Tag Archives: LGBT

Gay History: Remembering the Gay Man Who Saved 17 Million Lives

The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.

“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”

—Benedict Cumberbatch

I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.

This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.

Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.

Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.

The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.

“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.

Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.

I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.

In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.

Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.

I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.

Reference

Gay History: Tall Ships, Tall Tales, And The Mysteries Of Eugenia Falleni

Eugenia Falleni in 1920. An Italian-born-woman-turned-Sydney-dwelling-man, Falleni was convicted of murder in 1920. Wikimedia

I’m an unlikely sailor of tall ships. Too clumsy, too prone to motion sickness, too white and nervous about symbols of colonisation. Nevertheless, in 2013 I found myself up the mast in the middle of the Tasman sea, surrounded by nothing but open ocean.

I was researching a novel about Eugenia Falleni, an Italian-born-woman-turned-Sydney-dwelling-man who was tried for the murder of his wife in 1920. As the commonly told version of the story would have it, Falleni “disguised herself” as a cabin boy and sailed from Wellington to Sydney on a Norwegian barque in the last years of the 19th century. According to some enthusiastic (but factually dubious) accounts, Falleni “roistered” around the Pacific, calling in at Honolulu, Papeetee, and Suva, drank with men, and passed as a man, but arrived in Sydney pregnant.

This “Norwegian barque” was a Schrodinger’s box, and Falleni was the cat. Falleni was man and woman in the same instant, and only tunnelling back through time, lifting a hatch on the deckhouse roof and peering in would decide the moment when Falleni, in the eyes of those watching at least, switched from one gender to the other. Many of Falleni’s biographers have tried to imagine the moment of the onlookers’ “discovery”. As a would-be novelist, I had to as well.

But where to start? Too under-confident in my concept to approach anyone from the transgender community, I started with the ship. If I could get the realist details of the external world right, I told myself, perhaps the interior, psychological uncertainties would resolve themselves in the process. Procrastination disguised as research, perhaps, but I did not know that then.

A Google image search of barques revealed that one was – bizarrely for the 21st century – sailing from Sydney to Auckland, almost exactly the reverse passage Falleni would have made in 1897. I lost a few hours clicking through links that led to sites, which led to my booking a berth as voyage crew on the STS Lord Nelson, set to leave Darling Harbour for Auckland on October 10 2013.

The Lord Nelson is not Norwegian, but wannabe time travellers can’t be too fussy. “Nellie”, as she’s affectionately known by those who sail her, is owned and worked by the South Hampton-based Jubilee Sailing Trust, an organisation established in the late 1970s to make off-shore sailing a possibility for those with special needs.

Stowing Sails of the Lord Nelson. JST

Despite Nellie’s mod-cons, my first night beyond the heads was a waking nightmare. The voyage crew slept below decks towards the bow of the ship in an area called the fo’c’sle. The fo’c’sle is far from the stabilising main mast, moves the most, and is the worst place to be if you are feeling queasy. It thrashed up and down, side to side, while we tried to sleep on shelves masquerading as bunks, our green faces nudging and retreating from the lee cloths that kept us in our beds.

We could hear the slurp and spray of the Tasman as it slammed against the porthole windows. Something aggressive barged at the hull repeatedly, and the aftershocks made the ship quiver like a dog in a thunderstorm. In my sleepless paranoid state I was convinced hammerhead sharks were head-butting the keel, trying to get at the tender voyage crew inside. (Later I would learn that the noise was made by the anchor rolling around in the anchor locker.)

Over the following nights, most of us gingerly made our way from our bunks to the stairs in the lower mess, then waited for the ship’s roll to help our weakened legs climb the stairs onto the deck. Once on deck we had to clip onto the safety wire that ran around the deckhouse and vomit into paper bags before flinging them into waves, which loomed five metres above us on the windward side of the ship, or dropped, suddenly, from beneath.

The ship would nuzzle into these waves, before rising on their peaks, tilting, then sliding down into a temporary gully. Why did I think this state of interminable queasiness would help me with a novel? I was literally, and figuratively, at sea.

All at sea

It was a feeling of motion-sickness that originally inspired me to write about Eugenia Falleni. In 2005, Sydney’s Justice and Police museum hosted City of Shadows, an exhibition of long-forgotten police photographs recovered from a flooded warehouse. I left the exhibition with the accompanying book, and later pored over the photographs for traces of the suburbs I thought I knew. One picture in particular captured my attention: a mugshot of a man in a cheap suit and tie, his short hair combed into a sideways part. 

What struck me most was the melancholy in the subject’s eye; how brow-beaten he looked. To me, he seemed composed, but so close to the verge of a nervous breakdown that I was physically jolted out of being a passive viewer. I flipped to the back of the book to read a brief footnote: 

Eugenie Falleni [sic], 1920, Central cells. When hotel cleaner “Harry Leon Crawford” was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife three years earlier, he was revealed to be in fact Eugenie Falleni – a woman and mother who had been passing as a male since 1899…

Turning back to the portrait of the sad man, his face — or my perception of his face — morphed into that of a woman’s. But in the moment that he, the sad man, morphed into she, the “cross-dressing murderer”, I have to admit that the thrill I felt was associated with my own jolt in perception; like the moment Escher’s black birds turn into white birds flying in the opposite direction. What would it be like to live your life oscillating between what others expected to see?

I had, up until this voyage at sea, written hundreds of thousands of words that did not ring true. Possibly this bad writing was due to a nervousness that what I was attempting was culturally insensitive. I am not transgender, I am not working class, I am not, and have never been, Italian. Should I even be attempting to write Falleni’s story? In the interests of forging the most respectful way forward (and appeasing my guilt), I did eventually meet with a trans man my supervisor knew. I was anxious going into the meeting, because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was asking from him. Did I want his permission? And if he gave it, what then? 

My fears, it turned out, were founded. While he generously gave me his morning, he seemed a little frustrated by the need to have to explain that his experience as a trans man was going to be very different to another trans experience, especially one lived a hundred years ago. I flushed with embarrassment. Of course I didn’t want him to suddenly be the spokesman of the entire trans community, no, not at all. 

Sitting across the table from him, my cold coffee growing skin as I babbled, I realised how condescending the categories of identity politics can be. While they are vital in giving the disenfranchised a collective voice, identity politics can also flatten the myriad possible expressions of how people might live between genders into one “type” — where one person’s experience can stand in for another’s.

Deviants to dysmorphia

Falleni told detectives that they dressed as a man for the economic opportunities. According to the local Sydney tabloid press, Truth, Falleni told detectives they “thought it better to give up life as a woman, because they worked for long hours for a small wage”. But Falleni also married two women and owned a dildo (also held in the Justice and Police Museum’s collection) — and presumably engaged in sexual relationships with women. Living at a time that did not have a language for what would now be considered transgender experience, it’s not surprising Falleni avoided citing sexual or instinctual reasons for passing as a man. 

At the time of Falleni’s trial, the term used to describe anyone not living a hetero-normative existence was a “sexual invert”, a pathological condition of deviancy. Falleni’s barrister, Archibald McDonnell, vaguely suggested that Falleni was such an “invert” by arguing that Falleni had “the masculine angle of the arms”. The judge interrupted McDonell’s cross-examination of the government medical officer to ask if he was making an insanity plea, proving that, at the time, there was confusion about whether “sexual inversion” was a sexualityBut as historian Ruth Ford argues, it was not in the interest of the Crown to classify Falleni as an invert, because it would have “detracted from their case, which emphasised Falleni’s deceptive nature — her fraud and lies”. 

Since Falleni’s arrest, various attempts have been made to categorise Falleni’s gender-crossing. In 1939, Dr Herbert M. Moran wrote that Falleni was a “homosexualist” and suggested their “disorder” was congenital. He wrote: 

She was condemned even from her birth and her abnormality derived from the very nature of her being. The temperamental outbursts, the vulgar debauches, the filthy speech, were but minor manifestations of her interior disorder.

In his 2012 biography of Falleni, Mark Tedeschi diagnosed “gender dysmorphia”, reporting that 

her female bodily attributes were like having an unwanted, additional limb attached to her body that she overwhelmingly felt did not belong to her.

Eugenia Falleni in 1928, State Reformatory for Women. Justice and Police Museum, Sydney

Others have resisted classifying Falleni’s gender and sexuality. Alyson Campbell, director of Lachlan Philpott’s 2012 play about Falleni, The Trouble with Harry, admits to having initially wished to impose a lesbian subjectivity on Falleni’s story. However she conceded that neither lesbian or trans identities were “available to a person such as Falleni, navigating a way through the undocumented, secret world of being a female husband.”

I did not want to invade Falleni’s very private existential conundrum and claim their identities for my empire (read: my cv), and yet I couldn’t shake the story off. 

