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Thursday, July 30, 2015

How To Cure Homophobia

Whether you were sent this blog post by someone who loves you or you found it yourself, I’m assuming you’re troubled by the fact that there are gay people in your world and either wish that (a) they weren’t gay, (b) they’d hide their gayness the way they used to, (c) they’d change over to being straight, (e) they’d get out of your life, or (f) ____________ (fill in the blank).

It must be very frustrating to be labeled as a “homophobe,” a derogatory term, and one now used by a minority and pinned on those who were the majority of people on the planet (and probably still are). 

A phobia is a fear of something, and, most likely, you don’t fear gays, you just don’t like the idea of homosexuality, a different issue entirely.  Even worse “homophobe” is lumped in with ugly epitaphs such as “racist,” “sexist,” or “prejudiced,” and you are not any of those things.

Perhaps your religion condemns homosexuality and you are a very religious person.  The Quran does this, and the Bible has seven or eight references to the sinfulness of gay activity.  I wrote a blog post about the latter; see “Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014;  If your religion tells you that homosexuality is a sin, it’s very difficult for believers to come to a different conclusion, and quite cruel to call such godly people ungodly names like “homophobe.”

But, all that aside, to your annoyance you’re now being forced to deal with the fact that gays are largely accepted everywhere which encourages them to come out by the hundreds, the thousands, the millions, and suddenly—almost overnight—you are confronted by this phenomenon more or less on a daily basis.  If your reaction is negative and people notice it you will risk their disapproval and, in addition to the “HOMOPHOBE” branding iron being pressed to your forehead, you might lose the love and approval of people who are important to you, people in your family, workplace, neighborhood, or even church.  If you doubt that latter category is possible, I know of a judge who refused to grant gays civil rights in a jurisdiction where that was the correct current statutory result and then was astounded when the pastor of his own church, a progressive congregation, refused to speak to him.

With all this prejudice against you, how does a person who thinks homosexuality is wrong fight back?

One of the hardest things to do in life is to change one’s fundamental beliefs on any given subject.  It’s so hard that many people can’t do it unless boxed into a corner where that’s the only choice left.  But if you find yourself in that corner, depressed and confused, perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and reconsider your position.  What follows are some of the reasons people dislike gays and then an exploration of the soundness of those conclusions.

1.  I Don’t Understand Why Gays Choose To Be Gay.

The answer is that they don’t.  Given the world gays are born into they’d have to be nuts to choose a life in which they would be shunned by most people who discover they are homosexual, thrown out of their own homes, bullied at school, physically attacked, denied employment, called sinners, thought of as sick, and even jailed in many parts of the world (where sometimes the penalty is an ugly death; see  Do you think gay people are really that stupid?  My husband has a typical story: he didn’t fit the heterosexual stereotype when he was a small boy so he was called a “fag” all through grade school and high school, being subjected to daily insults, often including physical attacks, his life miserable.  He didn’t know what a “fag” was when this started and had done nothing to make anyone think he was gay except fit a certain image in the heterosexual mind.  His outraged parents complained to the Catholic schools he attended, but the nuns and priests did nothing to protect their son, sometimes even encouraging his attackers.  It turned out, however, that the bullies were right: when he matured he was interested in sex with men and only men, but it wasn’t something he chose.  It was just the card he was dealt.  

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Dr. Alfred Kinsey
Over and over again gays and lesbians will tell you variations on this same story.  Are they all lying or mistaken about what happened?  Research by experts confirms that homosexuality (and heterosexuality) are not choices.  People are born with the sexual orientation they will have all their lives, though for many people (I was one of them—as this blog attests I have a complicated story) it takes awhile to figure out what that is.  It’s important to understand that heterosexuality and homosexuality are not two mutually exclusive clubs.  Dr. Alfred Kinsey discovered this in the middle of the last century when his interviews with thousands of volunteers revealed that sexual orientation is much like skin color: some people get more pigmentation than others, but they don’t get to chose how dark their skin is—that’s genetic.  His famous “Kinsey Scale” goes from zero to six, with people who are exclusively heterosexual being given a zero, and those who are completely homosexual are given a six [I had a gay friend, a cop, who claimed that he was a “six headed for seven,” but he was clowning—six is the top number].  People who are predominantly straight but with some homosexual interests get a one, with the number rising as interest in homosexual activity increases.  True bisexuals would be a three.  Kinsey’s conclusion was that roughly ten percent of the male population falls into categories five (mostly gay, with some minor straight interests) and six, and this is where the popular figure “gays are ten percent of the population” originated.  The numbers are more complicated for women, and all of the above is a simplification of what Kinsey reported, but you’ll have to do the research yourself to see what I mean.  Kinsey’s statistics have been challenged but have stood the test of time; see “Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 26, 2014;

