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.

Monday, October 24, 2016

October 24 - Leonard Matlovich

Leonard Matlovich

Leonard Matlovich was, next to Harvey Milk, the best-known gay man in America in the 1970s. Unlike Milk, though, Matlovich's name has sadly been largely forgotten over the decades. He graced the cover of September 8, 1975 issue of Time magazine with the headline "I am a homosexual," making him the first openly gay person to appear on the cover of an American newsmagazine. Matlovich was also the first man to purposely out himself in the U.S. military, an action which led to his Time cover.

Matlovich was born in Georgia in 1943, the son of a career Air Force sergeant who spent his childhood living on military bases. It was never a question that he would join the armed forces, which he did at 19, soon deploying to Vietnam for three tours. He came out to his friends in the 1960s but kept his sexuality hidden from the Air Force. He frequented gay bars and came to understand the discrimination against gays as similar to what African Americans faced. In 1974, Matlovich contacted gay activist Frank Kameny, and, together with the ACLU, they planned a test of the military's ban on gay members. Matlovich came out to his commanding officer on March 6, 1975, and his challenge to the military became public two months later when The New York Times wrote about it; this article would be how Matlovich's father discovered his son's sexuality. His discharge hearing was held in September, at which time the Air Force asked Matlovich to sign a contract pledging to never practice homosexuality again in exchange for keeping his position. He refused and was discharged in October, despite being the recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He sued for reinstatement, which was granted in 1980. Still unwilling to accept a gay servicemember, the Air Force offered him a settlement instead; Matlovich accepted, assuming they would find some other reason to discharge him later on.

Throughout the 70s, Matlovich advocated for several gay organizations, leading campaigns against Anita Bryant and John Briggs. In the 80s, he fought for AIDS education and treatment. He died of the disease in 1988. His tombstone, now a site of pilgrimage for many gay veterans, does not bear his name. It reads: "A Gay Vietnam Veteran | When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23 - Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Perhaps Mexico's most celebrated painter, Frida Kahlo lived a short, tumultuous life. Kahlo grew up in Mexico City and had what she described as a very sad childhood. Her mother was cruel and fanatically religious, which led to Frida's oldest sister, Mathilde, running away as a teenager. Frida contracted polio at age six, which caused her leg to become deformed and for her to begin schooling a year behind her peers. She became introverted, which proved to be beneficial when her hobby of reading landed her in an elite private school, where she planned to study medicine. At 18, however, Frida was in a horrible bus accident; she spent a month in a hospital after a handrail impaled her pelvis and broke her ribs, legs, and collarbone. She would experience residual pains for the rest of her life, and the accident effectively ended her dreams of becoming a doctor. Instead, she turned to art, a hobby she'd always enjoyed but had perfected during her recovery. She began a relationship with another Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, who was twice her age; they married in 1929, right around the time Kahlo's artistic style changed and began incorporating elements of Mexican folk art, indigenous culture, and mythology, such as bright colors and symbolism. Much of Kahlo's work also references reproduction, as she was incapable of having children and suffered several miscarriages.

Kahlo's marriage to Rivera was a further source of stress for the artist. She had several affairs with women, which did not bother her husband, but her affairs with men angered him. Rivera had his share of extramarital relationships as well, including one with Frida's younger sister, Cristina, which led to a divorce in 1939. They remarried a year later, but their relationship remained troubled. In the following years, Kahlo's work began to find a larger audience in America, and she was lauded as something of a star in New York. She was especially celebrated for her depictions of the female form and for the surrealism of her work, particularly her famous self-portraits. Years later, in 1953, Frida's right leg was amputated due to gangrene, leading to another bout with depression. She died less than a year later after fighting a bronchial infection, though her nurse at the time believes it may have been suicide by painkiller overdose. The final thing Kahlo drew was a black angel. Despite a warm reception in the late 1930s in America, it wasn't until decades after her death that Kahlo's work became more widely known and respected as a growing awareness of Mexican art, called Neomexicanismo, took hold in the 1970s and 1980s. She's now recognized as a leading feminist voice among painters.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

