Category Archives: Gay Interest

Gay History: Student Homophile League at Earl Hall, Columbia University


The Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country, was founded at Columbia University in 1966 and held many of its activities in Earl Hall.

In 1970, the group became the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sponsored a series of popular Friday-night dances in Earl Hall’s auditorium.

In 1971, gay students established a gay lounge in Furnald Hall, which is now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.

Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.


In 1966, Columbia University became the first collegiate institution in the United States, and possibly the first in the world, with an LGBT student group. In the fall of that year, bisexual sophomore Robert Martin (using the pseudonym Stephen Donaldson) founded the Student Homophile League (SHL) following a meeting with Columbia and Barnard representatives, religious advisers, and two of the most important national leaders for gay and lesbian rights, Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

The small student group had the support of the university chaplain and, thus, gained space in Earl Hall, the center of student religious life. The university officially recognized the group in April 1967 with the stipulation that it not organize social events. A subsequent front page article in the New York Times resulted in outrage from hundreds of alumni and negative editorials in many newspapers; one alum wrote “Tolerance has its limits. Let the pansies go elsewhere.” The SHL sponsored lectures, held “rap sessions” about homosexuality on dorm floors, and advocated for the acceptance of homosexuals in society in generally, with specific emphasis on ending discrimination in the military and the psychiatric community.

By 1970, Columbia’s gay student group had become the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sought to “present as complete a view as possible of the contemporary gay experience: socially, educationally and politically.” Its most popular activity was monthly Friday-night dances, beginning in 1970, held in the auditorium on the third floor of Earl Hall, which welcomed the entire gay and lesbian community of New York. The dances reached their peak popularity in the 1980s and were especially popular with those who enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that contrasted with the clubs and bars downtown. The group still exists as the Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA) and hosts “First Friday” dance events in Alfred Lerner Hall.

In 1971, gay students, led by Morty Manford (later the head of the Gay Activists Alliance and son of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford), requested space for a gay lounge. Although denied permission by the university, the group took over an unused space in the basement of the Furnald Hall dormitory. The lounge eventually was recognized by the university and the space is still in use, now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.

In March 2018, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project successfully nominated Earl Hall to the National Register of Historic Places, following its listing on the New York State Register in January 2018. The nomination is available in the “Read More” section below.


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Weird Tales from My Year on Gay Dating Apps

I learned what “racial play” is and had a rather shitty experience with a “straight” guy who was into having sex with men.


After breaking up with a boyfriend in 2011, I wanted to explore online dating and give being single in Toronto a shot before jumping into anything serious. Unfortunately for me, I soon realized that the gay dating world came with its own set of rules, most of which are pretty weird and somewhat racist. Race, body shaming, identity politics, and masculinity seemed to come up a lot and eventually I just said “fuck it” and deleted every dating site I was on. I needed a break. I needed to hear something other than “looking for whites only” or “straight-acting only.” It got to a point where I felt shitty about wanting to get laid and needed give the online thing a rest.

In 2013, I came out of “online dating retirement” and decided to explore it again. Every so often I’d hear my friends gush about all the great dates and hot sex they were having on Grindr and Scruff. It took a lot of convincing, but I gave a few of these apps a shot. I downloaded both Grindr and Scruff and immediately starting messaging people. 

Throughout that year, there were a few really nice conversations that didn’t really go anywhere, the occasional good ass and/or dick pics, and an older couple in their 80s that always messaged me in Spanish. But aside from that, the string of weird encounters just got worse every time. In January, I finally deleted all the apps and have sworn off online dating and hookups for good. But it wasn’t all for nothing. Below, you’ll find three stories that I’ll probably never forget.

Picture Tag Gone Wrong

Around Thanksgiving last year, I got a message from an Irish guy visiting the city for a few weeks. I chatted him up about all things Ireland and told him about a trip I was planning for spring 2016. The vibe was friendly for the first few days, and then he wanted to see some pics, which I was more than willing to share. I sent a face pic to start and he sent one back. He was a bald, rugged, bearded man with green eyes. Suffice to say the dude was really hot and definitely checked off a few boxes in the “my type” department.

We talked for a week and he eventually asked me if I had a dick pic. I sent the most recent one and waited for him to send something back. Two hours later he sends a pic, but it’s not of a body part or another sexy face pic, it’s a picture of him and his sister with the caption “hot pic.” I wasn’t sure if this was a mistake or a joke, but I decided to just brush it off and send another dick pic. He then responded with a picture of him smiling with his grandmother, saying nothing else. 

Two days later he messaged me to ask what I was doing. I told him I was just enjoying my day off and asked him what he had planned for the day. He then sent a picture of his spread asshole dripping with cum, a picture of him and his dog, and then a picture of him having family dinner, again saying nothing else. At this point, I wasn’t even mad or upset. The dude clearly wasn’t serious. That or he had a fucked-up sense of humor. 

As funny as the whole thing was, I decided to stop communicating with him entirely. I often wonder what a dripping asshole, playing with your dog, and eating dinner with your family could be code for, but I guess I’ll ever know.

“Racial Play”
I messaged a guy after work one day just to see if he’d reply. He messaged me back and said he comes to Toronto for work every day and wondered if we could hook up later that evening. I told him we should drink a few beers at my place and see where it goes. He came over around 10:30 PM, and made a few weird comments about the beer we were drinking, calling it “hipster beer.” That sort of turned me off, but I decided not to read too much into it. 

I wasn’t expecting things to heat up after the weird beer comment, but after six beers we just went for it and started making out. Before things escalated, he stopped me and said he needed to tell me something. I remember being puzzled and asking what was wrong. He told me he was into a few kinks, but didn’t know how to talk about them. Fetish is always an awkward subject for people, but I assured him I wasn’t easily weirded out. He looked extremely flustered and scared to say it, but after about five minutes of circling around the big confession, he sheepishly blurted out that he was into “racial play.”

I kind of giggled and then looked at him again. At that moment I realized he was being serious and took a deep breath because, as a black man and a human being, the whole thing had just thrown me off. Solely based on curiosity, I asked him exactly what this type of roleplay scene would entail. It scared me to imagine where this conversation was going to go, but I still couldn’t quite process what I just heard. I’ve done some weird shit, but this whole thing was fucked up and I didn’t understand what turned him on about it exactly. He asked me if I was mad that he was into that. I told him no because I actually wasn’t pissed at all. After having another beer he got into the finer details of how a “racial play” scene would go down.

According to him, a play scene would involve me in a cage, getting choked with his dick, while he spits on me and calls me nigger a few times. He assured me that while it was a lot to handle, it was actually a pretty popular fetish. It’s just something that nobody talks about. I looked at him, extremely puzzled after that statement. He stood, confident in his belief that was an acceptable thing to get off to, and it took a minute for me to figure out the best way to respond. Wanting to end this interaction on a peaceful note, I told him that while I respect his honesty, the thought of a man getting off to calling me racial slurs and performing violent sex acts on me was enough to make me want to commit murder.

When I said that he laughed it off, but once he saw the expression on my face, I could tell he knew it was probably in his best interest to call it a night. After he left I Googled “racial play” and found a lot of crazy shit, most of which I wish I could unsee. There are certain thoughts and images that linger in the subconscious and lead us to the fetishes we have. I think most things are fair game, but if me picking cotton gets you horny, there probably won’t be a second date.

Runaway Cucumber
One of the first guys I met on Grindr was a university student who had just moved to Toronto for school. During our first hangout we drank a few beers and talked about Toronto, which was a nice change from the usual in-and-out hook up. We immediately hit it off and it turned into an ongoing thing. We met up for sex about twice a month for a couple of months. It was really low-key, which has awesome because I wasn’t after anything serious at the time.

One night he came over and dropped a bomb on me. Apparently he had a girlfriend, which was news to me. He said he wasn’t gay—he just met up with guys because his girlfriend wasn’t into anal play. This all seemed messy and complicated, so I told him we should cool it on the sex until he and his girlfriend had a serious conversation. It would be one thing if they were in an open relationship, but it seemed more like their lack of communication had led to him sneaking out to get fucked by guys behind her back. It just didn’t seem healthy for me to continue sleeping with him if that was the case.

