Seth Randal & Alan Virta: Idaho’s Original Same-Sex Scandal

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[Seth Randal is the writer and director of “The Fall of ’55,” a documentary about the 1955 Boise scandal. Alan Virta, the archivist at Boise State University, was the historical consultant for the film.]

WHEN Senator Larry Craig faced the television cameras here last week and denied three times that he was gay, many Idahoans were reminded of a much older sex scandal, one that rocked the state’s political capital 52 years ago and made national headlines.

There are few in Idaho who have not heard of Boise’s gay sex scandal of 1955. And across the country, a generation of gay men grew up haunted by the publicity it engendered.

Larry Craig was a 10-year-old Idaho farm boy when the scandal broke, and he was a student at the University of Idaho in 1966 when John Gerassi’s book “The Boys of Boise” revived the controversy. Decades later, the wounds inflicted by it remain raw: a lawsuit involving news reports that looked back at some of the allegations made during the now-distant scandal went to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2000.

On Halloween night in 1955, when the scandal broke, Boise was a sleepy little city of fewer than 40,000 residents. It was the kind of town where everyone seemed to know everyone else, or at least worked with, or was related to, someone who did. So when three men were arrested for having sex with teenage boys, the story generated screaming headlines — above the nameplate — in the city’s evening newspaper....

Of the 16 men who were formally charged, only one, the one who denied it all, who fought the case through a brutal trial, beat the charges. His steadfast denials, coupled with questions about the evidence against him, persuaded the jury to let him go.

The lesson of the 1955 scandal was clear: sexual misconduct — or even the mere perception that one is gay — could ruin a man’s reputation. But steadfast, straight-in-the-eye denial just might get him off the hook....
Read entire article at NYT

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