Thank God for the religious right. Often when I suffer from writer’s block, a crackpot comes along with some harebrained scheme and I have something to write about. The latest loony toon who’s come to save the day (and this column) is Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth, “a newly reorganized national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda.”
According to Wayne Besen, “LaBarbera is notorious for donning leather garb and sneaking into sundry gay S&M bars to take supposedly incriminating pictures of naughty gays. LaBarbera is obsessive with following the seamier side of gay life, even frequenting establishments where gay sex occurs. For him, no bahthouses are too remote to discover, and no dark, grimy dungeons not worthy of explorations. It is no exaggeration to say that the man has probably frequented more gay venues than RuPaul and Mr. Leather USA combined.”
Peter LaBarbera’s latest exposé is of the Folsom Street Fair, a annual gathering of kinky folk in San Francisco that proudly calls itself “the world’s largest leather event.” Not letting a good thing pass him by, LaBarbera crashed this leather party on September 30 in order to expose the depravity within. Since the Folsom Street Fair takes place in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district, LaBarbera gave a detailed description of the Fair’s naughty bits in a letter that he wrote to the Speaker, hoping no doubt that she would be as outraged as he claimed to be: “I was in San Francisco with a videographer on Sunday, September 30 and verified but a small segment of the most immoral and outrageous sexual behavior that ever disgraced the streets of any American city.”
LaBarbera followed his introduction with a laundry list of debauchery; depraved acts that he assured the Speaker were going on in full view of innocent children. These included “large numbers of men walking on public streets either fully or partially naked; . . . groups of men engaged in orgies on the public street, including acts of oral sex and mutual masturbation; . . . theatrically dramatic sadomasochistic whippings and floggings; . . . ‘Master-slave relationships’ in which one man or woman would ‘walk’ their subservient ‘slave’ with a dog collar and chain” and so on. LaBarbera saved much of his outrage for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charitable group of gay men in nun drag that LaBarbera denounced as exhibiting “blatant anti-Christian bigotry.” LaBarbera closed his letter by demanding that Pelosi “condemn these public perversions and use your great influence to stop them from happening in the future in San Francisco.”
As if that wasn’t enough, LaBarbera held a press conference on December 5 for the sole purpose of denouncing the Folsom Street Fair. “Americans For Truth will be airing uncensored videotaped footage, documenting public perversions and nudity at the Folsom Street Fair, an open-air, sadistic sex festival held September 30th on the streets of San Francisco,” LaBarbera promised. Held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., LaBarbera was joined by fellow fundies Matt Barber of Concerned Women For America and Grace Hurley of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX). Though LaBarbera’s promise of hard-core, gay leather porn seemed sure to attract a crowd, less than ten people attended his press conference, according to Rebecca Armendariz of the Washington Blade, who was there.
The Folsom Street Fair [www.folsomstretfair.com] is one of four annual events produced by Folsom Street Events, a not-for-profit organization whose mission “is to create volunteer-driven leather events that provide the adult alternative lifestyle community with safe venues for self-expression while emphasizing freedom, fun, frolic and fetish and raising critical funds to benefit local charities.” Earlier this year, the Fair outraged the Catholic League and other Christian groups with its official poster, an obvious parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” where leather folk of various genders and sexual orientations took the place of Christ and his apostles. [Please visit www.folsomstreetfair.com/fair-info.php for the offending poster.] Though Andy Cooper, Board President of Folsom Street Events, hoped that “people will enjoy the artistry for what it is – nothing more or less,” there was such an uproar that the Fair’s primary sponsor, Miller Brewing, asked the Fair to remove its logo from all promotional materials.
By the time Peter LaBarbera called his press conference, the Folsom Street Fair had become a byword for queer debauchery. The Fair’s infamy reached as far as the nearby city of Vallejo, where openly-gay mayoral candidate Gary Cloutier had to assure a voter that he would not bring a similar leather street fair into their city. And there is no question that San Francisco’s liberal political climate allows a degree of public nudity and kinky sex unheard of elsewhere in the United States. (Compared to the Folsom Street Fair, the Leather Masked Ball in Fort Lauderdale is very sedate.) Using an obvious take on the Last Supper for its official poster was probably a mistake, since it did not do much but give ammunition to the enemy. And even I was surprised to learn that the Fair has no age restrictions at the gates, though Fair volunteers “do inform attendees of the adult oriented nature of our events.”
