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Understanding the probate judges in Alabama – UPDATED

Timothy Kincaid

February 9th, 2015

Same-sex marriages are being conducted today in Alabama. But about half of the state’s counties have probate judges (an elected position which administers marriage licenses) who refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses. They state that neither Alabama law nor any judicial ruling requires that they do so.

They are technically correct.

A very similar situation nearly occurred in Florida. There some county clerks were either uncertain as to their obligations or were playing games. And so Judge Hinkle issued a clarification in which he laid out the difference between the results of a lawsuit and the consequences of a constitutional ruling.

He noted that no clerk who has not been a party to a lawsuit is compelled to act as the result of a ruling. His order did not name them and so failing to act accordingly was not contempt of court.

However, he pointed out that something larger and greater than his ruling did compel them to act: the Constitution of the United States. And those who wanted to continue to act in defiance of the Constitution could be held liable for both the civil and financial consequences of doing so.

At that point, the Florida clerks took his direction and issued marriage licenses irrespective of gender.

Judge Grenade, in Alabama, used Judge Hinkle’s same wording in response to the same question. She noted that it was not her ruling but the Constitution that compelled equality.

But, unlike in Florida, probate judges have decided that (in the words of Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams) they “aren’t worried about following the U.S. Constitution.”

So they are playing the “my name isn’t on that order” game. Being elected politicians in a state that does not value the Equal Protections clause of the Constitution, they are seeking to gain election value by defying the nation’s guiding document. And damn the cost (or inconvenience to them homosexuals)!

Equality advocates have been caught flat-footed. Some have tried to sue for contempt, failing to note that they have to have a ruling in their favor against that particular probate judge. Proper legal procedure is not a terribly difficult process, but it has to be followed.

My presumption is that eventually the correct paperwork will be filed. Federal judges – either Judge Grenade or others – will rule against a few specific probate judges in a few specific counties and slap their wrist with legal fees. And then all the others will fall in line.

Should any probate judge fail to do so, I suspect that they will be hit with very large penalties for defying the authority of the federal judiciary.

It may take a few days or weeks, but it’s a done deal.

UPDATE

Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis has now been sued. This time the proper request appears to have been included:

Plaintiffs hereby respectfully requests [sic] that this Court enter an Emergency Injunction commanding the Defendants to issue the marriage licenses guaranteed by the Constitution as interpreted by this court.

Alabama Gov will not go after judges who follow Fed ruling

Timothy Kincaid

February 9th, 2015

Last night, Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore issued a pronouncement instructing the state’s probate judges to ignore the Federal Court ruling, the Eleventh Circuit’s response, and the refusal of stay by the Supreme Court of the United States and to instead follow his demands.

After four and a half pages of “whereas” statements, Moore declared the following:

NOW THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT:

To ensure the orderly administration of justice within the State of Alabama, to alleviate a situation adversely affecting the administration of justice within the State, and to harmonize the administration of justice between the Alabama judicial branch and the federal courts in Alabama:

Effective immediately, no Probate Judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with Article 1, Section 36.03, of the Alabama Constitution or § 30-1-19, Ala. Code 1975.

Should any Probate Judge of this state fail to follow the Constitution and statutes of Alabama as stated, it would be the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer of the State of Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley, in whom the Constitution vests “the supreme executive power of this state,” Art. V, § 113, Ala. Const. 1901, to ensure the execution of the law. “The Governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Art. V, § 120, Ala. Const. 1901. “‘If the governor’s “supreme executive power” means anything, it means that when the governor makes a determination that the laws are not being faithfully executed, he can act using the legal means that are at his disposal.'” Tyson v. Jones, 60 So. 3d 831, 850 (Ala. 2010) (quoting Riley v. Cornerstone, 57 So. 3d 704, 733 (Ala. 2010)).

In other words, if you issue marriage license in accordance with the Federal ruling, the Governor’s gunna gitcha. He’s going to, well we’re not sure what, but he’ll gitcha.

And then Moore began posting on his Facebook page encouraging people to call the Governor and request that he go get those law-breaking Federal-court-ruling-followers.

To which Governor Bentley has now responded, “I may be a bigot, but I’m not as bat-poop crazy as that lunatic Roy Moore.” Well, not exactly in those words, of course:

I am disappointed that a single Federal court judge disregarded the vote of the Alabama people to define marriage as between a man and woman. I agree with the dissenting opinion from U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia when they stated, ‘Today’s decision represents yet another example of this Court’s cavalier attitude toward the States. Over the past few months, the Court has repeatedly denied stays of lower court judgments enjoining the enforcement of state laws on questionable constitutional grounds.’ This issue has created confusion with conflicting direction for Probate Judges in Alabama. Probate Judges have a unique responsibility in our state, and I support them. I will not take any action against Probate Judges, which would only serve to further complicate this issue. We will follow the rule of law in Alabama, and allow the issue of same sex marriage to be worked out through the proper legal channels.

Poor, poor Pat

Timothy Kincaid

February 9th, 2015

Pat Fancher is having a horrible day.

You see, despite her last minute desperate efforts, the state of Alabama has just recognized the marriage between her son David and Dr. Paul Hard.

And now poor, poor Pat is not going to get the total sum of the settlement for her son’s wrongful death. Instead that immoral homosexual will receive what is legally his share. She’s lost her fight and she’s shown herself to be an evil woman, all for nothing.

Marriage map

Timothy Kincaid

February 9th, 2015

marriage 2015

dark purple – marriage equality states
light purple – marriage equality in some counties in the state
pink – marriage equality ruling on stay
yellow – federal judge ruled against equality
red – circuit court ruled against equality

Anti-gays anemically protest at Alabama Capitol

Timothy Kincaid

February 8th, 2015

alabamaprotest

There are about 4.9 million people in Alabama. And, in honesty, most of them probably do not support civil and legal equality for gay people.

But they aren’t exactly in an uproar about the fact that same-sex marriages are starting tomorrow morning. (WSFA)

The Sanctity of Marriage Alabama group held a rally on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol Building on Saturday. Group leaders say that nearly 175 individuals showed up to show their support for the group.