What kept drawing me back was not an urge to answer the questions of who Falleni was (which are not my questions to answer), but rather an urge to come to terms with how Sydney dealt with the uncertainties that Falleni’s various identities posed. The shock remains fresh: Falleni’s trial occurred almost 100 years ago, and although the terminology we use to discuss cases like this has changed, the tendency to categorise and scrutinise “abnormal” behaviour hasn’t. 

This was also a story about patriarchy, how its control is insidious and polices everyone — men and women and those who are neither or both — at every level of bureaucracy. Though my experience is by no means comparable to Falleni’s, this is something I have experienced first-hand. 

A stranger amongst men

When the seas died down around Nellie, we were well clear of land. Surrounded by nothing but open ocean, my life now depended on something as small as a house, as buoyant as a bath toy, something only as strong as its shipwrights knew how to make it.

Sexual innuendo was social currency on the ship, and your first voyage was a test, to see if you could take it. It was fun, at first, to be around authority figures who couldn’t give a shit about “minding their manners” and affecting professional decorum. It helped that the first mate Leslie — a woman — had stripes, and was just as crass as the men. 

I ended up staying on from Auckland to Wellington, this time as a trainee bosun’s mate, the volunteer crew responsible for maintaining the ship’s equipment. On this leg a watch leader presented me with a lock that had fallen off the ladies’ toilet door in the fo’c’sle, along with four very short screws. I found Leslie and the Captain in the chart room and asked Leslie what she thought I should do with it. 

She looked at me incredulously. “Fix it.”

“Right,” I said, “but where are the screws?”

“You’ll have to get them from Mr Chips,” she said.

“Ah, but Pip,” the Captain said, “I’d be careful how you ask Chips for a screw.”

I found the second engineer, Mr Chips, on the stern platform with the first engineer, Marco, sitting in a coil of rope and sipping his third cup of tea for the day.

“Chips,” — I was already on the defensive — “I know how this is going to go, but I need four long screws.”

Chips said nothing for a while.

“Right,” he eventually said, “well you’ll find them in the container in the middle of the workshop.”

Marco groaned at the wasted opportunity.

Negotiating sexual innuendo with the cook was more precarious. When a handful of us were asked to scour the hot galley, I volunteered to scour the lard that had accumulated under and behind the ovens. At one point I had my torso wedged under the ovens, and my arse had nowhere else to be but high in the air. Derek the cook stood behind, supervising. The next day he sat beside me while I was sitting on the deck.

“I think you visited me last night in my dreams,” he said softly. “But you weren’t wearing French knickers when you cleaned the ovens, were you?” The comment was meant to be funny, but it made me weary. Really? I thought. Is this how it’s going to be? The game was: they prodded, and you deflected. It was both exhausting and boring.

Later, in the bar, I told Derek he was a sleaze. I said it publicly, and jovially, knowing “preciousness” would not be tolerated. Mr Chips inhaled sharply and Derek’s face fell. An unspoken rule of the ship became clear to me: women should take a joke, but an accusation of sexual impropriety — even if made in good humour — would not be tolerated. 

Derek’s revenge came at dinner. My meal was loaded with so much chilli powder, I could barely swallow it. He didn’t talk to me for three days, but by the time we reached Napier he was cracking jokes about my “free passage” with a playful elbow in the ribs. I laughed along, to show him I could take it.

After we’d tied up in Wellington, Marco and I were taking a moment to recover from the wind over a cup of tea in the upper mess.

“So, what are you writing about?” he asked. 

I told him the spiel. By then, I’d learned it by rote.

“Falleni…” Marco said, trying out the name, “so she was Italian? Of course she was. I bet she was hairy, too,” he chuckled, and shot a knowing look at Mr Chips. 

As he did, I thought I saw a horse passing by on the dock outside. I did a double take. Yes, there was a horse out on the dock, being led by a woman in a shabby suit and bowler hat. She turned to look at the ship, and I saw her moustache, the whiskers growing out of her cheeks.

“Oh my God,” I said, and pointed out the window behind his back. He turned to look, and there were more women now, all in shabby suits and moustaches. 

Marco turned back, unfazed. “So the wife, she had to know.”

“Well, apparently not,” I said, on automatic pilot, transfixed by the scene out the window.

“But how did they fuck?”

“With a dildo,” I said. “It’s on exhibit at…”

The women began to chant. They were on strike. They were re-creating the Great Strike of 1913 for the museum over the road, but it was the world of my novel and it was real and it was right outside the window.

Female union actors dockside in Wellington. Pip Smith

During the month I spent in Wellington, I wrote the first part of my novel that stuck. It had nothing to do with sailing ships, nothing to do with being a spokesperson for a transgender experience that was not mine to share, and everything to do with being a fish out of water: a stranger amongst men.

Postscript

Eugenia Falleni was sentenced to death for the murder of Annie Birkett on October 6 1920, but shortly afterwards this sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Falleni was released from Long Bay Penitentiary in February 1931, after which they lived as Jean Ford, and built a successful business as a manager of “residentials”.

On June 9, 1938, Jean Ford sold her Glenmore Road “residential” business for £105, and on the same day was hit by a car on Oxford St. Ford was taken to Sydney Hospital, but died on June 10, aged 63. Throughout their lives, Falleni maintained their innocence. 

A year after my voyage on Nellie, Suzanne Falkiner re-released her 1988 biography of Falleni with revisions and new information. There were details that hadn’t jumped out at me before. The main one suddenly rendering redundant months and thousands of dollars worth of research: Falleni probably didn’t travel to Sydney by a “Norwegian barque” at all. The son of one of Falleni’s New Zealand friends recalled that 

the last time [Falleni] met my mother, [Falleni] told her that she was going to work her way as a stoker [someone who stoked a fire for a ship’s engine] on a ship to Australia, which she did. After she arrived in Australia, she [or someone who wrote for her] wrote to my mother saying she had arrived safe and that she hardly slept at all on board ship and kept an iron bar under her pillow for protection.

A stoker? On board a barque? Not likely. In becoming obsessed with the mysteries of Falleni’s identity, I had ignored details that were not convenient to my own myths. Or perhaps I wanted to go to sea, be at sea, a little while longer.


NB: in this article, I have chosen to refer to Falleni according to their surname, for its gender-neutrality, and have used the pronoun “they” when referring to Falleni’s collective self, and “he” or “she” for Falleni’s particular identities that presented as decidedly male or female.

Pip Smith’s novel, Half Wild, has just been published.

Reference

Gay History: Nancy Kulp: Life In The Celluloid Closet (Miss Jane Hathaway In “The Beverly Hillbillies)

In the 1960s, it was almost unheard-of to find an out Queer person on television. Those that held a Queer identity were often forced into a ‘celluloid closet’ and made to keep their identities silent and hidden from public consumption. This was the case of Nancy Kulp, a closeted lesbian who is most remembered for her appearance as Miss Jane Hathaway in almost all of the 274 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, a television series airing on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Kulp would eventually come out, using her own terms, in a 1989 interview.

Nancy Jane Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on August 28th, 1921 to Marjorie and Robert Kulp; the family would later move to Dade County, Florida. The only daughter of a lawyer and schoolteacher, Nancy was a bookish child from an early age and dreamed of becoming a journalist. Nancy would take the first step toward her goal when she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1943. During her years at FSU, Kulp worked as a feature writer for the Miami Beach Tropics, working on celebrity profiles.

Though she planned on continuing her education and obtaining her master’s degree, Nancy joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 to aid the US Navy during World War Two. While it was her patriotism and desire to work in an “all-female” atmosphere that led to her enlistment, Nancy determined that it was not her destiny to hold a career in the armed forces and left in 1945 after reaching the rank of junior-grade lieutenant. After leaving WAVES, Kulp took a position in Miami as a publicity director for a local radio station in 1946.

At the age of thirty, Nancy Kulp exchanged vows in an April Fool’s Day wedding celebration to Charles Dacus on April 1, 1951. While the marriage was short-lived, both parties parted on good terms and the relationship had a long-lasting impact on Nancy Kulp’s life. Nancy said that it was Charles Dacus who encouraged Kulp to leave her career as a publicist to achieve a career in acting (though she also later said that this inspiration came from director George Cukor). Following this encouragement, Nancy made her way to Hollywood where she took a position as a film publicist while she waited for her big break.

This break would come only three weeks later when she was discovered by A-list, gay, director George Cukor. Later that year, Nancy Kulp would make her big screen debut in Cukor’s 1951 film, The Model and the Marriage Broker. This role was larger than most others she would hold in movies though it was mostly silent and demeaning as she took on the role of a young woman desperately seeking matrimony from a marriage broker. This role was Kulp’s first foray into the sort of character she would often be type-cast to play- the spinster.

In 1954, Nancy would be cast in another Cukor film, the Judy Garland- led A Star is Born, though the scene in which she appeared would later be cut without the director’s knowledge or consent. Kulp would make several smaller appearances in many successful films such as Sabrina (the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Strange Bedfellows (1965), and The Parent Trap (1961), where Kulp played the butch troop leader.

