Thursday, 22 November 2018

JFK : The Queer Conspiracies

History is full of events which become surrounded in myth and controversy and become centres of conspiracy theories. One event which has produced more than any other in the 20th century (apart, perhaps, from Roswell and the aliens) is remembered today – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Even though a survey carried out in 2017 found that two thirds of the American population believe that the credited assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was not acting alone, many also believe he was set up and didn’t even fire the bullets that killed the president. Several people have been accused of being Oswald’s co-conspirator or alternative assassin. Only one of them was ever put on trial, and that was a gay man from New Orleans called Clay Shaw (1913-1974).

Clay Shaw has been wronged twice. First was his arrest and trial at the instigation of the homophobic District Attorney Jim Garrison. Garrison was one of the many people who considered the official investigation into the assassination that was published by the Warren Commission in September 1964 was a whitewash and that there was a conspiracy to hide the truth.

Highly ambitious and ruthless Garrison seized on the possibility of a conspiracy to frame someone for Kennedy’s death – someone he could put on trial, thereby claiming himself to be a hero for uncovering the “truth”. To justify his own version of events he invented a “homosexual thrill-kill” at the reason behind the assassination.

Cobbling together a theory based on little or no evidence Garrison claimed Lee Harvey Oswald was a bisexual acquaintance of a New Orleans pilot called David Ferrie. During his investigations Garrison also came across the name Clay Bertrand, whom he believed was a gay man in New Orleans. This led him to assume Clay Bertrand was an alias used by Clay Shaw, a well-known businessman in New Orleans. This was all Garrison needed to fabricate his gay thrill-kill theory and prosecute Clay for Kennedy’s assassination.

Clay’s trial began in 1969. Garrison paraded a series of witnesses whose evidence contradicted each other and it took less than an hour for the jury to acquit Clay Shaw of all charges. However, the damage was already done.

Clay Shaw came from a highly respected family and had received high honours for his war service, including the French Croix de Guerre, the US Legion of Merit, and knighthoods from both France and Belgium. He became an influential businessman in New Orleans.

Another two-year trial for perjury he was alleged to have committed at his first trial, again fabricated by Garrison, was eventually thrown out, though by now Clay had used his wealth to pay for his defence. He died in 1974 of cancer. A plaque to his memory was placed on one of the buildings in the French quarter of New Orleans that he had helped to restore with his own money.

Just as his reputation seemed to be restored Oliver Stone (an egotistical homophobe I’ve never l had a high opinion of, I don’t care what anyone else thinks) produced the equally homophobic film “JFK”. Clay Shaw was portrayed as a camp, effeminate gay man who held regular sex slave parties. The truth is the opposite, except that he was a gay man, but he was discreet and anything but camp. The devious legacy Jim Garrison is alive and well in the person of Oliver Stone.

A year ago the “National Enquirer” (the spiritual home of fake news) ran a front page headline declaring “Proof! J. Edgar Hoover Ordered JFK Murder!” J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), another discreet gay man, was the head of the FBI at the time of the assassination. The “National Enquirer” weren’t the first to think the FBI and Hoover had some part in it, and nothing new was actually presented. It just presented a conspiracy theory to attract attention on the 54th anniversary.

In the 1960s being gay, or even being accused of it, was often used to justify a witch-hunt in many political scandals. The Kennedy assassination was no different. At various stages in its history several suspects have been labelled as being gay, lesbian or bisexual in order to create justification for them to be included in a conspiracy. Even Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife were called bisexual perverts purely on the fabricated links to the New Orleans gay subculture and Oswald’s wife leaving him to live with a female friend.

There will be no end to the publication of new and old conspiracies. One book published back in 1975 was called “Presumed Guilty: Lee Harvey Oswald in the Assassination of President Kennedy”. It was written by a young gay man who had become fascinated by the assassination since he was 14.

Howard Roffman, the teenager in question, bought all 26 volumes of the Warren Commission report and immersed himself in the vast amount of official documents. “Presumed Guilty” was the result of years of his research. It, too, questioned the findings of the Warren Commission.

Howard’s significance to the canon of literature concerning the Kennedy assassination is that he was the first gay man to publish a book on the subject. What he has done since is so different that you’d never guess it was the same man.

At the time “Presumed Guilty” was published Howard was a recently graduated law student. He went on to work in the US Court of Appeals as a law clerk. From there he moved into the world of media and film. And here’s where we make a spectacular leap from President Kennedy that is worthy of inclusion in my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series. In 1980 Howard Roffman became the legal adviser to Lucasfilms. In 1986 he was appointed its Vice President of Licensing and later President of Lucas Licensing. If you have bought any “Star Wars” merchandise since the 1990s thank Howard Roffman. He relaunched the Star Wars merchandising franchise in 1991, effectively creating the modern mass merchandising techniques used by every blockbuster film franchise ever since. Since the Kennedy assassination Howard’s publishing efforts have gone into photographic books – predominantly featuring naked men!

However much of Howard’s “Presumed Guilty” book will be used to further develop the truth, myths and conspiracies into what happened 55 years ago today one thing is certain. There will always be someone who will write a new book, come up with a new conspiracy theory, or finally debunk an old one. We may never know the truth, but let’s hope that any new material, including any new motion picture, will avoid the unjustifiable homophobia that surrounded so much of the original investigations.

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