Baker (R)

Later that same year, Baker and McConnell made the first step in fulfilling the promise they made to each other when they went to the County Clerk’s office and applied for a marriage license (see May 18). They were denied, and in the resulting outcry McConnell lost his library job at the University of Minnesota. The couple sued in state court, but lost. They then appealed the decision all the way up to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in Baker v. Nelson that state law prohibits same-sex marriage. They then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to take the case “for want of a substantial federal question.” That would become the official legal position across the country for more than three decades.

(Photo: GAY, November 1973, page 4.)

(Photo: GAY, November 1973, page 4.)

But Baker and McConnell were undeterred. In August of 1971, McConnell legally adopted Baker. That same month, Baker and McConnell moved to Blue Earth County and applied for another marriage license. That license was granted following the mandatory waiting period, and when the couple was married by a Methodist Minister, they became the first lawfully-wedded same-sex couple in the U.S. Getting the state and federal governments to recognize their marriage was quite another matter. Federal courts rejected McConnell’s attempt to claim Baker’s veterans benefits. The IRS refused to accept their 1973 joint tax return.

Meanwhile, Baker found more avenues for activism. In 1971, he ran for the UM Student Body President as a fully, openly gay man — one of his campaign posters had him posing in white high-heeled shoes. His election made history and made national news, with Walter Cronkite himself informing viewers, “In Minneapolis, an admitted homosexual, Jack Baker, has been elected president of the University of Minnesota Student Association.” He made history again the following year when he became the first president to successfully run for re-election in the University’s 121-year history.

Meanwhile, Baker and McConnell’s improbable marriage remained intact: no state or federal court ever ordered their marriage invalidated or annulled, and no attorney general issued an opinion holding that their marriage was invalid. They have continued to live together as a married couple, regardless of whether anyone else would recognize it or not. Which explains why when marriage equality finally arrived in Minnesota in 2013, Baker and McConnell were not among the thousands descending on county clerks offices requesting marriage licenses. They are still together today, both retired and living quietly in Minneapolis.

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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