Randy Shilts’ books about the misery and deaths of early AIDS sufferers (And the Band Played On) and the persecution of homosexuals in the US military (Conduct Unbecoming) are for the most part pretty grim, as one might expect. Before “don’t ask, don’t tell” the policy was “don’t even think about it.” Many innocent men and women were made to suffer because bigots were allowed to waste taxpayers’ money on harassing people whose sexuality had absolutely no bearing upon their ability to do their jobs, or on the USA’s security. And then we discover (in Conduct Unbecoming) this nugget of hilarious and positively Pythonesque absurdity, from the late 1970s/early 1980s:
“In the course of their investigation, NIS [Naval Investigative Service] agents made a startling discovery– that homosexuals sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy.” This code term had originated in the 1940s and 1950s and referred to Judy Garland’s character in the film The Wizard Of Oz. Ever since, gay men had identified themselves as “Friends of Dorothy.” The NIS, however, did not know the phrase’s history and so believed that a woman named Dorothy was the hub of an enormous ring of military homosexuals in the Chicago area. The NIS prepared to hunt Dorothy down and convince her to give them the names of homosexuals.
[In gay bars frequented by military personnel] NIS agents were asking pointed questions about someone named Dorothy. When one unfortunate sailor acknowledged he was gay in order to get out of the Navy, NIS agents sat him down and told him that they knew all about Dorothy. What they wanted to know from him was how to find her. The sailor, who was too young to know the code, was baffled.”
This is the point where Graham Chapman should come in and tell them he’s ending the sketch because it got too silly. Rest assured that Shilts doesn’t miss his golden opportunity to use SURRENDER DOROTHY as a chapter title.
I’m pretty sure that even the most au fait user of gay slang would be baffled by somebody who seriously thought homosexuals were all in cahoots with each other merely by virtue of being gay, and that they were all receiving orders from some kind of underground lesbian linchpin of closet logistics. Presumably Dorothy would also be the chairwoman who ticked off items on the Gay Agenda, and set the exchange rate for the Pink Dollar, Pink Pound, etc. Not that this kind of ridiculous stupidity and ignorance has disappeared: far from it, as is proved by the continued prevalence of “you’d like her/him, s/he’s gay” and “you’re gay, what do gay people think?” type comments.
Right, now let’s see something decent and military. Some precision drilling.