GLBT History Month
Honoring 31 remarkable people
Published Thursday, 02-Oct-2008 in issue 1084
GLBT History Month was conceived in the mid-1990s by educators, and embraced by major GLBT organizations. In 2006, Equality Forum took over the project and solicits icon nominations from state, national and international executive directors and other community leaders.
“I think this is arguably one of the most important projects both nationally and internationally, because it’s hugely important for the civil rights movement to understand its history,” Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin told the Gay & Lesbian Times in a recent interview. “It’s important to have role models, to have these types of resources, to help build community, and certainly in a civil rights perspective, make a statement as to important national and international contributions [made by the GLBT community], which show we are equally deserving of respect and equality.
The criteria for icon consideration are persons living or dead who have distinguished themselves in their field of endeavor, are a national hero or have made a significant contribution to GLBT civil rights. All 2008 nominations were reviewed by GLBT History Month co-chairs Sharon Ullman a professor in the history department at Bryn Mawr College, and Kenji Yoshino, a Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law. All were approved by the Equality Forum Board of Directors
Each day in October, an icon will be featured with a video, biography, bibliography and other educational resources. The resources for GLBT History Month 2008 icons will be available online beginning Oct. 1. For more information, visit www.gaylesbiantimes.com/links.
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, activists
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon founded the first lesbian organization in the United States and fought for more than 50 years for the rights of lesbians and gays.
Martin and Lyon both earned degrees in journalism. While working as journalists in Seattle, the two became romantically involved. The couple relocated to San Francisco and moved in together on Valentine’s Day 1953.
In 2004, when same-sex marriage was offered in San Francisco, Martin and Lyon were the first to wed. A California appellate court ruling subsequently invalidated their marriage. Then in May 2008, a California Supreme Court decision provided same-sex couples the right to marry. On June 16, 2008, they were the first same-sex couple married in California. Martin died soon thereafter on Aug. 27.
Stephen Sondheim, composer/lyricist
Stephen Sondheim is hailed by The New York Times as the greatest artist in American musical theater. His most famous scores include West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods and Gypsy.
Sondheim has won an Academy Award, a Pulitzer Prize and seven Grammy Awards. A winner of more Tony Awards than any other composer, he was honored with a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Gianni Versace, fashion designer
Gianni Versace’s career began as an apprentice in his mother’s tailor shop in Reggio Calabria, Italy.
At the age of 25, Versace moved to Milan where he designed collections for leading fashion houses. After six years, he launched his own label.
In 1988, Versace was named “the most innovative and creative designer in the world” by the jury of the Cutty Sark Award. In 1993, the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored him with the American Fashion Oscar.
On July 15, 1997, at the peak of his career, Versace was murdered outside his Miami home.
Sheila James Kuehl, politician
In a 1994 election, Sheila James Kuehl became the first openly gay California legislator. In 1997, she was the first woman in California to be named Speaker pro Tempore. She was a member of the nation’s first legislative LGBT Caucus. In 2002, she coauthored a bill that defined marriage as a civil contract between two persons, which passed the state legislature, but was vetoed by the governor.
In 2000, she was elected a member of the California State Senate for the 23rd district of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Most significant are her successes in civil rights legislation. As of 2007, she authored 171 bills that have been signed into law.
Tennessee Williams, playwright
Tennessee Williams was one of the most influential American playwrights. He transformed the darkest aspects of human existence into poetic theater.
Often set in the South and featuring characters seeking salvation and meaningful human connections, his plays were infused with aspects of Williams’ personal struggles. He sparked controversy by including gay characters.
His award-winning plays include A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) and The Night of the Iguana (1961). A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo and The Night of the Iguana were adapted into Oscar-winning movies.
Williams received two Pulitzer Prizes, four Drama Critics’ Circle Awards and a Tony Award for best play.
