In our last issue, the QLiving feature story, “Power child,” explored the creation of the hit film “Julie & Julia,” which opened at theaters on Aug. 7. Writer Robert Firpo-Cappiello discussed both real persons inspiring the film, Julie Powell and Julia Child.
What he didn’t mention — or, like me, what he didn’t know — was Julia Child’s blatant anti-LGBT bigotry.
In a 2007 Boston Magazine article entitled “Julia Child: Just a pinch of prejudice,” writer Laura Shapiro explored Child’s anti-gay bias and her everyday use of common derogatory slurs:
“For this reason, she found homosexuality outlandish — not immoral, and certainly not to be criminalized, but a rude disruption in the natural order of things. Homophobia was a socially acceptable form of bigotry in midcentury America and Julia and Paul participated without shame for many years. She often used the term pedal or pedalo — French slang for a homosexual — draping it with condescension, pity, and disapproval. ‘I had my hair permanented at E. Arden’s, using the same pedalo I had before (I wish all the men in OUR profession in the USA were not pedals!),’ she wrote to Simca. Fashion designers were ‘that little bunch of Pansies,’ a cooking school was ‘a nest of homovipers,’ a Boston dinner party was ‘peopled by 3 fags in an expensive house. … We felt hopelessly square and left when decently possible,’ and San Francisco was beautiful but full of pedals — ‘It appears that SF is their favorite city! I’m tired of them, talented though they are.’”
Shapiro writes that Child viewed the “opposite of homosexual” as “normal,” “well muscled” and “very masculine,” calling heterosexual men “real male men.”
Shapiro continues, “For all Julia’s prejudice, however, when she met gay men whose appearance and body language were what she called ‘normal,’ or straight, much of her disapproval evaporated. What she really disliked was effeminacy in men—a caricature that made it clear how they spurned the male-female differences and rituals she so relished.”
Female homosexuality didn’t escape her wrath, either. Again, Shapiro writes, “Lesbianism was less of an affront to her, though she felt sorry for women so sexually benumbed that they were not attracted to men. (‘Can’t be much fun.’).”
To be perfectly honest — perhaps to my detriment and possible gay card revocation — I didn’t know who Julia Child was before this film came on the scene. Until I read last issue’s article, I didn’t know her story much past the simple fact she was a cook and wrote a cookbook. I wish now I’d taken the time to get to know more about her. If I had known of her bigotry, the feature piece on the film wouldn’t have been run.
Which brings me to a bit more news of anti-gay bigotry. This time it hits right here at home in the Carolinas. The N.C. Democratic Party has announced it will rename its annual Sanford-Hunt Dinner.
Created three years ago to honor former Govs. Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, the new Sanford-Hunt-Frye Dinner will now also honor former Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court Henry E. Frye, Jr.
In their announcement of the name change, the Democratic Party says Frye is a “Democratic trailblazer.” It is an appellation hard to deny or argue. In 1968, Frye became the first African-American member of the General Assembly since Reconstruction. In 1983, Frye became the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court. In 1999, Frye became chief justice.
There’s no doubt Frye has played a pivotal role in Tar Heel State history. From being denied the right to vote after failing a racist, Jim Crow-era literacy test, to sitting on the highest judicial bench in the state, Frye has well served almost all North Carolinians.
The Sanford-Hunt-Frye Dinner is supposed to be a time to honor men who have served all North Carolinians. Frye isn’t one of them. Yes, Sanford and Hunt weren’t necessarily the most LGBT-friendly of people or leaders, but neither of them ever issued a statement, signed a bill or acted officially in any capacity to harm LGBT people as much as Frye did.
In 1998, the Court handed down what is perhaps its most anti-LGBT ruling in recent decades. In Pulliam v. Smith, decided 5-1 with Frye in the majority, the Court overturned a N.C. Court of Appeals ruling and took away a gay father’s custody of his two minor sons. Armed only with anti-gay prejudice, the Court relied on no real evidence to support its decision. Those familiar with the law know the Pulliam opinion is a farce, and in December 2008, the North Carolina Law Review published a 15-page comment calling for Pulliam to be overturned.
The decision in Pulliam — which can still be used against gay and lesbian parents today — is a travesty and a miscarriage of justice. Frye is partly to blame.
While Frye deserves recognition and honor, we shouldn’t forget the sad, anti-gay legacy he leaves in North Carolina jurisprudence.