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The undead anti-gay past

Unearthing the lost history of government persecution

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Uniquely Nasty, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays.’ (Screen capture courtesy Yahoo News)

The attention paid to the compulsively lying, brazenly ignorant grifter in the Oval Office, while legitimate and necessary, provides cover for Republican efforts to reverse decades of progress on a host of issues and to undermine our representative democracy. These threats require multitasking and division of labor among those resisting the slide toward authoritarianism.

An instructive lesson is found in the often lost and buried history of anti-gay discrimination in America. The animus behind that discrimination is alive and well, like the racial, gender, and religious biases which are its cousins. The strategy that has gained momentum in state legislatures since the landmark 2015 marriage equality victory in Obergefell goes by the false monicker of “religious freedom.” It is no more about freedom than it was when restauranteurs refused service to people whose skin color they didn’t like.

If your concept of freedom is exclusive to one group, then you are defending not freedom but supremacy. The social contract on which our republic is based requires mutual respect. This “inescapable network of mutuality,” as Dr. King put it, is both inseparable from the American project and targeted by equality’s enemies in each generation.

The 30-minute documentary Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays, produced by Yahoo News and reported by Michael Isikoff, received an Edward R. Murrow Award in the News Documentary category in 2016. It portrays efforts by the Mattachine Society of Washington, originally founded by the late Frank Kameny but with a new mission of archive activism under the leadership of Charles Francis and Pate Felts. With help from pro bono attorneys at McDermott, Will & Emery, Mattachine has combed through archives and newly declassified documents “to educate and motivate a new generation of thought leaders, the legal community and the media.”

The deadly consequences of anti-gay persecution are illustrated in Uniquely Nasty by the story of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt, who was blackmailed by henchmen of Sen. Joe McCarthy over the arrest of Hunt’s son for soliciting sex with a male undercover officer in Lafayette Park, and shot himself to death in his Senate office in 1954. Few people know that story today, though it inspired the bestselling novel and movie Advise and Consent.

Another forgotten bit of history unearthed by Mattachine after Uniquely Nasty was a report by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission in 1964 that was used to scuttle voter registration and civil rights work at Rust College, an HBCU in Holly Springs, MS, by smearing its president, faculty, and students as “oddballs and homos.” One Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activist at Rust who stirred the wrath of state officials that year was Frank Smith, who decades later served four terms on the D.C. Council and founded the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.

Francis, who moderated a July 17 panel discussion on the Rust episode as part of the March on Washington Film Festival, calls it “a classic example of homophobia in service to racism.” Can you say intersectionality?

One of the treats in Uniquely Nasty is listening to actor George Takei read from long-hidden memos by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the closet case who persecuted generations of “homos.” Another is watching the 2015 seaside gay wedding of Charlie Baker, who fought back with help from Kameny after being fired by the National Bureau of Standards in 1971.

The official justifications for the persecution explored in Isikoff’s documentary went from the old “security risk” canard (the evidence-free claim that gays posed such a risk was akin to the current “voter fraud” pretext for vote suppression), to the citation of popular revulsion toward homosexuality. My own 32-year federal career, from 1979 to 2011, was made possible by the struggles of brave people like Kameny and Baker.

In connection with Uniquely Nasty, Yahoo News published a cache of long-secret government memos uncovered by Mattachine. Persistent anti-LGBT persecution efforts like Mississippi’s HB 1523 teach us the importance of preserving and studying our history. As Mississippi novelist William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

 

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright © 2017 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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An unpleasant experience with American Airlines

Was I bumped for GOP Rep. Jim Jordan?

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Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks at CPAC last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I don’t know if it is possible to get a letter to Rober Isom, CEO of American Airlines, but the normal ways don’t seem to work. So maybe this column will eventually find its way to him.

On Tuesday, Feb. 20,,I was bumped from my seat in first class on a flight from Miami to D.C. I had been in Quito, Ecuador, and the Galápagos, and was returning home from the final leg of my vacation. I had bought my ticket through Celebrity Cruises about a year ago. My American Airlines locator code was WQQPAC. Everything went OK, except the minor issue of ordering a meal on the way to Quito in advance, and being told they don’t have it. But no big deal. I had taken a 6 a.m. flight from Quito to Miami, and then had a nearly four hour wait in Miami, to board the flight to D.C. At the appointed time my friends and I headed to the gate to board, and as the agent called group one, my name was called to come to the desk. Mind you, I had checked in around noon on Monday, and was asked to confirm my seat, which I did. Then when checking in at the desk in Quito, was given both my boarding pass for the flight to Miami, and the one for my Miami to Reagan National in D.C.

