Posts Tagged As: Today In History

Some proud President days

Timothy Kincaid

February 15th, 2010

When it comes to ensuring the equality of all citizens, especially gay citizens, it can seem that Presidents lag far behind legislators, judges, and society at large. It would be easy to compile a large litany of abuses that Presidents have heaped on the non-heterosexual community. But there have also been days in which Presidents took action that is laudable and to their credit. And, just some steps that I included because they amuse me.

Here are a few (but certainly not all) moments in which Presidents and our community interacted:
pres washingtonFebruary 23, 1778 – Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived to offer his services General George Washington (not yet President) and his Continental Army. Steuben was probably Washington’s best military asset, as he provided the training and structure that had been up until then missing from the Americans. Steuben’s methods would be utilized for the next century and a half. Although Washington officially did not tolerate homosexual acts (drumming out an officer caught in the act of, um, fraternizing), Steuben’s reputation – and accompaniment of handsome men – did not dissuade the General from placing him in authority. One could even suggest that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the military policy from the start.

pres buchananMarch 4, 1857 – President James Buchanan was sworn into office. Buchanan was a bachelor who had lived for 15 years with Alabama Senator William Rufus King (King had died in 1852, after serving as Vice President for less than a month). While evidence of the two as a couple is not overwhelmingly conclusive enough to convince those who are inclined to dismiss any historical inclusion of non-heterosexuality (the nieces of the two men burned their correspondences), contemporaries certainly seemed to think of them in this manner. Buchanan was our only bachelor President, a sin that would certainly be seen as a liability today.

pres lincolnMarch 5, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln was sworn into office. While rumors about Lincoln were less pronounced than those about his predecessor, his space sharing was even more intimate than that of Buchanan. In his late 20’s he met Joshua Speed, moved in with him, and shared his bed for the next four years. The two exchanged flowery letters expressing devotion, and C. A. Tripp, in The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, argued that Lincoln was primarily same-sex attracted. Dissenters argue that sharing beds was common in an era in which beds were scarce. However, they are a bit less adamant about a shortage of beds in the White House when Lincoln shared his bed with David Derickson, his bodyguard, when Mary Todd Lincoln was away. Whether, indeed, Lincoln was primarily homosexual in orientation, he was certainly unconventional in his bed-mate patterns and worthy of mention.

Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United StatesNovember 1, 1978 – The Briggs Initiative was on the California ballot, for a November 7 vote. If passed, it would have banned gay man and women from working in California’s public schools. Ronald Reagan, the prior Governor and soon to be President, wrote an editorial in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner opposing the bill, saying “Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” This was an official follow-up on a September interview in which he expressed his opposition, and the timing of the editorial is closely associated with a massive shift from strong support to overwhelming opposition. In January 1981, the decorators for Nancy Reagan are the first known gay couple to spend the night in the White House.

pres clintonJanuary 20, 1993 – President Bill Clinton was sworn into office. Clinton was the first President elected with a campaign which included specific gay rights provisions and shortly into his term, Clinton sought to fulfill his promises by lifting the ban on open service of gay personnel. He ran into immediate opposition in Congress and ultimately signed off on the “compromise” that became Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as well as the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which still haunt us. But for a brief shining moment the world looked full of promise. In October 1997, Clinton nominated James Hormel, an openly gay man and significant contributor, to be Ambassador to Luxembourg. After a year and a half of opposition from conservative Senators, Clinton employed a recess appointment in May 1999 and Hormel was sworn in the following month.

pres carterFebruary 23, 1996 – Former President Jimmy Carter, writing in the LA Times, called for a rejection of “the politics of hate.” He stated, “We must make it clear that a platform of ‘I hate gay men and women’ is not a way to become president of the United States.” On April 5, 2004, in an interview with the American Prospect, he set himself in opposition to George Bush’s election campaign against same-sex couples. “I personally, in my Sunday-school lessons, don’t favor the religious endorsement of a gay marriage. But I do favor equal treatment under the law for people who differ from me in sexual orientation.” In December of the following year, he reiterated, “My own belief is that there should be a distinction between so-called gay marriages, which I look upon as a possibility of a church- ordained blessing of God on a union, which I think should be between a man and a woman. But at the same time, that people who do have gay union in a court or in secular terms not relating to religion, should be treated with complete equality.”

September 18, 2001 – Michael Guest was sworn in as Ambassador to Romania. Unlike James Hormel, this George W. Bush appointment was based on civil service record and received Senate confirmation. This early in W’s first term, there was considerable optimism that he would oversee an inclusive administration.

pres fordOctober 29, 2001 – Reporter Deb Price ran an article based on an interview with former President Gerald Ford. To her surprise, Ford endorsed non-discrimination and declared that gay couples should have the same tax and Social Security rights as married heterosexuals. “I think they ought to be treated equally. Period.” That year Ford joined the Republican Unity Coalition, an organization dedicated to making sexual orientation a non-issue in the Republican Party, thus becoming the only President to engage in pro-gay activism. Shortly before his 2006 death, Ford discussed with his Episcopal priest the divisions in the denomination over the place of gay congregants in the church. In his homily, his pastor noted, “He said he did not think (such inclusive steps) should be divisive for anyone who lived by the Great Commandments and the Great Commission — to love God and to love neighbor.” Ford was the only President who was not elected to any position by the American voters at large. He was sent to Congress by the people of Grand Rapids. After the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, Ford was selected as a replacement based primarily on his reputation for honesty and integrity, and he become president upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.

pres obamaThe current President has promised to be a fierce advocate for our community. And history will advise us of the most favorable action that President Barack Obama will take in his administration. To date, we are thankful for statements made during the election cycle, for Bishop Robinson’s inaugural prayer, for several gay appointments, and for current efforts to reverse the ban on open service in the military. Let’s hope we have much for to celebrate next Presidents’ Day.

