Monday, September 10, 2007

Review of Gay L. A.

Gay L. A., by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, from Basic Books, NY, 2006, $27.50, 429 pages.

A review by someone who was there for about a 10th of the material covered.
 
The main thing this excellent book points out is that the continuing  movement for civil rights for homosexual Americans started in about 1950 in Southern California, by the founders of early Mattachine (Harry Hay, Dale Jennings, et al.) and ONE, Inc. (Tony Reyes, Don Slater, Dale Jennings, Dorr Legg (Bill Lambert), Martin Block, et al.), which came out of that start, and that each decade since then there has seen a large growth of people and organizations and publications that pushed he cause forward.
 
The first 100 or so pages cover early L. A. which was transgendered Indians (often called berdache) and then the closeted movie stars, none of whom did a thing to make the world a better place of homosexuals—and there were ways to do that and remain in the closet, then as now. Then we come to the moment when a few good men and women decided to fight back, at the discrimination, by cops, preachers, psychiatrists, and the media—which gaily published names, address and employers of those arrested. Women were arrested as well as men.
 
And the work of ONE, Inc. is covered after the early Mattachine essentially died in L. A. as it was "moved" to San Francisco by the Hal Call faction which took over to remove the communist legacy that they feared would eventually destroy the cause in the McCarthy era.
 
The internal disagreements in ONE that eventually led to a separation are covered in a sense, but not well, as I will discuss later. But almost every decade saw gay/lesbian groups have internal disagreements, up to today, so that is a generic problem.
 
When ONE was the only local organization it had to do everything: publish its main work, ONE Magazine, and then educate homosexuals and non-homosexuals-often while under attack for making the issue public which closeted gays feared would hurt them by making the public aware that not all homosexuals were acting like the opposite sex.
 
Each decade from 1960 on saw new organizations, such as PRIDE, publications like the Advocate, and later specialized groups, such as political ones (MECLA), religious ones (MCC), ethnic groups, women's groups, running and hiking clubs, as well as the a growing number of gay bars.  And finally homosexuals became politicians and won offices, such as state senator, and became judges. Gay attorneys became willing to handle cases which they had been afraid to in the first decades. (That is why the movement had to rely on allies such as attorneys like Eric Julber, who handled the ONE Magazine case all the way to the U S Supreme Court, and won (1958) and Herb Selwyn, who incorporated Mattachine and the Homosexual Information Center and other groups and handled arrest cases. They didn't get as much notoriety and make as much money as others, such as Gladys Towle Root or Harry Weiss, but the did the most important work for the nascent movement.
 
The authors say what they intend to do in their introduction and tell us what they did in the ending pages. Mostly they did a good job in the 351 pages, and they give us lots of notes and an index. Any student of the history of the homosexual movement will have to know what is in the pages of this book.
 
But regarding the one part of history that I was in, I believe that the authors, for what eve reason, seem to have a biased view of the problems at ONE, Inc., and I wonder if the fact that Stuart was at one time a director of ONE Institute might have given him a biased view of the facts. I'm not sure they would have come out different even if they had interviewed me, wich they could have but didn't. But I will leave it to my co-workers at ONE and the Homosexual Information Center (many of whom are no longer with us) and to other serious scholars of the civil rights movements to point out some significant distortions of the facts.
 
Often it is just the words they select that give a "flavor" that is wrong.  For instance, Faderman and Timmons seem to say that Don Slater agreed to sign a settelement agreement, as if Dorr Legg didn't have to sign the agreement too.  And they imply that Don owed Dorr materials, when a reading of the settlement (which is on our website at www.tangentgroup.org, as is much of the material covered, including a famous speech by Dale Jennings that the book mentions but fails to cite) would show that mainly all Dorr got was the right to the name "ONE." And they imply that Don held material and didn't give it back till his death in 1997. In the first place, the notes of this hisotyr are full of material from ONE Institute, which would seem to say Dorr had the material--otherwise how woudl Faderman and Timmons have access to it? But Don Slater's death was irrelevant since the material belongs to the Corporation and not to him as an individual.
 
