The Daily Agenda for Thursday, June 23

Dr. Charles Socarides

Dr. Charles Socarides

Dr. Charles Socarides, who had spent the past several years establishing himself as the nation’s go-to expert on homosexuality, had published a four-page paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association a month earlier (May 18). “Homosexuality is a medical disorder which has reached epidemioligic proportions,” he warned, in the paper’s first paragraph. “Epidemiologic” was a made-up nonsense word he often used, its seven syllables sounding much more serious and scientific than the correct cognate epidemic meant to say. He liked using his Very Impressive Seven-Syllable Word whenever he could. He used his VISSW three years earlier during an appearance on the infamous CBS documentary “The Homosexuals” (Mar 7), and he would continue to use it for years to come.

It’s easy to mock Socarides’s self-importance today, now that his theories have been thoroughly discredited, all of the national health organizations have condemned therapies intended to change one’s sexual orientation (the very kinds of therapies that Socarides had built his career on), and after five states, so far, have banned licensed therapists from providing those therapies to minors. But in 1970, the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a mental disorder, and quack therapies like the kind Socarides offered were a thriving business. And that business had the full support of the American Medical Association, which had published Socarides’s paper in May and was now meeting in Chicago for its annual convention.

Chicago Gay Liberation was formed out of a group of gay and lesbian students at the University of Chicago in February, 1970. They held some of their first public protests that April, and when the AMA came to town in June for its annual convention, Chicago Gay Liberation decided to formed what you might call a welcoming committee of sorts to greet Socarides as he was about to give his talk. I haven’t found any written descriptions about what happened other than this first-person account from Chicago Gay Liberation member Step May:

Dear Sisters and Brothers —

On Tuesday, June 23, eighteen women and men of Chicago Gay Liberation invaded the American Medical Association National Convention here in Chicago. The occasion was a workshop on Family Medicine at which Dr. Charles Socarides was to speak. A psychiatrist practicing in New York City, Socarides is an “authority” on homosexuals and is foremost spokesman for the” school of psychiatry that proclaims that homosexuality is a disease, and must therefore be treated as a medical problem which requires a cure.

The members of Gay Liberation decided that we could not allow our arch-enemy to go unchallenged. We scattered ourselves throughout the hall and waited for him to begin his address. As soon as he said the word “homosexual” one invader shouted “homosexuals are beautiful” and ten others jumped up to distribute the prepared leaflet. We then settled back with our arms around each other to hear all about ourselves.

At appropriate points throughout his speech, invaders would shout such challenges as “that’s a moral judgment” and “you’re
making things up” and “do you cure your straight patients of heterosexuality?” When Socarides repeated his point about the male and female being physiologically adapted to each other, one audience participant yelled, “a woman’s breasts don’t fit into a man’s chest.”

After Socarides finished, one furious doctor demanded to know by what authority we were attending the session. Another doctor suggested that the issue that the Gay Liberation people were raising should be given legitimacy, and that one homosexual should join Socarides and the other authorities on the panel. A gay guerrilla raised the objection that there were women
homosexuals and men homosexuals and that both groups would have to be represented. A gay woman and a gay man then took their places on the panel and explained that homosexuals are not inherently sick, but that society and psychiatrists force them to think of themselves as sick. Socarides reiterated his position about gender identity being confused by childhood trauma, which by now must have sounded pretty lame to just about everyone present. That evening a man called the number on the leaflet and said that he approved of the action we’d done. “I’m a doctor,” he explained. “I’m gay.”

[Source: Step May. “Offing the Shrinks.” Come Out! 1, no. 5 (September 1970): 9. Come Out! was the New York Gay Liberation Front Newsletter. Available online here.]

(d. 1954) It’s hard to imagine what the 21st century would have looked like without him. The English mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst practically invented computer science when he formalized the idea of “algorithm” and “computation” with the what became known as the Turing machine. It was a conceptual device, which he imagined to consist of an infinitely long tape which would be capable of writing, reading and changing arbitrary symbols, much as a hard drive can do so today. With that concept defined, he proved that relatively simple Turing machines would be capable of making computations — hence the very term computer that we use today.

A working replica of a Turing Bombe on display at Bletchley Park (Click to enlarge)

Turing became a Fellow at King’s College at Cambridge just four years after entering as an undergrad. He earned his Ph.D. at Princeton in just two years, just in time to head home to Britain before World War II. After a brief stint at Cambridge, he joined the famous Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where he headed the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, the most important of which was the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could determine the settings for Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma machine. Turing’s bombes were instrumental in Germany’s ultimate defeat when the Enigma code was cracked.

Following the war, Turing worked at the National Physical Lab (NPL) in London on the design of the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). In 1946, he presented the design for the first stored-program computer. But because his work at Bletchley Park was classified, he found it difficult to translate what he invented there to the NPL. He left NPL in frustration and returned to academia at the University of Manchester, where he devised what is now known as the Turing Test. The Turing Test still serves as a standard for whether a computer could be considered “intelligent.” The test was simple: a computer could be considered a “thinking machine” if a human, through ordinary conversation, could not tell its responses apart from those of another human being. He then set about writing a program to play chess, but he was stymied by the lack of computers powerful enough to execute it.

