Category: lgbtq history

JULY 16: Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990)


American screen legend Barbara Stanwyck was
born on this day in 1907. The lesbian starlet spent many years of her life as
the highest paid woman in the U.S. and as an icon for the LGBT community. 


In her heyday, Barbara Stanwyck was famous for her film noirs, and in her later years, she rose to prominence once again for her western films (x).

Barbara was born as Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907
in Brooklyn, New York. She was the fifth child born to working-class
parents and would experience a traumatic childhood after the death of her
mother and the mysterious disappearance of her father – two weeks after Barbara’s
mother died from complications from a miscarriage, her father took a job digging
the Panama Canal and was never seen again. Barbara’s older sister Mildred did
her best to raise her younger siblings, but Barbara and her brother Byron were
eventually placed into foster care. Barbara ran away from the foster care system at the age of 14 and joined her sister Mildred
working as a showgirl. 

Her big break came to Barbara just two years later; when she was 16-years-old, she auditioned for and was given a part with
the Ziegfeld Follies, one of New York’s premier theater groups of the 1910s and
1920s. Later in life, Barbara would say, “I just wanted to survive and
eat and have a nice coat,” but it was with the Ziegfeld Follies that she
made a name for herself choreographing dance numbers at the Texas Guinan gay
and lesbian speakeasy and where she met the famous director Willard Mack. Willard cast
Barbara in his play The Noose, which
was a breakout success and eventually found its way onto Broadway. It was also
Willard who gave her the idea to change her name from Ruby Stevens to Barbara
Stanwyck – Barbara for the name of her character in The Noose, and Stanwyck
was stolen from another actress who was in the production. And just like that,
the Barbara Stanwyck we know today was born.


Between her starring roles in films such as Breakfast for Two (1937) and A Message to Garcia (1936), Barbara earned a reputation as a more masculine leading lady compared to many of her contemporaries (x)(x). 

The 1927 silent film Broadway
was Barbara’s very first film role; although she played a minor
role, she would go on to star in over 40 films and 4 television series throughout
her career! Some of her most iconic films include Double IndemnityThe
Lady Eve
, and Night Nurse,
and she was awarded two Emmys, a Golden Globe, and three different Lifetime
Achievement Awards before her death. One role that secured Barbara’s legacy in
film history was that of the very first out lesbian to be shown in American
cinema – Jo Courtney in Walk on the Wild Side. Despite the film’s portrayal
of Jo Courtney being far from progressive, the film did earn Barbara a huge
lesbian following and piqued the media to her own not-so-secret lesbian past.

Although Barbara
was married twice, the rumors of the day said that they were both “lavender
marriages” – a term coined in the theater community to mean a gay man and
lesbian who married each other to avoid media speculation into their sexuality.
When a journalist named Boze Hadleigh famously asked Barbara about these
speculations in 1962, she reportedly kicked him
out of her house. There are stories about Barbara sleeping with almost every other
popular actress in her day; from Greta Garbo to Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. However, in Barbara’s later years, her
serious partner was her live-in publicist Helen Ferguson, whose “friendship”
with Barbara lasted almost 30 years.


Barbara and her longtime “gal pal” and publicist, Helen Ferguson (x).

Barbara Stanwyck
died on January 20, 1990 due to congestive heart failure.
According to her will, no funeral service was given and instead her ashes were
scattered over Lone Pine, California, her favorite destination which she had
come across while filming several of her western films. In the book
Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Popular Culture by Luca Prono, Barbara’s legacy
and importance to the LGBT community is summed up with: “Stanwyck acquired the
status of icon within lesbian communities…Stanwyck was a woman…whose screen
persona challenged respectability because of the strong and independent women
she embodied in the 1940s.”


JULY 15: Bi Any Other Name is published (1991)


On this day in 1991, the book Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out was published. Edited
by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka’ahumanu, the anthology was one of the
cornerstone publications in the bisexual rights movement of the modern age.

You can purchase the anthology and read more about its “sequel” productions here!” 

