This Month In History, 1966: The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2016

Compton's50 YEARS AGO: Stonewall gets all of the press. Lore has it that it is the very first time in modern history that the LGBT community physically fought back against police harassment. Lore is wrong.

Until some very recent development began to take hold in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, it has always been an impoverished neighborhood, home to the transient and the marginalized. Polk Street, between Ellis and California Streets, was the heart of the gay community in the 1960s. Turk Street, to the south and east, was home to the transgender/transsexual community. Because cross-dressing was illegal in San Francisco, gay bars often didn’t welcome transgender and transsexual people out of fear of being raided by police. What’s more, and because it was extremely difficult for transwomen to hold a job, many of them turned to prostitution and drugs. Rounding out the Turk Street population was a host of homeless LGBT youth, drag queens, prostitutes and hustlers.

At the corner of Taylor and Turk streets stood Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, a twenty-four hour restaurant and one of the few places that the people of Turk Street could go to get out of the weather and the violence on the street, and get a cheap meal or grab a cup of coffee between tricks. It was also the meeting place for Vanguard, a radical queer youth group established by Glide Memorial Methodist Church.

In the Spring of 1966, new management arrived at Compton’s, and they began to make life difficult for the hustlers, transwomen and homeless youth who spent a lot of time there but very little money. By summertime, Compton’s hired security guards and began calling the police to clear out the restaurant. Vanguard responded with a picket on July 18, but Compton’s policy of harassment and discrimination continued.

Then one night sometime in August — nobody knows when, and disturbances in the Tenderloin were so common that newspapers rarely bothered to report them — Compton’s again called the police to clear out the restaurant. When police arrived, One of the officers grabbed a transgender customer who threw her coffee in his face. Immediately, about fifty other customers started rioting, overturning tables, throwing dishes and breaking the cafeteria’s plate glass windows. The rioting expanded out in the street as customers left the cafeteria only to find more police officers and waiting paddy wagons. The riot only grew from there. By the time the night was over, one police car was destroyed and a corner newsstand was set on fire.

While little is known about the Compton’s riot, it did manage to have a lasting impact. The transgender community began organizing and police started backing off from arresting anyone violating the city’s cross-dressing laws. Those laws were eventually discarded a few years later. In 1968, the National Transsexual Counseling Unit was formed which brought together a network of social, psychological and medical support services for the transgender community. The NTCU was headed by Sergeant Elliot Blackstone, who had acted as a San Francisco Police liaison to the LGBT community since 1962.

Compton’s, like Stonewall, not the first time LGBT people fought back against police harassment. There had been a similar riot in 1959 at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles. But the Compton’s riot was an important turning point. And yet it was almost forgotten. The 2005 documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria revived attention to the Compton’s riot once more, and a memorial plaque was set in the sidewalk in front of where Compton’s once stood ni 2006. The location is now a free clinic for women. The plaque reads:

Here marks the site of Gene Compton’s Cafeteria where a riot took place one August night when transgender women and gay men stood up for their rights and fought against police brutality, poverty, oppression and discrimination in the Tenderloin: We, the transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual community, are dedicating this plaque to these heroes of our civil rights movement.

Here is the trailer for Screaming Queens:

Born On This Day, 1872: Aubrey Beardsley

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2016

(d. 1898) He struggled with tuberculosis from the age of nine until his untimely death at the age of twenty-five. The nearly constant reminders of mortality may well have influenced his black ink sketches, which combined the then-popular whimsy of art nouveau stylings with grotesque themes (sometimes including depictions of enormous genitals and breasts) akin to what you might find in modern goth. “I have one aim — the grotesque,” he once said. “If I am not grotesque I am nothing,” Beardlsey received his first commission in 1893, when he published 300 illustrations for an edition of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. That same year, he was hired to create the illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. Other notable works followed, for an edition of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1896), a private edition of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata (1896) and his own A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1897).

An illustration for a privately published edition of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata (1896).

He founded the magazine The Studio in 1893 and co-founded The Yellow Book in 1894. The Yellow Book quickly earned a reputation for being provocative and daring, despite publisher John Lane’s constant attempts to keep Beardsley under control. Before each publication, Lane would painstakingly examine each of Beardsley’s illustrations to make sure he didn’t hide any inappropriate details, as Beardsley was known to do. The two played this cat-and-mouse game throughout Beardsley’s tenure at The Yellow Book, which shocked critics for his open mocking of Victorian values. In response to those critics, Beardsley published two drawings in one issue of The Yellow Book which were stylistically different from his other work, under the pseudonyms of Phillip Broughton and Albert Foschter. A critic at The Saturday Review called “Broughton’s” illustration “a drawing of merit” and Foschter’s “a clever study”. But as for Beardsley’s, they were “as freakish as ever.”

Beardskey was fired due to his association with Oscar Wilde soon after Wilde’s arrest in 1895. The Yellow Book‘s quality and popularity suffered, and it folded in 1897. Beardsly then went to The Savoy, where he also served as editor, allowing him to pursue writing as well as illustration. The Savoy was published by Leonard Smithers, a friend of Wilde who also published a number of Beardsley’s works, as well as, among other things, pornographic books. The Savoy lasted only a year. In 1897, Beardsley’s health deteriorated. He moved to the French Riviera, converted to Roman Catholicism, and died at the age of twenty-five on March 16, 1898.

Born On This Day, 1923: Don Slater

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2016

(d. 1997) Born the oldest twin, in Pasadena, California, Don Slater never did take to his father’s passion for team sports, but he did become an accomplished skier and swimmer and was passionate about nature and the outdoors. He also, early on, acquired an easiness among a variety of people, from street hustlers and cross-dressers to literature professors and librarians, which belied his conservatism — a “gentleman’s conservative,” friends called him.