At the desk things got interesting. I was told by the gate agent I was being bumped from first class. When I asked why she said they needed the seat, and I was the last person that had booked. I told the agent I knew that wasn’t true, as I has personally paid for someone else in my party, and their ticket hadn’t been booked until six months after mine. She then told me to wait for the Miami American manager. He arrived about 15 minutes later and told me it was a security issue and he couldn’t tell me anything. Turns out Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was standing at the gate with a security aide, and I asked if I was being bumped for him. He said, “I told you it’s a security issue and that is all I can say.” I asked, and he gave me his name, Daniel Gonzalez. He said he would give me a $300 voucher and if I had other issues with this to call American when I got home. The agent said she only had one seat on the plane, a middle seat, in essence, take it or leave it. I have knee replacements, am claustrophobic, and older, and need to stand up occasionally during flights. I haven’t flown in a middle seat in more than 30 years. I asked how they arrived at the $300, and she reiterated “feel free to call customer relations when you are back in D.C.”  

I tried to find a number for corporate headquarters for American Airlines, and got caught in a scam when I dialed the number that came up in Google. I then put a comment on Facebook, which got hundreds of responses, and got a call from an Amy Lawrence, with American, who said she called me when a friend shared my post. She was very nice and said she would try to forward my issues to corporate. She called back and gave me what she said was the real reason I got bumped and that was now a third reason. Then I got another call from an Alexis Vaughn, consumer relations person, also very nice, who said she was calling on behalf of senior leadership, and gave me yet a fourth reason I had been bumped. I asked to be connected to senior leadership, and she said she spoke for them. I asked to be connected to American’s PR department. Turns out none of them would talk to me. 

I understand big corporations, and how they like to shield their executives from what is happening. And I was told what happened in my case was handled by the book. Well, if that is the truth, I suggest they change the book, because giving me four different excuses for being bumped, by four different people, means someone is either not reading the book or the book needs fixing.

Again, hundreds of people responded to my Facebook comment on not being able to reach American Airlines corporate, many mentioning the problems they have had with American. So I hope someone will pass this column on to Rober Isom, as in the long run, as CEO, it all falls in his lap.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Democrats must stop the self-immolation

We can win the presidency and Congress if we stick together

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It is both fascinating and depressing, that groups like Our Revolution, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began in 2016 to screw Hillary Clinton, are still out there screwing other Democrats. 

They are currently trying to defeat President Biden in the Michigan primary. They couch what they are doing “as trying to influence what President Biden is doing about the Israel/Hamas war.” But, reality is, any headline attacking Joe Biden, is helping Donald Trump, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. Joe Biden will not make foreign policy based on the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. They have every right to speak out, and Sanders was even willing to hurt our national security by voting against Biden’s bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel, and a number of other allies. The bill even includes humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Sanders is an embarrassment. But if he doesn’t speak out against ‘Our Revolution’ he is also a hypocrite, as he claims to support Biden. Thankfully, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer did speak out, urging people to vote for Biden in the primary.  

Trying to influence a change in policy is fine, and speaking out for what you believe is great. But if you don’t look at the global perspective, and at all the possible repercussions of your actions and words, you are not very smart. Remember, on the issue of Gaza, if you want to support the Palestinian people, then having Trump in office is far worse than Biden. Trump claims to be best friends with Netanyahu, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he will totally abandon Gaza and the Palestinian people. So, if that is what you want in the White House, then attacking Biden so he loses a primary, and then by either voting for a third party, or staying home, for the general election, that is what you will get.

The Democratic Party can learn a lot from Tom Suozzi’s win in a swing district in New York, in the special election to replace expelled former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). Counter to what some are saying, how he ran the race is important. He managed to turn the immigration issue around against his Republican opponent by tying her to Trump, and the MAGA Republicans who today want to leave the border open. He used the issue of abortion by highlighting his position as a pro-choice candidate, against an opponent who was pro-life. He also told the district he was willing to work with Republicans when necessary to get things done. He told the voters he understood the founding fathers set up a government requiring compromise, not on your principles, but on ways to move forward what you believe in. Yes, he is a moderate, but then so are the vast majority of Americans.  

