Monday, October 31, 2016

October 31 - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Just as I started this blog with one of the most recognizable LGBT people in history, so will I close it with one. Perhaps the most famous (and, in some circles, infamous) gay man of all time is novelist, playwright, and poet Oscar Wilde. In the early 1890s, Wilde was one of the most celebrated playwrights in London. His first novel was published in 1890 but was largely ignored for its homosexual allusions and celebration of social decadence; it was re-published a year later with revisions meant to address its moral shortcomings, but the novel was still poorly received. It was called The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde turned his attention to the stage, where he found success with a string of well-reviewed plays performed from 1892-1895: Salome, Lady Windemere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and what is now considered his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, one of the most frequently performed plays in the world for over a century. Wilde's success was to be short-lived, however. Wilde had the Marquess of Queensbury, the father of Wilde's lover, prosecuted for libel. While on trial, details of Wilde's private life with Lord Alfred Douglas surfaced, and Wilde found himself on the received end of his own prosecution, for gross indecency. He was convicted after two trials and sentenced to two years hard labor in prison. While imprisoned, he wrote a letter, later titled De Profundis when it was published in 1905, about the hardships he experienced. He was released in 1897 and left Britain for France. He lived there in exile for years under an assumed name, Sebastian Melmoth, in a state of poverty. Wilde entered a deep depression by late 1900 and became weaker with each passing day. He contracted cerebral meningitis, which eventually took his life on November 25. Today, Wilde is recognized as one of the most influential writers of the late 19th century, but he died penniless only five years after achieving his greatest success because he dared to be gay.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 30 - Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin

Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin are the only couple I've written about this month, and as remarkable as they are as individuals, they were probably stronger (and I think they would agree with this) as a pair. Martin and Lyon first met in 1950 through work and began dating two years later and moved to San Francisco together a year after that. In 1955, the couple formed the nation's first lesbian political organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, which was a social alternative to bars as well as a support group. Lyon began a newsletter for the group, The Ladder, which reached over 500 subscribes in its first five years. For this, Lyon and Martin were the first inductees into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame. They remained active with the DOB until the late 1960s, when they joined the National Organization for Women; Martin was the first lesbian elected to the group. She was also the first lesbian appointed to the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women (by the city's mayor in 1977), and she brought the issues lesbians faced to the forefront of both organizations' focus. They also fought to decriminalize homosexuality and to persuade ministers to accept LGBT people into churches. The couple were so well-known and respected in San Francisco that a group of medical providers who were opening the first clinic aimed at lesbians who couldn't afford quality healthcare was named after them in 1979 as Lyon-Martin Health Services. They continued to be active in local political agendas well into the 1980s, and the couple were jointly appointed delegates to the White House Conference on Aging in 1995, following work they had begun with Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 2004, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in San Francisco. In 2008, they were again the first same-sex couple to be married when the California Supreme Court reversed its 2004 position against marriage equality. Sadly, Del Martin died mere months later, with Phyllis Lyon at her side. They had been together for more than fifty years.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October 29 - Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer is a living legend. He's probably best known now for writing the play (and subsequent HBO film) The Normal Heart, but his most inspiring and life-changing work was with public health and LGBT rights advocacy. Kramer was a hit-or-miss writer in the 1970s, having published a book, Faggots, that was not well-received by the gay community and largely ignored by critics, and having written an Oscar-nominated screenplay of the little-seen film Women in Love. Subsequent projects, mostly plays, frequently failed or never got off the ground to begin with. But when the AIDS crisis began in New York City in 1980, Kramer was inspired by the deaths of many friends and colleagues to form the Gay Men's Health Crisis, an organization that provided education, funds, and emotional support for those suffering from AIDS. After the founding, Kramer became a very vocal AIDS activist. His style was very confrontational. He yelled, spit, cursed, and brought a lot of new attention to AIDS because of it. This angry style of confronting the government for not doing enough (or anything) to help AIDS sufferers led to the formation of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987, a direct action protest group which targeted government agencies, such as the FDA, and corporations to publicize the lack of funds and treatments available to those with AIDS. ACT UP became famous at the time for its civil disobedience, led by Kramer's rousing speeches. These events are credited with completely changing the state of modern medicine and influencing the FDA and other agencies to finally start searching for cures and preventions for HIV/AIDS. He was not without detractors, though, as many found his style abrasive, divisive, and counterintuitive to the cause of equality. But it cannot be denied that his public shaming of prominent figures of the time (New York City mayor Ed Kock, President Reagan, immunologist Anthony Fauci, several New York Times reporters) led to real change in the fight against what Kramer dubbed "The Gay Holocaust" that was AIDS.

