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The Daily Agenda for Friday, June 24

Rockefeller 5Almost immediately after the Stonewall Inn uprising in lower Manhattan (Jun 28), the Gay Liberation Front arose up more or less spontaneously as the product of a younger generation of LGBT people who were impatient with legacy organizations like the Mattachine Society of New York and the Daughters of Bilitis. While the GLF undertook several highly visible marches and protests during its first several months of existence (Jul 27, Sep 12, Nov 12, Mar 8), its effectiveness quickly evaporated over the group’s refusal to have recognized leaders. Having a formal leadership structure was denounced as “patriarchal” and “oppressive”, and all decisions were reached by group consensus, which came only after exhaustive and often interminably picayune political discussions — if at all. Also, the GLF tended to get sidetracked by other issues that the young people in GLF were passionate about: he Vietnam War, Third World issues, and support for the Black Panther Party.

A few months after the GLF formed, a group of activists broke away to form the Gay Activists Alliance as a more professionally-run organization, with set goals, strategic planning, leadership, and a specific focus on gay rights. Early on, they made a name for themselves by conducting extraordinarily noisy and boisterous (and yet, also strategic and disciplined) “zaps,” a political direct action designed to embarrass public figures and call media attention to examples of anti-gay discrimination and harassment. GAA member Marty Robinson is often credited with developing the zap after a march on a New York City police precinct after a raid on the Snake Pit (Mar 8). As the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall approached, the GAA decided to celebrate with another zap at Republican State Committee Headquarters.

Nearly a dozen GAA members — including Arthur Evans, Marty Robinson, Tom Doerr, Jim Owles, Phil Raia, Cary Yurman and Arthur Bell — arrived at the headquarter’s reception room a little after noon. They were greeted by a flunkey who said, “If you have legitimate grievances, I will see to it that they are forwarded to the right party.”

Arthur Evans replied, “We want (Gov. Nelson) Rockefeller to come out and fight for homosexual rights. Rockefeller is guilty of a crime of silence, and we are not leaving until we get a satisfactory answer to our demands.”

The flunkey complained: they didn’t have an appointment; they didn’t have a legitimate request; this isn’t you you do things. Arthur Bell described the GAA’s response: “We just unwound and made ourselves comfortable on the floor of the reception room until they got the picture.” Meanwhile, a larger crowd of GAA activists threw up a picket line outside, shouting, “Two-four-six-eight! Gay is just as good as straight! Three-five-seven-nine! Lesbians are mighty fine!” and “Say it loud: Gay is proud!” Television cameras showed up, filming the protest outside and interviewing zappers inside. Closing time came at five o’clock, but the zappers refused to leave. At 6:30, the party chair agreed to meet with a GAA representative. Jim Owens agreed, provided a member of the press was present. The chairman refused and called police. When police arrived, the five GAA members sitting on the floor of that reception room — Doerr, Evans, Owles, Raia, and Robinson — became the first people ever arrested for a gay sit-in in New York.

“The Rockefeller Five,” as they were soon called, were taken to Criminal Court. The GAA worked the phones, and when the five entered the courtroom that night, they were welcomed by about 40 GAA members in the courtroom, who all stood up and held hands. After the judge got control of the courtroom again, he heard the charge of criminal trespass against the five, set a trial date for August 5, and released the five on their own recognizance. When the Five left the courthouse, news reporters were waiting. Marty Robinson seized the opportunity, telling reporters: “We are trying to use political power to achieve changes that will benefit homosexuals in the state. We want homosexuals to know who has been responsible for inaction regarding their civil rights.” He also turned to another longstanding grievance in the gay community: the state’s discriminatory bar licensing policies which prevented legitimate gay bar owners from getting licenses and effectively left gay bar ownership to the mafia. “And we also wish to charge the state with corruption, such as the State Liquor Authority’s non-issuance of licenses to gay bar.” By the time the August 5 trial date came around, the charges were dropped.

[Source: David Carter. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004): 249-251.]