While Nancy appeared in movies, most of her acting work was done for the small screen. She made several appearances, largely comedic, on various television shows. Her first recurring television role was as a bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959). The writer for The Bob Cummings Show, Paul Henning, would go on to write for The Beverly Hillbillies, and created a role specifically for Kulp. Nancy would become known across the country as Miss Jane Hathaway, a smart and confident secretary that worked for a bank. Miss Jane, as most of the characters called her, was also a character that played into Kulp’s type-casted role as a spinster. Kulp received an Emmy Award nomination in 1967 for her performance on the show.

After the final episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Kulp was given a regular role on the Brian Keith Show (1973-1974) and made appearances on Sanford and Son (1972-1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), and Fantasy Island (1978-1984). Kulp also appeared on stage at summer stock and dinner theaters before eventually landing a role in Paul Osborn’s 1982 production of Mornings at Seven.

In 1984, the patriotic Nancy Kulp, who had long been interested in politics, decided to run for Congress in her district in central Pennsylvania, having settled in Port Royal. She ran as a Democrat against the Ninth District’s incumbent Republican representative, Bud Shuster. While she received an endorsement from friend and fellow showbiz personality Ed Asner, her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen recorded a radio advertisement claiming that Kulp was “too liberal for Pennsylvania.” Kulp was enraged by Ebsen, a California resident, getting involved in her campaign, stating that she “was speechless at such a betrayal, and something so needless and cruel.”

Nancy Kulp would go on to be defeated by Shuster and would spend the next year at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, teaching film and drama. She would later return to California to serve on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and take an active role in non-profits including the Humane Society of the Desert, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Desert Theater League.

In a 1989 interview with author Boze Hadleigh for the book Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, Kulp responded to Hadleigh’s “Big Question” (the question of her sexuality which she renamed the “Fatal Question”) Nancy remarked in her own words:

“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she told Hadleigh. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort–I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.”

Never in the course of the interview did she refer to herself as a lesbian.

Nancy Kulp would die of cancer only two years later, on February 3, 1991, at her home in Palm desert, California. While she never actively owned a lesbian label, Nancy Kulp was hailed as being a lesbian ground-breaker in the field of acting for having portrayed her identity (though a secret) in her work.

Former “Beverly Hillbilly” Says She Didn’t Play The Political “Game″

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nancy Kulp of ″The Beverly Hillbillies″ fame doesn’t blame fellow Hillbilly Buddy Ebsen for her election defeat last fall – but says he should have stayed out of the congressional race.

Ebsen, who starred with Ms. Kulp on the long-running television program in the 1960s and early 1970s, recorded a radio commercial for her opponent, Republican Rep. Bud Shuster. In the spot, aired several weeks before the election, Ebsen said, ″Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.″

Ms. Kulp still bristles when she thinks about the ad. ″How dare he 3/8 It wasn’t his business,″ she said.

But she said there were other reasons for her defeat, notably her lack of political savvy, a shortage of campaign dollars and the popularity of President Reagan in Shuster’s sprawling rural Pennsylvania district.

“I didn’t play the game, I guess,″ Ms. Kulp, 63, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. She left her restored, three-story farmhouse in Port Royal, Pa., after the election and drove to California to visit friends.

While she raised $73,143 during 1984, Shuster, who was seeking his seventh House term, reported contributions of $269,597, according to campaign finance reports. Ms. Kulp reported gifts of $29,471 from political action committees, Shuster $138,817.

After years of involvement in local party politics and with the Screen Actors Guild, Ms. Kulp said seeking office was satisfying because ″you finally get to put your convictions on the line. It was one of the highlights of my life.″

But the experience left her with a helpless feeling that there was an image barrier between her and the voters that she could not surmount.

“You’re turned off by the distortions,″ she said. ″My feeling is a candidate is elected because they are perceived to be something. Ronald Reagan never talked issues; he waved the flag and the people loved it.

“I was perceived to be an ultra-liberal. If that is their perception – even if they like me – then I can’t win.″

The experience, she said, has left her ″ambivalent″ about the elective process and doubtful that she will seek public office again.

A central Pennsylvania native born in Harrisburg, Ms. Kulp began her acting career in 1952. She appeared in such films as ″Three Faces of Eve″ and ″The Parent Trap,″ and was featured on ″The Bob Cummings Show″ on television before the ″Beverly Hillbillies″ premiered in 1961.

On the ″Beverly Hillbillies,″ she played the secretary of a banker managing the account of a millionaire hillbilly, played by Ebsen. She and Ebsen used to talk politics on the set; they rarely agreed about issues, she said.

Ms. Kulp said she now is thinking about returning to the East Coast, possibly to teach. Juniata, a small liberal arts college 120 miles east of Pittsburgh, has expressed interest in her, perhaps for an ″artist-in-re sidence″ program, said college spokesman Robert Howden.

Who the F Is … Actress and Politician Nancy Kulp?

Who she was: A well-regarded character actress who eventually ran for public office and came out — rather obliquely.

What she accomplished: Nancy Kulp (1921-1991) endeared herself to baby boomers with her role on a silly but successful TV sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies. From 1962 to 1971, she played the prim, efficient Miss Jane Hathaway, secretary to banker Milburn Drysdale. She and Drysdale were managing the millions of the Clampett family, a backwoods clan who had relocated from Tennessee to Beverly Hills after striking oil. The comedy arose from the contrast between the beyond-unsophisticated Clampetts — who made moonshine, kept “critters,” and called their swimming pool “the cement pond” — and the upscale Southern Californians who surrounded them. Hathaway, always called “Miss Jane” by the Clampetts and their kin, was unaccountably attracted to the dim-witted Jethro Bodine, nephew of patriarch Jed Clampett. Critics had no love for the show, but viewers found it hilarious, and it had an extended life in syndication.

Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Kulp studied journalism in college, then served in the WAVES during World War II. After the war she worked as a publicist for radio and TV stations in Florida, then came to Hollywood in the 1950s with an eye to continuing in publicity. Someone encouraged her to try acting — some accounts say it was her then-husband, Charles Dacus, whom she refused to discuss in later years; others say it was esteemed director George Cukor. At any rate, she quickly won a small role in a Cukor film, The Model and the Marriage Broker, starring Jeanne Crain, Scott Brady, and Thelma Ritter. It was one of the great filmmaker’s lesser efforts, but it launched her career. She played supporting parts, often uncredited, in some noteworthy movies — Shane, Sabrina, the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born, also directed by Cukor — and some now-forgotten ones. She also worked in TV anthology series and in guest-starring roles. Before Hillbillies, she was a regular on The Bob Cummings Show, playing a spinsterly bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone. (Bird-watching was also one of Miss Jane’s hobbies.)

After The Beverly Hillbillies ended, she continued to guest-star on various TV series; she had a recurring role on Sanford and Son for a time, and like many aging actors she appeared on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She also performed on Broadway in Morning’s at Seven in the early 1980s. But she had a passion for politics, dating back to Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign in 1952, and in 1984 she returned to central Pennsylvania to run for Congress. She was an underdog as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district represented by a popular incumbent. She got support from showbiz friend Ed Asner, but her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen, who had played Jed, did a commercial in which he called her “too liberal” and endorsed her opponent. It caused a rift between them that lasted for years, although they reportedly eventually made up. She lost the election to the incumbent, Bud Shuster. Later, she taught acting at a Pennsylvania college and made some stage appearances, including one as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the 1987 Georgia Shakespeare Festival in Atlanta, then retired to the California desert, where she kept busy with volunteer work. Among other things, she served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.

In 1989 she addressed her sexual orientation — to a degree — in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, published in his book Hollywood Lesbians. “As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort — I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.” Miss Jane would have appreciated the imagery. She also expressed admiration for gay congressman Barney Frank, and when Hadleigh asked if she would have come out in Congress, she said, “Not voluntarily. If I were outed, then I would not deny it.” Hadleigh waited to publish the book until 1994, when all his subjects were dead. Kulp died of cancer in 1991 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif.

Choice quotes: “If one is past 50 or 60, it’s almost like saying that most of your life you’ve been too embarrassed to admit it or to speak up.” — to Boze Hadleigh, on the possibility of coming out

“I think I’ve been successful in making the distinction between actress and politician. But there’s always someone who screams, ‘Where’s Jethro?’” — to People magazine, during her congressional campaign

10 times Miss Jane Hathaway let loose and ditched her pressed suit on The Beverly Hillbillies

Take a tour of Nancy Kulp’s silliest costumes.

At its heart, The Beverly Hillbillies was about breaking out of your comfort zone, and it wasn’t just the Clampetts experiencing the growing pains. Fans know that Miss Jane Hathaway, the snooty bank secretary who keeps an eye on the Clampetts, had as much to learn from the hillbillies about having fun as they did from her about fitting in with fine society.

