Tag Archives: LGBT History

Remembering Gilbert Baker

3 Apr

Sadly, we lost Gilbert Baker on March 30, he was only 65. Baker was a gay rights activist who designed the now iconic rainbow gay pride flag in 1978. As a gay queer man, I knew that if I saw this flag in a store front or in neighborhoods, it meant I would be safe and welcomed there.

I have included this comic strip by my husband, Robert, as it does a marvelous job of providing the history of Gilbert’s journey in designing the Pride Flag–a piece of history that is worth knowing, remembering, and celebrating.

Farewell, Gilbert Baker — a pioneer in pride and celebration!


The State of PropH8 Shows Some Love

16 Jul

Howard Zinn Approach to History

Yes, California, the state where Prop 8 passed, thanks to lots of hate money from the Catholics and the Mormons, will be the first state to to require that public school textbooks include the accomplishments of gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans.  While I’m sure there will be homophobic bigots who will say this is just part of the “Gay Agenda,” I am elated to know that California will soon be presenting a far more accurate picture of American history. The late Howard Zinn, a strong LGBT ally, would be quite happy.

Speaking of LGBT allies, can I say how happy I was to see that TSM regular, and fierce LGBT ally, Jen Lockett posted this on her blog. When we finally do have full equality, it will be in part due to the courageous support of our heterosexual allies like Jennifer.  Her blog is mostly an academic/historical blog, and I am grateful that she gave this story due coverage.  I think you will enjoy her blog if you have not already checked it out.

More on courageous LGBT allies: Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the mandate into law, said:

History should be honest…This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state.

I would argue that it does more than just make a move forward for civil rights in the state of California, it sets a precedent for teaching accurate history, regardless of how one feels about the topic. Click here to see the full article and video.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 26, Jose Antonio Vargas

26 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Jose Antonio Vargas.  A Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Vargas recently outed himself as an undocumented immigrant.  You probably recognize Vargas’ name; he was a former reporter for The Washington Post and shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

TSM has addressed the issues of inequities before in how we treat undocumented youth. Vargas came to the United States as a young boy from the Philippines.  At age 16, Vargas realized, quite by accident, that the documentation he had been given by his grandfather (green card) was fake.  Not wanting to hurt or betray his grandfather:

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it…But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

Vargas started working on what would be an amazing career at Mountain View High School, joining the choir and the speech and debate team while keeping the secret that his social security card was a fake and photocopied at the local Kinkos.  Being an undocumented immigrant was not the only secret Vargas was carrying:

Later that school year, my history class watched a documentary on Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco city official who was assassinated. This was 1999, just six months after Matthew Shepard’s body was found tied to a fence in Wyoming. During the discussion, I raised my hand and said something like: “I’m sorry Harvey Milk got killed for being gay. . . . I’ve been meaning to say this. . . . I’m gay.”

Being openly gay just added to the enormity of being in the country without documentation.  He was unable to accept an internship with the Seattle Times and endured a struggle to work within the system and lawyers to make him a citizen all to find out, “My only solution, the lawyer said, was to go back to the Philippines and accept a 10-year ban before I could apply to return legally.”  Consequently, Vargas decided to keep under the radar and continue to pursue a career in journalism.

Finally, after acquiring the needed documentation, Vargas was able to secure a position with the Washington Post.  I celebrate Vargas today as a part of LGBTQ History month for his courage and perseverance.  He told NPR that refused to marry a woman so that he could stay in the country legally, “Living with one lie is enough.”  I will be eagerly awaiting to see what happens to Jose Antonio Vargas.  Click here to read the NYT Article.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 24, Lady Gaga

24 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga.  Gaga identifies as bisexual, a group that often is misunderstood or neglected. TSM tries to focus on issues around social justice and LGBT issues; Lady Gaga falls into both categories and deserves to be celebrated for her highly visible and fierce dedication to civil rights.

Her detractors leave me nonplussed.  I don’t see many 25 year olds, or many people in general today, who are willing to take serious risks and stand up for a population that is marginalized.  Gaga took a very strong stand for LGBT rights.  She defended Adam Lambert from a homophobic attack, and she joined the fight against the discriminatory DADT policy.  She organized a rally to repeal DADT and offered a wonderful speech regarding discrimination.

