Posts Tagged As: Daily Agenda

The Daily Agenda for Thursday, May 19

Growing up gay in Oklahoma wasn’t easy, but the experience quickly made Mike realize that people like him were, at best, second-class citizens. While attending the University of Oklahoma, his friend, Joe Clem, was also gay and rather cautiously open about it, even among his frat brothers. During one bout of drinking, those so-called “brothers” became enraged with Clem being a “faggot,” beat the crap out of him, and drove him out to a deserted road outside Norman and dumped him there. Clem eventually made his was back to Norman, but he didn’t dare call the police.

Mike McConnell, with Jack Baker, ca 1970. Photo by Kay Lahusen (Jan 5).

McConnell met Jack Baker (Mar 10) at a barn party in 1966 outside of Norman. McConnell was completing his Masters degree in Library Science, and Baker was working as a field engineer in Oklahoma City. Both were 24, and they hit it off right away. Six months later, Baker proposed to McConnell, and McConnell accepted, on one condition: that they would find a way to marry legally.

In 1969, Baker moved to Minneapolis to study law at the University of Minnesota. Six months later, McConnell was offered a job at the University’s library. Three weeks after McConnell moved to Minneapolis, the pair went to the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis to apply for a marriage license (May 18). Their application was denied. Not only that, but after the news about what they had done had hit the papers, the university’s Board of Regents voted to withdraw its job offer to McConnell.

Those events launched two separate lawsuits: Baker v. Nelson challenged Hennepin County’s denial of their marriage license, and McConnell v. Anderson challenged the University’s withdrawal of McConnell’s job offer. Baker v. Nelson worked its way up the Minnesota state courts, with courts ruling against Baker and McConnell every step of the way. The case eventually made it to the Minnesota Supreme Court in October 1981, which also ruled against them. The U.S. Supreme Court then dismissed an appeal “for want of a substantial federal question,” and Baker v. Nelson was treated as though it were an established precedent for the next several decades.

McConnell’s lawsuit against the University went little better. He got an early victory when the Federal District Judge issued an injunction against the University. He called the couple’s attempt at getting married “rather bizarre,” but found that even a “homosexual is after all a human being and a citizen… He is as much entitled to the protection and benefits of the laws… as others.” But McConnell never did get his job at the University. The judge stayed his injunction pending appeal, the Eight Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to consider the case.

While the cases were winding their way thought the courts, McConnell and Baker continued to pursue legal recognition of their relationship through other means. McConnell legally adopted Baker in August 1971, which allowed them at least some of the benefits of marriage (inheritance, medical decision-making, even reduced tuition for Baker). A month later, they managed to obtain a marriage license from a clerk in Blue Earth County, Minnesota and were married by a Methodist minister (Sep 3). That license was never officially revoked, although questions remained about its legal force. The IRS, for example, refused to recognize their marital status.

McConnell later found work in the Hennepin County Library system, and continued working there for the next thirty-seven years before retiring in 2010 as a Coordinating Librarian. In 2012, University of Minnesota president Erik Kaler formally apologized to McConnell for his treatment forty-two years earlier. When marriage equality finally arrived in Minnesota in 2013, it was natural to ask whether Baker and McConnell would formally tie the knot. Maybe even as the honorary first same-sex couple to marry. No need for that, they answered. As far as they were concerned, they had been legally married since 1971. They are still living together as a married couple in the suburbs of south Minneapolis, quietly and well out of the spotlight.

The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, May 18


From Michael’s Thing (New York, NY), September 27, 1976, page 12. (Personal collection)

This is one of those bars that I can find very little about. The punny name of Mother Truckers was also a reference to an area near the docks on the West Side Highway. During the day the trucks were loaded and unloaded with freight from arriving ships. At night, they were parked, empty, with the rear of the truck left open so people wouldn’t break into them to steal merchandise that wasn’t there. The area was dark and all of that made them an ideal setting for public sex after the bars started emptying out. The area became known in in gay circles simply as The Trucks, and had been a long-established cruising grounds since at least the 1950s.

Mike McConnell and Jack Baker applying for a marriage license in Minneapolis.

Mike McConnell (May 19) met Jack Baker (see Mar 10) in 1966 on a blind date at a Halloween party in Oklahoma where they were both 24-year-old grad students. On Baker’s 25th birthday, they became betrothed, as they put it, in a private ceremony, and moved in together. After moving to Kansas City, Missouri, they met activists Barbara Gittings (Jul 31)and Frank Kameny (May 21). “That’s what lit our fires of pride,” recalled McConnell. “These fine people were willing to say, ‘Look, I’m as good as anybody else.’ That’s all I needed to hear.”