October 22 - Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein

A leading figure in modernist literature, Gertrude Stein is perhaps best known for her friendships with the Parisian elite of the 1920s such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picaso, Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, and Ezra Pound. What started as an impromptu gallery of sorts for Matisse eventually blossomed into a weekly meeting where artists and writers would share work and ideas, forming the foundational voice of what Stein famously called the "Lost Generation." Though born and raised in America, Stein moved to Paris in 1903 and lived most of the rest of her life there. She met her partner, Alice B. Toklas, in 1907, and she would become a huge influence on Stein's writing. Stein is credited with writing one of the very first coming out stories, Q.E.D., which was not published until after her death. She is now described as "modernist," portraying everyday people and objects in her writing, and Tender Buttons (1914) is probably the best example of such. Stein's most popular work, however, was her sort-of memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a memoir of Toklas's and Stein's lives written by Stein as if in the voice of Toklas. It is significant for its open portrayal, in the 1930s, of a lesbian relationship; it is ranked by Modern Library as one of the greatest nonfiction books of the 20th century. Her time living as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France is also of some interest to historians; it has been guessed that Stein saved her own life (and her partner's) through a collaboration with the Vichy government, in which she aided the condemnation of other Jews in exchange for her freedom. Stein died of stomach cancer in 1946.

Friday, October 21, 2016

October 21 - Barney Frank

Barney Frank

Barney Frank is the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out publicly when he did so in 1987, seven years after first being elected to the House of Representatives. A Democrat representing Massachusetts, Frank served for over thirty years, including a stint as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007-2011. He is known for being a co-sponsor on the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the most significant financial regulation bill since the Great Depression. Frank is also well known for having been one of the quickest and wittiest members of Congress. Frank was a staunch supporter of civil rights. He supported reparations for Japanese internment during WWII; he co-sponsored an amendment to apply equal rights to gender differences; he was pro affirmative action; he helped write the 1990 Immigration Act, which excluded LGBT people from being denied entrance to the US based on their sexuality; he was a proponent of same-sex marriage (and even married his own partner in 2010); and he founded the National Stonewall Democrats in 1998, the national LGBT Democratic organization. Throughout his career, Frank maintained 100% ratings from both the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign for his civil rights stances. Though he retired from Congress in 2013, he remains active in political circles and released his memoir Frank in 2015.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

October 20 - Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

If you were ever forced to read poetry in high school, chances are good that you read Walt Whitman at some point. "I Hear America Singing," from Whitman's groundbreaking collection Leaves of Grass is a love letter to his country, and it's become something like the national anthem of poems. Whitman is inarguably America's greatest poet, and this is his celebration of the place that made him. Like most great artists, however, Whitman was not always celebrated during his life. Leaves of Grass was controversial for its time, condemned frequently for its overt and hidden allusions to sexuality, in particular Whitman's love for other men. He had many close relationships with male admirers, including a friendship with Oscar Wilde, and this was expressed in his poems. One of his most famous works, "Song of Myself," even includes a reference to oral sex, and the 1860 edition of Grass included a group of poems called "Calamus" promoted and reveled in "adhesive love," a now outdated term used to describe same-sex attraction. The book was often banned, but it's now recognized as a landmark achievement in both American poetry and poetry as a movement; Whitman is called "the father of free verse" for his long, lyrical lines that didn't adhere to poetic rules and could more fully embrace the rambling ways of nature and thought. He was free and open with his sexuality at a time when American societal strictures were harshly anti-gay.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October 19 - Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres

It's difficult to think of any public figure who has changed the contemporary conversation about LGBT issues more than Ellen DeGeneres. Her sitcom Ellen really altered the perception of gay people in a large part of America; for many Americans, it was likely the first time anyone they'd "known" had come out and told stories related to the gay experience, such as public affection, first-time intimacy, and same-sex marriage. Even though Ellen only lasted one season beyond the character's coming out, it was landmark event: DeGeneres was the first openly lesbian actor to play a lesbian character on television. She played another lesbian character on The Ellen Show in 2001, which wasn't nearly as successful as her 90s sitcom, but in the interim, Ellen became a cultural icon and representative of the LGBT community. She was vital in the late 1990s visibility of gay people, thanks largely to her highly publicized relationship with Anne Heche. Her coming out paved the way for some of television's most lasting LGBT series, such as Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, The L Word, and others. Since then, Ellen has permeated nearly every avenue of entertainment, from television (her popular daytime talk show has been on the air since 2003 and has picked up 38 Emmys) to film (Finding Nemo and Finding Dory are two of the highest-grossing animated films of all time) to hosting (she was the first openly gay person to host the Academy Awards in 2007) to writing (each of her four books have been New York Times bestsellers) to humanitarianism (she is a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign and served as special envoy for Global AIDS Awareness). Ellen also spoke out against Prop 8 following her marriage to Portia de Rossi in 2008. In so many ways, Ellen has opened up the conversation about being gay in America. Her openness and honesty have done much for the normalization of LGBT people and causes over the past 20 years.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October 18 - Jose Sarria

Jose Sarria (Empress Jose I, the Widow Norton)

Jose Sarria was a jack of all trades with a fascinating history. He grew up in San Francisco, the son of a Colombian immigrant, and enlisted in the army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His small stature, though (4'11") prevented him from joining... until he seduced a major in the recruitment office into approving his enlistment. Sarria served in the Signal Corps and was eventually called up to Intelligence because of his fluency in several languages. He made his way through several other far less glamorous assignments before being discharged in 1947 as a Staff Sergeant. Sarria returned to California with plans of becoming a teacher, which never came to be when he was arrested for solicitation. Sarria dropped out of college and started singing and waiting tables at the Black Cat Bar. This led to a regular gig, at which Sarria dressed in drag and encouraged patrons to be open about their sexuality (since it was technically illegal to be gay in public), parodying popular songs such as in "God Save Us Nelly Queens." He routinely fought back against bar raids by police, educating gay men and drag queens on what to say and do to not be arrested, and formed the League for Civil Education, a gay support group for those caught in raids.

In 1961, Sarria, now a well-known San Francisco figure for his drag shows, became the first openly gay candidate for public office when he ran for the Board of Supervisors. He did not win, but that didn't stop Sarria from serving the gay community. A year later, he formed the Tavern Guild, the country's first gay business assocation, which also raised money for legal fees and bail for those arrested at gay bars. He later formed the Society for Individual Rights, a group which supplied "pocket lawyers," booklets with information about what to do if you were arrested at a gay bar or harassed by police. Later in life, Sarria became a restaurateur and continued performing in drag as Empress Jose I, the Widow Norton, even appearing in the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. In 1965, he founded the Imperial Court System, now the second largest LGBT organization in the world, a grassroots network of charities that embraced drag culture; Sarria headed the organization for over 40 years. Jose Sarria died of cancer in 2013 and was buried in drag and with full military honors.

Monday, October 17, 2016

October 17 - Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was born into political activism, the son of NAACP leaders in West Chester, Pennsylvania who were friends with such luminaries as W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson. Rustin was trained in peaceful activism by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social justice organization, before moving to Harlem in 1937. There, he became involved in the efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys. Other causes Rustin fought for included desegregating interstate bus travel in the 1940s and helping to form CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, as well as participating in the first Freedom Ride in 1947. He was arrested several times for his protests (and once for engaging in homosexual activity), but that didn't stop Martin Luther King, Jr. from hiring Rustin to advise him on Gandhian tactics of non-violent resistance in 1956, during the organization of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He and King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference the next year, where many were not comfortable with Rustin's sexuality; they forced him to resign from SCLC in 1960, but he continued his civil rights work. He organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Rustin moved more into politics the following year, focusing on the economic problems facing the African American community. In the 1980s, Rustin became a public proponent of gay rights, testifying on behalf of New York's Gay Rights Bill in 1986 and famously "adopting" his partner, Walter Naegle (who was 30 at the time), in order to legalize their union. His friendship with Thurgood Marshall is also credited with attributing to the judge's dissenting opinion in upholding the constitutionality of sodomy laws. Though Rustin died in 1987, he was posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2013, which was presented to Naegle.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

October 16 - Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

When it comes to LGBT visibility in sports, Billie Jean King has led the charge. Widely considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) female athletes of all time, King won 39 Grand Slam titles (12 singles, 16 doubles, 11 mixed doubles) in her professional tennis career, making her one of the most decorated players in history. She is one of an elite group to have won a career Grand Slam (winning each of the four major events at least once), and she was also well-known for having beaten Bobby Riggs, a former men's Wimbledon champion and popular male chauvinist of the 1970s, to a match he challenged in 1973, dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes." King retired from professional tennis in 1990, more than thirty years after making her debut at Grand Slam. Since her retirement, King has advocated strongly for gender equality in sport, leading the campaign all the way back to the 1970s for equal pay for female athletes on the tour, at which time she then became the first president of the Women's Tennis Association. Additionally, King was the first female athlete to come out as a lesbian in 1981, which led to her losing several endorsements and contracts. Since then, though, she has become an icon of LGBT representation in athletics, including being appointed by President Obama to the 2014 US delegation of Olympic athletes at Sochi, and serving on the board of Elton John's AIDS Foundation and the National AIDS Fund; she was award the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her service to the LGBT community.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

October 15 - Alan Turing

Alan Turing

Though not known at the time, the outcome of World War II and the defeat of the Nazis is thanks to a gay man, Alan Turing. A pioneering computer scientist and mathematician, Turing worked for British intelligence at the Government Code & Cypher School. There, he and his team developed several methods for cracking German ciphers, including their naval Enigma machine, which is estimated to have shortened the war by as many as four years and saving over fourteen million lives in the process. After the war, Turing worked on models of some of the earliest computers in 1945 (then called the Automated Computing Engine), which wouldn't be finished until after his death. He also added extensively to the fields of mathematical biology (specifically studying the Fibonacci sequence in plant structure) and pattern formation (including designing the first computerized chess program, for a machine that didn't even exist in his lifetime).

Despite his vast accomplishments, Turing was indicted for his sexuality in Great Britain in 1952. He was forced to admit a sexual relationship with a man after reporting a burglary in his home, but homosexual acts were a crime then in the UK. He and his lover, Arnold Murray, were charged with gross indecency, to which Turing plead guilty. The court allowed him the choice between imprisonment or probation, the latter of which included undergoing hormone treatments commonly called chemical castration. He chose probation, which led to impotency and gynecomastia (the growth of male breasts). Because of his conviction, he was no longer allowed to consult British intelligence on matters of cryptography, effectively leaving Turing unemployed as well. He died on June 8, 1954 of cyanide poisoning, assumed to have been purposefully ingested via a poisoned apple (though theories of an accidental death exist). Because his work with the Allies in World War II was classified at the time, he died a disgrace rather than the hero he is now known to be. In recent years, he's been recognized as one of the most influential people of the 20th century, and a royal pardon was issued in 2013 for Turing's indecency conviction.

