Putting gay rights on trial – on film

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Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine find the extent of their relationship questioned in 1961’s “The Children’s Hour” | John Springer Collection / Corbis | 14297

Bob Mondello comments on NPR over a genre of films which put gay rights on trial.

In 1960 the way Peter Finch portrayed Oscar Wilde in his trials of many years earlier was somewhat brusque and oblique, in order to get the film through the censors and in a form acceptable to post war audiences of the era – an era in which homosexuality remained illegal. 30 years later, Stephen Fry was able to render the part in a more natural and honest way.

The motives behind cases portrayed on film also had to be censored, on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Alfred Hitchcock made up a whole new murder case in Rope, which dealt with gay themes only as subtext and seized on the pair’s interest in Nietzschean theory in 1948. A decade later, the movie Compulsion allowed a defense attorney played by Orson Welles to hint a bit about “immature boys of diseased minds,” but he mostly asserted that the trial’s sensationalism stemmed from the wealth, rather than the sexual orientation, of his clients. Three decades later, Swoon showed no such reserve, focusing on the killers’ sexuality almost to the exclusion of all other motives.”

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Gay TV Drama from 1959 found

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Graydon Gould (L) and Peter Wyngarde | British Film Institute | 14298

The television play South, adapted by Gerald Savory from an original play by Julien Green and screened on 24 November 1959, and made by Granada TV, “is a milestone” in gay cultural history, says BFI curator Simon McCallum. The play tackles race as well as sexuality and was broadcast by ITV 54 years ago and eight years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and two years before the film “Victim”. The BFI believes the newly rediscovered production is the earliest known gay TV drama.

Leading man, Peter Wyngarde (right), deserved particular praise.

I think you have to give Wyngarde a massive pat on the back in terms of the bravery in taking this role. There were quite bad reactions from some of the press.” The Daily Sketch's TV critic complained: “I do NOT see anything attractive in the agonies and ecstasies of a pervert, especially in close-up in my living room. This is not prudishness. There are some indecencies in life that are best left covered up.

That was the prevailing attitude in Britain with homosexual acts between men still illegal, although the Wolfenden report in 1957 had recommended decriminalisation, something that would not happen until 1967.


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London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

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BFI | 14299

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was founded by Peter Packer under the name “Gay’s Own Pictures”. It was renamed the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 1988. The British Film Institute, Southbank, London, run the festival. The festival is usually followed by a tour of a selection of the films chosen for the main festival.

2013 festival programmers Jason Barker, Michael Blyth, Nazmia Jamal, Brian Robinson and Emma Smart | BFI | 14300

There have been calls for the name of the festival to be changed to also reflect the bisexual, trans and queer communities. This will be debated this year.

The 2013 Festival ran from 14 to 24 March at the BFI, London SE1.


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Dumping DOMA

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Dated 2011 | Elise Amendola/AP | 14301

The Defense of Marriage Act known as DOMA is a US federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state recognition purposes and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996. Since then there has been a consistent and growing campaign by the gay community to have it overturned, and to allow gay marriage.

A number of states, including Vermont, New York and Connecticut have asked the federal appeals court to rule against DOMA stating that the federal law is unconstitutional.

President Clinton and key legislators have changed their views and advocated DOMA’s repeal. Section 3 of DOMA has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts, including the First and Second Circuit Court of Appeals, on issues including bankruptcy, public employee benefits, estate taxes, and immigration.

“I have come to believe that DOMA is … in fact, incompatible with our Constitution,” Clinton wrote in the Washington Post. Clinton wrote that it was “a very different time” in 1996 and that Americans since then have shifted their thinking. “These couples cannot file their taxes jointly, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees,” Clinton wrote. “Yet they pay taxes, contribute to their communities and, like all couples, aspire to live in committed, loving relationships, recognized and respected by our laws. … Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory,” the former president wrote. “It should be overturned.”

On March 1, 2013 the Obama Administration urged the Supreme Court to reinstate same-sex marriage in California and called for broad constitutional protections that ultimately could allow such unions nationwide.

In June 2013 the US Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional by 5 votes to 4.

Page amended 3 July 2013


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Clearing the air in Germany

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A still from the film “Fox and his friends” | New York Times | 14302

Germany’s Nazi era laws may have gone but convictions for obsolete offences still stay on the record, as they did until recently in the United Kingdom.

Germany’s failure to expunge the arrests of victims of a legal system that kept a Nazi-era ban on homosexuality on the books for decades after World War II highlights the slow pace of reforms on gay equality in the usually liberal country.

In 1957 the Constitutional Court declared “Paragraph 175” to be constitutional, solidifying its place in West German law. The law’s scope was limited in 1969, but homosexuality was not formally decriminalized until 1994.

Men who were forced to wear the pink triangle, the Nazis’ way of identifying homosexuals in concentration camps, received a measure of justice in 2002 when the German government formally apologized and agreed to compensate them. In 2008, Berlin unveiled a memorial for the Holocaust’s gay victims, a tall concrete slab with a TV screen on one side that displays a video loop of two men or two women kissing.

Victims of Germany’s postwar homophobia, however, have received only modest redress. Parliament officially apologized to them in 2000, but roughly 50,000 men persecuted after World War II have yet to have convictions of sodomy stricken from their police records, according to Manfred Bruns, a retired federal prosecutor and an executive board member at the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany.

No one seems to know how many of those people are still alive, or if they would come forward to seek redress. Calls are growing for Germany to clear the records of remaining victims before they die. Volker Beck, a lawmaker with the opposition Greens and a proponent of gay rights, is one of several members of Parliament who are pushing for legislation that would expunge the records and perhaps offer financial compensation. “For a lot of these men, criminal persecution in the ’50s spelled disaster for their entire civil existence,” he said.

Germany has so far has expunged only the records of people caught up in the draconian legal systems of Nazism and East German Communism. “There is no mechanism for getting rid of old Constitutional Court decisions,” Mr. Bruns said. “When the court’s view of the law changes, then it simply rules accordingly and old verdicts are paved over.”

Fox and His Friends, (German: Faustrecht der Freiheit), also known as Right Fist of Freedom, is a 1975 West German film written and directed by Rainer Werner.


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