June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ community, and this observance encompasses both a poignant look back at the very long and often tumultuous struggle for full civil rights and a jubilant consideration of current victories and future goals in the fight for equality.
LGBTQ history has been scarred with tragic acts of violence against men and women based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and it has also shown the positive results that can occur when an indefatigable spirit is put forward against implacable odds. And, on occasion, a bizarre consideration has popped up to add confusion or jollity to the mix.
In commemoration of Pride Month, here are 10 of the weirdest milestones to occur within LGBTQ history.
Another Side Of Lincoln: Historians have been divided on the nature of Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Fry Speed. In the late 1830s, the men shared a home in Springfield, Illinois, for four years, but they also shared a bed. In later years, letters between the men seemed to have double meanings, including Lincoln’s missive to Speed following their respective marriages that lamented, “I now have no doubt that it is the peculiar misfortune of both you and me, to dream dreams of Elysium far exceeding all that anything earthly can realize.”
While it was not uncommon for men to share sleeping arrangements in that era, the time that Lincoln and Speed spent together – coupled with Lincoln’s initial apprehension at marrying Mary Todd and the emotional contents of their correspondence – raised questions among historians, beginning with Carl Sandburg in 1926 who euphemistically described the Lincoln-Speed relationship as having "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets."
Did Queen Victoria Defend Lesbians?: When the British Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, it outlawed “gross indecency” between men – a euphemism for homosexual acts – but made no mention of a prohibition against same-sex relations between women. For many years, a story spread that Queen Victoria did a line-item veto on that legislation because she insisted that “women do not do such things.”
In reality, Victoria did not interfere with the bill – the legislation simply did not extend punishment for women in same-sex actions, and at no point in her reign did the queen ever try to void Parliament’s legislation.
Bolshevik Buddies: In Tsarist Russia, the 1832 criminal code Article 995, which made muzhelozhstvo (the Russian equivalent of gay male sex) a criminal act punishable by exile a five-year Siberian exile – however, this crime was very rarely enforced. With the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the entire criminal code was abolished, and the new codes enacted in 1922 and 1926 did not mention muzhelozhstvo.
Unfortunately, the introduction of Article 121 in 1933 reinstated the Tsarist policy, and by the collapse of the Soviet Union roughly 1,000 men each year were jailed under this code, which was finally erased in 1993.
Do You Take This Rabbit?: The first same-sex marriage in film history occurred in the 1950 cartoon “The Rabbit of Seville” – Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd are trying to annihilate each other with oversized weapons when Bugs unexpectedly presents Elmer with a floral bouquet, then a box of chocolates, then a diamond engagement ring. Elmer instantly changes into a wedding dress and Bugs puts on a tuxedo while a justice of the peace unites them in wedlock. But their union is over as quickly as it began – Bugs dumps Elmer head-first into an oversized cake.
A Victory Of Sorts: In 1965, Everett Klippert was a mechanic’s assistant in Canada's Northwest Territories, but in 1965 during a police investigation of an act of arson he admitted to investigators that he was gay and had sex with four local men. Klippert had been arrested and imprisoned for having gay sex five years earlier in Calgary under Canada's criminal code regarding "gross indecency," and with his second arrest a court-ordered psychiatrist declared him "incurably homosexual," which resulted in his being sentenced to "preventive detention," a euphemism for a lifetime imprisonment.
Klippert, who had been the last man to date imprisoned for homosexuality, sought his release all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court in 1967, but the high court ruled against him. Outrage over the ruling sparked Canada’s Parliament to bring about the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969. But while the new law enacted a new era of freedom for gay Canadian men, it didn’t help Klippert – he remained imprisoned until 1971.
Television Pays Attention: The first U.S. television program to acknowledge the existence of the LGBTQ community was “Confidential File,” a news show produced by KTTV in Los Angeles, which offered the 1954 episode titled “Homosexuals and the Problems They Present.” The subject was revisited with the 1955 episode “Homosexuals Who Stalk and Molest Our Children” – no print of either episode is known to survive. In the 1960s, two news documentaries – “The Rejected” from 1961, shown on National Educational Television, the forerunner of PBS, and the 1966 “The Homosexuals” on CBS – brought the subject to a national audience, but both perpetuated the notion of same-sex relations as evidence of mental illness. Both of these titles were unavailable for years, but are now easy to find online.
An Unlikely Victory: In October 1957, Raymond Rohauer, the owner of Los Angeles’ Coronet Theatre, was arrested on obscenity charges for screening Kenneth Anger’s 1947 homoerotic avant-garde underground film. Rohauer was found guilty in February 1958 and was sentenced to three years of probation and a $250 fine. However, the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction by declaring “homosexuality is older than Sodom and Gomorrah” and was “not obscene, in and of itself.”
“The Biggest Fruit You Can Get”: In the 1970s, very few LGBTQ performers were willing to self-identify their sexual orientation. But in an episode of “Match Game ’78,” comic actor Charles Nelson Reilly called attention to himself involving a question about the Jolly Green Giant hosting a bobbing-for-apples game in the ocean.
To Reilly, the crux of the question was the object of the bobbing game, noting that it would have to be a larger fruit than an apple. Said Reilly: “What is the biggest fruit that you can get – present company excluded?” Reilly’s answer brought a wave of laughter among his fellow panelists and a round of applause from the audience.
When Biden Changed Obama’s Mind: In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama came out opposed to same-sex marriage, telling Pastor Rick Warren at a presidential forum, “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”
Four years later, when he was coordinating his re-election, Obama was surprised when Vice President Joe Biden went off-script and announced his support for same-sex marriage. Obama, who two years earlier insisted he was “unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage,” did an abrupt about-face and belatedly put his support behind marriage equality.
A Hoover In The Closet: Many historians have assumed the longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was gay, with his assistant Clyde Tolson being his lover. While no clear evidence was ever presented to affirm this belief, Anthony Summers’ 1993 biography “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover” dropped the story that Hoover dressed in women’s clothing at all-male parties in the 1950s that included young male prostitutes.
No corroborating evidence was ever produced to affirm Hoover’s cross-dressing antics, but the publication of the book turned the image of Hoover – who was long a fearsome figure in American society – into something of a ridiculous historic figure.
Photo: Charles Nelson Reilly from "Match Game," courtesy of Buzzr
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