Nearly 175 individuals showed up. Wow. More than that showed up at the West Hollywood gym on Tuesday night to play dodgeball. Seriously.

Slovakian voters reject anti-gay referendum

Timothy Kincaid

February 8th, 2015

In Slovakia, a group called Alliance for the Family collected over 400,000 signatures, enough to put a referendum on the ballot. The referendum contained three provisions: banning any recognition of same-sex couples (the Slovakian constitution already defines marriage as a man and a woman); barring same-sex couples from adoption; and barring education about sexuality and euthanasia, unless parents agree.

Last week Pope Francis blessed the effort, and the Catholic Church used his image in a media campaign. In this majority Catholic country, this was assumed to be a major advantage.

This vote had connotations other than merely anti-gay attitudes; it was also seen as a rejection of the culture of Western Europe and its values.

For a referendum in Slovakia to be valid, it must not only have a majority of voters, but at least half of those eligible to vote must do so.Opponents of the effort were encouraging voters to stay home, in hopes that the referendum would fail to reach validity.

And now it appears that the opponents of the referendum, along with those who do not reject Western values, those who didn’t care much one way or the other, and those who had no idea that there was a vote, were together enough to cause the effort to fail. Only 21.4% of eligible voters turned up at the polls.

Pat Fancher desperate for rushed ruling

Timothy Kincaid

February 6th, 2015

Remember Pat Fancher, the Alabama mother-in-law from Hell whose response to her son’s tragic accident was to sue his husband? Because if the state recognizes her son’s legal Massachusetts marriage, then Pat will lose out on half of the wrongful death settlement.

She’s the lovely soul who filed an amicus brief in the Utah marriage case complaining that “homosexual conduct is immoral”.

Well now she’s desperate.

You see, come Monday – unless SCOTUS intervenes – marriage equality is coming to Alabama. And, if that doesn’t give her terrors enough, Fancher’s son-in-law is prepared to force the state to recognize his legal marriage.

So she’s filed a brief desperately asking a federal court to uphold Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage and give all the glorious beautiful money to her, and not to that immoral homosexual!

Plaintiff Paul Hard has publicly stated that on Monday, February 9, 2015, he intends to take action to amend David Fancher’s death certificate to reflect that at the time of his death Paul Hard was his spouse, which action if successful would greatly upset Defendant Pat Fancher’s status in the matter before this Court. He may also take action to require the executor of David Fancher’s estate to pay to Paul Hard his spousal share of the estate, which would diminish the share to which Defendant Pat Fancher is entitled.

Respectful grief has many stages and love comes in many form. None of which include the behavior of this vile woman.

Montana committee narrowly defeats removal of marriage ban language

Timothy Kincaid

February 5th, 2015

In November 2014, federal courts ruled that Montana’s ten year old constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the US Constitution. Marriage equality has been in place since.

Montana’s constitutional ban (along with statutory bans) on same-sex marriage remains on the books. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules in June, it is possible (though unlikely) that the marriage ban could be reinstated.

However, some Montana legislators decided to preempt the Supreme Court, and remove the ban from the civil code. This likely has no legal impact on the state constitution, but could serve as a symbolic gesture of support for equality.

House Bill 282 was authored by Bryce Bennett (D – Missoula) and today the Judiciary Committee voted on whether to bring it to the full floor. By a tied vote of ten to ten, the Judiciary Committee tabled the bill. It will not go to the full house at this time.

I do not yet have the vote breakdown. However, there were six Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and fourteen Republicans, which indicates that there was significant bipartisan support.

House GOP won’t be involved in SCOTUS marriage hearing

Timothy Kincaid

February 5th, 2015

boehner

In Spring of 2011, President Obama and Attorney General Holder announced that the US Justice Department would no longer provide legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (Section 3) in federal court challenges, as they found it to violate the provisions of the US Constitution. The US Senate also declined to present a defense of the law.

The US House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker of the House John Boehner, hired legal representation and provided defense of the law. After several battles, the case came before the Supreme Court of the United States, and in June 2013 Section 3 of DOMA was held to be unconstitutional.

At that time, Republican leadership in Washington relinquished defense of DOMA and declared the matter settled. Boehner indicated that his body would not be engaging in efforts to argue the merits of other statutes or laws in regards to marriage but would act under the presumption that the Supreme Court had made its intent known.

And, for all practical purposes, the issue of same-sex marriage has been a settled one in the Nation’s Capital. It took a while for the administration to identify all areas in which discrimination continued, but the remedies did not face organized opposition.

Continuing in that state of mind, Boehner has now determined that the House will not interfere in the marriage ban appeal now before the Supreme Court nor will the GOP leadership seek to influence its decision. His language also suggests that he will not entertain notions about the invalidity of the court’s ultimate decision. (Blade)

“I don’t expect that we’re going to weigh in on this,” Boehner said. “The court will make its decision and that’s why they’re there, to be the highest court in the land.”

Of course individual GOP members are likely to file an amicus brief supporting discrimination, and some may do so jointly. But they will not do so under the authority of the House of Representatives.

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Gay Couples Begin Marrying in Alabama as US Supreme Court Denies Stay

Jim Burroway

February 9th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 8.24.07 AM

Marriages of same-sex couples are now underway in parts of Alabama this morning. AL.com is providing live updates from around the state. Late last night, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice issued an order prohibiting probate judges from issuing licenses to same-sex couples. You may remember Moore from a decade ago when he was removed as Alabama Chief Justice for refusing to comply with a federal court order requiring the removal of a monument to the Ten Commandments from the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. State Supreme Court justices are elected to office, and Alabama voters returned Moore to the high court in 2013. Probate Court judges are also elected positions, and between Moore’s order and popular politics in a state which approved its marriage ban in 2006 by more than 80%, these judges are now in quite a bind. Bibb County Probate Judge Jerry Pow is one of those judges not issuing licenses this morning, telling AL.com, “I don’t know whether I want to defy the Chief justice of the state Supreme Court or a federal judge.” Moore’s stand at the courthouse door is drawing obvious comparisons to another Alabama politician who stood in a doorway to block a federal court order. From an editorial in the Birmingham News:

Almost 52 years ago Gov. George Wallace made his infamous stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama to block two black students from registering for classes.

