Tag Archives: LGBT

September 4, 1957 (a Wednesday)

A page from the Wolfeden Report.

A page from the Wolfeden Report.

On this date, the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden Report, after Lord Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee) was published in Britain. It was significant for recommending that homosexual behavior in private between consenting adults, (i.e., over 21) should be decriminalized. The first printing of 5,000 copies of the 155-page document sold out in a matter of hours, and the report quickly went through numerous reprintings.

Male homosexuality had been illegal in England since the Buggery Act of 1533 (female homosexuality was never specified). The law became much more strict in 1885 with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which made all homosexual acts illegal, even those carried out in private. Perhaps the most famous prosecution was that of the writer Oscar Wilde in 1895.

The number of convictions rose rapidly in the immediate period after World War II as the Home Office pursued prosecution more rigorously. In 1952, there had been 670 prosecutions in England for sodomy; 3,087 prosecutions for attempted sodomy or indecent assault; and 1,686 prosecutions for so-called gross indecency.

At that time, homosexuality was also the subject of sensationalist reporting in the popular press, and there were a number of high profile cases involving public figures. In 1951, the Russian spies Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess, both known to be homosexual, defected to the USSR. Alan Turing, the cryptographer who helped to break the German Enigma code, was victimized for his homosexuality. Charged in 1952 with “gross indecency”, he chose hormone treatment as punishment (the alternative was prison). He also lost his job. His death in June 1954 was treated as suicide. In 1953, newly-knighted Sir John Gielgud was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.” In 1954, the sensational trial of the Montagu/Pitt-Rivers/Wildeblood case was held, resulting in a peer (Lord Montagu of Beaulieu), his cousin (Michael Pitt-Rivers), and a journalist (Peter Wildeblood) being convicted of having had sexual relations with young working class men. They received sentences ranging from twelve to eighteen months imprisonment.

All of these events and controversies created pressure for a re-evaluation of the criminalization of homosexuality. Two MPs in December 1953 called upon the government to set up a Royal Commission to investigate the law relating to homosexual offenses, leading the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, to appoint the Departmental Committee in August 1954.

In addition to Wolfenden, the committee consisted of eleven men and three women, of whom thirteen served for the entire three years of the committee’s deliberations. The committee included, among others, two judges, a Foreign Office official, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, a Conservative MP, a consulting psychiatrist, the vice-president of the City of Glasgow Girl Guides, and a professor of moral theology. It was charged “to consider (a) the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts; and (b) the law and practice relating to offences against the criminal law in connection with prostitution and solicitation for immoral purposes, and to report what changes, if any, are desirable.”

The committee met for the first time on September 15, 1954. Over a period of three years, they interviewed religious leaders, policemen, judges, probation officers, psychiatrists, social workers, and homosexuals. When they issued their report in 1957, all but one of the thirteen members still sitting on the committee agreed that homosexual acts should be decriminalized if they took place in private, with consent, between persons at least 21 years of age and not members of the armed forces or the merchant navy.

The committee condemned homosexuality as immoral and destructive to individuals, but concluded that outlawing homosexuality impinged on civil liberties and that private morality or immorality should not be “the law’s business.” The function of the law, the committee wrote:

…is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable…. It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined.

_____________________________________________________________

Interview with Sir John Wolfenden in 1967.
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The basis on which the Wolfenden committee made its recommendations was essentially a restatement of the famous “harm principle” of John Stuart Mill, which he stated in his best-known work, On Liberty (1859). Here, Mill’s defense of liberty is as uncompromising as he can make it:

[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.

The sole dissenter from the majority’s recommendation, James Adair, disassociated himself from the Wolfenden Report, declaring that relaxing the law on homosexuality would be regarded by many homosexuals as “licensing licentiousness.”

Interestingly, despite the testimony of numerous psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, the committee refused to classify homosexuality as a mental illness requiring psychiatric intervention. It found that “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects.” It did, however, urge continued research into the causes and potential cures of homosexuality, such as hormone treatments and psychiatric therapy.

The recommendation to decriminalize homosexuality was widely condemned by many religious and political leaders and by a host of newspapers. The committee’s refusal to declare homosexuality a disease provoked the condemnation of psychiatrists. On the other hand, the British Medical Association, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the National Association of Probation Officers supported the committee’s recommendations. Somewhat surprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Fisher, made an eloquent plea on behalf of the recommendations, declaring that:

There is a sacred realm of privacy… into which the law, generally speaking, must not intrude. This is a principle of the utmost importance for the preservation of human freedom, self-respect, and responsibility.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, was deeply disappointed in the Wolfenden Report. He no doubt expected the committee to recommend additional ways of controlling homosexual behavior, rather than decriminalizing it. In any case, he expressed doubt that the general population would support reform and declined to take action to implement the committee’s recommendation, calling instead for “additional study.” In fact, it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act in 1967.

References:

August 8, 1942 (a Saturday)

Rudolf Brazda, photo taken at Mulhouse, late 1940 (Private Collection)

On this date, following two convictions for violating section 175 of the former German Criminal Code, Rudolf Brazda was sent to the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald. The bureaucracy of the horror of the degradation is listed matter-of-factly in the original documents from the Buchenwald concentration camp:

Registered on 8 August 1942, Paragraph 175 homosexual, prisoner number 7952, pink triangle.

Brazda was probably the last surviving “Pink Triangle”, men who were rounded up by the Nazis and detained in concentration camps for being gay. The Nazis outlawed homosexuality in 1936 and it is estimated that they sent between 5,000 and 15,000 gays to concentration camps. After the end of World War II, Brazda setted in Alsace in northeastern France. He started visiting local gay cruising grounds, notably the Steinbach public garden where ironically Pierre Seel, another homosexual deportee who later came out, had been identified by the French police shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Brazda, like Seel and thousands of others, had to remain silent for decades after World War II ended because homosexuality remained a crime (it was decriminalized in France only in 1982). He spoke out in this interview:
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Rudolf Brazda died on August 3, 2011.

Suggested reading/watching:

  • Bent, the 1997 movie made from Martin Sherman’s 1979 play of the same name
  • Epstein and Friedman, Paragraph 175
  • Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (Holt, 1988)
  • Pierre Seel, Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel [I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual] (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1994)

August 4, 2010 (a Wednesday)

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

— John Adams, “Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,” December 1770

Zen stones

Scales of Justice

On this date, U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that Proposition 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that banned same-sex civil marriage, was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling put Walker, a Republican, at the forefront of the gay marriage debate and marked the latest in a long line of high-profile legal decisions for the longtime federal judge. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987, but his nomination was held up for two years in part because of opposition from gay rights activists. (As a lawyer, he had helped the U.S. Olympic Committee sue a gay ex-Olympian who had created the Gay Olympics, an athletic competition.)

Ironically, most major media organizations, from the New York Times and ABC News to the Washington Post and National Public Radio, have lately reported on Judge Walker as gay or had commentators saying it. In fact, he has never confirmed to anyone in the media what sexual orientation he may be. As Michelangelo Signorile recently pointed out in the Huffington Post:

[T]he outrageous hypocrisy here on the part of the corporate media — and one that shows how they are manipulated by the right — is the fact that, even with proof and evidence, news organizations refuse to report on the secretly gay sexual orientation of conservative, anti-gay politicians and public figures when the argument for their exposure is made from the left. [emphasis added]

Lawyer Brian Levine, an attorney who practices civil litigation in San Francisco, wrote an analysis of the Perry ruling in which he said:

Most of the decision (the first 109 pages) is the “factual findings.” This is crucial, and here’s why. On appeal, Judge Walker’s conclusions of law are basically irrelevant. Questions of law are decided fresh on appeal, and the trial court’s thoughts on the law are entitled to no deference. On the other hand, only a trial court can make factual findings. A Court of Appeal must give great deference to the factual findings of the trial court, especially when those findings are based on the credibility of witness testimony. Judge Walker knows this. He knows that his primary role in this case is to weigh the credibility of the evidence that was presented at trial and apply the facts that were proven to the law. But the law — unlike the facts — ultimately will be decided by nine Justices at a higher pay grade. Consequently, we should be grateful to Judge Walker for carefully and diligently going through the facts of the case, creating a detailed and compelling record for the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

So, the trial court’s findings of fact and rulings on credibility are here to stay, no matter whether Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, or Alito approve of same-sex marriage or not. Lawyer Paul Hogarth, an attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco, identified several important findings of fact, including:

[Fact #] 27. Marriage between a man and a woman was traditionally organized based on presumptions of a division of labor along gender lines. Men were seen as suited for certain types of work and women for others. Women were seen as suited to raise children and men were seen as suited to provide for the family.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 32. California has eliminated marital obligations based on the gender of the spouse. Regardless of their sex or gender, marital partners share the same obligations to one another and to their dependents. As a result of Proposition 8, California nevertheless requires that a marriage consist of one man and one woman.

Homosexual couples and heterosexual couples are equal.

These two factual findings together lead to the logical conclusion that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is an archaic concept that relies on a presumption that men and women are different, and somehow both indispensable to form a marriage. The times are changing, and justices in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) cannot simply “stick their heads in the sand.” Three more factual findings are also noteworthy:

[Fact #] 58. Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 67. Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 79. The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child.

These three factual findings together strongly suggest that Prop 8 was motivated by an irrational fear (animus) toward gays and lesbians. In ruling on Perry, Walker stated:

The evidence at trial regarding the campaign to pass Proposition 8 uncloaks the most likely explanation for its passage: a desire to advance the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples. The campaign relied heavily on negative stereotypes about gays and lesbians and focused on protecting children from inchoate threats vaguely associated with gays and lesbians. . . .

At trial, proponents’ counsel attempted through cross-examination to show that the campaign wanted to protect children from learning about same-sex marriage in school. . . . The evidence shows, however, that Proposition 8 played on a fear that exposure to homosexuality would turn children into homosexuals and that parents should dread having children who are not heterosexual. . . .

The testimony of George Chauncey places the Protect Marriage campaign advertisements in historical context as echoing messages from previous campaigns to enact legal measures to disadvantage gays and lesbians. The Protect Marriage campaign advertisements ensured California voters had these previous fear-inducing messages in mind. The evidence at trial shows those fears to be completely unfounded.

Judge Vaughn R. Walker

Walker correctly recognized that the rhetoric of “defending marriage”, which proponents have always been unable to explain satisfactorily in my view, actually amounts to simply saying that heterosexual couples are morally better than homosexual couples. Note that both Judge Walker in his ruling and David Fleischer in The Prop 8 Report identified the same campaign strategy used by Prop 8 proponents as responsible for the passage of the initiative. Fleischer observed:

Recycling a lie as old as Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign whipped up fears about kids to move voters to its side. . . . Yes on 8’s fear-mongering about children was particularly effective because No on 8 waited sixteen of the thirty days remaining until the election was over to directly respond.

Judge Walker’s ruling concluded:

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples. . . . Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Supporters of same-sex marriage march from San Francisco's Castro neighborhood to celebrate the ruling on Prop 8.

After the ruling was announced, a lawyer on the defense team, Jim Campbell, repeated their familiar but nevertheless misleading refrain:

In America, we should uphold and respect the right of [the] people to make policy changes through the democratic process, especially changes that do nothing more than uphold the definition of marriage that has existed since the founding of this country and beyond.

As a lawyer, Campbell should know better — that the will of the majority is not unlimited. A minority who must depend on the benevolence of those outside of its community is always subject to popular attacks. And as the framers envisioned, the role of the judiciary is to act as “counter-majority” in order to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I remind Campbell and the rest of his defense team of what Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most influential Founding Fathers, said in his first Inaugural Address (1801):

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Likewise, John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859 in his famous essay, On Liberty:

The “people” who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised; and the “self-government” spoken of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power. [emphasis in original]

This idea was embedded in a 1943 SCOTUS decision, West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette (319 US 624). Judge Walker quoted in Perry from the opinion written by Justice Robert Jackson 67 years ago:

One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

In the case of West Virginia, the SCOTUS did a rare reversal of itself, acknowledging a mistake it had made in a Jehovah’s Witness case three years earlier. What happened between 1940 and 1943 to Jehovah’s Witnesses gave Judge Walker in 2010 his most potent precedent to show that voter will does not trump the protection of minority rights. Lillian Gobitas was among thousands of Jehovah’s Witness children expelled from public school for not saluting the flag. This religious sect believes that the flag salute is an idolatrous act of worship of a man-made symbol, which is forbidden by their God. Her case, Minersville School District v Gobitis (310 US 586), went to the SCOTUS and a fundamental question was asked: Should a free society force its citizens to engage in patriotic ritual? In 1940, the court answered “Yes.” National unity was at stake. It also said the threat of being expelled from school was a good way to achieve compliance. If anyone felt put out, the court said, he could seek remedy at the ballot box by asking the majority to see it his way.

At the height of World War II, when the U.S. was fighting nationalism in Germany, where Jehovah’s Witnesses were being sent to concentration camps for refusing to do the Nazi salute, the SCOTUS revisited the case. When Justice Jackson got the chance, he tackled the ballot box notion head-on. He wrote that the “very purpose” of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from the volatility of politics and “place them beyond the reach of majorities.”

Of course, Walker’s ruling is not the end of Perry v Schwarzenegger; both sides are preparing for an appeal. The appeal would go first to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, then to the SCOTUS if the high court justices agree to review it. And, Prop 8 proponents may ultimately prevail, especially in the SCOTUS as presently constituted. But regardless of the final outcome, even if Prop 8 is ultimately upheld, Judge Walker’s ruling has broken ground in American jurisprudence and I believe his reasoning will someday be affirmed by the nation’s highest court.

