Sunday, September 22, 2019

429. When Gays Savage Gays


Today, Sunday, September 22, Silas and I are at the Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall, Brooklyn.  We have table 120, toward the north end of the fair.  If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.  (No need to buy a book, unless you feel an irresistible urge to do so.)  The fair goes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  We'll be between Fledgling Writing Workshop (table 119) and Whiskey Tit (table 121).  Whiskey Tit describes itself online as "your literary wet nurse."  Tough competition, but we'll persist.

             When Gays Savage Gays: 

       The Controversy That Splits 
    the Gay World Down the Middle

Years ago, from 2000 until his release in 2014, I was the pen pal of a gay inmate in North Carolina.  In 2008 and 2009 Joe had a series of stories on gay prison life published online by Q-Notes (now known as QNotes), the leading LGBTQ online and print publication in North Carolina.  No sooner had the first story appeared, when a flood of online protests began that only increased as the stories continued to be published.  What was the problem?  It wasn’t the stories themselves, but a note at the end of each story  stating that Joe had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for “indecent liberties with a child and crime against nature.”

File:Guard patrols atop Central Prison (State Prison) wall, Raleigh, NC, no date (c.1950-1960’s). State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC. (28891475785).jpg
Joe's home at the time.  One of them, at least.
They kept moving him around.

State Archives of North Carolina
         One of the first protests was a lengthy one by a former law enforcement officer who said he was currently employed as an investigator by a Fortune 500 company in Charlotte, NC.  I will quote him here in part, abridged.

         Giving this writer a voice while he is still incarcerated gives the appearance that Q-Notes is endorsing a pedophile…. Remorse is glaringly lacking in the writings…. As a gay man I take great offense that he identifies himself as a gay man.  He is more than likely a pedophile who is attempting to gain sympathy from our community by claiming that he is gay…. He has 20 disciplinary infractions while in prison including forgery, violating North Carolina law, misuse of phone and mail, verbal threats, fighting, disobeying orders and being found in unauthorized locations…. In conclusion, I hope that Q-Notes will cease all publication of his writings.

         Q-Notes responded quickly to this early protest.  In the issue of January 10, 2009, the editor urged readers to look beyond the messenger to the message.  Regardless of the writer’s crimes, the editor insisted, his stories reflect the overall experience of LGBT individuals in U.S. prisons, who suffer discrimination, harassment, and physical and mental abuse from fellow prisoners and guards alike.  Mr. Urbaniak lets the gay community have a small glance into a world most of us will never experience.  Sitting safely on the outside, he concluded, we can find truths and realities we’ve never thought of before.  So spoke the editor.  And Q-Notes let the stories continue for their limited run.

         This did not stop the protests, quite the contrary.  As for instance:

·      The published material is focused on the sexual experiences of a conficted [sic] molester within the prison system.
·      As someone who has the pain and lingering emotional effects of sexual abuse, I find it appalling and repulsive that Q-Notes would publish a column from a man who committed such an offense.
·      Being a Criminal Justice student … I was also disappointed that Q-Notes decided to publish a column from a convicted child molester.
·      Q-Notes should not lend a voice to a pedophile, whether in jail or not.
·      This is disgusting…. We know right from wrong…. In all honesty we shouldn’t really care what goes on inside prison…. I hope this column stops.

         So spoke the critics.  But others disagreed:

·      I am 76 years old and all my life until these last fifteen years I have been told to be remorseful for being gay.  And for most of that time I have done penance.  But no more.  I may not choose to read the prisoner’s writings, but, hey, a multitude of Middle Class squares don’t approve of my attempts at writing, either.  If there is a readership for him, there should be a place for his writings, no matter what a Fortune 500 company employee thinks.
·      Cry me a river, people, damn!  I think Q-Note’s decision to publish this column is valid and even though the offense is horrible and inexcusable, it is still a view into an otherwise unknown venue by most of us.  In the end, if you do not want to read it, THEN DON’T!
·      Cry me a river, too…. Think your responses thru before inserting foot to mouth  I’ve looked over the charges against this inmate.  I’ve come to the conclusion it is a young man and his lover, not an act of violence committed here.  The court system unfairly sentenced this man to a long jail term, when a murderer gets a shorter sentence for what I feel is a far more reprehensible crime.  [A surprisingly perceptive comment, perhaps made with knowledge of my comment below.]
·      I find it reprehensible that members of the LGBT community pass judgment on one of our own, facing a system that is built on denying him his rights as a gay man….  By reading about his injustice and the life of a gay man in NC’s prison system (and from experience as a former correction officer, I can tell you it’s accurate) – we should be outraged.  We can take a stand AGAINST discrimination, without taking a stand FOR pedophilia.

