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Posts for May, 2008

Today In History: HIV Virus Discovered

Jim Burroway

May 20th, 2008

Twenty-five years ago today, on May 20, 1983, an article appeared in the journal Science in which a team led by Luc Montagnier of France’s Pasteur Institute announced that they had discovered the virus which causes AIDS. The suspected virus was isolated in a patient who had died of the disease. Nearly a year later, American researcher Robert Gallo would make a similar claim, sparking a three year debate over who actually discovered the virus.

Nevertheless the discovery of the virus sparked a sense of premature optimism. US health secretary Margaret Heckler famously declared in 1984 that “We hope to have a vaccine ready for testing in about two years.” Two decades later, that vaccine remains out of reach.

The introduction of the “AIDS cocktail” in 1995 has transformed the experience of AIDS from being a terminal condition to being a very serious chronic one. Where receiving an AIDS diagnosis was once tantamount to being handed a death sentence, today people are living full and productive lives with HIV/AIDS. And yet, the more than two-decades-old stigma associated with HIV/AIDS continues.

Today in History: Magnus Hirschfeld

Jim Burroway

May 14th, 2008

Magnus HirschfeldToday is the 140th anniversary of the birth of Magnus Hirschfeld, the famous German gay rights advocate and founder of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin. He was born on May 14, 1868.

Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1897. The Committee was established to perform sexual research in support efforts to repeal Paragraph 175, Germany’s anti-sodomy law. Over time, tthe committee was able to gather more than 5,000 signatures on a petition to the Reichstag calling for Paragraph 175′s repeal. The bill was first brought before the Reichstag in 1898, and for more than two decades it continued to garner more support until the Nazi takeover in 1933 obliterated all hopes for its repeal.

After the first World War, Hirschfield founded the Institute for Sexual Research in 1919. The goal of the institute was similar to the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, but its scope was more ambitious. Hirschfield’s institute was intended to conduct research in four major areas: sexual biology, sexual pathology (medicine), sexual sociology, and sexual ethnology. In addition to publicly lobbying for the repeal of Paragraph 175, the Institute also performed premarital counseling, held public lectures on sexological subjects and offered expert testimony in criminal cases.

To support its activities, the Institute established what would become the world’s largest library and archives dedicated to sex research. That library eventually grew to include more than 20,000 volumes, 35,000 photographs and a large art collection. It also maintained some 40,000 biographical letters with names and addresses.

Book BurningAll that changed when the Nazi’s came to power in 1933. On May 6, of that year, a crowd of students and stormtroopers stormed the Institutes’s offices while Hirschfeld was away on a speaking tour of the U.S. The raiders carted off all the contents of the priceless library and burned it in a public bonfire. They destroyed more than 10,000 books, articles, magazines, and other research material. After the Institute’s sacking, Hirschfeld remained in exile, where he tried to re-establish the Institute in Paris. He was unsuccessful however, and he died in 1935 on his 67th birthday in Nice.

Paragraph 175 remained in effect, and was expanded in 1935 by the Nazi regime to include “lewdness”, which could include kissing or fondling. It was also elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. It is estimated that a quarter of a million gay men and women were swept up in Nazi raids, with tens of thousands dying in concentration camps. After the war when the camps were emptied, several hundred gay men were re-arrested by allied authorities to serve out their sentences under Paragraph 175 because the law was regarded as a legitimate criminal law rather than a political one. In fact, between 1945 and 1969 about 100,000 men were indicted and about 50,000 men sentenced to prison. Paragraph 175 wasn’t repealed until March 10, 1994.

Hirschfeld-UferOn May 6, 2008, the city of Berlin renamed a stretch of the Spree river for Magnus Hirschfeld in commemoration for the Nazi’s distruction of the Institute 75 years earlier. The riverbank is located near the site of the former Institute.

Today In History: The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name Gets A Name

Jim Burroway

May 6th, 2008

One hundred and forty years ago today, on May 6, 1868, the word homosexuality was invented.

Before then, there were very few value-neutral words to describe people who experienced romantic or sexual attractions toward others of the same sex. Pejoratives such as “bugger,” “molly,” “sodomite,” or “pederast” were common, words loaded with condemnation and shame. But as the budding science of sexology began to grow, and as same-sex loving defenders began to speak out about what same-sex love was all about, their first problem was with how to name it. “Abominable vice” wouldn’t do. A new word was desperately needed to describe their lives and feelings.

The love that dared not speak its name couldn’t. It didn’t have one.

The first to try to name this love was the German gay-rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. In the 1860′s, he described the urning as a “male-bodied person with a female psyche,” who is sexually attracted to men and not women. An Urningin was a “female-bodied person with a male psyche,” and Urningthum came to mean homosexuality itself. Ulrichs devised an entire system of classification based on different combinations of attractions and gender roles. Some of these words gained usage in English, although the less foreign-sounding sexual inversion and inverts to describe homosexuality and homosexuals respectively fell more naturally to English ears. But in a few short years, those words would become obsolete, replaced by the creation of an aspiring Hungarian writer.

Karl-Maria KertbenyKarl-Maria Kertbeny (or Károly Mária Kertbeny) was an Austrian-born Hungarian journalist, memoirist and human rights campaigner. Kertbeny reportedly became interested in homosexuality when a close friend committed suicide after being blackmailed by an extortionist. Kertbeny later said that this, combined with his “instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice” — as a Hungarian, he knew what it was to be a minority in Vienna — drove him to advocate for civil rights for gay people.

Kertbeny’s own sexuality remains unclear however: He described himself as “normally sexed,” but his diaries reportedly document his appreciation for the male form. When he moved to Berlin in 1868 at the age of 44, he was still unmarried. It was at around this time that Kertbeny coined the word Homosexualität — “of the same sex” — from the Greek prefix homo- (same) and the Latin root sexualis (sex). His first known usage of this word is documented in a letter he wrote to Ulrichs on May 6, 1868.