It was really all for show. Wallace knew he had no authority to stop the students. The federal courts had ruled that the time had come to integrate UA and to back up that order President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to make sure the law was enforced and the peace maintained.

Still Wallace continued. He got his moment. Cameras captured it for front pages across the nation. TV broadcast it around the world painting Alabama as an intolerant place.

It is still an image we fight.

AL.com/Birmingham News is getting rather cheeky in its opinion section. One columnist asked whether Moore was “protesting too much.” Meanwhile, marriages are taking place this morning in the state capital of Montgomery and in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 8.25.13 AM

Shortly after those marriages began, the U.S. Supreme Court finally announced that it was refusing to issue a stay on Alabama marriages. The decision was made by the full court after Justice Clarence Thomas referred the matter to the full court. Thomas has oversight over the Eleventh Circuit. Thomas wrote a three-page dissent (PDF: 58KB/3 pages) from the Court’s decision, with Scalia joining. Noting that the Court granted a stay over a year ago in Herbert v. Kitchen which overturned Utah’s marriage ban, Thomas wrote:

This application should have been treated no differently.That the Court more recently denied several stay applications in this context is of no moment. Those denials followed this Court’s decision in October not to review seven petitions seeking further review of lower court judgmentsinvalidating state marriage laws. Although I disagreed with the decisions to deny those applications, I acknowledge that there was at least an argument that the October decision justified an inference that the Court would be less likely to grant a writ of certiorari to consider subsequent petitions. That argument is no longer credible. The Court has now granted a writ of certiorari to review these important issues and will do so by the end of the Term. The Attorney General of Alabama is thus in an even better position than the applicant to whom we granted a stay in Herbert v. Kitchen.

…This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our Article III responsibilities. And, it is indecorous for this Court to pretend that it is.

Today’s decision represents yet another example of this Court’s increasingly cavalier attitude toward the States. Over the past few months, the Court has repeatedly denied stays of lower court judgments enjoining the enforcement of state laws on questionable constitutional grounds. It has similarly declined to grant certiorari to review such judgments without any regard for the people who approved those laws in popular referendums or elected the representatives who voted for them. In this case, the Court refuses even to grant a temporary stay when it will resolve the issue at hand in several months.

The Daily Agenda for Monday, February 9

Jim Burroway

February 9th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Marriage Equality Arrives in Alabamarainbow_albama. Today will be a big day for LGBT couples in Alabama, although the arrival of marriage equality will likely not be uniform across the state. At least two probate judges will be standing at the proverbial schoolhouse door in refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry by announcing they will get out of the marriage business altogether. Three others have said that said they will refuse to honor a Federal Court order to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel — which has a history of flouting court orders and encouraging lawbreaking — says that he will represent them in what he calls “a significant clash of judicial power.

Federal District Judge Callie Granade, who had originally found Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, has already warned that probate judges that refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will be subject to sanctions, including contempt of court and being on the hook for attorneys’ fees those couples accumulate. But Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore late last night issued an order prohibiting probate judges from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, setting up a classic showdown between state and federal courts. Moore, you may remember, was removed as Alabama Chief Justice in 2003 after refusing to comply with a federal court order requiring the removal of a monument to the Ten Commandments from the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. As the Montgomery Advertiser reported:

How the order will be enforced is unclear. The chief justice’s letter said that Gov. Robert Bentley should use “the legal means that are at his disposal” to carry the orders in the letter out. Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Bentley’s office would have a comment on Moore’s letter on Monday.

It’s also unclear how many probate judges will follow Moore’s order. Jefferson County (Birmingham) probate judge Alan L. King told the New York Times, “With all due respect to Chief Justice Moore, he’s on the Alabama Supreme Court, and he’s not a federal judge.” Judge Steven L. Reed of Montgomery County, recalled Alabama’s history of ignoring federal court orders in discrimination cases, said, “I don’t want to see judges make the same mistakes that I think were made in this state 50 years ago, where you have state officials not abiding by federal orders. The legacy always hangs over us until we show that we’re beyond it.” But how this will play out today is anybody’s guess: probate judges, like state Supreme Court justices, are popularly elected, and opposing Federal orders is still popular politics in many quarters in Alabama.

Meanwhile, AL.com, the web site for the Birmingham News and the Huntsville Times, has a brief profile of twenty-one couples planning on tying the not today. And one Baptist pastor is prepared officiate one of those first marriages in Huntsville.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Los Angeles Advocate, July 1968, pages 12-13.

The Park Theater opened in Los Angeles in 1911 as the Alvarado Theatre on its namesake street just off MacArthur Park. In the 1960s, it was renamed the Park Theatre when it switched to porn. In 1968, the theater switched to gay-themed movies (including porn as well as art house movies). That switch was announced in June when the theater announced “A Most Unusual Male Film Festival,” which is believed to be the first gay film festival in a regular public theater. The Park continued to show gay films until 1971, when it was renovated into a twin theater and returned to mainstream films. The theater closed in 1986. The building is still there, although its glory days are long gone.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
AIDS Employment Discrimination Declared Illegal in California: 1987. In the first such case in the nation, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission unanimously ordered that the defense contractor Raytheon pay damages of about $6,000 to a Santa Barbara employee who was denied reinstatement to work following hospitalization due to an AIDS-related illness. John Chadbourne was given medical leave in December 19983 when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He was diagnosed with AIDS one month later. He recovered from pneumonia and his doctor said he healthy enough to return to work, but his employer would not reinstate him without assurances that other employees would not be endangered. Instead, Raytheon kept him on medical leave, which meant that he retained his benefits (including medical insurance), but was living on significantly reduced income from his disability insurance. The Commission ruled that AIDS is a disability under the law and employers may not discriminate against people with AIDS who are able to work. With that ruling, Chadbourne was vindicated — or at least his estate was. Chadbourne died in January 1985, two years before the Commission’s ruling.