Friday, October 14, 2016

October 14 - Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

An important and highly influential voice in contemporary literature, Audre Lorde was not afraid to confront some of the most notable feminists in history with claims of systemic racism. Though primarily known as a poet who tackled themes of race, culture, love, and injustice (Lorde published more than a handful of books of poetry from the 1960s to the 1980s), Lorde is taught in conjunction with feminist critical theory because of the ideas presented in her essay "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference," a work that points out how not acknowledging our differences is what separates us, not necessarily the differences themselves (an idea now called "intersectionality"). Lorde contended through much of her work that feminism was inherently racist as it disregarded the experience of being black or lesbian or socialist or what have you. Lorde's open-mindedness about her identities had a strong impact on lesbian society especially, who embraced her ideas of reclaiming eroticism as female power and subverting the patriarchal in culture to feminize it. Lorde is also recognized for her long and valiant battle against cancer, which lasted over fourteen years after an initial diagnosis of breast cancer in 1978, followed six years later by liver cancer (which would eventually take her life in 1992). She wrote of her experiences in The Cancer Journals, realizing that writing was a means of survival for her and those like her, a calling and a responsibility.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

October 13 - Harry Hay

Harry Hay

The antithesis of the Stonewall movement of 1969, Harry Hay was the founder of the Mattachine Society in 1950, argued to be the first gay rights group in the United States (it's not officially known whether it or the Chicago Society for Human Rights came first). The Mattachine Society was conceived as a "service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement" of gay men. The Los Angeles branch later extended to several regional groups by 1961, though Hay had resigned from the society within the first few years of its existence, when the group's direction changed from one of activism to something lesser.

Hay always considered himself a Marxist (and even identified as a Communist prior to founding Mattachine), even going so far as to try to cure himself of his homosexuality by marrying a woman in the 1930s, but after leaving the Society in 1953, Hay became interested in Native American communities and spirituality. He later was a member of the Council on Religion and Homosexuality. Following the Stonewall riots, Hay founded the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front before moving to New Mexico and creating the Radical Fairies group in 1979, a New Age "not-movement" merging liberation and spirituality, which may be his most lasting contribution to the gay community. He was vocally opposed to "gay assimilation," favoring the unique attributes which come with being a minority over adopting traits of the majority for acceptance (for example, movements distancing themselves from drag and leather culture in the 1970s). Hay remained active in gay liberation efforts well into his eighties; he died of cancer in 2002, at the age of 90.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

October 12 - Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard

It's hard to explain the impact of Matthew Shepard's death to someone who didn't experience it firsthand. Though I was very young when Matthew was brutally beaten, tortured, and left for dead tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming on October 6, 1998, I remember the whole thing very clearly. I remember the newspaper covers of lit candles, Matthew's boyish, smiling face, framed by blonde bangs, in the inset. Matthew forced America to confront itself in all its hate and prejudice, beginning in the very places (the South, the Midwest) where LGBT people were most invisible.

Matthew Shepard succumbed to his injuries 18 years ago today, but his death sparked a national outrage against the treatment of LGBT people that is responsible for many of the rights we have in 2016. His murder brought national attention to the hate crime laws at the state and federal level. (On the other hand, it also popularized the "gay panic" defense for committing a crime, in which straight criminals pleaded temporary insanity due to the rage of being subject to a gay sexual advance.) Matthew's murderers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, were found guilty, but they were not found guilty of a hate crime since no such legislation existed defining sexuality in those terms. Matthew's family and allies fought tirelessly for sexuality to be included in the tenets of a hate crime, and President Clinton even pushed to extend hate crime legislation to those who are LGBT in 1999; it was rejected by the House. The bill came up once again in 2007, titled the Matthew Shepard Act, and was passed by both bodies of Congress but was later dropped when President Bush threatened to veto it. Through 2008, Nancy Pelosi fought for the bill to finally be adopted, which it eventually was on October 28, 2009 under President Obama, over a decade after it was first introduced. The act expands the 1969 hate crime law to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. It also gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in prosecution of perceived hate crimes which local authorities choose not to pursue, and it requires the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes based on gender or gender identity (which were not previously tracked).