July 11, 1977 (a Monday)

The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name

By James Kirkup

Christ blessing - Raphael, 1506.

‘Christ Blessing’ – Raphael, 1506.

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms–
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh

For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death’s final ejaculation.

 Christ at the Column - Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), 1514.

‘Christ at the Column’ – Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), 1514.

I knew he’d had it off with other men-
with Herod’s guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit – even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.

It was the only way I knew to speak our love’s proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth – I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit’s final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

Christ at the Column - Donato Bramante,  c. 1490.

‘Christ at the Column’ – Donato Bramante, c. 1490.

-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they die of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another’s limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.

Zen stones

'Gay News' issue #96, dated 3 June 1976.

‘Gay News’ issue #96, dated 3 June 1976.

The above poem alluding to Jesus Christ and same-sex attraction was published, along with a drawing by the illustrator Tony Reeves, on page 26 of issue 96 dated 3 June 1976 of the British periodical Gay News. It expresses the fictional love of a Roman Centurion for Jesus and describes him having sex with the Christ’s crucified body. It also suggests Jesus had sex with Pontius Pilate, the disciples, and John the Baptist.

In early November 1976, a certain Mary Whitehouse obtained a copy of the poem and construed it as blasphemous. She announced her intention to bring a private prosecution against the magazine under the Blasphemy Act of 1697. Under Section 8 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act of 1888, intended to protect newspapers from vexatious litigation, this required the leave of a judge in chambers. Leave to bring this prosecution was granted on 9 December 1976. The charges named Gay News Ltd and Denis Lemon as the publishers. A charge against Moore Harness Ltd for distributing was subsequently dropped.

The indictment described the offending publication as “a blasphemous libel concerning the Christian religion, namely an obscene poem and illustration vilifying Christ in his life and in his crucifixion”. The Gay News Fighting Fund was set up in December 1976. Judge Alan King-Hamilton QC heard the trial at the Old Bailey on 4 July 1977, with John Mortimer QC and Geoffrey Robertson representing the accused and John Smyth representing Mary Whitehouse.

'The Dead Christ' - Andrea Mantegna, 1480.

‘The Dead Christ’ – Andrea Mantegna, 1480.

Prosecuting Counsel John Smyth told the court: “It may be said that this is a love poem — it is not, it is a poem about buggery.” The defense argued that far from being “vile” and “perverted” the poem glorified Christ by illustrating that all of mankind could love him. During the six-day trial columnist and TV personality Bernard Levin and novelist Margaret Drabble testified that the Gay News was a responsible paper that did not encourage illegal sexual practices.

On Monday, 11 July 1977, the jury gave their 10-2 guilty verdict in the case of Whitehouse v. Lemon. Gay News Ltd was fined £1,000. Denis Lemon was fined £500 and sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended. It had been “touch and go”, said the judge, whether he would actually send Denis Lemon to jail.

Mary Whitehouse’s costs of £7,763 were ordered to be paid four-fifths by Gay News Ltd and one-fifth by Lemon. Gay News Ltd and Denis Lemon appealed against conviction and sentence. On 17 March 1978, the Court of Appeal quashed Denis Lemon’s suspended prison sentence but upheld the convictions. Gay News readers voted by a majority of 20 to 1 in favor of appealing to the House of Lords. The Law Lords heard the appeal against conviction and delivered their judgment on 21 February 1979. At issue was whether or not the offense of blasphemous libel required specific intent of committing such a blasphemy. The Lords concluded that intention was not required. The appeal was lost.

Man of Sorrows - Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532.  The artist has depicted Christ with an erection, which according to some scholars' interpretation, is a symbol of his resurrection and lifelong power.

‘Man of Sorrows’ – Maarten van Heemskerck, 1532. The artist has depicted Christ with an erection, which according to some scholars’ interpretation is a symbol of his resurrection and lifelong power.

The European Commission of Human Rights declared the case inadmissible to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights on 7 May 1982. The £26,435 raised by the Gay News Fighting Fund through benefits and donations from the gay community and others, including a £500 donation from Monty Python, was sufficient to cover the costs of the trial and appeals.

On 11 July 2002, a deliberate and well-publicized public reading of the poem took place on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square in central London, but failed to lead to any prosecution. Police officers surrounded the campaigners as a collection of people opposed to the reading attempted to shout as loud as they could to prevent anyone from hearing. The protest passed off without any incidents, with campaigners arguing for blasphemy laws to be scrapped. “We have won an important victory for free speech and the right to protest”, declared human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The author, James Falconer Kirkup, at the time 84, criticized campaigners because he did not want the poem to be used for “political ends”.

For years, publishing this poem was illegal in the UK, although the poem was and is widely available on the Internet. Whitehouse v. Lemon was the last prosecution for blasphemy in the UK. Britain’s ancient laws of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, which made it illegal to insult Christianity, were finally abolished by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008.

'Saint Sebastian' - Guido Reni, 1615, currently at Palazzo Russo in Genoa.

‘Saint Sebastian’ – Guido Reni, 1615, currently at Palazzo Russo in Genoa.

The scandal “The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name” provoked was out of all proportion to any offense it might have caused to believing Christians, just as the celebrity it achieved was out of all proportion to any merit it might have enjoyed as literature. The poem would probably have been read by only a few hundred people, and perhaps largely forgotten, if it were not for the publicity of the trial.

The poem’s lack of originality is apparent from its title, which is not merely an inverted cliché but one that is a reference to the famous poem by Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), “Two Loves“, which was itself a reference to the Shakespeare sonnet #144, also named “Two Loves.” The imagery of Kirkup’s poem is relentlessly shocking, from the opening verse where we read that the dead Christ has “the tough, lean body of a man no longer young, beardless, breathless, but well hung” to the fifth verse, an enumeration of Christ’s sexual partners (although it clearly is not pornographic because it is not obscene simply for the sake of obscenity). The mention of Paul is particularly inane, since Paul never met Christ and many Christians suspect that his message might have been very different if he had. Moreover, Kirkup betrays his ignorance of the gospel story by leaving out the most likely candidate for “the disciple whom Jesus loved”: Saint John.

Central figures in Bernini's 'Ecstasy of Saint Teresa'.

Central figures in Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’.

Yet, much classic religious art has always been intensely erotic, whether it be Guido Reni’s Saint Sebastian, which was a favorite painting of both Oscar Wilde and Yukio Mishima, or Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture which depicts a truth evident to any open-minded reader of the story of Teresa of Avila: that her “raptures” are essentially orgasmic. The two central figures of the swooning nun and the angel with the spear derive from an episode described by the mystical cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun in her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus (1515–1582). In the passage, she describes being pierced by a seraphim’s spear: “In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with the love of God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it.”

It was a pity that the furor overshadowed Kirkup’s other achievements as a poet and writer, which were considerable. His poem “No More Hiroshimas” [archived here] is particularly moving.

June 26, 2003 (a Thursday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Lawrence v Texas (539 US 558). This landmark ruling (6 to 3) struck down a Texas law that prohibited sodomy (that is, anal sex) between same sex couples. The Court had previously addressed the same issue in 1986 in Bowers v Hardwick (478 US 186), where it upheld a challenged Georgia statute, not finding a constitutional protection of sexual privacy.

The case arose when police received an anonymous tip of a disturbance in an apartment. The police went to and entered the apartment and discovered two men engaged in homosexual activity. The men were arrested and convicted under a Texas law that prohibits “deviate sexual intercourse.” They were fined $200. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed their convictions and rejected challenges to the Texas law based on both privacy and equal protection.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that the right to privacy protects a right for adults to engage in private, consensual homosexual activity. He said that this right is protected under the word “liberty” in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and is not trivial. Kennedy wrote:

The Court began its substantive discussion in Bowers as follows: ‘The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of the many States that still make such conduct illegal and have done so for a very long time.’ That statement, we now conclude, discloses the Court’s own failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse…

When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.

Justice Kennedy expressly analogized to Supreme Court precedents protecting the right to purchase and use contraceptives and the right to abortion as aspects of privacy. The Court concluded that:

Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.

Justice O’Connor, who had voted with the majority in Bowers, concurred in the judgment in Lawrence but said that she would not overrule Bowers. Instead, she would invalidate the Texas law because it applied only to same-sex couples. For her, the Georgia law in Bowers was different because it applied both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. In some ways, O’Connor’s opinion was broader than the majority’s, for as Antonin Scalia noted in dissent, it explicitly cast doubt on whether laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples could pass rational-basis scrutiny. O’Connor explicitly noted in her opinion that a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would pass the rational-basis test as long as it was designed to preserve traditional marriage, and was not simply based on the state’s dislike of homosexual persons.

However, O’Connor does not explain how a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples could be designed to “preserve” (whatever that means) traditional marriage WITHOUT being motivated by the state’s dislike of homosexual persons. Furthermore, if a state provides nearly all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples but calls it “civil union” or “domestic partnership”, its duplicity and prejudice become even more obvious by refusing to allow them to marry.

Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, dissented. He said, with his characteristic hyperbole and hysteria, that the Court was not justified in overruling the precedent of Bowers v. Hardwick. Scalia’s dissenting opinion argued that states should be able to make the moral judgment that homosexual conduct is wrong and embody that judgment in criminal statutes. He also averred that State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers‘ validation of laws based on moral choices.

However, Scalia’s assertion is NOT true — proscribing adult incest can be justified on medical grounds, since children produced by such activity are more likely to suffer genetic disorders, and proscribing bestiality can be justified on grounds of animal cruelty. Also, it logically follows from Scalia’s reasoning that states should be able to make the moral judgment that interracial marriage is wrong and embody that judgment in criminal statutes – except that the Supreme Court has previously ruled those laws unconstitutional as well.

With Lawrence, Scalia concluded, the Court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.” While Scalia said that he has “nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means,” Scalia argued that the Court has an obligation to decide cases neutrally. 

Of course, Scalia’s use of the term “agenda”, implying that the action against Texas is part of a wider, covert effort to legalize the activities he mentions above, debases homosexual persons, and his protestation that he has nothing against them only confirms his bias, or at least makes his self-professed neutrality suspect.

June 23, 1912 (a Sunday)

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.


On this date, the mathematician Alan Mathison Turing was born. Turing was a genius and a visionary who foresaw the digital world in which we now live and who believed machines would one day think. In the eyes of scientists today, Turing sits alongside Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin at the table of scientific greats.

Turing’s first professional success came with publication of his paper entitled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (1936). In the course of solving Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem (Decision Problem), Turing invented the hypothetical device that became known as the Turing machine, and proved that some such machine would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. Andrew Hodges, a biographer of Turing, describes it this way:

The concept of “the Turing machine” is like that of “the formula” or “the equation”; there is an infinity of possible Turing machines, each corresponding to a different “definite method” or algorithm. But imagine, as Turing did, each particular algorithm written out as a set of instructions in a standard form. Then the work of interpreting the instructions and carrying them out is itself a mechanical process, and so can itself be embodied in a particular Turing machine, namely the Universal Turing machine. A Universal Turing machine can be made do what any other particular Turing machine would do, by supplying it with the standard form describing that Turing machine. One machine, for all possible tasks.

It is hard now not to think of a Turing machine as a computer program, and the mechanical task of interpreting and obeying the program as what the computer itself does. Thus, the Universal Turing Machine embodies the essential principle of the computer: a single machine which can be turned to any well-defined task by being supplied with the appropriate program.

This is why Turing is given credit for having invented the principle of the modern computer.

But in the 1930s, when Turing began working on the Entscheidungsproblem, the word “computer” had a meaning different from the one it has today: it meant simply a person who did computations — that is to say, a person engaged in the active use of algorithms. Turing wrote:

We may compare a man in the process of computing a real number to a machine which is only capable of a finite number of conditions q1, q2, …, qR which will be called “mconfigurations”. The machine is supplied with a “tape”, (the analogue of paper) running through it, and divided into sections (called “squares”) each capable of bearing a “symbol”.

The point should be emphasized: Turing was not considering the computing machines of his day. No such machines existed at the time, only calculating devices too crude to undertake any complex mathematics, and certainly not programmable. He was actually modelling the action of human minds. The physical machines would come ten years later.

British mathematician Alan Turing, shown aged 16 at the Sherborne School in Dorset in 1928.

Turing is best known for his work in cracking the Nazi codes, which gave the allies a consistent intelligence advantage over the enemy, shortening World War II by years and saving millions of lives. “Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them,” said Richard Dawkins. “After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody,” referring to Turing’s sexual orientation.

Turing also devised what is known today as the “Turing Test.” The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine’s capability to perform human-like conversation. Described by Alan Turing in the 1950 paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence“, it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. It is assumed that both the human and the machine try to appear human. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of some machine), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel, such as a teletype machine as Turing suggested.

However, Turing was a gay man living in an era when the word still meant “happy” or “lighthearted” and anyone who acted on a homosexual impulse was subject to criminal prosecution, not only in England where Turing lived but in many other countries as well. Nevertheless, rather naive and somewhat unworldly, Turing was never particularly concerned to hide his sexuality, and throughout his life he spoke openly of his attraction to men.

