Tag Archives: WWII

Remembering Alan Turing: LGBTQ Pride Month 2015

7 Jun

Alan TuringIt was 61 years ago today that Alan Turing took his life. He was not able to see anyway out of the homophobic culture he had endured.  The irony is not lost that just two years ago the British government finally declared that Turing would no longer be considered a criminal for being gay.

Alan Turing was born in 1912. His teachers and family noticed his immense talent for mathematics early on, and he began a rigorous education. He became a fellow at King’s College at the age of 22 and began work on computation. His pioneering work earned him the title: Father of Computer Science. During the war, he worked for the British government as a code breaker. His methods helped crack critical German codes. Some have gone so far as to give him credit for Britain making it through the war without surrender. Turing’s contributions to computer science, cryptology, artificial intelligence, and mathematics are immense, and his gracious style made his ideas approachable, helping spark further innovation.

He was also gay. He was generally careful about this fact, given that any homosexual activity was still criminal in the United Kingdom, but he did have partners. In 1952, after reporting a break-in at his home, he admitted to the police that he was in a gay relationship with the other man living there. He was arrested charged with “gross indecency.” While he felt no guilt about simply being who he was, he pleaded guilty to avoid the negative publicity of a trial. He opted for injections of artificial estrogen — chemical castration — rather than go to prison.

The conviction revoked his security clearance and ruined his career. It kept him from travelling to the United States to expand on his work. It left him alone and bitter, his promising life in ruins at the age of 40 just because he wanted to live his life honestly. In 1954, he died of a cyanide overdose that was ruled suicide. What a pointless end to an amazing life and we must ask ourselves who is culpable–who has blood on their hands?  How do we learn from this tragedy and learn how to support our LGBT brothers and sisters?

While very well known in math and science circles, the scandal kept his work and life from greater renown. It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government — in a statement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown — apologized for what Brown aptly described as “appalling treatment.” (The Brits did better than the Catholic church, of course, with its habit of taking centuries to apologize for its legal abuses…) In the past four years, a bill has slowly worked through the parliamentary process to formally pardon Alan Turing. It appears poised to pass in October.

It will be wonderful for the charges against Turing to be formally erased. But his life cannot be returned. The amazing things his mind would have accomplished will never come to pass. The horrific impact of homophobia and abuse of power cannot be fully calculated or undone. Over 49,000 men were sentenced for the same crime in Britain — including Oscar Wilde — before the law was finally removed from the books.

There are still many countries with laws like this. There are still jurisdictions in our own country with laws like this. Let the dark example of Alan Turing be a call to action — every life deserves dignity, legalized oppression and discrimination must be stopped. In the end, Alan Turing was a victim, not a criminal. He does not need to be pardoned, the British government does, and this one positive step is simply not enough to wash the blood of thousands from its hands.

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Hero of the Week Award, September 20: Russell Brand

20 Sep

Russell BrandI am the first to admit that I am not one that has been able to appreciate the work of Russell Brand. I’ll further admit that the only thing I have seen him in was the re-make of  Arthur, which should never have been remade.  When you have a cast like Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, the late Sir John Gielgud, and the late Geraldine Fitzgerald what are the hopes of doing better than that, even with my beloved Helen Mirren?  As it turns out, Russell Brand is a rather impressive young man with a keen awareness of homophobia, class, distribution of wealth, and history.  Bravo, Mr. Brand!

Brand was just recently the recipient of a British GQ Oracle award, which is sponsored by Hugo Boss.  Upon receiving his award, Brand took the opportunity to remind the audience of the deep ties Hugo Boss had to the Nazi Party during WWII.  Hugo Boss not only supported the Third Reich, but made an enormous amount of money making the uniforms for the Nazi soldiers. The uniforms were often made by prisoners of war — a truly horrific irony. Despite Boss’ prohibition from operating the business after the war, he transferred power to a relative and the business continued on its ill-gotten gains. During the push for reparations in the 1990s, the company paid lip service to the effort but refused to publicize any findings regarding their activities and contributed what adjudicators called “a bare minimum” to the reparation fund. What an awful example of soulless corporate greed.