Beyond the Matthew Shepard Act, his death also lead to the formation of several charities and educational programs, including the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which Judy and Dennis Shepard created with the aim to affect positive change through outreach, education and advocacy; and Matthew's Place, an online resource for LGBT youth. Over the past 18 years, Matthew has become a kind of symbol for change, as well as a cautionary tale of what can happen when hate consumes us. But behind that symbol is a person, a boy who barely got to become a man when his life was tragically stolen from him at the age of 21, and a boy who never got to see all the good the world could do when we see our common humanity first instead of our differences.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

October 11 - Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir

One of the world's most famous and lasting feminist writers, Simone de Beauvoir is best known for her 1949 philosophical treatise The Second Sex, now recognized as the starting point of second-wave feminism for its portrayal of female oppression throughout history and its call to action for gender equality. Her thoughts and writing were greatly influenced by her lifelong partnership with another renowned philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (notably, they never legally married, despite being together for over 50 years). Among her more well-known ideas was one that "existence precedes essence," meaning one is not born a woman but rather becomes one, an idea adopted since by many transgender individuals. In addition to her philosophical and existential writings, de Beauvoir also published novels, short stories, and travelogues, but she was also infamous after her death for her scandalous personal life, brought to light in a 1994 memoir of a former student, Bianca Lamblin, who alleged affairs with both de Beauvoir and Sartre when she was their student. Prior to that, de Beauvoir had been suspended for allegedly seducing a teenage girl, also her student (though there is an argument that can be made that the suspension was based on sexual discrimination). Later in their relationship, de Beauvoir and Sartre developed what they called the "trio," in which they would invite a third person, typically a student, into their couple. She remained politically active up until her death in 1986, and her feminist teachings continue to be employed in universities worldwide.

Monday, October 10, 2016

October 10 - Michael Dillon

Michael Dillon

Laurence Michael Dillon was the first trans man to undergo phalloplasty. After graduating from Oxford University as Laura Maud Dillon, Michael began the process of transition from woman to man. He was possibly the first to use testosterone as a means of appearing male and became a target of gossip in Gloucestershire after his story broke (much like Christine Jorgensen). He fled to Bristol, where he passed as male, where he came to the attention of a plastic surgeon while recovering from a bout with hypoglycemia. The surgeon performed a double mastectomy and provided a note legally allowing Dillon to change his gender on his birth certificate to male. This doctor put Dillon in contact with Dr. Harold Gillies, now known as the father of plastic surgery, who agreed to perform the final transitional surgeries, most involving the construction of a penis, after the end of World War II. Meanwhile, Dillon became a physician; Gillies completed over a dozen surgeries on Dillon between 1946 and 1949, while Dillon was still a medical student. Also in 1946, Dillon published Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics, a pioneering book in transsexual studies. Dillon was "outed" in 1958, after living as a man for nearly two decades, when his background was investigated as part of his family's aristocratic roots (with a male birth certificate, he would have been heir to a baronetcy), so he fled to India and joined a Buddhist community. He was later ordained a monk, publishing several works under his Buddhist name, Lobzang Jivaka, before dying in 1962.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

October 9 - David Bowie

David Bowie

What more can be said about Bowie that hasn't already been covered this year? One of the most popular and innovative musicians of the 1970s and beyond, Bowie sold nearly 150 million records and changed the face (quite literally) of rock and pop music. Along with Queen, Bowie helped create the glam rock movement with his genderqueer alter ego Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous extraterrestrial who brought messages to Earth of sexual exploration. Coinciding with the release of his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust..., Bowie came out as gay in Melody Maker magazine. Four years later, Bowie would change that label to one of bisexuality (in Playboy) before ultimately saying in 1983 that he was "a closet heterosexual" and claiming that declaring his bisexuality was "the biggest mistake" he ever made. He waffled back once again in 2002, confirming his bisexuality and attributing his reticence to own that label to closemindedness in America. He wanted to be an artist first and never a representative of any one sexuality, which is directly in line with the way his musical persona was presented: Ziggy Stardust was a mix of gender and sexual markers, and Bowie himself helped redefine what the masculine and feminine were. Aside from being one of the world's most lasting icons of rock music, he never allowed labels to define him and frequently defied them through both his music and his expression.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