Undoubtedly, I’ve omitted several milestones, for which I apologize. Feel free to praise Presidents in the comments section (for today, let’s try and keep it to praise. We’ll start the criticism again tomorrow.)

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream

Timothy Kincaid

January 18th, 2010

king dreamLet us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

Keep the dream alive.

Continue the struggle.

Where Were You 40 Years Ago? (Part 2)

Jim Burroway

July 19th, 2009

I don’t remember the moon landing so much. Well, a little, mostly the sounds, but it’s kind of a long story. You see, a family friend had arrived into town that day. Pearl was her name, a barely 5-foot tall, kindly elderly woman behind the wheel of a one of the largest Winnebagos I’d ever seen in my eight years on this earth. (That’s right, eight years in 1969. I’ll pause here while you do the math.)

Since her husband passed away a few  years earlier, Pearl declared that she had no intention of sitting at home getting old. So she decided to buy an RV and see the world. She joined a Winnebago club and took trips with her friends, caravanning across the continent and down into Mexico. They even arranged trips across Europe in rented RV’s and once took a trip to Moscow, although that wouldn’t be until much later. We always looked forward to Pearl’s visits so we could hear about her latest adventures on the open road.

And that’s what we were doing that day on July 20, 1969 when Pearl came into town. We were at my great-grandparents’ house, helping Pearl load the RV with groceries while she did some laundry. Then sometime after lunch, we all packed ourselves into various cars and coaches — me, my brothers and parents in our car, my grandparents and great-grandparents in their cars, and Pearl in her Winnebago — and we headed out to a state park outside of town. I remember that Dad didn’t think she would be able to back the RV into the tight camp spot. I mean, you could barely see her above the steering wheel. But she backed it right in like the seasoned pro that she was.

We spent most of the afternoon around the picnic table under the outstretched awning beside the RV. It was hot that day, and this was before RV’s were air-conditioned. Heck, this was even before most homes and cars were air-conditioned, so an afternoon out at Shawnee State Forrest was quite a treat. At about 3:30 that afternoon, Pearl went inside and came back out with a small, portable black-and-white television. She washed the dust off the screen and plugged it into an outside outlet. Dad fiddled with the dials and the rabbit ears until he was able to pull in a snowy picture from an ABC station in Huntington, WV. (The preferred CBS station in Charleston, which would have featured Walter Cronkite, was just too far away.)

The sun was so bright that day that we couldn’t see the picture very well, so someone turned up the sound and we listened to the play-by-play as Apollo 11 slowly descended to the moon. We heard someone giving a countdown before landing, and we held our breath after that voice quit counting down. After what seemed like a lifetime of not breathing — we heard Houston barking out, “we’ve got to get down!” in a voice verging on panic — we finally heard what we were waiting for: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Whenever I hear those words today, I get goose bumps all over again and sometimes even tear up a little. I was — and still am — that excited.  I remember jumping up and down laughing and screaming and celebrating with my brothers while the grownups commented on their own amazement. My great-grandmother, Easter, often remembered that day as an important milestone for her. Being born in 1898, she used to say, meant that she had lived through the most exciting transformational advancements in human history. Those weren’t exactly her words, but she explained it this way: “I’ve seen everything from the horse and buggy to the moon,” she said, “And no one will ever live a different lifetime in history with more progress than that.”

I wasn’t so reflective of course, so my brothers and I rushed off to a playground where we played astronauts for the rest of that hot summer afternoon, “beeping” between all of our transmissions in imitation of what we had just heard.

The moon walk itself wouldn’t be until much later that night — way past our bedtimes. But our parents promised we would get to watch it. Even so, my parents put my brothers and me to bed thinking that maybe we’d get a short nap before the moon walk was scheduled to begin. But of course there was no hope for that. Finally sometime before 11:00 p.m., our parents called us downstairs and we gathered around the Zenith console and waited impatiently as one talking head after another reviewed the events of the day and talked about what would lie just ahead.

Looking back on these images now makes it all seem so primitive. But to my young 8-year-old imagination, these pictures presaged something else: the long-awaited future was just about to arrive. Finally the CBS studio broke away to the live, grainy pictures from the moon, and we watch speechless as Neil Armstrong made history.

This is what the future looked like in 1969. It’s amazing what we were able to accomplish with such primitive technology by today’s standards. It’s also remarkable considering how difficult it still would be to pull off the same feat today.

People often talk about where they were when they heard John F. Kennedy was assassinated or when the Twin Towers fell. There are moments in history which serve as profound landmarks in our lives. I was too young to remember JFK’s assassination, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 somehow passed without my notice at the time. That was a very frightening year for my parents, and they wanted to shield our innocent childhoods from it. The events of 9/11 will always remain seared in my memory, but there is no moment of history that transports me back, body, mind and spirit, as does the Apollo 11 moon landing. Whenever I watch it today, I’m eight years old again, sitting upright in rapt attention on the living room in my pajamas, watching the grainy images flickering across the Zenith console — the fancy one with the “Space Command” remote control — and seeing the future finally arrive. I knew then and there I was going to be an astronaut. I still will be someday. You’ll see.

