Friday, June 9, 2023

Gay History: NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often abbreviated to AIDS Memorial Quilt or AIDS Quilt, is a memorial to celebrate the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes. Weighing an estimated 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world as of 2020. It was conceived in 1985, during the early years of the AIDS pandemic, when social stigma prevented many AIDS victims from receiving funerals.

Lacking a memorial service or grave site, the Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones' lives. The first showing of The Quilt took place on October 11, 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as part of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. In 2020, it returned to the AIDS Memorial in San Francisco, and can also be seen virtually.

The goal of the Quilt is to bring awareness to how massive the AIDS pandemic really is, and to bring support and healing to those affected by it.

(~ Wikipedia)

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Gay History: William Dorsey Swann

William Dorsey Swann (1860 – 1925) was an American LGBTQ activist in a time where leadership in the movement was uncommon. An African-American born into slavery, Swann was the first person in the United States to lead a queer resistance group and the first known person to self-identify as a "queen of drag".

During the 1880s and 1890s, Swann organized a series of drag balls in Washington, D.C. Most of the attendees of Swann's gatherings were men who were formerly enslaved who gathered to dance in their satin and silk dresses. This group was known as the "House of Swann". Swann participated in dances such as the cakewalk, a dance performed by enslaved people in America, mimicking the mannerisms of plantation owners. The cakewalk’s improvisational movements and subtle expressions of communication resemble voguing, the style later popularized in Harlem’s ball scene.

Swann was arrested in police raids numerous times, including the first documented case of an arrest for female impersonation in the United States, on April 12, 1888. This event was Swann's thirtieth birthday celebration. According to The Washington Post, he was "arrayed in a gorgeous dress of cream-colored satin". After the celebration was raided by police, Swann was "bursting with rage", as he stood up to one of the arresting officers and declared "you is no gentleman".

Swann's choice to resist that night rather than to submit passively to his arrest marks one of the earliest-known instances of resistance in the name of gay rights. The arrests made at Swann's parties were published in local newspapers, so townsfolk risked their reputation by attending. However, acts of public shaming like this one are the only reason we now know who Swann was.

In 1896, he was convicted of "keeping a disorderly house", a euphemism for running a brothel, and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. After his sentencing, he requested a pardon from President Grover Cleveland. This request was denied, but Swann was the first American on record who pursued legal and political action to defend the LGBTQ community's right to gather.

(~ Wikipedia)

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Gay History: Paris Is Burning (film)


Paris Is Burning is a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Critics consider the film to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls, and a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America. Most of the film alternates between footage of balls and interviews with prominent members of the scene, including Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Angie Xtravaganza, and Willi Ninja.

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The title takes its name from the Paris Is Burning ball held annually by artist Paris Dupree who appears in the film.

The film also explores how its subjects deal with issues such as AIDS, racism, poverty, violence and homophobia. Several of whom had been disowned by transphobic and homophobic parents, leaving them vulnerable to homelessness. Others, such as Venus Xtravaganza, had become sex workers in order to support themselves. 

Near the end of the film, Venus is found strangled under a bed at the Duchess Hotel in New York. Her killer was never found. More than 30 years after the debut of the film Paris Is Burning, Jersey City  made the home where she lived with her grandmother and filmed most of her interviews for Paris Is Burning a historic landmark in an “intentional effort” to preserve the city’s LGBTQ+ history.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Gay History: Harvey Milk

Harvey Bernard Milk (1930 – 1978) was an American politician and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk was born and raised in New York where he acknowledged his homosexuality as an adolescent, but chose to pursue sexual relationships with secrecy and discretion well into his adult years. His experience in the counterculture of the 1960s caused him to shed many of his conservative views about individual freedom and the expression of sexuality.