In Brand’s most impressive speech, he also deftly addresses the persecution of gays during WWII — sadly we have a redux in Russia now.  And with great aplomb, Brandon also gives a much needed smack down of classism and the inequitable distribution of wealth.   I have to love Brand’s understanding of power dynamics and how corporations and governments are implicated. Note this portion of his speech as transcribed in the Guardian:

Now I’m aware that this was really no big deal; I’m not saying I’m an estuary [sic] Che Guevara. It was a daft joke by a daft comic at a daft event. It makes me wonder, though, how the relationships and power dynamics I witnessed on this relatively inconsequential context are replicated on a more significant scale.

For example, if you can’t criticise Hugo Boss at the GQ awards because they own the event, do you think it is significant that energy companies donate to the Tory party? Will that affect government policy? Will the relationships that “politician of the year” Boris Johnson has with City bankers – he took many more meetings with them than public servants in his first term as mayor – influence the way he runs our capital?

Sadly, GQ editor Dylan Jones reprimanded Brand on Twitter, stating, “What you did was very offensive to Hugo Boss.” Brand responded aptly, sticking to his important thesis: “What Hugo Boss did was very offensive to the Jews.”

I hope you will be equally as impressed with Russell Brand, as I let him speak for himself here.  I also have to add how much I love Danny Glover for initiating a boycott of Hugo Boss back in 2010, when the company tried to stomp out any signs of unionization.

The Americanization of Emily: The Profits of War

19 Aug

the-americanization-of-emilyWe just watched Paddy Chayefsky’s The Americanization of Emily for the second time.  Wow!  What a brilliant movie that should be mandatory viewing.  As I have been reflecting lately on the cost of human lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other wars in the past 20 years, I have been saddened by the inability to justify any of these wars.  Granted, I am a pacifist and navigate the world in ways that hold me to my principals of what a pacifist means.

Chayefsky (writer of Network) does a brilliant job addressing the hypocrisy, greed, profiteering, and complexities of wars.  I don’t want to give a way too much of the movie, because I am hoping many of you will rent the movie or get it on the Hulu or however people rent movies today.  I will say that Chayefsky pushes the audience hard to think and reflect upon our core values, our core beliefs and ask us to look at how easily humans are manipulated.

Julie Andrews and James Garner give nothing less than stellar and complex performances and it is easy to see why their chemistry garnered another film,  Victor/Victoria nearly 20 years later.  Candidly, I was also amazed they were willing to make such a film that would question the American government and push back against sexism and misogyny in such a forthright manner. I’m not wholly convinced we have actors with such talent and moral fiber who would take these roles today. The movie is a clear indictment of the United States and of other countries that profit from warring and pillaging. It is also telling that both actors consider this their favorite personal work given the rich depth of experience they both have.

With that being said, I could imagine recasting this if an updated version were to be created — just for the record, I usually think it is a mistake to remake movies of this caliber.  However, I could see George Clooney in the James Garner role and Kate Winslet in the Jule Andrews role.  The movie also contains a homoerotic relationship between Charlie Madison (James Garner) and his superior, Adm. William Jessup, played by the late Melvyn Douglas.  This relationship would be interesting to explore in further detail.  Charlie Madison is a “Dog Robber,” so perhaps the homoerotic tension is an indication of the how accommodating a “Dog Robber” has to be.   I could easily see Robert DeNiro playing Adm. William Jessup.

I strongly encourage people to watch this movie and examine the word cowardice.  What does it mean in the movie what does it mean personally in a time of war as opposed to the word hero.  How many wars are defensible?  Feel free to share your thoughts.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 68 Years Later and History Forgotten

7 Aug

HiroEvery year on August 6 and 9, I feel some sadness as I reflect on the loss of so many lives.  I also reflect on why people fought in World War II. This year marks the 68th anniversary of the United States dropping atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Yesterday, as I reflected back on WWII and the reasons for the war, I was not only saddened by the horrific number of lives lost in both the Pacific and European theaters, but I was most forlorn that many around the world seem to have forgotten why we went to war.

