Category Archives: Political

Christopher Columbus Facts They Don’t Teach in School

Columbus Day has become an occasion not just to celebrate the first steps toward founding America, but a time to re-examine what we know about the famed explorer. The accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are myriad and well-known, but much of his life’s story, as well as his subsequent voyages to the Americas, is lost in mythos and misconception.

While he did in fact “sail the ocean blue” in 1492, the biography of Christopher Columbus is filled with obscure facts and historical oddities that never make it into any school nursery rhyme – or even into many textbooks. Many people still believe that Columbus set out from Spain to prove the Earth was round – but we know he didn’t. We also believe he made peaceful contact with the natives of what he thought was India – but he didn’t, and he actually believed he’d reached the mythical land of Japan.

Could he have even made it there? What about his other trips to the New World? Or his revisionist reputation for brutality and cruel treatment of the natives? Here are some facts about Columbus that, despite decades of re-examination, most people don’t know.

“Christopher Columbus” Wasn’t Actually His Name

Photo: Sebastiano del Piombo/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The famed explorer was born Cristoforo Colombo – or Cristóbal Colón, if you speak Spanish. “Christopher Columbus” is the Anglicized version of his name, but he likely wouldn’t have answered to that. Among other unknowns about Colón/Columbus’s life is what he looked like – as no portrait of him was painted during his lifetime.

He Wasn’t Spanish – Though He Sailed for Spain

Photo: Giorgio Sommer/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus sailed under the Crown of Spain, but definitely wasn’t Spanish by birth. Little is known of his early life, but it’s generally agreed upon that he was born in Genoa, at the time an independent city-state and satellite of Spain. He would be considered Italian today.

Few People Still Believed the World Was Flat

Photo:  Trekky0623/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Writers like Washington Irving have implanted in the popular consciousness that Columbus set out to prove Catholic teaching wrong about the Earth being flat. But it was already widely believed that the Earth was round. As early as the sixth century BCE, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras used mathematics to surmise the world was round, and later, Aristotle proved it with astronomical observations. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not a flat disc.

Columbus Was Not Searching for the New World

Photo:  Twice25/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

While Columbus found the unexplored land that came to be known as “the New World,” it wasn’t what he was looking for. He was seeking a quicker passage to Asia that wouldn’t involve crossing the Silk Road, which had been sealed off due to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire. The aims of his voyage were exploiting the gold and spices believed to be found in abundance in the Orient – and to grab some for himself.

He Never Would Have Reached Asia

Photo: Andries van Eertvelt/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus estimated that the distance from the Canary Islands, where his voyage began, to Japan (known then as “Cipangu”), which he was attempting to reach, was about 3,700 kilometers. This was a vast underestimate, as the distance is actually about 12,000 kilometers. Columbus’s small fleet could never have carried enough provisions to last such a voyage, nor would these ships have survived the harsh conditions of the Pacific.

His Motives Were Not Altruistic

Photo: Daniel Chodowiecki/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

His first proposal to sail to the Orient, submitted to King John II of Portugal, involved him walking away with quite a bounty. He requested to be given the title “Great Admiral of the Ocean,” to be appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and be given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands – which would have involved a huge amount of gold. Portugal rejected this proposal, and several others, before Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to fund Columbus. But even they rejected him at first, thinking his plan unfeasible.

Columbus Almost Certainly Wasn’t the First European to Find the New World

Photo: H. E. Marshall/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Historians generally believe that the Norse Viking Leif Eriksson landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 CE, 500 years before Columbus set sail. It’s also been hypothesized, though not proven, that Celtic explorers crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson.

Nobody Knows Exactly Where Columbus Landed

Photo: John Vanderlyn/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus was looking for Japan, but what he found was the modern day Bahamas. After leaving the Canary Islands on September 6, strong winds pushed his three-ship fleet westward until they sighted land on October 12. Columbus called this island “San Salvador” – and believed he’d found Asia. The exact location of where he first set foot is still unknown, though it’s been narrowed down to three possible islands.

As Soon as He Landed, He Began Doing Horrible Things

Photo: Theodor de Bry/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus’ actions as a slave trader and by-the-sword evangelist are starting to become more and more widely known in popular culture. And these actions started almost immediately. The first natives he encountered on San Salvador were the Arawak people (also called the Taino), natives to the islands. Columbus found them to be peaceful and loving – and promptly took a group of them prisoner so he could interrogate them as to the location of the Orient’s gold. Subsequent Spanish colonization of the Bahamas was brutal to the Arawaks, and within half a century, they’d almost all be gone.

Not All Three Ships Survived the Voyage

Photo: Dietrich Bartel/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Columbus and his crew, which had dwindled due to disease and mutiny, spent three months sailing up and down the Bahamas, from October 12 through January 15, 1493. But it’s not common knowledge that the Santa Maria didn’t survive the trip, having grounded on Christmas Day. Columbus ordered the ship evacuated and blown up with cannons – to impress the natives with Spanish firepower. Columbus then snapped up about two dozen natives to take back as slaves, left 39 men to establish a colony on what’s now Haiti, then headed back to Spain.

The Second Voyage of Columbus Was All About Conquest

Photo: OneArmedMan/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Columbus’s first voyage to the Orient was a trip of exploration. But the second could never be mistaken for anything other than one of colonization and, if necessary, armed conflict. He left Spain on September 23, 1493, with a huge fleet consisting of 17 ships and 1,200 men. Among the passengers were farmers, priests meant to convert natives to Christianity, and armed soldiers to impose Columbus’s will.

Armed Conflict Broke Out on the Second Voyage

Photo: Edward Everett Hale/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Columbus and his fleet made landfall in Dominica, now a small island nation in the Caribbean. He sailed up and down the Lesser Antilles, went back to check on the 39 men he’d left behind at the colony of La Navidad (which had been destroyed with 11 men murdered by the natives for raping local women), and, in an omen of things to come, had an armed skirmish with several tribesmen caught castrating two boys from a different tribe. He established several small colonies, took about 500 Caribbean people as slaves, and headed back to Spain again.

He Still Hoped to Find the Orient on the Third Voyage

Photo: Roke~commonswiki/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Columbus’s third voyage to the New World was delayed almost two years thanks to machinations in the Spanish court. When he finally set sail from Spain in May 1498, he had just seven ships. Several headed for previously established colonies, while Columbus himself and the bulk of his fleet headed south, still hoping to find the mythical passage to the Orient. Instead, he found Trinidad, as well as Venezuela. But the worst was yet to come.

The Third Voyage Ended in Disgrace

Photo: USCapitol/Flickr/Public Domain

Several months of exploring South America left Columbus in poor health and exhausted, so he returned to the colony of Hispaniola, where the Santa Maria had grounded on the first voyage. When he arrived, he was greeted by chaos.

The colonists were unhappy, starving, and threatening to mutiny. The natives were treated horribly, and often responded by murdering the colonists. Columbus and his brothers were cruel governors, and the Taino natives had engaged in armed revolt, which was crushed in 1497. Faced with a number of complaints about his governorship and cruelty, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Columbus and his brothers arrested, and taken back to Spain in chains.

The Fourth Voyage Was a Disaster

Photo: Roke~commonswiki/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

After spending a few months in prison, Columbus went before Ferdinand and Isabella. They pardoned him and financed a fourth voyage, but stripped him of his governorship. Leaving Cadiz in May 1502 on four decrepit ships, Columbus set forth to find passage to the Indian Ocean.

Instead, he got lost, sailed through a hurricane that annihilated the first Spanish treasure fleet, had two ships sink, and finally had to beach the other two in Jamaica, where he spent a year stranded. While there, he persuaded the natives to supply his desperate men with food and water by predicting a lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504. A relief fleet finally arrived in June, and Columbus reached Spain empty handed in November.

Columbus Wanted What Was His

Photo: John Clark Ridpath/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As befitting someone who wanted to explore new lands primarily to cash in, Columbus spent a lot of time and effort making sure he got what was coming to him. In 1502, shortly before the fourth voyage, Columbus wrote Book of Privileges, a long testimony of all of the titles, riches, positions of power, and rewards he was expecting the Spanish Crown to give him and his descendants as part of his ten percent cut of his exploration.

He Had Become an Apocalyptic Crank

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Like many luminaries of his day, Columbus balanced a keen instinct for exploration with a fervent belief in Biblical prophecy nonsense. He complied a number of apocalyptic “revelations” in Book of Prophecies, which was published in 1501. Among his “revelations” were that Christianity must be spread throughout the world, the Garden of Eden is out there waiting to be found, and that Spain’s King Ferdinand would be the Last World Emperor. 

After His Death, His Remains Traveled the World

Photo: Ввласенко/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Food poisoning on one of his voyages led Columbus to develop a case of reactive arthritis, thought at the time to be gout. Suffering from that, as well as various other ailments he contracted during the four voyages, Columbus died in 1506 in Valliadolid, Spain.

Columbus’s remains were first interred there, then in Seville by his son Diego, who had become governor of Hispaniola. In 1542 the remains were transferred to the present-day Dominican Republic. In 1795, when France took over Hispaniola, Columbus’s remains were again moved, this time to Havana, Cuba. After Cuba became independent following the Spanish–American War in 1898, the remains were moved back to Spain. But it’s likely that not all were moved, and Columbus might actually have resting places in both Cuba and Spain.

His Estate Was Tangled in Lawsuits for Centuries

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After he died, the children of Columbus waged a lengthy legal battle with the Spanish crown, claiming that the monarchy had short-changed them on money, titles, and property they were due. Most of the Columbian lawsuits were settled by 1536, with the Colón family walking away with the perpetual title of “Admiral of the Indies,” claims on land in Jamaica, Hispaniola, and several other islands; and a large sum of money to be paid annually.

There were still numerous claims to untangle, and the legal proceedings, called the Pleitos colombinos, dragged on until well into the 18th century.

He Left Behind a Complex Legacy

Photo: Robert Fleury/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

For centuries, Columbus was venerated as the heroic discoverer of America and he’s still honored with a Federal holiday on October 12. But in recent decades, Columbus’s legacy of brutality toward natives, capturing and movement of slaves, and his pronounced ignorance on many aspects of ocean travel have become more and more well known.

It’s not in dispute that Columbus was a tyrannical governor of Hispaniola, creating a governing system where natives were mutilated for not making their gold-mining quotas, and slaves were regularly shipped back to Spain. But he was also a courageous explorer, making four Atlantic voyages through dangerous waters, rough weather, and totally unexplored territory.

Colonization of the New World also leaves a complex legacy. It wiped out native peoples from San Salvador all the way through the American west – but at the same time, set in motion the events that would lead to the United States and the modern world. Is Columbus a hero or a villain? A conquering monster or a courageous pioneer? In reality, probably all of them

Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery

We do not celebrate Columbus Day here in Australia, so I found this article intriguing, especially in the light of what we now know about Columbus and his governorships and brutality to natives,

Italian-Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus is shown in this work by Italian painter Sebastiano Del Piombo. (AP Photo)

Once again, it’s time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus’ reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.

Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?

If you’d like to know the true story about Christopher Columbus, please read on. But I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Here’s the basics. On the second Monday in October each year, we celebrate Columbus Day (this year, it’s on October 11th). We teach our school kids a cute little song that goes: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” It’s an American tradition, as American as pizza pie. Or is it? Surprisingly, the true story of Christopher Columbus has very little in common with the myth we all learned in school.

Columbus Day, as we know it in the United States, was invented by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Back in the 1930s, they were looking for a Catholic hero as a role-model their kids could look up to. In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor this courageous explorer. Or so we thought.

There are several problems with this. First of all, Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover America. As we all know, the Viking, Leif Ericson probably founded a Norse village on Newfoundland some 500 years earlier. So, hat’s off to Leif. But if you think about it, the whole concept of discovering America is, well, arrogant. After all, the Native Americans discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born! Surprisingly, DNA evidence now suggests that courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed dugout canoes across the Pacific and settled in South America long before the Vikings.

Second, Columbus wasn’t a hero. When he set foot on that sandy beach in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks. Writing in his diary, Columbus said they were a handsome, smart and kind people. He noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. “They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no,” he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kind-hearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.

Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead.

If I were a Native American, I would mark October 12, 1492, as a black day on my calendar.

Shockingly, Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery. Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an “Indian” worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus’ deadline, soldiers would cut off the man’s hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.

On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.

Columbus’ acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary – even in his own day – that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.

One of Columbus’ men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus’ brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus’ command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus’ men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” De Las Casas wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

De Las Casas spent the rest of his life trying to protect the helpless native people. But after a while, there were no more natives to protect. Experts generally agree that before 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola probably numbered above 3 million. Within 20 years of Spanish arrival, it was reduced to only 60,000. Within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant could be found.

In 1516, Spanish historian Peter Martyr wrote: “… a ship without compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola.”

Christopher Columbus derived most of his income from slavery, De Las Casas noted. In fact, Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with black slaves. Columbus’ son became the first African slave trader in 1505.

Are you surprised you never learned about any of this in school? I am too. Why do we have this extraordinary gap in our American ethos? Columbus himself kept detailed diaries, as did some of his men including De Las Casas and Michele de Cuneo. (If you don’t believe me, just Google the words Columbus, sex slave, and gold mine.)

Columbus’ reign of terror is one of the darkest chapters in our history. The REAL question is: Why do we celebrate a holiday in honor of this man? (Take three deep breaths. If you’re like me, your stomach is heaving at this point. I’m sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts. That said, I’d like to turn in a more positive direction.)

Call me crazy, but I think holidays ought to honor people who are worthy of our admiration, true heroes who are positive role models for our children. If we’re looking for heroes we can truly admire, I’d like to offer a few candidates. Foremost among them are school kids.

Let me tell you about some school kids who are changing the world. I think they are worthy of a holiday. My friend Nan Peterson is the director of the Blake School, a K-12 school in Minnesota. She recently visited Kenya. Nan says there are 33 million people in Kenya… and 11 million of them are orphans! Can you imagine that? She went to Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi, and a boy walked up to her and handed her a baby. He said: My father died. My mother died… and I’m not feeling so good myself. Here, take my sister. If I die, they will throw her into the street to die.

There are so many orphans in Kenya, the baby girls are throwaways!

Nan visited an orphanage for girls. The girls were starving to death. They had one old cow that only gave one cup of milk a day. So each girl only got ONE TEASPOON of milk a day!

After this heartbreaking experience, Nan went home to her school in Minnesota and asked the kids… what can we do? The kids got the idea to make homemade paper and sell it to buy a cow. So they made a bunch of paper, and sold the paper, and when they were done they had enough money to buy… FOUR COWS! And enough food to feed all of the cows for ONE FULL YEAR! These are kids… from 6 years old to 18… saving the lives of kids halfway around the world. And I thought: If a 6-year-old could do that… what could I do?

At Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, seemingly “average” school kids raised $20,000 to dig clean water wells for children in Ethiopia. These kids are heroes. Why don’t we celebrate “Kids Who Are Changing the Planet” Day?

Let me ask you a question: Would we celebrate Columbus Day if the story of Christopher Columbus were told from the point-of-view of his victims? No way!

The truth about Columbus is going to be a hard pill for some folks to swallow. Please, don’t think I’m picking on Catholics. All the Catholics I know are wonderful people. I don’t want to take away their holiday or their hero. But if we’re looking for a Catholic our kids can admire, the Catholic church has many, many amazing people we could name a holiday after. How about Mother Teresa day? Or St. Francis of Assisi day? Or Betty Williams day (another Catholic Nobel Peace Prize winner). These men and women are truly heroes of peace, not just for Catholics, but for all of us.

Let’s come clean. Let’s tell the truth about Christopher Columbus. Let’s boycott this outrageous holiday because it honors a mass murderer. If we skip the cute song about “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” I don’t think our first graders will miss it much, do you? True, Columbus’ brutal treatment of peaceful Native Americans was so horrific… maybe we should hide the truth about Columbus until our kids reach at least High School age. Let’s teach it to them about the same time we tell them about the Nazi death camps.

While we’re at it, let’s rewrite our history books. From now on, instead of glorifying the exploits of mass murderers like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte, let’s teach our kids about true heroes, men and women of courage and kindness who devoted their lives to the good of others. There’s a long list, starting with Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.

These people were not adventurers who “discovered” an island in the Caribbean. They were noble souls who discovered what is best in the human spirit.

Why don’t we create a holiday to replace Columbus Day?

Let’s call it Heroes of Peace Day.

Reference

What Weird British Laws You Should Be Aware Of?

As we have already mentioned, the United Kingdom is one of the oldest countries in the world, and as such, has a long legal history. Therefore, it should not surprise us that it still features some century-old laws that no longer make sense but are still in power. Trying to stay on the good side of the law? So do we, that is why we have selected a number of weird British laws that all locals and tourists should be aware of.

#1. Do Not Handle Salmon… Suspiciously

We are warning you! Do not handle your salmon suspiciously, or you might get into trouble. Now, you do not need to panic. Technically speaking, you can still clutch your favourite fish in dark corners, although we would not recommend such behaviour. As odd as it sounds, this law could actually be found under Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986. Although it actually refers to selling salmon gained through illicit means, it sounds crazy enough to become a part of our list of strange UK laws.

#2. Do Not Play Knock Knock Ginger

UK Law Doorbell

Do you think it is fun to ring on someone’s doorbell and then run away? Even though all kids think it is, and most of us have probably done it, we must warn you that according to the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, such behaviour is actually illegal. To be exact, you should never “wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse”. If you cannot help but misbehave, you may face a fine of up to £500. Even though it makes our list of crazy UK laws, we advise you to follow the no knock-down ginger rule accordingly.

#3. Do Not Shake Your Rug Before 8 a.m

As outrageous as it sounds, you should never shake or in any way clean your rug before 8 a.m. According to section 60, subsection 3 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, it is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat before 8 in the morning. On the bright side, you can engage into all these actions at 8:01 a.m.! Though, you should also keep in mind that you should avoid throwing any dirt, litter or ashes, or any carrion, fish, offal, or rubbish into “any sewer, pipe, or drain, or into any well, stream, or watercourse, pond, or reservoir for water …”. The penalty? A fine of up to £500 should be enough motivation to keep your urge to clean under control.

#4. Do Not Get Drunk in a Pub

Shocking, yet apparently true one of the weird UK laws claims that you should not get drunk in a pub. In fact, according to Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872, “every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises” could be penalised. In other words, if you drink 3 or 5 ciders outside your house, you could be facing a fine of up to £200. Our advice? A night out could be pricey enough, so keep a count on those drinks.

#5. Do Not Wear a Suit of Armour in Parliament

No Suit of Armour Law Parliament

Talking about crazy UK laws, how about the one that states that you cannot enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour. Were planning to dress up? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you cannot show off by wearing your suit of armour in Parliament. The law dates back from 1313 when times were different, and probably someone did try to get into Parliament wearing inappropriate clothing. Even though the law is not relevant nowadays, it is still applicable. Nevertheless, we cannot tell what would be the actual punishment for breaking it, though we assume that such actions would get a lot of media coverage.

#6. In Scotland Strangers Are Welcome to Use Your Toilet

Did you know that if a stranger knocks on your door and asks to use your toilet, you are legally obliged to let them? Neither did we, but according to an old Scottish law, hospitality must be shown to all guests even if they are uninvited. Surprisingly, even though the law has not been officially authorised by parliament, it is enforceable. Wondering where it comes from? One of the strange UK laws first came into power back in the days when travellers on foot would cross the land of hard-working clansmen. Even though it is not a common practice, nowadays, you can still expect strangers to knock on your door every once in a while. Still, as you will not be fined, it is completely up to you to decide whether to let them use your toilet or not.

#7. Do Not Walk Around Carrying Wood Planks in London

Do you live in London? If you are planning a home improvement project, remember that you cannot carry planks across the pavement. Wondering why? Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 says it all. It is an offence to carry planks across the pavement in London and offenders could be fined up to £500.While we cannot tell you if anyone has actually been charged for violating this particular law, we advise to stay out trouble and find another way to transport your wood planks home.

#8. Do Not Hang Out Your Washing

The law about Hanged Washing

According to one of the weird British laws, residents of Beverley, East Yorkshire are not allowed to hang their washing outside. In fact, residents of a luxury complex in the city are asked to “to refrain from hanging washing in a manner that may detract from the visual enjoyment of the building or otherwise cause offence to fellow residents”. While we are not certain where you could actually be fined for breaking the law, we advise you to get a tumble drier or make sure you have sufficient space to dry your clothing inside your house and to do your best to avoid getting fined for… washing your clothes and hanging them to dry.

#9. Do Not Gamble in Libraries

Were you planning to play a friendly poker game at the local library? We are sorry to inform you that you will have to look for another place to play. An old British law states that it is illegal to gamble in a library.Wondering why? As we have already mentioned, the law is quite outdated, so we suppose that back in time, some people loved to assemble in libraries and cause disturbances to the otherwise peaceful environment. The law used to be a part of the Library Offences Act of 1998 until it was eventually repealed in 2005. Nevertheless, we decided to include it on our list as it certainly deserves your attention.

#10. Flying a Kite May Not Be the Best Idea

Do not get us wrong – flying a kite is perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. You are free to engage in your favourite activity as much as you please. We must warn you, however, that if your kite happens to annoy any inhabitants or passengers, you might be fined. Yes, you understood correctly. An odd British law claims that “who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers, or who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in any street or other thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers”, could be asked to pay a fine of up to £500. While we are not certain whether this law is still applicable, we strongly advise you to be careful where and when you fly your kite.

#11. You Cannot Import Polish Potatoes to Britain

Weird UK Law About Polish Potatoes

One of the weird British laws that we encountered claims that no one can import Polish potatoes to Britain without first notifying the authorities. Wondering why the UK Government came up with such an odd law in the first place? In a nutshell, the authorities were concerned because back in 2004 there was a massive outbreak of a potato disease called ring rot. While it does not seem to be dangerous for human consumers, the condition seriously affects yield and the quality of the potato crops. Even though the threat is no longer relevant, the law remains valid.

#12. If You Catch a Sturgeon, You Should Offer It to the Reigning Monarch

Yes, that is right. One of our favourite strange UK laws claims that “All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the Reigning Monarch”. The Prerogativa Regis 1322 is clear enough and still valid nowadays. While we cannot tell you what are the exact reasons behind this rule, a theory claims that King Edward II probably wanted to control the levels of overly conspicuous consumption in the realm. Believe it or not, this law was actually tested in modern times.

Back in 2004, Mr Robert Davies caught a 9lb sturgeon off the coast of Wales and offered it to the Queen. He soon received a note from Her Majesty, informing him that she was happy for him to dispose of the fish as he saw fit. After that, though, Mr Davis became a subject of a short criminal investigation based on the fact that sturgeons are protected species, and catching or killing them is considered illegal. The particular sturgeon now resides at the Natural History Museum in London.

#13. You Should Not Sing Profane or Indecent Ballads

Listening to the newest hip hop tracks on your way to work? We know how catchy the new Kanye West or Jay-Z’s tunes could be, but we strongly recommend you to fight your urges to sing along. According to the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, no one should “sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers.” If you love singing in public, however, just make sure your favourite track does not include any offensive lyrics. Breaking one of the weirdest UK laws could lead to a possible fine, that could certainly affect your budget.

#14. It Is Legal to Shoot a Scotsman Under Certain Circumstances

Yes, as bizarre as it may sound, according to an outdated English law, it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman under specific circumstances. Still, there are certain factors that must be present. To begin with, you must be located in York. One of the strange UK laws claims that only in York if they happen to cross paths with a Scotsman, people are allowed to shoot him with a crossbow. Please note, however, that shooting Scots on Sundays remains forbidden. Or at least with a bow and an arrow… The same law claims that any Scotsman caught drunk or armed on Sunday, can still be shot, just not with a crossbow.

Scotsmen Waking Law York

Interestingly, a similar law claims that in Chester, it is also allowed to shoot a Welsh person with a bow and an arrow, as long as it happens within the city walls and after midnight. We remind you, however, that all mentioned regulations are outdated and no longer apply. Nevertheless, we found them weird enough to include in our list of crazy UK laws.

#15. Do Not Jump the Queue at a Subway in London

Have you ever felt tempted to jump the queue while waiting for a subway in London? If so, we sincerely hope that you have managed to wait your turn, otherwise you could have committed a crime. That is right. Jumping the queue at a subway is not only rude but also illegal. At least if you are in London. While we could not find proof that the law is still in power, we strongly recommend you to obey it. Though it is unlikely to get arrested for jumping the queue, such behaviour could lead to unpleasant confrontations with the rest of the people.

Gambling Is Not a Part of the Weird Laws in the UK

Did you enjoy our list of strange laws in the UK? If so, you may also enjoy our article about UK Gambling Law. Worried that you may not be able to try your luck on your favourite slot games? Fear not as all forms of gambling, including online and land-based are perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. In fact, you may pick the right operator for you from our list of the best gambling sites. We remind you, however, to gamble responsibly and choose your preferred games carefully.

14 Weird British Laws That Everyone Thinks Are True

James Ross / Getty Image

1. It is illegal to carry a plank along a pavement.

True. This has been illegal since 1839. The Act also bans you from sliding on snow, playing “annoying games”, and flying kites in the street. No fun please, we’re British.

2. It is illegal to die in parliament.

False. There’s a longstanding myth that you’re not “allowed” to die in parliament, because the government would have to give you a state funeral. They wouldn’t. At least four people have died in parliament, including Guy Fawkes, who was executed on site.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

3. It is illegal not to carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week.

Not any more. Englishmen aged between 17 and 60 were required to own a longbow and practise using it regularly by a law enacted in 1541. This law was eventually repealed, but much later than you might think: It was on the statute books until 1960.

4. It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street.

True. This has been illegal since 1839, but you are allowed to beat a doormat, provided you do it before 8am. It’s also illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house, slaughter cattle in the street, sing rude songs in the street, or to ring your neighbour’s doorbell and run away. So don’t do that.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

5. It is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises (i.e. in a pub).

True. This one is enforced under at least three separate laws. Under the 1872 Licensing Act, there’s a penalty for “every person found drunk” in a licensed premises, while 1839’s Policing Act forbids landlords from permitting drunkenness. The 2003 Licensing Act also makes it an offence to sell alcohol to a drunk person, or to buy a drunk person a drink.

Everyone who has been to the UK knows these laws are, of course, unfailingly obeyed.

6. It is illegal to be drunk in charge of a horse.

True. This dates back to 1872, and you’re also not allowed to be drunk in charge of a cow, or while you’re carrying a loaded firearm, which seems… pretty sensible, actually.

7. It is legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow on Sunday in the Cathedral Close in Hereford; or inside the city walls of Chester after midnight; or a Scotsman within the city walls of York, other than on a Sunday.

All of these are FALSE. Please do not do any of these. The Law Commission couldn’t find any evidence any of these laws ever existed. 

“It is illegal to shoot a Welsh or Scottish (or any other) person regardless of the day, location, or choice of weaponry,” they state.

PS Please do not shoot or otherwise kill any people. This is definitely illegal.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

8. It is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.

This happened one time. Christmas Day in 1644 fell on a legally mandated fast day, so it would have been illegal to eat a mince pie, even though they weren’t specifically mentioned. The UK did, under Oliver Cromwell, ban Christmas itself for a while, but those laws were invalidated when the monarchy was restored.

9. It is illegal to jump the queue in the tube ticket hall.

True. So long as there’s a sign telling you to queue (or a member of staff), queue-jumping is illegal under TfL byelaws: You have to join from the back. This is possibly the most British law in existence.

10. It is illegal to destroy or deface money.

Mostly true. If you want to destroy a banknote for some reason, that’s actually legal. But under the Currency and Banknotes Act of 1928, it’s illegal to deface a banknote by drawing, stamping, or printing on it. It’s also illegal to destroy coins.

Richard Stonehouse / Getty Images

11. It is illegal to place a stamp of the Queen upside down on a letter.

False. It’s illegal to do anything with the intention of deposing the Queen (sorry, republicans), but this is fine. The Royal Mail will deliver the letter as normal.

12. It is illegal to stand within 100 yards of the reigning monarch without wearing socks.

False. Fear not, you can go sockless near royals. Queen Elizabeth I did make it illegal to be in her presence wearing shirts with “outrageous double ruffs”, or hose of “monstrous and outrageous greatness” — which seems fair enough — but these laws were repealed by James I.

13. It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances.

True. This is illegal under the Salmon Act of 1986, apparently. Alas, the Law Commission did not elaborate on what counts as a suspicious way to handle salmon. You can check the original law here, but it won’t help all that much.

14. All swans are the property of the Queen, and killing one is an act of treason.

Not ALL swans. The Queen has first dibs on all “wild, unmarked mute swans in open water”, and has since the 12th century, but only actually claims ones on the Thames and some tributaries. It’s illegal to kill one of those, but it isn’t actually treason.

And the Queen has no claim on tame swans, or other types of swan. Who knew

Witty Prankster Tries to Break as Many Ancient British Laws as Possible While in the Presence of Police

Prankster Oobah Butler (previously), who also works as a freelance writer for Vicehilariously tried to break as many seemingly ridiculous, ancient British laws while in the presence of police, military and other forms of official security.

Some of the laws that Butler broke include handling a salmon suspiciously, gambling in a library, shaking a dirty rug in public, wearing an outrageous ruff, being sockless within 100 yards of the queen and singing a lewd ballad in public. Despite his illegal actions, Butler remained arrest-free.

Britain is an old-fashioned, weird place, and its esoteric laws are among the most ridiculous things about the place. From it being illegal to handle a salmon suspiciously, to the threat of having your head chopped off for wearing a suit of armour in Parliament, VICE’s Oobah Butler sees if anyone takes any of these laws seriously by trying to break as many as he can—in front of policemen.

Reference,

The Craziest Ancient Rome Sex Scandals

Vote up the most insane stories from ancient Roman times—those that put Washington, D.C. and Hollywood to shame.

If the Ancient Romans knew how to do one thing well, it was party. When they weren’t busy inventing the aqueduct, concrete, or the basis for the modern calendar, they were discovering new and exciting ways to have a good time with each other. Sure, every emperor, senator, and nobleman under the sun promoted family values… but when that sun set, ancient Rome got into the kind of action that would make the writers of Game of Thrones blush.  

While the Romans probably weren’t the first in history to push the sexual envelope, they were among the first to keep detailed records. Regular talk of affairs, orgies, and contests spun around the rumor mill for centuries. Of course, the Romans weren’t above tabloid-level journalism. It’s no coincidence that the most extreme rumors were about the most hated emperors.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Since most of these Roman rumors involved the emperors, that meant most of them ended in either bloody coups or executions. It’s good to be the king, but only as long as people let you stay in power. So, as crazy as you think modern Washington controversies may seem, some of the ancient Rome sex stories on this list may make you appreciate just how far politicians have come over the last two thousand years.

Nero Castrated A Man And Then Married Him

Photo: John William Waterhouse/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

For someone with the power and maniacal reputation of Emperor Nero, it was probably easy to get bored at having his every whim met. Perhaps that’s why Nero turned an innocent boy into a eunuch and then tied the knot. The boy, Sporus, was dressed as a woman in a veil for the official ceremony, and the pair even took a romantic honeymoon to Greece.

Caligula Went To A Wedding And Left With The Bride

Photo: Louis le Grand/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Gaius Piso made the poor decision of inviting Emperor Caligula to his wedding. When Caligula showed up to the banquet, Gaius told the emperor not to touch his soon-to-be wife Livia Orestilla. So, naturally, Caligula stole her, married her, then banished her to an island where she was forbidden to sleep with anyone ever again. Moral of the story? Don’t tell Caligula he can’t do something.

Nero Got Nasty With His Mom

Photo:  Landesmuseum Württemberg/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

For Emperor Nero’s mother, Agrippina, merely being the mother of the emperor wasn’t enough. Early in his rule as a teenager, Agrippina had a heavy hand in his decision-making. Rumors spread that she reinforced her influence with her body. Stories spread about Nero’s relationship with a consort who suspiciously resembled his mother as well as a public appearance together where his robes were noticeably stained.

Tiberius Went Skinny Dipping with Young Boys

Photo: shakko/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Pushing the depths of depravity, stories said Emperor Tiberius trained young boys to fulfill his physical needs. He liked to go swimming with them, then have them lick and nibble him “between his thighs.” He called them “tiddlers.”

Caligula Slept With Guests’ Wives And Then Bragged About How They’d Gotten Down

Photo: Eustache Le Sueur/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Dinner parties with Caligula were a nightmare for married couples. Caligula frequently invited married couples over for dinner, and if a certain wife struck his fancy, he’d take her back to his bed chambers and return later to tell their husbands everything that went down. If that wasn’t enough for him, he’d sometimes file a bill of divorce for couples just because he could.

Caligula Had A Favorite Sister

Photo: Marsyas/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

Although it’s been said he took all of his sisters to bed, Caligula’s favorite was allegedly Drusilla. Stories said their grandmother caught them in bed together when they were still minors. Later in life, he took Drusilla from her husband. When she died, Caligula declared an entire season of public mourning.

An Empress Had A Taboo Face-Off With A Famous Prostitute—And Won

Photo: Ricardo André Frantz/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

According to Pliny the Elder, Valeria Messalina, the third wife of Emperor Claudius and mother of his son, was known for her appetite for pleasure. Just for fun, the empress bet the best Roman courtesan of her time that she could sleep with more men in one day than said lady of the night. Messalina came out on top by bedding 25 men.

Nero Dressed Up As Animals For His Sexcapades

Nero may have had a weird childhood, but not even the most uncommon upbringing could explain his most ferocious urges. Stories said he liked to play a game where he dressed in animal skins, was let loose from a cage, and went to town on defenseless men and women who were tied to stakes.

Cleopatra Had A Love Child With Caesar And Paraded It Around Rome

Julius Caesar not only started the reign of Roman emperors; he was one of their finest playboys. Despite his marriage to Calpurnia, he took many mistresses—among them, the famous Cleopatra. When Caesar invited her to Rome, Cleopatra brought their baby and showed him off to everyone… including Calpurnia.

So what was an epic playboy to do? He gave the kid his name and drafted up a law saying he could marry as many women as he wanted.

Caligula Used His Sisters To Discredit Political Rivals

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

When Caligula wasn’t actually taking his siblings to bed, he often prostituted them off to his friends. This came in handy if he ever wanted to put those same friends on trial. He kept records of all the adultery and made them public to create an instant uproar whenever he needed to ruin a friend-turned-rival’s reputation.

Augustus Exiled His Daughter For Ruining Family Values

Photo: Santo Attilio/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Emperor Augustus found himself in a bind with his daughter, Julia. Augustus was a supporter of family values and set out to make adultery illegal. Julia complicated his political stance by frequently indulging in vices, including public instances of adultery. Augustus was so upset that he exiled her to an island with no men or wine. As for the men she slept with, they were either exiled themselves or forced to kill themselves.

Emperor Elagabalus Was All About Role-Playing

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Elagabalus would search for the most well-endowed men in all of Rome and bring them back to his palace. There, he’d pose for them as the goddess of love, Venus. He’d pretend his partner was Paris from the Illiad and let the fantasy go from there.

Caligula Turned His Palace Into A Brothel

Photo: Ed Uthman/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

When the Roman treasury was running low on money and taxes just weren’t doing the trick, Caligula turned his palace into a brothel. He put everyone on a line of credit with astronomical interest rates. Once, he allegedly saw two “Roman knights” who owed him passing by, so he had them seized and confiscated all their property.

Elagabalus Was a Part Time Emperor, Part Time Seducer

Photo: Lawrence Alma-Tadema/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

While Caligula turned his palace into a brothel, Elagabalus got in on the action himself. He had a room in his palace brothel where he’d stand at the door and try to entice clients into joining him.

Mark Antony Totally Went After Best Friend Caesar’s Girl After He Was Out Of The Way

Photo: Lawrence Alma-Tadema/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Not long after Caesar met his end on the Ides of March, his closest friend and ally, Mark Antony, hooked up with his mistress, Cleopatra. Antony was named an enemy of Rome, but was too busy with the Queen of Egypt to care. Eventually, Caesar’s successor, Octavian, faced them down and defeated their forces. In the end they both took their own lives.

Claudius Executed His Wife For Organizing A Coup With Her Lover

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

Other than challenging prostitutes to feats of bedroom mastery, Emperor Claudius’s wife Valeria Messalina was famous for marrying another man, Gaius Silius, behind Cladius’s back. Together, they conspired to overthrow Claudius and rule the Empire. That all fell apart when Claudius found out—and executed them both.