Spearheaded by its editors Loraine Hutchins and Lani
Ka’ahumanu, who was a seminal bisexual rights activist and the only bisexual
speaker to attend the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal
Rights and Liberation
, Bi Any Other Name
is an anthology book that ponders bisexuality in the internal and external
through a collection of poetry, art, and personal essays. The book was an
instant success and sold so many copies that it quite literally invented the
formal category of bisexual literature – after Bi Any Other Name was forced to compete in the category of “Lesbian
Anthology” at the 1992 Lambda Literary Awards, the American bisexual community
raged a protest that successfully concluded in the creation of multiple
bisexual specific Lambda Literary Award categories in 2006.

The book’s success also led to the publication of 10 other
books by the same contributors, making Bi
Any Other Name
a series! Today, the original book has been
republished 3 different times, has over 4,000 copies in circulation, and was even
translated and sold in Taiwan beginning in 2007. Despite the original
controversy with the Lambda Literary Awards, Lambda has included the book in
its “Top 100 Queer Books of the 20th century” list. Bisexual rights legend and
former president of BiNet USA, Wendy Curry, once wrote of Bi Any Other Name: “This groundbreaking book gave voice to a
generation of previously unseen bisexuals. Rather than arguing statistics or
debating the sexuality of long dead celebrities, Hutchins and Ka’ahumanu gave a
space to normal bisexuals who told their lives. This created a new genre for
books on bisexuality.”


JULY 14: Jane Lynch (1960-)


Happy birthday to Jane Lynch!! If you’re a Dirty

likes us, you might recognize Jane as the menacing, tracksuit
wearing Sue Sylvester from Glee, but the
famous lesbian comedian has had a career over 40 years in the making!

In 2013, Jane Lynch received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (x). 

Jane was born on June 13, 1960 in Evergreen Park, Illinois
to a banker father and a secretary mother. Soon after her birth, the Lynch
family moved to Dolton, Illinois, which became the town where Jane spent her
youth. After she graduated high school, she originally went to Illinois State
University to receive her Bachelor’s degree but she eventually went on to finish out her
career in academia by receiving an MFA in theater from the prestigious Cornell

After graduating from Cornell, Jane returned home to
Illinois and joined Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She spent over 15 years performing for various theater troupes,
in many of which she was the only or one of the few female members. Her most
notable on-stage role was as Carol Brady in The Annoyance Theater’s The Real Live Brady Bunch. She began her
screen career in 1988 with the film Vice
and has now appeared in over 18 films and 20 television shows,
including her starring turn on Glee
and in the iconic lesbian series The

In 2005, Jane Lynch was named one of the “10 Amazing
Gay Women in Showbiz.” As an out lesbian in Hollywood, she has taken part in
many LGBT-themed events, such as starring in the opening play – Oh Sister, My Sister – for the Los Angeles Lesbians
in Theater program in 2004, and as performing in 8, a staged reenactment of the trial that overturned Proposition 8.


JULY 13: Danitra Vance (1954-1994)


Comedy legend and the very first lesbian ever cast on
Saturday Night Live, Danitra Vance, was born on July 13, 1954 and would have
celebrated her 63rd birthday today!

Throughout her career, Danitra was awarded an NAACP Image Award, an Obie Award, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award (x). 

Danitra was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Thornton
Township High School. Despite having struggled with dyslexia in elementary
school, she thrived as a member of her high school’s theater program. After graduating high school she attended Roosevelt University, where she studied
playwriting and acting; a play she wrote in college titled “Skylark” is an
iconic piece still performed on the campus today. Danitra also went to London
to receive her MFA in acting, returning home to Chicago in 1971 determined to
get her big break.

One of her recurring characters on SNL was “That Black Girl,” an actress who was constantly denied starring roles because of her race. The skit was a parody of the 1960s sitcom That Girl (x). 

A teacher by day and a performer by night, Danitra developed
her comedic voice in nightclubs throughout the 1970s. She was a member of the
successful Second City Comedy Troupe for a while before deciding to move to New
York City in 1981. Her big break came four years later when she was accepted
into the cast of Saturday Night Live! Danitra made history as the first black
woman to become an SNL series regular, the first SNL member to have a learning
disability, and the very first lesbian to ever be cast on SNL – and still to
this date is the only black lesbian to ever perform on the series. SNL made
Danitra Vance a household name, but she left after only season with the show
due to the writers consistently giving her racist stereotypical roles like “That
Black Girl” and Cabrini Jackson the teenage mother.

Danitra laughs with Ray Charles, who she co-starred with in the 1989 film Limit Up (x).