Raytheon went on to significantly improve its policies toward LGBT people and people with AIDS, becoming the first defense contractor to earn a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2005.

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY’S:
Amy Lowell: 1874-1925. Her pedigree was impeccable: her family were those Lowells, of Brookline, Massachusetts. Her brother, Lawrence, was president of Harvard; another brother, Percival, was a renowned mathematician and astronomer, founder of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and who began the effort which led to the discovery of Pluto fourteen years after his death. Amy, born and reared at Seveneies, the ten-acre family estate, was the baby of the family. Befitting a daughter of a fine Episcopalian family of New England, she was first tutored at home, then attended the best private schools in Boston when she was not touring Europe with her family. At seventeen, her family decided that attending college was not a proper activity for a young woman, so she ensconced herself in the family’s 7,000-volume library at Seveneis and taught herself literature.

In 1902, on one of her many tours of Europe, she was inspired to take up poetry. In 1910, her work began appearing in Atlantic Monthly, and her first published collection, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, was published two years later. At about that time, she and actress Ada Dwyer Russell entered what was then known as a “Boston Marriage,” and they remained together for the rest of Lowell’s life. It is believed that Russell is the subject of Lowell’s love poems in  ‘Two Speak Together’, from Pictures of the Floating World.

During one of the couple’s European tours, they met the Imagist poet Ezra Pound. Lowell embraced the Imagist style, so named by the precise use of visual images to convey a clarity of expression. It was also marked by free verse, where, according to Lowell, “one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.” Then an Anglo-American movement, Lowell’s contribution to the style was in what she called “polyphonic prose,” in which the very written structure of the poetry was broken down and rendered as prose, which was then sometimes intermixed with structured verse. Her embrace and promotion of Imagist Poetry was so intense that it actually had the effect of driving a wedge between Pound and the Imagists, who he began derisively calling “Amygists.” His criticism of Lowell became pointedly personal. Referring to her short stature, her glandular-induced weight problems (and, undoubtedly, put off by her habit of smoking cigars), Pound referred to her as the “hippo-poetess” among his friends and accused her of hijacking the movement.

While Lowell remained dedicated to modern poetry, she was also a fan of historical poets as well. In Fir-Flower Tablets, she produced prose-poetry re-workings of the literal translations of ancient Chinese poetry, and she wrote several critical works about French literature. When she died in 1925 of a brain hemorrhage at Seveneies, she left behind an uncompleted two-volume biography of John Keats, with whom she undoubtedly felt a kinship. “The stigma of oddness,” she wrote of him, “is the price a myopic world always exacts of genius.” Her own genius was recognized posthumously with a 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for What’s O’Clock.

PatRocco

Pat Rocco: 1934. Pasquale Vincent Serrapica was born in Brooklyn and moved with his family to California in 1946, where he quickly got a twice weekly radio show on Pasadena’s KWKW while still a teen. He also completed his high school credits at home after refusing to deny his homosexuality in school. And so it might be surprising to learn that while in his twenties, he met with a local Youth for Christ director, who got him a singing gig for the religious group, a stint for which he even reacorded an album of devotional musice in 1954. By this time, Pasquale became Pat Rocco, and for the remainder of the 1050s he toured for musicals and appeared as a regular for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.

RoccoDuring this time, Rocco became interested in photography and film and in 1967, he answered an ad to shoot stills of nude male models. Seeing the potential of a significant money-making enterprise, he created his own business, Bizarre Production, and began creating and selling photos and erotic movies by mail order. The films got the attention of the Park Theater in Los Angeles, which was interested in creating a special lineup of films for a gay audience. Rocco’s Love is Blue premiered on a bill with several other avant-garde gay films on June 26, 1968 as part of A Most Unusual Male Film Festival, in what it is believed to be the first gay film festival in a public theater.

Rocco’s films stood out for not falling into the typical blue movie formulas. His films focused on the beauty of the male form and featured storylines with positive depictions of male intimacy. As Jim Kepner (see Feb 14) wrote in his profile of Rocco for GAY in 1970:

His fair young actors approach love as if no one had ever labeled male love sick , sinful or seamy. These lyrical fantasies evoke love in a way that makes most gay viewers proud of themselves and glad to be alive. … In competition with tired physique photographers too long in the trade, Rocco’s sometimes clumsy work seemed fresh, creative, excitingly beautiful. Though some early shorts used any trivial excuse to get the youths undressed, even Rocco’s weakest short subjects were made with surprising care. And the lyrical quality of Love is Blue, A Matter of Life, Yahoo, The Performance and the unforgettable Yes left most viewers moved as few other flesh-films had done.

While his films were explicitly nude, they skirted the edges of soft porn to such a degree that many complained that his movies didn’t go far enough. But others appreciated Rocco’s approach. Several of Roccos fans formed the Society of Pat Rocco Enlightened Enthusiasts, or SPREE, in 1968, which remained active for the next ten years publishing newsletters and mounting stage and film events.Meanwhile, Rocco’s films were a regular feature at the Park Theatre until 1971, when the Park decided to return to a more mainstream audience.

Rocco also performed an important service for the local gay community by creating short documentaries of gay rights protests and interviews of local figures. But as fictional gay films became more explicit during the 1970s, Rocco spurned the opportunity to go into hardcore porn. Instead, he turned his attention to photographing and documenting events in Southern California for gay publications. His first documentary, A Man and His Dream, chronicled the early years of Rev. Try Perry’s Metropolitcan Community Church. Rocco also became increasingly involved with gay rights advocacy. He campaigned for the resumption of the Christopher Street West Pride Parade, and he organized fundraising events for numerous organizaitons and gay rights causes. He developed a special interest in providing emergency housing in Los Angeles and established his own program, Hudson House, to provide housing, job training and meals for homeless LGBT youth. Hudson House soon spread to San Diego, San Francisco, and Hawaii. Rocco and his partner have retired to Hawaii, where they continue to be active in the local community.