He texted me out of the blue three months later, asking if we could meet. I had my reservations about it, but I decided to let him stop by and get an update on what was going on with him and his situation. He came over and immediately went for my crotch, but before I could let it go any further, I needed to ask what the status of his relationship was. Apparently he had broken up with his girlfriend and was exclusively fucking guys. The way he talked about these new relationships was very strange. He maintained that he was still straight, but just really loved bottoming and couldn’t get enough.

We proceeded to play around a bit and eventually I was fucking him. I don’t know if fate was punishing me for allowing my thirst to blind me from the obvious mess of a situation this was, but ten minutes into it I’d felt something wet go down my leg. Let’s just say that he wasn’t ready to bottom and by the time I stopped the evidence of that was all over my bed.

When you’re having butt sex, there’s always the slight possibility of a little shit, but this was literally a shit storm. He felt really bad and I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I said we should just shower and call it a night. I let him go first so I could throw away the sheets and after he got out I went in to get myself cleaned up. When I walked out of the shower, what I saw him doing brought new meaning to the phrase “by any means necessary.” I stood quietly by the door and watched as he began squatting down on a cucumber from my fridge, trying to fuck himself with it. He was jerking off and heavily breathing as he attempted to fit the entire cucumber up his ass.

After a minute or so, I purposely slammed the bathroom door and he freaked out when he saw me standing there. He could tell I was pissed and he kept trying to avoid eye contact. I asked him what he was doing still naked, which left him stuttering as he tried to make up a good excuse. I snatched the cucumber out of his hand and asked him to put on his clothes while I finished getting dressed in the bathroom. 

After we were both dressed I walked him out of my apartment and told him he shouldn’t contact me again. I didn’t want to be an asshole, but between his first lie about the girlfriend and the shit-stained bed I had to throw out, I felt like the universe was trying to tell me this needed to end.

To make matters worse, when I went back into the house, I checked the fridge and the fucking cucumber was gone. I was short an ingredient for my next lunch. I ordered a new bed and went to buy groceries the next day. Thank you universe! I definitely got the message.


Gay History: More Than Words: Gay Pt. 1 — We’re Going Gay

“Gay” was the first queer word I ever learned, and the first queer thing I ever called myself.  Something about “lesbian” didn’t sit right with me, and I wasn’t yet aware of reclamation, of the bright side of pejoratives — the spark that happens when you turn a weapon on itself. Plus I liked the sneakiness. Gay meant happy, right? You could claim it while admitting nothing. It was a rainbow dream mask.

But even before it got the rest of its colors, this word blushed. Pleasure, joy, and other gaieties are perpetually societally fraught, and gay has the scars to prove it — it’s been punned on, leaned on, worn proudly, hidden behind, argued over, and ping-ponged across the net of respectability ever since it was invented. If words could break, gay might have a long time ago. Luckily it bent instead. Here’s the beginning of how it happened.

The most common etymology of the word “gay” has it rooted in the Proto-Indo-European root *gey- (“to go”). This evolved into *gheng- (“to stride”) which became the Proto-Germanic *ganhaz/*ganhwaz (“sudden”), and then the Old High German gahi (“quick, impulsive”). The move to Old French jai (“merry”) brought the recognizable definition and a nice modern jauntiness. Jai became gai likely due to the influence of Gothic gaheis (“impetuous”), and soon we had the Middle English gay, direct ancestor of the word we use today.

Easy enough — except that etymology is an inexact science based on barely traceable exchanges that took place thousands of years ago, so not everyone agrees on what happened. Anatoly Liberman has an alternate theory that roots gay in Old High German wahi (“shining”/”beautiful”), based on a g/w interchangibility that we see borne out in word pairs like “guardian” and “warden,” or “guerrilla” and “war.” But he’s even more attached to a different explanation from the 19th century master Frank Chance. An “excellent etymologist, now almost forgotten,” Chance used to publish almost exclusively in Notes and Queries, a quarterly where scholars and hobbyists traded notes and asked each other questions — kind of like an early Formspring, but for linguistics and lexicography. In an 1861 Note, Chance took on “gay” via an analogy to the French gaîne, or “sheath,” which comes from the Latin vagina, also “sheath” (and also your bonus etymology-of-the-day).


“The g in gaîne,” Chance explains, “corresponds to the v in vagina… In a similar way, I think, our adjective “gay” might be readily deduced from the Latin vagus, or perhaps from the corresponding Italian vago, which means both wandering, roaming, and pleasant, agreeable.” About a century and a third later, German linguist Harri Meier added some evidence to the pile, listing Italian cognates like svagarsi (“amuse oneself”) and svago (“diversion”).

I have also become attached to this theory, not only because it’s more fun, but also because it means that the start of  gay’s backstory involves a gradual influx of positive feeling — what semantician Stephen Ullman calls an “amelioration of meaning.”  As Liberman points out, the Latin vagus often meant “flighty” or “frivolous,” which, though not the worst possible things to call someone, aren’t as sunshiney as the merriment and joie de vivre implied by “gay” — see, for example, Propertius’s Elegy V, in which a “vagis puellis” is compared negatively to Cynthia, a “docta puella” or “learned girl,” and Propertius’s perpetual muse.  So somewhere over the course of its initial leap into English, gay enjoyed a rise in reputation — a fine beginning for a word that would spend the rest of its life undergoing a roller coaster ride of semantic shifts.

“Gay” first hit paper in 1325, in a transcription of a Middle English song called “Blow, Northerne Wynd.” When I started reading it, I thought it was about how the narrator would brave the northern wind to get to his beloved, who is described as semly and menskful and lossom (“seemly,” “worshipful,” and “lovely,” if you prefer boring new English words). But in the end, he’s actually asking the wind to blow his suetyng (“sweetheart”) to him, which honestly sounds kind of mean and lazy. Dave Wilton found the relevant stanza:

“Heo is dereworþe in day
graciouse, stout, ant gay
gentil, iolyf so þe iay
worhliche when heo wakeþ.
Maiden murgest of mouþ;
bi est, bi west, by norþ ant souþ,
þer nis fiele ne crouþ
þat such murþes makeþ.
Blow northerne wynd!
Send thou me my suetyng!
Blow northerne wynd! blow, blow, blow!”

(TRANSLATION: “She is precious in day / gracious, stout, and gay / gentle, jolly as the jay/ noble when she wakes. / Maiden merriest of mouth / by East, West, North and South / Neither fiddle nor crowd / Makes such abundance. / Blow northern wind! / Send me my sweetheart! / Blow northern wind! Blow, blow, blow!”)

Gay is a nice-sounding, one-syllable word that rhymes with a lot of things — all the makings of a poetic mainstay. To the delight of decades of middle school English students, no one could get enough of it for centuries and centuries. Chaucer used it in 1385. Robert Mannyng used it in his “story of England,” in the late 14th century. The lyrics of “Deck The Halls” are from 1862. Shakespeare used it thirteen times in total. Here’s Iago, in Othello, written in 1603: “She that was ever fair and never proud / Had tongue at will and yet was never loud / Never lack’d gold and yet went never gay.” I’m trying to be mature here but Shakespeare makes it hard.


Over this time, though, “gay” began experiencing a “pejoration of meaning” — it’s the opposite of the aforementioned amelioration, and you use it when a word’s reputation starts going downhill. Some think this started as far back as the 14th century, but it was definitely established by the 17th, when, according to the OED, it was generally used to describe those “addicted to pleasures and dissipations.” Carefreeness had flipped back to frivolity. You can even see it in the above Shakespeare, as Iago uses “gay” to mean “flashy” and sets it in parallel with pride and loudness, two then-undesirable traits). This frivolity developed into a general lack of inhibitions, and often referred to sexual carefreeness — by at least 1799, a “gay man” was a womanizer, a “gay woman” a prostitute, and a “gay house” a brothel.