Reference

Servants Of The Paraclete Part 3: Gay Priest Reveals Secret Of Catholic `Boot Camp’

A Roman Catholic priest has given a unique insight into day-to-day life at a remote and little-known rehabilitation home used by the church to treat alcoholic, gay and paedophiliac clergymen.

The priest was sent to the residential treatment centre in Gloucestershire after his bishop found out that he was a practising homosexual. Writing anonymously in today’s Independent, he gives a detailed account of his week-long assessment at Our Lady of Victory – a place he describes as being like “an open prison” – situated high on a Cotswold hill in Brownshill, near Stroud.

The church is guarded about life inside the centre. It is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation of men dedicated to ministering to priests and brothers with “personal difficulties”. Anyone who is “sent to Stroud”, as Catholic circles put it, for longer than the initial assessment must sign a confidentiality contract.

Our Lady of Victory purports to offer “therapy in a spiritual context”. But according to Father Kieran Conroy, director of the Catholic Media Office, the approach is more “therapist’s boot camp” than “therapist’s couch”. Fr Conroy said he understood the treatment to be “quite confrontational”. “They do face you with your own shortcomings and there’s no question of denial, at all. It’s a process of knocking down and building up again, which I think some people find difficult to deal with because they are particularly vulnerable.”

The Servants of the Paraclete was founded in 1947 by Father Gerald Fitzgerald, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, in the United States. It has about 30 priests at Stroud, and there is a waiting list. Our Lady of Victory hit the headlines in 1993 when Fr Sean Seddon, a 38-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was sent there to try to forget about his six- year romance with a teacher. On learning that his lover had lost their baby, he committed suicide by throwing himself under a railway station near the retreat.

Fr Conroy believes the majority of residents at Stroud are alcoholics on the Chemical Dependency Programme, based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. “In the case of child abuse it would be assessment rather than treatment,” he added, “because most people realise that paedophilia is not a condition they can treat successfully.”

He said Stroud is not an alternative to the courts. Some of the priests undergoing treatment for child abuse have served prison sentences. At the end of the treatment, staff at Stroud assess the paedophiliac priest’s risk of reoffending, according to Father Conroy. “If they choose to remain in the priesthood – and presumably they will, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent six months or two years there – the church has to decide where the safest place for that person to work is. If he is high risk they must ensure that he is in a job that has little or zero risk of contact with children.”

To residents living near the centre, it is simply a “drying out clinic for boozy brethren”. But the priest recalls a “sense of listlessness” among inmates, “as if, realising the game was up, all the fight, all the desire for independence had gone.” He believes the “glassiness in their eyes” betrays “some form of brainwashing”. “How,” he asks, “is paedophilia `cured’ or any other form of addiction, sexual or otherwise?”

Former Questa priest named in new rape and abuse lawsuit

St. Anthony Catholic Church in Questa, where several priests who were found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor served.

Two men who were parishioners of Questa’s St. Anthony Church in the late 1960s have named a former priest as a sexual abuser in a lawsuit filed last week, marking another instance of alleged abuse by clergy associated with the beleaguered Catholic Church in New Mexico.

The lawsuit alleges Leo Courcy sexually abused the two boys on an overnight stay at the church rectory in the summer of 1969. One boy was raped and the other molested, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday (May 16) in the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque.

The lawsuit was filed against the Servants of the Paraclete, a largely inactive religious order that was founded in New Mexico in the 1940s, and its private foundation.

Aside from the sexual abuse allegations, the lawsuit also lays blame on the higher-ups of the Servants of the Paraclete for negligently putting known abusers into positions of power in underserved parishes across rural New Mexico.

The Servants ran a facility in Jemez Springs that became known as a dumping ground for sexually abusive priests from other dioceses. The religious order would assign priests to ministerial work as part of a “graduated program of rehabilitation,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that “only four days after Fr. Courcy arrived at the Servants’ Jemez Springs facilities for a second bout of treatment [for sexually abusing a minor, the director of the facility] made and finalized arrangements to send Fr. Courcy to a supply ministry assignment at St. Anthony Parish in Questa.”

In 2017, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe released a list of more than 70 priests, brothers and other members of religious orders who were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors; the list included Courcy. Courcy was also named as an abuser in a lawsuit filed in September 2017 that alleges he abused  another altar boy from the same year.

The lawsuit also claims the Servants did not keep a list of parish assignments for sexually abusive priests, or that it intentionally destroyed such documents when a wave of lawsuits were filed against it and the archdiocese in the 1990s.

The men who allege Courcy abused them aren’t named in the lawsuit, which refers to them as John Doe 127 and John Doe 143. The documents do not indicate if they are still residents of Questa.

The Servants and its foundation had not filed responses to the lawsuit as of press time. According to the archdiocese, Courcy is still living.

Unlike most lawsuits alleging abuse by priests and religious in New Mexico, this one was filed only against the Servant and not the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings that is changing how sexual abuse lawsuits are getting filed in the state.

After decades of lawsuits and millions of dollars in settlements with sexual abuse victims, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in December 2018. Under federal Bankruptcy Code, the debtor – in this case, the archdiocese – comes up with a plan to pay its debts while continuing to operate.

Because of the bankruptcy, any new claims against the archdiocese must be dealt with as part of those proceedings, which have a June 17 cutoff, or “bar date.”

But according to attorney Levi Monagle, who is representing the John Does in the suit filed Thursday, the bankruptcy deadline does not “prevent the filing of lawsuits against other religious organizations like the Servants of the Paraclete, the Sons of the Holy Family, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Basilians, the Congregation of Blessed Sacrament Fathers or any other religious orders who were doing business in our state, and whose agents participated in raping children or protecting the rapists.”

Reference

Servants Of The Paraclete; Part 1: SCANDALS IN THE CHURCH: THE TREATMENT PROGRAM; Abusive Priests Are Varied, but Treatable, Center Found

They came to a peaceful retreat in the mountains of New Mexico, bearing emotional troubles and sexual secrets.

Some had sinned with women; some, with men. Others were depressed or angry or anxious. One monk came for treatment of a foot fetish that drove him to steal socks. A priest from Africa arrived after it was discovered that he had several wives and many children.

But hundreds of the clergymen were sent to the treatment program in Jemez Springs because they had molested minors.

The public debate over the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse by its clergy members has focused on men like John J. Geoghan of Boston, calculating predators who appear beyond the reach of treatment.

But the history of the program at Jemez Springs, which in its 19 years of operation treated more than 500 priests and monks for sexual problems, suggests a more complex view.

In interviews, psychologists and psychiatrists who worked there said few of the clergymen fitted the image often presented in the news media.

For one thing, they said, the vast majority were not pedophiles: most had molested adolescents, not young children. In most cases, the clergymen’s transgressions were driven by confusion, fear, immaturity or impulse, not by cold calculation, the therapists said. Some of the clergymen had themselves been abused as adolescents. Many seemed to know little about human sexuality, and most initially tried to deny or rationalize their experiences, insisting that they had done nothing wrong or that their victims had benefited.

In some cases, said Dr. Robert Goodkind, a psychologist who worked at Jemez Springs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the priests seemed oblivious that the boys they were abusing were minors. In psychotherapy, he said, they would talk as if they themselves were junior high school students, describing how they ”fell in love” or how they felt ”burned” when the boys did not return their affections.

”There was just a real absence of the perspective that this is a 30-year-old man talking about 15-year-old boy,” Dr. Goodkind said.

And while some clergymen — no one knows exactly how many — abused minors again after leaving the program, the therapists said, follow-ups indicated that many more did not. Rather, the men altered their behavior and rebuilt lives either inside the church or out.

The program at Jemez Springs, run by a small Roman Catholic congregation known as the Servants of the Paraclete, represented one of the the church’s earliest, most innovative and ultimately most controversial efforts to deal with sexual abuse among its clergy.

It was started in 1976 by two Paraclete priests, who sought to bring psychotherapy, education in human sexuality, medication and other modern tools to bear on sexual issues in the priesthood. By directly addressing sexuality, the program laid down a path later followed by other treatment centers for priests, like the St. Luke Institute in Maryland and the Institute of Living in Hartford. Experts at those centers said their experience of working with sexual abusers closely paralleled that of the staff at Jemez Springs.

By the mid-1980’s, when the case of a Louisiana priest, the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, brought the problem to public view, the Paracletes had already treated hundreds of clergymen who had molested minors, said Dr. Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatric consultant to the program from 1976 to 1995.

But the church ended the treatment effort in 1995, when the Paracletes became mired in lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests who had been at Jemez Springs in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, before any systematic treatment program existed there. In those earlier days, priests’ sexual problems were addressed primarily through prayer, and some clergymen molested minors while visiting parishes to say Mass. The site, still owned by the Paracletes, now serves as a retreat center and retirement home for clergymen.

The abusers who came to Jemez Springs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the former staff members said, were highly educated and socially skilled and they had more in common with university professors and social workers than incarcerated sex offenders. Few showed sociopathic tendencies, the staff members said, and the extent of their misconduct and the motivations underlying their actions varied greatly.

Still, the therapists said, every priest and monk who came to the program struggled with the challenges posed by their vows of chastity and celibacy.

Dr. Feierman said that in many cases, the clergymen lived double lives, on the one hand repressing ”sinful” thoughts and on the other, acting out sexually.

”They thought they were sinning if they entertained an impure thought,” he said, ”but at the same time they were having sex with boys.”

Priests and monks who came to Jemez Springs for treatment of depression or other emotional ills often found that their distress covered over conflicts about sexuality, Dr. Goodkind said.

”A lot of times people had been dealing with a secret inside them that they thought was quite horrible, and they had been keeping this secret for 10, 15 or 25 years,” the psychologist said. ”And after a while they just got terribly depressed and were not functional any more.”

But for all the sexual problems they saw, the therapists said they only rarely encountered pedophilia, an exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.

Dr. Sarah Brennan, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, said that she treated hundreds of priests and monks in the 10 years she worked at Jemez Springs but that only one was a pedophile. Dr. Feierman, who studied 238 clergymen who were treated for sexual problems at Jemez Springs from 1982 to 1991, said that only a handful had molested young children or teenage girls; more than half, he said, had abused boys 12 to 17. Though his study was accepted in 1991 for publication in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a scientific journal, it never appeared in print. The new director of the treatment program, the Rev. Peter Lechner, asked him to withdraw the manuscript, Dr. Feierman said.

He added that he now kept the paper in a safe deposit box and did not have permission from Father Lechner to discuss the study’s findings in more detail. Reached in St. Louis, where he is now the Paraclete congregation’s leader, Father Lechner confirmed that he had not wanted the report published but said it was because the study was based on the clergymen’s confidential records.

The age of the priests’ victims corresponds to the findings of other studies and to the observations of experts who have treated priests in other settings. It is significant, scientists said, because adults who become sexually involved with adolescents are considered more amenable to treatment than pedophiles. ”There’s a lot better prognosis,” said Dr. Eli Coleman, director of the program in human sexuality University of Minnesota’s Center for Sexual Health. ”It’s much easier to help someone who is attracted to postpubescent children to adapt to attractions to adults.”

Dr. Feirman said that in his view, many of the clergymen who abused older children were fixated on teenagers and were not attracted to adults, male or female. Other former staff members said that the priests they worked with were immature and confused about their sexuality, and their problem was bad judgment and a lack of impulse control rather than sexual fixation. Some priests were trying to ignore or suppress their attraction to adult men and ended up in furtive relationships with teenage boys.

Those relationships often began as fatherly bonds with altar boys or other adolescents who came to the rectory. In some cases, the boys had lost their fathers, and their mothers encouraged them to spend time with the priests and to regard them as role models.

Very few abusive clergymen, Dr. Feierman said, ”just had sexual relationships with the kids.”

”They would pick kids that were needy and needed things both emotionally and financially,” he said. ”They would take them on vacations, buy them clothes, buy them bicycles.”

But in a typical progression, the relationships moved gradually into touching and groping, and in some cases sexual penetration.

Dr. Fred S. Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, said complex relationships were typical between the victims of sexual abuse and their abusers.

”This is not the fox in the chicken coop,” Dr. Berlin said. ”These are often situations in which the adult has genuine affection for the child, and sadly, because they begin to feel tempted in a way that most of us don’t, they give in to temptation.”

Dr. Leslie Lothstein, the director of psychology at the Institute of Living in Hartford, confirmed that, like the men treated at Jemez Springs, most of the priests who came to Hartford after sexually abusing minors had molested older boys.

But Dr. Lothstein said that although some of the men were gay, many others were not. Some were older priests, he said, who, having entered seminary as teenagers, ”were sexually undernourished, didn’t date and never really defined their sexuality.”

Having sex with boys, he said, seemed safer to those priests than having sex with women. Other men were replaying their experience as the victims of abuse by abusing others.

”They’re a very heterogenous group,” Dr. Lothstein said.

It was the realization that clergymen often had difficulty sorting out sexual issues that led two young priests, the Rev. Michael Foley and the Rev. William Perri, to found the Paracletes’ treatment program in 1976.

”We tried to create a forum, both in the spiritual and psychological realm, not where they were acting out the sexuality but where they were talking about it,” Father Foley said.

The priests borrowed the techniques being used by sexual disorder clinics in secular settings, including focused psychotherapy, education in human sexuality, relapse prevention and, for some men, the drug Depo Provera, which reduces sexual drive.

Priests who had molested minors, Dr. Goodkind said, were sent back with the stipulation that they not be returned to unsupervised ministry with minors. They were told to remain in therapy, and follow-up visits were made by the program’s staff.

But ultimately, the decision about what happened to the men after they left Jemez Springs was made by bishops and religious superiors.

No one can say with certainty how many of the men at Jemez Springs committed offenses after leaving the program. Dr. Feierman said he knew of only 2 men who were later arrested for sexual abuse and perhaps 5 to 10 more who had been caught in suspicious circumstances. For example, he said, one priest was later seen sitting in a hot tub in his apartment complex with two teenage boys.

Father Lechner, who became director of the treatment program in 1989, said he conducted an informal study in 1992 of 89 men treated at Jemez Springs. Only one had relapsed, he said.

Still, by the early 1990’s, the number of clergymen arriving at Jemez Springs had begun to dwindle, as lawsuits over priests who had sexually abused minors made headlines in New Mexico and other states.

”The whole program became associated with ‘priest pedophiles,’ ” Father Lechner said. ”We felt that was unfair to the men who were coming there to deal with other issues like depression or anxiety.”

For his part, Father Foley, who founded the program, said he still believed in its mission.

”I believe that a lot can be resolved and healed,” he said.

Still, he worries.

”I run through the papers before I go to work in the morning,” Father Foley said, ”and hope and pray that I’m not going to recognize a name.”

Reference

Gay History: History Of The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, San Francisco, California, 1971-2004

Introduction

The Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club of San Francisco was the first registered Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club in the nation. Forming only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights movement, Alice grew to become a vibrant organization that has made a profound impact on San Francisco, California and American politics. Alice made its impact by training activists over four decades to become political professionals and electing candidates that have fought for the issues that are important to the LGBT community. The club has been instrumental in growing new leaders who would rise to the highest levels of government in the nation, such as Dianne Feinstein, an early friend of the club. Alice has been critical to the fight for LGBT leaders to win office, such as Mark Leno, the first gay man elected to the California State Senate. These leaders have helped make San Francisco the epicenter of the LGBT political movement, advancing causes such as equal benefits, domestic partnership, transgender health care, and marriage equality. Alice continues to be a major player in local, state and national politics and remains an inspiring and effective organization to this day.

1970s-1980s: Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence and Working Together as a Community

Alice B Toklas, 1949 Photo by Carl Van Vechten 

Beginnings of the Club

Back in 1971, it had only been a couple of years since the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot and Stonewall Riots; homosexuality was still registered as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association; the modern Women’s Movement was just forming; President Richard Nixon was playing to his “silent majority”; and the issue of homosexuality was still thought of in the popular consciousness as “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name.” [1] [2] [3]

At this time, ‘gay people’ (including women, men and transgender people who frequently referred to the community in this period as a ‘gay movement’), all faced widespread cultural stigma and the high probability that they could be fired, expelled from families, and subject to violence for simply coming out.[4] To even speak of gayness was taboo. This environment constituted a ‘conspiracy of silence’ where the culture had established rules that any deviation from perceived normalcy related to gender and sex was considered pathological, immoral and criminal. At this time and in this hostile environment, for gay people to sign up publicly for a ‘gay democratic club’ and for politicians to be associated with the issue of homosexuality, was an act of bravery.

Jim Foster founded the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club in December 1971.[5] [6] Foster was a gay rights activist who had been organizing with the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) to elect pro-gay candidates in San Francisco since SIR was formed in 1964.[7] Prior to Alice there had been a few gay and lesbian advocacy groups such as SIR, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society and others, but gay political goals had never been incorporated directly into the platform of a major American political party.[8] [9] In 1971 Foster chartered Alice to initiate gay advocacy within the Democratic Party and started a collaborative relationship that continues to this day. [10]

Why Alice B. Toklas?

Jim Foster organizing a phone bank in the early 1970’s. Photo from Alice Reports Newsletter of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.

Alice B. Toklas was the partner of the famous writer Gertrude Stein.[11] The original 20 members of the Club chose Alice B. Toklas because the name served as a code to protect the confidentiality of members. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – only gay people would know that the “Alice” club referred to gay people.[12]

Alice’s first political Campaign – 1972 McGovern vs. Nixon

Alice and Jim Foster played an important role in the Democratic Party’s selection of George McGovern as the Democratic Party candidate of 1972.[13] Alice endorsed McGovern, opened a ‘McGovern for President’ campaign office, and became a Bay Area political operation for McGovern in one of the Democratic strongholds in the state of California. At a critical point in the campaign, Foster helped implement a midnight signature gathering campaign in San Francisco gay bars in advance of the state primary deadline that helped McGovern be the first candidate to submit the required signatures that morning. This placed McGovern’s name first on the list of candidates on the California ballot.[14] McGovern won California with a 5-point edge over Hubert Humphrey, and ballot placement was considered one of the reasons for his win.[15]

1972 Democratic Convention – First Attempt to put Gay Rights Plank in Democratic Party Platform

After McGovern became the candidate, Foster also represented Alice at the Democratic Party National Convention of 1972, and brought a “Gay Liberation Plank” to the national platform committee.[16] This motion was extremely significant for the Democratic Party because it brought gay rights policy before the national party for the first time ever. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party was not yet ready to adopt gay rights in its platform. Kathy Wilch, a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, gave a divisive speech opposing the Gay Liberation Plank and halted approval of its inclusion in the Democratic Party Platform. This action angered many gay activists, prompting McGovern to send a letter clarifying: “Her views in no way reflect my views on the subject… I have long supported civil rights of all Americans and have in no way altered my commitment to these rights and I have no intention of doing so.”[17]

McGovern didn’t specifically say he supported gay rights, but in referencing the Wilch incident, he included gay rights in the broader context of civil rights, which was a victory. Gay rights had never been recognized as civil rights by a previous national party leader. Alice and Jim Foster’s platform effort thus initiated a national effort to incorporate gay rights within the Democratic Party platform, and this relationship between the gay community and the Democratic Party would continue and grow for decades.