It is clear we live in difficult times. The issue of Biden’s age is being blown out of proportion, and the media are helping to do that. Every Democrat needs to read, talk about, and share, the recent column from the New York Times, “We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.” It talks about, and explains, how we all begin to lose memory of certain things starting at the age of 30. How not remembering a name, or a date, doesn’t in any way indicate an inability to think about and work on important and complex issues. 

We also have to understand how far off polls can be, and often are, these days. What we as Democrats need to do to win this election is stick to what we know people respond to. That includes talking about Republicans wanting to restrict a woman’s right to health care, and control of her own body. It means we talk about how Trump wants us to abandon NATO, and has even encouraged Putin to invade our allies. He has no problem with Putin taking as much land as he wants. We need to remind people about how Trump staged a coup, which thankfully failed, and remind voters he will try again if we reelect him. We need to play the tape of him saying he wants to be a dictator, and will use the Department of Justice to get even with his enemies. How electing him will mean the end of our democracy. 

Democrats can win the presidency, and the Congress, if we stick together. Divided we will fail, and Trump will be in the White House. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Pinto shepherds ‘Secure D.C.’ crime bill through Council

Republicans in Congress are closely watching measure

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D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Council member Brooke Pinto is shepherding the comprehensive crime bill, Secure D.C., through the Council. This is not easy considering some Council members are always looking to ensure we aren’t too tough on criminals, especially juveniles. In talking with Council member Pinto, she is cognizant, and reminding her fellow council members that the Republican Congress is watching this closely. 

I know Mayor Bowser is concerned about this as well. She submitted a bill, most of which is now included in the comprehensive bill, and wants to see it passed without additional amendments. On Feb. 6, the bill was passed on a first vote by the Council 12-0, with Ward 8 Council member, Trayon White, Sr., not voting. It is in his Ward most of the crime is being committed. Those living there deserve to be protected as much as those who live in Ward 3. 

As the Council now moves toward a second vote, which is needed before the mayor can sign the legislation, the plan is to do that in March. The mayor has asked that it be done sooner and that there are no more amendments weakening the bill. Once it is passed and signed, it will go to Congress for the review period and everyone is aware of what they did to the rewrite of the criminal code. Not only the Congress, but the people of the District, want a strong, tough on crime bill. People are afraid. 

Last year was a tough year for D.C. with crime running rampant in parts of the District. There were 274 homicides, a 20-year high. Carjackings were epidemic. There were 906, more than double the previous year. People are scared. A good friend recently told me it is the first time in years he looks behind himself when walking in Dupont in the evening. There was the recent shooting near the Dupont Metro on Connecticut and Q Street. The police have still not released detailed information on that. It was rumored to be a road rage incident, but the facts aren’t out. Again, people are scared, and that is not how anyone wants to live.

I am not naïve. There are many reasons one can point to for the spike in crime, including juvenile crime. The pandemic had a lot to do with that. There are young people who weren’t in school for two years, many without any supervision. Their parents were the ones out working, making a living, having to leave home to go to work. They didn’t have the option to stay home and work remotely so they could monitor what their kids were doing. Many juveniles committing crimes come from homes where there is food insecurity, and other issues impacting their lives. Clearly, we must deal with those issues if we are to change things in the long term. But the reality is we cannot wait to do that, the Council must act now. We must make those who are thinking of committing a crime understand there will be serious repercussions for what they do. 

The bill the Council is considering makes carjacking a more serious offense, as well as any crime committed with a gun. We also need to deal with the parents, or guardians, of children, like the recent 9- and 13-year-olds, who threatened a woman with a knife. Someone must be held responsible for those kids. Do they need to be removed from the situation they are now in? What is that situation? We need to involve the faith community, as well as all city resources, in this effort. However we do it, we must pass a serious crime bill that will pass muster with both the people of the District, and Congress.  

There are issues about the bill that are still being debated. One relates to drug free zones in which loiterers would be subject to arrest. Then they have removed the section that would have allowed all people arrested to be swabbed for their DNA. One issue being debated is how long one can hold both adults and youth in detention while awaiting trials. The bill would make it a felony to discharge a firearm in public, making permanent something that was put into emergency legislation last summer. 

Again, the bottom line is, for both the mayor and the Council, they must do something about crime. The debate is simply how tough to be on criminals, and what programs need to be funded that will make a difference, and make people safer. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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