The Daily Agenda for Sunday, December 8
December 8th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
Aversion Therapy of Homosexuality: 1969. Doctors had been using painful jolts of electricity to try to torture homosexuality out of people since 1935 (see Mar 11 and Sep 6). In 1969, The British Journal of Psychiatry published a paper by John Bancroft of Maudsley Hospital, a psychiatric facility in South London, titled “Aversion Therapy of Homosexuality: A Pilot Study of 10 cases.” The treatment went like this: first, the patient’s penis was attached to a device which measures changes in girth. Then:
In method A, the patient was asked to produce erotic homosexual fantasies whilst looking at photographs of males. Painful electric shocks were delivered to his arm whenever an erection developed up to a certain level. …Following this initial shock, further shocks were given at 15 second intervals unless the erectile response was falling or was once again below the threshold level. A minimum of 5 shocks was given in any one trial.
If the threshold level of erection was not reached by the end of 5 minutes, the trial was ended and a new trial was started with different photographs. On the average, 12 such trials were given in each session.
In addition each session included two further types of trial; one homosexual trial with no threat of shock, and 3 heterosexual trials when photographs of females were used and the patient encouraged to produce heterosexual fantasies. These heterosexual trials were included for two reasons. Firstly to allow discrimination between homosexual and heterosexual erections and so avoid any suppression of homosexual erections generalizing to both. Secondly it was hoped that either by a practice effect or by an “anxiety relief” effect (due to withdrawal of the threat of shock) the heterosexual responses might be reinforced.
In the last three patients an alternative method was used in the last part of treatment (Method B). In this method, the patient was asked to produce specific homosexual fantasies without the use of photographs, and to signal as soon as he had the image clearly in his mind. He was then shocked. In this second method, therefore the noxious stimulus was not contingent upon the erectile response but upon the fantasy.
Before or after the sessions, the patients were asked to describe any sexual activity they had participated in, as well as their masturbatory fantasies. The answers to those questions determined whether they passed or failed. How very scientific, don’t you think? But what’s most revealing is how Bancroft described the treatment effects for each of the ten patients. Each description is worth looking at:
Patient A: A 36 year old artist “of good personality” who , aside from a few dalliances, was “clearly heterosexual in his outlook.” He was married, but had frequent flings on the side. He volunteered for aversion therapy after reading about it in a newspaper article. “After 30 sessions he was initiating homosexual encounters but finding himself impotent. This had never happened before. Treatment was stopped after 45 sessions when he felt he could control the urges.” But on follow-up, he gradually returned “to his previous pattern. He was given a further course of treatment using method B; this gave him greater control but only whilst the treatment was continuing. Three and a half years after treatment homosexual encounters continue but the frequency is less than before treatment, the urges are less strong, and he is getting less pleasure from them.”
Patient B: A 28-year-old postal worker who “came for treatment because he was frightened by a police charge.” After 21 sessions, “he was starting to masturbate with heterosexual fantasies, but he expressed the following difficulty which was never completely overcome… ‘whenever I start to think of the vagina a penis comes into my mind — as though there was some kind of block.’ Treatment stopped after 39 sessions. Although he had started to find women attractive and to masturbate with heterosexual fantasies for the first time in his life, his homosexual interest had never been significantly reduced and had remained prepotent. … After four months homosexual urges became stronger and heterosexual fantasies difficult. After 6 months he resumed homosexual activities. Soon he was back to his normal pattern.”
Patient C: A 37-year-old zoologist who volunteered because “he wanted to become heterosexual. …After 12 sessions he was experiencing ‘pangs’ of anxiety on seeing attractive males in the street. By this stage he was beginning to masturbate with heterosexual fantasies. After 15 sessions he started to feel some anxiety during the female trials and a little later was noting ‘pangs’ of anxiety on seeing sexually threatening females as well as attractive males. This conditioned anxiety became more obvious and treatment was stopped after 35 sessions… For 2½ years he has maintained this conditioned ‘phobic’ anxiety to potentially attractive males, experiencing a ‘pang’ of discomfort in the chest when seeing them. On two or three occasions homosexual advances have been made to him and these have provoked intense anxiety and avoidance. …Two and a half years after treatment his homosexual interest is much reduced and he has no desire to make any homosexual contacts. He is once again using homosexual fantasies during masturbation but heterosexual fantasies occur some of the time.”
Patient D: A 22-year-old “with no settled employment, with an abnormal personality … [and who] also suffered from epilepsy.” “He showed inconsistent and varied responses during treatment and was an unreliable witness. There was slight improvement in the first half of treatment but the second half resulted in a hostile, negativistic and destructive attitude together with some depression of mood. He made a suicidal gesture and his first ever homosexual advance during this stage. Treatment was stopped after 36 sessions with no apparent benefit having been achieved.” After treatment, “he appeared much more accepting of his homosexuality.” But his sexual functioning was disturbed, possibly because of the effects of treatment: “He found little pleasure and was unable to reach orgasm. Nine months after treatment he was playing a passive role in buggery, but with no sexual arousal on his part. Two years after treatment he was much more settled and was having an affair with an elderly man in which sexual activity was getting less and less frequent. He still failed to achieve orgasm during these encounters…”
Patient E: A 36-year-old actor “of athletic build.” Despite being “actively homosexual,” he met and married a woman and subsequently became “almost impotent,” and for the year before undergoing treatment, he had been suffering from “intrusive homosexual fantasies [which] were still strong and frequent” along with “marked pervasive anxiety.” After 12 sessions, he began having intercourse with his wife “with slight enjoyment.” But after 32 sessions, “both heterosexual and homosexual responses were declining again. At this stage, homosexual fantasies provoked disinterest rather than anxiety, whereas heterosexual fantasies, especially involving his wife, provoked some anxiety.” On follow-up things only got worse. “Ten months after treatment, his relationship with his wife deteriorated again, his anxiety increased and he became completely impotent. One month later homosexual fantasies returned. He expressed anger at the treatment and the therapist and discontinued treatment.”
Patient F: A 47-year-old Scot who sought treatment for many years to become heterosexual. He had previously tried psychotherapy (including psychotherapy with LSD), and two previous, unsuccessful attempts at electric shock aversion therapy. So this was a guy who knew what he was getting into. “He reported relief at the start of female trials after only 2 sessions. After 8 sessions he started to produce strong erections to heterosexual fantasies. From then on the pattern was of fluctuating heterosexual interest. Homosexual interest and responses were reduced early in treatment, but showed a slight increase in the second half. Treatment was stopped after 35 sessions. At this stage he felt ‘really heterosexual now’ and had only occasional slight homosexual interest.” But his “really heterosexual” feelings proved elusive. He dated a woman, but when they broke up he was depressed for two to three weeks and “his homosexual interest increased and he had two homosexual experiences. Fifteen months after treatment, following a second severe but short lived depressive episode he is showing more homosexual interest again, but retains some heterosexual interest and has certainly not regained his previous ‘heterophobia’.”
Patient G: A 27-year-old clerical worker who had almost no heterosexual experience or feelings. “After 9 sessions he was finding heterosexual fantasies easier and after 12 sessions he was reporting an intense interest in women. Though fluctuating in intensity, heterosexual responses and interest continued for the rest of treatment. His homosexual interest and responses were slightly reduced during the middle stages of treatment but after 17 sessions they increased again. Treatment was stopped after 32 sessions, when his homosexual interest was much the same as before treatment, but he now found women strongly attractive.”
“Following treatment he became depressed, his homosexual urges became more marked and his heterosexual interest lessened. He remained depressed for the next five months. Then, following a minor rejection by a homosexual friend, he was admitted to hospital having been found wandering the streets at night removing some of his clothing. He showed no further evidence of psychotic behaviour. For the first month in hospital he remained isolated and mildly depressed. He was then started on diazepam and showed a marked change. He became more cheerful and confident and started a relationship with a female patient which continued after they both left hospital. At first he showed some degree of impotence, but he has had a satisfactory sexual relationship with her since. Fifteen months after aversion he enjoys regular sexual intercourse and has had no homosexual inclinations at all.
Patient H: A 24-year-old teacher who, despite strong attractions, had had little homosexual experience. While had had had several girlfriends, he found them “only slightly arousing.” “After 7 sessions he started to produce increasingly strong heterosexual responses associated with aggressive fantasies. After 15 sessions heterosexual images were beginning to intrude into his homosexual masturbation fantasies and a little later he masturbated with exclusively heterosexual fantasies for the first time. By this stage his homosexual interest was less strong and he had become unable to reach orgasm using homosexual fantasies. His homosexual responses in treatment continued as strong, however.” Following treatment, he began dating a girl, but the relationship never progressed beyond kissing. It ended after three months. “Six months after treatment, he made his first homosexual contact. One year after treatment he is energetically pursuing homosexual relationships but he avoids reaching orgasm himself, and if possible prevents his partner from doing so.”
Patient I: A 29-year-old policeman, married since 21, and with two children. When he first married, he “obtained slight pleasure from sexual intercourse but this steadily waned.” He began a three year affair with another man “and is not promiscuous,” during which time he became “mostly impotent with his wife.” He volunteered for treatment to try to save his marriage, but the treatment proved futile. “Little impression was made on either his homosexual or heterosexual responses. There was some reduction in homosexual urges after 5 sessions but he avoided using his ‘affair’ in his homosexual fantasies and was clearly resisting any attempt to destroy his feelings for him. He reported little anxiety during treatment but he was generally non-communicative and difficult to assess. After 20 sessions the treatment was changed to Method B. He was urged to use fantasies involving his ‘affair’. After only one further session it became clear that he did not really want the treatment to work. The treatment was therefore discontinued.” On follow-up, “he returned to his previous homosexual relationship with considerable pleasure and continued a reasonably friendly though sexless relationship with his wife.”
Patient J: A 27-year-old “of average intelligence” who, while never having had any heterosexual interest, he “could never contemplate an overt homosexual relationship because of guilt.” “He had 15 sessions of method A and 15 sessions of Method B. His responses were inconsistent. During Method A he was usually unable to concentrate on his fantasies for fear of the shock, even when very low levels were used. Occasionally, however, he responded easily. With Method B the same inconsistency occurred. At the end of treatment there was no evidence of change in his homosexuality, and the only change heterosexually was that he had lost his revulsion and was now able to sustain heterosexual fantasies more easily. … “In the first three months (after treatment), he experienced more interest in females. He mixed more with them socially, and kissed a girl for the first time. This did not, however, result in any sexual arousal. His homosexual fantasies continued as strongly as before. Ten months after treatment there is no further progress.
As you can see, there were precious few stories which could be defined, generously, as successes. Patient G, according to Bancroft, was the only one to show “no homosexual inclinations at all.” But one has to wonder what priced he paid. Later in the article, Patient G was among four who showed moderate or high anxiety during treatment, and he “expressed some slight aggression toward the therapist on 3 or 4 occasions.” He also “became depressed soon after treatment and remained so, in spite of anti-depressant drugs, until admission to hospital 5 months later.” Bancroft attributed his subsequent improvement not to his lady friend, but to the use of Diazepam.
Overall, Bancroft found the results disappointing, but he felt it was important to press on:
Methods of behaviour modification such as these are in their infancy and a considerable amount of further research is needed before such techniques can be advocated for general use. But the benefits to be gained from such research may be considerable. They will include increased understanding of behaviour modification in general, as well as a greater understanding of the behaviours to be modified.
The Rest Of The Story
I would love to know what happened to those ten patients since their treatment ended in the mid-1960s, but nearly fifty years on we may never find out. Bancroft would continue investigating methods for changing sexual orientation through the 1960s and the first part of the 1970s. But as the mental health professions changed its view of homosexuality, behavior therapists in particular began to abandon their punitive approaches to behavioral modification. Over time, Bancroft eventually abandoned his efforts to “cure” gay people. When Robert Spitzer published his controversial ex-gay study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003 (the study that Spitzer renounced and apologized for in 2012), Bancroft, by then at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University, was one of some two dozen authors criticize Spitzer’s study by drawing on his own past experience:
Times were different then. The Gay Rights Movement was early in its development and it was much more likely than it is today that individuals would seek such change. But on reflection, I realized that, whereas I was genuinely trying to help the individual, in the process I was aligning myself with those who reinforced homophobic attitudes and all the consequences of the stigma that ensued. It did not continue to be a dilemma for me, as my own results gave me no reason to continue to use such simplistic interventions.
And he criticized Spitzer’s study claiming that some people who underwent “reparative” therapy said they changed. He criticized it not only for its many methodological weaknesses, but also for the role it would inevitably play in reinforcing negative attitudes toward gay people:
If there were any grounds for regarding homosexual orientation as a pathology rather than a variant of human sexual expression, then treating the pathology might be justified. I would assert that there are no such grounds, and hence providing treatment on that basis is professionally unethical and, according to my value system, immoral. There is a long and disturbing history of medical practitioners imposing their moral values through their professional practice. The imposition of moral values, explicitly or implicitly, that is, urging someone to undergo change because their current sexual orientation is immoral, should not be regarded as “therapy,” and in any case raises other ethical and moral issues. …[Spitzer's report] constitutes vigorous reinforcement of homophobia and the social stigma experienced by those with homosexual identities in our society. Together, this results
in widespread suffering for homosexual minorities and, no doubt, for many who are pressured into attempting such change, considerable conflict and unhappiness.
[Sources: John Bancroft. "Aversion therapy of homosexuality: A pilot study of 10 cases." British Journal of Psychiatry 115, no. 529 (December 1969): 1417-1431.
