Today is the anniversary of D-Day when British, Canadian and US soldiers – 160,000 of them – landed on Normandy beaches in treacherous weather, initiating the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi Germany. Kelly and I, along with some friends, visited Normandy five years ago. We went to Juno and Omaha beaches and then to the American Cemetery. The day was deeply touching, deeply painful as I read the names and ages of the young men on the cemetery memorial wall. These were citizen soldiers, children really, few over the age of 20. There was no doubt in my mind that a number of these brave young men had been gay and I remembered Leonard Matlovich’s tombstone engraving: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” We each had a bunch of red roses that day at Normandy, placing one at various grave markings. I placed mine at the Star of David headstones…and cried.
Today in LGBT History – June 6
1832, UK – Jeremy Bentham (February 4, 1748 – June 6, 1832) died. He was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer and founder of modern utilitarianism. Bentham wrote the first known argument for homosexual law reform in England in around 1785, at a time when the legal penalty for buggery was death by hanging. His advocacy stemmed from his utilitarian philosophy in which the morality of an action is determined by the net consequence of that action on human well-being. He argued that homosexuality was a victimless crime, and therefore not deserving of social approbation or criminal charges. He regarded popular negative attitudes against homosexuality as an irrational prejudice, fanned and perpetuated by religious teachings. However, he did not publicize his views as he feared reprisal. His powerful essay was not published until 1978. The essay Offences Against One’s Self, argued for the liberalization of laws prohibiting homosexual sex. The essay remained unpublished during his lifetime for fear of offending public morality. It was published for the first time in 1931.Bentham does not believe homosexual acts to be unnatural, describing them merely as “irregularities of the venereal appetite”. The essay chastises the society of the time for making a disproportionate response to what Bentham appears to consider a largely private offence – public displays or forced acts being dealt with rightly by other laws. When the essay was published in the Journal of Homosexuality in 1978, the “Abstract” stated that Bentham’s essay was the “first known argument for homosexual law reform in England.” On his death in 1832, Bentham left instructions for his body to be first dissected, and then to be permanently preserved as an “auto-icon” (or self-image), which would be his memorial. This was done, and the auto-icon is now on public display at University College London (UCL).
1944 – D-DAY. The American/British/Canadian invasion of Normandy Beaches in WWII. While it’s not a specific LGBT-related event, there were undoubtedly many hundreds of young gay soldiers killed on those beaches. 160,000 landed, 9,000 killed or wounded. Today we remember them with gratitude.
1967 – The New York City’s Civil Service Commission makes public its year-old policy of allowing city agencies to hire and employ lesbians and gay men. The new policy comes partly in response to the lobbying efforts of the Mattachine Society of New York.
1976 – Richard Heakin, a 21 year old college student, is killed on this day while on vacation in Tucson, AZ, by four teenagers while leaving the Stonewall Tavern. The killers received only probation for the murder. The community of Tucson was outraged. Within months anti-discrimination laws were introduced.
1979, Canada – Toronto Teacher Don Franco is charged with being a keeper of a common bawdyhouse in his own home after a police raid found him in an orgy with a number of other men. A year earlier Franco was arrested in a police raid at the Barracks baths and then released his name to the media. Franco was close to retirement and worried that a conviction might lead to losing his pension. He didn’t back down, and dozens of hearings later he was acquitted of the charge. He retired with full pension. His was an important early victory in the struggle for gay rights. In a time when the fight for rights was savage, Franco was involved with just about every protest, group or movement. He was connected to varying degrees with AIDS Action Now, the Ontario Coalition for Gay Rights, the Campaign for Equal Families and the NDP, just to name a few. He got little credit for the work that he did and didn’t profit from his good deeds, but he is one of a select group of people who were involved in almost the entire history of the fight for gay rights in Canada. He died on February 3, 2014, at the age of 90.
The best resistance is to speak OUT!
(Historical information obtained from a variety of sources including QUIST at facebook.com/quistapp, Back2Stonewall.com, Lavender Effect, Arron’s Gay Info, All Things Queer, RS Levinson, and/or Wikipedia. If you wish to edit an item or add an item, please send an email to me at email@example.com. Thanks!)