Today in Gay History

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May 19

Born
Malcolm X
1925 -

MALCOLM X; was born on this date. (d:: 1965); Born Malcolm Little (and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz‎), Malcolm X was an African-American Muslim minister and a human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; his detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history.

Malcolm X was effectively orphaned early in life. His father was killed when he was six and his mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was thirteen, after which he lived in a series of foster homes. In 1946, at age 20, he went to prison for larceny and breaking and entering. While in prison he became a member of the Nation of Islam, and after his parole in 1952 quickly rose to become one of its most influential leaders. For a dozen years he was the public face of the controversial group; in keeping with the Nation's teachings he espoused black supremacy, advocated the separation of black and white Americans and scoffed at the civil rights movement’s emphasis on integration.

He was arguably seen as the yin to non-violence adherent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s yang. By March 1964, Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad. He ultimately repudiated the Nation and its teachings and embraced Sunni Islam. After a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, including completing the Hajj, he returned to the United States to found Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

While continuing to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination, and black self-defense, he disavowed racism. In February 1965, shortly after repudiating the Nation of Islam, he was assassinated by three of its members. The Autobiography of Malcolm X published shortly after his death, is considered one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. He was 39 years old.

According to eyewitness testimony and hundreds of different sources, Malcolm X was a bisexual who carried on a sustained affair with a white businessman. It is, of course, not unheard of for poor straight men to make a quick buck as rent boys. But Malcolm X’s involvement seems to have been a little different. Firstly, he liked to boast loudly to whomever would listen that he “serviced queers.” Then there’s the matter of his sustained sexual relationship with a white businessman, not to mention his frequent dalliances with the transvestite Willie Mae. In all, Malcolm X is thought to have spent a decade of his life sleeping almost exclusively with men; usually for money but not always. As Peter Tatchell pointed out in The Guardian, it’s unlikely he could have sustained the practice that long without at least some level of interest.

And interest seems to have always been there in Malcolm’s life. Although there’s no suggestion he slept with men after marrying his wife, old school friends have repeatedly remarked that he used to make local boys jerk him off; boasting if he managed to get them to give him oral sex. Recently, the respected African-American historian Manning Marable repeated the assertion in his hugely scholarly biography of Malcolm X; a book of such incredible erudition that it’s almost impossible to argue with. To sum up then, there seem to be no two ways about this. Malcolm X was almost certainly a member of the LGBT community. And that’s something we should celebrate.


Lorraine Hansberry
1930 -

American playwright LORRAINE HANSBERRY was born on this date (d: 1965). She is best known for her play "A Raisin in the Sun." The play was a huge success. It was the first play written by an African-American woman produced on Broadway. It also received the New York Drama Critics Award making Hansberry the youngest and first African American to receive the Award. She married Robert Nemiroph, a Jewish literature student and songwriter, in 1953. They separated in 1957 and divorced in 1964. The marriage lasted only a few years because Hansberry soon began coming to terms with her Lesbianism.

Hansberry was a contributor to "The Ladder" the first Lesbian publication in the United States. Around 1957, Hansberry joined the Daughters of Bilitis, the pioneering lesbian organization based in San Francisco, and began receiving their journal, "The Ladder." In May 1957, Hansberry wrote the first of two thoughtful letters to the magazine. Since the editorial policy was to identify letter writers with initials, the printed letter was signed only, "L.H.N., New York, N.Y." - the writer's identity was disclosed only after her death. In her letter, Hansberry mused about everything from butch-femme culture to the gaps between lesbians and gay men, displaying a feminist awareness that would grow stronger over the next few years. In August of that same year, "L.H.N." once again wrote the The Ladder with more feminist commentary. The connections she drew between sexism and homophobia were ahead of her time: "Homosexual persecution has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma," she wrote. She died on January 12,1965 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. 


Peter Fisher
1949 -

Gay activist pioneer, PETE FISHER was born on this date (d: 2012) His groundbreaking 1972 book “The Gay Mystique” chronicled the early, vibrant post-Stonewall movement and explained homosexuality to straight people and to homosexually-oriented people still coming to terms with themselves. For this reporter, it was a seminal text as a college student coming out  and, later, becoming an activist in 1974.