On the other hand, nobody is forcing Peter LaBarbera and his friends to attend the Folsom Street Fair, though it seems that LaBarbera had a good time while he was there. Those who attended the Fair – and there were around 400,000 of them – knew what they were getting into and were willing to pay good money to get into it. They also raised $350,000 for local charities and contributed millions to San Francisco’s economy.
San Francisco is proud of its liberal political climate, which is why many people hate it. And the crusade against the Folsom Street Fair is, to a large extent, a campaign against “San Francisco values,” which Street Fair President Cooper (like Speaker Pelosi before him) called “values of community, diversity, education, and freedom of self expression.” The religious right hates San Francisco for espousing those values. We only wish that the rest of the USA was more like “the City by the Bay.”
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author and gay activist who enjoyed his all-too brief visits to San Francisco and looks forward to his next visit. Write him a note at email@example.com
by Jesse Monteagudo
"Halloween: The Great Gay Holiday"
October is an important month in our Gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgender calendar. October is GLBT History Month, a month devoted to dis-covering and celebrating our past. On October 11, we observe "Coming Out Day", a day in which we "take the next step" in our ongoing, coming-out process. But while both GLBT History Month and Coming Out Day are of recent origin, this month’s most popular queer holiday predates recorded history and captures the essence of sex and gender variance to a much greater degree than do the activist holidays. Just open the pages of any queer paper during the first weeks of November and you will see what our communities were doing on October 31st. In the words of the Lesbian poet and scholar Judy Grahn, Halloween is "the great gay holiday".
I love Halloween. All through my life, October 31 has always been a special day, though now I don’t go out as much as I used to. I certainly enjoy writing about it, though, and I try to write a Halloween article every few years. Once thought to be a children’s holiday, Halloween (actually Hallowe’en, but I prefer to use the more common spelling) is now almost as popular with adults. According to Nicholas Rogers, author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, "Halloween at the end of the millennium has become a major party night for adults, arguably the most important after New Year’s Eve. . . . [T]he amount of money spent on Halloween has more than doubled in the last decade, making it the second retail bonanza after Christmas."
Halloween (or Hallowe’en) is a corruption of All Hallows Eve, which is observed the night before All Saints Day (All Hallows Day). Like other Christian holy days, Halloween was adapted from a pagan holy day, in this case the Celtic feast of Samhain (pronounced sow-end). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Samhain "was the eve of the new [Celtic] year . . . and was the occasion for one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits." On Samhain, the Celts believed, the spirit world and the mortal realm come into close contact and spirits can slip out of their domain in order to visit us. Today, followers of the Craft or Wicca (witches) still observe Samhain as the greatest of their eight seasonal sabats. Rich Wandel, an openly Gay high priest of Wicca, told the authors of The Gay Almanac that "Samhain . . . is a time of connection to those who have gone before us and will return again. It is my favorite ritual, and is one we never let the students lead. We do it ourselves, because it is important, particularly in terms of the many friends that all of us in our communities have lost."
Though the Protestant reformers tried to suppress All Hallows Day observances as being both pagan and papist, Halloween emerged as a secular holiday during the 19th and 20th centuries. And while Halloween is enjoyed by everyone, "it has been the Gay community," Rogers tells us, "that has most flamboyantly exploited Halloween’s potential as a transgressive festival, as one that operates outside or on the margins of orthodox time, space, and hierarchy. Indeed, it is the Gay community that has been arguably most responsible for Halloween’s adult rejuvenation." What William Stewart, writing about Halloween in Cassell’s Queer Companion, called "the Gay festival par excellence," has been observed by our people long before there were Pride Days or Coming Out Days; Southern Decadence or Wigstock; bear busts, circuit parties, leather runs, nudist gatherings or womyn’s music festivals. Long before there was Disney, Halloween was and is the original Gay Day.