Turing’s life took a dramatic turn in 1952 when he met Arnold Murray outside a Manchester theater and asked him for a lunch date. After a few weeks, the man spent the night at Turing’s house. Sometime later, Murray stole a gold watch and some other items from Turing’s home. Turing reported the crime to police. When police investigated, they asked Turing how he knew Murray. Turing, who had become somewhat open about his homosexuality by that time, acknowledged the sexual relationship.

But with homosexuality being illegal in England, Turing was charged with gross indecency, the same crime for which Oscar Wilde was convicted more than half a century earlier. Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation on the condition he underwent chemical castration via estrogen hormone injections. Turing chose the latter, but his conviction led to his security clearance being revoked, which seriously damage both his career and reputation. And as the Red Scare rose its ugly head in the early 1950s, and with gay men coming under growing suspicion for being a danger to national security, Turing found himself under increasing surveillance. His estrogen injections themselves may have added to his feelings of hopelessness; one of the side effects of the synthetic estrogen he was prescribed was depression. Finally on June 7, 1954, Turing’s cleaning woman found him dead in his bedroom with a half-eaten apple laying beside his bed. An autopsy revealed that he died of cyanide poisoning. That apple was never tested for cyanide, but it is believed that this was how he ingested the fatal dose.

After the secrets of Bletchley Park were declassified, Turing’s posthumous reputation as a war hero only added to growing recognition of his impressive contributions to computer science. In 1966, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) began awarding the Turing Prize for outstanding technical contributions to computing. His childhood home in London has been designated a English Heritage site with an official Blue Plaque. Another Blue Plaque was placed at his home in Wilmslow where he died, and today a third will be unveiled in front of King’s College at Cambridge. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally apologized: “On behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.”

A petition to have Turing formally pardoned was circulated 2012 as part of the observance of Turing’s centenary. But the request was denied by Justice Minister Lord McNally, saying: “A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted.” McNally added that the best response would be to “ensure instead that we never again return to those times.” Turing finally got a Royal pardon on Christmas eve of 2013 after a request from Justice Minister Chris Grayling. Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrayed Turing in the 2014 biopic The Imitation Game, has joined Stephen Fry, producer Harvey Weinstein, and Turing’s great niece Rachel Barnes in a campaign to pardon the 49,000 who had been convicted under the anti-gay law.

Friend at Florida Mosque Says He Reported Mateen To FBI

Jim Burroway

June 22nd, 2016

Mohammed Malik

Mohammed Malik

Angered over Donald Trump’s charge that the Muslim community had been hiding Omar Mateen’s radicalization from the FBI, Mohammed A. Malik came forward in a Washington Post op-ed to reveal that he was the one who tipped the FBI about Mateen’s fascination with propaganda videos produced by Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen. Malik and Mateen attended the same mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida, and had been friends for over a decade. He described Mateen as introverted and upset over anti-Muslim prejudice. Malik says he tried to steer Mateen toward constructive efforts to counter islamophobia — volunteer, work with charities, et., — and Mateen seemed to agree:

Then, during the summer of 2014, something traumatic happened for our community. A boy from our local mosque, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, was 22 when he became the first American-born suicide bomber, driving a truck full of explosives into a government office in Syria. He’d traveled there and joined a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, the previous year. We had all known Moner; he was jovial and easygoing, the opposite of Omar. According to a posthumous video released that summer, he had clearly self-radicalized – and had also done so by listening to the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, the charismatic Yemen-based imam who helped radicalize several Muslims, including the Fort Hood shooter. …

Immediately after Moner’s attack, news reports said that American officials didn’t know anything about him; I read that they were looking for people to give them some background. So I called the FBI and offered to tell investigators a bit about the young man. It wasn’t much – we hadn’t been close – but I’m an American Muslim, and I wanted to do my part. …After my talk with the FBI, I spoke to people in the Islamic community, including Omar, about Moner’s attack. I wondered how he could have radicalized. Both Omar and I attended the same mosque as Moner, and the imam never taught hate or radicalism. That’s when Omar told me he had been watching videos of Awlaki, too, which immediately raised red flags for me. He told me the videos were very powerful.

After speaking with Omar, I contacted the FBI again to let them know that Omar had been watching Awlaki’s tapes. He hadn’t committed any acts of violence and wasn’t planning any, as far as I knew. And I thought he probably wouldn’t, because he didn’t fit the profile: He already had a second wife and a son. But it was something agents should keep their eyes on. I never heard from them about Omar again, but apparently they did their job: They looked into him and, finding nothing to go on, they closed the file.

On June 13, just one day after the Orlando gay night club massacre, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump alleged that the American Muslim community was complicit in the shooting:

But the Muslims have to work with us. They have to work with us. They know what’s going on. They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what? They didn’t turn them in. And you know what? We had death, and destruction.

