Happy Bicentennial, Mr. President
February 11th, 2009
History has its favorites. Circumstances and personality sometimes meet in such a way as to forever bind a name with world changing events. And time strips away those conflicting realities that may contradict the myth leaving us with an untarnished champion, someone greater than their experiences, a symbol of an ideal.
One such man who stands for an institution greater than he made it is President Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe is the American Hero, the greatest president that ever presided; a poor boy who though hard work and humble wit advanced to save the nation in its most perilous hour. And although there is a current movement to rehumanize the man, in the minds of most he will be the Great Emancipator, the one who held the Union together and freed the slaves.
Four years ago, C.A. Tripp (posthumously) published The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, in which he argues that Lincoln was primarily same-sex attracted. This book was met with a flood of indignant rebuttals.
I found Tripp’s book to be fascinating, though not necessarily proof. Tripp presented only circumstantial evidence and, though there was a lot of it, there was no smoking gun.
But I found those who argued against Tripp to have but the flimsiest of denials for Tripp’s strongest points (“there was a bed shortage and men often shared beds for years and wrote flowery love notes to each other”), accompanied by an absolute silence on his subsidiary evidence (surely there was no bed shortage in the White House). They seemed more motivated by protecting Lincoln’s image from such a ‘vile slander’ than they did in applying any professional curiosity to the matter.
But there is a lesson to be learned. We all want to own a part of President Lincoln and his legacy. Lincoln – a flawed man all too human – took the right positions on the right issues and transcended his own mortality.
On this, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, let us all strive to live so that others in distant decades will want to claim us as their own.
Eartha Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008)
December 25th, 2008
She was… C’est Si Bon.
‘Milk’ Reviews Are In!
November 26th, 2008
The reviews of Milk, the biopic of slain gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, are almost unanimous:
- “Emotionally devastating.” Four stars — Roger Ebert
- “Sean Penn shines in new Gus Van Sant biopic ‘Milk’.” — New York Daily News
- “‘Milk’ and Penn are a powerful cinematic combination.” — USA Today
- “Gus Van Sant males ‘Milk’ a real, moving story.” — Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- “‘Milk’ is a marvel.” — New York Times
- “‘Milk’ hits the stirring heights.” — Washington Post
Okay, I said almost unanimous:
- “Sean Penn overacts as gay leader in ‘Milk’.” — Washington Times
So go see it. Just don’t go to a Cinemark, Century, CineArts or Tinseltown theater.
Today In History: 1958 Broadcast On “The Homosexual In Society”
November 24th, 2008
Fifty years ago today, on November 24, 1958, several people gathered in the studios of KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California, to participate in a two-hour broadcast on the problems that gay people faced in society. This is not only believed to be the first radio broadcast to deal favorably with gay people, it is also believed to be the first to include an actual gay person to speak directly of his experience. The first hour also featured the mother of a gay son.
(Update: I received the following info in an email from James Sears, author of Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation. He wrote that first TV broadcast with an acknowledged homosexual was in Los Angeles by the vice-president of the Mattachine Society on the Paul Coates Show in 1956. His face was disguised. The first to feature an acknowledged homosexual on the east coast was March 10, 1956 with Tony Segura on the show (but he was in a mask). Also, WRCA of NYC produced a series of 3 panel discussions on its Open Minds on Aug 24, Sept 29 1956 and a third on Jan. 12, 1957.)
Del Martin wrote the following account of the 1958 broadcast for the January 1959 edition of The Ladder, which was the official publication of the Daughters of Bilitis. Just last summer, Del became a June bride when she married Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 56 years. Del passed away last August.
Del’s article chronicling that broadcast is reproduced below.
2-Hour Broadcast on Homophile Problem
“The Homosexual in Society”, a two-hour broadcast presented by KPFA-FM, a non-profit listener-subscription radio station in Berkeley, California, during November brought such popular acclaim that the program was repeated a month later and will be issued in pamphlet form as well.