Holly Johnson: 1960. When the Liverpool-based band Frankie Goes to Hollywood released its first single “Relax,” with Holly Johnson on vocals, in October 1983, it took a slow three months before it hit the top of the UK singles chart. It’s rise to number one was helped along, ironically, by BBC 1 disk jockey Mike Read, who happened to notice what he called the “overtly sexual” nature of record sleeve and the printed lyrics as the single was playing. He unceremoniously lifted the tonearm, live on air, and denounced it as “obscene.” The BBC followed that with an on-air ban on all of its radio and television outlets (with the narrow exception of its top-40 countdown show). Until then, “Relax” had been a middling top-40 dance hit, but within two weeks it hit number one and remained there for the next five. It became the seventh best selling single in UK single’s history, and the temporarily ubiquitous “Frankie Say” T-shirts became not just a musical statement but a political one as well. The Beeb finally relented and lifted its ban at the end if 1984, just as a re-worked version of “Relax” was enjoying a second bout of popularity with the release of the band’s album Welcome to the Pleasuredome.

Johnson left Frankie in 1987 over differences in the group’s musical direction. After a bitter contract dispute, Johnson was finally able to start a solo career in 1989. His first album, Blast, met with some critical and commercial success, but his 1991 album Dream That Money Can’t Buy tanked. That year, he learned he was HIV-positive and withdrew from public life. Later that decade, he re-emerged as an occasional singer and, mainly, as a painter, with shows at the Tate Liverpool and the Royal Academy.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

The Daily Agenda for Sunday, February 8

Jim Burroway

February 8th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From the Northwest Gay Review (Portland, OR), special San Francisco travel section, page 27.

From the Northwest Gay Review (Portland, OR), special San Francisco travel section, page 27.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Modesto Police Round Up Gay Men: 1957. The headline in the local paper read “Modesto Sex Gang Smashed.” That “gang” consisted of a group of local gay men, and the paper played it up for all it was worth while probably ruining a few lives in the process:

A police crackdown on an alleged homosexual ring known as the “Lavender Gang” was revealed today with the arrest of two Modestoans, including a former department store manager.

Police Chief James Neel announced 15 to 20 persons, including some bay area, Salinas and Merced residents, are believed to be members of the ring. He said more arrests were planned.

Charged with lewd and lascivious conduct is Elmer J. Kreuger, 55, who resigned from his managerial post Saturday after being employed by the chain store for 24 years.

Accused of sodomy as well as lewd and lascivious conduct is William Howard Moore, 26, office worker for a diary products distribution firm. … The chief reported Moore admitted he had associated with known homosexuals in Modesto and the bay area and had hosted all male parties.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

The Daily Agenda for Saturday, February 7

Jim Burroway

February 6th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: NGLTF’s Creating Change Conference, Denver, CO; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) Powwow, San Francisco, CA.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From Alienist and Neurologist, 1904.

From Alienist and Neurologist, 1904.

Dr. Charles H. Hughes

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY:
Man Seeks Castration To Cure His Homosexuality: 1904. “How often is there delivered from the womb of some noble and grand woman — some little soul, scarred in such manner that stigmatizes its after life and brings a stain so deeply colored as to stamp it in the eyes of the world a ‘social outcast and criminal.'” So begins Dr. Charles H. Hughes’s article in the February 1904 edition of the journal Alienist and Neurologist. (An “alienist” is an archaic nineteenth century term for what today we would call a psychologist or psychiatrist.) Medical journals at the turn of the last century had a very different editorial tone than they do today, with morality holding as much or greater sway over scientific evidence the vast majority of the articles published, particularly where sexual matters were concerned. The scientific method, clearly, had yet to make may inroads into the mental health professions.

Those lines, which opened an article by Hughes of a “homosexualist’s self-description,” were actually penned by the “homosexualist” himself. This particular person, “a gentleman degenerate” of thirty-nine years of age, was an American of Irish ancestry whose father graduated “from one of the old world’s best colleges” before fighting on the losing side in the 1848 Irish rebellion, fleeing to the U.S., marrying, starting a family, and dying young of either “epilepsy or apoplexy.” That the man’s father had epilepsy was considered significant, as Hughes saw it as evidence of inherited degeneracy. That diagnosis was based on Degeneration Theory, a sort of a theory of evolution in reverse which postulated that, thanks to the conveniences of modern society and its advances in medicine and hygiene, modern man was increasingly immune from the natural “culling of the herd.” And because modern man was no longer being culled by natural forces, the human race was actually experiencing a devolution — or “de-generation” — into a more primitive state. Because the letter writer’s father had epilepsy, Hughes concluded that the son’s homosexuality was an expression of a congenital degeneracy inherited from his father.

With the father’s early demise, his mother was left to raise an unspecified number of children. One of those boys, the letter writer, wrote of himself in the third person to Dr. Hughes, and described himself as:

“a regular ‘girl boy’ as he was called, always afraid to tell a fib — never using bad language, never smoking nor chewing, thoroughly honest, shunning the girls and always having some boy friend he fancied for his good looks and endeavoring to show him some kindness in the way of making him presents — never cared for an ugly boy — in fact did not know why he particularly cared for any, always studious, receiving high honors at school for thoroughness in his studies and exemplary deportment. The child mind not understanding the features of certain matters recalls his desire to bunk with any gentleman who might be the guest of his father, and to them, no doubt revelations were made, but naturally ascribed to childish innocence. I felt myself growing stronger in this way. In other words showing a preference for such society and ignoring girls — yet being timid in the presence of both male and female — was frequently twitted about it.”

As the writer grew older, his attractions toward other men grew, along with the horror of knowing that he would never be able to fit in with society as a homosexual. He also lamented the loneliness that being gay brought him in a society with few social opportunities for people like him:

“Haunting the parks, seaside resorts and other localities, a lonely man afflicted, no hope of cure as intimated by physicians and neurologists, this being repeated to me in all localities, large cities and small towns. …

“Twenty-five years of this misery is a long time for such torture, yet the struggle goes on. If the wishes of this lonely man were realized, and he trusts it may not be long before he may find the surroundings illumined and he be enabled to step into the sunlight — a clean and wholesome man — or in the absence of such bliss — his mother’s arm be extended down from the region beyond into which he may be embraced and find that rest which may be emblemized as eternal.”