John Bancroft. Peer Comments on Spitzer (2003): "Can sexual orientation change? A long-running saga." Archives of Sexual Behavior 32, no. 5 (October 2003): 419-421.
For more information on the history of behavioral therapy, see our report, "Blind Man's Bluff".]
80 YEARS AGO: Leroy Aarons: 1933-2004. A journalist for the Washington Post for many years, he served as bureau chief for New York and Los Angeles, and covered the Pentagon Papers story, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, urban riots, and government scandals. He covered the 1982 Lebanon War for Time before becoming editor of the Oakland Tribune. He was hired by the Tribune soon after its new owner, Robert C. Maynard, bought the struggling paper and became the first African-American owner of a major metro newspaper. Maynard and Aarons turned the Tribune around and the paper won a 1990 Pulitzer for its coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Aarons worked with Maynard to found the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, now at the University of California at Berkeley. MIJE was established to bring racial diversity to the newsroom and ensure accurate representation of minorities in the news media. In 1989, the American Society of Newspaper Editors asked Aarons to coordinate the first survey of lesbian and gay journalists. That survey of 250 print journalists showed that most of them were closeted at work, that only seven percent said that their work environments were good for gay people, and that coverage of gay issues was “at best mediocre.” Aaron presented his results to the 1990 ASMNE convention, and closed his speech by coming out to his colleagues. Four months later, he took what he learned from the Maynard Institute and co-founded the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Journalists (NLGJA). He also became its first president.
In 1991, Aarons researched and wrote his first book, Prayers for Bobby, about a mother coming to terms with her gay son’s suicide. He also wrote a handful of opera librettos and plays on a number of topical subjects, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon Papers, and Reformed Judaism. When he died of cancer in 2004, he and his partner of 24 years, Joshua Boneh, were working on a play based on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The NLGJA established a scholarship fund in his name in 2006 for student journalists in his name.
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As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
The Daily Agenda for Saturday, December 7
December 7th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Pennsylvania Colony Enacts New Sodomy Law: 1682. Sodomy laws seemed to come and go in Pennsylvania. The colony had originally included Sodomy in a long list of offenses which were considered capital crimes, but the first assembly in 1676 held under the proprietorship of William Penn codified Quaker leniency in its law reform when it limited the death penalty to murder. This effectively left Pennsylvania without a sodomy law for the next six years, when the colony instituted this new law:
…if any person shall be Legally Convicted of the unnatural sin of Sodomy or joining with beasts, Such person shall be whipped, and forfeit one third of his or her estate, and work six months in the house of Correction, at hard labour, and for the Second offence, imprisonment, as aforesaid, during life.
This law would remain in effect until 1693, when William Penn fell out of power and was replaced with a Royal governor who repealed most of Penn’s legislation, including the non-capital sodomy law. No new law would be enacted until 1700 (see Nov 27).
The Trial of Captain Edward Rigby: 1698. Captain Rigby had already been acquitted of a charge of sodomy by a court-martial in early 1698, but Rev. Thomas Bray, a member of the societies for the Reformation of Manners — a kind of a Family Research Council of its day — was convinced of Rigby’s guilt and worked out a plan to entrap him. The bait, William Minton, was the servant of one of Bray’s parishioners and had been previously approached by Rigby. The snare was set, Rigby was caught red-handed, and was arrested and hauled into court. The trial record shows that, this time, Rigby pleaded neither guilty nor not guilty, apparently on the hopes that there would be a problem with the indictment itself which would cause it to be thrown out. The court however found the indictment sound, and since Rigby didn’t enter a plea, the proceedings continued as though he had admitted his guilt. Then several affidavits were read, with all of their salacious details:
That on Saturday the Fifth of November last, Minton standing in St. James’s Park, to see the Fireworks [i.e. the Guy Fawkes Day bonfire], Rigby stood by him and took him by the hand, and squeez’d it; put his Privy Member Erected into Minton‘s Hand; kist him, and put his Tongue into Minton‘s Mouth, who being much astonish’d at these Actions went from him; but Rigby pursued him, and accosted him again; and after much Discourse prevailed with Minton to tell him where he lodged, and to meet him the Monday following about Five a Clock, at the George- Tavern in the Pall mall, and to Enquire for Number 4. Minton the next day Acqainted Charles Coates, Esq; (with whom he lived) with what had happened to him the Night before, and desired his Advice and Direction therein; who with a Worthy Divine then present (being willing to detect and punish the Villany designed by Rigby) directed Minton to apply himself to Thomas Railto Esq; a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex; who being informed of what past between Rigby and Minton, appointed his Clark with a Constable, and two other Persons, to go with Minton to the George-Tavern, who were to stay in some Room adjoyning to the Room whereinto Minton should go: and if any Violence should be offered to him, upon crying out “Westminster” the Constable and his Assistance should immediately enter the Room.
That on Monday the Seventh of November last, about Four of the Clock in the Afternon, Rigby came to the George-Tavern, and left Number 4 at the Bar, with Directions, That if any Enquired for that Number, to send them to him; after Rigby had been about an Hour at the Tavern, (Minton not coming) Rigby called up one of the Drawers, and in a Passionte manner, bid him go to Minton‘s Lodgings, and enquire for a young Gentleman; and if he were within, to tell him a Gentleman staid for him at the George-Tavern; the Drawer accordingly went, but Minton not being within, the Drawer return’d that Answer to Rigby.
That about six a clock Minton came to the George Tavern, enquired for Number 4. and was shewed into the room where Rigby was, and [t]he Constable and his assistance were placed in a Room adjoyning; Rigby seemed much pleased upon Mintons coming, and drank to him in a glass of Wine and kist him, took him by the Hand, put his Tongue into Mintons Mouth, and thrust Mintons hand into his (Rigby) Breeches, saying, “He had raised his Lust to the highest degree,” Minton thereupon askt, “How can it be, a Woman was only fit for that,” Rigby answered, “Dam’em, they are all Port, I’ll have nothing to do with them.” Then Rigby sitting on Mintons Lap, kist him several times, putting his Tongue into his mouth, askt him, “if he should F[uck] him,” “how can that be” askt Minton, “I’le show you” answered Rigby, “for it’s no more than was done in our Fore-fathers time”; and then to incite Minton thereto, further spake most Blaphemous words, and said, “That the French King did it, and the Czar of Muscovy made Alexander, a Carpenter, a Prince for that purpose,” and affirmed, “He had seen the Czar of Muscovy through a hole at Sea, lye with Prince Alexander.” Then Rigby kist Minton several times, putting his Tongue in his Mouth, and taking Minton in his Arms, wisht he might lye with him all night, and that his Lust was provoked to that degree, he had — [ejaculated] in his Breeches, but notwithstanding he could F[uck] him; Minton thereupon said, “sure you cannot do it here,” “yes,” answered Rigby, “I can,” and took Minton to a corner of the Room, and put his Hands into Mintons Breeches, desiring him to pull them down, who answered “he would not, but he (Rigby) might do what he pleased”; thereupon Rigby pulled down Mintons Breeches, turn’d away his shirt, put his Finger to Mintons Fundament, and applyed his Body close to Mintons, who feeling something warm touch his Skin, put his hand behind him, and took hold of Rigbys Privy Member, and said to Rigby “I have now discovered your base Inclinations, I will expose you to the World, to put a stop to these Crimes”; and thereupon Minton went towards the door, Rigby stopt him, and drew his Sword, upon which Minton gave a stamp with his foot, and cry’d out “Westminster“; then the Constable and his Assistance came into the Room, and seized Rigby, who offer’d the Constable a Gratuity to let him go, which he refusing, carryed Rigby beore Sir Henry Dutton Colt, before whom Minton charged Rigby (who was present) with the Fact to the effect before related; who being askt by Sir Henry Colt, “Whether the Fact Minton had charged him with were True,” Rigby denyed not that the Charge against him was true, only objected against some inconsiderable Circumstances, which no ways tended to the lessening of the Charge.
You’ve gotta love late seventeenth century English for stuff like this. Anyway, Rigby was sentenced to stand three days at the pillory for two hours each, a £1,000 fine, a year in prison, followed by seven years’ probation. It wasn’t entirely unusual for prisoners to be seriously wounded or even killed at the pillory as crowds threw rotten garbage (and sometimes rocks) at them. But Rigby’s fate could have been far worse: the standard punishment for sodomy cases was death by hanging. Being an officer in the Royal Navy may have factored into the court’s leniency. Rigby survived his ordeal and fled to France after his release. There, he converted to Catholicism, and entered the French navy where he was a well regarded officer.
[Source: Rictor Norton. Ed. "The Trial of Capt. Edward Rigby, 1698." Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. (Updated 11 July 2013). Available online here, where you can find much more information, including accounts from several contemporary newspapers.]
5 YEARS AGO: José Sucuzhañay Murdered in Brutal Hate Crime: 2008. Two men were waling arm in arm late at night after leaving a bar from a long night of drinking. Three men in a maroon SUV saw them and, and one of them yelled out, “Check out those faggots over there.” Two jumped out the SUV and attacked the couple. One of the attackers broke a bottle over José’s head. When he fell to the ground, another began beating him with an aluminum baseball bat while the others kicked and punched him. All were yelling anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs. The other victim ran and called 911 on his cell phone, Meanwhile, the assailants piled back into the SUV and drove away.
The men who were assaulted were not faggots, but brothers from Ecuador, from a culture where showing affection is relatively common. Romel Sucuzhañay was relatively lucky, having received only minor injuries. But José sustained massive head injuries and was soon declared brain dead. Doctors tried to sustain him on life support until his mother could arrive from Ecuador, but his heart stopped five days after the attack and one day before she could get there. José also left behind two young daughters.
Nearly three months later, police arrested Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix, and charged them with murder and assault as hate crimes. Phoenix, an unemployed felon who was out on parole, showed no remorse. “So I killed someone — that makes me a bad guy?”, he said to police. Surprisingly, Phoenix was tried twice — the first jury deadlocked. But the second one convicted him of murder and assault as hate crimes. Scott was convicted separately of manslaughter and assault, but without the hate crimes enhancement. Judge Patricia M. DiMango sentenced Phoenix to 37 years to life in prison, and Scott to 37 years. José’s mother was magnanimous after the sentencing. “This is a very sad day,” she said through an interpreter. “It’s sad for my family and for the family of the defendants. I feel very sorry for the defendants, and of course there is a huge emptiness in my heart because of my son.” But Romel, the surviving brother, was traumatized by the whole experience. “My future is in pieces,” he said. “I have mental problems. And it is all because of the ignorance of these people and this distant event.”
140 YEARS AGO: Willa Cather: 1873-1947. Born in Back Creek, Virginia, Willa and her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine years old, and settled in Red Cloud. At the age of fourteen, she seems to have adopted a male persona, named “William” or “Willie,” with studio photos of her at the time had her sporting a crew cut and wearing male clothing, a practice she continued as a student at the University of Nebraska, and she often signed her letters “Aunt Willie” for much of her life. Willa also had a college crush on a fellow student, Louise Pound. In a letter written to another childhood friend, Cather describes, in surprisingly candid detail, a date she went on with Pound: “I am pretty well now, save for sundry bruises received in driving a certain fair maid over the country with one hand, sometimes, indeed, with no hand at all. But she did not seem to mind my method of driving, even when we went off banks and over haystacks, and as for me — I drive with one hand all night in my sleep.” This is an exceptionally rare glimpse — perhaps the only admission we have in writing — of Cather’s attachments to other women, although scholars have combed her novels and examined each morsel for other clues over the years.
Cather began her writing career in college, with campus and local newspapers in Lincoln. After graduation, she moved to Pittsburgh, and then New York, where she worked in journalism before becoming managing editor of McClure’s magazine. In 1908, Cather became close to Edith Lewis, an advertising copywriter, who became Cather’s devoted “companion and housemate for nearly 40 years” — for the rest of Cather’s life — then heir after Cather’s death.
Cather’s first novel, Alexander’s Bridge (1912, was serialized in McClure’s. The story, of an engineer who designed the longest bridge in Canada, was influenced by her most recent travels to London, Boston and Canada. Years later though, she would renounce the workm saying it “was very like what painters call a studio picture… Like most young writers, I thought a book should be made out of ‘interesting materials,’ and at that same time I found the new more exciting than the familiar.” she returned to Red Cloud for a visit and realized that the backward, provincial country she couldn’t wait to flee as a younger woman was now the place that would spark her imagination. She immediately completed her Prairie Trilogy: O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918). All of them were written in a distinctly Western style: low key, laconic, direct. Praise for My Antonia was particularly effusive. Sinclair Lewis hailed it for making “the outside world know Nebraska as no one else has done.” Essayist Randolph Bourne wrote, “Here at last is an American novel, redolent of the Western prairie, that our most irritated and exacting preconceptions can be content with… Miss Cather, I think, in this book has taken herself out of the rank of provincial writers and given us something we can fairly class with the modern literary art of the world over that is earnestly and richly interpreting the spirit of youth.”