UpStairs Lounge FireIt was a Sunday. The UpStairs Lounge, a second floor gay bar in New Orleans’s French Quarter, had hosted members of the local Metropolitan Community Church who attended a beer bust following church services. Most of the bar’s patrons had gone home, but those who remained, about sixty or so, gathered around a piano to sing tunes, as they often did that time of night. The evening was still early, not quite eight o’clock when the bartender heard the door buzzer downstairs ring, a sound that usually meant that a cab was outside the take a patron home. What he didn’t know was that someone had thrown a molotov cocktail into the staircase that led up to the bar’s door on the second floor. And so when another bar employee went to open the door, a massive backdraft drew the flames into the lounge like a flamethrower.

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The bartender, Buddy Rasmussen, led about twenty or thirty people through an unmarked exit which led to the roof, and they were able to hop onto other buildings and make their escape. But more than thirty others in the lounge ran to the windows instead, only to discover they were barred. By the time one of the patrons managed to squeeze through the bars, his body was already in flames and he died right after landing in the street below. Another patron escaped, but when he realized his boyfriend didn’t make it out, he went back in to find him. Fire crews later discovered their burned bodies holding each other. MCC pastor Rev. Bill Larson clung to the bars at a window where he died, his body melted into the window frame. His charred body remained visible from the street below all the next day as the fire department conducted its investigation and couldn’t be bothered with the simple decency of covering his body. Twenty-nine people died that night, and three more died later from their injuries.

UpStairs Lounge patrons during happier times.

UpStairs Lounge patrons during happier times.

The UpStairs Lounge fire was the deadliest in New Orleans’ history, and may very well have been the worst mass murder of gay people in American history. But aside from the first day’s coverage, New Orleans could barely muster a yawn. Newspaper photos of Rev. Larson’s charred body against the window frame came to symbolize the city’s apathy t0ward the tragedy. Talk radio hosts told jokes (“What will they bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.”), and a cab driver callously quipped, “I hope the fire burned their dresses off.” Not only did the New Orleans Police Department barely investigate the crime, they could hardly be bothered to identify the victims. Major Henry Morris, chief detective of the New Orleans Police Department said, “We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.” Churches refused to allow families to hold funerals on their premises. Other families refused to claim their dead sons’ bodies. Four unidentified bodies ended up being dumped in a mass grave. Although there was a firm suspect in the case, no one was ever charged.

Here are two news reports of the fire, a lengthy film report from CBS news, and a shorter one from NBC:

You can read the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s original coverage of the fire here (PDF: 4.4MB/2 pages), and its 20th anniversary coverage here (PDF:5.9MB/2 pages). In 2014, MacFarland Press released Clayton Delery-Edwards’s heavily-researched account of The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-Two Deaths in a New Orleans Gay Bar.

The first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras march

This was supposed to be Sydney’s first Gay Pride Parade, known locally as Mardi Gras, and was planned as a night-time celebration after a morning march and commemoration of the Stonewall riots. (You can see film of the morning march taken with a super-8 camera here.) While homosexuality was still against the law in New South Wales, organizers had obtained all the necessary permits for the celebration beforehand. The evening celebration began simply, with a small crowd walking down Oxford Street on a chilly Australian winter day. The idea was to encourage people to come out from the bars and join the fun. But the crowd aroused suspicions of the police, which had gathered around the group.

Sydney police arresting Mardi Gras marchers.

By the time the small crowd, estimated at between five hundred and a thousand, reached the end of the street, the police confiscated the sound system, removed their identification badges and turned on the crowd. One participant recalled, “There was, you know, pretty serious bashing and kicking and all sort of things going on. It was a real riot.” Sandi Banks also remembered the brutality that night:

“They came racing down Darlinghurst Road, sirens going, lights galore and they jumped out, lots of them,” Ms Banks said. “Very huge men at the time and no form of identification. And they started grabbing, thumping, bashing, pulling hair. They picked me up and threw me towards the paddy wagon … my chest was black and blue from having hit the truck. And my arms both had huge marks [from] manhandling by the police there, so it was quite incredible.”

Fifty-three marchers were arrested. Peter Murphy, 25, recalled that while in police custody, he was beaten so badly he began to convulse on the floor.

“They took me along a long corridor in the police station through a U-shaped route into a room and then just beat the hell out of me. There were two police officers who did that – one in particular – bashing me with their fists in the head and saying ‘you’re not so smart now are you’.” Mr Murphy said he was beaten solidly until a blow to the solar plexus floored him. He was thrown into a solitary cell where he could hear protesters gathered outside chanting his name. “They tried to break my leg but fortunately the bones didn’t snap,” he said. “I was (literally) pissing my pants.”