The image of his mother’s arms extending from “the region beyond” refers to the fact that she died fifteen years earlier, when the letter writer was twenty-four years old. In other words, it was an expression of the writer’s own yearning for death, as perhaps the only way out of his predicament. Hughes tried surgery:

In this case an operation was performed on the filaments of the pudic nerve supplying to testes, but the morbid inclination still persists, notwithstanding the operation and a course of chologogues, antiseptic intestinal treatment and full bromism.

Damaging the pudic nerve would have resulted in blocking the sensations of orgasm. In animals, it was known that this type of operation would have also resulted in a loss of erections. But as Hughes discovered, this operation did little to alter his patient’s sexual attractions. “The case appears to be in the head and not in the genitals,” Hughes concluded, and urged his patient to “do as other men have to do and do do, keep his passionate impulses in abeyance to the higher purposes of his nature and the nobler ambitions of life.” The patient wrote back:

“What you claim to be accomplished through efforts on my part is impossible — of course you will dispute this. Were our positions reversed for a month, you could understand. If the difficulty is with the head, all I have to say is that it has centered there with such vigor and tenacity that it would appear to me that the elimination of the trouble in one center has been doubly concentrated in another.”

By this point, the writer was getting desperate. His employer found out about his condition and fired him. “I will be upon the streets next week — to go where — the Lord only knows.” He against asked Hughes again whether he thought castration would help. “If so,” he wrote,” I will go into a charity hospital and have it done.” Several months later, in January of 1904, the patient wrote again, this time announcing that he decided to commit himself to a sanitarium, although he was still, in his desperation, weighing the option of a full castration:

“I am now convinced that from an experience in St. Louis during my last visit (an experience without consummation) that there is absolutely no avenue of escape from my trouble but to be placed under restraint, and if I can get back to St. Louis it is my intention to place myself in the hands of the authorities irrespective of the consequences, as I am certain to get into trouble, and I can not stand this thing any longer. I know just what Dr. —— and yourself would suggest, yet from the statement of other physicians — the trouble is of the head and there would be no certainty that the operation in question (castration) would be successful. You well know the debilitating experiences through which I passed after the first surgical work. I jumped on a train in St. Louis last night and followed a party clean through to South McAlester. I was expected back at the hospital that night. I spent all my money…

“I came very near getting in serious trouble on the trip. If I am compelled to pass through another surgical operation it will have to be at the city hospital. … I fell terribly over this, as I promised Dr. —— I would conduct myself with decorum. If the remedy he suggested is a sure cure, then I will have to accept it.”

[Source: Charles H. Hughes. “The gentleman degenerate: A homosexualist’s self-description and self-applied title. Pudic nerve section fails therapeutically.” Alienist and Neurologist 25, no. 1 (February 1904): 62-70. Available online via Google Books here.]

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The Daily Agenda for Friday, February 6

Jim Burroway

February 6th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: NGLTF’s Creating Change Conference, Denver, CO; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) Powwow, San Francisco, CA.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From Michael's Thing (New York, NY), February 2, 1976, page 62.

From Michael’s Thing (New York, NY), February 2, 1976, page 62.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Reagan Orders AIDS Report: 1986. Reagan’s first mention of AIDS was during a news conference five months earlier (see Sep 17). In a message sent to Congress two days after the State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan made his second public mention of AIDS:

We will continue, as a high priority, the fight against Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). An unprecedented research effort is underway to deal with this major epidemic public health threat. The number of AIDS cases is expected to increase. While there are hopes for drugs and vaccines against AIDS, none is immediately at hand. Consequently, efforts should focus on prevention, to inform and to lower risks of further transmission of the AIDS virus. To this end, I am asking the Surgeon General to prepare a report to the American people on AIDS.

That last sentence in this report to Congress came as a surprise to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. As he wrote in Koop: The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor, the White House had worked keep him out of the loop during the AIDS crisis. So when Reagan made the public announcement, Koop jumped at the tasks, working feverishly to complete the report, and to thwart administration official’s attempts to delay or shelve it. The Surgeon General’s Report, which sought to dispel many of the misconceptions about HIV and AIDS and called on schools and parents to have “frank, open discussions” with very young children and teens, was finally released later that year (see Oct 22).

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
Ramón Novarro: 1899-1968. The Mexican leading man was hailed as the next male sex symbol after Rudolph Valentino died. His first major success was in the 1923 silent film Scaramouche, but his greatest fame came with 1925’s Ben-Hur. His transition to talkies was mildly successful — he was a talented singer, but he was often miscast. By 1935, MGM decided against renewing his contract. Besides, MGM feared trouble: Novarro had already rejected Louis B. Mayer’s demand that he enter into a “lavender marriage.” From then on, Novarro worked only sporadically in films and television. Fortunately for him, Navaro made some wise investments in real estate early in his career.

Paul and Tom Ferguson during their trial.

Tom, 17 (left) and Paul Ferguson, 21 (right) during their trial.

He was murdered in 1968 by two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson, who Navaro had solicited for sex, but who beat him mercilessly for several hours in an attempt to get him to reveal where he kept his money. They scrawled the message Us girls are better than those fagits” on a bathroom mirror, then left with $20, leaving Novarro to choke to death on his own blood. The brothers were convicted of murder in a trial in which Novarro was more on trial than the defendants. “Back in the days of Valentino,” a defense attorney told the jury, “this man who set female hearts aflutter, was nothing but a queer. There’s no way of calculating how many felonies this man committed over the years, for all his piety.” He also played the gay panic defense. The brother were sentenced to life in prison for their crimes, but they released on parole in the mid-1970s after serving less than a decade. Tom was later convicted of rape in 1987, paroled in 1990, and committed suicide in a Motel 6 in Palm Springs in 2005. Paul, at last report, was serving a thirty year sentence for rape in Missouri.

