In May 1895, Oscar Wilde entered Newgate Prison in London to begin two years hard labor for his crime of “gross indecency.” On June 17, 2016, the Tampa Bay Rays drew their largest crowd in a decade. The Rays hosted the San Francisco Giants with 40,135 in attendance on “Pride Night,” dedicated to the victims of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Average attendance for the Rays is 16,037, second lowest in the major leagues.
Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. The magazine, based in Philadelphia, had wide distribution in England. The editor, without consulting Wilde, deleted five hundred words from the original manuscript. He considered it indecent in its original form, particularly allusions to homosexual desire. Even so, critics lambasted it as immoral, “heavy with mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.” Some suggested the author be prosecuted for violating laws protecting public morality. Bookseller W H Smith withdrew all copies of the magazine from its stalls in railway stations.
Wilde revised the novel. The following year it was published as a book, with six additional chapters. The author also included a preface, responding to anticipated criticism of the story as immoral.
The novel’s protagonist, Dorian Gray, is the subject of a portrait by the artist Basil Hallward. Sitting in on the session is Hallward’s friend, Lord Henry Wotton, who regales the artist and subject with stories of his hedonistic view that beauty and sensuality are the only things worthy of pursuit in life. Buying into Wotton’s philosophy, Dorian Gray arranges a bargain: his soul in exchange for eternal youth while the portrait ages. He embarks on a life of libertine pleasure; the portrait ages and displays the effects of his debasement.
Simultaneous with the book’s publication, Wilde, previously married and father of two children, began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, aspiring poet and son of the Marquess of Queensberry. (The same Marquess known for his rules of boxing.)
The Importance of Being Earnest was enjoying huge success on the London stage in 1895 when the Marquess left a calling card at Wilde’s club addressed “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.” Wilde sued for libel. The trial did not go well. Instead of indemnity, Wilde ended up with a two-year prison sentence.
Oscar Wilde might have done marginally better in twentieth-century Florida. In 1977, Dade County (Miami), Florida passed an ordinance, outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and the workplace. Former Miss Oklahoma, pop singer and spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, Anita Bryant formed “Save Our Children” to fight for repeal of the statute. In spite of a boycott of Florida orange juice, Dade County voters repealed the law by a 61% to 31% margin. In 1998 Dade County passed a new anti-discrimination ordinance that is still in force today.
Also in 1977, the Florida legislature passed a ban on adoption by homosexual couples. This was reversed by the legislature’s comprehensive adoption reform in 2015.
Florida amended its constitution in 2008 to outlaw same-sex marriage. This was struck down by District Courts multiple times. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2014 by refusing to hear cases seeking to overturn rulings by District and Circuit Courts in numerous states.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi won reelection in 2014 running anti-gay-rights campaign. CNN’s Anderson Cooper conducted an uncomfortable interview with her after the Pulse nightclub massacre, suggesting her professed sympathy for the victims amounted to nothing more than posturing.
Governor Rick Scott was also successful with his anti-gay stance in the 2014 election. Prior to twice being elected governor, Scott was a prominent businessperson, best known as CEO of Columbia/HCA. His oversight of the company resulted in payment of a $1.7 billion fine to settle a Medicare fraud case. Effective leader that he was, Scott testified that he knew nothing of the company’s dishonest Medicare billing practices.
And Oscar Wilde? He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six. Forty-nine others died more spectacularly 116 years later in Orlando.
(The Giants swept the Rays in a three-game series.)