Category: gay history

MAY 19: Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)


Lorraine Hansberry embodied the phrase “young, gifted, and
black.” She was the very first black woman to pen a Broadway play and the very
first black person to ever win a New York’s Drama Critic’s Circle Award and today
would have been her 87th birthday.

Lorraine Hansberry at her typewriter in her Greenwich Village apartment. Photo by David Attie (x). 

Born on May 19, 1930, Lorraine was the youngest of her
parents’ four children. Her mother was a driving school teacher and her father
was a notable real estate salesman in the South Side of Chicago. In 1938, her
father bought a house in the historically white area of Washington Park Subdivision.
After the white residents of the subdivision tried to keep the Hansberrys from purchasing the home, Lorraine and her family were engulfed in the now
famous case of Hansberry v. Lee. The publicity the case received not only
resulted in the Hansberry family becoming close friends with several iconic
black activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, but it also led to the
creation of A Raisin in the Sun, the semi-autobiographical play that would put Lorraine’s name on the map.

After spending her college days deep in political
activism, Lorraine decided to move to New York City in 1950 to try and make it as a writer. She
eventually moved to Harlem and began working for Freedom newspaper, a progressive, black publication. In 1953,
Lorraine married a prominent Jewish songwriter and political activist, Robert
Nemiroff. The marriage was short lived and the two separated amicably in 1956,
most likely because it is around this time that Lorraine came to terms with her
lesbianism. After separating from Robert, she became involved in the
LGBT activist scene in New York, joined the Daughters of Bilitis, and began
contributing to the lesbian magazine The Ladder under her initials “LHN.” Lorraine’s
personal journals and letters reveal a deep and distinct understanding of her
own sexuality, which you can read more about here!

Cigarette in hand, Lorraine dances with James Baldwin – one of her closest friends who was also a gay black literary icon (x).

In 1957, Lorraine completed her magnum opus, A Raisin in the Sun. The play opened on Broadway
on March 11, 1959 and at the age of 29, Lorraine became the first black woman
in history to have written a play performed on a Broadway stage. A Raisin in the Sun went on to win the New
York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, once again making Lorraine both the
first black person and the youngest person in history to ever win a Circle Award.
After her breakout success, she wrote two more plays, tried her hand at stage
directing, and stayed firmly planted in the heart of social activism.
Tragically, Lorraine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1963. She died on
January 12, 1965 at the young age of 34. Her play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window coincidentally celebrated its
closing night on Broadway the night of her death.  


MAY 18: Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)


Jeanette Rankin went from a small town Montana girl to a
staunch women’s rights activist and the very first woman to ever be elected to
U.S. Congress! It was on this day in 1973 when she passed away at the age of

One of Jeannette’s most quotable quotes was “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” (x).

Jeannette was born in Missoula, Montana on June 11, 1980. Her
mother was a schoolteacher and her father was a Scottish-Canadian immigrant who
worked as a carpenter. As the eldest of six children, Jeannette spent her
childhood helping to raise her younger siblings and laboring on the Rankin family’s
ranch. It was her experience of doing equal work as her brothers but receiving unequal
recognition and respect that would become the foundation of her feminist
identity. Originally graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in
Biology, she then enrolled in the New York School of Philanthropy to study
social work. It was in New York when Jeannette first became involved in the
American suffrage movement and when she became politically awakened.

In February of 1911, Jeannette became the first woman to
speak before the Montana legislature when she gave a speech advocating for
women’s suffrage. She and her fellow suffragists would work hard for two more
years before Montana finally granted women full voting rights in November of
1914. In 1916, Jeannette changed history by running and winning a seat in the
U.S. House of Representatives; she was the first woman to serve in Congress in
U.S. history! After running a grassroots campaign from Montana train stations
and street corners, she was officially elected on November 7, 1916. Throughout
her political career, Jeannette was a notable pacifist and champion of women’s
rights. She famously voted against America’s entry into both World War I and
World War II (she was the ONLY member of Congress to vote against entering World
War II).

