Monday, January 21, 2008

1919 Newport Sting Operation That Targeted Gay Sailors, Ended In Scandal

Did you know that the first "gay sex" scandal in the USA happened in 1919? The Providence Journal has an interesting article about it. Although largely forgotten now it made major headlines at the time. The scandal is covered in detail by Lawrence R. Murphy, in the 1987 book called, Perverts by Official Order. The book not only looks at how this scandal "embarrassed future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and led to FDR suing The Providence Journal," but also led to a Senate investigation which "exposed that the Navy had sent sailors to entrap homosexuals by having sex with them."

The Providence Journal reports:
The episode begins with Chief Machinist’s Mate Ervin Arnold, a sailor from San Francisco stationed at the Newport Naval Training Station. World War I had just ended, and Newport was a base for some 25,000 servicemen. At the time, sex acts between men were crimes, and the perpetrators considered criminal perverts. The term “homosexual” was not in general use. Arnold collected gossip about cocaine use and sexual intimacy between male sailors, according to Murphy’s book.

Arnold reported the rumors to superiors, which resulted — at the urging of U.S. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels — in the convening of a Court of Inquiry. But the court wouldn’t act on hearsay evidence. While Daniels was in Europe, his assistant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote the Justice Department to request an investigation into “conditions of vice and depravity” in Newport. 
Juicy stuff to be sure. As author Lawrence R. Murphy correctly points out there is very little known about gay life at the turn of the last century. His book serves as “...documentary evidence in America of a distinctive homosexual community.”