Buddies Private Men’s Club is a private club established December 2003 exclusively for men sharing homosexual interests.
As demonstrated by the following history of homosexuality, the Buddies Private Club’s roots run deep. Throughout history those sharing homosexual interests have formed clubs, societies and special locations to share and explore their interest in homosexuality.
Since the seventeenth century, homosexuality has been the target of condemnation and discriminatory laws, public policies, social customs, and cultural beliefs. By making gay men and lesbians the object of scorn, this hostility has kept much homosexual behavior hidden.
Religion has been of central importance in shaping this climate. Until the thirteenth century, the Christian tradition was ambiguous in its attitude toward homosexuality. But with the recodification of canon law under the influence of Thomas Aquinas, new attitudes set in. Homosexual behavior was thereafter excoriated as a heinous sin. The English carried these beliefs to North America, and the power of religion in early America guaranteed that such beliefs would shape colonial attitudes.
Colonial ministers spoke out frequently against the “sin of Sodom,” castigating its appearance and warning of its dangers. For seventeenth-century settlers, with a precarious foothold on the edge of an unknown continent, the metaphor of an angry God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah must have been potent. The language of colonial sodomy statutes was drawn from the Bible. In Connecticut, the wording was taken from Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” The statute remained so worded until the 1820s. Colonial statutes severely punished homosexual activity. In every colony, sodomy was a capital offense—at least five men were executed during this era—and other homosexual acts, from “sodomitical practices” to lewdness between women, were punished with whippings and fines. To be sure, many other sexual acts, such as adultery and fornication, were also subject to punishment. But officials tended to single out homosexual offenses for especially severe treatment.
After the American Revolution, although the states reformed their criminal codes in the spirit of Enlightenment philosophy, revision of the sodomy statutes and the “crimes against nature” laws came very slowly; North Carolina did not eliminate capital punishment until 1869. Thomas Jefferson proposed that death be replaced by castration. Moreover, as time went on, legislatures and courts broadened the statutes to include a wider range of acts, such as oral sex between men and sexual activity between women. And even though the ties between religion and the state had become attenuated, religious language continued to surface. In 1897, for example, an Illinois court described sodomy as a crime “not fit to be named among Christians.”
In the late nineteenth century, medical science added to the negative evaluation of homosexuality. The medical profession grew in influence, and almost without exception, American physicians diagnosed homosexuality as a form of illness. At first, opinion varied as to whether it was acquired or congenital; with the ascendance of Freudianism the acquired model became dominant.
A prolific medical literature, as well as records of treatment, suggest that many doctors viewed homosexuality with dread. Remedies included castration, hysterectomy, lobotomy, electroshock, and aversion therapy. Moralistic judgments permeated the “scientific” study of homosexuality. One physician described a case of homosexuality as “shocking to every sense of decency, disgusting and revolting,” phrases that he surely would not have applied to a case of pneumonia or yellow fever.
The medical model gathered still more force in the mid-twentieth century. The immigration of German and Austrian psychoanalysts during the 1930s and the widespread use of psychiatrists by the military during World War II gave the profession more influence. In the years after World War II, more than half the states enacted “sexual psychopath” laws. Studies of their application reveal patterns of selective enforcement that singled out male homosexuals. In Sioux City, Iowa, for instance, in the late 1950s, the district attorney, employing a psychopath law, committed twenty-nine male homosexuals to asylums. Under these laws, homosexuals were often given indeterminate sentences in mental institutions as punishment. By the middle of the century only murder, rape, and kidnapping elicited heavier penalties of any sort than did private consensual sexual activity.
The shifting definitions of homosexuality, from sinful criminal act to diseased condition, have pointed historians toward important theoretical formulations, especially the distinction between homosexual acts, which can be documented across history and culture, and homosexual identities. In the United States it seems apparent that an important change occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when a modern gay identity began to take shape.
In the colonial era, some individuals experienced homosexual desire. But given the era’s system of family-based subsistence agriculture, marriage and procreation was central to survival, and such desires could hardly form the basis for structuring one’s personal life. “Heterosexuality,” as yet undefined, was as critical to individual survival as planting the crops in the spring. Indeed, much of the evidence of homosexual behavior that survives in court records points to its coexistence with marriage. Nicholas Sension of Windsor, Connecticut, for instance, who was brought to trial in the 1670s on charges of sodomy, was a married man. His case was not unique.
In the nineteenth century, as American life was restructured in part around the separation of female and male spheres, and as sexuality came to be understood in romantic, spiritualized terms, homosexual desire often occurred in the context of intense, passionate friendships in which physical intimacy was expressed un-self-consciously. These relationships frequently coexisted with marriage, and little connection was made between the passionate embracing of friends or their sharing of beds and the dreaded “crime against nature.”
Late in the century, as large cities allowed for greater anonymity, as wage labor apart from family became common, and as more women were drawn out of the home, evidence of a new pattern of homosexual expression surfaced. Among men and women and across the spectrum of class and occupation, individuals were organizing their personal lives around their homosexual attractions. The doctors who wrote about homosexuality during these decades developed their theories through case histories of men and women whose lives exhibited these new patterns.
At first, these individuals developed ways of meeting one another and institutions to foster a sense of identity. Certain parks, streets, and bathhouses became meeting places for men. Bars and clubs appeared in or near the red-light districts of major cities. Women in female-dominated occupations formed private friendship networks. By 1915, one participant in this new gay world was referring to it as “a community distinctly organized.” For the most part hidden from view because of social hostility, an urban gay subculture had come into existence by the 1920s and 1930s.
World War II served as a critical divide in the social history of homosexuality. Large numbers of the young left families, small towns, and closely knit ethnic neighborhoods to enter a sex-segregated military or to migrate to larger cities for wartime employment. It became easier for gay men and women to meet others, explore the gay world, and form extensive friendship networks. As one young gay man, Donald Vining, described it in his diary, “The war is a tragedy to my mind and soul, but to my physical being, it’s a memorable experience.” In many ways, the war was something of a nationwide “coming out” for gays.
After the war, many of them made choices designed to support their gay identities. Pat Bond, a woman from Iowa who first met other lesbians while in the military, decided to stay in San Francisco after her discharge. Vining remained in New York City rather than return to his small hometown in New Jersey. They, along with countless others, sustained a vibrant gay subculture that revolved around bars and friendship networks. Many cities saw their first gay bars during the 1940s. The publication of Alfred Kinsey’s studies of human sexual behavior, moreover, confirmed for this generation that their sexuality was neither rare nor aberrant but a widespread pattern in society.
This new visibility provoked latent cultural prejudices. During the cold war era, as the nation searched for scapegoats, homosexuals were labeled a danger to society. Senate investigations portrayed a homosexual menace that was as threatening to American strength and security as communism. Firings from government jobs and purges from the military intensified in the 1950s; President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order in 1953 barring gay men and lesbians from all federal jobs. Many state and local governments and private corporations followed suit. The FBI began a surveillance program against homosexuals.
The lead taken by the federal government encouraged local police forces to harass gay citizens. Vice officers regularly raided gay bars, sometimes arresting dozens of men and women on a single night. In the 1950s, arrests in Washington, D.C., exceeded one thousand per year; in Philadelphia, misdemeanor charges against gay men and lesbians averaged one hundred a month. Wichita, Dallas, Memphis, and Seattle were among the cities that witnessed extensive antigay offensives. In some cities, such as Boise, Idaho, the fear of homosexuality led to a virtual witch-hunt.
Under these conditions, some gays began to organize politically. In November 1950 in Los Angeles, a small group of men led by Harry Hay and Chuck Rowland met to form what would become the Mattachine Society. Mostly male in membership, it was joined in 1955 by a lesbian organization in San Francisco, the Daughters of Bilitis, founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. In the 1950s, these organizations remained small, but they established chapters in several cities and published magazines that were a beacon of hope to their readers.