Karl-Maria Kertbeny’s letter

Karl-Maria Kertbeny’ pamphletHomosexualität made its first known public appearance the following year, when Kertbeny anonymously published the pamphlet Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code and Its Maintenance as Paragraph 152 of the Draft of a Penal Code for the North German Confederation. This pamphlet advocated for the repeal of Prussia’s sodomy laws, saying that private consensual sex acts shouldn’t be subject to criminal penalties.

Homosexualität gained usage as other German advocates began putting forth the idea that homosexuality was inborn, a “medical problem” which placed homosexuality as a form of pathology or illness. Today of course we recoil at the abuses which arose from this “homosexuality as pathology” mindset, but in the nineteenth century this “medical model” represented a significant improvement in attitudes to homosexuality. Before Ulrichs and Kertbeny, homosexuality was viewed as a mere wickedness or moral degeneracy to be severely punished — often by pillory or death.

But Kertbeny appeared to understand the dangers behind the “medical model.” He not only saw that the “innate” argument was potentially dangerous, but that it was also irrelevant. In that vein, his advocacy for gay civil liberties was remarkably modern:

To prove innateness … is a dangerous double edged weapon. Let this riddle of nature be very interesting from the anthropological point of view. Legislation is not concerned whether this inclination is innate or not, legislation is only interested in the personal and social dangers associated with it … Therefore we would not win anything by proving innateness beyond a shadow of doubt. Instead we should convince our opponents — with precisely the same legal notions used by them — that they do not have anything at all to do with this inclination, be it innate or intentional, since the state does not have the right to intervene in anything that occurs between two consenting persons older than fourteen, which does not affect the public sphere, nor the rights of a third party.”

Kertbeny had another thoroughly modern idea about homosexuality, and this one is probably the most salient for understanding homosexualität’s triumph over urning and invert. The word homosexual doesn’t refer to any assumptions about gender roles or attributes. An urning, remember, was a “male-bodied person with a female psyche.” This of course bore a direct reference to effeminacy, a presumed hallmark of all gay men. And urningin, a “female-bodied person with a male psyche,” referred to lesbians’ perceived innate masculinity. (The English term invert carried with it similar assumptions of “inverse” gender characteristics.) But in writing about homosexuality, Kertbeny pointedly noted that homosexual men were not necessarily effeminate, citing several heroic historical figures as examples.

In 1880, Gustav Jäger used Kertbeny’s homosexualität in his book Discovery of the Soul. That book also included Kertbeny’s other useful word heterosexualität. Then the German sex researcher Richard von Krafft-Ebing borrowed those terms for his highly influential 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis. Homosexuality appears to have entered the English language at about 1895, which is when Charles Gilbert Chaddock translated Psychopathia Sexualis into English. And when Sigmund Freud used it in his books and lectures, he propelled its use among psychologists and psychoanalysts as well as in popular culture.

But admiration for the new word wasn’t universal. English sexologist Havelock Ellis, whose 1897 work Sexual Inversion became one of the first widely published English texts to deal with homosexuality, hated its bastardization of Greek and Latin. “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word,” Ellis wrote in a footnote. “It is, however, convenient, and now widely used. ‘Homogenic’ has been suggested as a substitute.”

Homogenic never caught on, and Ellis ended up using the word homosexual himself more often in his text than the terminology found in his volume’s title. By the 1930′s the homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual had almost completely erased the Urning and the invert for describing an individual’s sexual orientation.

Kertbeny’s graveKertbeny however didn’t live to see his Homosexualität in widespread use. He died of a stroke in Budapest in 1882 at the age of 58, still unmarried. He was buried in Budapest’s Kerepesi Cemetery. In 2002, members of Budapest’s gay community placed a new tombstone over his rediscovered grave, where it is now customary to lay a wreath during Hungarian gay festivals.

Today in History: A Notorious Nazi Doctor

Jim Burroway

April 28th, 2008

Carl Peter VærnetDr. Carl Peter Værnet was born on this date on April 28, 1893 in Denmark. During World War II, he became a Nazi SS major, serving as a doctor at Buchenwald concentration camp. There, he performed medical experiments on inmates who were convicted under Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 — the statute against male homosexuality.

According to Richard Plant’s The Pink Triangle The Buchenwald inmate roster in December 1943 listed 169 homosexuals. In March, that number was down to 89. Værnet experimented in 17 of them between June and December 1944. Camp methods show that methods include castration and injection with hormones:

Since surviving entries are spotty, if not nearly illegible, one can only conclude that on October 1, 1944, a group of seven homosexuals was operated on, and a second group, consisting of eleven more, on October 10. Additional test may have been administered because Værnet visited Buchenwald again in December. … Some subjects became ill; some, so it seems, must have died, because new names appear on the rosters of those actually castrated. Værnet carefully filled out order forms for chloroform, bandages, and new medical instruments, and handed out instruction sheets explaining how Buchenwald physicians should continue the castration-hormone tests without him. No final report has survived that notes the results of the experiments on the castrated men.

Medical laboratory

Carl Peter Værnet’s graveAfter the war, Værnet was captured by the British and handed over to Danish authorities. At some point, he was transferred to a hospital after claiming to suffer from a heart ailment. He told doctors there that his problem could only be treated in Sweden. Despite being accused of war crimes, he was allowed to go to Sweden, where he contacted a Nazi escape network and fled to Argentina where he worked in the Ministry of Health. He was never tried for his crimes. He died on November 25, 1965. His grave was located in Argentina’s Britanico Cemetery in April, 1998.

Today In History: Eisenhower Signs Executive Order 10450

Jim Burroway

April 27th, 2008

Pres. Dwight D. EisenhowerFifty-five years ago today, on April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which mandated the firing of all federal employees who were determined to be guilty of “sexual perversion.” Over the next two decades, thousands of gays and lesbians would loose their jobs solely because of their sexual orientation.