Waving in front of a campaign car draped in a banner that reads, “NO MORE WAR,” Jeannette not only talked the pacifist talk but she also walked the walk (x).

Jeannette never married and is generally understood to have been
a lesbian. After her first college stint at the University of Montana, she took
a teaching job in the town of Whitehall, only to be booted from the position
after she was discovered to be in a romantic relationship with another woman. The
details of the incident are unknown; in the Rankin family’s letters, it is only
ever referred to as “Jeannette’s embarrassment.” She went on to have a brief
relationship with the journalist Katherine Anthony, but the two eventually
separated and simply remained lifelong friends. Despite the few short-lived
affairs, Jeannette dedicated her life to social justice work. One of her last
public appearances was a 1968 march in Washington D.C. where she led over 5,000
women in protest of the Vietnam War. When she passed away on May 18, 1973, she
left her entire estate to the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund in
hopes it would support “mature, unemployed women workers.”


MAY 17: Lena Waithe (1984-)


Happy birthday to actress and screenwriter Lena Waithe!! If you haven’t seen her in the Netflix series Master of None, it’s time to add it to
your summer watch list.


Lena is currently working on a yet-to-be-announced drama series for Showtime that will be set in her hometown of South Side Chicago (x). 

Born on this day in 1984, Lena grew up in Chicago, Illinois and
was raised by her mother and grandmother. She has had her sights set on
becoming a television writer ever since she was seven-years-old. After
graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2006, one of Lena’s first gigs was
writing for the Fox television series Bones; she was
also a producer on the 2014 film Dear
White People
and the creator of the 2011 viral video “Shit Black Girls Say.”

Lena’s first big acting gig was on Aziz Ansari’s Netflix
series Master of None in 2015. Although her
character Denise was originally written for a straight white woman who was to
be one of the show’s main love interests, the head writers and producers
completely flipped the script after meeting Lena for the first time and changed the character of Denise to be a black
lesbian. Lena wrote the breakout “Thanksgiving” episode of the second season of
Master of None (it just hit Netflix last week!), which centers the character of
Denise and the experience of coming out of the closet in a black family. On the
topic of representation, Lena says: “I don’t know if we’ve seen a sly, harem
pants-wearing, cool Topshop sweatshirt-wearing, snapback hat-rocking lesbian on
TV…I know how many women I see out in the world who are very much like myself.
We exist. To me, the visibility of it was what was going to be so important and
so exciting.”


MAY 16: Tamara Łempicka (1898-1980)


The bisexual painter, Tamara
Łempicka, was born on this day in 1898. Today, she is most well-known for her
revolutionary contributions to the Art Deco style and her stylized nude portraits.

Tamara’s most famous self-portraits,Self Portrait in the Green Bugatti, circa 1925 (x).

Her birth name was Maria Górska and
she was born on May 16, 1898 in Warsaw, Poland. Her family lived a high class
life, her father being a Russian-Jewish attorney and her mother being a Polish
socialite. Tamara created her very first portrait at just the young age of ten;
her mother had commissioned a local artist to create a portrait of Tamara, but
Tamara was dissatisfied with the finished project and picked up the pastels to
create what she considered a more worthy portrait of her younger sister.

She spent much of her life
travelling around Europe painting and studying art and her first big breakthrough
did not come until 1925 when her work was exhibited at the prestigious International
Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. Spotted by journalists
from the American magazine Harper’s Baazar, Tamara’s polished Art Deco pieces
suddenly became all the rage with fashion magazines. Her highlight in Harper’s
led to even greater success, including expositions in both Milan and
Bordeaux. She would win her first major award in 1927, the first prize at the
Exposition Internationale des Beaux Arts for her portrait, Kizette on the Balcony.

A 1933 nude portrait of one of Tamara’s female lovers, Suzy Solidor (x).