In April, 1970. McConnell accepted a job at the University of Minnesota’s library and Baker enrolled as a first year law student. Three weeks later, on the day before McConnell’s birthday, the couple went to the city clerk’s office in Minneapolis and asked for a marriage license. Baker told the nervous workers, “If there’s any legal hassle, we’re prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court. This is not a gimmick.” There were legal hassles. Not only were the denied a license, but the university fired McConnell when news of their application hit the papers. A federal judge blocked McConnell’s firing. He called the episode “rather bizarre, but concluded that “An [sic] homosexual is after all a human being and a citizen…. He is as much entitled to the protection and benefits of the laws… as others.” But that decision was reversed on appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case.

Meanwhile a state judge, ruling on the marriage case itself, sided with county officials and ordered them not to issue a license. While McConnell and Baker appealed that decision, McConnell legally adopted Baker in August 1971, which allowed them at least some of the benefits of marriage (inheritance, medical decision-making, even reduced tuition for Baker). Later that same year, they managed to obtain a marriage license from a clerk in Blue Earth County, Minnesota and were married by a Methodist minister (Sep 3). But in October, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Nelson that state law prohibits same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal “for want of a substantial federal question,” Baker v. Nelson became an established precedent.

In 2012, Minnesotans defeated a proposed constitutional amendment, placed on the ballot by a Republican-controlled legislature that would have permanently barred same-sex marriages in the state. Voters also elected a Democratic-Farm-Labor (DFL, the state Democratic party’s name in Minnesota) majority in both houses of the legislature. Elections have consequences, and the new legislature passed a marriage equality bill in 2013, which Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) quickly signed into law. That law went into effect on August 1. Baker and McConnell weren’t among those to line up for marriage licenses that day. As far as they were concerned, the license they obtained in Blue Earth County was still valid and they saw no need for another one. They still live a quiet life together, well out of the spotlight, in Minneapolis.

[Source: Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court (New York: Basic Books, 2001): 163-171.]

New York psychiatrist Charles Socarides warned the nation’s physicians in the May 18, 1970 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, that “Homosexuality is a medical disorder which has reached epidemiologic [sic]proportions; its frequency of incidence surpasses that of the recognized major illnesses in the nation.”

Epidemiologic. What he was trying to say that it was of epidemic proportions. But Socarides, being Socarides, made up his Very Impressive Seven-Syllable Word, which he used quite often.  He appeared three years earlier on the infamous CBS documentary “The Homosexuals” (Mar 7), were, again, he used that Very Impressive Word. By then he had established himself as a nationally-recognized authority on homosexuality and its cure. And so his article in the AMA’s prestigious journal carried considerable weight. Socarides chided his fellow physicians for not taking this new — err, epidedemy? — seriously:

Attempts to obfuscate the fact that homosexuality is a medical problem have not been met head on by those most qualified to clarify the situation.  Only in the consultation room does the homosexual reveal himself and his world. No other data, statistics, or statements can be accepted as setting forth the true nature of homosexuality. All other sources may be heavily weighted by face-saving devices or rationalizations or, if they issue from lay bodies, lack the scientific and medical background to support their views. The best that can be said for the well-intentioned but unqualified observer is that he is misguided because he does not have and can not apply those techniques which would make it possible to discern the deep underlying clinical disorder or to evaluate the emotional patterns and interpersonal events in the life of a homosexual.

Socarides distinguished between two types of homosexuals: the “obligatory” and the “episodic.” Only the former were true homosexuals as he put it. “The latter is characterized by isolated homosexual acts without the stereotypy, the compulsivity, of the former.” As for the former:

There is a high incidence of paranoia or paranoid-like symptomatology in overt homosexuals. This is related to the medical fact that overt obligatory homosexuality is either a fixation or regression to the earliest stages of ego development. As a result, archaic and primitive mental mechanisms belonging to the earliest stages of life characterize the homosexual’s behavior. Also, homosexuality, obligatory or not, can be seen in the schizophrenic in his frantic attempt to establish some vestige of object relations as an expression of the fragmented and disorganized psychic apparatus with which he has to struggle.

