Category: lgbt history

SEPTEMBER 25: Clea DuVall (1977-)


Happy 40th birthday, Clea DuVall! The lesbian actress, writer, and director who had starring turns in films such as Girl, Interrupted and But I’m A Cheerleader was born on this day in 1977.

Some of Clea’s most recent noteworthy roles were in the popular television series American Horror Story: Asylum and Veep (x).

Clea Helen D’Etienne DuVall was born on September 25, 1977 in Los Angeles, California. She was an only child and was born to an actor father, which exposed her to the world of the entertainment industry at a young age. Clea made her acting debut in 1996 in the indie movie Little Witches, which was followed by several small roles in series such as ER and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her breakout role came in 2003 when she cast as the character Sofie in Carnivàle. Her father, Stephen Duvall, even costarred alongside her in two Carnivàle episodes before the series’ end in 2005.

Her other hit projects include films such as Passengers, Zodaic, Helter Skelter, and The Grudge. Clea, along with the rest of her cast mates, was awarded the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture in 2012 for the film Argo. Although she became a lesbian cultural icon after starring in the 1999 film But I’m A Cheerleader, it was only a few years ago that she began speaking publicly about her own lesbian identity. She made her directorial debut just last year with The Intervention, which features she and her old But I’m A Cheerleader costar Natasha Lyonne reprising their roles as a lesbian couple. In an interview with The Advocate, Clea said that she feels she is finally getting the opportunities to play “the gay that I feel like I am.”


blackqueerfirsts:Staci Yandle: The first black…


The first black judge to serve the Southern District
of Illinois and the first openly gay judge in the Seventh Circuit.

SEPTEMBER 24: Cheryl Crawford (1902-1986)


The pioneering Broadway producer
and director, Cheryl Crawford, was born on this day in 1902. Cheryl is most
well-known in the theater world for her productions of Brigadoon and Awake and Sing!

Cheryl pictured with her colleagues Lee Strasberg (middle) and Harold Clurman (right), with whom she opened the Group Theater with. Even after her death, Cheryl’s craft and expertise lived on in the work of the artists she mentored such as Elia Kazan, Ingrid Bergman, Tallulah Bankhead, and many more (x).

Born on September 24, 1902, Cheryl
Crawford was raised in Akron, Ohio. She left home after finishing high school to
attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. After finishing college, she packed up once again and moved to the center of the theater world –
New York City. She started out stage directing small time productions and even
did a bit of acting herself with the Theater Guild, and she was promoted to be
the group’s casting director in 1929. In 1931, she left the Theater Guild and
founded Group Theater along with her friends Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman.
Group Theater became incredibly influential in spreading the idea of method
acting, as well as ushering in a new trend of politically charged plays and
musicals. After the Group became an established organization, Cheryl left to
become an independent producer despite the naysayers who said that a woman
could never succeed as an independent.

Her life partner was Ruth Norman,
a successful cookbook author who she lived in New York City with for the
majority of her life. Cheryl’s biographer and author of A Gambler’s Instinct: The Story of Broadway Producer Cheryl Crawford,
Milly S. Barranger, writes that Cheryl was “taciturn” and went about life as a
lesbian “undisguised in her tailored clothes, her hair style, her masculine
tone of voice, and her circle of women friends.” After living an unapologetic
life with a trailblazing career, Cheryl passed away on October 7, 1986 from
injuries from a fall.


SEPTEMBER 23: Anita Cornwell (1923-)


Happy birthday, Anita Cornwell!!
The LGBT activist and author of the very first collection of essay by a black
lesbian to be ever be published turns 94-years-old today!

Anita’s only fiction book to date, The Girls of Summer, was illustrated by Kelly Caines and published in 1989 (x).

Born on September 23, 1923, Anita
Cornwell was raised in Greendwood, South Carolina before the family moved to Pennsylvania
when she was 16. At first she lived with her aunt in the town of Yeadon, but she
later went to live with her mother in Philadelphia. Anita stayed up north for
college and eventually graduated with degrees in journalism and the social
sciences from Temple University. She worked as a journalist and a secretary
before her 1983 collection of essays, Black
Lesbian in White America
, made her a name to know in feminist and LGBT
circles. Along with Black Lesbian in White America, Anita’s writings that have
been published in Feminist Review, Labyrinth, National Leader, Los Angeles Free
, and The Negro Digest were
some of the first pieces of published writing where the author declares
themselves a proud black lesbian. Although Anita was surely not the first of
her kind in history, she is the mother of an entire branch of literature and an
LGBT hero.


