Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Coverage Day 2: Homosexuality - This Is Your Life

Davina Kotulski of covers day 2 of Prop 8 trial testimony of Professor George Chauncey, Historian


At 12:30 PM we broke for lunch and raced to the Cafeteria on the 2nd floor of the fed building. I inhaled some sushi because I couldn’t wait for something to cook. I was famished. Can you believe they have a sushi bar at the fed building?

I had lunch with Terry Stewart’s wife and daughter, my wife, and plaintiff for the California Marriage Case John Lewis. [Note from UTF: Terry Stewart is representing the city of San Francisco fighting against Prop 8. She was argued against Prop 8 before the CA Supreme Court back in May.]

I asked John Lewis to tell me what he thought of the case. He said he was struck by the bravery of the plaintiff couples and said “over the past decade the success of the marriage equality movement can be attributed to LGBTI couples, their family and friends, who have spoken the truth of their lives in every possible setting, with co-workers, at rallies, too media, and even going door to door.”

Lewis said “This takes tremendous courage and belief in one’s dignity to be treated equally under the law and to stand up for your own life and offer that for the betterment of others now and in the future. The plaintiffs offered live testimony of their lives in a court case where they are subjecting themselves to hostile cross examination on the most important part of their lives.”

Well said John!

Thanks to the wonderful generosity of blogger Michael Petrelis who shared his media pass with me, I had the chance to sit in the court room for the afternoon testimony by Yale Professor George Chauncey. Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s gay nephew, was there. Hoping to do an interview with him tomorrow.

Chauncey is a historian who wrote Why Marriage: The history shaping the debate over gay equality (2004). He is an internationally sought after speaker whose received numerous awards.

Unfortunately, this is when my computer decided to die.

Chauncey began talking about the widespread discrimination gays and lesbians faced in the public and private arenas, focusing specifically on public accommodation, employment, censorship, stereotyping, and then just plain old discrimination.


Chauncey’s testimony was like “homosexuality this is your life!” Remember when you could be arrested for association and sodomy? Remember when we called you a degenerate and made up laws to throw you in jail for simply being in a bar?

Oh, this one’s great - remember when vagrancy laws were used to ensnare you in California and getting arrested meant the police would, according to Chauncey:

1. Call your family to “verify your identity” and out you.
2. Call your landlord to confirm that you lived there and out you.
3. Call your employer to verify your employment and out you.

And remember after prohibition when everyone else could drink, laws were passed to keep you out of the bars. Laws that actually prohibited gays and lesbians being served drinks or the bar would lose its liquor license, so you had to hang out at the bars that were operated by organized crime syndicates. Boy, homosexuality, you’ve come a long way baby, except, because of this, people still affiliate you with and compare you to criminals.


I was shocked to learn today that there were actually signs posted outside of bars that said “If you’re gay, stay away” and “it’s against the law to serve homosexuals.” Hmm, what does that remind me of? And if these offensive signs weren’t enough, cops regularly raided bars looking for homosexuals or people that they thought looked like ‘em.

According to Chauncey, and you older gays probably remember this (I was in the womb during Stonewall, literally), plain-clothed policemen would go into bars and look for “stereotypical cross-gender behavior…women with short hair, masculine clothing, swaggering around the bar in ways that women shouldn’t with colorful clothes, long hair, and greeting each other in a feminine way.”

Chauncey even said that one person he interviewed said that one way to tell was if “two men talking about the opera, something no real man would do.”

Chauncey went on to talk about the legacy of police raiding bars and arresting gay people and referenced the Black Cat Bar, raid in San Francisco which lost it’s license in 1949. There was a court ruling that you couldn’t discriminate. But Chauncey said the police continued to crack down on bars with gays.

As we know they continued in 1969 with the Stonewall Inn in NY and even last year in Fort Worth, Texas. This legacy, while less frequent Chauncey says, still continues.


2:07 PM

Terry Stewart asked Chauncey-How did this effect gay people?

GC- They were a despised class of people, outlaws in the eyes of the law. They needed to take great care and keep secret that they were gay. It more broadly associated gay life with criminality. Seedy, underbelly of society, associated with organized crime.