In Another Mother Tongue, her cultural history of our peoples, Judy Grahn wrote about Halloween and its significance to us. Halloween, Grahn wrote, is a special holiday for GLBT people, who in many societies served as priests, witches, shamans, healers and intermediaries between the mortal and spirit worlds. The ancient Celts tried to ward off the Samhain spirits by offering them gifts or scaring them away with jack-o-lanterns. Others dressed up in fantastic costumes to impersonate and confuse the wandering spirits: As Grahn put it, "impersonating a spirit is the only safe way to travel outdoors on Halloween. And who could better imitate spirits than the Gay people whose traditional priestly role required just such intercourse with the spirit world? . . . The qualities of impersonation," Grahn concluded, "and the dangerous business of crossing over from one world to another help explain why Halloween is the most significant Gay holiday."
According to William Stewart, "Hallowe’en has always been a time of year when the Gay communities experienced greater freedoms. . . . Even in the 1940s and 1950s when police harassment of Gay bars was at its height, Hallowe’en was the one fairy-tale evening when the drag queens could come out with impunity." In Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965, historian Nan Alamilla Boyd wrote about Halloween parties that were held at the Beige Room and other San Francisco bars back in the fifties, which "included not simply a drag ball and a ‘parade of queens’ but the selection of the best dressed participant." In New York City, Rogers wrote, by the mid-1970s "Gay promenades had become a constituent feature of the Greenwich Village Halloween celebrations. Beginning in 1974 as a countercultural event for the Village arts community, this annual parade, with its puppets, floats, and revelers, has become a fixture in Gotham’s calendar." Key West’s Fantasy Fest is just one of many events that evolved from the local Gay population’s’ Halloween celebrations.
Halloween’s appeal to the Gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities goes beyond that holiday’s historical or spiritual connotations. I believe that it has a lot to do with our role as outsiders in society; our propensity for cross-dressing and gender-bending; our love for the unusual and the fantastic; our ability to find humor in the absurdities and misfortunes of life; our fascination with festive costumes and the world of make-believe; and our special capacity to have fun. While others might treat Halloween as mainly a kid’s day, LesBiGay and Trans people observe and cherish it as a day in which we can do away with dull, ordinary, dumb reality and be our fun, exotic, erotic selves.
All of us have Halloween stories to share; some good and some bad but all of them fabulous. To me, Halloween is a time to be myself, to let loose, to wear an outrageous costume (or nothing at all), to stay out late, to get drunk (but not to drive drunk), and forget about my individual and communal problems in the company of like-minded souls. So whatever you do on this very special, and very Gay night, remember to be careful, to play safe, and to enjoy yourselves. After a few thousand years, we should be able to do it right.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and Gay activist who lives in South Florida with his life partner and many friends. Share your Halloween tales with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesse’s Journal by Jesse Monteagudo
Children of the Black Cat
One of the highlights of the 1984 documentary film "Before Stonewall" was a filmed reunion of the staff members and patrons of the Black Cat Café, a "bohemian" bar that flourished on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. Today the Black Cat, which finally closed in 1963 after 30 years of service, is best-remembered as the place where drag entertainer José Sarría became famous. Sarría, who was an activist as well as a performer — in 1961 he was the first openly Gay person to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors — often spiced his routines with gay rights messages and always ended his shows by leading his audiences in vivid renditions of "God Save Us Nelly Queens." At the reunion, Sarría and other Black Cat veterans reminisced about how the Café served them as a home away from home, a support group, and a family of choice. Whether they be women or men; blacks, whites or Latinos; middle-class or working-class, the Black Cat brought them together and made them a community
Though the Black Cat was the best known LesBiGay bar of the 1950’s, it was by no means the only one of its kind. At a time when community groups were few and far between, bars often served as community centers. "For Gay men and Lesbians, the centrality of bars to community life has probably been truer than it has for any other group," wrote Matthew D. Johnson and Claude J. Summers in glbtq.com.
