The Satyrs Motorcycle Club will begin unveiling their year-long rollout of the 60th Anniversary celebration this summer. Included with that is the history of not just the club, but of how gay men lived in California from 1850 to the founding of the Satyrs during the heighth of McCarthyism.
Please join the Satyrs mailing list at http://www.satyrsmc.org to learn about gay leather motorcycle history and how it all began.
In 1914, then acting Long Beach police chief, Samuel L Browne, in a period of 3 transitioning police chiefs wanted to clean up the “undesirables” in the city. This included the ‘social vagrants’ as gay men were referred as. The Mayor hired actors Warren and Brown to go undercover who then arrested 31 men in the two gentlemen’s club, the 909 and the 96.
These arrests changed the course of gay history in the United States for the next 40+ years. It was also the first time the term “homosexual” became a household word as the lascivious details of the testimony in the trial was published in the Sacramento Bee. For up until then, life in the former frontier city of Los Angeles was pretty much okay with gay people. Albeit, gay people were seen as those who hung around socialites, were performers, artists, vaudevillian actors, eccentric and “others”. We had names such as pansies, nancies, queer and other simplistic terms mostly not with a sexual connotation.
Society hadn’t put the idea of “sex” and married it fully with the concept of “homophiles”. But in the medical and mental health societies, the sexologist studies of Magnus Hirshfeld, based on other German Psychologists published studies was beginning to makes its round in the United States in 1892 and the beginning of the 20th century. The term “homosexuality” a Greco-Latin term, was not coined until 1868 by a Hungarian doctor. By the 20th century, American doctors began to separate the concept of “inversion” and “homosexuality”.
The zipper in men’s pants were not sewn into every man’s pants until 1911. So gay people were seen as sodomites as a social category in annals of the American Psychiatric world. The laws on the books only referred to sodomy, not to any acts of fellatio. Remember, pants were not so easily removed and put back on for those cruising the parks of Central Park later renamed to Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles; or in any other parts of Los Angeles for that matter.
The 31 men were arrested based on acts of fellatio. Each person arrested by Warren and Brown, had a bounty of $15 a piece, equivalent to a total paycheck worth today of $10,850.00. Not a bad day’s pay for two actors in 1914. So as the stories unfolded in the newspaper, the lives of these men were forever destroyed. Your name, age, occupation, address, relationships and details of the arrest were published in the papers. You would lose everything, including family and house because of the shame. And as Americans learned what gay men were doing sexually, the pairing of the act of sex with the sexual orientation of man became forever cemented in the minds of the United States as people began associating the word “homosexual” in a negative context rather than a neologism.
John Lamb was one of the more well respected members of the Long Beach community who was arrested in 1914. He was on the Board of Directors for the Long Beach Savings and Trust located in downtown Long Beach on 1st Street. John Lamb, 41, shamed by what would be published in the newspapers as sensationalistic details; ran, fought police and ended up with torn clothes to avoid arrest. As soon as he was released on bail, he swallowed cyanide on the rocky beach of San Pedro. Because of the shame, a moratorium on poisons sold in drug stores was passed by Long Beach city council because of the terrified men who sought to purchase an easy suicide method.
By the trials of 1915 of these arrests, Americans from coast to coast, now understood the term “homosexual” and it’s now negative connotation. Because there were no laws on the books for fellatio, the charges were ultimately dropped and most were acquitted. But the damage had been done and laws were eventually created against fellatio in 1915.
Meanwhile, acting police chief, not a resident of Long Beach, cemented his reputation as a tough man with having “mid-western type” sensibilities, though he originated from Washington D.C. How he became acting police chief was just as interesting in a time where Long Beach was becoming known as “Iowa by the Sea” as a resort town. So while the pant zipper may have altered the state of gay men being able to have clandestine sex in parks without much fear, the incident and scandal in Long Beach, California, forever changed how Americans increasingly saw homosexuals as social vagrants for the next 40 years.
But things do come full circle eventually…for Samuel James Browne, Sr invented the leather accessory “the sam browne” worn as part of the leather fetish by gay men even today.
The story of Long Beach police chief, Samuel Lindsay Browne to be continued.