October 8 - Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

Alexander III of Macedon (or Alexander the Great, as we commonly know him) was an ancient Greek king and a legend of militarism, now recognized as one of the most influential individuals in all of history. He founded over twenty cities across the Persian empire and into India. His campaigns greatly increased contact and trade between the East and West, creating a legacy of Greek cultural influence still felt today. Beyond being cited as the greatest military leader of all time (he was undefeated in battle), Alexander was also famously bisexual. He was married three times to different women, once out of love and twice for political gain, and had at least two sons (a third with a mistress is contested). His most enduring relationship, however, was with his bodyguard and army general, Hephaestion. Though he had three wives and a harem of women available to him, his close friendship and possible sexual relationship with Hephaestion was the one which seemed to have the most bearing on his life, with the two often comparing themselves to Achilles and Patroclus (who are also assumed to have been lovers as well as friends). Upon Hephaestion's death and following a funeral similar to how a King would be sent to the afterlife, further fueling historical speculation that Hephaestion was akin to Alexander's queen, Alexander was devastated; this death is believed to have contributed to Alexander's own failing health and mental state. He died mere months after his closest acquaintance.

Friday, October 7, 2016

October 7 - Sappho


Little is known for sure about her life, but the Greek poet Sappho is believed to have been alive from about 630 - 570 BCE. She lived on the island of Lesbos and wrote lyric poetry, believed to be the first expressing female homoeroticism. She was highly regarded during her time, sometimes referred to as "The Tenth Muse," though much of her poetry is now lost (of the 10,000 lines she was believed to have written, only 650 survive). The term "lesbian" is a direct allusion to Sappho, who wrote of the daily lives and relationships between the women she educated on Lesbos... as well as their physical beauty. Though she and her poems were often portrayed as heterosexual prior to the 19th century, or her preoccupation with her girls explained away as the passion of a schoolteacher for her students, modern interpretation generally accepts Sappho as being attracted to women (and possibly to men as well, as the Greeks didn't always discriminate when it came to sexual activity). Sappho is considered one of Greece's greatest ancient poets, her form so unique that the Sapphic stanza is named for her. Though so little of her poetry survives, new fragments are frequently being discovered, mostly recently in 2014.

You: an Achilles' apple
Blushing sweet on a high branch
At the tip of the tallest tree.
You escaped those who would pluck
         your fruit.
Not that they didn't try. No,
They could not forget you
Poised beyond their reach.

(Fragment 105(a) translated by Anita George)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

October 6 - Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera

One of the earliest activists for trans rights, Sylvia Rivera (born Ray Rivera) was famous for her unabashed brashness and take-no-prisoners attitude. She is remembered by many as the "Rosa Parks of the transgender movement" for both her social activism and her penchant for demonstration. Sylvia was a member of the Gay Activists Alliance, and she was famously arrested for climbing a gate at New York City Hall in defense of a gay rights bill being voted upon inside. After GAA distanced themselves from supporting trans rights, Sylvia and another trans icon, Marsha P. Johnson (who was present at the actual Stonewall riots), founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), which both provided housing for homeless trans people and marched for equality and visibility. Rivera fought tirelessly and angrily against the exclusion of bisexuals, drag queens, street kids, people of color, and trans people from mainstream society and LGBTQ factions. Sylvia was against the commercialization of Pride and the whitewashing of racial and class issues from the LGBT platform. Her radicalism inspired the foundation of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project 2002, the year of Sylvia's death, whose mission statement is "to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October 5 - Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