Having left SNL, Danitra began a career on Broadway that
would eventually earn her both an NAACP Award and an Obie Award. Her award-winning
turns were in two George C. Wolfe plays, The
Colored Museum
and Spunk. She
also starred in four movies during her post-SNL career, one being Little Man Tate alongside fellow lesbian
icon, Jodie Foster. In 1990, when Danitra was diagnosed with late-stage breast
cancer, she penned the semi-autobiographical play The Radical Girl’s Guide to Mastectomy. The cancer eventually
overtook her on August 21, 1994 when she was 40-years-old. It was only
revealed after her death that Danitra was a lesbian who had been with her
partner, Jones Miller, for over ten years.


JULY 12: Malta legalizes same-sex marriage (20…


In a surprising announcement, the strict Catholic nation of
Malta has just legalized same-sex marriage beginning on this day – July 12,


People celebrate in front of the Auberge de Castille, the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, which is lit in rainbow colors after the Maltese parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage on the Roman Catholic Mediterranean island, in Valletta, Malta, July 12, 2017 (x).

Malta has historically been a mixed bag when it comes to
progressive politics; the nation only made divorce legal in 2011, but legalized
civil unions for same-sex couples just three years later in 2014. Although 98%
of the population in Malta identify as traditional Roman Catholics, support for
the full legalization of same-sex marriage has been high ever the 2014 ruling
on civil unions. Malta’s parliament responded to the general public’s wishes when it was announced that a vote to officially
make the language of Malta’s wedding laws gender neutral to include same-sex
couples, and thus make same-sex marriage legal, had passed by 66-1. 

The single
MP who voted against the bill was Edwin Vassallo, who offers his religion as
his reasoning: “A Christian politician cannot leave his
conscience outside the door.” As for the 66 other MPs who supported the bill,
they have voted for the classic line “you are now husband and wife” to be
replaced with “you are now spouses,” for “maiden name” to be replaced with “surname
at birth,” and for “mother and father” on adoption documents to simply be replaced with “parents.” Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Musca has expressed satisfaction
with the changes, calling the old legislation which secluded same-sex couples
to civil unions “discriminatory.” Congratulations, Malta!!


JULY 12: Else von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-19…


On this day in 1874, the “Mama of Dada” was born. The Baroness
Else von Freytag-Loringhoven, as she was known, was an eccentric bisexual woman,
a living work of art, and the originator of the iconic art piece Fountain.


Else photographed going about her daily life in Harlem, New York on January 10, 1921 (x).

Born Else Hildegard Plötz in Pomerania, Germany, Else’s
father was a mason who afforded the family middle-class status. She began
training as an actress and vaudeville performer at a young age and eventually
moved off to Dachau to study art. After finishing her studies, Else relocated
to Berlin – the heart of German Dada. It was in Berlin where she found a
community of like-minded artists who challenged the era’s gender and sexual
mores and refused to separate their selfhood from their art, but still, she was
one of the few women actively involved in the community. Other women included
the writer Mina Loy and the expressionist painter Gabriele Münter, both with
whom Else had affairs. 

In 1901, she married an architect named August Endell
and the two had an open relationship until they divorced in 1906. She was soon
married to a translator named Felix Paul Greve, and although this relationship
would soon fall apart as well, Else’s marriage to Felix would change her life.
In 1909, finding himself penniless and in mountains of debt, Felix convinced
Else to help him fake his own death. The couple’s plan was to disappear from
Germany forever and start a new life in America, but after Else joined her
husband in the U.S., he abandoned her and Else was left alone in a foreign
country with no friends.

In America, she was forced to start her life from the ground up; she found work in a
cigarette factory and she also started modeling for photographers in New York City. It
was through her modeling career in New York City that she met and became
friends with legendary photographers such as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, powerful connections that, once again, allowed Else to become involved in an artistic society. In
1913, she was finally able to give up the hustle and focus more on her art when she
married the wealthy Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven; during this time,
her poetry was picked up by the prestigious journal The Little Review and her sculptures/“living collages” began
being shown in galleries. In recent years, it has
been discovered that legendary Dada artworks like Fountain
and God that were once attributed to
male artists and close friends of Else, Marcel Duchamp and Morton Livingston
Schamberg, were actually created by Else herself.