"In addition to providing opportunities for glbtq people to socialize and to meet potential partners, Gay and Lesbian bars have offered members of a stigmatized social minority, often isolated from one another, an opportunity to inhabit space with like-minded folk. Until recently, they were often the only venues in which glbtq people could feel free to be openly gay."
There is hardly a Gay memoirist of the 1940’s or 1950’s who does not recall a favored Gay watering hall, as did the late Ricardo J. Brown in his book The Evening Crowd at Kirmser’s; a gay bar in 40’s St. Paul, Minnesota. Brown’s fond memories are echoed by those of other lesbian and gay members of "the greatest generation."
Even today, Lesbian and Gay bars play an important role in the lives of many Lesbian, Gay, bisexual and transgender people. This is especially true in small towns and rural areas that lack community centers and other supportive groups. In the recent film documentary Small Town Gay Bar, Gay bars play an important role in the lives of GLBT people who live in rural Mississippi. To the people who frequented Rumors in Shannon and Crossroads in Meridian, bars were more than just places to drink, dance or cruise. They were havens for persecuted minorities and unique opportunities to be open and honest within an oppressive social climate. The brutal hate crime death of Scotty Weaver, an event that was also featured in Small Town Gay Bar, only reminds us of the dangers of being a queer person within the buckle of the Bible belt.
Much has been written recently about the decline of GLBT bars, most notably in an excellent, in-depth column by journalist Paul Varnell. But we must never underestimate the impact taverns have in our communities. We don’t have to go to rural Mississippi to find a bar where, like TV’s Cheers, everyone knows your name. To many of us, a beloved neighborhood bar is a second home and the people who work or play there form the family that we never had. Because of this, the closing of a Suncoast Resort in St. Petersburg or a Full Moon Saloon in Orlando (to name two Florida attractions) is rarely pure and never simple. To many of us, it is as if a loved one has passed away.
Of course bars are businesses first and foremost, not community centers or social services. Even the original owners of Rumors and Crossroads had to sell when their bars were no longer profitable, no matter what their customers needed or wanted. Home Depot gave the owners of the Suncoast Resort an offer that they could not refuse; while the owner of the Full Moon Saloon simply burned out. When push came to shove, the needs and desires of the patrons, the employees and the community at large did not matter one bit.
On the other hand, we should not be too critical of the bar owners who, like you and me, are only trying to make it in a cruel world. For every bar owner who looked out for number one there were many proprietors – like the owners of the Black Cat – who risked all to serve their community. There are countless GLBT and AIDS charities that survive thanks to the generosities of gay bars, their owners, staff and patrons. In spite of it all, for every bar that closes, another one often comes along to take its place. Even in rural Mississippi, Rumors now flourishes under its new owners while Crossroads enjoys a new life as Different Seasons. There is still a need in our community for places where we can relax and be ourselves; and this is a service that our bars do so well. Fifty years after the heyday of the Black Cat Cafe, it’s children continue to do what they do well, and we are much better for it.
We first heard of gay activist scholar John Lauritsen in 1974, when he wrote (with David Thorstad) The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935).
In 1982, Lauritsen founded Pagan Press to "publish books of interest to the intelligent gay man." To that intent Lauritsen published classic works by John Addington Symonds and Edward Carpenter as well as his own thought-provoking essays. More controversially, Lauritsen is an "AIDS dissident" who does not believe that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Lauritsen’s writings on AIDS appear in The AIDS War (1993) and in the anthology The AIDS Cult (1997), which he co-edited with Ian Young.
Lauritsen calls himself "an independent scholar" who has "the freedom to tell the truth as I see it, without concerns for career or ‘collegiality.’" Lauritsen’s willingness to challenge conventional wisdom is evident in his most recent book, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (Pagan Press; $16.95). In this book, Lauritsen takes on one of English literature’s most famous works: Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Lauritsen’s Frankenstein has three theses, all controversial: " Frankenstein is a great work which has consistently been underrated and misinterpreted.  The real author of Frankenstein is Percy Bysshe Shelley, not his second wife, the former Mary Godwin.  Male love is the dominant theme of Frankenstein " Let’s look at each of the 3 theses.