We first meet Jane Hathaway in the bank, dilligently taking notes for Mr. Drysdale, her boss, the insanely wealthy bank manager. She’s wearing her signature pressed suit, a drab number we’d see her sport throughout most of the initial seasons. But it wouldn’t take the writers, costumers and hillbillies long to wrestle Miss Jane out of those stuffy suits and neckerchiefs just to stuff her into funnier outfits that drew extra laughs precisely because she’d been set up as such a straight character. It was one of many ways the show had fun with its audience.

Below, we’ve gone back through our favorite episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies to offer up this tour of Miss Jane Hathaway’s most dazzling and outrageous outfits over nine seasons. Played brilliantly by Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane remains one of the show’s most memorable characters, and here’s a parade of standout moments that show us how her wardrobe helped cement her legacy.

1. Miss Jane Hathaway the Artist

It only took seven episodes before we saw Nancy Kulp slip into something sillier, this artist look that we consider her character’s first masterpiece in transformation.

2. Is that Nancy Kulp or Groucho Marx?

In the later seasons, the volume got turned up on Nancy Kulp’s costumes, and this was perhaps the height of that hilarity.

3. A hillbilly before the first season ends.

By the end of the first season, we got our first look at Nancy Kulp in hillbilly garb, and even doing a dance with the whole Clampett family! Talk about letting loose! This primed us to expect the unexpected from the typically kempt Miss Jane.

4. Remember when Miss Jane posed as Uncle Sam?

The color episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies do not disappoint when it comes to costumes, especially this red-white-and-blue suit arguably louder than any other suit she donned the whole series.

5. Miss Jane, the pageant queen.

There were many plots that involved Elly and Jane in competition for a suitor’s attention, but this beauty contest in the third season was the first time they turned that trope into a swimsuit competition!

6. Don’t think Miss Jane’s beneath a denim suit!

Need proof that Miss Jane Hathaway is a trendsetter? Check out this denim suit she donned at the very start of the ’70s. It was her idea of beach attire, and the bucket hat just perfects the look, don’t you think?

7. Fancy Nancy!

There were plenty of times, as we’ll get into soon, when Nancy Kulp showed up looking stunning on The Beverly Hillbillies, but we get flashes of Carol Burnett and Friends when we saw this particular evening attire and wacky updo!

8. Miss Jane’s very first evening look.

Let’s take a moment to just genuinely appreciate how Nancy Kulp completely owned silk, pearls and simplistic elegance. Bask in the very first time we saw her in a seriously stunning evening look from the first season.

9. That’s not to say she didn’t also know how to overdo it…

Between the wig, costume jewelry and dangly everything, Miss Jane almost looks as out of sorts in this outfit as Elly May did in an evening gown!

10. Proper, even in pajamas.

Last look is all the proof you need that Miss Jane even prefers to sleep in a suit, donning these neat blue pajamas in contrast to Granny’s gowns, but that changes soon when the writers get her character stuck in a sleeping bag that Granny’s trying to free her from here. It’s just one more example of all the physical humor that came just from shaking up Jane Hathaway’s wardrobe!

References

What Would Happen If We Made Our Gay Movie About The Bible?

From dusty-sandal epic to zany comedy, these LGBTI characters from the Bible deserve some movie magic.

Lupita Nyong’o and Oprah Winfrey.

Ruth and Naomi

Category: Drama

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o (Ruth) and Oprah Winfrey (Naomi)

Premise: At a time of famine, a mother who has lost her sons finds love, strength and hope in the unlikeliest place.

Plot: Naomi and her family flee to Moab to find food. Her husband and then her sons die. One of her daughters-in-law leaves, but the other, Ruth, refuses to go.

‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ (Ruth 1:16)

Together they travel to Bethlehem and build a new life.

Channing Tatum and Zac Efron.

David and Jonathan

Category: Action

Starring: Channing Tatum (David) and Zac Efron (Jonathan)

Premise: One was the lowly shepherd who slew the giant Goliath. The other was the Prince of the Israelites. Their love would rock a nation.

Plot: David kills Goliath and becomes a great warrior. Prince Jonathan, heir to King Saul, falls in love with him.

They make a ‘covenant’, a sworn, lifelong friendship agreement – more marriage than bromance.

‘Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.’ (1 Samuel 18:4)

They make out: ‘They kissed each other and wept together’.

Saul tries to kill David, fearing he would take the crown. Jonathan repeatedly warns his lover, saving his life.

Saul and Jonathan die in battle. David becomes king and writes the ancient world’s gayest song of mourning:

‘I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.’ (2 Samuel 1:17)

Jamie Bell and Dev Patel.

Daniel and Ashpanez

Category: Action

Starring: Jamie Bell (Daniel) and Dev Patel (Ashpanez)

Premise: Babylon. The greatest city on Earth. A slave finds love with his eunuch overlord. Together they will defy the king and win eternal glory.

Plot: King Nebuchanezzer overruns Jerusalem and brings Daniel to Babylon to be his slave.

‘Now God brought Daniel into favor and tender [physical] love with the prince of the eunuchs’, Ashpanez, the man whose job it was to train the slaves to serve the king. (Daniel 1:9)

When Daniel refuses to eat the food the king commands, Ashpanez helps him. Daniel becomes the most ribbed and powerful of the king’s servants and goes on to survive action sequences in a fiery furnace and den of lions.

Darren Criss and Jared Leto.

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

Category: Epic

Starring: Jared Leto (Jesus) and Darren Criss (John)

Premise: The Greatest Love Story Never Told.

Plot: John is one of Jesus’ first disciples and is repeatedly called ‘The Beloved Disciple’. He is next to him at The Last Supper.

‘Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.’ (John 13:23)

At the crucifixion, Jesus tells his mother Mary that this ‘beloved disciple’ is ‘your son’ and tells him that she is ‘your mother’.

Later, he is one of the first to find Jesus’ tomb empty and is visited by Jesus after his death.

Morgan Freeman in the film Red.

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Category: Comedy

Starring: Morgan Freeman

Premise: Judea. 31 AD. Around about teatime. And it doesn’t take much to save a eunuch.

Plot: An angel sends Philip to a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. He comes across a ‘born’ eunuch (gay man or possibly intersex person) who is the treasurer of the queen of the Ethiopians. (Acts 8:27)

When the Ethiopian Eunuch sees some water, he asks Philip to baptize him. But after they emerge from the water, Philip has simply disappeared…

Hugh Jackman and Russell Tovey.

The Centurion and his Lover

Category: Romantic comedy

Starring: Hugh Jackman (the centurion) and Russell Tovey (his lover)

Premise: Boy meets centurion. Centurion falls in love with boy. Boy falls sick. Centurion visits Jesus and asks for miracle.

Plot: Hugh Jackman stars as the beefy Roman Centurion who falls in love with his slave. But when the young man falls sick, nothing will stop him from finding a cure, even if it means humbling himself in front of a conquered Jew, Jesus.

‘Lord, my “pais” [servant or same-gender lover] lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly… I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’ (Matthew 8:6)

Spoiler: They all live happily ever after.

Reference

Gay History: A Gay Old Kat

The Krazy Kat club, 1921.

Via The Comics Reporter, the website Shorpy has a  great collection of photos from the 1920s of the Krazy Kat club, a Washington DC hangout/speakeasy that appears to have been quite a hub of bohemian activity. The police busted it more than once. The clientele included college kids, flappers and gays. A diary by a gay man kept in 1920 refers to the Krazy Kat club as a “Bohemian joint in an old stable up near Thomas Circle … (where) artists, musicians, atheists, professors” congregated.  

The gay angle is worth pondering because of the club was named after the comic strip Krazy Kat (who can be seen on the door sign in the photo above). Krazy was the first androgynous hero(ine) of the comics: sometimes Krazy was a he, sometimes a she. As creator George Herriman stated, Krazy was willing to be either.

 Is it possible that Krazy’s shifting gender identity made him/her an icon for gays? 

Or it could be that the owners just liked comics. The building that housed the Krazy Kat club remained a gay hangout for decades to come and also held on to its connection to comics: it was later renamed The Green Lantern.

It’s also the case that Krazy Kat attracted outsiders of all sorts, not just gays. In the 1930s in Chicago, there was a Krazy Kat club organized by teenage African-Americans, also interesting in the light of the fact that Herriman had some black ancestry and used African-American themes and motifs in his strip.

This 1920s Badass Bohemian Hangout Had a Speakeasy in a Tree House

Oh yeah!  If this isn’t one of the coolest places that anyone ever partied in, then I don’t know what is! When I came across these photos I was immediately compelled to find out more about it.

Turns out that back in the 1920s there was speakeasy in Washington D.C. that served its bootleg cocktails in a treehouse.  It was named the “Krazy Kat Klub” after the character in a popular comic strip created by George Herriman.

The club was run by Cleon “Throck”  Throckmorton , an artist who later became a stage set designer.  It was a hipster haven for the counterculture,  the avant garde,  the artsy set.

