Coming Out: a Timeline/Chronology of notable poets, writers, songwriters and
other artists who "came out" either publicly or in their work ...
Note: Some of the dates below are approximate. Much of the information was taken
from public websites; we do not claim anything here to be "original" other
than a few brief observations and interjections. To make it easier to find the
names of writers, artists and other figures, we have bolded them.
Things that may surprise you, and a few interesting questions that will be
answered in due course:
Some of the most famous writers of the past wrote homoerotic works, including
Sappho, Catullus, Virgil, Michelangelo, Erasmus and Shakespeare.
The great artist/sculptor/poet Michelangelo wrote hundreds of love poems to a
man, perhaps while painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling for Pope Sixtus IV.
Abraham Lincoln wrote what appears to be the first American poem about a gay
marriage; this bawdy poem was said to have been more popular than the Bible in
parts of Illinois!
Lincoln was the beloved subject of perhaps the greatest poem by perhaps
America's greatest poet, who was gay.
The Ottoman Empire, predominately Muslim, decriminalized homosexuality more than
a hundred years before the United States.
Slavery had its "underground railroad." England's gay subculture had its
"underground" poets in the form of a clandestine circle known as the Uranians.
Can you name the first famous singer to "come out of the closet"? A hint: she
came out in 1970, two years before David Bowie.
Nonetheless, David Bowie gets our vote as the most influential figure from
rock's early days to come out publicly.
Which "wild" poet, playwright, novelist and notorious wit once did hard time
in prison because
he was gay?
Who coined the phrase "the love that dare not speak its name" and to whom did he
750 BC: Homer in the Iliad portrays Achilles and
Patroclus as the closest of bosom companions. Achilles is the most dominant of
the warriors in the Trojan War, while Patroclus performs duties such as cooking,
feeding and grooming the horses. Are they a couple? The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was
later portrayed as a same-sex love affair in the works of
Aeschylus, Plato and Aeschines.
600 BC: Sappho of Lesbos becomes famous for her erotic poetry, giving us the
terms "lesbian" and "sapphic." She is called the "Tenth Muse" by her peers: the
other nine muses were goddesses!
385 BC: Plato publishes his Symposium in which Phaedrus, Eryixmachus,
Aristophanes and other Greek intellectuals argue that love between males is the
highest form, while sex with women is lustful and utilitarian. Socrates is attracted
to men, but demonstrates remarkable self-control
when seduced by the beautiful Alcibiades!
80 BC: The surviving epigrams of Catullus are addressed to a male lover or
object of desire.
40 BC: Virgil's Eclogues include notable examples of homoerotic Latin
(All dates from this point forward are AD)
54: Nero becomes Emperor of Rome, then marries two men, Pythagoras and Sporus,
in legal ceremonies; Sporus is accorded the regalia worn by the wives of the
Caesars. Juvenal and Martial note that male couples are having traditional
400: Rome outlaws homosexual sex. Nonnus's Dionysiaca is the last known piece of
literature for nearly 1,000 years to celebrate homosexual passion.
1321: Dante's Inferno condemns sodomites to the seventh circle of hell.
1483: During the Spanish Inquisition homosexuals are tortured, stoned, castrated and
burned. More than 1,600 people are prosecuted for sodomy.
1492: Columbus discovers the new world. Desiderius Erasmus writes a series of
love letters to a fellow monk at a monastery in the Netherlands.
1500: The Spanish invader Vasco Núñez de Balboa orders Native American
homosexuals to be eaten alive by dogs.
1532: The Holy Roman Empire makes sodomy punishable by death. Nevertheless, Michelangelo
begins writing over 300 love poems dedicated to Tomasso dei Cavalieri.
1533: King Henry VIII (such a lovely lad!) passes the Buggery Act, which makes
anal intercourse punishable by death throughout England. At the same time, he
marries Anne Boleyn in defiance of Rome, which makes him an adulterer. He would
later behead his new wife (such a lovely lad!).
1598: Around this time William Shakespeare is writing love poems to a "fair
youth" and a "dark lady." He writes 126 sonnets to the young man, only 28 to the
1757: The birth of the English poet William Blake,
who would become an early advocate of racial tolerance, equality of the sexes,
and free love. When the Beatles met Bob Dylan
for the first time and things started off a bit slow and uncomfortable, Allen Ginsberg
broke the ice by bringing up Blake and his poetry.
1791: The novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin is published in China. It
includes an openly bisexual character as well as an account of gay-bashing.
The birth of Anne Lister, an Englishwoman who has been called the first modern
lesbian. She kept detailed diaries of her relationships, but used a secret code
based on algebra and ancient Greek. The code was finally cracked in 1980: "I
love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart
revolts from any love but theirs."
1814: The term "crime against nature" first appears in the in the US criminal
1819: The birth of Walt Whitman, not only America's greatest gay poet, but
perhaps its greatest poet, period, and the one who first called for tolerance
and free love, echoing William Blake. Later in life, Whitman
would model his crypt after Blake's engraving "Death's Door."
1829: Around age 20, Abraham Lincoln wrote what appears to be the first American
poem about a gay marriage; this bawdy poem was said to have been more popular
than the Bible in parts of Illinois!
