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The Boys of Boise
August 28, 2007 6:39 PM   Subscribe

In 1955, at least twelve men in Boise, Idaho were arrested for "infamous crimes against nature.". In the resulting dragnet, the vice president of the Idaho First National Bank was sentenced to seven years in prison, while national magazines fomented a McCarthyite Lavender Scare with headlines such as Male Pervert Ring Seduces 1,000 Boys. This dark chapter in Idaho gay history was documented in both John Gerassi's 1966 book, The Boys of Boise and the recent film, The Fall of '55, by documentarian Seth Randal, but neither Gerassi nor Randal could identify The Queen, a closeted but politically connected homosexual who allegedly used his massive clout to stop the witch hunt.
posted by jonp72 (45 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a hell of a tale.
posted by nola at 6:59 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, has Time ever published anything besides sensationalist crap? Fascinating post.
posted by LarryC at 7:01 PM on August 28, 2007


I didn't realise that Senator Craig had had his position for so long.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:03 PM on August 28, 2007


I love you, jonp72. What a goddamn brilliant post - the kind of thing Mefi is best at, pegged to a headline but not just that breaking news shit too many people seem to think is sufficient for the front page. I've just begun to explore, but this interview linked from that Lavender Scare page is great - full of sharp tidbits:

Johnson: The Republican claim that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were "honeycombed with homosexuals" proved to be a potent political weapon. It resonated with many conservative Americans who were already resentful of the New Deal and Fair Deal bureaucracies and felt antagonism for Washington bureaucrats...Fearful that America was in a state of moral decline, they pointed to the New Deal as well as New Deal bureaucrats as the source of the problem. So the demonization of gay and lesbian civil servants was part of this larger attack on the New Deal.

Question: In 1952 the Republicans finally won the White House, campaigning under the slogan "Let's Clean House." What role did the Lavender Scare play in the presidential contest between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson?

Johnson: The 1952 election was the first presidential election since the beginning of the Lavender Scare, and issues of gender and sexuality permeated the campaign. The Republican campaign slogan "Let's Clean House" alluded to a slew of allegedly immoral behavior in the incumbent Democratic administration, including communism, corruption, and homosexuality.

Republican rhetoric emphasized that Eisenhower and Nixon were "regular guys" who were "for morality." Republicans portrayed Stevenson as an "egghead" with a "fruity" voice, the sort of man most Americans wanted to remove from Washington, not send there. He was, after all, a wealthy, divorced former State Department official who was rumored to be gay.

The rumors were so widespread that tabloid magazines published articles about "how that Stevenson rumor started." Some gays and lesbians have even considered Stevenson the first gay presidential candidate.

Question: How many gays and lesbian were purged from the federal government?

Johnson: We will never know for sure, but partial statistics show that at least several thousand gay men and lesbians lost government jobs.


Again, thanks for this post. And I'll just briefly mention how much I love the extensive and free Time archive; it's wonderful browsing if you like snapshots of 20th century U.S. cultural history.
posted by mediareport at 7:03 PM on August 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


Fantastic post.
posted by absalom at 7:11 PM on August 28, 2007


The Queen has used her massive clout to make her information unable to be displayed on my browser.
posted by longsleeves at 7:12 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


allegedly used his massive clout

that's a weird name for it.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 7:13 PM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Great post, cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:16 PM on August 28, 2007


Corrected link for "the queen"
posted by adamrice at 7:19 PM on August 28, 2007


Wow, this is a really excellent and timely post. Thanks jonp72.

Also, doesn't "honeycombed with homosexuals" sound sort of sweet? Like busy little bees buzzing around, collecting nectar, making the flowers smile...
posted by maryh at 7:36 PM on August 28, 2007


"honeycombed with homosexuals"

and they're BIG! yeah yeah yeah
they're not small! no no no...

sorry
posted by jonmc at 7:44 PM on August 28, 2007 [7 favorites]


Republican rhetoric emphasized that Eisenhower and Nixon were "regular guys" who were "for morality." Republicans portrayed Stevenson as an "egghead" with a "fruity" voice, the sort of man most Americans wanted to remove from Washington, not send there.

Whoa. Plus ça change.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:58 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Honey combed with homosexuals"? The democratic party? Republicans might want to check the newspaper.

