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What’s important to appreciate in considering the sexuality of famous people, some long dead, is that the presumption of heterosexuality [which I’ve written about before; see “The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual” at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2011/10/presumption-of-heterosexuality-and.html] is so strong that obvious evidence of homosexuality will nonetheless remain unseen, ignored, hidden, or outright destroyed by the historians and biographers writing supposedly definitive works. In spite of that, like it or not, ten percent of the people on this globe have always been homosexual [see Related Posts below], even in cultures and periods when the records appear to show no signs homosexuality. Two examples:
|Danny Kaye, Vivien Leigh, and Lawrence |
Olivier perform the song "Triplets"
The first serious attempts to define homosexuals as a distinct class worthy of protection and not scorn occurred in the nineteenth century. In 1860s Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German, wrote a series of pamphlets about “uranians,” a “third sex” with a “female psyche in a male body,” and this made the term “uranian” the buzz word of the day. It led Victorian reformers like Edward Carpenter and Symonds (Whitman’s correspondent) to champion the idea that uranians were “enlightened” people who would reform democracy, a conclusion that delighted England’s bad boy, Oscar Wilde. But Wilde’s private life with lower class rent boys brought an abrupt end to his literary and social career in 1895 when his homosexuality was revealed. This promptly led to three famous trials (Wilde was the plaintiff in the first one and the defendant in the latter two), his comic masterpiece “The Importance of Being Ernest” posting closing notices after a short run, and Wilde himself being sentenced to two years hard labor for “gross indecency.” This harsh punishment killed him at age 45, depriving the world of a tremendous talent just beginning to flower. I cannot tell you how much this angers me.
|Mattachine Xmas Party (Hay at upper left)|
|Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon|
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There is much more, of course, to the history of the LGBT movement before and after Stonewall, but this post is long enough. For a wonderful summary of events up through the early 1990s see the classic Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. by Jonathan Ned Katz (revised edition 1992). In it you will find the gay community creating new organizations such as ACT UP and political and social groups by the score, as well as the horror of the HIV/AIDS crisis that is still with us, and battles at all levels to tear down criminal statutes and massive forms of discrimination. From the beginning the movement has achieved major successes both in the United States and internationally, and, while there are major hurdles yet to be leaped, what has already been accomplished should indeed fill us with pride, coupled with gratitude for those who started it all.