This was the culmination of an anti-gay witch hunt which began three years earlier. In February of 1950, Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy, testifying before the US Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Department, revealed that 91 employees “in the shady category” had resigned since 1947. Republican Senators took that admission to allege that President Harry Truman’s administration’s employment of “sexual deviants with police records” was recklessly endangering the country’s national security.

Joseph McCarthyIt just so happened that Joseph McCarthy was a member of that committee. He had just given give his famous Wheeling Speech a few weeks earlier, claiming to have “a list in my hand” of 205 communist employees at the State Department. The Homosexual Scare now joined the nascent Red Scare as twin threats to American liberties. By April, McCarthy pressured the Civil Service to begin rooting out gays and lesbians from federal offices. By June, he persuaded the Senate to authorize a full-range investigation of homosexuals “and other moral perverts” in the civil service. The Senate Appropriations Committee responded with a rushed report a few months later, saying “one homosexual can pollute an entire government office,” and “to pussyfoot or take half measures will allow some known perverts to remain in government.”

McCarthy and CohnBy the end of 1950, anti-homosexual hysteria was in full swing. The Republican Party’s national chairman sent a warning to 7,000 party members that, “Perhaps as dangerous as the actual Communists are the secret perverts who have infiltrated our government in recent years.” On Christmas Day of that year, Time magazine opined that all homosexuals should be fired from the federal government. The hysteria raged for the next three years as McCarthy presided over countless hearings on the imagined threat of homosexuals and communists in the government. Ironically, it would be McCarthy’s chief council, Roy Cohn, who would draw fire during the Army investigations of 1954 over rumors of his own homosexuality. (Cohn would later die of AIDS in 1986.) This played a small but key role in McCarthy’s eventual downfall.

Clamor over the twin menaces raged for the next three years, culminating in Eisenhower’s 1953 Executive Order which declared all homosexuals to be “security risks,” regardless of whether they were actually disloyal or not. It didn’t matter how low or innocuous their position was; their mere presence in a government office was deemed a threat. Following Eisenhower’s executive order, more than 640 federal employees would lose their job because of allegations of homosexuality over the next year and a half. Unknown numbers of others resigned quietly. State and local governments and government contractors followed suit, tossing countless more innocent Americans out of their jobs.

Unintended consequences are funny things though. In 1957, a young astronomer by the name of Dr. Franklin Kameny was fired from the Army Map service because of his homosexuality. After all of his court appeals were denied, he founded the Washington, D.C. Mattachine Society. He and Daughters of Billitis founder Barbara Gittings organized the first gay rights demonstrations in front of the White House, State Department and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1965 to demand an end to the federal employment ban. This demand remained a key component of the whole gay rights movement from the 1950′s through the 1970′s. Much of today’s modern gay rights movement has its roots buried deep in the anti-gay and anti-red hysteria of the 1950′s and Executive order 10450.

White House Protest

The Civil Service ban on gays and lesbians would continue for the next two decades. In 1973, a federal judge ruled that a person’s sexual orientation alone could not be the sole reason for termination from federal employment. But even with that ruling, it wasn’t until July 3, 1975 when the Civil Service Commission finally announced that they would consider applications by gays and lesbians on a case by case basis.

Today In History: BXG!

Jim Burroway

April 2nd, 2008

On April 2, 2007, one year ago today, Beyond Ex-Gay was founded. And what a year it’s been. It has been my pleasure to play a very small part in this young group’s activities over the past year. They’ve accomplished a lot in a very short time. Happy birthday, BXG!

Image from Peterson’s blog.

Today In History: A Russian Gay Icon Is Born

Jim Burroway

March 21st, 2008

Vadim KozinOn March 21, 1903, one hundred and five years ago today, the great Russian tenor Vadim Alekseevich Kozin was born in St. Petersburg. In the 1920′s he was celebrated throughout the Soviet Union for his recordings and concerts, specializing in gypsy romances and love songs. It was those love songs that he wrote and sang with such passion and tenderness that garnered him the title of the “Russian Orpheus.” He once gave a concert with American Paul Robeson and is said to have performed for Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at the Tehran conference in 1943.

But in those precarious days during Stalin’s rule, Kozin’s illustrious career ended all too abruptly. He fell out of favor with the Kremlin and was arrested in 1944. He was sent to a prison camp near Magadan in the Russian Far East for five years for political offenses, “corruption of youth” and homosexuality. From that moment on, his songs disappeared from the radio and his public concerts came to an end.

Vadim KozinAfter his release in 1950, Vadim resumed performing in local theaters in the Russian Far East and Siberia, but he was prohibited from performing in Moscow and Leningrad. It was during this period when Vadim began to keep a diary, portions of which were published in Moscow just last month:

In one of the diary’s few romantic passages, Kozin described a man whose name is not given. “How I would like even just once, even for one instant, to look into the depth of those green eyes,” he wrote in August 1956. “Why does it happen like this? One person appears, and there is nothing else sacred in the world. He has filled it all himself. Who that person is, no one will ever find out.”

While he may have avoided physical details, Kozin often used the diary to express his impatience with the official attitude toward homosexuality. “There is nothing unnatural in the life I want to live. There is real, good friendship and complete mutual trust,” he wrote in one entry. In another, he criticized actors with their “demonstration of fictional family values” and waving of party cards. “Do I have the moral right, with my defects, to see them that way?” he asked himself. “After torturous and long thought, I have realized that I do. They are much more rotten people.”

Nevertheless, Kozin was acutely aware that he risked another sentence. He was unnerved by the open gay affairs of an actor on the same tour. “His behavior will lead him to the camp,” he wrote. “I must tell him that his sexual motives shouldn’t affect me at all. … I don’t want people to think about me like that again. I will try to suffer alone.”

Vadim KozinKozin’s fears were well-founded. He was arrested again in 1959 for homosexuality and was forced to write a humiliatingly detailed confession. Despite a brief revival in the 1980′s when his records were reissued, he was never officially rehabilitated. He died in Madagan in 1994 at the age of 91.

