Mae West and “The Drag”

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Copyright control | 17137

In 1927 Mae West wrote a play called “Drag” which was swiftly banned.

The play, subtitled A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts and written under the pseudonym Jane Mast, was about a young society man, Rolly Kingsbury, who prefers feminine young men, and presented a sympathetic medical view of homosexuality as a natural thing. Oh, it also staged a flamboyant drag queen ball, with largely improvised dialogue and a jazz band on stage. Well, what else would you expect from Mae West?

The Drag was shut down after 10 out-of-town performances, and never made it to Broadway, but sold lots of tickets.

Mae West herself had been a male impersonator early in her career.

The Drag was inspired by her many gay friends; she knew their daily struggles to be open about their relationships, and to be accepted for who they were.

When casting the play, she actively sought out gay actors. That caused trouble as well. The actors’ union barred gay men from parts with speaking lines. She auditioned them at a gay bar in Greenwich Village. In her autobiography, she claimed to have “helped a lot of gay boys along” by casting them at a time when “producers never gave speaking parts to homosexuals”.

The play opened in Connecticut. It was a success with audiences, although Variety called it “an inexpressibly brutal and vulgar attempt to capitalise on a dirty matter for profit”.

One Broadway producer said it was “the worst possible play I have ever heard of contemplating an invasion of New York” and that it “strikes at the heart of decency”.

West rewrote the play a year later as “The Pleasure Man”, making the lead character straight, but she still faced criticism for it being too explicit, and ended up in court.

Mae West was born on August 17, 1893 and died on November 22, 1980.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jul/05/polly-stenham-mae-west-gay-pride-the-drag-national-theatre

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/five-gay-plays-changed-world/

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Fascism: When rights are taken away

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‘Damenkneipe’ (Ladies’ Saloon) painted by Rudolf Schlichter, 1923 | Copyright control | 17133

Germany’s Bundestag has just voted to allow gay marriage. At a time when gay rights have made significant advances in Europe, “The Conversation” looked back to the period from 1920 to 1945.

Before the rise of the Nazis and Fascism, gay people were on the brink of legal reform and securing their rights, but overnight, everything changed.

The total number of Europeans arrested for being LGBTQ under fascism is impossible to know because of the lack of reliable records. But a conservative estimate is that there were many tens of thousands to one hundred thousand arrests during the war period alone.

Far more LGBTQ people in Europe painstakingly hid their genuine sexuality to avoid suspicion, marrying members of the opposite sex, for example. But if they had been prominent members of the gay and trans community before the fascists came to power, it was too late to hide.

In concentration camps, gay men were identified by a pink triangle. Men with pink triangles were singled out for particular abuse; mechanically raped, castrated, favored for medical experiments and murdered for guards’ sadistic pleasure even when they were not sentenced for “liquidation.”

In 1929, Germany came close to erasing its anti-gay law, only to see it strengthened soon thereafter. Only now, after a gap of 88 years, are convictions under that law being annulled.

… With new forms of authoritarianism entrenched and seeking to expand in Europe and beyond, it’s worth thinking about the fate of Europe’s LGBTQ community in the 1930s and ‘40s.

http://www.newsweek.com/how-nazis-destroyed-first-gay-rights-movement-631918

https://theconversation.com/how-the-nazis-destroyed-the-first-gay-rights-movement-80354

Luis Carle

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The Crowbar, New York, 1994 | Posed picture | Luis Carle | 17124

Luis Carle is a New York based artist-photographer who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1962 and moved to New York City in 1984 to study photography at Parsons School of Design. His photos have been exhibited in many countries.

He sees his work as a bridge between the gay and straight communities, between the younger and older generations of the L.G.B.T. community, and between the past and the present. He was 17 when he came out in San Juan in 1980, and in subsequent years witnessed the AIDS crisis, the culture wars, and the march toward broader gay rights. All along, he made pictures of his community and the seismic waves that were reshaping it.