Milk moved to San Francisco in 1972 and opened a camera store. Although he had been restless, holding an assortment of jobs and changing addresses frequently, he settled in the Castro District, a neighborhood that at the time was experiencing a mass immigration of gay men and lesbians. He was compelled to run for City Supervisor in 1973, though he encountered resistance from the existing gay political establishment. His campaign was compared to theater; he was brash, outspoken, animated, and outrageous, earning media attention and votes, although not enough to be elected. He campaigned again in the next two Supervisor elections, dubbing himself the "Mayor of Castro Street". Voters responded enough to warrant his running for the California State Assembly as well. Taking advantage of his growing popularity, he led the gay political movement in fierce battles against anti-gay initiatives. Milk was elected City Supervisor in 1977 after San Francisco reorganized its election procedures to choose representatives from neighborhoods rather than through city-wide ballots.

Milk served almost eleven months in office, during which he sponsored a bill banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. The Supervisors passed the bill by a vote of 11–1, and it was signed into law by Mayor George Moscone. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled former City Supervisor who cast the sole vote against Milk's bill. 

Despite his short career in politics, Milk became an icon in San Francisco and a martyr in the LGBT community. In 2002, Milk was called "the most famous and most significant openly LGBT official ever elected in the United States". Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote of him: "What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us." Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

(~ Wikipedia)

Monday, June 5, 2023

Gay History: Walt Whitman


Walter Whitman Jr. (1819 – 1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. He is considered one of the most influential poets in American history. Whitman incorporated both transcendentalism and realism in his writings and is often called the father of free verse. His work was controversial in his time, particularly his 1855 poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described by some as obscene for its overt sensuality.

Whitman's work broke the boundaries of poetic form and is generally prose-like. Its signature style deviates from the course set by his predecessors and includes "idiosyncratic treatment of the body and the soul as well as of the self and the other." It uses unusual images and symbols, including rotting leaves, tufts of straw, and debris. Whitman openly wrote about death and sexuality, including prostitution. He is often labeled the father of free verse, though he did not invent it. He has also been called the first "poet of democracy" in the United States, a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character.

Though biographers continue to debate Whitman's sexuality, he is usually described as either homosexual or bisexual in his feelings and attractions. His poetry depicts love and sexuality in a more earthy, individualistic way common in American culture before the medicalization of sexuality in the late 19th century. Though Leaves of Grass was often labeled pornographic or obscene, only one critic remarked on its author's presumed sexual activity: in a November 1855 review, Rufus Wilmot Griswold suggested Whitman was guilty of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians".

( ~ Wikipedia)

Gay History: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 – 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for gross indecency for consensual homosexual acts in "one of the first celebrity trials", imprisonment, and early death from meningitis at the age of 46.

At the height of his fame and success, while The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) was still being performed in London, Wilde prosecuted the Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he was convicted and sentenced to two years' hard labor, the maximum penalty, and was jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison he wrote De Profundis (published posthumously in 1905), a long letter that discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he left immediately for France, and never returned to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

In 2017, Wilde was among an estimated 50,000 men who were pardoned for homosexual acts that were no longer considered offences under the Policing and Crime Act 2017 (homosexuality was decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967). The 2017 Act implements what is known informally as the Alan Turing Law.

For more on Oscar Wilde, visit: Oscar Wilde (Wikipedia), Oscar Wilde Bibliography, and Biographies of Oscar Wilde (Wikipedia),

( ~ Wikipedia)

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Gay History: The Gay Pride Flag

The rainbow flag, also known as the gay pride flag or simply pride flag, is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride and LGBT social movements. The colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community and the spectrum of human sexuality and gender.

In 1978, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco city supervisor and the first openly gay politician elected to office in California, asked his friend Gilbert Baker to create a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community. Milk wanted to reveal the new design at the Gay Freedom Pride Parade in San Francisco that year.

Baker, a gay rights activist, army veteran, and artist, immediately got to work designing a striped flag with eight colors. According to Baker’s website, each color on the flag had a special meaning: Pink represented sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity, and violet represented spirit. Thirty volunteers hand-dyed and stitched the original two flags.

