Monday, January 14, 2008

Gay Rights Versus the US Post Office

(or "Yesterday in History" - a decision issued by SCOTUS on January 13, 1958.) Box Turtle Bulletin � Today In History: A Spunky ONE And The U.S. Post Office The US post office has been one of the largest censors in the history of this country. They burned many editions of Ulysses by James Joyce. Today it is considered one of the foremost novels in the English language. But in the 1920s, the US government was in the business of censoring things. Books and magazines in particular.

In 1953, there was a little publication called One. It was the first magazine to target readers who were gay and lesbian.
According to ONE, Inc.’s articles of incorporation, “…the specific and primary purposes … are to publish and disseminate a magazine dealing primarily with homosexuality from the scientific, historical and critical point of view, and to aid in the social integration and rehabilitation of the sexual variant.”
The FBI came down on it (and the writers) hard, mostly by trying to get the writers fired from their day jobs. They failed. Then the Post Office took up the campaign.
By today’s standards, an early edition of ONE might look rather tame. There were no racy pictures, and even its fiction was mostly limited to depictions of longing and desire. There was rarely any evidence of physical contact in its pages. But what the magazine lacked in raciness, it made up for in audacity. ONE’s editorial tone was bold and unapologetic, covering politics, civil rights, legal issues, police harassment (which was particularly harsh in ONE’s home city of Los Angeles), employment and familial problems, and other social, philosophical, historical and psychological topics.
The August 1953 issue was delayed two months until the Post Office was forced to admit they had no reason not to send it on.

The October, 1954 issue was seized and (eventually) One's editors sued the Post Office. (The lawyer who took the case for free wanted ACLU help, but the ACLU was still fighting against gays in the 1950s.)

The lower court and the appeals court ruled pretty summarily against One. The Supreme Court didn't.
To everyone’s surprise, the Court agreed to take the case, its first ever dealing with homosexuality. Even more surprising, the Supreme Court issued its short, one-sentence decision on January 13, 1958 without hearing oral arguments. That decision not only overturned the two lower courts, but the Court expanded the First Amendment’s free speech and press freedoms by effectively limiting the power of the Comstock Act to interfere with the written word. As a result, lesbian and gay publications could be mailed without legal repercussions, though many continued to experience harassment from the Post Office and U.S. Customs.
There are those on both the Right and the Left today, who are once again in favor of all kinds of censorship. What they want to censor differs, but the need to control what I can read and say and think is the same on both sides of the debate. The Left has "hate speech" and political correctness rules so that I might never hear a disturbing sentence, or think a thought that they don't approve of. The Right has gag orders, and forbids the teaching of things they don't like so that I might never read a disturbing sentence or think a thought they don't approve of.

In the end, censorship is bad. In the 1800s through to 1916 information about contraception was censored, (and contraceptives were outlawed until 1936). Who did that hurt? Well, who today relies on contraception? Censorship of One and similar magazines harmed gays and lesbians. A group that society went out of its way to hound in the 50s.

The people who are in favor of censorship are of two kinds. They are trying to forestall the passage of time, or even turn back the clock. Others want to make the world over according to their view of things. One group is called reactionary, the other fascist. In the final analysis censors don't like freedom, because they don't like the fact that free people choose things the censors don't want them to choose. They think thoughts the censors don't want them to think. [via IndyGayForum]

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