There is definitely something weird going on in the minds of many republicans. I don't think they have the same definition of gay as everyone else. I think they don't see it as meaning "men attracted to men," I think they define it as men being feminine or dainty, and primarily weak. That's why Stevenson was "fruity". He wasn't a tough talking man's man. He was smart and spoke intelligently and therefore must have wanted to be a girl. Wait, what?

The corollary to this is that when these republicans get caught in rest areas or chat rooms trying to score sex with other men, and they are asked if they are gay, they respond "no", because in their minds they aren't gay, i.e. they aren't weak or feminine or like gay men who speak with a lisp and dress in women's clothing.

In other words, in the bizarre confines of their mind, they are real straight men who have sex with other straight men, to maximize their straightness, or something.

This seems to be what it is, but I'm just guessing.

From a personal standpoint, I'm getting a little fucking tired of hearing conservatives in my office using the terms "limp-wristed", "mincing", or "faggoty" + "liberal" over and over and over again etc to describe every single prominent liberal, as if those words are a conclusive argument unto themselves. I imagine reaching across the conference table with a scalpel and slicing the tendons in their arms. Now who's limp-wristed, shit-for-brains?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:01 PM on August 28, 2007 [10 favorites]


Corrected link for "the queen"

So, does the documentary solve the mystery or debunk it?
posted by thanotopsis at 8:06 PM on August 28, 2007


I think they define it as men being feminine or dainty, and primarily weak.

Well, that about says it, in my experience. Although femmy gay dudes with an I-don't-give-a-fuck-what you-think attitude seem to get a pass from a lot of people, too. (I'm not a conservative, so I can't really speak to what's in your coworkers mind. To me, it's more the Martin Prince I'm-ever-so-much-smarter-than-you thing that sometimes puts me off my fellow liberals, but YMMV.
posted by jonmc at 8:07 PM on August 28, 2007


great post.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:13 PM on August 28, 2007


Great post.
posted by longsleeves at 8:20 PM on August 28, 2007


great Post.
posted by OrangeDrink at 8:36 PM on August 28, 2007


great post (I'm going out on a limb)
posted by Nelson at 8:45 PM on August 28, 2007


Great Post.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:47 PM on August 28, 2007


This is good - I hadn't thought about this since I lived there (even with the Craig thing blowing up).
posted by Nabubrush at 8:51 PM on August 28, 2007


Wow, has Time ever published anything besides sensationalist crap?

Ha. No.

Spend some time in the 1920s in their archive; it was a breathless little popcult mag right from the start. Just pick a subject and browse the search results; I did that with Hemingway a week ago and had a blast.

posted by mediareport at 8:55 PM on August 28, 2007


There's an old bash quote that goes along the lines of "I don't understand why homosexuality is unmanly. To me, that's like double manly!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:03 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize Time had their archives online. What a pop-news goldmine, my god....

This realization may lead to several phenomenal posts.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:41 PM on August 28, 2007


This is echoed in the more recent scandals from Bakersfield, CA -- politically connected gay men, scandal, ruin, etc.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:54 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a wonderful post. I was just reading about JFK's gay close friend. This is an awful counterpoint to that story.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:33 PM on August 28, 2007


perfect timing : >
posted by amberglow at 10:38 PM on August 28, 2007


I am too tired to read everything--who was the queen?
posted by craniac at 11:17 PM on August 28, 2007


In other words, in the bizarre confines of their mind, they are real straight men who have sex with other straight men, to maximize their straightness, or something.

They have a kind of low-down down-low attitude.
posted by pracowity at 11:46 PM on August 28, 2007


"The Queen, a closeted but politically connected homosexual who allegedly used his massive clout to stop the witch hunt."

Pastabagel writes "The corollary to this is that when these republicans get caught in rest areas or chat rooms trying to score sex with other men, and they are asked if they are gay, they respond 'no', because in their minds they aren't gay, i.e. they aren't weak or feminine or like gay men who speak with a lisp and dress in women's clothing. "

At the risk of repeating myself by quoting Angels in America again: "Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout."
posted by orthogonality at 11:58 PM on August 28, 2007


Something I hadn't thought about till this morning, but it seems to me that with so many prominent Republicans in the closet, that there are a lot of powerful people who are incredibly vulnerable to blackmail.