Her next novel, One of Ours, wasn’t published until 1922, and was inspired by the death of a cousin during the Great War. It came out to mixed reviews, but sold well and won her a Pulitzer in 1923. She wrote four more novels, but with the Jazz age in full bloom and the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway exploding onto the scene, Cather’s works seemed frumpy, overly nostalgic, and disconnected from the modern world in comparison. When the country was plunged into the Great Depression, Cather was viewed as irrelevant. She became reclusive, burned old drafts and personal papers, forbade anyone from publishing or quoting from her letters. When she died in 1947, her will severely restricted scholar’s access to her papers, a restriction that Lewis strictly enforced. This frustrated scholars for decades, particularly those who were trying to tease out details of the reclusive author’s private life. In 2011, her nephew and second executor Charles Cather died, and the copyrights passed to the Willa Cather Trust, which dropped the ban on quoting or publishing her letters, raising hopes among scholars for a rich new source of material. But when Knopf released The Selected Letters of Willa Cather earlier this year, those looking for a more personal glimpse of Cather’s life were disapointed. It turns out that Cather’s surviving letters were as circumspect as she was.
Billye Talmadge: 1929. Raised in Oklahoma and Missouri by a single mother after her parents separated, Billye Talmadge spent all of her life as a teacher, of one sort or another. She began teaching eighth grade English by the age of twenty-one, and later found her true calling as a well-recognized special education teacher (the state of California named her Teacher of the Year in 1971).
Talmadge also spent all her life as a student, less formally speaking at least. While home for a brief visit from college in 1949, one of her friends told her she was in love with another girl, news which shocked Talmadge. She went to the dean of women at her university looking for answers, and the dean provided Talmadge with several books, including Radclyffe Halls The Well of Loneliness. Talmadge said that reading it was “like coming home.” Looking to learn further, Talmadge sought out “the biggest butch on campus.” She recalled, “I asked her name, to make sure she was the right person, and then I said, ‘Are you a lesbian? Because I think I am and I need to know what this is all about.’”
Six years later, Talmadge and her then-partner, Jaye “Shorty” Bell, became involved with the Daughters of Bilitis, which had been founded a few months earlier but was on the verge of folding (see Oct 19). Joining the group was a huge risk for Talmadge. “There were twenty-seven reasons why you could lose your teacher’s license in California at this time, above all if you were a card-carrying Communist or a suspected homosexual.” Nevertheless, Talmadge, Bell and a few other newcomers helped to inject new life into the nascent organization. Talmadge organized the group’s “Gab’n'Java sessions, and when the Daughters established their newsletter The Ladder, Talmadge contributed several articles.
Talmadge also became something of a one-woman social services volunteer for the group. DoB founders Del Martin (see May 5) and Phyllis Lyon (see Nov 11) remembered Talmadge as “intuitive about somebody who might have a problem,” particularly if a woman was troubled or a victim of abuse. “Talmadge recalled, “It was not unusual to get a call at 3 a.m. saying that we had somebody who was trying to commit suicide.” The Daughters found a local psychologist, Dr. Blanche Baker, who trained Talmadge, Martin and Lyons in counseling and crisis management. She also took calls whenever police arrested a lesbian or raided a bar:
We had one of your members who was picked up drunk, and she was drunk. But she was also dressed butch, and the officer damn near beat her to death. He kept calling her a dyke, and a queer, and a son of a bitch, all this type of stuff. I was called and I went down and bailed her out. … I could hardly recognize her she was so badly beaten.
Talmadge quickly learned her way through the legal system. When San Francisco police raided the Tay-Bush Inn and arrested ninety-nine men and four women (see Aug 13), Talmadge, Martin and Lyons arranged lawyers for the women, who urged them to plead not guilty and ask for a jury trial. That was a gutsy move, because it only increased the chances of their names and occupations appearing in the local paper. A lot of the men pleaded guilty and paid an eleven dollar fine — which also got them a permanent police record. Everyone’s names, addresses and employers were printed in the paper anyway, but the women saw their charges dismissed and no entries to their records.
In the 1960s, Talmadge’s interests turned to the spiritual. She was an early member of San Francisco’s Council on Religion and the Homosexual and, later, a spiritual group known as The Prosperos, which held that God, as male and female, was present in every person. “It was an educational group, primarily,” she explained. “Sexuality was one of the major topics. I got involved and became a teacher, with the goal of helping people to find themselves; not what I want them to be, but to find themselves and to express whatever that self is.”
By the late 1970s, Talmadge withdrew from The Prosperos, and turned her attention toward helping her partner, Marcia Herndon, an ethnomusicologist, write seven books. They remained together from 1974 until Marcia’s death in 1997. At last report, Billye Talmadge had recently moved to an assisted-living residence in Portland, Oregon.
[Sources: William Fennie. "Billye Talmadge (1929- ): Some Kind of Courage." In Vern L. Bullough's (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (London: Routledge, 2002): 179-188.
Marcia M. Gallo. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007): 9.]
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The Daily Agenda for Friday, December 6
December 6th, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage Arrives Down Under: Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. Beginning today — Saturday, December 7 if you’re in Australia, where Canberra is sixteen hours ahead of New York and nineteen hours ahead of California — same-sex couples will be able to enter into a same-sex marriage. Which, to be clear, is nothing at all like marriage. No, siree. It’s completely different. Because in Australia, plain old marriage is a Federal issue, not a state or territorial one as it is in the U.S. But since the Federal government has refused to take up marriage equality, the government of Australian Capital Territory, which is the seat of the nation’s capital city of Canberra, devised a territory-only solution called “same-sex marriage,” which because it was not defined according to the Federal government’s definition as marriage, it is therefore, by definition, not marriage but “same-sex marriage.” At least that’s the argument that “same-sex marriage” supporters are putting forth before Australia’s High Court earlier this week.
But because the High Court won’t rule on those arguments until December 12, there is, at minimum, a five day window in which same-sex couples can get same-sex married. The pro-equality group Australian Marriage Equality – they may need to re-think their name for the time being — says that at least twenty couples are prepared to same-sex marry this weekend, with at least two couples doing so right after midnight. AME also says that “Telstra Tower on Black Mountain will black out at 11.59pm this evening and then turn back on at 12am lit in sequential rainbow colours to mark the first same-sex weddings which take place at 12.01am.”
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Wisconsin Sheriffs Call For Indeterminate Sentences for Gay People: 1944. The annual convention of the Wisconsin Sheriffs Association, meeting at Milwaukee’s Schroeder Hotel, passed several resolutions, including one endorsing a bill proposed by the Wisconsin Police Chiefs Association which would mandate medical treatment and indeterminate sentences for gay people, among other sexual offenders, who were charged with disorderly conduct. The problem, apparently, was that the current law only carried light fines and minimal jail sentences.
What the Wisconsin Sheriffs Association was asking for was what would become known as a “sexual psychopath law.” Through much of the 1930s and 1940s, American newspapers found sensational stories in gruesome murders, often of young children, which reporters and authorities attributed to “deviates,” whether there was any evidence linking gay people to the crimes or not. Those newspaper headlines feed the belief that sexual lawlessness was growing across the country. Michigan was the first state to pass a sexual psychopath law in 1935 which required a judge to determine anyone convicted of a sex crime to determine whether that person was “psychopathic, or a sex degenerate, or a sex pervert.” If so found, the judge was to order the defendant to a state mental hospital until the defendant “ceased to be a menace to the public safety because of said mental condition.” How mental health officials were supposed to make that kind of a judgment, the law didn’t say.
By 1967, twenty six state and the District of Columbia had passed similar laws. Wisconsin’s sexual psychopath law, enacted in 1947, gave broad powers to the local sheriff to place a suspect in detention without a hearing and without a conviction. That law was replaced in 1951 with the Sexual Deviate Act, which required the individual to be convicted of a crime first. In 1954, it was noted that of 22 individuals who were being indefinitely committed under the law, thirteen had been convicted of sodomy. Wisconsin’s Sexual Deviate Act was finally repealed in 1980.
American Medical Association Opposes Gay Cures: 1994. The AMA’s governing House of Delegates adopted a revised policy paper calling for an end to efforts to change sexual orientation. The old position paper titled, “Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population,” which had been adopted in 1981, had read, that “some homosexual groups maintain, contrary to the bulk of scientific evidence, that preferential or exclusive homosexuality can never be changed, these people may be discouraged form seeking adequate psychiatric consultation. What is more important is that this myth may also be accepted by homosexuals.”
But by 1994, the AMA became convinced that the growing evidence showed that whatever disturbance gay people may have felt about their sexual orientation “is due more to a sense of alienation in an unaccepting environment” and called for “nonjudgmental recognition of sexual orientation by physicians.” The AMA also said that “aversion therapy” — which involved showing a gay man, for example, nude pictures of men and shocking them with a jolt of electricity — “is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians.” It went on: “Through psychotherapy, gay men and lesbians can become comfortable with their sexual orientation and understand the social responses to it.” The new policy paper was adopted without dissent.
FDA Approves First Protease Inhibitor for Treating AIDS: 1995. The Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for Saquinavir(marketed as Invirase), the first protease inhibitor for treating AIDS. This approval was notable for two reasons. First, the FDA gave its approval only 97 days after receiving the application for approval, which was in marked contrast to the years that it would have taken under the normal drug approval process. But after several high profile protests (see, for example, Oct 11), the FDA changed its process for approving drugs for treating HIV/AIDS to allow for a significantly accelerated schedule. But the most important aspect of this approval was that Invirase would prove to be the third part of what would soon become a three-drug cocktail which, for the first time since 1981, gave people with AIDS hope for a reprieve from what had been assumed to be a death sentence.
The first component of that three-drug cocktail, azidothymidine (AZT, marketed as Retrovir), was first approved in 1987. AZT was a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor (or “nuke”), which blocked a particular enzyme associated with HIV. It was virtually the only means for fighting the disease for almost a decade, but it’s effectiveness was sorely limited. In November of 1995, the FDA approved another “nuke”, Lamivudine (3TC, or Epivir) which gave doctors a second option for when patients became unresponsive to AZT. But when taken together, AZT and 3TC seemed to offer an additional “punch” for many people than they experienced when taking the drugs individually. When protease inhibitors became available and were used in combination with AZT and 3TC, doctors soon discovered that these this combination therapy reduced the amount of HIV swimming around in patients’ blood by about 99 percent. In early 1996, two more protease inhibitors, Ritonavir (marketed as Norvir) and Indinavir (marketed as Crixivan), joined Invirase on the market, giving doctors more ingredients to choose from for what would be known as the “AIDS cocktail,” or Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART).
Researchers had previously seen too many supposedly promising treatments quickly proved to be ineffective before to get their hopes up too high now. Early reports of a possible breakthrough in 1996 were tentative, but the results soon proved unmistakable. When 3TC joined AZT in 1995 as a viable treatment, there was a noticeable plateau in the number of deaths due to AIDS. But in 1996 when the three-drug cocktail became available, the number of deaths due to AIDS would see its first drop since the epidemic began. And it wasn’t a slight drop either. It was a 20% improvement from the year before. People at death’s door began coming back from the abyss. For some who had prepared to die, finding that they were living again presented an entirely new set of challenges. The emotional whipsaw, dubbed “the Lazarus Syndrome” made restarting a life (including an education, careers, or simply a place to live) that had been systematically dismantled through disease, disability and stigma just one more challenge to surmount while still dealing with the anxiety of wondering whether this combination would soon fail as all of the other treatments had done before.
The three-drug cocktail, which became known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), wasn’t a cure, but the breakthrough was undeniable. Further improvements in HAART resulted in more effective combinations and dosages which made adherence much simpler. HAART would eventually transform AIDS from a terminal disease to a chronic disease, albeit still a very serious one. More recent research shows that, thanks to HAART, people with AIDS can now expect a near-normal lifespan. And yet, HAART’s side effects can take a brutal toll on the body, and its cost — ranging from $10,000 to $15,00 a year for a single patient — makes life-prolonging medications a severe financial strain for anyone without insurance or governmental assistance. All of which makes finding a cure still as important as ever.
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Nelson Mandela Dies at 95
December 5th, 2013
Nelson Mandela, 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the greatest freedom fighter and reconciler of our age, has died today at his home near Johannesburg, South Africa, after a lengthy illness. He was 95.
Known widely by his clan name, Madiba, Mandela spent decades as a political prisoner in his fight against apartheid and later became its first black President. Among many things, he will be remembered as an outspoken advocate for racial reconciliation during the tense years following the abolition of apartheid.
F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, said that “Mandela’s biggest legacy … was his remarkable lack of bitterness and the way he did not only talk about reconciliation, but he made reconciliation happen in South Africa.”
“He was a remarkable man,” de Klerk told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “And South Africa, notwithstanding political differences, stands united today, in mourning.”
He was also a strong supporter for human rights generally, including those of LGBT people. Mandela was President of the African National Congress when it added an LGBT-rights plank to its platform in 1993. That same year, the interim constitution included a provision banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, making South Africa the first nation in the world with such a constitutional provision. The discrimination ban remained in place when South Africa formally adopted its permanent constitution in 1996. Soon after Mandela became President in 1994, he appointed Edwin Cameron, an openly gay, HIV-positive judge, to South Africa’s High Court of Appeal. That set the stage for South Africa to become the first (and, so far, only) nation on the African continent to provide marriage equality for its LGBT citizens.
All of this reflected Mandela’s view in which all human rights were linked together: “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”
In setting an example which few African leaders outside of South Africa have followed since, Mandela stepped down as President in 1999 after just one term in office. Since then, he has been an international ambassador for human rights abroad and a reassuring grandfatherly presence at home.
At the end of his trial in 1964, when he was convicted of sabotage and was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, he said:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
The Daily Agenda for Thursday, December 5
December 5th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Bishop John Atherton Hanged for Buggery: 1640. The delicious irony was that the good bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland was one of the loudest proponents for a new law making homosexuality a capital crime. He then became the second person to be hanged under that statute. His his steward, tithe proctor and cohort, John Chidle, was also condemned to death.