This means that people who are totally straight (“zeroes”), a large percentage of the population, will be puzzled by the supposed “choice” of homosexuality, but people who are not zeroes on the scale will have some sort of “choice” in that they have some gay urges, albeit very small for, say, “ones.”  People who are not zeroes might force themselves into a heterosexual lifestyle and put their homosexual desires (however strong) in a lock box, trying not to ever act upon them, nor admit their existence not even to themselves.  But sexual desires are strong, not easily caged and ignored.  Comes the night when the situation lines up the elements perfectly (the right amount of liquor, complete privacy, no chance of exposure, an eager and desirable partner) and suddenly the jail door opens, sex occurs, and remorse follows.  Many millions (billions?) of people have gone through their lives hiding their sexual inclinations toward the same sex only to be exposed and ruined when it all comes crashing down.  This leads to suicide, madness, broken homes, ruined careers.  Phrased another way: homophobia, as a societal norm, leads to all those things.  If there were no homophobia no one would be surprised (or care) that “straight” people sometimes had gay fun.

2.   Gays Should Change Their Sexuality Through Therapy or Religious Groups That Promise Conversion to Heterosexuality.

I wrote a blog post on this common assertion called “How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010;  Here is the first paragraph of that post:

You can’t. During my gay rights activist days and right up until the current moment, I’ve had a standing offer about this. I will contribute $5000 to the charity of choice of an individual or organization that can produce five men who were once gay and are now straight. There are various conditions: (1) the men must have had significant gay experiences in their lives, (2) become straight through whatever process, and (3) for at least five years thereafter remained completely straight. Finally, they must not have ever been leaders or volunteer workers for ex-gay organizations (just, therefore, normal members) and pass rigorous tests to determine their current sexual orientation (see me for details—I am serious about this). Since ex-gay organizations have been around for over thirty years, you’d think they’d have thousands of former participants who’d easily meet my criteria, but so far no one has taken me up on this. Note that I’m not proposing a bet. If the person/organization can’t find five men who pass the tests, they lose nothing other than a creditability that is often widely touted, but is in tatters whenever considered objectively.  (I would require that if five converted straight men are not produced, the expenses of testing be paid for by the entity accepting my challenge.)

The history of organizations, whether religious or not, who try to change gays into straights is embarrassing in its exposure of fraudulent promises and practices and complete failure to produce the promised results.  The leading one of these, Exodus International, which had existed for many decades, finally folded in 2013 and admitted that in all of its years of operation it had never changed the sexual orientation of a single person; see  Nor has “reparative” therapy done any better, while charging thousands of wasted dollars to hapless patients who desperately want to change but get nothing but thinner wallets.  A number of states (led by California and New Jersey) have forbidden such therapy by law, and it’s roundly condemned by all the leading medical associations. 

No one who had studied the matter objectively disagrees with this statement: you cannot change gays into straights no matter how hard the individual wants to change, no matter which religion tries, no matter how much money is spent, and no matter how sincere the effort on the part of all involved.  It just doesn’t work.  Any temporary victories touted by the “cure” are found to have been failures when investigated a year or so later.

If you think I’m wrong about this, explore the issue yourself.  See if you can find someone who’ll take me up on my challenge.  Twenty years after I first made it not a single soul or organization has come forward to make the effort.  I’d love to test it—with lots of publicity for the winner.