SEPTEMBER 22: Joan Jett (1958-)


Happy birthday to Joan Jett, who
turns 59 today! Although she has yet to label herself as either lesbian or
bisexual, the rock ‘n’ roll legend has also been an incredibly influential wlw
figure in music and mainstream culture for many years.

Joan Jett flipping off photographer Neil Zlozower while on tour in 1977 (x). 

Joan Marie Larkin was born on
September 22, 1958 in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. She was the oldest of three
children born to a father who sold insurance and a mother who worked as a secretary.
In 1967, the family moved from Pennsylvania to Rockville, Maryland where Joan
attended Wheaton High School. She was gifted her first guitar when she was
14-years-old and tried to take lessons, but quit after the instructor kept
trying to teach her folk songs. When the family moved once again to West
Covina, California, the close proximity to Los Angeles allowed Joan to be that
much closer to the world of music and glam rock that she was so attracted to.

Joan on stage at a Burgettstown, Pennsylvania concert on September 1, 2017 (x). 

As a teenager, she co-founded the
band The Runaways. Joan was the band’s rhythm guitarist, secondary singer, and
co-writer for their songs. Along with Sandy West. Jackie Fox, Lita Ford and
Cherie Currie, The Runaways recorded a total of 5 albums before splitting up.
Their break out song, “Cherry Bomb,” is still a rebellious girl anthem to this
day. By 1979, Joan had struck out on her own and began pursuing a solo career.
As a solo artist, she released the classic banger “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but
soon teamed up with The Blackhearts to form the band Joan Jett and the
Blackhearts. In the 1990s, Joan faded from the spotlight and took on a
producing role. However, she remained in the hearts of women musicians and as
the Riot Grrl movement started up, she was dubbed the “original Riot Grrl” and
the “godmother of punk.”

In recent times, Joan has become a
politically charged figure who has advocated against war and intensive animal farming;
she is an outspoken feminist, vegan, and on the topic of her sexuality, she has
said: “I’m not saying no, I’m not saying yes, I’m saying believe what you want.
Assume away—go ahead.”


SEPTEMBER 21: Fannie Flagg (1944-)


Happy birthday to Fannie Flagg!! The
lesbian actress, comedian, and author most well-known for her hit novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café turns
73-years-old today!

Fannie Flagg photographed by Andrew Southam in January of 2017 (x).

Patricia Neal was born on
September 21, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama (the name Fannie Flagg was to come
later!). Her family was comfortably middle class, with her father owning a small
business in Birmingham and affording the family trips to the Gulf Coast in the
summer. It was her father who encouraged Fannie to pursue writing and
performing when she was young, which lead her to writing her first play at just
10-years-old. As a contestant in the Miss Alabama pageant, she won a
scholarship to acting school which later allowed her to book a job as a co-host
of a local television show. After the station denied Fannie a pay raise, she quit,
took on the stage name Fannie Flagg, and moved to New York hoping to make it as
an actress.

Living in New York in the 1960s,
Fannie wrote comedy skits for the nightclub Upstairs Downtown. One fateful
night, she was spotted by a television producer after one of the regular
performers took sick and Fannie was tapped to replace her that night. Soon, she
was hired as a staff writer for that same producer’s series Candid
. In the 1970s, her acting dreams finally came true and she made appearences on several game shows, the popular series The New Dick Van
Dyke Show
, and off-Broadway productions such as The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Her first novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, was
published in 1981. The semi-autobiographical novel stayed on the New York Times’s bestseller list for 10
weeks and put the name Fannie Flagg on the map. Her most famous book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café,
was published six years later in 1987.

When Fried Green Tomatoes was made into a film in 1991, Fannie was
allowed to adapt the story to screenplay. The gig garnered her an Academy Award
nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay the same year. Although Fannie has been
secretive about her personal life, she is an out lesbian and had a public
relationship with the iconic activist and writer Rita Mae Brown in the late
1970s. To date, she has released a total of 10 books. Her latest, The Whole Town’s Talking, came out in November of 2016. 


SEPTEMBER 20: Mädchen in Uniform is released (…


On this day in 1931, the film Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform)
was released in the United States. Directed by the out lesbian director
Leontine Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform is
an lesbian cult classic.