The popularity of the rainbow flag has influenced the creation and adoption of a wide variety of multi-color multi-striped flags used to communicate specific identities within the LGBT community, including the bisexual pride flag, pansexual pride flag, transgender pride flags. and the 2018 Progress Pride Flag by Daniel Quasar.

( ~ / Reader's Digest / Wikipedia )

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Gay History: The Gay Rights Movement

The 1960s and preceding decades were not welcoming times for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. For instance, solicitation of same-sex relations was illegal in New York City.

For such reasons, LGBTQ+ individuals flocked to gay bars and clubs, places of refuge where they could express themselves openly and socialize without worry. However, the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or suspected LGBTQ+ individuals, arguing that the mere gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly.” Establishments could get shut down just for having gay employees or serving gay patrons.

Thanks to activists’ efforts, these regulations were overturned in 1966. The Mattachine Society staged a “sip-in” where they openly declared their sexuality at taverns, daring staff to turn them away and suing establishments who did. When The Commission on Human Rights ruled that gay individuals had the right to be served in bars, police raids were temporarily reduced. But engaging in gay behavior in public (holding hands, kissing or dancing with someone of the same sex) was still illegal, so police harassment of gay bars continued and many bars still operated without liquor licenses. 

The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a haven for the city's gay, lesbian, and transgender community. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

( ~ / Photo: A large crowd commemorates the second anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village of New York City in 1971. Fifty years after the first riots, the NYPD made a formal apology on June 6, 2019, stating the police at the time enforced discriminatory laws.)

Friday, June 2, 2023

Gay History: Gay Liberation Front

Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was the name of several gay liberation groups, the first of which was formed in New York City in 1969, immediately after the Stonewall riots. Similar organizations also formed in the UK, Australia and Canada. The GLF provided a voice for the newly-out and newly-radicalized gay community, and a meeting place for a number of activists who would go on to form other groups, such as the Gay Activists Alliance and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in the US. In the UK and Canada, activists also developed a platform for gay liberation and demonstrated for gay rights. Activists from both the US and UK groups would later go on to found or be active in groups including ACT UP, the Lesbian Avengers, Queer Nation, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and Stonewall.

( ~ Wikipedia / Photo: Photo by Diana Davies: Gay Liberation Front marches on Times Square, New York, 1970.)

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Gay History: Gay Pride Month

The concept of Pride Month began with the Stonewall riots, a series of riots and protests for gay liberation that took place over several days beginning on June 28, 1969. The riots began after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located within Lower Manhattan. Activists Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie are credited for inciting the riots, though Johnson disputes her involvement.

The year after the riots, the first pride marches were held in several US cities. The march in New York City, aimed to celebrate "Christopher Street Liberation Day", alongside parallel marches across the US, is considered to be a watershed moment for LGBTQIA+ rights. Fred Sargeant, an organizer of some of the first marches, said that the goal was to commemorate the Stonewall riots and further push for liberation. He noted that while the first marches were more akin to a protest than a celebration, it helped to remind people of LGBTQIA+ communities and how they may include one's family and friends.

( ~ Wikipedia / Photo: In the early 1970's, the Northwestern University Gay Liberation group attended the anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Washington DC.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

I Miss New York

I miss New York. Now that I work from home, I rarely make it into the city anymore. What use to be a daily occurrence is now a monthly or a once every other month trip. There's a spirit to the city that's hard to explain to those who haven't experienced it. It has it's rough edges, no doubt, but there's an energy to it that permeates every building, every subway, every street corner, and even every person you walk past. The picture above is the first thing I saw yesterday as I stepped out of the subway and onto the street. New York was the first place to tell me "I belong", that my identity was valid, and that my existence was never the problem. It never demanded anything from me other than to just "be". Validation can be powerful.

With a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills already introduced this year (over 400), I have unfortunately found myself revisiting a lot of the anxiety and darkness that so very often dominated the younger years of my life. Yesterday's trek through New York City felt like an exhale. I still belong. I am still valid, and my existence is still not the problem.