1844: The birth of the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins is
notable for his eclectic style and use of "sprung rhythm." Virtually unknown
his lifetime, Hopkins would become famous when his poems were
published after his death by his friend the British poet laureate Robert Bridges. The
birth of Paul Verlaine, a French poet who would have a
passionate, turbulent relationship with Arthur Rimbaud.
1854: The birth of Oscar Wilde, an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, novelist, wit
and "quintessential aesthete." The birth of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud,
a "bad boy" poet who
would give up writing to become a slave trader and gun runner!
1855: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is published. It
is now generally accepted that Whitman was gay and that his love poems were
written with males in mind. After Oscar Wilde visited the older
poet in 1882, he boasted to his friend George Ives: "I have the
kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips." It seems likely they did
more than kiss, because "Oscar desperately wanted to meet Walt Whitman, whom he
and many others considered to be America’s greatest living poet …Whitman’s poetry spoke
of the potency of friendship and love between men, particularly between
working-class men, and positively oozed homoeroticism. Indeed, the ‘Calamus’
section of Whitman’s great poetic cycle Leaves of Grass was so
intensely homoerotic that it gave rise to the short-lived term ‘calamite’ to
denote a man who loved men." An account of the meeting by John Marshall Stoddart
mentions Whitman's hand on Wilde's knee, the quaffing of elderberry wine, the
two talking of "nothing but pretty boys" and "how insipid was the love of
women," followed by Whitman's suggestion that Stoddart leave the
couple alone for "two to three hours" so they could repair to Whitman's
"den" and get on a "thee and thou" basis.
1857: The French "decadence" movement develops after Théophile Gautier
and Charles Baudelaire used the word to represent a rejection
of what they considered banal "progress." Baudelaire referred to himself as
decadent in his 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal. He would later use
the term "decadence" to include the subversion of traditional standards in
pursuit of full, sensual expression. Other notable writers associated with the
decadents include Paul Verlaine, Tristan Corbière, Theodore Hannon,
Stéphane Mallarmé, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Arthur Symons (“the blond
angel”), Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson and Lionel Johnson.
1858: The Ottoman Empire decriminalizes homosexuality (more than one hundred
years before any US state). William Johnson Cory publishes
Ionica, which is considered to be the first work of the "underground"
English poets known as the Uranians. According to Michael Matthew Kaylor the
three major Uranian writers were Gerard Manley Hopkins,
Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. Other members of the
more immediate circle included Lord Alfred Douglas, Montague Summers,
John Francis Bloxam, Charles Kains Jackson, John Gambril Nicholson, E. E.
Bradford, John Addington Symonds, Edmund John, John Moray Stuart-Young, Charles
Edward Sayle, Fabian S. Woodley and several pseudonymous authors such
as Philebus (John Leslie Barford) and A. Newman
(Francis Edwin Murray). Other writers often associated with the Uranians include
Algernon Charles Swinburne, George Ives, Rennell Rodd, the
"flamboyantly eccentric" novelist Frederick Rolfe (also known
as Baron Corvo), Edward Carpenter, and the
"obscure but prophetic" poet-printer Ralph Chubb. Another poet,
Digby Dolben, who drowned at age 19, appears to have been
influenced by Cory and left poems later published by his distant relative
Robert Bridges, the English Poet Laureate who also published
the poems of Hopkins. Bridges did not, however, appear to be a Uranian himself
and was very critical of Cory in regard to Dolben's work.
1859: The birth of the English poet A. E. Housman.
1865: After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the poet
Walt Whitman wrote two of his best-known poems as elegies and
tributes: "O Captain! My Captain!" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard
Bloom'd." The latter has been called the greatest American poem, by the greatest American
1867: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs becomes the first self-proclaimed homosexual to
speak out publicly for homosexual rights when he urges German jurists to repeal
1869: The term "homosexuality" appears in print for the first time in a
German-Hungarian pamphlet written by Karl-Maria Kertbeny.
1870: Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania is published, possibly the
first American novel about a homosexual relationship.
1879: The birth of the English writer E. M. Forster, an English
novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He would be nominated for
a Nobel Prize a remarkable 16 times! While Forster didn't "come out" publicly,
he did write what appears to be the first English novel about a same-sex love
affair (see the entry for 1913).
1882: The birth of the English writer Virginia Woolf, who would have an affair with
another female writer of note, Vita Sackville-West.
1891: Lord Alfred Douglas meets Oscar Wilde;
although Wilde was married with two sons, they soon begin an affair.
1892: The birth of the American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, who
was openly bisexual and had several lesbian relationships in high school and
college. Lord Alfred Douglas's "Two Loves," which would be used
against Oscar Wilde at the latter's trial in 1895, ends with
the famous line that refers to homosexuality as "the love that dare not speak
its name," a quote often incorrectly attributed to Wilde.
1894: The Robert Hichens novel The Green Carnation is
published. Said to be a roman à clef based on the relationship of
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, it would
be one of the texts used against Wilde during his 1895 trial.
1895: Oscar Wilde is tried for "gross indecency" and sentenced to two years hard
labor in Reading Gaol. He would write a poem titled "The Ballad of Reading
1896: While in prison, Oscar Wilde
writes Lord Alfred Douglas a long letter titled De Profundis
("From the Depths"). Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld publishes a pamphlet, Sappho and Socrates, on homosexual
love (under the pseudonym Th. Ramien). The gay rights movement began in late
19th-century Germany when courageous activists condemned sodomy laws. Hirschfeld
was a driving force behind the movement. He developed scientific theories
explaining homosexuality, arguing that because it was a natural condition,
homosexuality merited research, not punishment. He co-founded early rights
organizations, and founded the Institute for Sexual Research, which became
world-renowned. Because of his work, Hirschfeld was labeled "the most dangerous
Jew in Germany." But despite attacks, he continued his fight until Nazis
destroyed his Institute in 1933. Hirschfeld died in exile two years later.