Alice Walker, writer
Alice Walker is an award-winning writer and activist. Her most famous novel, The Color Purple (1983), won a National Book Award and made Walker the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In 1985, the novel was made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. The film earned 11 Oscar nominations. In 2005, The Color Purple was adapted as a Broadway musical, with Winfrey as the lead financial backer.
Walker’s awards include a Guggenheim Foundation Grant, an American Book Award, a Lillian Smith Award and an O’Henry Award. She was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame and the California Hall of Fame. In 1997, Walker was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.
Greg Louganis, athlete
Greg Louganis is the world’s most successful diver, having won five Olympic medals over the course of his career.
At the 1994 World Championships, Louganis became the first diver to score a perfect 10 at an international meet.
At the 1984 Olympic Games, Louganis won two gold medals and was the first to exceed 700 points in the two competitions.
During the springboard qualifying rounds at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Louganis misjudged a jump and struck his head on the diving board. Despite suffering a concussion, he continued diving and won two gold medals.
In 1993, Louganis starred as a chorus boy who dies of AIDS in the Off Broadway play Jeffrey. He came out and disclosed his HIV-positive status at the 1994 Gay Games in New York.
Louganis’ best-selling autobiography, Breaking the Surface (1995), recounts his experiences as an openly gay athlete.
Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris
In 2001 when Bertrand Delanoë was elected mayor of Paris, the city became the world’s largest to have an openly gay mayor. He was reelected in March 2008.
In October 2002, Delanoë was stabbed. His assailant told police he targeted Delanoë because of his homosexuality.
Despite France’s political tradition of keeping one’s personal life out of the public, Delanoë came out in a French television interview in 1998. In his book, La vie, passionnément (Life, Passionately) (2004), Delanoë says he made that decision because he thought it could help, even if in a small way, “lighten the burden of secrecy borne by so many people.” On the topic of same-sex marriage Delanoë writes, “In the name of what can one reject this demand for equality?”
Margaret Mead, anthropologist
In 1929, Margaret Mead rocked the American public and the anthropology world with her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, about the sexual behavior of young Samoan women. This book and her subsequent reports on the sexual attitudes of other cultures influenced the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Mead wrote or contributed to more than 30 books, gave hundreds of speeches and taught at Columbia University and Fordham University.
At the age of 72, Mead was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1979, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor.
Mark Bingham, 9/11 hero
On Sept. 11, 2001, passengers aboard United Flight 93 stormed the terrorists who had hijacked their plane. The 9/11 Commission concluded this heroism diverted the plane from its intended target, which was either the White House or the Capitol in Washington, and caused it to crash in an empty field near Shanksville, Pa.
Mark Bingham led the counterattack and diverted terrorists from destroying a national monument. The Advocate named Bingham its 2001 Person of the Year. He was posthumously awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2002. The Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament, an international rugby competition predominantly for gay and bisexual men, was established in his memory.
Cleve Jones, AIDS activist
In 1983, Cleve Jones cofounded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, making him among the first to respond to the epidemic. In 1987, he conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which produced the world’s largest community artwork.
During an annual candlelight vigil remembering Harvey Milk, AIDS loomed over the gay community. At the vigil, hundreds of names of people who died of AIDS were written on cardboard scraps and taped to the San Francisco Federal Building. The cardboard reminded Jones of the pieces of fabric his grandmother quilted together.
The quilting of pieces of fabric memorializing loved ones became the world’s largest piece of community art.
Since 2005, Jones has spearheaded efforts to diminish homophobia in the hospitality industry with a project called UNITE HERE. He was instrumental in the Sleep with the Right People campaign, which encourages gay tourists to stay at hotels that respect employees’ rights.
Jann Wenner, publisher
Jann Wenner changed rock and contemporary music coverage when he launched Rolling Stone magazine. His eye for talent, knack for business and passion for music has kept the magazine on the cutting edge for more than 40 years. In 1983, he cofounded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Wenner conducted interviews with music icons and prominent politicians, including Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama, and John Lennon after the breakup of The Beatles.