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Luis Carle, 2017 | Jake Naughton | 17125

To preserve their memory and the contributions of the Puerto Rican LGBTQ community, in 1992 Carle formed a collective of Puerto Rican artists called the Organization of Puerto Rican Artists, Inc. (O.P. Art, Inc.), a supportive group of about 100 creative people.

“My generation was the one between oppression and freedom,” he said. “I feel proud of seeing both sides. I was right there in that period of time and my work documented some of the magic that went on in those days. A lot of that is not going to happen anymore.”

https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/gay-life-in-new-york-between-oppression-and-freedom/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2016/05/06/luis_carle_s_look_back_at_the_lgbtq_community_in_new_york_photos.html

https://www.visualaids.org/artists/detail/luis-carle#

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David Is Homosexual

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A clip from the film | Dave Belton/CHE | 17122

The film “David Is Homosexual” was made for the Lewisham branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. The film was written by Wilfred Avery and filmed by Dave Belton.

An educational film, made in 1976, it tells the coming-out story of the titular David, a repressed office worker whose mum and dad scream abuse at the telly when gay rights marches appear on the news.

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During filming | Copyright control | 17123

“David Is Homosexual” had a long lifespan, touring the country until 1979. At a screening for trainee gas fitters and plumbers at a technical college, the filmmakers were greeted with a chorus of “Backs to the wall, lads” when setting up their equipment. After seeing the film, the quizzical apprentices had softened their tone. “Are you two lovers, then?” asked one, genuinely interested, from the back.

The Lewisham branch of the CHE and other groups helped raise funds for the film with jumble sales.

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2017/jun/18/glad-to-be-gay-the-story-of-the-filming-of-david-is-homosexual

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Canada’s gay purge

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The Canadian government building | Canadian Government Executive | 17119

The Canadian government is expected to become the next country to apologise to former gay staff in the federal civil service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Armed Forces who were interrogated and harassed from the 1950s to the 1990s because of their sexuality.

During the Cold War, hundreds of gay men and lesbians in Canada lost government and military jobs because of their sexual orientation during the “LGBT purge”.

Gay men and lesbians in the civil service and the military were believed to pose a security risk, and thought to be vulnerable to blackmail by Soviet agents.
Hundreds of people are believed to have lost their jobs during four decades. Others were demoted, transferred, or denied promotion. Some were given the choice between being dismissed or undergoing psychiatric treatment.

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A lie detector | Canadian War Museum | 17118

A notorious “fruit machine”, similar to the lie detector pictured, was developed by researcher Frank Robert Wake. It was a crude detector which was intended to identify homosexuals by monitoring the dilation of their pupils when they were shown pornography. Plagued with problems, the project was mothballed.

Activists have been working for many years in Canada to remedy the situation. In 1992, Michelle Douglas, a former army officer, helped bring an end to discriminatory policies towards gays and lesbians. After being discharged from the army because she was a lesbian, she launched a legal challenge. On the eve of the trial the military settled the case and changed its personnel policies.

In 1996 the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual orientation. In June 2017 Canada added gender identity and gender orientation to the Act.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-40268010

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The British Library’s gay secrets

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A scene from “My beautiful laundrette” | Oliver Stapleton | 17102

A new exhibition at the British Library, London, “Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty” explores Britain’s evolving attitudes towards homosexuality. Original literary manuscripts and rare prints of newspapers and novels document the “transformation in society’s attitudes towards gay love and expression”.

A memo from the lord chamberlain’s office, dated October 1958, proposed marginally greater freedom for gay playwrights. “For some time the subject of homosexuality has been so widely debated, written about and talked about, that it is no longer justifiable to continue the strict exclusion of this subject from the stage. … I therefore propose to allow plays which make a serious and sincere attempt to deal with the subject.”