1897: Upon his release from prison, Oscar Wilde leaves England,
never to return. He reunites with Lord Alfred Douglas in Rouen
and they live together briefly in Naples. Magnus Hirschfeld founds the Scientific Humanitarian Committee with the
publisher Max Spohr, the lawyer Eduard Oberg, and the writer Franz Joseph von Bülow. The group aims to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals
and to repeal Paragraph 175, the section of the German penal code that
criminalized homosexuality. Under Hirschfeld's leadership, the SHC gathered over
5,000 signatures from prominent Germans on a petition to overturn Paragraph 175.
Signatories included Albert Einstein, Hermann Hesse, Käthe Kollwitz,
Mann, Heinrich Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, August Bebel, Max Brod, Karl Kautsky,
Stefan Zweig, Gerhart Hauptmann, Martin Buber, Richard von Krafft-Ebing and
1900: Oscar Wilde dies in exile.
1901: E. M. Forster begins work on his first novel, A Room
with a View.
1902: The birth of the African-American poet Langston Hughes.
1906: Imre, possibly the first openly gay American novel with a happy ending, is
1907: The birth of the English poet W. H. Auden.
1910: Emma Goldman was "the first and only woman, indeed the first and only
American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public."
E. M. Forster publishes the novel Howards End. He is
praised for his "feminine brilliance of perception." Little did they know at the
1911: The birth of the American playwright Tennessee Williams.
1912: Thomas Mann, on holiday with his wife in Venice, falls in
love with Wladyslaw Moes, a ten-year-old Polish aristocrat nicknamed Adzio.
1913: E. M. Forster begins writing Maurice, a novel
about same-sex love in early twentieth-century England. The novel was inspired
by the relationship between his friend the poet Edward Carpenter
and his partner, George Merrill. Forster believes the novel is
unpublishable during his lifetime; it would be published after his death (see
the entry for 1971).
1919: Different From the Others, one of the first explicitly gay films, is
released. Magnus Hirschfeld has a cameo in the film and partially funded its
1920: Perhaps the most famous gay-oriented Harlem club of the "roaring twenties"
era was Harry Hansberry's Clam
House, a narrow, smoky speakeasy on 133rd Street. The Clam House featured
Gladys Bentley, a 250-pound, masculine, dark-skinned lesbian,
who performed all night long in a white tuxedo and top hat. (Later in her
career, she was sometimes accompanied by a chorus of drag queens.) Bentley, a
talented pianist with a magnificent, growling voice, was celebrated for
inventing obscene lyrics to popular contemporary melodies. The poet
Langston Hughes described her thusly: "For two or three amazing years,
Miss Bentley sat, and played piano all night long … with scarcely a break
between the notes, sliding from one song to another, with a powerful and
continuous underbeat of jungle rhythm. Miss Bentley was an amazing exhibition of
musical energy—a large, dark, masculine lady, whose feet pounded the floor while
her fingers pounded the keyboard—a perfect piece of African sculpture, animated
by her own rhythm." Eslanda Robeson, the wife of singer
Paul Robeson, gushed to a friend: "Gladys Bentley is grand. I’ve heard
her three nights, and will never be the same!" Harold Jackman
wrote to his friend the poet Countee Cullen: "When Gladys sings
'St. James Infirmary,' it makes you weep your heart out."
1923: Elsa Gidlow, a lesbian born in England, published the first volume of
openly lesbian love poetry in the United States, On A Grey Thread.
1924: The Society for Human Rights is founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago. It is
the first documented gay rights organization. E. M. Forster writes A Passage
1926: The speakeasy song "Sissy Blues" by Ma Rainey complains
about a husband’s infidelity with a homosexual named Miss Kate. The birth of the American poet Allen Ginsberg, who would
become the best-known of the Beat poets, many of whom were gay or bisexual. It
has been said that the Beatles spelled their band's name with
an "a" because of the Beats.
1927: The song "Foolish Man Blues" by the great blues singer Bessie
Smith has lines like: "There's two things got me puzzled, / there's two
things I don't understand, / that's a mannish acting woman / and a lisping,
swishing, womanish-acting man." Bessie Smith, nicknamed the Empress of the
Blues, became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day. She headed her own
shows, which sometimes featured as many as 40 performers, and she toured in a
custom-built railroad car. Her marriage was stormy with infidelity on both
sides, including numerous female lovers for Bessie.
1928: The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is published in the UK and later
in the United States. The book "roots lesbianism as solidly in English country
life as a fox hunt or a mansion." It sparks great legal controversy and brings the topic of
homosexuality to public conversation. The birth of Andy Warhol,
who would be a leading figure of pop art and the coming sexual revolutions.
Orlando, a novel by Virginia Woolf, features a
sex-changing poet inspired by her lover, Vita-Sackville-West.
1930: The song "Boy in the Boat" by George Hanna counsels
tolerance: "When you see two women walking hand in hand, / just shake your head
and try to understand."
