Category Archives: Gay Interest

‘Dream Daddy’ Is A Surprisingly Earnest Dating Simulator Where You Can Date Gay Dads

Steam

“Dream Daddy” is a brand-new dating simulator in which you play a dad trying to romance other hot dads, and I’m pleased to report it’s much more charming, earnest and goofy than I expected it to be.

My main source of apprehension stemmed from the fact that “Dream Daddy” was produced by Game Grumps, a “Let’s Play”-style YouTube channel with 3.9 million subscribers. It’s run by Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan, both of whom are known for their over-the-top, juvenile, shock-based senses of humor. For example, their most recent “best of” video features a clip where one of the two asks the other if he thought he could “stuff tits into [his] asshole.”

So, to say that I was fearful about whether this game would treat its same-sex romances with respect is an understatement. However, I’m happy to report that after playing “Dream Daddy” for a couple of hours, my fears were (mostly) unfounded.

Wait, back up. What’s a dating simulator? How do you play “Dream Daddy”?

If the dating simulator genre is a totally foreign concept, here’s how it works: They’re essentially video game versions of those choose-your-own-adventure books.

In “Dream Daddy,” you design your own character — which, notably, include “binder” body options for trans characters — and help shape their story with the decisions you make.

If you’re having a conversation with another character, you’ll sometimes have to choose between one of several responses. Sometimes, these responses will affect another character’s perception of you, which is indicated by an explosion of hearts (good) or a murky, black ink cloud (bad). Other times, these options simply alter the way a conversation unfolds, but there isn’t a tangible, numbers-based outcome.

Ultimately, your goal is to pursue one — or several, if you’re feeling frisky — romances with another character. But if you choose the wrong responses in conversation, they might not return your affection. Kinda like real life, really.

The sweetest relationship in “Dream Daddy” isn’t with another dad

“Dream Daddy” is, of course, about romancing hunky men, but there’s actually a different relationship at the heart of the story: The one between your character and his daughter, Amanda.

The whole conceit of the story is that you’re a single dad who’s moving to a new neighborhood with Amanda — and, in the process of getting to know the new digs, meet a bunch of hot dads. It’s implied that you’re downsizing because your character’s spouse died in the somewhat recent past. Also, Amanda is in her senior year of high school and will be going off to college soon.

Amanda is the main vector by which the story moves forward, and it works surprisingly well. She’s the one pushing you to get to know the people in your new neighborhood — spoiler alert: They’re all dads — and she’s a nice, familiar face that helps ground everything in between all the flirtation.

In the opening minutes of the game, I was already getting choked up over the pair’s conversation about my character’s late husband, which is not what I was expecting out of a game called “Dream Daddy.” You can choose whether your spouse was a man or a woman, but this game is about romancing dudes, so, the choice was pretty clear.

I’ve also been surprised at how invested I am in her own narrative about troubles in school. I haven’t delved too deeply into her story yet, but I’m intrigued to see where it goes.

So, who can you date in “Dream Daddy”?

All right, enough about Amanda. What you’re really here for is hot dads. I get it.

I’ve met all the dads so far, and my current favorite is Craig, a sporty, reformed frat bro who’s settling into his new role as a divorced, mature(ish) dad. He regularly pantomimes a voice for River, the wide-eyed tot strapped to his chest. He also works out a lot. I’m not down with his fratty masculinity — he’s bound to have “masc4masc” in his Grindr profile, right? — but for now, he seems like a good option.

At first, I was partial to Hugo, a charming English teacher at Amanda’s school, but then I found out he had a son named Ernest Hemingway Vega. That’s simply too much.

I’m only a couple of hours into my first playthrough, so we’ll see how things go. Overall, I’m genuinely surprised at how much I’m enjoying it, but I do have some qualms with the way the writing fails to engage with gay culture in a meaningful way, despite relying entirely on the idea of gayness for its success.

But that’s a topic for another day. I’ll have more thoughts on “Dream Daddy” soon.

Reference

Gay History: Martyrs Among Us: Deifying Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk + more

IMAGE ABOVE: JAKE GYLLENHAAL AND HEATH LEDGER IN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN; COVER STORY IMAGE: HILLARY SWANK IN BOYS DON’T CRY

When news broke that Matthew Shepard’s remains were finally buried at the National Cathedral some 20 years after his death, we were reminded of the collective grief the nation felt after the brutal, senseless murder of the waiflike 21-year-old. In the intervening years since he happened into a bar where he met up with two men who lured him into their truck, robbed him, and drove him to a desolate stretch of highway outside Laramie, Wyoming where they pistol-whipped him, tied him to a wooden fence and left him for dead in the cold night air, Shepard had become more than an emblem of the senseless hate crimes perpetrated against the gay community, he had become a martyr.

Matthew Shepard was an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming who was brutally attacked in a hate crime at the age of 21.

Shepard’s place among sacrificial victims was solidified when more than 5,000 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to mourn his death and cemented when Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which broadened existing law to include crimes triggered by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race and disability. Byrd was an African American man murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. On June 7, 1998, they dragged his body for three miles behind their pickup truck. Although Byrd wasn’t gay, his inhumane murder serves to remind us of the hate that permeates society.

In his book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of Sexual Politics, author Brett Krutszch theorizes that LGBTQ activists are using religion to make the argument that gays are essentially the same as straights and deserve the same equal rights. He points to the veneration of Shepard, Harvey Milk and other high profile gay victims, as well as campaigns like the It Gets Better Project, which he believes promotes the notion that “like Christ’s suffering on the cross, one’s trials today can lead to a better tomorrow.” Krutszch says that national tragedies like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting show how activists use headline-grabbing deaths to gain acceptance, shape the debate over LGBTQ rights and foster assimilation.

Krutszch maintains that Mr. Shepard’s 1998 murder is steeped in religious imagery. Just the thought of the all-American boy-next-door tied to a fence conjures up images of the crucifixion. He concludes that Matthew Shepard’s resulting canonization is due to the interplay of religion, death and LGBTQ politics and that “martyrs as emblems can be changed into more respectable figures than they were in their lifetime.” We may never know if Mr. Shepard was the innocent victim most people believe he was, or as The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard indicates, he was a meth dealer who not only knew his killers, but was sexually involved with one and that his death was the result of a drug robbery gone bad.

Whatever the motive for his murder, Shepard has become a shining symbol in the pantheon of almost exclusively white gay martyrs. The group dates back to the 4th century when Sergius and Bacchus, two Roman Christian soldiers who happened to be lovers, took part in a rite called adelphopoiesis (the ancient equivalent of same sex marriage) and refused to attend sacrifices for Zeus, thereby revealing their Christianity. The pair was paraded through what is now Syria. They were dressed in women’s clothing and tortured to death. They lived on through fervent followers and the churches that were dedicated to them throughout The Byzantine Empire.

Any conversation about modern-day martyrs would not be complete without mentioning Harvey Milk. He was the first openly gay elected official in California. Krutszch described Milk as “a secular Jewish, Yiddish-speaking, anti-monogamist” who was transformed by activists who “downplayed his Jewishness, depicted him as committed to fidelity and presented him as someone whose death, like Christ’s crucifixion, transformed the world.” One can argue the validity of that characterization, but it is hard to deny the contributions Milk made as San Francisco’s District 5 Supervisor. Those included defeating Proposition 6 that would have banned lesbian and gay educators from teaching in California public schools, and his efforts to pass legislation that prohibited discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.

Harvey Milk

Tyler Clemente may be less well known than Milk and Shepard, but like their deaths, his was another flashpoint. You may remember reading about his suicide in 2010. Clemente was an 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man. The video was posted on Twitter.

Most homosexual martyrs are white, but they are not all men. Brandon Teena, born Teena Renae Brandon, became famous when Hilary Swank played him in Boys Don’t Cry. The 21-year-old Teena was living a quiet transgender life in Humboldt, Nebraska, dating 18-year-old Lana Tisdel and hanging out with two ex-convicts John Lotter and Marvin Thomas “Tom” Nissen. Everything was fine until December 19, 1993, when Teena was arrested for forging checks. He used his one phone call to call Tisdel. She got the surprise of her life when she came to bail him out and was directed to the women’s prison where Teena was being held.

Brandon Teena

At a Christmas Eve party a few weeks later, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena to remove his pants, proving to Tisdale that he was a woman. Later that night, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena into a car, drove him to a deserted area, attacked and gang-raped him. Fearful that Brandon would file a police complaint, the pair murdered him on New Year’s Eve. While his family buried him as a female (his tombstone reads “Teena R. Brandon, Daughter, Sister and Friend”), the death of Brandon Teena is credited with raising awareness of transgender issues in the same way that Matthew Shepard’s became a clarion call for injustices directed toward gay men.

Teen Lana Tisdale

While real-life suffering seems like a necessary prerequisite for martyrdom, some fictional characters like Brokeback Mountain’s Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar have transcended fictional status to take their place in the cultural zeitgeist. Brokeback author, Annie Proulx, said the characters Jack and Ennis were her first two that felt “really damned real” and “got a life of their own.” She also said, “Unfortunately, they got a life of their own for too many other people, too … the audience that Brokeback reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. They can’t bear the way it ends. So they invent all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis, it’s about homophobia.”

Gay martyrs like Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena and even Brokeback’s fictional characters are often a byproduct of homophobia, when people who find themselves outside the mainstream and are struggling to just be who they are.

Reference

Gay History: Paul Lynde 1926–1982

American comedian, character actor, and Hollywood center square. He began his career doing stand-up before moving into theater, where he got his biggest break playing the father in the musical Bye Bye Birdie. He reprised the role in the film adaptation to great success. From there, he was sought after to make appearances on television and variety shows including The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and most notably in the role of Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. In 1966, Lynde made his first appearance on the new gameshow Hollywood Squares. His snarky one-liners were so popular, he became the regular center square for most of the show’s run. Throughout his career, Lynde’s humor was built on camp and a flamboyant persona; during Hollywood Squares, his jokes were often thinly veiled references to his own homosexuality. But although he made subversive gay humor palatable for American homes, he never actually came out, except to close friends. He sometimes blamed his sexuality for keeping him from better roles, but it also may have been his reputation as a mean and occasionally violent alcoholic. He managed to quit drinking at the age of 53, but died of a heart attack two years later.

Real People: The “Openly Closeted” Paul Lynde

Despite the entertainment industry being hindered for years in portraying explicitly homosexual characters, those “in the know” were well aware of how this restriction was subverted by the very presence of certain actors and celebrities whose outrageous, decidedly “unmanly” personas could be interpreted as covertly gay. The movies had such jittery, effete ninnies like Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn, while television offered the likes of glittery, flamboyantly attired Liberace, who rocked the boat in the staid ‘50s by pushing his camp mannerisms to the limit; the mincingly nervous Charles Nelson Riley; and perhaps the most hilariously “sissified” of the bunch, the exasperated, acid-tongued Paul Lynde. 

Despite his initial efforts to be taken seriously as an actor, Lynde realized early on that his exaggerated vocal inflections and stinging way of delivering a line got him easy laughs, so he accepted comedy as his future. He first gained attention on the Broadway stage as one of the comedic highlights of the revue New Faces of 1952, doing a version of his “African Hunter” monologue that had gained him a New York nightclub following. From this more specialized universe he leaped into the big time with his performance as the uptight dad in the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie (introducing the hit song “Kids”), a role he was asked to repeat on the big screen in 1963. Lynde was soon being hired both for film and television to deliver his patented acerbic remarks, often done with a shake of the head, a nasally snarl, and a drip of prissy sarcasm, certain words emphasized with campy relish for added impact. Fellow gays cherished Lynde for honing to perfection what could only be described as “the bitchy queen,” lobbing a withering retort at straight-laced America, who laughed as well at what they perceived to be nothing more than a “quirky” comedian, since there was no thought of casting Lynde in roles that were deliberately gay.

While fans fondly remembered him for playing prankster warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched or as the host of one of the kitschiest of all ‘70s variety offerings, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, it was being added to the cast of the daytime game show The Hollywood Squares that brought him his greatest fame. Positioned in the “center square,” he became the go-to favorite among the celebrity guests, being fed questions that ensured a tart, often surprisingly risqué reply, some of his answers clearly suggesting a coded, campy gay sensibility: i.e., the question “Why do Hells Angels wear leather?” received the reply, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” During his eleven-year run as a series regular (1968–79), Lynde became revered as one of show business’s great “put down” comics. To most of America he was just a “smart ass” who talked kind of funny, but to the gay community his unapologetic, scalding manner was something to which they responded, perhaps interpreting the Lynde wit as a defense mechanism against an intolerant world.