The program consisted of two separate panel discussion sound tapes, the first covering “The Role of the Homosexual as an Individual and as a Member of Society” and the second “The Role Society Should Play” in solving the homophile problem.
THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL
Hal Call, publications director of the Mattachine Society and editor of the MATTACHINE REVIEW, opened the discussion by outlining the educational program of the organization to lead “to a better understanding of the homosexual and other forms of variance where there is no great harm to the social order.”
According to Dr. Blanche Baker, San Francisco psychiatrist, there is much controversy on the subject, “even in the medical profession.” There are those who feel it is a neurotic problem and others who call it glandular, or even a hereditary problem.
“For myself, from many years of work, I consider the homosexual first of all a human being,” she stated. “I believe in individual adjustment of each particular case. Factors leading to homosexuality lie deep in the individual nature. It is a psychological problem in which early childhood has its effect. All people have a certain amount of maleness and femaleness in their constitution, and child experiences tend to throw us to one side of the scale or the other.”
FIRST REACTION OF SHOCK
When questioned by Elsa Knight Thompson, moderator, Mrs. Leah Gailey, housewife and mother, replied, “My first reaction was a universal one — shock. There was ostracism to face for me and my son. It was clearly — shock. But basically I loved my son, so I decided I would try to understand. Fear is based on the unknown, and much fear disappears as one learns to understand.
“There is much literature on the layman level for anyone to read,” she pointed out. “It is just a matter of understanding and accepting.”
Mr. Call declared that the problem of homosexuality is very often closer to all of us than many realize — a member of the family, a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend.
“Approximately every tenth adult may be predominantly homosexual in orientation,” he stated. “This covers the entire strata of society, every intellectual and economic Ieve1.”
Mr. Call said that there had not necessarily been an increase in homosexuality in recent years, as some have supposed, but rather a greater awareness of the subject.
HOSTILITY — CAUSE OR EFFECT?
Moderator Thompson posed the problem of “hostility” in the homosexual. Does it stem from the individual because of his fear of being “different”? Or is it a result of society’s attitude?
Mr. Call said that the homosexual adopts attitudes as result of the society in which he lives. He may effect certain mannerisms of hostility toward society because of its attitudes and also because of his inability to accept himself.
According to Mrs. Gailey, the homosexual’s hostility is based on fear from society and guilt from self. The homosexual has both problems to face, she said.
Dr. Baker pointed out that in her field she works on self acceptance so that the individual can relax and be more comfortable in the world he lives in.
When asked if her clients wished to rid themselves of their homosexuality or if they sought acceptance, Dr. Baker said, “Most of those who come to me want to get rid of this approach to life. If the heterosexual component potential is large enough to function with, fine. But many cases just don’t have the potential.”
ARE HOMOSEXUALS GIFTED PEOPLE?
Dr. Baker said she had no statistics on the subject, that she herself worked with small numbers of people, “But the ones who come to me are artists — versatile, gifted people, not just bread, meat and potatoes people.”
Mr. Call did not consider this a just evaluation. He said that homosexuals are no more gifted or talented than any other group, but that perhaps the homosexual has more opportunity to develop creative and artistic talents since he doesn’t have the economic pressure of providing for a wife and family.
Elsa Knight Thompson suggested that, as in the case of any other minority group, there is more concentration to excel in order to counteract criticism.
“This is true job-wise,” Mrs. Gailey declared. “Because of his fear of detection, the homosexual puts forth an utmost effort to do his best.”
On consideration of the short duration of most homosexual relationships, Dr. Baker asserted, “The friction between homosexual couples is due to the hate in themselves and an unhappy adjustment to life. The over-emphasis on a sexual level would keep them from adjusting on other levels.”
Mr. Call pointed out that there were many lasting homosexual relationships that are not known or recognized, and Dr. Baker admitted, “We are all too conscious of those who do not get along together and don’t know about those who do.”
