Sunday, July 27, 2014

45 Years Ago (June 27) Gay Liberation Front Organizes First Post-Stonewall March Against Police Harassment

45 Years Ago (June 27) Gay Liberation Front Organizes First Post-Stonewall March Against Police Harassment
1969. In the days following the Stonewall rebellion on June 28, the Mattachine Society of New York sponsored several discussion groups to try to tap into the newly-energized gay community and figure out what their next steps should be. One problem that quickly emerged was that in the rebellious atmosphere of the late 1960s, most of the younger crowd was in no mood to sit around and hold endless planning meetings. They were looking for something to do now, and that something, in that place in time, meant taking things to the streets.
An early GLF meeting.

Meanwhile, a new force had emerged on the scene, the Gay Liberation Front, which was an ad-hoc movement that had emerged just three days after the riot. The GLF’s approach to things was truly radical. It eschewed leadership structures and defined all attempts of control. All decisions were made by consensus — often after paralyzing discussions, arguments and endless political analysis. But the GLF was anything but passive, and many credit it with preventing the momentum of Stonewall from dying out, as had happened so many times before when LGBT people had risen up against anti-gay oppression.
One of the GLF’s first public actions took place a month after Stonewall with a march to demand an end to discrimination and police harassment. A crowd of five hundred gathered for a rally at Washington Square. Martha Shelly, president of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and a GLF founding member, kicked things off: “Brothers and sisters, welcome to the city’s first gay power vigil. We’re tired of being harassed and persecuted. If a straight couple can hold hands in Washington Square, why can’t we? … We’re tired of straight people who are hung up on sex. Tired of flashlights and peeping-tom vigilantes. Tired of marriage laws that punish you for lifting your head off the pillow.”
After more speeches by Marty Robinson and a straight ally who called herself Sister Marlene, the crowd began marching, four abreast, to Sheridan Square, clapping and shouting “Gay Power!” and other slogans, bringing traffic on Sixth Avenue to a halt. When they arrived at Sheridan Square, there were more speeches, appeals for money, and a round of “We Shall Overcome.” Jonathan Black at The Village Voice observed that “gay power had surfaced … A mild protest, to be sure, but apparently only the beginning.”
[Sources: Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Mediahttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=boxturtlebull-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0231084366 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 90-91.

Jonathan Black. "Gay Power Hits Back." The Village Voice (July 31, 1969): 1, 3, 28.]

Homosexuality and Lesbianism Treated with Metrazol (1940)

[Taken from the Box Turtle Bulletin for July 26, http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/]

The professional literature before 1980 festers with countless torturous descriptions of psychiatry’s barbarous attempts at “curing” homosexuality. Many accounts deal with the application of painful electric shock delivered via electrodes attached to sensitive regions of the body (See, for example, Jan 18, Jan 20, Mar 11, Jun 3, Sep 6, Oct 30, Dec 8). But the imagination for new methods of torture didn’t end there. Dr. Newdigate M. Owensby, who practiced at Atlanta’s famed Medical Arts Building and founded the Brook Haven Manor Sanitarium outside of Atlanta, published a brief paper in the July 1940 edition of the prestigious Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease describing his own unique experiments to cure homosexuality. He worked on “the assumption that homosexuality and lesbianism are symptoms of an under developed schizophrenia,” and this led him to try something new: injecting subjects with Metrazol, to produce an epileptic-type grand mal seizure. Other psychiatrists had been experimenting with Metrazol-induced seizures for schizophrenia since 1934, and their logic went like this: since epilepsy (which was considered a mental illness) and schizophrenia very rarely existed in the same individual, maybe inducing an artificial seizure might rid one of schizophrenia. Owensby extended his theory further, on the theory that Metrazol seizures might “liberate this previous fixation of the libido and the psychosexual energy becomes free once more to flow through regular physiological channels.” Who knows where he got that idea. But to give you an idea of what this seizure was like, here is a brief film clip (unrelated to Owensby’s report) of
an unidentified patient experiencing a Metrazol-induced seizure:

Ownesby provided six case studies of his experiments:

Case I.-A white male of 19 years had been arrested and sentenced to prison because of moral turpitude (homosexuality). He was paroled for treatment and promised a pardon if his perversion was corrected. The family history was not enlightening. Homosexual experiences began during his fourteenth year and continued thereafter. Feminine mannerisms were evident. Metrazol was administered until fifteen shocks were produced.  All homosexual desires had disappeared after the ninth shock, but treatment was continued until all feminine mannerisms had been removed. Normal sex relations were established and eighteen months later there had been no return of homosexual tendencies. He was granted a pardon.