In 1921, Else left New York and moved back to Europe. First,
she returned to Berlin, but found it to be a devastated shell of her former home in the aftermath of World War I. She eventually settled in Paris, where she
struggled to make ends meet and had to be financially assisted by her wealthy
friends such as Djuna Barnes and Peggy Guggenheim. Else died a mysterious death
on December 14, 1927; she was found dead in her home, curled up with her beloved
pet dog. The cause of death was pronounced to be gas suffocation, but the exact
circumstances that led to the gas being left on in her apartment are unknown.


JULY 11: Orange is the New Black premieres (20…


On this day in 2013, Orange
is the New
Black premiered on Netflix. Ever since the show burst onto
everyone with an internet connection’s radar, it has been praised for its fresh
depictions of women’s stories and has been introducing baby lesbians to their
new celebrity crushes with characters like Poussey Washington, Alex Vause, and
Nicky Nichols.

The ensemble cast of Orange is the New Black pose for a promo photo for season one (x). 

Loosely based on a 2010 memoir titled Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, the show
tells the story of Piper Chapman, a wealthy white woman who is sentenced
to 15 months in Litchfield Penitentiary for having been involved in her
ex-girlfriend’s drug smuggling business 10 years prior. Although Piper is in a seemingly happy marriage with her husband Larry, her relationship status is complicated when she discovers that her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause, is also doing time at Litchfield. Piper is technically
the main character of the series, but she has been described as a “Trojan horse” by
the series’ own creator, Jenji Kohan; it is through Piper’s perspective that
the audience enters Litchfield, but when there, the show is undeniably stolen by
her nuanced and lovable supporting characters. Piper’s privileged life is put in stark contrast
with the unprivileged lives of her prison mates who are varyingly lesbian, trans,
low-income women of color.

Take a trip down memory lane and watch the trailer for season one of the series!

The fifth season of Orange
is the New Black
was just released in June of 2017 and, to date, it is the
most viewed original series Netflix has ever produced. After the first season
was released in 2013, the series won an impressive 12 Emmy wins and has been nominated
for a collection of Emmys and Golden Globes ever since its debut. Although the
show attempts to tackle social issues such as the prison-industrial complex and police
brutality, it has often missed the mark and received backlash,
particularly for the killing of Poussey Washington in season four who was a
beloved fan favorite and one of the few black lesbian characters in today’s
television landscape. Despite the criticism, you can expect to see Orange is
the New Black
back on your laptop or television screen for at least two more
years as it has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season. What are your
thoughts on the show? Who is your OITNB crush?


JULY 10: Alexandra Hedison (1969-)


Happy birthday to Alexandra Hedison!! The L-Word actress, director, and photographer turns 47-years-old

Alexandra has published three book collections of her photography, which you can view here! (x)

Alexandra was born on July 10, 1969 in Los Angeles,
California into an Italian-American family. Growing up in the heart of the
American entertainment industry and with an actor as a father, she had many
creative influences from a young age. She would go on to attend the State
University of New York at Purchase and University of California, Los Angeles,
from which she graduated in 1992. She began photography right out of college
and had her first exhibit in 2002 at Rose Gallery in Bergamont Station. Alexandra
soon became famous for her abstract landscape pieces and today her work has
been displayed in galleries all over the world.

After dating for a year, Alexandra married actress Jodie Foster in April of 2014 (x).

In addition to her photography career, Alexandra has also
had a robust acting career. She got her start with a minor role in the 1994
film Sleep with Me and has been in
over 18 films and television shows. She has also directed two films – an
animated film in 2005 titled In the Dog
and a 2005 documentary titled The
Making of Suit Yourself
. Her most popular role was as Dylan Moreland in the
iconic lesbian series The L-Word!
Alexandra first “came out” to the general public when it was announced that she
was dating Ellen DeGeneres in 2001, but she was just recently married to Jodie
Foster in 2014. This year alone, Alexandra’s work has been shown at three different
prestigious exhibits: “The Useful and the Decorative” at The Landing
in Los Angeles, as well as “Found Paintings” at both H Gallery and La Salle René
Capitant-Mairie du Panthéon in Paris.


JULY 9: June Jordan (1936-2002)


Born on this day in 1936, Caribbean-American poet and
activist, June Jordan would have celebrated her 81st birthday today!
Having written over two dozen books in her lifetime, June vocally identified as
bisexual in both her literary and activism work.