This excerpt from a 1922 article in the Washington Times on Throckmorton and his “Krazy Kat Klub” was written by Victor Flambeau. He describes the club as  “a most spooky sort of place, weird and crazy as its name.”  A place for “Good friends, a blazing fire, some primitive furniture, hand made no doubt, candles, drinks, eats, a floor to dance upon, a garden annex in summertime, a spreading tree with airy rookeries built in it’s branches.”

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a really fun place to me!

Below is the entrance to the club, which was actually in an old stable.  Cleon, aka “Throck” is on the right.

And you know those unruly bohemians! Because it operated during Prohibition it was raided many times.

Below is an account from the Washington Post on a raid in 1919.

Officer Roberts was under orders to watch the ” rendevous of the Bohemians.”  (great name for a band!) when he heard a shot fired. A raid ensued and 14 people landed in the slammer, mostly for drunk and disorderly conduct.

The article likens the Krazy Kat Klub to a Greenwich Village coffee house,  with gaudy pictures created by futurists and impressionists.   And the people arrested were “self styled artists, poets and actors and”  GET THIS,  “some who worked for the government by day and masqueraded as Bohemians by night.”

The horror! Can you imagine?  Government workers leading double lives!  Who would have thought?

 

I don’t know who that hot tomato is on the left, but I adore her 20s boho look.  The photo was taken in 1921 and she’s wearing black rolled down stockings, a scarf wrapped around her head gypsy style and a skirt that is showing her knees. Downright scandalous!
And check out this old rickety ladder they had to navigate in order to knock back a few.    They sure had to  go way out on a limb to get tipsy in the treetops!  Imagine what it was like to have to climb down after one too many? I can imagine more than one patron ended up on their behinds!
Mr. Throckmorton at the easel, 1920s hipsters smoking and posing in the yard.
More history about the Krazy Kat Klub can be found here.

After seeing these photos I so want one of these in my back yard.  Note to self, must add speakeasy treehouse to DH’s “Honey Do” list.

So, what about you? If you could time travel back to the 1920s, would you want to hang out in a place like this?

The Language of Krazy Kat

Chris Ware’s cover for the new Krazy Kat book.

If you live near a decent book store, you can now buy a copy of George Herriman’s Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: “A Ragout of Raspberries”, which gathers together two years of great full-page, colourful Krazy Kat comics. Beautifully designed by Chris Ware, the book also has a substantial essay I wrote Herriman’s writing skills.

 In celebration of this new book, I want to quote a very pregnant bit of dialogue that appeared on Jan. 06, 1918 when Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse started arguing about the nature of language:

Krazy: “Why is Lenguage, Ignatz?”

Ignatz: “Language is that we may understand one another.”

Krazy:  “Can you unda-stend a Finn, or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher, huh?”

Ignatz: “No,”

Krazy: “Can a Finn, or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher unda-stend you?”

Ignatz: “No,”

Krazy: “Then I would say lenguage is that that we may mis-unda-stend each udda.”

(I know what Finns and Laplanders are but I have no clue as to Oshkoshers. Anybody have any idea on this?)

The language of sin in Krazy Kat.

And here’s an excerpt from my essay:

To a striking degree, Herriman drew on the rich oral culture of early 20th century America. Herriman was a cultural magpie, taking his words from diverse sources far and wide, ranging from popular songs to political speeches to the Bible to medical and scientific discourse.

In describing Herriman’s literary skills, it’s easy enough to classify him as a nonsense poet, a coiner of nonce-words and playful gibberish in the great tradition of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. But if you pay close attention to Herriman’s language, what becomes evident is that he usually doesn’t make words up, however much he might twist them around. Rather, Herriman had a great ear for speech, for the endless mutations and variations of language as garbled by the human tongue. Herriman’s language was not something he invented in his head; it can be traced back to the world he lived in.

The America Herriman grew up in was much more oral than anything we’re used to. For us, music is something that comes out of a c.d. player or an iPod. In Herriman’s world, people could break out into song all over the place: at parties, at picnics, and in church. All the characters in Krazy Kat are tuneful, especially the eponymous heroine. These songs come from all sorts of genres, ranging from traditional hymns (such as Krazy’s familiar refrain that “there is a heppy land, fur, fur a-wa-ay”) to frontier anthems (“home on the range” gets a workout on July 26, 1942) to bluesy lamentations (when Krazy sings “Press my pents an’ shine my shoes” on July 22, 1935). Herriman also brings in songs from other languages. On July 29, 1941 we hear Ignatz sing to himself “Adios, Chaparrita Chula”. These words (which could be translated to mean “goodbye insolent darling”) are taken from the traditional Mexican lover’s lament “Adios, Mariquita Linda”.

Words aren’t stable, fixed things. They have shades of meaning and shifting connotations. Herriman was supremely alert to the slipperiness of language. Listen to how Ignatz tries to sweep aside Mrs. Kwakk Wakk: “Away, woman away with your gabble and gossip.” (May 25, 1941) Gabble is the perfect word because it denotes both meaningless speech and the low jabber of a duck (which is of course Mrs. Kwakk Wakk’s species).

Two pages from within the Krazy Kat book.

Reference

Gay History: Queer, Black & Blue: Sister Rosetta Tharpe Is Muva Of Them All

Artwork by Kendrick Daye

Rock-n-Roll was invented by a queer Black woman born in 1915 Arkansas. Your disordered hardcore punk rock was sanctioned by a kinky-haired Black girl born to two cotton pickers in the Jim Crow South. The electric guitar was first played in ways very few people could have ever imagined by a woman who wasn’t even allowed to play at music venues around the country.

The Patron Saint of rock music is Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The original punk rebel from which we were all born, SRT is muva.

Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to parents Katie Bell Nubin and Willis Atkins. Two regular folks both passionate about music. Growing up in the Church of God in Christ (her mother was a preacher), religious worship through musical expression, Tharpe musicality was fostered in an encouraging environment from the jump. Described as a music prodigy, four-year-old Nubin began singing and playing her beloved guitar in the church. Even in that way, Tharpe is representative of an American musical history born in the Black church.

By six, Tharpe was a featured performer in a traveling evangelical troupe where she accompanied her mother to gospel concerts all across the country, playing with people like Duke Ellington, before eventually settling in Chicago. Traveling influenced her a lot, and her music was flavored both by urban contemporary and the sounds of rural, backwoods towns. By 19, she had met and married Thomas Thorpe, a preacher, too. But that didn’t last long. And by 1948, ol’ girl had left her husband—taking his last name with her, which she adopted as a stage name. Thanks for that, Thomas.

1938 would turn out to be a banner year for Tharpe. During this time she recorded her first pieces of music, with the backing of Lucky Millinder’s jazz orchestra, This would mark the first time a gospel act would lay down tracks for Decca Records, a British lael that boasted other icons like Bing Crosby. But Tharpe was still just an icon in the making. Somewhat of a legend all on her own. During this time she came out with her first hit, “Rock Me” by Thomas Dorsey. And that shit is kinda emo! And powerful. Not only a talented guitarist, but Tharpe’s soaring vocals on the track also knock the wind out of you to this day.

Performing as both a solo artist and occasionally in collaborations with groups like the all-white group, the Jordanaires and Cab Calloway, Tharpe brought her show to places like the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. Shocking and then captivating audiences, most people at that time had never even seen a Black woman play an electric guitar before. Let alone one who could command one to make such noises. Both controversial and respected for her undeniability, SRT brought gospel music to mainstream popularity every night she performed. Blending the sounds of her childhood with jazz, blues, and the genre she was inventing all her own. Even when this ostracized her from the gospel community.

In 1944, another seminal year in Tharpe’s career, she released “Strange Things Happening Every Day”. A song that went on to become the first gospel to chart on Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade (now R&B chart). It is considered by some to be the first rock song, ever. Fast-forward two years and Tharpe is witnessing Marie Knight and Mahalia Jackson live in concert in New York City. Utterly spellbound by Marie Knight, Tharpe tracked her down and the two set out to perform together. While Knight sang and played piano, SRT did both, plus guitar. The two became lovers and creative partners through the rest of the decade. During this time they recorded “Up Above My Head”.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe continued to tour and make new music throughout the fifties and into the sixties. In 1964 she performed the now infamous show at an abandoned railroad station where it was broadcast nationwide in England. Dressed in that luxurious fur coat and driven by a horse-drawn carriage, Tharpe was rock-and-roll royalty whether people knew it then or not. Regardless of how historic and inspirational this show was, the sixties were when her popularity began to fade. Blues began to surge and she toured Europe as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan alongside Muddy Waters and Otis Spann. But with the rise of male and white rock singers and musicians who appealed more to mainstream culture–as well as Tharpe’s devotion to recording religious material—she was pushed to the fringes of the musical movements she helped inspire.

And inspired many she did. Everyone from Chuck Berry to Elvis was influenced by Tharpe’s musicality. During his induction speech at the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, the Man in Black, Johnny Cash shouted her out as his favorite singer. A fact daughter-in-law Rosanne would later back up. Everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Aretha Franklin credit her musicianship as an important influence on them. “She influenced Elvis Presley, she influenced Johnny Cash, she influenced Little Richard,” says Tharpe’s biographer Gayle Wald. “She influenced innumerable other people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll.”