3.  Frankly, I’m Disgusted By What Gays Do In Bed.

Oh?  Well I know some gays (not me—I always had a good time making love to women) who are disgusted by what heteros do in bed.  If such easily-shocked gays were in the majority would their revulsion be a legitimate ground for banning heterosexuality? 

The truth is that it’s hard to imagine any two people, straight or gay, who aren’t already sexy and beautiful, making love (say your own parents or your neighbors) without feeling some unease at the thought.

How about this: we vow to never decree public policy based on images of other people—no matter their orientation—making love.  We’ll all sleep better.

4.  My Religion, My Training, My History Makes Me Homophobic.

That’s true, very true, of many people, but it simply means that society has misunderstood the issue for centuries.  Must this misunderstanding continue to condemn perfectly good people to a life of shame?  And these days, as society begins to correct this ancient mistake, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself whether you have the ability to say to yourself, “I need to rethink this issue, and decide what’s fair and what’s not.”

5.  Conclusion.  

If you let it homophobia can take your life down sorry paths, destroy valuable relationships, and earn you a reputation no one would want.

One of my blog posts cautions parents that they are almost certain to regret condemning their children when they find out those children aren’t straight; see “Disowning Your Gay Children,” October 9, 2013,

If what I’ve said above is true, your children haven’t done anything wrong when they finally trust you enough to tell you the big secret that’s been tearing them apart.  If you react badly you’ll never feel good about what you did, and—I call this the “Deathbed Test”—when you are very old and lying in your final bed about to die, you’ll almost certainly wish you could go back in time and say different words instead of the hateful ones that ruined everything.

The proper attitude towards gay people is simple.  It’s the same attitude you should have in judging anyone.  Don’t ask cultural or racial or ethnic or sexual orientation questions when making evaluations of worth; doing so will end up with ugly adjectives attached to your name.  Instead make a simple inquiry.  Is this a good person or a bad person?  

We all should have to answer that one.

Related Posts:

“The Deathbed Test,” July 27, 2010;
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010;  

 “A Homophobic Organization Throws in the Towel: Goodbye to Exodus International,” June 21, 2013; 

“Disowning Your Gay Children,” October 9, 2013,

“Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 26, 2014;

“Atheists and Gays in Islamic Countries: Ugly Deaths,” June 18, 2015;
“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014;

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Battle with Sony To Get a Refund on a DVD Player

One of the existential questions facing all TV watchers these days is “Should I cut the cord?”, which is the current lingo for breaking off from traditional television, stopping your cable service or satellite reception, and relying only on streaming media via your computer or other devices.  Like many others before us, my husband and I were suspicious of this possibility, and we began by exploring what those various services (Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hula, etc.) had to offer. That led to us being hooked on “House of Cards” (amazing television), “Transparent,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and more, while appreciating that it was possible to follow our favorite TV shows (well, most of them) in this same manner.

The Offending Product
We bought a Sony Blu-Ray DVD player and connected it to our wi-fi network, and for a few months things went well as we used it to stream these services, but then it started having major problems connecting to the internet.  I brought in experts, upped the strength of my internet signal, acquired both a new router and modem, but nothing worked.  It was too late to send the product back via Amazon, so I embarked on a huge journey of trying to get Sony interested in helping me.  After hours dealing with a telephone tree designed to make the strong weep, and many instructions to unplug things and then plug them back in, etc., and futile conversations with live people who seemed most capable at losing my former information and making me start from scratch, I became madder and madder.  Would Sony give me back my money?  No, but they would send me a replacement of the same product that caused the problem.  I declined to start this nightmare over again.