The original trial records were destroyed in the civil wars that followed the downfall of King Charles I, so virtually everything we know about the case comes from public pamphlets which were the equivalent of our tabloid press. Historians harbor some doubt as to whether Atherton was really guilty. In addition to being a bishop, Atherton was also a lawyer who apparently had some success in winning back some of the church’s lands from Irish landlords, an act for which he undoubtedly collected a number of powerful enemies. Puritans, who were also active in trying to abolish the office of bishops in the Church of England, are also believed to have played a hand in his downfall.
We may never know the true story of Atherton’s sexuality. But his death remains a warning to all nations who would impose severe criminal sanctions on homosexual relationships. As long as draconian penalties exist, the temptation will be great for blackmailers and political opponents to lobb accusations against their targets. And under those circumstances, nobody will be safe regardless of their actual sexuality.
Massachusetts Bay Court Sentences Woman for “Unseemly Practices”: 1642. The Essex County Court in Salem recorded the following: “Elizabeth Johnson, servant to Mr. Jos. Yonge, to be severely whipped and find 5 li. (pounds) for unseemly practices betwixt her and another maid; for stubbornness to her mistress answering rudely and unmannerly, and also for stopping her ears with her hands when the Word of God was read…” This brief mention is believed to be the first recorded legal prosecution of same-sex relations between women in North America.
Berkeley Becomes First City To Approve Domestic Partner Benefits for City Employees: 1984. Six years earlier, Berkeley joined a growing number of cities and counties which had established a non-discrimination ordinance on the basis of sexual orientation. But when Tom Brougham began working for the city in 1979, he found that he couldn’t sign his partner up for health and dental benefits. They were only available to married spouses of city employees, and marriage was available only to heterosexual couples. Brougham proposed a new category for same-sex couples, which he called a “domestic partnership,” which initially had three requirements: 1) That, aside from being a same-sex couple, the partners would be otherwise meet all the other qualifications for marriage; 2), that they live together in the same residence; and 3) they were the sole domestic partners for each other. Over the next few years, two more qualificaitons were added: a requirement of mutual financial responsibility and both partners must be at least eighteen years old and able to enter a legal contract.
Brougham and his partner, Barry Warren, spent the next two years working with local unions and the University of California at Berkely to lobby the city council, but that effort proved unsuccessful. But in 1982, San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt noticed the proposal from across the bay and decided to try to push through a similar measure in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors approved what proved to be a fiercely controversial proposal, only to see it vetoed by mayor Diane Feinstein in December of that year.
Brougham, Warren and the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club then decided to step back and put together a methodical program to educate the East Bay community about domestic partnership benefits, organize a gay voting block in the city, and elect candidates who would support the proposal. In July of 1984, the city council was prepared to adopt the policy in principle, but they balked at the feared increases in health coverage costs. But the issue didn’t die there. During the November city council race, an approximation of marriage benefits for same-sex couples became a winning electoral issue when all those who had voted against implementing domestic partnerships were defeated. The following month, the new city council approved the measure, making the city the first in the nation to provide spousal benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
[Source: Leland Traiman. "A Brief History of Domestic Partnerships." The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 15, no. 4 (July-August 2008): 23-24.]
Larry Kert: 1930-1991. The Hollywood High School graduate was only twenty when he joined a Broadway troupe for 1950 revue Tickets, Please! as his first professional credit. He then spent the next seen years working off-Broadway as a dancer. While dancing in the chorus for Sammy Davis, Jr., his friend and fellow dancer Chita Rivera persuaded him to audition for West Side Story. He didn’t make the cut, but a few months later Stephen Sondheim asked him to audition for the part of Tony, the role that Kert would originate when West Side Story debuted in 1957.
Consider the show’s creating team, and you have what would have had to have been the gayest production on the Great White Way: composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, director Jerome Robbins, librettist, Arthur Laurents. Kert remained with the production for the next three years, and he became so closely identified with West Side Story that he found trouble finding work elsewhere. Even when he was invited to appear on television, it was to sing “Maria.” And yet, he was disappointed to find that he wouldn’t get to play Tony for the 1961 film version. Kert had hoped that it would open the doors to a film career, but the film’s producers didn’t think the thirty-year-old Kert could play a teenager.
From there, Kert’s career was characterized by a few successes in a field of sometimes spectacular failures. He appeared in the 1962 musical comedy A Family Affair, which ran for only 65 performances. The disastrous musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1966) closed during previews. In 1968, Kert took over the role of Cliff in Cabaret and stayed with if for a year, but his next venture, 1969’s La Strada, closed on opening night. Kert then took over the lead role in Stephen Sondheim’s Company shortly after it opened on Broadway. Critics raved, and Kert became the first and only replacement actor to receive a Tony nomination.
Kert’s career continued more or less like that through the rest of the 1970s and 1980s. While the uneven successes may have frustrated other actors, Kert was known for his upbeat attitude, whether he was performing on Broadway or in regional theater. “I love roller coasters, and I’ve been on one all my life,” he told one interviewer in 1988 while part of a touring company of La Cage of Folles. His last public performance was at the Rainbow and Stars Cabaret, where he joined his West Side Story co-star Carol Lawrence in reprising the musical’s popular numbers. He died eight months later, in 1991, of AIDS at the age of sixty. He was survived by his partner, Ron Pullen.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, December 4
December 4th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill Murdered: 1995. Roxanne and Michelle had had it up to here with living in Colorado Springs, where they felt that the atmosphere was very hostile to gays and lesbians. And after seven years, they decided that it wasn’t going to get better anytime soon, so they packed up and moved to Oregon’s Rogue Valley, just north of the California line. They quickly adapted to their new home in Medford, where they started a property management business, became board members at their church, began restoring their old Craftsman home, and visited Roxanne’s thee-year-old granddaughter as much as possible. They also became active in state politics, working to defeat Measure 9 in 1992 (which would have amended the state constitution to declare homosexuality “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse” and prohibit its “promotion.”) and Measure 19 in 1993 (which would have restricted library access for materials related to homosexuality).
On December 4, 1995, Roxanne met with a potential tenant to show him an apartment. At about 5:00, Michelle left the office, saying she had gotten a call from Roxanne saying her pickup wouldn’t start. Neither Roxanne nor Michelle were seen until their bodies were discovered four days later in the back of Roxanne’s pickup. Both had been shot in the head, and their bodies were covered with drapes and cardboard moving boxes.
That prospective tenant, twenty-seven year old Robert Acremant had just moved to Medford with his mother three weeks earlier. A witness had seen Acremant park the pickup truck and walk away. When police circulated a composite sketch based on the witness’s account, his mother recognized the face as her son who, she thought, was acting strangely. She called the police. When detectives matched the address labels on her moving boxes to those covering Roxanne and Michelle’s bodies, they new they had their man.
He confessed to the murder, claiming it was a simple robbery. But the district attorney was skeptical. After all, victims’ purses, wallets, jewelry, cell phones and money were left at the crime scene. Acremant also confessed to killing Scott Gordon in Visalia, California two months earlier. Later in 1996, he wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper stating that while he had intended to rob the couple, he found it was easier to just kill them knowing they were lesbians. He also wrote that he killed Gordon because Gordon had made a pass at him. He later recanted his story about why he killed his victims, but the reasons he gave remained incoherent. Perhaps the best indication of the state of his mind is the one part of his story which remained consistent: He was trying to raise money so he could afford to resume his relationship with his “girlfriend,” a call girl in Las Vegas who had broken off contact with him after he ran out of money and began stalking her.
On September 11, 1996, Acremant pleaded guilty to the murders of Roxanne and Michelle, and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. It would emerge later that he had been complaining for years that he heard voices and that there was a transmitter in his head so others can control him. On February 18, 2011, his sentenced was reduced to life imprisonment after he had been found mentally delusional and unable to assist in his own appeals.
Samuel Butler: 1835-1902. The English novelist was both the son and grandson of Anglican clergy. Naturally, his family expected him to continue in the family business. After studying in Cambridge, Butler worked briefly as a lay minister in a poverty-stricken London neighborhood. In 1860, he decided to put off the question of ordination and moved to New Zealand, where he became a successful sheep rancher and writer for the local press. While there, Butler met Charles Paine Pauli, and they returned to England together in 1864. Butler supported Pauli financially for the next 30 years. When Pauli died, Butler discovered a terrible betrayal: Pauli had amassed a fortune from being supported by two other men, and he excluded Butler from his will.
Butler’s more notable works included Erewhon (1872), a futuristic parody of Victorian England; The Fairhaven (1875), a satire of Christianity; and his posthumously semi-autobiographical The Way of All Flesh (1903). Written between 1873 and 1884, Butler dared not publish The Way of All Flesh in his lifetime, as he considered its attack on Victorian values too controversial. It also included a sham marriage by one character who struggles with his feelings toward other men (a mistake which Butler, a lifelong bachelor, avoided in real life). While The Way of All Flesh had to await Butler’s death before it could see the light of day, Butler’s 1899 Shakespeare’s Sonnets Reconsidered put forth Butler’s belief that Shakespeare wrote several sonnets to a younger man who had betrayed him, perhaps a reflection of Butler’s own experience with Pauli.
Ed Flesh: 1931-2011. If you’ve ever watched the game show Wheel of Fortune, then you’ve seen Flesh’s most famous handiwork. The prolific art director designed the famous horizontally-spinning wheel that is the show’s trademark. He also designed the sets for Jeopardy!, the Newlywed Game, The $25,000 Pyramid, and Name That Tune. Ed died in 2011 at the age of 79, leaving behind his partner of 44 years.
A. Scott Berg: 1949. The biographer has won numerous awards in his career, beginning with his first book in 1978 about editor Maxwell Perkins, which won a National Book Award. He also wrote the story for Making Love, the groundbreaking 1982 film which was the first major Hollywood release to deal with homosexuality in a serious way. In 1998, his highly acclaimed best-seller, Lindbergh, about the famed aviator, won him the Pulitzer. In 2003, he published Kate Remembered which appeared in print just twelve days after Katharine Hepburn’s death. The memoir about his twenty-year friendship with the actress remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for eleven weeks. Berg currently resides in Los Angeles with his film producer partner.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
Australia gets a possible marriage window
December 3rd, 2013
Today the Australian High Court heard arguments as to whether or not the Australian Capital Territory (a political subdivision similar to the District of Columbia) could offer ‘same-sex marriage’.
In a nut-shell the arguments went a bit like this: the Commonwealth (Federal government) argued that it had sole right to define and codify rules relating to marriage and that marriage was defined as between a man and a woman. The ACT countered that since the Commonwealth had defined marriage to be between a man and a woman, this new legal contract which they had created called ‘same-sex marriage’ didn’t fit the definition of marriage, was not marriage but something else entirely, and therefore did not fall under the Commonwealth’s control.
It’s a rather fun Catch 22. If they are real marriages, then what business has the Commonwealth in engaging in bigoted discrimination. And if they are not real marriages, then bugger off and leave the ACT alone.(ABC)
The court says it will hand down its decision next Thursday, and in the meantime will allow same-sex marriages to take place in Canberra.
‘Same-sex marriages’ (not to be confused with marriages between the same sex) can begin on Saturday. The court may rule against ACT, and despite the brilliance of the argument, I think it’s likely. However, there is hope that their legal ploy will work and even greater hope that those marriages which are conducted in the interim will retain their legality.
And if the court allows the distinction to go ACT’s way, I wonder whether an opposite sex couple could become ‘same-sex married’.
The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, December 3
December 3rd, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
New York Business Group Says People with AIDS Should Be Forced to Work at Home: 1985. Just as the state of New York was about to release a report showing that workplace AIDS discrimination complaints had gone up from four the previous year to nineteen in 1985 (one was a heterosexual security guard who was fired after a one-week hospital stay), the New York Business Group on Health, which advised 265 businesses including Bloomingdale’s and New York Telephone Co., recommended that employees diagnosed with AIDS should be required to work from home. The group also suggested that supervisors treat workers as they would any other seriously ill employee.
“Our theses is employers should recognize the importance of AIDS as a problem and prepare for its eruption,” said Dr. Leon Warshaw, the group’s Executive Director. “They should form fairly explicit policies and procedures. Otherwise, they’ll find themselves suddenly involved in a crisis situation and as a result they will be liable to take ill-ocsidered actions, knee-jerk reactions that could boomerang.” Like, say, telling a Bloomies sales clerk to try doing his job from his walk-up, instead of following the group’s other recommendation: that companies educate their employees of the then-prevailing medical opinion that AIDS couldn’t be spread through casual contact.
Ron Najman of the National Gay Task Force blasted the proposal. “That suggestion is totally inappropriate,” he said. “It’s counterproductive, and it leads to de facto discrimination. They are speaking with forked tongue here. It’s opening the door to tolerating hysteria and panic.”
Allan Bérubé: 1946-2007. He is best known as the author of the best-selling book, Coming Out Under Fire, about the stories of gay men and women who served during World War II. The book, which drew on GIs wartime letters, interviews with veterans and declassified military documents, Bérubé revealed a history that had previously been hidden. What’s more, his timing was prescient; the book came out just three years before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enshrined into law. The book earned Bérubé an Lambda Literary Award for outstanding Gay Men’s Nonfiction. The book was made into a documentary in 1994, which won a Peabody Award in 1995 and earned Bérubé “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1996. After he died in 2007 the bulk of his personal and professional papers were donated to the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, where they are currently being organized and catalogued for future historians.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
Welcome Out, Tom Daley and Maria Bello
December 2nd, 2013
British Olympian Tom Daley sent his gay fans all atwitter this morning when he posted a video on YouTube to “put an end to all the rumors and speculation.” Daley then announced that he is seeing someone — a guy:
I’ve been dating girls and I’ve never really had a serious relationship to talk about and now I feel ready to talk about my relationships. Come spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone and it made me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great. And, well, that someone is a guy. It did take my by surprise a little bit. I mean, it’s always been in the back of my head that something like that could happen. But it wasn’t until spring this year that things just clicked. It felt right.
