The Thin Red Line between Privacy and Secrecy: Criminal Sodomy, Homosexuality, and the Cold War in El Paso, Texas

Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM
Thurgood Marshall East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jecoa Ross, University of Texas at El Paso
In March 1956, a police raid on a private residence in El Paso, Texas led to the arrests of six men on charges of sodomy. The police raid was in connection with a months-long grand jury investigation into a “homosexual ring” purported to consist of as many as two hundred men, including servicemen from El Paso’s military base, Fort Bliss. More compelling than this connection, however, is the fact that the men arrested in the 1956 police raid were not caught engaging in any sexual activity. Rather, they were simply found in possession of women’s clothing. This case and the events that both preceded and followed it are as much as a part of the fearful imaginings of an anxious public that pervaded the United States during the Cold War as they are a crux in the more than one-hundred-year history of the Texas sodomy statutes and their enforcement. Social misunderstandings about criminal sodomy and homosexuality, the public’s shifting ideas about gender and race, and the efforts of federal, state, and local institutions to confine the spread of communism all converged to construct a thin red line between privacy—a foundation of American individualism—and secrecy—the closet which many gay men were forced to seek refuge in amidst the Lavender Scare. Using sources from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, the C. L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department at the University of Texas at El Paso, and the Texas Legislative Reference Library, this essay investigates how this division between citizenship and anticitizenship was placed across the city of El Paso in the mid-1950s.
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