1931: Mädchen in Uniform, one of the first explicitly lesbian films and the
first pro-lesbian film, is released.
1933: The Nazis ban homosexual groups, send homosexuals to concentration camps,
and destroy Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Research.
Kurt Hiller, the Institute's main organizer, is sent to a
concentration camp. Around 20,000 of its books and journals, and 5,000 images,
1935: "Sissy Man Blues" implores "Lord, if you can't send me no woman, / please
send me some sissy man." It was recorded by Kokomo Arnold,
Josh White (as Pinewood Tom), George Noble and
Connie McLean's Rhythm Boys.
1939: Frances V. Rummell published Diana: A Strange Autobiography; it was the
first explicitly lesbian autobiography in which two women end up happily
together. This autobiography was published with a note saying, "The publishers
wish it expressly understood that this is a true story, the first of its kind
ever offered to the general reading public."
1945: WWII ends and with it, the Holocaust. It has been estimated that 3,000 to 9,000
homosexuals died in Nazi concentration and death camps, while 2,000 to 6,000
homosexual survivors were required to serve out the full term of their sentences
under Paragraph 175. The first gay bar in post-World-War-II Berlin opened in the
summer of 1945, and the first drag ball took place in American sector of West
Berlin in the fall of 1945.
1947: Vice Versa, the first North American lesbian publication, is written and
self-published by Lisa Ben (real name Edith Eyde) in Los Angeles.
Alfred Charles Kinsey, an American biologist, professor of
entomology and zoology, and sexologist, founds the Institute for Sex Research at
Indiana University, now known as the Kinsey Institute. He is best known for
writing Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual
Behavior in the Human Female (1953), known together as the Kinsey
Reports. Kinsey’s research has influenced social and cultural values in the
US and internationally. One gay person noted that Kinsey's work "stopped gay
people being way over there … and people realized we are more common than they
thought. It definitely caused waves."
1949: E. M. Forster declines a knighthood.
1951: Henry "Harry" Hay, Jr. founds the Mattachine Society, the first sustained
gay rights group in the United States, as well as the Radical Faeries, a
loosely-affiliated gay spiritual movement. Hay has been described as "the father
of gay liberation."
1952: Spring Fire, the first lesbian paperback novel, and the beginning of the
lesbian pulp fiction genre, was published in 1952 and sold 1.5 million copies.
It was written by lesbian Marijane Meaker under the false name Vin Packer.
The New York Daily News carries a front-page story (under the headline
“Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell”) announcing that Christine Jorgensen had become
the recipient of the first sex change operation. (However, the claim was
inaccurate, as this type of surgery had previously been performed by pioneering
German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s.) Jorgensen became an instant
celebrity and used the platform of fame to advocate for transgender people; she
became known for her directness and polished wit. She also worked as an actress
and nightclub entertainer, and recorded several songs.
1954: Mathematical and computer genius Alan Turing commits
suicide by cyanide poisoning, 18 months after being given a choice between two
years in prison or estrogen injections (chemical castration) as a punishment for homosexuality.
A succession of well-known men, including Lord Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers and
Peter Wildeblood, are convicted of homosexual offences as British police
pursued a McCarthy-like purge of Society homosexuals. Arcadie, the first
homosexual group in France, is formed.
1955: The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) was founded in San Francisco by four
lesbian couples (including Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon) and was the first
national lesbian political and social organization in the United States. The
group's name came from "Songs of Bilitis," a lesbian-themed song cycle by French
poet Pierre Louÿs, which described the fictional Bilitis as a resident of the
Isle of Lesbos alongside Sappho. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon
would later become the first same-sex couple to be married in the United States,
1958: The births of Michael Jackson, Prince Rogers
Nelson and Madonna. According to the LGBT magazine
The Advocate, Madonna is the greatest "gay icon." The Homosexual Law Reform Society is founded in the United Kingdom.
Barbara Gittings founds the New York chapter of Daughters of Bilitis. The United
States Supreme Court rules in favor of the First Amendment rights of a gay and
lesbian magazine, marking the first time the United States Supreme Court had
ruled on a case involving homosexuality.
1959: ITV, at the time the UK's only national commercial broadcaster, broadcasts
the first gay drama, South, starring Peter Wyngarde. The first homosexual
uprising in the USA occurs at Cooper's Doughnuts in Los Angeles; rioters were
arrested by the LAPD.
1960: According to Lou Reed, his parents subjected him to electroconvulsive
therapy (ECT) because he was gay: "They put the thing down your throat so you
don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was
recommended in Rockland County then to discourage homosexual feelings. The
effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a
book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again."
1961: The Vatican declares that anyone who is "affected by the perverse
inclination" towards homosexuality should not be allowed to take religious vows
or be ordained within the Roman Catholic Church. The Rejected, the first
documentary on homosexuality, is broadcast by KQED TV in San Francisco. José Sarria becomes the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United
States when he runs for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Illinois becomes
the first U.S. state to remove sodomy law from its criminal code through passage
of the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code. (Hallelujah, it's been a long
time coming, 100 years after the Ottoman Empire and still 49 states to go!)
While the adopted code did not penalize private sexual relations, it
criminalized acts of "Open Lewdness."