Daley adds, “Of course, I still fancy girls, but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier.”
Maria Bello, actress in Prisoners, A History of Violence and Coyote Ugly, announced her relationship with her partner, Claire, in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. In the article titled “Coming Out as a Modern Family,” Bello describes explaining to her twelve-year-old son her relationship with Claire, who she met in Haiti while doing earthquake relief work. That process of having to explain it all to him and to the rest of her family helped to clarify her feelings for her partner:
My feelings for Clare aren’t the same as the butterflies-in-the-stomach, angst-ridden love I have felt before; they are much deeper than that. As we grew closer, my desire for her grew stronger until, after a few months, I decided to share the truth of our relationship with my large, Italian-Polish, “traditional” Philadelphia family.
My father’s response came between puffs of his cigar while we sat on the roof of a casino in Atlantic City. “She’s a good girl, good for you,” he said. My mother and family echoed his sentiments. Maybe they weren’t so traditional after all.
My feelings about attachment and partnership have always been that they are fluid and evolving. Jack’s father, Dan, will always be my partner because we share Jack. Dan is the best father and the most wonderful man I’ve known. Just because our relationship is nonsexual doesn’t make him any less of a partner. We share the same core values, including putting our son first. My more recent ex, Bryn, remains my partner because we share our activism. And Clare will always be my partner because she is also my best friend.
Whatever Happened to Dan Choi?
December 2nd, 2013
You remember him: the Iraq War veteran and West Point graduate was both the face and the voice of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal effort throughout much of 2009 and 2010. It seemed that anytime there was anybody talking about DADT, he was there. Where has he been since then? Gabriel Arana, Senior Editor at The American Prospect (and former BTB contributor), has a really great profile in the latest issue which brings us up to date with what Choi’s been up to:
On a Wednesday in August, Dan is setting up for Hungry Hungry Hippos night. On the white coffee table, he’s laid out a platter with sliced boiled eggs dusted with paprika; mini carrots and tomatoes; Sour Patch Kids; and a dozen pot cupcakes that have collapsed into themselves. “I can make brownies, but the cupcakes I can’t get right,” he says. He’s got backup: a six-foot glass bong. The table’s centerpiece is Hungry Hungry Hippos, a children’s game in which players operate four plastic mechanical hippos and try to gobble up as many marbles on the board as possible.
By the time an artist friend walks through the door, Dan is stoned, a fact he broadcasts loudly. “I’m high!” he tells her before bursting into high-pitched laughter. Dan offers her a hit, bringing a flame to the bowl. She takes one, exhaling with a grimace.
Activism, especially the very public form of activism Choi engaged in, can chew people up and spit them out. Arana’s profile is a sympathetic, yet cautionary tale of an acclaimed hero whose identity got so wrapped up in a cause that they lost their sense of who they were as an individual:
A few things I am certain of. Washington can make people, even those who fight for human rights, lose their humanity. It gets covered up with talking points, strategy, branding. At the height of Dan’s celebrity, few in the repeal movement pulled him aside and said, “All this doesn’t matter more than you do. Let’s go home.” …None of this is to say Dan would have listened. He had fallen in love with his own martyrdom. He had conflated activism with celebrity.
The Daily Agenda for Monday, December 2
December 2nd, 2013
Say Aloha to Marriage Equality: Hawaii. At the stroke of midnight Hawaii time (that would be 5:a.m. EST), marriage equality arrives in paradise. Among the first to be married after the stroke of midnight will be Rev. Jonipher Kupono Kwong, a Unitarian minister and gay rights activist, and Chris Nelson, Kwong’s partner of fifteen years, with 140 friends and Gov. Neil Abercrombie in attendance. At least six other couples will race to be among the first to say “I Do” at the Sheraton Waikiki. It’s fitting that the Sheraton would host some of the first same-sex marriages. Hotels and wedding planners across Hawaii are eager to get a piece of an estimated $217 million in increased tourism dollars over the next three years as Hawaii’s well-oiled marriage industry gears up to welcome same-sex couples from other states.
Documentary Film “The Battle of amfAR” Premieres: HBO. From the press release: “The Battle of amfAR tells the true story of when AIDS struck and two very different and extraordinary women – Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor and research scientistDr. Mathilde Krim – joined forces to take a stand and create America’s first AIDS research foundation, AmfAR. Their goal: to unveil the truth of the disease as a worldwide pandemic in desperate need of funding for scientific research to find a cure. Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (HBO’s Sundance award-winning The Celluloid Closet and Oscar-winning Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt) and executive produced by fashion mogul Kenneth Cole, The Battle of amfAR chronicles the organization’s history and continuing importance in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
The official premier is tonight on HBO at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST, although a sneak prevue aired last night on HBO 2. You can learn more about the documentary at the film’s official web site and at HBO’s documentary web page. The official trailer follows:
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Columbus Police Question 500 “Deviates”: 1962. ”At least 500 men with abnormal sex habits walk Columbus streets. Nothing can be done about them unless they break the law,” the Columbus Dispatch breathlessly exclaimed on a December Sunday morning. Police in Columbus, Ohio, had “thoroughly checked” about 2,500 people since the gruesome murder of Columbus Business College student Mary Margaret Andrews two and a half months earlier. Of those checked out, police tagged five hundred of them as “deviates.”
Detective Chief Wade Knight’s statements to the Dispatch illustrate the confused nature of his investigation. At one point, he said suggested that “the person who committed the crime is abnormal, but not a sex maniac or degenerate.” But then he emphasized what he believed to be the likelihood that the crime was somehow linked to what the Dispatch listed as “molestings, window peeping, exhibitionists, and homosexuals.” Knight added, “I didn’t realize, and I don’t believe the homicide squad realized, how many people there are walking the streets with abnormal sex habits until we got into the Andrews case.”
Knight also suggested that the five hundred was just the tip of the iceberg. “In this case we would uncover more sex deviates than otherwise. Probably many are walking the streets we didn’t pull in.”
Knight complained that Ohio’s laws were inadequate to deal with the problem. “They certainly need help. They realize they need help and many would like to have it. They need psychiatry and an institution for their care. A lot know they are abnormal and don’t want to do anything about it.” Knight acknowledged that courts could work out a psychiatric treatment plan. But under Ohio law, the cost of treatment was borne by the individual being committed for treatment, a cost which many were unable to pay. Knight called on families to “take every step to help them. If they don’t they are only hurting themselves and the people they (they deviates) are associating with.”
[Source: James Speckman. "500 Sex Deviates Quizzed by Police." The Columbus Dispatch (December 2, 1962): 22A.]
Gay Activists Challenge “Gay Cure” Psychiatrist at Cooper Union: 1964. Two and a half months after organizing the first known gay rights picket on American soil (see Sep 19), New York activist Randolphe Wicker decided to try another direct challenge, this time against the medical profession which held that homosexuality was a mental illness. Dr. Paul Dince, Associate in Psychiatry at New York Medical College was scheduled to speak on “Homosexuality, a Disease” at the popular Cooper Union Forum.
Wicker and four activists arrived early to hand out literature and display signs reading, “We Request 10 Minutes Rebuttal Time.” They got their rebuttal time during the Q&A session following Dince’s talk. Wicker pointed out that all of the so-called experts disagreed and contradicted each other over why some people became gay and whether they could be cured. He lambasted the research to date which had been conducted almost entirely of “unhappy, ill-adjusted homosexuals” who were patients undergoing therapy. He derided the so-called experts for starting with the assumption that homosexuality was a disease, and drawing conclusions which supported their prejudices. He also warned that those who were firmly committed to the homosexuality-as-disease theory were happily charing exorbitant hourly fees, draining the bank accounts of homosexuals or their parents while promising a cure.
The Ladder gleefully reported, “Applause for the challenger topped applause for the lecturer, who appeared stunned for a moment by the reaction of the audience.” Dince was also forced to concede the point about unscrupulous therapists. “Unfortunately, they do exist,” he admitted. And he admitted his own surprise at being picketed and receiving such a strong rebuttal during his first public lecture.
[Source: Kay Tobin (Kay Lahusen). "'Expert' Challenged." The Ladder 9, nos. 5-6 (February-March 1965): 18. For Kay Lahusen's bio, see Jan 5.]
CDC Freezes AIDS Education Grants: 1985. Fearing a backlash from the White House and conservative political leaders on Capitol Hill, officials at the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that they were putting on ice more than $1.6 million in AIDS “innovative risk reduction” grants for education on safe sex practices. CDC spokesperson Donald Berreth confirmed to reporters, “There was some concern that there would be a backlash against the federal government funding ‘pornography.’ This is a problem that existed before with sexually transmitted diseases, not just AIDS. It’s something we have struggled with within the CDC.”
While Berreth denied that the CDC’s decision was due to “outside influence,” CDC director Dr. James O. Mason had told gay rights groups and others that he was under considerable pressure from the White House not to sponsor what was termed “sexually graphic” educational materials, even though Mason had argued that such education “could stop this epidemic in its tracks.”
Gianni Versace: 1946-1997. For the man known simply as “Versace,” fashion had long been a family affair. He began his apprenticeship at home, where his mother ran a sewing workshop that employed as many as a dozen seamstresses. When he began selling at his own boutique in Milan in 1978, his older brother, Santo, joined him to oversee the growing firm’s organization, distribution, production and finance, while younger sister Donatella served as Gianni’s publicist, critic and muse. Versace would go on to design for such celebrities as Princess Diana, Madonna, Elton John, Cher, Eric Clapton, and Sting.
Versace’s designs, which were a mash-up of ancient Roman and Greek art with splashes of pop and abstract art thrown in, reflected the opulent, jet-setting lifestyle he enjoyed with his partner, designer and model Antonio D’Amico. Versace met D’Amico in 1982, and D’Amico would later design Versache’s Sport. The two remained partners for the next fifteen years, until July 15, 1997, when mass-murderer Andrew Cunanan gunned down Versace outside of his Miami Beach mansion. Versace was Conanan’s fifth victim in four months, before Cunanan killed himself on a houseboat eight days later.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
LaBarbera goes for new title
December 1st, 2013
Peter LaBarbera is probably known best for three things: the vast collection of gay porn he has assembled for his anti-gay research (earning him the nickname “Porno Pete”), his deliciously absurd rantings about The Homosexual Agenda, and his abject failure to get anyone in Illinois to pay attention to him. But now he’s seeking fame for a new accomplishment: the record for the most instances of scare quotes in one article.
In Pete’s writings, gay becomes “gay” (because they aren’t gay at all, they’re miserable godless homosexuals) and gay marriage becomes homosexual “marriage” (because it’s not marriage at all, no, no, no it’s not!). So it’s pretty common for LaBarbera’s rants to have more than their share of misplaced and improperly used quotation marks.
Now I can’t claim a clean tally, as LaBarbera is rather grammatically challenged to begin with and hasn’t the slightest clue how to use quotations correctly. For example, he puts The Rush Limbaugh Show in quotations, along with his own created Victims of Homosexualism list. And some are questionable; was LaBarbera quoting someone when he insisted that gays are not “civil rights victims”, or does he not believe that such a thing exists?
Anyway, allowing for subjective calls on my part, I get a grand total of 111 separate instances of scare quotes in his article. And that’s pretty impressive.
Perhaps he should now be known as Porno Pete, the King of Scare Quotes.
The Daily Agenda for Sunday, December 1
December 1st, 2013
World AIDS Day: Everywhere. Today is the day set aside to increase awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, it is estimated that about 35 million people are are living with HIV/AIDS. The good news is that the rate of new HIV infections worldwide are still declining, as have AIDS-related deaths. Where access to antiretroviral (ARV) medications is available, AIDS changed from being a fatal disease to a chronic one, albeit a very serious one. Those who are on ARVs can now expect a near-normal lifespan.
The bad news is that men who have sex with men (MSM) made up 62% of all new HIV infections in 2011. Alarmingly, African-American men make up about 36% of that category (PDF: 545KB / 2 pages). Young people under 25 represent more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year (26 percent) and most of them (60 percent) don’t know they’re infected. All told, an estimated 75% of people with HIV do not have their virus under control because about quarter of all people with HIV don’t even know they have it. Do you know your status? Find out today. You can even do it from the comfort of your own home, so there’s no excuse not to.
Croatians to Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Ban. More than 1,000 gay rights supporters marched through Zagrab yesterday ahead of today’s referendum that could outlaw marriage equality in the European Union’s newest member state. The referendum placed on the ballot by a governmental commission last October on the very same day that Croatia’s foreign minister Vesna Pusić was welcoming top human rights officials from the U.S. and Europe at a meeting of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (IGLA) European branch in the Croatian capital. Croatia had already approved a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in order to meet one of the conditions of EU membership. Placing the marriage ban on the ballot was seen as a dramatic reversal of Croatia’s commitments to human rights. A recent poll shows that 68% of Croatians say they will vote to support the ban. It also has support from 104 members of Croatia’s 151-seat parliament.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Connecticut Passes It’s First Sodomy Law: 1642. “If any man lyeth with mankind as hee lyeth with woman, both of them shave committed abomination, they both shall surely be put to death. — Levit. 21. 13.” If it’s any consolation, the same penalty also applied to adultery.