Thank You, Raymond Castro

Timothy Kincaid

June 29th, 2009

Raymond Castro 1969

Raymond Castro 1969

Forty years and a day ago, Raymond Castro was arrested for his part in the Stonewall Riots. (msnbc)

“When the police raided the place, I was outside,” Castro remembered. “Then I remembered a friend inside who did not have a false ID and he was going to get in trouble, so I went inside to give him one.” (Many of the police raids, he said, resulted in arrests for underage drinking). “Once I got inside, the police wouldn\’t let us out. It got really hot. I remember throwing punches and resisting arrest. The police handcuffed me and threw me in the paddy wagon. But I sprung back up, like a leap frog, and when I did that I knocked the police down.”

Castro then got out of town and spent the next forty years as a baker – 30 of them with Frankie Sturniolo – building a life around caring for friends and family .

Raymond Castro in 2009

Raymond Castro in 2009

In fact, it was not until David Carter, a historian and author of “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution,” called Castro that he started publicly reflecting on the events of 40 years ago.

But for every day of those forty years our community has owned him a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Raymond, for the part you played in our ongoing fight for freedom and equality.

Today In History: “Homo Nest Raided”

Jim Burroway

June 28th, 2009

The Stonwall Inn raid. (NY Daily News)

The Stonewall Inn raid. (Joseph Ambrosini, NY Daily News)

Forty years ago today, in the very early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York police attempted a raid on a Greenwich Village gay nightclub known as the Stonewall Inn. This wasn’t the first time New York police raided a gay bar, but this was the first time that patrons — for whatever reason; nobody knows exactly why — decided to fight back. The situation escalated into a full-blown riot that night, with more rioting breaking out again the next night and over the next several days.

To get just a small sense of the daily insults those patrons experienced back then, all you have to do is read the news reports about the rebellion. The New York Times buried its first day’s coverage to a very small article on page 33. If coverage was more prominent elsewhere, it was also more contemptuous. Kevin Neff at The Washington Blade posted this mocking report by the New York Daily News:

Homo Nest Raided
Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad

By JERRY LISKER, New York Daily News, July 6, 1969

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn’t bothered to shave.

A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt.

New York City experienced its first homosexual riot.

Last Thursday, the New York Daily News ran a very different story about the Stonewall riots. This time, coverage was considerably more respectful:

Veterans of those 1969 riots outside of Stonewall – a then Mafia-run, Christopher St. bar that allowed gays to dance and drink – are still focusing on the fights ahead of them, namely legalizing same-sex marriage.

“The parallel is gay people are still fighting to be seen as full human beings and want someone to have and to hold. And the first place we were able to have and to hold is when we danced at Stonewall,” said Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, 61.

Lanigan-Schmidt, who was 18 when he left his parents’ New Jersey home with less than a dollar in his pocket, saw the Stonewall as a place where he could finally be free, a spot where he could slow-dance and socialize openly.

“You felt protected there,” he said. “It became a place that I was able to be myself.”

When a phalanx of police raided the place and broke down its double doors on June 28, launching days of protests outside, patrons had reached their breaking point.

“That night was a joyous night for a lot of us,” said Jerry Hoose, 64, who described the atmosphere as like Carnival, but with energy and purpose.

The great saga of the Stonewall Inn Rebellion has been told and retold like a great legend around the communal fire. It’s a story that would fill a book, and for some that book would be a very sacred one. Instead of trying to retell the whole story, I’ll simply refer you to the Wikipedia page, which is a decent primer on those pivotal events. Better still, look at the original police reports and first-hand accounts at historian Jonathan Ned Katz’s amazing OutHistory.

White House protest, April 1965

White House protest, April 1965

But like all creation myths told around the campfire, this one often presumes that Stonewall was where everything began, that before Stonewall there was nothing. Of course, we know that’s not true. Two and a half years before Stonewall, there was the Black Cat riot in Los Angeles, when patrons at the Black Cat bar fought back against police who tried to arrest them for exchanging New Year’s kisses.  (Police charged one couple for kissing each other “on the mouth for three to five seconds.”) A year before the Black Cat riot, there were sit-ins that led to a riot in San Francisco when Compton’s Cafeteria, refusing to serve its gay customers, called the police. A year before the Compton Cafeteria riot, there were sit-ins at two restaurants in Philadelphia which led to their backing down from similar discriminatory practices. That same year and as a separate set of events, pickets first appeared in front of the White House and Independence Hall. And eleven years before Stonewall, a gay magazine managed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in its favor as it fought indecency charges.

Tensions between LGBT crowd and police continued for several nights after the raid (Larry Morris, New York Times)

Tensions between LGBT crowd and police continued for several nights after the raid (Larry Morris, New York Times)

So if there was a birth of the modern gay-rights movement, it must be marked sometime before Stonewall. To refuse to do so would be to dismiss the remarkable achievements of those who resisted before. The Stonewall rebellion wasn’t much different from previous acts of gay disobedience, but it became different because it happened at a very crucial time.