1973 – A club of professional advocates working from the inside

The people who started Alice were experienced in politics, many of them working previously for the Society for Individual Rights. Jim Foster, Jack Hubbs, Steve Swanson and Tere Roderick, the original officers, got the club off to a quick start. The club began raising “Dollars for Democrats”, started a door-to-door canvassing program, and outreached to Democratic Party members, including Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, Supervisor Quentin Kopp, Supervisor Peter Tamaras, Senator Milton Marks, Senator George Moscone, and other elected officials.[18] [19] [20] At that time, Jim Foster built an especially close relationship with one of California’s most successful politicians: Dianne Feinstein. [21]

Cover of the Alice Reports Newsletter, November 1973

Early Political Successes

In 1969, Foster invited Supervisorial candidate Dianne Feinstein to meet with the Society for Individual Rights for her 1970 first race for Supervisor. After Feinstein was elected in 1970, Jim Foster requested that she introduce legislation to add the words “sex and sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. In 1973, Supervisor Feinstein introduced and passed the legislation at Alice’s urging. Following this action, Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, another close ally of Foster’s, appointed Alice member Jo Daly to a television oversight commission, a first for the City, and paving the way for lesbians and gay men to be appointed to public positions in San Francisco in later years.

Police issues

A major concern of the club in the early years was police harassment and substandard conditions in the San Francisco County jail. Gay men and lesbians dealt with police harassment issues with raids on bars and mistreatment by officers of people in the community. The jails were also a highly unsafe environment for gay detainees and the club made it a priority to change conditions in the jails. Jim Foster wrote Mayor Alioto a letter on behalf of the club criticizing him for not doing enough to address the problem of poor jail facilities.[22] In this time, Alice began a long relationship with Sheriff Michael Hennessey who became a friend of the club, often performing as a disc jockey at the clubs annual holiday party. Hennessey worked with the community to institute changes in holding conditions for gay inmates.[23]

Marijuana

Although the concept of “medical marijuana” was not a common political concept in this era, Alice supported efforts to decriminalize the overall possession and cultivation of marijuana.[24]

Cover of the Alice Reports Newsletter, November 1973

The “Big Four”

In November 1973, Alice worked to elect Dianne Feinstein, Jack Morrison, Jeff Masonek and Dorothy von Beroldingen to the Board of Supervisors. It was the first “Alice Slate” of candidates, and became a model for future efforts.

1974-1977 Post Watergate Era – Beginnings of Political Change

With Richard Nixon’s resignation and the wind blowing at the back of Democrats, it was an exciting time. Jo Daly and Jim Foster went to the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York, representing Alice. Despite the excitement about Democrats heading towards a win, Gay people were upset at the removal of the gay rights plank from the Democratic Platform to avoid ‘controversy.’ Gay protesters organized outside of the convention hall while Jo and Jim registered their disappointment to other delegates inside the convention. The ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ suppressing advocacy for gay rights on the national political level continued to be a pervasive stance of the Democratic Party during this era. [25] [26]

After the Democratic Convention, Carter made some efforts to reach out to lesbian and gay constituents through adult media. Playboy Magazine released an interview where Carter made it clear that he would sign a bill to extend equal rights to gay people, and his wife said at the time “I do not think that homosexuals should be harassed.” Carter’s choice of Playboy Magazine as the context for discussing gay rights cloaked gay rights in an adult context, and reinforced the idea that gayness is strictly about sex, but Carter’s outreach was an important start for a Democratic Party that was still finding its way on the issue of gay rights. It was the first time a Presidential candidate specifically committed to support gay rights legislation and this began to break the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding the issue.[27] [28]

A young Willie Brown who would become Speaker of the California Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco

Huge Victory in California – Decriminalizing Homosexuality

One of the important victories for gay rights during the post Watergate era, was Willie Brown’s passage of “consensual sex legislation”, Assembly Bill 489. The 1975 bill removed California’s anti-sodomy laws that criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Sodomy laws had long been used in states around the nation to criminalize homosexuality.[29]While the laws had been used in practice sporadically, the practical impact was to silence lesbians and gay men about their sexuality. If someone came out about being gay and having a partner, sodomy laws made it that this person was in effect admitting to being a criminal. Since the formation of Alice, the organization had been working closely with Willie Brown to remove California’s sodomy law. Passage of this legislation marked an important step in protecting the civil rights of gay people and an important legislative victory for Alice.

Alice in 1977

With the election of President Carter, the passage of Willie Brown’s consensual sex acts legislation, and the election of Alice’s slate of candidates, Alice became better known to the community. With all of this success, more people wanted to get involved in politics and the Alice B. Toklas Club. An election was held in 1977 for Club President, and membership grew significantly. 107 members showed up to vote for the elections and 26 members were elected as officers to the club. With these elections, Alice’s moderate, professional insider style became a sore point for many in the community who felt the club didn’t speak for them at that time.

January 1978 Edition of the “Gay Vote Newsletter” of the “Gay Democratic Club” (later known as the “Harvey Milk Democratic Club”) when Harvey Milk was sworn into office

1977-1978 – the Moscone / Milk Period

Social change brings about the most raw of human emotions and Harvey Milk’srise to power awakened the city, bringing about new possibilities, and unfortunately new hostilities that had not been experienced in the past.

After two unsuccessful bids for Supervisor in 1973 and 1975, Harvey Milk was elected Supervisor after a new system of district elections was established in 1977. Known as the “Mayor of Castro Street”, Harvey was the first openly gay man elected to the Board of Supervisors, and he won as a grassroots candidate without the support of Alice. Members of Alice believed Harvey was too left in his politics to win, so the Club backed another gay candidate, Rick Stokes. But Harvey did win the election and made history, leaving Alice to consider its decision. One important historic aspect of Milk’s win was the recognition that grassroots politics could be successful. Alice members believed that politics was an ‘insider’ game, and that outsiders couldn’t make it into positions of power. Milk’s win disproved this and set about a rethinking of San Francisco politics for years to come.

Because Alice did not support Harvey, his supporters formed the “Gay Democratic Club” which eventually became the Harvey Milk Democratic Club after Harvey was assassinated. The ‘Milk Club’ ultimately became the left-leaning voice in LGBT politics for the city, while Alice became positioned as the ‘moderate’ voice in LGBT politics. A third club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, formed in Los Angeles and established chapters all over the country, with a San Francisco chapter established for much of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This club also became quite influential in San Francisco politics for some time, especially under the leadership of Gary Parker. With Stonewall and Milk, San Francisco now had three clubs for gay activists to choose from, whereas Alice had been the only game in town just a few years before. [30] [31] [32] [33] [34]

In 1977, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were newly elected, the Alice B. Toklas Club met with Mayor Moscone. At this meeting he made commitments to Alice members about many issues:[35] [36]

1977 Community Issues:

Police Commission: The Mayor agreed to appoint a gay person to the city Police Commission. He also praised the Toklas club for its resolution in support of Police Chief Charles Gain, a liberal police chief he appointed.

  • Community Center: Moscone supported city funding for the development of a Gay Community Center, explaining that the Center at 330 Grove was in a building that was to be torn down for construction of the Performing Arts Center. He promised funds would be made available.
  • Mayor’s Open Door: The Mayor established himself as a gay political ally, encouraging activists to work with Supervisor Harvey Milk to advance pro-gay legislation for him to sign. He also announced he had out gay people on his staff that would work with the community on community goals.
  • Pride Funding: He said he favored city funding of the annual Gay Freedom Day Parade from the city hotel tax, a long-time goal of the community.
    Unity: Moscone urged Alice members to put aside their feelings that were evident from the campaign about Harvey Milk and to unite behind the winner for progress that could benefit the gay community. 

Political Action and Progress

1978 was a year of clashes between the newly active “religious right” and the “feminist left.” Five years after the Supreme Court made it’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade, the religious right began to organize all over the country, linking feminism and gay rights as shared targets in their cultural war. Jerry Falwell created his “Moral Majority”[37] and Anita Bryant waged a Save our Children campaign in Florida, while in California, State Senator Briggs jumped into the act by placing his Measure 6 on the ballot to ban gay people from teaching. The “No on 6 Campaign” backfired on Briggs and turned out to be a huge success story for LGBT Californians. Briggs lost his initiative after Alice and other LGBT organizations rallied together across the state. The campaign became a context for training young activists and supported networking among LGBT organizations. The conservative loss temporarily slowed the religious right’s crusade against gays. Progress was made on other fronts that year as well. The American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies in 1978, which was a crucial step in helping American culture to shift its attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. [38] [39] [40] [41]

Violence and Turmoil

While some progress was made in 1978, ultimately the year will be remembered most for its great tragedies. On November 27th, 1978, Supervisor Dan White climbed through an open window of City Hall and gunned down Supervisor Harvey Milk as well as Mayor George Moscone. It was a day when everyone grieved and the assassination changed San Francisco forever.

Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone just days after the Mayor signed into law Milk’s Gay Rights Ordinance that White opposed. The LGBT Community held a massive, peaceful candle light vigil in Harvey’s memory following news of the murders. Later that year, White was brought to trial outside of San Francisco, and a suburban jury found him guilty of “voluntary manslaughter” and gave White 7 years in prison, a sentence widely criticized as too lenient. The jury supported the verdict on the grounds that he had eaten too many Twinkies and his blood sugar was so high, that he snapped and went temporarily insane. This infamous “Twinkie” defense sparked outrage within the LGBT community, for justice had not been done. Following the verdict, the “White Night Riots” broke out in San Francisco, and over 160 people ended up in the hospital. The riots directed anger at the SFPD, as Dan White had been a former police officer, and a string of police related incidents occurring around the time of the verdict led to an environment of tension between the community and the police. (For more about the Police and LGBT community tensions at that time, Uncle Donald’s Castro Street history has some interesting information: http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html )

Amidst all of this turmoil, the leadership of Alice was torn about how to respond. Club President Steve Walters remarked:

“It’s been almost two weeks since the infamous Dan White non-verdict, and I’ve read and heard an infinity of comments and reactions about the trial, and events that night at City Hall. I remain conflicted, torn between my dislike of violence and my rage at the injustice of the jury’s decision. Harsh critics have emerged, focusing on the violence of that night, but ignoring the events that led up to it: the murders of George and Harvey, increased physical attacks against gay men and women, the infamous Pegs Place affair, and the equally infamous police investigative whitewashing, removal from the Dan White jury of a man solely because he was gay, and finally, the ultimate immorality and insult of the jury’s decision.”[42]

As Walters mentioned, a string of issues had been creating tension between the community and the SFPD. The Pegs Place incident involved officers entering a lesbian establishment and assaulting women patrons with little action taken afterwards by the SFPD to respond to the incident. Walters and other members of the community charged that the SFPD had ‘whitewashed’ the facts of the Dan White case to protect one of their former officers. With anger mounting over all of these police issues, Alice became even more intensely focused on the issue of police misconduct, writing letters to the Mayor and requesting action to address the situation. [43] [44] [45]

Jo Daly, an early President of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club, who was Mayor Feinstein’s appointment to the San Francisco Television Oversight Task Force, and later the San Francisco Police Commission, the first openly gay or lesbian appointment to a City commission in San Francisco.

The Early 80’s – Growing Pains, Separatism, and Different Agendas.

Lesbians and gay men shared some common political goals in the early 80’s (such as supporting Senator Art Agnos’s Assembly Bill 1, banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians), but issues such as economic justice for women and gay men’s sexual revolution came to be viewed at times as conflicting sets of priorities. When members of the community were appointed to positions of power, people began to raise questions such as “Can gay men in power truly speak for lesbians?” or “Are lesbians truly sensitive to the issues of importance to gay men?”

Former Alice Co-Chair Jo Daly was the first member of the lesbian and gay community to be appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission, but Alice member Bruce Petit wrote a letter to the club raising concerns about her appointment that echoed many of the divisions of the time. [1] He said:

“Feinstein fulfilled her major campaign pledge to the Gay community by appointing one of their own to the five-member body that directs the police department. But some activist elements faulted Daly as short on progressive credentials, too close of an ally to the Mayor, and unable to represent Gay men—who are said to have more problems with the police than lesbians”

Bruce Petit continued his letter, quoting lesbian Police Commissioner Jo Daly as saying:

“Women make 53 cents for every dollar men make. Two white gay men putting their incomes together are better off than anybody else in society. For Gay activist males to make their major concentration maintaining glory holes—when La Casa, the only home in the county where battered women and children can go, is going out of business because there is no money—that leaves us angry!” [2]

The tension between lesbians and gay men in this period was heated, and some of the accusations on both sides now seem unfair. The conflicts were perhaps especially acrimonious in Alice because male leadership had up to that point dominated the club. But despite the divisions that erupted at this time, there were also important unique perspectives that were affirmed out of that discourse. The community began to affirm that women have a truly unique perspective from men, and people of both genders have unique contributions to make. “Gay” was no longer used as an umbrella term for the community – “gay” became a word largely designated for men, and “lesbian” became an important, distinctive term of choice for women. [3]

Barbara Boxer and Carole Migden early in their careers. Photo from Alice Reports Newsletter

Women in Leadership Positions

One of the most significant areas of progress for the community in the early 80’s was the rise of women to leadership positions, beginning the careers of some women who would go on to the highest offices in the nation. Barbara Boxer was elected to congress with outspoken support for LGBT issues as a central part of her campaign message.[4]

Carole Migden became the President of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and ran for Community College Board, laying the groundwork for her later Board of Supervisors, Assembly and State Senate races.

Because of the male dominance of gay democratic clubs in the early years, lesbians worked outside of the Democratic Club system to become politically active in their own right. After Harvey Milk was assassinated and Harry Britt was appointed as his replacement on the Board of Supervisors, there was a feeling among many women that a woman should have been appointed to support gender balanced leadership. Out of the frustration of many women at being held out of political office, a group of politically active women formed the Lesbian Agenda for Action. Women like Roma Guy, Pat Norman, Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Carole Migden began to work outside the democratic club establishment in this organization as a way to assert power outside of a system that was heavily dominated by men. Out of this activism, Carole Migden eventually became the chair of the Democratic Party bringing gay staff with her. Roger Sanders, her staffer, computerized the Democratic Party system and helped her modernize the Democratic Party’s voter turnout process. [5] [6] [7]

District Elections:

After the Milk/Moscone assassinations, San Francisco moved back to citywide elections for supervisorial races. It was believed by some that district elections were a large part of the divisiveness that led to Milk’s assassination. Others felt that district elections were crucial to representing San Francisco’s diversity. Alice membership overwhelmingly supported the concept of district elections in 1980, with 200 members voting to support district elections and only two members dissenting.

1980 Democratic National Platform:

Alice worked very closely with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club in 1980 to successfully lobby Jimmy Carter (with the help of Mayor Feinstein) to include a gay plank in the Democratic Platform. [8][9] The convention that year had a record 71 openly lesbian and gay delegates, with 17 coming from California. Alice Delegates included Harry Britt, Gwenn Craig, Jim Foster, Bill Kraus and Anne Kronenberg (one of Harvey Milk’s Aides). [10][11] Mike Thistle went on behalf of the Milk Club and Alice member Larry Eppinette attended as a Carter delegate. Alice also sent many non-gay delegates including Kevin Shelley, among others.[12]

Fighting Police Entrapment:

Law enforcement issues continued to be a major issue of concern for Alice, as Senator John Foran authored SB 1216 to legalize police entrapment and require that a defendant prove he/she is of ‘good character’, not predisposed to commit a crime, if loitering.[13][14]

Advertisement in the Alice Reports newsletter for Tom Ammiano in his first campaign for School Board. Ammiano would later become a San Francisco Supervisor and Assemblyman.

Gay Men campaigning for office:

John Newmeyer became California’s first openly gay man to run for congress in the 2nd District, and Alice endorsed his unsuccessful, but historic first bid.[15] TomAmmiano ran for School Board for the first time in 1980, starting a long career in San Francisco politics, and Alice endorsed Tom in his first race. [16] Harry Britt was also appointed by Dianne Feinstein to replace Harvey Milk in office. This appointment was a source of contention for some in the community as many women felt that Ann Kronenberg, Harvey Milk’s legislative aide, should have been appointed to office to support gender balance. Britt continued to serve on the Board in the 1980’s focusing particularly on tenant’s rights issues.

Alice comes out officially as a “Gay Democratic Club” under Club President Connie O’Conner

During the early eighties Connie O’Conner was elected President of Alice and ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee. Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner all won as Alice’s candidates in 1980. Connie also successfully made a motion to change the name of the club to the “Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club.” This was very controversial at the time and many longtime Alice members such as Jim Foster and Robert Barnes argued that straight club members might feel alienated if the club was explicitly identified as a “gay democratic club”. Alice voted to change its name and move towards greater openness, while straight San Francisco allies continue to this day to sign up to be a part of Alice.

Alice wins seats on the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee

In 1980 Under the leadership of club President Connie O’Conner, Alice ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee and Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner won seats on the committee. Previously only Milk club members like Ron Huberman and Gwen Craig represented the LGBT community on this committee.

