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ChatGPT and the Truth About Jeanne C. Barney

originally posted in May 2023

For a few months now, I've been playing around with AI.

A fake image created wth AI of J. Edgar Hoover in drag

To accompany an item in the The Leather History Timeline about the discredited rumors that J. Edgar Hoover was a closet drag queen, I used AI to create a convincing photo of J. Edward Hoover in women's clothing and makeup. But I made sure to add text in the image identifying it as an "AI fake." That's not because I care to protect the reputation of a racist homophobic fascist. I just don't want an image I created to be used to promote a false narrative.

Someone else can create a similar image without the watermark. But not with my participation.

More recently I experimented with ChatGPT. I wanted to know if it could write first drafts of articles (something I find painfully tedious.) So, I gave it this assignment: “Write an article about the Los Angeles Police Department raid of a Slave Auction being held at the Mark IV baths in April 1976 and include what happened to Jeanne Barney.”

Before I give you ChatGPT's response, here's some of what I eventually wrote on my About Jeanne C. Barney page based on research online and in print:

Jeanne C. Barney was a straight woman who played a significant role in the world of gay publishing in the 1970s. She was on the original staff of The Advocate with her column “Smoke from Jeanne’s Lamp.” In 1975, publisher John Embry hired her as the founding editor-in-chief of Drummer magazine, a publication that focused on gay male leather culture. Barney served as the editor for the magazine for the first eleven issues (June 1975 to December 1976.)


On April 10, 1976, the 100 officers and plain clothesmen of the Los Angeles Police Department raided a "Slave Auction" fundraiser being held at the Mark IV baths as a sponsored by Drummer magazine. The L.A.P.D. arrested forty participants --- thirty-nine men and one woman: Jeanne Barney. The policeman arresting her --- possibly confused at the presence of a woman at a gay male slave auction --- asked her whether she was a real woman. She replied Of course I’m a real woman; if I were a drag, I’d have bigger tits.

Despite the term "slave," the auction was entirely consensual. All participation was voluntary. But the police charged the participants with breaking a law enacted in 1899 banning “white slavery.” The following day a local newspaper printed an account of the raid under the headline "Police Free Gay ‘Slaves'."

After being freed on bail, Barney discovered that her house had been raided. In an interview with Jack Rinella she recalled I saw those cops had been in my house but you can’t believe how torn up it was. They had taken my dresser drawers and emptied them in the middle of the bedroom. They emptied the laundry hamper. They had taken stuff out of my medicine cabinet and it was thrown all over the bathroom. It was a terrible mess!

Most of the charges were eventually dismissed, but John Embry, Jeannie Barney, the auctioner, and the man working the door were charged with felonies. After two years of legal procedures all four pleade guilty and were be sentenced to community service.

And now here's ChatGPT's first response to my request:

On April 16, 1976, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a raid on a slave auction that was being held at the Mark IV baths in Los Angeles. The raid was part of a larger crackdown on the practice of selling human beings for sex or labor, which had been going on for decades in various forms throughout the United States.

The Mark IV baths had long been known as a gathering place for gay men looking for sexual encounters, but the slave auction that took place there was something entirely different. According to reports at the time, men were bidding on other men who had been brought to the event and were being offered up for sale as sexual slaves.

The police raid was successful in stopping the auction and arresting the participants, but it also shed light on the disturbing reality of human trafficking that was taking place in plain sight in the United States. One of the people caught up in the raid was a woman named Jeannie Barney.

Barney was not one of the men being sold at the auction, but rather a bystander who had come to the Mark IV baths to meet up with friends. She was taken into custody along with the other attendees and charged with a variety of crimes related to prostitution and obscenity.

Barney's case attracted national attention, as she was a transgender woman and one of the few women caught up in the raid. Her arrest raised questions about the treatment of transgender people by law enforcement and the criminal justice system more broadly.

Barney ultimately pleaded guilty to the charges against her and was sentenced to probation. She went on to become a prominent advocate for transgender rights and worked to raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable communities.

The Mark IV baths raid was a turning point in the fight against human trafficking in the United States. It brought attention to the issue and helped to spark a broader conversation about the need for stronger laws and enforcement to combat this heinous crime. While there is still much work to be done, the raid and its aftermath serve as a reminder of the importance of standing up for human rights and working to end all forms of exploitation and abuse.

Photo realistic AI generated image of LAPD officers arresting a trans woman at an auction in a biker bar.

I was amused but unsatisfied, so I asked ChatGPT to try again:

On April 14, 1976, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a raid on a slave auction being held at the Mark IV Baths in Los Angeles, California. The auction was being held in the bathhouse's basement, and it involved the sale of young men who were being auctioned off as sex slaves to the highest bidder.

The raid was the result of a three-month investigation that began with a tip from a concerned citizen. Undercover officers had infiltrated the auction and had witnessed the sale of several young men for prices ranging from $1,500 to $10,000. The police arrested 42 people, including the auction's organizers and bidders.

One of the people arrested was Jeannie Barney, a 29-year-old woman who had been attending the auction as a bidder. Barney was a well-known socialite in Los Angeles, and her arrest shocked many in the city's elite circles. She was charged with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the young men being sold and was facing up to ten years in prison.