While attending the University of Southern California in 1944 following his honorable discharge from the army, he quickly connected with the University’s “gay underground.” He met his partner, Tony Reyes, in 1945, and the two remained together for the next fifty-two years until Slater’s death. In the early 1950s, Slater and Reyes attended a Mattachine meeting in Los Angeles, but Slater found the whole thing silly. He was put off by the “mystic brotherhood” talk and dismissed the whole affair as “a sewing circle” and “the Stitch and Bitch club.”

But when he learned that Bill Lambert (a.k.a Dorr Legg, Dec 15), Dale Jennings (Oct 21); and others were about to found ONE Magazine as the first national publication for the emerging gay community (Oct 15), Slater felt that he found his calling. The first meetings of the nascent magazine took place in 1952 just before Slater’s graduation from USC (a graduation delayed by a bout of rheumatic fever) and those meeting minutes were written in his spiral class notebook.

Slater saw ONE’s main mission as being an educational one. When ONE, Inc., established an Educational Division, he became an Assistant Professor for Literature. He also became the organization’s archivist, which he saw is ONE’s core strength. Those duties were in addition to his role as an editor for the magazine. As the organization grew, Slater took on leadership roles on the Board of Directors. By the mid-1960s, a bitter dispute divided the board, and Slater led a group that complained that the board had been illegally usurped by the rival faction. In April of 1965, Slater, Reyes and Billy Glover moved ONE’s library and office from Venice to a new location on Cahuenga Blvd “for the protection of the property of the corporation.” For four months, confused subscribers received two competing ONE Magazines in the mail, one published by ONE, Inc., and the other by Slater’s The Tangent Group, named for a regular column in ONE.

Slater soon changed the name of his magazine to Tangents, but the dispute continued. The remnant faction at ONE, Inc., demanded the return of the archives, which Slater believed would have been threatened if they were returned. “If ONE has any assets, this is it. Damn the future of its publications, but the fate of this material is important.” After a two year court battle, the two sides settled, with ONE, Inc., retaining the right to publish ONE magazine and The Tangent Group retaining ownership of Slater’s beloved archives. In 1968, the Tangent Group re-incorporated as the Homosexual Information Center (HIC).

The turmoil over ONE did little to slow Slater’s activism. He helped organize a motorcade protest in Los Angeles in 1966 on Armed Forces Day to protest the exclusion of gays in the military, and he was arrested by police in 1967 when they shut down a play sponsored by HIC. In 1968, he led a picket of the Los Angeles Times for refusing to publish an ad for another gay-themed play. He continued to publish Tangents until 1973. Slater passed away in 1997 from rheumatic heart valvular disease. His HIC archives of more than 4,000 books, periodicals and pamphlets are now housed at the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection at California State University at Northridge.

Born On This Day, 1928: James “John” Gruber

Jim Burroway

August 21st, 2016

(d. 2011) James Gruber was born on Des Moines, Iowa. His father, a former vaudeville performer turned music teacher, moved the family to Los Angeles in 1936. In 1946, Gruber turned eighteen and enlisted in the Marines. He later remarked that being in such close proximity to men, he “went bananas in the sex department.” Despite the, ah, camaraderie, he continued to have affairs with women, and throughout his life he considered himself bisexual. After he was honorably discharged in 1949, he studied English Literature at Occidental College and met Christopher Isherwood, who would become a close friend and mentor.

In April 1951, Gruber and his boyfriend, photographer Konrad Stevens, became the last new members of a group of gay men who had begun gathering under the name of “Society of Fools,” which proved to be a turning point. “All of us had known a whole lifetime of not talking, or repression. Just the freedom to open up … really, that’s what it was all about. We had found a sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of openness in an atmosphere of tension and distrust. … Such a great deal of it was a social climate. A family feeling came out of it, a nonsexual emphasis. … It was a brand-new idea.”

An exceptionally rare photo of early members of the Mattachine Society. Pictured are Harry Hay (upper left, Apr 7), then (l-r) Konrad Stevens, Dale Jennings (Oct 21), Rudi Gernreich (Aug 8), Stan Witt, Bob Hull (May 31), Chuck Rowland (in glasses, Aug 24), Paul Bernard. Photo by James Gruber. (Click to enlarge.)

Gruber and Stevens brought a new sense of urgency into group, with Gruber suggesting the group rename itself the Mattachine Foundation, referring to the medieval masque troops known as “matachines” (spelled with one “t”). Gruber was also responsible for taking the only known photo of the early members of the highly secretive group when he snapped a quick snapshot during a gathering in 1951. Founder Harry Hay was furious that the members’ faces were photographed in violation of Mattachine’s strict policy of anonymity, and Gruber was nearly expelled. The only way he stayed in was by lying and saying there was no film in the camera.

Gruber was active in Mattachine’s early public push to address ongoing harassment the Los Angeles police department. He and other Mattachine members formed the Citizens Committee to Outlaw Entrapment to raise funds for Dale Jennings’s solicitation trial (Jun 23). Gruber wrote and distributed much of Mattachine’s early literature to publicize the trial and solicit funds for legal fees. Not only did Jennings win his case, but Mattachine’s newfound public profile attracted a crop of new members. Ironically, those new members, having discovered Mattachine because of its publicity, demanded that Foundation pull back from the spotlight over fears of further harassment. Many of them just wanted was a social organization, not a political one. They also had misgivings over co-founder Harry Hay’s Communist connections. Frustrated over the looming takeover by the newer members, Gruber and the rest of the old guard resigned (Apr 11).

Gruber moved to San Francisco, and then Palo Alto, where he started going by the name of John. “It was the most effective way I could find to escape Mom’s ceaseless calling for ‘Jimmy!’ inside my head,” he said. He became a high school and college teacher, and he loved working in his new profession. In the late 1990s, Gruber became involved with documenting the history of the gay community and was recognized as a pioneering organizer. Before he died peacefully in 2011 at his home in Santa Clara, he was the last living member of the original Mattachine Foundation.