In a nice return to its roots, “to go gay” was to live a life of hedonism. For proper usage, see this sentence, from Edward Montague Compton MacKenzie’s Carnival, that was far ahead of its time:

“After dinner Jenny went back to Hagworth Street, and had a flaming quarrel with her mother, who accused her of “going gay”; demanded to know how she dared put in an appearance dressed in another woman’s clothes; insisted she was to come home immediately after dinner; forbade a hundred things, and had the door slammed in her face for the advice.”

While this meaning became more prevalent, another now-familiar one snuck up alongside it. Next time we’ll talk about when gay started meaning what it does now — and take another few dips up and down the semantic roller coaster.


Gay History: The WWII Nazi Spy Gay Sex Scandal That Rocked the Senate

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast/Getty

In 1942, the exposure of a Brooklyn townhouse where wealthy men had sex with members of the armed services led to an anti-gay witch-hunt and heated political scandal.

n the early part of the 20th century, brothels were commonplace in many neighborhoods in New York City, but in 1942 an inconspicuous two-story redbrick town house at 329 Pacific Street—a run-down block near the border between Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn—would become the most famous “house of assignation” in the entire country.

The proprietor, a fifty-five-year-old, “moon-faced” Swedish immigrant, Gustave Beekman, specialized in providing wealthy men with members of the armed services.

He had previously run a similar house a few blocks closer to the water at 235 Warren Street, but had relocated after being busted in a police raid in November 1940. At that time, he was charged with running a disorderly house, fined, and quickly released.

However, when the police raided his establishment on Pacific Street on the evening of March 14, 1942 (accompanied by members of the Office of Naval Intelligence), they would uncover a scandal that would rock the nation, consume newspaper headlines for months, and get hotly debated on the floor of the US Senate.

Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they would invent one. It would be Walter Winchell, then the gossip columnist for the New York Daily Mirror, who would give this strange episode in Brooklyn history its enduring name: “The Swastika Swishery.”

This was one of the stories I’d heard about early in my research for my new book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, but I never suspected that I would uncover new information that would answer many of the lingering questions about this so-called scandal.

The initial story, which was primarily reported in the New York Post, went something like this: Beekman ran a “house of degradation” where German spies hired American servicemen to pump them over pillow talk for information about troop movements.

From there, the story quickly spiraled. Not only were there spies at Beekman’s house, a notorious “Senator X,” who was well known as a closeted gay man and opposed America’s entry into World War II, was also a regular habitué of Beekman’s. By early May, Beekman wasn’t just accused of hosting any old spy; rather, he was catering to “one of Hitler’s chief espionage agents in this country.”

For all of April and May, papers kept readers riveted with headlines such as “Service Men Lured to ‘Den’ Called Spy Nest,” “Senator Linked to Spy Nest Which Lured Service Men,” “Den Keeper Withholds Source of Cash,” and “Leibowitz Pushes Spy Ring Probe: Tells Convicted Morals Offender to Talk or Get 20-Year Term.”

News bulletins eagerly broadcast every new tidbit of information in the case, including the four separate (and contradictory) official statements Beekman gave to the police and the FBI.

The senator in question was soon revealed as David Ignatius Walsh, a Catholic “confirmed bachelor” from Boston, who—although liberal on many social issues—was a strong isolationist, believing America had no place in the affairs of Europe.

Time magazine called his connection with the Beekman case “one of the worst scandals that ever affected a member of the Senate.” When the Senate majority leader opened discussion of the issue on the Senate floor, he called the FBI’s report on the case “disgusting and unprintable” and refused to have it entered into the Senate’s official record.

To this day, numerous authors have speculated about what actually happened at Beekman’s house in the middle of World War II, with most concluding that it was ultimately unknowable

Another isolationist senator from Missouri called Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the New York Post, an “old hussy” and demanded an investigation on the charge that she was part of a secret cabal that was trying to gin up public sentiment in favor of the war by making antiwar politicians look bad.

To this day, numerous authors have speculated about what actually happened at Beekman’s house in the middle of World War II, with most concluding that it was ultimately unknowable.

However, Dorothy Schiff was so concerned that Senator Walsh might sue the Post over its reporting that she secretly commissioned a team of six private investigators and attorneys, led by Daniel A. Doran, to discover the truth.

Their report, which took five months to prepare, ran over 150 pages and included everything from interviews with the major players in the case (including Beekman and all of his lawyers), to a detailed analysis of Senator Walsh’s travel schedule for the times he was supposedly in Brooklyn.

For years, this report has been publicly available, along with the rest of Dorothy Schiff’s papers, at the New York Public Library, but no historians seem to have referenced it. As far as I know, I am the first to read its findings.

Local police had had Beekman under watch at least as far back as January 1942, having noticed an unusual number of sailors and soldiers coming and going from his building. In the two years since they had last busted Beekman, the war had begun, and no one wanted to arrest a bunch of men who might be needed in Europe or to impugn the morality of the military in general.

The police had no plans to raid his house until they were contacted by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which had secretly set up a spy post on the fourth floor of a nearby hospital, from which they were recording the license plate numbers of everyone who entered the building.

The ONI wasn’t interested in Beekman; rather, it was trailing William Elberfeld, a German national whom it believed to be a spy for Hitler. Together, the police and the ONI raided the establishment, arresting not just Beekman, but some of his clients (including noted composer Virgil Thomson), and some of the men who worked there.

The prosecution seemed convinced that Beekman couldn’t be making much money from running a house of male prostitution, and so he had to have some other source of income—perhaps from Elberfeld or another spy

One of the sex workers arrested was a Brooklyn merchant mariner named Charles Zuber, who was also one of Beekman’s lovers.

The assistant district attorney (ADA) on the case, eager, perhaps, to make a name for himself, questioned Zuber at length about any particularly wealthy clients. The prosecution seemed convinced that Beekman couldn’t be making much money from running a house of male prostitution, and so he had to have some other source of income—perhaps from Elberfeld or another spy.

Zuber furnished the ADA with the name “Walsh,” saying he believed the man to be a doctor. The ADA, aware of the long-standing rumors that Senator David Walsh was gay, jumped to the conclusion that these two men were one and the same. He offered Zuber a deal: if he flipped on Beekman and testified against him on sodomy charges, Zuber would get off scot-free.

The ADA then passed the information about Walsh on to the judge in the case. When Beekman was found guilty on charges of sodomy, largely thanks to Zuber’s testimony, the judge told Beekman that if he came clean about the extent of the spy ring, he would be lenient; otherwise, Beekman was facing a twenty-year sentence.

He seemed willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid going to prison, which for a fifty-five-year-old gay man whom the nation now believed to be a Nazi sympathizer might well have been a death sentence

According to the lead investigator hired by Dorothy Schiff, Beekman was “ingratiating, well-mannered, well spoken and plausible.” He was also terrified and rather loose with the truth. He seemed willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid going to prison, which for a 55-year-old gay man whom the nation now believed to be a Nazi sympathizer might well have been a death sentence.

Elberfeld had been a regular at Beekman’s place, but he also ran a rival brothel in Manhattan and had no need to go to Brooklyn if he wanted to question sailors. Moreover, Beekman had banned him from his house around Thanksgiving of 1941, when Elberfeld told Beekman that Sweden was next on Hitler’s list, and that after it was invaded, Beekman wouldn’t be so “uppity-uppity.”

The police literally tore apart both Beekman’s home and Elberfeld’s apartment and found nothing except a shortwave radio at Elberfeld’s, which was technically contraband when owned by a foreign national.

Elberfeld was placed on indefinite detention on Ellis Island—where he would remain for the rest of the war—but no charges were ever brought against him, and the police and the ONI no longer seemed interested in him at all. Instead, they leaned on Beekman to identify Walsh, once grilling him for over seven hours until he collapsed.

A few of the men arrested in the initial raid were also asked about Walsh, with some saying he was there, others saying he wasn’t, and a few saying they had no idea.

With no evidence other than a series of contradictory statements on whether Walsh had ever been at Beekman’s home, there was no case. Yet the government still believed that Beekman was hiding some source of income, which the judge seemed to believe would have linked Walsh to the story.