A distinction that should be made is that ONE Institute is not ONE, Inc. ONE, Inc. is owned by the funding arm of ONE, the Institute for the Study of Human Resources, so that any material in dispute would be ONE's, not the Institute's. 
 
The authors seem to say that the internal problems in ONE were mainly between Don and Dorr (the only remaining, and equal, co-founders of ONE, Inc.) and only became problematic in 1965. The problem had actually been building for several years, as former board members kept pointing out to Don. Many were upset over Dorr's behavior and attitude. As several told Don later, they had warned him, but until Legg hit the magazine, Don just ignored the problem. But they pointed out that ethically only Don and Dorr had a right to decide what ONE would do as they were the reason it existed. And there were obviously two sides to the issues: Dorr was right that we needed to promote education with the education classes and that lousy Quarterly, etc. But they were local and money spent on the courses was not getting a return. Don was right that the magazine brought in the money and "educated" a national audience.
 
What I never understood is why this was an issue in 1965, since by the time Reed Erickson had come from Louisiana, as I had (and LSU as I had) and was funding our work by ISHR. Later Dorr would try to deceive the court and public by claiming that Don was mentally ill to have moved the material and was not even a ONE employee at the time. Technically (although time would prove Don's mental ability was better than Dorr's) that was true, since once ISHR was started, Don and I were "moved" to ISHR, and paid by ISHR, so as to help cut the overhead at ONE. 
 
When Dorr rigged the election in 1965 (to keep me from being elected to the board, which again was strange since up to that time I worked mainly with Dorr, not Don), Don knew he had to do something to save the work he had done since 1952. He consulted with an attorney and then acted. On Easter Sunday, 1965, a few of us (Don, Tony, Jano, Melvin and I) moved ONE to Cahuenga Blvd West. Dorr refused to try to compromise, and Jim Kepner got what may have been a "deciding" vote, Chet Sampson's, to go to Dorr by telling him Don would not last a month—another bit of evidence that even good people can be wrong—and thus Jim Schneider's attempt to get a settlement was killed and  as a  reward for his  work  Dorr kicked him off the board.
 
Dorr filed a lawsuit to recover ONE's materials. His attorney, Hillel Chodos, was misinformed from the start, but then blundered and got the judge mad at him, and our attorney, Ed Raiden (and Lequita McKay) was doing a good job, so the judge made it plain he was not going to waste much time on this frivolous case and the attorneys decided to work fast on a settlement, which they did and the judge approved.
 
Dorr immediately violated the settlement by issuing a claim that we were crooks and he had won. One day he and I were sitting on the floor in our office on Cahuenga dividing books we were going to give him, and the next we stopped all contact. We did NOT give up the name ONE.  Since The Tangent Group (a dba) had incorporated in the name of the Homosexual Information Center, and was the first honest homosexual organization gain tax-exemption, we continued to operate as ONE for tax purposes, until we closed the Bookservice years later. Government agencies knew and understood the two ONEs and we had no problem.  I think later there was also a third ONE, since the center in Long Beach at first was ONE in By ABCBeach.
 
There are other little questions I have as to why the authors chose to cover one incident and ignore another which was done by HIC.  For instance, they (in covering troy Perry and the MCC also cover him picketing with Gay Lib (and Morris Kight) at the Los Angeles Times, and getting a good mention the paper. The reason for the picket I gather was trying to get the paper to use the word "homosexual." Well, why do the authors ignore, then, the HIC-sponsored picketing of the paper, earlier, which was over their refusal to let us use the word homosexual in an ad for a play we were helping sponsor, Geese, by Gus Weill, also of Louisiana? We held discussions after the performances, and while we got no publicity, the paper did change its policy. Troy Perry got the publicity then, since John Dart, a religion writer, came down while we picketed and interviewed Troy and his article was carried not only in the Los Angeles Times but in many other papers.
 
Also, while the authors cover our work as the Committee to Fight Exclusion of Homosexuals From the Armed Forces, they say only that it was covered by ABC news. Why do they not say the person was Connie Chung, and that Tom Brokaw also interviewed us for NBC. They say correctly that the Los AngelesTimes ignored us but don't say that Peter Bart, now with Variety, did a good article in the New York Times. They gore Don’s further work with draftees, covered by Randy Shilts in his book Conduct Unbecoming. Don won court cases and was successful in his legal work, using attorneys, psychologists, etc.
 