Socarides argued that because homosexuals were suffering from a mental illness, they should not be penalized legally for consensual activities “so long as it is not accompanied by antisocial or criminal behavior.” Despite increasing calls to decriminalize homosexuality, homosexual behavior was still criminalized in every state except Illinois (Jul 28). Socarides cautioned that “any change in the legal code should be accompanied by a clearcut statement as to the nature of obligatory homosexuality, its diagnosis as a form of mental illness, and a universal declaration of support for its treatment by qualified medical practitioners.” And only those “qualified medical practitioners,” he concluded, were qualified to pass judgment whether gay people were sick:

It is vitally important to realize this fundamental point: the diagnosis of homosexuality can not be self-made, imposed by jurists, articulated by clergy, or speculated about by social scientists. … If the homosexual is to be granted his human right as a medical patient, issues which becloud his status should be clarified. Above all, the homosexual must be recognized as an individual who presents a medical problem.

The whole issue of homosexuality must be transformed into one more scientific challenge to medicine which has time and again been able to alleviate the plaguing illnesses of man. With this respected leadership on the part of the physician, we will see a surge of support for the study and treatment of the disorder by all the techniques and knowledge available through the great resources and medical talent of the United States.

There’s an interesting post-script to all of this. Dr. Socarides’s oldest son, Richard, was very close to his father, so much so that after his parents divorced when Richard was six, he moved in with his father upon turning 13. That would have been at around 1967. When the elder Socarides wrote this article, Richard was sixteen. Richard went on to become a gay rights activist, attorney, and an advisor to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1999.

[Source: Charles W. Socarides. “Homosexuality and medicine.” Journal of the American Medical Association 212, no. 7 (May 18, 1970): 1199-1202.]

Here’s one reason why a vigorous and healthy gay press is so important. June 5, 1981 is typically cited as the date of the first published report on a new disease which would become known as AIDS, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a notice concerning five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles who died from rare infections which were normally easily curable (Jun 5). But the first published report actually appeared in a New York gay newspaper a month earlier, tucked inside an issue of the New York Native on page seven. Dr. Lawrence Mass, who wrote a regular health column for the small weekly, had heard rumors of several new exotic diseases striking down gay men in Gotham. Some were coming down with a rare kind of a skin cancer that had previously only affected older Jewish or Mediterranean men. Others were stricken with a rare form of pneumonia which typically only appeared in people with severely suppressed immune systems such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and transplant recipients. There were also a host of other odd diseases that gay men were coming down with, but so far nobody had figured out that there might be a single cause to link them all together.

After Mass was assured by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that there was no evidence of an emerging “gay cancer,” Mass wrote an article titled, “Disease Rumors Largely Unfounded,” which began:

Last week there were rumors that an exotic new disease had hit the gay community in New York. Here are the facts. From the New York City Department of Health, Dr. Steve Phillips explained that the rumors are for the most part unfounded. Each year, approximately 12 to 24 cases of infection with a protozoa-like organism, pneumocystis carinii, are reported in the New York City area. The organism is not exotic; in fact, it’s ubiquitous. But most of us have a natural or easily acquired immunity.

“What’s unusual about the cases reported this year,” Mass explained, “is that eleven of them were not obviously compromised hosts. The possibility there exists that a new, more virulent strain of the organism may have been ‘community acquired.'” But Mass reported that there was not enough evidence (yet) to make a clear connection between the new disease and the gay community.

It wouldn’t be long before that link was made. Chroniclers of the AIDS crisis now recognize Dr. Mass as being the first to write about the emerging epidemic in print. Dr. Mass went on the help found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and was the principle author of the organization’s Medical Answers About AIDS through four revisions spanning ten years.

Papa Choux’s defiant ad stating they “will never allow this charade.” (Click to enlarge.)

On January 13, 1983, Zandra Rolon and Deborah Johnson made dinner reservations at Papa Choux, a very elegant Los Angeles restaurant. They specifically reserved a “Romantic Booth” in the restaurant’s Intimate Room, which featured sheer curtains around the booths, strolling violinists, and a measure of privacy. When they arrived for dinner, they were seated at the reserved booth, at first, but then they were told that they had to move. The manager told them, falsely, that a city ordinance prohibited such seating.

The couple filed suit, and were represented by civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, who told reporters, “We intend to end this dinner discrimination and give Papa Choux’s their just desserts.” Papa Chou’s owner, Seymour Jacoby, countered with a newspaper ad declaring that “Papa Choux’s will never allow this charade. It would certainly make a mockery of true romantic dining.” But Rolon and Johnson won, and the case was upheld on appeal.

