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January 14th, 2008

Freedom Of Speech And The Right To Exist

My Friend Jon Larimore, who himself was once the sysop of the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau BBS System, informed me the other day that the Internet filters at Panera Bread are still calling this web site pornographic.  I admit to feeling a small twinge of pride when Jon and I were sitting down to eat at Panera some months ago, and I first saw that message blocking access to my web site, with the notice that it had been deemed pornographic.  I was also given a helpful address where I could appeal their decision if I felt that it was unwarranted.  Of course I have no intention of doing that because I know damn well what the problem is.  It isn’t that there’s actually anything pornographic anywhere here.  At most this site might occasionally get an ‘R’ rating…but most of the time it would only merit a ‘PG’ and that for my tendency to curse a lot when I get angry. 

Oh no…the problem is that I am a gay man, writing about my life openly and honestly and I don’t give a flying fuck if any of that bothers the bigots.  Remember this: A militant homosexual is a homosexual who doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual.  A militant homosexual activist is a homosexual acting like they don’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual.  You don’t have to march in any Pride Day parade.  You don’t have to walk a protest line.  You don’t have to wave your rainbow flag.  All you need to be labeled a Militant Homosexual is believe you have the same right to exist as anyone else.  Then you are a militant.  And if you push back when you are pushed around by bigotry, then you are a militant activist.

I’m especially proud that this little notice from Jon that I’m still being blocked just coincidentally happened to come near the anniversary of a major milestone in gay history…the day we won the right to send and receive publications written by and for gay folks through the mail.

Jim Burroway gives us a first rate retelling of that moment back in 1958:

ONE, Inc. was founded by several members of the Los Angeles Mattachine Society who felt that a strong nationwide voice for education and advocacy was desperately needed. According to ONE, Inc.’s articles of incorporation, “…the specific and primary purposes … are to publish and disseminate a magazine dealing primarily with homosexuality from the scientific, historical and critical point of view, and to aid in the social integration and rehabilitation of the sexual variant.” But this wasn’t going to be just any magazine. Under the inaugural editorial leadership of Martin Block, Dale Jennings, Don Slater and Donald Webster Cory, ONE magazine was to be a first class product, a dramatic departure from the typewritten and mimeographed sheets which were more common at the time.

This Internet you are reading now, with the vast freedom of information and personal knowledge it makes possible, is an amazing, glorious thing to some of us who remember what the world was like once upon a time, when the censors could decide for us what we could and could not read…what we could and could not know…

ONE filled a very critical role for gays and lesbians during a very dark time. ONE’s debut coincided with a major push to rid the U.S. civil service of homosexuals. President Dwight D. Eisenhower would sign Executive Order 10450 in April of that year, which barred gays and lesbians from federal employment with its “sexual perversion” clause. This followed a highly-publicized purge of more than 400 gays and lesbians from the civil service some three years earlier. Homosexuality was criminalized in most states, and it was stigmatized as a mental illness by the psychiatric profession. Gays were not only denounced as security risks, but risks to the very moral fiber of the nation. Homosexuals were treated as subversives, on par with the “Communist menace” on which leading politicians were staking their career. The FBI had launched a major crackdown on homosexuality across the U.S., with many gays and lesbians losing their jobs for merely receiving homophile publications in the mail. And vice squads everywhere were setting up entrapment stings in bars and other meeting places, where a simple proposition or touch could lead to arrest and public exposure.

So when ONE caught the eye of the FBI, they immediately launched an investigation to try to shut it down. They went so far as to write to the employers of ONE’s editors and writers (they all depended on their day jobs for income), saying that their employees were “deviants” and “security risks.” Fortunately, no one lost their jobs, the FBI decided it wasn’t worth their time, and ONE continued publishing.

The job of shutting down ONE then fell to the U.S. Post Office. Since its inception, Los Angeles postal authorities vetted each issue before deciding whether it was legal to ship under the Post Office’s stringent anti-obscenity standards. And since homosexuality was illegal in most states, ONE had the added problem of possibly being guilty of promoting criminal activity…

In those days, the only voices allowed to publicly speak about homosexuals and homosexuality, were the voices of those who hated us.  If we ourselves spoke up, if we published our stories in any form, we risked arrest, exposure, the loss of our jobs, our homes, and jail.  This is how censorship and the sodomy laws together maintained the status-quo, by silencing dissent.  And back then homosexuals were so universally despised that even the ACLU would not take this case…in fact, it defended the existence of the sodomy laws

Two things changed all that, and made possible the world we now live in today: a scrappy little gay publication named One, and the supreme court of Chief Justice Earl Warren.  The Warren court is almost universally hated today by the American right.  From its striking down of the laws allowing race segregation to its striking down of the laws restricting the rights of Americans to freedom of speech and freedom of the press…even extending those rights to a hated minority, there is almost nothing the Warren court did, that the republicans have not vowed to overturn, should they get their chance to stack the court with like-minded right wingers. 

So far Bush has given them two more justices.  They only need one more. 

[Edited a tad…]

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