Reference

Gay History:The Briggs Initiative: Remembering a Crucial Moment in Gay History

Homophobe John Briggs promoting his initiative

A lot of people are saying this year’s midterm election is the most crucial of our lifetime. It may well be, given the need to elect officials who will fight Donald Trump’s loathsome agenda. But another midterm election, 40 years ago, was one of the most crucial as well, at least in California.

In 1978, State Sen. John Briggs put an initiative on the ballot that would have mandated the firing of any gay or lesbian teacher in California public schools, or any teacher who supported gay rights (the term LGBT wasn’t used back then). Thanks to a Herculean effort by California grassroots activists — Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Sally Miller Gearhart, hundreds of others — Briggs’s Proposition 6, popularly known as the Briggs Initiative, was resoundingly defeated, by more than a million votes. It was the first time voters had rejected an antigay measure.

To mark the 40th anniversary of this milestone, the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco is mounting an exhibition called “The Briggs Initiative: A Scary Proposition,” recounting the story of the initiative and how it was turned back. It opens September 14.

“This exhibition will bring a scary time for LGBTQ people zinging back for those of us who were there, reminding us that we can fight the forces of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and win even against long odds,” said co-curator Sue Englander, a veteran of the anti-Briggs Initiative effort, in a press release. “And if you weren’t here 40 years ago, the story will sear itself into your consciousness. The differences between 1978 and today aren’t as big as they may look.”

Indeed, there are similarities between 1978 and today. The gay rights movement jump-started by the Stonewall riots and other events of the 1960s had made some gains in the 1970s. Gays and lesbians were getting elected to state- or city-level public office, or coming out and getting reelected — Elaine Noble in Massachusetts, Allan Spear in Minnesota, Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Many cities and counties, including San Francisco and Miami-Dade County, were adopting ordinances banning antigay discrimination. Major cities across the nation were holding Pride parades, usually around the anniversary of Stonewall in late June. The American Psychiatric Association announced it no longer considered homosexuality a mental illness.

This amount of progress pales in comparison with that of the 21st century, which brought nationwide marriage equality, many more antidiscrimination laws, and, for a time, a president who wholeheartedly supported LGBTQ equality. But just as the Trump administration and other anti-LGBTQ forces are trying to undo civil rights progress today, homophobes came out of the woodwork to try to strip away the advances of the 1970s. The Briggs Initiative was part of this backlash, as was Anita Bryant’s campaign to repeal the Miami-Dade County gay rights law. But where she succeeded, Briggs would fail.

Briggs was a far-right Republican from a district in Orange County, a conservative enclave between Los Angeles and San Diego. In a state that makes greater use of the citizen initiative process than almost any other that has it, he hoped Prop. 6 would boost his political career. Specifically, he aspired to become California’s governor.

But one of the forces who helped persuade voters to reject the initiative was a former governor — Ronald Reagan. When he became president a few years later, Reagan didn’t build a gay-friendly record — he courted the religious right and notoriously ignored the AIDS crisis. But in 1978, he announced his opposition to the Briggs Initiative in an informal letter and in responses to reporters’ questions, and on November 1, six days before the election, he published a commentary in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner denouncing the measure.

“Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles,” he wrote. “Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” That language may sound pretty tepid now, but at the time it was a significant statement. Then-President Jimmy Carter and his predecessor, Gerald Ford, also opposed the initiative.

Opponents meet: John Briggs and Harvey Milk

But the credit for defeating the Briggs Initiative really should go not to high-profile politicians but to the many grassroots activists who worked against it. The opposition started with gay and lesbian advocates and the women’s movement, but they formed alliances with organized labor, progressive religious groups, and community organizations representing a variety of populations. Milk and Gearheart famously debated John Briggs, as chronicled in the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and the narrative film Milk (although the latter left out Gearheart). They made mincemeat out of Briggs’s arguments, particularly about his initiative being a way to combat child molestation; Gearheart cited government data showing that this is overwhelmingly committed by straight men.

But most important, gay people came out. “We can defeat the Briggs Initiative if all the gay people come out to your family, your friends — if indeed they are your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors,” Milk said at the time. “You will hurt them if you come out, but think of how they will hurt you if they vote for Briggs. If they don’t come out, then it will be a very tight race.”

Indeed, gay people and their allies managed to flip the script on the initiative, as Ramy K. Khalil noted in his Western Washington University master’s thesis on the campaign. In August, just three months before the election, opinion polls showed support for the measure at 61 percent, opposition at 31 percent. By September, the polls showed a toss-up. And on November 7, voters delivered a resounding defeat, with the proposition losing by a margin of 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent, and not even carrying Briggs’s home county.

“One decisive factor was the mistake by Briggs himself of over-reaching — of promoting an initiative that was more extreme than the anti-gay ballot initiatives in other states,” Khalil wrote. “Proposition 6 required school districts to terminate employment of LGBT or straight people who expressed any sympathy toward homosexuality, on or off the job, whereas the ballot initiatives in other states merely repealed special protections against discrimination for gays or lesbians. Most importantly, though, Proposition 6 was defeated by LGBT people, labor unions, feminists, and other allies who organized a powerful grassroots movement involving highly visible protests and actions that successfully confronted the homophobic arguments behind Proposition 6.”

One of the posters to be featured in the exhibit
“Never Again! Fight Back!” (San Francisco: Too Much Graphics, 1978); silk-screened poster sold as a fundraiser for the No on Six campaign, GLBT Historical Society.
“No on 6” bumper sticker (San Francisco: Bay Area Committee Against the Briggs Initiative, 1978). Collection of the GLBT Historical Society.

Reference

Further to the last blog post “Behind the Weird Internet Scheme to Associate Pedophiles with the LGBTQ+ Community”

There was a reference made to a MAP (Minor Attracted Persons) Pride flag in the article. This is not a legitimate or recognised Pride flag, and here is the information about it.

NO, THIS ISN’T A REAL PRID4 FLAG – IT REPRESENTS PEDOPHILES

Groups of pedophiles are attempting to be part of the LGBTI community.

A group known as MAPs (or Minor Attracted Persons, not to be confused with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been circulating its own version of the Pride flag.

Another term for ‘pedophile’

MAPs attempts to soften the idea of pedophilia by insisting it’s not wrong if there is no contact.

‘”John” was suicidal. He had been bullied by trolls on social media for most of his life for being different. The bullies were primarily people who claimed, based on their religious beliefs, that “John” was going to hell and deserved to die. They described how they would kill him on his twitter page and people supported their hate. Desperate for help, John sought treatment for his shame, depression, and suicidality. Although he was scared to share about himself with a stranger, he felt desperate for help as he had NO desire to harm anyone, ever. Once he shared about his attraction to children, his therapist told him, “I don’t treat sex offenders,”’ a passage on The Prevention Project about MAPs reads.

‘First, let’s be clear. “John” is not a child molester nor is he a sex offender. He has an attraction to children. He is also fervent about helping prevent child sexual abuse by speaking out against it and by showing his support of global child sexual abuse prevention programs on his social media. “John” deserves support as do others who have a minor attraction. After all, isolation and depression are known to increase one’s risk of doing something they might regret.

By the way, we have talked to “Janes” who are women who identify as anti-contact, non-offending pedophiles and like “John”, they have no desire to sexually harm children.’

Considering the long-standing trope that LGBTI people are rapists and/or child molesters, the fact those who actually have attraction to children are attempting to co-opt LGBTI spaces is disturbing.

Social media reactions

Many on social media are warning LGBTI people and allies to be wary of the MAPs flag during Pride season. Additionally, many also called out the problematic nature of using a term like ‘minor attracted persons’ to normalize pedophilia.

Offline and in the real world

This isn’t just happening online, either. A photo of drag kid Desmond Napoles was recently used on a flyer in Oregon, promoting a fake Pride event for pedophiles. The posters were allegedly distributed by a group called the National Association of Man-Boy Love (NAMBLA).

When Napoles and his family learned about his picture being featured on the flyer, they took to Instagram to urge people in Oregon to ‘tear them down immediately.’

UPDATE 28 July: Fact-checking website Snopes has concluded that this flag was a hoax. Not officially associated with MAPs or NAMBLA, it seems to have originated on Tumblr. It is unclear what the motivations behind the hoax were.

Reference

Gay History: Behind the Weird Internet Scheme to Associate Pedophiles with the LGBTQ+ Community

It’s time to recognize these trolling tactics for what they are.

Wesley Johnson

The LGBTQ+ community has long been maliciously associated with pedophiles by people who wish to further stigmatize us. Internet trolls are aware of this violent tradition, and are taking advantage by spreading propaganda that, on first glance, resembles an embrace of pedophiles by LGBTQ+ people. It’s an effective tactic if we accept the false premise: that there is a link between sexual predators and queer people. But there isn’t, and it’s time we stopped meeting that propaganda on the trolls’ terms.

Last month, Central Oregon Pride organizers were targeted by an insidious campaign that distributed fake posters claiming NAMBLA was sponsoring the event along with the Human Dignity Coalition, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Bend, Oregon. Jamie Bowman, president of the organization, says, “Several people sent me photos asking if it was the real thing.” The posters prominently featured a photo of 10-year-old Desmond Napoles, known as Desmond is Amazing in drag, who was the subject of debate thanks to professor and YouTuber Jordan Peterson saying on Twitter that Desmond’s drag was child exploitation.

Desmond’s mother, who runs Desmond’s social media, took to Instagram where Desmond has over 75,000 followers to disavow the poster. “THIS IS DISGUSTING!” the caption reads. “I am offended, angry, and yes, hurt. If you see these signs, please tear them down immediately.” Bowman says she did just that, walking around and pulling the posters down.

[THERE IS A BLOCK OF TEXT MISSING DUE YO AN OBSTRUCTION ON THE PAGE]

Since debunked by internet sleuths at Snopes, “clovergender” is an invented identity meant to mock nonbinary people by claiming that some adults have not mentally matured past the age of 13 and therefore should be allowed to date underaged people. Shkreli asked people to spread awareness of “clovergender” on Twitter, and the call for volunteers on 4Chan asked for help to “troll SJW’s.”

Besides the obvious goal of causing distress to queer people, the goal of “clovergender” proponents and of the Oregon Pride trolls is bifold: to get cisgender heterosexual people to associate the LGBTQ+ community with sexual predators, and to get the LGBTQ+ community to mount a genuine defense against the accusation that it is harboring pedophiles within our circles, thus, on some level, validating the assertion. These repudiations, while virtuous in intent, still give the trolls what they want. They want to use the preexisting stigma against LGBTQ+ people to demonize us.

Another recently debunked hoax was the “Minor Attracted Persons” flag that emerged in Pride season this year. “Minor Attracted Persons” is indeed a term some pedophiles have attempted to use to breach mainstream acceptance, but the flag appears to be a hoax that, again, was taken at its word. It fits nicely with other hoaxes that use rainbow flag imagery and inclusive language that support pedophilia.

But perhaps the most malicious campaign came in 2016, when a faction of 4Chan users attempted to create a false movement to include the letter “P,” for pedosexuals, into the LGBTQ+ acronym. Snopes has debunked this as well, but what’s most chilling about this campaign is the planning and patience the organizers exhibited when putting it together. “If they want to demand that society accept their horseshit identities, then it’s time we slip in one of our own,” wrote the post’s author. “How do we do this? We convince them that Pedos deserve rights too. Think about it, if this were to catch any traction at all it would only further remove any legitimization they’ve gained.”

 Ethan Edwards, a cofounder of the group “Virtuous Pedophiles” who uses a pseudonym, advocates against acceptance of pedophilia and monitors the movements of groups like NAMBLA online. He says he hasn’t seen any attempts on their end to integrate with the LGBTQ+ community. “Perhaps there is some genuine pedophile somewhere pushing this new rainbow flag. Maybe a few others are trying to infiltrate LGBT+ groups by the backdoor,” he says over email. “But I haven’t seen any evidence of this in a group setting.”

That hasn’t stopped some well-meaning LGBTQ+ people from speaking out against this alleged movement. Attitude, a UK-based gay mag, ran a story on the supposed “MAPS” Pride flag, which, again, is a hoax. It’s completely understandable why one might exercise an abundance of caution by calling this out, but it still validates a false premise that this is part of some larger movement.

It’s also worth noting that oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the modern day relies on the falsehood that queer people are child predators. In Russia, for example, Vladimir Putin said in 2014 that gay people would be safe at the Sochi Winter Olympics so long as they “leave kids alone.” It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that people often invoke the safety of children when trying to legislate against the LGBTQ+ community.