The Stonewall rebellion caught the American zeitgeist in a way that the Black Cat riot missed, probably because the Black Cat riot, happening when it did in the first few minutes of 1967, was just ever so slightly ahead of its time. America went on to change dramatically between 1967 and 1969. The Summer of Love arrived just a few months following the Black Cat raid in 1967, two beloved leaders were assassinated in 1968, and by 1969 there was widespread campus unrest over the Vietnam War and demands for racial equality. So when Stonewall came around, it wasn’t just a rebellion against a repressive local police force; it became something much bigger because it happened within the context of a much larger set of movements challenging the status quo.

A crowd of gay and lesbian revelers in front of the Stonewall Inn, June 1969, sometime before the raid.

Gays and lesbians in front of the Stonewall Inn, June 1969.

So like all creation myths, it almost doesn’t matter whether Stonewall was the first but only that it happened. It’s Stonewall that has become our touchstone, to stretch a metaphoric pun. And as a touchstone, Stonewall is global. The very word no longer needs translation. Simply utter “Stonewall,” untranslated, to anyone speaking any language today (In Russian for example, just say “Стоунволла,” pronounced “Stounvolla”), and people will know instantly what you’re talking about. I said Stonewall is our creation myth, but since many see it as the birth of the modern gay rights movement (rightly or wrongly), maybe it’s better to say that it’s our Nativity Story. We’ve divided our history between pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall just like Christianity divided the calendar based on another historic Nativity. And as with that Nativity, Stonewall marked the arrival of a new era and nothing would be the same ever again.

But that metaphor — Stonewall as a Nativity story — is unsatisfactory as well. We’re not an ancient people seeking to understand where we came from, nor are we a people awaiting a long-promised messiah who will come to save us. We are American citizens claiming our birthright. While Stonewall is now a universal touchstone the world over, the story of Stonewall is, for us Americans at least, a solidly American story more than anything else. Because they fought back, the Stonewall Inn became our Lexington and the defiant leaflets which littered the streets in the immediate aftermath were our Declaration of Independence. Stonewall reminds us that this imperfect Union still has not delivered on its promises to all its citizens, and Stonewall spurs us on to make this Union more perfect. Stonewall is yet another milestone in our country’s ongoing journey to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. That noble task is not yet finished.

Happy Bicentennial, Mr. President

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Today In History: Another Conference For Creating Change

Jim Burroway

February 1st, 2009

Today, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is wrapping up it’s annual Creating Change conference in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. But I did spend some time at our local library, paging through some old LGBT magazines from fifty years ago. That’s where I learned that, by coincidence, another important national conference hosted by leading LGB (not T) leaders was also taking place exactly fifty years ago today.

The following report appeared in the March 1959 issue of The Ladder, which was the official publication of the Daughters of Bilitis, the nation’s first organization for Lesbians. The report was of the ONE, Inc. Midwinter Institute held in Los Angeles on January 31 and February 1.

ONE, Inc, you may remember, published ONE magazine, which was the first national magazine for gays and lesbians. ONE had just come off of a stunning Supreme Court victory one year earlier in which the Court ruled that just because ONE dealt with homosexuality, it was not automatically pornographic because of the unpopular subject matter.

Unlike today’s LGBT conferences which are organized with the goal of changing laws and societal attitudes, this conference was focused on much more pressing needs for the individuals who attended: Are gays mentally ill? (The audience broke into sustained applause on the suggestion that it isn’t) Is it natural? Why is there so much hostility from religion? How do we improve the lives, mental well-being, and relationships of gay men and women? There was even a revealing roundtable discussion on social separatism between lesbians and gay men, a discussion which would foreshadow subsequent debates on political separatism between lesbians and gay men with the rise of the women’s movement in the 1960’s.

One thing that I found interesting is that the esteem held for psychology was never higher than it was then. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychoanalysts were regarded with the same awe and deference as rocket scientists and astrophysicists. Since this conference was focused on homosexuality and mental health, they naturally took center stage, where their opinions were avidly sought but rarely questioned — except occasionally by each other. A particularly interesting discussion broke out among professional leaders and Dr. Evelyn Hooker, who was in the audience. Dr. Hooker had by then published three groundbreaking studies which suggested that homosexuality was not a mental illness (although because her studies were ongoing, she was coy about making a declarative statement to that effect at the conference). It would be another fifteen years before her work would become the basis for the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

This unabridged report from The Ladder provides a fascinating look at the state of the gay community fifty years ago, and it gives us a great perspective on how far we’ve come since then. The author of The Ladder’s report was listed as Sten Russell, which, in fact, was a pseudonym for Stella Rush; “Helen Sanders” was actually Helen Sandoz. Homosexuality was listed as a mental illness and gay bars were banned or shut down under state liquor laws. Much has changed, but there’s still much more to do. People do still get fired from their jobs and shunned by their families.

They say we can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’re coming from. We’re still on a long journey, but we have traveled many miles in the past fifty years. This is a good opportunity to pause and reflect on that journey.

Original report of the ONE Institute on Mental Health and Homosexuality is after the jump

Some Thoughts on the Inauguration

Timothy Kincaid

January 20th, 2009

What follows is not a structured commentary but rather some random thoughts on the inauguration.

Rick Warren: Warren’s performance continued to highlight what an unfortunate choice it was to select him for the inaugural invocation. His inflection and style lacked gravitas and humility and at times he seemed false and fawning. I watched the ceremonies in a local coffee shop and the crowd laughed when he verbally caressed the names of the President’s daughters.

The Presidential Inauguration Committee should have closely observed his praying style before announcing Warren. Had they done so, they might have made another selection. Or perhaps they did and wanted what they got.