Malik countered:

I am not the first American Muslim to report on someone; people who do that simply don’t like to announce themselves in to the media. For my part, I’m not looking for personal accolades. I’m just tired of negative rhetoric and ignorant comments about my faith. Trump’s assertions about our community – that we have the ability to help our country but have simply declined to do so – are tragic, ugly and wrong.

The Washington Post got conformation from “a federal law enforcement official” that Malik had cooperated with authorities.

Malik told CNN that he never saw any signs that Mateen was either gay or homophobic.

Video: Man Claims To Have Been Orlando Shooter’s “Friend With Benefits”

Jim Burroway

June 22nd, 2016

Among the many threads being pulled to try to explain why Omar Mateen shot up the Pulse gay night club in Orlando on June 12 — the influences of Islamist propaganda, the role of anti-LGBT teachings in mainstream American Islam (which, by the way, many mainstream Christian denominations share), a disturbing pattern of behavioral problems pointing to mental health problems, a deep-seated antipathy against LGBT people — there is also the possibility that Omar Mateen himself may have been dealing with his own conflicts with his sexuality.

This latest report should be taken with a word of caution: Univision said that they could not independently verify this man’s claims. But yesterday, a man came forward — his face heavily disguised and his voice modulated — for a Univision interview calming that he and Mateen had met through a gay dating site and became “friends with benefits.” The unidentified man given the pseudonym of Miguel said that Mateen’s motivation for the massacre was revenge:

He adored Latinos, gay Latinos, with brown skin – but he felt rejected. He felt used by them – there were moments in the Pulse nightclub that made him feel really bad. Guys used him. That really affected him,” Miguel said. “I believe this crazy horrible thing he did – that was revenge.”

Mateen, who liked to drink, expressed frustration over his father’s extreme views on homosexuality, which included a belief that “gay people [are] the devil and gay people have to die,” Miguel said.

Mateen was especially upset after a sexual encounter with two Puerto Rican men, one of whom later revealed he was HIV positive, he added.

“He [Omar] was terrified that he was infected,” he said. “I asked him, ‘Did you do a test?’ Yes. He went to the pharmacy and did the test … it came out negative but it doesn’t come out right away. It takes 4, 5 months.”

“When I asked him what he was going to do now, his answer was ‘I’m going to make them pay for what they did to me.'”

“Miguel” described Mateen as “a very sweet guy” who loved to be cuddled. He also said that Mateen was critical of the U.S. “war on terror” and the killing of innocent women and children. He also said that Mateen was frustrated over his father’s extreme views of LGBT people, saying that “gay people [are] the devil and gay people have to die.”

“Miguel” said that he had met with Mateen fifteen to twenty times, yet he never knew Mateen’s real name. The FBI confirmed that they had met with “Miguel” but will say nothing further. Absent a “blue dress,” caution is warranted. Nevertheless, this story is being picked up by the Associated Press, Fox News, ABC, CBS and other major outlets.

The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, June 22

We Are Orlando

Antonio Davon Brown

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

AntonioDavonBrown-3Tony was one of two Army reservists killed that night at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando. He graduated from Titusville High School in 2004 and from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee in 20008 with a degree in criminal justice. He was a member of ROTC while at FAMU, and joined the U.S. Army after he graduated. He served with the 1st Special Troop Battalion in Fort Riley, Kansas and was deployed to Kuwait from April 2010 to March 2011. He was made captain in March 2012 and was working as a human resources officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was also working as a human resources manager at a Lowe’s. One friend described the last time she saw him that fateful night:

AntonioDavonBrown-1His friend Elly Bailey described Brown as a man who “always smiled” and was a “kind, gentle soul.” The two had dinner together Saturday night, and he then left to go out with some other friends. Bailey said she had plans to hang out with him at a pool on Sunday. When she heard about the shootings the next morning, she sent him a text: “I hope you weren’t at the club.”

When she and others didn’t hear from him, they began to fear the worst. The terrible news was confirmed on Monday.

Friends and family described him as down to earth and a kind and gentle soul. “Every now and then, I think of the fun memories and how crazy, humorous Tony was,” his mother said. “And when I get quiet and have nothing to think about, it keeps coming to my mind and it just hurts.”


Angel Luis Candelario-Padro

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

angel-candelario-600x400-ts200Angel was the second of the Army reservists killed that night. He was a former soldier Puerto Rico National Guard. As a member of the Army Reserve, Angel served in the 240th Army Band, based in San Juan. Angels was born in Guánica, Puerto Rico, where he grew up loving music and playing the clarinet. He moved to Chicago, where he was a Zumba instructor, an employee at Old Navy, and a nurse technician at the Illinois Eye Institute. He then to Orlando to get away from the crime. He was set to start a new job at the Florida Retina Institute as an ophthalmic technician the week after he was killed.

Angel Candelario-PadroAngel was at Pulse with his boyfriend that night. After hearing shots, Angel’s boyfriend turned to Angel and asked if he was OK. Angel said he was, and then instantly fell to the ground. Angel’s boyfriend was shot three times in the leg.

Back in Guánica, his uncle told NBC News, “We’re waiting for his body to be brought home. We will welcome him with music.”