But obvious troll campaigns like these, while they do invoke that reality, must be dealt with on a different level. Our current political climate is an example of what happens when we assume every argument, no matter how ridiculous or odious, has merit and must be met halfway. It’s how we ended up with Donald Trump, whose litany of ridiculous and bombastic statements, like assertions that Mexicans are rapists, earned him even more coverage but little accountability.

We should bear this in mind when responding to incidents like what happened in Oregon, and be aware of the offending party’s goal: to paint a picture in which LGBTQ+ people are having an internal debate over where pedophiles fit into our community. It’s a debate that, at the moment, is not happening on any meaningful scale. Our response should not necessarily be to ignore it. Our response should, however, call a spade a spade and place the blame where it rightfully lies: on the trolls.

Reference

Gay History: Would You Believe…The Most Unbelievable HIV Hoaxes EVER!

Is Capriccio Sangria Spreading HIV?

One of many hoaxes involving the claim that a common food product has somehow become contaminated with HIV.

Capriccio Bubbly Sangria beverages are contaminated with HIV.

In May 2018, the Capriccio Bubbly Sangria beverage generated a good deal of publicity online and in news coverage, drawing frequent comparisons to Four Loko as well as speculation about its ingredients and rumored effects on consumers:

One of the most prominent rumors about the beverage involved a supposed screen shot from an alleged news report aired by Chicago television station WFLD (Fox 32 Chicago) stating that Capriccio Sangria was “spreading HIV worldwide”:

We (Snopes) found no evidence that WFLD, or any other legitimate news organization, aired such a report. This image appears to be a digitally doctored one in which a fake chyron was overlaid onto a screenshot of an ordinary Fox News/WFLD report about the drink’s sudden popularity.

The Capriccio Sangria rumor is just the latest entry in a long string of hoaxes positing that various food items have been contaminated with HIV. As we often note, such rumors fail the reality check that HIV would not survive in this type of environment long enough to pose a real danger to unwitting consumers:

Hoax: Beware of HIV-infected oranges

One joke got out of hand while a false declaration was used to promote the anti-immigrant agenda. Here are some recent hoaxes spreading on social media.

Several poor-quality shots of sliced oranges with red spots and a brief description stating they come from Libya were used to spread a popular rumour: the oranges were sprayed with blood infected with the HIV virus.

Croatian customs officers were said to have made this socking discovery, the Sme daily wrote recently. More then 8,000 people on Facebook shared the fake information that has been spreading for at least three years. In August 2017, the antipropaganda.sk website was already writing about the hoax.

More recent alarm

The Czech version of the hoax has been spreading since at least spring 2016. The current version of the hoax is probably identical to the one Antipropaganda noticed: it’s in the Czech language, and both versions contain the same typo – instead of “pomeranče“ (oranges), it reads “pomenanče“. In 2016, more than 16,000 people shared this status.

HIV does not spread through food

The English version has been spread since February 2015, and was analysed by the snopes.com website. The server reminded readers that even if someone really injected the HIV virus into oranges, one cannot get infected in this way.

“Except for rare cases when children ate a meal previously chewed by an HIV-infected person, this virus cannot spread via meals,” Snopes writes. The virus cannot live for long outside of the human body nor survive cooking or exposure to stomach acids.

Joke looses control

Sometimes there is no bad intention or efforts to impact public opinion behind a hoax: from time to time, a mere joke morphs into hoax that isn’t too amusing.

Recently, Czech social media has been flooded by the news that Prague will lose one of its most famous monuments. The popular Charles’ Bridge is allegedly damaged beyond repair, and thus, it has to be demolished. Instead, a modern replica will be built.

This is not the case, however.

A man named Martin Topič created a paste-up that looks like an article from the Czech website iDnes concerning the end of a famous monument. The article states that the walls, thought to be 700 years old, cannot be renovated anymore, and the city has to get rid of the bridge. It claims the European Union ordered the bridge’s demolition as it does not fulfill EU standards anymore, and this news has to be shared.

The author intended this as a joke, targeting fans of such hoaxes and fake news by sending it to several groups in which they meet. In fact, he only misrepresented the original news about the demolition of the Výtoň Bridge, according to the Manipulátoři.cz website.

Facts and fiction

The Výtoň Bridge is the Prague railway bridge that has so many problems it doesn’t make sense to repair it, according to Czech railways. As it is protected by the Monuments Board, however, it could be replaced by an exact replica.

But hoax enthusiasts did not bother to check on anything, resulting not only in rude and enraged comments but also the spread of news that was originally meant as a mere joke.

Is there any lesson to learn? Hardly, if you know how embarrassing it is to explain the meaning of jokes, Sme wrote.

Monaco is not Marrakesh

In May, people started sharing information on the Monaco Declaration, according to which Slovakia has to accept 11,000 Africans, starting on July 1, 2018. After someone noticed that there is no such thing as the Monaco Declaration but rather the Marrakesh Declaration, the hoax was updated and the alarming news continued to spread, the Denník N daily wrote.

The first website to share this hoax was the Czech disinformation website Parlamentní Listy, according to Czech TV. On May 7, it published a story headlined “Africans to Europe, Babiš’ minister signed in Africa. Hungary: this will change the population of Europe, let us not sign it”. The story spread en mass across Facebook, while other Czech and Slovak websites immediately grasped the issue. “An avalanche of migrants from Africa is being prepared, supported by the legislation on the European and national levels,” the Slobodný Výber website wrote one day later.

Slovak politicians use the hoax

For example, the Supreme Court Justice and potential presidential candidate, Štefan Harabin, recorded a video in which he said that 150 to 200 million Africans will arrive in Europe.

“This is a fatal threat to citizens of Slovakia, and an existential threat to our sovereign state,” he noted for the video, which has more than 40,000 clicks. “Do our families want to have children raped, do we want to have window shops broken and zones where even police do not dare to enter?” he asks.

The Facebook site Zdrojj then published a picture where duties allegedly steaming from the Marrakesh Declaration are listed, garnering around 300,000 shares in two days. This is the third most successful disinformation news in the whole week, according to the blbec.online project.

The extreme right ĽSNS party also joined in, according to Denník N. Its MP Natália Grausová described at a parliamentary session in mid-May how Slovakia would be obliged to accept Africans and pay for their accommodation, paired with €800 in pocket money and other benefits.

The state tried to officially disprove these rumours through repeated explanations by the Foreign Ministry. The Facebook site for the police joined in, calling it nonsense and an “absolute hoax”.

The Foreign Ministry’s state secretary Ivan Korčok warned of the hoax through a special status on his Facebook profile.

The Marrakesh Declaration can be read in English on the European Commission websites. It was created as part of the so-called Rabat process, a long-term dialogue of European and African countries on solutions in the sphere of migration.

What is the Marrakesh Declaration?

The latest conference concerning the declaration took place in Marrakesh, Morocco, and one of the participants was Czech Interior Minister Lubomír Metnar; on the Slovak side, nobody participated. Moreover, none of the Slovak ministers even formally signed it. Slovak diplomacy joined the declaration with the Slovak ambassador to Brussels expressing his support remotely.

The working agreement does not mention anything about Slovakia being forced to accept Africans.

The Marrakesh Declaration is not an international contract obliging Slovakia to anything. It is a mere political declaration which is legally non-binding, according to Denník N.

HOAX ALERT: HIV injected into ‘bloody’ bananas, again

“That is Satanism,” a religious group says on its Facebook page, claiming that fruit is being injected with HIV-infected blood by groups of people “with the aim of killing millions of people around the world”.

The post by the Spiritual Warfare and Tactics Squad warns people not to eat any fruit with a “red weird colour.” It’s illustrated by two pictures: one shows a banana being injected with a fluid that looks like blood. The other shows a peeled banana with a red colour inside.

Hoax debunked three years ago

The post was flagged by Facebook users in Nigeria. Africa Check has found a number of versions of the claim. It has been so popular it was debunked by Snopes in November 2015 and Hoax-Slayer in February 2016.

“This form of reddish discolouration in bananas has nothing to do with blood of any sort,” Snopes explained. “It’s a hallmark of fungal or bacterial diseases that affect bananas grown in some areas and can cause their centres to turn dark red.”

The US Centers for Disease Control states that HIV does not live for long outside the body. And the virus can’t be caught from food, even if the food contains small amounts of HIV-infected blood. – Allwell Okpi (24/10/2018)

Rumor: Someone Put HIV+ Blood in Pepsi Cola

A viral rumor has been circulating since at least 2004 claiming that a worker put HIV-infected blood into a cola company’s products. The rumor is false—a complete hoax—but read on to find out the details behind the urban legend, how it got started, and the facts of the matter according to health officials

“Urgent Message”

The following posting, which was shared on Facebook on Sept. 16, 2013, is fairly representative of the rumor alleging HIV-infected cola:

There’s news from the police. Its an urgent message for all. For next few days don’t drink any product from pepsi company’s like pepsi, tropicana juice, slice, 7up etc. A worker from the company has added his blood contaminated with AIDS.. Watch MDTV. please forward this to everyone on your list.

Versions of the same rumor have made the rounds previously, in 2004, and again in 2007-2008. In those previous instances, the food products allegedly contaminated with HIV-positive blood were ketchup and tomato sauce, but the status of the claim was the same: false. 

No legitimate sources, media or governmental, have reported any such occurrence. Moreover, even if such an incident had occurred, it would not have resulted in the spread of AIDS, according to medical experts.

CDC Debunks Myth

This is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains it:

You can’t get HIV from consuming food handled by an HIV-infected person. Even if the food contained small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus.

A CDC fact sheet also reported that the agency has never documented any incidents of food or beverage products being contaminated with HIV-infected blood or semen, or incidents of HIV infection transmitted via food or beverage products.

The Myth Resurfaces

As recently as 2017, the urban legend resurfaced—this time in a viral rumor posted on. Aug 21 of that year. The post, which appeared on the website of Washington, D.C., television station WUSA 9, reads in part:

WUSA9 News was contacted by several viewers who saw this text message being shared on social media as a warning. The message reads: Important message from Metropolitan Police to all citizen of United Kingdom.
“For the next few weeks do not drink any products from Pepsi, as a worker from the company has added blood contaminated with HIV (AIDS). It was shown yesterday on Sky News. Please forward this message to the people who you care.”
WUSA9 News researchers contacted United Kingdom Department of Health Media & Campaigns Executive, Lauren Martens who confirmed the message is a hoax and also not shown on Sky News. Martens also said Metropolitan Police did not have any issued statement about this message.

The television station also contacted the CDC, which—as noted above—said that you can’t get HIV “from consuming food handled by an HIV-infected person.” WUSA also contacted PepsiCo spokesperson Aurora Gonzalez from who called story an “old hoax.”

HOAX: This photo with a warning about tainted chocolates is false

A photo warning consumers about consuming Cadbury chocolates actually shows a terror suspect being extradited

A Facebook post warning social media users not to consume Cadbury chocolates ‘for the next few weeks’ because a HIV-positive worker allegedly added his contaminated blood to them is a HOAX.

The post cautions against consuming Cadbury products due to the risk of getting infected with HIV/AIDS..

Reverse image searches on Google and TinEye reveal that the man in the photo being escorted by two police officers was not arrested for contaminating Cadbury products as the post claims, but is actually Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, the alleged mastermind behind the April 2014 bombing of a bus station in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, in 2014.

The photo in the post was taken on his arrival in Nigeria following his extradition from Sudan.

The claim of potential HIV infection from blood in chocolate contained in the post is also factually incorrect, because the HIV virus does not survive long outside the human body and cannot reproduce outside a human host. Contracting the virus from consuming food items, even if they are contaminated with HIV, is extremely unlikely as explained by the CDC.

Cadbury took to Twitter in March 2018 to caution its clients about the false information being spread about its products being contaminated with the HIV virus.

PesaCheck has looked into the claim that tainted Cadbury products could transmit HIV to unsuspecting consumers and finds it to be a HOAX.

Urban Legend: Needles Hidden Under Gas Pump Handles

A viral alert warns that evildoers are exposing innocent victims to the AIDS virus by attaching HIV-contaminated needles to gas pump handles. This is a long-discredited hoax that has been circulating since 2000 but continues to crop up years and even decades later

The samples of the hoax postings are included for your comparison. If you receive a similar warning via email or social media, you can safely ignore it. It’s best not to continue circulating this hoax.

