In the 1950′s and 1960′s small towns across America like Mansfield, OH had few outlets for gay men to interact (sexually or otherwise)
In the summer of 1962, the Mansfield, Ohio Police Department photographed men having sex in a public restroom under the main square of the city. A cameraman hid in a closet and watched the clandestine activities through a two-way mirror. The police filmed over a three-week period, and the resulting movie was used to obtain the convictions of over 38 local men on charges of sodomy. .
All of the 38 men were convicted of sodomy. They were publicly humiliated and found themselves ensnared by the state’s Ascherman Act, which ordered all felons deemed a danger to society to be institutionalized for a potentially indefinite period; all were required to serve the minimum sentence, even those judged by medical professionals to be “cured” prior to that time. Treatment then involved a number of now-discredited methods, including electroshock and various other aversion therapy techniques, and drugs with known severe side effects. After their release few recovered from the trauma and many were ostracized from families and friend and some committed suicide. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association struck homosexuality from its list of mental disorders; until that moment, the psychiatric profession had essentially lent its tacit endorsement to these laws and practices.
After the arrests, the restroom below Mansfield’s Central Park was closed to the public and, in a gesture more superstitious than practical, filled with dirt.
The footage is chilling and stark. A step back in time to which many who are against us want the world to return to. One must always remember that it was not only the fact that these men were having sex in a public bathroom that got them arrested. It was the fact that they were gay. The sex act on film was the evidence. With some of the footage the Mansfield Police even went so far to produce Camera Surveillance, an instructional film circulated in law enforcement circles. It showed how to set up a sting operation to film and arrest “sex deviants.”
David Herkt sums up the pathos:.
The video documents a straight-laced America of button-up shirts, horn-rimmed glasses and ubiquitous cigarettes where fleeting moments of sexual expression can be experienced in hidden places but within a context of fear. Even during the sex-acts, the eyes of these men are often focused on the restroom doors and the possibility of an intrusion that could mean arrest and imprisonment. There is an urgency of need for contact that overcomes the weight of law and self but cannot quite overcome the awareness of possible consequences.
There is also a poignancy as each of the men is observed – smoking, washing hands, straightening attire in a mirror, involved in brief sexual contact, wiping semen from the floor – because, for them, these moments mark their last instants of freedom from restraint by the state or confinement in a treatment facility.
And even now today in 2013, over 50 years later. 18 out of the 50 United States STILL have Sodomy Laws on the books and use the same techniques as in Mansfield and worse to persecute and prosecute homosexual men.
William E. Jones found a degraded version of the film on the internet, then re-edited the footage to make Mansfield 1962, a haunting, silent condensation of the original.
WARNING THE FILM IS EXTREMELY NSFW AND HAUNTING.
Alternate link —> CLICK HERE TO VIEW