On May 18, 1984, the California denied the restaurant’s request for a hearing, and Jacoby took out another ad saying that “true romantic dining died on this date.” Allred countered, “This is not the death of romance. It is the death of discrimination.” A few days later, about 100 or so bar customers gathered for a “wake” as the restaurant closed its six curtained booths.

(d. 1976) The name given him at birth was Edward Everett Tanner II, but his father had already begun calling him Pat before he was born, and so Pat he remained throughout childhood. When he published his 1955 novel, Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, based on growing up with his real life Aunt Mame Dennis, it became one of the best-selling books of the 20th century and gave him the name the public would know him by. The book remained  on the New York Times bestseller list for 112 weeks, and became the basis for the movie Auntie Mamein 1958 starring Rosalind Russell. But that wasn’t fabulous enough. It went on to become a Broadway musical in 1966 starring Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur. From there it became another Hollywood film, this time based on the musical starring Lucille Ball, Robert Preston and Bea Arthur. Mame’s outrageous main character defined camp. Her commitment to imagination and style can best be summed up in her most famous line: “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death. Live!”

Dennis married in 1948 and had two children. He struggled with his bisexuality and was said to have been a fixture in Greenwich Village. He tried to commit suicide at one point, and after years of leading a double life, he decided to leave his family after he had fallen in love with another man. By the 1970s, his novels fell out of favor and out of print. His caviar tastes and extravagant nature, not unlike those of his quasi-fictional Mame, soon had him flat broke. He began a second career as a butler, and a rather anonymous one at that, having reverted back to using his real surname. He worked at the estate of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds, where it is said that his employers had no idea who he really was. He died in at age 55 of pancreatic cancer.

Don BachardyHe met the famous writer, Christopher Isherwood (Aug 26), on Valentine’s day when he was eighteen and Isherwood was 48, and they remained together as partners until Isherwood’s death in 1986. Bachardy still lives in the house they shared together in Santa Monica. It’s a shame that virtually every biography about Bachardy starts with his association with the acclaimed author because Bachardy is a very successful painter in his own right. He studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Slade School of Art in London. His first one-man exhibition was held in 1961 at London’s Redfern Gallery. Most of his work is portraiture, and several of his sketches appeared in Isherwood’s novels.

If Bachardy was sometimes overshadowed by his relationship with Isherwood, he seems to have come to terms with it. But it did pose problems between them earlier in their relationship. During a particularly difficult period when Bachardy was studying in London, they almost broke up. Isherwood imagined what it would be like to live without Bachardy, and wrote A Single Man in which Bachardy’s character was already dead before the novel began. If you know the novel’s story, the result is not a happy one.

But they did remain together, and were life-long collaborators as artists and as a couple, sharing in each other’s successes. As Bacardy explained in the 2007 documentary Chris & Don. A Love Story:

I don’t take any credit for what’s happened to me in my life. It all seems fate — my destiny and Chris’s destiny. We were actually exactly what the other wanted and needed, whether we knew it or not. Well, Chris knew it. I didn’t for a long time …. I know that Chris would agree that the last ten years or so were our best — not the early years when we were younger and beautiful, but the later years when we really just enjoyed each other’s company and worked together in a variety of ways. It all just enhanced our basic unity — unity with each other, our harmony.

Bachardy with a portrait of Isherwood

They continued collaborating, even as Isherwood was dying of cancer, when Bachardy would sketch him every single day, sometimes nine or ten times. “Chris was in a lot of pain towards the end,” he told The Sunday Times. “But he had sat for me so often over the years, and I knew this was something we could still do together. Each day, I could be with him intensely for hours on end.” On the day he died, Bachardy kept working on a sketch, a sketch of the man’s body with whom he had spent his entire adult life. “Chris would have been proud of me,” he said in the documentary. “He’d have said ‘that’s what an artist would do.’ And that’s what an artist did.”

And it’s what Bachardy did. He even drew eleven more sketches of Isherwood after he died, and was spared from drawing a twelfth when the doctor arrived. He later said, “Sometimes I see those drawings now and I can hardly bear them. I think, ‘How did I manage to do that without breaking up?'” The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy was published in 2013.

[Additional source: Chris Freeman. “Lives in Art: Isherwood and Bachardy.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 15, n0. 5 (September-October 2008) 30-33.]