I was particularly impressed with the stand she took against Target.  What other celebrity would break a contract to stand by their convictions?  And of course, her latest album Born This Way, which was so compelling that my husband and I actually bought the album.  We have not purchased any music in years.  Many of the songs on Born This Way address inequality and discrimination.  The song Americano is about two women who are in love.  I also love that the song addresses immigration rights and I certainly don’t see a lot of folks talking about immigration discrimination! While I like the lyrics, I have to admit I really also enjoy the music. II thank Lady Gaga for her advocacy, her visibility, and her courage.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 23, V. Gene Robinson

23 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to V. Gene Robinson.  In 2004, Robinson became the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop.  I applaud Robinson’s courage to be so visible within the Christian community during a time when many right wing purported “Christians” vilified people in the LGBT community.  I find it particularly sad, and very telling, that Robinson’s installation as Bishop has caused a great schism within the Episcopal church.

It is also quite telling that the silence from the Archbishop of Canterbury has been deafening.  Archbishop Rowan Williams, who holds great power and influence, has done little to support the LGBT community and shown a lack of leadership.  In 2010, in regards to gay bishops and marriage equality, Williams said:

There’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop. It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe… I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it.

I would call this a true lack of leadership and lack of dedication to human rights–rather shameful for a clergyman. In a delightful contrast, Robinson demonstrates amazing courage and devotion to humanity, human rights, and teaching love.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 22, Walt Whitman

22 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Walt Whitman.  There is no way we could celebrate this month without celebrating one of my heroes, Walt Whitman.  In my darkest times, I try to read parts of Leaves of Grass to help ground me.  While there are still some who debate Whitman’s sexual orientation, it seems likely that he did have an affair with Peter Doyle.  Edward Carpenter recounted his intimate interlude with Whitman to his friend Gavin Arthur, who then recorded the affair in his journal.

Whitman’s poetry fills me with optimism about humanity; his words often pull me out of my misanthropic woes.  When I read:

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,

I feel enveloped in a part of humanity that is flawed, but connected.  The connectedness is the rich good stuff–the stuff that gives me hope and optimism.

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

For me, this is my religion, Whitman’s words here seem sacred and again his sharing of how connected we are, for me, seems to show how natural and fluid sexual orientation is, and the softness of the lines of gender identity–how natural.  In some respects, Whitman is responsible for TSM blog.  If you have not read two of my favorites, Leaves of Grass or Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, I strongly encourage you read these poems.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 21, President James Buchanan

21 Jun

I would like to thank my friend, historian Brad Fairchild for contributing a great deal of research for this article.  Apparently, History has set the record a bit too “straight.”  Yes, while I realize President Buchanan represents, perhaps, one of the worst presidents in American history, he also represents America’s first gay president.  His relationship with William Rufus King was common knowledge in the country’s capital.  Unfortunately, there are few primary resources regarding Buchanan, as he ordered his letters to be burnt upon his death.

We do know that Andrew Jackson and others referred to Buchanan and King as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.”  Vice-President King, under President Pierce, was referred to as “Miss Nancy,” while President Buchanan was referred to as “Aunt Fancy” and “Mrs. Buchanan” by James Polk.  In and around Washington, the two were also called  “Siamese twins,”  which was slang at the time for gays and lesbians.

Initially I was worried there would not be enough information, or a lack of sources regarding Buchanan’s sexual orientation.  Much of what I have gleaned here was from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 15, 1999 that my friend Brad shared with me.  However, Buchanan’s being gay seems to now be commonly accepted knowledge.  There are a handful of website and articles, and even Wikipedia talks about his romantic relationship with King. I used four different sources for this specific article.

While I try to only include LGBT people that are dedicated to issues of social justice and the common good, I had to celebrate President Buchanan for being the first gay president.  Click here to learn more about President Buchanan.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 20, Allen Ginsberg

20 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Allen Ginsberg.  Ginsberg is best known for his poetry and as a LGBT and civil rights activist.  Ginsberg was one of the architects of the Beat Generation. In one of Ginsberg’s most famous epic poems, Howl, he celebrates the individual and the destruction both capitalism and conformity leave in their wake.