They report that someone appeared on the Regis Philbin show. Why then not point out that I also appeared on his show, and was treated badly. And that I was on the Louis Lomax show, Don was on Joe Pyne, and Harry and John were on shows, etc. But probably most important, they don't mention that Maria Cole and Stan Bohrman had Don Slater on as co-host of their KHJ show for a week—Don had others as guests to talk about aspects of homosexuality. If we are going to honor celebrities who seem gay-friendly now, why not honor Maria Cole who did it before it was cool?
 
And a part of the cause they ignore, while covering almost too much the movie stars, are writers and authors. Why do they mention Joseph Hansen only once and in a strange way? "By 1948, the center of action had moved west along with the burgeoning migration, as L. A. writer Joseph Hansen reports." (Where?) That's it! There is o mention of him being a world-famous author, probably the first "out" one, and a co-founder of HIC, with his wife Jane.
 
And the only other author/writer and book mentioned that I remember was ONLY mentioned because it was an example of how "Hollywood" had been fearful of gay movies. That of course is Patricia Nell Warren and her famous book, The Front Runner.
 
We hosted political speakers and argued when Dorr tried to support Lamport despite his anti-gay ways. We supported the Gay-In. We had a play, thanks to Don Schneider, who organized with friends a benefit for HIC by a performance of an all-male version of The Women, at which time Don [Slater] was arrested, and we changed the rules making a permit necessary. We had a good time as well as working for the cause.
 
Some may think I'm worrying too much about these details, but it is interesting that the authors went to the trouble of seeking out Marvin Edwards, who came to L. A. with Dorr, and was arrested and left town, so why not take the trouble of seeking out "primary sources"to be sure their version of events were right, and give readers both sides of arguments?
 
But the information and groups covered in this book are important and I know of no other place they are on the record. And the history of this movement and the work to gain equal/civil rights for homosexual Americans needs to be told, just as those of the black movement, the women's movement, etc.
 
Because of what a few brave souls did in 1950 (Mattachine), ’52 (ONE), ’55 (DOB) and the people and groups and publications that follow each decade, starting in the dozens, then hundreds and now thousands, we now celebrate our lives, as the founders/pioneers dreamed of. We have the institutions they dreamed of, churches, center, housing for older homosexuals, in a few places for the poor, and in several places large housing developments where retired homosexuals live in luxury.
 
The authors have done a good job of telling this history in a book that is a pleasure to read and deserve the gratitude of those who helped make this history. This book removes any excuse for future historians not to know how we got to where we are today and who helped get us here.
 

7 comments:

Jim Schneider said...

Your review and thoughts of GAY L.A. is acceptable and insightable, except for the 5th pgh up from the last pgh where you forgot to separate the two Schneiders and the two Dons all in the same sentence. May I suggest you put out a correction explanation right away as "We had a play, thanks to movie and stage producer Don Schneider (NO RELATION TO JIM SCHNEIDER), who organized with friends a benefit for HIC by a performance of an all-male version of The Women, at which time DON SLATER was arrested, and we ended up changing the L.A. City code rules making a stage permit necessary."

This should eliminate any confusion in the minds of readers as to which Schneider are you talking about, and which Don are you talking about.

Good wishes and good nite from Jim.

Aristide Laurent said...

Billy: This is in response to your passage, “The first 100 or so pages cover early L. A. which was trans Indians and then the closeted movie stars, none of whom did a thing to make the world a better place of homosexuals-and there were ways to do that and remain in the closet, then as now.”

When an idea's time has come, nothing can stop it. Gay marriage was hardly the major goal in the 1950's but is the latest front in equality of gay people. It's meeting the expected resistance but its time has come and nothing will stop it. There will eventually be something on the order of "Gay Marriage" because it is an idea whiich cannot be stopped ... only delayed.

