HARRISBURG — A historic roadside marker installed less than a year ago to honor a gay rights pioneer has been removed after a state senator raised concerns with the agency. Pennsylvania state story about the 30-year-old’s memories of an early sexual encounter with another boy.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission had the marker honoring Richard Schlegel removed on June 3 from its location outside his former home, one block from the Capitol in downtown Harrisburg.
The decision came about six months after State Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, wrote to say Schlegel’s remarks in a lengthy biographical piece were “reprehensible and would be considered criminal regardless of orientation.” sexual”.
The commission action and DiSanto’s letter were first reported by Pennlive.com.
Schlegel, who died in 2006 at age 79, is a former state highway department official who founded the Harrisburg area’s first LGBTQ group. His unsuccessful efforts to overturn his federal dismissal based on his sexual identity ended when the United States Supreme Court declined to take up the case in 1970.
DiSanto said Tuesday he was alerted by a constituent to Schlegel’s comments in a 1993 personal history posted online that Schlegel provided to the Philadelphia LGBT History Project.
“I think it demonstrates a history of him treating young boys and being involved in pedophilia and sex acts throughout that, including ultimately helping to run a magazine with young nudes and things like that,” DiSanto said.
The State Historical and Museum Commission has sought more markers on previously underrepresented people and groups, offering financial support for markers if their subjects relate to women, Hispanics, Latinos and Asian Americans , or if they relate to Black and LGBTQ history outside of Philadelphia.
“He is certainly an important figure in the context of Pennsylvania,” said Barry Loveland, president of the history project at the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania. He was the driving force behind the request to honor Schlegel. “There were very few leaders, if you will, at that time – people who were willing to stick their heads out and make their name known.”
Schlegel was fired in July 1961 from a civilian job with the Army Transportation Bureau in Hawaii after his sexual activities surfaced during an investigation to qualify for a top secret clearance.
He appealed his dismissal for “immoral and indecent conduct” to the United States Court of Claims, which upheld the dismissal on the grounds that his sexual orientation in a government job would inevitably make the agency less effective.
“Every schoolboy knows that a homosexual act is immoral, indecent, lewd and lewd,” a claims court judge wrote in a decision against him in October 1969. “Grown people are even more aware that this is true. ”
In the personal story told to scholar Marc Stein, now a history professor at San Francisco State University, Schlegel recalled how he was later hired in 1963 under the then government. Bill Scranton to settle the “fiscal and budgetary situation” of a highway department and give the governor greater control over the department.
He was forced to resign two years later after postal inspectors tipped off his supervisors about mail he was receiving for the Janus Society, an educational, social and advocacy group founded in Philadelphia in the early 1960s by activists. gays and lesbians.
The Marker called Schlegel a pioneering activist whose workplace discrimination case produced key arguments that were valuable in later rulings.
DiSanto’s December letter to the commission describes a section of the interview with Stein in which Schlegel recalls a sexual experience he had with a nearby boy while living on a farm in Milroy, a small town. town about 20 miles east of State College. Schlegel’s account suggests that he sexually touched the boy when he was 16 and the other boy was 11 or 12.
Schlegel may not have anticipated that his interview with Stein would be available to everyone on the internet. He described his sexual history in candid terms, recalled the gay publication controversies in which he played a role, recounted his interactions with other figures in Philadelphia’s gay culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and recounted other stories from his personal and professional life.
Schlegel described how some of his acquaintances would photograph naked underage boys. In some cases, he says, he reprimanded them, but at other times he described them to Stein with sympathy.
When Stein said that some of the photos he saw in Gay International magazine were of “very young boys”, Schlegel agreed.
“Young, young, young,” he told Stein. “Of course, there wasn’t this national or international obsession with molesting children at that time.”
A close friend of his faced criminal charges for taking pictures of an underage boy at a house in rural Perry County in the late 1960s. Schlegel said he tried to intervene by l through the county attorney, but that it hadn’t helped his friend’s case.
“The kid didn’t seem to object, but it didn’t make any difference,” Schlegel told Stein. “I mean Bob just had no defense. He was sentenced.
Stein said in an interview this week that he was appalled by the commission’s decision and expressed doubts whether the commission or DiSanto correctly understood the legal and historical context in which Schlegel’s decisions and actions took place. are produced.
He said DiSanto’s accusation that Schlegel’s actions were criminal was made “without doing enough homework to really establish that.”
As for the commission, he expressed doubts that their action in Schlegel’s case followed consistent rules.
“So did they investigate every single person at a historical marker in Pennsylvania to make sure they never did anything wrong for which they never expressed remorse?” Stein said.
Loveland said he and the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania were considering the commission’s offer to submit another nomination. But he said they didn’t know how to accomplish that while excluding Schlegel, as his legal case provided the national importance to warrant a marker.