Mr. Call concluded the first panel discussion with a resume of legal attitudes in Europe and the United States. In England last September the Wolfenden Report recommended that homosexual acts between consenting adults no longer be considered a crime provided they are conducted in private, do not involve minors, no force or violence or fraud is used and do not offend public decency. In April, 1955, in our own country the American Law Institute in its draft of a Model Penal Code recommended essentially the same things.
In Denmark a change in the law was made in 1933, he said, but while not illegal, the stigma attached to homosexuality still remains. Persecution is particularly severe in Germany and Austria today despite previous progress and is reported to be the result of our own American occupation. In this country we have 48 different states with 48 different sets of laws concerning certain homosexual acts ranging from misdemeanor penalties of 30 days to maximum penalties of life imprisonment.
BASIS OF AMERICAN SEX LAWS
Dr. Karl Bowman, psychiatrist who until recently was director of the Langley Porter Clinic of the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco, opened the second discussion with some historical background on our present laws, which he said are “largely traced back to ancient Hebrew laws.” The Christian religion took over the Jewish code which was extremely restrictive pertaining to sexual behavior. And the English law, on which United States law is based, stemmed from the Christian code.
“If this is so, it is my contention,” Dr. Bowman added, “it is time to re-examine our laws in the light of present knowledge and recommend modifications.”
WHAT IS A HOMOSEXUAL?
Dr. Frank Beach Jr., anthropologist and professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, deplored the fact that nowhere in the previous discussion had there been a definition of the term “homosexual”. He recounted the varying degrees of homosexual behavior: the latent individual who has tendencies but who manifests no overt behavior, the individual who has one or two experiences in his life time, those who find satisfaction in both homosexual and heterosexual behavior, and those with exclusive
Dr. Bowman pointed out that in the armed forces mere diagnosis of latent homosexuality makes an individual unsuitable and subject to an undesirable discharge which interferes seriously with the individual’s ability to secure a position. Some one who has never violated any law and who has never had a homosexual experience thus becomes a victim, he said.
Relative to the problem of who is a homosexual, Morris Lowenthal, San Francisco attorney, spoke of the 1955 law passed by the California state legislature that any bar or restaurant becoming a “resort for sexual perverts” may have its license revoked. The problem of the proprietor is two-fold, he said, since the 1951 California Supreme Court decision in the Stoumen vs. Reilly case upheld the civil right of the homosexual to meet and eat or drink in any public bar or restaurant, while the new law in direct conflict prohibits the use of these premises as a gathering place for homosexuals. Mr. Lowenthal also posed the issue as to how the bartender or owner can determine the homosexual tendencies of his patrons.
CAUSES OF HOMOSEXUALITY
Dr. Beach said that hereditary factors may be involved, since in some genetic studies the incidence of homosexuality was higher in identical twins. There is also evolutionary evidence based on observation of other mammals. Exclusive, overt homosexuality does not occur in any other species but man, he pointed out, however. In cases of error in identification of sex at birth, Dr. Beach added that it was extremely difficult to reverse the sex if it was established in the mind of the individual.
Dr. Bowman agreed that there were multiple causes, that heredity, physical condition and psychological conditioning all played an important role.
“The crux of the matter,” asserted Dr. David Wilson, attorney and psychiatrist of the University of California School of Criminology at Berkeley, “is the law making something a crime. Society passes a law because it feels threatened, but it doesn’t work and in no way affects the amount of homosexuality. If the law doesn’t work, it should be reappraised and handled in a realistic manner.
“The propensity is there or it could not develop. We can not change basic individual factors. Unless we know why, we can’t pass laws to curb the incidence of homosexuality.”
Mr. Lowenthal advanced the theory that homosexuals have been discouraged in cultures when an increase in population was needed for survival and encouraged when it was necessary to curb the population.
“Naive assumption!” Dr. Wilson interjected. “Homosexuals are not going to be the productive members of society in any case.”
Dr. Beach also rejected the idea, “Human beings don’t behave this rationally.” Prohibitions appear in many societies, he added.
Dr. Bowman considered the population theory a rationalization. “Cultures that allow homosexuality freely have in many cases had a higher increase in population than those who have not.”
“Rejection of the homosexual is purely on an emotional basis and tied up with our general repressive attitude toward all sex behavior,” he added.
VAGUE AND AMBIGUOUS LAWS
In our criminal laws, many of which are not enforced, it was pointed out by Attorney Lowenthal that no reference is made to homosexuals specifically. Vague and ambiguous laws are used and abused against the homosexual resulting in his subjection to blackmail.
Dr. Bowman pointed out that the California law reads, “Anyone guilty of the infamous crime against nature…” The use of such wording has led to long controversies, he stated.
Dr. Beach took exception to the “crime against nature.” The capacity for homosexual activity is inherent in nature — in man’s biological constitution — and there is therefore nothing “unnatural” in homosexual activity, he said.
“It would appear then that the law is vague, open to loose interpretation and capable of injustice to the individual where invoked against him, bearing no fruit from the social standpoint,” Elsa Knight Thompson, the moderator, put in.
“Laws to prevent crimes of Violence and violation of children would satisfy my requirements of a fair law,” Dr. Wilson asserted. “Homosexuality is a medical and social problem, not a legal one.”
Mr. Lowenthal declared that a strange situation existed where it has been granted by the California Appellate Court that the homosexual is no menace to society and has no particular propensity toward crime, yet at the level of police and certain legislators he is declared a menace and attempts are made to whittle away the civil rights of the individual.
“The mere existence of a law can be a threat to an individual even though it may not be enforced or can be overturned at a higher court level,” Dr. Wilson said. However, he did not hold out much hope for immediate action. The legislators won’t change the law until they understand more. It will take a great deal of time and education, of which this program is a step.
Pointing out some of the abuses of the law such as police harassment, registration as sex offender and entrapment, Mr. Lowenthal said he believed that if these injustices were brought to the attention of the public, it might offend the decency of most people.
Dr. Wilson pointed out that a change in the law would not eliminate altogether the problem of blackmail because of the moral issue, though the degree would certainly be much less.
Moderator Thompson summed up the discussion, “Homosexuality is not a question of crime. If society is to solve the problem it must be done with enlightenment, understanding and a scientific approach at the individual level.”
OVERWHELMING RESPONSE TO BROADCAST
According to officials of KPFA, almost all of the heavy mail received after the first broadcast congratulated them on their courage and observed that they would undoubtedly be attacked for the program. However, they did not have a single attack for presenting the program — technical criticism, yes, but no indictment.
Because of the overwhelming response to the program, “The Homosexual in Society” is being made available in pamphlet form and can be obtained from Station KPFA, 2207 Shattuck, Ave., Berkeley 4, California, for $1.00.
— Del Martin
The Black Cat Named a Historical-Cultural Monument
November 8th, 2008
On New Years Eve we shared with you the story of the police raid on the Black Cat Bar in the first minutes of 1967. Our retelling of this tale encouraged Wes Joe in his efforts to have that event recognized for its historical significance.
Today the LA Times reports that the City Counsel has honored Wes’ request.
The Black Cat, a Silver Lake bar that was home to the gay rights movement in Los Angeles, on Friday was named a historic-cultural monument.
“With Prop. 8 we took five steps backward, but the Black Cat gives us the perspective that we’ve taken 50 steps forward since 1967,” Wes Joe, a Silver Lake resident who nominated the bar for monument status, said at Friday’s council meeting in Van Nuys.
Congratulations to Wes Joe and to Le Barcito, the current name of the Black Cat.
As Wes notes, in the midst of our disappointment and our anger arising from the enshrinment of discrimination into three state constitutions on Tuesday, this should serve as a reminder of how far we have come.
Mr. Blackwell’s Critiquing the Angels
October 20th, 2008
Richard Blackwell has passed at the age of 86. Known for his “worst dressed list”, Mr. Blackwell maintained an annual moment of celebrity for nearly half a century.