The exhibition includes a manifesto from the Gay Liberation Front, notebooks and journals from writers including Sarah Waters, Kenneth Williams and WH Auden, a never-before-seen annotated script by Hanif Kureishi for the Oscar-nominated film “My Beautiful Laundrette”, and the first edition of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/01/british-library-explores-changing-attitudes-to-gay-love-in-exhibition


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John Hervey

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John Hervey was a key figure in 18th Century British Politics.

Born into aristoracy as the second Baron of Ickworth, he became a Member of Parliament for the Whig Party and held appointments including Lord Privy Seal.

His close friend Princess Caroline became Queen to King George II.

Hervey was bisexual, and had a wife who bore him eight children; he had several mistresses, but the love of his life was Stephen Fox.

The satirical poet Alexander Pope was jealous of Hervey’s friendship with a lady who had rejected him, and wrote a poem “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” in which he portrayed Hervey as Sporus, a young Roman who was castrated by Emperor Nero who then married him.

Pope’s poem became a template for putdowns of gay men, creating the stereotype of gay men being effeminate and camp.

A new book, “The Collected Verse of John, Lord Hervey” collects together for the first time Hervey’s own poetry, including this poem he wrote to Stephen Fox in 1731:

For not the Joy of Beauty’s open arms
Nor other friendships, nor Ambition’s charms
Defraud thy Empire of the smallest part
In this engross’d, this undivided Heart
You rule unshaken on that worthless Throne
My life the tenure, and the whole thy own.

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Cambridge University Press | 17083

The Rt Hon John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey PC, born on 13 October 1696 and died on 5 August 1743.


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Not Straight, Not White

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Kevin Mumford | Brian Stauffer | 17079

The new book “Not Straight, Not White” by Kevin Mumford, a history professor at the University of Illinois-Champaign, is one of the few books to document the gay history of the black community in America. “There’s still a lot of white-centered gay narratives,” he told the Windy City Times.

He was familiar with and researched James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin before he began his book. “I learned a lot by reading their FBI files, reading their newspaper clippings, and focusing on their gay writings in a way that people hadn’t.”

He includes the life of Lorraine Hansberry, who visited the White House with James Baldwin in the early ’60s and whose archives he had special permission to view. “She’s really an icon of African-American culture. She wasn’t particularly out: she would have been out had she lived, I’m quite sure, but like Rustin, like Baldwin, she had to advocate for social justice and sort of remain silent on the question of her desire.”

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Amazon | 17080

His book also owes much material to the collection of community activist and anthology editor Joseph Beam. Beam’s archives may have helped save Joseph Beam from obscurity. “Beam was really extraordinary because he corresponded with all kinds of people, and he saved all the letters that he got, and carbon copies of all of the letters that he sent. He’s an average guy, he’s an activist, worked at the Giovanni’s Room bookstore, he’s a waiter, but he has 15 boxes full of everyday letters, of being an activist, of being a community worker.”

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Not-Straight-Not-White-highlights-history-of-Black-gay-men/57167.html


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Pheonix rises once more

Arizona State University Library archivist Nancy Godoy has been unearthing the treasures in the University’s collection of gay publications and memorabilia for a new exhibition.

On the cover of a newsletter dated Sept. 15, 1977, is a drag queen in full makeup, hair and dress, all gaping smile and wide eyes, white-gloved hand raised high above her head as if to throw all her cares away. The title of the periodical is “The Pride of Phoenix.” “When you think LGBT culture, you think this,” she says.

151 boxes of artifacts make up the BJ Bud Memorial Archives, which document the community’s history in Arizona from 1966 to 2015. She’ll be spreading awareness about the archives at this weekend’s Phoenix Pride Festival.

The boxes originally came from Hayden Library in Tempe, Arizona after being donated by The Valley of The Sun Gay and Lesbian Centre, and the archive is named after the late Harlene Bud, who founded the first Pheonix Gay Pride in the 1970s.

https://asunow.asu.edu/20170330-arizona-impact-asu-library-partners-phoenix-pride-preserve-lgbt-history-arizona