Things change, or begin to change, when all the facets of a thought in time or a concept have come together, often triggered by the most unforseen circumstances. Closeted movie stars of the ’30s and ’40s did not “do a thing to make the world a better place for homosexuals” because there was no such mind-set or role models then as there is now. Most of us were focused on getting laid without getting arrested and losing our jobs or having to register as sex offenders. So cut them a slack. Not everyone was as socially advanced as the early shakers and movers.

We cannot begin to change something which will occur in the future (as those in the 1930s could not anticipate what was to occur in the 1960s ... hindsight is, indeed, a glorious thing). Blaming movie stars of the B&W silver screen for not coming out in public is like blaming me as a child growing up the redneck swamps of Alabama in the 1950s for not organizing a gay pride parade down the dusty roads of Magnolia Springs.

There's an old proverb which says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come along.” We are where we are because where we are at the present time is where we are supposed to be. Only Bush and Company can change the past ... or at least rewrite it. Stop blaming people who are long dead for not behaving as you believe.

Billy Glover said...

The only reason I can agree with some of your thinking is that I too of course did not think of the "issue," even when I got kicked out of the Army in late 1956. And when I still read of people under the same circumstances coming out, certainly in that time, as evidenced by letters to the magazine, I am amazed that I was able to find a job and get on with my life so easily.

But while I personally, even in L. A., did not think of starting a crusade, and as you say, and took care of the necessities of life, when the opportunity came along, with ONE Magazine and the organization, I immediately took it, seeing full well, that we should work to change the bad things. I was not in a situation, as the many movie stars were. I do not give them a pass, as they KNEW of the possibilities and could and should have even then tried to support a change, as Harry, Dale, etc recognized, and they WERE some involved with politics, and the Communist party work. I also had already taken part, minor thought it was, in politics, by handing out literature for Adlai at LSU and then in the middle of Vermont at 3d. AND I had joined in the start of efforts to educate people in my area of the coming racial integration. As I think I've said, in Bossier High School in the late 40s, the YM/YWCA held retreats in several states for the HI-Y people and one of the main items was that they were racially integrated, and we were to help learn how to meet people of different races, religions, etc. (At LSU most of the people from the south were Catholic, most from the north were Protestant, and I believe it was policy to try to integrate room mates by putting one from each section in a room, etc. We didn't even have dancing at LSU at early 50 as I recall.) And LSU people, including me, also supported meetings between students at LSU and Southern, again Methodist (Wesley Foundation and YM/YWCA) and we supported the Baton Rouge bus boycott, which was successful, merely by picking up people who needed a ride while there were no buses, so they didn't suffer, the company did. I don't recall how the media dealt with it, but I can tell you I know how things were in Shreveport/Bossier for black citizens, terrible. So people, even young ones DID understand that in America we were able to work for change.

I was actually called to the Dean of Men's office and told I needed to spend more time on studying than I was on crusading. And what he/they didn't know but I did, was that no amount of studying would make me do better, and now all these years later, I can tell you that either a god or fate gave me all that I needed to do what I would end up in doing in life, crusading. But I know that I was able to do this because I had support from my family and also found such great people to work with.

But I do think and thought then and now, and still have no answer, that while it is everyone's duty to work and try to make the world better, that it is quite possible that change might come only when we have made things ready, and often even another source would be the main ingredient, and perhaps cell phones, or the internet or wars or whatever might lead to the change as much or more than our sincere efforts. Does anyone know for sure, or perhaps it works both ways. But religious, as I was then, or anti-religious, we have a duty to make the effort when we see the problem, and support others who are doing something even if we can't.

Thaddeus said...

Hello Billy...

I hate to say it... after reading your article about the book... I don't think I'd want to read the book since I am a stickler for honesty in history... As with (I won't say ALL) writers and publishers... there are yet far too many who have their own political agendas and some won't write the truth because of their personal agendas of dislike for this person or that person ... that or this “person” may be an important aspect of historical truth about a movement such as the Gay Rights movement. How many times I've seen this kind of axing of history goes on and on ad infinitum... Wouldn't you agree?

Even though you say the book is a good to read ... might I suggest you inform the authors and publishers of their faux pax?

Billy Glover said...

