Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Judge Not The Judge

Ray Kerrison's New York Post column of May 23 [1985], entitled "Gay Judge is a Mockery of Moral Code," brought to mind a song recorded by the black gay singer Blackberri, "When Will the Ignorance End?"

Kerrison expressed his objection to Mayor Edward I. Koch's appointment of Richard Failla to the Criminal Court bench, because Failla is an openly gay man--and for no other reason. Never mind that the man  graduated from Columbia Law School and, in Koch's words, has "a distinguished record as a lawyer," which includes being an Assistant District Attorney in New York County (Manhattan).

Somehow, male homosexuals frighten and threaten staunch homophobes like Kerrison. Is his masculinity so fragile? Does he fear being a latent homosexual? Does the fact that Failla openly "kissed his male lover" without guilt or shame make the Kerrisons of this world uncomfortable, because Failla has a lover and does not fit the stereotype of the pitiful, weak, and lonely gay man?

And how does one equate, as Kerrison does, being a gay man with being "a woman who solicits a man for a sexual act and cash"? (Nowhere in the piece does he speak against lesbians, so I guess it's all right to be one. Of course, he's never heard of male hustlers, who do get paid for having sex. Kerrison confuses sexual orientation with a profession of one's choice.) There is promiscuity among gay men, but it also exists among straight men. Kerrison chooses to ignore that fact. If there is "a violent reassertion of the old double standard," it involves society's difference in attitude and treatment of gay men. Homosexuality was made into a crime by men. As we all know, men are fallible and laws are changeable. He points out that homosexuality is "an 'abomination' as defined by the Bible" and that, as "a layman with no expertise, the Bible wins out." Maybe he needs too talk with some gay and lesbian theologians, who would seriously challenge the "abomination" theory.

Kerrison's comments would be laughable, if the consequences of his words weren't so dangerous. These asinine beliefs feed into the already pervasive homophobia in this and other societies. The message is clear: Gays are immoral, no better than hookers, therefore it's all right to go out in the streets and beat up a few.

The whole piece is designed to make gay men continue to feel guilt and self-hatred. It's a way of saying, "Go back into your closets." If we fall for it, we deserve the consequences.

This article was originally published in the New York Native (August 11-25, 1985). It was an item in a "Media Watch" column I wrote for the paper.

Another Black Gay Supplement Proposal

Patrick Merla, Editor
New York Native
28 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10010
December 17, 1987

Dear Patrick:

I have received the following articles for the Black Gay Supplement to be published in February 1988:

1. An article by Reginald T. Jackson about gay men and their importance to the black church.

2. An article by David Frechette about racism within the gay community.

I have enclosed with this letter two three samples of Baltimore photographer David Weems's work. A portfolio of his work--maybe three or four photos--might be used for a full-page pictorial essay.

I think that issue of the Native should have as its cover photo a photo of a black gay man. (The last two supplements were mentioned on the cover in a little box in the upper left right hand corner.)  Since a number of black men I've spoken with say they would buy the paper if they saw such a photo on the cover, it makes good financial sense to draw attention to the supplement in that way.

A small notice should be published in the time we have remaining announcing the upcoming supplement and the need for submissions.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: This proposed supplement never came to fruition. I don't recall the reason.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Exploring Racial Diversity In The Gay Community

Patrick Merla, Editor
New York Native
249 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
June 15, 1984

Dear Patrick:

In August 1983 the Native published a supplement called "Harlem Rising." I contributed two pieces to it. It would be a good idea to bring the supplement back, possibly in August. However, this time I would like to be the guest editor. And instead of calling it "Harlem Rising," it should be called "Hue: Black Gay and Lesbian Supplement." The new name would underscore the fact that blacks range in color from very fair to very dark.

The supplement would contain five or six articles, covering a wide range of areas: politics, the arts, religion, etc. One article that I would try to include in the supplement is an address delivered by James Baldwin two years ago at the BWMT [Black and White Men Together] meeting that dealt with being black and gay (BWMT has the tape). There would also be photos and artwork.

I would like to discuss this with you either on the phone or in person because I think it is important for the Native to continue to deal with issues and events of concern to the black gay and lesbian community. I appreciate the Native's willingness to publish black-oriented articles. It shows that the paper realizes that not everyone in the gay and lesbian community is white and middle class. I am looking forward to a long association with the Native.

I hope the answer will be affirmative. I think this supplement will be better than the last one.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: The Native published the supplement under my guest editorship. It was called "Celebrating Ourselves," a title novelist and poet Melvin Dixon (and supplement contributor) suggested to me. The supplement was published in October 1984. It did not include the James Baldwin address that I suggested. This was the first and only time that the Native published a poetry centerfold that was part of the supplement.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pointing Out Glaring Errors In An Author's Biography

Edward Margolies, Professor Emeritus
c/o English & American Studies Dept.
The College of Staten Island of the City University of
New York
2800 Victory Boulevard
Staten Island, NY 10314
December 31, 1999

Dear Professor Margolies:

In The Several Lives of Chester Himes (University Press of Mississippi, 1997), which you co-authored with the French scholar Michel Fabre, I spotted four glaring factual errors in an otherwise enjoyable and informative book.