Angel and Tony may be eligible for the Purple Heart:

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that the Purple Heart for Brown would be considered but the award would “depend on the definition of the event” in which his life was lost, a reference to the criteria for the Purple Heart established by Congress after the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings in 2009. Cook said the decision on the award would be up to the Army.

…Following lobbying by families of the victims, Congress in 2013 added to the criteria for the Purple Heart to make victims of the Fort Hood massacre eligible. At Fort Hood, Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and wounded more than 30 others. Hasan was sentenced to death and is being held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, during appeals.

Congress in 2015 amended the National Defense Authorization Act to expand eligibility for the Purple Heart to include troops killed in an attack where “the individual or entity was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack,” and where “the attack was inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”

Impromptu shrine to Robert Hillsborough at City Hall.

A brutal murder nearly four decades ago in San Francisco has been largely forgotten today, but at the time it was credited for catalyzing that city’s gay community and awakening the Bay Area to the growing violence against gay people.

On the night of June 21, 1977, Robert Hillsborough, 33, and his roommate, Jerry Taylor, 27, went out to a disco for a night of dancing. They left sometime after midnight and stopped for a bite to eat at the Whiz Burger a few blocks from their apartment in the Mission District.

When they left the burger joint, they were accosted by a gang of young men shouting epithets at the two. Hillsborough and Taylor ran into Hillsborough’s car as several of the attackers climbed onto the car’s roof and hood. Hillsborough drove off, and thought that he left his troubles behind him. What he didn’t know was that others were following in another car. They parked just four blocks away near their  apartment, and had gotten out of the car at 12:45 a.m. Four men jumped out of another car and attacked them. Taylor was beaten, but he managed to escape and flee to a friend’s apartment. Hillsborough wasn’t so lucky. John Cordova, 19, brutally beat and stabbed him 15 times while yelling, “Faggot! Faggot!” Some witnesses also reported that Cordoba yelled, “This one’s for Anita!” The yelling woke the neighbors, and one woman hollered out that she was calling the police. At that, the four attackers fled. Neighbors rushed to Hillsborough’s aid, but it was too late. Hillsborough died 45 minutes later at Mission Emergency Hospital. Cordoba and the three other assailants were arrested later that morning.

Because Hillsborough was employed as a city gardner, Mayor George Moscone followed longstanding practice and ordered flags at City Hall and other city properties to be lowered to half-staff. He also directed his anger to Anita Bryant and California State Sen. John Briggs, who was running for governor on an anti-gay platform. Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Miami, which resulted in the defeat of a gay rights ordinance three weeks earlier (Jun 7), had inspired Briggs to hold a new conference in front of city hall the week before Hillsborough’s death to announce a campaign to remove gays and lesbians from teaching. Moscone called Briggs an anti-homosexual “demagogue” and held him responsible for “inciting trouble by walking right into San Francisco, knowing the emotional state of his community. He stirred people into action. He will have to live with his conscience.”

Hillsborough’s death also struck a deep nerve in the gay community. “We live in a paranoid state,” said Harvey Milk, who was preparing his run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, “and the death of Robert is only the culmination of a lot of violence that’s been directed at us.” San Francisco’s Pride celebration, which took place just a few days later, attracted a record-breaking 300,000 people, and it became an impromptu memorial march as participants erected a makeshift shrine at City Hall.

Cordova was charged with a single count of murder, along with Thomas J. Spooner, 21. The other two passengers in the car were not charged. Charges were later dropped against Spooner. Cordova was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.


The AIDS crisis of the mid-1980s spawned some of the most creative and confrontational artistic efforts in queer history. This is the decade that gave rise to graffiti artists like Keith Haring (May 4) and David Wojnarowicz (Sep 14), as well as the influential artist collective known as Gran Fury. Formed in 1988 as an outgrowth of New York’s ACT UP and taking its name from the midrange model of Plymouth police cruisers prowling New York City’s streets, Gran Fury shunned the then-fashionable depictions of pathetic and helpless AIDS “victims.” Instead, the collective sought to re-focus the public’s attention on its casual acceptance of homophobia and how that blocked progress in getting the government’s attention to the crisis. Gran Fury saw itself, in the words of its participants, as ACT Up’s “unofficial propaganda ministry and guerrilla graphic designers.” Gran Fury’s output was provocative — at least as provocative as two men or two women kissing can be. Which in 1990 was still very provocative — so much so that the Illinois Senate tried to ban Gran Fury’s images from Chicago buses.

read-my-lips-gran-fury-2Gran Fury’s Kissing Doesn’t Kill campaign was a natural progression from their 1988 Read My Lips campaign, named for President George Bush’s famous promise he made not to raise taxes during the Republican’s infamous “culture war” convention in Houston. The Read My Lips campaign consisted of a series of posters and T-shirts with vintage photos two men or two women kissing and a banner splayed across the image reading “Read My Lips.” Those posters were typically used to advertised “Kiss Ins” and other demonstrations linking homophobia to the government’s inadequate response to the AIDS crisis. ACT UP understood very well the meaning of the Kiss In: it was “an aggressive demonstration of affections” to “challenge regressive conventions that prohibit displays of love between persons of the same sex.” Some more private expressions of love were still criminal offenses in 24 states states and the District of Columbia, and many politicians used that criminalization, along with appeals to Americans’ general squeamishness over the very idea of same-sex love, to justify limits to funding AIDS research.