A large crowd formed outside the Darlinghurst police station, singing “We Shall Overcome” and chanting slogans. Some of those inside could hear the crowd, giving them some measure of comfort.

The following Monday, gay community leaders tried to go to the court building, only to find police blocking the entrances and preventing the public from witnessing the trials. The order to close the court house to the pubic came from Police Superintendent Reginald Douglas.

Inside the courtroom, defense attorneys applied to have the general public admitted, but the Chief Magistrate insisted that no order to close the courts had been issued and that he had issued an order to the police to admit the public. But police ignored the order, and insisted that the magistrates instead provide lists of specific people needed in court. One newspaper caught the dialog: Defense attorney John Terry asked, “What criterion are you using to exclude these people?” Douglas responded that he didn’t have to answer. “You’re acting arbitrarily,” replied Terry. “That’s right, arbitrarily,” said Douglas.

“It was a wild day on the Monday as well as on the Saturday night,” said writer David Marr. “The coppers hated the poofs, they hated them. And they hated the lesbians perhaps even more than that.”

Although most of the charges were dropped, the Sydney Morning Herald published the full names of everyone who was arrested, outing many to their family, friends and employers. Many lost their jobs.

Known as the 78ers, the fifty-three who were arrested and beaten spent the next 38 years demanding an apology from the New South Wales government and Sydney Police. Those apologies finally came this year. On February 25, Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith delivered the Government’s apology:

We recognise that you were ill-treated, you were mistreated, you were embarrassed and shamed, and it was wrong. I hope it’s not too late that you can accept an apology but also we want to recognise that for all of that pain that you went through, you brought about fundamental change in this society and fundamental change for the many gay and lesbian people like myself, who can be open and relaxed about ourselves. You were the game changers.

…For the mistreatment you suffered that evening, as a member of this Parliament, who oversaw the events of that night, I apologise, and I say sorry. As a member of a parliament that dragged its feet on the decriminalisation of homosexual acts I apologise.

One week later, an official of the Sydney Police delivered its apology:

“I have [Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione’s] full support in saying that the NSW Police Force is sorry,” Superintendent Tony Crandell from the Surry Hills Local Area Command said.

“Sorry for the way that the Mardi Gras was policed on the first occasion in 1978.”

Prescott TownsendBoston has its Brahmins. Prescott Townsend’s Brahman credentials would make other Brahmins jealous, except a true Brahmin would never cop to envy. He was related to at least 23 Mayflower passengers, and his third great-great grandfather, Roger Sherman, was the only person to sign the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. Townsend’s father made a fortune in the coal industry, and his family lived in Roxbury and attended the very high Anglican Church of the Advent.

Prescott himself was a considerably more eccentric Brahmin than proper Bostonians were accustomed to. At first it seemed everything was set: prep school, Harvard, military service. Then he struck out on his own in a most un-Brahman way, spending the summer of 1914 in logging camps in Montana and Idaho, traveling to Paris, North Africa and the Soviet Union. On one trip to the Rio Blanco Canyon in Mexico, he co-discovered some Toltec stone heads and got a new species of salamanders named after him: Salamdra oedipustownsendentis, which he named in an indirect homage to his father.

On returning to Beacon Hill, he began a relationship with theater producer Elliot Paul. Paul was hipster a hundred years before today’s hipsters came up with the idea, sporting a Van Dyke beard and broad-brimmed hats. Townsend was more of his day, wearing “a raccoon skin overcoat that was the envy of Cedar Street,” and who could easily “talk informatively on any given subject in the space it required his auditor to consume precisely a quart of gin.” Gin was as illegal in prohibition Boston as everywhere else, but Townsend’s Brahmin connections somehow shielded his establishments from police scrutiny.

Townsend and Paul founded the Barn Experimental Theater in 1922, thanks to Townsend’s modest trust fund income. He spent what remained of his trust money buying up properties on Beacon Hill, transforming the area into the epicenter of bohemian Boston. He operated speakeasies, restaurants, theaters, a gallery and a bookstore, the latter in his home. Townsend became good friends with the openly-gay novelist André Gide, who himself had come out in print in 1926. Townsend also had a keen interest in experimental architecture, both in Beacon Hill and in Provincetown, where he built five A-frame houses. Unfortunately, it never occurred to him to patent the A-frame.