Case 2.-A white male aged thirty-four years. Had been a homosexual since his fifteenth year. He was frank enough to admit that the only reason for seeking treatment was fear of exposure and subsequent disgrace. All homosexual desires disappeared after seven grand mal attacks were induced by metrazol. He was married four months later. At the expiration of ten months he stated there had been no recurrence of homosexual desires or practices.

Case 3.-A white male aged forty-four years. Had been a homosexual since early youth. Most of his past life had been spent in penal institutions because of the opportunities to indulge his perversion. He seemed proud of the fact that he was a “man-woman”. Was constantly inebriated when out of prison. Metrazol was administered until ten grand mal attacks had occurred. He appeared to be regenerated after the ninth seizure. His common law wife states that, with the exception of an occasional overindulgence in alcohol, he has been a normal, hard working man for the past six months.

Case 4–A white male aged twenty-five years. Has been a homosexual since his fifteenth year. His mother was a neurotic. A sister had a manic depressive attack. A brother was an alcoholic. The patient was seclusive and spent most of his free time in his room. Would take an occasional trip to another city in order to satiate his homosexual desires. Was reluctant to discuss his perversion. Six grand mal attacks were induced by metrazol.  Normal sex relations became established shortly thereafter and at the expiration of three months the patient claimed to be sexually healthy.

Case 5.-A white male aged twenty-six years. Married. Had indulged in active homosexuality since his seventeenth year. Appeared to be an ambulatory schizophrenic. His marriage had been arranged by a doting mother. Had never been self supporting. An obvious personality change followed the sixth induced grand mal attack. Whereas he had formerly been indifferent to his family and friends, he began to show interest and affection for them. He secured a position after returning home and became self supporting. Six months after receiving the metrazol treatment, he reported that he had continued to be free from all homosexual desires.

Case 6.-A white female aged twenty-four years. Name and address given were admittedly fictitious. Said to have been a lesbian since puberty. Promiscuous. Preferred the active role. Inclined to boast of her conquests. Inebriate for past four years. Ten grand mal seizures were induced by metrazol. Became infatuated with an intern after the treatment had been discontinued and frequently complained of nocturnal emissions. Remained institutionalized for six weeks after the last treatment and appeared to be healthy in every way. No subsequent reports.

The report’s weak findings are obvious: no measures of sexual orientation before or after, no long-term follow-up, widespread evidence of involuntary or coerced participation — not to mention a deeply flawed belief in the nature of homosexuality itself. What’s more, it’s easy to imagine that anyone being subjected to this kind of torture would say or do anything to make it stop. In fact, the use of Metrazolinduced seizures was finally halted when it was found to be both ineffective and terrifying to patients.

The seizures could be so severe that some patients actually experienced spinal fractures. It was later discovered that repeated treatments could, in some cases, lead to lasting brain damage. Needless to say, there is no evidence whatsoever that this treatment had any kind of effect in changing anyone’s sexual orientation. Indeed, in June 1949, Dr. George N. Thompson, writing for the same journal, would conclude that Metrazol shock therapy was ineffective in “curing” homosexuality.

But the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) didn’t bother to read that memo. When they issued their so-called “Journal” in 2009 with a report which supposedly documents successful efforts to change sexual orientation, they included Owensby’s 1940 paper as a success story. Under the heading of “pharmacological interventions,” they write simply, “Owensby (1940) reported that six patients ceased all homosexual behavior after taking the drug Metrazol (pentetrazol).”  They not only neglected to mention what Metrazol was all about — it wasn’t just some pill prescribed to patients — they also forgot to point out that the FDA revoked its approval of the drug in 1982.

[Sources: Newdigate M. Owensby. "Homosexuality and lesbianism treated with Metrazol." Journal of
Nervous and Mental Disease 92, no. 1 (July 1940): 65-66.
George N. Thompson. "Electroshock and other therapeutic considerations in sexual psychopathy."
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 109, no. 6 (June 1949): 531-539.
James E. Phelan, Neil Whitehead, Philip M. Sutton. "What the research shows: NARTH's response to
the APA claims on homosexuality." Journal of Human Sexuality 1 (2009). ]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in History - Iowa's Sexual Psychopath Law Goes Into Effect (1955)