Since his death, Vadim Kozin has become an icon in Russia’s gay community. One of his most famous songs is one called “Friendship” which, he later confided to a friend, was dedicated to another man:

“We are so close that words do not have to be repeated. Our tenderness and our friendship are stronger than passion and greater than love.”

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Vadim Kozin with friends in Madagan in 1993:

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Today in History: AIDS in Black Africans

Jim Burroway

March 19th, 2008

As we’ve mentioned before, by the time 1983 came around the panic surrounding the emerging HIV/AIDS crisis had already reached epic proportions, with anti-gay groups and individuals pinning everlasting blame on the gay community. When they had bothered to notice, some would acknowledge that Haitians, drug addicts and hemophiliacs were also at risk for AIDS. But it was the gay community which bore the brunt of the responsibility for the new “plague.” In 1983, Pat Buchanan would thunder:

The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.

Ignorance among many Americans was running a fevered pitch, but things were very different in Europe. Belgian and French doctors had noticing something for quite some time: they had been treating wealthy African immigrants from their former colonies who were suffering from diseases which were remarkably similar to those reported by AIDS patients in America. Finally, twenty-five years ago today, on March 19, 1983, the rest of the world would learn what they have been noticing with the publication of this brief letter in the respected journal The Lancet:

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in Black Africans

SIR,-Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) has been described in homosexual or bisexual men, in drug addicts, in haemophiliacs, and in Haitian immigrants. To our knowledge there is no report of AIDS and opportunistic infections in previously healthy Black Africans with no history of homosexuality or drug abuse.

Tables I and II show the clinical and immunological data on five Black patients seen in Brussels and who were from Central Africa (Zaire and Chad). Three of them had been living in Belgium, for between 8 months and 3 years. All were of good socioeconomic status. They presented with prodromes of fever, weight loss, and generalised lymphadenopathy, and extensive investigations did not reveal any neoplasia. Patients A and E died; the three survivors are still ill.

These patients fulfilled all the criteria of AIDS. …

This preliminary report suggests that Black Africans, immigrants or not, may be another group predisposed to AIDS.

Indeed, the world would soon learn the horror that had been stalking the Congo river region for decades. This small letter to the editor would later prove to be the canary in the coalmine. It is the first published indication of a pandemic which had already taken countless lives in Zaire and Chad, and would very soon engulf much of an entire continent.

Source:Clumeck, N.; Mascart-Lemone, F.; de Maubeuge, J.; Brenez, D.; Marcelis, L. Letter to the editor: “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in Black Africans.” Lancet 1, no. 8325 (March 19, 1983): 624.

See also:
Opportunistic Infections

This Month in History: “Aversion Therapy for Sexual Deviation”

Jim Burroway

February 29th, 2008

Attempts to cure homosexuality have taken many forms, many of them cruel. Perhaps the cruelest might be the use of electric shock aversion therapy. This method was first described in the academic literature in 1935, and reports of its continued use persisted through the 1970′s and even later. Two of sixteen participants at a Brigham Young University program committed suicide in the mid-1970′s, and there are similar reports of suicide and long-term psychological and physical damage elsewhere.

There are literally hundreds of reports of various forms of aversion therapy in the literature between 1935 and 1980. Thirty-five years ago this month, one such report appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology by two researchers from the University of Vermont. Dr. Harold Leitenberg and Ph.D candidate Edward J. Callahan wrote the following in an article titled, “Aversion therapy for sexual deviation: Contingent shock and covert sensitization“:

Treatment Procedures
Contingent shock: …Shock levels varying from “pain” to “tolerance” were then randomly selected for administration as part of a punishment procedure which made shock contingent upon erection. These shock levels ordinarily ranged from .5 milliampere to 4.5 milliampere, and shock duration was varied randomly from .1 second to .5 second. Erection was monitored by a penile strain gate. Five slides of deviant material and two heterosexually oriented slides were presented for 125 seconds apiece in each session while the subject was instructed to imaging whatever was sexually arousing with the person on the slide. An attempt was made to obtain slides appropriate to each person’s idiosyncratic sexual arousal. If during the “deviant” material slide, the penile circumference increase exceeded a level of 15% of full erection, shock was administered through electrodes on the first and third fingers on the subject’s right hand.

Covert Sensitization: This technique involves the presentation of verbal descriptions of “deviant” acts and the description of aversive consequences, such as nausea, vomiting, discovery by family, etc. … For example, a man might be asked to imagine going to the apartment of a homosexual contact, approaching the man’s bedroom, initiating sexual activity, feeling increasingly nauseous, and finally vomiting on the contact, on the sheets, and all over himself. A variation of this scene might involve the patient finding the homosexual contact rotting with syphilitic sores, or finding that the contact had diarrhea during the sexual encounter.

Subject 4
This was a 19-year-old homosexual with no prior sexual or dating experience with girls. … Sexual contacts [with other men] led to guilt feelings and vacillation over whether he wanted to learn to accept homosexuality or to change his pattern of sexual arousal. After discussing his dilemma with a few friends and relatives, he decided to seek treatment.

Phase 1: Contingent shock was administered for 10 sessions. Penile circumference changes were reduced during slides of males and females initially; however, this suppression during slides of females was only transient. There was an increase in average daily homosexual urges to slightly more than two per day and a slight increase in frequency of daily homosexual masturbation, while homosexual fantasies were slightly decreased. The patient was somewhat disturbed by the experience of shock, but was willing to undergo it in order to change his sexual arousal pattern. He had one homosexual contact late in this phase.

Phase 2: Covert sensitization was administered for seven sessions. Penile circumference changes to slides of men reduced greatly, and penile circumference changes to slides of women continued to increase. Rapid progress was reported by the subject in this phase. … After seven sessions, the subject reported he was progressing more quickly than he could stand “physically.” He felt his progress was strong enough to drop treatment and continue to make adjustment alone. After 3 months, however, he returned to treatment because of “unwanted” homosexual contact which unnerved him about the stability of his progress.