The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, May 17

From Albatros (Houston, TX), October 1, 1965, page 6.

From Albatros (Houston, TX), October 1, 1965, page 6. (Source.)

Eddie Foster

From Albatros, October 1, 1965, page 5. (Source.)

Houston’s Red Room, which first opened in 1964, was a very well known upscale club that, by 1970, featured (gasp!) dancing:

I don’t know what to expect next! The Red Room is the first and only beer bar open to the public with dancing. Dancing is not new to Houston in the gay clubs but in beer bars where membership is required, unheard of. There has been a sizeable investment as well as time put into this feature for your enjoyment. If you haven’t been in lately go see the new additions in this going establishment. Red Room has for years been a symbol in Houston’s gay night life. I wonder if the management will have music that the older group might enjoy dancing to or will it be for the swingers only? Much luck “Big George”

— From Nuntius (Houston, TX), August 1970, page 17.

But just five months later, the Red Room drew a demonstration by the University of Houston’s Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which called attention the the club’s racial discrimination policies. The GLF demonstrated and handed out flyers reading (PDF:613KB/5 pages):

BOYCOTT THE RED ROOM — The Gay Liberation Front of Houston regrets that the gay brothers and sisters of Houston are not together. The management of a local Gay Bar, the Red Room unfortunately refuses service to blacks. The discriminatory actions of the Red Room management are clearly racist moves that are a continuation of the repressive and racist attitudes of white Houstonians. These racist attitudes oppress all gays as long as the Red Room and others discriminate against blacks. Disposal of oppressive attitudes is a necessity and demand. We are all prisoners of the Amerikan death culture.

Ironically, Red Room’s management called the police to complain about the demonstrators. Ironically, I say, because the Houston police were notorious for raiding gay bars and harassing gay people. The Red Room was still in business in 1974, but it appears to have disappeared by early 1975. If you go to the address today, you’ll see what looks like a fairly new building housing a franchise of a Chicago-based  dueling-piano bar chain.

Ellen at the How To Talk About Art History blog has the answer, with NSFW examples:

Firstly, they’re flaccid. If you compare their size to most flaccid male penises, they are actually not significantly smaller than real-life penises tend to be. Secondly, cultural values about male beauty were completely different back then. Today, big penises are seen as valuable and manly, but back then, most evidence points to the fact that small penises were considered better than big ones.

…All representations of large penises in ancient Greek art and literature are associated with foolish, lustful men, or the animal-like satyrs. Meanwhile, the ideal Greek man was rational, intellectual and authoritative. He may still have had a lot of sex, but this was unrelated to his penis size, and his small penis allowed him to remain coolly logical.

Coolly logical. Like me.

It’s amazing that it took so long, but the World Health Organization finally removed homosexuality from the tenth edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (also known as ICD-10). It took the WHO nearly seventeen years to catch up with the American Psychiatric Association (see Dec 15), and when they did they followed the APA’s same cautious approach by including the diagnosis of “Ego-Dystonic Sexual Orientation,” for those who were troubled by their homosexuality. That diagnosis served as a loophole allowing therapists to continue to try to “cure” gay people of a mental disorder that no longer existed. The APA removed that diagnosis from its list of mental disorders in 1987. It is still in the WHO’s list of disorders, but last year, the Working Group on the Classification of Sexual Disordrs and Sexual Health recommended its removal (PDF) from ICD-11, which is due to be released in 2017.

Six months earlier, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a 4-3 ruling, found that the state could not bar same-sex couples from marrying and gave the legislature 180 days to “take such action as it may deem appropriate” before issuing licenses to gay couples (See Nov 18). The state Senate responded by asking whether civil unions would suffice, but the four justice who made up the majority of the original decision wrote, “The dissimilitude between the terms ‘civil marriage’ and ‘civil union’ is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status.”

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney issued a statement supporting an amendment to the state constitution which would have banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions (reversing a 2002 campaign promise that he had made to gain the endorsement of the Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts) but the legislature narrowly defeated it. The second proposal, a compromise amendment which would have banned marriage equality only,” mustered enough support, with Romney’s reluctant support (he still preferred the first proposal) to be held for a second vote a year later (proposed constitutional amendments require 25% support in two consecutive years before being passed on to voters). Meanwhile, the legislature took no action to implement the court’s decision.