Wenner emphasized on the visual content of Rolling Stone, with celebrities photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger and Richard Avedon. Wenner’s publications include Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.
Harvey Fierstein, actor, playwright, screenwriter
Distinguished by his signature gravelly voice, Harvey Fierstein is a celebrated playwright, actor and producer. He is the only entertainer to have won Tony Awards as an actor and writer in both dramatic and musical categories.
Fierstein wrote Torch Song Trilogy, one of the first Broadway shows to feature a gay theme.
His play Safe Sex (1987), another trilogy, was written in response to the AIDS crisis.
Fierstein narrated The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) and appeared in the films Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Bullets Over Broadway (1994) and Independence Day (1996), among others.
He was featured in the television series “Ellen,” “Miami Vice,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Cheers.” He develops commentaries for the GLBT documentary series “In the Life” and writes op-ed articles on gay themes that have been published in The New York Times.
Fierstein has received four Tony Awards, three Drama Desk Awards and a Theatre World Award for acting and writing.
Margarethe Cammermeyer, military
Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer became the highest-ranking military officer discharged on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1992, she was dismissed as chief nurse of the Washington State National Guard after disclosing she was a lesbian during a routine security clearance interview. She challenged the U.S. military’s ban on homosexuals in federal court. In 1994, she was reinstated as chief nurse, making her one of the few openly gay or lesbian members of the military.
Cammermeyer retired in 1997 after 31 years of service. She serves on the Military Advisory Council for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and is an outspoken advocate for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Anthony Romero, activist
Anthony Romero is the first openly gay person and the first Latino to become executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the nation’s largest public-interest law firm.
Under Romero’s direction, the ACLU has achieved its highest level of membership and tripled its budget. This growth allowed the organization to expand its efforts to champion causes such as lesbian and gay rights, racial justice and reproductive freedom.
Romero was named one of Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America in 2005. He received an honorary doctorate from the City University of New York School of Law, and coauthored In Defense of Our America (2007), about America’s fight for post-9/11 civil liberties.
Melissa Etheridge, singer/songwriter
Melissa Etheridge shot to stardom with her trademark blues-rock hit “Come to My Window,” for which she received a Grammy Award in 1994 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. With its powerful lyrics, the song became an anthem for gay rights.
In 2006, Etheridge received the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Stephen F. Kolzak Award, which honors openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender media professionals who have made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for the community. “I Need to Wake Up,” featured in the film An Inconvenient Truth, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song (2007).
Gene Robinson, first openly gay Episcopal bishop
In 2003, Rev. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire. His ordination caused a global rift within the Episcopal Church and led to international debate about the inclusion of gay clergy in church hierarchy. In the weeks leading up to his consecration, Robinson received hate mail and death threats, triggering the FBI to place him under 24-hour protection.
Robinson is the coauthor of three AIDS education curricula. In Uganda, he helped set up a national peer counseling program for AIDS educators working with religious institutions.
In 2008, Bishop Robinson and Mark Andrews, partners of more than 19 years, exchanged vows in a civil union ceremony in New Hampshire.
John Waters, filmmaker
John Waters is an award-winning screenwriter and director whose work includes a string of independent cult classics, blockbuster movies and Broadway shows.
While his earlier projects defined his style, it was Hairspray (1988) that brought Waters mainstream success. The film was adapted into a Broadway musical (2002), grossing more than $200 million and winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2003. His film Cry-Baby (1990) became a hit Broadway show, receiving four Tony Award nominations in 2008.
Waters is an advocate of GLBT civil rights. In 2004, he received the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Stephen F. Kolzak Award for his work combating homophobia. In 2008, he received a New York Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Robert Mapplethorpe, photographer
In the 1970s, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs chronicling the lives of New York’s gay community established him as a unique and controversial talent.
