Arthur Warner

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Biography

Arthur Cyrus Warner (February 14, 1918 - July 22, 2007). Arthur Cyrus Warner was a prominent figure in the American gay-liberation movement, focusing his considerable energies on legal reform to protect the civil liberties of homosexuals. [John Lauritsen, “Arthur Cyrus Warner,”in Vern L. Bullough, ed., Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002, pp. 282-90.] His work was crowned by successful efforts to overturn anti-sodomy and other laws used to persecute gay people in several US states.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Warner for almost the last half century of his life lived in the house built by his parents in Princeton. His mother was born in Paynesville, Minnesota, and his father belonged to a family engaged n the wholesale grocery business in Newark. http://philosopedia.org/index.php/Arthur_Cyrus_Warner. Both parents were of Russian-Jewish origin.

After receiving his AB degree from Princeton in 1938, Warner entered Harvard Law School. His studies there were interrupted by World War II, and he served a stint in the United States Navy, attaining the rank of Second Lieutenant. After receiving an undesirable discharge stemming from homosexual conduct, he returned to Harvard Law school, where he earned his LLB degree in 1946. Although he succeeded, after a long legal battle, in having the Navy discharge changed to the status of honorable, the damage was done, and he was never able to practice law as he had hoped. He then entered Harvard Graduate School to study English history, receiving his AM degree in 1950 and his PhD in 1960. While he briefly taught history at the University of Texas, El Paso, he lived most of his life as an independent scholar, maintaining many contacts from his base in Princeton.

Arthur Warner’s engagement with issues of homosexual civil rights began early, when in the late 1940s he started to attend meetings of a New York City group known simply as The League. From 1954 on he was active in the Mattachine Society of New York, serving as chairman of the legal department. Initially he chose to mask his identity under the name of Austin Wade. For a time Arthur Warner was associated with Frank Kameny of Washington, D.C.; later they had a falling out over strategy. Yet each continued to work in his own way in the service of the cause of gay rights.

In 1971 Warner founded the National Committee for Sexual Civil Liberties (later renamed the American Association for Personal Privacy), a high-level think tank comprising lawyers, historians, theologians, and other professionals. From the beginning, Warner's focus, and that of the group he founded, was legal reform--especially the repeal of the sodomy statutes, which he rightly regarded as the linchpin of all discrimination against homosexuals. He was encouraged by the recommendations for decriminalization of homosexual conduct embodied in the Wolfenden Report in England (1957), and the Model Penal Code (MPC), a statutory text approved by the American Law Institute (ALI) in 1962. Among those closely associated with Warner in this work were Thomas F. Coleman, an attorney; Paul Hardman; and Wayne R. Dynes of the Gay Academic Union.

Working largely behind the scenes, Warner and his associates achieved success in several individual states, preparing the way for the eventual victory in the U. S. Supreme Court in the Lawrence case of 2002.

Arthur Warner's papers document his involvement in legal reform and other issues pertaining to homosexual civil rights. The bulk of the papers consist of legislative and court documents about cases affecting gay civil liberties, and related memoranda, correspondence, and writings. The papers, mainly covering the period from 1946 to 2000, are preserved in the Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University Libraries (http://findingaids.princeton.edu/getEad?eadid=MC219&kw=)

His will directed that his funds be used to establish the Sentience Foundation, headquartered in Freehold, New Jersey ( www.sentiencefoundation.org).


POSTSCRIPT

John Lauritsen, writing in Before Stonewall, described Warner's upbringing:

“His mother came from a background which, although educated, reflected the Victorian ethos in matters of sex. A a child, Warner was not told myths about where babies came from, and he was allowed to see biology books showing the birth of animals, and so on, up to the point of fornication. However, when he was put to bed, his hands always had to be on top of the blanket, even on the coldest nights. Because the windows were always open for health reasons, his shoulders also would be cold.

“Nevertheless, as with virtually all boys, he discovered the pleasures of masturbation, and at the age of seven or eight he did this several times a day, although without ejaculation. On one such occasion he was apprehended by his governess, who felt dutifully obliged to tell his parents. Early the next morning the case was presented to his parents, who had just returned from a trip. His mother, "who wore the pants," took charge. She was in a frenzy and told him that if he ever did this again he would be taken to the state prison at Rahway, "where the bad boys go." He was also told that if he continued to do this, he would certainly become crazy. He was shaken by these warnings and for a year remained "good and pure."

“When nine, again found masturbating, he was driven the twelve miles to Rahway State Prison, ordered out of the car, and for about twenty minutes stood outside the car, screaming for forgiveness, finally given "one more chance."

“Warner's first sexual experience - mutual masturbation with a black man in an abandoned school yard - occurred when he was seventeen during his sophomore year at Princeton, and he ran away, terrified. In 42nd Street movies in 1938, he caught gonorrhea from a person he had met and gone home with - it was in the pre-penicillin days, and Warner suffered for eight weeks from sulfanilamide that was injected into the urethra.”

Arthur Cyrus Warner Died

by John Lauritsen


Arthur Cyrus Warner died in Princeton, New Jersey on 22 July 2007 at the age of 89. A leader of the homophile movement, he began attending meetings of a New York City group known simply as The League in the late 1940s. From 1954 on he was active in Mattachine New York, serving as chairman of the legal department. In 1971 he founded the National Committee for Sexual Civil Liberties (later renamed the American Association for Personal Privacy) a high-level think tank comprising lawyers, historians, theologians, and other professionals. From the beginning, Warner's focus, and that of the group he founded, was legal reform -- especially the repeal of sodomy statutes (the generic term for laws that criminalize sex between males). Working largely behind the scenes, they achieved success in many individual states up to the eventual victory of the Supreme Court in the Lawrence case of 2002.

After receiving his AB degree from Princeton, Warner entered Harvard Law School. His studies there were interrupted by World War II, and he served a stint in the Navy, attaining the rank of lieutenant. After being given an undesirable discharge, based on homosexuality, he returned to Harvard Law school, receiving his LLB degree in 1946. Although he succeeded, after a long legal battle, in having the Navy discharge changed to honorable, the damage was done, and he was never able to practise law. He then entered Harvard Graduate School to study English history, receiving his AM degree in 1950 and his PhD degree in 1960.

Warner held strong opinions, and was never hesitant in expressing them. I vividly remember the monthly meetings of the New York Scholarship Committee, held during the 1970s in the apartment of Art History Professor Wayne R. Dynes. In response to what he perceived to be an incorrect or sloppy statement, Warner would command attention with the interjection: "Now just a minute!". He would then -- for many minutes -- patiently and ruthlessly analyze the offending statement, exposing factual errors, carrying faulty arguments to conclusions of manifest absurdity, and dissecting the underlying philosophical premises. On such occasions we were ultimately grateful, if a bit shaken or annoyed at the time.

Raised as a Presbyterian, though of at least partly Jewish ancestry, he became in his later years a secular humanist, who regarded the homophile cause as being, on one level, a struggle against superstition, part of the unfinished business of the Enlightenment.

For most of the past half century, Arthur Warner lived in a large house built by his parents. Nothing in it changed since the deaths of his parents about four decades ago, except some of the books. He was particularly proud of the antique furniture: the tall clock and dozens of old and unusual table lamps.


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