I think, perhaps, America is my favorite poem by Ginsberg; I thought it was great poetry and it resonated with my cynicism regarding American “values.”  Of course, it is difficult not to hear of Ginsberg and hear him claiming: “I slept with the man that slept with the man that slept with the man that slept with Walt Whitman,” somehow divining his greatness from Whitman himself.  I believe the succession goes something like this: Whitman slept with Edward Carpenter who slept with Gavin Arthur who Dean Moriarty who slept with Ginsberg.

Here is an excerpt from America:

America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.

Thank you, Allen Ginsberg.  Thank you for being openly out and gay and thank you for your poetry and activism. Click here to learn more about our Ginsberg.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 18, Alice B. Toklas

18 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Alice B. Toklas.  TSM followers will remember that we celebrated Toklas’ birthday back in April. Toklas deserves to be celebrated for having the courage to live her life openly as a lesbian.  In 1907, Toklas became an expatriate and moved to Paris.  She and her life-long partner, Gertrude Stein, were together for close to 40 years until Stein’s death.

The Toklas/Steins played host to many artists and literati of the time.  Their famous Salons would include such greats as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne,  Sherwood Anderson, and the very closeted Thornton Wilder who was having an affair with the writer/pornographer Sam Steward, also a friend and frequent guest of Toklas (Secret Historian, Justin Spring).

Toklas consistently encouraged people to live their lives honestly  and to be their best.  She seems to have been quite the optimist, despite having lived in France during the Nazi occupation.  Toklas published a memoir, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.   Perhaps the most famous recipe in the cookbook/autobiography was ”Haschich Fudge,” a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and marijuana, often served at her Salons.  I thank Toklas for her courage, wisdom, and her support of many rather famous LGBT people struggling with their own journeys of coming out.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 17, Duncan Teague

17 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to my friend Duncan Teague.  I have known Duncan for 15 years and have always admired and been inspired by his dedication to issues around social justice. He was quite resistant to allowing me to celebrate him and immediately protested: “I can think of so many other people we know that you should celebrate.”

Duncan  came out in high school to his friend, Crystal and the second person was his cousin. As with most coming out stories, his was/is a journey of continually coming out and celebrating who you are.

I came out to my parents when I was a junior in college, well actually my mother yanked me out.  A dear friend of ours was murdered and he was gay.  My mother sat me down in front of my father, I had just read the David Kopay story and it gave me the blueprint of how to come out…Gay rights to me was just standing up for our people, especially when there were so many gay people dying of  HIV.  Being politically active was not the goal, helping people was the goal.

Duncan is a minister with a Master’s degree in Divinity and is now pursuing a Full Fellowship as a minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church.  He has served as a lay minister at the church where Robert and I were married, the First Existentialist Church. His list of honors include: Grand Marshall of Gay Pride 1993 and  2001, Honoree of In The Life Atlanta, Black Gay Pride, Founding member (to present) of Community Advisory Board of Hope Clinic, Emory Vaccine Research, and the Auburn Research Library started the  Duncan Teague Collection, which is a collection of his historical papers documenting black and gay history in Atlanta.

Duncan is quick, of course, to thank a host of people:

I have to thank several people that helped me with this work, Phil Wilson, Reggie Williams, Anthony Antoine, malik m. l. williams, the late Tony Daniels, and Reverend Carolyn Mobley.  Carolyn was the first co-chair of the African-American Lesbian/Gay Alliance and had a profound effect on me, she was working with AID Atlanta, and she is a singer, and she pitches in where ever people needed help.

He wants his legacy to be:

that I lived a full life and that being out as a black gay man enriched it and it didn’t stop living a rich and full life and that I did something to prevent someone from getting HIV or that if someone already had that something I did made their life better.  Some of the most profound work I did, or “ministry” was as an artist, specifically The ADODI Muse: A Gay Negro Ensemble–this was a chance for me to put together my art life and my activism together.

Duncan thanks his husband David:

a major reason for the success I have had in the later part of my life has been because of my marriage and relationship with David.  We have established the kind of home and partnership that I always wanted.  We have grown folks adopting us because we are stable, not perfect, but stable and caring to each other and our friends as a couple.  My life for the last seventeen and a half years would be quite different in many ways without this kind of loving secure, base from which to operate.  I knew how to live fully without David, but better with David.

For more information about Duncan you can read the book Sweet Tea, by E. Patrick Johnson.

I want to thank Duncan and look forward to the many ways he will continue to make the world better for all.

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