In the early 1990s, Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio” series, which featured some of the photographer’s most sexually explicit images, sparked a firestorm of criticism when it was included in “The Perfect Moment,” a traveling exhibition funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. When “The Perfect Moment” was installed at the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, the center and its director were prosecuted for “pandering obscenity” and subsequently acquitted. The legal wrangling stirred debate about the delineation between art and obscenity and government funding for the arts.
In 1988, Mapplethorpe established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which funds HIV/AIDS research, promotes the art of photography and maintains the artist’s legacy.
Georgina Beyer, first transgender member of a national legislature
As the first openly transgender person in the world to hold a national office, Georgina Beyer was elected a member of Parliament in New Zealand. From an early age, Beyer recalls feeling like a girl trapped in a boy’s body.
In 1984, she had sexual reassignment surgery. Nine years later, Beyer was elected to the Carterton District Council. Two years later she was elected Mayor of Carterton, where she served for five years. In 1999, she won a seat in the New Zealand Parliament. While in Parliament, Beyer helped pass the Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalizes prostitution and protects sex workers and their clients. She was instrumental in securing same-sex civil union benefits for New Zealanders.
Tony Kushner, playwright
An award-winning political playwright and activist, Tony Kushner is best known for his epic play, Angels in America.
Angels in America follows two couples that are linked to Roy Cohn, a lawyer involved in the McCarthy trials. The play depicts the characters’ struggle with homosexuality and AIDS during the Reagan administration.
Kushner’s long list of commendations includes two Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, a Pulitzer Prize for drama, an Oscar nomination, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University.
Rosie O’Donnell, entertainer
An award-winning comedian, television host, author and media mogul, Rosie O’Donnell has used her celebrity as a platform for activism and philanthropic causes.
After film roles in A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle and The Flintstones, she was offered her own daytime television talk show. During her six years as host of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” she started Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation, which awarded more than $27 million in grants to 1,400 child-related nonprofit organizations.
In 2002, O’Donnell outed herself and became an outspoken advocate for gay parenting. She worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in an attempt to overturn Florida’s ban on gay and lesbian adoption.
Among O’Donnell’s many honors, she has received 13 Emmy Awards, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Vito Russo Award, an induction into the Kid’s Choice Awards Hall of Fame and a Women in Film Lucy Award.
Philip Johnson, architect
Proportion, minimalism and geometry were elements Philip Johnson combined to create his masterpieces, which include iconic New York buildings.
The Glass House (1949), which he designed for himself, is a modest 56-foot-by-32-foot rectangle with exterior walls made almost entirely of glass. The building, in New Canaan, Connecticut, incorporates the bucolic setting as an integral part of the home’s ambiance.
His other seminal works are the New York State Pavilion for the World’s Fair (1964), MoMA’s east wing and sculpture garden (1964), Pennzoil Place in Houston (1975) and the Sony Building in New York City (1984).
He was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (1978) and the first-ever Pritzker Architecture Prize (1979).
E.M. Forster, author
E. M. Forster’s works display his acute awareness of the social and political problems of his time and his belief in the power of human connection.
Forster’s novel Howard’s End (1910) provided a sharp analysis of the upper-class British world. His next novel, A Passage to India (1924), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1924 and was named one of the 100 best novels published in the English language by Modern Library in 1998.
Maurice which Forster wrote between 1913 and 1915, was not published until a year after his death, at the author’s request. Written when homosexuality was illegal in England, the book revolved around a gay man and his relationships.
In 1934, Forster became the first president of the National Council for Civil Liberties, a human rights organization in England. A year before his death, Queen Elizabeth appointed Forster a member of England’s Order of Merit, one of the highest national honors.
Randy Shilts, journalist
Randy Shilts was the first openly gay journalist to cover GLBT issues in the American mainstream press. He held positions at The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle and is the author of three books.
Shilts wrote The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), when a biography about a gay political figure was groundbreaking.