Today’s Agenda Is Brought To You By…

Jim Burroway

August 20th, 2016

From The Washington Blade, July 23, 1982, page 18.

From The Washington Blade, July 23, 1982, page 18.

The Exile was a popular Country and Western bar in downtown Washington, D.C. operated by the same owners who operated the D.C. Eagle. Both the Eagle and Exile, which were located just a couple of blocks from each other, have been displaced by downtown redevelopment. There had been plans to revive both clubs in a new location, but only the Eagle managed to reopen.

Emphasis Mine

Jim Burroway

August 20th, 2016

The following letter to the editor appeared in the September 1953 issue of ONE magazine:

A Reply to R.L.M. in your JULY issue, AS FOR ME:

Who is in a position in this world to require conformity from anyone?–least of all one homosexual from another. The desire to have all homosexuals well mannered, intelligent, courageous, manly, men is easily understood. These are attributes most of us classify as desirable; most humans do, according to the standards of their own society. Is it not the aim of all persons in this country to attain both a personal integrity and equal rights before the law of our society? We as reasonably enlightened, 20th Century individuals are not in any position to slap the bar-fly or to condemn bar-flitting; promiscuity to us is a personal matter; emasculated affectation is neither my concern nor another’s. The so called “gay life” is not for me to reform and I hesitate to define the “very worst elements”.

No! If we must have a crusade it must be for civil rights and equality before the laws of this land, not for conformity to some ideal of personal ethics. I do not care how many “gay” bars exist or who goes to them or what they do there, who delights in emasculated affectation or uses perfume; but I do care that my rights as a citizen of this country are nil and I know that getting all homosexuals to act like bourgeois gentlemen is not going to get those rights for me. I am not sure what will but I think ONE may be on the right track.

RENO, NEVADA

This Month In History, 1953: ONE Magazine Debates “Homosexual Marriage”

Jim Burroway

August 20th, 2016

ONE magazine, August 1953.

ONE magazine, August 1953.

The push for marriage equality has often been measured in years. Some of the more amazingly short-sighted have asserted that “the revolution began” when Prop 8 was challenged in Federal District court in 2009. Others with somewhat longer memories can remember the excitement of Massachusetts becoming the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004 (May 17), or the Netherlands becoming the first country in the world to offer marriage equality in 2001 (Apr 1), or Hawaii almost becoming the first jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriages in 1993 (May 5). Those with longer memories may recall the battle Mike McConnell and Jack Baker waged to get a marriage license in 1970 (May 18).

Discussions about same-sex marriage had taken place in the gay community long before all of that. ONE magazine, the nation’s first nationally-distributed gay publication, had called for a push for “homophile marriage” in 1963 (Jun 20). In 1959, ONE published “Homosexual Marriage: Fact or Fancy?” Its author had been in a relationship for eleven years which he very much likened to a marriage, and proceeded to offer advice on the ingredients that made for a successful  marriage. But with gay relationships themselves still criminalized throughout much of the U.S. and the mental health professions considering homosexuality a mental illness, marriage was considered a much lower priority.

Marriage License Or Just License?

ONE‘s first discussion of gay marriage came in its very first year of existence, in 1953. Written by a ONE reader who signed his name “E.B. Saunders,” the article’s title, “Reformer’s Choice: Marriage License or Just License?”, predicted the tug-of-war between assimilationists and liberationists that would dominate the gay rights movement for the next half century. It also records some of the pre-pill/pre-sexual revolution/pre-women’s liberation-era assumptions about what was considered acceptable behavior. Overall, it’s a fascinating time capsule, left by of a group of people who were still trying to figure out who they were and what they wanted.

The activists in the early homophile movement believed they knew what they wanted. First and foremost, ONE and the Mattachine Society wanted to reform anti-gay laws criminalizing gay relationships in all fifty states. That word, reform, was carefully chosen so as not to draw the charge that they were encouraging people to adopt what was seen as an immoral lifestyle. To speak boldly of repeal during those years following the Lavender Scare would have been, politically, like touching a third rail. The backlash, it was feared, would have been devastating. But the reason ONE and Mattachine wanted those laws reformed was obvious: they wanted people to no longer face arrest for having homosexual sex. This made gay people among the earliest proponents of sexual liberation — or sexual “license,” depending on your viewpoint.

ONE and Mattachine also wanted the “acceptance” of gay people, a goal they sought to achieve by educating the broader society of the “homosexual’s problems.”  But Saunders wrote that if ONE and Mattachine really wanted society’s acceptance, then their efforts would be doomed unless they adopted an agenda that included the one thing that society found most worthy of acceptance: marriage.

…Then you sit back and try to visualize our society as these well-meaning enthusiasts would have it. And suddenly you realize that their plans are impossible! They have missed one of their most essential points and committed a basic and staggering error.”

…Image that the year were 2053 and homosexuality were accepted to the point of being of no importance. Now, is the deviate allowed to continue his pursuit of physical happiness without restraint as he attempts to do today? Or is he, in this Utopia, subject to marriage laws? It is a pertinent question. For why should he be permitted permiscuity (sic) when those heterosexuals who people the earth must be married to enjoy sexual intercourse? The answer does not lie in the fact that the deviate cannot reproduce: this is irrelevant to the effect upon society of his acceptance as a valuable citizen.

This effect would be one of immense consternation for it would be a legalizing of promiscuity for a special section of the population — which, incidentally, now begs for its rights on the very grounds that it desires the respectability and dignity of all other citizens. It is not likely that either of these would be attained by a lifting of legal sex constraints for this group alone. Actually such a change would loosen heterosexual marriage ties, too, and make even shallower the meaning of marriage as we know it… Heterosexual marriage must be protected. The acceptance of homosexuality without homosexual marriage ties would be an attack upon it.