15 YEARS AGO: Miami Reinstates Gay Rights Ordinance: 1998. More than two decades earlier, Miami first passed a gay rights ordinance (see Jan 18) which was eventually overturned following an acrimonious campaign led by Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant (see Jun 7). That victory led Bryant to spearhead campaigns to overturn similar ordinances in St Paul, Minnesota (see Apr 25) and Wichita, Kansas (see May 9). That tidal wave reached its high-water mark in 1978 when voters in Eugene, Oregon turned back a Bryant-inspired attempt to rescind that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance (see Nov 7). That same day, California voters turned down the Brigg’s Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools.
In the decades that followed, eleven states, 27 counties and 136 cities had passed anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing and employment. But gays and lesbians in Miami, where the anti-gay backlash against such legislation first became a major political force, remained without those protections. That changed in 1998, when the Miami-Date Commission voted 7-6 to approve an ordinance barring discrimination in housing and employment. The vote came after more than four hours of public debate while opponents of the measure prayed on their knees outside.
“It says that we’ve grown up,” said Carlos Hazday, a local gay activist who spearheaded the campaign for the ordinance. “We’re not perfect, we still have differences, but we’re learning from our mistakes.” Miami Beach mayor Neisen Kasdin welcomed the vote after arguing that an image of intolerance was bad for the area’s tourism-dependent economy. “Greater Miami is no longer a provincial, backwater town,” he said. “Let’s not retreat from our destiny as a major international city.” Reporters seeking comment from Anita Bryant tried leaving messages on an answering machine at her theater in Branson, Missouri. They were apparently unaware that she had been forced to close her theater and declare bankruptcy.
Matthew Shepard: 1976-1998. I’m not sure what to say about him that hasn’t already been said. He has become so much larger in death than he was in life — except, of course, to those who knew him. For the rest of us, he’s an icon, not unlike the golden images venerated in Orthodox churches of impossibly heroic saints who suffered their unimaginable tortures in stoic silence. Most of what we know about him can be summed up in a simple creed: he suffered, died, and was buried. One popular description of how he was found — tied to a fence with his arms outstretched — took on religious significance, even if the image it portrayed was inaccurate. Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, has always been uncomfortable with the deification.
“People call him a martyr, but I take exception to that,” she said. “I’ve tried very hard to keep him real. It’s unfair to make him larger than life. He had foibles. He made mistakes. He was not a perfect child by any means.
“When he was killed he was not on a victory march or a protest march or anything that you would consider fighting for gay rights. He was just living his life as a 21-year-old college student who smoked too much, drank too much and didn’t study enough. He was a college kid trying to figure out his future.”
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
Cardinal Dolan: Church has been out-marketed
November 30th, 2013
“Well, I think maybe we’ve been outmarketed sometimes,” he said on Meet the Press, according to a preview of the Sunday interview reported by the Associated Press. “We’ve been caricatured as being antigay.”
This is the explanation Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic Archbishop of New York, gives for the reason that the United States is marching firmly in the direction of marriage equality. (The interview can be seen Sunday night on NBC’s Meet the Press.)
“When you have forces like Hollywood, when you have forces like politicians, when you have forces like some opinion-molders that are behind it, it’s a tough battle,” he said.
The Cardinal is correct that public image and social pressure were the factors that swept away the argument of the American Catholic Bishops and which will result in equality not only in the United States but in most of the Christian and Catholic World. But Hollywood and politicians only deserve part of the credit.
The real credit lies elsewhere.
America has come to know who Catholic Cardinals are. Media stopped giving the Church a pass and over the past decade or so the real lives of Catholic priests have been exposed.
The public has discovered that all that they feared and despised about gay people – irresponsible sexuality, a threat to their children, flaunters of law and social order – had been blamed on the wrong party. It was not Hairdresser Joe that their sons needed to be warned about, but Father Joe.
And through it all, the Bishops – in their arrogance – failed miserably in maintaining their image. They fought futile public battles to keep their crimes a secret, they threw nuns out of convents in order to raise money to pay their settlements, they put forward spokesmen who demanded that the public obey their will without question, all while parading their own wealth and power and political connections. And, in the process, the Church lost its credibility on matters of morality and social good.
And, most foolish of all, they failed to address the very real, very identifiable needs of same-sex couples. While the public was looking at a problem and seeking a solution, the Church could have endorsed civil unions as a means to address the economic and political inequalities, while holding marriage as sacred and separate.
But instead they adopted absolutism and offered nothing. And did so in very nasty terms.
The Church could have easily won the battle over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, but they were caricatured as anti-gay and they were terribly out-marketed. By themselves.
The Daily Agenda for Saturday, November 30
November 30th, 2013
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
The Mental Hygiene Aspects of Homosexuality: 1917. The theories behind the Eugenics movement were formulated by Sir Francis Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin. Drawing on Darwin’s theories of evolution, Galton sought to create a practical application of those theories in his 1883 book, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, in which he suggested that, through carefully considered interventions, the human condition could be improved. In addition to Eugenics, which took a more narrow human-husbandry approach to improving the population, those ideas launched a broader “social hygiene” movement which had many positive results: the regulation and eventual abolition of child labor, mandatory and free education primary and (eventually) secondary education, workplace health and safety rules, anti-tenement ordinances, pre-natal care, food safety regulations, immunizations, sanitation, and birth control — although the latter, in some of its manifestations, also had its negative qualities as well. Particularly where forced sterilization of “undesired” population groups were concerned.
Eugenics was the dark side of the social hygiene movement, as was its “racial hygiene” component which simply provided a weak scientific gloss over longstanding prejudices and racial policies designed to prevent “race-mixing.” While not everyone involved in social hygienes were eugenicists, there was often a certain degree of crossed influences between the two areas of discussion. We can best see this in a textbook which was published in November 1917 by William Alanson White, a prominent psychoanalyst and professor of nervous and mental diseases at Georgetown University. In The Principles of Mental Hygiene, he touched on a large number of topics, including homosexuality. That passage is particularly striking because of the way White described homosexuality according to its impact on “the herd.”
This social group, like the others, is a complex and heterogeneous one and one, too, that we have only recently come to study scientifically. Perhaps no group of individuals have suffered from less understanding, have been treated with greater lack of consideration, than this group. The antipathic emotions have held almost complete sway and so have made the scientific approach to the problem practically impossible. The history of society’s attitude towards the homosexual is much the same as the history of its attitude towards the prostitute except that it has, if possible, been more completely dominated by the antipathic emotions.
Homosexuality has come of late to have a much broader meaning than that usually connoted by the popular speech. It means that degree of attraction for the same sex which turns the individual aside on the path towards a heterosexual goal and therefore away from those activities which naturally lead to procreation and are therefore race-preservative. The term by no means necessarily connotes actual concrete acts of sexual perversion. In this large sense it is readily seen why it should be tabooed by the herd. Its tendency is destructive to the interests of the herd as a biological unit and therefore the reaction against it. The reaction of hate and its congeners is the instinctive way of self-protection and must necessarily precede any judicial, intelligent attitude based upon scientific knowledge which can only come in the course of development when instinct shall have been controlled and directed by reason.
As already intimated, the homosexual group is a large and complex one and we are only beginning to be able to approach its problems with a clear scientific vision, but as we are able to do this we come more and more to an appreciation of how widely this particular type of inefficiency is distributed. Again, therefore, we come to appreciate the emphasis which I have all along put upon the necessity for studying the individual in order that he may be dealt with for what he is rather than perfunctorily classified with this or that social group just because, and for no other reason, the accident of circumstance has found him momentarily identified with it. Distinct homosexual types are found among the insane, the criminal, the feeble-minded, the epileptic, the vagrant, etc., etc., so that we must come to realize that it is a type of reaction, not a label to distinguish a given individual from all others, and try in our investigations to evaluate the part it has played in the social inadequacy of the particular individual under consideration.
Viewed in this way it becomes a problem like all the others and the objects of treatment come out clearly instead of being befogged by a haze of emotion.
The homosexual reaction should be corrected if possible. Psychotherapy is the most hopeful way of approach. Failing this the individual should be taught to use his energies as best he can based upon an understanding of himself. The ideal, next to cure, would be a direction of the energies into socially useful channels, which direction would at the same time afford an adequate fulfilment (sic) of the individual.
Homosexuality, in the broad sense here used, is found as a type of reaction in a great many conditions which constitute or lead to social inadequacy. It, therefore, offers a natural barrier to procreation of the socially inadequate classes the immense value of which, to the herd, has not been appreciated. It is, so to speak, a natural means of sterilization.
[Source: William A. White. The Principles of Mental Hygiene (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1917): 208-211. Available online via the Internet Archive here.]
Robert Odeman: 1904-1985. Born Martin Hoyer in Hamburg, he took his stage name when he began traveling throughout Europe performing as a classical pianist. When his playing career ended after suffering a hand injury, he turned to the theater as an actor. He met his first love, Martin Ulrich Eppendorf, at the age of 17, and they remained together for the next ten years. After his beloved Muli died in 1932, Odeman became musical director of a theater in Hamburg, and in 1935 he opened his own cabaret. The Nazis closed it a year later on the grounds that it was politically subversive. A year after that, in 1937, the Nazi’s pressured a bookseller to renounce Odeman as a homosexuals, and he was convicted under Paragraph 175, Germany’s notorious statute that outlawed homosexual acts between men.
After serving in prison for 27 months, he was released in 1940 under the terms of a Berufsverbot, or a professional ban on certain professions including public performances. He was also kept under police surveillance. In 1942, he was arrested again under Paragraph 175 and was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was assigned an office job, which probably saved his life. An estimated 30,000 prisoners lost their lives there, from exhaustion through forced labor, disease, or were executed. When the Red Army advanced on Sachsenhausen, the camp’s SS guards ordered the 33,000 remaining inmates on a forced March. Thousands more prisoners did not survive the death march. But Odeman and two other “175′ers” were able to escape.
After the war, Odeman returned to Berlin, where he worked as an actor, composer, and author of satirical poems. Because Paragraph 175 remained on the books, Odeman continued to be regarded as a convicted criminal under the law and, like others convicted under the statute, he was denied compensation. He died in 1985 at the age of 81.
Ryan Murphy: 1965. The screenwriter, director, producer and creator or co-creater of Nip/Tuck, Glee, and The New Normal grew up in a writerly Irish Catholic familiy in Indianapolis: his father was newspaper circulation director and his mother, though a stay-at-home mom, had written five books and worked in communications for more than 20 years. Murphy ended up being outed to his parents at the age of fifteen when they discovered that he had been having a covert affair with a 21-year-old. They removed him from summer camp, sold his car, threatened to file statutory rape charges, and sent him to a therapist in the hopes of making him straight. Murphy drew a lucky card with his therapist, “who after two sessions called my parents in and said, ‘Your child is very smart and manipulative, and clearly he’s getting A-pluses in school even though this is going on, so either you deal with it honestly or he will turn 18 and you will never see him again.’ There was a long silent car ride home, and we never spoke of it again.”
Murphy wrote for the school newspaper while attending Indiana University, then got jobs at papers in Miami, L.A., New York, and Knoxville before selling his first script to Steven Spielberg in the late 1990s for something called, “Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn?”. Murphy’s first television project was with the WB teen comedy series Popular, but his first critical and popular hit came with FX’s Nip/Tuck. He followed that with Fox’s Glee, which was based, in part, on Murphy’s own experiences in choir back in Indiana. In addition to his writing and producing duties, Murphy selects much of the music that gets covered on <em<Glee, which has led to a number of public spats with Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, and the Followill brothers of Kings of Leo, over their refusals to allow their music on Glee.
In 2012, Murphy was co-creater of NBC’s The New Normal, about a gay couple and a surrogate who will carry their child. Again, Murphy’s inspiration for The New Normal was drawn on real life. In 2012, Murphy and his husband, photographer David Miller, welomed their first son in December. Murphy announced this year that the sixth season of Glee will be its last.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
The Daily Agenda for Friday, November 29
November 29th, 2013
Yes, yes, yes, today is Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season. Apparently the name Black Friday has two origins. In Philadelphia in the early 1960s, it referred to the gridlocked traffic that occurred as everyone rushed to the stores to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving sales. In the ’70s, economists began calling the day “Black Friday” because it was the day in which many retailers would begin to turn their profits for the year (or, go “in the black,” as opposed to remaining “in the red”). This year, some retails are beginning to push their luck by actually opening their doors on Thanksgiving day.
But here’s the thing. Those so-called “door-buster” Black Friday savings really aren’t great deals for the vast majority of shoppers, but they are a tremendous deal to retailers. Serious Christmas shopping discounts won’t begin to kick in for another two weeks. But if retailers can sucker people into shopping today (or yesterday), they can get them to spend more money than they would have if they had waited. But not only that, retailers will still have the rest of the shopping season to try to entice those early bird shoppers into buying even more stuff that they absolutely have to have in the weeks ahead.
