Category: usa

DECEMBER 30: Amanda Nunes defends her title as…

On July 10, 2016, Amanda Nunes became
the very first openly gay UFC fighter to win a major title. She made history once again on December 30, 2016 when she defeated the legendary Ronda Rousey and became the very first openly gay returning champion in UFC history. 

image

Amanda Nunes celebrates her historic win over Ronda Rousey on December 30, 2016. Despite Rousey’s bombastic reputation, she was defeated by Nunes in a devastating 48-second loss (x).

Amanda Nunes
was born on May 30, 1988 in the small town of Salvado, Bahia, Brazil. She began karate lessons at only age 4 and when
she as 16, she advanced to boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. After travelling to
America to pursue a professional mixed martial arts career, Amanda made her
debut at Prime MMA Championship on March 8, 2008.

On July 10, 2016, Amanda became the first openly gay UFC fighter to ever win a major title when she defeated Miesha Thomas. On December 30,
2016, she competed in a second career-defining match against the famous fighter Ronda Rousey. By winning the match, she secured her place in history as the first
openly gay or lesbian UFC fighter to not only win but also defend her major title. 

image

Amanda shares a kiss with her girlfriend after her big win (x).

She attributes
her success in the ring to her girlfriend, fellow UFC fighter and training
partner, Nina Ansaroff. Amanda is quoted as saying, “She is going to be the
next UFC champion, I mean it…She is going to show everybody. She helps me every
day … and I love her.”

-LC

DECEMBER 29: Elsa Gidlow (1898-1986)

One of the most
famous lesbian poets of all time, Elsa Gidlow, was born on this day in 1898.
Her 1923 collection titled A Grey Thread was the first instance of openly
lesbian love poetry to be published in North America.

image

Elsa Gidlow photographed in 1925 at age 27 (x).

Elsa Gidlow
was born on December 29, 1898 in Hull, Yorkshire, England. When she was only
6-years-old, the Gidlow family emigrated to Canada and settled down in Tétreaultville,
Quebec. When she was 15, they would move once again to Montreal. Elsa’s very
first contact with the literary world occurred when a friend of her father’s
hired her to work as an assistant editor to his magazine Factory Facts.

In 1917, she began seeking out fellow gay and lesbian writers to collaborate with. Along
with the journalist Roswell George Mills, she eventually published Les Mouches
Fantastiques
, which was the first magazine to be published in North America that
openly discussed LGBT issues. Elsa being relatively unknown at the time, the
magazine only came into the mainstream when the famous author H.P. Lovecraft
publicly attacked its contents. Despite the backlash, Elsa would eventually publish 13 books of lesbian love poetry throughout her career. 

An original copy of Elsa’s 1923 collection of poetry, On a Grey Thread, is preserved in the collection of San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society (x).

Elsa’s partner
was a woman named Isabel Grenfell Quallo. The two originally lived in San
Francisco together before moving to Mount Tamalpais, California and starting a ranch
they called Druid Heights. The ranch became a meeting grounds for many famous
artists and activists throughout the years and Elsa is known to have
entertained the likes of Neil Young, Margo St. James, Alan Ginsberg, Maya
Angelou, and many more. In 1977, she was featured in the PBS documentary Word Is Out: Stores
of Some of Our Lives
, which chronicled the stories of LGBT people living in America. In
1986, Elsa made history once again when her autobiography, Elsa, I Come with My
Songs
, was published and became the very first lesbian autobiography to not be
written under pseudonym.

In the last
years of her life, Elsa suffered a series of strokes. She refused to seek
medical care and died at home in Druid Heights on June 8, 1986. According to her
will, her ashes were mixed with rice and buried underneath an apple tree. The
Gidlow Estate posthumously donated Elsa’s personal papers to the San Francisco
GLBT Historical Society in 1991.

-LC

DECEMBER 28: Pariah is released (2011)

The classic lesbian film Pariah was first released in the United States on this day in 2011. Written and directed by
lesbian director Dee Rees, Pariah was
awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2011 Sundance Film
Festival and also earned Adpero Oduye a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award
for Best Female Lead.

Pariah is a character study of a
17-year-old girl named Alike. The film follows her coming out journey as a
young black butch lesbian who is just beginning her process of self-discovery.
After becoming friends with an out lesbian named Laura and frequenting bars and
clubs with her, Alike begins exploring her own sexuality and dressing in men’s
clothing. Her mother, Audrey, becomes suspicious of her daughter’s nighttime whereabouts
and retaliates by forcing her to wear more feminine clothing and to attend
church services.