Let’s pause a minute and let this amazing point sink in. Saunders is saying — in 1953! — that acceptance of gay people without letting them marry (or, more to the point expecting them to marry; this is, after all, 1953) would be an attack on straight marriages.

Saunders obviously overstated the constraints marriage placed on people’s behavior, as the Kinsey Reports of 1948 and 1953 had already shown (Jan 5Aug 14). A large number of married people were already findings a large number of ways to be promiscuous. Marriage did little to lessen the constraints of sex, legally or otherwise. But if gay people really wanted to be accepted, then Saunders argued that they should be fighting for the one thing that would open the doors to acceptance:

Yet one would think that in a movement demanding acceptance, legalized marriage would be one of its primary issues. What a logical and convincing means of assuring society that they are sincere in wanting respect and dignity! But nowhere do we see this idea prominently displayed either in Society publications or the magazine ONE. It is dealt with in passing and dismissed as all-right-for-those-who-want-it. But it is not incorporated as a keystone in Society aims — which it must be before such a movement can hope for any success.

Saunders saw some practical problems that would need to be addressed if they were to press for gay marriage. Some of those problems were a reflection of the rigid gender roles that were still prevalent in the early 1950s. “For instance, should the Mr. And Mrs. Idea be retained? If so, what legal developments would come of the objection by the ‘Mr.’ that ‘Mrs.’ doesn’t contribute equally?” He wondered how childrearing and adoption would work. “Would the time come when homosexuals would be forced to care for children as part of their social duties? How many homosexuals would actually want to bring up a child?”

A Philadelphia gay wedding, ca 1957. This photograph was part of a set that was deemed inappropriate by a photo shop in Philadelphia and never returned to the customer. From the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.

A Philadelphia gay wedding, ca 1957. This photograph was part of a set that was deemed inappropriate by a film processor in Philadelphia and never returned to the customer. From the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.

Saunders saw the idea of two men or two women vowing to remain together, monogamously, for the rest of their lives “a dubious proposition.” Here again, he apparently hadn’t absorbed some of the statistics from the Kinsey report that found those expectations a dubious proposition for large numbers of heterosexual couples But he acknowledged that social pressure made for an additional and significant obstacle for gay couples. Those in a visible same-sex relationships risked arrest, eviction and unemployment, factors which tended to dampen the enthusiasm for such arrangements.

That’s why many of the early homophile activists saw sexual liberation as the only viable option. But that would be inimicable to the monogamous expectations of a homosexual marriage. “The concept of homosexual marriage cannot come into being without a companion idea: homosexual adultery,” with all of its societal and legal sanctions. For the sexual outlaws of 1953, would such a price for acceptance be worth it?

[T]his acceptance will cause as great a change in homosexual thinking as in the heterosexual — perhaps greater. No more sexual abandon: imagine! Me, married? Yes, a great change in the deviate himself, yet nothing in the literature of the Mattachine Society and little of ONE is devoted to initiating and exploring this idea of necessary homosexual monogamy. The idea seems stuffy and hide-bound. We simply don’t join movements to limit ourselves! Rebels such as we, demand freedom! But actually we have a greater freedom now (sub rosa as it may be) than do heterosexuals and any change will be to lose some of it in return for respectability. Are we willing to make the trade? From the silence of the Society on the subject, perhaps not.

What a turn! After challenging the homophile movement to embrace gay marriage in order to advance the cause of  acceptance, he backtracks somewhat and indirectly questions whether gay people really knew what they wanted.

It is unfortunate that enthusiasm demands more action than thought, and that necessity often makes us run wildly before we’ve decided exactly where we’re running (although we may be quite sure of what we’re running from). Commendable as the Society is, it appears that there is yet to be conceived in its prospectus a concrete plan for the homosexual’s place in society. Until we know exactly where we’re going, and the stuffy and hide-bound — who can help us exceedingly — might not be willing to run along just for the exercise. When one digs, it must be to make a ditch, a well, a trench: something! Otherwise all of this energetic work merely produces a hole. Any bomb can do that.

The homophile movement did somehow manage to converge on a consensus, and that consensus leaned toward “just license” — or “liberation,” in the language of the next decade. Over the next several months, readers responded more or less that way in letters to ONE. One questioned the either/or proposition between the marriage license and “just license” by pointing to Scandinavia where “sex laws are sane, (heterosexual) marriage still exists, home is sacred, and mother is honored.” Another wondered why Saunders seemed intent on imposing restrictions rather than expanding options. “In the year 2053, he asks, are we to be allowed to continue our pursuit of physical happiness without restraint as we attempt to do today? Well, why the hell not? What is this tendency on the part of some people to seek more and more restrictions?” Another scoffed: “It seems preposterous to me to use a sexual behavior yardstick for present and future generations of homosexuals which does not even meet the needs and actions of most present day heterosexuals, much less their probable future needs. … I would also be for the legalized marriage of homosexuals who desire this. And, I am one who desires this. But, E.B.S.’s naiveté regarding heterosexual chastity before marriage astounds me.”

The homophile movement didn’t adopt Saunders’s call for gay marriage. It also came to realize that its plaintive pleas for “acceptance” and “understanding” of the 1950s would never produce the kind of changes they were looking for. By the time the decade ended, the push was on for license — liberation, in the lingo of the following decade — among gay activists like Frank Kameny (May 21) who demanded that the rights of gays and lesbians be respected solely because it was their birthright as citizens. By the time Stonewall came around, the lure of liberation made the idea of marriage seem irrelevant (although visionaries like Jack Baker and McConnell saw things differently (May 18)). But the AIDS tragedy of the 1980s had a way of injecting cold hard reality into the equation. There’s nothing like losing a partner to a terrible disease to focus one’s mind on all that was lost, and on all of the vulnerabilities — legal, financial, and social — that gay people were exposed to when they were denied access to marriage. The revolution may have picked up steam as the twentieth century began to draw to a close, but the seeds of discontent were already sown at least a half a century earlier.