When Beekman refused to name his (nonexistent) financial backers, he received a twenty-year sentence to Sing Sing, the maximum-security prison in Ossining, New York.

By making a detailed analysis of Walsh’s travel schedule, investigator Doran conclusively proved that Walsh could not have been at Beekman’s establishment on any of the dates he was supposed to have been present.

No one seemed interested in using that evidence to exonerate Beekman, who would serve out the entirety of his twenty-year sentence before emerging from prison (where he was called ‘Mother Beekman’) and disappearing from public records entirely

Moreover, Doran tracked down a Connecticut doctor, Harry Stone, a regular at Beekman’s who bore a distinct resemblance to Senator Walsh. By presenting photos of Walsh and Stone to various witnesses (including Beekman), Doran concluded that Stone was almost definitely the man mistaken for Walsh.

Yet no one seemed interested in using that evidence to exonerate Beekman, who would serve out the entirety of his twenty-year sentence before emerging from prison (where he was called “Mother Beekman”) and disappearing from public records entirely.

As for Walsh, although his fellow Senate members congratulated him on his aplomb during the entire affair, the airing of his gay laundry (plus, no doubt, his opposition to the war) seemed to sour voters on him. He was ousted from the Senate in 1946 and died the next year.

After months of wild accusations, sting operations, and endless denunciations to the press, all the government got was the pointless destruction of the lives of two gay men and a witch hunt that sent innumerable others into hiding.

Today, the quiet red-brick building still sits at 329 Pacific Street as a private residence, with no trace of its infamous past showing in its innocuous façade.

This is an edited extract from Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer (St Martin’s Press).


Gay History: The Mystery Photos Of A 1957 Gay Wedding

ONE Archives at USC

Decades before gay marriage became legal anywhere in the US, same-sex couples were committing themselves to each other in front of friends and loved ones. Few records of these ceremonies existed – until now, writes Jonathan Berr.

In 1957, a man dropped off a roll of film at a pharmacy in Philadelphia. But the developed photos were never returned to their owners.

The pictures appear to depict a gay wedding, nearly 50 years before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the US and almost 60 years before it became a federally-recognised right.

Now, a trio of gay producers and writers are trying to identify the grooms to learn their story and to find out whether a pharmacy employee balked at providing the snaps because they objected to their subject.

The writers are documenting their efforts in a reality show The Mystery of the 1957 Gay Wedding Photos.

The programme, which doesn’t yet have a platform to call home, is being produced in conjunction with Endemol Shine Group, whose shows include Big Brother, The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

ONE Archives at USC

“It’s a passion project for us,” says Michael J. Wolfe, a Los Angeles-based writer. “We are turning over every stone, interviewing dozens of people in the Philadelphia area and beyond, and consulting with investigators, historians, and experts across many different fields.”

The photos were acquired by a collector a few years ago who had bought them at an online auction. He realised their significance and donated them to ONE Archives at the USC Libraries in Los Angeles and at the Wilcox Archives in Philadelphia.

The couple in the pictures appear to be in their 20s or 30s, so they would be in their 80s or 90s if they were alive today. The grooms and their guests are dressed up in dark suits with flowers in their lapels.

The celebration took place in a modest flat with the blinds drawn. It featured a ceremony officiated by someone who appears to be a member of the clergy. The grooms are shown kissing, cutting their wedding cake and opening presents.

ONE Archives at USC

Mr Wolfe and his partners, filmmaker PJ Palmer and TV writer/producer Neal Baer, have not identified the mystery couple yet. 

They request any tipsters to contact them through their website and Facebook page.

ONE Archives at USC

For Palmer, the pictures were especially moving.

“We are recovering amazing, important stories all sorts of them… and more gay history that’s been buried,” he says.

“There is a very rich history that’s been suppressed… I wish as a child [that] I had seen family photos of a marriage like this… I would have felt more normal as a kid. I would have known that I was okay.”

Couples who fell in love sometimes committed themselves to one another in unions that were not acknowledged by either governments or religions.

The US Supreme Court didn’t recognise the right for gay people to marry the person of their choice until 2015, 11 years after Massachusetts did so.

ONE Archives at USC

“We don’t know how common or uncommon it was for couples to hold ceremonies to marry each other [because] there is so little photographic or film record of how people actually lived,” says Eric Marcus, host of the Making Gay History podcast.

“It’s important to remember that people found ways to live their lives quietly away from the prying eyes of the straight world.”

Of course, that was easier said than done.

Wedding guests at the mystery wedding ONE Archives at USC

Several years before the wedding took place, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order banning gays from working for the federal government.

In 1952, The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in the first edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the listing of known psychiatric disorders.

After considerable lobbying by activists, the APA removed homosexuality from the second edition of the DSM in 1973.

The Stonewall Riots, considered to be the birth of the modern gay rights movement, had happened a few years before that in 1969 – 12 years after the wedding.

ONE Archives at USC

It’s not just the passage of time that will hinder the search for the grooms. The filmmakers believe the Aids crisis may also be factor – about 700,000 Americans have died since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“We are talking about a generation of people who were decimated by Aids,” Mr Wolfe said. “There are a lot of missing people who otherwise would have made a search like this much easier. All of that happened before social media.”

If the couple is ever identified, they would certainly add another chapter in the history of gay rights for doing something extraordinary that is now becoming increasingly ordinary.


Gay History: Order of Chaeronea

George Ives around 1900

The Order of Chaeronea was a secret society for the cultivation of a homosexual moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual ethos. It was founded by socialist[1] George Cecil Ives in 1897, as a result of his belief that homosexuals would not be accepted openly in society and must therefore have a means of underground communication.

The society is named after the location of the battle where the Sacred Band of Thebes was finally annihilated in 338 BC.

Establishment and organisation

In the 1860s, the German lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, may have been the first modern European to publicly declare his homosexuality. Ulrichs wrote dozens of books and pamphlets that made a crucial argument: The preference for same-sex love is hereditary; therefore it should not be a crime. He introduced the word “Uranian” as a synonym for homosexual relations, and even demanded that homosexuals be granted the right to marry.

Less radical thinkers in Germany, Austria and France began to argue that same-sex attraction and relations between men were a psychological disturbance to be treated by physicians, rather than a crime to be punished by the courts. As a result, by 1876 “psychological” had become a term that Oscar Wilde and his peers used to describe anything pertaining to gay sex. At the same time, McKenna writes, “aestheticism seemed to spring to life, fully formed, towards the end of the 1870s.” It was “a heady mix of art, idealism and politics, which sought to propagate a new gospel of Beauty.

In 1893, shortly after meeting Wilde, George Cecil Ives, a friend of Wilde’s whose diaries contain many new details of the writer’s life, founded a secret society called the Order of Chaeronea, aimed at promoting ‘the Cause’ The society was named “after the battle where the male lovers of the Theban Band were slaughtered in 338 BC.” Ives and other members dated letters and other materials from the year of the battle, so that 1900 would be written as C.2238.

The ‘Rules of Purpose’ stated that the Order was to be ‘A Religion, A Theory of Life, and Ideal of Duty’, although its purpose was primarily political. Members of the Order were ‘Brothers of the Faith’, and were required to swear under the ‘Service of Initiation’, that “you will never vex or persecute lovers” and “That all real love shall be to you as sanctuary.”

The group was male dominated, but did include a few lesbian members

At its peak ‘the Elect’ numbered perhaps two or three hundred, but no membership lists survive. Oscar Wilde was, however, likely an early recruit, along with Lord Alfred Douglas “Bosie”. Other members may have included Charles Kains Jackson, Samuel Elsworth Cottam, Montague Summers, and John Gambril Nicholson.

Funerary relief for Athenian footman Pancahres, who probably fell at the Battle of Chaeronea.

An elaborate system of rituals, ceremonies, a service of initiation, seals, codes, and passwords were established. The Order, according to Ives’ notebooks, had a specific purpose, distinct prescriptions and philosophy, and its particular symbolism: the “sign-word” AMRRHAO and “the seal of the double wreath.” The prerequisites of membership were indicated to be “Zeal, Learning and Discipline.” The principle of secrecy was conveyed by the metaphor of “The Chain” underlining that one should never reveal any information about the order or its members. The writings of Walt Whitman were particularly revered.