His New York Times best seller, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic (1987), was the first major book about AIDS. The book earned a nomination for the National Book Award and was translated into seven languages.
While suffering from AIDS-related causes, Shilts dictated the last chapters of Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military: Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (1993).
In 1993, a year before he lost his battle with AIDS, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
Allen Ginsberg, poet
Allen Ginsberg was a revolutionary poet and committed activist. He was a leader of the Beat movement, which celebrated nonconformity. His works captured his antiestablishment spirit and fostered social change.
Ginsberg is credited with coining the term “flower power,” which encouraged protesters to engage in nonviolent rebellion. Once kicked out of Cuba for saying Che Guevara was “cute,” Ginsberg was dubbed a social bandit. His frank writing about homosexuality made an important contribution to gay rights.
Ginsberg’s honors include a National Book Award, a Robert Frost Medal for distinguished poetic achievement and an American Book Award for contributions to literary excellence. In 1987, he was named a distinguished professor at Brooklyn College, where he taught English and creative writing. In 1993, the French minister of culture awarded Ginsberg the Order of Arts and Letters.
Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches
Troy Perry founded United Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), a Protestant denomination ministering to the gay community.
Perry overcame hardships on his journey to becoming the founder of the UFMCC. He was stripped of a religious position because of his homosexuality and attempted suicide. He lost hope that he could reconcile his homosexuality with his faith.
In October 1968, Perry launched UFMCC with a service for 12 people in his living room. UFMCC has grown to include more than 40,000 members with churches around the world.
In 2003, Perry and his partner of 18 years, Philip Ray DeBlieck married at a UFMCC church in Toronto, Canada. The newlyweds sued the state of California for legal recognition of their marriage. They were among the plaintiffs in the May 2008 California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
Bill T. Jones, dancer
A dancer and avant-garde choreographer, Bill T. Jones is known for his extraordinary ability to translate human emotion and experience into the language of dance and theater.
Jones attended the State University of New York, where he studied classical ballet and modern dance. It was there that he met his lover of 17 years, Arnie Zane. The two danced and choreographed together. As an openly gay interracial couple they pushed the envelope and challenged their audiences’ preconceived notions about gender, race and sexuality.
Jones has won many awards, including a Tony Award, the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement and a Harlem Renaissance Award. In 2007, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Museum of Dance. He is the recipient of five honorary doctorates.
Andy Warhol, artist
Few will disagree that Andy Warhol is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
Galleries rejected his early drawings due to their overt homosexual content. In the 1960s, Warhol appropriated images from popular culture to create his iconic “Campbell Soup Can,” “Disasters” and “Marilyn” series. He made avant-garde films including Sleep, Chelsea Girls and Empire.
Warhol’s studio, The Factory, attracted artists, art critics and celebrities.
Warhol’s work is exhibited in modern art institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum, all in New York City, the Tate Museum in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is the world’s largest museum dedicated to a single artist.
Rachel Carson, environmental pioneer
Rachel Carson was a writer and research biologist credited with establishing the environmental movement. Carson brought public attention to the need to regulate industry and protect the environment.
Carson is best known for her book Silent Spring (1962), a meticulously researched work about the dangers of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Though the book sparked fierce opposition from the chemical industry, it succeeded at raising public awareness. President Kennedy ordered an investigation. As a result, the pesticide DDT was banned.
She also spoke out on the need for an independent government regulatory agency to monitor environmental degradation and its effects on human health. Her activism led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Michelangelo di Lodovico’s art typified the High Renaissance style with use of naturalistic light, depiction of realistic figures and emphasis on the beauty of nature. One of the true “Renaissance men,” his talent encompassed fine art, architecture and poetry.
In 1497, he completed one of Christendom’s most significant artworks, the Pietà. His colossal marble statue David is considered the masterpiece of High Renaissance sculpture.
Michelangelo was a primary architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the sole designer of its dome. From 1508 to 1512, he painted what would become his most famous work, the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.