I do have some advantages over the usual consumer caught in this 21st Century version of hell: I know the law, am an expert in it, and I know how to write a powerful letter.  Once I finally talked a supervisor into giving me the name and address of Sony’s legal department in California, I wrote them a letter on May 4, 2015. It follows:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a Sony customer who in early January of this year bought a Sony Blu-Ray DVD Player, Model # BDP-S5200/BM, serial #1221390, via  It worked perfectly for a month or so, and I was very pleased, and then it began to have sporadic problems such as connecting with the internet, or finding/maintaining a wi-fi connection with apps like Netflix, or maintaining contact with the remote.  As time went on this became a routine problem, with connection almost never being automatic, but requiring use of “Settings” before there was any hope of working, about 90% of the time.  I talked with Customer Support about this and was advised to unplug and then plug back in various items: my router, my modem, and the Blu-Ray player itself (Sony also advised making sure I had downloaded all upgrades to my player, and, yes, I had).  Sometimes these fixes worked, sometimes they didn’t.  I then paid to upgrade and replace both my modem and router, but that didn’t help even slightly.  When Sony had no more advice, I finally gave up last month, boxed up the machine, and bought a Samsung product which so far has had no difficulties.  I would like to have Sony refund the $74.99 I paid (via Amazon) for the player.  I have requested this relief in over seven phone calls with Customer Support, ticket #E61118399 (and there were other ticket numbers but I have lost track of the early ones), spending hours over multiple weeks trying to wade through the almost impenetrable audio bureaucracy, until finally I was given this address, where I trust I will meet a lawyer.

If you Google “douglas whaley sales” you will discover that I am an emeritus Professor of Law at The Ohio States University and a nationally known expert on consumer law, commercial law, and contracts (having published seven casebooks in these and related fields, as well as all three UCC Gilberts).

Here is my quick legal analysis of the situation.  Sony’s product doesn’t work in spite of repeated attempts to rectify the difficulty, and thus it violates both the express warranty that came with the product and the implied warranty of merchantability (UCC §2-314), which, as you know, is a warranty that the product will be “fit for its ordinary purpose.”  Its “ordinary purpose” here would be routine watching of internet content without substantial difficulty.  As a consequence of this breach I am rejecting the product per UCC §2-602, and will happily return it to Sony if it pays the postage for same after refunding the purchase price.  The UCC is uniform as to these citations in all U.S. jurisdictions (except Louisiana). 

I’m not the only buyer having these problems with this Sony model.  If you go to you will find many customer reviews with sentences like these:

“Sometimes I get the message that the network is not accessible when launching Netflix. I am using wired Ethernet so I could eliminate any WiFi connection issues. It’s a solid connection. To test the connection, I disconnected the Ethernet from the BDPS5200 and attached it to my laptop. No problem. Blazing fast. Connected back to the BDPS5200, "network is not accessible". Pulled the plug on the player, plugged it back in, waited for 1-2 minutes, tried it again and it worked.  Could it be the BDPS5200?  Consider this: I just returned a BDPS5100 because it had the same problems. For as many people that are complaining on Sony's web site, Sony's recommendations are textbook solutions that are temporary fixes at best, like unplug and plug back in your player and a host of other suggestions that people have tried that either didn't work or resulted in temporary fixes.”

Operation of this unit is erratic and inconsistent. It randomly completely stops responding to the remote and I have to reset the unit by unplugging it. Fast forward or rewind a movie and you take the risk of losing control.”

Worked great for 4 months then died.”

When it works it's great. Playing discs is fine and both sound and picture quality is excellent. However I find it freezes regularly when watching prime, it plays but then won't pause, change programs or even switch the machine off.  I have to switch off at the mains in order to get it working.  I've only had the machine 5 months.”

“This technology is not quite ready for mass home use in the US. The main problems are spotty WiFi connection and truly crappy and UNINTUITIVE menus and submenus merely to connect and surf simple, popular places like YouTube and Vimeo. The DVD loads really slowly as well, slower than many portable cheap DVD players.  We really gave this unit a fair shake, and tried and tried again to get it working smoothly; we wanted to keep this.. it looked neat... but we felt we had to return it after wrestling with it for 24 hours and not watching a single thing via the WiFi connection to our Linksys EA4500 WiFi Router.”