" Frankenstein is a great work which has consistently been underrated and misinterpreted." Certainly Frankenstein has a bad reputation, the product of a century of bad movie versions. Most critics, Lauritsen writes, "have failed to appreciate the excellence of its prose, the power of its symbolism, and the profundity of its ideas." Above all, Frankenstein is "a moral allegory about the evil effects of intolerance and prejudice, ostracism and alienation, both to the victims of intolerance and to society at large." Among these "victims of intolerance" are gay men; and Lauritsen contends that, "at least on one level, Shelley wrote Frankenstein for a select audience, gay men; his novel deals with their oppression and with the crimes and monstrosities which flow from that oppression." It should be noted that Lauritsen prefers the original 1818 edition of Frankenstein over the 1831 revision by Mary Shelley. "Without exception, every ‘revision’ was for the worse. Whenever hostile to Shelley’s radical ideas – on science, love, or religion – she expurgated them."
" The real author of Frankenstein is Percy Bysshe Shelley, not his second wife, the former Mary Godwin." As noted in the previous paragraph, Lauritsen has no love for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who most people believe was the author of Frankenstein. Lauritsen even denies that Mary Shelley took part in the famous "ghost writing contest" (1816) that led to the writing of this book. "If there really was a contest, the participants must have been [Lord George] Byron, Shelley, and [Dr. John] Polidori – three brilliant, well educated young men, who were already accomplished writers. In contrast, Mary Godwin (a the time, merely Shelley’s mistress) was far from brilliant, had virtually no schooling of any kind, and had never written anything of consequence." The way Lauritsen saw it, Mary Shelley "had a commonplace mind, almost no formal education, and little talent for writing. . . . Nowhere in Mary’s writing is there a single passage of the quality found in almost every paragraph of the 1818 Frankenstein." [This is true.] On the other hand, Lauritsen writes, "In ideas and style, Frankenstein is a man’s work and consistently Shelley’s creation." "Frankenstein is [Percy] Shelley’s work, and his alone – his ideas, his life, his language. . . . Read the 1818 Frankenstein, read the works of Shelley, and you will recognize the author of Frankenstein."
" Male love is the dominant theme of Frankenstein " In spite of his two wives, Percy Shelley was interested in "Greek love," as seen in his translation of Plato’s Symposium – recently published by Pagan Press – and in his strong (though possibly platonic) friendships with other men. If Percy Shelley did write Frankenstein, it is not surprising that "passionate friendships" between men is a major theme. Lauritsen lists three "passionate" couples:  Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Captain Thomas Walton, who rescues the wandering doctor;  Frankenstein and his schoolmate, Henry Clerval; and  Frankenstein’s father and a man named Beaufort. Even Frankenstein’s monstrous creation was meant to be, according to Lauritsen, "not only a companion, but a big, beautiful and obedient sex partner." On the other hand, "when Victor Frankenstein flees his workroom after viewing the creature . . ., and when he runs out of the house after the monster tries to get in bed with him, he seems to be exhibiting ‘homosexual panic’ – hysteria resulting from a clash between intense homoerotic desire and social condemnation." Lauritsen concludes that "Shelley wrote on two levels; he wanted general readers to regard Frankenstein and Clerval as loving friends, but his special readers, the sunetoi [a Greek term used by Shelley that Lauritsen suggests could be a "code word for ‘gay’"] to discern that they are also sexual partners. All things considered, it is understandable that Shelley chose to conceal his authorship of Frankenstein."
The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein suffers from Lauritsen’s constant complaints about "feminists," a convenient scapegoat in all of his books. But what do we make of the three theses? I believe  Is true. Just as too many people confuse Dr. Frankenstein with his monster, so do many people judge the novel by its mostly horrific (in both senses of the word) film versions.  could also be true, though there is no conclusive proof. As for , it hinges upon : It is possible that Percy Shelley would write a book about male relationships and then, considering the times, deny having written it. On the other hand, if Frankenstein was indeed written by Mary Shelley, such a theme would not make sense. In any case, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein is an important and thought-provoking book, whether or not you agree with it’s author’s premises.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author who lives and writes in South Florida.