Throughout her life, Tamara was known
for her promiscuity and had open affairs with both men and women. She was
married to a prominent Polish lawyer, Tadeusz Łempicki, in 1916 and had a
daughter by him soon after, but she would have multiple affairs during the
course of their marriage. In the 1920s, Tamara started a long term affair with
the popular Parisian nightclub singer Suzy Solidor, and as a result, found
herself at the center of Paris’s lesbian circle. Through Suzy, she became
friends with such figures as Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West, and Colette.

Tamara passed away on March 18, 1980. Today,
her work is still considered to be high art and imbued with a sense of wealth. Much of her artwork has been featured in Madonna music videos
and multiple A-List celebrities consider themselves Lempicka collectors, such
as Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand.


MAY 15: Mary Glasspool is consecrated into the…


On this day in 2010, Mary Glasspool became the very first lesbian
to become a consecrated bishop in the Anglican Communion!

Throughout her career, Mary Glasspool has served as Diocese of both Los Angeles and New York City (x). 

Mary was born on February 23, 1957 in Staten Island, New York. As
a child, she was very much involved in the Church, as her father served as the rector
of St. James’ Church in Goshen, New York until his death. After attending Episcopal
Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mary was on her way up the career
the ladder. In an interview with Newsweek Magazine in 2010, Mary recalls coming
out to her father in more ways than one; in 1974, she revealed to her father
that not only was she gay, but that she still intended to become an Episcopalian
priest. Mary says, 

“I think he honestly was proud of me on a personal level and
wanted to support me but couldn’t break out of the kind of characteristics he
himself promoted as someone who upheld the Tradition.“ 

After becoming an
elected bishop suffragan in 2009, the Presiding Bishop’s Office certified that
Mary’s election had met the right requirements and she was consecrated into
the Church on May 15, 2010 – making her the 17th woman and the very
first lesbian to ever be consecrated! In her Newsweek interview, Mary gladly reveals
that she “really hasn’t” received any hate mail since her consecration. In 2015,
Mary was invited to serve as the Episcopal Diocese of New York, a position she
still claims today.


MAY 14: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf  (1925…


On May 14, 1925, Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the
flowers herself for the very first time. That’s right, the seminal classic Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was
first published on this day ninety-two years ago!


Written in a garden shed in Sussex, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway revolutionized modern
storytelling with its stream-of-consciousness style. The reason for the
novel’s eternally flowing prose is in part due to the fact that Virginia wrote the
novel as if she were writing a diary; in the very first draft, you can see
where she dated each entry of writing and even doodled and made notes in
the margins. Although originally the book was to be titled The Hours, the title Mrs.
won out in the end as the story follows an English socialite, Clarissa
Dalloway, through the course of a single day.
It is Clarissa’s eyes through which Virginia shows us the world of Interwar
England and how sexuality, trauma, and summer lived side by side in the streets
of London. Set in June of 1923, the novel parallels the stories of Clarissa and
Septimus Smith – two people racked by mental illness and who are haunted by
their lost loves. 

Clarissa’s mind twists and turns throughout the entirety of the story, but one thing she can’t seem to keep her mind off of is her past love affair with the
wild, Bohemian Sally Seton. The fact that Sally has now become the tamed wife
of Lord Rosseter only adds to Clarissa’s heartbreak. Septimus, on the other
hand, has been traumatized by his time in the trenches of the First World War
and by the death of his beloved friend and possible lover, Evans. When I first
read Mrs. Dalloway, I was blown away by the explicitness of these gay
characters and their relationships. Reading about lesbians in a historical
setting actually written by a wlw author who lived during that time period is a
completely different experience from reading a contemporary author going back
and adding ourselves into the history. For all of its poetic prose and literary
merit, the true wonder of Mrs. Dalloway is its ability to show wlw readers from
throughout the decades that not only have we always been here, but that we have
been people with names and stories like Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton, who have kissed with “purity” and “integrity.”