[Sources: E.B. Saunders. “Reformers Choice: Marriage License or Just License?” ONE 1, no. 8 (August 1953): 10-12.

“Letters.” ONE 1, 10 (October 1953): 10-15.

“Letters.” ONE 1, 11 (November 1953): 18-24.]

Born On This Day, 1948: Perry Watkins

Jim Burroway

August 20th, 2016

Photo by Rex Wockner

Photo by Rex Wockner

(d. 1996) The Tacoma, Washington, teen was always open about his sexuality. He was out in junior high school. He was out when he studied ballet. His mother told him he should never lie or “give a hoot about what anybody thinks.” So when he was drafted into the army in 1967, he checked the “yes” box for “homosexual tendencies” on his paperwork. The doctor at the induction center saw it, but decided Watkins was qualified for service. Watkins figured the doctor assumed he’d be sent to Vietnam, get killed, and no one would hear about it ever again. After several more rounds of psychiatric interviews, and Watkins repeating very plainly that he was gay — and that he wasn’t just saying that to get out of the draft — he was inducted in May 1968 into the U.S. Army.

At first, he thought they’d changed the rules somewhere along the way — until a friend was discharged for telling his commanding officer the friend was gay. The only difference Watkins could see between his friend’s situation and his own was this: his friend was white. Meanwhile, another African-American friend who had also checked the “yes” box was also inducted, with no major problems. So it was a shock when Watkins applied to become a chaplain’s assistant, and his application was denied because he was gay. Angry, Watkins sought a discharge. The Army denied his request saying it couldn’t be established firmly that he really was a homosexual. In other words, he was too gay to be a chaplain’s assistant, but not gay enough to be kicked out. He became a personnel clerk instead.

Perry WatkinsWhen his service was up in 1970, Watkins returned home to Tacoma, but realized he’d need more education to get a decent job. The Army could provide that. So he signed up again. And like the first time, he marked on his paperwork that he was gay. When he was inducted again, he showed up with twice as much luggage as usual: for Watkins and for “Simone,” a drag character he developed at at Tacoma gay bar called the Sand Box. When he reported for duty in the personnel office at a Pershing missile unit in Frankfurt, Germany, a recreation officer asked what he did in civilian life. “I was a female impersonator,” he said. The recreation officer recruited Watkins to perform in a military show. It was such a success that Watkins got an agent who booked him in NCO and enlisted men’s clubs throughout Europe. When Simone competed against eleven other actual women in an Army beauty pageant, Simone won. Simone’s act even got written up in Stars and Stripes. When Watkins noticed that married soldiers got the day off for their wedding anniversaries, he demanded the day off on the one year anniversary of meeting his German boyfriend. He got it.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have been any more out that Watkins. So it must have seen rather comical when the Army’s CID began investigating reports that Watkins was gay in1972. CID investigators  inspected his locker and took photos of his drag paraphernalia. They interviewed him and he confirmed that he was gay. They talked to several other soldiers in Watkins’s unit, all of whom also confirmed Watkins was gay. But because Watkins refused to name anyone he slept with, the CID dropped the investigation.

In 1975, while serving as a mail clerk outside of Seoul, South Korea, the prior investigations into Watkins’s sexuality caught up with him again. This time, the Army tried to discharge him. But Watkins was confident during his discharge hearing in October. His outstanding record, his awards, his diploma, and the witnesses who praised his performance and said they’d work with him again — all of that impressed the discharge board, which opted to keep him in the army — much to his commanding officer’s surprise and relief.

Meanwhile, Simone kept performing for the USO.

By 1981, Watson was stationed at Fort Lewis, back home in Tacoma, determined to stay for another seven years to qualify for his pension. But problems already arose the year before when his security clearance was revoked for performing in drag and because he did “not deny that he was a homosexual.” Watkins contacted the ACLU, who represented Watkins in his appeal of the revocation. When that went nowhere, he filed suit in Federal Court. This put the government in an untenable bind. Its official policy was to discharge all gay people. But Watkins’s record clearly showed that in practice, the Army only discharged those it wanted to discharge and kept the others. When the Army held its discharge hearing and found Watkins “undesirable for further retention in the military service,” the Federal District Court judge pointed to the 1975 discharge hearing and ruled the Army committed double jeopardy.

Watkins was back in the Army for the remainder of his enlistment. When he tried to re-enlist in 1982, the Army refused until a Federal judge ordered his re-enlistment. When his enlistment was up again in 1984, a Federal Appeals Court had overturned the judge’s ruling and the Army discharged him again, this time acting so quickly that Watkins was unable to get a lawyer and a court order before he was drummed out.

Watkins tried, without much success, to enter gainful employment in civilian life. Having by then appeared on national television and becoming something of a local celebrity in Tacoma, potential employers shied away from hiring him. Meanwhile, his appeals dragged on. Finally, in 1989, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Army to allow Watkins to re-enlist. That ruling was stayed, preventing his re-enlistment, but the following year, an eleven-member panel delivered its en banc ruling, once again ordering the Army to let Watkins re-enlist. Pointing out that the Army knew about his sexuality since the day he was drafted, the court’s order would “simply require the Army to continue to do what it has repeatedly done for 14 years with only positive results: re-enlist a single soldier with an exceptionally outstanding military record.” The Army had “plainly acted affirmatively in in admitting, reclassifying, reenlisting, retaining and promoting” Watkins throughout his career, and it was unfair to discharge him after that.

The court’s ruling was narrow. It didn’t touch on any constitutional questions, and it only applied to Watkins only. The GHW Bush Administration appealed to the Supreme Court, which let the Appeals Court ruling stand. Watkins and the Army then settled the case a year later. Watkins declined to re-enlist in lieu of the the Army restoring his retroactive pay of about $135,000, full retirement benefits, an honorable discharge and a retroactive promotion from staff sergeant to sergeant first class.