Ironically, it
is through church that Alike meets another young girl named Bina and has her
first sexual experience. After spending the night with Bina, Alike returns home and
comes out to her family in the middle of an explosive argument. Although her
father and sister are restrained, her mother attacks her, resulting in Alike
fleeing to Laura’s house and swearing to never return home. Despite the gritty
realness of the film, Pariah ends with Alike off on a journey to California to
start college early. The thesis of the film is summed up in a line from one of
Alike’s poems: “I’m not running; I’m choosing.”

-LC

DECEMBER 27: Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)

The famed actress and fashion icon, Marlene Dietrich, was born on this day in 1901.
Remembered as the woman who made the tuxedo gender neutral, she also had several
relationships with women throughout her life.

Marlene Dietrich dressed in her classic tuxedo and top hat, cigarette in hand (x).

Marie Magdalene
“Marlene” Dietrich was born on December 27, 1901 in a district of
Berlin, Germany called Schöneberg. Her mother was from a prestigious German
family and was heir to a jewelry and clock-making firm while her father served
as a local police lieutenant. As a child she attended Auguste-Viktoria Girls’
School. It was during her school days when her friends began calling her
“Lena.” She soon combined that nickname with her first name, Marie, and began
going by Marlene. After graduating from the Victoria-Luise-Schule, she began
seeking a career in show business.

Her earliest
gig was as a chorus girl with the touring vaudeville troupe, Guido Thielscher’s
Girl-Kabarett. After working in the theater circuit for a while, she made her
film debut with a small role in 1923’s The Little Napoleon. Her big break came
in 1930 when she starred in The Blue Angel; her role as the seductive cabaret
singer Lola Lola struck something within American audiences. Her signature song
from the film, “Falling in Love Again,” also became a hit. Marlene would go on
to make over 45 films in her career and become known as one of the most famous
femme fatales in cinema history.

One of Marlene’s
most famous scenes occurred in the 1930 film Morocco. One again cast as a
cabaret singer, she performs an entire song dressed in a man’s white tuxedo and kisses a woman in the audience. The scene was scandalous at the time, but also indicative of Marlene’s personal breaking of traditional gender roles;
she was known to dress in men’s suits in her daily life and was also one of the first women to be
enrolled at Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin. 

Photographs of Marlene that were taken by the woman she had one of her longest love affairs with, Mercedes de Acosta (x).

The phrase “sewing circle,”
used to describe the underground gang of lesbian and bisexual women in old
Hollywood, is said to have been coined by Marlene herself. Although she was
married to Rudolf Sieber, she had multiple affairs with both men and women.
Some of her most notable lovers included Mercedes de Acosta, Claudette Colbert, Edith Piaf, and many more. She would pass away, aged 90, on May 6, 1992.

-LC

DECEMBER 26: Queen Christina is released (1933…

Based on the
real life lesbian queen of Sweden and starring lesbian starlet Greta Garbo, the
film Queen Christina was first released on this day in 1933.

Despite the
actual documented history of Queen Christina’s life, the story of the Queen
Christina
film follows the queen as she falls in love with a fictional male
Spanish envoy. Stressed out by the demands of the throne and the continued insistence
that she marry her cousin, Karl Gustav, this fictionalized version of Christina
disguises herself in men’s clothing and sneaks out of her castle to enjoy life
as an everyday commoner. When an unexpected snow storm leaves her stranded at
an inn, she is forced to share a bed with an occupant of the inn, a diplomat
sent from Spain named Antonio. Christina eventually reveals herself to be a
woman and the two fall in love.

Despite the
erasure of Christina’s lesbianism, the 1933 film became a touchstone for
lesbian culture for its depiction of a masculine woman protagonist and the
iconic scene where Christina shares a “friendly kiss” with her lady in waiting
and real life lover, Ebba Sparre. The film The Girl King that was released in 2015 recently restored the lesbian aspects of Queen Christina’s true story.

-LC

DECEMBER 25: Donna Burkett and Manonia Evans a…

Merry Christmas to all of those who celebrate! Today we are going to cover the story of two women named Donna Burkett and Manonia Evans who were married on December 25, 1971. Their unofficial wedding ceremony came at the end of one of the very first legal battles to fight for marriage equality in American history.

In a 1971 interview with GPU News, the news magazine of Milwaukee’s gay and lesbian community, Donna Burkett said, “

The law should protect us and help us the way it does any two straight people who love each other and want to live together…That’s our civil rights; that’s what this is all about” (x).

It all began on
October 1, 1971. Donna and Manonia simply walked into the Office of the Milwaukee
Country Clerk and attempted to apply for a marriage license. The county clerk
at the time, Thomas Zablocki, told the two women that he could not accept their
application on account of the fact that the state defined marriage as being
between a man and woman. Although Donna and Manonia were fully aware of this
fact when they walked into his office, it was that verbal rejection which
allowed them to formally file a lawsuit stating that the state’s
refusal to grant them a marriage license violated their civil rights.