1962: Another Country by James Baldwin has been
described as "One of the greatest American novels of the postwar period, full of
passionate rhetoric and fury at social injustice. Reading it is not a
comfortable experience. The reader is wrong-footed by what happens at the end of
the first section, and indeed never fully recovers from it. At the book’s heart
is one of the happiest portrayals of a gay male couple that you’ll find in any
novel before the gay liberation period."
1964: Lou Reed and John Cale form an obscure New York City band called the
Primitives, which soon changes its name to The Velvet Underground. The group
takes its new name from the title of a book by Michael Leigh about the secret
sexual subculture of the early 1960s. The group's first paying gig is $75 for a
high school show. The band's fortunes begin to improve when Andy Warhol becomes
its manager. The first photograph of lesbians on the cover of lesbian magazine
The Ladder, showing two women from the back, on a beach looking out to sea.
1966: The first lesbian to appear on the cover of the lesbian magazine The
Ladder with her face showing was Lilli Vincenz. A coalition of Homosexual
organizations organized demonstrations for Armed Forces Day to protest the
exclusion of LGBT from the U.S. armed services. The Los Angeles group held a
15-car motorcade, which has been identified as the nation's first gay pride
1967: The British Parliament decriminalizes homosexuality, sorta. The Sexual
Offences Act 1967 decriminalized homosexual acts between two men over 21 years
of age in private in England and Wales; it did not apply to Scotland, Northern
Ireland or the Channel Islands. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the world's first
homosexual-oriented bookstore, opens in New York City. The Student Homophile
League at Columbia University is the first institutionally recognized gay
student group in the United States.
1969: The Velvet Underground record the song "Candy Says" about
Candy Darling, a
cross-dresser. The Beatles record "Get Back" with lines like "Sweet Loretta
Martin thought she was a woman / but she was another man." Police raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Protests and
demonstrations begin, and this becomes a spark for the gay civil rights movement
in the United States. Paragraph 175 is eased in West Germany. Bill C-150 is
passed, decriminalizing homosexuality in Canada. Pierre Trudeau, the Prime
Minister of Canada, is quoted as having said: "The state has no place in the
bedrooms of the nation." Poland decriminalizes homosexual prostitution. An
Australian arm of the Daughters of Bilitis forms in Melbourne and is considered
Australia's first homosexual rights organisation.
1970: Dusty Springfield becomes the first famous singer to "come out of the
closet" publicly, as bisexual. An obscure band called Smile changes its name to
the far more radical and suggestive Queen. Rock will never be the same again, as
the group is fronted by the ultimate queen, Freddie Mercury. Mercury designs the
group's logo and chooses to represent himself with two fairies. The band's first
hit in the US would, quite appropriately, be "Killer Queen." While Mercury has
been criticized for not "coming out," it seems that he did come out with the
name of the band, its logo and its songs. John Marshall of Gay Times expressed
the following opinion: "[Mercury] was a 'scene-queen,' not afraid to publicly
express his gayness, but unwilling to analyse or justify his 'lifestyle' ... It
was as if Freddie Mercury was saying to the world, 'I am what I am. So what?'
And that in itself for some was a statement." Bette Midler becomes an early "gay
icon" by performing at the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse and "sexual
Xanadu" in New York City. It is there that she develops her brassy "fag hag" or
"Divine Miss M" persona. Her pianist, Barry Manilow, sometimes performs wearing
only a white towel, like the patrons! Midler becomes known as "Bathhouse Betty,"
a name she still bears with pride. (BTW, there is 54-minute YouTube video of her
1971 farewell performance at the Continental Baths.) On the one year anniversary
of the Stonewall riots, the first Gay Liberation Day March is held in New York
City. This is now considered the first "gay pride" parade. The first "Gay-in" is
held in San Francisco. Carl Wittman writes A Gay Manifesto.
1971: E. M. Forster's novel Maurice is published
posthumously. Idaho repeals its sodomy law, then re-instates it because of outrage among
Mormons and Catholics. The U.S. Libertarian Party calls for the repeal of all
victimless crime laws, including the sodomy laws. Dr. Frank Kameny becomes the
first openly gay candidate for the United States Congress. The University of
Michigan establishes the first collegiate LGBT programs office, then known as
the "Gay Advocate's Office." The UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was recognized as
a political movement in the national press and was holding weekly meetings of
200 to 300 people. George Klippert, the last man jailed for homosexuality in
Canada, is released from prison. Boys in the Sand was the first gay porn film to
include credits, to achieve crossover success, to be reviewed by Variety, and
one of the earliest porn films, after 1969's Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, to gain
mainstream credibility, preceding 1972's Deep Throat by nearly a year. It was
promoted with an advertising campaign unprecedented for a pornographic feature,
premiered in New York City in 1971 and was an immediate critical and commercial
1972: "I'm gay," declared David Bowie, "and always have been, even when I was
David Jones." When Bowie made this revelation in the Jan. 22, 1972, issue of
England's Melody Maker, he was working on his glam-rock masterpiece The Rise and
Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, which was released in June of
the same year. The album stars an "androgynous bisexual rock star who who acts
as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings." At the time Bowie was newly married to Angie Bowie, who had just given birth
a few months before to future film director Duncan Jones. Bowie was one of the
leaders in terms of making it possible to discuss the gay lifestyle openly. For
instance, his song "Queen Bitch" with lines like "She's so swishy in her satin
1973: The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II), based largely on
the research and advocacy of Evelyn Hooker. Lou Reed, who left
The Velvet Underground to go solo, has an off-beat hit with "Take
a Walk on the Wild Side." The song has been described as "an ironic yet
affectionate salute to the misfits and hustlers who once surrounded Andy
Warhol." When first introduced to Reed's music, David Bowie said, "I had never
heard anything quite like it. It was a revelation to me." And the lyrics were
way a-head of their time, if you'll pardon the pun. For example, these lines
about Candy Darling: "Candy came from out on the island, / In
the backroom she was everybody's darling, / But she never lost her head / Even
when she was giving head ..."
