Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Briker, "The Right to Be Heard: ONE Magazine, Obscenity Law, and the Battle Over Homosexual Speech"

Greg Briker (J.D. candidate, Yale Law School) has published "The Right to Be Heard: ONE Magazine, Obscenity Law, and the Battle Over Homosexual Speech." The article appears in Volume 31 of the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. Here's the abstract:
In the years following the Second World War, the movement for LGBT rights in the United States evolved dramatically from a state of near invisibility to one of outward protest and pride. How can historians account for this radical shift within the movement? Previous historical analyses have focused on the rise of queer consciousness. This article, however, suggests that growing consciousness does not provide a complete explanation, and that the issue of obscenity law must be taken into consideration. 
It does so through a study of the censorship battles of ONEMagazine. A self-described “homosexual magazine” founded in Los Angeles in 1952, ONE emerged as the nation’s first major gay periodical. In 1954, US postal inspectors refused to transmit the magazine, declaring it to be obscene under federal obscenity law. ONE challenged this classification, leading to a legal struggle over the definition of obscenity and the magazine’s eventual victory at the Supreme Court in 1958. 
This article asserts that ONE’s battles against censorship advanced the argument for gay rights by disentangling homosexuality and obscenity. Although ONE initially viewed obscenity law as an obstacle to protesting civil rights issues, its staff came to understand the dissociation of homosexuality and obscenity as a cause in itself. Relying on the magazine’s own archives, FBI surveillance files, and the papers of Supreme Court justices, this article argues that ONE paved the way for gay pride by securing a legal victory that established a free speech right to discussions of homosexuality.
Read on here.

-- Karen Tani