Mayor Feinstein Recall Fight

In 1983, a heated battle ensued over attempts to recall Mayor Feinstein, with recall supporters citing her veto of domestic partners legislation and her support of landlords over tenants. Anti-recall supporters cited Feinstein’s longtime support for gay legislation and her willingness to put funds towards helping people with KS and AIDS at the very beginning of the epidemic. Alice voted 137 to 73 to oppose the recall effort and became very active in fighting the recall. Afterward, Feinstein was very grateful to Alice and instituted regular meetings with the club to keep in communication with the community about issues.[17][18][19][20]

HIV and AIDS – The Total Focus of the Mid 1980’s and Early 90’s

The fight over the Feinstein recall was one of the last divisive fights between left and moderate LGBT democrats for a while, as the energy and focus had to go 100% to saving lives. San Francisco was hit especially hard by the AIDS epidemic and some of our brightest people in the community were lost. With them went much knowledge and skill that could be shared and passed down in the community. Many died early in the epidemic, such as the Founder of Alice, Jim Foster and former Alice President Robert Cramer who passed away just a few years before protease inhibitors were introduced.[21] Many continued to die after 1994, and this had enormous impact on the community. Tony Leone, a longtime member of Alice, and a dedicated activist for gay rights, passed away in 1999. Dick Pabich, the legislative aide to Harvey Milk who went on to become a campaign consultant to Carole Migden passed away in 2000.[22] Many friends in politics of these brilliant, dedicated people wondered how they could continue without their guidance and years of experience. A whole generation of knowledge was lost.

Alice jumped into the fight against AIDS early, as friends were dying, and the Federal Government was being completely unresponsive. Bay Area representatives Phil Burton and Barbara Boxer worked tirelessly to get federal support, while President Reagan still refused to even mention the word AIDS. It was a battle to get government to pay attention about something that was killing our community. As a result of this, a new slogan became popular among activists after the formation of ACT UP in 1987: “Silence Equals Death”. Activism against AIDS would increasingly be shaped as a direct battle between those who perpetuated the Conspiracy of Silence, and those who recognized that silence could kill them. [23][24][25][26][27]

Sal Rosselli (center, dark hair mustache), who would later become the President of the National Union of Healthcare Workers

The 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco

In 1984 the Democratic Convention was held in San Francisco three years after the initial discovery of HIV/AIDS and long before effective treatments were available. Alice representatives Sal Rosselli and Connie O’Conner were both elected as openly gay Gary Hart delegates to the Convention, and they watched Jesse Jackson speak to the convention floor after his first historic run for President. (Four years later Jackson would make his Rainbow Coalition Speech at the 1988 Convention where he famously included “gay Americans” as part of the Rainbow Coalition). Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis both lost their elections, but progress continued for the gay and lesbian community as the national Democratic Party began to publicly include the community as part of their public agenda.[28][29][30]

Despite progress on some fronts, the fight against AIDS continued to be enormous and at sometimes overwhelming for the members of Alice. Club President Sal Rosselli wrote in the January 1985 edition of Alice Reports:[31][32]

“While talking to friends over the Holidays, I often heard this statement characterizing 1984: Too intense, too much work; here’s to a relaxing 1985. Thanks to our active membership of almost 600, Alice has accomplished a great deal during the last year… Of course there is still so much to be done; but let us be proud and grateful for all we have accomplished. The year ahead looks like it may be less hectic and may afford us… more time to organize from within and focus on our primary agenda. That primary focus must be developing national, statewide and local plans to combat AIDS.”

By 1985, as can be seen in this statement, Alice was challenged by the fight against AIDS. After a depressing election loss against Ronald Reagan, and continuing struggles to save friends with few treatments available, these were difficult times. Alice’s primary focus would continue to be fighting AIDS until the partial success of halting the virus came with protease inhibitors in the mid ‘90’s, which allowed for a broadening of the political agenda.

A young Robert Barnes getting his start in politics. He would later become one of the most influential political consultants in San Francisco.

The Larouche Initiative:

Alice and AIDS activists did not get a reprieve after 1985 – things got worse before they got better. In 1986, Lyndon Larouche capitalized on AIDS-phobia and placed his infamous Proposition 64 on the ballot to quarantine people with AIDS, using the clearly faulty logic that AIDS could be spread by mosquitoes. Even in the early stages of the virus, it was obvious that mosquitoes could not spread the disease; otherwise it would not have disproportionately impacted specific groups. Fortunately, California voters struck down the initiative, once again sending a message to the radical right that measures like the Briggs and Larouche Initiatives would not be supported in California. Alice worked very hard to defeat the Larouche Initiative, contributing to the opposition’s success.[33]

Alice Pickets KQED over PBS Frontline Special on AIDS

In 1986 Alice became very involved in the fight against media defamation of people with AIDS under the leadership of Club President Roberto Esteves. San Francisco’s local television station KQED ran a PBS Frontline news story on a man with AIDS named Fabian Bridges who they presented as a ‘typhoid mary’. The reporters described Bridges as an HIV positive homosexual who had six partners a night and refused to stop having sex, regardless of his HIV status. The reporters didn’t mention that Bridges continued to have sex because he was in financial dire straights and he was a prostitute. The reporters also failed to mention that they paid Bridges to set up their exploitative interview. Alice joined with the Milk Club to protest the KQED Bay Area showing of this story to fight the media stereotype of presenting people with AIDS as predators.[34] After this protest, KQED responded by appointing its first openly gay member to their community advisory board. This effort was one of the early efforts to fight media defamation of gays happening right after the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1985.[35]

1986 Alice’s endorsement critical in Jackie Speier winning Assembly Race 

One of the Bay Area’s most prominent leaders, Jackie Speier, became first known to many as an aide to Congressman Leo Ryan who was assassinated in the Jonestown massacre. Speier was in Guyana during the Jonestown Massacre and while attempting to shield herself from rifle and shotgun fire behind small airplane wheel, Speier was shot five times and waited 22 hours before help arrived. Speier survived and returned home from the incident going on to serve as a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. In 1986 she ran for an open seat on the California State Assembly against Mike Nevin. Nevin had secured the endorsement of the Burton/Brown San Francisco political establishment, as well as the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, but Alice was Speier’s first club endorsement, and fighting against tough odds, she wound up winning. Alice’s support proved critical as Speier won the race by only a few hundred votes. Speier went on to serve as a member of Congress representing nearly half of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and the Peninsula. Alice member Ron Braithwaite organized support for Speier in her first race for Assembly and for many years Speier marched in the LGBT Pride Parade with Alice and always considered Alice to be ‘her club’. [36][37]

1987 Art Agnos wins race for Mayor

Alice shocked many in 1987 with its decision to make no endorsement in the race for Mayor between liberal Assemblyman Art Agnos and centrist Supervisor John Molinari. Molinari had been the favorite of Alice for some time and it was assumed by many that Alice would endorse him, but Agnos had many supporters who were able to block an endorsement of Molinari on a 275 to 206 vote.[38]

1990s-2000s: An Organized Constituency Finds its Power

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Alice and the LGBT Community of San Francisco made enormous progress in challenging the conspiracy of silence that had prevailed in earlier decades. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the LGBT Community started winning larger numbers of local electoral victories in San Francisco. It was no longer enough for the movement to rely upon straight allies (although Alice’s straight allies would continue to be crucial and would rise to prominence at all levels of government); but LGBT people would finally begin to win office in San Francisco in significant numbers, and would be appointed to various City commissions and departments holding offices in policy areas as diverse as Law Enforcement, Human Rights, Transportation, Education and Health. With this expansion of ‘out’ LGBT local representation and influence, Alice supported candidates began passing legislation that would implement changes for LGBT civil rights, not only in San Francisco, but far beyond the City limits.The 1990 “Lavender Sweep”

While San Francisco was confronting AIDS, there was an urgent sense that LGBT people needed to be in positions of power. It was not enough anymore to have friends of our community supporting us. We needed a place at the table. 1990 saw the culmination of two decades of political work by Alice and the Milk Club to bring our community to the table. All the hard work had finally come to success when the two clubs worked together in the historic 1990 Lavender Sweep (the first of two sweeps, the second being in 1994).

The 1990 sweep successfully pushed several candidates over the top to become elected leaders. Lesbian Donna Hitchens won citywide as Superior Court Judge. Lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg won races to join the Board of Supervisors, and Tom Ammiano became the first gay man elected to the San Francisco School Board. Years of work had paid off for all the candidates who had been trying to get into office, and work by Alice was crucial to these victories.[1][2]

Jim Rivaldo, Harvey Milk’s campaign consultant and worked as a political and graphics design consultant for both the Alice and Milk Clubs in the following decades

Alice Involvement in the Lavender Sweeps and broader community work:

Campaigns are not won by leaders simply rising to power. It takes incredible work and commitment of people in the community to make a difference. It takes fundraising. It takes strategy. It takes coalition building. It takes development of successful messages and professional campaign materials. It takes enlisting support, one endorsement at a time. And it takes courage to stand by your vision even in the face of opposition. That’s exactly what Alice and the community did to create the 1990 and 1994 landmark elections. There are countless heroes in these efforts that deserve to be recognized, and a few of these are Dick Pabich, Jim Hormel and Mark Leno who raised money for numerous community efforts throughout these years. Jim Hormel not only supported LGBT candidates, but also raised enormous sums for the new Public Library’s Hormel Center for LGBT research. Mark Leno became a lead fundraiser and strategist for building the new LGBT Community Center] and one of Carole Migden’s top fundraisers. Dick Pabich not only helped Carole Migden raise funds to get into office, but he became a chief fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, paving the way for one of our nation’s most outspoken national advocates for LGBT rights in the United States Senate. Robert Barnes and campaign consultant Jim Rivaldo were instrumental in establishing a professional campaign operation for LGBT advocacy. Barnes became a key advisor to LGBT leaders and Rivaldo became a lead graphics designer for slate cards, billboards, and countless materials done pro-bono for LGBT causes during this time. Carole Cullum at the law firm of Cullum and Sena also provided crucial legal advice to LGBT campaigns while long time LGBT activists Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Denny Edelman gave non-stop volunteer work on behalf of community causes throughout these years as well. There were so many others, but this gives a small sense of the broad coalition of work that was being done to lay the foundation for LGBT political power and LGBT social services in San Francisco.[3][4][5]

Carole Cullum and Kathy Brehm. Carole, as Alice co-chair, helped the SF Women’s Building in a political fight to remove a bar from its premise and make it a safe space for all women using the facility.

National Repercussions of the 1990 Lavender Sweep

The Lavender sweep had national repercussions as it became a precursor to LGBT campaign organizing prior to the 1992 presidential election, and established the San Francisco lesbian and gay community as a base of power that could help win local, state and national elections in the future.

1992 “The Year of the Woman”

In 1992 California made history by sending Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate and the LGBT community played a key role in that success. Political pundits billed 1992 as “The Year of the Woman because women candidates made successful efforts to break into the male dominated US Senate, which had only 2 female members in office at that time. Feinstein’s campaign used the slogan ‘2% is good for milk but not for equality’ in the US Senate. Senator Barbara Boxer won the election for US Senator in 1992 against radio commentator Bruce Herschensohn by 5% of the vote with the crucial assistance of the LGBT community. Her openly gay political consultant and fundraiser Dick Pabich was a key strategist for the Boxer campaign. Pabich adopted a strategy for Boxer to explicitly build a California majority of women, gay men and minority constituencies. Alice helped boost turnout in San Francisco to provide the margin of difference in that campaign.[6]

Button from Clinton’s 1992 Election campaign “Clinton: The Cure for the Blues”

Bill Clinton becomes President

That year Alice became an important player in Democratic Presidential politics as well. Robert Barnes, chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club had this to say about the approaching presidential election in the May 1992 edition of Alice Reports:

“Alice demonstrated its Democratic Party savvy in putting together a winning slate of delegates for the Clinton Presidential Caucus. Alice is the first major Democratic Club, and thus far the only Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, to endorse Bill Clinton for President… With Alice’s support, lesbian Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg was the caucus’ top female vote getter.”

As an early endorser of Bill Clinton, Alice established itself as a “Friend of Bill’s” before other Democratic Clubs had gotten in the act, and Alice helped propel Roberta Achtenberg into the limelight of the Democratic Convention, supporting her eventual selection as Housing Undersecretary.

At the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton was outspoken in his support of the LGBT Community, breaking the ‘conspiracy of silence’ that had long dominated national discussions of gay issues, even among Democratic politics. At the 1992 Democratic Convention, Clinton specifically talked about “gay people”, [43 minutes into speech], whereas in the past, democratic presidential contenders such as George McGovern and Jimmy Carter had said they supported “Civil Rights” when referring to LGBT people, but not actually identifying directly with our community at the Democratic Conventions. Clinton went on to appoint Roberta Achtenberg as Undersecretary of Housing, prompting archconservative Jesse Helms to famously refer to her as “that damn lesbian!” Clinton also appointed Democratic fundraiser and gay philanthropist Jim Hormel to be a U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.[7][8][9]

John Laird

Alice supports Mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz in his 1993 run for Assembly:

In September, 1993, many Alice members volunteered in the campaign to elect openly gay mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz to the State Assembly, as was reported by co-chair Mathew Rothschild in the Sept. 1993 edition of Alice Reports. Nearly a decade later, John joined Mark Leno as the first two gay men to be elected to the Assembly in 2002.[10]

Susan Leal Replaces Roberta Achtenberg on the Board of Supervisors.

Susan Leal was appointed June 7th, 1993 by Mayor Frank Jordan to serve on the Board of Supervisors succeeding Roberta Achtenberg. Susan joined Alice in endorsing Willie Brown in 1995 and began a strong relationship with the club, building towards her run for mayor, which Alice endorsed, in 2003. As a Latina lesbian, she continued the tradition of broadening San Francisco’s LGBT leadership diversity. [11][12]

The 1994 “Lavender Sweep”

In 1994 San Francisco had a second “Lavender Sweep” with openly gay candidates Susan Leal, Carole Migden and Tom Ammiano being elected to the Board of Supervisors, and Leslie Katz and Lawrence Wong winning election to the Community College Board. Alice was instrumental in the fight, working in coalition with the Milk Club. Susan Leal went on to Chair the powerful Finance Committee on the Board of Supervisors, ensuring that much needed funds would be directed towards HIV and AIDS services. With the 1994 Lavender Sweep, Alice and the LGBT Community demonstrated a firmly established base of power in San Francisco. The community that previously needed district elections to win a single elected office was now a major power broker sweeping several candidates into numerous offices for a second time. San Francisco’s political establishment would from this point forward be walking in close step with the LGBT community and its political goals.[13][14]

Willie Brown Elected Mayor:

With newly imposed term limits, longtime community ally Assemblyman Willie Brown was forced out of office and ran for Mayor in 1995. A major power broker for the state, it was believed that he could beat conservative Mayor Frank Jordan and bring unity to a deeply divided city. Prior to his campaign, Willie Brown met with Carole Migden, Alice Chair Mathew Rothschild, Milk Club Chair Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and other LGBT community members to plan his run for Mayor. In the past, the lesbian and gay community had been on the ‘outside’ in brokering power for the city, but with the Lavender Sweep, lesbian and gay leaders were now recognized as a strong political force in San Francisco and Speaker Brown formed a direct alliance with the community in his race for Mayor. Brown won the election and went on to appoint more LGBT people to lead city departments and commissions than ever before in the city’s history. He also signed the Equal Benefits Ordinance to require businesses that contract with the city to provide equal benefits to domestic partners that are offered to married couples.[15][16][17][18]

Carole Migden replaces Willie Brown in the Assembly:

Willie Brown, the legendary “Ayatollah of the Assembly” who represented San Francisco and the Democratic Party incredibly well for decades, including early support for LGBT rights through his consensual sex laws, stepped down due to newly imposed term limits and Carole Migden replaced him. Alice’s longstanding relationship with Willie Brown and Carole Migden helped position Migden to become the second LGBT person ever sent to the California State Legislature. Carole won election to the seat later in 1998.

Labor Organizing – Training for Alice Members

Jack Gribbon was a labor organizer who trained Alice members how to organize during the Willie Brown Campaign for Mayor. A waiter who organized thousands of hospitality workers in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2 (H.E.R.E), Jack ran Willie Brown’s 1995 field campaign and enlisted Alice members to spend months before the Mayoral election tirelessly calling voter lists, identifying Brown supporters and walking precincts to turn voters out on Election Day. Jack originally got involved with Alice during the Domestic Partnership campaigns of the 1980’s, and his training became a model that worked. Alice member Fran Kipnis, for instance, turned out 99% of her own precinct in 1992, the same year that Barbara Boxer won her U.S. Senate race by 5%. Alice would sign up precinct captains, identify voters and track down if they were voting by mail or voting on Election Day, and would work relentlessly on Election Day until the polls closed, taking nothing for granted until the fight was over. Gribbon’s approach continues to be the model the club uses to this day, and LGBT areas of San Francisco such as the Castro District are known to be some of the highest turnout districts in the city every Election Day.

Leslie Katz Elected to the Board of Supervisors:

In 1996 Leslie Katz was elected to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed by Mayor Brown earlier that year. Alice worked tirelessly on Supervisor Katz’s campaign, as Leslie had been a longstanding member of the club who had already shown her strong leadership capabilities over many years. One of her staff, Geoff Kors, would go on to become the Executive Director for Equality California.[1][2]

Tom Radulovich elected to BART Board:

Tom Radulovich was elected to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors in November 1996 representing the 9th District in San Francisco.[3] An Alice supported candidate over the years and gay official, Tom later made a run for the Board of Supervisors. He has served on the BART Board for a decade while working tirelessly on housing and transit issues, taking a strong leadership role in groups like the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) and the Housing Action Coalition (HAC).

The Equal Benefits Ordinance: San Francisco Flexes its Muscles.

In 1996, San Francisco enacted an ordinance that had a broad impact on the entire nation, and Alice supported leaders were instrumental to passing this legislation. Supervisor Leslie Katz, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Supervisor Susan Leal, and Mayor Willie Brown together championed San Francisco’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance to require that businesses that contract with the City of San Francisco must provide equal benefits to domestic partners that they give to married partners. This law swept the nation in its impact, paving the way for hundreds of businesses to adopt domestic partnership benefits. Some businesses like United Airlines initially fought the ordinance but San Francisco leaders stood firm in demanding equality and the City prevailed. The ordinance became a model for similar laws passed throughout the nation, and the model for Christine Kehoe’s California Assembly Bill 17, signed by Governor Davis, to require businesses which contract with the state of California to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. This is one clear example where a San Francisco ordinance passed by Alice supported legislators managed to change not only the City of San Francisco, but also California and the nation.[4][5][6][7][8]

San Francisco Treasurer Susan Leal

Susan Leal Becomes San Francisco City Treasurer:

In 1998 Susan Leal was appointed to become the City Treasurer, where she managed the City’s $3 billion portfolio. Her investment policies and decisions produced a greater return during her period of service than any major county in the state. In 2001 Susan was elected Treasurer for another term with 87% of the vote, due to her reputation as a strong, effective manager of the city’s finances. Alice endorsed Susan’s candidacy and campaigned hard for her victory.