In 1952, Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old recent acquaintance of Turing’s, helped an accomplice to break into Turing’s house, and Turing went to the police to report the crime. As a result of the police investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray, and a crime having been identified and settled, they were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

Turing came to trial on 31 March 1952 and made no serious denial or defense, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of his profession in Manchester, England. Turing was convicted of the same crime Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than 50 years before. He was given the choice between imprisonment or probation, the latter conditional on his undergoing hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. To avoid going to jail, he accepted the estrogen hormone injections, which lasted for a year, with side effects including gynecomastia (breast enlargement). His lean runner’s body took on fat. His conviction led to a removal of his security clearance and prevented him from continuing consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) on cryptographic matters. At this time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents. In America, Robert Oppenheimer had just been deemed a security risk.

On June 8, 1954, his housekeeper found Turing dead, with a half-eaten apple left beside his bed; the previous day, he had died of cyanide poisoning. The apple itself was never tested for contamination with cyanide. The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental; there was enough poison to fill a wine glass. Turing, thought the pathologist, had taken bites from the apple to make his last drink more palatable. Although he left no note, most believe that his death was intentional; Turing had himself spoken of suicide. His mother, however, strenuously argued that the ingestion was accidental due to his careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in this ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. Others suggest that Turing was reenacting a scene from “Snow White”, reportedly his favorite fairy tale. It has even been suggested that Turing’s suicide was in fact the work of the British secret service determined to remove a security risk.

Interestingly, in 1928 while a student at Sherborne School, Turing fell in love with a boy one year ahead of him in school, Christopher Morcom. The boys bonded over their shared passion for science. Unfortunately, on 13 February 1930, Turing’s beloved Christopher died at the age of 18 of bovine tuberculosis, which he had contracted years earlier when he drank tainted milk. His death profoundly affected Turing and may have spurred his intellectual achievements.

A letter sent from Alan Turing to Christopher Morcom’s mother.

In his biography of Turing, Andrew Hodges refers to an essay Turing wrote to the mother of his deceased boyfriend:

He fell in unrequited love with Christopher Morcom, a very talented youth in the school sixth form, and his longing for friendship brought him to communicate. A brief flowering of scientific collaboration perished when Morcom suddenly died in February 1930 of tuberculosis. Turing’s correspondence with the dead boy’s mother gives insight into the development of his ideas in the aftermath. He was concerned to believe the dead boy could still exist in spirit, and to reconcile such a belief with science. To this end he wrote for Mrs Morcom an essay [entitled 'Nature of Spirit'], probably in 1932. It is the private writing of a twenty-year-old, and must be read as testament to background and not as a thesis upheld in public; nevertheless it is a key to Turing’s future development.

The essay begins with a general account of the influence of developments in physics and quantum mechanics on the scientific conception of the universe, then moves quickly into the question of free will:

It used to be supposed in Science that if everything was known about the Universe at any particular moment then we can predict what it will be through all the future. This idea was really due to the great success of astronomical prediction. More modern science however has come to the conclusion that when we are dealing with atoms and electrons we are quite unable to know the exact state of them; our instruments being made of atoms and electrons themselves. The conception then of being able to know the exact state of the universe then must really break down on the small scale. This means that the theory which held that as eclipses etc. are predestined so were all our actions breaks down too. We have a will which is able to determine the action of the atoms probably in a small portion of the brain, or possibly all over it. The rest of the body acts so as to amplify this.

In stating the classic paradox of physical determinism and free will, Turing is influenced by Arthur Stanley Eddington’s assertion that quantum mechanical physics (“more modern science”) yields room for human will. Eddington asked how could “this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine?” and Turing tries to find some answer.

There is now the question which must be answered as to how the action of the other atoms of the universe are regulated. Probably by the same law and simply by the remote effects of spirit but since they have no amplifying apparatus they seem to be regulated by pure chance. The apparent non-predestination of physics is almost a combination of chances.

Here, Turing says that although the atoms, in their action, “seem to be regulated by pure chance” (emphasis added), in fact they are “probably” subject to the same “will” by means of which we as human beings are able to control at least a small portion of our brains. Thus the “remote effects of spirit” have not, in fact, been banished.

As McTaggart shows matter is meaningless in the absence of spirit (throughout I do not mean by matter that which can be a solid a liquid or a gas so much as that which is dealt with by physics e.g. light and gravitations as well i.e. that which forms the universe). Personally I think that spirit is really eternally connected with matter but certainly not always by the same kind of body. I did believe it possible for a spirit at death to go to a universe entirely separate from our own, but now I consider that matter and spirit are so connected that this would be a contradiction in terms. It is possible however but unlikely that such universes may exist.

Then as regards the actual connection between spirit and body I consider that the body by reason of being a living body can “attract” and hold on to a “spirit,” whilst the body is alive and awake the two are firmly connected. When the body is asleep I cannot guess what happens but when the body dies the “mechanism” of the body, holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later perhaps immediately.

As regards the question of why we have bodies at all; why we cannot live free as spirits and communicate as such, we probably could do so but there would be nothing whatever to do. The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use.

Alan Turing, 29th March 1951. Image supplied by NPL Archive, Science Museum (London, UK).

By the time of the publication of “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950, Turing had decided that artificial intelligence was possible — a machine could be built that could have the qualities of a human mind — which his now-famous test was designed to detect. In his paper he addressed an argument opposed to his view:

This argument is very well expressed in Professor Jefferson’s Lister Oration for 1949, from which I quote. ‘Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain — that is, not only write it but know that it had written it. No mechanism could feel (and not merely signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants.’ This argument appears to be a denial of the validity of our test. According to the most extreme form of this view the only way by which one could be sure that a machine thinks is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking. One could then describe these feelings to the world, but of course no one would be justified in taking any notice. Likewise according to this view the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man. It is in fact the solipsist point of view.

The gist of Turing’s view now was that the existence of consciousness (“but know that it had written it”) is an illusion, a quality emerging from and ultimately to be explained by great complexity. His approach would not accept “intentionality” as any better an explanation than “spirit” or “soul”. In this conviction he is close to Buddhism. “I do not wish to give the impression that I think there is no mystery about consciousness,” he wrote. “There is, for instance, something of a paradox connected with any attempt to localize it.”

The mystery of how matter comes to support human mind was the burning theme of Alan Turing’s lifelong inquiry. In 1932, he believed that “spirit” could live on, and in a sense he proved that yes, it could. In the end, Christopher Morcom’s spirit lived on not in his body but in a wholly different form, in the work of Alan Turing.

References:

June 12, 1967 (a Monday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Loving v Commonwealth of Virginia (388 US 1), in which the Court, by a 9-0 vote, declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924″, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v State of Alabama (106 US 583 [1883]) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.

In Pace v. State of Alabama (1883), the Supreme Court had ruled that the conviction of an Alabama couple for interracial sex, affirmed on appeal by the Alabama Supreme Court, did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because whites and non-whites were punished in equal measure for the offense of engaging in interracial sex. Interracial extramarital sex was deemed a felony, whereas extramarital sex (“adultery or fornication”) was only a misdemeanor.

Background: In June 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia pursuant to its laws. Shortly after their marriage, the Lovings returned to Virginia and established their marital abode in Caroline County. At the October Term, 1958, of the Circuit Court of Caroline County, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard (26 January 1965).

After their convictions, the Lovings took up residence in the District of Columbia. On November 6, 1963, they filed a motion in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statutes which they had violated were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. On January 22, 1965, the state trial judge denied the motion to vacate the sentences, and the Lovings perfected an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the convictions (206 Va. 924, 147 S.E. 2d 78). The Lovings appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Decision: In Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In its unanimous decision, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court stated:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:

There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

Then and now.

Despite Loving, such laws remained on the books, although unenforced, in several states until 2000, when Alabama became the last state to repeal its law against mixed-race marriage.

Loving v. Virginia established the legal basis for a cultural redefinition of marriage. Over time, marriages between whites and African Americans became both more numerous and more accepted. Same-sex marriages, meanwhile, became more disputed, with equal-rights activists citing Loving as a precedent in their favor. The courts have preferred reading the case strictly in terms of race, although in 2007 the group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, released a statement that attributed to Mildred Loving support for same-sex marriage. After her death, the Loving family denied that she had held these views. Richard Loving died in 1975, and Mildred Loving died in 2008.

Suggested Reading:

June 11, 1999 (a Friday)

The Flag of Gay Pride

On this date, William Jefferson Clinton became the first president to announce June as a national “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” Of course, there have always been those who ask why there should be a gay pride month — after all, heterosexuals don’t “celebrate” being straight. There are actually several good, interrelated reasons.

The psychological answer: “To expose heterosexism!” This was explained by psychotherapist Joe Kort:

Why [have LGBT pride month]?  The same reason we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day March and Black History month in February — to celebrate one’s identity and acknowledge that we exist.

Currently people still assume that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise. They ask males if they have wives and girlfriends and females if they have boyfriends and husbands. Lesbians are assumed heterosexual and asked by doctors if they are using birth control assuming that the woman is sexually active with men.

The next time you see a gay pride event and parade, instead of judging it as overly sexual, over the top flamboyant and/or being in your face about sex, take a moment and remember these people are celebrating their identities. Being gay and lesbian is about a life full of spiritual, emotional, psychological and sexual connection to members of the same gender. Until it is fully acknowledged legally and otherwise and accepted as a legitimate and normal lifestyle for the people who live it, we are going to need gay pride month.

The word pride is used in this case as an antonym for shame, which has been used to control and oppress LGBT persons throughout history. In other words, Gay Pride Parades are necessary to affirm that gay and lesbian people are equal — not inferior or superior — to heterosexuals. This explains why Heterosexual Pride Parades will never be justified, since heterosexuals are viewed, even today, as superior to LGBT people by most of society.

The political answer: “To educate heterosexual people!”

Rustin (center) before a 1964 demonstration. Photo by New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer.

Pride month is also a great time for straight people and straight allies to start learning more about gay culture. Many articles and media events talk about gay culture and GLBT people’s contributions to society during Pride month. For example, did you know that Walt Whitman was gay? So was Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s right hand man and the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The social butterfly answer: “To connect with each other!”

We are still in the minority which is why we feel the need to get together and enjoy ourselves. If the world were half gay and half straight, then there would be no need for this, but it isn’t. In addition, it also helps for younger gay people to see all of these people and know they’re not alone.

The historical answer: “To celebrate the advances the LGBT movement has accomplished!”

Before Stonewall, the LGBT community was considered as only a sick community that needed to be cured. We were dehumanized. Many of us were sent to insane asylums for electric shock therapy and in some cases, they would cut out the frontal lobe of our brains. In World War ll, the Germans sent any known homosexual to concentration camps and some of us were used for laboratory experiments. After the war was over, most people in the concentration camps were set free. Not the gay men though — they were sent to prison for loving other men.

First Hong Kong Gay Pride Parade (13 December 2008)

Gay pride events around the world celebrate the progress the LGBT movement has achieved since Stonewall. I’m not proud just for being gay, as this in itself is no achievement, but I am proud of what my community and those before me have done so that now things are better than they used to be. We have representatives in politics, entertainment, sports, science, and academics, and we are allowed to get married or have a civil union in dozens of countries and a number of U.S. states. Yet we still have a ways to go before we truly have equality.

Yet as we gained tangible rights, visibility, and even acceptance the gay pride event has come under attack as a distraction, as an over-commercialized event ripe with images that inevitably our foes use against us. But remember, it’s a parade. It’s supposed to be entertaining. Therefore, we see decorated floats, people in costumes, and a few too many guys dressed as Cher. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s more fun than a parade that consists of people in business clothes who look like accountants.

After all, when was the last time that someone complained that people in Mardi Gras parades aren’t an accurate representation of heterosexuality?

May 20, 1996 (a Monday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in the landmark case of Romer v. Evans (517 US 620), declaring unconstitutional an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that prohibited state and local governments from enacting any law, regulation, or policy that would, in effect, protect the civil rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. In its ruling, the Court made clear that moral disapproval does not justify governmental discrimination and shattered the “special rights” rhetoric of those who oppose equal treatment for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Romer marked the first time in its history that the Court recognized lesbians and gay men as worthy and deserving of equal rights. The decision helped stem the tide of antigay initiatives that were spreading across the West in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The case was also important because it laid the groundwork for other important gay rights decisions. Most notably, when the Supreme Court reversed Bowers v. Hardwick and struck down all sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), it said that the “foundations of Bowers have sustained serious erosion from our recent decisions in Casey [a right to privacy case on abortion] and Romer.”

The amendment at issue in Romer v. Evans, known as Amendment 2, was placed on the November, 1992 ballot following a petition drive. The Amendment provided that:

Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination.

The Amendment was promoted by a conservative Christian group called Colorado for Family Values that had formed to repeal all municipal and state laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. There were two conflicting interpretations circulating in Colorado about these ordinances, state laws, and executive orders:

  • Colorado for Family Values and other religious conservatives described the regulations as granting “minority status protections to homosexuals, not granted to any other citizens.” That is, the regulations gave special privileges to gays and lesbians that were denied the heterosexual majority and the bisexual minority.
  • Gays, lesbians, and others held an opposing view: that these ordinances and laws protected everyone from any discrimination that they might suffer because of their sexual orientation. Specifically, they protect: (1) heterosexuals — the majority of adults who are sexually attracted to members of the opposite gender, (2) homosexuals — a minority of adults who are attracted to persons of the same gender, and (3) bisexuals — a smaller minority who are attracted to persons of both genders. Thus, according to this view, heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals are all protected by antidiscrimination ordinances and laws to the same degree.