  • Description: Internet hoax via email and social media
  • Circulating since: June 2000
  • Status: False

Example 

Email contributed by R. Anderson, June 13, 2000:

Please read and forward to anyone you know who drives.

My name is Captain Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Florida Police Department. I have been asked by state and local authorities to write this email in order to get the word out to car drivers of a very dangerous prank that is occurring in numerous states.

Some person or persons have been affixing hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pump handles. These needles appear to be infected with HIV positive blood. In the Jacksonville area alone there have been 17 cases of people being stuck by these needles over the past five months.

We have verified reports of at least 12 others in various states around the country. It is believed that these may be copycat incidents due to someone reading about the crimes or seeing them reported on the television. At this point no one has been arrested and catching the perpetrator(s) has become our top priority.

Shockingly, of the 17 people who where stuck, eight have tested HIV positive and because of the nature of the disease, the others could test positive in a couple years.

Evidently the consumers go to fill their car with gas, and when picking up the pump handle get stuck with the infected needle. IT IS IMPERATIVE TO CAREFULLY CHECK THE HANDLE of the gas pump each time you use one. LOOK AT EVERY SURFACE YOUR HAND MAY TOUCH, INCLUDING UNDER THE HANDLE.

If you do find a needle affixed to one, immediately contact your local police department so they can collect the evidence.

********* PLEASE HELP US BY MAINTAINING A VIGILANCE AND BY FORWARDING THIS EMAIL TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO DRIVES. THE MORE PEOPLE WHO KNOW OF THIS THE BETTER PROTECTED WE CAN ALL BE. **********

Social Media Posting 

As posted on Facebook, Jan. 26, 2013:

HIV/AIDS Needles hidden under gas pumps

In Florida and other places on the East Coast a group of people are putting HIV/AIDS infected and filled needles underneath gas pump handles so when someone reaches to pick it up and put gas in their car, they get stabbed with it. 16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIC positive. Instead of posting that stupid crap about how your love life will suck for years to come of you don’t re-post, post this. It’s important to inform people, even if you don’t drive, a family member might, and what if they were next? CHECK UNDER THE HANDLE BEFORE YOU GRAB IT!!! IT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE!

Analysis of Viral Warnings 

On June 20, 2000, mere days after the overwrought warning above first slammed inboxes across the Internet, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department issued a press release declaring it a hoax.

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has had no reports of such incidents and there is no ‘Capt. Abraham Sands’ at the JSO,” the statement said. Nor had any such incidents been reported elsewhere in the United States. Moreover, according to the CDC, there are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted via needle-sticks in non-health care settings, ever.

The viral warning was, and is, entirely fictitious. It did add an interesting new wrinkle to the HIV needle-stick rumors already circulating online in various forms since 1997. Previous variants warned of tainted syringes planted in movie theater seats and pay phone coin slots, not to mention random “stealth prickings” (for lack of a better phrase) in nightclubs and other crowded public places.

Copycat Pranks 

All these variants have been investigated and deemed false by authorities with the sole exception of a spate of apparent copycat pranks that occurred around the beginning of 1999 in western Virginia. According to police there, actual hypodermic needles were found in the coin slots of public phones and bank night deposit slots in a couple of small towns in the area. None were found to be contaminated with HIV or any other biological agent. Presumably, the pranksters were imitating rumors that had already been circulating online for months.

Groundless though it may be, the conviction that unknown assailants are intentionally spreading AIDS by hiding contaminated needles in public places remains popular, especially on the email forwarding circuit. One reason is that these tales and other urban legends like them provide an outlet for unspoken fears—of strangers, of the motives of some of the more marginal members of society, of AIDS itself. They’re cautionary tales, albeit ones that don’t really function as such—not literally, at any rate—in that they fail to address the primary way HIV is actually transmitted: unsafe sex.

Personal Risk 

By virtue of the fact that each of these fictitious scenarios depicts the transmission of HIV via acts of penetration, each works as a metaphor for sex. Consider the claim that one risks exposure to HIV simply by inserting one’s finger into the coin slot of a public phone. The imagery isn’t pretty, but it’s apt. Now we’re being warned to be careful when pumping gas, to take all due precautions before sliding the nozzle into the tank. Sound advice? Metaphorically speaking, yes!

CDC Statement 

This statement appeared on the CDC.gov site in 2010.

Have people been infected with HIV from being stuck by needles in non-health care settings?

No. While it is possible to get infected with HIV if you are stuck with a needle that is contaminated with HIV, there are no documented cases of transmission outside of a health-care setting.

CDC has received inquiries about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones, the underside of gas pump handles, and on movie theater seats. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC “confirmed” the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to be rumors/myths.

Reference

Gay History: 5 Of The Weirdest HIV Transmission Myths Ever

Get a reality check on some of the most bizarre rumours about how HIV is transmitted.

There’s only a few ways that you can get HIV but, at Avert, it seems that we’ve heard it all when it comes to the many myths and misconceptions about HIV.

A lot of these stories circulating on the HIV rumour mill are old, outdated and more importantly, misinformed. In fact, many of these myths just keep reinforcing HIV-related stigma and have had a long-lasting and damaging impact on many people’s perceptions about how the virus is spread.

Here we debunk some common urban legends to give you the truth about HIV transmission…  

Myth 1: Girl goes to cinema and comes out with HIV

Rumour: During the 1990s, a common myth suggested that discarded needles left by strangers anywhere from gas pump handles to inside your cinema chair were infecting unassuming people with HIV. One such story involved a girl getting an unexpected needle stick injury while reaching down beneath her cinema seat to pick up some popcorn.

Reality: Although HIV transmission is a risk between people who share needles for drug use, there has actually never been a recorded case of HIV transmission from a discarded needle. However, if you are concerned that you have received a needle stick injury, you should seek medical advice to get checked up for hepatitis C and B instead.

Myth 2: There’s something wrong with this banana…

Rumour: Pictures of red-pigmented fruit (such as bananas or oranges) still circulate the web even today. They are usually accompanied by warnings not to eat them because they have supposedly been injected with HIV. Similar food-related HIV transmission rumours include tainted ketchup, pizza with toppings of bodily fluids and pineapple vendors accused of deliberately selling contaminated fruit.

Reality:  You cannot get HIV from food of any kind, including fruit. Even if HIV contaminated blood did get onto the food you’re eating, the virus doesn’t live long enough outside of a human body for it to be transmittable.

Myth 3: I got a pedicure and HIV from some fish in a shopping centre

Rumour: Getting pedicures from Garra rufa fish – which nibble off dry skin – was once a popular beauty fad. However, many salons offering this service closed as a result of news outlets spreading the rumours that fish in these tanks were spreading blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C between consumers.

Reality: HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus which means transmission of HIV only happens between humans – you can’t get HIV from animals, insects or fish. There are no cases of HIV infection due to the use of fish baths, or as a result of any other water-borne route including the use of swimming pools or spas.

Myth 4: The fizzy drink HIV hoax

Rumour: ‘For the next few weeks do not drink any products from Pepsi, as a worker from the company has added his blood contaminated with HIV (AIDS)…’

This SMS message, which was falsely linked to the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police service in 2017, suggested that a line worker at Pepsi was secretly contaminating cans of fizzy drink with the virus.

Reality: This message has been circulating the web in different formats since 2004 and is incredibly damaging. Even if there was blood found within the drinks cans, HIV can’t live outside of the body long enough for it to be transmittable. 

Myth 5: Teen diagnosed with HIV after getting a hair weave at salon

Rumour: In 2015, a rumour in the US reported that a girl in Georgia had contracted HIV at a hair salon because the needles used to fix the girl’s weave to her scalp were dirty. The girl was supposedly diagnosed a week after her makeover, despite never having had sex or used intravenous drugs.

Reality: This story was later reported to be a work of fiction by its author, but it is worth noting that transmission of HIV from stick injuries even in medical settings is extremely rare. The claim that someone can be diagnosed with HIV a week after exposure is also incorrect – as it can take from two weeks to 3 months for an infection to be detected by modern HIV tests.

Reference

Gay History: The Bizarre ‘Gay cure’ Experiments That Were Written Out Of Scientific History

Robert Colvile reports on one of the great forgotten stories of neuroscience.

For the first hour, they just talked. He was nervous; he’d never done this before. She was understanding, reassuring: let’s just lie down on the bed together, she said, and see what happens. Soon, events took their course: they were enjoying themselves so much they could almost forget about the wires leading out of his skull.

The year was 1970, and the man was a 24-year-old psychiatric patient. The woman, 21, was a prostitute from the French Quarter of New Orleans, hired by special permission of the attorney general of Louisiana. And they had just become part of one of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

The patient – codenamed B-19 – was, according to the two academic papers that catalogued the course of the research, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and birth”. He came from a military family and had had an unhappy childhood. He had, the papers said, entered the military but had been expelled for “homosexual tendencies” within a month. He had a five-year history of homosexuality, and a three-year history of drug abuse: he had tried glues, paints, thinners, sedatives, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, even nutmeg and vanilla extract. He had temporal lobe epilepsy. He was depressive, suicidal, insecure, procrastinating, self-pitying and narcissistic. “All of his relationships,” wrote his doctors, with an unsparing lack of sympathy, “have been characterised by coercion, manipulation and demand.”

In 1970, B-19 ended up in the care of Robert Galbraith Heath, chair of the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans. Heath’s prescription was drastic. He and his team implanted stainless steel, Teflon-coated electrodes into nine separate regions of B-19’s brain, with wires leading back out of his skull. Once he had recovered from the operation, a control box was attached which enabled him, under his doctors’ supervision, to provide a one-second jolt to the brain area of his choice.

Before being given control of the electrodes, B-19 had been shown a film “displaying heterosexual foreplay and intercourse”. He reacted with anger and revulsion. But then the stimulation sessions started, delivered via the button that felt most pleasurable to him. Over the next few days, he found that it could arouse him, and he would press the button to stimulate himself “to a point that, both behaviorally and introspectively, he was experiencing an almost overwhelming euphoria and elation and had to be disconnected, despite his vigorous protests”. He would hit the button up to 1,500 times over a three-hour session. “He protested each time the unit was taken from him,” said one of the papers, “pleading to self-stimulate just a few more times.”

Ten days into his treatment, the doctors suggested that B-19 watch the porn film again. “He agreed without reluctance… and during its showing became sexually aroused, had an erection, and masturbated to orgasm.” He started talking about wanting to have sex with women – and so Heath got permission to hire what he later referred to as a “lady of the evening”. “We paid her $50,” he said. “I told her it might be a little weird, but the room would be completely blacked out with curtains.”

She certainly did her job, guiding B-19 through the process and encouraging him to gradually build up his confidence. “As the second hour began, she relates that his attitude took an even more positive shift to which she reacted by removing her bra and panties and lying down next to him. Then, in a patient and supportive manner, she encouraged him to spend some time in a manual exploration and examination of her body.” Despite his initial shyness, he ended up having such a good time that – much to his doctors’ delight – he often paused before the moment of orgasm, in order to prolong his pleasure.

B-19 features in two 1972 papers: ‘Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual behavior in a homosexual male’, by Heath and his colleague Charles E Moan, and ‘Pleasure and brain activity in man’, by Heath alone, which set out – apparently for the first time – what happens to human brainwaves during orgasm. The papers are extraordinary: at once academic and pornographic, clinically detached and queasily prurient. And they prompt all sorts of questions. Who was this Dr Heath? How on earth did he come to carry out this experiment – and get permission for it? And did it really, you know, work?

In the course of trying to unravel these questions, I read Heath’s papers, interviewed his former colleagues, and travelled to New Orleans to see where he worked and to watch the videos in which he reminisced about his career. And what I found was something more remarkable than I could have imagined – the story of the man responsible for some of the strangest, boldest and most controversial experiments of the 20th century, yet who has been almost entirely written out of scientific history.

The man behind the controversy 

The first thing you have to understand about Bob Heath is his charisma. If you were casting a movie and looking for someone to play the scientist-hero, he would be the first and last name on your list. In every profile, every interview, the topic of his presence came up: he was Gary Cooper or Cary Grant or Gregory Peck in a crisp white lab coat. “He looked like a god – and carried himself like one,” says his former colleague Marilyn Skinner.

The second thing is that he was talented – perhaps too talented. He was board-certified in both psychiatry and neurology. He was a qualified psychoanalyst. He could treat a patient, diagnose a mental illness, read an EEG and dash off a paper, all before heading off to the country club for a round of golf.