[Source Randy Shilts. Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993): 60-63, 78, 155-156, 161-162, 218-219,241-243, 383-386, 395-398, 425, 448-450, 641-642, 718-719.]

NBA Picks New Orleans To Host All-Star Game

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

Last month, the National Basketball Association announced that they were pulling their 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina, in protest over HB2, which targeted LGBT people, especially transgender people, for discrimination. While the NBA didn’t say where the game would be held, sources speculated that New Orleans was in strong contention. Today, the NBA made it official:

New Orleans, announced Friday as the new location of the game, replaces Charlotte, which was set to host the game until the NBA decided last month to move it elsewhere.

Unlike several other Southern states, Louisiana has not been swept up in legislative efforts to pass laws similar to that in North Carolina — a fact Gov. John Bel Edwards has touted while lobbying the NBA to bring its All-Star weekend to New Orleans.

Gov. Edwards (D) hasn’t issued a statement since this morning’s announcement, what with having to deal with the disastrous flooding and other distractions. Tony Perkins, who’s home was flooded out, not only found the time to take advantage of those same distractions, but also found the time to respond to the NBA’s announcement:

I commend North Carolina Governor McCrory for his political courage and moral clarity in not caving in to the NBA’s threats to move the All-Star game. He stared down the giant of the NBA and stood strong against government discrimination of private entities and for the principles of protecting privacy and safety in government buildings.

“My home state of Louisiana, like North Carolina, is one of 32 states in the U.S. that does not force private businesses to allow men in women’s showers, locker rooms, and restrooms. On the other hand, in New Orleans—the same as in Charlotte—the NBA will be free to divide the restrooms at its own event on the basis of self-professed ‘gender identity’ instead of objective biological sex, if it wishes to do so. Only politics—not the well-being of transgender persons or anyone else—motivated this disruptive and punitive move.

“The hypocrisy of the NBA over North Carolina’s HB 2 law is utterly stunning. The NBA is willing to turn a blind eye and play games in countries, like the People’s Republic of China, that regularly oppress their own citizens.

“The NBA should focus on basketball, not on redefining what it means to be male or female,” concluded Perkins.

It looks like Perkins and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) have compared talking points. McCrory’s tantrum runs along a similar vein:

“According to his own statements, Commissioner Silver has no credibility in telling America that he’s more ‘comfortable’ playing a basketball game in the People’s Republic of China with its oppressive human rights record, rather than the 9th most populous state in the U.S.A.,” said Communications Director Josh Ellis. “This is another classic example of politically-correct hypocrisy gone mad. We are proud that Louisiana has joined 21 other states that are fighting for basic privacy expectations for our children and families in school restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities.”

While Louisiana has no North Carolina bathroom bill, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) has joined twelve other states in a lawsuit led by Texas against the Obama Administration’s directives to extend federal gender-based anti-discrimination protections to transgender people.

Liberty Counsel Declares Victory In Kim Davis Lawsuit

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

Kim DavisYou remember Kim Davis, right? She’s the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. After she refused a court order, she was briefly jailed for contempt while her office issued licenses as the judge ordered. Long story short: people are getting married in Morehead, and Kim Davis is no longer trying to interfere. So:

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed three lawsuits pending against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis over her refusal to issue marriage licenses in 2015, following the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue is now settled, U.S. District Judge David Bunning wrote in his order. At Davis’ request, Gov. Matt Bevin and the General Assembly changed state law this year to remove county clerks’ names from marriage licenses. And in Rowan County, one of Davis’ deputy clerks has been issuing licenses to all couples, same-sex and opposite-sex, since Davis was briefly jailed for contempt of court last summer after violating Bunning’s order to resume issuing licenses.

“In light of these proceedings, and in view of the fact that the marriage licenses continue to be issued without incident, there no longer remains a case or controversy before the court,” Bunning wrote.

In typical fashion, Liberty Counsel, which has been defending Davis in court, has declared victory:

“Kim Davis has won! We celebrate this victory for her and for every American,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “County clerks are now able to perform their public service without being forced to compromise their religious liberty. The case is now closed and the door has been shut on the ACLU’s attempt to assess damages against Kim Davis. This victory is not just for Kim Davis. It is a victory for everyone who wants to remain true to their deeply-held religious beliefs regarding marriage while faithfully serving the public,” said Staver.

If that’s a victory, then I’ll take more of that, please.

Michael Weinstein Seeks To Appoint Himself California’s “Porn Czar”

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

This man wants to be California's Porn Czar.

This man wants to be California’s Porn Czar.

AIDS hysteria has brought about quite a lot of bad policy proposals over the years. And in California, it has led directly to two truly terrible ballot propositions. In 1986, political nutbag and conspiracy theorist extrordiaire Lyndon LaRouche put Proposition 64 on the ballot which, if passed, would have effectively forced anyone who was HIV-positive out of their homes, jobs and schools and into a quarantine. That cockeyed proposal was soundly defeated, 29% to 71%.

This November, there will be another cockeyed proposal on California’s ballot. Prop 60 is just as nonsensical as Prop 64, and it also feeds on the same kinds of hysteria, demonization and stigma that gave life to the earlier proposal. Worse, it’s being pushed by a man who calls himself an AIDS activist: Michael Weinstein who has deployed the same kinds of stereotypes of irresponsible HIV-infected monsters being turned lose on innocent Americans that LaRouche has. He has campaigned against the CDC’s approval of antiretroviral medications as Pre-Exposure Prophylactics (PrEP), he has vilified people who use PrEP to protect themselves, he has portrayed PrEP as nothing but a “party drug, and his AIDS Healthcare has filed a nonsense complaint against Gilead saying it is guilty of promoting Truvada for “off label use” in an effort to get Gilead to cease funding competing community and AIDS groups. He has even to support the National Health Service’s policy of not providing PrEP to anyone in Britain.