Thanks. I did send a copy to Stuart. I don't have Lillian's email address. I should point out that I hinted something—Stuart had asked me to let them interview me when they started the book. I said ok, but do it this week as I'm leaving L. A. for LA soon. He said he would get with Lillian and set a time, and that was the last I heard. Now I see in the book items that are slanted, at best, and wrong at worst. I am, as they say, a primary resource, and there are only 2 or 3 of us left. Tony is happy in CO and doesn't want to be involved. And even Jim Schneider, who is a HIC co-founder was still with Dorr after we moved that day and tried to reach a compromise, which Jim Kepner stopped. And Dorr kicked him out, and he thus joined Don.

What is not covered in the book is that later on Stuart was the Executive Director of ONE Institute and at that time fussed at me for not going ahead and giving HIC material to ONE Institute—again, they are NOT ONE, Inc. That name is owned still by the funding arm, ISHR (Institute for the Study of Human Resources, which has given a little money directly or indirectly to both HIC and the Institute).

The major uncovered issue is that after Don and Dorr were dead we tried to get the material back together, Jim Kepner whose material was the 3rd part (IGLA), was still alive at that time, and we agreed under certain circumstances—I assume you know that plans had been made to get Dorr and Kepner's part to USC owned space, mainly thanks to Walter Williams, and so—we agreed if we kept complete control, had a separate room with only us having the key, but we would put the books and some material together in the main room, and the building with 2 floors had enough space we thought for the material, meetings, etc. After they were unable to get the building ready, an old fraternity building at 909 W. Adams, off the campus but surrounded by other buildings USC owns, Jim Schneider went on their board and almost single handedly got the building ready. USC had given the funds.

Then we held a grand opening and immediately we had trouble with the others trying to get our material, so we had to go in and remove it, and now we are placing it at Cal State Northridge, where we had already put some material as the Don Slater Collection part of the Bonnie and Vern Bullough Collection, of sexual material, in the CSUN library. (Vern had been a professor there, as well as at USC, SUNY etc.)

AS a glance at our website will show, we post the legal agreement, which Dorr voided anyway. We got legal title to the ONE material—he got the name. Now that both Don and Dorr have been dead for years, these new people who know nothing of the past keep saying they should have the material-nonsense. We are preserving the history—ONE Institute has some of it too—and honoring the work of Don Slater.

Ron said...

I also reviewed "Gay L.A."

This is the first book which tries to encompass an entire history of gay life, the gay rights movement and influential pioneers who carried forth the struggle for equal rights and tolerance, all within the greater Los Angeles area. It is a work obviously requiring hundreds of hours to compose and interviewing countless contributors who lived the experience. The authors claim it is a history book based on the way the subject matter is presented.
I question the need to include initial chapters dealing with homosexuality and transgendered natives of early California and when the state was governed by Mexico. The book tries to cover too much territory. The early sexual history of California deserves a book of its own perhaps in the fields of sociology and/or anthropology. The danger in trying to be all inclusive is leaving out segments of the history and influential figures, who will feel slighted by the omissions.
There are many pages devoted to the early Hollywood stars, i.e., Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn. When reading such sensationalism, one wonders if he/she is reading a sensuous novel and then in succeeding chapters is brought back to a structured historical approach of L.A. gay life.
The authors go to excessive length to include every gay organization that ever existed or still exists. This includes obscure details as to the names of founding members and how brief so many of these organizations lived. Such tedious detail tries the reader when sifting through it all. It can be argued if not included here, then would such information be lost forever? One also sees the destructive disagreements and infighting taking place by so many of these political organizations. It was as if each person wanted his/her own organized group and if you did not completely agree, then go off and form your own. It makes one wonder if gays are not their own worst enemy. However, nothing ever came close in bringing the gay community together as the horrible AIDS crisis. Incredible contributions of talent, labor, money, blood, sweat and tears accomplished more from the outside attack of AIDS than all previous foes such as the homophobic LAPD.
The authors include alarming statements by Terry DeCrescenzo and her Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS). DeCrescenzo attacks the California Department of Social Services (DSS), strongly suggesting it had a personal vendetta against her group, when all she was doing was trying to serve gay foster children. She makes serious allegations of bias and a fishing expedition by the state agency. I worked as an investigator for that State agency at the time GLASS was under investigation. I just recently spoke to an investigating supervisor with DSS about the matter since I was not directly involved in the investigation. Complaints are filed against a licensing program such as GLASS before an investigator ever goes out on the case. Complaints usually come from children in the group homes or employees of the foster care agency. DSS is mandated by law to look into serious allegations of sexual abuse and neglect. I saw no evidence that DSS singled DeCrescenzo out for special treatment. I am concerned the authors presented all of DeCrescenzo’s statements as historical fact; that she was a victim of a state agency who was unhappy with transgendered children. Such comments on her part are sensationalism and not backed up with facts. The authors should have gone to DSS to interview staff and review the complaint documents which are largely public record.
The authors also make it appear that the first mayor of West Hollywood, Valerie Terrigno, was a victim of overzealous Federal prosecutors. Again, I see no attempt made by the authors to obtain information or conduct interviews with the federal government investigators. When one writes a book as historical fact, then efforts must be made to present more than just the “victim’s” side of the story.
All in all, the book is an invaluable reference source for future scholars and anyone wishing to relive a very exciting and tumultuous period in the gay history of greater Los Angeles. It becomes obvious that a follow-up book is needed to document the gay movement in the surrounding communities of Long Beach, Orange County, the Inland Empire, Palm Springs and San Diego and what effect they had on the gay movement in Los Angeles.