An original poster for the film as it was displayed in 1931 shows Manuela (center)  gazing longingly at her teacher,

Fräulein von Bernburg (left) (x). 

The film follows a 14-year-old girl named Manuela
von Meinhardis, whose mother and father have both died and whose aunt has stuffed her away in an all-girls boarding school. The conditions at the
school are brutal and the headmistress forbids any kindness or leisure be allowed to the students. Manuela’s only brightness in life is Fräulein von Bernburg, the only compassionate teacher at the school. One day when Manuela arrives to
class in old, torn clothes, von Bernburg pulls her aside  and offers
to let her borrow some of her own clothes. In a narrative turn that changed the history of film, Manuela bursts into tears and admits
that she is in love with her, to which von Bernburg replies that they can never
be. The rest of the film follows Manuela as she deals with the secrecy of her
love for von Bernburg coupled with her classmates’ secret plot to report their
headmistress’s brutal behavior to the authorities.

Mädchen in Uniform’s love plot between two women is not told
through code or subtext, but is an essential part of the film’s story, and for
this reason the film has often been dubbed the very first lesbian movie of the
western world. Berlin, Germany of the 1930s was thriving with an LGBT nightclub
scene, where the film made a huge splash. Although it was almost banned in the
United States for a goodnight kissing scene between the two protagonists, First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s highly positive review of the film was able to turn the
public opinion (#lesbiansolidarity). Later on when the Nazis began to rise to
power, instead of destroying the film as they did to many LGBT-themed
works of art, the ending of the film was rather altered to seem like a pro-Nazi
production. In 1958,when  the film was re-made under the same title, the plot followed the
ending of the original 1931 production.


SEPTEMBER 19: Tegan and Sara (1980-)


Happy birthday to Tegan and Sara!!
The twin sisters that make up every lesbian’s favorite indie band turn
37-years-old today!

The duo’s latest album, Love You To Death, was released in 2016 (x).

Tegan and Sara Quinn were born on
September 19, 1980 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They were both musically inclined
from an early age and began playing guitar at the age of 15. While still in
high school, they formed a band called Plunk and recorded two demo albums using
their school’s recording studio. They won the 1998 Garage Wars competition and
used the reward of studio time to record their first album under the name Sara
and Tegan, which was later changed to the catchier Tegan and Sara. To date, the
sisters have released 3 full length albums and multiple EPs.

Both Tegan and Sara are out
lesbians and have been heavily involved with various LGBT organizations and
rights campaigns throughout the years. In 2013, they won the award for Outstanding
Music Artist at the GLAAD Media Awards and performed at the Toronto Pride festival
a year later. More recently, the two have spoken out against North Carolina’s
HB2, the transgender bathroom bill, and performed at The Orange Peel concert
where proceeds were donated to the Equality North Carolina organization. In
December of 2016, the Tegan and Sara Foundation was created in order to fight
for “economic justice, health and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.”


SEPTEMBER 18: Greta Garbo (1905-1990)


One of the most iconic actresses
of the 20th century, Greta Garbo, was born on this day in 1905.
Despite her image in the American imagination as the eternally heterosexual
romantic lead and starlet, Greta lived a lonely, closeted life.

Greta Garbo first traveled to the United States at the age of 19 and not two years later she would be one of the most well-known actresses in the country (x).

Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born
in the slum of Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden on September 18, 1905. She was
the third and the youngest child born to a working class family – her mother
worked at a jam factory and her father was a janitor. Poverty haunted her
childhood and she is remembered as having been a shy, daydreaming child who was
interested in theater and performance from an early age; a former classmate remembered
a 10-year-old Greta declaring that she wanted to be an actress when she grew up
“because it’s posh.” After leaving school at the age of 13, she began working
as a cleaner girl in a barber shop, but eventually took a job at the PUB
Department Story. It was there where Greta was picked out for her beauty and
chosen to model women’s hats. Modeling gigs turned into commercial gigs, which
eventually lead her to starring in short films.