His latest move isn’t PrEP related though, although he does try to dress it up as some kind of a backhanded HIV-prevention proposal. If Prop 60 becomes law, anyone who produces, sells, or profits from adult films, including most performers who do all of that with do-it-yourself internet platforms, will be subject to lawsuits and fines if a condom isn’t visible. Condom use during the filming of porn has been required in California since 1993 by the California Department of Industrial Relations, which base their actions on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 1993 Bloodborne Pathogen’s Standard. Weinstein’s proposal requires that the condom use be a visible portrayal of Weinstein’s only approved HIV-prevention measure, damn the science surrounding Prep. He also makes every viewer a vigilante to ensure that his HIV-prevention measure is always the one being portrayed.

In the era of PrEP, which has a demonstrated 99% effectiveness in blocking HIV transmission, this proposal looks like something from another era. If only it were just that. Eric Paul Leue at HIVPlus sees Weinstein’s latest proposal as something that is far more dangerous:

As an outspoken member of the LGBTQ community and an HIV activist, I see something frightening in Prop. 60. Imagine stalkers, overzealous fans, angry family members, and LGBTQ hate groups being able to obtain legal names and home addresses of people who are open about their sexuality and gender identity. Performers already face daily privacy invasions, harassment, and discrimination — a law giving a digital mob incentives to patrol sexual behavior should raise flags with all LGBTQ people everywhere.

…Unfortunately, we’re seeing these forces rise again in relation to adult performers. Weinstein has called the adult performers “a public health crisis” and stoked fears that they are bringing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, into the larger population. There’s no evidence to support that — in fact, adult performers are possibly the most regularly tested population on earth, and there hasn’t been an on-set HIV transmission in the regulated adult industry since 2004. But why should AHF let facts get in the way

Rather than address performer concerns or develop legislation that performers and groups like the performer advocacy organization could support, Weinstein has repeatedly attacked and dismissed them. Weinstein has filed complaints through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against performers who have spoken out against him, and claimed repeatedly that only his organization — not the performers themselves — speaks for performers. He’s even gone so far as to falsely list a performers’ organization as a supporter of the proposition in an official voters’ guide. (The organization complained, and Weinstein was forced to withdraw the listing.)

Groups opposing Prop 60 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Transgender Law Center, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and both the California Democratic and Republican parties. Take those last two as a hint. When you can get both political parties to agree something is bad, it’s bad. How bad is it? The Mercury News found that the proposition’s text sets Weinstein up personally as the state’s porn czar:

Consider Section 10. The second sentence reads: “The People of the State of California, by enacting this Act, hereby declare the proponent of this Act (meaning Weinstein, himself) has a direct and personal stake in defending this Act from constitutional or statutory challenges to the Act’s validity.”

It gets worse.

The third sentence reads: “In the event the Attorney General fails to defend this Act, or the Attorney General fails to appeal an adverse judgment against the constitutionality or statutory permissibly of this Act, in whole or in part, in any court, the Act’s proponent (again, Weinstein, himself) shall be entitled to assert his direct and personal stake by defending the Act’s validity in any court …”

Weinstein is setting himself up as the state’s porn czar, apparently for life. He could only be ousted “by a majority vote of each house of the Legislature when ‘good cause’ exists to do so.” Funny, there’s no provision for the governor, Legislature or voters to name a successor if Weinstein is removed by the Legislature.

Trump Flew To Baton Rouge To Stick It To Obama. And To Meet With Tony Perkins.

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

Family “Research” Council’s Tony Perkins makes his home outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and commutes to his job in Washington, D.C. While in Louisiana, he is also serving as interim pastor at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, which was one of Donald Trump’s official campaign stops today. Perkins recently said that although “those on the left like to mock these things,” he speculated that God was sending hurricanes to punish America for same-sex marriage. This past week, Perksins’s home was destroyed in the worst flooding in Louisiana since Superstorm Sandy.

Trump made the stop today despite Gov. John Bel Edwards saying that such visits “would be a drain on resources as the state still works to respond to the flood.” Gov.  Edwards isn’t happy about Trump’s “photo op.”

 

Today’s Agenda Is Brought To You By…

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

From The Los Angeles Advocate, August 1968, page 28.

From The Los Angeles Advocate, August 1968, page 28.

Danny Combs, Groovy Guy 1968. (Photo by Pat Rocco, see Feb 9.)

Danny Combs, Groovy Guy 1968. Photo by Pat Rocco (Feb 9).

Who’s the grooviest guy in L.A.? “It’s about time we all settled this question, so let’s join in and find him,” proclaimed Sam Winston in kicking off The GROOVY GUY contest. Sponsored by the ADVOCATE and the HAYLOFT, the area-wide contest seeks to find the all-round attractive male from the standpoint of looks, build, and whatever else it takes to make The GROOVY GUY.

The final choice will take place at a gala pageant at the Hayloft on August 19. Any bar or combination of bars that wants to enter a candidate for the title may do so. Each entering bar may run a contest of its own or choose its entrant by any other method. They must make their choice by July 20, however. Each contestant will make appearances during August before the night of the pageant at the Hayloft and at his sponsoring bar. At the finals, each aspiring GROOVY GUY will parade before the judge twice once in a bathing suit and once in blue jeans and tee shirt.

The first contest in 1968 drew seven contestants and about 150 people to the Hayloft’s parking lot. (The bar itself was too small to handle the crowd.) Danny Combs won that year.The Advocate gushed:

Winner Danny Combs, who lives in Long Beach. is a fairly muscular young man with a 28-inch waist. He stands five feet nine inches and weighs 160 pounds. Other assets include blue-green eyes, a warm ready smile, and other things.