Townsend became one of America’s first public gay activist in the 1930s when, owing to his Brahmin status, Massachusetts lawmakers indulged him as he testified for the repeal of the state’s sodomy law. Lawmakers politely dismissed him. He came back again the following year, and the year after that, each time he was met with the same polite indifference.

On January 29, 1943, he was working at the Fall River shipyard when he was arrested for participating in an “unnatural and lascivious act.” The tabloid Mid-Town Journal ran a particularly cutting headline: “Beacon Hill ‘Twilight’ Man Member of Queer Love Cult Seduced Young Man.” Twilight indeed! He was sentenced to 18 months at hard labor, and was released on V-E Day. He later said that when he saw the celebrations in town, he thought they were for him. His family and Boston’s upper crust saw no reason to celebrate him though. Most of his family cut off all contact with him, and he was officially dropped from both the Boston and New York Social Registers, which delighted him. “I was thrown out of the Social Register the same year as Barbara Hutton,” he bragged, “and for the same reason!”

In the 1957, he held meetings at his home/bookstore, which he described as “the first social discussion of homosexuality in Boston.” Those discussions grew into the Boston chapter of the Mattachine Society. When his own activities proved too embarrassing for the buttoned-down Mattachines — one member called “the Professor” complained that Townsend was constantly “defending his creamy-meamy bubble-headed faggy types” — they kicked him out in 1962. Townsend then established a competing organization  he called the Boston Demophile Society, which outlasted the Boston Mattachine Society by several years. Townsend also developed what he called his “Snowflake Theory,” in which he argued that each person’s sexuality was as unique as a snowflake.

Prescott Townsend, 1963

Prescott Townsend, 1963

Townsend had a way of moving along with the cutting edge of the times. In the 1960s, Townsend welcomed hippies and runaways to his buildings in Boston and his home made of driftwood, plastics and other cast-off material in Provincetown, which he named Provincetownsend. Future luminaries at Provincetownsend included Mink Stole and John Waters, who described the house as “like living with a lunatic Swiss Family Robinsons”:

Part of the apartment [in Townsend’s house] was made out of a submarine, and trees grew right up through the living room. There was no runing water, but it was an incredibly beautiful place. The only real problem was that when it rained, it was like being outside. …There was no rent. You just had to be liked by the incredibly eccentric landlord, Prescott Townsden [sic], a notorious seventy-year-old gay liberationist who drove around on a motor scooter and ate nothing but hot dogs.

The west coast activist and journalist Jim Kepner (Feb 14) described Townsend as an eccentric’s eccentric:

Charming. Kooky. He and I wandered around town a few times during different conventions, window-shopping and such. He was a kind and—I didn’t understand it at the time—the kind of person from an old aristocratic background who could brag about the fact that he got the seersucker suit he was wearing for 50 cents at a Goodwill store. And he was just so comfortable that he didn’t have to put on the dog, and would do almost the opposite, where at the meetings, other people were, those who were the social climbers, were just scandalized by this kind of tacky, old, rumpled-suit.

…He was ahead of his time and behind his time. He was like an 1890 radical.

Photo: John C. Mitzel / The Advocate (May 24, 1972).

Photo: John C. Mitzel / The Advocate (May 24, 1972).

In 1965, at the age of seventy-one, Townsend became active in the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) and participated in the 1965 demonstrations in New York (Apr 18). In 1967 — he’s seventy-three years old now — Townsend showed up in Boston Common at a camp of young hippies. With his mimeograph machine in tow, he turned out flyers for the Boston Common Be-In. In 1970 — now he’s seventy-six — he took those ideas to the Boston Gay Liberation Front for it’s Be-In that summer. Meanwhile, a new generation of hustlers and drug addicts were taking advantage of his generosity. Provincetownsend burned, under suspicious circumstances, as did several of his Beacon Hill properties including his original home/bookstore. He moved to a friend’s apartment. There, he stopped eating, and three days later was found dead. Townsend’s funeral was very, very far away, in temperament at least, from us parents’ high Anglican church. It took place in the Unitarian Arlington Street Church, which hosted gay youth groups, anti-war rallies and other progressive causes.