If a refund is not forthcoming by the end of May I will write all this up as an ongoing blog experience for my very popular blog as I explore how small-potato consumers like me can get relief when stiff-armed by a major company like Sony, and at the same time I will file suit in the Franklin County Small Claims Court, using your address for the Sony defendant (let me know if you’d prefer another), and asking for my money back plus court costs ($78.00—more than the product itself).  I suspect Sony won’t defend, so I’ll happily take a default judgment.  Then I will figure out how to register my judgment in a jurisdiction where Sony has assets and with the aid of one of my former students (they’re all over the country, including a number in California as a result of a visiting year at Hastings) execute my judgment, probably against a Sony bank account. 

Or you can simply advise your client to refund my $74.99 and we’ll be done with this.

I then closed by giving Sony’s attorneys my contact information and signed my name. Less than a week later I received the nicest phone call from the Office of the President of Sony in which a woman cheerfully informed me that they had received my letter and were pleased to tell me my money would be refunded promptly.  I was, of course, required to return their player to them, and, perhaps cruelly, I did so by putting it in the box of the Samsung product I had just purchased to replace it.  I have recently deposited the check, and all is finally well.

Sony in a Samsung Package

The sad part is that not only did it take forever to get relief, but that most consumers have little chance of getting any satisfaction.  The system is gamed so that the telephone trees and the pretended relief is so complicated that most people just pound their phones in fury and give up.  In this Sony is not alone, but instead is part of a thundering herd of sellers uninterested in giving customers easy avenues of redress for their problems.  If these companies want satisfied customers they should make refunds the presumptive relief on proof that the product breaches the warranties created by either the contract or the law.

Here’s what you, buyer of a defective product, might try in similar situations.  If the seller is located in your jurisdiction, consider filing a small claims court action and asking for relief.  Most such courts handle disputes up to some small jurisdictional amount, say $3000 (check online for the limit in your area), and if you lose the most you are out is the filing fee.  You do not need an attorney in small claims courts but can proceed pro se (pronounced “pro say,” Latin meaning “for yourself,” i.e., no attorney).  The seller (defendant) will be notified by the court of the case and can defend.  It no appearance is made, the court will grant judgment in your favor and you can then threaten the defendant with executing that judgment (say, garnishing a bank account).  If the defendant appears you will argue it out before the judge and hope to win a judgment in your favor.

Another possibility is to check your credit card contract.  Many credit card companies agree to refund your money if consumer products don’t work and were bought with that card, so check into that.  If you haven’t yet paid off the credit card bill on this purchase, federal law [the Truth In Lending Act, Regulation Z 12 C.F.R. §1026.12(c)] allows you to refuse to do so when the merchant who sold you the product will not respond to your complaint that the product is defective.  The credit card issuer, on getting written notice of this dispute from you, must recredit your account and then get its money back from the merchant.

The best solution is to deal with merchants who are so proud of their products that they make it easy to get meaningful relief when something goes wrong, but these days such heroic capitalists are, alas, vanishing entities. My blog posts mentioned below have some other suggestions.  Good luck to you and try playing “Angry Birds” when placed on hold.

Related Posts:

"I Threaten To Sure Apple Over an iPad Cover," April 8, 2011;

"The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver," April 11, 2011;

"What Non-Lawyers Should Know About Warranties," October 11, 2011;

"How To Write an Effective Legal Threat Letter," October 19, 2011;

“How To Win Arguments and Change Someone’s Mind,” August 5, 2012; 

"Mortgage Foreclosures, Missing Promissory Notes, and the Uniform Commercial Code: A New Article," February 11, 2013;

"Legal Terms You Should Know,” September 13, 2013;

“How To Respond to a Legal Threat.” March 29, 2014;

“Clicking on 'I Agree': Sticking Your Head in the Lion's Mouth?” September 27, 2014;

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What Should You Know About Gay History?

Anyone might be interested in this topic, but gay people in particular should have some basic knowledge of how we got where we are today.

Most people in the LGBT community assume that gay history really begins with the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, and it is certainly true that the modern dramatic progress for homosexual civil rights springs from that moment.  But as to that: “B.S.” (as the character Harry Hay says in “The Temperamentals” which I am directing for Evolution Theatre Company here in Columbus, opening July 8th)—“Before Stonewall” there were millennia of gay people struggling to cope with the same urges that in the 21st century are finally allowing millions to troop to the altar.  There is a rich and exciting history out there and in this post I’d like to summarize the basics for you.