In 1989, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) commissioned Gran Fury to create a poster for an “Art Against AIDS On the Road” initiative. Gran Fury idea was to create a bus board, designed to be attached to the sides of buses and transit trains, mimicking the what had been an attention-getting (and, in some quarters, controversial) multicultural ad campaign by Benetton’s clothing stores. Gran Fury’s submission, Kissing Doesn’t Kill, features three racially-mixed couples — an opposite sex couple, a male couple and a female couple — mid-kiss, with the message across the top reading “Kissing doesn’t kill: greed and indifference so.” Gran Fury’s submission also included, across the bottom, another message: “Corporate greed, government inaction, and public indifference make AIDS a political crime.” AmFAR, however, was reliant on corporate and other external support, and asked the rejoinder be removed. Gran Fury agreed. As one member of the collective put it, “In general, we tried to remain aware of what was permitted in public space. If our message was too radical, we risked both access as well as a broader public reception.”

KissingDoesn'tKillThey were right. While the bus boards appeared on mass transit in such cities as San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., to considerable controversy, they appeared without eliciting strong attempts by transit officials or politicians to block them. That wasn’t the case in Chicago. With the bus boards now stripped of its explicit AIDS message across the bottom, politicians saw the advertisement as an incitement to public displays of affection. Chicago alderman Robert Shaw proposed a city-wide ban on the ad, saying that Kissing Doesn’t Kill “has nothing to do with the cure for AIDS. It has something to do with a particular lifestyle, and I don’t think that is what the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) should be in the business of promoting.” He also claimed that the ad “seems to be directed at children for the purposes of recruitment.”

A Kissing Doesn't Kill banner held aloft in the Chicago Pride parade.

A Kissing Doesn’t Kill banner held aloft in the Chicago Pride parade.

The Chicago city council voted down Shaw’s ban, but his proposal found new life in the state legislature. On June 22, the Illinois Senate approved a bill prohibiting the CTA “from displaying any poster showing or simulating physical contact or embrace within a homosexual or lesbian context where persons under 21 can view it.” After protests from the gay community — a large Kissing Doesn’t Kill banner was carried in Chicago’s gay pride parade, and a Kiss In was held at the CTA’s maintenance depot — and warnings from the American Civil Liberties Union that the bill was unconstitutional, the Illinois House voted down the Senate’s bill. Chicago mayor Richard Daley asked Gran Fury to create a “less offensive” image, a request that Gran Fury turned down flat. In August, 45 Kissing Doesn’t Kill billboards began appearing at bus stops and train platforms.


A vandalized billboard on a Chicago train platform.

Within two days, most of them were vandalized. (Chicago wasn’t alone. Ads were also vandalized in other cities where the ads appeared, even in San Francisco.) Ironically, that only drew more attention to the Kissing Doesn’t Kill campaign from the city’s newspapers, radio and television. One AID prevention director said, “I was listening to all the people calling in on the radio talk shows this morning and I thought in opening up discussion on what this poster means and how we react to these three couples, it is far more successful than anything that would have just given facts.” Kissing Doesn’t Kill, with its rejoinder restored, would go on to become Gran Fury’s most popular work, appearing on T-shirts, posters, the mainstream presses, and museum exhibits.

[Source: Richard Meyer. Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality In Twentieth-Century Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002): 225-241]

Peter Pears(d. 1986) Pears described his childhood as a happy one. His musical talent, as a pianist and vocalist, was well appreciated at his public school in West Sussex, where he played leading roles in school productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He was a good cricketer and he was pious. He had considered a calling for the priesthood, but that came at a time when he was also becoming aware of his homosexuality. He was never able to reconcile the two, so music became his vocation. Singing won out over the piano after he heard the tenor Steuart Wilson singing the part of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. He enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London, but having so little financial resources to live on, he soon left to take a paying job at the BBC as a member of a small vocal ensemble.

At about 1936, Pears met through a mutual friend a young, promising composer by the name of Benjamin Britten. Their acquaintanceship moved toward friendship, then a musical collaboration accompanied by even closer friendship (though still a platonic one). Britten began writing music expressly for Pears and encouraged Pears to take his singing more seriously. Their first joint concert came in 1938, in a song recital benefit for Spanish Civil War refugees. In 1939, Pears accompanied Britten on a trip to Canada and New York, where their friendship and professional collaboration blossomed into a full-blown love that would last until Britten’s death in 1976. They remained in New York and California as war raged across Europe, but by 1942, they felt compelled to return to England. As committed pacifists, they successfully applied as conscientious objections. Pears joined Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, and his growing operative capabilities influenced Britten would compose his opera, Peter Grimes, around Pears. In particular, Britten changed his opera’s central figure from a menacing baritone to a more ambiguous (“neither a hero nor a villain”) tenor to match Pears’s voice.

