Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 15 of Today I Learned – Newport Sex Scandal

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Today’s episode has it all, assuming “all” is tons of gay sex and Franklin Roosevelt and the Navy. Do I have your attention? I know Disillusioned Dilettante is listening closely because of one of those specifics (spoiler – he’s a big FDR fan!).

In 1919, a senior member of the US Navy was hanging out in a Naval training base in Newport, RI when he overheard a rumor of a particular subculture seeping below the coast town’s veneer – Bronies. JK, there was talk of gay stuff happening at the Army and Navy YMCAs as well as the Newport Art Club (shocking!). This senior member, Ervin Arnold, felt it was his responsibility, nah, his DUTY to dig into this. He petitioned his superiors to conduct a full investigation into reports of parties of homosexual activity, liquor, cocaine, cross-dressing and, I quote, “effeminate behavior”. I don’t know about you guys, but these parties sound pretty rowdy.

Eventually, this investigator took root in the senior ranks of the Navy, including then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt. See, FDR was eyeing the White House as a possible future VP in the near future, and thought a good ol’ moral crusade could thrust him (pun absolutely intended) in national prominence. After failing to find a dedicated third-party to manage the investigation, Arnold was placed in charge of ferreting out the homosexual behavior, and boy, did he have a strategy. You see, Arnold proclaimed to be an expert at spotting gay men, in what is certainly the first documented report of a gaydar.

Arnold went through the available sailors and tapped thirteen of them based on their youth and looks to identify all the gay stuff in Newport. The underlying strategy involved getting gay. Seriously. The Navy trained these guys in gay stuff, and dropped them into the scene to document what they experience firsthand. The men were set lose, “observing all and ears open for all conversation and make himself free with this class of men, being jolly and good natured, being careful to pump these men (ed: NICE) for information, making them believe that he is what is termed in the Navy as a ‘boy humper,’ making dates with them and so forth” and were outright encouraged to have gay sex in order to uncover the other gay men in order to locate the “cocksuckers and rectum receivers and the ring leaders of this gang”. I imagine much of the planning involved conversations like “…and you can suck him off, but it’s totally NOT gay because you’re straight.” This is like Charlie Kelly attempting to retrieve a cat of the wall in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Wco2uE6vyQ) – the only way to root out the gay stuff is to add a ton more gay stuff to the pile, but it’s okay because all these guys were totally not gay, just extremely patriotic.

The logic here is astonishing, even by interwar America standards. So these guys went out there and just plowed their way through the underground gay scene of Newport, doing tons of drugs and dudes. Over the course of three weeks, fifteen sailors had been arrested, dragged before a military tribunal and dumped into prison for being gay. While unsettling, it was still pretty normal for the time frame of everyone to be terrified of “TEH QUEERZ!”. During the military tribunals in which gay guys were testified against by their TOTALLY NOT GAY ex-lovers, the court frequently had to pause and ask for clarification for what certain terms or acts were. Oh to be a fly on that wall. To see a bunch of stodgy old New England Protestants listen to TOTALLY NOT GAY sailors report about “cock sucking”, “sucking off”, “screwing in the rectum”, “browning” (I have NO IDEA what browning is either), and “giving loads” would have been a delightful experience.

One gay spy reported he sucked off one guy in an alleyway, but never got his name, which had to have been a debilitating way to fail a mission. Another fingered a local reverend who, despite eleven counts of “gay stuff” – I mean, “moral contamination” – was eventually let off due to his nobly standing in to assist the sick during the influenza epidemic a few years prior. Oh yeah, and because he wasn’t actually a sailor. Turns out, you can’t try someone in a military tribunal if they aren’t in the military. And “by let off”, I mean Arnold immediately turned around and tried him a second time in a federal court, because double jeopardy is no match for being gay.

This investigation eventually got picked up by local newspapers who were by no means pro-homosexuality, but definitely thought it was a little suspicious the Navy is encouraging their sailors to gobble dicks in order to prosecute the others who may or may not actually be in the Navy. This was picked up all over the country, where it was eventually revealed FDR not only signed off on this, but got regular reports delivered to his office of the gay activity. FDR – homoerotic romance novel early adapter.Still trying to diddle his secretary in a different, bigger office, FDR resigned from the Navy when the heat picked up and was officially condemned by Congress for his involvement in the gay Gestapo. He and his running mate, James M Cox (I SWEAR TO GOD FDR RAN WITH A GUY NAMED ‘COX’ WHILE EMBROILED IN A GAY SEX SCANDAL), lost to Herbert Hoover. Nothing bad happened while Hoover was in office.

Arnold was pushed out of the Navy, but suffered no repercussions for his role in the sexiest task force the US Navy ever embarked on. I like to imagine he was just trying to prank his friends by tricking them into blowing dudes in the name of military superiority by assuring them it’s definitely not gay. Either way, I’m sure they look back fondly on the summer they sucked their way through Newport. Ahhhh, to be young again!

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