Ives was keen to stress that the Order was to be an ascetic movement, not to be used as a forum for men to meet men for sex, although he accepted a degree of ‘passionate sensuality’ could take place. He also believed that love and sex between men was a way to undermine the rigid class system, as a true form of democracy. The Secret Society became a worldwide organisation, and Ives took advantage of every opportunity to spread the word about the “Cause.”

In Ives’ words:

We believe in the glory of passion. We believe in the inspiration of emotion. We believe in the holiness of love. Now some in the world without have been asking as to our faith, and mostly we find that we have no answer for them. Scoffers there be, to whom we need not reply, and foolish ones to whom our words would convey no meaning. For what are words? Symbols of kindred comprehended conceptions, and like makes appeal to like.


Gay History: New Zealand 1970s Gay Series “Buck House”.


Buck House was an edgy cable drama wrapped up in a 70s sitcom

Buck House was an edgy sitcom from the 70s that manages to still be edgy and different now, though not for the right reasons. Sam Brooks muses upon the distinct pleasures of Buck House.

When I think of the 70s, I think of Yakety Sax, Mary Tyler Moore and a show where a guy had to pretend to be gay so he could live with two women.

I don’t think of a show where a dude tries to start a brothel in his flat.

Buck House, a New Zealand sitcom from the mid-70s that preceded the more famous floptacular homegrown sitcom Melody Rules, is a bizarre proposal. One, it has popular newscaster, personality and Shortland Street stunt cast member Paul Holmes in the lead role. Two, the actual content of the show aligns more with a wannabe edgy cable drama than a sitcom that premiered over forty years ago.

Here’s a few things that make it more like an acclaimed HBO show that all your friends watch but you just can’t bring yourself to because there’s so much TV to watch nowadays:


Paul Holmes’ hair

C’mon. You wouldn’t put that hair on network TV nowadays. That’s premium level hair. That’s pay-per-view hair. We should be putting this article behind a paywall, that’s how much this hair should cost.


One of the flatmates is trying to start a brothel

The central joke of Buck House, or at least the very first episode, and presumably the rest of the series, is that Reggie is the normal flatmate and Joe is the aggrieved flatmate. Reggie is normal in that he just wants to cook dinner for his girlfriend, answer the phone (seriously, about five minutes of this twenty minute episode revolves around Paul Holmes talking very unconvincingly on the telephone) and wearing a floral apron.

On the other hand, Joe wants to start a brothel. This is played for laughs. Full-on ‘oh look how naughty he’s being laughs!’. So much so that I assumed that it would all be a misunderstanding, he wasn’t actually trying to start a brothel but people had just gotten their wires crossed.

Don’t get me wrong, people get their wires crossed in hilarious sitcom fashion all the way throughout the episode, but starting a brothel is not the source of one of them.

Joe genuinely wants to start a brothel, with the very imaginative name ‘Escorts Unlimited Limited’ (which is a pretty funny joke, admittedly). The episode revolves around him interviewing women to work at the brothel. He thinks it’s a great business idea, and who am I to judge? What do I know about economic realities in the 70s?

You can guarantee if this show was made now it would be a half-hour show starring the Duplass Brothers and it would be very relatable for a certain part of the population, deemed problematic in our time by another part of the population and remain extremely unknown to a much, much larger part of the population.

Another character is assaulted by a police officer

This happens off screen and is brushed off, but one of the characters, Jo, has been squatting at a house and was forcibly evicted by a police officer. This is not quite played for laughs, which is weird because most things in a sitcom are played for laughs. Especially in the 70s, which was before the era of half-hour comedies where nobody laughs and people are just a bit sad for half an hour.


This wig

This wig is definitely auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race. The woman wearing this wig, Sheila Harrison, puts on a Cockney accent for absolutely no reason other than that it is a little bit funny. At one point, she breaks into famous Sweet Charity song ‘Big Spender’, and if this was made nowadays this would win her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series because it would be oh so very sad.


The cop is clearly corrupt

One, he shows up at the house of a woman who he just ‘laid hands on’ (which they say a lot during this episode, and means a lot of different things, but in this context, I’m going to assume it means that he definitely assaulted her) at her invitation, which is weird!

Two, and this is less a sign of corruption and more of tremendous stupidity, but he briefly believes that these men are setting up a house for budgies, because this is from an era when men could refer to women as ‘birds’ and not be shunned by all reasonable society.

Three, he goes home with one of the women who are interviewing to be escorts at this new escort business, in a carefully implicit exchange for his silence. You can tell this was written in the 70s by a dude because the woman is like ‘yeah sure this is fine!’ rather than finding it gross and completely inappropriate for a police officer to do.


This lady

Who is she? Where does she come from? What’s her background? The episode introduces her as another escort who interviews for a place at Escorts Unlimited Limited, but everything about her vibe is straight out of Twin Peaks. She is bringing Grace Zabriskie in Inland Empire realness, and I am here for it.

There’s really not that many jokes

Honestly, the only thing that really separates this from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which you can stream quite handily on Lightbox) has about as many mean-spirited jokes as you can fit into a half-hour, whereas this show spends a languid five minutes on telephone jokes.

You can absolutely feel the show reaching to be edgy and break boundaries, and while it’s hard to know exactly what boundaries it was breaking back in the 70s, you can feel the self-satisfaction oozing off the screen.

It’s the same kind of feel you get from some of today’s least successful cable shows, the kind that are one unsubtle gesture away from having a character look at the camera and say “Can you believe that we’re doing this?” Nowadays, it’s every death, every drug-take, every sex scene. In the 70s, it was Tony Barry smoking a cigar inside and being proud that he’d come up with the totally original and never-done-before idea of starting a brothel.


But the biggest thing I’ve learned from watching old New Zealand shows on NZ on Screen is how much style is tied into time – and sometimes that relationship can be unexplainable. Buck House, like Melody Rules twenty years later, still owes so much of the craft behind its production to stagebound theatrics. We weren’t making TV; we were making theatre on a small screen. Paul Holmes is playing to the back row here, and while he already has the charisma that made him the face of 7pm for an entire generation, when you give him lines and make him act jokes, it becomes flop-sweaty.

In the show’s defence, this was 1974! People were still afraid of the possibility of nuclear war! They weren’t distracted by their mobile phones! They could happily sit down and watch Buck House and wait for something that could easily be resolved in five minutes of open conversation be dragged out for twenty minutes excluding credits. The pace is excruciating in an age of bingewatching, of consuming everything as immediately as we possibly can, dissecting it quickly and moving onto the next thing.

Do I want to go back to the pace of Buck House? God no. You’d miss five news cycles by the time you got to the first ad break. But it’s enough to give me pause, and when you’re watching a forty-four year old sitcom, sometimes that’s all you need.


For the record…I missed this! Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how gay you are, you miss gay things! In my defence, I was a bit preoccupied with removing from a run- in with AIDS in 1997…which, I dare say, explains this gap in my gay consciousness. I would like to thank Lost Gay Sydney for drawing my attention to it.

What happens when a naive straight boy from the outback inherits a rundown terrace house from an unknown spinster aunt?

Plenty, when he discovers his aunt was a notorious lesbian with underworld dealings and the house he’s inherited is the queerest boarding house in Sydney.

A hidden stash, mafia connections, and bizarre interventions from beyond the grave all come together, providing non-stop entertainment in this highly original Aussie sitcom.

Core Characters

• GIVEN NAME: Elizabeth Beatrice Anne


• AGE: 24

• SEXUALITY: Lesbian – Got a problem with that?

• MARITAL STATUS: Do not subscribe to this outdated patriarchal heterosexist enslavement of women – single, but could be interested if the right woman came along.

• OCCUPATION: Co-manager of “Buck’s Bargains”.

• HOBBIES: Practicing to be a DJ and writing a book – “A Feminist Manifesto for the New Millenium” – it will be a best seller!

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Anything fresh, fruity and vegetarian – and nothing that Ted cooks!