1974: Kathy Kozachenko becomes the first openly gay American elected to public
office when she wins a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council. Robert
Grant founds American Christian Cause to oppose the "gay agenda", the beginning
of modern Christian politics in America. Angela Morley became the first openly
transgender person to be nominated for an Academy Award, when she was nominated
for one in the category of Best Music, Original Song Score/Adaptation for The
Little Prince (1974), a nomination shared with Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe,
and Douglas Gamley.
1975: The Rocky Horror Picture Show becomes a camp/cult classic, with
songs like Sweet Transvestite, sung by Tim Curry. Homosexuality is legalized in California due to the Consenting Adult Sex
Bill, authored by and successfully lobbied for in the state legislature by State
Assemblyman from San Francisco Willie Brown. Meanwhile, Leonard Matlovich becomes the first U.S. gay service
member to purposely out himself. Clela Rorex, a clerk in
Boulder County, Colorado, issues the first same-sex marriage licenses in the
United States, the first to Dave McCord and Dave Zamora. Six same-sex marriages
were performed, but all were overturned later that year.
1976: After undergoing gender reassignment surgery, ophthalmologist and
professional tennis player Renee Richards is banned from competing in the
women's US Open because of a "women-born-women" rule. Cameron Crowe
Bowie to tell Playboy: "It's true—I am a bisexual. But I can't deny that I've
used that fact very well." Bowie's glam-rock style, innovations and reinventions
of himself would influence peers like Sweet, Slade, T. Rex, Elton John, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Boy George, Queen, Pink Floyd and
U2, among many others. Bowie had "sartorial influence" on the cross-dressing
York Dolls. His sponsorship of Mott the Hoople (for whom he wrote and produced
"All the Young Dudes") and Iggy Pop helped create punk. When Bowie went
electronic, he paved the way for The Human League, Depeche Mode, Culture Club
and Duran Duran. Bowie also influenced new wave acts like
Spandau Ballet and the
Eurythmics. Today, acts as diverse as Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe and
Adam Lambert seem to have clearly been influenced by Ziggy Stardust.
Madonna told a crowd in Houston two days after Bowie's death: "He showed me it
was okay to be different."
Madonna again: "Before I saw David Bowie live, I was just your normal,
dysfunctional, rebellious teenager from the Midwest, and he has truly changed my
Boy George called Bowie his "hero" and said there "would not be
Boy George if it
wasn't for David Bowie."
"It's not exaggerating to say what Elvis meant to America, David Bowie meant to
the U.K. and Ireland," Bono told Rolling Stone in 2010.
Upon hearing of Bowie's death, Kanye West tweeted: "David Bowie was one of my
most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a
In an editorial for Rolling Stone, Marilyn Manson wrote that Bowie "confused and
captivated" him when he first saw him on TV, and soon became a profound
Manson again: "When I grew up, there was David Bowie and
Iggy Pop—people who had
something to say and had quite an impact on music and society."
1977: Renee Richards competes in the 1977 women's US Open but is defeated in the
first round by Virginia Wade. Billy Crystal plays one of the first openly gay
characters in a recurring role on a prime time television show in "Soap."
Milk is elected city-county supervisor in San Francisco, becoming the fifth out
American elected to public office. Dade County, Florida enacts a Human Rights
Ordinance; it is repealed the same year after a militant anti-homosexual-rights
campaign led by Anita Bryant. Welsh author Jeffrey Weeks publishes
The first eight-color version of the LGBT pride flag. Publication of the first
issue of Gaysweek, NYC's first mainstream gay weekly. Police raided a house
outside of Boston outraging the gay community. In response the Boston-Boise
Committee was formed, which would lead to the founding of NAMBLA. Anne Holmes
became the first openly lesbian minister ordained by the United Church of
Christ. Ellen Barrett became the first openly lesbian priest ordained by the
Episcopal Church of the United States (serving the Diocese of New York).
1978: San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are
assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White. The rainbow flag is first used as a
symbol of homosexual pride. Robin Tyler became the first out lesbian on U.S.
national television, appearing on a Showtime comedy special hosted by Phyllis
Diller. The same year she released her comedy album, Always a Bridesmaid, Never
a Groom, the first comedy album by an out lesbian.
1979: The first national homosexual rights march on Washington, D.C. is held.