On May 17, the day the court’s decision was due to go into effect, Gov. Romney cited a 1913 law prohibiting non-residents from marrying in Massachusetts if the marriage would not be valid in their home state, and instructed town clerks to deny marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples. The 1913 law, which had been enacted to block interracial marriages for out-of-state couples subject to Jim Crow laws in their home states, hadn’t been enforced in decades.

When the compromise proposed constitutional amendment came up for a second vote in 2005, Gov. Romney withdrew his support, saying that it confused voters who wanted to ban both same-sex marriage and civil unions. The measure lost the necessary support in the legislature. Romney then backed a revival of the first proposed amendment which would have banned marriage and civil unions both, but that proposal failed to gain the necessary 25% support in the state legislature in 2006. Romney left office in 2007, and the 1913 law was repealed in 2008.

The International Olympic Committee ruled that post-operative transgender people will be able to compete in events in Athens according to their self-identified gender, provided the new gender is legally recognized and the athlete is two years into post-operative hormonal therapy. IOC Medical Commission Chairman Arne Ljungqvist announced the rule change in response to the increasing numbers of transgender athletes attempting to qualify for Olympic competition. “Although individuals who undergo sex reassignment usually have personal problems that make sports competition an unlikely activity for them, there are some for whom participation in sport is important,” he said. The IOC’s rule change came about after it become apparent that case-by-case evaluations were insufficient. Transgender advocates criticized the post-operative requirements, noting that many athletes cannot afford the surgeries where national or private health insurance doesn’t cover it.

Merle Miller

(d. 1986) The Iowa native was marked from the beginning: bookish, played the violin and piano, work thick glasses. The other kids called him sissy from the moment he started school. “I heard that word at least five days a week for the next 13 years until I skipped town and went away to college.” He studied at the University of Iowa and the London School of Economics. During World War II, he was a war correspondent and editor for Yank, The Army Weekly. After the war, he was an editor at Time and Harper’s magazine, and he wrote several best-selling novels, including his classic That Winter (1948), which portrayed the difficulties of veterans’ post-war readjustment. His non-fiction books included We Dropped the A-Bomb (1946), which was based on interviews with a crewman for one of the three B-29s that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1952, he exposed the workings of the Hollywood blacklist in a book commissioned by the ACLU and published by Doubleday, The Judges and the Judged. “A large segment of one of this country’s largest industries remains panicked, partly by the hysteria of the times, partly by what is, relatively, one of the country’s smallest corporations, American Business Consultants, and a handful of supporters. All of the 151 lists are stained with the same careless red paint.” Miller knew very well the damage that inclusion in the McCarthy-inspired blacklist: he himself ended up on it, which kept him from developing a nascent career as a script writer.

One of his most famous books began as a series of interviews that he recorded with former President Harry Truman in 1962. His original plan was to produce a television documentary series bot all three networks turned it down. He suspected that his having been blacklisted in the 1950s may have been a contributing factor. Miller filed the tapes and notes away, not sure of what to do with them. When Truman died in 1972, the TV networks invited Miller to appear on camera and share some of his Truman stories, which he had been telling to entertain his friends and colleagues for the past decade. That’s when he decided the time was right to write that book. It would be no ordinary biography, but a book of conversations between Miller and Truman titled Plain Speaking. When it came out in 1974 (after at least eight publishers turned it down), it rose to number one on the New York Times best-selling list, and it remained on the list for over a year.

Miller remained closeted throughout most of his career, but the heady days of the post-Stonewall era changed that. In October 1970, Harper’s magazine, Miller’s former employer, published a homophobic screed by Joseph Epstein calling  gay people “an affront to our rationality …  condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men.” (Oct 27)  While meeting with two New York Times editors for lunch, Norman complained bitterly about the article. The other editors didn’t see anything wrong with it, and couldn’t understand why Miller was so upset. “Look, goddamn it, I’m homosexual … and I’m sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends.” The editors were taken aback, but a few days later, they approached Miller about writing a piece for The New York Times Magazine (which then enjoyed complete editorial independence from the Times newspaper).