The errors are the following:

1. Joseph Levin, the film producer. Pp. 124 and 125. CORRECTION: Joseph E. Levine.
2. Rosa Meta's beauty parlor. Pg. 125. CORRECTION: Rose Morgan's beauty parlor.
3. "Lewis Micheaux's famous bookstore across the street from the Theresa Hotel,...." Pg. 125. CORRECTION: the bookstore was located down the street, at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue.
4. Ishmael Reed's novel, Yellow Black Radio Broke Down. Pg. 149. CORRECTION: Yellow Back Radio Broke Down. The incorrect title also appears in the index.

Maybe in a future edition of the book these errors can be corrected.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: There was no response to this letter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Racism Should Not Be A Part Of Gay Pride

Letters to the Editor
The Village Voice
842 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
June 28, 1984

Dear Editor:

James Baldwin, in his interview with Richard Goldstein [Voice, June 26], hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that "the gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society."

Racism, as Baldwin knows, is very much a fact of life within the gay community. It is evident in the discriminatory admission policies of gay bars and discos across the country and in the near total exclusion of blacks and other third world gays in gay magazines and newspapers. The "invisibility" of black gays and lesbians is what prompted me to write articles in the gay press pointing up the fact that blacks are a vocal and active part of the gay community. The white, middle-class male image being projected in these publications (and subsequently carried by the straight media) helps to foster the homophobic view in the black community that homosexuality as well as AIDS is a "white disease."

Until the white gay community is willing and able to accept black gays and lesbians as full and equal partners in the struggle against heterosexist oppression, they have no right to complain about homophobia. They too have become oppressors. That's not my idea of Gay Pride.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

This letter was not published.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Gay Harlem Of The 1920s: An Interview With Historian Eric Garber

Out of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, which lasted about ten years, came such creative notables as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer. For Hughes and others, the Harlem Renaissance was a time of race-consciousness and pride.

"Many of the key figures who  made the [Harlem] renaissance possible were lesbians and gay men," says Eric Garber, a gay San Francisco-based historian. Among these gay men were such luminaries as writer and critic Wallace Thurman, scholar Alain Leroy Locke, and poet Claude McKay. Garber describes Wallace Thurman as a man who was "a productive character" but one who "was very dark-skinned and had real contradictions around it because he received some prejudice around it. He would hate it and then two days later, he'd love it and hating it and hating light skins. Same way with his homosexuality." Another important gay figure at the time was Carl Van Vechten, the white novelist, journalist, and critic, who wrote the novel called Nigger Heaven (1926), "which became a bestseller for the white public and got a lot of white people interested in Harlem in a way that I'm sure he had not intended. I think it paved the way for a great deal more exploitation than certainly  he had intended. I don't think he intended his book to be taken the way it was taken. I think that was total naivete on his part. Foolishness almost. I don't think Nigger Heaven works at all. I found it rather offensive personally even though I like most of his other stuff." However, says Garber, ""some of his black peers at the time [such as the late James Weldon Johnson and Bruce Nugent, both writers] found nothing wrong with it." On the other hand, the black intellectual "[W.E.B.] Du Bois hated it."

Garber points out that "in the second page of the book, he [Van Vechten] explains that nigger heaven is the balcony of the theatre, the only place blacks were allowed to go to."

Van Vechten, says the blond, blue-eyed 28-year-old historian, "had a real fascination and love for Harlem and blacks in general" and expressed that love by focusing on "a lot of public attention of a great many black writers and artists," in his capacity as a journalist.

Among the places blacks and whites , artists, writers, socialites, and gays and lesbians could rub elbows was at A'Lelia Walker's Harlem apartment or her Hudson River estate. A'Lelia was the daughter of the black millionaire Madame C. J. Walker, whose wealth came from her hair straightening process. A'Lelia used the money her mother left her to "throw huge parties. I don't know if she was gay, but I do know she loved lesbians and gay men. She loved having them around her all the time. She loved the artists and writers."

Alexander Gumby's salon was another gathering place for creative lesbians and gay men. Gumby, who came to Harlem in1909 and was a butler turned postal clerk, was "very entranced," says Garber, "with the theatrical world and the artistic world and set up a salon basically to have parties. He also collected books." (That explains why his salon was called Gumby's Bookstore.)

As far as gay bars are concerned, "My understanding is there were no real gay bars. There were bars that sort of catered to gays but not in the sense that we know gay bars now.
"They [gay bars] started in really large numbers in the '40s definitely. I'm not sure about in Harlem, but nationwide it would seem like prior to the '40s, there were some places where you could go to pick people up."