The White Night riots occur. Harry Hay issues the first call for a Radical
Faerie gathering in Arizona. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence first appear in
public on Easter Sunday in San Francisco. A number of people in Sweden called in
sick with a case of being homosexual, in protest of homosexuality being
classified as an illness. This was followed by an activist occupation of the
main office of the National Board of Health and Welfare. Within a few months,
Sweden became the first country in the world to remove homosexuality as an
1980: The Democratic Party becomes the first major political party in the U.S.
to endorse a homosexual rights platform plank. The Human Rights Campaign is
founded by Steve Endean; it is America's largest civil rights organization
working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
1981: The so-called Moral Majority starts its anti-homosexual crusade. The first
official documentation of the condition known as AIDS was published by the US
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tennis player Billie Jean King
became the first prominent professional athlete to come out as a lesbian, when
her relationship with her secretary Marilyn Barnett became public in a
"palimony" lawsuit filed by Barnett. Due to this, King lost all of her
endorsements. Mary C. Morgan became the first openly gay or lesbian judge in
America when she was appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown to the San
Francisco Municipal Court. Randy Shilts was hired as a national correspondent by
the San Francisco Chronicle, becoming "the first openly gay reporter with a gay
'beat' in the American mainstream press."
1982: Laguna Beach, CA elects the first openly gay mayor in United States
history. The first Gay Games is held in San Francisco, attracting 1,600
participants. Wisconsin becomes the first US state to ban discrimination against
homosexuals. The CDC used the term AIDS for the first time when it reported that
an average of one to two cases of AIDS were being diagnosed in America every
1983: Massachusetts Representative Gerry Studds reveals that he is gay on the
floor of the House, becoming the first openly gay member of Congress. AIDS is
described as a "gay plague" by Jerry Falwell, a leader of the so-called Moral
1984: Massachusetts voters reelect representative Gerry Studds, despite his
outing himself the year before. Berkeley, CA becomes the first city in the U.S.
to adopt a program of domestic partnership health benefits for city employees.
West Hollywood, CA is founded and becomes the first known city to elect a city
council where a majority of the members are openly gay or lesbian.
1985: The first memorial to gay Holocaust victims is dedicated. Rock Hudson is
the first major public figure known to have died from an AIDS-related illness.
Terry Sweeney becomes Saturday Night Live's first openly gay male cast member;
Sweeney was "out" prior to being hired as a cast member.
1986: Becky Smith and Annie Afleck became the first openly lesbian couple in America granted legal,
joint adoption of a child. In the Bowers v. Hardwick case, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Georgia
law forbidding oral or anal sex, ruling that the constitutional right to privacy
does not extend to homosexual relations, but it does not state whether the law
can be enforced against heterosexuals. (Shades of Dred Scott!)
1987: U.S. Congressman Barney Frank comes out. Homomonument, a memorial to
persecuted homosexuals, opens in Amsterdam. The first AIDS Memorial Quilt is
larger than a football field.
1988: Sweden is the first country to pass laws protecting homosexuals regarding
social services, taxes, and inheritances. The anti-gay Section 28 passes in
England and Wales; Scotland enacts almost identical legislation.
1989: Denmark is the first country in the world to enact registered partnership
laws (like a civil union) for same-sex couples, with most of the same rights as
marriage (excluding the right to adoption and the right to marriage in a
1990: Justin Fashanu is the first professional footballer to come out in the
1991: Sherry Harris was elected to the City Council in Seattle, Washington,
making her the first openly lesbian African-American elected official. The first
lesbian kiss on television occurred on L.A. Law between the fictional
characters of C.J. Lamb (played by Amanda Donohoe) and Abby (Michele Greene).
The first officially recognized gay and lesbian hall of fame in the US, the
Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, was founded.
1992: Althea Garrison was elected as the first transgender state legislator and
served one term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives; it was not
publicly known that she was transgender when elected.
1993: President Bill Clinton signs a military policy directive that prohibits
openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving in the military, but also
prohibits the harassment of "closeted" homosexuals. The wishy-washy policy is
known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Singer Melissa Etheridge comes out as a
1994: The movie Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and depicting a closeted gay
man dying of AIDS, wins two Academy Awards.
1995: The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act goes into effect as part of the
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The law allows a judge to
impose harsher sentences if there is evidence showing that a victim was selected
because of the "actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin,
ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."
Maddow became the first openly gay or lesbian American to win an international
1996: President Bill Clinton signs the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,
banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as "a
legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." Judge Chang
rules that the state does not have a legal right to deprive same-sex couples of
the right to marry, making Hawaii the first state to recognize that gay and
lesbian couples are entitled to the same privileges as heterosexual married
couples. The first lesbian wedding on TV occurred on Friends.
RuPaul is signed to a modeling contract for MAC Cosmetics, making him
the first drag queen supermodel. Various billboards featured him in full drag,
often with the text "I am the MAC girl."
1997: Comedian Ellen DeGeneres comes out as a lesbian on the cover
magazine, stating, "Yep, I'm Gay." The laconic nature of her remark
signals that the times are a-changin'. DeGeneres' character Ellen Morgan on her
self-titled TV series Ellen becomes the first leading character to come out on
a prime time network TV show.
1998: Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., asks the civil
rights community to help in the effort to extinguish homophobia. Matthew Shepard
is tied to a fence and beaten near Laramie, Wyoming. He is eventually found by a
cyclist, who initially mistakes him for a scarecrow. His killers each receive
two life sentences. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay or lesbian
non-incumbent ever elected to Congress, and the first open lesbian ever elected
to Congress, winning Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district seat over Josephine
Musser. Robert Halford comes out as the first openly gay heavy metal musician.
2000: Vermont becomes the first state to legalize civil-unions between same-sex
couples. Hillary Clinton became the first First Lady to march in an LGBT pride
2003: The US Supreme Court strikes down the "homosexual conduct" law, which
decriminalizes same-sex sexual conduct, with their opinion in Lawrence v. Texas.