… An attempt was made to return the subject to contingent shock treatment. The subject became very upset by this and misapplied the electrodes during the first scheduled shock session in order to reduce the shock. At the next session, he explained that the felt shock had not helped him and that he did not want to go through the painful experience since he felt it had not therapeutic effect. At this stage, he said he would have to quit treatment rather than go through contingent shock again.

Source: Callahan, Edward J.; Leitenberg, Harold. “Aversion therapy for sexual deviation: Contingent shock and covert sensitization.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 81, no. 1 (February 1973): 60-73. Abstract available here.

This Month In History: How To Conduct Junk Science

Jim Burroway

February 11th, 2008

Recent election coverage has brought a lot of attention to opinion polls. We’ve seen a number of polls failing to predict some of the state primary winners, while other polls either overstate or underestimate the support for various candidates. There are a lot of factors which can determine a poll’s accuracy, with the phrasing of the questions being a key component.

Forty years ago this month, a young assistant psychology professor from Wayne State University published the results of a study in the February 1968 edition of the journal Psychological Reports:

That a poll can be biased by the statement of the question and/or the attitudes of the interviewers is part of the pollster’s lore. The degree of biasing possible is largely unknown and the present study was undertaken to aid in the anchoring of this parameter.

Twenty introductory psychology students interviewed by telephone 590 fellow-students randomly selected from the student directory while an additional 574 were personally interviewed utilizing quota sampling. In either case, the interviewer asked [the subject] two questions from an array of 18, one concerning Johnson’s policy in Viet Nam and the other about its news coverage. No [subject] was asked two questions of the same coloration (neutral, agree-, or disagree-biased). Interviewers were instructed to promote agreement with the casting of each item by acting as though they personally endorsed it by tone of voice (and, in the face-to-face interview, facial expression).

And what did this young neophyte professor discover? Depending on how the question was phrased and how it was asked by the interviewer, it was possible to manipulate a change in opinion of around 13%. That young researcher concluded:

Considering the influence of an interviewer in a transitory situation, social psychologists would do well to cast a critical eye on classical assessment-message-assessment attitude experiments.

That young assistant professor was Paul Cameron, who would later become famous for being a prolific generator of junk statistics for the anti-gay industry. Little did he know how useful that little two-page study would become later in his career.

Source: Cameron, Paul; Anderson, James. “Effects of introductory phrases and tonal-facial suggestions upon question-elected responses.” Psychological Reports 22, no. 1 (February 1968): 233-234.

Today in History: A Fog Begins to Lift

Jim Burroway

February 5th, 2008

Ten years ago, the February 5, 1998 edition of the journal Nature published a short report by a team led by Tuofu Zhu of Rockefeller University. That team examined the genome of an HIV-positive blood sample taken in 1959 from an unidentified man in Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo (today’s Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire). By looking at how the virus has mutated over the past 40 years, and by projecting the mutation of that particular virus (dubbed ZR59) back further, they were able to estimate when the various HIV virus groups evolved from a common ancestor. Zhu and colleagues concluded:

Our results … indicate that the major-group viruses that dominate the global AIDS pandemic at present shared a common ancestor in the 1940s or the early 1950s. Given their ‘starburst’ phylogeny, HIV-1 was probably introduced into humans shortly before that time frame, about a decade or two earlier than previously estimated. …The factors that propelled the initial spread of HIV-1 in central Africa remain unknown: the role of large-scale vaccination campaigns, perhaps with multiple uses of non-sterilized needles, should be carefully examined, although social changes such as easier access to transportation, increasing population density and more frequent sexual contacts may have been more important.

That single serendipidous 1959 blood sample from a man whose name and fate is lost to history provided an important part of our understanding of where the virus came from. Simon Wain-Hobson wrote a commentary in the same issue of Nature explaining its implicaitons:

What else is the position of ZR59 among HIVs telling us? First, it probably means that the global epidemic was indeed founded by a single HIV although, in this respect, it is no different from the annual ’flu strain. Second, the centre of the radiation and ZR59 are a considerable stretch from any simian counterpart, suggesting that HIV had a human history before it went global. Third, the Big Bang seems to have occurred around, or just after, the Second World War. Emerging microbial infections often result from adaptation to changing ecological niches and habits. And, of course, the post-war era saw the collapse of European colonialism and attendant changes in urban and technological traits. As usual, when data are limited we’re in the realm of speculation, meaning that the story is not over. …

In 1959, the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine was awarded to Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg for their work on nucleicacid polymerases, while the world rocked around to Elvis and Chuck Berry. There was fog in the English Channel.

And in 1959, a blood sample was drawn from an unknown HIV-positive man in the Belgian Congo. What he must have gone through afterwards…

Sources: Zhu, Tuofu; Korber, Bette E.; Mahmias, Andre J.; Hooper, Edward; Sharp, Paul M.; Ho, David D. ” An African HIV-1 sequence from 1959 and implications for the origin of the epidemic.” Nature 391, no. 6667 (February 5, 1998): 594-597. Abstract available here.

Wain-Hobson, Simon. “Immunodeficiency viruses, 1959 and all that.” Nature 391, no. 6667 (February 5, 1998): 531-532.

Today in History: AIDS in Africa

Jim Burroway

February 4th, 2008

In early 1988, the AIDS hysteria was in full swing. The air was filled with the rhetoric of the innocent “general population” besieged by disease-ridden homosexual men. Just two months earlier, Pat Buchannan wrote an op-ed in the New York Post saying,

There is one, only one, cause of the AIDS crisis — the willful refusal of homosexuals to cease indulging in the immoral, unnatural, unsanitary, unhealthy, and suicidal practice of anal intercourse, which is the primary means by which the AIDS virus is being spread throughout the “gay” community, and, thence, into the needles of IV drug abusers, the transfusions of hemophiliacs, and the bloodstreams of unsuspecting health workers, prostitutes, lovers, wives and children.

The scientific community however wasn’t seeing it that way. For more than five years, several articles had been appearing in medical journals pointing to central Africa as the source for the new disease. Another similar article appeared in the February 4, 1988 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine by lead author Dr. Nzila Nzilambi of Mama Yemo Hospital in Kinshasa, Zaire.