Vice-Presidential Oath: I wonder why the Veep has an oath that is so much longer than the President’s. It seems that this oath is not stipulated by the Constitution and so they use the same one used by Senators.

Swearing In: Did Roberts not make clear to the President that he would be offering whole sentences rather than small word coupling? And then Roberts screwed up where “faithfully” was placed in the oath.

I would never accuse the man of intentional sabotage, but it does remind us that when President Obama was a Senator he voted against confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts.

Presidential Address: This was a good speech. It began with the usual platitudes and was full of generic rhetoric, but it also gave indications where this administration will view the world with different eyes than the last. Specific references to restoring “science to its rightful place”, and “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” suggest direct policy changes while more general references hint at priorities that will change.

What saddened me was the continuation of excluding gay persons from any reference in the grand fabric of the nation. Of course some will dismiss this as an overreaching demand for such a small community, but Jews and Muslims – both much smaller populations in America – received specific reference. As much as I hope and wish for meaningful change for our community, I now fear that gay Americans are seen as a less insignificant part of Barack Obama’s America.

Benediction: Bless Rev. Lowery, but if anyone less prestigious had given that prayer they could not have carried it off. “The Red Man can get ahead, man”? Yikes!!

But I am particularly pleased that the reverend said:

And now, O Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family.

Considering the press surrounding Warren and his selection, it seemed to me that Lowery was speaking directly of the rights of gay Americans and the recognition of their relationships.

CNN: I found it of questionable taste that throughout the President’s speech they kept finding and focusing on an elderly black person. They stayed too long and the audience members’ shock of recognition of themselves on screen was distracting from the speech. And after a while it ceased seeming a confirmation of the fulfillment of a promise and began to take on a feeling of pandering and condescension. I hope that in the future media outlets can recall that this is the President of all Americans, not just old black Americans, and that we all should join together to provide our support for his leadership.

Finally, this was a joyous occasion. We should, as a nation, together hope and support and celebrate this new chapter in the history of our country. Because be we Democrats or Republicans, young or old, gay or straight, black or white or brown or chartreuse, we are Americans and Barack Obama is our President.

Today In History: APA Removes Homosexuality from List of Mental Disorders

Jim Burroway

December 15th, 2008

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) classified homosexuality as a mental illness beginning in 1952. Before then, psychiatrists and psychologists looked at homosexuality as a perversion and as a deviant behavior, but the idea that it was a mental illness was considerably more controversial. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, famously wrote to one American mother in 1935, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness.”

But by the early 1950’s American society’s view of homosexuality took a very sharp turn toward the dark side. This turn was partly sparked by the loud controversy stirred by Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948. Where before, homosexuality was little talked about; now it seemed suddenly to be everywhere. In the minds of Americans across the country, homosexuality now joined the other emerging threat, communism, as two great menaces to American order. By 1952, there had already been several purges of gays from federal employment. With the APA’s addition of homosexuality to its list of mental disorders, the fates of gays and lesbians would be sealed for the next two decades.

And as is always true in the medical and psychiatric fields, where there is an illness, there’s a quest for a cure. This was true for homosexuality long before 1952, and unfortunately it is still true today in some unenlightened circles. For the most part, the cure consisted of ordinary forms of talk therapy. But other, more abusive forms of therapy — namely electric shock therapy or therapies involving severe nausea-inducing drugs — weren’t exactly rare. And, of course, as long as gays and lesbians were labeled “mentally ill,” all manner of discrimination was made possible against those who officially declared to be operating under a mental impairment.

Thirty-five years ago today, on December 15, 1973, all of that began to change when the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees “cured” millions of gays and lesbians across America when they voted to pass this resolution (PDF: 464KB/5 pages):

For a mental or psychiatric condition to be considered a psychiatric disorder, it must either regularly cause subjective distress, or regularly be associated with some generalized impairment in social effectiveness or functioning. With the exception of homosexuality (and perhaps some of the other sexual deviations when in mild form, such as voyeurism), all of the other mental disorders in DSM-1 fulfill either of these two criteria. (While one may argue that the personality disorders are an exception, on reflection it is clear that it is inappropriate to make a diagnosis of a personality disorder merely because of the presence of certain typical personality traits which cause no subjective distress or impairment in social functioning. Clearly homosexuality, per se, does not meet the requirements for a psychiatric disorder since, as noted above, many homosexuals are quite satisfied with their sexual orientation and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness or functioning.

The only way that homosexuality could therefore be considered a psychiatric disorder would be the criteria of failure to function heterosexually, which is considered optimal in our society and by many members of our profession. However, if failure to function optimally in some important area of life as judged by either society or the profession is sufficient to indicate the presence of a psychiatric disorder, then we will have to add to our nomenclature the following conditions: celibacy (failure to function optimally sexually), revolutionary behavior (irrational defiance of social norms), religious fanaticism (dogmatic and rigid adherence to religious doctrine), racism (irrational hatred of certain groups), vegetarianism (unnatural avoidance of carnivorous behavior), and male chauvinism (irrational belief in the inferiority of women).

The New York Times alerted the world with this Page One announcement:

The American Psychiatric Association, altering a position it has held for nearly a century, decided today that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. The board of trustees of the 20,000 member organization approved a resolution that said in part, “by itself, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being a psychiatric disorder.” Persons who are troubled by their homosexuality, the trustees said, will be classified as having a “sexual orientation disturbance” should they come to a psychiatrist for help.

The full APA would go on to ratify the policy statement on April 9, 1974. But attempts to cure homosexuality would continue under a new illness inserted into the DSM as a compromise in 1974. Sexual Orientation Disturbance (SOD) defined homosexuality as an illness if an individual with same sex attractions found those attractions distressing and wanted to change. The new diagnosis served the purpose of legitimizing the practice of sexual conversion therapies, even if homosexuality per se was no longer considered an illness. The SOD diagnosis also allowed for the unlikely possibility that a person unhappy about a heterosexual orientation could seek treatment to become gay. Reflecting the realities of clinical practice, 1980’s DSM-III changed SOD to “Ego Dystonic Homosexuality” (EDH). That diagnosis was finally removed in 1987, but resurfaced as a brief mention under “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified”, which describes persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation.

Update: The last paragraph describing subsequent diagnoses was revised and clarified, with thanks to Dr. Jack Drescher.

Today In History: Candlelights At City Hall

Jim Burroway

November 27th, 2008

Harvey Milk finally succeeded in becoming the first openly gay non-incumbent candidate to win a political office for two reasons. One, he refused to hide who he was; and two, he made it his mission to build alliances with groups that other gay activists thought were impossible to reach.

So to those who knew Harvey well, it came as no surprise that shortly after the 1977 election, Harvey was on good terms with Dan White, a conservative supervisor representing a blue-collar district in the city’s southeast. White, a former cop, was supported by the city’s police union whose leaders were angry over  city policies which they considered to be soft on crime and homosexuals. There couldn’t have been two politicians from more opposite ends of the political spectrum. The local media ate it up as the two made joint appearances on local talk shows where they both talked warmly of each other. Harvey began to privately telling friends that he thought White was “educatable,” and that the two might actually be able to work together.

The warm feelings didn’t last long. During the election campaign, White had made a centerpiece of his campaign his opposition to a proposed psychiatric treatment center in his district. Neighbors worried that the center would put “arsonists, rapists and other criminals” in their neighborhood. Harvey was inclined to support White, which would have given White the 6-5 majority he needed to block the facility. But as Harvey learned more about the center, he discovered that San Francisco children would be sent instead far away to a state hospital where they would be cut off from their families. He concluded that “they’ve got to be next to somebody’s house,” and switched his vote.

The loss infuriated White, who blamed Harvey for the loss. For the next several months, White would not speak to him or his aides. Other supervisors noticed that White stopped spending as much time at his office in City Hall, and he was sullen during the weekly board meetings.

White retaliated by switching his vote on Harvey’s gay rights bill. Before the vote on the psychiatric center, White voted for the bill in committee and spoke passionately for it, tying it to his experiences as a paratrooper in Vietnam. But when the gay rights law came before the entire board a week after the vote on the psychiatric center, White changed his vote. The bill passed 10-1.

These two episodes were the start of a bitter public feud between White and Milk. White opposed every street closing or permit involving the gay community — he was often the only supervisor to do so. But as the year went on, White became increasingly disillusioned with politics. He also found that the $9,600 per year salary wasn’t enough to support his wife and infant child. He had opened a potato restaurant at Pier 39, but that business was struggling. Citing these pressures, White abruptly resigned on November 10, 1978.

This resignation gave Mayor George Moscone a tremendous opportunity to reshape the Board of Supervisors. The makeup of the eleven-member board was roughly split 6-5, and White was part of the majority who favored of conservative, business-friendly, pro-growth policies. With White’s resignation, the Mayor now had the opportunity to tilt the balance toward those who favored a more neighborhood oriented approach.

White’s supporters in the business community and police union were alarmed at his sudden resignation. They met with him to promised some financial support, and urged him to ask Moscone to reappoint him to his seat. Meanwhile, Milk and other progressive leaders lobbied Moscone to appoint someone more in line with their views. The fact that Milk vigorously opposed White’s reappointment was an open secret. Randy Shilts, writing in The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, described an encounter between Charles Morris, a publisher of a local gay paper, and White at a political fundraiser. White appeared to be in a good mood, so Morris struck up a conversation with him. At one point, Morris suggested that “there are some in the gay community who think that you might be anti-gay.” White replied, “Let me tell you right now. I’ve got a real surprise for the gay community — a real surprise.”

Mayor Moscone set Monday, November 27 as the day he would announce whether he would reappoint White or name someone else. The night before, a reporter from KCBS called White to say that a source told her that he would not be reappointed. White refused to comment. He hung up the phone and stayed up all night, eating cupcakes and drinking Cokes. The following morning, his aide called to say that a group of his supporters planned on going to city hall to present Mayor Moscone with petitions and letters of support. Since his wife had already taken the car to go to work, Dan asked for a ride to city hall. He hung up the phone, got dressed, and loaded his .38 Smith & Wesson.

White’s aide dropped him off at City Hall. White paced around a bit, then found an open basement window. He jumped through the window, allowing him to avoid the metal detectors at the building’s entrances. He made his way to Moscone’s office, who agreed to meet with White in the outer office. White asked Moscone to re-appoint him to his former seat. Moscone declined, and their conversation turned into a heated argument. Moscone then suggested they move to a private lounge attached to the mayor’s office where they could speak privately. Once inside the small room, White pulled out his pistol and shot Moscone twice in the abdomen, then twice more in the head.

White then reloaded his gun and went down the hall to Harvey’s office. There, he asked to speak privately in an adjoining room. White later recalled that he began to scream at Harvey and that Harvey got up out of his seat. White then pulled his gun and shot Harvey three times in the chest, once in the back and two times in the head. White then fled City Hall, and eventually turned himself to his former co-workers at the police department.

Thirty years ago today, on November 27, 1978, tens of thousands of stunned mourners gathered in the Castro for an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall. The sea of candles stretched ten city blocks long. At the steps of city hall, Joan Baez led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sang a hymn by Felix Mendelssohn.

Today In History: 1958 Broadcast On “The Homosexual In Society”

Jim Burroway

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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
homosexual experience.

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.

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.

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.”

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

Today In History: Lawrence vs. Texas Begins Its Journey Through The Courts

Jim Burroway

November 20th, 2008

Ten years ago today, on November 20, 1998, John Geddes Lawrence and Tyrone Garner pleaded no contest to charges of violating the Texas “Homosexual Conduct” law which banned “deviant sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” They were convicted of the Class C misdemeanor by a Justice of the Peace in Houston, and were fined $250 with an additional $141.25 in court costs.

That conviction led to a series of appeals: the Texas Criminal Court (which rejected the defense’s request to dismiss the charges), a three-judge panel of the Texas 14th Court of Appeals (which ruled the law unconstitutional), and the full nine-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals (which reversed the three-judge panel).

The appeals then reached the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which serves as Texas’s Supreme Court for criminal cases. That court refused to hear the case, which left the lower court’s decision standing.

Lawrence vs. Texas was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law, along with similar laws in twelve other states.

At last report, John Lawrence still works as a medical technologist in Houston. Tyrone Garner died in 2006 of meningitis.

Today In History: Rest In Peace

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2008

Ten years ago today, family and friends were gathering in Casper, Wyoming, to say their final good-byes to Matthew Shepard. Earlier that morning, Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, met with reporters before the funeral for a very brief public statement. Choking back tears, Dennis said:

On behalf of our son Matthew Shepard, we want to thank the citizens of the United States, and the people of the world, who have expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to our family during these trying times. A person as caring and loving as our son Matt would be overwhelmed by what this incident has done to the hearts and souls of people around the world… We are honored and touched beyond measure…

Please understand and respect my family’s request for a private and dignified farewell to our son today. Matt’s family and friends, loved him deeply, and we need to share a quiet goodbye to him. Matt himself would have been the first to honor another family’s request if this had happened to someone else.

We should try to remember that because Matt’s last few minutes of consciousness on earth may have been hell, his family and friends want more than ever to say their farewells to him in a peaceful, dignified and loving manner.

By all accounts, Matt’s funeral at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was peaceful, dignified and loving. Only selected friends and family were allowed to attend, in an attempt to keep the service quiet and private.

The scene outside the church was in equal parts dignified and circus-like. Crowds of mourners stood quietly in the gentle snowy weather to pay their respects, while police, reporters, photographers and satellite trucks buzzed around them.

A short distance away stood a contingent of protesters from Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro Baptist Church. They were there holding signs that read, “God hates fags,” and “Matt In Hell.” But they were surrounded and shielded from the church by counter-protesters — for want of a better word — who fashioned large white bedsheets into giant angel wings.

While Westboro’s tactics were the most talked-about example of anti-gay extremism on display that day, they weren’t entirely alone. Ten years ago today also saw Robert Knight’s Family Research Council use the occasion of Matt’s funeral to denounce Phelps — and to boast about their part in the ex-gay advertising blitz that had begun the day before Matt’s murder. The FRC’s statement condemned Phelps’ tactics while sharing his message of condemning Matthew to hell:

While we share Mr. Phelps’ opposition to the homosexual political agenda, his belief that homosexuality is a sin, and his call for punishment of Mr. Shepard’s killers, we do not endorse his tactics, and have asked his group to stop letting themselves be used by the media to crudely caricature Christians.

The ‘truth in love’ media campaign reaches out to people struggling with homosexuality and offers them hope for change and redemption. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, homosexuals are included in a list of sinners, who, if unrepentant, will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Ten years have passed since Matthew Shepard has been laid to rest. Where are we at today?

One thing is undeniable. We’ve made great strides in changing how people view LGBT people. More people are “out” than ever before, living openly for the most part in relative safety.

And yet, too many things still haven’t changed. It is still legal to fire people from their jobs for being gay. Marriage rights are only secure right now in one state. Wyoming is one of twenty states which still does not have a hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation. And the federal hate crime statute still covers race, religion, and national origin — but not sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

Yet official statistics continue to show that when hate crmes do occur against LGBT people, those crimes are more likely to be violent crimes when compared to other classes which are already protected.

In these ten years since Matthew’s death, we have continued to lose countless lives — singled out simply for who they were. We’ve lost Brandon Teena, Danny Overstreet, Phillip Walstead, Amancio Coralles, Satendar Singh, Scotty Joe Weaver, Daniel Fetty, Steven Domer, Roberto “Poncho” Duncanson, Sean Kennedy, Angie Zapata, Michael Sandy, Simmie Williams, Jr., and Lawrence King — just to name a very few.

As Judy Shepard has said on the tenth anniversary of her son’s death, so much has changed. Yet so much remains the same.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: “Something In the Culture”

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2008

I hadn’t planned on posting another installment, but I just happened to run across this at the library Sunday. It’s from the Winter 1998/9 edition of the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. Ten years ago today, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) rose on the House floor to address the chamber on the need to amend the Federal Hate Crimes law to include sexual orientation. A portion of that speech was adapted as an op-ed in the HG&LR.

Recently a very decent young man was brutally murdered by two savage individuals. I am particularly struck by this, because — given the reason that those two mentally and morally deformed individuals murdered that young man — it could have been me. Had I, alone and unarmed, confronted these two thugs, I could have been subjected to the same brutalization that Mr. Shepard was in Wyoming, because his crime was to be a gay man. Something in the culture in which these two young men grew up led them, without an ounce of humanity, without a scrap of decency, to set upon this young man with a weapon, beat him, and leave him not quite dead, but at the point of death, alone, and in a way that added further his torment.

I am encouraged by the number of people who have spoken out against this savagery. I am optimistic, having spoken with leaders on both sides in the House, that we will take an important step and add to the Federal hate crimes legislation a provision that would say that if a young man who happens to be gay, as I happen to be gay, is set upon by thugs in the future who are so consumed with prejudice as to lose any shred of their humanity and kill him, that in appropriate circumstances, if the Attorney General found that certain very stringent requirements were met, and if a Federal presence were necessary, the Federal presence could be there. So, I hope we will add this to the legislation now pending.

But we need to go beyond that. I do not argue that those who have been critical of various proposals that gay and lesbian people have put forward are guilty of murder or of even creating a murderous climate. But this savage murder does call us to the need to improve what we as a society do to protect other young Mr. Shepards from this kind of brutality in the future.

In particular, we have debated on the floor of this House measures whereby Members have sought to penalize secondary schools for setting up programs to that do two things. First, they would offer protection to the young gay men and lesbians who find themselves tormented and abused and sometimes physically assaulted in school. Second, some of these schools would try to teach young people in their teens that brutalizing people because they don’t like their sexual orientation is not acceptable human behavior.

I hope that one thing that will come out of this terrible murder will be a cessation of those efforts to prevent schools from trying in turn to prevent this kind of behavior. It is not random that the terrible murder was committed upon a gay man, and it is shocking that a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old could be so bestial in their attitude toward a fellow human being. These are people not long out of high school themselves. This underlines the importance of allowing educators to deal with prejudice. We talk about teaching values. But when some talk about teaching the value of tolerance, when some talk about condemning violence based on someone’s basic characteristics, we are told we cannot do that. We have been told that we cannot let a school teach acceptance of the gay lifestyle. Think about that: What does non-acceptance mean? If acceptance is interpreted to mean approval, then I don’t care about it. There are bigots in this world whose approval holds no charms for me. But when non-acceptance means not accepting someone’s right to live, we have a serious problem.

If the two murderers who so brutally beat Mr. Shepard and left him to die – if they had been in a school system in which people had taught that gay men and lesbians were human beings with a right to live, maybe this would not have happened. Maybe teaching people to accept differences, not in the sense of becoming their advocates or supporters, but in refraining from this sort of assault, would be a good thing. Ad so we will return to this. I hope we will, in the piece of legislation that’s about to wrap up this session, adopt the hate crimes statute, and I hope we will no longer see in this House efforts to harass and penalize educators who understand the importance of trying to remove from young people’s attitudes the kind of hatefulness that led to this murder.

The Republican Congressional leadership of Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich refused to allow an appropriate amendment to the Hate Crimes law into this bill, so it died for the year. Ten years later, Federal law continues to provide hate crime protections on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, but not sexual orientation.

Also ten years ago today, vigils were held around the country and the giant rainbow flag in San Francisco’s Castro district was lowered to half staff. And Fred Phelps, of the Westboro Baptist Church, announced that his clan would be protesting at the funeral.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 — Oct 12, 1998)

Jim Burroway

October 12th, 2008

Ten years ago today, on October 12, 1998, Poudre Valley Hospital’s CEO Rulon Stacey released this medical update during a hastily called press conference at 4:30 a.m.:

At 12 midnight on Monday, October 12, Matthew Shepard’s blood pressure began to drop. We immediately notified his family who were already at the hospital.

At 12:53 a.m. Matthew Shepard died, his family was at his bedside.

Matthew arrived at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, October 7, in critical condition.

Matthew remained in critical condition during his entire stay at Poudre Valley Hospital. During his stay, efforts to improve his condition proved to no avail.

Matthew died while on full life support measures.

Funeral arrangements are pending, and we will announce those arrangements on our website as soon as they are available at, under the PVHS NEWS toolbar. Please do not call the hospital for this information; we will post the information on this web site as soon as we find out.

The family did release the following statement, “We would like to thank the hospital for their kindness, professionalism, sympathy, and respect for the needs of our family under this stressful time. We will always be grateful for their concern for Matthew.”

The family again asked me to express their sincere gratitude to the entire world for the overwhelming response for their son. During the last 24 hours we have received nearly 2000 e-mails from every continent, and, our Website has received thousands of hits on Saturday and Sunday. We will continue to forward to the family any e-mail we receive…

The family was grateful they did not have to make a decision regarding whether or not to continue life support for their son. Like a good son, he was caring to the end and removed guilt or stress from the family.

He came into the world premature and left the world premature.

Matthew’s mother said, “Go home, give your kids a hug and don’t let a day go by without telling them you love them.”

Matthew’s family is so grateful that his last words to them were, “I love you.” This was said when the family went to Saudi Arabia where they work for an oil company.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

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