“The Fall of ’55” Screening part of Boise History Celebration

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Idaho’s capital city has been celebrating its sesquicentennial with numerous events and exhibits over the past few months. Tomorrow night, Boise 150 and Opera Idaho will join together to take a look at one of the darkest periods in Boise’s gay history.

The award-winning film documents the frenzy of the so-called “Boys Of Boise” scandal, which griped Boise, and the nation, until 1957.  During the scandal some 1,500 people were questioned, sixteen men faced charges, and fifteen men were sentenced to terms ranging from probation to life in prison.

According to the film’s producers,” Director Seth Randal’s gripping documentary provides unique insights into the pre-Stonewall gay experience as well as 1950s’ America’s struggle with the issue of homosexuality and the prevailing myth that it was a cancer that could be spread to the youth. Interesting parallels are also drawn with the era of McCarthyism, during which fear and paranoia supplanted rational thought, and the federal government began its own purge of gays (one that continued until recently in our military).”

The free screening is being held in conjunction with the Opera Idaho’s performances of Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah — a metaphor for McCarthyism, a period of intense fear of communism in America during the early 1950s.

A panel discussion will follow the screening. Panelists include longtime attorney and Boise High class of 1955 member, M. Neal Newhouse, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey, longtime Boisean and former singer June Schmitz, the film’s historical adviser, Alan Virta, and the film’s director, Seth Randal.

The event will be held  from 7:00-9:30 pm, at the historic Egyptian Theater located at 700 West Main Street in downtown Boise.

Click HERE for more info about the event.

You can visit the film’s Facebook page by clicking HERE.

Making History: A Look at Idaho’s Big Gay Past

Idaho is no stranger when it comes to leaving its mark on national gay history.  As a final salute to this year’s gay history month, the Idaho Agenda takes a look at a few of those moments as well as a few of the voices and bodies who are making a national impact today.

Most of us are familiar with the  homosexual witch hunt that begin on October 31st, 1955 in Boise.  During the so-called “Boys Of Boise” scandal, which lasted until 1957, some 1,500 people were questioned, sixteen men faced charges, and fifteen men were sentenced to terms ranging from probation to life in prison. If you aren’t familiar with what has to be one of the darkest moments in Idaho’s history, check out Boise documentary film maker Seth Randal’s film the Fall of ’55…

 

 

 

But the “Boys of Boise” scandal isn’t the only witch hunt to target the LGBTQIA community in Idaho. In his  ground breaking  book, “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. military, journalist Randy Shilts tells the story of a witch hunt against lesbians stationed at Mountain Home Air force base. Shilts tells the story of female airman, Penny Rand who was one of the first 35 women in the air force to be stationed at Mountain Home.

Shilts writes,”Many women dropped out of the military rather than take the constant harassment. Penny’s closest friend was one who went to her chaplain to confess she was gay and wanted out. The chaplain seemed understanding and referred the young woman to the Judge Advocate General’s office. There, lawyers asked her for the names of other lesbians, but she refused to give any”

“While other women left, Penny rebelled. She stopped wearing makeup and, in the ultimate act of feminist defiance of that time, stopped shaving her legs. When she was counseled that WAF members shaved their legs to look feminine, she smiled warmly but refused to shave.”

The “lesbian scare” was apparently a quiet one, Shilts concludes Rand’s story with,”..in the weeks that followed, one after another of her friends — heterosexual and homosexual women who didn’t fit into traditional female roles, the ones who wouldn’t go out with the guys, the women’s libbers — began disappearing.”

Ironically, almost 40 years later, it would be another airman at Mountain Home, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who would help play a major role in helping to pave the way for equality in the military.

The hunt against lesbians also invaded Boise city politics. According to Out History.org, “In 1977 Seven female employees of Boise Police Department were  fired on suspicion of lesbianism, which department claims was damaging to police morale; engenders protests and petition drives from Boise’s gay community, one of the first instances of open gay activism in Idaho; the women fight back with suit in federal court and win settlement.”

In 1993, Idaho’s LGBTQIA community and its allies were able to successfully defeat an initiative that, according to the Associated Press, would have,”prohibited making homosexuality the “legal or social equivalent” of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin or marital status. It also would have bared schools from portraying homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and units of government from using public money to sanction or express approval of homosexuality.”