Domestic Partnership: New laws enacted for California.

Alice strongly supported Carole Migden as she went to the Assembly and introduced AB 26, which created a registry for Domestic Partnership and gave Domestic Partners many of the same rights (such as hospital visitation rights) that married couples enjoy. Later, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg would introduce AB 205, an extensive set of rights and responsibilities for domestic partners that almost mirrored marriage, building on Carole’s earlier work.[9][10]

Al Gore and Mark Leno

Mark Leno Elected to the Board of Supervisors

In 1998 candidate Mark Leno won election to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed earlier that year. Leno had spent years prior to his time on the Board of Supervisors working as a lead organizer and fundraiser for the LGBT Center. He was a key player in getting the Center built. Leno was also a longstanding member of Alice before his rise to office. As a Supervisor, Leno led the effort to create a transitional housing facility designed specifically to address the needs of LGBT homeless youth as well as passing the City’s first Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to mandate that developers construct a percentage of affordable housing as they develop in a city with skyrocketing housing costs.[11]

Proposition 22 – The Knight Initiative:

In 2000, California voters were subjected to a divisive ballot measure that was designed to turn back the clock on LGBT rights – Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative. The measure was written to clarify that out-of-state marriages could not impact California marriage law regarding same sex couples. Voters passed the measure, despite the vigorous efforts of Alice and our LGBT leaders. Mark Leno (who would later introduce AB 849, the Marriage Equality Bill) worked especially hard to stop the initiative, traveling as a statewide campaign spokesman against the measure. Alice worked tirelessly to stop the Knight Initiative, and continues to be part of marriage equality organizing.[12]

Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes deserves special mention because of his work on behalf of Alice, his commitment to LGBT rights, his work at the California Democratic Party, and his often-controversial approach to politics that dominated Alice for much of the late ‘90’s. He was an Alice Co-Chair who became a close advisor to many of San Francisco’s most successful politicians. Carole Migden, Mark Leno, Willie Brown, Dennis Herrera, Leslie Katz, Susan Leal, Tom Radulovich, Natalie Berg, Mabel Teng, Donna Hitchens, Kevin McCarthy, School Board members Dan Kelly, Juanita Owens, Lawrence Wong, and many other San Francisco officials worked closely with Robert Barnes at various points in their careers. [13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]

He grew up in San Francisco in a working class family closely connected to politics. His father was a machinist and labor activist and in 1977 ran for District Supervisor against Dan White. Robert got into politics himself running for the BART Board and the Board of Education, but after losing these races, (one of them being to Tom Ammiano in his race for the Board of Education) Robert got involved in politics behind the scenes. He was particularly involved in Democratic Party activities and was the Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Gay Caucus for many years.

San Francisco has some of the most colorful, bombastic, and sometimes brilliant people in politics. Robert was one of them. He had an incredible sense of humor and got away with controversial jokes that most professionals would never dream of trying. He could say things that were unthinkable, throwing insiders out of their comfort zone, then warming them back up with charm, and closing the deal with masterful delivery. He was an extremely funny person in a somewhat bland professional scene. Robert Barnes, Chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club and Prominent Democratic Party Activist, died on August 9th, 2002 of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, just months before his candidate, Mark Leno, became the first gay man elected to the California State Assembly.

November 1998 Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club slate card produced by political consultant Robert Barnes, with graphics designed by Jim Rivaldo

Robert’s work in the Alice B. Toklas Club:

For several years the Alice B. Toklas Club had been struggling during the AIDS epidemic, as members became focused on saving lives and had little time or energy to spare on Democratic politics. People were exhausted. During this vacuum of leadership at Alice, Robert Barnes almost single-handedly resurrected the club to continue political work.[21][22]

While Robert took on leadership at Alice, he simultaneously developed a business in political consulting specializing in slate mail. The period where Robert took the lead at Alice was controversial because many of the political goals of the club seemed to be designed by Robert with his business clients in mind. Many people in the community felt that Robert was serving his own goals at the expense of the community. This fueled the Alice/Milk longstanding rivalry – the belief that Alice was becoming a front for Robert’s political work. But Robert worked on a variety of projects that were widely supported as well, such as the School Bond campaign and the 1994 Lavender Sweep. He worked relentlessly on the Octavia Boulevard campaign and worked very closely with Alice to promote the San Francisco Women’s Building, supporting their right to remove a bar from the premise and make it a safe space for all women using the facility. Robert also ran the campaigns of many important LGBT candidates and he worked tirelessly as the State Party Chair of the LGBT Caucus. His positioning Alice early with the Clinton campaign also proved to be invaluable for the community.[23][24][25]

Perhaps Robert’s most important contribution was to bring numerous young people into politics, showing them how to be professional advocates for the LGBT community. He invited people who had no experience with politics to get involved, teaching them how to manage campaigns, how to work with elected officials, how to put together slate cards, how to design ballot arguments, how to raise money, how to write press releases, how to work with the state party, how to craft a winning message, and how to become successful in advancing the LGBT cause. He taught many people how to be professional leaders.

Paul Hogan, Alice Co-Chair after the Leno/Hansen Race was one of many who worked tirelessly to improve relations between Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk Democratic Clubs

Alice / Milk Rivalries

The Alice and Milk Democratic clubs have throughout their existence been somewhat at odds with each other by virtue of the fact that the Milk Club formed out of a difference in political orientation and approach from Alice. Sometimes this rivalry has overshadowed any ability of the clubs to work together, and sometimes the two clubs have worked as if there were no rivalry at all. It’s fair to say that having two Democratic Clubs offers checks and balances on whether either club is acting genuinely in the interest of the community. Open dialogue and critique is definitely positive.

The history of tensions between the clubs could be seen from the beginning but grew to a high point in 1995 during the Willie Brown and Roberta Achtenberg campaign for Mayor. Alice endorsed Willie Brown citing his years of leadership and commitment to the community, as well as the desire to unseat Mayor Jordan with a strong, viable candidate at a time when no one could be certain that Mayor Jordan could be beaten. Roberta Achtenberg entered the race later and many members of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club supported her, wanting to see the first lesbian Mayor of San Francisco. Brown beat Jordan and Alice was absolutely critical to his victory.

The Achtenberg/Brown election was only one episode of a long period of division between the clubs. An event that further crystallized the tension was the Mayoral Election of 1999 when Tom Ammiano put himself forward as a write-in candidate late in the election cycle against Mayor Willie Brown. Ammiano waged a spirited campaign with his write-in candidacy, garnering national attention and enthusiasm, but the race exacerbated long-standing tensions between the Alice and Milk Clubs. Alice members were conflicted about the election because the club promotes LGBT empowerment, but Alice members had a long-standing relationship with Mayor Brown and were proud of his important work for the LGBT community, such as the landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance. Alice had already made its commitment to Brown before Ammiano got into the race with his write-in candidacy, so the club would have had to back out of its endorsement of a longstanding ally. Alice’s decision to stick with endorsing Mayor Brown hastened a growing divide between the two clubs.[1]

The next major event that accelerated the rise in tension between the clubs was the 2000 supervisorial race between Mark Leno and Eileen Hansen. District elections had been reinstated that year and the Milk Club endorsed lesbian candidate Eileen Hansen for District 8, while Alice endorsed gay incumbent supervisor Mark Leno. Leno ultimately won the race because of his strong progressive credentials and history of accomplishment on the Board.

A crescendo in the long rift between the clubs came when Supervisor Leno ran for State Assembly in 2002 with the strong endorsement of Alice, while the Milk Club endorsed Harry Britt (who had been retired from elective office for over a decade). Mark Leno went on to pass progressive legislation to protect transgender people in employment and housing (AB 196) and passed the historic marriage equality bill (AB 849).[2][3][4]

Healing the Rift

After the 2000 Leno/Hansen race, and after the 2002 Assembly race, leaders from Alice and Milk made a concerted effort to improve relations between the two clubs. Alice Co-Chair Rich Kowalewski, one of many who has been credited with working tirelessly to improve the Alice/Milk relationship, had this to say about the dynamics between the two clubs:

“Through these years, Alice has developed a good working relationship with the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. This cooperation has been possible because of ongoing dialogue between the leaders of the two clubs. I know I speak for Paul Hogan, Theresa Sparks, and Laura Spanjian when I say “thank you” Jerry Threat, Debra Walker, Robert Haaland, and Michael Goldstein for your leadership in the bridge building. We have learned to focus on the 90% on which we agree rather than the 10% on which we disagree.”

Rich, Paul, Theresa, Laura, Jerry, Debra, Robert, Michael, and Scott Wiener all did an excellent job of changing course in the direction of relationships between our two clubs. The community continues to benefit from Milk and Alice working together.

Rich Kowalewski, Alice Co-Chair after the Leno/Britt Assembly race was one of many club members who worked hard to establish better relations between the Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk Democratic Clubs

Transgender Rights

Throughout Alice’s history, most of the focus on issues and candidates had been on gay and lesbian rights. As the new millennium was ushered in, Alice supported officeholders took a lead in addressing transgender rights, making it a top priority with huge success. Shortly after his election in 2000, Supervisor Leno created the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, which advanced changes in city policy related to transgender people.[5] Following task force identified goals, Mayor Willie Brown named task force member Theresa Sparks to become the first Transgender Human Rights Commissioner. Leno authored the Employer Notification Law signed by Mayor Brown, requiring employers to post anti-discrimination notifications in places of business that specify that the city bans discrimination against transgender people.[6] The Task Force addressed law enforcement issues and a joint task force between the Police and Human Rights Commission was created to address law enforcement treatment of transgender citizens. The Police Departments Office of Citizens Complaints (OCC) also adopted recommendations from the task force to implement sensitivity training and protocols regarding police interactions with transgender people.[7] Theresa Sparks moved on to become San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner, and Cecilia Chung replaced Theresa on the Human Rights Commission, thus maintaining two important commission seats.[8][9] Cecilia, Theresa and other transgender leaders went beyond the work of this task force to join with community leaders in creating the transgender pride march on LGBT Pride weekend, and participated in the formation of the Transgender Political Caucus among many other remarkable efforts during this time.[10]

Photo of Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force Members Theresa Sparks and Veronika Cauley (center) and others at the moment San Francisco’s Transgender Health Benefit Ordinance was passed.

The San Francisco Transgender Health Plan – A First and Model for the Nation.

The most historic advancement that came out of the work of the Task Force was a change to San Francisco’s health plan for city employees. Supervisor Leno authored and Mayor Brown signed an ordinance to change the city’s health plan to include sex reassignment surgeries, hormone therapy and other care for transgender people as part of the city health plan.[11] The impact of this change went far beyond city employees.[12] Insurance providers that contract with the city were now required to include transgender care as part of the benefit options available in their health coverage, paving the way for transgender healthcare benefits to be available to businesses around California and the nation.[13] Previously, insurance providers had not even offered these benefits. Task force members were written up in full-page stories in the New York Times and other national newspapers, while Leno appeared on television and talk radio stations throughout the country to discuss the issue. The media coverage reached South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and all over the United States. This is yet another clear example of Alice supported legislators passing legislation that had an impact far beyond the City of San Francisco.[14]

Changing Alice’s name

In 2001 under the leadership of Chair Paul Hogan, Alice made an important change to rename the club “The Alice B Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club.” Alice took the lead in outreaching to the transgender community and was the first of the two major LGBT Democratic Clubs in San Francisco to include “Transgender” in its official name. The vote to change the club’s name was unanimous.[15]

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera

Alice Candidate Dennis Herrera becomes City Attorney

Alice member and Alice’s endorsed candidate for City Attorney Dennis Herrera made a successful run for the job first in 2000, then again in 2005. A close friend of former Alice Co-Chair Robert Barnes, Herrera has been a steadfast ally of the club, continuing his longstanding commitment to LGBT rights. Herrera took the lead in defending the City’s action to marry same-sex couples and never wavered in his commitment to LGBT people.

Mark Leno Elected to State Assembly

Longtime Alice hero Mark Leno became the first gay man elected to the State Assembly, along with John Laird of Santa Cruz. Leno continued his groundbreaking work for the LGBT community with legislation such as Assembly Bill 196, signed by Governor Davis, which banned discrimination against transgender people in housing and employment. The bill protects transgender people in all areas of California from discrimination, and even strengthened protection in localities that previously banned transgender discrimination before the law. San Francisco’s local ordinance banning discrimination against transgender people had few actual remedies for violation of the law. With changes to state law, employers and landlords now face serious charges if they discriminate against transgender people in employment or housing.

California Legislature creates the LGBT Caucus

LGBT statewide activism showed enormous progress in the year 2002 as Assemblymembers Mark Leno, John Laird, Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe and Senator Sheila Kuehl formed the California Legislature’s first LGBT Caucus. The five members saw the passage of crucial legislation signed into law including Leno’s AB 196 to ban discrimination against transgender people in employment and housing; Kehoe’s AB 17 to require companies that do business with the state of California to provide equal benefits offered to domestic partners and married couples; Goldberg’s AB 205 which upgraded domestic partnership legal rights and responsibilities in California to almost equal status to marriage; and Laird’s AB 1400 amending the Unruh Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the categories protected from discrimination in public accommodations.[16][17]

Supervisor Bevan Bufty

Bevan Dufty Elected to the Board of Supervisors

In 2002, Longtime Alice member and gay candidate Bevan Dufty was elected as the Supervisor for the Castro in District 8. Dufty created an Improvement District for the Castro and worked closely with local neighborhood groups on a series of local changes that were designed to keep the Castro safe, clean and a place we can all take pride in. Bevan has worked with the State Library Commission to pursue funding for the LGBT Historical Society to expand its operations into a Castro facility, and he has been a tireless fighter for LGBT issues at City Hall.

Nancy Pelosi photo taken in 2003 when she was the first woman elected Democratic House Minority Leader.

Alice Friend Nancy Pelosi Becomes Democratic House Minority Leader

In 2003 Nancy Pelosi made a successful run for leader of the Democratic Party in Congress, which preceded her becoming Speaker of the House in 2006. The highest-ranking woman in office in American history,Nancy got there largely because of her impressive legislative record, fundraising, tactical skill for the party and with critical help from Alice. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt, and Alice was vital to her victory, narrowly winning the special election to replace former Congressman Philip Burton. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt. From Day One, Alice was there to help Pelosi become one of the most powerful leaders in America, and one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies. As a liberal from San Francisco, she would never have won the confidence of the national party if she could not back up her progressive values with financial leadership. Alice’s longtime support was an asset to her rise in power. Nancy has proven to be a true friend of the community for her years of leadership in supporting Ryan White Care Act funding for people with AIDS, her support of domestic partnership rights and other LGBT causes. Nancy is an historic American leader and Alice can be proud of playing a role in her success.[1][2]

Susan Leal runs for Mayor

Longtime Alice friend Susan Leal made history as the first Latina lesbian to run for Mayor in San Francisco in 2003. Alice endorsed her candidacy and worked hard on her behalf. Leal said about the race in Curve Magazine: “what my candidacy does is it sends a message to women, whether they’re queer or women of color, that the last barriers could be broken.

District Attorney Kamala Harris

Alice Candidate Kamala Harris becomes District Attorney

In December of 2003, Kamala Harris was elected San Francisco District Attorney with the overwhelming support of Alice early in her campaign. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, Kamala has proven to be an effective champion for our issues as the City’s DA. One of her most important fights on behalf of the community has been to combat the gay/transgender panic defense used in California to defend acts of violence against our community.[3] Law enforcement issues such as these have been critical to Alice since it’s beginning. The ‘Twinkie Defense’ [4] used to give Dan White a lenient defense in his trial for the murder of Harvey Milk, and the ‘Transgender Panic’ argument used to defend the murderers of transgender high school student Gwen Araujo [5] are just two examples where legal arguments have been designed to play upon homo/transphobia in the judicial response to violence against the LGBT community. Our community must demand equal treatment by the judicial system and equal protection from law enforcement, and Kamala has been a very effective leader in fighting for these principles with the support of Alice. [6]

Carole Migden Elected to State Senate

Building on years of support from Alice, Carole Migden was elected in 2004 as the second lesbian ever (following Senator Sheila Kuehl) to the California State Senate. Migden had spent the interim years after she left the State Assembly as the Chair of the Board of Equalization prior to running for Senate.[7]

San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros

Former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros becomes City Treasurer

In September 2004 Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros to become the city Treasurer. Once again, the work of Alice paid off with an effective city treasurer who is one of our closest allies. Cisneros went on to win a full term as treasurer later that year and continues to be a strong voice working with Alice in local government.[8]
Police Chief Heather Fong introduces Theresa Sparks, President of the San Francisco Police Commission

Theresa Sparks becomes first Transgender Police Commissioner in San Francisco

In 2004 former Alice Chair Theresa Sparks was sworn in as San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner and would later become elected President of that Commission. After years of advocacy around police issues, Alice saw one of its chairs take a leadership role directly on the police commission and transgender advocates saw transgender leaders serve as officials in the City.[9][10]

Alice Candidate Phil Ting Becomes San Francisco’s Assessor / Recorder

In 2005 another close friend of Alice made a successful run for office as Phil Ting won election to City Assessor/Recorder. Mayor Newsom appointed Phil because of his strong progressive credentials, long history of professional work at the Assessor/Recorder’s office, and his reputation as a non-political choice for the job. Phil Ting was the most qualified candidate for Assessor / Recorder and the electorate voted him in with Alice’s strong support.[11]

Alice Joins Coalition Effort – “And Castro For All”

In 2005 Alice participated in a broad campaign to address charges of racism at a Castro business as the community had an important dialogue about racial justice. Many African Americans have felt that the Castro is not an inclusive space for communities of color. In this context, the Human Rights Commission issued a report about a Castro establishment finding the business had engaged in racially biased business practices.[12] During this time, Alice Board Member John Newsome had this to say about the issue:

“Sometimes, the Truth matters most when it’s the most unpopular… Truth and, ultimately, Justice are well worth the effort.”

Marriage, The New Beginning

By 2004, Alice and a broad coalition of allies had spent decades creating a very different world for the LGBT community than when Jim Foster started Alice. On Valentine’s Day, 2004, a time known in San Francisco as “The Winter of Love”, the community of San Francisco was ready to turn the page to a new day in our movement.