So I don’t play the Black Friday game. And neither should you, although as a recreational shopper I can understand the allure and won’t judge you too harshly if you’re out there fighting the crowds today. But I have to be honest: if you were out shopping yesterday, then just go away. I don’t even want to know you. Unless you vow never to do it again.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Der Spiegel Reports On Arrests of 750 Gay Men: 1950. The Third Reich had been defeated five years earlier, but Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 lived on to claim more victims. On this date in 1950, Germany’s news weekly Der Spiegel featured a surprisingly sympathetic report on the arrest of 750 gay men by the Frankfurt Criminal Police resulting in 140 criminal charges as of November 25. Magistrate Kurt Romini denied that an official campaign had been launched, saying he was only responding to complaints from “young persons.” But it turns out that Romini himself had been in charge of handling criminal cases against gay men as State Attorney during the Nazi regime. “During his work in the Third Reich,” Der Spiegel reported, “it was not in the interest of a defendant to admit to homosexuality. As soon as he confessed, he was on the way to the concentration camp (with a pink triangle on his chest) and certain to eventually be castrated.”
Castration was no longer in vogue, but Der Spiegel discovered a new twist in this latest campaign. Police relied almost entirely on street hustlers to make arrests and build cases. “They (the hustlers) are driven, for example, through the city in unmarked cars. Then they indicate which passers-by they recognize in the street traffic. The auto stops, and the subject is arrested and interrogated. Moreover, he is entered into the criminal records system. That is, he is photographed; the picture is then shown to all hustlers in custody and informants until someone recognizes him. When someone admits that he visits bars frequented by homosexuals, then a detailed description of a sex act by a hustler is sufficient for a court to convict him. There are known cases where such relationships persons with homosexual tendencies with a certain hustler did not exist. The ‘boys’ invented experiences, and a conviction resulted.”
One hustler, identified as 19-year-old Otto Blankenstein, had been the star witness (and often the only witness) in at least 40 cases. This was true even though “tangible symptoms of mental illness are apparent” in Blankenstein. Der Spiegel also reported that a number of the cases involved blackmail, where the men refused to pay a bribe to some of the street hustlers in exchange for not naming them to police. It’s likely that some of the men weren’t even gay. Their only “crime” was to respond to a few innocuous questions from a hustler at a train station, who then surreptitiously followed them as they walked home. On learning the man’s address, the hustler could then learn more about him; if he was unmarried, the hustler was extra-lucky and his mark would be easier for the inevitable blackmail demands. Refusal to pay resulted in being turned over to police.
If the victim was lucky and wasn’t convicted, his problems still weren’t over. “The citizen is recorded as a suspected homosexual, and a duplicate of his mug shot, which he had to let the police take, is now placed in the Frankfurt mug shot library, and will be shown to hustlers and other people in custody. They will point at it and say, ‘That one, that one, I saw him too in the Kleist Kasino (a popular gay bar), and he offered me DM10 for the night.’” At the peak of the campaign, Judge Romini, who was in charge of all Paragraph 175 cases, was presiding over four trials per day. At least six of the accused men committed suicide.
On February 14, 1951, Der Spiegel carried a brief update revealing that Romini’s star witness, Otto Blankenstein, had been declared mentally ill, and Romini himself had been accused by his housekeepers of “severe night-time disorderly conduct and outburst in the presence of his professional colleagues.”
[Thanks to BTB reader Rob in NYC for the translations]
Bush Signs Immigration Bill Ending Gay Ban: 1990. When Congress overhauled the nation’s immigration laws in 1950, it was still in the grip of the McCarthy Red and Lavender Scares. Consequently, Congress banned Communists and “persons afflicted with psychopathic personality” from entering the U.S. That latter clause was added by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee with the express purpose of excluding “homosexuals and other sex perverts.” The legislation that was ultimately signed into law didn’t mention homosexuals, but the U.S. Public Health Service consistently interpreted the language to be “sufficiently broad to provide for the exclusion of homosexuals and sex perverts.” When Congress addressed immigration reform again in 1965, it added “sexual deviation” to the list of characteristics that would preclude immigration. But even then, the law didn’t single out homosexuality for exclusion, but it nevertheless remained official immigration policy even after homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders in 1973.
The nation’s doctors may have changed their understanding of gay people, but immigration authorities did not. That change wouldn’t come about until Congress again set out to reform the nation’s immigration laws again in 1990. This time, Congress decided to life the political litmus test which automatically barred Communists and people with other potentially controversial political views from entering the U.S., and it also specifically struck down the exclusion of entry based on sexual orientation. When President George H.W. Bush signed the bill into law, gay people, for the first time, could enter the U.S without fear of automatic exclusion if their sexuality were discovered.
The new law was supposed to go further, with a clause which was intended to eliminate the automatic exclusion of people with AIDS from immigrating. But the law contained another clause which left it up the Health and Human Services Department to determine the list of communicable diseases which would prevent travel and immigration to the U.S. That list, as of 1990, still included HIV/AIDS, thanks to an amendment added to a 1987 appropriations bill by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) which required that HIV/AIDS be included on the list of excludable diseases. When public health officials tried to remove AIDS from the list, it touched off a massive political firestorm of opposition from conservatives. HHS backed down, and the HIV travel and immigration ban would remain in place as an interim policy. When HHS moved to remove AIDS from the list in 1993, Congress retaliated by approving a measure that made the HIV/AIDS immigration and travel ban law. That ban was finally lifted in 2010.
Billy Strayhorn: 1915-1967. Born in Dayton and raised in Pittsburgh, Billy Straygorn was a classical music enthusiast from a very early age. But imagine how hard it was for a black kid to try to become a concert pianist in the 1930s. There was little encouragement for him, but Strayhorn persisted, even taking a job in high school so he could buy his own piano. His musical focus shifted when he hears his first jazz record. From then on, Strayhorn’s compositional focus turned toward jazz, but always with a classical influence.
Strayhorn composed “Lush Life,” which would become his signature song, while still performing in Pittsburgh. That changed when he met Duke Ellington in 1938. Ellington, who was certainly no slouch as a bandleader and composer himself, was immediately impressed with Strayhorn’s talent. Strayhorn moved to Harlem, where he and Ellington composed such standards as “Take the A Train,” and “Satin Doll.” Ellington was hit-or-miss in giving Strayhorn credit. He gave Strayhorn credit for some of their collaborations, but for others Ellington took sole credit (and royalties). But there was little doubt that Ellington valued the quiet young composer, and if anything bothered Strayhorn, it seemed to be centered more on his own lack of independence than on any perceptions that Ellington was taking advantage of him.
But if Strayhorn lacked independence, there was something of a benefit for him being out of the spotlight. He was one of the few openly gay jazz musicians in Harlem. In fact, he met one earlier long-term partner, musician Aaron Bridgers, in 1939, who was friends with Ellington’s son. Strayhorn and Bridgers remained together, as an openly gay couple, for eight years until Bridgers moved to Paris in 1947.
In the 1940s, Strayhorn composed several songs for Lena Horne, including “Maybe,” “Something to Live For,” and “Love Like This Can’t Last.” That raised his profile somewhat, even as he continued composing for Ellington. By the 1950s, Ellington gave Strayhorn full credit on several larger works like “Such Sweet Thunder,” “A Drum Is a Woman,” and “The Far East Suite.” Ellington later said of him, “Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” In 1960, Ellington and Strayhorn collaboration on a Jazz interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” That album featured Strayhorn’s name and likeness along with Ellington’s on the front cover.
Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, and he died in 1967 with his partner, Bill Grove, by his side. Before he died, he handed off his final composition to Ellington, “Blood Count,” which appeared on Ellington’s 1967 memorial album, And His Mother Called Him Bill.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
The Daily Agenda for Thanksgiving Day
November 28th, 2013
Turkey, oyster dressing, mashed sweet potatoes, basmati rice with walnuts and raisins, green bean casserole, spicy tomato crumble, steamed asparagus, cranberry sauce, wine, and homemade bourbon-molasses-pecan pie. That’s what’ll be on our table for Thanksgiving. What about you?
TODAY IN HISTORY:
25 YEARS AGO: Dallas Judge Gives Light Sentence In Gay Men’s Murder: 1988. It was a common sport among Dallas-area high school students throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s: drive into the Oak Lawn gayborhood on a weekend night and spend the evening “gay bashing” — their term for it. (One of my friends was stabbed in the chest and spent days in intensive care in one such attack while walking along Throckmorton Street with his boyfriend. His assailants were never found.) In one case, nine guys from North Mesquite High School drove to Oak Lawn one night in May to “pester the homosexuals.” According to the New York Times’s description of the event:
Witnesses who were in that group said the boys were standing on a street corner and shouting at passers-by, and then Tommy Lee Trimble, 34, and John Lloyd Griffin, 27, drove up and invited the boys into their car. [Richard Lee] Bednarski was said to have persuaded one more friend in his group to get in the car. After the car reached a secluded area of Reverchon Park, Mr. Bednarski is said to have ordered Mr. Trimble and Mr. Griffin to remove their clothes. On their refusal, a witness said, Mr. Bednarski drew a pistol and began firing. Mr. Trimble died immediately. Mr. Griffin died five days later.
At first, the crime was thought to be a botched robbery. Former Dallas Gay Alliance president William Waybourn later remembered, “Reverchon Park was a notorious mugging point. We don’t even know they would gay at first.” But as details unfolded, it became clear that there was more going on. Bednarski, the son of a police officer, began bragging about the shootings, then he became worried that Griffin might live to identify against him.
Bednarski was found guilty of two counts of murder, but Texas law allows the defendant to decide whether the judge or jury would determine the sentence. Bednarksi’s defense lawyer sensed that Judge Jack Hampton was sympathetic and chose him. Prosecuters demanded the maximum: life in prison. But Hampton announced that he considered, among other things, that Bednarski has no prior criminal record, was attending college, and was raised n a “good home.” He then handed down the sentence: 30 years in prison instead of life.
The sentence was considered light. Hampton explained his reasoning two days later to the Dallas Times Herald: “The two guys that got killed wouldn’t have been killed if they hadn’t been cruising the street picking up teenage boys. I don’t care for queers cruising the streets picking up teenage boys. I’ve got a teenage boy.” He also said that he would have handed down a much harsher sentence if the victims had been “a couple of housewives out shopping, not hurting anybody. I put prostitutes and gays at about the same levee, and I’d be hard pressed to give someone life for killing a prostitute.”
Those remarks touched off a furor in the gay community. Paul Varnell of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force summed up the reaction and said, “It appears that we do have one law for heterosexuals and one law for homosexuals.” John Wiley Price, the outspoken African-American activist and Dallas County Commissioner, said, “The only difference between the Ku Klux Klan and Judge Hampton is that one wears a white robe and the other a black robe.” On December 19, 200 people attended a rally outside the county courthouse. The next day, Sen. Edward Kennedy joined another protest at City Hall Plaza, where he described Hampton’s comments as “bigotry at its worst.”
Hampton had his supporters though. Two days later, fifty supporters demonstrated outside the courthouse. The Rev. Donald Skelton of Victory Tabernacle Church said that his reason for demonstrating had less to do with supporting Hampton as it was to “protest sodomy.” “He explained, “Our sole thrust is against sodomy. I feel sorry for them [homosexuals].” That same day, Hampton called a press conference and apologized for his “poor choice of words,” although he also protested that the Time Herald reporter had “distorted” his remarks. “I did not intend to stat ethat any victim of crime was entitled to less fair treatment.”
The gay community wasn’t satisfied. Waybourn responded that Hampton had “raised the question of his judicial fitness and ability to be impartial. This question cannot be answered with a simple apology.”
LGBT leaders filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which publicly censured Hampton for making “irresponsible statements” which “created an additional burden for the entire judiciary.” But it fell short of condemning his prejudice or removing him from the bench. Hampton, who had been first elected judge in 1981 and would be up for re-election in 1990, remained unconcerned. “Just spell my name right,” he told the Times-Herald. “If it makes anybody mad, they’ll forget by 1990.” He was right. He was re-elected in 1990, but his judicial career finally ended when when he ran for an appellate court seat in 1992 and lost.
Bednarski was released in 2007 after serving less than nineteen years in Huntsville.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
A Thanksgiving time memory
November 27th, 2013
When I was in my teens, Thanksgiving time meant anticipation mixed with dread.
On the one hand, there was my late-November birthday and the big turkey feast to look forward to. But on the other, Thanksgiving was when Harold Colbert came to town for a four day revival.
Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and twice on Sunday, Brother Colbert preached fire and brimstone, railing against the evils of Coors Beer and White Owl Cigars (neither of which seemed to me to be the chief temptations of the congregation).
These were services in the true Pentecostal tradition: lots of singing, even more preaching, and ending with a prayer line in which those who felt the need for prayer for healing or blessing or reconsecration (which surely meant virtually every person in church) stood in line so that they could receive prayer with the laying on of hands.
Colbert would put olive oil on the index, middle, and ring finger of his right hand and touch it to the forehead of the one seeking prayer and call on the Almighty for blessing, deliverance or healing, whatever was needed.
Often the supplicants would be overcome by the power of the Holy Ghost, grow week in the knees and become slain in the spirit and, after being caught by those so assigned, would lie on the floor speaking in tongues. More often, should the supplicant not sufficiently feel the Holy Ghost, the power of Colbert’s right arm was there to assist.
While my father looked forward to Colbert’s revivals with excitement, I was decided less enthusiastic. As a pastor’s son, there was no chance of my skipping services, and as I didn’t find his sermons much instructive or uplifting, I had only hours of boredom to anticipate. But I did learn the art of stepping into a prayer line and mingling with the post-prayer parishioners returning to their seats, thus appearing to participate while avoiding strain on my neck.
And while I didn’t enjoy his sermons, I found the man charming and enjoyed the time he spent with our family. His stories took me outside of the small homogenous town and gave me a taste of something else, something bigger.
