I have enjoyed reading the first two installments of the “Cruel Summer” series very much. I find it interesting because it’s a local-history story that touches on subjects we often avoid. 1963 is not the distant past, and subjects such as racism and homophobia are still hard subjects to talk about here in the South.
With this in mind, I have to say that I was hugely disappointed by part of the “Storm Clouds” installment [June 25]. Under the section [headed] “Fighting Words,” Jon Elliston wrote: “What’s more, Capell charged, the camp leader ‘admits to having had a considerable number of homosexual relationships, himself playing the passive role.’” Elliston immediately adds [parenthetically]: “The latter allegation about von Hilsheimer, a lifelong heterosexual, was rooted in misreading—or a misinterpretation—of part of one of his early Realist columns.”
Why, I wonder, does Elliston find the need to so quickly assure the reader that von Hilsheimer is not a homosexual? The anecdote about the misinterpretation of von Hilsheimer’s article is interesting and funny, but I don’t understand why Elliston finds it necessary to reassure us of von Hilsheimer’s heterosexuality. Von Hilsheimer very probably is a “lifelong heterosexual,” but I feel sure that even he would not see the need for such defense. Wasn’t Summerlane supposed to be a place where folks didn’t have to feel ashamed about homosexuality and interracial relationships?
This past weekend, marching in the Stonewall gay pride march, I was reminded of how far we have come. Reading this article, I was reminded of how far we have to go.
— Mesha Maren-Hogan
Writer Jon Elliston replies: Frank Capell, editor of The Herald of Freedom newsletter that catalogued Summerlane’s supposed sins, had asserted that von Hilsheimer was an admitted homosexual, which was a falsehood (and likely a strategically scripted one intended to stir local bigotry, given Capell’s animus toward the camp and its director). Whatever Capell’s motives, mine were to give readers the whole story; to do so, I had to note that Capell’s assertion was untrue.