On February 5th, 1981 more than 200 plainclothes police officers raided four Toronto bathhouses leading to the largest mass arrest since the October Crisisten years earlier. In total, 289 gay men were charged with being “found-ins of a bawdyhouse” and two were charged with “buggery”.
Men speaking out in the aftermath of the raids described severe misconduct on the part of the police. Some reported being photographed naked, others said police took down their employers’ names and phone numbers and several men stated that police had referred to them as “queers, faggots and fairies”. Moreover, one man reported that several officers used sledgehammers and crowbars with abandon, smashing windows and breaking down doors. This last fact is corroborated by the $38,000 in damages reported by the four bathhouses after the raid (nearly $175,000 in 2020 dollars). In contrast, the police report stated that the officers behaved in a “professional manner.”
A documentary on the bathhouse raids and the ensuing protests quotes Duncan McLaren, one of the men who was charged as a found-in at the Barracks bathhouse.
McLaren describes his victimization by the police:
“We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip… But I think one of the most chilling things was… one of the cops said, looking at all the showers and the pipes going into the shower room; he said ‘Gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas’.
In England until 1861, the penalty of “buggery” was reduced to “merely” life imprisonment but that change came almost thirty years too late for British Army Captain Henry Nichols who was sentenced to death and executed.
In 1833, the London Courier printed the following:
Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was one of the unnatural gang to which the late Captain Beauclerk belonged, (and which latter gentleman put an end to his existence), was convicted on the clearest evidence at Croydon, on Saturday last, of the capital offence of Sodomy; the prisoner was perfectly calm and unmoved throughout the trial, and even when sentence of death was passed upon him. In performing the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner, Mr. Justice Park told him that it would be inconsistent with that duty if he held out the slightest hope that the law would not be allowed to take its severest course. At 9 o’clock in the morning the sentence was carried into effect. The culprit, who was fifty years of age, was a fine looking man, and had served in the Peninsular war. He was connected with a highly respectable family; but, since his apprehension not a single member of it visited him.
A first-person narrative poem written* in 1833 under the name of *Lord Byron titled *Don Leon” was a signal piece of literature: the first overt literary defense of homosexuality in English.
It opens with a scene said to be inspired by Captain Nicholls:
Thou ermined judge, pull off that sable cap! What! Cans’t thou lie, and take thy morning nap? Peep thro’ the casement; see the gallows there: Thy work hangs on it; could not mercy spare? What had he done? Ask crippled Talleyrand, Ask Beckford, Courtenay, all the motley band Of priest and laymen, who have shared his guilt (If guilt it be) then slumber if thou wilt; What bonds had he of social safety broke? Found’st thou the dagger hid beneath his cloak? He stopped no lonely traveller on the road; He burst no lock, he plundered no abode; He never wrong’d the orphan of his own; He stifled not the ravish’d maiden’s groan. His secret haunts were hid from every soul, Till thou did’st send thy myrmidons to prowl, And watch the prickings of his morbid lust, To wring his neck and call thy doings just.
*NOTE: Don Leon is a 19th-century poem attributed to Lord Byron celebrating homosexual love and making a plea for tolerance. At the time of its writing, homosexuality and sodomy were capital crimes in Britain, and the nineteenth century saw many men hanged for indulging in homosexual acts. But unfortunately its narrative and notes several incidents that happened after the poet the Lord Byron’s 1824 death it obviously could not have been written by him.
1828 – The Buggery Act 1533, formally An Acte for the punishment of the vice of Buggerie (25 Hen. 8 c. 6), was an Act of the Parliament of England that was passed during the reign of Henry VIII. It was the country’s first civil sodomy laws.
The Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual act against the will of God and Man. This was later defined by the courts to include only anal penetration and bestiality. The act remained in force until it was repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act 1828, and buggery remained a capital offence until 1861, though the last executions were in 1835
The Act was repealed in 1553 on accession of the staunchly Catholic Queen Mary, who preferred such legal matters adjudicated in ecclesiastical courts. However, it was re-enacted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563.
The United Kingdom Parliament repealed buggery laws for England and Wales in 1967 (in so far as they related to consensual homosexual acts in private).
1934 – Hollywood makes makes Hays Code permanent– after Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945 – makes it mandatory. Among its provisions: “Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted or common thing,” and “Sex perversion (GAY) or any inference to it is forbidden on the screen.” The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral guidelines that was applied to most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968.