Since terms such as “homosexual”, “lesbian”, “gay”, and “bisexual” did not appear anywhere in the ordinances and laws, it seems that the interpretation by gays and others was correct: homosexuals and bisexuals were not given any special privileges by these ordinances and laws. The conservative Christians were factually incorrect. However, they conducted a masterful advertising campaign and Amendment 2 passed by a narrow margin (53.4% to 46.6%). According to the conservative Christian National Legal Foundation, this prevented their state legislature and all local “governments from granting protected status to a group of individuals based not on an inalienable physical characteristic, but on a chosen lifestyle.” This comment demonstrates two very common beliefs among religious conservatives:

  • That homosexuality is a chosen and changeable behavior; it is what homosexuals do. Religious liberals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, mental health therapists, human sexuality researchers and others generally believe that homosexuality is actually an immutable, unchosen and unchangeable sexual orientation; it is what homosexuals are.
  • That groups should only be protected against discrimination based on immutable factors, such as sex, race, and skin color. They reject the concept that people should be protected from discrimination based on chosen factors. Since they regard homosexuality as a “chosen lifestyle,” they feel that homosexuals should not be a protected class. They overlook the fact that people choose the religion that they wish to follow. Nevertheless, religious conservatives demand freedom from religious discrimination.

The Amendment was immediately challenged in the state District Court for the City and County of Denver by a coalition of gays, lesbians, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and representatives from the Colorado municipalities of Denver, Boulder, and Aspen, which had gay rights ordinances in effect. They sued Governor Roy Romer (ironically, who had been on record as opposing the Amendment), state Attorney General Gale Norton, and the State of Colorado. The plaintiffs argued that Amendment 2 violated their federal First Amendment right to free expression and their federal Fourteenth Amendment right to Equal Protection of the laws.

Plaintiffs sought and received a preliminary injunction from the trial court, thus preventing Amendment 2 from ever being implemented. The injunction was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. The trial court and the Colorado Supreme Court agreed that Amendment 2 infringed the fundamental right of gays and lesbians to participate in the political process. They found that Amendment 2 had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court agreed (6 to 3).

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, rejected the assertion that Amendment 2 simply deprived homosexuals of “special rights” which were not shared by the rest of the population. This was the argument used by Colorado for Family Values during their advertising campaign which lead up to the plebiscite. The Court ruled that, under Amendment 2:

Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint. They can obtain specific protection against discrimination only by enlisting the citizenry of Colorado to amend the state constitution or perhaps, on the State’s view, by trying to pass helpful laws of general applicability. This is so no matter how local or discrete the harm, no matter how public and widespread the injury. We find nothing special in the protections Amendment 2 withholds. These are protections taken for granted by most people either because they already have them or do not need them; these are protections against exclusion from an almost limitless number of transactions and endeavors that constitute ordinary civic life in a free society.

The court also found:

. . . that Amendment 2 did discriminate against an identifiable class of people and violated their rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The court held that Amendment 2 was based in “animus,” or hatred, against a specific group of people.

In unusually frank language, the Court found that:

. . . the amendment has the peculiar property of imposing a broad and undifferentiated disability on a single named group, an exceptional and, as we shall explain, invalid form of legislation. Second, its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests. . . . Amendment 2 confounds this normal process of judicial review. It is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.

In conclusion, Justice Kennedy commented:

The primary rationale the State offers for Amendment 2 is respect for other citizens’ freedom of association, and in particular the liberties of landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality. Colorado also cites its interest in conserving resources to fight discrimination against other groups. The breadth of the Amendment is so far removed from these particular justifications that we find it impossible to credit them. We cannot say that Amendment 2 is directed to any identifiable legitimate purpose or discrete objective. It is a status based enactment divorced from any factual context from which we could discern a relationship to legitimate state interests; it is a classification of persons undertaken for its own sake, something the Equal Protection Clause does not permit. . . . We must conclude that Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do. A State cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws. Amendment 2 violates the Equal Protection Clause, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Colorado is affirmed.

In other words, the majority concluded that the creation of so‐called special rights for gays, which prevented discrimination against them, was really just another manifestation of equal rights, to which all persons were entitled. Amendment 2 was dead.

The Flag of Gay Pride

The dissenters, however, were blistering in denouncing the majority’s actions. Joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia accused the Court, in his typical hyperbole and hysteria, of “tak[ing] sides in the culture wars”. He characterized Amendment 2 as “rather a modest attempt by seemingly tolerant Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority to revise those mores through use of the laws.” He criticized the Court’s majority for “imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected.” [Scalia dropped his membership in the American Bar Association back in the 1980s when it took a position against gay discrimination.] Pointing to the “centuries-old” condemnation of homosexuality, he concluded that Colorado was “entitled to be hostile toward homosexual conduct” (his emphasis). Scalia even compared homosexuality to murder and cruelty to animals:

The Court’s opinion contains grim, disapproving hints that Coloradans have been guilty of “animus” or “animosity” toward homosexuality, as though that has been established as Unamerican. Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible — murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals — and could exhibit even “animus” toward such conduct.

In reaching his conclusion, Scalia adopted a number of classic stereotypes about the lesbian and gay community. He said “those who engage in homosexual conduct tend to reside in disproportionate numbers in certain communities, have high disposable income, and…possess political power much greater than their numbers, both locally and statewide.” Scalia proffered that the goal of the lesbian and gay civil rights movement is to “devote this political power to achieving not merely a grudging social toleration, but full social acceptance, of homosexuality.”

Interestingly, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s animosity toward gays and lesbians had never been a secret. For example, in Ratchford v. Gay Lib (1978), an opinion from Justice Rehnquist seemed to compare the right of homosexuals to assemble and advocate for legal reform to that of “those suffering from measles [who seek] a constitutional right, in violation of quarantine regulations, to associate together and with others who do not presently have measles”.

May 3, 1877 (a Thursday)

Baron Nopcsa

Baron Nopcsa

On this date, the paleontologist Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (or Baron Franz Nopcsa) was born in Transylvania, which at that time was a part of Austria-Hungary. Making no effort to hide his homosexuality, he was often dismissed as “whacky” by other scientists, yet he made significant contributions to the fields of paleontology, geology, and evolutionary biology. He was also fascinated by the language and culture of Albania and aspired to become king of that country.

A gifted student, Nopcsa graduated from the prestigious Maria-Theresianum in 1897. His younger sister Ilona having discovered fossilized dinosaur bones in 1895 at the family estate at Szentpéterfalva in Săcele (Szacsal), Transylvania, Nopcsa enrolled at the University of Vienna to study them. He advanced quickly in his studies; on 21 July 1899, at the age of twenty-two, he held his first lecture at the Academy of Sciences in Vienna on “Dinossaurierreste in Siebenbürgen” (“Dinosaur remnants in Transylvania”) and attracted much attention with it.

With the defeat of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I, Nopcsa’s native Transylvania was ceded to Romania. As a consequence, the Baron of Felső-Szilvás lost his estates and other possessions. Compelled to find paid employment, he landed a job as the head of the Hungarian Geological Institute.

Bajazid Elmaz Doda (left) and Franz Baron Nopcsa (right), ca. 1931

Bajazid Elmaz Doda (left) and Franz Baron Nopcsa (right), ca. 1931

But Nopcsa’s position in the Geological Institute was short-lived. He moved to Vienna with his long-standing male Albanian lover and secretary Bayazid Doda (also known as Bajazid Elmas Doda) to study fossils. Yet there he ran into financial difficulties and was distracted in his work. To cover his debts, he sold his fossil collection to the Natural History Museum in London. Soon Nopcsa became depressed. Finally, in 1933, he fatally shot first his lover and then himself. In a letter left for the police, he explained that his decision to commit suicide was the result of a nervous breakdown. He also stated:

The reason that I shot my longtime friend and secretary, Mr. Bayazid Elmas Doda, in his sleep without his suspecting at all is that I did not wish to leave him behind sick, in misery and without a penny, because he would have suffered too much.

Nopcsa was one of the first researchers who tried to “put flesh onto bones”, which became his main contribution to paleontology – and hence “paleobiology”. That is, he was fascinated not with the bones but rather with the living animals to whom they had belonged. He wanted to understand the world of the dinosaurs and how they lived in it – how they moved, how they fed, how they mated, and so on. For example, Nopcsa was the first scientist to suggest that these reptiles cared for their young and exhibited complex social behavior. Another of Nopcsa’s hypotheses that was ahead of its time was that birds evolved from ground-dwelling, feathered dinosaurs, an idea that found favor in the 1960s and later gained wide acceptance.  Additionally, Nopcsa’s conclusion that at least some Mesozoic era reptiles were warm-blooded is now shared by much of the scientific community.

The last meal of Compsognathus, illustration by Nopsca (1903)

Nopcsa studied Transylvanian dinosaurs intensively, even though they were smaller than their relatives elsewhere in the world. For example, he unearthed six-meter-long sauropods, a group of dinosaurs that elsewhere commonly grew to 30 meters or more. Nopcsa deduced that the area where the remains were found was an island (now called Haţeg or Hatzeg basin in Romania) during the Mesozoic era. He suggested that “limited resources” found on islands commonly have an effect of “reducing the size of animals” over the generations, producing a localized form of dwarfism. Nopcsa’s theory of insular dwarfism – also known as the island effect – is today widely accepted. Additional pygmy sauropods were recently discovered in northern Germany (analyzed by P. Martin Sander in Nature, 8 June 2006).

As a result of his investigations and publications, Nopcsa is sometimes considered to be the father of modern paleobiology, even though his original term for the field was “paleophysiology.”

References:

April 6, 1895 (a Saturday)

On this date, Oscar Wilde was arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry.

Wilde had been engaged in an affair with the marquess’s son since 1891, but when the outraged marquess denounced him as a homosexual, Wilde sued the man for libel. However, he lost his case when evidence strongly supported the marquess’s observations. Homosexuality was classified as a crime in England at the time, and Wilde was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor

March 25, 1955 (a Friday)

Allen Ginsberg

On this date, the U.S. Customs Bureau confiscated 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl, which had been printed in England. Ginsberg was openly gay, and this poem has a lot of references to homosexuality. The gay men in this poem generally do not seem to be involved in monogamous relationships with one other person.

Officials alleged that the book was obscene, particularly objecting to:

Line 36

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

But the next two lines, among many others, seem equally provocative:

Line 37

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

Line 38

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose gardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

(You can listen to Ginsberg read Howl on Poets.org.)

City Lights, a publishing company and bookstore in San Francisco owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, proceeded to publish the book in the fall of 1956. The publication led to Ferlinghetti’s arrest on obscenity charges. Ferlinghetti was bailed out by the American Civil Liberties Union, which led the legal defense. Clayton Horn (a Sunday school teacher) was the judge for the case and had achieved notoriety earlier that year for sentencing five shoplifters to a screening of The Ten Commandments. The defense brought literary expert after literary expert (9 in total) to the stand to testify to the poem’s literary and social importance and on October 3 Judge Horn ruled the poem was of “redeeming social importance” and Ferlinghetti was cleared.

March 17, 1910 (a Thursday)

Bayard Rustin

On this date, one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement from the advent of its modern period in the 1950s until well into the 1980s, Bayard Rustin, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1955 as Martin Luther King Jr.’s special assistant, serving as the organizational co-ordinator for the SCLC March on Washington in 1963.

Rustin was openly gay and advocated on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career. Interestingly, a high school named for Bayard Rustin that opened in September 2006 in his home town has posted a bio for him on its website that makes no mention of Walter Nagle – his partner for 10 years – or the fact that Rustin was an openly gay man, or any of his work for gay rights.

A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said:

The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it’s the gay community.

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March 6, 1943 (a Saturday)

Page 8 of the handmade booklet Manfred Lewin gave to Gad Beck in 1942, now part of the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

In Nazi Germany, the racial laws classified Gad Beck as a “mischling”, or half-breed (his father was Jewish, but his mother had converted to Judaism). He and his father had been detained at a holding compound in the Rosenstrasse in central Berlin since 17 February 1943 awaiting deportation to the East.

After the non-Jewish wives of the prisoners launched a massive street protest that stunned the Nazis, the Beck family members were released on this date (6 March 1943). There were “thousands of women who stood for days… my aunts demanded, ‘Give us our children and men,’” Gad Beck wrote. The Rosenstrasse demonstration helped debunk the widespread myth in post-Holocaust German society that resistance against Nazism was futile.

Gad noted, “The Rosenstrasse event made one thing absolutely clear to me: I won’t wait until we get deported.” Following his release, he joined Chug Chaluzi, an underground Zionist resistance youth group, and played a key role in securing the survival of Jews in Berlin.

Beck had said on numerous occasions and during interviews over his lifetime that the single most important experience that shaped his life was his attempt to rescue his Jewish boyfriend, Manfred Lewin. When the Gestapo rounded up Lewin’s family in October 1942 for deportation to the East (by this time Gad knew what “transport to the East” meant), Beck borrowed a neighbor’s over-sized Hitler Youth uniform and marched into the transit camp in a bid to free his first love. Beck convinced an officer to temporarily put Manfred into his custody.

Manfred Lewin (left) and Gad Beck.

Once outside the camp, though, Lewin stopped dead in his tracks. “I was going out with him from the ‘locker’ and I said, ‘Manfred, now you are free – come!’ And he said no,” Beck recalled in an interview. “And it’s important to understand this: Manfred said, ‘I will never be free if I am not near my family. They are old and they are ill and I have to help them.’ And he went back to the locker without saying goodbye to me. I never saw him again. His entire family died in Auschwitz.”

As Gad returned home after leaving Manfred he said “In those seconds, watching him go, I grew up.”