From Volunteers to Professionals
Recently the executive directors from various gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups in South Florida met, in the words of a reporter, "to discuss what was happening in the community, and how all of them could work toward the same vision." What I found most fascinating about this long-overdue meeting is not that it happened but how it reflected the development of our GLBT groups. Today, it is taken for granted that a community organization would have a paid, experienced, professional executive director that would run that group’s day-to-day business. This was not always so.
Before and after Stonewall (1969), and well into the 1980’s, most GLBT groups were led and administered by volunteers. There were several reasons for this. First, of course, was the high cost of hiring a paid professional. Second, was the fact that at that time most experienced professionals wouldn’t be caught dead working for a "gay" organization. Finally, we believed in those innocent times that our groups belonged to "the people" and that we should keep the management of such groups as close to "the people" as possible.
Since I came out in 1973, I have been involved in my fair share of political, religious, educational and social GLBT organizations. And in most cases, I was not qualified to run any of those groups when I started. Like most volunteer leaders, I learned as I went along and, for the most part, I believe that I did a good job. It was on-the-job training, and it was long, hard, and sometimes frustrating work. But there was a satisfaction in building an organization with our own hands, sometimes literally. When Congregation Etz Chaim (South Florida’s synagogue for "Jews of the Rainbow") expanded its storefront in Aventura (1988), we actually painted the walls, laid the tile floors and installed the electrical outlet. This is something that would be unheard of today, and when Cong. Etz Chaim moved to its present location in Wilton Manors earlier this year, it hired professional contractors to do the job. Though I wouldn’t get on my hands and knees to put up drywall anymore, I felt at the time that, by doing the hard work, I had a personal stake in "my" Synagogue.
A paid professional gives an organization the talent and experience that a volunteer amateur cannot give, no matter how well-meaning s/he is. And hiring professional staff is a natural part of the development of an organization, GLBT or otherwise. A good example is Fort Lauderdale’s Stonewall Library and Archives (SLA), the largest gay collection in the South. When Mark Silber and Joel Starkey founded the Stonewall Library and the Southern Gay Archives, respectively, in the early 1970’s, both groups were literally one-man operations, housed in their founders’ respective homes. When a Committee was created to run Stonewall in 1984, it moved to the second floor of Fort Lauderdale’s Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church. But though the Library – and the Archives, after it merged with the Library – acquired bigger (and more accessible) quarters, it was still run by amateurs.
I was president of SLA at the time, and though my love of books was great – as anyone who read my book reviews know – I did not have the knowledge or experience that a professional librarian would have. That did not stop me from compiling a library classification system, one that’s since been replaced by a more professional system. Today the Stonewall Library and Archives enjoys a paid Executive Director, Jack Rutland, and a budget that we in the eighties couldn’t even dream of. Even the volunteers are largely retired librarians who bring lifetimes of expertise into their work. All this is indicative of SLA’s growth, and I am proud to have had a small role in its history. In today’s commercial, competitive, highly compartmentalized climate, groups have to adapt in order to survive.
Still, there is a place in every group for volunteers. SLA knows this, which is why volunteers are still welcome and appreciated by that organization. The SLA Board of Directors – all volunteers – does not limit its contributions to monthly meetings and an occasional check. Rather, Stonewall’s 2004 Board – like its predecessor – is a hard-working group of men and women who devote much of their time and effort on SLA’s welfare. There is a big difference between a donation and a total commitment, and we who are involved in groups of our choice know this. So get involved in your local GLBT organization, as much as you can and in as many ways as you can, for your own good and that of your community.