[Sources: John C. Mitzel. “Who’s that old fart? Prescott Townsend, Granddaddy of Gay Lib, believes in fun, too.” The Advocate no. 86 (May 24, 1972): 21, 24.

Charles Shively. “Prescott Townsend (1894-1973): Bohemian Blueblood — A Different Kind of Pioneer.” In Vern L. Bullough (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2002): 41-47.

John Waters. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1981): 48.]

The Daily Agenda for Thursday, June 23

We Are Orlando

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old.

Peter O. Gonzalez-CruzFriends and Family called him Peter Ommy. He worked at UPS in Orlando. He attended Colonial High and Aloma Charter High School in suburban Winter Park. A teacher who taught him at Liberty Middle School remembered his “contagious joy” and “contagious humor.” “No matter what kind of day I was having, he always made me laugh,” she wrote on Facebook.

Peter makes a difference everywhere he goes. He was a happy person. If Peter is not at the party, no one wants to go,” his aunt, Sonia Cruz, told The Associated Press.

Peter Ommy went to Pulse that night with his best friend, 25-year-old Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez. Neither of them survived the shooting.

 

Gilberto Ramon Silva Mendez

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old.

Gilberto Ramon Silva MenendezGilberto grew up in Manati, Puerto Rick, and moved to Orlando a few years ago. He worked at a Speedway convenience store in Orlando while studying health care management at the Ana G. Mendez University’s Orlando campus.  Maricelly Alomar, a counselor at the school, said, “He was a dedicated man, with great dreams of helping people in need, and the desire of becoming a health care professional. He carried positive and contagious attitude towards life.”

His family back home in Puerto Rico is, understandably, devastated. One cousin told the Orlando Sentinel: “He is my older brother’s only child, and he was the light and the life of all the family gatherings. This all feels like a dream, and I’m going to wake up and he will be texting me or calling me to tell me he is ok.”

Dale Jennings

The nightmare began as many such nightmares did for gay men in Los Angeles in the 1950s. In February of 1952, Dale Jennings (Oct 21) was in a public men’s room at Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park) when a man walked up to him with his hand on his crotch. Jennings wasn’t interested. “Having done nothing that the city architect didn’t have in mind when he designed the place, I left,” Jennings later explained. The man, however, insisted on striking up a conversation and following Jennings home. When they arrived at Jennings’s house, Jennings said good-bye and went inside, but the man decided to invite himself inside. The stranger continued to make sexual advance to Jennings — in Jennings’s own home — but Jennings refused. “At last he grabbed my hand and tried to force it down the front of his trousers. I jumped up and away. Then there was the badge and he was snapping the handcuffs on with the remark, ‘Maybe you’ll talk better with my partner outside’.”

As Jennings continued the story:

I was forced to sit in the rear of a car on a dark street for almost an hour while three officers questioned me. It was a particularly effective type of grilling. They laughed a lot among themselves. Then, in a sudden silence, one would ask, ‘How long have you been this way?’ I sat on my hands and wondered what would happen each time I refused to answer. Yes, I was scared stiff. … At last the driver started the car up. Having expected the usual beating before, now I was positive it was coming–out in the country somewhere. They drove over a mile past the suburb of Lincoln Heights, then slowly doubled back. During this time they repeatedly made jokes about police brutality, and each of the three instructed me to plead guilty and everything would be all right.

Jennings was formally arrested and charged with “lewd and lascivious conduct.” He remained in jail until the following morning when Harry Hay (Apr 7) paid the $50 bail ($450 in today’s dollars). The two of them, along with several others, had founded the Mattachine Foundation two years earlier (Nov 11), and Jennings’s troubles would soon become the fledgling organization’s first gay rights victory. During the 1950s, gay men absolutely never fought this kind of a trial. Instead, they’d post bail, and forfeited it later rather than show up at court for the misdemeanor charge. But Hay convinced a reluctant Jennings that he had no choice but to fight the charges. As Jennings wrote in an unpublished manuscript:

(Hay was) the only tall person I ever met who used it with the imperial self-confidence of the chosen. … From his great height, he laid hear hands on my shoulders, stared intensely down at me in his best S.AG. (Screen Actors Guild) style, and made his great and solemn pitch… The Great Man pointed out that I, in my miserable way, would be somewhat Chosen, too, if I stood up to the Establishment. I had nothing to lose by my chains. After all, working in a family business, I couldn’t get fired. Being recently divorced, it would not hurt my wife and I could continue at USC as something of a hero if the straight on campus didn’t go to work on me as they did all the fries. He himself would be honored to do such a thing, but of course, he had too many familial responsibilities. Oh, I was lucky.