Ronald Tate, San Antonio, Texas

Paul Harris said...

Paul Harris also reviewed "Gay L.A." and gives us this informative critique:

Review of “Gay L.A” by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, by Paul Harris

This book covers a wide swath of history, from the early Indian inhabitants of the Los Angeles area, to the rise to political power of gay groups in the 1970’s,
To their increasing influence on, and prominence in the media, in the 21st Century. Of necessity, the covering of each period requires selective reporting of events and personalities, and each period could probably be expanded into a separate monograph with much more detail. This is particularly true of the sections describing police prosecutions and crackdowns in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is repeatedly described as “open” and free from hidebound “tradition”, thus attracting gays from more conservative parts of the country, where they could start a new life free of neighborhood prying. Yet this was concurrent with the Midwestern Puritanism of much of the population who had settled in L.A. and Southern California, and probably accounts for police homophobia, which lasted for so long. This is something that might be expanded upon in a future monograph. The book covers pretty comprehensively the creation of the early homophile movement by Harry Hay, Don Slater, Dorr Legg, Jim Kepner, and all the others,
The political and legal battles against censorship, e.g. of One Magazine, and police persecution. At one point, however, he mentions that Police Chief Ed Davis never reversed his anti-gay stance. This is incorrect. Davis actually
did reverse his attitude, finally, and even became pro-gay. This is not mentioned.

There is a lot of material about the history of lesbian groups in L. A., previously unhighlighted, such as class and racial differences among them and the different types of bars and clubs they went to, progressing to their greater empowerment in the 1980’s and 90’s, and their closer relationship with gay men in the latter period as a result of the AIDS epidemic. It also highlights the rise of a more glamorous, stylish group known as the “lipstick lesbians.” There is also very good, unprecedented coverage of the transgendered groups(covering transsexuals and transvestites), giving much information about particularly notable individuals amongst them. The book is especially good in chronicling the rise of gay political groups in L.A., such as MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles), and later, more radical groups, such as ACTUP/LA and their gradual wooing of mainstream and California politicians to a pro-gay stance both before and during the AIDS pandemic, and their rallying of support to defeat such
anti-gay initiatives as the Briggs initiative of 1978, and the 1986 AIDS quarantine initiative of Lyndon Larouch. I think more might have been said about the “Queer Nation” group, its origins and program, the chronology of cultural progress and influence on American society,especially so, from the 1970s on, the rise of gay clubs and discos, and the influence on fashion, is especially comprehensive and detailed.

All in all, this is a landmark work, and should prove to be a permanent milestone in amongst histories of the gay movement in Los Angeles and elsewhere.