America had
never seen a story such as this before. Magazines such as Jet and The Advocate
picked up Donna and Manonia’s story and followed the lawsuit until it was
dismissed by District Judge Myron L. Gordon on January 19, 1972. Before they
could wait to hear the verdict from the judge, however, Donna and Manonia held
a wedding on Christmas Day 1971. Rev. Joseph Feldhausen officiated and over 250
of their friends and family were in attendance; the two women recall Donna
having worn a black tuxedo with Manonia wearing a traditional white lace dress.

Although Donna
and Manonia’s legal case was ultimately a failure, it was cases such as theirs
which helped kick start the American marriage equality movement that would first
gain traction in the 1990s. Their story serves as a reminder that gay and
lesbian couples have always lived happy and successful lives with each other, regardless of if the government was willing to issue some piece of paper sanctioning that happiness.

-LC

DECEMBER 24: Stormé DeLarverie (1920-2014)

The lesbian
legend Stormé DeLarverie was born on this day in 1920. Stormé went down
in history on the night of June 28, 1969 when her scuffle with the NYPD incited
the Stonewall Riots.

Stormé DeLarverie photographed in the last years of her life (x).

Stormé DeLarverie was born December 24, 1920 in New
Orleans, Louisiana. She would later recall suffering much bullying due to the fact that her father was white and her mother was
black. She would also recall first realizing that she was a lesbian at age 18, As a teenager she rode horses with the Ringling Brothers Circus, during which she met her partner of over 25 years, a
dancer named Diana.

After falling
from her horse and suffering an injury, Stormé’s circus career came to an end. She
would then tour with The Jewel Box Revue – North America’s very first racially
integrated drag – as the troupe’s MC and only drag king performer until 1969.
Halfway through that fateful year, she found herself living in New York City
and frequenting the Stonewall Inn. The story goes that after the NYPD initiated
a surprise raid of the Inn and began attempting to arrest many of the
occupants, Stormé began
fighting back and screamed at the onlookers while being handcuffed, “Why don’t you guys do something?”
One first-hand witness would say that “it was at that moment that the scene
became explosive.”

Stormé posing as her drag king persona which she assumed for over 20 years (x).

Following the
Stonewall Riots and the Gay Rights Movement they helped birth, Stormé became
known as a hero in the NYC lesbian scene. She would work for several years as a
bouncer for multiple lesbian bars as well as a leading officer of
the Stonewall Veterans’ Association. Stormé also volunteered as a street patrol
worker, which gave her the reputation of being the “guardian of lesbians in the
Village.” After her partner Diana passed away in 1970, Stormé carried around a
photograph of Diana with her at all times. She herself would pass away on May 24,
2014 after suffering a heart attack in her sleep. Her obituary read: 

Tall,
androgynous and armed — she held a state gun permit — Ms. DeLarverie roamed
lower Seventh and Eighth Avenues and points between into her 80s, patrolling
the sidewalks and checking in at lesbian bars. She was on the lookout for what
she called “ugliness”: any form of intolerance, bullying or abuse of her “baby
girls.” … “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay
superhero. … She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.

-LC

DECEMBER 22: Ma Rainey (1886-1939)

The legendary performer and the
woman once dubbed the “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, passed away on this day
in 1939. There were incessant rumors about Ma Rainey’s lesbianism during her
lifetime and in 1925 she was arrested for participating in an orgy with
multiple women.

image

One of the only known photographs of Gertrude Pridgett a.k.a Ma Rainey, circa 1914 (x).

Ma Rainey was born Gertrude
Pridgett on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. She was the second of five
children born to Thomas and Ella Pridgett. Her
career as an entertainer began at the young age of 12 when she began performing
in black minstrel shows with her church, the First African Baptist Church of
Columbus. After marrying a fellow performer named Will Rainey in 1904,
she was given her legendary name of Ma Rainey. The duo started out with the
Rabbit’s Foot Company of “Black Face Song and Dance Comedians” before striking
out on their own as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues.

It was while performing in New
Orleans in the winter of 1914 when Ma Rainey was first introduced to some of
the biggest names in black showbiz of the day: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet,
Pops Foster, and her eventual lover, Bessie Smith. In 1923, Ma Rainey would be
discovered by J. Mayo Williams, who was a producer for Paramount Records. She
was signed to Paramount in December of that year and would go on to record over
100 songs in the next five years. Some of her hits include “Bo-Weevil Blues,” “Bad
Luck Blues,” and “Moonshine Blues.”