“When people would ask her about her music,” Wald says, “she would say, ‘Oh, these kids and rock and roll — this is just sped up rhythm and blues. I’ve been doing that forever.’”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe died from a stroke in Philadelphia in 1973. She had been living there with her mother in a modest home after her leg was amputated as the result of diabetes-related complications. Marie Knight was there to do the makeup and hair for her burial. Tharpe was buried in an unmarked Philly grave that has since been annotated.

Reference

Gay History: Raymond Burr’s Secret Life

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Raymond Burr was in excruciating pain as he filmed the final “Perry Mason” episodes in 1993. Almost no one on the set knew he was dying of cancer. Biographer Michael Seth Starr is not surprised. According to Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr (published by Applause), secrecy was second nature to the actor. He became one of the world’s most familiar TV stars during the original run of “Perry Mason” (1956-1966) and went on to another popular if less remembered series, “Ironside” (1967-1975). And there he was, instantly recognizable and in the public eye, a gay man who kept his sexuality concealed.

Any admission of homosexuality would have poisoned his career at any time before the 1980s. Times changed but Burr kept his own counsel through the end. He was actually once married, briefly, and went on to invent no less than two dead wives and even a dead son to fill out the blank spaces in his life story. Along with false reports of his service during World War II, he repeated these additions to his autobiography so long and so often that they found their way into his obituaries. In the 1950s he was “romantically linked” with rising starlet Natalie Wood. They were genuinely fond of each other but sparks never flew. Burr met his life companion, onetime actor Robert Benevides, in 1957 on the “Perry Mason” set. They were together through Burr’s death.

The story of a deeply closeted Hollywood lifestyle isn’t entirely unique; the backdrop of Burr’s career adds to its interest. Typecast as a “heavy” when he drifted into Hollywood after World War II, his hulking presence and brooding scowl made him ideal for film noir and crime dramas generally. He played the furtive murderous husband across the courtyard in Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window (1954) and finally stood on the right side of the law as the district attorney dismantling Montgomery Clift’s testimony in A Place in the Sun (1951). Never considered an A-list movie actor, he became a star in the emerging medium of television. Playing the title role in “Perry Mason,” he became one of TV’s best paid and best known faces. Later, as the wheelchair-riding detective in “Ironside,” he might even have spurred the drive toward ramps and accessible facilities for the handicapped.

Starr notes that throughout his public life Burr was unfailingly generous to charities and gave much of his time (when he wasn’t keeping a grueling work schedule) to public service of one sort or another. That the author only assembled a relatively slender volume out of Burr’s life probably indicates that the actor carried many of his secrets to the grave.

11 things you might not know about Raymond Burr

Learn how the ‘Perry Mason’ star links to orchids, Godzilla, wine and the history of synthesizers.

Top image: AP Photo

Raymond Burr is synonymous with Perry Mason. Yet the Canadian-born actor was far more than television’s greatest defense lawyer. Of course, he played the titular wheelchair-bound police consultant on Ironside, too. Early in his film career, he was a natural in film noirs. Beyond the screen, Burr was a horticulturist, an oenophile and a seashell collector.

Burr’s fascinating biography was filled with fabrication and speculation, as he and his publicists obscured his private life. Here are things you might not know about Raymond Burr.

1. He starred in the radio program ‘Fort Laramie’ and read his lines from a wheelchair

Image: radiospirits

Gifted with a rich, resonating voice, Burr naturally found work in radio. In the 1956 program Fort Laramie, Burr starred as Cavalry Cpt. Lee Quince. In a foreshadowing of his Ironsiderole, he had to record much of his lines while confined to a wheelchair, after injuring his leg during the filming of Crime of Passion.

2. He was considered for the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.

Though his roots were in noir, he could have been a Western star, and not just on the radio. Burr was up for the lead role of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, though he was deemed too overweight for the role, as was William Conrad, the man who played the Marshal on the radio. Producer-director Charles Marquis Warren was reported to have proclaimed, “When he stood up, his chair stood up with him.”

3. He was asked to lose weight for the role of Perry Mason.

Thankfully, the creators of Perry Mason found the right man for the role. Though the 40-year-old’s weight would again be an issue with producers. Burr beat out around 50 actors who auditioned for the gig, according to the book Raymond Burr: A Film, Radio and Television Biography. One catch: They made him take a crash diet, dropping his weight to 210 pounds.

4. He was in a Godzilla movie, but never interacted with the Japanese actors.

Image: Toho Company

The arrival of Godzilla in 1954 shook the film industry. In 1956, Jewell Enterprises took the monster movie and re-edited it for American audiences. Burr was cast as an American reporter, and footage of him was deftly inserted into the original to make it seem as if he were interacting with the other actors, who had completed their work two years prior. It was rumored that all his scenes were filmed in one day, but that seems to have been debunked, as his work likely was shot over the course of six days.

5. He portrayed Perry Mason in four different decades.

Just how popular was Perry Mason? After the series’ original run from 1957–66, Burr returned to the role for a string of 30 TV movies that aired from 1985–95. Burr headlined 27 of them, up until his death in 1993. The character was around in the 1970s, too, in the flop series The New Perry Mason, with Monte Markham playing the ace lawyer.

6. He was the original host of ‘Unsolved Mysteries.’

Image: NBC

Robert Stack, sporting his trench coat, is well remembered as the host of Unsolved Mysteries. He was not the first choice, however. On January 20, 1987, he hosted the NBC special that became the pilot for the series, though his services would prove to be too costly for the network to keep him on as host.

7. He made wine.

Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Raymond Burr Vineyards are located in Dry Creek County, California. The operation started in 1986 with the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Portuguese grapes.

8. His show ‘Ironside’ featured the first synthesizer-based TV theme.

Legendary producer Quincy Jones composed the killer theme to the 1967 crime series, about a consultant to the SFPD who had been paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet. If you’re unfamiliar, you might recognize the siren-like synthesizers from the Kill Bill movies. Jones later included a longer version of the tune on his 1971 album Smackwater Jack

9. He lived on a small island in Fiji.

Looking for privacy? You’ll find it on the tiny island of Naitaba, Fiji. Burr and his partner raised coconuts and cattle on the Pacific getaway.

10. He grew orchids and named a hybrid after his ‘Perry Mason’ costar

Another of Burr’s passions was flowers. He was a skilled grower of orchids, and with his partner, Robert Benevides, he hybridized approximately 1500 varieties. One hybrid was named for Barbara Hale, the actress who played Perry Mason’s loyal secretary, Della Street.

11. His partner was an actor, too.

Image: The Outer Limits / MGM Home Entertainment 

Benevides had experience on television, as well. He landed a handful of guest roles on shows such as The Loretta Young Showand West Point. His best-known performance is perhaps the Outer Limits episode “O.B.I.T.” He is the military man choked to death by an eerie creature as he monitors the Outer Band Individuated Teletracer.

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]

Gay History: Taboo or Not Taboo, The Fashions Of Leigh Bowery

Reading The Face magazine in early 1984 I was overwhelmed by a double-page spread entitled The New Glitterati featuring Leigh Bowery photographed in his ‘Paki from outer space’ look. His face was camouflaged in bright Plasticine-blue make-up, his head adorned with a mock leather military cap emblazoned in sequins and badges, while his entire body dripped with jewels, piercing and lots of body glitter. He wore a masterful creation – a bright green velour top with plunging neckline, fitted with this amazing red, asymmetrical zipper. Bowery looked like some exotic fashion god, a contemporary Krishna put through the blender with an extraterrestrial. It was kitsch and outrageous. It was inspirational. Did Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano or Vivienne Westwood design these clothes? Intrigued, I wanted to know more. The writer of the article observed:

One glance at these blinding photographs reveals why designer and jovial poseur Leigh Bowery – 22 years old, Abba addict and unrepentant champion of platform shoes – chose to leave his native Australia and cultivate his own outrageous style on the fringes of London’s club scene. They just didn’t understand him in the outback.1

 I sighed … finally, an Australian designer had made it into the pages of this influential style journal. Bowery did more for Australian fashion in two pages than had occurred in the past century … and the best was yet to come.

An extra extrovert, the ultimate spectacle, the fashionable performer, the grand poseur, Bowery communicated through his blatant sexuality, his extreme physical exaggerations, and his outrageous dress codes. Bowery was not simply dressing up; it was his lifestyle and commentary on the mundane, a joke about appearance. His collections or ‘looks’ were based on himself manipulating his body with clothing and make-up. Working outside the comfort zone, he developed a clothing aesthetic that few would dare follow. Original, provocative, evolutionary; Bowery manipulated clothing to totally change one’s appearance, like a form of cosmetic surgery. ‘In an age when pop stars, actors, designers – those who traditionally dictated stylistic trends – are almost indistinguishable in their uniformity and blandness, Leigh Bowery stands out like an erection in a convent.’2

Leigh Bowery’s place in fashion, art and popular culture is seditionary. The fashions he created were not worn on the streets, very rarely seen in daylight, or generated for mass consumption. His dress style hailed from club culture,3 and the concepts of dressing up and masquerade.