Though the political group that started the initiative is no longer around the  Idaho Citizen’s Alliance’s  former director, Kelly Walton of Burley, continued to support his crusade  by sponsoring  anti-gay local talk radio show host Zeb Bell through his Mountain West Reality company as late as last year.

In 2004, Idaho again made national history when the long-running custody battle by a gay father in Idaho Falls came to a close Tuesday as the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of his ex-wife. Planet Out reported at the time that,” After their 1997 divorce, Theron  Mcgriff and his ex-wife Shawn had shared custody of the girls, who are now 13 and 9. But once Theron’s partner, Nick Case, moved in with him, Shawn petitioned the court for a change in the arrangements. Eventually, the court agreed, ruling among other things that Theron had not fully appreciated the possible harm that the girls might encounter in their conservative community. The court also ruled that Theron could not have visitation if Case continued to live in the house. And as a final gesture, Theron was ordered to pay hundreds of dollars a month to cover his ex-wife’s legal fees.”

Of course no list on Idaho’s gay past would be complete without the tale of “I’m not gay” former senator Larry Craig. It might surprise you but the rumors regarding Craig’s sexuality actually started way back in 1982 when Craig called a bizarre press conference to deny any involvement with a teen age page-boy scandal, all fine and good except no one had brought up Craig’s name in connection with the scandal except for Craig himself…

 

 

In 2006,  DC blogger and activist Mike Rogers located a man who had been cruised by the Idaho senator in DC’s Union Station. Rogers issued a press release and called on Craig to stop his anti-gay votes. A year later Craig was arrested during a sex sting operation in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He pleaded guilty to the charge, called a press conference told the country he wasn’t gay, did a bizarre primetime interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer then tried to reverse his plea. It didn’t work. In the meantime, at least two other men came forward with stories about Craig. 

There are also some notable names from Idaho who are currently making their own mark in American history…

Jon Barrett, who, up until March of this year, served as Editor of  The Advocate grew up in Boise and went to college at Idaho State University.  He is now Entertainment Weekly‘s new LA bureau chief.

Glee and Ugly Betty hunk Cheyenne Jackson grew up in Idaho. In a March interview with OUT magazine, he says,”I know exactly what I felt like being that 8-year-old boy in Idaho where there are no gay people — well, there are two gay people, they’re called the dump dykes, and they run the dump — and no black people. It’s 40 miles from the Aryan Nation’s compound. So to be different and to know that you’re just from another planet…”

Freida Smith, LGBTQIA activist and one of the early women leaders in the Metropolitan Community Church, was born a Nazarene in Pocatello. You can hear a fascinating interview with Smith on the MCC oral history page.

Award winning playwrightSam Hunter was born and raised in Moscow. His current play in production, “A Bright New Boise” wanders what it would be like to be stuck in a hobby lobby with the likes of Fred Phelps.

Acclaimed author Vestal Mcintyre grew up in Nampa Idaho.  According to an interview with Gay City,”His 2009 book, “Lake Overturn,” is set in Eula, Idaho, a quasi-fictional desert town on the edge of a big lake, the work traces the lives of more than a dozen characters who are swimming against the cross currents of family, class, race, organized religion, peer pressure, and thwarted sexuality.” He now lives in London.

Journalist and Activist Jody May-Chang may very well have been Fox talker Sean Hannity’s first formidable foe when in 1989, she took on Hannity in the press and on the air for anti-gay remarks he made during his college radio show. (Hannity was later fired from the job.)

Word Perfect co-founder and software developer Bruce Bastian was born and raised in Twin Falls. According to a biography, “Bastian learned of the need for equality from his father who taught him to be free from prejudice and give back to those less fortunate. Bastian recalls stories of how his father gave food from the family owned grocery store to those who needed it, and how his father and older sister took food to black musicians who were not allowed to enter the all-white restaurants in Idaho before the Civil Rights era of the 60’s.”  He is on the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington D.C.

Season 9 Project Runway star and designer Bryce Black also grew up in Twin Falls. You can read an exclusive one on one interview about what it was like to grow up in Idaho as a gay teen here.

And finally, happy birthday to Idaho’s most famous gay porn star! Sean Paul Lockhart, better known in the adult entertainment world as Brent Corrigan, was born October 31st, 1986 in Lewiston. In his latest venture Lockhart  keeps his pants on for the just released drama Judas Kiss.

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