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Spanish beer with a twist of lemon or a “Naked Lady”.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: Gertrude Stein’s Biography.


• FAVOURITE SAYING: “I feel so sorry for men…”

• FAVOURITE SONG: Anything by kd Lang, Melissa Etheridge and Patsy Cline.

.:: played by KATE MONROE ::.

• GIVEN NAME: Bernard Felcher


• AGE: 28

• SEXUALITY: Gay – out and proud.

• MARITAL STATUS: Happy to be single – not ready to settle down yet.

• OCCUPATION: Private trainer and I help out at Ipjana’s club on weekends.

• HOBBIES: With all my training I don’t get much time for a hobby, but I’m interested in bonsai, ikebana and I’d like to try my hand at interior design.

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Steak Tartare – unless Ted cooks it.

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Banana Smoothies and Power drinks.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: Charles Atlas Biography – the man is a legend – the father of modern body building.

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: Anything that Big Arnie is in – not only does he have a great body but he’s also a really good actor – he’s one of my role models.

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “Life’s too short to dance with ugly men”.

• FAVOURITE SONG: “Wind Beneath My Wings” – Bette Midler

.:: played by IAN JOPSON ::.

GIVEN NAME: Edward Bruinsen


• AGE: 50…ish.

• SEXUALITY: Last time I looked, Gay.

• MARITAL STATUS: Still looking for Mr Right, however will settle for Mr Anybody-at-all-just-as-long-as-he’s-still-breathing.

• OCCUPATION: Handyman/caretaker. Also help Liz run “Buck’s Bargains”.

• HOBBIES: Cooking – however I get a little discouraged by culinary philistines who tell me that I have “colourblind taste buds”. Also enjoy cruising – mostly in Oxford Street, Kings Cross and several male-only establishments!

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Spinach Surprise – one of my own creations – spinach, baked beans and banana with scrambled egg in a blue cheese ‘n chilli sauce.

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Victoria Bitter Beer.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: “The Complete Works of Tom of Finland”.

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Top Buns – the Young and the Hung”.

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “So many men, so few offers”.

• FAVOURITE SONG: “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” – Judy Garland.

.:: played by CHRIS THOMAS ::.

• GIVEN NAME: Ipjana Von Trapp


• AGE: Old enough to know better, but young enough to

• do it again!

• SEXUALITY: Honey, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.

• MARITAL STATUS: Someday my prince will come, but until then I’m available.

• OCCUPATION: Manageress of the fabulous night spot, “The Slimey Codpiece”. Although I predict that my part-time psychic consultancy will soon become my dominant occupation.

• HOBBIES: Costume design and singing (an old family tradition).

• FAVOURITE FOOD: Vienna Schnitzel (of course!) but nothing that Ted cooks.

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Peppermint schnapps, Dom Perignon.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: “The Sound of Music”

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “The Sound of Music”

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “It’s not the men in my life… it’s the life in my men!”

• FAVOURITE SONG: The entire score of “Porgy & Bess”, everything that Diana Ross has done, and anything that I can really get down to.

• .:: played by KEITH WRIGHT ::.

• GIVEN NAME: Harrison Buck


• AGE: 22

• SEXUALITY: Why do you need to ask?


• OCCUPATION: Looking for work.

• HOBBIES: Playing “Supermarket Slaughter”, “Gates of Hell” and designing a video card to make them run faster.

• FAVOURITE FOOD: I’ll eat almost anything – except some things that Ted cooks (his vegetable curry is truly the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten).

• FAVOURITE DRINK: Iced weak tea with two sugars and a slice of lemon.

• FAVOURITE BOOK: The “Computer Superstore Warehouse Catalogue ” – it changed my life.

• FAVOURITE MOVIE: “Attack of the 50ft Woman” – I love old horror movies.

• FAVOURITE SAYING: “The computer hasn’t crashed… it’s just having a rest.”

• FAVOURITE SONG: Verdi’s “Requiem”.

.:: played by SCOTT HALL-WATSON


Gay History: UK Issues Posthumous Pardons For Thousands Of Gay Men

Justice minister hails ‘momentous day’ as so-called Turing’s law receives royal assent, but critics say move does not go far enough
The legislation follows a posthumous pardon for the Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing who was convicted of gross indecency. Photograph: Sherborne school/AFP/Getty

Thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality but are no longer on the statute book have been posthumously pardoned under a new law.

A clause in the policing and crime bill, which received royal assent on Tuesday, extends to those who are dead the existing process of purging past criminal records.

The general pardon is modelled on the 2013 royal pardon granted by the Queen to Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes during the second world war. He killed himself in 1954, at the age of 41, after his conviction for gross indecency.

Welcoming the legislation, the justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”

There is already a procedure in place for the living to apply to the Home Office to have their past convictions, relating to same-sex relationships, expunged from their criminal records.

Under what is known as the disregard process, anyone previously found guilty of past sexual offences that are no longer criminal matters can ask to have them removed.

A disregard can be granted only if the past offence was a consensual relationship and both men were over 16. The conduct must also not constitute what remains an offence of sexual activity in a public lavatory.

Sam Gyimah, justice minister, says the government has ‘taken action to right these wrongs’. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Each disregard application is checked to prevent people from claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes. Those granted a disregard will also be pardoned.

No lists of past pardons will be published but the new law will allow future historians to point out that those imprisoned or fined for consensual gay relationships would not under modern legislation have committed a crime.

Rewriting history will not be easy. The complexity of the evidence, for example, that led to Oscar Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency – including evidence of procuring male prostitutes – would make it difficult to assess.

The gay rights organisation Stonewall has suggested the playwright and author, who was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail, should be entitled to a pardon.

The Ministry of Justice said there would be no historical limit in relation to past offences. It declined, however, to say whether Wilde would be among those deemed posthumously pardoned.

The amendments to the bill were tabled by Lord Sharkey, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden with government support.

A private member’s bill with a similar aim and a blanket pardon, brought forward by the SNP MP John Nicolson, was not supported by the government. It would have backdated pardons only to 1919.

A Stonewall spokesperson said: “This is significant. And it’s as important to the whole lesbian, gay, bi and trans community, as it is for the gay and bi men affected.

“The more equality is enshrined into our law books, the stronger our equality becomes, and the stronger we as a community become.

“This month the government issued a clear and powerful apology to every gay and bi man who had been unjustly criminalised for being who they are. This is not just equality for gay and bi men; the passing of this law is justice.

“We’re working to ensure that this new process is brought quickly and correctly, and to ensure all gay and bi men unjustly persecuted and prosecuted can finally receive the justice they deserve.”

Welcoming the new law, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “This pardon is an important, valuable advance that will remedy the grave injustices suffered by many of the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men who were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 – the latter being the year when all homophobic sexual offences legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales.

“A pardon has connotations of forgiveness for a wrong done. These men and the wider LGBT community believe they did no wrong.

“The legislation has a few omissions. It does not explicitly allow for the pardoning of men convicted of soliciting and procuring homosexual relations under the 1956 and 1967 Sexual Offences Acts. Nor does it pardon those people, including some lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling under laws such as the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of outraging public decency, the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 and the army, navy and air force acts and other diverse statutes.

“However, agreements secured by Lord Cashman mean that people convicted under these other laws can also apply for a pardon.”

The last men who were executed for homosexuality in England were James Pratt and John Smith who were hanged in 1835.

Sharkey, the Liberal Democrat peer who drafted the amendment to the bill, said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades.

“It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing and extend it to thousands of men unjustly convicted for sexual offences that would not be crimes today.”

Posthumous pardons law may see Oscar Wilde exonerated

Ministry of Justice announces initiative to wipe criminal records of gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer illegal

The complexity of the evidence for Oscar Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency makes it difficult to assess whether he should receive a pardon. Photograph: PA

Is Oscar Wilde about be posthumously pardoned? In a symbolic gesture announced by the government on Thursday, deceased gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer illegal will have their criminal records wiped.

Announcing the initiative, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that no individuals would be named or singled out – leaving the status of past scandals unresolved.