You probably need no introduction to the world's greatest thinker, inventor, scientist, and artist, Leonardo da Vinci. We are all likely familiar with his Mona Lisa or The Last Supper; we are all likely aware that he conceptualized flying machines hundreds of years before they were realized. Perhaps less well-known is his 1476 accusation of sodomy. The charges were later dropped (thankfully, as sodomy was punishable by death at the time), but it is the most direct reference to any sexual relationship of da Vinci's which survives. Historians contend that his preoccupation with the male form (see the Vitruvian Man), as well as his close relationships with several pupils and his propensity for erotically-charged artwork featuring male figures (including his famous St. John the Baptist), are evidence that Leonardo was gay, or at least bisexual. While there is no definitive proof, the lack of female companionship, particularly for such a respected, talented, and likely wealthy man, points toward the likelihood of his homosexuality (not to mention a direct reference in da Vinci's notes to "the act of procreation" being "disgusting").

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

October 4 - Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan is probably best known for giving the opening speech at the 1974 impeachment hearings for President Nixon, during which she staunchly defended the Constitution and supported Nixon's impeachment. At the time, she was serving as Representative of Texas on the House Judiciary Committee. Prior to that, Jordan served as a Texas Senator from 1967-1973, the first Southern African American woman elected to do so, when she moved to the House. She was also the first African American woman to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. President Clinton awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom and considered nominating her to the US Supreme Court (her health prevented her from being nominated). During her time in office, Jordan advocated for Texas's first minimum wage law and created the Texas Fair Employment Practices Commission, in addition to working on immigration reform and speaking on civil rights. Though not out at the time of her tenure, Jordan is still considered the first lesbian elected to Congress, in addition to her myriad other accomplishments.

Monday, October 3, 2016

October 3 - Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen, Jr.) was the first person widely known in the United States to have undergone sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen was born in the Bronx in 1926 and was drafted into the Army in 1945 to fight in World War II. Following a discharge a year later, Jorgensen made the decision to transition. She traveled to Denmark in 1950 to begin hormone therapy, where she remained for two years and underwent several operations to supplement the hormone replacement. While in Copenhagen, her story was picked up by The New York Daily News, making her an overnight sensation (though not necessarily in the most positive ways). Jorgensen returned to America in 1953 and became a spokesperson for trans people, publicly challenging the idea of gender as a binary system. Though frequently the butt of jokes in the 1950s, Jorgensen used her newfound fame to tell her story and the stories of those like her. She later became an entertainer, author, and educator, lecturing at colleges up until her death in 1989.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2 - Jane Addams

Jane Addams

Jane Addams is considered the founder of America's social work profession. She was a pioneering leader in women's suffrage, working as an author, activist, speaker, and philosopher, co-founding Hull House in 1889, a "community of university women" which provided social and educational opportunities for working class people; and later co-founding the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in 1920. She was a leader of the Women's Peace Party and president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), speaking out frequently against war and advocating for pacifism. In 1931, Addams became the first American woman (and second woman ever) to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition to reforming modern sociology, her writings and speeches as a peace advocate are credited with influencing the shape of the United Nations

Saturday, October 1, 2016

October 1 - Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk
The first openly gay man elected to public office in California (and the first non-incumbent in the US) in 1977 as a city supervisor in San Francisco, Harvey Milk built a political career on being unabashedly open with his sexuality at a time when gays were facing widespread discrimination. In the less than 11 months Milk spent in office, he sponsored an anti-discrimination bill protecting gay rights and helped defeat Proposition 6, which would have mandated the firing of gay teachers in California public schools. He also fought for gay workers and small business owners, believing social strength started in small neighborhoods. His speeches, often speaking out against LGBT discrimination, are frequently cited for their themes of hope and optimism. Harvey Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978 by a former co-worker at the height of his popularity, leading to his now being recognized as arguably the most popular LGBT politician of all time.

In 2009, the State of California passed a bill acknowledging May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. He later became one of only a handful of LGBT icons, and the only elected official, to receive a USPS postage stamp in 2014.