His essay, “What It Means To Be A Homosexual,”was a bombshell in the mainstream press (Jan 17).The Times’s mailroom was inundated with more than 2,000 letters in the first six weeks, a record. Almost all of them from gay people and their parents expressing their gratitude for Miller’s honesty. It also opened the eyes of a number of straight readers, who were able to see gay people as just people. One reader, who was careful to avoid using epithets for racial, ethnic and religious minorities, admitted, “Yet for every time I’ve said homosexual, I’ve said ‘fag’ a thousand times. You’ve made me wonder how I could have believed that I had modeled my life on the dignity of man while being so cruel, so thoughtless to so many.” Later that year, his essay was published again in book form as On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual. Penguin Classics re-issued it again in 2012 with a foreword by Dan Savage and afterword by Charles Kaiser.


JJ_JillJohnston-gay(d. 2010) She hired on as a dance critic for the Village Voice in 1959, and became a fixture among dancers, composers, artists, poets, performance artists and the avant-garde generally in the city. Her dance column soon evolved to encompass a much wider scale. “I had a forum obviously set up for covering or perpetrating all manner of outrage,” she later wrote.


At Town Bloody Hall

She perpetrated her most famous outrage in 1971, during a panel discussion in New York’s Town Hall on feminism with Normal Mailer, Germaine Greer, Diana Trilling and Jacqueline Ceballos, who was then the National Organization for Women’s president. The debate was called in reaction to Mailer’s anti-feminist rebuttal, The Prisoner of Sex. Johnston took to the lectern and recited a poetic manifesto (titled “On a Clear Day You Can See Your Mother”) and announced that “all women are lesbians except those who don’t know it yet,” After Johnston exceeded her allotted ten minutes, Mailer became impatient and demanded she leave the stage. “Come on, Jill, be a lady,” Mailer mocked, before calling for a vote to determine whether she should continue. That’s when two other women joined Johnston on the stage, and the three began kissing and hugging, and soon they were rolling on the floor. When Mailer got up to introduce the next speaker from the lectern, the trio quietly left the stage, having successfully upstaged Mailer and rendering the rest of the debate mostly forgettable. Feminist author Kate Millett later said, “Jill made a wonderful performance art piece out of it. She wasn’t going to debate anything.” That performance has since been immortalized in a 1979 documentary as “Town Bloody Hall“.

Jill Johnston with Dick Cavett, 1973

Jill Johnston with Dick Cavett, 1973

In 1973, Johnston collected a series of Village Voice essays for her radical lesbian feminism manifesto, Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution.. In it, she began championing a separatist brand of lesbian feminism, labeling women’s relationships with the men a collaboration with the enemy. “Many feminists are now stranded between their personal needs and their political persuasions,” she wrote. “The lesbian is the woman who unites the personal and political in the struggle to free ourselves from the oppressive institution [of marriage] …. By this definition lesbians are in the vanguard of the resistance.”

What she wrote was only somewhat more controversial than how she wrote.  Her Voice columns were famous for following the hippie-freeform esthetic of the era, which one critic described as “part Gertrude Stein, part E. E. Cummings, with a dash of Jack Kerouac thrown for good measure.” She spurned paragraphs, capitalization, and punctuations, and adopted a style that she described as “collage-like assemblages.” Her method was so controversial that in the late 1960s, Andy Warhol and other avant-garde artists held a panel discussion about her work titled “The Disintegration of a Critic.” She later described those days as her “east west flower child beat hip psychedelic paradise now love peace do your own thing approach to the revolution.”

But by the time she wrote those word in 1973, she was already moving to a more conventional tone. She began writing for the magazine Art in America and the New York Times Review of Books, and she published two personal memoirs, Mother Bound (1983) and Paper Daughter (1985). She described her 1996 book Jasper Johns: Privileged Information as “my first ‘mature’ work. Its publication was very controversial, ostensibly because I used so much biography in backing up my views and descriptions of the artist’s work, but possibly more because of the radical reputation that preceded me. …Retrospectively, I see Lesbian Nation as a period piece.” In The New Yorker, she described herself as “an R.L.F.W. — a recovering lesbian from the feminist wars.”

Johnston 2008By the 1990s, she had become something of traitor to her 1970s self. Having scorned marriage in Lesbian Nation, she married her spouse, Ingrid Nyeboe, in Denmark in 1993, and again in Connecticut in 2009. She also became an ardent Obama supporter in 2005 with her book At Sea on Land: Extreme Politics, which led to her passing over a chance to support Hillary Clinton in 2008. If she was now a reformed separatist lesbian, the emphasis should probably be placed on reformed, which is not at all synonymous with abandoned: “The centrality of the lesbian position to feminist revolution — wildly unrealistic or downright mad, as it still seems to most women everywhere — continues to ring true and right.”

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