Gad’s only memento of Manfred was a little notebook with poems, sketches, and essays which Manfred had written, plus a photograph. Gad treasured them throughout his life. Sixty years after it was written, he entrusted the booklet to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The exhibit curator notes: “It became evident how the meaning of this artifact was changed by Manfred’s deportation and death in Auschwitz and by passing years. The booklet, once only meaningful for Gad and Manfred, became a time capsule, a reminder of a friendship, of a group, and of the events that destroyed them all.” The booklet…”now allows us glimpses into the daily life of Jewish Youth in Berlin before and during the deportations. It reminds us of how difficult it is to really understand what happened and how much we can never know.”

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In early 1945, a Jewish spy for the Gestapo betrayed Beck and some of his underground friends. He was subsequently interrogated and interned in a Jewish transit camp in Berlin. During the bombardment of Berlin in the weeks that followed, Gad’s cell was hit, and he was rescued from the rubble and hospitalized. Gad remained at the hospital until, on 24 August 1945, he was freed by the Soviets. “I was liberated by a Jewish soldier of the Russian Army, and he asked me in Yiddish, ‘Are you Gad Beck?’ I said I was. He was so beautiful I could have fallen in love with him. ‘Brother,’ he told me, ‘now you are free.’ And he kissed me.”

Since the war ended, Gad lived in Germany, Palestine, and Austria. He met his life partner, Julius Laufer, in Vienna. In later life he gave many presentations throughout the world and became head of the German Jewish Community.

Beck died 24 June 2012 in a retirement home in Berlin, just six days short of his 89th birthday. He is survived by Julius Laufer, his partner of 35 years. Gad Beck was the last known gay Jewish holocaust survivor alive. Now, literally nobody knows what it was like to be Jewish and gay in the horrors of the Nazi regime. No gay Jewish survivor will ever get to smile at any further milestones in equality for gay people.

References:

February 17, 1600 (a Thursday)

The statue of Bruno in the place where he was executed.

On this date, the Italian philosopher and Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was brought to the Campo de’ Fiori, a central Roman market square. His tongue in a gag, tied to a pole naked, Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic.

The Fraternity of St. John the Beheaded recounted Bruno’s burning in this account which is considered authoritative by the Catholic Church:

But he insisted till the end always in his damned refractoriness and twisted brain and his mind with a thousand errors; yes, he didn’t give up his stubborness, not even when the court ushers took him away to the Campo de’ Fiori. There his clothes were taken off, he was bound to a stake and burned alive [e quivi spogliato nudo e legato a un palo fu brusciato vivo]. In all this time he was accompanied by our fraternity, who sang constant litanies, while the comforters tried till the last moment to break his stubborn resistance, till he gave up a miserable and pitiable life.

Bruno’s execution followed his lengthy imprisonment and trial that had begun on 27 January 1593 under the Roman Inquisition.

Bruno was born at Nola, near Naples, in 1548. Originally named Filippo, he took the name Giordano when he joined the Dominicans, who trained him in Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology. Independent in thinking and tempestuous in personality, he fled the order in 1576 to avoid a trial on doctrinal charges and began the wandering that characterized his life.

In his book De l’Infinito, Universo e Mondi (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds), which was published in 1584, Bruno argued that the universe was infinite, that it contained an infinite number of worlds, and that these are all inhabited by intelligent beings:

Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds.

In Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper), also published in 1584, Bruno defended the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, but it appears that he did not understand astronomy very well, for his theory is confused on several points.

In still another book published in 1584, De la Causa, Principio et Uno (On Cause, Prime Origin, and the One), Bruno seemed to anticipate Einstein’s theory of relativity when he wrote:

There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things.

Closeup of the statue of Bruno in the Campo de’ Fiori.

Some say that Bruno was executed because of his Copernicanism and his belief in the infinity of inhabited worlds, but it may have been for theological errors, such as denying the divinity of Christ. In fact, no one knows for certain the exact grounds on which he was declared a heretic because the volume or volumes of his Roman trial is missing from the Vatican archives. The only remaining record is a summary of the trial, rediscovered on November 15, 1940 and published in 1942. Some abstracts of Giordano Bruno’s works, his interrogations, some of the records of an earlier Venetian trial in 1592 against him, and some other documents copied from the original Roman trial converge in the summary, which was probably used by the Assessor of the Holy Office of that period. In this document, Bruno is quoted in one of the last interrogations by the judges of the Holy Office (maybe in April 1599) before his execution. He defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures:

Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…].

Interestingly, while there is no definitive documentary evidence of Bruno’s sexual orientation, his homosexuality has long been assumed, principally on the basis of his association with figures such as Marlowe, the accusations of “immoral conduct,” and his authorship of Il Candelaio (1582). The latter is a satiric comedy for the stage whose very title, “The Candleholder,” is a homosexual slang word of the time, perhaps best rendered in contemporary English as “The Fudgepacker” or “The Butt-bandit.” The play presents three characters who are often seen as three of Bruno’s alter egos, or three facets of Bruno himself: Manfurio, a pedantic scholar who speaks tortured Latin and loses his glasses; Bonifacio, the “candleholder” homosexual who finally ends up in his wife’s bed; and Bartolomeo, the scientist and alchemist who tries to transmute base metals into gold but fails. The final words of Bruno’s introduction to Il Candelaio tell the reader, above all, Godete dumque, e si possete state sana, et amate chi v’ama (Therefore take pleasure in things, stay as healthy as you can, and love all those who love you).

Moreover, there is no evidence of any interest on Bruno’s part in opposite-sex sexual relations.

Both historian John Addington Symonds and aesthete Walter Pater discuss Bruno in detail. Each refers to Bruno’s homosexuality as a known, if covert, fact hidden in sly innuendo. Symonds devotes an entire chapter of his groundbreaking Renaissance in Italy to the philosopher, while Pater comments in an 1889 essay that for a man of the spirit, Bruno possessed “a nature so opulently endowed [it] can hardly have been lacking in purely physical ardours.” Symonds adds that his own development as a man was due to his readings of Walt Whitman, Goethe, and Giordano Bruno: they “stripped my soul of social prejudices [so that]… I have been able to fraternise in comradeship with men of all classes and several races.”

Italian gay activist and literary historian Giovanni dall’Orto cites Bruno in his 1988 survey, “Sodomy as Phoenix: Being Homosexual in the Italian Renaissance.” In a discussion of “unnatural” desires, he notes that part of the philosopher’s offense against the Church was to ascribe the Copernican world outlook to nature itself: whatever comes from within a man is by definition within nature. Hence, Bruno’s scientific outlook challenges the very notion of “natural law” and “crime against nature.” Again quoting Bruno from De la Causa, Principio et Uno (1584):

All things are in the Universe, and the Universe is in all things: we in it, and it in us; in this way everything concurs in a perfect unity.

On August 7, 1603, the Church placed all his works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Forbidden Books). Four hundred years (!) after his execution, official expression of “profound sorrow” and acknowledgement of error at Bruno’s condemnation to death was made during the papacy of John Paul II.

Following the 1870 Capture of Rome by the newly created Kingdom of Italy and the end of the Church’s temporal power over the city, the erection of a monument to Bruno on the site of his execution became feasible. In 1885, an international committee, including Victor Hugo, Herbert Spencer, Ernest Renan, Ernst Haeckel, Henrik Ibsen, and Ferdinand Gregorovius, was formed for that purpose. The monument was sharply opposed by the clerical party, but was finally erected by the Rome Municipality and inaugurated in 1889.

A memorial to Giordano Bruno.

On March 2, 2008, a 6-meter-tall statue of an upside-down figure, evocative of flames, was unveiled in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz station as a memorial to Giordano Bruno and as a new reminder of the value and cost of free thought [Science 319(5869): 1467 (14 March 2008)]. The sculpture is by Alexander Polzin. Ernst Salcher of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, which helped fund the project, said the sculpture is designed to “irritate” the viewer into reflecting on the role of human reason in making the world a better place.

Also, the SETI League (not to be confused with the SETI Institute) has established “an award honoring the memory of Giordano Bruno, the Italian monk burned at the stake in 1600 for postulating the multiplicity of inhabited worlds.” It was first suggested by sociologist Donald Tarter at a SETI dinner held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Atlanta on 17 February 1995 (coincidentally the 395th anniversary of Bruno’s death). The Bruno Award is presented annually to a person or persons making significant technical contributions to the art, science, or practice of amateur SETI.

References:

February 8, 1910 (a Tuesday)

On this date, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was incorporated by Chicago publisher William Boyce.

Mormon Scouts from Provo, Utah learning outdoor cooking (1916).

The BSA stands alone among Boy Scout organizations around the world, and among other youth-serving organizations including the Girl Scouts, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, in barring homosexuals. More than any other factor, the close relationship between the BSA and religious organizations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — the Mormons — explains why the BSA pursued its antigay policy all the way to the Supreme Court.

Imported from England just after the turn of the twentieth century, the fledgling Boy Scout movement found quick friends in the YMCA, largely because William Boyce, a BSA founder, and Edgar M. Robinson, the YMCA’s first international secretary for boys’ work, were acquaintances, according to David Peavy, a former member of the National Catholic Church Committee on Scouting. Some YMCA clubs hosted Scout troops, and Peavy describes Robinson as essentially the Scouts’ first chief executive.

The BSA eventually broke out on its own after receiving a Congressional charter in 1910. Modeled on the Scouting movement launched in England by war hero Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the American version differed in one key area: its more formal connection to religious practice. Baden-Powell had built British Scouting on religious principles, but the BSA added an 11th element to the Scout Law: “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful to his religious duties.” In case anyone missed that “go to church” message, the BSA constitution said, “No boy can grow into the best kind of citizenship without recognizing his obligation to God.” And the BSA borrowed from the three-tiered focus on “mind, body, and spirit” in the YMCA’s mission statement, Peavy says, when it developed its Oath:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help others at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake and morally straight.

Consequently, Catholic and Protestant churches and the Mormon Church found Scouting to be a perfect fit: the boys loved it, it had Christian underpinnings, and the BSA encouraged churches to mold their local Scouting programs according to their own religious-education standards. The Mormon Church, in an amicus curiae brief filed with a Boy Scouts case before the US Supreme Court in 2000 (Boy Scouts of America et al v Dale) put it best:

Because of Scouting’s devotion to the spiritual element of character education and its willingness to submerge itself in the religious traditions of its sponsors, America’s churches and synagogues enthusiastically embraced Scouting. . . .

For many religious organizations . . . the Scouting program is a means of youth ministry. At the same time, sponsorship by religious organizations has enabled the Scouting movement to expand and increase its influence on the nation’s boys.

By 1915, 4,000 of the nation’s 7,373 Scout units were chartered to Protestant churches, according to an analysis by the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy. By then the BSA also had a “Commissioner for Scout Work in the Catholic Churches,” whose job was to promote Catholic units. In 1918, Peavy says, a letter from the Vatican bestowed the blessing of Pope Benedict XV on Catholic Scouting.

Mormon BSA patch.

But no group embraced Scouting more enthusiastically than the Mormon Church. On 21 May 1913, the Church became the first institution to be officially affiliated with the BSA program. Over the years, Scouting became the official youth-ministry program for Mormon boys. It serves not only for inculcating the beliefs of the Church, but as an outreach tool. Elder Robert Backman was recognized by the BSA in 1986 for his efforts in incorporating Scouting into the Mormon Church’s Young Men organization. He is quoted in the Aaronic Priesthood Boy Scout Guide:

As you know, we are vitally concerned about our youth and feel that with the proper attention we can save many more than we are doing at the present time. I am convinced that Scouting is a mighty activity arm to hold these boys close while they learn to appreciate the honor of holding the priesthood of God.

(. . .)

If we do all else and lose the young man, we have failed in our sacred stewardship. We must not allow a separation of priesthood, Scouting, or athletics.

(. . .)

Every phase of the Scouting program should help young men and their leaders understand that Scouting activities are carried out to accomplish priesthood purposes.

Apostle Thomas S. Monson said in a 1990 Mormon newsletter that the Church and its troops “serve together; they work together.” He added, “Every program I’ve seen from Scouting complements the objectives we are attempting to achieve in the lives of our young men, helping them strive for exaltation.” [Exaltation is the official expression in Mormon theology for a Saint becoming a god in the afterlife.]

The statement that the BSA does “not believe that homosexuality and leadership in Scouting are appropriate” first appeared in a letter in 1978 signed by the BSA’s President and Chief Scout Executive. However, it was an internal memorandum, never circulated beyond the few members of BSA’s Executive Committee, and remained, in effect, a secret Boy Scouts policy. Nevertheless, the organization later asserted that it was not a new policy to oppose and disfavor homosexuality — and, in support of that, to deny leadership roles to and occasionally expel “avowed” homosexuals. Rather, the BSA argued it was just enforcing long-held policy which had never been published or publicly challenged.

James Dale was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout — an honor given to only 3 percent of all scouts — after eleven years of Scouting. When he was a student at Rutgers University, Dale became copresident of the Lesbian/Gay Student Alliance. Then, in July 1990, he attended a seminar on the health needs of lesbian and gay teenagers. During the seminar, he was interviewed, and the work was subsequently published. James, who was an assistant Scoutmaster and looked forward to a lifetime in Scouting, was expelled after BSA officials read the interview in a local newspaper and Dale was quoted as stating he was gay. Never before hearing of any such rule against gays, Dale sued for reinstatement, charging BSA with violating New Jersey state civil rights laws which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Interestingly, the BSA subsequently issued a Position Statement on Homosexuality in June, 1991 that states:

We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirements in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts. Because of these beliefs, the Boy Scouts of America does not accept homosexuals as members or as leaders, whether in volunteer or professional capacities.

