Jon Hinson: A Closet Tragedy

Jon Clifton Hinson served in the United States Congress as a Republican U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 4th congressional district  beginning in 1979. During his re-election campaign in 1980, Hinson admitted that in 1976, while an aide to Senator Thad Cochran, he had been arrested for committing an obscene act after he exposed himself to an undercover policeman at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Hinson denied that he was homosexual and blamed his problems on alcoholism. He said that he had reformed and refused to resign. He won re-election with a plurality of 38.97 percent of the vote. Independent Leslie B. McLemore polled 29.8 percent, and Democrat Britt Singletary received 29.4 percent. Hinson was arrested again on February 4, 1981, and charged with attempted sodomy for performing oral sex on an African-American male employee of the Library of Congress in a restroom of the House of Representatives.

At that time, homosexual acts were still criminalized even between consenting adults. The charge was a felony that could have resulted in up to ten years in prison, as well as fines of up to $10,000. Since both parties were consenting adults (and social attitudes were changing), the United States Attorney’s office reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. Facing a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, Hinson pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted sodomy the following day and was released without bail pending a trial scheduled for May 4, 1981. Soon thereafter he checked himself into a Washington, D.C.-area hospital for treatment. Hinson later received a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended, and a year’s probation, on condition that he continued counseling and treatment.

Hinson resigned on April 13, 1981, early in his second term. He said that his resignation had been “the most painful and difficult decision of my life.” He was succeeded in the House by Wayne Dowdy, a Democrat, who won the special election held in the summer of 1981. Soon afterward Hinson acknowledged that he was homosexual and became an activist for gay rights. He later helped to organize the lobbying group “Virginians for Justice” and fought against the ban on gays in the military. He also was a founding member of the Fairfax Lesbian and Gay Citizens Association in Fairfax County. He never returned to Mississippi but lived quietly in the Washington area, first in Alexandria, Virginia, and then Silver Spring, Maryland. Hinson also disclosed that he survived a 1977 fire that killed nine people at the Cinema Follies, a Washington theater that catered to gay customers. He was rescued from under a pile of bodies, and was one of only four survivors of the fire.

In our time we have openly gay public servants, but it’s safe to assume that there are closeted government officials at every level—federal, state and local, doubtless from both parties—who are representing their electorate in good faith to the public trust with which they’re invested. From our perspective Hinson’s crash and fall seems not so much a tragedy as it is a farce, the ridiculous result of a man coerced, perhaps even forced into a role he could not play. It’s impossible for us to imagine the pressures put upon him to become a pillar of the Republican Party in its struggle for a stranglehold on the state of Mississippi, but the weight broke the man, reduced him to disgrace, poverty and exile. Hinson himself is far from blameless; as an openly gay man he would never have been elected to any office in the state of Mississippi, but there’s no reason to doubt that he could have represented his district capably had he exercised more discretion if not to say caution in his personal affairs. Perhaps that’s what he was trying to do, but it’s more probable that like many gay men of his generation in the South, he only knew clandestine solicitation as a venue for sexual commerce.

Hinson, unremembered for any legislation and with no other legacy than creating an ebb in the incessant tide of Republication domination in Mississippi, died in July, 1995 in Fairfax County, VA.


Nick Wallace: A Chef for the King

The restaurant at the Hilton Garden Inn, historically known as the King Edward Hotel, is now arguably the highest-profile eating establishment in Jackson.

The newly-restored hotel, located in the heart of the city, has a management team that is rising to the occasion to provide the city with the highest quality food and beverage service possible, and it’s to their credit that they have made a Hinds County native, Nick Wallace, the executive chef for the establishment.

“I have family in Edwards and Vicksburg,” Wallace said. “My grandmother, Ms. Lennell, had 6 acres of garden. She’s 81 years old now, and a wonderful lady. About five years ago, she quit butchering her own hogs, which she raised, but she still raises her own chickens and always has fresh eggs. When I was 5 years old, I was picking peas and greens and okra; she eventually showed me 5 or 6 ways to cook okra when I was 8 years old. I could make scratch biscuits at that young age. She still makes all her preserves, chutneys and jellies.”

Wallace said that his other grandmother, Queen Morris, was also a big influence on his culinary development. “She could take a little and make it into a lot. She showed me how to improvise, and as a chef, that’s very important; you need to know what ingredients you’re using and how to use them. For instance, if we had fennel, she’d show me how to use every part of the plant in a variety of recipes. In her kitchen, you weren’t going to throw away a single piece of anything. She used everything, even the onion hulls.”

Wallace moved to Jackson when he was 11, but he still went to the family place every weekend. “The first restaurant I ever worked in, Fernando’s, was on Lake Harbor Drive,” Wallace said. “I worked there for two and a half years with a brother-in-law who was running the kitchen. I wanted to learn how to do restaurant-style cooking. They taught me knife skills, how to cook fast and clean, and I gradually worked my way up. This is the first establishment I’m going to be able to put my own stamp on, and I’m going to show everybody that Jackson, Mississippi can support a restaurant that is not only great but consistently great.”

His menu will be supported by three elements: fresh local produce, an emphasis on flavor and staff development. “I’m a big fan of local produce, and I’m committed to talking with my produce vendors who deal with the local farmers’ markets about what’s coming in. I’m also planning on having a small garden here in the back of the hotel where I’ll grow fresh herbs and other items for the kitchen.”

“I want to be able to develop flavors in my entrees,” Wallace said, “and that takes time. It seems like a lot of people simply do a quick sauté, which is good for some things, but I want to include dishes that take a slow brazing, for instance, pork shanks or short ribs. I want to show people the flavors we can get out of such cooking methods. I also love herb oils, and I’ll be making my own stocks.”

Wallace also said that building a kitchen staff that has the same degree of dedication is important. “I’m amazed at the places I’ve been, from Alaska to Alabama, where I was brought in to troubleshoot, to teach people. A lot of chefs these days are afraid to teach because they’re afraid of training someone who might end up being better than they are. But you’re never going to have a great restaurant environment unless everybody in the kitchen knows what you know. You have to have a team, so we’ll be holding training for staff once a week, talking about different products, methods and subjects such as organic foods.”

“I want everyone to come in, wherever they’re from, and experience a wonderful meal.”