It is difficult not to remember the millions of Jews and all the Pink Triangle folk who were tortured and killed during the Nazi regime.  How sad that President Putin seems to be playing out history all over again by persecuting and imprisoning gay folk, as though WWII never happened.  Perhaps, President Putin never had access to a history book and thus never knew about the myriad human rights violations during WWII.

We entered the Pacific Theater only when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, never mind that they were killing thousands of Chinese before this.  People probably won’t want me to bring up the fact that here in the United States we kept thousands of Japanese Americans detained in interment camps, as well as Americans who “looked” Japanese. Sadly, we also set up interment camps for Italian Americans and German Americans.  My but we do love to “other” people and violate human rights.

It does not seem that long ago when I was watching 60 minutes at my step-mother’s house and they were showing the horrible effects of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 30 years after the bombings.  People were dying from leukemia caused by radiation poisoning from the atomic bombs.  For those who have not read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, I strongly encourage you to do so.

In the European Theater, we were trying to stop the unimaginable Holocaust and the 11 million deaths resulting from the Nazis. As a side note, one should mention that Rudolf Brazda died just two years ago.  Brazda is believed to be the last surviving man to wear the pink triangle — the emblem homosexuals had to wear and that were sent to Nazi concentration camps, most of them sent to their deaths.  If you have not watched the documentary Paragraph 175, I would strongly recommend you watch it.  President Putin certainly needs to watch this film!

We entered the war to fight back the cloak of Nazism and Fascism.  We considered ourselves to be better than the oppressors we were fighting.  The irony is palpable when you think about our government today and how we continue to marginalize and target certain populations. We still have so far to go around issues of racial equity, LGBT equity, and gender equity.

Today, as I remember all the lives lost specifically in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the current path of the governments in Russia and the United States, I shall endeavor to make a thousand paper cranes in the hope that our elected officials know history and know how to lead with compassion, integrity, and with the interest of the people guiding them, not just white heterosexual christians, but ALL of the people united in our differences and similarities.

Why We Need to Remember Gad Beck: Holocaust Survivor

20 Aug

Gay Jew Holocaust Survivor

I want to thank my friend and TSM correspondent, Brad Fairchild, for inspiring me to write this story. Sadly, TSM had reported the loss of Rudolph Brazda as the last gay man remaining survivor of the Holocaust . Apparently, Brazda was not the last survivor. Fortunately, the Dallas Holocaust Museum has tracked down Gad Beck, another gay Holocaust survivor.

Beck was featured in the documentary Paragraph 175, a film that chronicles the lives of gay men and lesbians during the Nazi regime–giving birth to labeling us with the pink triangle.  Beck was born to a Jewish father and German mother.  While living in Berlin, Beck helped Jews escape to Switzerland between 1940 and 1944.  Being gay, Beck was also able to gain the trust of  non-Jews.  Sadly, in 1945, a Gestapo spy betrayed Beck and had him sent to a Jewish transit camp–a camp from which people were then sent to concentration, work, or death camps.

Fortunately, Beck survived the concentration camp and eventually published his autobiography, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin.  In his memoir, Beck describes the painful separation from his then lover.  One should note that Beck was sent to the camps for being a Jew, where as Brazda was sent to the camps for being gay. I presume that Beck was able to pass as straight.

I’m so very glad that Beck is still with us and hope there might be other LGBT Holocaust survivors whom we don’t know about yet. I, for one, would welcome the opportunity to record their histories.  In a time where right wing extremists have taken control of the Republican party, we must not forget the history of the Holocaust.  It is all too conceivable that Bachmann and Perry could design another atrocity against the LGBT community.  If you have not seen Paragraph 175, I strongly encourage you to rent it.  It is not a trip to chuckle town, but it is a necessary documentary to watch!