Dale’s case was first tried before Superior Court Judge Patrick J. McGann, who ruled against Dale, stating:

To suggest that the BSA had no policy against active homosexuality is nonsense. It was an organization which from its inception had a God-acknowledged, moral foundation. It required its members, youth and adult, to take the Scout Oath that they would be “morally straight.” It is unthinkable that in a society where there was universal governmental condemnation of the act of sodomy as a crime, that the BSA could or would tolerate active homosexuality if discovered in any of its members. . . . Men who do those criminal and immoral acts cannot be held out as role models. [Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, No. Mon-C-330-92]

Although McGann’s account of the BSA attitude toward homosexuals may be true, his interpretation of the “morally straight” clause in the Scout Oath as meaning heterosexual is certainly not. As mentioned earlier, the last clause of the BSA Scout Oath had its origin in the YMCA. [Ironically, the YMCA does not ban gays.] As historian Carolyn Wagner states:

The YMCA men in the Scouts gave the organization a distinctly Protestant orientation. In the rewrite of the Scout promise, they successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a line requiring the boy to be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” This line spoke to the significance of the Y’s emblem, a triangle representing spirit, mind, and body which, in turn, referred to the organization’s goal of furthering “all round development.” The Y men thought it particularly important that the BSA incorporate this line in the promise because they regarded Christ as the perfectly developed man and, therefore the ideal role model for youth, ALL youth.

Including even an indirect reference to Christ, when the BSA is supposed to be a “non-sectarian” youth organization, is problematical. “Non-sectarian organizations” as a rule do not involve themselves in theology. BSA claims that theology and religious instruction is to be left up to the parents and religious leaders of the boy — be his religious faith Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, etc. — not BSA.

A Scout demonstration, 1916, in the Deseret Gymnasium, Salt Lake City.

Furthermore, the historian George Chauncey notes that it was only in the 1910’s and 1920’s that the application of the term straight to a man who was considered — using the relatively new term — heterosexual, was first beginning to be used. However, Chauncey notes that the use of the term straight was a slang term and only used within the gay subculture. It’s first appearance in mainstream publications was in the glossary of a 1941 book on “sex deviants.” According to historian Jonathan Katz, this book identified the term straight as “being employed by homosexuals ‘as meaning not homosexual. To go straight is to cease homosexual practices and to indulge — usually to re-indulge — in heterosexuality.'” The definition of the term straight, meaning heterosexual, in society at large, did not occur until much later.

Eventually, Boy Scouts of America et al v Dale (530 US 640) was argued before the US Supreme Court. On 28 June 2000, a divided Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the BSA, as an “expressive organization” promoting the view that homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle, from excluding Scouts on that basis. Therefore, the organization has the authority to expel a gay assistant Scoutmaster. However, views with respect to homosexuality must be central to the BSA’s expressive purposes. Four Justices dissented, questioning whether admitting homosexual members, in the words of the BSA, “would be at odds with its own shared goals and values”:

BSA describes itself [in its own mission statement] as having a “representative membership,” which it defines as “boy membership [that] reflects proportionately the characteristics of the boy population of its service area.” . . . In particular, the group emphasizes that “[n]either the charter nor the bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America permits the exclusion of any boy. . . . To meet these responsibilities we have made a commitment that our membership shall be representative of all the population in every community, district, and council.” . . . (emphasis in original).

(. . .)

It is plain as the light of day that neither one of these principles — “morally straight” and “clean” — says the slightest thing about homosexuality. Indeed, neither term in the Boy Scouts’ Law and Oath expresses any position whatsoever on sexual matters.

(. . .)

BSA’s published guidance on that topic underscores this point. Scouts, for example, are directed to receive their sex education at home or in school, but not from the organization: “Your parents or guardian or a sex education teacher should give you the facts about sex that you must know.”

(. . .)

More specifically, BSA has set forth a number of rules for Scoutmasters when these types of issues come up:

(. . .)

“Rule number 1: You do not undertake to instruct Scouts, in any formalized manner, in the subject of sex and family life. The reasons are that it is not construed to be Scouting’s proper area, and that you are probably not well qualified to do this.” [emphasis in original]

(. . .)

Insofar as religious matters are concerned, BSA’s bylaws state that it is “absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward . . . religious training.” [and] “The BSA does not define what constitutes duty to God or the practice of religion. This is the responsibility of parents and religious leaders.” . . . BSA surely is aware that some religions do not teach that homosexuality is wrong.

After thoroughly examining the 1978, 1991, 1992, and 1993 written BSA policy statements regarding homosexuality, the dissenting Justices continued:

It speaks volumes about the credibility of BSA’s claim to a shared goal that homosexuality is incompatible with Scouting that since at least 1984 it had been aware of this issue — indeed, concerned enough to twice file amicus briefs before this Court—yet it did nothing in the intervening six years (or even in the years after Dale’s expulsion) to explain clearly and openly why the presence of homosexuals would affect its expressive activities, or to make the view of “morally straight” and “clean” taken in its 1991 and 1992 policies a part of the values actually instilled in Scouts through the Handbook, lessons, or otherwise.

(. . .)

In fact, until today, we have never once found a claimed right to associate in the selection of members to prevail in the face of a State’s antidiscrimination law. To the contrary, we have squarely held that a State’s antidiscrimination law does not violate a group’s right to associate simply because the law conflicts with that group’s exclusionary membership policy.

(. . .)

The evidence before this Court makes it exceptionally clear that BSA has, at most, simply adopted an exclusionary membership policy and has no shared goal of disapproving of homosexuality.

(. . .)

As noted earlier, nothing in our [previous] cases suggests that a group can prevail on a right to expressive association if it, effectively, speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

Emboldened by this Supreme Court decision, the National Executive Board of the BSA passed a formal resolution on 6 February 2002 that expressly excluded atheists and homosexuals from membership. Furthermore, the Executive Board resolved that all Councils and sponsoring organizations must sign a statement to the effect that they will enforce all policies of the BSA including the exclusion of homosexuals and atheists as members. All those applying for membership must also agree to abide by these policies.

The reason for the condemnation of homosexuality by the BSA, unusual among similar organizations in the United States, is clearly the close association between the BSA and certain religious constituencies, especially the Mormons and Catholics, as indicated in an amicus curiae filed by them in the Dale case. It begins:

Among all of Scouting’s supporters, there are none more important to Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) than amici. The organizations joining in this brief are by far the largest religious sponsors of Scouting in America. Religious institutions charter over 60% of all Scouting units in the United States. Of these, a full two-thirds are chartered by amici. Nationally, amici sponsor over 50,000 Scouting units and almost 1.2 million scouts, with over 20,000 scouts in New Jersey alone.

For many decades amici have employed Scouting as a tool of religious ministry, making Scouting an integral part of their youth programs. The right of BSA and its sponsoring organizations to determine eligibility requirements for scout leaders is therefore of paramount importance, directly impacting the ability of these amici to organize and control their Scouting programs.

(. . .)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors over 400,000 scouts and over 30,000 Scouting units nationwide, making it the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States. In New Jersey, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors over 700 scouts and about 60 units.

After the above chest-thumping, under a section of the brief entitled “Coercing Boy Scouts of America to Install Openly Homosexual Scout Leaders Violates the First Amendment”, the Mormons state:

[Ruling against the BSA] threatens to fracture the Scouting Movement, destroying or at least severely diminishing BSA’s ability to advocate and inculcate its values. If the appointment of scout leaders cannot be limited to those who live and affirm the sexual standards of BSA and its religious sponsors, the Scouting Movement as now constituted will cease to exist. Amicus The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States — would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual scout leaders. The other amici would be forced to reevaluate their sponsorship of Scouting, with the serious possibility of reaching the same conclusion.

(. . .)

Given the extent of their support, losing any of these amici as sponsors, whether in New Jersey or nationwide, would seriously disrupt BSA’s ability to express and inculcate its message. The destruction or dismemberment of an expressive organization is perhaps the ultimate abridgment of the right of expressive association.

The Mormon threat in their brief is obviously coercive and also hypocritical — who, in fact, is coercing the BSA, the government or the Mormons? Also, the brief is deceptive because the chartering organization is (as it always has been) the one responsible to recruit and select their adult leaders — not BSA. Traditionally, if a Scouting unit in New Jersey decided to accept gay scouts, that would not compel a Mormon unit to do likewise. This tradition allows religiously-sponsored units to apply standards for membership and leadership appropriate to their own sect. What the Mormons want to do (and the BSA leadership is cooperating) is force Mormon standards for scouts and leaders on ALL other units nationwide.

After the Dale decision, public opinion in some communities turned against the BSA; corporations, charities, and even some local governments criticized the policy, threatening to either cut off financial support or block the Boy Scouts from using public buildings for their meetings. Going even further, the Secular Coalition for America has urged Congress to revoke the federal charter of the BSA, stating: “Our government must not entangle itself in religious organizations; nor should it establish, with government imprimatur, a private religious club.” Of course, while some segments of the public criticized the organization, other groups became more enthusiastic in their support of the Scouts.

Cub Scouts

Ironically, the BSA national leadership in the not-too-distant future will have to confront the fact that they are engaging in child abuse by following a policy of rejecting youth who identify as gay. The existence of BSA’s overt discrimination against gays sends the message to both youth and adults that it is okay to judge, ridicule, and hate another person — simply because they’re different. In the August 2001 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found boys with same-sex orientation were linked to a 68 percent greater likelihood of having suicidal thoughts than their opposite-sex oriented classmates. This study confirmed a Department of Health and Human Services Study (1989) which concluded that gay youth are often more likely to attempt suicide than others of their same age group. (See also Remafedi et al, 1998; Silenzio et al, 2007; Ryan et al, 2009.) Such suicidal tendencies do not reflect a pathology due to sexual orientation — rather, they result from societal stigmatization and oppression of those who are, or are perceived to be, homosexual.

Since its earliest days, the BSA has sought to maintain strong ties to church and state. However, in the United States legal system, these entities are largely kept separate, and for good historical reasons. Unfortunately, the BSA may not be able to cater to both much longer without inevitably running afoul of one or the other.

Suggested Reading:

January 22, 1561 (Julian calendar/old style: a Wednesday)

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, an English lawyer, statesman, essayist, historian, intellectual reformer, philosopher, and champion of modern science, was born on this date in London. His works established and popularized an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method or simply, the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today.  Francis Bacon influenced all of science, once proclaiming, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province.”

Bacon’s works include his Essays, as well as the Colours of Good and Evil and the Meditationes Sacrae, all published in 1597. His famous aphorism, “knowledge is power” (scientia potentia est), is found in the Meditations.  He also wrote In felicem memoriam Elizabethae, a eulogy for the Queen written in 1609.  The principal work of Francis Bacon is Instauratio magna scientiarum (The Great Restoration of Learning), which was intended to embrace the entire field of knowables, both theoretical and practical. But of this vast work he finished only the first and second parts: De degnitate et augmentis scientiarum (Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, published 1605), and Novum organum scientiarum (New Organ of Learning, published 1620).  Bacon left only notes for what was to have been the other parts of his monumental work.  Interestingly, in the Novum organum he cites three world-changing inventions:

Printing, gunpowder and the compass: These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.

Bacon is also one of the few homosexual writers from periods as distant as the Renaissance for whom there is contemporary testimony about his sexuality. On 17 April 1593, Bacon’s mother wrote to his brother Anthony (also gay) castigating Bacon for keeping “that bloody Percy . . . as a coach companion and bed companion”, as well as others including Jones, Markes, Enney “and his Welchmen one after another.” “Bed companion” need not have implied eroticism since the nonsexual same-sex sharing of beds was common in the period, but “coach companion” would have been recognized as a sexual reference and thus defines “bed companion” here as one, too. Coaches were one of the few places in those times that provided privacy for a sexual liaison, and “coach” language was commonly used in the Renaissance to signify a sexual connection. In any case, Lady Ann’s major distress was not that her son was gay, but that it violated decorum for a nobleman to allow a servant to sleep in the master bedroom; she felt that a lower-ranking bedroom would have been more appropriate.

John Aubrey in his Brief Lives (composed 1665-1690) says quite bluntly that Bacon “was a pederast” and had “ganimeds and favourites” (“pederast” in Renaissance diction meant generally “homosexual” rather than specifically a lover of minors, as indicated by “E. K.”‘s use of it when discussing the Colin-Hobbinol peer-relationship in Spenser’s 1579 The Shepherd’s Calendar; “ganimed” of course derives from the mythical prince abducted by Zeus to be his cup-bearer and bed-warmer.) The Puritan moralist Sir Simonds D’Ewes (Bacon’s fellow Member of Parliament) in his Autobiography and Correspondence discusses Bacon’s love for his Welsh serving-men, in particular a “very effeminate-faced youth” whom he calls “his catamite and bed-fellow” (“catamite” is a corruption of “Ganymede”). The diary entry for 3 May 1621 — the date of Bacon’s censure by Parliament — reveals the full extent of Bacon’s homosexuality, and is worth quoting extensively if only because it has been suppressed in the only printed edition of the D’Ewes’s autobiography (not published until 1845), and has been studiously ignored by most of Bacon’s modern biographers:

. . . the favour he had with the beloved Marquis of Buckingham emboldened him, as I learned in discourse from a gentleman of his bedchamber, who told me he was sure his lord should never fall as long as the said Marquis continued in favour. His most abominable and darling sinne I should rather burie in silence, than mencion it, were it not a most admirable instance, how men are enslaved by wickedness, & held captive by the devill. For wheeras presentlie upon his censure at this time his ambition was moderated, his pride humbled, and the meanes of his former injustice and corruption removed; yet would he not relinquish the practice of his most horrible & secret sinne of sodomie, keeping still one Godrick, a verie effeminate faced youth, to bee his catamite and bedfellow, although hee had discharged the most of his other household sevants: which was the moore to bee admired, because men generallie after his fall begann to discourse of that his unnaturall crime, which hee had practiced manie yeares, deserting the bedd of his Ladie, which hee accounted, as the Italians and the Turkes doe, a poore & meane pleasure in respect of the other; & it was thought by some, that hee should have been tried at the barre of justice for it, & have satisfied the law most severe against that horrible villanie with the price of his bloud; which caused some bold and forward man to write these verses following in a whole sheete of paper, & to cast it down in some part of Yorkehouse in the strand, wheere Viscount St. Alban yet lay:

Within this sty a *hogg doth ly,
That must be hang’d for Sodomy.