Marriage – The New Beginning

Of course Valentines Day 2004, the “Winter of Love,” was not the beginning of the fight for marriage equality. But the rush of people to City Hall where Mayor Newsom started marrying gay men and lesbians certainly did feel like a new beginning. For once, the Milk Club, Alice, the Bay Guardian, the Chronicle, Willie Brown, Tom Ammiano and all of San Francisco could stand together and be proud of our city. Not since the days of Milk and Moscone had there been such hope in San Francisco.

On February 14, 2004, Mayor Newsom directed the County Clerk to recognize same sex marriages, citing the US Constitution, and challenging state law as being unconstitutional. People rushed down to City Hall with their friends and families grabbing flowers and their best outfits to experience the words “I do”, with the blessing of the City. The religious right tried to halt the marriages, but the ceremonies continued for several weeks. There were thousands and thousands of same-sex couples who came from all over California, the nation and the world to be a part of it; and they happily waited in lines wrapped around City Hall with City workers volunteering twelve-hour days to marry as many people as possible while the courts allowed the marriages to continue. It felt like a moment when everything changed for our community and we could never go backwards again.[1][2]

It would be unimaginable that Mayor Newsom would feel empowered to take that stand for marriage equality without the support of groups like Alice. All the years of work building political support behind the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are just as deserving of basic dignity as everyone else paid off big when Mayor Newsom made the ‘radical’ act of recognizing our love. Gavin Newsom did not start the fight for marriage, but he boldly ushered in a new day that everyone in San Francisco could be proud of.

Mark Leno carried the torch of marriage equality through the summer in the legislature with Assembly Bill 849, making California the first legislature in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill without the prompting of a court order. Standing up to many who were fearful in his own party that the timing was inappropriate, Leno pressed ahead and through relentless tenacity passed the Marriage Equality bill out of the California Legislature. Leno and Newsom’s efforts helped educate the public and move the issue forward. Polling in California showed that as AB 849 passed the legislature, the California public moved from being decisively opposed to same sex marriage, to being evenly divided over the issue. Despite Governor Schwarzenneger’s veto of AB 849, and despite the rumblings of discontent over Newsom’s act of courage, Leno and Newsom’s efforts, with the work of Alice, Equality California, and countless activists around the state had moved California opinion significantly in our favor. As history continues to move forward, we can be more and more proud of standing up for what is right at a time when others were afraid.

Thousands marching down Market Street, San Francisco in support of Marriage Equality

Above (top): Former Alice Co-Chair Laura Spanjian, Former Alice Co-Chair Scott Wiener, and Former Alice PAC Chair Rafael Mandelman; Above (bottom) Former Alice Co-Chair Julius Turman and Former Alice Co-Chair Rebecca Prozan. Four out of five of the Alice leaders pictured above along with former Alice Co-Chair Theresa Sparks, ran for San Francisco Supervisor in 2010.

Conclusion:

Much can be learned from the work done at Alice. Decades ago after Stonewall signaled a new era for LGBT people, the community was stuck in a conspiracy of silence and a world that despised and misunderstood it. At that time, Alice sought an alliance with the Democratic Party. Over decades of work with allies around the nation, LGBT people were finally able to break the conspiracy of silence. Through years of work, Alice and other political organizations helped coordinate the energy of the LGBT movement into a local, state and national political platform that won systemic changes for the entire nation. Through the support of many leaders such as Mark Leno, Carole Migden, John Laird, Tom Ammiano, Susan Leal, Bevan Dufty, Leslie Katz, Theresa Sparks, Dennis Herrera, Jackie Speier, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and countless others; Alice helped transform law and sentiment towards LGBT people. San Francisco was at the forefront of change for Consensual Sex Legislation, Domestic Partnership, Equal Benefits, Transgender Health, and Marriage Equality to name just a few of the causes locally championed that went on to have national impact. And thirty years after Harvey Milk told the world “You’ve Gotta Give ‘em Hope,” California declared May 22nd “Harvey Milk Day” in a bill signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.

The LGBT community has seized and shaped its destiny over the last few decades. As we in the community look to our future, it’s important to remember how our efforts right now, even the small tasks we do along the way, really do change the world.

References & Notes

  1. Lamberg, Lynne. Soulforce, August 12, 1998. Gay Is Okay With APA (American Psychiatric Association) Story on the history of the American Psychiatric Association 1973 removal of homosexuality from being categorized as a mental disorder.
  2. Wikipedia. The Modern Women’s Movement
  3. Phrases.org. “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name”
  4. Wikipedia. Phrase “coming out
  5. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1972. Pgs 1-2. Discussion of the beginnings of Alice, the national election, and Alice’s purpose.
  6. Wikipedia. Jim Foster
  7. Wikipedia. Society for Individual Rights (SIR) (the Society for Individual Rights was an organization formed during a period of the gay rights movement called the “Homophile” movement, and SIR would later be renamed and chartered within the Democratic Party as the Alice B Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.
  8. Wikipedia. Daughters of Bilitis
  9. Wikipedia. Mattachine Society
  10. Clendinen, Dudley and Nagourney, Adam. 1999. Out for Good – The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon and Shuster Recounts Jim Foster organizing the Society for Individual Rights in 1964 and bringing the membership of this organization to become members of a chartered group of the Democratic Party called the “Alice B Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.”
  11. Wikipedia. Alice B. Toklas
  12. Wikipedia. The Phrase “Friend of Dorothy”
  13. Wikipedia.George McGovern
  14. Clendinen, Dudley and Nagourney, Adam. 1999. Out for Good – The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York. Simon and Shuster. pgs. 132-133.
  15. Wikipedia. Hubert Humphrey
  16. Democratic National Party Platform, 1972 The “Gay Plank” which Jim Foster proposed was removed. The only language the Democratic Party left that remotely relates to homosexuality was under “The Right to be Different” section, and says “Americans should be free to make their own choice of life-styles and private habits without being subject to discrimination or prosecution.”
  17. “Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, Vol. 1. Issue 1. Pg. 3.” Letter from candidate McGovern reprinted from the August 24, 1972 Village Voice.
  18. Hartlab, Peter. 1999. Obituary, Dorothy von Beroldingen. San Francisco Chronicle. December 21.
  19. 1998. Obituary, State Senator Milton Marks. San Francisco Chronicle . December 5.
  20. Wikipedia. Quentin Kopp
  21. Wikipedia. Dianne Feinstein
  22. Molotsky, Irvin. 1998. Obituary, Mayor Joseph Alioto. New York Times. January 30.
  23. San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. Michael Hennessey. 
  24. Wikipedia. “Medical Marijuana”
  25. Democratic National Party Platform, 1976 No “Gay Plank” in this 1976 Party Platform
  26. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1976 Alice delegates report on the 1976 Democratic Convention. [See Documents page]
  27. Scheer, Robert. 1976. Interview with Jimmy Carter. Playboy Magazine. November.
  28. Carter, Jimmy. 1998. Living Faith. Three Rivers Press. Excerpt of Jimmy Carter Recollections on 1976 Election Year interview with Playboy Magazine
  29. Wikipedia. “Sodomy Laws”
  30. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club (later named the Harvey Milk Democratic Club) Cover of newsletter. [See Documents page]
  31. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club, pg 2 (discusses why the club formed) [See Documents page]
  32. Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 1 The Stonewall Democratic Club was chartered in Los Angeles by Morris Kight in 1975. This edition of the Stonewall newsletter recounts the formation of the club. Stonewall later became a national alliance of LGBT Democratic Clubs and San Francisco had a Stonewall chapter through much of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the chapter disbanded. [See Documents page]
  33. Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 2 Stonewall Democratic Club History continued. [See Documents page]
  34. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1982 “National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs” Founded [See Documents page]
  35. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1977 San Francisco Mayor George Moscone makes several public commitments to the gay community [See Documents page]
  36. Wikipedia. George Moscone
  37. Moral Majority Coalition, The. “Moral Majority Timeline”
  38. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, May, 1977 Alice helps organize the fight in Dade County Florida [See Documents page]
  39. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pgs 1-2 Backlash against consensual sex law. This backlash would build into an organized effort in following years led by State Senator Briggs to place Measure 6 on the 1978 state ballot to ban gay people from being teachers. [See Documents page]
  40. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 4 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
  41. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 7 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
  42. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, June, 1979 Recounting the Dan White trial and local upheaval + police incident at “Pegs Place”, a lesbian bar. [See Documents page]
  43. Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1978 Death of Harvey Milk, recounting his life and impact on politics [See Documents page]
  44. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 1) [See Documents page]
  45. Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 2) [See Documents page]

The Murderous History Of Bible Translations

The Bible has been translated into far more languages than any other book. Yet, as Harry Freedman reveals, the history of Bible translations is not only contentious but bloody, with many who dared translate it being burned at the stake…

In 1427, Pope Martin ordered that John Wycliffe’s bones be exhumed from their grave, burned and cast into the river Swift. Wycliffe had been dead for 40 years, but his offence still rankled.

John Wycliffe (c1330–1384) was 14th-century England’s outstanding thinker. A theologian by profession, he was called in to advise parliament in its negotiations with Rome. This was a world in which the church was all-powerful, and the more contact Wycliffe had with Rome, the more indignant he became. The papacy, he believed, reeked of corruption and self-interest. He was determined to do something about it.

Wycliffe began publishing pamphlets arguing that, rather than pursuing wealth and power, the church should have the poor at heart. In one tract he described the Pope as “the anti-Christ, the proud, worldly priest of Rome, and the most cursed of clippers and cut-purses”.

In 1377 the Bishop of London demanded that Wycliffe appear before his court to explain the “wonderful things which had streamed forth from his mouth”. The hearing was a farce. It began with a violent row over whether or not Wycliffe should sit down. John of Gaunt, the king’s son and an ally of Wycliffe, insisted that the accused remain seated; the bishop demanded that he stand.

When the Pope heard of the fiasco he issued a papal bull [an official papal letter or document] in which he accused Wycliffe of “vomiting out of the filthy dungeon of his heart most wicked and damnable heresies”. Wycliffe was accused of heresy and put under house arrest and was later forced to retire from his position as Master of Balliol College, Oxford.

Wycliffe firmly believed that the Bible should be available to everybody. He saw literacy as the key to the emancipation of the poor. Although parts of the Bible had previously been rendered into English there was still no complete translation. Ordinary people, who neither spoke Latin nor were able to read, could only learn from the clergy. Much of what they thought they knew – ideas like the fires of hell and purgatory – were not even part of Scripture.

With the aid of his assistants, therefore, Wycliffe produced an English Bible [over a period of 13 years from 1382]. A backlash was inevitable: in 1391, before the Bible was completed, a bill was placed before parliament to outlaw the English Bible and to imprison anyone possessing a copy. The bill failed to pass – John of Gaunt saw to that [in parliament] – and the church resumed its persecution of the now-dead Wycliffe [he died in 1384].

Shorn of alternatives, the best they could do was to burn his bones [in 1427], just to make sure his resting place was not venerated. The Archbishop of Canterbury explained that Wycliffe had been “that pestilent wretch, of damnable memory, yea, the forerunner and disciple of antichrist who, as the complement of his wickedness, invented a new translation of the scriptures into his mother-tongue”.

A page from John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, c1400. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Jan Hus

In 1402, the newly ordained Czech priest Jan Hus was appointed to a pulpit in Prague to minister in the church. Inspired by Wycliffe’s writings, which were now circulating in Europe, Hus used his pulpit to campaign for clerical reform and against church corruption.

Like Wycliffe, Hus believed that social reform could only be achieved through literacy. Giving the people a Bible written in the Czech language, instead of Latin, was an imperative. Hus assembled a team of scholars; in 1416 the first Czech Bible appeared. It was a direct challenge to those he called “the disciples of antichrist” and the consequence was predictable: Hus was arrested for heresy.

Jan Hus’s trial, which took place in the city of Constance, has gone down as one of the most spectacular in history. It was more like a carnival – nearly every bigwig in Europe was there. One archbishop arrived with 600 horses; 700 prostitutes offered their services; 500 people drowned in the lake; and the Pope fell off his carriage into a snowdrift. The atmosphere was so exhilarating that Hus’s eventual conviction and barbaric execution must have seemed an anti-climax. But slaughtered he was, burnt at the stake. His death galvanised his supporters into revolt. Priests and churches were attacked, the authorities retaliated. Within a few short years Bohemia had erupted into civil war. All because Jan Hus had the gall to translate the Bible.

The capture of Jan Hus. Miniature of the ‘Chronicle’ of Ulrich of Richental. Prague, national library of the University. (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)

William Tyndale

As far as the English Bible is concerned, the most high profile translator to be murdered was William Tyndale. It was now the 16th century and Henry VIII was on the throne. Wycliffe’s translation was still banned, and although manuscript copies were available on the black market, they were hard to find and expensive to procure. Most people still had no inkling of what the Bible really said.

But printing was becoming commonplace, and Tyndale believed the time was right for an accessible, up-to-date translation. He knew he could create one; all he needed was the funding, and the blessing of the church. It didn’t take him long to realise that nobody in London was prepared to help him. Not even his friend, the bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall. Church politics made sure of that.

The religious climate appeared less oppressive in Germany. Luther had already translated the Bible into German; the Protestant Reformation was gathering pace and Tyndale believed he would have a better chance of realising his project there. So he travelled to Cologne and began printing.

This, it transpired, was a mistake. Cologne was still under the control of an archbishop loyal to Rome. He was halfway through printing the book of Matthew when he heard that the print shop was about to raided. He bundled up his papers and fled. It was a story that would be repeated several times over the next few years. Tyndale spent the next few years dodging English spies and Roman agents. But he managed to complete his Bible and copies were soon flooding into England – illegally, of course. The project was complete but Tyndale was a marked man.

He wasn’t the only one. In England, Cardinal Wolsey was conducting a campaign against Tyndale’s Bible. No one with a connection to Tyndale or his translation was safe. Thomas Hitton, a priest who had met Tyndale in Europe, confessed to smuggling two copies of the Bible into the country. He was charged with heresy and burnt alive.

Thomas Bilney, a lawyer whose connection to Tyndale was tangential at the most, was also thrown into the flames. First prosecuted by the bishop of London, Bilney recanted and was eventually released in 1529. But when he withdrew his recantation in 1531 he was re-arrested and prosecuted by Thomas Pelles, chancellor of Norwich diocese, and burnt by the secular authorities just outside the city of Norwich.

Meanwhile Richard Bayfield, a monk who had been one of Tyndale’s early supporters, was tortured incessantly before being tied to the stake. And a group of students in Oxford were left to rot in a dungeon that was used for storing salt fish.

Tyndale’s end was no less tragic. He was betrayed in 1535 by Henry Phillips, a dissolute young aristocrat who had stolen his [Phillips’] father’s money and gambled it away. Tyndale was hiding out in Antwerp, under the quasi–diplomatic protection of the English merchant community. Phillips, who was as charming as he was disreputable, befriended Tyndale and invited him out for dinner. As they left the English merchant house together, Phillips beckoned to a couple of thugs loitering in a doorway. They seized Tyndale. It was the last free moment of his life. Tyndale was charged with heresy in August 1536 and burnt at the stake a few weeks later.

William Tyndale being tied to a stake before being strangled and burned to death. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

England was not the only country to murder Bible translators. In Antwerp, the city where Tyndale thought he was safe, Jacob van Liesveldt produced a Dutch Bible. Like so many 16th-century translations, his act was political as well as religious. His Bible was illustrated with woodcuts – in the fifth edition he depicted Satan in the guise of a Catholic monk, with goat’s feet and a rosary. It was a step too far. Van Liesveldt was arrested, charged with heresy and put to death.

A murderous age

The 16th century was by far the most murderous age for Bible translators. But Bible translations have always generated strong emotions, and continue to do so even today. In 1960 the United States Air Force Reserve warned recruits against using the recently published Revised Standard Version because, they claimed, 30 people on its translation committee had been “affiliated with communist fronts”.  TS Eliot, meanwhile, railed against the 1961 New English Bible, writing that it “astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial, and the pedantic”.

And Bible translators are still being murdered. Not necessarily for the act of translating the Bible, but because rendering the Bible into local dialects is one of the things Christian missionaries do. In 1993 Edmund Fabian was murdered in Papua New Guinea, killed by a local man who had been helping him translate the Bible. In March 2016, four Bible translators working for an American evangelical organisation were killed by militants in an undisclosed location in the Middle East.

Bible translations, then, may appear to be a harmless activity. History shows it is anything but.

Reference

The True Story Of The Aberfan Disaster, Featured In Season 3 Of ‘The Crown’

As the event that dominates the third episode of Season 3 of The Crown, the Aberfan Disaster remains one of the most devastating losses of human life in Welsh history. On the morning of October 21, 1966, the collapse of a soil tip triggered a slurry slide that ended 116 children and 28 adults in the village of Aberfan, Wales.

Located in Southern Wales, Aberfan was devastated by the disaster. Life revolved around nearby mining operations. As Aberfan residents carried out recovery and relief efforts, Queen Elizabeth II issued a statement – resisting the advice of Prime Minister Harold Wilson to visit the site of the tragedy. 

The events leading up to and in the aftermath of the Aberfan Disaster ultimately changed the role of royalty, the lives of countless Welshmen and women, and mining safety in Britain.

The Mine Near Aberfan Was Under The Authority Of The National Coal Board Of Britain

The Merthyr Vale Colliery included seven tips, the first of which dated back to 1869. In 1966, the colliery encircled Arberfan, a village that served as home to miners and their families. The Merthyr Vale Colliery was regulated by the National Coal Board (NCB), the overseeing body that was formed in 1947. The NCB nationalized mining in the United Kingdom, promoting the industry and setting production and distribution guidelines.

When Tip 7 of the Merthyr Valley Colliery was begun in 1958, it was built over an underground spring, creating an intrinsic instability. There were several tips at the mine built over these springs, resulting in several slips during the 1960s. In 1963, for example, an engineer at the mine noted, “danger from coal slurry being tipped at the rear of Pantglas School,” but the NCB failed to act on the warning. 

Aberfan Experienced Heavy Rains That Caused A Great Amount Of Ground Instability

October 1966 was a particularly rainy month for Aberfan and the surrounding region, with roughly 60 inches falling in the weeks preceding the disaster. As water filled streams and underground springs, the slag heap – where the mine discarded its waste – were susceptible to heavy rain, as well. 

