Thursday, November 30, 2017

50 Years Ago: NJ Court Ruled Gays May Meet In Bars, Provides History of Gay Nightlife

Murphy's Tavern on Mulberry Street in Newark, New Jersey, 1961

Slate reports:

Fifty years ago this month [in 1967], the Supreme Court of New Jersey recognized for the first time the right of “well behaved apparent homosexuals” to congregate in bars.

This historic ruling emerged out of a struggle, under the surface of the post-World War II Ozzie-and-Harriet era, when America’s gay establishments were constantly under surveillance by employees of the state dressed up as patrons. Because what historian Margot Canaday calls the “straight state” depended on note-taking by these faux customers, we have a remarkable record of gay nightlife in cities including Newark.

Murphy’s was already a thriving queer scene by the time the [Alcohol Beverage Control commission (ABC)] launched an “extensive investigation” between May and July of 1950. Undercover agents posing as patrons took notes on the regulars, reporting back that they “were openly conducting themselves in a most peculiar and effeminate manner.” According to these spies, homosexuals in 1950 were men who “talked and laughed in high pitched voice; walked in a manner most effeminate (sometimes on tip-toes, sometimes with a ‘wiggle’).” Their conversation around the bar occurred “in the jargon of sexual perverts,” the men addressed one another in feminine nicknames, and “one even used mascara and powder.” They joked about sexual assignations and about male pregnancy. In fact, “patrons were seen to use their hands freely on each other,” with some even going “so far as to fondle the buttocks and privates of other males.” For allowing all this, Murphy’s Tavern had its liquor license temporarily revoked.

A decade later in 1961, ABC agents were still spying on gay men in another Newark bar, the Hub, just down the block from Murphy’s. This time, they had to grasp a bit more to articulate the essence of homosexuality, reporting, “males appeared to be homosexuals, as evidenced by their high-pitched voices, their effeminate walk, attire, and mannerisms, which sexual deviation they further displayed by addressing each other as ‘honey,’ ‘sweety,’ and ‘baby.’” While these agents documented none of the expressions of physical desire and affection from the earlier report, they did write up the presence of Francie, “a ‘male’ known as the Belle of Mulberry Street,” who invited unspecified “perverted acts.” For that, the Hub’s license was suspended for 95 days.

See full story here.

No comments: