President Johnson’s Aide: Walter Jenkins’ Gay Scandal In the 60s
I enjoy reading biographies when I’m not writing or editing fiction and I came across and interesting story recently in a book by Margaret Truman. It’s about one of President Lyndon Johnson’s top White House aides, and how he became tangled in a public scandal involving gay sex back in the mid-1960s. It’s interesting to see how this was handled back then. Keep in mind that the word “gay” was not even used at that point. Gay men were either referred to as homosexuals or queers, or worse.
There are many articles out there about this incident, but I’m linking to wiki right now because they give the most basic facts. If you do a simple search you’ll find tons of information.
A month before the 1964 presidential election, on October 7, District of Columbia Police arrested Jenkins in a YMCA restroom. He and another man were booked on a disorderly conduct charge, an incident described as “perhaps the most famous tearoom arrest in America.”He paid a $50 fine. Rumors of the incident circulated for several days and Republican Party operatives helped to promote it to the press. Some newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Cincinnati Enquirer, refused to run the story. Journalists quickly learned that Jenkins had been arrested on a similar charge in 1959, which made it much harder to explain away as the result of overwork or, as one journalist wrote, “combat fatigue.”
Mostly, this was how stories like this were treated back then, especially because Jenkins was a highly respected man who had been working closely with LBJ since 1939. Jenkins was also married to a woman and they had children. So obviously this story would have been covered up to protect the family, too. It’s classic with respect to the way anything gay was treated, with shame and secrecy.
However, Jenkins wasn’t totally shunned. He received support in many ways, especially from President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird. And, the American Mental Health Foundation wrote a letter to President Johnson and said this…
The private life and inclinations of a citizen, Government employee or not, does not necessarily have any bearing on his capacities, usefulness, and sense of responsibility in his occupation. The fact that an individual is homosexual, as has been strongly implied in the case of Mr. Jenkins, does not per se make him more unstable and more a security risk than any heterosexual person.
There’s a lot more, here, with more facts. Jenkins left Washington and public life soon after the scandal and lived a quiet obscure life for the next 20 years in a small Texas town.
Lord of the Rings Author and Same Sex “Intimate Friendship”
There’s a biopic on author JRR Tolkien that includes information about some kind of possible intimate same sex ‘connection’ between Tolkien and a guy named Geoffrey Smith. But from what I gather it’s still all speculation.
We can’t claim that. When I read the letters, I thought, what if this was just a very, very intimate friendship. So we kind of portrayed it that way. So that it would be honest to Geoffrey Smith, that if he had feelings toward Tolkien, kind of that comes [through in the film].’
Even though they make it clear that Tolkien had no romantic feelings toward Smith, it’s unclear how Smith felt about Tolkien. I guess the implication is there? It sounds a little confusing to me. But in their defense it’s really not possible to know anything about same sex relationships back then. I’d like to see this just to see how they handled it. One thing I know for certain is that there were many ‘gay’ men back then who had romantic feelings for straight men, and those feelings were never reciprocated.
Here’s the link.