In following years, Larry Kramer used his newfound attention to publish several books and plays (The Destiny of Me, a sequel to The Normal Heart, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist) on the subject of AIDS, activism, and LGBT equality. At 81, after having been diagnosed with HIV nearly 30 years ago, Kramer still writes and speaks publicly. He married his partner of two decades in 2013 and has another book forthcoming in 2017.

Friday, October 28, 2016

October 28 - Albert Cashier

Albert Cashier

Albert Cashier was an Irish-born immigrant who served for the Union Army in the Civil War. Cashier traveled to Illinois from Ireland with his stepfather after his mother died in search of work. At the age of 17, Cashier enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry, a regiment assigned to Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee. Cashier fought in approximately forty battles, including Vicksburg. He was once captured by the Confederacy but escaped after overpowering a prison guard, unusual considering Cashier's short stature and small frame. Albert Cashier fought with the Union Army until August 17, 1865, when his secret was discovered: he was actually a woman, Jennie Irene Hodgers, who had been living as a male since childhood. Cashier settled in Saunemin, Illinois in 1869 and became a farmhand following his discharge for being transgender. He lived a quiet life as a man, though his secret was again discovered in 1910 when he was hit by a car and treated by a local physician. The doctor kept Cashier's secret and moved him to a home for veterans when his health failed a few years later. However, in his final years, attendants at a hospital for the insane realized his sex when bathing him and forced him to wear women's clothes; because his female identity was not known, Cashier bore a man's name but a woman's dress. He died in 1915 and was buried in his Union uniform under his preferred name of Albert Cashier.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

October 27 - Gad Beck

Gad Beck

Gerhard "Gad" Beck was born in Berlin, Germany in 1923. His father was born an Austrian Jew before emigrating to Germany, and his mother converted from Protestantism before they were married. Beck was subjected to a barrage of antisemitism growing up, including being excluded from school events such as student council because of his Jewish faith, so he eventually began attending a Jewish private school in his early adolescence. He soon had to drop out, however, to help provide for his family. When the Nazis came to power in the early 1940s, Beck was not deported (because he was of mixed heritage). His boyfriend at the time, Manfred Lewin, was not so lucky. To save his lover, Beck stole a Hitler Youth uniform and entered a deportation center where he convinced a commanding officer to let the boy go for a project the Youths were organizing; his request was granted, though Lewin chose to return to his family. The Lewins were sent to Auschwitz and murdered.

Following this tragedy, Beck chose to stay in Berlin and lead underground resistance groups. He regularly aided Jews escaping on a kind of underground railroad to Switzerland. Beck would say, "As a homosexual, I was able to turn my trusted, non-Jewish homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places," as they understood the persecution the Jews were facing. In 1945, he was betrayed by a friend who was actually a Gestapo spy and sent to an internment camp. He survived the experience, and in 1947, turned his attention to helping survivors of the Holocaust emigrate to Palestine. Beck lived in Palestine himself until the 1970s, where he met his lifelong partner, Julius Laufer. The couple moved back to Germany in 1979, and Beck became the director of the Jewish Adult Education Center in Berlin and a promoter of the ideas and work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a sexologist who championed LGBT equality before such an idea even truly existed, effectively making the center also a haven for rebuilding the gay community in the city. When he died in 2012, Gad Beck was the last known gay survivor of the Holocaust.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