Josephine Baker
If you’re a gay man or woman you should be familiar with these tales and able to see how they relate to the current problems of the movement.  Of course, with rare exceptions, our homosexual ancestors couldn’t be “out” and up front about their orientation, so many famous people are only now revealed to have been homosexuals (or at least bisexual).  Here’s an astounding partial list: Alexander the Great, Josephine Baker, Leonard Bernstein, Marlon Brando, Lord Byron, Caligula, Casanova, Hart Crane, Greta Garbo, John Maynard Keynes, Alfred Kinsey, Maurice Sendak, Tiberius, and T. H. White.  Yup—and that list could have gone on for pages.

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What’s important to appreciate in considering the sexuality of famous people, some long dead, is that the presumption of heterosexuality [which I’ve written about before; see “The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual” at] is so strong that obvious evidence of homosexuality will nonetheless remain unseen, ignored, hidden, or outright destroyed by the historians and biographers writing supposedly definitive works.  In spite of that, like it or not, ten percent of the people on this globe have always been homosexual [see Related Posts below], even in cultures and periods when the records appear to show no signs homosexuality.  Two examples:

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, one of the greatest poets of them all, barely put a fig leaf on his homosexuality either in his life or his poems, particularly the “Calamus” poems (part of “Leaves of Grass” in some editions), and while most biographers accept his sexuality, there are still those who bend every homoerotic line to a “safe” meaning and ignore the many episodes in Whitman’s life that are obviously, patently gay.  Helping them out is the fact that the poet himself constantly deflected charges of homosexuality during most of his life (he went silent at the end when asked these questions), replying to an 1890 plea from the English poet John Addington Symonds to come out by saying: "[T]hat the calamus part has even allow’d the possibility of such construction as mention’d is terrible—I am fain to hope the pages themselves are not to be even mention’d for such gratuitous and quite at this time entirely undream’d & unreck’d possibility of morbid inferences—wh’ are disavow’d by me and seem damnable."  Whitman knew his livelihood depended on public perception, and he was not about to be the gay poster child for nineteenth century America.

The famous actor Lawrence Olivier wrote an autobiography in which he was very frank about his homosexuality, only to have it much censored prior to publication by his wife, Vivien Leigh.  Among the parts omitted was a description of his ten year affair with actor Danny Kaye (!), which affair was widely-known at the time, but has since been hushed up.  See Lawrence Olivier: A Biography by Donald Spoto and Olivier by Terry Coleman (who questions the Kaye story but details other gay adventures in Olivier’s life).  Recent biographies of Kaye (two of them, one by his daughter) pooh-pooh the whole idea that Kaye was anything other than 100% straight, even though to watch his actions in any of his movies is to give the horselaugh to that claim.  
Danny Kaye, Vivien Leigh, and Lawrence
Olivier perform the song "Triplets"
A strong case can be made that other very famous people had a homosexual side.  For Abraham Lincoln (gasp!) see The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Tripp, and for Adolph Hitler (what?) see The Hidden Hitler by Lothat Machtan.  When I picked up these books my first thought was “There’s no way,” and when I put them down that had changed to “Well, I’ll be damned!”

Gay history starts with the Greeks and the Romans, who dealt with homosexuality typically by allowing relationships between an older man and a younger one, while Sappho (630 circa 630-570 b.c.e.), a poet born on the island of Lesbos, created verse that made her name synonymous with woman-to-woman sexual love.  (Pity the poor people who still live on Lesbos—like it or not they are all lesbians.)

The first serious attempts to define homosexuals as a distinct class worthy of protection and not scorn occurred in the nineteenth century.  In 1860s Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German, wrote a series of pamphlets about “uranians,” a “third sex” with a “female psyche in a male body,” and this made the term “uranian” the buzz word of the day.  It led Victorian reformers like Edward Carpenter  and Symonds (Whitman’s correspondent) to champion the idea that uranians were “enlightened” people who would reform democracy, a conclusion that delighted England’s bad boy, Oscar Wilde.  But Wilde’s private life with lower class rent boys brought an abrupt end to his literary and social career in 1895 when his homosexuality was revealed.  This promptly led to three famous trials (Wilde was the plaintiff in the first one and the defendant in the latter two), his comic masterpiece “The Importance of Being Ernest” posting closing notices after a short run, and Wilde himself being sentenced to two years hard labor for “gross indecency.”  This harsh punishment killed him at age 45, depriving the world of a tremendous talent just beginning to flower.  I cannot tell you how much this angers me.