Contestants Bill Harris from The Klondike, Jamie Miller from Le Tomcat, Danny Combs, and Terry Gaffigan from The River Club hold raffle tickets. A member of the audience won a color TV.

Contestants Bill Harris from The Klondike, Jamie Miller from Le Tomcat, Danny Combs, and Terry Gaffigan from The River Club hold raffle tickets. A member of the audience won a color TV.

Combs was sponsored by The Patch, a bar that had undergone a bout of police harassment just two days earlier (Aug 17) and lived to tell about it. The 23-year-old model won a Groovy Guy Trophy and prizes including a trip to San Francisco with a night at the Ramrod, and a $25 gift certificate from a Los Angeles clothing store.

In 1969, the Los Angeles Advocate was renamed simply The Advocate and began national distribution. That year’s Groovy Guy contest was much larger, attracting 18 contestants and an audience of 1,500. That year was notable because organizers allowed same-sex dancing, which was still illegal at the time.  By 1971, the event was becoming so popular that other Groovy Guy contests started appearing in other cities across the U.S.

Souvenir program for the 1971 Groovy Guy contest.

Souvenir program for the 1971 Groovy Guy contest.

In 1972, the contest was moved to the Grand Ballroom of the International Hotel in Century City. Organizers added the Mr. Congeniality Award in an attempt to recognize “the whole man” and not just his physical attributes. That was about as successful as you would imagine it to be. By then, Groovy Guy had gotten so big that it had become too much of a distraction for the tiny Advocate staff. That was the last year for Los Angeles’ Groovy Guy, but not for the gay male pageant. Two other local gay publications took it over for 1973 and renamed it the Groovy Stud Contest (1973), then the California Groovy Guy Contest (1974-1977), then the Data Boy Pageant (1978, 1979), then finally the Super-Men Pageant (1980-1987).

[Other sources: “Where the Acton Is! The Groovy Guy Contest!!” The Los Angeles Advocate (July 1968): 2.

“Groovy Guy Pageant Scores.” The Los Angeles Advocate (September 1968): 3.

“Not Just a Body: Groovy Guy Contest to Stress ‘Whole Man’.” The Advocate (May 24, 1972): 7.]

Emphasis Mine

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

Olympic gymnast Danell Leyva proclaimed his support for LGBT rights on Instagram after the Pulse gay night club massacre. He also posted another video adding his support for transgender rights. Meanwhile, fellow gymnastics teammate Sam Mikulak had suggested that maybe they could draw a larger audience if they competed shirtless. “People make fun of us for wearing tights,” he said. “But if they saw how yoked we are maybe that would make a difference.” Leyva tested that theory on Wednesday during the gymnastics gala, a non-competition event that is held simply for fun, when he stripped down about halfway through his parallel bars performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkhEM-o5HIQ

Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev decided to follow suit on the high bar.

Men’s swimming is eminently more watchable now that Olympic rules have compelled them to ditch the all-body suits of past Olympics. Mikulak’s suggestion ought to be adopted immediately, don’t you think?

In other news, the Chinese men’s team did this:

Today In History, 1969: Frank Kameny “Throws Down The Gauntlet” Over Security Clearance Denials

Jim Burroway

August 19th, 2016

Frank Kameny

Benning Wentworth was an electronics technician for a private research contractor for the U.S. Air Force when, in the spring of 1966, he was accused of homosexuality and his eleven-year security clearance was revoked. Frank Kameny, co-founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., and who himself had been fired by the Army Map Service in 1957 because of his homosexuality, worked as Wentworth’s counsel in an appeal before the Industrial Security Clearance Review Office in the Department of Defense. The Pentagon justified its blanket denial of security clearances to gay people by claiming gays were subject to blackmail. Kameny pointed out the obvious flaw in that logic: Wentworth was out — he even appeared in a press conference about his hearing — and it’s impossible to blackmail someone over their homosexuality if the whole world knows about it. In his opening remarks, Kameny described a different unnamed person, known only as OSD 66-44, who was allowed to keep his clearance as long as he spent the rest of his life in the closet and pretended to be straight. But for Wentworth and others, that was not longer an option. The logic behind the two cases made no sense whatseover. Kameny declared:

The Department got its satisfaction out of OSD 66-44, whoever he may be. We hope he sleeps soundly these days, poor man. OSD 66-44 may have compromised. He may have knuckled under. He may have crawled. He may have groveled. He may have submitted to Departmental blackmail of the most contemptible kind.

We will not. We stand our ground.

We throw down the gauntlet, clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously.

We state for the world, as we have stated for the public, we state for the record and, if the Department forces us to carry the case that far, we state for the courts that Mr. Wentworth, being a healthy, unmarried, homosexual male, 35 years old, has lived, and does live a suitable homosexual life, in parallel with the suitable active heterosexual sexual life lived by 75 percent of our healthy, unmarried, heterosexual males holding security clearances; and he intends to continue to do so indefinitely into the future. And please underline starting with the word “and intends to do so into the future”. Underline that, please, Mr. Stenographer.

Despite the obvious problems with the Pentagon’s reasonings for withdrawing Wentworth’s clearance, Kameny lost that case. Wentworth and three others who also had their security clearances denied, filed suit in district court, then in Federal court. In 1973, a Federal District Judge ordered the Pentagon to restore Wentworth’s clearance.

Over the next three decades, the Pentagon and other agencies began to allow gay and lesbian Americans hold security clearances, but the policies were inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary. President Clinton signed Executive Order 12968 in 1995 (Aug 4) which finally prohibited all agencies from citing homosexuality as a reason for denying a security clearance once and for all.

You can read Kameny’s entire opening statement in the Wentworth case here.

[Additional source: Lillian Faderman. The Gay Revolution: The Story of Struggle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015): 166-167.]

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