(*alluding both to his sirname of Bacon, & to that swinish abominable sinne.)

But hee never came to anye publicke triall for this crime; nor did ever, that I could heare, forbeare his old custome of making his servants his bedfellowes, soe to avoid the scandall was raised of him, though hee lived many yeares after his fall in his lodgings in Grayes Inne in Holbourne, in great want & penurie.

Sir Francis Bacon’s relationships — like those of his King — closely followed the pattern of patron/favourite. More specifically, he had a preference for young Welsh serving-men. The roll of attendants for Bacon’s household in 1618 lists a total of 75 attendants, of whom some 25 were gentlemen waiters. There was Francis Edney, who, upon Bacon’s death in 1626, received “£200 and my rich gown”; young Thomas Meautys, who was to become Bacon’s secretary-in-chief; a Mr Bushell, “gent. usher,” who came to the household in 1608 as a lad of fifteen, and who remained until Bacon’s death; Edward Sherburn, groom of the chamber; and, above all, young Tobie Matthew, who was left only a ring to the value of £30, but who had become Sir Tobie through Bacon’s efforts, and who was well able to care for himself.

Tobie, widely acclaimed for his charm and good looks, had appeared in a play at Gray’s Inn in 1595, and he quickly became Bacon’s most particular friend, intelligencer and confidant. Tobie had previously served as a spy on the Continent, where he had met and been befriended by Buckingham. A contemporary observed that Tobie, while lodging with Bacon at York House, had “grown very gay or rather gaudy in his attire, and noted for certain night walks to the Spanish Ambassador.” Tobie was the inspiration for one of Bacon’s most famous essays, “Of Friendship.”

Although Bacon married, he did so late (at the age of 45), and his marriage produced no children.

Bacon’s biographers often find all this evidence “inconclusive.” This is simply because they cannot accept the notion that a person can be brilliant, virtuous, healthy, and gay at the same time. Historians regularly hide what they cannot deny, and suppress evidence of the homosexuality of historical figures. Happily, Bacon’s most recent biographers Liesa Jardine and Alan Stewart in Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (1999) make no attempt to deny the evidence, and even add to it.

Suggested reading:

January 13, 1958 (a Monday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, ONE Incorporated v. K. Olesen (355 U.S. 371) was decided by the United States Supreme Court. It was a historic decision for the civil rights of LGBT people in the United States, as it was the first time the Supreme Court had explicitly ruled on homosexuality.

Background: The idea for a publication dedicated to homosexuals emerged from a Mattachine Society discussion meeting held on October 15, 1952. ONE Inc.’s Articles of Incorporation were signed on Nov. 15, 1952 by “Tony Sanchez” (a pseudonym), Martin Block, and Dale Jennings. Other founders were Merton Bird, W. Dorr Legg, Don Slater, and Chuck Rowland. Jennings and Rowland were also Mattachine Society founders. Merton Bird and Dorr Legg were also founders of The Knights of the Clock, a support group for interracial gay couples that had begun in Los Angeles in 1950.  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.

One magazine cover Jan 1953

The name of ONE Inc. and their magazine of the same name originated from a quote from Thomas Carlyle and appears on the title page:  “A mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one .” Despite the quote, ONE readily admitted women, and Joan Corbin (as Eve Elloree), Irma Wolf (as Ann Carrl Reid), Stella Rush (as Sten Russell), Helen Sandoz (as Helen Sanders), and Betty Perdue (as Geraldine Jackson) were vital to its early success. The magazine continued publication until 1969.

One magazine cover Oct 1954

In January 1953, ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, the first U.S. pro-gay publication, had its inaugural issue, which was sold openly on the streets of Los Angeles.  It sported a very sophisticated look, with bold graphics and professional typset and design. ONE’s slick offering quickly caught the attention of 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. Tame by modern standards, ONE hardly matched the girlie magazines of the time and only delicately talked about sex. The content initially consisted mainly of essays on topics of interest to the gay community but also included stories, poems, and book reviews. (In one short story, a lesbian couple touched each other four times before living happily ever after — which was apparently the story’s real crime in the eyes of the government.) After a campaign of harassment from the United States Postal Service and FBI, the Postmaster of Los Angeles declared the October 1954 issue obscene and therefore unmailable under the Comstock laws.  The magazine decided to sue. Interestingly, even the ACLU wouldn’t represent it, having defended the constitutionality of laws that made homosexual behavior criminal, but nevertheless ONE‘s editors did manage to find a lawyer.

ONE magazine cover April-May 1956

Decision: The first court decision (March 1956) sided with the Post Office, in which U.S. District Judge Thurmond Clark stated that “the suggestion that homosexuals should be recognized as a segment of the populace is rejected.” The magazine also lost before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (February 1957), which described the October 1954 issue of ONE as “morally, depraving and debasing.” However, to the surprise of all concerned, an appeal to the Supreme Court was not only accepted but, citing its recent landmark decision in Roth v. United States 354 U.S. 476 (1957), the Court, without even waiting for oral arguments, reversed the 9th Circuit in a terse per curiam decision (meaning that they held the issue to be so obvious that no lengthy written opinion was needed).

Remarkably, the news media gave the Supreme Court decision scant attention. The coverage of it in the New York Times read in full:

Reversed unanimously and apparently on the same ground [as in a previously mentioned case involving nudist magazines] a Post Office order excluding from the mails a magazine dealing with homosexuality.

Nevertheless, the case was a landmark, establishing the right to send gay and lesbian material through the mail. It gave life to the country’s incipient gay civil rights movement, more than a decade before the Stonewall Riots. Yet even today, many gay rights activists likely haven’t heard of One Inc. v. K. Olesen. That’s probably because it was followed by four decades of hostile rulings from the nation’s top court, relegating gays and lesbians to second-class citizenship.

References:

December 24, 2013 (a Tuesday)

Alan Turing, 29th March 1951. Image supplied by National Physical Laboratory Archive, Science Museum (London, UK).

Alan Turing, 29th March 1951. Image supplied by National Physical Laboratory Archive, Science Museum (London, UK).

Today, Alan Turing, the British mathematician credited with development of the early computer, was finally given a posthumous pardon from Queen Elizabeth II 60 years after being convicted for and chemically castrated for being gay. Homosexuality was a crime in England at the time. You can read a summary of Turing’s arrest and trial here.

The pardon was announced by British justice secretary, Chris Grayling, who had made the request to the Queen. Touring “deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science,” Grayling wrote in his plea.

Turing pioneered the field of computer science, conceiving a “universal machine” that could be programmed to carry out different tasks years before the creation of the world’s fully functional electronic computer. His ideas matured into a fascination with artificial intelligence and the notion that machines would someday challenge the minds of man. When the war ended, Turing went to work programing the world’s early computers, drawing up — among other things — one of the first computer chess games.

Turing is perhaps best remembered as the architect of the effort to crack the Enigma code, the cipher used by Nazi Germany to secure its military communications. Turing’s groundbreaking work — combined with the effort of cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park near Oxford and the capture of several Nazi code books — gave the Allies the edge across half the globe, helping them defeat the Italians in the Mediterranean, beat back the Germans in Africa, and escape enemy submarines in the Atlantic.

Royal Pardon of Alan Turing signed by Queen Elizabeth II

Royal Pardon of Alan Turing signed by Queen Elizabeth II

Today, Touring’s contribution to Britain’s success during World War II and our modern computing environment is undisputed. Jean Barker, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, said that “until Turing came along with his wonderful work, our ships were being sunk by the German submarines at [an incredible rate], I hate to say.” Barker admitted that without him, German U-boats would have surely crippled their naval fleet and the country, an island, would have starved. British prime minister David Cameron also recognized Touring’s significance: “His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the ‘father of modern computing.’

For lawmaker Iain Stewart, one of many who campaigned for the pardon, the act helped right a massive wrong. “He helped preserve our liberty,” Stewart told The Associated Press. “We owed it to him in recognition of what he did for the country — and indeed the free world — that his name should be cleared.”

Others say the pardon doesn’t go far enough. British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “I pay tribute to the government for ensuring Alan Turing has a royal pardon at last but I do think it’s very wrong that other men convicted of exactly the same offense are not even being given an apology, let alone a royal pardon. We’re talking about at least 50,000 other men who were convicted of the same offense, of so-called gross indecency, which is simply a sexual act between men with consent.”

Glyn Hughes, the sculptor of the Alan Turing Memorial in Manchester, England said, “The problem is, of course, if there was a general pardon for men who had been prosecuted for homosexuality, many of them are still alive and they could get compensation.”

Ultimately, Touring’s pardon has come at a time when arguably the contributions of LGBT people can no longer go unrecognized.

References:

November 27, 1950 (a Monday)

On this date, a Senate subcommittee released a report entitled, “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government”, that sanctioned homophobia by the federal government in harsh, offensive terms. After running through one stereotype after another and saying that gay people “must be treated as transgressors,” the report rendered the panel’s conclusion:

In the opinion of this subcommittee homosexuals and other sex perverts are not proper persons to be employed in Government for two reasons; first, they are generally unsuitable and second, they constitute security risks.

It’s true that gay men and lesbians in the closet of a homophobic world could be blackmail targets. But the Senate report went way beyond that possibility in rationalizing blatant discrimination:

The lack of emotional stability which is found in most sex perverts, and the weakness of their moral fiber, makes them susceptible to the blandishments of the foreign espionage agent.

Lest one think this represents more bark than bite, the report says “that between January 1, 1947, and August 1, 1950, approximately 1,700 applicants for Federal positions were denied employment because they had a record of homosexuality or other sex perversion.”

Another report, from March 1950, was titled “Employment of Moral Perverts by Government Agencies.”

By March 1950 Republicans were calling for an investigation of the homosexuals in government problem. When President Truman's loyalty board refused, political cartoons like this one from the Washington Times-Herald,the city's most widely read newspaper, accused Truman of protecting "traitors and queers."

By March 1950 Republicans were calling for an investigation of the homosexuals-in-government problem. When President Truman’s loyalty board refused, political cartoons like this one from the Washington Times-Herald, the city’s most widely read newspaper, accused Truman of protecting “traitors and queers.”

Nineteen-fifty was also the year that Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed 205 communists were working in the State Department. The State Department responded by denying that it had uncovered any communists in its ranks, but Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy admitted that it had fired 91 homosexuals. To the public, this seemed to confirm McCarthy’s charges. In the popular imagination, communists and homosexuals were soon conflated. Both seemed to comprise hidden subcultures with their own meeting places, cultural codes, and bonds of loyalty. In the 1950s, fear of political and sexual deviance became intertwined.

McCarthy hired Roy Cohn — who some claim was a closeted homosexual — as chief counsel of his Congressional subcommittee. Together, McCarthy and Cohn were responsible for the firing of scores of gay men from government employment, and strong-armed many opponents into silence using rumors of their homosexuality.

U.S. security officials were concerned that many gay men and lesbians who were fired from the State Department were finding employment in the United Nations and other international organizations. They were afraid that McCarthy and his allies might expose this situation and so they put extreme pressure on these organizations to copy the anti-gay employment policies of the U.S. government. They also pressured America’s NATO allies to exclude homosexuals from sensitive positions within their governments.

However, although a congressional committee spent several months in 1950 studying the threat homosexuals allegedly posed to national security, they could not find a single example of a gay or lesbian civil servant who was blackmailed into revealing state secrets – not one. Subsequent studies have confirmed this. But the myth of the homosexual as vulnerable to blackmail and therefore a security risk endured for decades.

The term for this anti-homosexual persecution was popularized by David K. Johnson’s book on it, The Lavender Scare (2004) which drew its title from the term “lavender lads” used repeatedly by Sen. Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexuals. In 1952 he said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of “the lavender lads” from the State Department. The phrase was also used by Confidential magazine, a periodical known for gossiping about the sexuality of politicians and prominent Hollywood stars.

The Senate subcommittee’s report from November 1950, according to a Justice Department legal brief filed in July 2011 in the case of a federal court employee seeking health benefits for her same-sex wife, led President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to issue Executive Order 10450, “which officially added ‘sexual perversion’ as a ground for investigation and possible dismissal from federal service.””

October 27, 1943 (a Wednesday)

Gay love letter

On this date, the letter below was written by one World War II soldier to another. It is a love letter between two servicemen on the occasion of their anniversary. The letter was originally published in September 1961 by ONE Magazine — an early gay magazine based out of Los Angeles. In 2000, Bob Connelly, an adjunct professor of LGBT studies at American University, found a copy of the letter in the Library of Congress. He brought the letter to the attention of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in April 2010. They sent the text of the letter to President Obama as part of their campaign against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

I sincerely thank Mr. Connelly for his research and the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives for granting permission for the letter to be republished.