Mama Yemo Hospital saw a large number deaths in the middle 1970′s due to baffling diseases which strongly resembled what would later become known as AIDS. Dr. Nzilambi’s early personal interest in AIDS led him and a group of American and European researchers to investigate the possible origins of AIDS:

The Equateur province of Zaire occupies the northwestern part of the country and has a population of approximately four million people. The river Zaire is an important geographic landmark and provides a major trade route between the cities of Kinshasa and Kisingani.

In 1976, there was an epidemic of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in a remote part of the Equateur province, centered at the mission hospital of Yambuku, near the village of Yandongi. In the course of epidemiologic investigations of this epidemic, many hundreds of serum samples were collected from residents of the surrounding area. This same are was selected for the present study to allow follow-up of persons examined in 1976. There has been no evidence of Ebola virus activity in this region since the 1976 epidemic.

… Five of the 659 serum samples collected in 1976 had antibody to HIV according to both enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and Western blot analysis. One of the positive samples yielded HIV on culture. At follow-up in 1985, two of the persons who had tested positive for anti-HIV in 1976 were still alive and healthy: Subject 1, a 59-year-old woman, and Subject 2, a 57-year-old-man. Both had remained positive for anti-HIV. The ratio of helper to suppressor T cells was normal in Subject 1 but abnormally low in Subject 2.

A ten years span after infection with the HIV virus and the appearance of AIDS symptoms is quite common. It appears that Subject 1 follows this pattern and may have been very recently infected in 1976. Subject 2 however is beginning to exhibit damage to his immune system ten years after his blood was drawn. The authors continue:

Subject 3, was was 36 years old when blood was collected in 1976, died in 1978 after a prolonged illness characterized by weight loss, fever, cough, and diarrhea. She had lived in Kinshasa from 1972 to 1976, where she was unmarried and was considered a “free woman.” … Subject 4, who was the wife of Subject 2, was 43 years old when sampled for blood in 1976; she died in 1981 after a long illness associated with fever, weight loss, skin rash, and oral lesions. Subject 5, who was 7 years old in 1976, died of pneumonia and weight loss at the age of 16. With the exception of Subject 3, none of these seropositive persons had traveled outside the region of their respective home villages.

The results of our study showed that HIV infection was already present in an isolated area of the Equateur province of Zaire in 1976…

… The clinical descriptions of the modes of death in the three fatal seropositive cases were compatible with a diagnosis of AIDS. These findings illustrate that HIV infection and AIDS could have existed and remained stable in a rural area of Africa for a long period.

Researchers had been writing about AIDS in Africa for several years when this study came out. For example, one study two years earlier found an isolated case of HIV infection from a lone stored blood sample from Leopoldville (Kinshasa’s colonial name) taken in 1959. But none of these studies were able to prove where AIDS came from. That would have to wait until later.

But this one did provide solid evidence that HIV was already present in an isolated region of Zaire in 1976, long before it was noticed in America or Europe. And if the 7-year-old boy was infected from his mother at birth, then that would push the date in this community even further back into the late 1960′s.

Source: Nzilambi, Nzila; De Cock, Kevin M.; Forthal, Donald N.; et al. “The prevalence of infection with human immunodeficiency virus over a 10-year period in rural Zaire.” New England Journal of Medicine 318, no. 5 (February 4, 1988): 276-279. Abstract available here.

Today In History: A Simple Technique To Cure Homosexuality

Jim Burroway

January 18th, 2008

On January 18, 1964, the British Medical Journal published this article by R.J. McGuire and M. Vallance:

Aversion Therapy by Electric Shock: a Simple Technique

Aversion therapy has been used for many years in the treatment of alcoholism. Apomorphine and emetine are the usual drugs used as the unconditioned stimuli for nausea and vomiting, with alcohol as the conditioned stimulus. More recently the same procedure has been used in the treatment of sexual perversions — for example, fetishism, transvestism and homosexuality.

There are several disadvantages to the use of drugs in conditioning procedures. The time between the stimulus being presented and the nausea being produced is uncertain. The patient may not even feel nausea; and, further, the cerebral depressant effect of the drug may interfere with the patient’s ability to form conditioned responses. In addition, the treatment may have to be terminated prematurely because of its dangerous side-effects.

Alternative unpleasant responses can be used to produce aversion. In experimental psychology electric shock has been widely used both in animals and in humans. In clinical treatment, however, it has been less often used. The technique is simpler, more accurately controlled, and more certain in producing an unpleasant effect than drugs. This article describes a simple apparatus designed by one of us (R. J. McG.) and its use in the aversive treatment of sexual perversions, alcoholism, smoking, and neurotic symptoms.

Apparatus. — The components are cheap (under £1) and fit into a box approximately 6 in. (15 cm.) square and 2 in. (5 cm.) deep (Figs. 1 and 2). It is powered by a 9-volt battery and is therefore completely portable. The shock is administered through electrodes on a cuff around the patient’s forearm. To construct the apparatus requires no special skill, and the technical details are given at the end of the article.

A Simple Apparatus

This isn’t the first time a device for administering electric shock has been described in the medical literature for treating homosexuality. Electric Shock Aversion Therapy has been discussed since at least 1935. But as modern science entered the space age, at least a few therapists had managed to acquired the idea that there was a demand for an inexpensive home version. And so forty-four years ago, two researchers from Glasgow came to the rescue.

Today In History: ONE Magazine versus the U.S. Post Office

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2008

Today marks a very important milestone in LGBT history. Fifty years ago today, on January 13, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its first ever pro-gay ruling in ONE Inc. v. Olesen, a landmark decision that allowed a magazine for gays and lesbians to be sent through the U.S. mail.