Barney's trial was a sensational affair that captivated the city's attention. The prosecution argued that Barney was a key player in the slave auction and that she had knowingly participated in the exploitation of young men. The defense, on the other hand, argued that Barney was a victim of circumstance and had been caught up in something she did not fully understand.

In the end, the jury found Barney guilty of the charges against her, and she was sentenced to five years in prison. However, she only served six months of her sentence before being released on parole. Her involvement in the slave auction tarnished her reputation and led to her being ostracized by many in Los Angeles' elite circles.

The raid on the Mark IV Baths slave auction was a turning point in the fight against human trafficking in the United States. It brought attention to the issue and highlighted the need for stronger laws to combat this heinous crime. Jeannie Barney's involvement in the auction served as a reminder that human trafficking can happen to anyone, regardless of their social status or wealth. Today, organizations like the Polaris Project and the National Human Trafficking Hotline continue to work tirelessly to combat human trafficking and provide support to survivors.

Photo realistic AI generated image of los angeles policemen escorting a glamorous hollywood debutante from an auction in a biker bar.

I was still disappointed, but I tried one more time. I didn’t expect the results to be any more accurate but I was curious what fantastic turn the story would take. In that sense, I was pleased.

On April 15, 1976, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a raid on a slave auction being held at the Mark IV baths in the city's downtown area. The event, which was advertised as a 'slave and master auction,' was organized by a group called the Society of Janus, which claimed to be a social club for people interested in the BDSM lifestyle.

The raid was the result of an undercover operation by the LAPD's Vice Division, which had received a tip about the event. When officers arrived at the baths, they found a large group of people, many of whom were dressed in leather and chains, and engaged in various BDSM activities.

The officers soon discovered that the auction was not a simulated event, as they had initially thought, but an actual sale of human beings. Several men and women were being auctioned off to the highest bidder, with prices ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Among the individuals rescued from the auction was Jeannie Barney, a 27-year-old woman who had been kidnapped from her home in San Diego two months earlier. Barney, who was pregnant at the time of her abduction, had been taken to Los Angeles and forced to participate in the slave auction.

According to reports, Barney had been repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted by her captors during her captivity. She had also been subjected to various forms of torture, including being burned with cigarettes and hot wax.

After her rescue, Barney was taken to a hospital for medical treatment and eventually reunited with her family. Her captors, a group of five individuals who had organized the slave auction, were later arrested and charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, rape, and false imprisonment.

The case attracted widespread attention and was seen as a turning point in the fight against human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. In the years that followed, numerous organizations and initiatives were established to raise awareness about human trafficking and provide support for victims like Jeannie Barney.

Today, the case serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle against modern-day slavery and the importance of vigilance in identifying and combating human trafficking.

Photo realistic AI generated image of LAPD officiers rescue kidnapped flower child from an auction in a biker bar.

The answers were all wildly inaccurate but disturbingly convincing because ChatGPT isn't concerned with accuracy. It's concerned with providing whatever narrative the user wants and with a convincing tone. If user isn't happy with the result, the application can keep guessing until it produces something that fits the users preferred world view. Is the user a progressive liberal? Then here's an inspiring story about "a prominent advocate for transgender rights." Did the user like that? No. Is the user a reactionary conservative? Then here's a "clutch the pearls" horror story exposing the secret world of human trafficking.

The promise of AI is it can perform a lot of time-consuming drudgery quickly. For me, the most difficult part of writing is during the first draft. It's tedious work to organize my thoughts, my research, my notes, and my (hopefully) more inspired turns of phrases into a mostly logical series of paragraphs. The rest of the process --- spell checking, grammar checking, fact checking, transitioning, rewriting, more rewriting, and still more rewriting --- comes easier. If AI can throw a flawed first draft together, I will have more time to do the rest. Used properly, AI can be a tremendous asset.

The danger of AI is that people will post AI generated content without proper fact-checking and revision. Plenty of people will copy and paste the generated content directly into their blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, or college research paper without proofing reading and revising it first. And other people will use that content as reference material for their blogs, web pages, and social media posts. If we're not careful, we could be on the verge of an explosion of inaccurate but convincingly written web pages, blog posts, newsletters, and social media posts exponentially larger than anything we've seen before. We need to be more cautious and critical going forward.

Now here's the final irony. Although I'm posting this as a warning against using AI generated content --- at least not without intense fact checking and re-writing --- the majority of this article consists of unredacted inaccurate ChatGPT output. This is nearly my longest article I've posted containing the least content I wrote myself.

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On 1/23/2024 I followed up on my coversation with ChatGPT. I asked "are you sure?" It replied:

I don't have real-time information or the ability to access recent events. My responses are generated based on a mixture of licensed data, data created by human trainers, and publicly available data.

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, Jeannie Barney's biography wasn't extensively documented in publicly available sources. If there have been developments or new information about her life after that date, I wouldn't be aware of them. Please verify with up-to-date sources for the latest information on Jeannie Barney.

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