That's not the case (or at least not as much the case) for Democratic politicians who are gay and in the closet. I'm sure that for some of them, being outed would be inconvenient, but it wouldn't be world-ending in the same way that it would be for a GOP politician.
posted by empath at 6:36 AM on August 29, 2007


Although femmy gay dudes with an I-don't-give-a-fuck-what you-think attitude seem to get a pass from a lot of people, too.

I think the gay-as-personal-assistant is pretty much accepted even by conservatives. That doesn't bother them, but it does when gays step forward and say: "My life, and my concerns and my lifestyle is as valid and important as yours" that conservatives get angry.
posted by empath at 6:41 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nthing the "Great Post" commentary. Never knew any of this took place, and what a font of information is contained within the Times archives. Excellent.
posted by misha at 7:19 AM on August 29, 2007


I'm going to buck the trend and say: Great Post!
posted by Floydd at 7:29 AM on August 29, 2007


Brings to mind a shameful period in Harvard's history: The Secret Court of 1920.

Also -- Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals.
posted by ericb at 7:48 AM on August 29, 2007


The first name that came to mind when I read this was Roy Cohn. As one of Sen. McCarthy's cronies he would obviously have been on the "get rid of communists and homosexuals" side, but there's always a possibility he did some maneuvering behind the scenes. A remote possibility, obviously, based on what I've read about him.
posted by tommasz at 7:49 AM on August 29, 2007


Previously on the 1920 Purge.
posted by ericb at 7:51 AM on August 29, 2007


I'll add to the chorus of approbation. Excellent post.
posted by blucevalo at 8:15 AM on August 29, 2007


Driving to work this morning listening to Larry Craig twist in the wind I suddenly remembered a strange-ish encounter in Idaho in the early 90s.

I was spending a few days with a friend who worked for one of the top Idaho newspapers. I thought I wanted to be a journalist back them so he let me follow him around. We had a casual lunch meeting with one of his background sources. On the way to the restaurant he let me know that the person we were meeting was one of the most powerful Republican financiers in the state, a guy who had made tens of millions in real estate and bankrolled the party.

At lunch the rich Republican guy (about 60) was accompanied by a young man. I was so naive and unobservant back then that it was halfway through lunch before I realized that the young man was Republican guy's rented boy toy. They were both frank and open about it. It seemed to please Republican guy that he could flaunt his arrangement in public and that no one would dare say (or print!) a word.

Republican guy was smart and charming as hell and gave my friend all kinds of fascinating insider political information. Then he picked up the check and walked out with his friend very close at his side. It was the damnedest thing, at least to me. I wonder where Republican guy is right now, if he knows Craig, if he knew the Queen?
posted by LarryC at 9:07 AM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


ericb - that Harvard story is gripping. Thanks for including it here.
posted by taliaferro at 9:09 AM on August 29, 2007


Fantastic (and timely) post and thread. A vote here for sidebarring.
posted by jokeefe at 10:14 AM on August 29, 2007


Matt Foreman, Executive Director, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force also references the 'Boys of Boise' in his statement regarding Larry Craig:
"What’s up with elected officials like Senator Craig? They stand for so-called ‘family values’ and fight basic protections for gay people while furtively seeking other men for sex. Infuriating pathetic hypocrites. What more can you say? There is sad irony that a United States senator from Idaho has been caught up in the same kind of thing that destroyed the lives of dozens of men in Boise in the 1950s, so tragically chronicled in ‘Boys of Boise.’ And by the way, why are Minneapolis tax dollars being used to have plainclothes police officers lurking idly in airport restroom stalls?"
posted by ericb at 10:29 AM on August 29, 2007


If you want to find the queen all you need to do is find out who's been buying lots of royal jelly and eating it.

You could also look for the largest one in the group, especially if they are doing a weird dance or emitting lots of pheromones.
posted by webnrrd2k at 11:00 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


It seemed to please Republican guy that he could flaunt his arrangement in public and that no one would dare say (or print!) a word.
Craig totally might have, but it seems he avoided people like that like the plague.

He was too young for the 1955 stuff (he's only 62, so would have been just a kid)
posted by amberglow at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2007


Hmm... For an academic angle, the book, Moral panics : the social construction of deviance looks interesting, and references the boys of Boise in it's prolog
posted by djfiander at 11:34 AM on August 29, 2007


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