If the historical homosexual crime is no longer illegal and involved a consensual act with someone over the age of 16, then those convicted will be deemed to have received a posthumous pardon.

The complexity of the evidence that led to Wilde’s conviction in 1895 for gross indecency – including evidence of procuring male prostitutes – would make it difficult to assess. The gay rights organisation Stonewall suggested that the playwright and author, who was sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading jail, should now be entitled to a pardon.

The justice minister, Sam Gyimah, said that a clause would be introduced into the policing and crime bill. “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today,” he said. “Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”

The disregard process is already open to those who are alive and wish to remove from their criminal record any past sexual offences that are no longer illegal. They will be entitled to a statutory pardon under the new legislation.

In 2013 Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes, was posthumously pardoned by the Queen. He killed himself by taking cyanide in 1954, at the age of 41, following his conviction for gross indecency.

The MoJ said it would partially follow Lord Sharkey’s amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 although it would grant a blanket pardon for those who have died and not investigate individual historical cases.

Sharkey said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades. I am very grateful for the government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in parliament.”

The government has declined to support a private members’ bill on the subject, brought forward by an SNP MP, John Nicolson, which is due to be debated in parliament later this week.

Ministers said they fear that bill would allow some people to claim they have been cleared of offences that are still crimes – including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.

Gyimah said: “I understand and support the intentions behind Mr Nicolson’s bill, however I worry that he has not fully thought through the consequences. A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offence which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned.”

The MoJ said there would be no historical limit in relation to past offences. It declined to say whether Wilde would be among those deemed posthumously pardoned.

Nicolson, the former BBC newsreader and front bench SNP culture spokesman, told the Guardian that the former justice secretary Michael Gove had promised him government support for his private member’s bill. His would only backdate pardons to 1919. “I hope that the government will sit and read my bill carefully,” he said. “Mine would also be a blanket pardon. A lot of those people [who are alive] are very old and would not want their names listed.”

Paul Twocock, director of campaigns at Stonewall, said: “We welcome the government announcement to issue a posthumous pardon to all gay and bi men unjustly prosecuted for being who they are, but we don’t think it goes far enough. John Nicolson MP’s proposed bill closes a loophole that means some gay and bi men who are still alive and living with those convictions still can’t have them deleted, despite them being unjust and not illegal today. We urge the government to look at bringing this into their proposal.

“We also don’t agree with the government’s interpretation of John Nicolson MP’s bill – it explicitly excludes pardoning anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16.”

Family of Alan Turing to demand government pardon 49,000 other men

Campaigners to bring petition to Downing Street, demanding all men convicted under gross indecency law for their homosexuality are pardoned

Alan Turing was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency, but was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013. Photograph: Rex

The family of the codebreaker Alan Turing will visit Downing Street on Monday to demand the government pardons 49,000 other men persecuted like him for their homosexuality.

Turing, whose work cracking the German military codes was vital to the British war effort against Nazi Germany, was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man, was chemically castrated, and two years later died from cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide.

He was given a posthumous royal pardon in 2013 and campaigners want the government to pardon all the men convicted under the outdated law.

Turing’s great-nephew, Nevil Hunt, his great-niece, Rachel Barnes, and her son, Thomas, will hand over the petition, which attracted almost 500,000 signatures, to 10 Downing Street.

Ms Barnes said: “I consider it to be fair and just that everybody who was convicted under the Gross Indecency law is given a pardon. It is illogical that my great uncle has been the only one to be pardoned when so many were convicted of the same crime. I feel sure that Alan Turing would have also wanted justice for everybody.”

Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude Magazine, who will also visit Downing Street, said: “Generations of gay and bisexual men were forced to live their lives in a state of terror.

“Men convicted of gross indecency were often considered to have brought huge shame on their families and many took their own lives. We still live with the legacy of this period today and it’s about time the country addressed this appalling part of our history.”

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Turing has brought the pioneering scientist’s story to a wider audience. The film follows him from his days as a second world war code breaker at Bletchley Park to his work at Manchester University, which saw him hailed as the father of modern computing, and his tragic death.

Turing led a team decoding messages at Bletchley Park, whose work remained secret until many years after the end of the war, and also designed the Bombe machine which decrypted German messages. Their work helped shorten the conflict and saved many thousands of lives.


Gay History: Beau Brummell: Nothing but a Name Mysteriously Sparkling

QUESTIONABLE gay history! There is nothing in any of the accounts of Beau Brummell’s life to indicate he was gay. But there is also no indication that he was straight…in fact, no romantic trysts at all, with men, or women. There are suggestions that he may have been bisexual, but however you look at it – boy…he sure comes across as gay!

The name Beau Brummell is synonymous with Regency England, but what do you know about him? Researching this article I found that people associate him with silks, satins, and snuff, while one thought he was a fictional detective. It seemed the French writer Barbey d’Aurevilly was right: once the most famous man in the kingdom was “nothing but a name mysteriously sparkling in all the memoirs of his time.” So, what happened to Beau Brummell?

George Bryan Brummell was born in 10 Downing Street on 7th June 1778. He was the youngest son of William Brummell – an enterprising man who had risen to the position of Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, with all the influence and trappings that came with the role – a grace and favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace, a country house in Berkshire, and friendship with Charles James Fox, Richard Sheridan, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted the two curly-haired Brummell boys in 1781. The Brummell family had risen a long way in two generations and young George was to take the family name to even greater heights, and depths. He became a legend in his own lifetime and worked as hard at this as his father had done as a junior clerk.

In 1783, William Brummell retired with an income of about £2,500 a year – enough to send his two sons to Eton. There, George was well liked. He was good natured and clever but lazy and already developing his fastidious nature, avoiding the streets in wet weather and careful of his dignity. George went on to Oriel College at Oxford but left in 1794 when his father died, and instead joined the Prince of Wales’ own regiment, the Tenth Dragoons – or ‘The Elegant Extracts’ as they were known. The Dragoons were based in Brighton until civil unrest called them to the north and Brummell resigned immediately, saying that Manchester would be too disagreeable for him. His £40,000 inheritance meant he could afford to concentrate on being a gentleman. Quickly given the soubriquet ‘Beau’, he proved to be a witty and observant figure who made many friends. Charles Stanhope said

“I could understand a good deal of the secret of Brummell’s extraordinary success and influence in the highest society. He was a vast deal more than a mere dandy; he had wit as well as humour and drollery, and the most perfect coolness and self-possession.”

To be part of Brummell’s set was Society’s top cachet, and to be cut by him was social death. In the novel Granby there is a poorly disguised portrait.

“In the art of cutting he shone unrivalled. He could assume that calm but wandering gaze which veers, as if unconsciously, round the proscribed individual, neither fixing not to be fixed, not looking on vacancy nor on any one object, neither occupied nor abstracted, a look which perhaps excuses you to the person cut and, at any rate, prevents him from accosting you.”

Brummell was careful to remain free from obligations or attachments (he is said to have cut his own brother) and there were no signs of any relationships – either with women or men. His first biographer, Captain Jesse, thought that Brummell “had too much self love ever to be really in love.” Beau himself told Lady Hester Stanhope that he had adopted the only course possible to distance himself from ordinary men. As Oscar Wilde said more than a century later “to love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”

His friendship with the Prince of Wales did not last. As Brummell ceased to need the Prince’s patronage, so the Prince became jealous of Brummell’s position, but Brummell did not care. “I made him what he is and I can unmake him.” he quipped in an unguarded moment. By 1813 the end of the friendship was scandalously public when the Prince arrived at a party with Lord Alvanley and coldly ignored Brummell.

“Ah, Alvanley,” Brummell’s voice rang out clearly over the shocked silence, “Who is your fat friend?”

Brummell maintained his image so well that everyone was shocked when debts forced him to Calais in May 1816. In London, his effects were sold at auction, including his fine cellar “10 dozen Capital Old Port, 16 dozen of Burgundy, Claret, and Still Champagne. . .” They were, the publicity assured potential buyers, “the genuine property of a man of fashion, gone to the continent.” The auction raised £1000, but this was not enough to enable Brummell to return.