Speaking of GLBT groups: Here is a trivia question: What is "the nation’s oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization?" The answer is the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C., which has been "fighting for equal rights since 1971." 36 years is over a century in queer years, and almost unique for any GLBT group. (Though the Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church has functioned since 1968.) Originally the Gay Activist Alliance, the GLAA was inspired by the greatest of all post-Stonewall organizations, the Gay Activists Alliance of New York City. Though GAA-NY is sadly gone, the D.C. "chapter" still dedicates "itself to securing the ‘full rights and privileges’ of citizenship for the gay community through ‘peaceful participation in the political process.’"
Jesse’s Journal by Jesse Monteagudo
H. L. Mencken once wrote that puritanism is "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." The idea that those who we hate might enjoy themselves better than we do came to mind during Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle’s most recent anti-gay tirades. Some gay critics attribute Naugle’s enduring homophobia to his own suppressed homosexuality. Nothing could be further from the truth. If nothing else, Jim Naugle is a Kinsey One, dyed-in-the-wool, 100% heterosexual man. But, like the puritan that he is, Naugle seems obsessed with the idea that gay men – the mayor does not care about lesbians – might be having a good time. In spite of his often-quoted statement that "homosexuals … are unhappy," Naugle can’t help but worry that gay men are really happy; perhaps happier than he could ever be.
Though there are many reasons why one might be homophobic, envy of lesbians or gay people is certainly one of them. According to Gregory M. Herek of the University of California at Davis (CD), "heterosexual men may envy gay men because the latter are not constrained by the masculine ideal. Heterosexuals may also envy the sexual freedom presumably enjoyed by lesbians and gay men. In either case, the envy is presumably translated unconsciously into hostility." In laymen’s terms, many straight men hate us because we score more often than they do. But rather than admit that they wish they could be like us, they condemn us as sex-driven, promiscuous libertines; sex fiends who copulate anywhere and anytime, and without consideration for the scruples of humanity.
Now I don’t presume to speculate about Mayor Naugle’s sex life – as far as I am know, he is a happily married man. But whatever his personal life might be, Naugle is obviously obsessed with gay men’s sex lives. In fact, to Naugle, gay men are all about sex. This was obvious during the mayor’s latest homophobic rant, which came at the wake of the City of Fort Lauderdale’s proposed move to buy a robotic toilet for the City’s gay beach. A toilet that automatically opens its door after a certain time appealed to the mayor, though not for efficiency’s sake. The way that Naugle saw it, a robotic toilet would put a stop to gay tearoom sex, which in his fevered mind happens all the time. Gay men, Naugle proclaimed hotly, are "engaging in sex, anonymous sex, illegal sex" in toilets. "We’re trying to provide a family environment where people can take their children who need to use the bathroom without having to worry about a couple of men in there engaged in a sex act."
Naugle assured us that he received "numerous calls of complaints from concerned citizens" about gay sex in public toilets. This contradicts a statement from Sgt. Frank Sousa of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, who noted that "there’s no evidence, no reports or arrests made for any men having sex in any restrooms." This did not stop the mayor from later issuing an "apology;" not to the gays but "to the children and parents of our community, for not being aware of the depth of problem with sexual activity in parks and public places. . . . I apologize for not bringing this forward earlier. Maybe some lives could have been saved." Naugle also attacked the gay Web site CruisingForSex.com for listing several Fort Lauderdale-area parks as gay cruising spots. "Our parks are important for our children, and we will not accept this activity in the name of being inclusive or tolerant." [For its part, CruisingForSex.com has called for a gay boycott of Fort Lauderdale.]
This is not the first time that Jim Naugle, mayor of Fort Lauderdale since 1991, has set his narrow-minded sights on gay men. But he really went to town this time. At the same press conference where he "apologized" to Fort Lauderdale’s children and parents, Naugle also blamed Broward County’s rising AIDS rates on horny gay tourists and on the County itself for spending money to attract gay tourists. When the GLBT Stonewall Library and Archives sought permission to move into City-owned space, Naugle screamed that the collection contains "pornographic magazines of the worst kind" and worried that Stonewall will be located "in our main park in the city, where our little league fields are." At the City Commission hearing that approved the Library’s move Naugle, like Senator Joe McCarthy waving a list of Communists, flashed an envelope that he alleged contained pornographic books and magazines housed at the Stonewall Library. But he then piously refused to open the envelope, claiming that "It’s so disgusting I can’t open it up."