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The Daily Agenda for Thursday, February 5

Jim Burroway

February 5th, 2015

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: NGLTF’s Creating Change Conference, Denver, CO; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) Powwow, San Francisco, CA.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From The Advocate, March 5, 1981, pages 16, 17 of the classifieds section.

From The Body Politic (Toronto, ON), Winter 1974, page 16.

From The Body Politic (Toronto, ON), Winter 1974, page 16.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Toronto Police Conduct Massive Bathhouse Raids: 1981. Operation Soap was a meticulously planned police action, six months in the making. It’s genesis is believed to have been the result of a successful anti-gay political campaign that drove a pro-gay administration from City Hall. At precisely 11:00 p.m. More than 160 police, using an unusual interpretation of an anti-prostitution law banning “bawdyhouses,” conducted a massive, simultaneous raid on four bathhouses: the Club Baths, Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, the Barracks, and the Richmond Street Health Emporium. Peter Bochove, co-owner of the Richmond Street Health Emporium remembered:

They leapt the counter and grabbed the cashier and bust the door open. And the first fifty arrived in the first wave. They spread out and very quickly began running around and rounding people up. … The other fifty officers arrived fairly quickly, I guess they must have had them standing by. And then they went out to their police cars and came in with their tools. They came in carting incredible numbers of crowbars and sledgehammers. At that point they were offered the keys to the lockers and the room. They held up a crowbar to me and said, “We brought out own.”

(Photo: Body Politic)

Armed with crowbars and sledgehammers, police herded patrons into the lobbies, with many of them dressed only in towels, and marked numbers on their arms. At one bathhouse, towel-clad patrons were lined up in the snow on the street for questioning. One patron at the Barracks had a different experience:

I was in a room with someone and I heard a noise. I got up to open the door but it burst open and a guy in plain clothes pushed in and shoved me up against the wall, my face pushed hard into the wall. My nose was lacerated and bloodied. The cop kept punching me in the lower back and pulling my hair and saying “You ‘re disgusting, faggot. Look at this dirty place.”

I was choked, and something was jabbed into my neck. Before they took us out of the room, they used a pen to gouge the room number into the backs of our hands.

I was naked. They herded me into the shower room with about 8 other men and we had to stand against the wall with both hands up against the wall. I couldn’t see anything but I could hear a guy choking, and then a cop said, “If you’re having trouble breathing we can give you trouble with your spleen or kidneys.”

I could hear them moving around, kicking things, overturning things. Someone said “Too bad the place doesn’t catch fire, we ‘d have to catch them escaping custody.” Somebody else said, ‘Too bad the showers aren’t hooked up to gas.”

The Richmond Street Health Emporium was so badly damaged by police that it never reopened. Many of those arrested were pressured to reveal the names of their wives and employers. All told, 286 men were charged as “found-ins” and twenty owners were charged with “keeping a common bawdyhouse.”

The mass arrest was Canada’s largest in more than a decade.  The following night, 3,000 protesters staged a mass demonstration that the intersection of Yonge and Wellesly, at the heart of the gayborhood, that descended into a riot, with fires and smashed car windows. When police responded, many of them removed their badges so they couldn’t be identified. The crowd made its way to the Division 52 stationhouse, where they were met with 195 officers surrounding the building. The crowd then moved on to Queen’s Park and the Ontario Legislature, where a phalanx of police dove into the crowd and attacked protesters. The entire confrontation quickly drew comparisons to New York’s Stonewall rebellion twelve years earlier.

The following week, gay community attended a police commission meeting and demanded an independent investigation into the raid, while protesters gathered outside the station. According to the Body Politic, Toronto’s gay newspaper:

Protesters gather outside while community leaders meet with police commissioners.

Protesters gather outside while community leaders meet with police commissioners. (Photo: Body Politic)

During many of the presentations, Commissioner Winfield McKay smirked, or conspicuously yawned. Other commissioners talked among themselves, or stared impassively as (MCC pastor) Brent Hawkes referred them to a Toronto Star story that day revealing that the police operating budget for 1981 is requesting a total of $7.5 million for the intelligence and morality bureaus together, while asking for a scant $1 million for homicide investigation. … The meeting finally dissolved in hoots and jeers as (Police Commission Chairman Paul) Givens told the crowd, “We deny any allegations of police harassment,” and said there was no need for an inquiry and there would be no inquiry.

Globe and Mail editorial called the police raid “ugly” and said it was “more like the bully-boy tactics of a Latin American republic … than of anything that has a place in Canada.” Hawkes went on a hunger strike demanding that police be held accountable. Two Toronto aldermen called for an investigation by the Ontario Attorney General, who adamantly refused the request.  But McKay held firm, telling a local television station that the gay community “squealed like a collection of stuck pigs,” and that the cost of am inquiry couldn’t be justified.

February 20 demonstration (Photo: Body Politic.)

February 20 demonstration (Photo: Body Politic.)

Meanwhile, the gay community organized like never before, with 1,400 people joining the Right to Privacy Committee to set up a defense fund for those charged. They also organized a second demonstration on February 20, where 4,000 protesters marched in a peaceful demonstration from Queen’s Park to the 52 Division headquarters. Thirty-five undercover police tried to disrupt that march by trying to provoke fights in the crowd. Several of them were seen helping to carry the front banner. Their actions were later revealed by the Body Politic and the Toronto Clarion, both of which published photos of the undercover officers. Two weeks later on March 6, a “Gay Freedom Rally” was held, which became, in effect, Toronto’s first Gay Pride event.

Court cases stemming from the raid dragged on throughout the next two years. By 1983, 87% of the “found-ins” were acquitted. Thirty-six were found guilty but received absolute or conditional charges. Many owners however were found guilty and fined. Smaller scale raids continued over the next several years. But the raids, which were meant to silence an emerging gay community, had the opposite effect of galvanizing the gay community to organize and become politically involved in the city’s political life and, ultimately, in national politics.

[Sources: “Taking It To The Streets.” The Body Politic (March 1981): 9-12, 16.

“Who Is the Next? Me?” The Body Politic (April 1981): 9-11.

“Brent Hawkes: Hungry for Rights.” The Body Politic (April 1981): 11.