ONE, Inc. was founded by several members of the Los Angeles Mattachine Society who felt that a strong nationwide voice for education and advocacy was desperately needed. According to ONE, Inc.’s articles of incorporation, “…the specific and primary purposes … are to publish and disseminate a magazine dealing primarily with homosexuality from the scientific, historical and critical point of view, and to aid in the social integration and rehabilitation of the sexual variant.” But this wasn’t going to be just any magazine. Under the inaugural editorial leadership of Martin Block, Dale Jennings, Don Slater and Donald Webster Cory, ONE magazine was to be a first class product, a dramatic departure from the typewritten and mimeographed sheets which were more common at the time.

ONE, January 1953So when ONE debuted in January 1953, it sported a very sophisticated look, with bold graphics and professional typset and design. ONE’s slick offering quickly caught the attention gays and lesbians across the country, and circulation jumped to nearly 2,000 within a few months — with most subscribers paying extra to have their magazine delivered in an unmarked wrapper. Even still, ONE’s survival depended on the day jobs of its few contributors who typically worked under multiple pen names to make the staff appear larger to readers — and sometimes to protect their own identities.

By today’s standards, an early edition of ONE might look rather tame. There were no racy pictures, and even its fiction was mostly limited to depictions of longing and desire. There was rarely any evidence of physical contact in its pages. But what the magazine lacked in raciness, it made up for in audacity. ONE’s editorial tone was bold and unapologetic, covering politics, civil rights, legal issues, police harassment (which was particularly harsh in ONE’s home city of Los Angeles), employment and familial problems, and other social, philosophical, historical and psychological topics. And most importantly, ONE quickly became a voice for thousands of silent gays and lesbians across the U.S., many of whom wrote letters of deep gratitude to ONE’s editors. But in a sign of those times, all letters to the editor were published anonymously — from “m” in Winston-Salem, North Carolina or from “f” in Beaumont, Texas.

ONE filled a very critical role for gays and lesbians during a very dark time. ONE’s debut coincided with a major push to rid the U.S. civil service of homosexuals. President Dwight D. Eisenhower would sign Executive Order 10450 in April of that year, which barred gays and lesbians from federal employment with its “sexual perversion” clause. This followed a highly-publicized purge of more than 400 gays and lesbians from the civil service some three years earlier. Homosexuality was criminalized in every states, and it was stigmatized as a mental illness by the psychiatric profession. Gays were not only denounced as security risks, but risks to the very moral fiber of the nation. Homosexuals were treated as subversives, on par with the “Communist menace” on which leading politicians were staking their career. The FBI had launched a major crackdown on homosexuality across the U.S., with many gays and lesbians losing their jobs for merely receiving homophile publications in the mail. And vice squads everywhere were setting up entrapment stings in bars and other meeting places, where a simple proposition or touch could lead to arrest and public exposure.

ONE, August 1953So when ONE caught the eye of the FBI, they immediately launched an investigation to try to shut it down. They went so far as to write to the employers of ONE’s editors and writers (they all depended on their day jobs for income), saying that their employees were “deviants” and “security risks.” Fortunately, no one lost their jobs, the FBI decided it wasn’t worth their time, and ONE continued publishing.

The job of shutting down ONE then fell to the U.S. Post Office. Since its inception, Los Angeles postal authorities vetted each issue before deciding whether it was legal to ship under the Post Office’s stringent anti-obscenity standards. And since homosexuality was illegal in most states, ONE had the added problem of possibly being guilty of promoting criminal activity. The Post Office finally acted in August 1953, holding up that month’s issue for three weeks while deciding if it violated federal laws. (Ironically, the cover story for that issue was on “homosexual marriage,” an issue that is still contentious more than fifty years later.) Finally, officials in Washington decided the magazine didn’t violate federal laws and ordered the LA Post Office to release it for shipment.

ONE, October 1953ONE, true to its aggressive stance, reacted defiantly to that move in its October issue by proclaiming in an editorial printed on the cover, “ONE is not grateful”:

Your August issue is late because the postal authorities in Washington and Los Angeles had it under a microscope. They studied it carefully from the 2nd until the 18th of September and finally decided that there was nothing obscene, lewd or lascivious in it. They allowed it to continue on its way. We have been found suitable for mailing.

…But one point must be made very clear. ONE is not grateful. ONE thanks no one for this reluctant acceptance. It is true that this decision is historic. Never before has a governmental agency of this size admitted that homosexuals not only have legal rights but might have respectable motives as well. The admission is welcome, but it’s tardy and far from enough. As we sit around quietly like nice little ladies and gentlemen gradually educating the public and the courts at our leisure, thousands of homosexuals are being unjustly arrested, blackmailed, fined, jailed, intimidated, beaten, ruined and murdered. ONE’s victory might seem big and historic as you read of it in the comfort of your home (locked in the bathroom? hidden under a stack of other magazines? sealed first class?). But the deviate hearing of our late August issue through jail bars will not be overly impressed.

ONE’s editors knew they weren’t in the clear, but they didn’t know where their next threat would come from. That threat, it appears, may have come from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Alexander Wiley (R-WI), who wrote a letter of protest to U.S. Postmaster General Aurthur Summerfield. Having run across the March 1954 issue (the cover story was “The Importance of Being Different”) Sen. Wiley registered a “vigorous protest against the use of the United States mails to transmit a so-called ‘magazine’ devoted to the advancement of sexual perversions.” Allowing a homosexual magazine to operate, he wrote, “(a) runs utterly contrary to every moral principle, (b) runs utterly contrary to our intentions to safeguard our nation’s youngsters, (c) likewise, it is the very opposite of the entire purpose of our governmental security program…”

ONE, October 1954The particulars of this action wasn’t known by ONE’s editors. But as defiant as ONE was in the October 1953 issue, they knew that the threat of closure due to censorship still loomed large — that is, if finances and distribution problems didn’t get to them first. Financial pressures forced them to skip the August and September 1954 issues and they had to extend everyone’s subscriptions by two months. To try to avoid future legal problems, ONE’s editors asked Eric Julber, their young straight lawyer fresh out of law school, to write a set of rules for the staff to follow in the hopes of staying out of trouble. When readers began to complain that ONE was too tame, the editors asked Julber to print his rules in the returning October 1954 issue with a cover declaring, “You Can’t Print It!” Those rules prohibited:

(1) Lonely hearts ads, seeking pen pals or meetings.