In the 1960s, influenced by the model of a militant black civil rights movement, the “homophile movement,” as participants dubbed it, became more visible. Activists, such as Franklin Kameny and Barbara Gittings, picketed government agencies in Washington to protest discriminatory employment policies. In San Francisco, Martin, Lyon, and others targeted police harassment. By 1969, perhaps fifty homophile organizations existed in the United States, with memberships of a few thousand.
Then, on Friday evening, June 27, 1969, the police in New York City raided a Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Contrary to expectations, the patrons fought back, provoking three nights of rioting in the area accompanied by the appearance of “gay power” slogans on buildings. Almost overnight, a massive grass-roots gay liberation movement was born. Owing much to the radical protest of blacks, women, and college students in the 1960s, gays challenged all the forms of hostility and punishment meted out by society. Choosing to “come out of the closet” and publicly proclaim their identity, they ushered in a social change movement that has grown substantially. By 1973, there were almost eight hundred gay and lesbian organizations in the United States; by 1990, the number was several thousand. In 1970, 5,000 gay men and lesbians marched in New York City to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; in October 1987, over 600,000 marched in Washington to demand equality.
The changes were far-reaching. Over the next two decades half the states decriminalized homosexual behavior, and police harassment was sharply contained. Many large cities included sexual orientation in their civil rights statutes, as did Wisconsin and Massachusetts, first among the states to do so. In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association eliminated homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses; the following year, the Civil Service Commission eliminated the ban on the employment of homosexuals in most federal jobs. Many of the nation’s religious denominations engaged in spirited debates about the morality of homosexuality, and some, like Unitarianism and Reformed Judaism, opened their doors to gay and lesbian ministers and rabbis. The lesbian and gay world was no longer an underground subculture but, in larger cities especially, a well-organized community, with businesses, political clubs, social service agencies, community centers, and religious congregations bringing people together. In a number of places, openly gay candidates ran for elective office and won.
These changes spawned opposition. In 1977, the singer Anita Bryant led a campaign to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida. Her success encouraged others, and by the early 1980s, a well-organized conservative force had materialized to target the gay rights movement. Politicians, such as Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and fundamentalist ministers, such as Jerry Falwell of Lynchburg, Virginia, who formed Moral Majority, Inc., joined forces to slow the progress of the gay movement.
The onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, although it intensified the antigay rhetoric of the New Right, also stimulated further organizing within the gay community. AIDS made political mobilization a matter of life and death. With a large majority of the cases striking male homosexuals, the gay community in short order created a host of organizations, such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, to provide services and assistance to those infected. Local and national gay civil rights groups also grew in size and number, as the community sought to increase funding for research and education and to win protection against discrimination. A personal and social tragedy of immense proportions, AIDS paradoxically strengthened the political arm of the gay movement.
One result of the changes wrought by the gay movement was the gradual recognition that gay men and lesbians had made important contributions to American society, culture, and politics in previous eras. The work of such literary figures as Walt Whitman, Willa Cather, and Langston Hughes was reinterpreted in the light of their homosexuality. Major figures in the history of women’s education, such as M. Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr, Mary Woolley of Mount Holyoke, and Katherine Lee Bates of Wellesley, lived in communities of women with longtime partners. The civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, the songwriter Cole Porter, the depression era journalist Lorena Hickok, and many other notable Americans of the past were gay men and lesbians whose homosexuality, though hidden, deeply influenced their sensibility, their values, and their careers.
John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (1983); Jonathan Katz, Gay American History (1976).
Though the opening and operation of Buddies Private Club for Men it is hoped that the club can do its small part to despair the national perception of Colorado Springs being intolerant, repressive and unwelcoming to its gay community.
Colorado Springs is a wonderful place to live and visit. The vast majority of Colorado Springs residents are supportive of our gay community.
Our club members are exercising both their historical and Constitution rights.