The third thing is that the one true love of his life wasn’t a woman, but an area of the brain. Imagine a line that goes through one ear and out the other. Now take another line that runs dead centre from the top of your skull and down through your tongue. Where the two meet is what Heath labelled the septal area, although scientists today would probably call it the nucleus accumbens. For Heath, it was the seat of pleasure and emotions that he thought would allow him to unlock the human brain.

Born in 1915 in Pittsburgh, Heath trained as a neurologist, before being drafted into service as a military psychiatrist in World War II. He rapidly aligned himself with the new breed of biological psychiatrists – scientists who argued that what were traditionally thought of as diseases of the mind were often actually diseases of the brain and could therefore be cured through surgery, not therapy.

There was already some obvious evidence for this, in the shape of the way that patients’ behaviour changed after prefrontal lobotomy. This was the most widespread form of what was known as psychosurgery – the surgical treatment of mental illness. Yet even though the procedure, which involved chopping away the connections to much of the brain’s frontal lobe, was growing in popularity, Heath and his colleagues at Columbia University rightly viewed it as crude and ineffective. They decided to compare it with a much less invasive alternative, which they called topectomy: this involved targeting and removing specific areas of the cortex, in order to avoid wider damage to the brain.

Heath had already developed a particular interest in schizophrenia, which he viewed as the single greatest challenge in mental health, affecting roughly 2 per cent of Americans. He noticed that such patients seemed largely unaffected by either lobotomy or topectomy; since these procedures targeted only the most immediately accessible part of the brain, the cortex, he concluded that their symptoms must be more deep-rooted.

So Heath began his investigations of the subcortex (literally, ‘the part below the surface’). And one particular area – the septal region – appeared particularly promising. When it was damaged or destroyed in cats and monkeys, they started behaving in a startlingly similar fashion to people with schizophrenia: their emotions were dulled, they lost their ability to experience pleasure (a phenomenon known as anhedonia), and they generally seemed to be removed from reality.

This reinforced Heath’s burgeoning conviction that schizophrenia was a biological, not a psychological, problem: something “dependent upon a defect in basic machinery, rather than a complication of environment”, as he would later write. By implanting electrodes into the deepest parts of the brain, he could not only examine how this machinery operated, but also – he hoped – jolt it back into life.

There was just one problem. Heath could – and did – carry out all the tests he wanted on animals, but he couldn’t test his theories on humans: not so much for ethical reasons as because his colleagues at Columbia weren’t interested in the subcortex. Then, on a trip to Atlantic City, he found himself lying on the beach next to a man from New Orleans. He was the dean of Tulane University’s medical school, and he was looking to set up a psychiatry department. He’d heard good things about a guy called Bob Heath. I’m Bob Heath, said Bob Heath. And so they started to talk.

For the 35-year-old, the job at Tulane was an irresistible opportunity. New Orleans was an academic backwater. But it had something very special: in the words of his future colleague Arthur Epstein, “a big sprawling beautiful hospital, containing some of the sickest patients you will ever see”.

This was Charity Hospital, a vast, brutalist 1930s edifice through which the poor and sick of New Orleans flowed in their thousands. Heath was open about the fact that it was this endless supply of potential patients – or, as he put it, the “tremendous amount of clinical material” – that attracted him to the job, because it gave him the chance to realise his outsize ambitions. He moved to New Orleans in 1949: within a year, he had persuaded Charity’s governors to budget up to $400,000 to set up a 150-bed psychiatric unit on the third floor, which would enable him to tackle a waiting list for psychosurgery that was already ten months long.

Heath’s new position made him one of the most powerful men in the Louisiana mental health system. As well as Charity, he held positions at other New Orleans hospitals such as DePaul, Touro and the Veterans Administration Center, and later Tulane’s own private hospital. He maintained an experimental unit – at the state’s expense – at the East Louisiana Mental Hospital in Jackson, and was involved with another facility in Mandeville. If he needed healthy volunteers, he had free access to inmates at the state prison complex at Angola.

On top of this, there was his role within Tulane. Uniquely, his new department combined not just neurology and psychiatry – itself a reflection of his then-radical commitment to treating the mind and brain as linked – but also a psychoanalytic institute modelled on the work of his mentor Sandor Rado, who had argued for the key role of pleasure in motivating behaviour: Heath urged all of his colleagues to learn analysis, and to be analysed themselves. By 1970, the time of the ‘gay cure’ experiment, there were almost 200 staff and medical students under his supervision.

Disturbing experiments in Schizophrenia 

In 1952, Heath and the colleagues he had recruited from Columbia and elsewhere revealed the first fruits of their work. At a scientific conference (written up as the 1954 book Studies in Schizophrenia), they described how they had honed their techniques, developing better and safer methods of implanting ever more electrodes and leaving them in for ever longer.

These electrodes had, they announced, uncovered “an abnormality in the septal region” – unusual brainwave patterns, seen during seizures, that were exclusive to schizophrenia. And their use of electrical pulses to stimulate the same area had had promising results with the initial 22 patients, 19 of whom were schizophrenic. (The others were two patients with terminal cancer and one with acute TB: Heath wanted to see whether septal stimulation would offer relief from their incurable pain.)

The tone of the reports – and of most of the observers’ comments – was upbeat. Professor Herbert S Gaskill of Indiana University, while admitting that the clinical results were not conclusive, praised the “breadth of vision and imagination which this research study has shown”, calling it “of inestimable value”.

Yet you do not have to read through many of the 600 pages of Studies in Schizophrenia to feel slightly different emotions. The type of electric pulse, Heath and co admitted, was “arbitrarily chosen” because it seemed to work on animals: “We are still by no means certain that it is the most effective way of influencing the circuit.” Among the first ten patients, “Two patients had convulsions… wound infection occurred in two cases.” Among the second ten, there were two deaths, both related to brain abscesses that developed following the operation. Some patients developed infections, others had convulsions. Patient 21 “tugged vigorously at his bandage and displaced the electrodes”. Patient 12 had two electrodes put in the wrong place.

When the electrical currents were activated, several of the patients had seizures. Patient 13 “complained of nervousness, urinary urgency and chills”. Patient 14 “developed a generalized terror, which appeared to be associated with his extreme apprehension and fear and which persisted for several minutes after stimulation”. Patient 16 “became quite agitated”, with her blood pressure spiking to 178/110. Patient 17 developed “marked cardiac arrhythmia”, and “in both stimulations, the patient’s eyes were seen to open widely, and she said she was afraid”. Patient 22 “expressed great fear, and at one point it took four or five people to restrain her”.

If these studies make uncomfortable reading, they make for even more disturbing viewing. Heath filmed many of his experiments over the years, showing the results to colleagues and visitors. After his death, the films were seen by neuroscientist Gregory Berns, while researching his book Satisfaction. He describes watching footage of patient A-10, a member of the Army whose erratic behaviour saw him diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and entrusted to Heath’s care in 1952.

The full description is harrowing. At one point, A-10 rakes his face with his hands, squirms, and complains of “going black in the head”, before curling into the fetal position and saying: “I can’t think of nothing when my brain is turning up like that. Oh, no… before I pass out! I don’t want to pass out… Oh, my brain!”

“Suddenly,” writes Berns, “the patient’s voice changes. He screams in a pitch so high it is uninterpretable. Then he starts tearing at his clothes, trying to rip off his shirt, and gets up from the gurney.

“The interviewer says, ‘You’re tearing at your clothes. Do you know you’re tearing at your clothes?’ On the verge of incoherence, in a falsetto voice, the patient screams, ‘I don’t care! I gotta do something! I don’t care. I don’t care!’ Pausing for a moment, he starts to get off the gurney again before yelling, ‘I’m gonna rip you up!’

“Several hands come into view and hold the patient down, tying his hands. ‘Stop!’ the interviewer commands. ‘Stop!’ The patient stares into the camera and hisses, ‘I don’t give a goddamn. I’m gonna kill you. Let me up. I’m gonna kill you and rip you to goddamn shreds!’”

The pleasure button 

Even by the standards of the time, these experiments were radical and strange – and they duly caused an uproar. Heath and his acolytes later blamed this on the hostility of the American Psychological Association, in which the emotional rather than biological model of mental health was firmly entrenched (a popular theory on schizophrenia, for example, was it was caused by poor parenting – the “schizophrenogenic mother”). But as Heath admitted, his work also “caused a great deal of emotional upset to a lot of people at the 1952 meeting” – particularly the stimulation of “averse emotions of an intense degree”, such as rage or fear.

There was another problem: while the work had improved scientists’ understanding of the brain’s circuitry, it hadn’t actually done much to cure schizophrenia. Heath had been encouraged by the initial results of stimulating patients with electrodes: “if they were catatonic and mute, they would begin to talk; if they were very delusional, they would tend to come back towards reality to varying degrees”. But in the long term, the risk of damage from the electrodes’ implantation appeared to outweigh any benefits from the treatment: of the initial 22 patients, four who had had abnormal brainwave patterns showed improvement a few months later, but at least the same number who had had normal patterns developed “evidence of gross abnormality”. Also, although Heath did not acknowledge it, any improvement may have come about simply because the chosen patients were getting more attention from their doctors.

By 1955, Heath had stopped the study, on the grounds that “the lasting beneficial effects in the patient group… have not been significant”. But this did not mean that he was done with his electrodes. He was just getting started.

He noticed that the same jolt to the septal area, in depressed but non-schizophrenic patients, resulted in an intense sensation of pleasure, almost ecstasy. Given the chance to stimulate themselves, some of his patients would do so hundreds of times an hour, just as rats did in similar experiments (and as patient B-19 later would). In one of Heath’s films, a man who has just tried to kill himself starts to smile when his electrodes activate, saying: “I feel good. I don’t know why. I just suddenly felt good”. He adds: “When I get mad, if I push the button I feel better… that’s a real good button… I would buy one if I could.”

Soon, Heath was coming up with all manner of uses for those buttons. In 1963, he reported that he was treating two new types of patient. One, with epilepsy, had 51 electrodes implanted into 17 separate brain sites in an attempt to disrupt seizures before they happened. The other, a 28-year-old nightclub entertainer with narcolepsy, was given a self-stimulation unit with three buttons, each linked via electrodes to a different part of the brain. Like B-19 later on, he quickly settled on the button connected to the septal area as his preferred option. If he felt himself falling asleep, he would push the button – or his friends would give him a jolt to wake him up. But he also learned another use for the button: to push it in a “frantic” fashion. “It built him up toward a feeling of orgasm that he was never quite able to consummate”, writes the campaigning psychiatrist Peter Breggin in his book The Return of Lobotomy and Psychosurgery.

Heath’s was a time in which damaging or experimental procedures were commonplace: there were almost none of the controls or restrictions that we have today. But even so, his radicalism stood out.

Other doctors would implant a few electrodes for a few days; Heath implanted dozens, and left them in for years. Others experimented with animals; Heath experimented with people and animals both, feeding the findings from one set of tests into the next. Others tested the pleasure reflex under carefully controlled laboratory conditions; Heath handed patients the control boxes and set them loose to juice themselves as they saw fit. One of them ended up in Chicago, trying to sell himself and his hardware to the university for $5,000; another popped up in New York, whose police force called Heath on the grounds that he was the only one anyone could think of whose patients had wires coming out of their heads.

Heath was, in other words, a man of extraordinary curiosity – and in a position to follow his muse wherever it took him, or have one of his many subordinates do so on his behalf. While septal stimulation was the constant of his career, he engaged in an enormous variety of other work, publishing at least 425 papers.

Among these were his efforts to treat gay men by turning “repugnant feelings… toward the opposite sex” into pleasurable ones – and similar work on “frigid women”. He experimented with dripping drugs deep into the brain down tiny pipes called cannulae, targeting the same regions as his electrodes. He tested a ‘brainwashing’ drug called bulbocapnine for the CIA, on both animals and (although he denied it for decades) on a human prisoner, as a small part of the vast and largely illegal ‘MK-ULTRA’ programme to explore the limits and limitations of the American body.

He talked a suicidal patient down from a roof. He injected horseradish peroxidase into the brain to see how it carried chemicals. He gave a talk to the Army on electrical stimulation of the brain, after which his department was contracted to test psychoactive drugs on prisoners: the resulting paper, from 1957, is as macabre and gripping as the studies involving B-19, complete with detailed descriptions of the patients’ behaviour and hallucinations.

In 1972, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper reported that Heath had been able to “record septal activity resulting from alcohol, tobacco, amphetamine, marijuana and sexual orgasm”. At around that time, he began testing the effects of marijuana on monkeys by blowing smoke into their cages: the equivalent of 250 joints a day. “Memo to the parents of New Orleans,” ran the resulting report in theTimes-Picayune in 1974. “If you’ve been trying to persuade yourselves that the ‘pot’ which ‘Junior’ is smoking isn’t harming him, listen to this.” Marijuana, Heath claimed gravely, could cause brain damage, respiratory damage – and erectile dysfunction.

The mysterious substance that didn’t exist

For all the volume and variety of his work, Heath’s contemporary reputation rested on one particular discovery – again the product of his work on the septal region.

As well as stimulating the schizophrenic brain, Heath was studying it. He wanted to know what was different about the tissue, the chemicals, the genes that caused the anomalies he had found. Examining blood samples and brain matter from people with schizophrenia, he discovered a mysterious substance he called taraxein, which seemed to be generated in the septal area.

This was, he dramatically announced in 1956, not a by-product of schizophrenia: rather, it seemed to be its cause. If you took a serum of taraxein and injected it into monkeys, they started showing schizophrenia-like symptoms. A couple of hours later, they were completely back to normal. When he tried it on people, the results were the same. The report caused a sensation.

And in 1967, Heath doubled down, claiming that further investigation had revealed that taraxein was in fact an antibody produced by the brain. The first line of Tulane’s press release suggested this might well be “one of the most significant scientific advances in the field of psychiatry”, and it was hard to disagree. What Heath had discovered – as the global media eagerly reported – was that people with schizophrenia were, in effect, allergic to their own brains. There was talk of a Nobel Prize.

There was just one problem: taraxein didn’t exist. Or if it did, no one else could find it. Even some of the technicians charged with isolating and purifying the substance became convinced that it didn’t actually exist. James Eaton, a colleague of Heath’s who witnessed a failed demonstration for visiting dignitaries, says it became clear that the patients were acting crazy because that’s what they realised Heath wanted: when the ‘taraxein’ was administered by other doctors, their behaviour was unchanged.

This controversy damaged Heath’s national reputation – already imperilled by a feud with Seymour Kety, who as the first director of the National Institute of Mental Health ensured that Heath was always denied federal funding for his work, and had to go cap in hand to private donors. But it did not change things in Louisiana: Heath continued to be given awards and positions, to be respected and venerated.

Yet a wider backlash against psychosurgery was stirring. It wasn’t just lobotomy, although that was increasingly discredited: there seemed to be a laundry list of damaging, dangerous or disturbing treatments being carried out around the USA. Fears of mind control and brainwashing, stoked by the success of the film The Manchurian Candidate, cast suspicion on any research involving drugs and electrodes to manipulate the mind.

In 1972, Peter Breggin published an essay warning of the dangers of psychosurgery, including Heath’s work, which a sympathetic Congressman inserted into the Congressional Record. It caught the attention of Todd Ochs, a member of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (which provided care for civil rights activists across the South) who was working at a free clinic in the French Quarter of New Orleans – and as a paramedic at Charity Hospital. Ochs and his committee took up the cause, and he alerted his friend Bill Rushton, a gay rights campaigner and investigative reporter for the local Vieux Carre Courier.

The resulting piece, ‘The mysterious experiments of Dr Heath: in which we wonder who is crazy and who is sane’, was a broadside against Heath’s work. Published in 1974, it not only told the story of patient B-19 but also claimed that nurses at Charity would hide their patients from Heath’s lackeys when they came sniffing round for subjects. Heath attracted further negative publicity in Alan Scheflin and Edward Opton’s 1978 book The Mind Manipulators.

The most damaging critique, however, came in Elliott Valenstein’s 1973 book Brain Control. Unlike the others, Valenstein – now professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan – was a member of Heath’s own profession. And he argued not that Heath was a monster, but simply a bad scientist.

Valenstein pointed out gently but firmly that because of Heath’s lack of controls, his habit of reading what he wanted into the data, and other experimental errors, much of his work was simply invalid. “My criticism of Heath,” he says today, “was really that he didn’t seem to know how to test his own conclusions for verification. He was always interested in results that were spectacular – like finding some protein in the brain that would evoke schizophrenia. He’d published papers of that sort but never really looked for alternative explanations, never tested the reliability of his findings, was very willing to rapidly publicise his findings, so that he was quite unreliable.”

Some people Valenstein talked to told him that even Heath’s vaunted pleasure centre wasn’t all it was cracked up to be: “[They] said that many of these patients were just stimulating their own brains because they thought that’s what he wanted them to do – it wasn’t really a pleasurable experience for them.” Heath admitted in print that septal stimulation had different effects on different people – generally serving to amplify rather than create emotions, especially in the case of arousal, and having much less effect on those who were already feeling happy and contented.

Despite the growing controversy, Heath retained his position and prestige – but Tulane was becoming increasingly worried about its reputation. In the early 1970s, donors to fund the electrode studies became harder to come by, as did official approval for procedures. Heath even took a brief sabbatical while the bad publicity died down.

Yet in terms of his ambitions, and his convictions about the brain, nothing of substance changed. Psychiatrist Marilyn Skinner remembers, as a young resident at Tulane, being given the case of a 22-year-old woman: “She was wild, you couldn’t get close to her, she was literally scarred – her whole body was a scar, from her own cutting and burning. … She was going to kill herself, and somebody else too.”

Heath decided to carry out a radical surgical procedure – but couldn’t get permission to do it in New Orleans. So he found a sympathetic hospital in California, and when the procedure took place, something amazing happened, Skinner says: “They basically severed the connections between the two hemispheres [of the brain]. And I’m not kidding you, she was a dream after that. She showed warmth, and gratitude – she was able to talk about her feelings, and what happened, and was no longer suicidal or homicidal.”

That is the tantalising thing about Heath: sometimes, his wild ideas actually came off. 

Visionary or monster?

Heath retired as chairman of his department in 1980, after 31 years at the helm, although he continued working for some years afterwards. Even before his death in 1999, at the age of 84, his reputation outside Tulane had become tarnished. He was known, if at all, not as the man who was the first to map out the pleasure circuit, or as one of the earliest and most passionate advocates for the biological causation of schizophrenia (now the established orthodoxy), but as a man whose work seemed closer to science fiction than practical medicine.

To some, he was a monster, plain and simple. He used vulnerable patients to hone his theories, to no therapeutic benefit, causing many of them very significant harm. He tested psychoactive drugs on the unwitting.

Harry Bailey, an Australian doctor who briefly worked with Heath on his electrode studies, accused him of picking out African-Americans for his experiments because, as he put it, “it was cheaper to use niggers than cats… they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals”. The patients would be wired up and given a little box and “just went around, ‘pop, pop, pop’, all the time, continuous orgasms”. A woman called Claudia Mullen even testified before Congress in 1995 that Heath had, when she came to him as a child patient, engaged in all kinds of unethical practices before handing her over to the custody of the CIA, where she was used as a sex slave. He has been accused of mind control, of barbarity, of “Nazi science”, of using prisoners in Charity, Jackson and elsewhere as his playthings.

Yet his former colleagues almost uniformly tell a very different story. “Other than my parents,” says James Eaton, “he was the most formidable mentor and leader and ideal that I had.” For John Goethe, another who worked with him at Tulane, “Nobody was more devoted to trying to find a cure for the people he felt medicine had neglected. He was in psychiatry and neurology rather than cardiology and dermatology because he felt ‘We’re not paying enough attention to these folks.’”

Yes, he was arrogant and temperamental – “It would be easy for him to win a contest to see who could divide a room quickest,” says Goethe – but he was also inspirational. In an obituary, fellow Tulane neurologist Leon Weisberg called him “a true visionary… an extraordinary clinician, teacher, administrator, scientist and friend”.

How to reconcile these two Bob Heaths? Certainly, it is easy to cast doubt on the wilder allegations. Bailey’s quotes come from a long, rambling, drunken speech, decades after the event – and he himself was a genuine monster, whose “deep sleep” therapy, based on the idea that the human brain would be more malleable if the patient were plunged into a barbiturate-induced coma, killed dozens of people. In fact, given New Orleans demographics, African-Americans appear to have been under-represented in Heath’s electrode studies rather than the reverse.

As for Claudia Mullen, her social worker and champion, Valerie Wolf, had her licence revoked over claims that she had exploited her clients and encouraged them to believe recovered memories that turned out to be false. Wolf is now dead and Mullen has long been out of the public eye; Alan Scheflin, the Santa Clara law professor (and co-author of The Mind Manipulators) who validated her claims of CIA abuse, refused multiple requests for an interview.

Heath may have gone to extremes, but he had many companions in excess. In 1963, a different group of scientists at Tulane started transplanting chimpanzee kidneys into humans. Lobotomies, deep sleep therapy, “insulin shock” – Heath’s electrodes were, in comparison, a relatively delicate intervention. He generally used them, he insisted, on incurably sick patients for whom all other treatments had been tried and had failed – although the B-19 case and others suggest that is not entirely true. And while he did map out the “aversive” areas of his patients’ brains (including “a site which when stimulated would turn on intense killing rage, instantaneously”), and carry out that experiment with bulbocapnine on the CIA’s behalf, he also claimed to have rejected a request from the CIA to study the brain’s pain centre.

Yet this, in an odd way, is precisely what makes Heath so fascinating, and his career so relevant today. He was not a villainous outlier, cackling to himself in a basement, but the respected head of a major university department, someone who was not only in the academic mainstream but had defined, at least for Tulane, what that mainstream was. His excesses, and his flaws, and his failures to accept his limitations, were therefore all the more significant.

Heath’s central insight – that schizophrenia was a disease of the brain rather than the mind – has certainly been vindicated, and triumphantly so. Much of his research, for example in mapping the pleasure circuit of the brain or monitoring it during orgasm, was pioneering. Yet his 425 papers have left a remarkably small imprint on the wider field. By the time he retired – and, in truth, long before – it was clear that much of his work had been rendered moot by advances in antipsychotic medication; the idea of there being one single, fixable cause for schizophrenia also ended up being simplistic and overly optimistic.

Scientists are now, again, attempting to use deep brain stimulation to treat mental illness – such as intractable and crippling obsessive–compulsive dsorder. But a recent profile of one of the leaders in the field, Emad Eskandar, claimed the practice had only begun in 1987. Heath’s use of deep brain stimulation 20–30 years earlier has been largely written out of the history of neuroscience.

B-19’s experience

To modern eyes, the B-19 episode is the most controversial of Heath’s cases – even though there is some pretty stiff competition. But what is striking in the contemporary reports is how few people, in comparison to his other electrode experiments, seem to have raised any objections.

Take Elliott Valenstein’s book Brain Control. In it, he did criticise the experiment – but for its method, not its motives. His argument was that “orgasmic reorientation” – a behavioural therapy programme based around masturbation – seemed to get equivalent results for much less effort. The basic idea that it was a psychiatrist’s duty to “cure” gay people went unquestioned. Homosexuality was, until 1968, formally listed in the diagnostic textbooks as a sociopathic personality disturbance, a fear of the opposite sex that was thought to result – just like schizophrenia – from childhood trauma. It was still listed as a ”sexual deviation” until 1973.

Speaking today, Valenstein acknowledges that “the attitude towards homosexuality at the time was very different from what it is now”. What was different about Heath’s procedure, he says, wasn’t that he was trying to “fix” homosexuality – many people, including Heath’s mentor Sandor Rado, were doing the same. Heath’s work, and other such biological approaches, were notable mostly because they seemed to offer an easier and more lasting solution than long-term therapy.

A few years ago, says James Eaton, he was interviewed about Heath’s work for a potential documentary. At the end, he was asked about Heath’s apparent crusade to wipe out homosexuality. “I said: ‘What are you talking about? I myself am gay. I’ve known I’ve been gay all of my life. Heath knew it too. And out of 44 or 45 fellows or residents, he made me his chief resident, and he trusted me until his death. Now why would he do that? He never once alluded to the fact that I was gay.’ And that floored them. It just floored them.”

And what about the young man, B-19? Did Heath’s “cure” actually work? In the paper he wrote with Charles E Moan, Heath claimed that B-19 – who he identified in contemporary interviews as a male prostitute – had subsequently had a ten-month relationship with a married woman. While he had also returned to homosexual activity, this had only happened twice, “when he needed money and ‘hustling’ was a quick way to get it when he was out of work”. Heath added that “such acting out was not intended to be a replacement for sex with females, which he indicates he is definitely motivated to continue”. In an interview in 1972, he went further, claiming that B-19 “has solved many of his personal problems and is leading an actively and exclusively heterosexual life”.