Dear Dave,

This is in memory of an anniversary — the anniversary of October 27th, 1943, when I first heard you singing in North Africa. That song brings memories of the happiest times I’ve ever known. Memories of a GI show troop — curtains made from barrage balloons — spotlights made from cocoa cans — rehearsals that ran late into the evenings — and a handsome boy with a wonderful tenor voice. Opening night at a theatre in Canastel — perhaps a bit too much muscatel, and someone who understood. Exciting days playing in the beautiful and stately Municipal Opera House in Oran — a misunderstanding — an understanding in the wings just before opening chorus.

Drinks at “Coq d’or” — dinner at the “Auberge” — a ring and promise given. The show 1st Armoured — muscatel, scotch, wine — someone who had to be carried from the truck and put to bed in his tent. A night of pouring rain and two very soaked GIs beneath a solitary tree on an African plain. A borrowed French convertible — a warm sulphur spring, the cool Mediterranean, and a picnic of “rations” and hot cokes. Two lieutenants who were smart enough to know the score, but not smart enough to realize that we wanted to be alone. A screwball piano player — competition — miserable days and lonely nights. The cold, windy night we crawled through the window of a GI theatre and fell asleep on a cot backstage, locked in each other’s arms — the shock when we awoke and realized that miraculously we hadn’t been discovered. A fast drive to a cliff above the sea — pictures taken, and a stop amid the purple grapes and cool leaves of a vineyard.

The happiness when told we were going home — and the misery when we learned that we would not be going together. Fond goodbyes on a secluded beach beneath the star-studded velvet of an African night, and the tears that would not be stopped as I stood atop the sea-wall and watched your convoy disappear over the horizon.

We vowed we’d be together again “back home,” but fate knew better — you never got there. And so, Dave, I hope that where ever you are these memories are as precious to you as they are to me.

Goodnight, sleep well my love.

Brian Keith

For anyone to say that Gay love is any less passionate, any less real, any less committed, has no idea what love is to start with.

October 21, 2010 (a Thursday)

Human Rights Building in Strasbourg, France.

On this date, in the case of Nikolai Alexeev v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights with the banning of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Moscow Gay Pride Marches. The beginning of the Court’s opinion recounted the facts of the historic case (numbers refer to specific paragraphs in the Court’s opinion):

6. In 2006 the applicant, together with other individuals, organized a march to draw public attention to discrimination against the gay and lesbian minority in Russia, to promote respect for human rights and freedoms and to call for tolerance on the part of the Russian authorities and the public at large towards this minority. The march was entitled “Pride March” that year, and “Gay Pride” in subsequent years, to replicate similar events held by homosexual communities in big cities worldwide. The date chosen for the march, 27 May 2006, was also meant to celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of criminal liability in Russia for homosexual acts.

7. On 16 February 2006 the Interfax news agency published a statement by Mr Tsoy, the press secretary of the mayor of Moscow, to the effect that “the government of Moscow [would] not even consider allowing the gay parade to be held”. Interfax further quoted Mr Tsoy as saying: “The mayor of Moscow, Mr Luzhkov, has firmly declared: the government of the capital city will not allow a gay parade to be held in any form, whether openly or disguised [as a human rights demonstration], and any attempt to hold any unauthorized action will be severely repressed”.

8. On 22 February 2006 Interfax quoted the mayor of Moscow as having said, on a different occasion, that if he received a request to hold a gay parade in Moscow he would impose a ban on it because he did not want “to stir up society, which is ill-disposed to such occurrences of life” and continuing that he himself considered homosexuality “unnatural”, though he “tried to treat everything that happens in human society with tolerance”.

(. . .)

11. On 15 May 2006 the organizers submitted a notice to the mayor of Moscow stating the date, time and route of the intended march. It was to take place between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on 27 May 2006, with an estimated number of about 2,000 participants, who would march from the Moscow Post Office along Myasnitskaya Street to Lubyanskaya Square. The organizers undertook to cooperate with the law-enforcement authorities in ensuring safety and respect for public order by the participants and to comply with regulations on restriction of noise levels when using loudspeakers and sound equipment.

12. On 18 May 2006 the Department for Liaison with Security Authorities of the Moscow Government informed the applicant of the mayor’s decision to refuse permission to hold the march on grounds of public order, for the prevention of riots and the protection of health, morals and the rights and freedoms of others. It stated, in particular, that numerous petitions had been brought against the march by representatives of legislative and executive State bodies, religious denominations, Cossack elders and other individuals; the march was therefore likely to cause a negative reaction and protests against the participants, which could turn into civil disorder and mass riots.

(. . .)

16. On 26 May 2006 Interfax quoted the mayor of Moscow as saying in an interview to the radio station Russian Radio that no gay parade would be allowed in Moscow under any circumstances, “as long as he was the city mayor”. He stated that all three “major” religious faiths – “the Church, the Mosque and the Synagogue” – were against it and that it was absolutely unacceptable in Moscow and in Russia, unlike “in some Western country more progressive in that sphere”. He went on to say: “That’s the way morals work. If somebody deviates from the normal principles [in accordance with which] sexual and gender life is organized, this should not be demonstrated in public and anyone potentially unstable should not be invited.” He stated that 99.9% of the population of Moscow supported the ban.

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Moscow police dispersed a gay pride rally on 16 May 2009 that was banned by city authorities, drawing attention to Russia’s record on gay rights as it prepared to host a major international pop music competition:

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And so on and so forth. The fact that the Moscow authorities were homophobic was firmly established in the Court’s ruling. In reaching its decision, the Court relied on extracts from Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, including:

Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure, in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention, that the right to freedom of expression can be effectively enjoyed, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, including with respect to the freedom to receive and impart information on subjects dealing with sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a stinging rebuke to former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the Court stated:

86. The mayor of Moscow, whose statements were essentially reiterated in the Government’s observations, considered it necessary to confine every mention of homosexuality to the private sphere and to force gay men and lesbians out of the public eye, implying that homosexuality was a result of a conscious, and antisocial, choice. However, they were unable to provide justification for such exclusion. There is no scientific evidence or sociological data at the Court’s disposal suggesting that the mere mention of homosexuality, or open public debate about sexual minorities’ social status, would adversely affect children or “vulnerable adults”. On the contrary, it is only through fair and public debate that society may address such complex issues as the one raised in the present case. Such debate, backed up by academic research, would benefit social cohesion by ensuring that representatives of all views are heard, including the individuals concerned. It would also clarify some common points of confusion, such as whether a person may be educated or enticed into or out of homosexuality, or opt into or out of it voluntarily. This was exactly the kind of debate that the applicant in the present case attempted to launch, and it could not be replaced by the officials spontaneously expressing uninformed views which they considered popular. In the circumstances of the present case the Court cannot but conclude that the authorities’ decisions to ban the events in question were not based on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts.

87. The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the ban on the events organized by the applicant did not correspond to a pressing social need and was thus not necessary in a democratic society.

As a result, The European Court ruled that Russian authorities violated three specific articles of the European Convention, namely, Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). In its conclusion, the Court stated:

108. The Court reiterates that sexual orientation is a concept covered by Article 14 (see, among other cases, Kozak v. Poland, no. 13102/02, 2 March 2010). Furthermore, when the distinction in question operates in this intimate and vulnerable sphere of an individual’s private life, particularly weighty reasons need to be advanced before the Court to justify the measure complained of. Where a difference of treatment is based on sex or sexual orientation the margin of appreciation afforded to the State is narrow, and in such situations the principle of proportionality does not merely require the measure chosen to be suitable in general for realizing the aim sought; it must also be shown that it was necessary in the circumstances. Indeed, if the reasons advanced for a difference in treatment were based solely on the applicant’s sexual orientation, this would amount to discrimination under the Convention (ibid, § 92).

109. It has been established above that the main reason for the ban imposed on the events organized by the applicant was the authorities’ disapproval of demonstrations which they considered to promote homosexuality (see paragraphs 77-78 and 82 above). In particular, the Court cannot disregard the strong personal opinions publicly expressed by the mayor of Moscow and the undeniable link between these statements and the ban. In the light of these findings the Court also considers it established that the applicant suffered discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation and that of other participants in the proposed events. It further considers that the Government did not provide any justification showing that the impugned distinction was compatible with the standards of the Convention.

Peter Tatchell (left) and Louis-Georges Tin both praised Nikolai Alekseev for his courage in fighting for gay rights in Russia. The two are pictured with 'defiant' placards, with Moscow City Hall in the background, during the first Moscow Pride in 2006. (photo: UK Gay News)

The court awarded 12,000 euros in damages to Moscow gay rights advocate and Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeev and a further 17,500 euros in costs. “This is the first ever decision of the European Court of Human Rights which concerns freedom of assembly in Russia. It guarantees everyone freedom of expression without special permission,” Alexeyev told The Moscow News directly after the verdict.

Speaking to UK Gay News on the Court’s ruling, Peter Tatchell, the campaigner for global LGBT human rights, said in London, “Nikolai and his small band of daring LGBT activists have taken on the might of the Russian state – and won. It is a triumph for LGBT Russians and for all Russians who love liberty.” Louis-Georges Tin, the founder and president of the International Day Against Homophobia organization, said that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be clearer. “Russia must respect the rights of all citizens for freedom of assembly on its territory without delay, and especially LGBT activists who faced a systematic breach of this basic right in the past years,” he said.

However, under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this “Chamber judgment” is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.

October 12, 1998 (a Monday)

The horrific events that took place shortly after midnight on Wednesday, 7 October 1998, went against everything that Matthew Shepard embodied. Two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming. He was tied to a split-rail fence where the two men severely assaulted him. He was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later, he was found by a bicyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. Matt died on this date at 12:53 AM at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado with his family by his side.

We never knew Matthew Shepard.

But he was our family.

Please, stop killing our family.
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October 7, 1998 (a Wednesday)

Fence where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die (cross added posthumously).

Shortly after midnight (12:00 AM) on this date, two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, having led 21-year old college student Matthew Wayne Shepard to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming, tied him to a buck fence and brutally beat him and then abandoned him in the cold of the night. They later admitted that they had targeted him because he was gay. Still tied to the fence almost 18 hours after the horrific beating, Matthew was discovered by Aaron Kreifels, who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. At the time of discovery, Matthew was still alive in a coma.

Matthew Shepard sometime in 1998.

Matthew had suffered fractures to the back of his head and in front of his right ear. He had severe brain stem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature, and other vital functions. There were also about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face, and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate. Matthew never regained consciousness and remained on full life support until he died on October 12 at 12:53 AM at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. His entire family was by his side for the last few days of his life. His funeral was attended by friends and family from around the world and gained the appropriate media attention that brought Matthew’s story to the forefront of the fight against hate.

In response to Matthew’s murder, many gay people, especially youth, reported going back into the closet, fearing for their safety, experiencing a strong sense of self-loathing, and upset that the same thing could happen to them because of their sexual orientation. The reaction to his murder underscores the fact that, from a psychological perspective, hate crimes are worse than regular crimes without a prejudiced motivation. The time it takes to mentally recover from a hate crime is substantially longer than it is for a regular crime, and gay people often feel as if they are being punished for their sexuality, leading to higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Matthew was not a martyr. He was a victim of homophobia.

Rescue party reaches crash site of United Airline Flight 409 on October 7, 1955.

Ironically, yesterday was the anniversary of another tragedy that occurred at Laramie, Wyoming. On October 6, 1955, a jetliner slammed into a nearby mountain peak killing everyone on board, at that time the deadliest accident in U.S. commercial aviation history. Some say the pilot became disoriented in the clouds. Now that the crash site is more than 50 years old, it is federally protected and no one may legally remove pieces of the wreckage. On August 25, 2001, a memorial plaque was dedicated nearby, which reads “In memory of the 66 passengers and crew that perished on Medicine Bow Peak October 6, 1955.” The aftermath of the crash gave birth to new laws for aeronautical safety and new technologies for improved navigation.

In 2009, after repeated obstruction over the years by homophobic politicians like Senator Jesse Helms (who died in 2008), the federal hate crime law was finally expanded by passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. However, unlike the crash of the jetliner in 1955, NO memorial of any kind has been established to mark where Matthew was beaten and left to die. In fact, the names of the nearby roads were changed in an effort to make the location more difficult to find. Even the fence at the site has been removed by the landowner.

It seems this is one tragedy Laramie would like to forget …

Suggested Reading:

  • Monique Noelle, “The ripple effect of the Matthew Shepard murder: Impact on the assumptive worlds of members of the targeted group,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 27-50 (2002).

October 1, 1944 (a Sunday)

On this date, the first of two sets of medical experiments involving castration were performed on homosexuals at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany.

Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazi regime. Although not technically a death camp, in that it had no gas chambers, nevertheless hundreds of prisoners died monthly, from malnutrition, beatings, disease, and executions.

The camp boasted a sophisticated-sounding facility on its grounds called the “Division for Typhus and Virus Research of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS”. In truth, it was a chamber of horrors where medical experiments of the cruelest kind were carried out on prisoners against their will. Victims were often intentionally infused with various infections to test out vaccines. Euthanasia was also performed regularly on Jews, Gypsies, and mentally ill prisoners.

Dr. Carl Peter Værnet, serving as a doctor at Buchenwald concentration camp, 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:

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 tests 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.

Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies on April 11, 1945. Ironically, it was later used by the Soviet Union as a concentration camp for the “enemies” of East Germany.

After World War II, 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.

References: