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    The People of the State of California vs. Travis Miner

    By Dr. Bill Lipsky–

    Saturday, October 23, 1937, was an unseasonably warm day in Southern California. With the temperature in the high 80s and business slow, Travis Miner, 37, left his flower shop at 644 East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena to “take an airing” in his delivery truck. Without destination, he drove east along Valley Boulevard until he neared the Alhambra Airport, since abandoned, where he noticed a sailor, Donald Jones, 22, walking in the same direction. Those being simpler times, he offered the enlisted man a lift. Invitation accepted, off they went together.

    The two men made small talk for a while, but eventually their conversation turned to more intimate topics. As Miner explained later, “We were both animated by the apparent same desire for sexual relief.” Now almost to Pomona, they began looking for “a place where it would be possible without interruption.” They thought that they had found one near the Kellogg Horse Farm, now part of California Polytechnic State University’s Pomona campus. Unfortunately, they were mistaken.

    Miner parked his truck on the shoulder of the road. The men climbed a fence, walked up and over a nearby hill and sat down under some sheltering trees. Nowhere, they thought, could be more private. Their pleasure, however, lasted only briefly. Glancing sideways, Miner noticed a Highway Patrol motorcycle officer walking down the hillside to where they now were hurriedly re-buttoning their clothes.

    The two men explained that what they had been doing was by mutual consent, that “there was no mercenary consideration,” and no harm done. The officer seemed sympathetic. He said that because he had been in the Navy himself, he would not take them into custody before discussing the situation with his captain—a statement now open to several interpretations. The following Wednesday, Miner was arrested at his shop for violating Section 288a of the California Penal Code.

    Miner was in serious legal jeopardy. “Prohibiting sex perversions and prescribing a penalty for violation of the perversions,” Section 288a, which went into effect on August 2, 1921, read: “Any person participating in the act of copulating the mouth of one person with the sexual organ of another is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not exceeding 15 years.”

    When his case went to court on December 1, Miner pled guilty. Before passing sentence, however, the judge noted that “the basic condition here is either pathological, psychological or psychiatric,” which medical experts argued “may be relieved by surgical aid.” With only anecdotal evidence of success, he was “personally very confident that the suggested procedure will result in the anticipated relief of the situation here existing.” So, “in the interests of future cases … the effort should be made to experiment.”

    As an incentive, His Honor offered to place Miner on probation for ten years instead of giving him prison time should he choose to remain intact. Consulting with his attorney and two physicians, including a brain specialist, who saw “this operation as a positive and immediate cure,” he agreed to be castrated. The statute had not mentioned this as an alternative to prison.

    California had been sterilizing men and women convicted of “degrading, lewd, immoral” offenses since 1909. In 1937, the year of Miner’s difficulties, the state broadened its authority, stating sterilization could be ordered for someone confined to “any state hospital or state home” who was “afflicted with, or suffers from … marked departures from normal mentality”—a definition that included homosexuality—using “any operation or treatment that will permanently sterilize but not unsex the patient.”

    The state was not alone. For hundreds of years, civil governments had sought ways to punish, control or prevent the desires of men who sought same-sex intimacy. Sterilization offered an easy and inexpensive means to do all three at once. Not until the 20th century, however, did researchers argue that sexual orientation could be changed by either physical or psychological intervention, offering “scientific cures” for those “troubled” by their homosexual “condition.”

    Eugen Steinlach, a Viennese endocrinologist, became convinced that there was a simple biological explanation for sexuality. Testing his theory first with guinea pigs and then with human subjects, he concluded that the testicular secretions in homosexual men, especially the hormones produced by the intercellular tissue, were abnormal. It was these that caused their brains to develop a sexual interest in men. His solution? Transplanting testicles from heterosexual men into “effeminate, passive homosexuals.”

    The good doctor first published his findings in 1917, amplified the next year in his article “Conversion of Homosexuality through Exchange of Puberty Glands,” but eventually the procedure was exposed as both worthless and contemptible. No one’s sexual orientation was changed; only the subject’s physical appearance, energy, strength and mood.

    Even so, castration, with or without a hetero-testicular transplant, continued as a treatment for same-sex desire for many more years. Eventually it would be superseded by psychosurgery, insulin shock programs, massive injections of male hormones, mood-altering medicines and aversion therapy.

    Whether or not he believed himself to be “cured,” Miner apparently did not violate his probation again. On February 10, 1941, it was terminated and his case was closed. He eventually gave up the flower shop to work for the United States Credit Bureau. He died on April 8, 1981, five years after same-sex intimacy between consenting adults became legal in California.

    Bill Lipsky, Ph.D., author of “Gay and Lesbian San Francisco” (2006), is a member of the Rainbow Honor Walk board of directors.