He’s survived by Robert Spencer, his partner of 60 years.
Instead of flowers, donations can be made to The ROAR Foundation at shambala.org, The Actors Fund at actorsfund.org or noonprop8.com
Though I only met him once, he seemed a charming man. Rest in peace, Mr. Blackwell.
New Website Featuring Histories of Treatments for Homosexuality
September 22nd, 2008
The work led by Michael King arose from research funded by the Wellcome Trust from 2001 to 2004 into the oral history of such treatments in Britain since 1950. During this research a number of oral histories were collected from LGB people who had undergone treatment and the professionals who had developed and provided the treatments.
The group now wants to expand the work on the website by asking for contributions from people around the world who may have undergone a treatment to attempt to become straight. This might have been hormone or other medical treatment, psychotherapy, aversion behavior therapy, and various forms of reparative therapy.
Their stories can be posted on this website. Friends or relatives of someone who has received or is receiving treatment may also want to give their stories. The group is also eager to hear from professionals, be they doctors, psychotherapists, counselors or psychologists who may have undertaken these treatments at any time in their career.
You can send your account in written, audio or video format. If it is suitable it will be added to the stories already on this website.
From 1925: Masculine Women, Feminine Men
September 12th, 2008
In the early part of the 20th century before radio was king and phonographs were still a novelty in American parlors, every decent middle-class home had an upright piano. And because people in those days had to make their own entertainment, a popular activity was to gather around a piano and sing the latest hit songs from sheet music purchased at the local department store. In those days, the hit parade was not determined by the popularity of records or radio airplay, but by sheet music sales. Hot sheet music titles were snapped up as quickly then as the latest Amy Winehouse track is downloaded from iTunes today.
I don’t think this one was a best seller, but our friends from Russia came across an interesting example from 1925: Masculine Women! Feminine Men! (Music by James V. Monaco, lyrics by Edgar Leslie).
The lyrics provide a good view of the Roaring Twenties, an interesting era which has as much of a right to brag about the invention of the sexual revolution as the 1960’s. These lyrics describe the novelty of blurred gender roles — but without the allusion to homosexuality, which was still very much unseen in those days.
Songwriter James Monaco didn’t score a big hit with this one, but it was recorded several times in England. Monaco was more famous for “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It!),” which was a huge hit for Al Jolson on the Vaudeville circuit in 1913. Four of Monaco’s songs received academy award nominations for Best Song between 1940 and 1945, the last one being a posthumous nomination very shortly after his death.
Lyricist Edgar Leslie had quite a number of Tin Pan Alley hits, including “Lonesome,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “For Me and My Gal.” He also wrote a number of novelty tunes, including “All the Quakers Are Shoulder Shakers,” “Oogie Oogie Wa Wa,” and “Tain’t No Sin (to Take Off Your Skin, and Dance Around in Your Bones).”
This is what the song sounded like in a recording by the Savoy Havana Band from 1927:
Today In History: A Bugger Was Hung
August 12th, 2008
“Buggery” — the quaint British legal term for homosexual activity — was a capital offense until 1861, when the laws were finally relaxed to allow for life imprisonment. But that change came almost thirty years too late for Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was hanged 175 years ago today for the “abominable vice.”
According to the London Courier:
Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was one of the unnatural gang to which the late Captain Beauclerk belonged, (and which latter gentleman put an end to his existence), was convicted on the clearest evidence at Croydon, on Saturday last, of the capital offence of Sodomy; the prisoner was perfectly calm and unmoved throughout the trial, and even when sentence of death was passed upon him. In performing the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner, Mr. Justice Park told him that it would be inconsistent with that duty if he held out the slightest hope that the law would not be allowed to take its severest course. At 9 o’clock in the morning the sentence was carried into effect. The culprit, who was fifty years of age, was a fine looking man, and had served in the Peninsular war. He was connected with a highly respectable family; but, since his apprehension not a single member of it visited him.