"There were some gay places [that would have drag shows] that were very tourist-oriented where straight people would come to look at gays. There were also lesbian bars that had male impersonators. Prior to the '20s, at one point, female impersonators and male impersonators were considered quite respectable. No one had any idea that there was a sexual connotation to it. The ones that were just [for] socializing tended to be tourist places. They were listed in tourist guides. They were quasi-gay bars. But not like what we know today when there were only gay people there and [where you can] socialize and party and be yourself and let your hair down."

What was Harlem's reaction to homosexuality? Was there any homophobia? "It doesn't appear to be that way," replies Garber."Particularly among the artists and writers, there doesn't appear to have been censure at all. [Writer and artist] Bruce Nugent wrote "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade" [a 1926 short story about black male homosexuality] and he received a little cold shoulder for a couple of weeks. But he was openly homosexual throughout the period and went to the drag balls with [writer and NAACP executive] Walter White and his wife. For him there was no problem. There might have been for the very flamboyant female impersonators. Just thinking about the words that were used within the black community for homosexual like 'sissy' and 'people with freakish ways' and stuff so much different than words in the white community, which were things like 'deviate,' 'pervert,' and 'degenerate.' It would seem as though the attitude at least was less condemning. Certainly not open-armed embracing but not quite as condemnatory."

This is an edited excerpt from an article that was originally published in the now-defunct gay publication the New York City News (June 22, 1983).

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Short Life Of A Newspaper

"A newspaper is lumber made malleable. It is ink made into words and pictures. It is conceived, born, grows up, and dies of old age in a day."--Jim Bishop, journalist/author.

Source: The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners, edited by Geoff Tibballs (Carroll & Graf, 2004).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Risking All For Freedom

As I stood at the corner of 125th Street and Broadway in Harlem, on my way to Fairway supermarket, a city bus turned the corner. On the side of the bus was an ad for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The ad included a very striking  work of art: a lone black man in a wooden rowboat surrounded by hungry sharks and threatening ocean waves. This painting was a very dramatic and memorable depiction of a man (Haitian, perhaps?) putting himself at great risk for the sake of freedom. (I would love to know the name of the artist and when the painting was created.)

At a time when immigrants (illegal and otherwise) are vehemently demonized, this portrait is a reminder of how precious and desirable freedom is.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Evaluating Literature

"A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."--G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), English author.

Source: The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners, edited by Geoff Tibballs (Carroll & Graf, 2004).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Suggesting An Idea To A Black Gay Magazine

Stephen Johnson, Editor/Publisher
Whazzup! Magazine
2501 Ivy Drive, Suite 19
Oakland, CA 94606
February 12, 1997

Dear Stephen:

The now-defunct New York Native, a gay newspaper I wrote for from 1983 to 1988, had a regular feature called "Carbon Copy" in which the paper published letters that readers sent to government agencies, organizations, news media, etc. regarding some gay-related issue. I think Whazzup! should publish something similar.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reporting A Celebrity Arrest

Gregory Victorianne, Editor & Publisher
Buti Voxx Magazine
5120 South Harper Avenue, Apt. #A-7
Chicago, IL 60615-4160
May 22, 2000

Dear Gregory:

Thanks for continuing to send me issues of Buti Voxx. I have included them in my "Homosexuality--African-American" file.

One other thing, in Issue 37 there is an item that states that " R&B [singer]Teven Campbell brings da Summa of 99 two A close w/Some Smoke & Solisticin' [sic] A Black Cop 4 Some Dick...." I went to the library to see if I could find a newspaper or magazine article about the aforementioned on the computer. I could find no mention of it. I would appreciate it if you could direct me to a printed source. I would like to put that also in my file. If you have a copy of an article about Tevin Campbell soliciting a police officer,please send me a photocopy.

Again, thanks for sending me Buti Voxx.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

This letter received no response.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Giving Freelance Journalists Respect

Wilbert A. Tatum, CEO/Editor-in Chief
New York Amsterdam News
2340 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10027
July 25, 1989

Dear Mr. Tatum:

As a longtime contributor to the Arts and Entertainment page, I think it is a disgrace that [editor] William Egyir, while I was speaking to him about a manuscript of mine that has been sitting in type a long time, disconnected the call. And when I called back, I was told that he was "tied up." Over the years I have dealt with many editors, and they have always taken the time to discuss a piece with me. Mel Tapley [the Arts and Entertainment editor] has always been such an editor (I'll be glad when he comes back from vacation so I won't have to deal with Egyir, who behaves like someone uncivilized.)

I thought you should be made aware of the behavior of one of your subordinates because it is a reflection on the paper. It is such bad behavior that has convinced me to join the National Writers Union so that journalists who work freelance such as myself will get the respect we deserve. After all, it is the writers who are the backbone of any paper.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

Monday, April 1, 2013



See February 12, 2013 post re: Cotton Club, a 1920s Harlem nightclub, which launched many African-American entertainers such as Lena Horne and Cab Calloway.