         So there it is: child molestation, and because of it, the gay world split right down the middle.  The responses to Joe’s stories come from the angry, the indignant, and the judgmental, but also from the perceptive, the wounded, and the compassionate.  All spoke from the heart, though some with more knowledge than others.  And through no fault of their own, they none of them knew the true facts of Joe’s story.

         To these comments I will add my own, published in Q-Notes in the issue of January 10, 2009.

        Though a resident of New York City, I have followed the publication of Joe’s articles, and the controversy they have raised, with great interest.  I have been a pen pal of Joe’s since 2000; we have exchanged close to four hundred letters and have often discussed his case and related issues.  I have obtained his complete court records and have helped him to write his unpublished memoir, telling in detail how he came to be arrested and imprisoned.  I understand the concern of those readers who question the appropriateness of publishing his articles on gay prison life, but I feel that they might change their minds if they knew Joe’s full story.  The relationship which led to his arrest was a consensual one.  The presumed victim, a teenager, has since testified in court, and stated separately in a signed affidavit, that Joe did not harm him in any way, nor in his opinion would Joe willingly harm anyone; that he himself bears some responsibility for the relationship; and that he favors Joe’s receiving parole.  Even if the circumstances were otherwise, I think that Q-Notes would be justified in printing Joe’s articles, and I applaud their having done so to date.  I take the issue of child molestation seriously, since three of my friends were molested as children and as a result bear emotional scars to this day.  But Joe’s relationship was a very different matter and should not be confused with cases like those.  And his honest reporting of gay life in prison merits the attention of the whole gay community.  I hope the articles will continue. 

         Joe too answered the protests.  In a message published in Q-Notes on February 7, 2009, he thanked the editor for his supportive editorial, and even thanked the former correction officer who protested the publication of his stories so vehemently.  But if he showed no remorse in those stories, he explained, it was because the stories had nothing to do with his crime.  He then insisted that he had a great deal of empathy for the victim and his family, which is why he voluntarily entered a program for admitted sex offenders and completed it.  He hopes that the readers and the LGBT and straight communities will see him for the person he has become, rather than the person he was when he committed his offense.

         A reasonable and fair-minded response.  But Joe could not express himself fully, being still incarcerated and hoping for parole.  A little later he wrote a final statement, but comments had been closed by then, so to my knowledge it was never published.  As for the infractions attributed to him in prison -- forgery, fighting, and so on -- I know for a fact that they were trivial, often the concoction of an angry guard.  He never picked fights, often walked away from a threatening inmate and was assaulted from behind.

         It is important to remember the setting and time of this controversy: North Carolina, 2008-2009.  Though times are changing, North Carolina was, and still is, Bible Belt country.  Joe had told me that there are two North Carolinas.  There is a liberal North Carolina that includes the state capital, Raleigh, the Triangle of three major universities, and Charlotte.  But there is also a very conservative North Carolina, comprising all the rest of the state, including Wilmington, the scene of his arrest and sentencing.  The North Carolina gay community felt embattled, and like gay communities anywhere, it was eager to keep its cause separate from anything that smacked of child molestation.  Only with that in mind can we understand the reaction to the publication of Joe’s stories. 

         I discussed man/boy love in post #43, January 20, 2013, which was then republished on June 28, 2016, as #239: “Man/Boy Love: The Great Taboo.”  For many months it was the most popular post on this blog.  It gives my point of view on a subject that remains controversial today.  My main point: listen to the boys.  Don’t tell them they were victims; ask them about the relationship, find out if it was consensual.  If clearly consensual, I say, leave it alone.  The criminal justice system can then do more harm than good, as was the case in Joe’s story – a story that I hope he will make public.  The memoir that I helped him write reads like a novel, and its end, written while he was still incarcerated, is heartbreaking.  It’s not slated for publication now, but with Joe’s permission I will publish several of his stories about prison life here.  Some of them are grim, some are funny; all deserve to be read.

Coming soon:  Crime of the Century: Theft of the Golden Throne.

©   2019   Clifford Browder


  1. A personal point of view: I was "molested" as a child, by a priest in my small town. All I have to say is that he was very gentle and I enjoyed it enormously. Too bad it ended when I grew a little too old for his liking. Maybe other people feel traumatized for whatever reason. Not me!

    1. Fascinating. I repeat my injunction: Listen to the boys.