GC-WWI military decided to exclude homosexuals and to begin screening procedures to keep gay people out. Not surprisingly, they didn’t ferret people out. Most gays, like their peers, wanted to serve their country and were accustomed to passing as straight. Small town gays were very concerned about keeping that hidden.


Chauncey stated that the military had various procedures in place to keep homosexuals out and that when discovered they were discharged. Sound familiar?

The consequences for those who were discovered to be gay either before or during military service were profound.

Chauncey, “It was humiliating. They were denied benefits under the GI bill - even soldiers who served in combat and were kicked out because they were discovered to be gay. They were prohibited from benefits for housing, education, employment, etc. People wanted to see your discharge papers and find out what you were fired for before they hired you which did not help them.”

Chauncey “The War was an important moment of bringing people together.” He mentioned WWII. “Think of the classic WWII movie -The Jew from Brooklyn, the Irish guy from Jersey, the Italian from San Francisco.” Gay men were not able to be a part of this and then were seen as suspect because they were not a part of protecting the country.

The following fact is submitted for evidence--“Over the first 10 years of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell it cost the Defense Department 95 million dollars.”


Chauncey went on to talk about what happened after WWII. Things got worse for gays.

He says that in 1950, Joseph Macarthur wanted the names of communists and sex perverts. This led to the formation of top congressional committees on the employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts in government.

A document entitled something like On the Employment of Homosexuals, Sex Perverts and Communists is submitted as evidence.

Chauncey said that approximately “1,700 people had been prohibited from getting federal jobs” and noted that the State Department “dismissed more suspected homosexuals than communists.”

He said that President Eisenhower also created a policy that homosexuals could not work for the government, be in the military, or work for private companies who had contracts with the government, and that they had to fire their gay employees.

In 1975, Carter rescinded that policy, so that most government agencies no longer were required to fire gays and were able to hire them. But it was not until the 1990s that President Clinton ended that policy in intelligence agencies and prohibited discrimination federal employment for gay employees.

I was hired by the Department of Justice as a psychologist in June 1996 and during my background investigation I came out. The investigator documented that I had revealed I was a homosexual and proceeded to ask me if people knew of my homosexuality. I affirmed that I was open about my sexual orientation and found out later that they contacted my employer, my landlord, and many of my friends to confirm that I was a “known homosexual” and therefore could not be blackmailed.


Chauncey talked about employment discrimination that still exists in at least 20 states.

Terry Stewart asked if discrimination in employment affected “access to jobs in the private sector.”

Chauncey- "Gay people faced discrimination from a range of employers varied from occupation to occupation, company to company, most people had to hide their homosexuality for fear of losing their job.”

Stewart-Did it limit their job choices or channel them into specific occupations?

Chauncey-A good number of gay people pursued the profession they wanted, hid their identities, but there were also a good number of people who did not want to risk that and were funneled into low status job where being gay wouldn’t matter.

He mentions waiter, hairdresser, clerical worker.


Stewart-What were the effects on gay people generally?

Chauncey-gay life was pushed under ground. They had to hide it. Increased the stakes for people. It meant that they were secretive, special codes, gay liberation in the 1970, in 1940s and 1960s, they used the word “gay” as a code word.


Stewart-Can you explain gay people having been subject to censorship?

Chauncey-In the movies, Legion of Decency, led by Catholics, they led the charge to edit films with gay content. Pressured Hollywood.

1934 or 1944 enforced the Hays Code.

You had to pay a fine [if code was broken]. Prohibited interracial relationships, lesbian and gay characters, discussion of homosexuality.

A generation of Hollywood films could not include gay characters or explore gay lives.

Hollywood screenwriters had to submit scripts. Very strictly managed.

TV networks were even more constrained than Hollywood.

1980s, as recently as 1989, a pop TV series called 30 something had a scene with two men in bed with sheets. It was so shocking that various religious organizations threatened boycotts and it was not shown at all, putting a chilling effect on the inclusion of gay characters.

Gay people didn’t know there were other gay people like themselves. Older gays didn’t see themselves represented and were reminded that they were a despised group.

Kept people hiding themselves and it kept straight people from knowing gay people and allowed stereotypes to emerge.

See Day 3 coverage.

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