MAY 13: Cheryl Dunye (1966-)


The Watermelon Woman,
which we talked about earlier on this blog, is often hailed as the movie that
provided indie filmmaker Cheryl Dunye the
recognition and attention she deserved. Today, on her 51st birthday,
we take a closer look at her life.

Born in Liberia, Dunye grew up in Philly, went to Temple for
college, and received her Master’s from Rutgers.

She made her debut with The
Watermelon Woman
in 1996, and emerged during that decade as part of the “queer
new wave” of young filmmakers. Since then, she’s made a number of films that
explore the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class, with a
particular focus on queer women of color. She has a particular cinematographic
style, dubbed the “Dunyementary,” where she blurs the boundaries between “fiction”
and “real life,” between narrative and documentary styles of filming, notably
by having characters break the fourth wall and address directly the camera, or
making meta references to the film production itself. This allows her to
present political and politicized issues often within a personal or domestic
context. Her work and contributions to the world of film have been recognized
with many awards, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship last year (2016).

Dunye has taught at several universities, including UCLA,
and is currently teaching as a Professor in the School of Cinema at San
Francisco State University. Her latest project is Black is Blue, which came
out last year as a short and is being developed into a feature film. Find Cheryl
Dunye here on Twitter and Facebook!


MAY 12: OOOUUU/Young M.A. (2016)



(Picture Source: x)

A year ago today, rapper Young M.A. dropped her single OOOUUU produced by U-Dub.

Born April 3, 1992, Young M.A. is a Brooklyn native (who lived in Virginia for at least nine years) and began rapping at nine years old. She moved back to Brooklyn when she was sixteen.

In an interview with Genius, Young M.A. explains:

“When I first heard the beat and wrote to it, I said to myself, “This is one of those records where I just wanna relax.” There’s not too much thinking about the bars or the punchlines, I needed a feel good record. I didn’t have one of those yet, I was putting so much work into my pen. This is a record where I just wanted to be cool on the track. I’m chill, I’m humble a lot, I needed one of those records.

When I went to record the track, I wanted to be drunk while I recorded it. I was really smizz and drizz when I recorded the record so it feels authentic. When I recorded the track I wasn’t going to put it out just yet because I had just released Sleep Walkin and I had a lot of records on there I wanted to do videos for. But something one day just told me that I needed to put this out—nobody told me, just one day I thought this would take me to the next level.

I didn’t want some big push behind it, I was just like this is a record I just wanna put out. From there, I guess it was catchy and it was different from me.”

OOOUUU is the first single by an out, masculine of center lesbian that uses explicit queer lyrics.

OOOUUU was rated #11 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of 2016, ranked #16 on Billboard’s 100 Best Pop Songs of 2016, and ranked #24 on Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop critics poll of 2016’s best music.  

Known for her freestyle raps and hustle, she released another song, EAT, after critics threw shade at her and questioned her talent.

You can read more about Young M.A. in her interview with The Fader and Elle. Here’s a critique of the misogyny in her music and here’s a critique (partially) of that.

You can follow her on Youtube, Soundcloud, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and my dreams. You can get merch here.

You can listen to her here and download first project SleepWalkin, and listen to her new mixtape on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

~lex lee.

MAY 11: Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) & the Ladie…


Ladies of Llangollen
have become a wlw legend in their own right, but
fear not, they are no urban legend. Today is the birthday of Eleanor Charlotte
Butler, one of the two Irish Ladies who scandalized their contemporaries by living
together, as one does.

and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) met in 1768, became close friends,
which obviously led to them becoming gal pals. Since there was immense pressure
from their families to marry or become a nun and live their lives as dutiful heterosexual women,
they did the only thing possible: devise a plan to just live together,
somewhere in the countryside, where no one would bother them. They left the
county where their families lived in April 1778, and did not back down even
when they were tracked down by the families who tried to coerce them into
giving up (lesbians gonna lesbian, and haters gonna hate).