Curing Homosexuality in 1913
August 8th, 2008
Attempts to cure homosexuality in have included some rather odd practices. Of course, there was psychotherapy, but an article from the August 2, 1913 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association describes a few other courses of treatment which included castration, bladder washing and — I’m not making this up! — prostate massage.
In “The conception of homosexuality,” Abraham A. Brill argued:
Of the abnormal sexual manifestations that one encounters none, perhaps, is so enigmatical and to the average person so abhorrent as homosexuality. I have discussed this subject with many broad-minded, intelligent professional men and laymen and have been surprised to hear how utterly disgusted they become at the very mention of the name and how little they understand the whole problem. Yet I must confess that only a few years ago I entertained similar feelings and opinions regarding this subject. I can well recall my first scientific encounter with the problem, ten years ago, when I met a homosexual who was a patient in the Central Islip State Hospital. Since then I have devoted a great deal of time to the study of this complicated phenomenon, and it is therefore no wonder that my ideas have undergone a marked change. Tout comprendre c’est tout bardonner, I have met and studied a large number of homosexuals and have been convinced that a great injustice is done to a large class of human beings, most of whom are far from being the degenerates they are commonly believed to be.
…Investigators agree that homosexuality is no sign of mental or physical degeneration. This Ivan Bloch says: “I no longer entertain any doubt that homosexuality is compatible with perfect mental and physical health. This same author quotes Magnus Hirschfeld as saying that homosexuality may occur in persons just as healthy as normal heterosexual persons. Similar ideas are expressed by Näcke and others. My own findings concur with these views.Most of the inverts I know belong to our highest types both mentally and physically and show absolutely no hereditary taints. Without entering into a detailed discussion of this question I will say that I am convinced that homosexuality as such is entirely independent of any defective heredity or other degenerative trends.
That discussion sounds remarkably modern, even if the language isn’t. And yet the idea of “curing” homosexuality remained the desired goal of physicians of the day, one that Dr. Brill shared without questioning the logic of “curing” something that he had just describe as “compatible with perfect mental and physical health. But he did have a few things to say about the then-current state of the art:
As we are dealing with a psychic manifestation, the hope for a cure of homosexuality lies in psychotherapy. I can never comprehend why physicians invariably resort to bladder washing and rectal massage when they are consulted by homosexuals, unless it be to kill the homosexual cells in the prostateso that their place may be taken by heterosexual cells, as one physician expressed himself when one of my patients asked him how massage of the prostate would cure his inversion. It is an unfortunate fact that such ridiculous ideas are often heard in the discussion of psychosexual disturbances. Only a few months ago a patient told me that he was told by two physicians that his hope for a cure lay in castration.
Brill then went on to describe three cases which he claimed to have “cured” through psychotherapy — even though his follow-up was never more than a year. This led one Dr. D’Orsay Hecht of Chicago to ask in a rejoinder:
But if in the eye of the specialist homosexuality is but a contravention, socially speaking, and if it has just as much right to a hearing from the point of view of a sexual act as has heterosexuality, I really cannoy see why the homosexual should care to be delivered from his homosexuality, except that he feels disgraced by it. Then again, a large number of homosexuals are in no way abhorrent of themselves in respect to their natures; they seem to be perfectly happy and perfectly well adjusted, probably in a restricted sense, and these patients probably are not worth while treating as Dr. Brill treats them. If we accept homosexuality as a condition which has as much right to exist as heterosexuality, why should we address ourselves to the duty of treating it?
The very first edition of the American Psychological Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) in 1952 classified homosexuality as a mental illness. It wasn’t until some sixty years after Dr. Hecht asked this prescient question that homosexuality was finally removed from the APA’s list. Unfortunately, misguided attempts to “cure” homosexuality continue to this very day.
[Source: Brill, A.A. “The conception of homosexulality.” Journal of the American Medical Association LXI, no. 5 (August 2, 1913): 335-340.]