A young June Jordan smiles away from the camera, circa 1970 (x).

Born on July 9, 1936 in Harlem, New York, June was the only
child of Jamaican immigrants. Her father was a postal worker and her mother worked
as a part-time nurse. In her work, June often deals with the dissonance of her
childhood; her father frequently beat her and was emotionally abusive, but he
was also the main person in her life who encouraged her to read and write. For
this reason, she began writing poetry at the early age of 7. After graduating
from Northfield Mount Hermon School in 1953, June began studying at Barnard College.
Later in life she would regret the fact that she had been “completely immersed
in a white universe” during her academic career.

The 1969 book Who Look
at Me
, a collection of poetry for children, was June’s very first published
work. She published 27 more books throughout her life, including more poetry collections,
fiction novels, feminist philosophy essays, and her 2000 memoir Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood. Her first
full-fledged novel, His Own Where,
was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971. June also began a teaching
career in 1967 when she began working at City College of New York. She would go
on to teach literature at several other prestigious institutions such as Yale,
Sarah Lawrence, and UC Berkeley.


Today, June Jordan is remembered as one of the most beloved black feminist and black bisexual writers (x). 

While she was in college, June met a Columbia University
student named Michael Meyer. The two were married in 1955 and had a son,
Christopher, three years later, but would eventually divorce in 1965. She would
later come out as bisexual and write much about the importance of
intersectionality between sexuality, gender, and race in one’s social activism.
One of June’s iconic quotes reads,

“Bisexuality means I am free and I am as
likely to want to love a woman as I am likely to want to love a man, and what
about that? Isn’t that what freedom implies? If you are free, you are not
predictable and you are not controllable. To my mind, that is the keenly
positive, politicizing significance of bisexual affirmation… to insist upon
the equal validity of all the components of social/sexual complexity.”

June’s last published work was a collection of political
essays titled Some Of Us Did Not Die,
which wasn’t published until after her death. On June 14, 2002, June passed
away from breast cancer complications at the age of 65. The June Jordan School
for Equity (JJSE) was founded in San Francisco after her death and continues her lifelong fight for social equality. 


JULY 8: Shura’s “Nothing’s Real” album is rele…


Today is the one year anniversary of the album Nothing’s Real by lesbian pop sensation
Shura. Nothing’s Real was Shura’s debut album and gave us hits such as “Touch”
and “What’s It Gonna Be?”

The cover art for Nothing’s Real shows sketched and photographed versions of Shura overlayed with each other and was voted one of the top 5 album covers of 2016 by many online polls (x). 

Aleksandra Lilah Denton A.K.A. Shura was born on June 16,
1991 in Manchester England. Her Russian actress mother and English filmmaker
father primed her for a career in the arts and she began studying
guitar when she was 13. Although she was a standout member of the Manchester
City Youth Football Team, she eventually chose music over sports and began
seriously recording music at age 16. Her first song, “Touch,” was first
released in 2014 and quickly blew up on YouTube. A year later, Shura had signed
with Universal and two years later she dropped Nothing’s Real.

With over 2 million views on YouTube, the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be” stars Shura and her real life twin brother Nick, who is also gay. Both siblings came out at the age of 16 and in an interview with Elle Magazine, Shura recalls, “It was never like I had to go, ‘I am gay.’ Slowly, almost by osmosis, by the way I was behaving, it became obvious and accepted” (x).

The album and the music video for “What’s It Gonna Be” received
somewhat of the Hayley Kiyoko treatment during the summer of 2016 – which is to
say, it inspired many a “Sapphic Summer Romance” playlist and kept the gay
girls bopping all summer long. The album as a whole is far from a collection of
vapid love songs, though. With the shine of a synthpop, 1980s sound, Nothing’s Real is a coming-of-age story
where Shura vents about anxiety attacks, ruined relationships, and the strange,
niche challenge of navigating lesbian aesthetic; on the song “2Shy,” Shura
confesses to smoking cigarettes and awkwardly wearing a cap, just “trying to be
someone I saw on TV once.” Although the gayness of Nothing’s Real or any of its singles is not as obvious as something
like the 2015 classic “Girls Like Girls,” you would be hard pressed to find a
track on the album that’s not simply begging to be put on the soundtrack of a John
Hughes-style teen lesbian romance movie.