This forced a change to the ending of The Bad Seed. In the novel and stage play, Christine gives an overdose of sleeping pills to her dangerous sociopathic daughter Rhoda, and Christine shoots herself, but Rhoda survives, with the implication she will kill again (especially now that her mother, the only person aware of her true nature, is gone). The film version has Christine survive her suicide attempt, whereas Rhoda dies in a contrived and implausible Karmic Death (she goes to the lake to find the penmanship medal for which she killed a boy, and a tree is struck by lightning and falls on her)
Topics considered “perverse” could not be discussed or depicted in any way. Such topics included—but were not limited to— homosexuality, miscegenation (interracial relationships), bestiality, and venereal diseases. Studios used the explicitly racist ban on depicting miscegenation to justify the exclusion of non-white actors from employment: they reasoned that the Code would be breached if either actor or character was of a differing race. Anna May Wong, the leading Chinese-American actress of the time, was rejected as the female lead in The Good Earth because the male lead was white actor Paul Muni. In fact, Anna May Wong only made one film in which she got to kiss her white co-star (Java Head, which was made in the UK). Ironically, this was done despite the fact that the Code actually advocated for the “inherent dignity of foreign peoples” and insisted that their cultures not be undeservedly slurred – of course, this didn’t really help American non-whites (especially not the Japanese during World War II). *The bestiality ban was part of the reason for changes to Red Hot Riding Hood‘s original ending, which showed the Wolf forced into marriage by the Grandma, then years later taking his half-human, half-lupine children to the nightclub to see Red perform. (The original ending, much like the “erection takes”, existed on a Director’s Cut that was sent to overseas soldiers.) *The decision to kill off half-Native American Pearl in Duel in the Sun was based on this rule. In the book, Pearl lives and marries the good brother, Jesse. *Imitation of Life (1934) struggled to get approved because it featured a biracial character who tried to pass for white, and was played by an actual mixed-race actress. It was ultimately approved after two weeks of shooting – although a scene in which a black man nearly gets lynched for flirting with a white woman was ordered cut from the script. *From Here to Eternity cut all references to homosexuality (the soldiers fraternize with male prostitutes in the book) and Karen’s infertility from gonorrhea (which is now caused by a bad miscarriage). Hilariously the brothel is turned into a gentleman’s club with the whores being called “hostesses” – but the characters still act like they are. Tea and Sympathy deals with a character being Mistaken for Gay, but the film eliminates a gay teacher who is fired for being seen sunbathing with Tom on the beach (which starts the whole thing off). Tom instead just gets mocked for being found sewing.
The Supreme Court itself began to undercut the purpose of the Code (to prevent federal government censorship of the film industry) starting in 1952.
In 1966, MGM released the film Blowup—which failed to gain Hays approval due to its relatively explicit erotic content—in direct defiance of the Code. The MPAA and the Code could do nothing to stop MGM from distributing the critically-hailed film, which became a smash hit.
1972, UK – The United Kingdom’s first Gay Pride March draws about 2,000 gay men and lesbians to the center of London.
1972– Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern would endorse gay rights, the first US presidential candidate in history to do so; party stalwarts would denounce him.
McGovern issued a multi-point plank in support of gay rights in early 1972. However, the plank was dropped from the official Democratic Party platform.
1975 – Blueboy, a magazinefor gay men debuts.
Blueboy was one of the early gay men’s lifestyle and entertainment magazines available in the U.S. It was published monthly from 1974 to 2007.
The founding publisher was Donald N. Embinder, a former advertising representative for After Dark, an (straight?) arts magazine with a substantial gay readership. Embinder first used the nom de plume Don Westbrook, but soon assumed his real name on the masthead.
TRIVIA: Singer Cyndi Lauper mentions the publication in the first lines of her song “She Bop”: “Well, I see him every night in tight blue jeans. In the pages of a Blueboy magazine.”
“I would have to stand with those who oppose homosexuality because that is not our way,” the Rastafarian leader said. “From a moral and traditional African point of view, homosexuality is not acceptable,” he contended. “Regardless of which church or group is leading the opposition to the changing of the buggery law, we are ready to stand up with them and say a resounding ‘No way’,” said Ras Iyah V. “Homosexuality is unnatural and must not be encouraged,” he stressed.
The Rastafarian movement, which was listed in the last census as being 29,026 members strong, is among the religious groups expected to join the effort to have the buggery law remain in place.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson has pledged that “no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation”
LGBT rights campaigner Maurice Tomlinson filed a case in Jamaica’s inter-American commission for human rights in February 2012, after fleeing the country following death threats originated when news about his marriage with another man in Canada reached the local media.