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears outside Aldeburgh Parish Church at the first Festival, June 1948.

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears outside Aldeburgh Parish Church at the first Festival, June 1948.

Peter Grimes opened in 1945 to critical and popular acclaim, although its production opened fissures within Sadler’s Wells due to not-so-subtle homophobia and complaints of favoritism. Britten, Pears and soprano Joan Cross left Sadler’s Wells to form the English Opera Group, dedicated to commission and produce new English operas and other oratory works. While touring England in a production of Britten’s comic opera Albert Herring, Pears and Britten decided to buy a home in Britten’s home town, the small seaside town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk. There, they launched the Aldeburgh Festival, first as an annual festival, then as a year-round venue. Britten premiered new works at the festival nearly every year for the rest of his life. The vast majority of those works were written with Pears in mind.

In 1962, the pinnacle of Pears’s and Britten’s career came with the premiere of Britten’s War Requiem at the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral. The premiere was a success, and the 1963 recording, released amidst Beatle-mania, was a surprise best-seller. Pears also originated roles in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Billy Budd, Owen Wingrave, and Death in Venice, the latter of which Pears premiered at his debut Metropolitan Opera performance in New York at the age of 64.

Pears’s career was by no means dependent on Britten writing parts for him. Pears was recognized for his interpretation of works by Gustav Holst, Edward Elgar, and, especially, of Bach’s two Passions. Pears’ voice has been described as not “pretty”in the traditional sense. “It was somewhat dry, occasionally unsteady, reedy and almost instrumental in timbre — but he used it with agility, acuity, sophistication and a thespian’s gift for characterization. And the voice proved remarkably durable.”

Pears’s career continued after Britten’s death in 1976. He was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1977, knighted in 1978, and awarded the Royal Opera House’s Long Service Medal in 1979. His singing career ended with a stroke in 1980 shortly after his seventieth birthday, but he continued to work as an active director of the Aldeburgh Festival and taught at the Britten-Pears School right up until the day he died of a heart attack in 1986.

55 YEARS AGO: The Scottish pop singer had his moment in the sun in the 1980s as lead singer with the synth pop group Bronski Beat. Those of us of a certain age might remember “Smalltown Boy,” which dealt with homophobia, family rejection, bullying and the loneliness that comes with growing up in a homophobic society. That song became a gay anthem in 1984 and peaked in the top five throughout much of Western Europe, and hit number one on the U.S. dance charts. In 1985, Somerville left Bronski Beat and formed the Communards, which scored a dance hit with a cover of “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” After the Communards split in 1988, he embarked on an off-again on-again solo career. His 2009 album Suddenly Last Summer, contained acoustic versions of songs from his iPod. Between 2010 and 2013 Somerville released three dance EPs: Bright Thing, Momentum and Solent. In 2015, he release Homage, a full-length album of disco covers and tributes.

Last week, Somerville posted the following tribute to the victims of the Pulse gay night club massacre.

(Updated) AFA: Trump “Doesn’t Understand” Religious Freedom, Promises to Let Federalist Society Screen Judicial Nominees

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2016

More reports are trickling out about today’s meetings between Donald Trump and more than 900 Evangelical leaders. Earlier today, E.W. Jackson tweeted out a series of meetings where Trump urging the gathering to drop their “political correctness” when they ask people to “pray for our leaders.” He also told the group, “I’m so on your side. I’m a tremendous believer. And we’re going to straighten it out.”

The American Family Association has now added its observations about today’s meetings. AFA president Tim Wildmon appreciated the “good, meaty questions asked of Mr. Trump today,” but he had mixed feelings about some of Trump’s answers:

TimWildmon“I don’t think he understands the religious freedom issue as it relates to the LGBT movement and Christians. He was asked point-blank about that by Kelly Shackelford. We all know the stories about the Christian businesses that have been either put out of business or fined … by the LGBT people who want to force them to participate in ‘gay marriages’ or ‘[gay] weddings.’

“He did say he is for religious freedom, but I don’t think he really understands that issue. Either he doesn’t understand it or he doesn’t agree with us and he doesn’t want to tell us that. I think that’s his weakness.”

“… I think his strength is on judges, which is very, very important. He said his judges will be screened by the Federalist Society, [which is] a bona fide constitutional, conservative group. So if they put their seal of approval on a candidate, then you can go with it.”

Wildmon also expressed reservations about Trump’s personal religiosity: “He wants our input and those kinds of things, but I can’t tell from his own personal story that he’s ever really received Christ as the Bible talks about.” Wildmon questions Trump’s religion, while Trump questions Clinton’s religion. Man, that’s quite a holier-than-thou crowd they got there, ain’t it?

Update: Moments ago, the AFA sent a message out to their email list, in which it looks like Wildmon is warming to Trump:

I think it was admirable and honorable for Trump to meet with Christian leaders. He is not our enemy. I believe he has instincts that are reverent and patriotic. He’s 69 years old and remembers an America that was once a great country but has lost her way. But he also comes from a very secular world and that way of thinking is a part of who he is. In some ways, he strikes me as an enigma, a man still searching for spiritual answers in his life. But that’s just my opinion. I will say this, he is listening to some great men of God that I have a lot of respect for, and that’s a good thing. …To use a sports word, I think he’s coachable.