Jesse Helms: “If You Want to Call Me a Bigot, Fine.”
July 5th, 2008
Note: We are pleased to be able to offer occasional posts from Dr. Gregory M. Herek, Professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis. He has published scores of articles in numerous professional journals, much of which focus on anti-gay violence and stigma, as well as HIV/AIDS-related stigma inside and outside the LGBT community.
An obscure section of the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act includes language affirming that “American family life is the foundation of American Society” and that the Act should not be construed as promoting or encouraging homosexuality.
This passage is a legacy of Jesse Helms, who died today at the age of 86.
Throughout his 30-year tenure in the US Senate, Helms was consistently associated with antigay stands. When the US was confronted with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, for example, Helms was instrumental in preventing the government from funding effective prevention programs among gay and bisexual men. The Senate twice endorsed his amendments prohibiting federal funds for AIDS education materials that “promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” By constricting the scope of risk-reduction education, Helms’ actions were widely believed to have contributed to the epidemic’s rapid spread.
In my latest post at Beyond Homophobia, I reflect upon Helms’ efforts to enact an antigay agenda into law, and the failure of many of his contemporaries to publicly oppose him.
HIV Infected Humans Much Earlier Than Thought
June 28th, 2008
HIV-1, the prevalent strain of Human Immunodeficiency Virus infecting people around the world was first thought to have entered the human bloodstream at around 1931. Now a second human tissue sample stored at a hospital in Kinshasa in 1960 has pushed the date back more than two decades:
Marlea Gemme… analyzed HIV-1 genetic material obtained from lymph tissue collected in 1960 from the University of Kinshasa pathology department in the Democratic Republic of the Congo–only the second HIV sequence predating 1976 deciphered to date. Thus far, she has sequenced about 1000 DNA bases, which she has compared with the previously reported sequence of HIV-1 extracted from a frozen blood sample from 1959. Since it entered into humans, HIV-1 has been evolving into different substrains–but the 1960 and 1959 sequences were much more divergent than expected, Gemmel reported at the meeting. “It reflects a long past of diversification before 1960,” she said.
By comparing the two sequences with more recent ones, Gemmel was able to show that HIV-1 first entered humans about 1908, not 1931, as earlier analyses with just the 1959 sample found. Her analysis also indicates that the virus existed in low levels in humans until the middle of the 20th century. “That matches the rise of population centers,” Gemmel explained, suggesting that urbanization around that time paved the way for the AIDS epidemic.
There is increasing evidence that AIDS has existed in some very remote parts of Africa for several decades before exploding in Kinshasa and other large cities in the 1970s and in Europe and America in the early 1980s. You can read more about the history of AIDS in our report, Opportunistic Infection, which we will now have to update to include these latest findings.
CA’s First Married Same-Sex Couple: Del Martin’s Inspiring Essay from 1956
June 17th, 2008
The first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco were Del Martin (left, 87) and Phyllis Lyon (right, 83). They have been together since 1952. As I said earlier, Del and Phyllis were the perfect choice for this historic first.
In 1955, Del and Phylis, along with six other women, founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major lesbian organization in the United States. Del was the group’s president, and Phyllis edited the DOB’s newsletter The Ladder beginning the following year.
I’ve been able to obtain a facsimile copy of the very first edition of The Ladder, from October, 1956. This mimeographed newsletter includes an essay by Del Martin in which she explains why they founded the Daughters of Bilitis. It was a very prescient essay, and it provides us with a great perspective on the historic changes that these two women helped to create. Today, we all are privileged to enjoy many of the fruits from Del and Phyllis’ hard work.
MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Since 1950 there has been a nationwide movement to bring understanding to and about the homosexual minority.
Most of the organizations dedicated to this purpose stem from the Mattachine Foundation which was founded in Los Angeles at that time. Members of those organizations — the Mattachine Society, One, and National Association for Sexual Research — are predominantly male, although there are a few hard working women among their ranks.