Hay called an emergency meeting of the Mattachine Foundation at Jennings house for that evening to devise the strategy: Jennings would “make a big thing out of this” by admit he was gay, but he would refuse to plead guilty and forcefully defend himself against the lewd conduct charges.

The Mattachine Foundation, which had established itself as a secret society, decided against opening itself to outside scrutiny while championing Dale’s defense. Instead, they decided to support Jennings’s legal fight under the guise of the Citizens Committee to Outlaw Entrapment. The committee raised money for Jennings’s defense and printed leaflets to distribute to gay bars, public restrooms and the beaches. They also hired George Shibley, an Arab-American lawyer who was well known for taking on controversial civil rights and union causes in the 1930s and ’40s. As Jennings wrote in ONE:

The attorney, engaged by the Mattachine Foundation, made a brilliant opening statement to the jury in which he pointed out that homosexuality and lasciviousness are not identical after stating that his client was admittedly homosexual, that no fine line separates the variations of sexual inclinations and the only true pervert in the courtroom was the arresting officer. …

…The Jury deliberated for forty hours and asked to be dismissed when one of their number said he’d hold out for guilty till hell froze over. The rest voted straight acquittal. Later the city moved for dismissal of the case and it was granted.

Jennings was stunned. As he later wrote in his unpublished memoirs:

Walking out of the courtroom free was a liberation that I’d never anticipated. It didn’t happen in our society. You went to jail for that sort of thing. And so I was numb for some time, and it began to dawn on me that we did  have a victory.

Even though the newspapers ignored the story, news spread all over gay Los Angeles virtually overnight. Everyone wants to know who was behind this unprecedented victory. Until then, it was inconceivable that eleven jurors would take the word of a gay man over the sworn testimony of a police officer. Mattachine capitalized on the news with a “victory” flyer: “You didn’t see it in the papers, but it could — and did — happen in L.A.: In a unique victory, Dale Gennings defended himself against entrapment by the L.A. Police and won.” The flyer urged readers to “give now to help eliminate gangster methods by the police. A contribution now may save you thousands if you become the next target of entrapment.” Through flyers like these and word of mouth, Mattachine membership suddenly exploded, with overflowing meetings and new groups sprouting all over the Los Angeles area. By early 1953, groups had formed as far away as Long Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay area, and Chicago.

Feeling its oats, Mattachine began polling those running for the Los Angeles City Council, mayor, and Board of Supervisors to ascertain their positions on police harassment of gay people. That publicity backfired, at least among the newer, more frightened members of the group. In the end, that massive growth of new members, ironically, resulted in the collapse of the Mattachine Foundation and the birth of the much more timid Mattachine Society less than a year later (Apr 11). By then, Jennings had already left to become the first managing editor of ONE magazine, the first nationally distributed publication for a gay audience (Oct 15). His account of his arrest and trial appeared in the magazine’s first issue, which helped to spread the news further. The case didn’t bring an end to official harassment of gay men by the Los Angeles police. That would continue for more than two more decades. But it did signal to the nation’s fearful gay community that false charges could be fought and defeated. Sixty-some years ago, that was big news indeed.

[Sources: Douglas M. Charles. “From Subversion to Obscenity: The FBI’s Investigations of the Early Homophile Movement in the United States, 1953-1958.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 19, no. 2 (May 2010): 262-287.

Dale Jennings. “To be accused is to be guilty.” ONE 1, no. 1 (January 1953): 10-13.

John Loughery. The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth Century History (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1998): 223.

James T. Sears. Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hall Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation (Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2006): 162-164.

C. Todd White. Pre-Gay LA: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights (Urbana, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009): 23-27.]

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.

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.

KissingDoesn'tKillOriginal

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.

KissingDoesn'tKillVandalized

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.