Describing his intense joy marching in the Christopher Street Liberation Day march in 1970 that commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Fisher wrote, “There’s no going back after that. You can’t feel those things and take them back to the closet and nurse them. When you know what it really means to be free, you know that freedom is life. Do you know how it tastes to be alive for the first time? Oppression in any form requires the complicity of the oppressed. To come out is to refuse to oppress oneself, refuse to play the game.”

Fisher was writing and agitating at a time when sodomy was still a crime in most states including New York, psychiatry classified homosexuality as a mental illness, and civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation were non-existent. He led several of the most famous “zaps” for which GAA was known, taking over the offices of the Daily News when its editors derided gay people as “fairies, nances, and queers” and of Harper’s magazine when its Joseph Epstein wrote, “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth, because I consider it a curse.”

When City Councilman Saul Sharison refused to allow the New York Gay Rights bill to be heard in committee in 1971, Fisher was among those who led more than a thousand people from a dance at the GAA Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street to Sharison’s high rise at 70 East Tenth Street and got clubbed by the police. “It was the most nightmarish scene I had ever witnessed: long, brutal clubs smashing left and right, landing on people’s heads, the crowd panicking, pushing first to the barricades and then falling back,” he wrote.  He and Rubin were arrested, but five days later the hearing was scheduled on the bill that GAA put forward as the first in the country to propose protections on the basis of “sexual orientation.”

Perry Brass, a veteran of the Gay Liberation Front, wrote in an e-mail, “I remember Pete as a very handsome, very charismatic, blonde young man. He was always dressed either in leather or a tight, beautifully fitting T-shirt, but he was totally devoted to GAA and the cause of real Gay Liberation, that is, leaving self-hatred, leaving oppression, and forging a new identity as a Gay man.”

With partner Marc Rubin, Fisher wrote the novel “Special Teachers/ Special Boys” based on Rubin’s experiences teaching troubled youth.

Fisher, coming to consciousness of being Gay pre-Stonewall, had a rough time. His father, an executive at the New York Times, strongly disapproved and sent him to a shrink to try to turn him heterosexual — partly by forbidding masturbation! Fisher’s counsel to parents in “Mystique”: “The rule with regard to sexuality is a simple one. Hands off — let your child be himself.”

Fisher took his own life by suffocation. Lynne Fisher said her brother “told me he spent 60 percent of his time thinking about suicide” and made several unsuccessful attempts over the years. This latest successful try was not unexpected. But she also remembers Pete as “exceptionally intelligent, a book writer and a songwriter,” and “a quiet but popular kid.” He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in her backyard in Springfield with Rubin’s.


Died
T. E. Lawrence
1935 -

English soldier, memoirist and devoted masochist T. E. LAWRENCE, also known as "Lawrence of Arabia" died on this date.


Noteworthy
Oscar Wilde shortly after his release.
1897 -

Irish playwright and poet OSCAR WILDE is released from Reading Gaol jail. He lives three more years, and dies, destitute in Paris, from meningitis.


1991 -

Hong Kong's Executive Council votes to decriminalize homosexuality.


2007 -

On this date more than five-thousand people marched through the streets of Warsaw in the first legally sanctioned LGBT pride parade in the Polish capital. Many of the marchers carried banners reading "Stop homophobia."


Today's Gay Wisdom
2007 -

TODAY'S GAY WISDOM

From Lorraine Hansberry:

"The oppressed are by their nature ... forever in ferment and agitation against their condition and what they understand to be their oppressors. If not by overt rebellion or revolution, then in the thousand and one ways they will devise with and without consciousness to alter their condition." Lorraine Hansberry

"I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough and—I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations."

"We only revert back to mystical ideas - which includes most contemporary orthodox religious views, in my opinion - because we simply are confronted with some things we don't yet understand."

"There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he's been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning -- because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is. [from Raisin in the Sun]"


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