In 1922, the director Erik Arthur
Petschler spotted one of Greta’s commercials and invited her to star in his
small comedy film Peter the Tramp.
Seeing a real future in acting, she studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s
Acting School for two years before getting shipped off to America on the request of
MGM Vice President Louis B. Mayer. After the studio forced her to straighten
her teeth, lose 30 pounds, and lean English, Greta became a superstar and
starred in over 20 silent films. In 1929, she became one of the few stars who
was able to make the jump over to “talkies” with the film Anna Christie. Over the next decade, she would star in hits such as
Grand Hotel, Camille, and Anna Karenina
and would receive three Oscar nominations.

Video footage of Greta arriving at Gothenburg Harbor in 1935 overplayed with words from one of her loves, Mercedes de Acosta

Closely associated with the line
from Grand Hotel, “I want to be alone; I just want to be alone,” Greta hated
publicity and was a recluse later in life. Many historians have theorized that Greta’s social
anxiety and depression were results of her lesbianism and the pressure placed
on her to hide that part of her life from the world. Actresses Lilyan Tashman,
Mercedes de Acosta, and Louise Brooks have all admitted to having sexual
relationships with Greta, but if she had an ultimate love it had to have been
Mimi Pollack. Mimi was a Swedish actress who Greta met during her time at
the Royal Dramatic Theater and the two maintained a close correspondence for
the rest of their lives. The romantic tone of their letters is undeniable;
Greta writes:

 “’The letter from you has aroused a storm of longing within me,” “’I
dream of seeing you and discovering whether you still care as much about your
old bachelor. I love you, little Mimosa,” “’We cannot help our nature, as God
has created it. But I have always thought you and I belonged together.” 

Mimi’s son was born, Greta even wrote that she was “incredibly proud to be a

Greta’s relationship with Mimi
would not become known to the mainstream public until 2005 with the publication of the
Swedish book Djävla Älskade Unge by Tin Andersen Axell. At the time of Greta’s
death on April 14, 1990, it would be over ten years before the
public who claimed to adore her would know a sliver of who the actress truly


SEPTEMBER 17: Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907)


On this day in 1907, the very
first black Native-American woman to break into the world of the fine arts
passed away. Edmonia Lewis was a sculptor and an artist who reached
international fame and mastered the Neoclassical style.

Edmonia surprised many of her colleagues by refusing to take on assistants and completing all of the physically demanding acts of sculpting herself, despite being only four feet tall (x).

Mary Edmonia Lewis was born on
July 4, 1844 in the town of Greenbush, New York. Her father was Afro-Haitian
and her mother was of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent. Together, the family made up part of the small population of freed black families living in America at that time. Her mother was known to be an excellent weaver and artist
in her own right, while her father worked as a servant. Sadly, both of Edmonia’s
parents had passed away by the time she was 9-years-old and both she and her
half-brother went to live with their aunts near Niagara Falls. She eventually enrolled
at New-York Central College, McGrawville in 1856, but left after three years
and ended up studying art at Oberlin College.

After college, Edmonia moved to
Boston and decided to specialize in sculpting after being struck by the beauty of a public statue of Benjamin Franklin. Finding a mentor was difficult at first
because many of the premier sculptors in Boston were not welcoming to a black Native-American
woman entering their field, but once Edward Augustus Brackett agreed to take
Edmonia on as an apprentice, she began working for some of the most famous
abolitionist of the day, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner. In
1866, she made the move to Rome, Italy and opened up her own studio. It was in
Rome where Edmonia’s career was able to flourish; by 1873, she was being paid
up to $50,000 for commissions and was even invited to present at the 1876 Centennial
Exposition in Philadelphia.

Death of Cleopatra, which Edmonia presented at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, caught both the public’s eye and their attention; while Cleopatra had been the subject of many other (white male) sculptors’ works, it was shocking to see a black woman take on the task of depicting one of the most famous black women in history (x).

In Rome, Edmonia was a member of a
circle of fellow expatriate artists, more specifically, of Charlotte Cushman’s
circle of women artists. The majority of the women in Edmonia’s circle were
lesbians, with Charlotte and her partner Emma Stebbins as the head of the pack,
and for this reason, most historians have concluded that Edmonia herself must
have been a woman who loved other women. Her proclivity for “men’s clothing” and
dressing against 19th century gender mores is just further proof that
Edmonia was most likely involved in a LGBT culture of some form or another.
Tragically, after finding a lump in her breast, Edmonia was forced to leave her
friends and what little hub of community she had found in Rome and move to England for medical treatment. She passed away from
Bright’s disease September 17, 1907 and was buried at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic
Cemetery in London.