Many of the Ma Rainey’s lyrics
include hints of her lesbianism. In “Prove It on Me,” she sings

“They said I do
it, ain’t nobody caught me.
Sure got to prove it on me.
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.
They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men…”

In 1925, Ma
Rainey and several of the women who were in her chorus were arrested at Ma
Rainey’s own home for purportedly participating in an orgy. It was Bessie
Smith, fellow blues singer, lesbian, and America’s highest paid black performer
of the era, who bailed Ma Rainey out of jail that night. Ma Rainey’s
guitarist, Sam Chatom, would later say that Bessie and she were most likely
lovers: “I believe she was courting Bessie…if Bessie’d be around,
if she’d get to talking to another man, she’d run up. She didn’t want no man
talking with her.”

As live vaudeville
acts became less and less popular with the American public and were replaced by radio in the 1930s,
Ma Rainey’s career also went into decline. In 1928, she recorded a final 20
songs before her contract was terminated by Paramount. In 1935, she returned
home to Georgia and became a successful theater owner. Until her death on
December 22, 1939, she operated three popular Georgia theaters – the Lyric, the
Airdome, and the Liberty Theater.

-LC

DECEMBER 20: Elsie de Wolfe (1859-1950)

The famous socialite and interior
decorator, Elsie de Wolfe, was born on this day in 1859. Elsie
is most well-known for her 1913 book The
House in Good Taste
; In a review of the book’s enormous influence, The New Yorker would eventually write that ”interior design as a profession was invented by Elsie de
Wolfe.”

An older Elsie de Wolfe photographed amongst the extravagance of her Paris apartment (x).

Ella Anderson de Wolfe was born on
December 20, 1859 in New York City. Her father was a Canadian-born doctor who
provided a comfortable life for his family, but in a look back at her
childhood, Elsie would say that she went through life as “a rebel in
an ugly world.” When she was young, Elsie began a career as an actress. She
appeared in a few plays and one act comedies but enjoyed no real success. It
was while travelling with the Empire Stock Company and assisting in the art of
staging plays that she found herself interested in interior design.

The passion for design and
aesthetics was already there, but it took pulling some string to get Elsie de
Wolfe’s name on the map. Once Elsie began foraying into the uncharted territory
of interior design as a career, it was her partner Elisabeth Marbury who
secured her such prestigious clients as Amy Vanderbilt, Henry Clay Frick, and
the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Although Elsie was simply known as an actress
of mediocre fame in the 1890s, Elisabeth was a wildly successful literary agent who
had managed the likes of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. The two had first
met at a party and soon entered into a Boston Marriage; it was her partnership
with Elisabeth and the design of their multiple New York Homes that truly made
Elsie’s reputation.

Elsie with her partner of over 40 years, Elisabeth “Bessie” Marbury, in 1923 (x).

In 1926, Elsie was married to a
diplomat by the name of Sir Charles Mendl and became the Lady Mendl. However,
the marriage was only formed out of convenience for both parties and Elsie
remained true to Elisabeth until her death. For the rest of their lives, the women moved through high society as the artsy lesbian power couple of New York
City. One friend even described them as “"the willowy De Wolfe and the
masculine Marbury… cutting a wide path through Manhattan society.” Elsie
would be named the best-dressed woman in the world by Paris magazines in 1935
and be immortalized in the lyrics of multiple Cole Porter songs before her
death on July 12, 1950 at the age of 90. Elisabeth has preceded her, passing
away in 1933.

-LC

DECEMBER 19: The Children’s Hour is released (…

The film The Children’s Hour was released on this day in 1961. Adapted from
the Lillian Hellman play of the same name, The Children’s Hour was revolutionary
in its depiction of lesbian schoolteachers and the social stigma of
homosexuality.

image

When writing the original play,
Lillian Hellman was inspired by the 1809 true story of two Scottish teachers
whose lives and careers were tarnished when a student  accused them of
being in a lesbian relationship. Hollywood attempted to adapt The Children’s
Hour
first in 1936, but due to the Hays Code of the time which prevented any
overt mention of LGBT existence, These Three – as it was titled – became the
story of a schoolteacher who was exposed for sleeping with her colleague’s fiancé. 

In 1961, the story was restored to
its original roots. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, the film
follows two old college buddies, Martha and Karen, who operate a private girls’
school together. After Karen punishes a particularly conniving student named Mary,
the student decides to get retribution by spinning a story to her wealthy and
influential grandmother about how her teachers Martha and Karen are secret
lovers. The result of Mary’s story is catastrophic; the two women file a libel
suit, the reputation of their school is ruined, and most destructive of all,
Martha realizes that she has in fact been in love with Karen ever
since the day they met.

The concluding scene of Karen
breaking open the door to Martha’s bedroom and finding herself hanging from the
ceiling having committed suicide after her love confession, has gone down in
history as an iconic moment in LGBT cinema.

-LC