(2) “Cheesecake” art or photos. To readers who ask, “But how about all the girlie magazines?” I can only reply that in our society, visual stimulation of man by woman is tolerated to a far greater extent than attempted visual stimulation of man by man, for what is in law a criminal purpose.

(3) Descriptions of sexual acts, or the preliminaries thereto. Again here, what is permissible in heterosexual literature is not permissible in ONE’s context.

(4) Descriptions of experiences which become too explicit. I.e., permissible: “John was my friend for a year.” Not permissible: “That night we made mad love.”

(5) Descriptions of homosexuality as a practice which the author encourages in others, or waxes too enthusiastic about.

(6) Fiction with too much physical contact between the characters. I.e., characters cannot rub knees, feel thighs, hold hands, soap backs, or undress before one another. (All examples taken from recent contributions).

Pajamas AdJulber also insisted that he review each issue before it was sent to the publisher. But all this failed to keep ONE out of trouble — maybe because Julber didn’t strictly enforce his own rules, allowing the October 1954 issue to be arguably the raciest to date. The very same issue which ran Julber’s rules also featured a fictional short story called “Sappho Remembered,” in which two young lovers touched four times, declared their love for each other, and the story had a happy ending. Another feature, a poem, made light of the arrest of several British public figures (including actor John Gielgfud) on “morals” charges (“Lord Samuel is a legal peer / (While real are Monty’s curls!) / Some peers are seers but some are queers / And some boys WILL be girls.”). And there were two ads — one for a Swedish magazine (which, postal officials charged, meant that ONE was advertising “obscene materials”) and another for men’s pajamas and intimate wear.

That was enough for the Los Angeles Post Office to seize that issue — the one with “You Can’t Print It!” on the cover — and charge the editors with violating the 1873 Comstock Act, which prohibited sending “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” material through the mail.

The editors were eager to sue the Post Office, but ONE’s financial condition was so perilous that they held off for nearly a year. Julber took the case for free and looked for help from the ACLU, but they wouldn’t touch it — the ACLU was still defending anti-sodomy laws at the time. Finally it was up to young Julber alone to argue ONE’s case in federal district court that the magazine was educational and not pornographic. It didn’t go well. The judge ruled for the Post Office in March 1956, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in February 1957, calling ONE “morally depraving and debasing” and saying that the magazine “has a primary purpose of exciting lust, lewd and lascivious thoughts and sensual desires in the minds of persons reading it.”

ONE then took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. To everyone’s surprise, the Court agreed to take the case, its first ever dealing with homosexuality. Even more surprising, the Supreme Court issued its short, one-sentence decision on January 13, 1958 without hearing oral arguments. That decision not only overturned the two lower courts, but the Court expanded the First Amendment’s free speech and press freedoms by effectively limiting the power of the Comstock Act to interfere with the written word. As a result, lesbian and gay publications could be mailed without legal repercussions, though many continued to experience harassment from the Post Office and U.S. Customs.

ONE, February 1958Editor Don Slater celebrated the ONE decision in the February 1958 issue:

By winning this decision ONE Magazine has made not only history but law as well and has changed the future for all U. S. homosexuals. Never before have homosexuals claimed their right as citizens. Not even the Berdache, nor the Greeks, nor the Napoleonic Code, nor Wolfenden “recommendations,” nor The American Law Institute “recommendations” have managed to mean so much to so many. ONE Magazine no longer asks for the right to be heard; it now exercises that right. It further requires that homosexuals be treated as a proper part of society free to discuss and educate and propagandize their beliefs with no greater limitations than for any other group.

…The New York Times has this to say about the decision: “The court today reversed a post office ban on a magazine, One, which deals with homosexuality. The petition for review filed by the lawyer, Eric Julber of Los Angeles, had apparently raised only one question: was the magazine ‘obscene’ within the statute banning importation of obscene matter? The court’s order appeared to answer: No.”

True to its educational mission, ONE, Inc founded the One Institute as an educational arm in 1956. In 1958, the ONE Institute Quarterly became the first academic journal on gay and lesbian studies in America. ONE magazine’s last issue was in 1967 following a very long and acrimonious split in ONE, Inc.’s governing board. Today, the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives houses the world’s largest research library on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,and Transgender history near the main campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Sources: Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court, by Joyce Murdoch & Deb Price.

ONE magazine, October 1953, October 1954, February, 1958.

Today in History: The Gay Men’s Health Crisis

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2008

On January 12, 1982, eighty gay men gathered in writer Larry Kramer’s New York apartment to discuss the mysterious “gay cancer” that had been claiming the lives of their friends and lovers. Forced by bureaucratic apathy on the part of city officials, local health authorities, and even Mayor Ed Koch, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) was born.

GMHC would go on to raise money to provide services and assistance for people with HIV/AIDS, including assistance from a large army of volunteers to meet day-to-day needs like cooking, housecleaning, dog-walking, and transportation to medical appointments, as well as help in navigating the apathetic bureaucratic maze. GMHC also distributed material to help educate the general public on the need for safer sex. In these areas, GMHC worked hard to meet the needs which had been, at best, ignored by local and national health authorities and charities (most shockingly, including most faith-based charities). GMHC also battled the overt stigmatization and hostility which grew among well-known public figures, nationally as well as locally.

GMHC quickly established itself as a well-regarded authority for HIV/AIDS education and service. By 1984, the Centers for Disease Control called on GMHC’s help in planning public conferences on AIDS. As the epidemic continued to grow, GMHC expanded its reach by assisting heterosexual men and women, hemophiliacs, intravenous drug users, and children. Today, the GMHC continues its work as one of the nation’s leading non-profit, volunteer-supported AIDS service and educational organizations.

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