The Daughters of Bilitis is a women’s organization resolved to add the feminine voice and viewpoint to a mutual problem. While women may not have as much difficulty with law enforcement, their problems are none the less real — family, sometimes children, employment, social acceptance.
However, the lesbian is a very elusive creature. She burrows underground in her fear of identification. She is cautious in her associations. Current modes in hair style and casual attire have enabled her to camouflage her existence. She claims she does not need help. And she will not risk her tight little fist of security to aid those who do.
But surely the ground work has been well laid in the past 5½ years. Homosexuality is not the dirty word it used to be. More and more people, professional and lay, are becoming aware of its meaning and implications. There is no longer so much “risk” in becoming associated with [text missing].
And why not “belong”? Many heterosexuals do. Membership is open to anyone who is interested in the minority problems of the sexual variant and does not necessarily indicate one’s own sex preference.
Women have taken a beating through the centuries. It has been only in this 20th, through the courageous crusade of the Suffragettes and the influx of women into the business world, that woman has become an independent entity, an individual with the right to vote and the right to a job and economic security. But it took women with foresight and determination to attain this heritage which is now ours.
And what will be the lot of the future lesbian? Fear? Scorn? This need not be — IF lethargy is supplanted by an energized constructive program, if cowardice gives way to the solidarity of a cooperative front, if the “let Georgia do it” attitude is replaced by the realization of individual responsibility in thwarting the evils of ignorance, superstition, prejudice and bigotry.
Nothing was ever accomplished by hiding in a dark corner. Why not discard the hermitage for the heritage that awaits any red-blooded American woman who dares to claim it?
Del Martin, President
Daughters of Bilitis
Memorial for Gays Persecuted By Nazis Opens
May 27th, 2008
Today marks the opening of a new memorial in Berlin dedicated to the memory of gays who were persecuted by the Nazis. The memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten parks sits just across from the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, and it echos the larger memorial’s field of concrete blocks of varying sizes. The gay memorial, designed by Danish and Norwegian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, consists of a single grey rectangular block with a small opening through which visitors will see a short film of two men kissing. “A simple kiss could land you in trouble,” says the text which accompanies the memorial.
Until recently, there was little public acknowledgement of Nazi atrocities towards homosexuals. It’s been estimated that about 54,000 were arrested by the Nazis, with 7,000 being killed in concentration camps. While the end of the war meant liberation for the much larger interned populations of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians, and other undesirables, allied forces often returned gay men to post-war prisons to continue to serve out their terms. Homosexuality wasn’t formally decriminalized in Germany until 1994.
Mildred Loving, Rest in Peace
May 5th, 2008
“We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants.”
These were the words that Mildred Jeter Loving told The Washington Evening Star in 1965. At that time she was in exile of her native state, Virginia, which had convicted her of the crime of marrying the man she loved, Richard Loving, seven years prior.
On June 12, 1967 the Supreme Court of the United States of America agreed with Mr. and Mrs. Loving that there is no valid state’s interest in denying them the right to marry each other.
There are those who loudly proclaim the morality of the civil rights efforts that were fought over the freedom and equality under law for persons of African descent yet who actively oppose those same freedoms and equalities for gay people. They “take great umbrage” at the notion that the struggle for equality for gay folks is in any way similar to that of black folk.
Mildred Loving was not such a person. Mildred never set out to be a champion for African-American rights or for mixed-race relationship rights. She just wanted to love and be left alone.
And perhaps it is this heart-based agenda that allowed Mrs. Loving to see her own plight mirrored in the lives of same-sex partners who are denied the same happinesses that she had been denied. On June 12, 2007, fourty years after she won the right to be married to Richard Loving in every state in the Union, Mildred Loving released a statement supporting the struggle of gay men and women to be married. It concludes as follows:
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Mildred passed away on Friday. We wish her family much love and peace during their time of grief. And we join them in honoring and missing an amazing woman. She was a hero to the end.