Bowery was born in Sunshine – a baby-boomer, semi-industrial suburban sprawl, west of Melbourne – on 26 March 1961.4 He attended Sunshine Primary School and later, Melbourne High School. He passionately wanted to be a fashion designer and studied for two years at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) before becoming disillusioned by the restrictions imposed by formal training. Fuelled by the visual culture of style magazines, Bowery was attracted to London by the new romantic/blitz movement of the early 1980s where fashion, art and music were fused under the glamorous spotlight of the nightclub scene. Pop stars and bands such as David Bowie, Steve Strange, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Culture Club influenced style. This was the breeding ground for the most creative, experimental and sexually charged clothing. Clubs were the stage for dressing-up; men and women wearing outlandish garments, big hairstyles and faces plastered with make-up. Gender boundaries were easily challenged in this world and androgynous looks abounded.5 Pretty clothes and special effects like frilly shirts, kilts, lace, satin and make-up were all worn by men – gay or straight – ‘it was almost like a love affair with yourself’.6 In the 1970s David Bowie, especially with his Ziggy Stardust persona, had ‘invented a whole language of art posing, he[‘d] invented the language to express gender confusion’.7 Fantasy and escapism were attractive vehicles to express individuality through clothing, make-up and hair. The key rationale for clubbers was attracting attention and being the centre of attention: dressing up was very competitive.

In 1984 the relaunch of London Fashion Week provided a platform for British designers to show their wares. This event, combined with vibrant street styles and the underground club scene, spawned the most creative and eccentric clothes, making London a potent source for world fashion trends. It nurtured and gained recognition for the fashion designers Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and in recent times, Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan. However, it was clubs that provided the major venue, market and audience for generating clothing that was beyond one’s wildest dreams/nightmares.

Without working from ‘classics’, referencing the cultures of the world, fashions of previous decades or centuries, emulating a favourite designer or the current pages of French Vogue, Bowery was inspired to create something that bore no resemblance to anything. Early in his career he had begun to despise fashion because it was too restrictive and conservative. Bowery’s looks were incredibly fresh and up-to-the-minute fashionable. Making items over a short period of time, for a special event or club night out, his garments were a spontaneous response to the immediacy of his environment.

I believe that fashion (where all the girls have clear skins, blue eyes, blond blow-waved hair and a size ten figure and where all the men have clear skins, moustaches, short blow-waved hair and masculine physique and appearance) STINKS. I think that firstly individuality is important, and that there should be no main rules for appearance and behaviour. Therefore I want to look as best I can, through my means of individuality and expressiveness.8

 Bowery’s costume designs were complex, technically difficult and fantastic. By 1985 they bore no similarity to the catwalk or street styles of London or the rest of the world. Vivienne Westwood initially was a great inspiration to Bowery, particularly her anti-establishment spirit, her distortion of clothing and body forms, and her design mantra that ‘clothing could be subversive’.9 Bowery garments were worn by performers like Boy George, who recalled:

I was dressed like a Jewish bathroom, gold chains, safety-pins, badges and buckles, champagne corks and tassels. The costumes designed by Judy Blame and Leigh Bowery were meant to hide my expanding girth, although it was hard to look thin in an A-line smock with angel-wings jutting out the back.10

 In 1985 Bowery evolved from a fashion designer into an aesthetic revolutionary when he became the public face of the nightclub Taboo. The name said it all. Situated in the Maximus discotheque at Leicester Square, the club was originally staged only once a fortnight. Wearing a different outfit every week, Bowery was the main attraction. Some of his kitsch looks included a

short pleated skirt, with a glittery denim, Chanel-style jacket teamed with scab-make-up and a cheap, plastic, souvenir policeman’s hat11 … yellow gingham jacket printed with red spots with matching shirt and face12 … a denim jacket covered with Lady Jayne hair slides and his bald head decorated with dribbled dyed glue. The club’s dress code was ‘dress as though your life depends on it, or don’t bother’.13

 The taste for the ridiculous, and his constantly changing looks, ensured that when Bowery entered the club, everyone else looked boring. Taboo was not an exclusively gay club, however, it attracted a large gay following lured by the opportunity to be part of the outrageous fashion scene. The Taboo nightclub symbolised the excesses of the 1980s, looking fantastic was taken to extremes. Unfortunately, it closed after a year due to drug soliciting. Boy George has turned this club phenomenon into the Broadway musical Taboo.14

Without the assistance of the slick, branded imagery associated with major fashion labels and huge marketing budgets, Bowery’s fame and reputation rested solely on being seen. His creations were documented and celebrated in the London style magazines, i-D, The Face and Blitz; his antics were reviewed in the club pages, communicating his visual language. Promoting the fringe, these magazines gave copy and editorial to the young and original, promoting an ideas culture that supported independent design.15 In Melbourne the enclave of independent fashion designers and boutiques situated in Greville and Chapel streets would proudly display the latest edition of The Face or i-D in the shop window, and they were indispensable reading in every hairdressing salon. Many Australians followed Bowery’s career and lifestyle through this source, even the interior of his flat that he shared with Trojan16 was featured – walls covered in Star Trek wallpaper, clumps of plastic flowers decorating the skirting, and UV-lit. Interviewer: ‘Does the interior of your home match the interior of your mind?’ Leigh and Trojan: ‘Yes, it’s an extension of what we wear.’17

Bowery was a great fan of the American film director John Waters whose movies had a profound effect on the development of his dress aesthetic, his humour and body politics. Waters pushed the boundaries of taste, making films with outrageous plots and an offbeat humour merged with an unseemly collage of characters, scenery and costumes. This ‘trash’ aesthetic is best portrayed in the film Pink Flamingos, 1972, about the search for the filthiest person alive, which was Bowery’s favourite movie.18 The principle actor, Harris Glen Milstead, working under the name Divine and affectionately known as the Queen of Sleaze, and a cult figure in his own right, was a cross-dresser. His huge physique was featured wearing figure-hugging gowns or sack dresses. The representation of the ‘fashionable’ unfashionable person was meticulously crafted, with huge, bouffant hairstyles and highly stylised make-up, reminiscent of the Kabuki theatre, accompanying Divine’s extensive wardrobe. This image of alternative, Baltimore glamour was one Bowery chose to follow.

The magnitude of Bowery’s costumes is unforgettable, both in physical scale and psychological effect. The Metropolitan, c. 1988 – christened by Nicola Bowery in reference to its most famous appearance at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, at the opening of the Lucian Freud retrospective in 1993 – had been worn by Bowery to various events (figs 1–4,8)19 Like many of his fashioned items, The Metropolitan was a work in progress that would simply be upgraded or reaccessorised to suit the occasion. This dress reads like a masculine ballgown, it is not intended to be drag or transvestite costume. Gender bending was common in the 1980s; the most infamous example was the skirted male suit produced by Jean Paul Gaultier in 1985. It was an attempt to blur the distinctions between male and female dress, however, the translations into mainstream fashion were commercially unsuccessful.20

Forged from a garish floral sateen, The Metropolitan boy’s dress has a square, flat bodice with a right breast pocket and open underarms. The bodice extends into a full-face mask with cut-out holes for the eyes and mouth. The mask was a device Bowery employed to prevent ruining his clothes from greasy make-up stains; in Metropolitan he could apply make-up only to his eyes and lips. Using extensive metreage, the enormous skirt appears to hover, supported by a series of taffeta and tulle petticoats, producing a fashionable silhouette reminiscent of 1950s haute couture. Bowery was serious about the history of fashion and his private library contained many books relating to designers, including the major French couturiers Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior, the pre-eminent role models who practised the very expensive, drop-dead-gorgeous philosophy of French high fashion. Restricted by money, Bowery still participated in fashion’s excesses by relying on inventive detailing and utilising entire bolts of inexpensive fabrics for the production of major works. His selection of ‘tasteless’, out of date, patterned prints purchased from discounted fabric shops defiantly challenged the grand-ballgown tradition. In this case, the floral motifs are enlivened with clusters of blue sequins painstakingly sewn on individually by Nicola Bowery in a mock Dior/Balenciaga style.21

Bowery was a professional dressmaker; he drafted patterns, cut fabric and sewed. His garments were solid constructions, strong enough to survive the rigours of clubbing. When he lived with the corsetiere Mr Pearl, they would purchase second-hand corsets, pull them apart and remake them to learn the exacting construction techniques.22 

The Metropolitan is a total disguise, providing an obvious reference to traditions of fancy dress and masquerade,23 a perfect choice for a gallery opening depicting the wearer’s naked portraits! The art world was familiar territory; Bowery visited museums and he avidly collected art books and catalogues. Bowery even played the role of an art exhibit in 1988, performing at Anthony D’Offay’s London gallery wearing a different outrageous, tasteless, memorable look each day. Bowery desperately wanted his artware to be acknowledged by this elite. Nicola Bowery intentionally named this costume The Metropolitan in the hope that it would enter that prestigious collection.