They found their perfect retreat near the town of (would you
have guessed?) Llangollen in Wales: a Gothic mansion they called “Plas Newydd” (“new
mansion”), which did cause them financial difficulties since they hired staff
to tend to the house and gardens. There, they strove to lead an uneventful
life, devoting their time to scholarly studies in the humanities (Butler was
said to be quite the bookworm when she was young) and tending to their estate. They
relied on a modest income from relatives and the generosity of friends, and
repeatedly had financial difficulties. As the years went by and people started
hearing more about them, their life become an object of interest and curiosity
for many. The Ladies often had visitors over, mostly writers, from all over
Britain and Europe, especially people like Anne “notoriously gay” Lister.

They lived this way for the rest of their lives, meaning
over 50 years. Their exact relationship is often labeled as a “Boston marriage,”
probably the closest historically accurate label, but the gayness is
undisputable. I mean, they jointly signed their letters and they inscribed both
of their sets of initials on the books and glassware they owned, for heaven’s
sake. If that doesn’t screamed “practically married couple” to you, then what
does? (But people still find ways to straightwash history and argue about there
being little evidence that their relationship was sexual and hence how could
the Ladies of Llangollen possibly be anything but really, really close besties?
To which we answer: BS.)

Butler died in 1839, and Ponsoby died within two years, but
they’ve lingered in popular culture, and still today many articles are written
about them. Their house is also now a museum, which you can visit. Check out this
radio documentary
about their lives, and this blog, which tracks
down everything related to the Ladies of Llangollen. And if one day you just want to quit everything and elope with your gf and go live in a little cottage and there do nothing but garden and read? Just do it. Pull a Llangollen and follow your dreams.


MAY 10: Frieda Belinfante (1910-1995)


The Dutch cellist turned World War II resistance fighter, Frieda
Belinfante, was born on this day in 1904!


Frieda photographed circa-1940. She lived openly after WWII with her partner Henriëtte Bosmans, who was also a Dutch musician (x).

Frieda was born in Amsterdam on May 10, 1904 to a very musical
and artistic Jewish family. Her father was a renowned pianist and music teacher
in the Netherlands and her family line boasts several popular writers and
journalists from throughout the generations. Frieda began studying the cello
when she was ten-years-old and she made her concert debut at age seventeen. The
Nazi occupation eventually interrupted Frieda’s career and prevented her from pursuing
music until after the war.

As an out Jewish lesbian who was known for her butch presentation, rebellion against the Nazi Party came naturally to Frieda. It was her good friend Willem
Arondeus, a fellow artist and gay man, who pulled Frieda into the world of the
Dutch resistance. Willem was one of the leaders of Raad van Verzet and he
recruited Frieda to help forge documents for Jewish people trying to flee the
Netherlands. Together, Frieda and Willem eventually went on to perform the
bombing and destruction of a Nazi-run population registry on March 27, 1943. The
operation was a success and it hindered the Nazis from being able to identify
Jewish populations in the Netherlands. After the bombing, Frieda, Willem, and the
other resistance fighters involved with Raad van Verzet were forced to go into
hiding. Frieda disguised herself as a man for three months before she eventually
made her way to safety in Switzerland.

After the war, Frieda returned to both the Netherlands and
her music career. She eventually made the transition from performer to music
conductor and immigrated to the United States in 1947 to join the music faculty
at UCLA. Under Frieda’s conduction, the music scene at UCLA reached unforeseen heights.
In 1987, the City of Laguna Beach, California declared February 19th
to be the new “Frieda Belinfante Day” due to her outstanding life journey and her
contributions to the Laguna Beach community. Frieda passed away in 1995 when
she was 90 years old, but she was posthumously  the subject of a 1999 documentary titled But I Was
A Girl
and a Dutch exhibition about the
persecution of lesbians and gay men during World War II.