October 26 - Gene Robinson

Gene Robinson

The Right Reverend Gene Robinson is recognized as the first priest in an openly gay relationship to be consecrated a bishop in any major Christian denomination when he became a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003. Robinson has stated that he privately acknowledged his sexuality as far back as the 1970s, when he attended seminary, but like so many gay men at the time (especially those working in religion), he suppressed his feelings and married instead. His wife, Boo, was aware of his sexuality when they married in 1972 and started a family and business together in subsequent years. Robinson eventually came out publicly in the 1980s and left his wife. He met his partner in 1988 (the two would marry twenty years later, though the relationship ended in 2014), the same year he became assistant to the bishop of New Hampshire, a position he remained in until his election seventeen years later. In this time, Robinson was an advocate for AIDS education in the Church and antiracism training within his diocese and beyond. He also fought for better access to healthcare in New Hampshire and debt relief for impoverished nations.

Robinson's election led to much controversy, as his sexuality was a contentious topic. Conservatives within the Episcopal Church eventually split and formed a new Church under much stricter laws. In the following years, Robinson was falsely accused of sexual harassment by a male parishioner; he had to frequently wear bulletproof vests in public; and he required bodyguards as threats were made to his life. Less than three years after his consecration, Robinson even sought treatment for alcoholism, an extension of the pressures and threats he'd faced over his election. Since then, Robinson has become a prominent (and in some cases, the only) voice for gay Christians. He has opposed the Roman Catholic ban on gay seminarians and opposed Prop 8, working alongside the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, GLAAD, and others to ensure civil rights for LGBT people. He delivered the invocation at President Obama's 2009 inauguration and later that year made the Out list of most influential gays and lesbians in America. He remains one of the most prominent figures in the world to advocate for the joining of sexuality and spirituality.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October 25 - Renee Richards

Renee Richards

Born Richard Raskind, Renee Richards is one of the earliest (though often reluctant) spokespeople for the transgender rights movement. As a teenage boy, Richards attended a private school and played football, baseball (she was offered a spot on the New York Yankees), tennis, and swimming. Richards attended Yale and was captain of the tennis team, where she studied ophthalmology and then enlisted in the Navy. Before and during this tenure, Richards experimented with cross-dressing and transvestism. Because being trans was considered medically insane at the time, Richards suffered depression and sexual confusion, creating a female alter ego named Renee to help cope. She traveled to Morocco in the 1960s to consult with a doctor there about sexual reassignment surgery but ultimately decided against it and tried to live a "normal" life. Richards married in 1970 and fathered a son in 1972; the marriage ended in 1975 when Richards decided to finally undergo transitional surgery in California, where she worked as an ophthalmologist. The following year, Richards applied to play in the US Open as a woman, following the institution of a new gender verification test which Richards disagreed with, and was denied entry when she refused to take the test (which tested chromosomes for a Barr body). Richards was also banned from Wimbledon and the Italian Open that same summer. She sued the United States Tennis Association for gender discrimination. This sparked a media firestorm, with some publications and organizations arguing that a man transitioning to a woman had a competitive advantage and some USTA members arguing that men would undergo sex changes to play in and win women's tournaments. Richards agreed to the Barr body test in 1977, and the results were inconclusive; she refused to take it again and was again refused entry in women's tournaments. She was finally granted admission to the US Open when a judge ruled in her favor in 1977. She lost in the first round of singles but made it to the final round of doubles. Richards played professionally until 1981, though her biggest success came as coach to Martina Navratilova, who won two Wimbledon championships under Richards's tutelage. Her legal battle over her gender expression is still considered a landmark event in the trans movement, as it brought to light the struggles trans people face each day, particularly in the workplace.