In a rather perverse way, Bowery loved fashion protocols and niceties; wearing gloves, hats, belts and shoes. Gloves were a particular favourite and an expensive item to buy, so he would often steal these to complete his ensemble. Like the leader of a militant fashion army, Bowery walked into the Metropolitan wearing a floral dress with a Kaiser helmet, a pair of khaki camouflage-print gloves, a leather neck-and-waist belt and a pair of candy-pink platform shoes, and literally invaded the space. In all the fashion galas and openings held at the Metropolitan, no one had ever seen anything like this. His entrance would have been either very funny or very frightening. Just like a scene from a John Waters movie, he stole the show. Bowery’s exposure and main recognition in the mainstream art world came through the hauntingly beautiful, naked portraits of him painted by Lucian Freud. With his curvaceous, plump body and luminescent, waxed skin and his un-made-up natural face with pierced cheeks in-filled with clear plastic plugs, this was the Bowery the art-museum world could relate to.

After 1990 Bowery stopped using fancy decorations on his clothing, instead, his work became much more abstract and surreal. During a trip to Japan he had discovered a catalogue of Transformer robots. These sophisticated toys provided a catalyst for Bowery to reconfigure his body and clothing in strange ways: he became a transformer. The Pregnant tutu head, c. 1992, costume is an experiment with scale and form (figs 5-7). Bowery in his performance pieces had already mesmerised his audience with giving birth to Nicola Bowery on stage.24 He was fascinated by the body’s capacity to change shape, and pregnancy was the most obvious example. Bowery’s clothing rituals often involved pain, discomfort and restrictions that produced difficulties with breathing, urinating and mobility. Although not intentionally designed for sadomasochistic pleasures, he applied any device, physical or manufactured, to achieve the masterpieces of his imagination, and this was pleasure enough.

Bowery had already attempted to distort his own body with unorthodox combinations of clothing forms and the deception of make-up. The Pregnant tutu head‘s top has a protruding belly suggesting the silhouette of a pregnant woman and the continuation of the species; it is worn with stretch pants. To continue this exaggerated silhouette and reinforce the symbol of growth, Bowery crafted half-circle, fabric shoes from large pieces of foam rubber covered in brown fabric. The bulbous shoes look ridiculous, like the cartoon models worn by Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The headpiece is formed like a large pompom made from tiers of orange tulle frills zipping up the back; the wearer encapsulated in a puff of fabric. A pair of full-length, dark blue gloves complete this ensemble. Bowery’s 1990s clothing is often visually disturbing, as he experimented with costume freakery.

Since his death in 1994,25 Bowery’s contribution to fashion and style culture has begun to be assessed and acknowledged in wider forums beyond style magazines and the club subcultures. Today, the boy from Sunshine is recognised internationally as a major style icon of the twentieth century, he was ‘surely a predictor of fashion!!!!’.26 Phaidon published The Fashion Book in 1998,27 a gigantic tome devoted to the 500 leading designers who had created and inspired world fashion over the past 150 years. Only three Australians made the final cut: Colette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa and Leigh Bowery. Bowery’s recognition came not from commercial success or as a known fashion brand, but from his creativity and originality, described in the book as ‘part voodoo part clown’. He was indexed as an icon alongside the likes of David Bowie and Johnny Rotten. Bowery was not about setting fashionable trends, however, the influence of his creations is seen in the work of designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan, and in the conceptual approach of much contemporary fashion, reinforcing the ‘continuing importance of this experimental dimension of fashion culture’.28

An exhibition of Leigh Bowery’s work was staged in Australia in 1999: Leigh Bowery: Look at Me at the RMIT Gallery, Melbourne, curated by Robert Buckingham and designed by Randal Marsh, included original costumes, videos and photographs. For many Australians this was their primary exposure to Bowery’s work in a local context,29 and certainly, to see actual costumes was provoking. Unexpectedly, these crafted, one-off garments designed for club wear and art performance were neither pretty, fashionable nor utilitarian. Instead, they had the power and capacity to confront issues relating to appearance, sex and politics. For many viewers this experience was a revelation. Bowery’s genre was as provocateur. The National Gallery of Victoria acquired two costumes from this exhibition and it is the only gallery in the world (at the time of writing) to represent his costumes.30 Bowery is finally an official part of Australia’s material culture.

Perhaps the best recognition and understanding of Bowery’s work is the inclusion of The Metropolitan in the inaugural hang at the Ian Potter Centre: NOV Australia, at a gallery devoted to Australian art. ‘Leigh would be ecstatic’ if he knew he was part of a major public collection.31

Reference & Notes

This article focuses only on aspects of Bowery’s clothing design, in particular, the examination of his work in a broader fashion context, and does not attempt to cover his extensive repertoire, particularly his performance work or collaboration with the Michael Clarke Ballet Troupe.

1     L. White, ‘The new glitterati’, The Face, no. 48, April, 1984, p. 56. For a discussion of influence and role of the style magazine and fashion journalism see C. McDermott, Streetstyle: British Design in the 80s, New York, 1987, pp. 81–88; for an examination of the nature of fashion journalism see A. McRobbie, British Fashion Design: Rag Trade or Image Industry?, London, 1998, pp. 151–174.

2     A. Sharkey, ‘The undiluted Leigh Bowery’, i-D, no. 42, The Plain English Issue, June 1987, p. 63.

3     ‘Because clubbing and raving are done by a narrow segment of the population after most people go to bed, the scale of the social phenomenon often goes unnoticed.’ S. Thornton, Club Cultures, Cambridge, 1995 p. 14.

4     For a complete account of Bowery’s life, see S. Tilley, The Life and Times of an Icon, London, 1997; and R. Violette (ed.), Leigh Bowery, London, 1998.

5     S. Cole, Don We Now Our Gay Apparel, New York, 2000, p. 158.

6     ibid., p.159.

7     J. Savage, Time Travel, Pop, Media and Sexuality 1976-96, London, 1996, p. 112.

8     Tilley, p. 97.

9     McDermott, p. 26. Vivienne Westwood collaborated with Malcolm McLaren from 1971 to 1983 before embarking on a solo career.

10     B. George with S. Bright, Take It Like a Man, London, 1995, p. 521.

11     Tilley, p. 57.

12     ibid., p.61.

13     ibid., p.53.

14     Music and lyrics by Boy George, based on the story by Mark Davies. Directed by Christopher Renshaw. Matt Lucas, Boy George, and most recently, Marilyn, have played the role of Bowery.

15     T. Jones (ed.), Fashion and Style: The Best from 20 Years of i-D, Koln, 2001.

16     Pseudonym used by Gary Barnes, 1966–86, who described himself as an ‘artist and prostitute’. Encouraged by Bowery, he painted confronting works in a Daliesque/naive style. They lived together for several years, Bowery dressing him in his latest fashion designs.

17     F. Russell-Powell, ‘Penthouse’. i-D, The Inside Out Issue, no.19, October 1984, p. 8.

18     Nicola Bowery, discussion with the author, 23 May 2002.

19     N. Bowery, discussion, 17 July 2002. The Metropolitan was purchased from Bowery’s widow, Nicola Bowery. She generously donated Pregnant tutu head to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1999.

20     S. Mower, ‘Gaultier’, Arena, London, July/August 1987, p.85. Gaultier produced only 3000 suits worldwide.

21     N. Bowery, discussion, 23 May 2002.

22     N. Bowery, discussion.

23     See A. Ribeiro. ‘Fantasy and fancy dress’, Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe, New Haven, 2002, pp. 245–282. The custom of masking or disguise goes back to antiquity. ‘The masquerade provided opportunities for role-playing and subversion of propriety in defiance of the conventions of society’ Ibid., p. 245.

24     For photographs relating to Leigh Bowery’s performances, from Wigstock to his pop group Minty, and his performances with the Michael Clarke Ballet Troupe, see Violette.

25     ‘The fabulous Leigh Bowery passed away on New Year’s Eve, 1994, and London lost another mirror ball. No one knew Leigh had Aids because he didn’t want them to. He said, “I want to be remembered as a person with ideas, not Aids.”’ George with Bright, p. 566.

26     Walter Von Beirendonck, letter to the author, 14 June 2002.

27     The Fashion Book, London, 1998. See Leigh Bowery entry, p.70; Colette Dinnigan, p. 135; Akira Isogawa, p.225.

28     D. Gilbert, ‘Urban outfitting’, in Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis, eds S. Bruzzi & P. Gibson, London, 2001, p. 9.

29     In 1987 Bowery performed with the Michael Clarke Ballet Troupe at the Melbourne Town Hall, horrifying his parents and most of the audience with his obscene acts.

30     Nicola Bowery, discussion, 17 July 2002.

31     Nicola Bowery, discussion.

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.

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