Tip 7 began to show signs of weakness during the early hours on October 21, 1966. At around 7:30 am, mine workers observed settlement at the tip, something that increased over the subsequent hours. First 10 feet, then 10 feet more – the top of the tip was slowly giving way. Reportedly, the crew took a break, intent on working to remedy the problem as soon as they were done. 

A Collapse At Tip 7 Of The Mine Triggered A Slurry Surge That Struck A Nearby School

The students at Pantglas Junior School arrived for classes on Friday, October 21, 1966, expecting to enjoy the last day of school before their midterm break. The night before, 9-year-old Eryl Jones dreamed that school had been canceled for that day, describing “something black came down all over it” to her mother before she left home that morning.

When the school opened at 9 am, 240 students entered. However, within minutes, they heard what survivor Gaynor Madgewick described as:

A terrible, terrible sound, a rumbling sound. It was so loud. I just didn’t know what it was. It seemed like the school went numb, you could hear a pin drop. I was suddenly petrified and glued to the chair. It sounded like the end of the world had come. 

What Madgewick heard was a flood of slurry – a mixture of water, mud, and coal debris – descending the mountain as it approached the school. Other survivors described the sound as akin to, “a jet plane screaming low over the school in the fog.”

As the slide began, one of the workers at Tip 7 observed, “It started to rise slowly at first, sir… I thought I was seeing things. Then it rose up pretty fast, sir, at a tremendous speed. Then it sort of came up out of the depression and turned itself into a wave… down towards the mountain… towards Aberfan village… into the mist.”

Children Later Recalled Struggling To Breathe While Buried Under Waste

When the slurry hit Pantglas Junior School, children and teachers alike were immediately buried under “a [slurry] wave over 12 meters high and 7 meters wide traveling at speed down the valley.” 

There had been no warning since the telephone cables leading to the tip had been taken. As it approached the school, it wiped out the entire landscape, eventually leaving 6 to 9 meters of debris. Brian Williams, 7 years old at the time, “watched the classroom wall split from the bottom to the top. The wall came through and stopped. And the next thing I remember was it went very quiet, and then a lot of screaming and crying.” Williams had escaped being under the crumbling wall, having been shifted to another desk across the room moments before.

Survivor Jeff Edwards remembered “waking up [and] my right foot was stuck in the radiator and there was water pouring out of it. My desk was pinned against my stomach and a girl’s head was on my left shoulder. She was dead. Because all the debris was around me I couldn’t get away from her. The image of her face comes back to me continuously.”

Edwards spent the next 90 minutes listening to the “crying and screaming” of his classmates, but “as time went on they got quieter and quieter as children died, they were buried and running out of air.” He, too, struggled to breathe as he lay under the mixture of coal, water, and mud. 

Residents And Professional Miners Alike Tried To Dig To Find Survivors

Miners, bystanders, and municipal authorities frantically rushed toward the school. When police officer Yvonne Price, 21 years old at the time, arrived, she “was rigid with shock… you could see doors, tables, kitchen utensils floating in” black water. She witnessed “people from the village passing saucepans and buckets full of debris.”

The New York Times later reported, “Civil defense teams, miners, policemen, firemen and other volunteers toiled desperately, sometimes tearing at the coal rubble with their bare hands, to extricate the children. Bulldozers shoved debris aside to get to the children. A hush fell on the rescuers once when faint cries were heard in the rubble.”

Due to her small size, Officer Price was sent through a hole in the ground to see if she could find any survivors. She found none. 

Recovery efforts continued long after cries from under the debris could be heard. Alix Palmer, a journalist at Aberfan, saw, “the fathers straight from the pit… digging… no-one had yet really given up hope, although logic told them it was useless.” Every time a body was found, people would pause as a doctor made his way to check for signs of life. The last surviving child, Jeff Edwards, was pulled to safety at around 11 am.

Men and women continued to dig, pulling 67 bodies out of the rubble on the first day. One of the teachers, David Beynon, was discovered with five children in his arms. He had tried to protect them in their final moments. Nansi Williams, the school’s dinner lady, was collecting money when the slurry hit the school and she, too, lost her life protecting several students. All of the five children she covered with her body survived. 

The Bodies Of Children Were Identified By Items They Had In Their Pockets

When Reverend Irving Penberthy arrived on the scene of the Aberfan Disaster, he “stayed with the people who were watching and waiting” before taking his post at the Bethania Chapel. Soon, the chapel became a mortuary, one that received the bodies of children as they were extracted from under the slurry. Penberthy recalled watching as “fathers – it was mainly fathers, of course, not the women – just going around and lifting the blanket, and then going on further, and the shock when they finally found their own child. That was dreadful. And all we did was just cry together.”

As more and more bodies arrived, Charles Nunn, assigned as the senior identification officer at Aberfan, wrote, “a description of each child or adult and detail any possessions in their pockets – a handkerchief, sweets, anything that might help with identification. The little ones were laid on the pews, the adults on stretchers across the tops of the pews – males to the left and females to the right. By about the fourth or fifth day we had to start taking bodies up a difficult winding staircase to the upstairs gallery.”

While many of the children perished as a result of asphyxiation; there were some bodies that were deemed unsuitable for viewing due to extensive injuries. In a letter to her mother, journalist Alix Palmer wrote, “the slag had had time to corrode the skin of the children still buried and many brought out burned could only been identified by the clothing or things in their pockets. One little boy… was identified by a slip of paper with his name on deep inside his wallet.”

The Queen Resisted Efforts To Get Her To Visit The Site

As details of the disaster emerged and bodies continued to be pulled from the debris (dozens on the first day alone), Queen Elizabeth II resisted pleas to visit Aberfan. Just as it was depicted in the third season of The Crown, the monarch opted to send a proxy – her husband, Prince Philip.

In her initial statement, she expressed sadness and sorrow. While the show indicated a lack of emotion on the part of the queen, it’s been asserted that she didn’t want to pull attention and resources away from rescue efforts. She was said to have insisted, “People will be looking after me… perhaps they’ll miss some poor child that might have been found in the wreckage.”

The British government was represented by Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, and Lord Snowdon Antony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Margaret’s husband. The latter, according to Prime Minister Wilson, “made it his job to visit bereaved relatives… sitting holding the hands of a distraught father, sitting with the head of a mother on his shoulder for a half an hour in silence.”

Prince Philip spent two hours with relatives of victims, surveying the site, and visiting the cemetery where more than 81 children had already been laid to rest. 

The Queen Did Make Her Way To Aberfan, Visiting The Day After The Last Body Was Recovered

Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Aberfan more than a week after the disaster struck and only one day after the last body was retrieved from the debris. When she and Prince Philip toured Aberfan on October 29, 1966, they were both visibly moved by the experience. As a young child handed Elizabeth a flower -“From the remaining children of Aberfan” – the stoic queen was said to have been on the brink of tears. According to Jeff Edwards, the last child to be found alive, “We know she did cry, because she went to Jim Williams’ house – and when she came down from the cemetery she was visibly crying.”

When the queen spoke to her subjects at Aberfan, she told them, “As a mother, I’m trying to understand what your feelings must be…  I’m sorry I can give you nothing at present except sympathy.” The queen’s former private secretary, Lord Charteris, told author Gyles Brandreth that not going to Aberfan earlier was one of her biggest regrets.

Survivors see her visit differently, however. Edwards, again, noted, “When she did arrive she was visibly upset and the people of Aberfan appreciated her being here. She came when she could and nobody would condemn her for not coming earlier, especially as everything was such a mess.” Marjorie Collins, the mother of one of the victims, similarly saw the visit as a supportive endeavor, observing, “They [Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth] were above the politics and the din and they proved to us that the world was with us, and that the world cared.”

The Disaster Could Have Been Prevented Had Earlier Concerns Been Addressed

In his comments about the disaster at Aberfan, the chairman of the National Coal Board (NCB), Lord Robens, noted the impossibility of knowing “that there was a spring in the heart of this tip [meaning Tip 7].” 

The inquest and tribunal into the cause of the slide that took 144 lives thought otherwise, calling the event “a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of a total lack of direction from above.”

The tribunal took place over 76 days, interviewing 136 witnesses and examining 300 exhibits. Earlier concerns about the tips were made very clear, as was the lack of NCB policy when it came to safely installing tips. In his testimony, Lord Robens ultimately admitted fault by the NCB, something with which the tribunal agreed, concluding in 1967:

Blame for the disaster rests upon the National Coal Board. This is shared, though in varying degrees, among the NCB headquarters, the South Western Divisional Board, and certain individuals… The legal liability of the NCB to pay compensation of the personal injuries, fatal or otherwise, and damage to property, is incontestable and uncontested.

No malice or criminality was found, but it was determined that the entire disaster could have been avoided but for “ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications.”

New Legislation Was Introduced In 1969 To Tighten The Oversight Of Mines 

Mining regulations became increasingly stringent in the years after Aberfan. New legislation was, according to Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967, “desirable” in light of the recommendations made by the tribunal. When Wilson saw the findings of the Aberfan tribunal, he was shocked and deeply concerned by its “devastating nature.” 

In 1969, two years after the tribunal’s findings, Lord Robens headed efforts that resulted in the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, legislation that continues to regulate mining in the United Kingdom. Although Robens had offered his resignation to the NCB, it was dismissed by members of Parliament and Prime Minister Harold Wilson – something that only contributed to Robens’s villainy in the eyes of the victims of the disaster.

In addition to the 1974 act, the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act of 1969 and subsequent Mine and Quarries (Tips) Regulations of 1971 also brought standardization of mine building, construction, and management. According to the latter, any tipping activities required plans “showing all mine workings (whether abandoned or not), previous landslips, springs, artesian wells, watercourses and other natural and other topographical features which might affect the security of the intended tip or might be relevant for determining whether the land on which the tipping operations are to be carried out is satisfactory for the purpose.”  

In 1999, additional quarry regulations were put into effect, tightening oversight of waste materials including, “but… not limited to, overburden dumps, backfill, spoil heaps, stock piles and lagoons.”

Families Impacted By The Disaster Were Paid £500 By The National Coal Board 

A fund to support Aberfan and its community was established almost immediately after the disaster. A total of £1,750,000 – a sum worth more than £20 million today – was raised to rebuild the village and pay for medical care. Because the National Coal Board (NCB) refused to pay for the removal of the tips that still sat high above Aberfan, the money was used to bring those down, as well. In 1997, the British government repaid Aberfan the £150,000 from the fund that went toward the tip removal. 

The NCB offered each of the families impacted by the disaster £50 as an opening payment, a sum that later rose to £500. The Charity Commission of the NCB once considered asking parents, “Exactly how close were you to your child?” before paying out – presumably, parents who were not close to their children would not receive compensation – but decided against that option. The “generous offer” of £500 was paid to the families in 1970. 

Money would not cure the psychological scars in Aberfan, however. Survivor Jeff Edwards continues to struggle with survivor’s guilt, while families in Aberfan experienced a “strange bitterness between [those] who lost children and those who hadn’t; people just could not help it.” Post-traumatic stress disorder plagues the entire community and, while psychiatrists were initially brought in, “They didn’t really know how to deal with it and it wasn’t much help. There were sessions and we were offered different drugs.” 

Thirty-three years after the disaster, researcher Louise Morgan found that survivors “talked about the fear evoked at the sound of a lorry passing their house, or of an aircraft flying overhead. Intense memories are aroused by the slightest noise or smell. A number now have children the age they were. This seems to arouse new feelings.”

The Queen Made Repeated Visits To Aberfan In Support Of The Community

Queen Elizabeth II may have received criticism for delaying a trip to Aberfan in 1966, but she has made numerous trips to the Welsh town in support of its recovery. In 1973, she visited to attend the opening of a new community center and placed a wreath at a local memorial. While there, she called the community center “a symbol of the determination that out of the disaster should come a richer and fuller life.”

When she returned in 1997, she planted a tree in the Garden of Remembrance, again speaking to survivors and relatives of those who perished.

Another visit in 2012 saw the queen opening a new school, something that, according to Elaine Richards, was part of a promise Elizabeth had made decades earlier. Richards, who lost her daughter Sylvie in 1966, noted, “She kept her promise, she is a very gracious lady… Now we have children playing in the village again.”

Reference

Gay History: The Weird Science of Homophobes Who Turn Out to Be Gay

There is some research suggesting a link between being closeted and being anti-gay. But while the notion feeds many jokes, it also obscures very real homophobia.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

2017 has been a banner year for the armchair psychological theory that anti-gay public figures are secretly gay themselves.

Never mind the long-running jokes and memes about Mike Pence covering up some secret homosexual identity. There have been actual examples this year of outspoken anti-LGBT figures exhibiting behavior that seems to contradict their political ideology.

The same idea emerges every time: The hypothesis is that their bigotry doesn’t just make their sexual behavior hypocritical, it actually functions as a cover for it, consciously or otherwise.

Recently, there has been former Ohio state Rep. Wesley Goodman, who resigned late last week after it came out that he had had sex with a man in his office.

In March, former Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey resigned after being hit with child prostitution charges for allegedly soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy. Shortey has reportedly decided this week to plead guilty to a child sex trafficking charge.

Both Goodman and Shortey are married men who were clear political opponents of the LGBT community while in office.

After Shortey was arrested, the Associated Press noted that he “routinely” voted for anti-LGBT bills, quoting the director of the LGBT advocacy organization Freedom Oklahoma who said, “He was never vitriolic about it, but he would make the bad votes.”

More strident was Goodman who, as the Columbus Dispatch reported, “consistently touted his faith and conservative values,” with a Twitter bio that read: “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican.”

As more information about their alleged misdeeds emerges—Goodman now stands accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a conservative event, and of pursuing several young gay men—there is a certain grim catharsis in seeing such hypocrisy exposed.

The LGBT community will never tire of bringing up the long history of Republican gay sex scandals every time new—and increasingly unsurprising—allegations emerge, precisely because they seem to be so predictable in hindsight.

(As GQ sarcastically put it in response to the Goodman news: “Anti-Gay Ohio Republican Resigns After, Surprise, Having Sex with a Man in the State Capitol.”)

A 2012 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology generated a fair number of headlines that year—including The New York Times’ “Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay”—for suggesting that some self-avowed straight people who showed signs of same-sex desire were more likely to hold discriminatory attitudes.

Two authors on the study—psychologists Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan—wrote in their accompanying New York Times opinion piece that they had asked 784 college students to rate their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale and then told them to sort “images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality” into categories.

The “twist,” as they put it, were subliminal flashes of the words “me” or “other” before each image that can theoretically reveal subconscious bias based on how long it takes the subjects to sort images that don’t match their self-described sexual identity into the right category.

The result: The researchers isolated a “subgroup of participants”—more than “20 percent of self-described highly straight individuals”—who “indicated some level of same-sex attraction,” and who were “significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects.”

“Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction,” they concluded.

The psychological mechanism behind this subgroup’s anti-LGBT vitriol is, in theory, relatively simple: They are taking out their own issues with sexual identity on other people.

As Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author, said in a press release, they “may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.” So if you’re an American politician, there may be no more effective way to prove to yourself that you’re straight than to target LGBT people.

The 2012 study is certainly suggestive. It’s continually cited whenever it seems to apply to a homophobic figure, like after Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen was rumored to have frequented the LGBT nightclub in the buildup to the shooting.

There are other studies that have come to similar conclusions. As Science magazine reported after Pulse, there is a “scattering of research” that suggests “some conflicted gay men might indeed be homophobic,” like a small 1996 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that measured penile arousal and found a link between “homophobia” and “homosexual arousal.”

But the keyword in all of the above literature is “some.”

There is, at this point, enough research in this area to suggest that there may be something deeper to the armchair psychology. But the “secretly gay homophobe” theory is far from being a complete explanation of anti-LGBT prejudice in American politics.

Twenty percent of people who describe themselves as “highly straight” is still 10 percent fewer than the 32 percent of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage.

Just because that 20-percent subgroup is “significantly more likely” to tout an anti-LGBT ideology doesn’t mean we can assume someone like Mike Pence is likely to be covering up a secret past as a gay clubgoer just because of his anti-LGBT track record. So-called closet cases may be abundant, but there’s no way to prove that every Republican who tries to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination is hiding something.

In fact, overgeneralizing and joking as if that were the case may hurt LGBT people.

On Twitter, comedian Cameron Esposito, herself a lesbian, has criticized the homophobic undertones of the constant Mike Pence jokes—and has called out the media for being seemingly more interested in the salacious “homophobe caught having gay sex” story than in the mistreatment of LGBT people writ large.

Reference

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

Throughout history, tales of brave, courageous people being executed for their beliefs, usually religious ones, are well known but the men who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were not persecuted for their religion.

Tolpuddle is a village near Dorchester in Dorset, where in the years 1833 and 1834 a great wave of trade union activity took place and a lodge of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was established. Entry into the union involved payment of a shilling (5p) and swearing before a picture of a skeleton never to tell anyone the union’s secrets.

Lord Melbourne was Prime Minister at this time and he was bitterly opposed to the Trade Union Movement, so when six English farm labourers were sentenced in March 1834 to 7 years transportation to a penal colony in Australia for trade union activities, Lord Melbourne did not dispute the sentence.

The labourers were arrested ostensibly for administrating unlawful oaths, but the real reason was because they were trying to protest at their already pitiful wages. The labourers at Tolpuddle lived in meagre poverty on just 7 shillings a week and wanted an increase to 10 shillings, but instead their wages were cut to 6 shillings a week.

The Whig government had become alarmed at the working class discontent in the country at this time. The government and the landowners, led by James Frampton, were determined to squash the union and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent.

Six of the Tolpuddle labourers were arrested: George and James Loveless, James Brine, James Hammett, Thomas Stansfield and his son John. It was George Loveless who had established the Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers in Tolpuddle.

At their trial, the judge and jury were hostile and the six were sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. After the trial many public protest meetings were held and there was uproar throughout the country at this sentence, so the prisoners were hastily transported to Australia without delay.

The people were incensed at this treatment and after 250,000 people signed a petition and a procession of 30,000 people marched down Whitehall in support of the labourers, the sentences were remitted. After some delay, the the six were given a free passage home from Australia.

When finally home and free, some of the ‘martyrs’ settled on farms in England and four emigrated to Canada.

The tree under which the ‘martyrs’ met is now very old and reduced to a stump, but it has become a place of pilgrimage in Tolpuddle, where it is known as the ‘Martyrs Tree’. A commemorative seat and shelter was erected in 1934 on the green by the wealthy London draper Sir Ernest Debenham.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is perhaps the best known case in the early history of the Trade Union Movement.

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