The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, June 21

We Are Orlando

Cory Connell

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Cory, a graduate of Edgewater High School, was studying sports journalism and broadcasting at Valencia College in Orlando and working at a Publix supermarket. He wound up being one of seven Valencia students to die that night. He was at Pulse with his girlfriend and another friend, Jerald Arthur Wright. All three were shot that night. Jerald also died, and Cory’s girlfriend was seriously wounded.

636017760346060320-ConnellCory’s brother explained that his girlfriend convinced him to go to Pulse so she could teach him how to dance. Cory was more of a “gym junkie” than a dancer, his brother said. Cory went to Pulse because it was Latin Night and his girlfriend is Columbian.

Cory was a favorite of his teachers:

Shelley Klein, a science teacher at Lee Middle School, said she remembered Connell clearly, even years after he’d finished there. “I’ve taught almost 1,700 kids at Lee. He was so special,” Klein wrote. “All of his teachers at Lee adored him. We describe him as our all-time favorite.”

Nancy Robbinson, a member of the Orange County School Board, said she would often see Connell at Publix and, before then, at a local CVS where he used to work. “Every time I saw him, he greeted me with a warm, inviting smile and a cheery, ‘Hey, Mrs. Robbinson,’ and sometimes I was even blessed to get a hug,” she wrote. “I just saw him at Publix a week ago and got one of those great hugs.

 

Jerald Arthur Wright

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Jerry worked at Walt Disney World who, as a Spanish-speaker whose family was from Colombia, was particularly adept at welcoming visitors from Latin America. Disney became a second family for him:

“It’s hard to understand, but the people with you work with at Disney, they are an amazing family,” said Scott Dickison, who left Disney last July to take a job with ION Network in Clearwater. “Jerry was a great guy to work with. He was quiet but really wonderful with all the guests. He always had a smile on his face.”

636016120113184853-Jerald-Arthur-WrightJerry went to Pulse for Latin Night with Cory James Connell and Cory’s girlfriend to help celebrate Cory’s birthday. Although Jerry was straight, he enjoyed Pulse’s casual vibe:

“It’s a great atmosphere,” said Jessica Weyl, 23, a friend who is straight and goes to Pulse occasionally. “People aren’t judgmental. People aren’t feeling the need necessarily to impress each other.”

“At Pulse it’s just calm, cool and collected,” Ms. Weyl added. “No one felt pressure to be anyone they weren’t. I’m straight and I love going there. My brother is gay and he loves going there.”

…Ms. Weyl had just finished training for a job in Tomorrowland when she met Mr. Wright.

“He took me under his wing and kind of showed me everything,” she said. She turned to him for questions about Disney policies, and especially when she encountered a guest who spoke Spanish.

Jerry attended Westminster Christian School and Florida International University in Miami.

Her first big break on television was in 1972, when she stared as Bridget in the short-lived CBS sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie. After the series was cancelled, she married her co-star, David Birney, which made her Meridith Baxter-Birney. A few years later, she landed a part in the painfully earnest drama Family (the show is credited for inventing what has become the bane of too-self-important television, the “very special episode”) before lightening things up again as Alex P. Keaton’s mom on Family Ties. In between and afterwards, she starred in a number of made-for-TV movies and various television episodes.

Baxter divorced Birney in 1989, and she went back to using Meredith Baxter professionally. She married again in 1995, but divorced five years later. The National Enquirer reported in 2009 that Baxter was spotted on a lesbian cruise with a female friend. The ensuing speculation finally led to her coming out as a lesbian during an interview with Matt Lauer on Today. “I got involved with someone I never expected to get involved with, and it was that kind of awakening,” she said. “I never fought it because it was like, oh, I understand why I had the issues I had early in life. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships.” Her memoir, Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering, came out in 2011. She married her partner, Nancy Locke, in December 2013.

In 2014, Baxter appeared as Maureen Russell in the daytime soap, The Young and the Restless. Her role lasted only three short months, which was just enough time to reveal that she killed her husband, pinned the murder on her son, Dr. Ben “Stitch” Rayburn, locked Stitch’s pregnant girlfriend in a closet when Stitch threatened to reveal who really killed his father, (the girlfriend may or may not have been carrying Stitch’s child), knocked an alcoholic woman off of the wagon by plying her with drinks, had a heart attack (and thus giving Stitch the opportunity to rescue his girlfriend just as she was about to give birth), survived, and was paid off to leave town.

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