“Uncovering the Enemy Within.” The Body Politic (April 1981): 12.

“Exposing the Big Lie: The Camera vs the Cops As the Plainclothes Caper Unfolds.” The Body Politic (May 1981): 10-11.]

Rep. Jon Hinson Arrested on Sodomy Charge: 1981. The closet can be a crazy place. When Rep. Jon Hinson (R-MS) was running for re-election to a second term in 1980, he admitted that in 1976, while he was working as a Congressional aide, he had been arrested for exposing himself to an undercover policeman at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. At that same news conference, Hinson also revealed that he was one of the survivors of a 1977 fire that broke out at Cinema Follies, a gay theater in Washington’s seedy Southeast (see Oct 24). That fire killed nine people. “I must be totally frank and tell you that both of these incidents were in areas frequented by some of Washington’s homosexual community,” he told reporters. But he vowed to stay with his wife and denied that he was gay, blaming those incidents on heavy drinking, which he said that he had now gotten under control. Mississippi’s Republican party rallied around the Congressman and he was elected to a second term.

But just barely a month into that second term, Hinson was in trouble again. Hinson was arrested, along with another man, for having sex in a public men’s room in the Longworth House Office building. Hinson and the other man were arrested on charges of sodomy, a felony which carried a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. The charge was reduced to attempted sodomy, a misdemeanor — then a standard practice in D.C. —  to which Hinson entered a plea of not guilty and promptly checked himself into a hospital for “mental and physical fatigue.” He finally yielded to calls for his resignation in April and later changed his plea to no contest, for which he was given a 30-day suspended sentence and one year’s probation.

Soon after, Hinson finally came out as gay. He helped organize Virginians for Justice — by then he decided to remain in Fairfax, Virginia rather than return to Mississippi — and became something of a local gay rights activist as a founding member of the Fairfax Lesbian and Gay Citizens Association. Hinson died in 1995 from complications of AIDS.

Boulevard Albert 1er, Leopoldville, 1950s.

Boulevard Albert 1er, Leopoldville, 1950s.

AIDS Traced to 1959: 1998. The journal Nature published a short report by a team led by Tuofu Zhu of Rockefeller University. That team examined the genome of an HIV-positive blood sample taken in 1959 from an unidentified man in Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo (today’s Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire). By looking at how the virus has mutated over the past 40 years, and by projecting the mutation of that particular virus (dubbed ZR59) back further, they were able to estimate when the various HIV virus groups evolved from a common ancestor. Zhu and colleagues concluded:

Our results … indicate that the major-group viruses that dominate the global AIDS pandemic at present shared a common ancestor in the 1940s or the early 1950s. Given their ‘starburst’ phylogeny, HIV-1 was probably introduced into humans shortly before that time frame, about a decade or two earlier than previously estimated. …The factors that propelled the initial spread of HIV-1 in central Africa remain unknown: the role of large-scale vaccination campaigns, perhaps with multiple uses of non-sterilized needles, should be carefully examined, although social changes such as easier access to transportation, increasing population density and more frequent sexual contacts may have been more important.

Leopoldville,1952

Leopoldville, 1952.

That single serendipidous 1959 blood sample from a man whose name and fate is lost to history provided an important part of our understanding of where the virus came from. Simon Wain-Hobson wrote a commentary in the same issue of Nature explaining its implications:

What else is the position of ZR59 among HIVs telling us? First, it probably means that the global epidemic was indeed founded by a single HIV although, in this respect, it is no different from the annual ’flu strain.’ Second, the centre of the radiation and ZR59 are a considerable stretch from any simian counterpart, suggesting that HIV had a human history before it went global. Third, the Big Bang seems to have occurred around, or just after, the Second World War. Emerging microbial infections often result from adaptation to changing ecological niches and habits. And, of course, the post-war era saw the collapse of European colonialism and attendant changes in urban and technological traits. As usual, when data are limited we’re in the realm of speculation, meaning that the story is not over. …

In 1959, the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine was awarded to Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg for their work on nucleicacid polymerases, while the world rocked around to Elvis and Chuck Berry. There was fog in the English Channel.

And in 1959, a blood sample was drawn from an unknown HIV-positive man in the Belgian Congo. What he must have gone through afterwards…

[Sources: Zhu, Tuofu; Korber, Bette E.; Mahmias, Andre J.; Hooper, Edward; Sharp, Paul M.; Ho, David D. ” An African HIV-1 sequence from 1959 and implications for the origin of the epidemic.” Nature 391, no. 6667 (February 5, 1998): 594-597.

Wain-Hobson, Simon. “Immunodeficiency viruses, 1959 and all that.” Nature 391, no. 6667 (February 5, 1998): 531-532.]

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY:
William S. Burroughs: 1914-1997. A canonical figure of the Beat Generation, the novelist, poet, and spoken word performer’s best-known work is his third novel, Naked Lunch. Published in 1959, it was immediately controversial for its obscene language, unabashed portrayal of Burroughs’s heroin addiction and frank descriptions of sex, including his own homosexuality. Naked Lunch was banned in Los Angeles and Boston, where it became last the work of literature to be prosecuted for being obscene in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court lifted the ban in 1966, following a series of trials that included testimony by Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer in support of Burroughs.

If there was a secret to Burroughs’s art, it was this: He simply put his chaotic life to paper. A longtime heroin addict, he and his wife fled to Mexico in 1950 after Louisiana police discovered letters between himself and Allen Ginsberg discussing a drug delivery. While there, he shot and killed his wife while playing “William Tell” at a party. He was eventually able to avoid imprisonment after witnesses testified that the gun went off accidentally. For the several decades, he was in and out of drug rehab and financially destitute much of the time before finally kicking the habit, temporarily, in the mid-1970s. It was at about that time when friends hit on the idea of booking him to read from his works in bookstores and other small performance spaces. His career as a performance artist was launched, which also revived his literary career. He went on to collaborate with Laurie Anderson, Throbbing Gristle, Kurt Cobain, Ministry, and Sonic Youth. He also appeared in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. He died in 1997 following a heart attack.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

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