The decision also reverses Bowers v. Hardwick, a 1986 US Supreme Court ruling
that upheld Georgia's sodomy law.
2004: The first legal same-sex marriages in the US take place in California and
shortly thereafter in New Mexico, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.
Martin and Phyllis Lyon, two of the founders of the
Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, become the first same-sex couple to be legally married
in the United States because they are first in line when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom
allows city hall to
start granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, all 2004 same-sex
marriages in California were later annulled. James McGreevey, the governor of New
Jersey, comes out as gay, thus becoming the first openly gay state governor in
United States history. He resigns soon thereafter. The first all-transgender
performance of the Vagina Monologues is held.
2005: The California legislature becomes the first to pass a bill allowing
marriage between same-sex couples. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes the
bill. Brokeback Mountain is released to limited audiences in New York, Los
Angeles and San Francisco. The film, directed by Ang Lee, focuses on a love
story between two men that stretches over decades, and survives in a time and
place in which the two men's feelings for each other were utterly taboo. The
film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, and goes on to win several Golden
Globe Awards and Academy Awards. The Simpsons became the first cartoon
series to dedicate an entire episode to the topic of same-sex marriage.
2006: The New Jersey Supreme Court rules that state lawmakers must provide the
rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.
2007: The first ever gay pride parade in a Muslim country is held in Istanbul,
Turkey. Ellen DeGeneres became the first open lesbian to host the Academy
2008: The California Supreme Court rules that limiting marriage to opposite-sex
couples is unconstitutional.
Martin and Phyllis Lyon are once again first in line
for marriage licenses! They were remarkable women, and very persistent, as they
had been two of the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. So they had
waited over half a century to tie the knot. Voters approve Proposition 8 in California, which
makes same-sex marriage illegal. Rachel Maddow became the first openly gay or
lesbian anchor of a major prime-time news program in the United States when she
began hosting The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. RuPaul begins producing
RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality television game show which marked drag
culture’s entry into the mainstream. The title of the show is a play on drag
queen and drag racing, and the title sequence and song, “Drag Race,” both have a
2009: Sean Penn wins an Oscar for his role as Harvey Milk in the film
The film also won for Best Original Screenplay. Milk is posthumously awarded
the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, who signs the "Matthew Shepard
and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law.
2010: California's dreadful Proposition 8 is found unconstitutional by a federal
2011: The dreadful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed, ending a ban on gay men
and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Pussy Riot
forms and immediately begins public protests of sexism in Russia, with songs
like "Kill the Sexist," "Putin Has Pissed Himself" and "Punk Prayer: Mother of
God Drive Putin Away." Later, in 2016 the band would launch similar musical
protests against American President Donald Trump.
2012: In an ABC interview, Barack Obama becomes the first sitting US president
to publicly support the freedom for LGBT couples to marry. The Democratic Party
becomes the first major US political party in history to publicly support
same-sex marriage on a national platform. Tammy Baldwin becomes the first openly
gay politician and the first Wisconsin woman to be elected to the US Senate.
2013: In US v. Windsor, the US Supreme Court strikes down section 3 of the
Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that legally married same-sex couples are
entitled to federal benefits. The high court also dismisses a case involving
California's dreadful Proposition 8.
2014: The US Supreme Court denies review in five different marriage cases,
allowing lower court rulings to stand, and therefore allowing same-sex couples
to marry in five states and possibly six more.
2015: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announces that the Military Equal
Opportunity policy has been adjusted to include gay and lesbian military
members. The US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that states cannot ban same-sex
marriage. Each of the four conservative justices writes an individual dissent.
2016: The Senate confirms Eric Fanning to be secretary of the Army, making him
the first openly gay secretary of a US military branch. President Barack Obama
announces the designation of the first national monument to lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The Stonewall National Monument will
encompass Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding streets and
sidewalks that were the sites of the 1969 Stonewall uprising. Secretary of
Defense Ash Carter announces that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on transgender
people serving openly in the US military. A record number of "out" athletes
compete in the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Human Rights Campaign
estimates that there are at least 41 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Olympians.
Kate Brown is sworn in as governor of Oregon, becoming the highest-ranking LGBT
person elected to office in the United States.
2017: Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of now-abolished sexual
offenses in Britain have been posthumously pardoned under a new policing law,
the Justice Ministry announces, including Oscar Wilde. The law is named after British WWII codebreaker
Alan Turing, who committed suicide following his conviction for gross indecency.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the Civil Rights Act prohibits
workplace discrimination against LGBT employees. District of Columbia residents
can now choose a gender neutral option of their drivers license. The US
Department of Defense announces a six-month delay in allowing transgendered
individuals to enlist in the United States military. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis writes that they "will use this additional time to evaluate more
carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality. (Oh goody,
lethality!) President Donald Trump announces via Twitter that "After
consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the
United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to
serve in any capacity in the US Military..." (Oh goody, the president is a
big fat bigot!) Danica Roem beats Republican incumbent Robert
Marshall in race for the Virginia House of Delegates and becomes the first
openly transgender state legislator in the country. Marshall, Virginia's
self-described "chief homophobe," had refused to debate Roem and released
campaign ads that referred to her with male pronouns. Marshall had also
introduced a bill that would have required Virginians to use public restrooms
that correspond with their birth gender, so it's wonderfully ironic that he lost