James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Friday, January 28, 2011

Archives January 2011

California Hall, San Francisco. January 1, 1965.

46 years ago an event occurred which served to coalesce the emerging LGBT community in San Francisco. Police harrassment of homosexual men and women was witnessed first-hand by straight men and women. They were appalled and were very public about their outrage.

In the mid-1960s members of the gay community and the religious community sought to find common ground. The Council on Religion and the Homosexual sponsored a fundraiser, a Mardi Gras Ball. Attendees included homosexual men and women along with local clergy and their wives.

Evander Smith was a San Francisco lawyer who along with Herbert Donaldson was retained by the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Anticipating police harassment at the ball, Smith and Donaldson were asked to attend the event in case legal advice was necessary.

In fact the police did take photographs of attendees arriving and requested admission to the event on two occasions. The first was to examine whether the event was in accord with rules regarding liquor; this was standard practice and the police were admitted to ascertain that the event was in compliance. At a later time, the police asked for admittance again and were denied because they did not have tickets for the private event and could provide no reason to enter. As a result, four people were arrested: Evander Smith, Herbert Donaldson, Elliott Leighton and Nancy May.

The Hormel Center contains the Evander Smith -California Hall Papers. The collection includes case files on the legal defense of Smith, Donaldson, Leighton and May. The files contain a chronology of the events that took place, legal research on the laws pertaining to those events, notes on jury selection, materials concerning homosexuals and their treatment by authorities, clippings of newspaper coverage and cartoons, a few photographs of attendees and police, and some homosexual publications of the time. There are also copies of sermons or papers enclosed in Methodist Church service programs of January 1965.

Nan Alamilla Boyd's book Wide Open Town:a history of queer San Francisco to 1965 is an excellent history of the events leading up to and through this moment in San Francisco LGBT history. The Evander Smith/California Hall Papers are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th Floor, Main Library.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sexual Intimacy in US Prisons

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any country in the world. According to the United States Deparment of Justice statistics, in 2009 there were 748 inmates for every 100,000 residents. Although in rare instances sexual contact occurs between males and females, the overwhelming majority of sexual contact in prison is between people of the same gender.

In Regina Kunzel's book, "Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality," she rejects the often asked question, "do prisons simply collect "perverts" or help produce them?" by substituting the theory that sexual expression behind bars is not an issue of identity. Kunzel stresses the difficulties for those prisoners exhibiting "gender non-conformity" and points out that power, pleasure and random circumstance are more responsible for the normative shift of behavior in a single-sex environment than any theories regarding whether or not an inmate identifies as gay.

Silja J.A. Talvi presents a less academic take on prisons in her book, Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System. Talvi's background as an investigative journalist, editor and activist is evident in this work. By referencing the actual experiences of women inmates she presents examples of sex between women that runs the gamut between furtive encounters to stable partnerships. In addition she deals with other inmate issues such as medical care, mental health, abuse and the specific situations of women who kill. This book encompasses both defeat and resistance, it reads as a compilation of survival strategies utilized by women who feel themselves to be "a nearly invisible group that has been dehumanized, forgotten."

Click here for more information about the Women Behind Bars Prison Project that Silja Talvi founded.