Oscar Wilde

Magnus Hirschfield
The next wave advancing the proposition that homosexuals should be treated with dignity was launched in the early 1900s by Magnus Hirschfield, the “Einstein of Sex,” who led a major movement to repeal Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code (making sodomy a crime), and then created a series of organizations to advance and study homosexuality, most prominently the Institute for Sexual Research (1919).  Hirschfield exploded on the international stage, lecturing all over the world and gaining thousands of followers, but—(deep sigh)—things collapsed when the Nazis came to power.  We all know that the Nazis burned books, but what you may not know is that the first books they burned (1933) were those Hirschfield had carefully collected to study homosexuality and had so proudly housed at his Institute for Sexual Research.  Great treasures went up in flames to the cheering of the crowd.  Hirschfield’s promising movement to create civil rights for homosexuals died with that book-burning.  He himself, on a trip abroad when it happened, never returned to Germany.  Paragraph 175 wasn’t repealed until 1994.

Harry Hay
Gay rights languished until the 1950s when the redoubtable Harry Hay, a communist, became furious that he lived in a world where men living in L.A. could be arrested for merely holding hands in public.  He created a manifesto declaring that “temperamentals” (the euphemism for gays at that time) should be given civil rights and not classified as criminals, a daring idea.  Initially he had much trouble convincing gays themselves to join, but with the help of Rudi Gernreich (a refugee from Vienna, who later became a famous fashion designer) and three other men the Mattachine Society came into being.  It was named after a medieval group that could tell the truth to kings as long as they did so in costumes and jest. 

Mattachine Xmas Party (Hay at upper left)
In 1990 The Trouble With Harry Hay by Stuart Timmons was published and I bought a copy (it was updated in 2012, and I’ve also read the electronic version of that edition).  It’s the biography of Hay (1912-2002), and also the story of the Mattachine Society (the subject of the play I’m directing: “The Temperamentals” by Jon Marans).  In both the play and real life Hay and his brave compatriots risk everything to form an organization that went from meeting in an L.A. diner and  from that spread to other cities, finally holding a convention that Hay later described like this:

Now, mind you, this was 1953, and five hundred people showed up in one place, as representatives of Gay organizations each delegate presumably representing up to ten people.  Can you imagine what that was like?  This is the first time it’s ever happened in the history of the United States.  There we were, and you looked up and all of a sudden the room became vast—well, you know, was there anybody in Los Angeles who wasn’t Gay?  We’d never seen so many people.  And in each other’s presence you can’t shut ‘em up.  This isn’t the period when you hugged much yet—but nevertheless there was an awful lot of hugging going on during those two days.

The organization tried new tactics to protect homosexuals.  One of these, shown to great dramatic effect in the play, occurs when a Mattachine member is falsely accused of public indecency in a men’s room where he’s entrapped by a police officer.  Hay convinced this man, Dale Jennings, not to do the usual thing—plead guilty—but instead to bravely go to trial and tell the world he was innocent of immoral activity even though he was a homosexual!  This was an amazing thing to state in public in the 1950s, but it worked and Jennings was set free when the jury could not reach a verdict after 40 hours of deliberation (eleven wanted to vote innocent but one man said he’d hold out for guilty till hell froze over).  Jennings, who went on to write a column for ONE Magazine (a premier gay publication started about this same time) later explained that the trial nonetheless ruined his life because public identification as a homosexual was a stain that could not be washed off.