I am very interested in recording the history of  LGBT Holocaust survivors; please let me know if you are aware of any.

Bombing of Hiroshima: Lessons We Have Yet to Learn

6 Aug

Remembering Hiroshima

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.  When I reflect back on WWII and the reasons for the war, I am not only saddened by the horrific number of lives lost in both the Pacific and European theaters, but I am rather disgusted that many Americans have lost sight of why we fought in WWII.

We entered the Pacific Theater only when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, never mind that they were killing thousands of Chinese before this.  People probably won’t want me to bring up the fact that here in the United States we kept thousands of Japanese-Americans detained in interment camps, as well as Americans who “looked” Japanese.

It does not seem that long ago when I was watching 60 minutes at my step-mother’s house and they were showing the horrible effects of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 30 years after the bombings.  People were dying from leukemia caused by radiation poisoning from the atomic bombs.  For those that have not read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, I strongly encourage you to do so.

In the European Theater, we were trying to stop the unimaginable Holocaust and the 11 million deaths resulting from the Nazis. As a side note, one should mention that Rudolf Brazda died Wednesday.  Brazda is believed to be the last surviving man to wear the pink triangle — the emblem homosexuals had to wear and that were sent to Nazi concentration camps, most of them sent to their deaths.

We entered the war to fight back the cloak of Naziism and Fascism.  We considered ourselves to be better than the oppressors we were fighting.  The irony is palpable when you think about our government today and about The Teahadists, who think like, behave like, speak like, Fascists.  I mean really, who signs a pledge to commit to hurting a population–to promise to discriminate against an already marginalized and bullied people?  Well, now four of the Republican Presidential candidates have signed that pledge.

It seems painfully obvious that we have not learned the lessons of history.  As the Teahadists follow in the footsteps of the former President worked hard to move the United States into a Theocracy, the original notion of religious freedom seems to be conveniently forgotten in the face of Bachmann et al. purporting to want to return to the “original constitution.”  Is there just one brain that all the Republican candidates have to share and they can’t keep up with whose turn it is?

Today, as I remember all the lives lost specifically in Hiroshima, and the current path of the government in the United States, I shall endeavor to make a thousand paper cranes in the hope that our elected officials know history and know how to lead with compassion, integrity, and with the interest of the American people guiding them, not just white heterosexual christians, but ALL of the American people.

LGBT: Retirement Communities and Safety

1 Jul

When people in the LGBT community start to think about possibly moving into a retirement community, they often proceed with fear for safety.  Most of us are aware of LGBT seniors being discriminated against. Often times, elderly residents in nursing homes may not get bathed or clothed because the staff does not want to ‘touch a lesbian’. Others have been threatened with “outing” if they report their abuser. LGBT people need more options.

There are fewer than a dozen retirement communities exclusively for LGBT people; one of them happens to be just outside of Portland, Oregon, Rainbow Vista.  I was able to speak with Ian Jones, the General Manager of Rainbow Vista before interviewing one of its residents.  Ian is a gay man and admits that it helps to make the residents feel safe to know the General Manager is gay.  Ian has been with Rainbow Vista for almost three years.  Rainbow Vista is, “here to provide a comfortable home for gay seniors at a comfortable price.  We want it to be affordable and safe.”  Ian says optimistically, “When my partner and I retire hopefully there will not be a need to have a gay retirement community.  It is not a safe place right now, and given the history our residents feel safer here.”  There are some openings available currently, so if you are interested you should contact Rainbow Vista soon.

I also had the great pleasure of talking with William Stein, the Peruvian scholar and social do-gooder. Stein has published several books and has one coming out in August, Power and Oppression in the Andes.  Stein does not identify as a Marxist, but certainly acknowledges that Marx influenced both how he lives his life and his writing.  He grew up as a secular Jew in Buffalo, New York with a single mom.  He will be 90 in October.  While it is clear that he is a scholar and a great intellect, he is very gracious and has a delightful sense of humor that puts people at ease.