Jerry Falwell Jr Tweets Photo with Donald Trump and a Framed Playboy Cover

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2016

Playboy featured Donald Trump its  May 1990 issue. Hence, the framed copy. Warren Throckmorton, an Evangelical psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and longtime Trump critic, reacts:

Folks, you’re being played.

Donald Trump Announces His “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.” It’s Worse Than You Thought.

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2016

Remember just last week when Donald Trump was asking, “Who is better for the gay community than Donald Trump?” Well, we have an answer. It turns out that just about anyone would be better for the gay community than Donald Trump, judging by his newly-announced Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.

His press release says that the new board will provide “advisory support… on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America. The executive board will also lead a much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month.”

The statement said that the board will fulfill Trump’s “esire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed,” and it represents Trump’s endorsement of “those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians.” The announcement contained one unusual caveat: “The leaders on the executive board were not asked to endorse Mr. Trump as a prerequisite for participating on the board.”

It’s hard to imaging a more extreme group of people to have Trump’s ear. Here’s the list:

Executive board members include:

  • Michele Bachmann – Former Congresswoman
  • A.R. Bernard – Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center
  • Mark Burns – Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center
  • Tim Clinton – President, American Association of Christian Counselors
  • Kenneth and Gloria Copeland – Founders, Kenneth Copeland Ministries
  • James Dobson – Author, Psychologist and Host, My Family Talk
  • Jerry Falwell, Jr. – President, Liberty University
  • Ronnie Floyd – Senior Pastor, Cross Church
  • Jentezen Franklin – Senior Pastor, Free Chapel
  • Jack Graham – Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
  • Harry Jackson – Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
  • Robert Jeffress – Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas
  • David Jeremiah – Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church
  • Richard Land – President, Southern Evangelical Seminary
  • James MacDonald – Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel
  • Johnnie Moore – Author, President of The KAIROS Company
  • Robert Morris – Senior Pastor, Gateway Church
    Tom Mullins – Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship¬
  • Ralph Reed – Founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition
    James Robison – Founder, Life OUTREACH International
  • Tony Suarez – Executive Vice President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
  • Jay Strack – President, Student Leadership University
  • Paula White – Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center
  • Tom Winters – Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.
    Sealy Yates – Attorney, Yates and Yates

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal provided seven names that were expected to be included on Trump’s advisory board. We have a run-down on those seven people here.

The announcement comes after Trump met with about 900 Evangelical leaders in Trump Tower this morning. It was supposed to be a closed-door meeting, but E.W. Jackson tweeted out a series of videos capturing some of Trump’s remarks to the group, which included an admonition that the group should not be “politically correct” and pray for “all of our leaders”:

…Some of the people were saying, “Let’s pray for our leaders.” And I said, well, you can pray for your leaders, and I agree with that, pray for everyone, but what you really have to do is you have to pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person. And we can’t be, again, politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes, selling the evangelicals down the tubes, and it’s a very, very bad thing that’s happening.

He also told the group, “I’m so on your side. I’m a tremendous believer. And we’re going to straighten it out.”

Trump To Evangelical Conservatives: “Your Leaders Are Selling Christianity Down the Tubes” But “I’m So On Your Side”

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2016

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump met with a group of about 900 Evangelical leaders in Trump Tower this morning for what was supposed to be an off-the-record meeting. But anti-gay activist and self-styled Bishop E.W. Jackson tweeted video of part of Trump’s sell to the group:

I don’t think about Hillary in terms of religion. She’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no… nothing out there. There’s, like, nothing out there. It’s going to be an extension of Obama but it’s going to be worse. Because with Obama, you had your guard up. With Hillary you don’t. And it’s going to be worse. So, I think people were saying, some of the people were saying, “Let’s pray for our leaders.” And I said, well, you can pray for your leaders, and I agree with that, pray for everyone, but what you really have to do is you have to pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person. And we can’t be, again, politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes, selling the evangelicals down the tubes, and it’s a very, very bad thing that’s happening.

I’m so on your side. I’m a tremendous believer. And we’re going to straighten it out. I, oftentimes in some of my rallies I’ll have 30,000 people or more, and I say, in a joking fashion, but boy do I mean it. We’re going to be saying Merry Christmas again. … You’re going to see… When you go to Macy’s, when you go to Macy’s and department stores today, you don’t see any Christmas signs…

Senate Gives the Green Light to More Massacres

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2016

An alternate headline could be “Senate Approves Assault Weapon Sales To Terrorists.” The effect, more or less, is the same.

A CBS News Poll talken last week in the aftermath of the Pulse gay night club massacre found that by overwhelming margins, Americans support a nationwide ban on assault weapons (57% to 38%) and closing the gaping loopholes on gun background checks on all buyers (89% to 8%). That last point has extraordinarily broad agreement regardless of whether respondents were Republicans (92% to 6%), Democrats (92% to 2%) or Independents (82% to 14%). Meanwhile a Gallup report released June 13 based on data taken after the San Bernardino mass shooting found that 71% of Americans said that banning gun sales to people on the federal no-fly watch lists would be “very effective” or “somewhat effective.”