However, life in Calais was bearable. “No one can lead a more pleasant life than Brummell, for he passes his time between London and Paris” the British ambassador quipped, and Brummell’s friends visited him there, bring presents of money or gifts such as his favourite Façon de Paris snuff. In 1818 rumours abounded that he had been offered £5 thousand to write his memoirs, and that the Prince of Wales had offered £6 thousand for him not to do it.

Brummell became very popular in Calais “We used to call him Le Roi de Calais. He was a truly fine man, very elegant, and really well off – he always paid his bills and was very good to the poor; everyone was very sorry when he left.” said a Calais shopkeeper. Brummell was always careful to settle his debts with tradesmen – instead he owed increasingly vast amounts of money to bankers and his friends but his good nature and wit charmed them all.

When asked to make a contribution towards a Church of England chapel in Calais, he replied “I am very sorry you did not call last week, for it was only yesterday that I became a catholic.”

In 1827 Brummell’s patron the Duke of York died, and Brummell’s creditors began to close in. That summer, Brummell’s letters contained a note of panic. “I am sadly alarmed lest some overwhelming disaster should befall me” he wrote. While George IV was king, there was little hope of rapprochement, but good fortune did come along in June 1830 when Brummell was appointed His Majesty’s Consul for the departments of Calvados, La Manche, and Ille et Vilaine. The post was paid £400 a year and was based in Caen. However, there was a problem; with more than £1000 of debts, Brummell’s creditors were very reluctant to see him leave Calais. It was not until he signed a crippling agreement to assign his salary to his attorneys to deal with his debts that he was allowed to leave.

In Caen, he soon became a popular figure, noted for the way he would tiptoe across the cobbles to avoid getting dirt on his boots. He struck up a friendship with the grocer and wine merchant Charles Armstrong, who also cashed bills and money orders. Money remained a problem and he continued to press for a superior job; he wrote to Lord Palmerston that the post at Caen was not needed and he (Brummell) could do something better. On the 21st March 1832 he received a reply: HM Govt had “come to the conclusion that the post of British Consul at Caen may be abolished without prejudice to the public service . . . your salary will cease on the 31st May.” The news did not stay secret for long and he only escaped from the bailiffs when his landlady hid him in a wardrobe.

Armstrong went to England to collect money from Brummell’s friends and arranged £120 a year for his keep. Although generous, this was a pittance which at one time he would have spent in less than a month – when asked how much it would cost to launch a young man into London society, he once replied “with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred pounds a year.”

His situation began to tell upon his mind, “I am incompetent to do anything but to ruminate over the broken toys of my past days” he mourned to his landlady’s daughter. That summer, the stress and worry probably contributed to his first stroke, and he moved to smaller lodgings at L’ Hotel d’Angleterre where, in April 1834, he had his second stroke whilst dining. Recovery was slow this time and he became dogged with a sense of his own mortality: “they are weaving a shroud about me; still I trust I shall yet escape” he wrote. A third stroke ended that year and the following May he was arrested for debt and taken to gaol where he shared a stone cell with three others. He had not been allowed to dress properly before his arrest and the degradation bewildered him.

“Image a position more wretched than mine! They have put me with all the common people! I am surrounded by the greatest villains and have nothing but prison fare!”

Once again, his remarkable friends rallied round and although they could not raise enough to secure his release, they paid for him to share the private room of political prisoner, Charles Godefroy. Armstrong arranged food, laundry, and sent in his washing basin so that he could perform his famous toilette – to Godefroy’s amazement. Armstrong also looked after his property and went to Calais and London to raise a fund for him. This time, Lord Palmerston agreed to £200 in recognition of the severance of the Caen contract, and once again his friends contributed, including £100 from King William IV.

Brummell was released on the 21st July 1835, and Armstrong made it clear that he would not honour any debts run up without his knowledge. The fastidious Beau was reduced to wearing cast-off clothes and a black silk cravat instead of white linen to save on the washing. When his trousers needed mending, he stayed in bed because they were his only pair. Brummell’s tragedy was that he outlived his time. His fairy-tale had ended twenty years before and now the new young Queen was ushering in the Victorian era while his friends were themselves passing into shadows.

As his illness grew, the former dandy neglected his cleanliness and threw fantasy parties for friends who were long dead. In 1839, he was taken to the asylum of the Bon Saveur – shrieking they were putting him into prison but where his last months were peaceful and he died in his bed on 30th March 1840. The legendary Beau Brummell lies in a plain grave in Calais, unnoticed and forgotten, the name more glittering and the man more elusive with each passing year.


Gay History: The Brutal Murder Of Robert Hillsborough Rocks San Francisco and the Nation – June 21, 1977

A brutal murder that took place over 40 years ago in San Francisco shocked and catalyzed that city’s gay community and resulted in exposing the mostly hidden to the public- eye violence against gay people.

On the night of June 21, 1977, Robert Hillsborough, and his roommate, Jerry Taylor, went out to a disco for a night of dancing. They left sometime after midnight and stopped for a bite to eat at the Whiz Burger a few blocks from their apartment in the Mission District. When they left the burger joint, they were accosted by a gang of young men shouting anti-gay slurs at them.  Hillsborough and Taylor ran into Hillsborough’s car as several of the attackers climbed onto the car’s roof and hood. Hillsborough drove off, and thought that he left his troubles behind him. What he didn’t know was that they were following him in another car. Hillsborough parked just four blocks away from their apartment. When they got out of the car four men jumped out the other car and attacked them again. Jerry Taylor was beaten, but he managed to escape.  Robert Hillsborough wasn’t so lucky.

Robert was brutally beaten and stabbed 15 times by 19-year-old John Cordova who was yelling, “Faggot! Faggot! Faggot!” Witnesses also reported that Cordoba yelled, “This one’s for Anita!” Neighbors were awakened by the commotion, and one woman screamed that she was calling the police, which prompted the four attackers to flee. Neighbors rushed to Hillsborough’s aid, but it was too late. Hillsborough died 45 minutes later at Mission Emergency Hospital. Cordoba and the three other assailants were arrested later that morning.

Because Hillsborough was employed as a city gardener, Mayor George Moscone followed longstanding practice and ordered flags at City Hall and other city properties to be lowered to half-mast. He also directed his anger to Anita Bryant and California State Sen. John Briggs, who was running for governor and an anti-gay platform. Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Miami which resulted in the defeat of a gay rights ordinance three weeks earlier had inspired Briggs to hold a new conference in front of city hall the week before Hillsborough’s death to announce a campaign to remove gays and lesbians from teaching. Moscone called Briggs an anti-homosexual “demagogue” and held him responsible for “inciting trouble by walking right into San Francisco, knowing the emotional state of his community. He stirred people into action. He will have to live with his conscience.”

Hillsborough’s death also struck a deep nerve in the gay community. ”We live in a paranoid state,” said Harvey Milk, who was preparing his run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, “and the death of Robert is only the culmination of a lot of violence that’s been directed at us.” San Francisco’s Pride celebration, which took place just a few days later, attracted a record-breaking 300,000 people, and it became an impromptu memorial march as participants erected a makeshift shrine at City Hall.

Cordova was charged with a single count of murder, along with Thomas J. Spooner, 21. The other two passengers in the car were not charged. 

Cordova was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to only 10 years in prison. Charges were later dropped against Spooner.

The parents of Robert Hillsborough filed a $5 million lawsuit accusing Anita Bryant of conducting a hate campaign against homosexuals.  Hillsborough’s parents claimed and rightfully so that Miss Bryant’s public comments constituted “a campaign of hate, bigotry, ignorance, fear, intimidation and prejudice” against their son and other homosexuals. This, they said, amounted to a conspiracy to deprive Hillsborough of his civil rights.

U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Weigel dismissed the case saying that he lacked jurisdiction because Miss Bryant lives in Florida. 

And still 40 years later the violence continues to this day.  We must never forget those who lost their lives to hatred and bigotry.

Robert L. Hillsborough
Born: March 10, 1944
Died: June 22, 1977