TODAY IN HISTORY:
Iowa’s Sexual Psychopath Law Goes Into Effect: 1955. The last time anyone saw eight-year-old Jimmy Bremmer alive was on the night of August 31, 1954, when the Sioux City youth went to a friend’s house two doors down to play after dinner. He left his friend’s house at around 8:00 to go home, but he didn’t make that short distance. On September 29, his decomposed body was found in a pasture north of town. His crushed skull was several feet away from his decapitated body, and both hands were missing. A man was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He had confessed after being sent to a mental hospital and injected with Desoxyn and Seconal. (His conviction wouldn’t be overturned until 1972.)
The Red and Lavender Scares, which had dominated the evening news and newspapers for most of the decade, may have been winding down in Washington, but its effects continued to reverberate in cities and towns across the country. With Jimmy’s death, Iowans became convinced that the state was crawling with sexual psychopaths. On January 31, 1955 Iowa legislators introduced a bill in the Iowa House of Representatives “to provide for the confinement of persons who are dangerous criminal sexual psychopaths.” The bill extended to anyone, whether they had been convicted of a crime or not, and its procedures allowed “any reputable person” to charge anyone with such “propensities.” It empowered the court to appoint a psychiatrist for an examination, and allowed the court to commit the accused to  indefinite confinement until “cured,” or until proven to court that release would not be “incompatible with welfare of society.”
The bill passed both houses unanimously with very little discussion and went into effect on April 14, 1955, making Iowa the twenty-fourth state to pass such a law. Michigan was the first, in 1937, and in one eleven year period confined 369 under its law. Twenty-four were confined under the District of Columbia’s law between October 1948 and March 1950 (see Jun 9), and in California, more than fourteen hundred had been confined over a fourteen year period.
On the evening of July 10, 1955, two year old Donna Sue Davis was kidnapped from her crib where she was sleeping. The kidnapper had come in through the open bedroom window, and left the house with Donna Sue through that same window. A neighbor saw the kidnapper flee and gave chase, but the kidnapper got away. The next morning her body was found in a cornfield outside of town. An autopsy revealed that the child had been raped and sodomized. Her left jaw was broken and there were several bruises and cigarette burns on her buttocks. She died of a massive brain hemorrhage from a severe blow to the head. One itinerant farm hand was arrested, but investigators quickly ruled out the possibility that he committed the crime.
Panic gripped Sioux Falls as hardware stores reported running out of padlocks. The Sioux City Journal on July 12 demanded that the city be made “the most feared town in American for the sex deviate.” With no other firm suspects to investigate, the police chief began a roundup of “known sex perverts.” On July 23, Gov. Leo Hoegh announced that a special ward at the state mental hospital in Mount Pleasant had been established to house them. He said, “The guy I want to treat [is the sex deviate] who is now roaming the street but never committed a crime.” Most of those “sex perverts,” it would turn out, were gay men, “diagnosed” with “sociopathic personality disturbance. Sexual deviation (Homosexuality).”
By the end of the year, thirty-three men had been committed, all without charge or trial. At least twenty of them from Sioux City. Many of them were arrested at the Warrior Hotel and its bar, the Tom Tom Club. Once they were nabbed, and fearing for their jobs and reputation, they named names which led to more arrests and detentions. A few with connections were set loose, and one man was able to successfully fight back in court. That was a risk; one juror commented, “He admitted in open court that he listened to Liberace on the radio, and a man who does that is liable to do anything.”  But most of the men accepted plea bargains to avoid public trial and arrest. At least one confined man’s diagnosis was “Homosexuality, no overt acts” — he hadn’t even done anything except be a homosexual. Sioux City’s prosecutor boasted, “At least word is out that they’re not welcome in Sioux City any more.”
At Mt. Pleasant, the men underwent group therapy, individual counseling, and so-called “therapeutic” — unpaid — labor. They were spared aversion therapy, but otherwise, hospital staff were at a loss as to what to do. Mount Pleasant superintendent Dr. W.B. Brown said, “there is no specific treatment which brings about improvement or cures of such individuals. … Law requires me to report to the court once a year… What can I say? I can’t say they are cured.” He also complained that due to crowded conditions, the gay men were often put in the same bedrooms together, leading an Iowa State law professor to note that “the curative effect of this may be said to be doubtful. Staff psychologists, pressured by a state government that no longer wanted to foot the bills, eventually released the men despite doubts that they could be “cured.” Most of those confined never spoke of their confinement again.
Donna Sue’s killer was never found. The sexual psychopath law was finally repealed in 1977.
[Sources: "Dal McIntire" (pseudonym). "Tangents: News & Views." ONE 4, no. 2 (February 1956): 11-12.
Neil Miller. Sex-Crime Panic: A Journey to the Paranoid Heart of the 1950s (Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2002).]