Do you see the pattern? It doesn’t matter that heterosexuals also have sex in public; that straight tourists also visit Fort Lauderdale to meet sexual partners; or that the Broward County Public Library also carries sexually-explicit material. To Naugle, being gay is sex, sex, SEX! Though he never said it, it wouldn’t surprise me if Naugle thinks that gay doctors, lawyers or Realtors spend their working days screwing their clients (in the literal sense of the word); or that the mostly-gay Sunshine Cathedral MCC and Congregation Etz Chaim synagogue exist primarily as pickup joints. Alas, our lives are not always as exciting as he thinks they are. But they are certainly more interesting and fulfilling than his.
I have been openly gay for all of my adult life and, while I’ve had my ups and downs they had nothing to do with my sexual orientation. In fact, I think being gay opened my life to varieties and opportunities that I would never have experienced if was heterosexual. In fact, if I was straight, my life would probably be as boring as Jim Naugle’s! No wonder he keeps attacking us.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and happy gay activist who lives in South Florida with his life partner and many friends.
Reviewed by Jesse Monteagudo
History – and the lesbian and gay community for which they did so much – ignore and neglect the pre-Stonewall, “homophile” activists. Even today many histories of the gay movement begin with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, tossing aside decades of ground-breaking political, educational and social work. With the exception of the iconic Harry Hay, and a few activists who continued their work and wrote their memoirs in the post-Stonewall years (Jack Nichols, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon), gay leaders of the 1950s and 1960’s are unknown by today’s generation. Posterity has been singularly unfair to Harold Leland Call (1917-2000). Most of us remember Hall Call, if at all, as part of a conservative clique who in 1953 “stole” the Mattachine Foundation from Hay and other leftist idealists. Later, and after driving out his competition in the newly-named Mattachine Society, Call ruined its image by making it a “front” for his commercial enterprises, including an “adult” book store and movie house – the CineMattachine.
The truth, of course, is more complex. It remained for historian James T. Sears to remove the mask of the Mattachine and reveal the real Hal Call, both man and activist. Based on extensive interviews with Call, his allies and enemies, Behind the Mask of the Mattachine is a tribute to gay America’s first activist generations. In fact, Dr. Sears goes back in time past Call and Company; back to the early part of the 20th Century and courageous trailblazers like Henry Gerber and Manual boyFrank. He then takes Call from his Missouri boyhood to World War II, Colorado journalism and then to San Francisco (1953) in time to confront Hay for leadership of Mattachine. If this book does not show Hay the way that he is accustomed to it is because Dr. Sears has given his opponents, almost for the first time, the right to give their side of the story.
In Behind the Mask of the Mattachine we read about the power plays, bitch fights and ego trips that consumed and eventually destroyed the Mattachine Society. We also learn about the very human men (and a few women) who dared to publicly advocate the rights of homosexuals at a time when most of their fellows were hiding in their closets. At the center of it all was Hal Call. A most contradictory man, Call was both a political conservative and a sexual libertine who hosted orgies in his apartment when most Mattachines (including Hay) were virtually asexual. Call realized, long before they did, that sex was the common factor that brought all gay men together; and it was sex that made us a community.
Behind the Mask of the Mattachine combines two of my favorite topics, politics and sex, as seen through the life of a most extraordinary man and of the Society that he eventually controlled. Dr. Sears reveals Call in all of his complexity; with his faults and failures along with his skills and successes. Thanks to Dr. Sears’ painstaking research, skillful writing and insightful analysis, gay San Francisco in the 1950’s – the Age of Hal Call – comes vividly to life. Today’s generation of activists can learn much from Call and his contemporaries, from both their achievements and their failures.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author, activist and frequent contributor to White Crane. He lives in South Florida with his life partner. Drop him a note at email@example.com