In Jamaica sexual acts between men are punishable with up to ten years jail
John Robert Hart and his partner retired police officer Dennis Jay Mayer are speaking out about thier ordeal of being pulled from an Atlantas Gay Cruise ship in Dominica after locals complained that the couple was having sex in public on the balcony of their ship cabin. But now able to speak freely Mayer insists they were not having sex and has no doubt they were arrested in Dominica because they were gay:
“The total experience was horrendous,” he said. “They told us that they did not like us, that they did not like gay people.”
The trouble began shortly after the cruise ship Celebrity Summit docked Wednesday morning at Dominica in the eastern Caribbean. Mayer and Hart were in their room when they got a call from a cruise ship official. “We were summoned that the captain wished to speak to us,” Mayer said. “We were caught off guard.”
Three cruise ship officials and six Dominica police officers were waiting for them. After police interviewed both men separately, the assistant captain spoke: “At this time, we are going to eject you from the ship. We have zero tolerance toward your behavior,” Mayer recalled him saying. And Atlantis Cruises then turned the two men over to the Dominica police.
After police took pictures and obtained fingerprints, a high-ranking officer began a nearly four-hour interrogation.
Police then drove them to their headquarters, where they sat on a bench for nearly two hours without legal representation despite repeated requests, Mayer said.
‘You’re being arrested for being gay. We’re arresting you for the crime of buggery,'” Mayer said. and added that other people said that we were engaging in homosexual sex and repeated that several times. I told him “I didn’t know why they would say that. I wasn’t doing that.” Mayer said he was naked in his cabin and nearly naked on the balcony. ”
During the interrogation, the police official threatened to take them to a clinic and have them medically examined for proof of homosexual activity, Mayer said. “He said, you know, we’re looking for specific things, fluids, bruising, things of that nature,” After making the threat, the official left the room, then came back saying they had a right to refuse the test. The “buggery” charges were then dropped and the two men were charged with indecent exposure and put in a five-by-eight-foot cell to await an appearance before a magistrate.
“The treatment was inhumane,” Mayer said. “We were detained for approximately 26 hours, and 19 of those locked in a cement cell, which had no running water, no toilet, no lights. It stunk of feces and urine. It was infested with cockroaches, ants and bugs.”
On Thursday morning, police drove them to the courthouse in the capital of Roseau, passing through an angry crow. “They were chanting and banging on the police vehicle. They were screaming, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, other than in movies. Both my partner and I really feared for our safety “It was very frightening,” Mayer said.
Once in the courtroom, Chief Magistrate Evaline Baptiste ordered the men to pay a nearly $900 fine after they pleaded guilty to indecent exposure. He called the two men “rogues and vagabonds and after the sentencing police then drove the two men to an ATM to get money to pay the fine and after paying drove them to the airport.
This is a very different story than the one released by Atlantic Cruise Lines. Rich Campbell, president of the West Hollywood, Ca.-based Atlantis Events on the company’s Facebook page today, as well. It reads, in part:
“Yesterday morning around 9:30 am two of our guests were seen engaging in a sexual act outdoors on their balcony in full public view of the port and town. Not only did many of the residents witness the act, several of our guests saw this incident as well. The local authorities responded to a complaint by several residents. The two gentlemen were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of public indecency and detained overnight. They appeared in front of the local magistrate this morning, paid a small fine, and were released in full.
Okay now, moralistic crap aside the bottom line is this.
This never would have happened if this was a straight couple. And the two different versions imerging of what happened is deeply disturbing.
Do we accept the word of a homophobic government, which has clearly stated it is offended by homosexuality and Atlantis who wants to make a quick buck; or do we accept the statements of the men accused of the “heinous “crime of public sexuality? The truth somewhere probably lies in the middle. I suspect this was a case of (1) governmental authority foreknowledge of a gay cruise docking; and (2) two gay men unwarned about the homophobic and repressive culture they were visiting, who were expressing themselves in a way a homophobic culture found offensive.
Rich Campball and Atlantis Events bears some of the responsibility here for sending 2000 gay men on an explicitly sexual gay cruise, (and we kid ourselves to think of it as nothing less than a huge circut party on the high seas) to a port of Dominica where homosexuality is a crime punishable by incarceration of up to 10 years in prison because it is a cheap port of call to dock in and then giving the men up so easily. The Atlantis memo from Rich Campbell was a disclaimer…a blow-off of any responsibility on their behalf by shifting the blame for their actions to the unfortunate men who were caught in the cross-hairs of an overzealous police department and out-moded, fractured justice system in a homophobic country.