Colbert was one of the few African-Americans that we knew. Another was a church member and, filling out the roster, my sister-in-law’s nephew, whose father lived in Belize.
And based on this limited sample, we made our assumptions about black people.
You would think that this would result in universal adoration and a desire to rally against injustice. These were three people who we liked and about whom the only differences we could find was the hue of their skin. And certainly no one in our social circle would actively and intentionally discriminate or say hateful words or treat any of these people as inferior. That was un-Christian.
But quiet bigotry and long-standing prejudice are powerful things. Rather than see the physical examples of people in front of us and change the unspoken presumptions about what black people “are like”, our community subconsciously decided that there were two types of African Americans, our blacks, and those radicals down there in Oakland who were doing sit-ins and demanding bussing and protesting and causing all sorts of problems.
We didn’t actually know anything about the blacks in Oakland – other than what we read in the paper that scared and troubled us – but we liked our blacks. Probably more so because they weren’t the Oakland type.
It never occurred to us that the black people we knew and liked were just exactly like the ones who lived in Oakland, with the same opinions and the same anger about unfairness and indignity, and that the only difference was that they didn’t have the luxury of living somewhere that they could protest. It somehow even slipped our attention that Brother Colbert lived in Hayward, a stone’s throw from Oakland.
It was easier to just divide “them” into two groups. And though we didn’t use these terms, we did think in terms of the ‘good blacks’ – the few ones we knew and probably what ‘most real ones are like’ – and the ‘bad blacks’ who we read about in the paper.
I think that this is a common reaction when reality comes into contact with prejudice. Survival instinct has ingrained in our psyche a fear of the other people, the other tribe, the other cave. And letting go of the fear of the unknown is unsettling.
But we’re also geared to learn from experience. Which can set up a conflict.
Our solution is often to assign two entirely contradictory assumptions to the now-less-unknown group and arbitrarily assign its members according to how we perceive them to fit. That way we react from our experience – for some – but still cling to what we’ve read about or heard about or fear.
Even the gay community is not immune.
With regularity I hear about, how rural people “think”, what Republicans “are like”, what conservatives “want to do to us”, how Christians “really believe”. Sure we all know instances of rural Americans, Republicans, conservatives, and Christians (and even rural conservative Republican Christians) who don’t fit those presumptions, but seldom does that change our presumptions. Rather, we go by what we read about on the internet, what we fear.
And, to an even greater extent, we are the subject of this odd double-classification. Those who fight against the rights and equalities of gay people frequently do so while genuinely believing that they like gay people… just not the ones who are causing trouble.
Sarah Palin assures us that she has gay friends. Ex-gay groups for decades felt concern and pain for the poor person trapped in the homosexual lifestyle and railed against the militant activists who were forcing them to stay gay.
This month, when Rep. Jo Jordan, a Hawaiian legislator who is a lesbian, voted against equality, The Christian Post, Christianity Today, and Deseret News were but a few of those who rushed to tell the story and defend the woman from her homosexual critics, thus propping up their good gay/bad gay dichotomy.
But it is not only our opponents who have difficulty in letting go of presumptions and double-classification. Sometimes even those who have spoken in favor of civil equality can see gay people as either good or bad, depending on the extent to which we challenge their assumptions of superiority.
Take, for example, Alec Baldwin.
Baldwin, certainly no conservative, has long been a supporter of gay causes. If questioned, there is no doubt but that Baldwin would tell you that he believes – and genuinely so – that gay people should have all the same legal rights and privileges as heterosexuals and that those who disagree are biased and bigoted and hateful.
But Baldwin also has the bad habit of using anti-gay slurs or challenges to someone’s masculinity whenever displeased. Most recently he was caught on film by TMZ calling a photographer a “cock-sucking faggot”. He has since insisted that he called him a “cock-sucking fathead” or, alternately, a “cock-sucking maggot”, neither of which seem credible.
Personally, I don’t see this outburst as an indication of “secret homophobia”. I think it’s an example of a man who says things that he himself knows are unacceptable but who is emotionally out-of-control and has issues with masculinity.
But irrespective of whether Baldwin used the word “faggot” (he did), it is Baldwin’s latest assertion that illustrates that he, too, sees gay people not simply as people, but through the eyes of double-classification.
Baldwin, who was in negotiation for a show on MSNBC, has been dropped. And his response is sad, but perhaps to be expected. (Gothamist)
“Martin Bashir’s on the air, and he made his comment on the air! I dispute half the comment I made… if I called him ‘cocksucking maggot’ or a ‘cocksucking motherfucker’… ‘faggot’ is not the word that came out of my mouth. That I know. But you’ve got the fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy—Rich Ferraro and Andrew Sullivan—they’re out there, they’ve got you. Rich Ferraro, this is probably one of his greatest triumphs. They killed my show. And I have to take some responsibility for that myself.”
You see, the good gays are okay… but those “fundamentalist gays” are intolerant. They don’t accept it when you accidentally toss out “faggot”. They don’t let you backtrack and claim you used “maggot” instead. They even object to “cocksucking” as an insult.
Baldwin makes the same mistake that my town made about blacks. He assumes that the people who are not directly confronting him must surely agree with him. He fails to see that we all, nearly every gay person, finds his behavior and language choices offensive. Even the hairdresser he pulled out to vouch for his non-homophobia.
This is not to suggest that every gay person should confront or denounce Alec Baldwin. That would accomplish little other than reduce his double-classification to a single classification: his enemy.
Certainly there would have been little accomplished had the few blacks we knew in our small town taken up the role of activist. They would have personally suffered and probably only inflamed racial strife.
But perhaps someone will have the standing and trust to speak to Baldwin about the reality of his offense and let him know that he needs to get off the defensive. Perhaps a ‘good gay’, not one of the ‘fundamentalist wing’, can break through.
I recall Harold Colbert talking to my parents about race issues. And to their credit, they listened. And while they’ve never quite conquered their own racial consciousness (my father recently described his doctor as “an Indian fella from India” but assured me that “he’s the best doctor around”), they’ve come a long way.
The road to equality and decency always requires those who stand firm and lay out their demands and the terms by which they are willing to live. The activists and the militants. The “fundamentalists”. Without Dr. King and the many other civil rights activists, there would have been no change.
But it has also been largely the gentle discussion of the ‘good blacks’ that let their neighbors know that these demands were not unreasonable. That it wasn’t just “some blacks in Oakland” who objected to poor education and discriminatory housing lending and tiny daily demeaning acts. And it was their often overlooked efforts that paved the road for much of America to stop seeing African Americans in terms of ‘what kind of black’ they were but in terms of what kind of person they were.
Much of time, anyway.
The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, November 27
November 27th, 2013
Hey! You Got Your Hanukkah In My Thanksgiving! Tonight at sundown marks the start of the first night of Hanukkah. A few hours later at the stroke of Midnight, it’ll be Thanksgiving morning. Some are calling it “Thanksgivukkah,” and the Hasidic Chabad.org explains how this mashup happened:
Chanukah was declared a Jewish national holiday 2178 years ago. Thanksgiving was declared a national American holiday on the last Thursday of every November by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Before then, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates in different states, so we won’t count those. But, using the Chabad.org Date Converter, you will see that Thanksgiving coincided with the first day of Chanukah on November 29, 1888. It also coincided with the fourth day of Chanukah on November 30, 1899.
On November 28, 1918, Thanksgiving was on Chanukah eve. But since it’s still Thanksgiving until midnight, and Jewish days begin at night, that would still mean that Jewish Americans would have eaten their turkeys that Thanksgiving to the light of their first Chanukah candle.
In 1941, Thanksgiving was changed from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday, making November 28 the latest possible date that Thanksgiving can fall on. Cabad.org, says that Thanksgiving will next overlap with Hanukkah on November 27, 2070/Kislev 24, 5831, but only if you wait to have Thanksgiving dinner after sundown. Waiting until after sundown looks like a good tradeoff to me, because if you’re going to insist on having your Thanksgivukkah celebration while it’s still daylight, you’ll have to wait another 74,682 years.
…whoever shall be legally convicted of sodomy or bestiality, shall suffer imprisonment during life, and be whipped at the discretion of the magistrates, once every three months during the first year after conviction. And if he be a married man, he shall also suffer castration, and the injured wife shall hae a divorce if required.
In keeping with the pacifist nature of the Quakers who dominated the political structures in Pennsylvania, the colony’s law against sodomy was quite lenient: it was the only colonial law which didn’t call for the death penalty. That relative pacifism however didn’t extend to those of African descent. Another law, “An Act for the Trial of Negroes,” added this:
…”if any negro or negroes within this government shall commit a rape or ravishment upon any white woman or maid, or shall commit murder, buggery or burglary, they shall be …. punished by death.”
[Source: Jonathan Ned Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), pages 122-123.]
35 YEARS AGO: Harvey Milk Assassinated: 1978. Harvey Milk finally succeeded in winning political office as a gay man for two reasons. One, he refused to hide who he was; and two, he made it his mission to build alliances with groups that other gay activists thought were impossible to reach. Among those alliances, initially, was with the most conservative member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Dan White. There couldn’t have been two politicians from more opposite ends of the political spectrum. White, a former cop, was a conservative Catholic representing a blue-collar neighborhood, while Milk, a gay Jew from New York, represented the growing gay districts surrounding the Castro. Milk and White made several media appearances in which they spoke warmly of each other, and Milk began telling friends that he thought White was “educable.” That began to change however when Milk changed his mind about White’s opposition to a proposed psychiatric treatment center in White’s district. Harvey initially supported White, which would have given White the 6-5 majority he needed to block the facility. But as Harvey learned more about the center, he discovered that San Francisco children would be sent instead far away to a state hospital where they would be cut off from their families. He concluded that “they’ve got to be next to somebody’s house,” and switched his vote.
The loss stunned White, and for several months he refused to speak to Milk or his aides. He also tried to retaliate by switching his vote on Harvey’s gay rights bill, but the bill passed anyway 10-1. White became increasingly disillusioned with politics, and abruptly resigned on November 10, 1978. He quickly regretted his decision, and asked Mayor George Moscone to re-appoint him as Supervisor. Instead of complying with the request immediately, Moscone said he would think it over and announce his decision on November 27.
The night before the scheduled announcement, White learned through a reporter that he would not get the reappointment. The next morning White went to City Hall with his loaded .38 Smith & Wesson. He went to Moscone’s office and asked for a meeting. Moscone agreed and invited him into the mayor’s office. There, White shot Moscone twice in the abdomen and twice in the head. He then went down the hall to Milk’s office. When Milk got up out of his seat to greet White, White shot him three times in the chest, once in the back, and twice more in the head.
News of the two assassinations sent the city reeling. To make matters worse, San Franciscans were still grappling with the shocking news of the Jonestown, Guyana massacre and mass suicide the week before, which had been led by San Francisco-based preacher Jim Jones and resulted in 918 deaths. That night, tens of thousands of stunned mourners gathered in the Castro for an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall. The sea of candles stretched ten city blocks long. At the steps of city hall, Joan Baez led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sang a hymn by Felix Mendelssohn.
50 YEARS AGO: John Aravosis: 1963. An attorney, Democratic political consultant, gay activist and blogger, Aravosis is the founder of Americablog. His first major success as a gay activist came in 1998 when he defended U.S. sailor Timothy R. McVeigh (not to be confused with the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh), who was being kicked out of the Navy after he was outed by America Online. The internet provider had released the identity behind McVeigh’s email account even though the Navy never bothered to get a court order or warrant, in direct violation of AOL’s terms of service. McVeigh was days from being discharged when Aravosis embarked on a massive publicity campaign that caught the attention of ABC News, Time and Newsweek. It also got the attention of another lawyer, who took McVeigh’s case pro bono. McVeigh not only won an honorable discharge from the Navy, but also a large settlement from AOL.
Aravosis founded AmericaBlog in 2004. AmericaBlog first received widespread media attention in 2005 after it outed “Jeff Gannon” (real name: Jeff Guckert), a member of the White House press corps who had a reputation for fielding softball questions during news conferences.
As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.
November 26th, 2013
So this happened. A customer in a New Jersey restaurant stiffed waitress Dayna Morales of a tip on a $93.55 bill, and scrawled a note reading, “I am sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle.” Morales, who is lesbian and a Marine, posted a photo of the receipt on Facebook. She got lots of attention, and got lots of extra tips which she said she would donate to the Wounded Warriors Project, a worthy charity that provides services to wounded veterans.
Well, I guess I should say that this allegedly happened. The couple who supposedly stiffed Moralis has come forward with a copy of their receipt showing an $18 tip (that would be just under 20%, for those keeping tabs). They also provided a credit card statement indicating that the full $111.55 was charged to their account.
The couple told NBC 4 New York that they believed their receipt was used for a hoax. The wife says she is left-handed and could not have made the slash in the tip line, which she said looks to be drawn from the right.
“We’ve never not left a tip when someone gave good service, and we would never leave a note like that,” the wife said.
The husband said he and his wife have both worked in restaurants and believe in the value of tipping, and noted that he didn’t vote for Gov. Chris Christie because the governor doesn’t support gay marriage.
“Never would a message like that come from us,” he said.
…”I just felt like people have a right to know that — it’s fine if people want to donate to her or to the Wounded Warriors, but they’re doing it under a false pretense,” the wife said
Morales says the handwriting on the receipt is not hers and that she did not receive a tip. The restaurant says that it is launching an internal investigation.