Growing up:

I grew up during the depression with single mom in Buffalo in a flat with my grandmother.  I was taught that homosexuals were degenerates.  So the last thing I wanted to be was a degenerate.  We did not use the word homosexual but images of oral and anal sex between men were degenerate.  My mom was ignorant and unhappy and sexually frustrated herself.  When I was 16, I had a lovely homosexual encounter with two guys one night, but when I sobered up it scared the shit out of me.  Such that I took an overdose of sleeping pills.  I didn’t take enough and I survived.  I had a bad case of homophobia.

I joined the National Guard in 1940 and served in the army in WWII.  We trained at Camp Stewart in Savannah, Georgia.  We were in the search light battery.  After basic training they gave us radars and sent us to Vidalia and we practiced with planes.  When December 7 came along, FDR already signed the order and we knew we would be sent away.  We were originally sent to San Diego for a year and then sent to Algeria.  They sent us to Sicily but then all of the sudden the Sicilian campaign was over.  Then they sent us to Italy. We had a couple of air raids and a couple of purple hearts by guys that were hit by flak.  I was lucky. I was out of danger for most of the war. I served in N. Africa and Italy.

I finished high school and went to college after the war.  I got an assistantship at Cornell—I wan in the anthropology department.   My mentor was Peruvian and I went to Peru and became a Peruvian scholar  in 1951.

Life Before Coming Out:

Just before I went to Cornell I met my wife.  She has just received shock treatments for depression.  I was not right for her and she of course she was not right for me.  We got married in 1949.  Her bi-polar disorder came back and she needed a lot of taking care of.  We had sex for a year and we had a son.  We lived in Peru but she could not handle it and she took our son and moved back to the states.  We had sex one more time when I returned from Peru and nine months later my daughter was born.  We stayed together for 40 years.  She died in 1993.  She came down with an Alzheimer’s disorder in the early 80s.    She had a massive stroke in 1989 and lingered four years in a nursing home.

In 1970 I remember hearing the Kink’s song Lola, you know “boys will be girls and girls will be boys”.  Then the Stonewall riots happened.  I always knew I was gay.  1971 I just turned 50 and I went downtown to the porno bookstore and I looked at the male porn and my knees turned to liquid.  Eventually I found my way to the Advocate and subscribed to these newsletters, for mature gays looking for each other and managed to get myself into homosexual liaisons, sometimes I had to drive a couple of hundred miles.  I was involved with a guy from Queens and I had to meet him in Binghamton.  I came out to my colleagues in 2003. I published a book and in the preface I thanked my gay friends and lovers over the years.  My colleagues did not take it amiss.  Anthropologists are anthropologists!  I was sexually active until I got here.  I just got too old.  I have been celibate for three and a half years.  Two years ago I had lung cancer and had radiation treatments.

Telling your kids?

My daughter is quite proud of me.  She discovered a cache of my collection of the Advocate and Out Magazine.  When she meets someone who is gay she proudly announces, “My Dad is Gay.”  My son lives in NW Portland and my daughter lives in South Carolina.  My son is a retired geologist. In the early 2000s with my daughter and I think they talked about it, so he was not surprised. My son would like to chalk it up to my foolishness.  I see him once a week and we have a beer.

Marriage Equality:

I’m all for it. I’m so pleased that New York now had marriage equality and so pissed at California and pissed at the Catholics and the Mormons for interfering and hoping more states will follow New York.

How and why did you end up here at Rainbow Vista? 

When I moved to Portland, I moved to another elderly community outside of Beaverton.  The guy I was seeing here in Gresham told me there was a gay retirement village.  I came here and met Ian and Hank and I knew this was the place I wanted to be.  Because you can relax and be who you are here.  I don’t have to think about it I don’t have to think about my safety here.  It is nice to be here with other gay people.

What do you want people to take away from this interview?

That it is possible to have a place like this for gay people. We exist and we are persistent.

I want to thank Bill and Ian for their time.  I also want to thank Bill for sharing a part of his story. I love what he said: “We exist and we are persistent.”

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