But the U.S. Senate, as expected, rejected legislation to address any of that. In fact, a nationwide ban on assault weapons wasn’t even on the table. Which doesn’t really surprise me one bit. If the deaths of 28 first and second graders in an elementary school wouldn’t compel Congress to act, why would anyone think that a bunch of faggots in Orlando would fare any better among those who can’t even say our name?

Trump To Meet With 900 Evangelical Leaders Tomorrow, Announce Religious Advisory Board This Week

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2016

More than 900 conservative Evangelical leaders are making their pilgrimage to Trump Tower for a meeting with The Donald, who has been making a cynical play for the gay vote following the Pulse night club massacre in Orlando. When the meeting was organized last month by Ben Carson, about 400 social conservatives were announced as attending. Back then, the the roster included a veritable Who’s Who of anti-gay politics, and it has, obviously, only grown since then. The Wall Street Journal says that one outcome of tomorrow’s meeting will be a new religious advisory board, with an announcement coming out sometime “this week”:

Among the people likely to be named to Mr. Trump’s religious advisory board: Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of the late televangelist and president of Liberty University; Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla.; Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Robert Jeffress, host of a national radio and television ministry and the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas; Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University in Orlando, Fla.; and Jack Graham, pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.

Here’s a rundown of the names that are being floated:

Jerry Falwell, Jr.: What can I say? Like father, like son, more or less, although the son has taken a much lower profile in anti-gay politics than his father. Instead, he seems to prefer that others to the dirty work for him. He employs the rabidly anti-gay extremist Matt Barber as the associate dean of the university’s law school. Falwell has been an avid supporter of Donald Trump since last January.

Ralph Reed: As head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Reed’s anti-gay political activities go all the way bach to the 1989 when he was named the Executive Director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. He started the Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2009. In 2013, he has called the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act “a dagger aimed at the heart of religious freedom for millions of Americans.” In 2014, Reed compared Federal District Court decision striking down bans on same-sex marriage to the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1856 which held that African-Americans who were imported as slaves, and their descendants, could not be U.S. citizens. He also compared the fight against same-sex marriage to the flight against slavery.

Paula White: The televangelist and head of New Destiny Christian Center outside of Orlando, Paula White treads the same ground was a lot of her fellow prosperity gospel preachers in the model of Joel Osteen: don’t say anything controversial that could possibly interrupt the flow of checks. She doesn’t seem to have any particular anti-gay agenda. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have any agenda at all, except money. Which makes her such a good match for Trump. Last October, White said that “any tongue that rises against him (Trump) will be condemned according to the word of God.” In March, she said she presented Trump a Bible and a letter, purportedly written by Billy Graham, containing a “prophetic word.”

Ronnie Floyd: He is the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He his anti-gay history goes back decades. He once said in a sermon, “Satan has taken his tool of homosexuality, a gross and evil sin, and done a con job on the American culture, making it seem like all is okay when you are gay. …This is not a skirmish or a conflict or a disagreement, but it is a war. The war they have declared against our culture has an agenda and we need to be aware of it.” That was in 2003. There’s no reason to believe his views have changed much since then. Just last year, before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision overturning bans on same-sex marriage, Floyd told the SBC’s annual meeting in Columbus, “We are in spiritual warfare. This is not a time for Southern Baptists to stand back…. It (the Supreme Court’s decision) would add fuel, more fuel, to the already sweeping wildfire of sexual revolution and move it beyond all control.”

Robert Jeffries: He is the pastor of Dallas’s influential First Baptist Church, which runs a school, a college and radio stations. Last Thursday, on the very day that Trump was in Dallas asking “Who is better for the gay community than Donald Trump?”, Trump re-tweeted a photo of himself standing beside Robert Jefferies. Just last February, said that because of same-sex marriage, “I believe that we are getting desensitize… which will pave the way for that future world dictator, the Antichrist, to persecute and martyr Christians without any repercussions what-so-ever.”

Jay Strack: He is the head of Orlando’s Student Leadership University, and the lead author, with Dr. Richard Land, of Mercury Rising: 8 Issues That Are Too Hot To Handle. One of those issues — yeah, you sorta guessed it — was teen homosexuality. His book touted ex-gay ministries as a way to deal with teen homosexuality, and directed teens to look up the Exodus International web site. That book came out in 2003. In 2013, Exodus shut down after its president, Alan Chambers acknowledged more than a year earlier that ” 99.9% of them … have not experienced a change in their orientation.” Chambers also issued a formal apology to the LGBT community.

Jack Graham: He is the previous head of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, a 40,000 member megachurch in Dallas’s far-north suburbs near Plano. In anticipation of the Obergefell decision, Graham said that “there’s coming a day, I believe, that many Christians personally and churches corporately will need to practice civil disobedience on this issue. …There are many Christians today who are preparing if necessary to go to jail.”

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