Mission accomplished, then? Not quite. While Heath’s electrodes may have stirred up arousal temporarily, they didn’t actually change the patient’s basic nature. “At least at the time I knew [B-19], it was less about whether he was homosexual or heterosexual. He was sort of asexual. He just wasn’t that interested,” says John Goethe. “It was clear to me… that his life stressors were – some were related to sexual orientation, but most were not.” He drifted between jobs, and “was not a happy camper about a lot of things”. He adds that it was B-19 who approached Heath for help with his sexuality – rather than having a “cure” imposed on him in exchange for leniency over drugs charges, as suggested by Bill Rushton at the time.

The best place to find the truth about B-19 and Heath’s other experiments would be his archives, which are held by his old department at Tulane. But the university (which is a private institution) refuses to let anyone have access to them, even though researchers have in the past been allowed to view the films of Heath’s experiments held by Tulane. While I spoke to several of Heath’s former colleagues, those still working at Tulane itself refused to comment. With the assistance of Ken Kramer of PsychSearch.net, who investigates cases of psychiatric malpractice, I was able to track down Moan, Heath’s co-author on the B-19 paper, but he refused repeated requests for an interview.

Yet from the available evidence, it is hard to disagree with the judgement of Alan Baumeister, a Louisiana State University psychiatry professor and the leading academic expert on Heath, that the Tulane electrical brain stimulation experiments were “dubious and precarious” not just by today’s standards, but by those of the time. “Heath, throughout the history of his work, justified what he was doing on therapeutic grounds,” says Baumeister. “He said that it was done for the benefit of the patients. But some of the things he did couldn’t conceivably have been done for the benefit of the patient.”

Persistent but flawed

He may not have been a god, but Heath was clearly a man of extraordinary gifts and extraordinary charisma – yet one whose self-belief blinded him to the flaws in his theories and his methods. “He, like many doctors, did not see any ethical problems from what he was doing,” says Todd Ochs. “He was trying to help people. And in a way it makes it more sad and also more dangerous – self-righteousness is something that reason doesn’t address. … He thought he was helping gay men, he thought he was helping schizophrenics, and that his research was going to be transformative.”

During his long career, Heath made many claims about what stimulating his beloved septal region could do. First he thought it could “wake up” the brain from a sleep-like state; then that it could be used to compensate for schizophrenics’ defective pleasure centres; or to detect and disrupt epileptic fits; or relieve chronic pain.

Even in old age, he was coming up with new ideas, arguing that transplanting septal tissue from one person to another could enhance brain function and ward off the effects of ageing and Alzheimer’s: he’d already done it in rats, he told a Tulane colleague in an interview in 1986, and they’d tried it out on squirrel monkeys just the day before.

Yet what Heath had, ultimately, was a procedure in search of a purpose. Like his patients with their metal boxes, he could do something to the brain – septal stimulation – that was strange and fascinating and enthralling and mysterious.

THE MAN WHO FRIED GAY PEOPLE’S BRAINS

A doctor administers ‘transorbital lobotomy’ , or shock therapy at Western State Hospital in 1949

Post-war America considered homosexuality a mental disorder – which allowed one neurosurgeon to widen his horrific experiments. Robert Colvile concludes his report

As we saw yesterday, Dr Robert Galbraith Heath was a man of extraordinary curiosity – and in a position to follow his muse wherever it took him, or have one of his many subordinates do so on his behalf. Much of his life was devoted to exploring his theory that he could cure schizophrenia and other mental illnesses by delivering targeted electric pulses to the “septal” region of the brain’s subcortex, by means of electrodes through the skull. But while septal stimulation was the constant of his career, he engaged in an enormous variety of other work, publishing at least 425 papers.

Among these were his efforts to treat gay men by turning “repugnant feelings … toward the opposite sex” into pleasurable ones – and similar work on “frigid women”. He experimented with dripping drugs deep into the brain down tiny pipes called cannulae, targeting the same regions as his electrodes. He tested a ‘brainwashing’ drug called bulbocapnine for the CIA, on both animals and (although he denied it for decades) on a human prisoner, as a small part of the vast and largely illegal “MK-Ultra” programme to explore the limits and limitations of the American body.

He talked a suicidal patient down from a roof. He injected horseradish peroxidase into the brain to see how it carried chemicals. He gave a talk to the army on electrical stimulation of the brain, after which his department was contracted to test psychoactive drugs on prisoners: the resulting paper, from 1957, is as macabre and gripping as the studies involving B-19, complete with detailed descriptions of the patients’ behaviour and hallucinations.

In 1972, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper reported that Heath had been able to “record septal activity resulting from alcohol, tobacco, amphetamine, marijuana and sexual orgasm”. At around that time, he began testing the effects of marijuana on monkeys by blowing smoke into their cages: the equivalent of 250 joints a day. “Memo to the parents of New Orleans,” ran the resulting report in the Times-Picayune in 1974. “If you’ve been trying to persuade yourselves that the ‘pot’ that ‘Junior’ is smoking isn’t harming him, listen to this.” Marijuana, Heath claimed gravely, could cause brain damage, respiratory damage – and erectile dysfunction.

As we saw yesterday, Dr Robert Galbraith Heath was a man of extraordinary curiosity – and in a position to follow his muse wherever it took him, or have one of his many subordinates do so on his behalf. Much of his life was devoted to exploring his theory that he could cure schizophrenia and other mental illnesses by delivering targeted electric pulses to the “septal” region of the brain’s subcortex, by means of electrodes through the skull. But while septal stimulation was the constant of his career, he engaged in an enormous variety of other work, publishing at least 425 papers.

Among these were his efforts to treat gay men by turning “repugnant feelings … toward the opposite sex” into pleasurable ones – and similar work on “frigid women”. He experimented with dripping drugs deep into the brain down tiny pipes called cannulae, targeting the same regions as his electrodes. He tested a ‘brainwashing’ drug called bulbocapnine for the CIA, on both animals and (although he denied it for decades) on a human prisoner, as a small part of the vast and largely illegal “MK-Ultra” programme to explore the limits and limitations of the American body.

He talked a suicidal patient down from a roof. He injected horseradish peroxidase into the brain to see how it carried chemicals. He gave a talk to the army on electrical stimulation of the brain, after which his department was contracted to test psychoactive drugs on prisoners: the resulting paper, from 1957, is as macabre and gripping as the studies involving B-19, complete with detailed descriptions of the patients’ behaviour and hallucinations.

In 1972, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper reported that Heath had been able to “record septal activity resulting from alcohol, tobacco, amphetamine, marijuana and sexual orgasm”. At around that time, he began testing the effects of marijuana on monkeys by blowing smoke into their cages: the equivalent of 250 joints a day. “Memo to the parents of New Orleans,” ran the resulting report in the Times-Picayune in 1974. “If you’ve been trying to persuade yourselves that the ‘pot’ that ‘Junior’ is smoking isn’t harming him, listen to this.” Marijuana, Heath claimed gravely, could cause brain damage, respiratory damage – and erectile dysfunction.

For all the volume and variety of his work, Heath’s contemporary reputation rested on one particular discovery – again the product of his work on the septal region. As well as stimulating the schizophrenic brain, Heath was studying it. He wanted to know what was different about the tissue, the chemicals, the genes that caused the anomalies he had found. Examining blood samples and brain matter from people with schizophrenia, he discovered a mysterious substance he called taraxein, which seemed to be generated in the septal area.

This was, he dramatically announced in 1956, not a by-product of schizophrenia: rather, it seemed to be its cause. If you took a serum of taraxein and injected it into monkeys, they started showing schizophrenia-like symptoms. A couple of hours later, they were completely back to normal. When he tried it on people, the results were the same. The report caused a sensation.

And in 1967, Heath doubled down, claiming that further investigation had revealed that taraxein was in fact an antibody produced by the brain. The first line of Tulane’s press release suggested this might well be “one of the most significant scientific advances in the field of psychiatry”, and it was hard to disagree. What Heath had discovered – as the global media eagerly reported – was that people with schizophrenia were, in effect, allergic to their own brains. There was talk of a Nobel Prize.

There was just one problem: taraxein didn’t exist. Or if it did, no one else could find it. Even some of the technicians charged with isolating and purifying the substance became convinced that it didn’t actually exist. James Eaton, a colleague of Heath’s who witnessed a failed demonstration for visiting dignitaries, says it became clear that the patients were acting crazy because that’s what they realised Heath wanted: when the “taraxein” was administered by other doctors, their behaviour was unchanged.

This controversy damaged Heath’s national reputation – already imperilled by a feud with Seymour Kety, who as the first director of the National Institute of Mental Health ensured that Heath was always denied federal funding for his work, and had to go cap in hand to private donors. But it did not change things in Louisiana: Heath continued to be given awards and positions, to be respected and venerated.

Yet a wider backlash against psychosurgery was stirring. It wasn’t just lobotomy, although that was increasingly discredited: there seemed to be a laundry list of damaging, dangerous or disturbing treatments being carried out around the US. Fears of mind control and brainwashing, stoked by the success of the film The Manchurian Candidate, cast suspicion on any research involving drugs and electrodes to manipulate the mind.

In 1972, a campaigning psychiatrist called Peter Breggin published an essay warning of the dangers of psychosurgery, including Heath’s work, which a sympathetic Congressman inserted into the Congressional Record. It caught the attention of Todd Ochs, a member of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (which provided care for civil rights activists across the South) who was working at a free clinic in the French Quarter of New Orleans – and as a paramedic at Charity Hospital. Ochs and his committee took up the cause, and he alerted his friend Bill Rushton, a gay rights campaigner and investigative reporter for the local Vieux Carre Courier.

The resulting piece, “The mysterious experiments of Dr Heath: in which we wonder who is crazy and who is sane”, was a broadside against Heath’s work. Published in 1974, it not only told the story of patient B-19 but also claimed that nurses at Charity would hide their patients from Heath’s lackeys when they came sniffing round for subjects. Heath attracted further negative publicity in Alan Scheflin and Edward Opton’s 1978 book The Mind Manipulators.

The most damaging critique, however, came in Elliott Valenstein’s 1973 book Brain Control. Unlike the others, Valenstein – now professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan – was a member of Heath’s own profession. And he argued not that Heath was a monster, but simply a bad scientist.

Valenstein pointed out gently but firmly that because of Heath’s lack of controls, his habit of reading what he wanted into the data, and other experimental errors, much of his work was simply invalid. “My criticism of Heath,” he says today, “was really that he didn’t seem to know how to test his own conclusions for verification. He was always interested in results that were spectacular – like finding some protein in the brain that would evoke schizophrenia. He’d published papers of that sort but never really looked for alternative explanations, never tested the reliability of his findings, was very willing to rapidly publicise his findings, so that he was quite unreliable.”

Some people Valenstein talked to told him that even Heath’s vaunted pleasure centre wasn’t all it was cracked up to be: “[They] said that many of these patients were just stimulating their own brains because they thought that’s what he wanted them to do – it wasn’t really a pleasurable experience for them.” Heath admitted in print that septal stimulation had different effects on different people – generally serving to amplify rather than create emotions, especially in the case of arousal, and having much less effect on those who were already feeling happy and contented.

Despite the growing controversy, Heath retained his position and prestige – but Tulane was becoming increasingly worried about its reputation. In the early 1970s, donors to fund the electrode studies became harder to come by, as did official approval for procedures. Heath even took a brief sabbatical while the bad publicity died down.

Yet in terms of his ambitions, and his convictions about the brain, nothing of substance changed. Psychiatrist Marilyn Skinner remembers, as a young resident at Tulane, being given the case of a 22-year-old woman: “She was wild, you couldn’t get close to her, she was literally scarred – her whole body was a scar, from her own cutting and burning. She was going to kill herself, and somebody else too.”

Heath decided to carry out a radical surgical procedure – but couldn’t get permission to do it in New Orleans. So he found a sympathetic hospital in California, and when the procedure took place, something amazing happened, Skinner says: “They basically severed the connections between the two hemispheres [of the brain]. And I’m not kidding you, she was a dream after that. She showed warmth, and gratitude – she was able to talk about her feelings, and what happened, and was no longer suicidal or homicidal.” That is the tantalising thing about Heath: sometimes, his wild ideas actually came off.

Heath retired as chairman of his department in 1980, after 31 years at the helm, although he continued working for some years afterwards. Even before his death in 1999, at the age of 84, his reputation outside Tulane had become tarnished. He was known, if at all, not as the man who was the first to map out the pleasure circuit, or as one of the earliest and most passionate advocates for the biological causation of schizophrenia (now the established orthodoxy), but as a man whose work seemed closer to science fiction than practical medicine.