In the 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy began “red-baiting” and finding communists in the State Department and elsewhere in government, and he conflated communism with homosexuality.  Blacklisting of suspected communists began, and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee [HUAC] destroyed many reputations at its vicious hearings.  Harry Hay was called to testify, and he was publically exposed as a former communist (he had left the party when he formed the Mattachine Society because the party discriminated against homosexuals).  Many of the original founders were also communists, which caused an uproar at that 1953 convention.  “Do you actually think a radical organization is born from moderate people?” one of the founders asks those attending the convention in the play.  As a consequence Hay and the other original founders all resigned their posts at the convention, and the Mattachine Society was safe from further attack from HUAC. 

But the loss of these pivotal people meant that the political fire driving the Mattachine Society died out, and it became merely a social organization, fading into insignificance.  When we began rehearsals I asked my cast if the Mattachine Society therefore ultimately meant nothing because it only lasted a short time and has now largely been forgotten.  The answer we reached was that the society had, for the first time, made gays aware of a new idea: that they were a minority with civil rights.  This was revolutionary, and once it was said on a national level it could not be unsaid.  It was still in the air as a concept, awaiting a new opportunity to be reasserted.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon
There were lesbian organizations founded shortly after the Mattachine Society (which itself had many lesbian members), and inspired by it.  One of these, The Daughters of Bilitis was formed by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in 1955 and lasted for fourteen years, helping gay women all over the world and advancing the cause of feminism.  It had chapters in many states and some other countries, and, most successfully, it published the first lesbian magazine in the world, “The Ladder.”  The Daughters of Bilitis eventually folded due to internal dissent and lack of funding, but as that was happening a big gay historical moment erupted in Greenwich Village in 1969.

This came in the form of famous riots at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City.  Judy Garland had just died and the drag queens were in no mood for the usual police raid that occurred at the bar on the night of June 28, 1969.  It’s unclear whether a drag queen or a lesbian threw the first punch at an arresting officer, but for the first time in history gays didn’t passively submit.  Police cars were set on fire, and at one point the police were themselves trapped in the bar, which was burning.  Crowds gathered, and the riots continued for three days, sparking excitement for the idea that gays were no longer beanbags.  The sixties had seen the rise of a youth movement to grant civil rights to all, with hippies leading the way, and it was time for gay men and lesbians to have their turn at being treated with respect.  Almost overnight many gay groups sprang up all over the country and the LGBT surge that just last month produced gay marriage uniformity in the USA had begun.  There are two fascinating re-creations of the events of the 1969 riots, both called Stonewall, one by Martin Duberman and the other by David Carter, and I recommend them both to you.

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There is much more, of course, to the history of the LGBT movement before and after Stonewall, but this post is long enough.  For a wonderful summary of events up through the early 1990s see the classic Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. by Jonathan Ned Katz (revised edition 1992).  In it you will find the gay community creating new organizations such as ACT UP and political and social groups by the score, as well as the horror of the HIV/AIDS crisis that is still with us, and battles at all levels to tear down criminal statutes and massive forms of discrimination.  From the beginning the movement has achieved major successes both in the United States and internationally, and, while there are major hurdles yet to be leaped, what has already been accomplished should indeed fill us with pride, coupled with gratitude for those who started it all.

Revisiting historical LGBT events is exciting and empowering.  As we’ve been putting together the play “The Temperamentals” we’ve marveled at the bravery these men showed when they pitted themselves against a world in which doctors said homosexuals were sick, the church said they were sinners, and the law said they were criminals.  The play is both moving and very funny, and in my “Director’s Note” in the program I have this to say:

In 2015 it’s hard to appreciate how far we’ve come. As you watch Jon Marans’ terrific play ask yourself this question: if you were a gay man in 1952 (a time when men could be arrested for holding hands) and Harry Hay had approached you on a gay beach and asked you to come to a meeting exploring whether homosexuals should band together for protection, would you have risked all you had to attend?  Those who went formed the Mattachine Society and by doing so defined the meaning of the word “brave.”  This is their story.

How would you respond to that question?

Tickets can be purchased at the door, by calling 800 838-3006 or online at

Related Posts:

“How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?” November 8, 2010;

“Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 22, 2014’

“The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio,” June 4, 2012;

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;