To some, he was a monster, plain and simple. He used vulnerable patients to hone his theories, to no therapeutic benefit, causing many of them very significant harm. He tested psychoactive drugs on the unwitting.

Harry Bailey, an Australian doctor who briefly worked with Heath on his electrode studies, accused him of picking out African-Americans for his experiments because, as he put it, they were “everywhere and cheap experimental animals”. The patients would be wired up and given a little box and “just went around, ‘pop, pop, pop’, all the time, continuous orgasms”. A woman called Claudia Mullen even testified before Congress in 1995 that Heath had, when she came to him as a child patient, engaged in all kinds of unethical practices before handing her over to the custody of the CIA, where she was used as a sex slave. He has been accused of mind control, of barbarity, of “Nazi science”, of using prisoners in Charity, Jackson and elsewhere as his playthings.

Yet his former colleagues almost uniformly tell a very different story. “Other than my parents,” says James Eaton, “he was the most formidable mentor and leader and ideal that I had.” For John Goethe, another who worked with him at Tulane, “Nobody was more devoted to trying to find a cure for the people he felt medicine had neglected. He was in psychiatry and neurology rather than cardiology and dermatology because he felt ‘We’re not paying enough attention to these folks.’”

Yes, he was arrogant and temperamental – “It would be easy for him to win a contest to see who could divide a room quickest,” says Goethe – but he was also inspirational. In an obituary, fellow Tulane neurologist Leon Weisberg called him “a true visionary … an extraordinary clinician, teacher, administrator, scientist and friend”.

How to reconcile these two Bob Heaths? Certainly, it is easy to cast doubt on the wilder allegations. Bailey’s quotes come from a long, rambling, drunken speech, decades after the event – and he himself was a genuine monster, whose “deep sleep” therapy, based on the idea that the human brain would be more malleable if the patient were plunged into a barbiturate-induced coma, killed dozens of people. In fact, given New Orleans demographics, African-Americans appear to have been under-represented in Heath’s electrode studies rather than the reverse.

As for Claudia Mullen, her social worker and champion, Valerie Wolf, had her licence revoked over claims that she had exploited her clients and encouraged them to believe recovered memories that turned out to be false. Wolf is now dead and Mullen has long been out of the public eye; Alan Scheflin, the Santa Clara law professor (and co-author of The Mind Manipulators) who validated her claims of CIA abuse, refused requests for an interview.

Heath may have gone to extremes, but he had many companions in excess. In 1963, a different group of scientists at Tulane started transplanting chimpanzee kidneys into humans. Lobotomies, deep sleep therapy, “insulin shock” – Heath’s electrodes were, in comparison, a relatively delicate intervention. He generally used them, he insisted, on incurably sick patients for whom all other treatments had been tried and had failed – although the B-19 case and others suggest that is not entirely true. And while he did map out the “aversive” areas of his patients’ brains (including “a site which, when stimulated, would turn on intense killing rage, instantaneously”), and carry out that experiment with bulbocapnine on the CIA’s behalf, he also claimed to have rejected a request from the CIA to study the brain’s pain centre.

Yet this, in an odd way, is precisely what makes Heath so fascinating, and his career so relevant today. He was not a villainous outlier, cackling to himself in a basement, but the respected head of a major university department, someone who was not only in the academic mainstream but had defined, at least for Tulane, what that mainstream was. His excesses, and his flaws, and his failures to accept his limitations, were therefore all the more significant.

Heath’s central insight – that schizophrenia was a disease of the brain rather than the mind – has certainly been vindicated, and triumphantly so. Much of his research, for example in mapping the pleasure circuit of the brain or monitoring it during orgasm, was pioneering. Yet his 425 papers have left a remarkably small imprint on the wider field. By the time he retired – and, in truth, long before – it was clear that much of his work had been rendered moot by advances in antipsychotic medication; the idea of there being one single, fixable cause for schizophrenia also ended up being simplistic and overly optimistic.

Scientists are now, again, attempting to use deep brain stimulation to treat mental illness – such as intractable and crippling obsessive–compulsive dsorder. But a recent profile of one of the leaders in the field, Emad Eskandar, claimed the practice had only begun in 1987. Heath’s use of deep brain stimulation 20–30 years earlier has been largely written out of the history of neuroscience.

To modern eyes, the B-19 episode is the most controversial of Heath’s cases – even though there is some pretty stiff competition. But what is striking in the contemporary reports is how few people, in comparison to his other electrode experiments, seem to have raised any objections.

Take Elliott Valenstein’s book Brain Control. In it, he did criticise the experiment – but for its method, not its motives. His argument was that “orgasmic reorientation” – a behavioural therapy programme based around masturbation – seemed to get equivalent results for much less effort. The basic idea that it was a psychiatrist’s duty to “cure” gay people went unquestioned. Homosexuality was, until 1968, formally listed in the diagnostic textbooks as a sociopathic personality disturbance, a fear of the opposite sex that was thought to result – just like schizophrenia – from childhood trauma. It was still listed as a ”sexual deviation” until 1973.

Speaking today, Valenstein acknowledges that “the attitude towards homosexuality at the time was very different from what it is now”. What was different about Heath’s procedure, he says, wasn’t that he was trying to “fix” homosexuality – many people, including Heath’s mentor Sandor Rado, were doing the same. Heath’s work, and other such biological approaches, were notable mostly because they seemed to offer an easier and more lasting solution than long-term therapy.

A few years ago, says James Eaton, he was interviewed about Heath’s work for a potential documentary. At the end, he was asked about Heath’s apparent crusade to wipe out homosexuality. “I said: ‘What are you talking about? I myself am gay. I’ve known I’ve been gay all of my life. Heath knew it too. And out of 44 or 45 fellows or residents, he made me his chief resident, and he trusted me until his death. Now why would he do that? He never once alluded to the fact that I was gay.’ And that floored them. It just floored them.”

And what about the young man, B-19? Did Heath’s “cure” actually work? In the paper he wrote with Charles E Moan, Heath claimed that B-19 – who he identified in contemporary interviews as a male prostitute – had subsequently had a 10-month relationship with a married woman. While he had also returned to homosexual activity, this had only happened twice, “when he needed money and ‘hustling’ was a quick way to get it when he was out of work”. Heath added that “such acting out was not intended to be a replacement for sex with females, which he indicates he is definitely motivated to continue”. In an interview in 1972, he went further, claiming that B-19 “has solved many of his personal problems and is leading an actively and exclusively heterosexual life”.

Mission accomplished, then? Not quite. While Heath’s electrodes may have stirred up arousal temporarily, they didn’t actually change the patient’s basic nature. “At least at the time I knew [B-19], it was less about whether he was homosexual or heterosexual. He was sort of asexual. He just wasn’t that interested,” says John Goethe. “It was clear to me … that his life stressors were – some were related to sexual orientation, but most were not.” He drifted between jobs, and “was not a happy camper about a lot of things”. He adds that it was B-19 who approached Heath for help with his sexuality – rather than having a “cure” imposed on him in exchange for leniency over drugs charges, as suggested by Bill Rushton at the time.

The best place to find the truth about B-19 and Heath’s other experiments would be his archives, which are held by his old department at Tulane. But the university (which is a private institution) refuses to let anyone have access to them, even though researchers have in the past been allowed to view the films of Heath’s experiments held by Tulane. While I spoke to several of Heath’s former colleagues, those still working at Tulane itself refused to comment. With the assistance of Ken Kramer of PsychSearch.net, who investigates cases of psychiatric malpractice, I was able to track down Moan, Heath’s co-author on the B-19 paper, but he refused requests for an interview.

Yet from the available evidence, it is hard to disagree with the judgement of Alan Baumeister, a Louisiana State University psychiatry professor and the leading academic expert on Heath, that the Tulane electrical brain stimulation experiments were “dubious and precarious” not just by today’s standards, but by those of the time. “Heath, throughout the history of his work, justified what he was doing on therapeutic grounds,” says Baumeister. “He said that it was done for the benefit of the patients. But some of the things he did couldn’t conceivably have been done for the benefit of the patient.”

He may not have been a god, but Heath was clearly a man of extraordinary gifts and extraordinary charisma – yet one whose self-belief blinded him to the flaws in his theories and his methods. “He, like many doctors, did not see any ethical problems from what he was doing,” says Todd Ochs. “He was trying to help people. And in a way it makes it more sad and also more dangerous – self-righteousness is something that reason doesn’t address. He thought he was helping gay men, he thought he was helping schizophrenics, and that his research was going to be transformative.”

During his long career, Heath made many claims about what stimulating his beloved septal region could do. First he thought it could “wake up” the brain from a sleep-like state; then that it could be used to compensate for schizophrenics’ defective pleasure centres; or to detect and disrupt epileptic fits; or relieve chronic pain.

Even in old age, he was coming up with new ideas, arguing that transplanting septal tissue from one person to another could enhance brain function and ward off the effects of ageing and Alzheimer’s: he’d already done it in rats, he told a Tulane colleague in an interview in 1986, and they’d tried it out on squirrel monkeys just the day before.

Yet what Heath had, ultimately, was a procedure in search of a purpose. Like his patients with their metal boxes, he could do something to the brain – septal stimulation – that was strange and fascinating and enthralling and mysterious. So, like them, he kept doing it, again and again and again.

Reference

Gay History: What Were The White Night Riots?

‘Dan White murdered my friend’: When anger boiled over into violence at City Hall and San Francisco police raided a Castro bar

On May 21, 1979, thousands of members of San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro District community took to the streets to protest the lenient sentence received by Dan White for the murders of local politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Their anger–combined with the actions of police who arrived to quell the scene–soon boiled over into rioting. The resulting violence affected San Francisco’s LGBT community for decades to come.

Harvey Milk rose to prominence as a gay rights activist and became the first openly gay person elected to a public office in the state of California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His murder, as well as that of Mayor Moscone, devastated not just the gay community, but the city as a whole.

Dan White was a former member of the Board of Supervisors who had clashed with Milk during their time serving the city together. In November of 1978, White resigned from his post, but changed his mind and asked to be reinstated. Mayor Moscone denied the request–with Milk lobbying against White’s reappointment. On November 27, White entered City Hall through a basement window and shot both men to death in their offices.

Six months later, White was convicted, not of first-degree murder, but voluntary manslaughter. White’s defense team had pointed to his diminished mental capacity and emotional state at the time of the murders, as indicated by the once-health conscious White consuming too much junk food– a ploy that became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” The jury-predominantly white, Roman Catholic and heterosexual—bought into it, recommending the lesser charge, which led to a sentence of just 7 years and 8 months.

When news of the verdict broke on the night of May 21, Cleve Jones–a close friend of Milk’s who would eventually go on to become one of the creators of the AIDS Quilt–spoke to a crowd of about 500 gatherers on Castro Street, and a peaceful march was quickly organized. By the time the crowd of protestors had made its second trip around the block, they were 1,500 strong. They then marched to City Hall, where their numbers expanded to an estimated 5,000.

As the crowd grew, so did the anger. Police soon arrived to try to control the situation, but that only served to enrage the crowd more. The police had raised over $100,000 for White’s defense–he was a former police officer–and many in the community believed the department had conspired to reduce White’s charges and sentencing. Although ordered to simply hold the crowd back, many officers began attacking the protestors with night sticks. Many had even taped over their badges, so as not to be identified.

Chaos erupted, as the crowd fought with police and destroyed a dozen police vehicles, as well as parts of City Hall itself. After three hours, officers moved in to quell the rioting for good, using tear gas in the process, and the crowd dispersed. In all, 59 officers and 124 protestors were injured, with about two dozen arrests made.

Hours later, several police officers gathered on their own to raid the Castro neighborhood, vandalizing a local bar and assaulting patrons. They shouted anti-gay slurs at the victims, and eventually turned their attention to attacking anyone that happened to be out on Castro Street.

After two hours, Police Chief Charles Gain was made aware of the rogue officers’ activities, and he made his way to the Castro to put a stop to it. No officers were reprimanded for the attacks, as officials were never able to determine who had ordered it, but the violence was finally over.

The next day, on what would have been Milk’s 49th birthday, 20,000 San Franciscans gathered to remember him. That October, more than 75,000 people marched for gay rights in Washington, D.C., and gay rights activists from around the country were inspired to continue their fight.

In San Francisco, the riots led to a wave of political changes, as more and more LGBT politicians were elected over the next decades. LGBT presence on the police forced also dramatically increased, and has continued to increase to this day.

Reference