October Is GLBT History Month: Week 3

Matthew Mitcham
Olympic Diver
b. March 2, 1988
image“Being ‘out’ for me means being just as I am with nothing to be ashamed about and no reasons to hide.”

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham is one of the few openly gay Olympic athletes. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Mitcham won a gold medal after executing the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history.
Mitcham grew up in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He competed as a trampoline gymnast before being discovered by a diving coach. By the time he was 14, he was a national junior champion in diving. A few years later, he won medals in the World Junior Diving Championships.
In 2006, after battling anxiety and depression, Mitcham decided to retire from diving. The following year, he returned to diving and began training for the Olympics.
In Beijing, Mitcham won an Olympic gold medal in the 10-meter platform dive. It was the first time in over 80 years that an Australian male diver struck Olympic gold. After his triumph, he leaped into the stands to hug and kiss his partner, Lachlan Fletcher.
Mitcham was the first out Australian to compete in the Olympics. There were only 11 openly gay athletes out of a total of over 11,000 competitors in Beijing.
Mitcham was chosen 2008 Sports Performer of the Year by the Australian public. The same year, Australia GQ named him Sportsman of the Year. After accepting the GQ award, Mitcham joked, “Oh, my God, I’m a homo and I just won the sports award!”
Mitcham competed in the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne. He is studying at Sydney University and training for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“I look at the last 20 years as a long, winding path of lessons and some hardship,” Mitcham said in 2008. “I hope I do have more lessons to learn. I look forward to that.”
Jamie Nabozny
Youth Activist
b. October 14, 1975
image “Kids are becoming a lot stronger, and with my case I hope they realize that they’re not alone.”
Jamie Nabozny was the first student to successfully sue a school district for its failure to protect a student from anti-gay harassment. His 1995 lawsuit helped pioneer the Safe Schools Movement for GLBT students.
Nabozny was emotionally bullied and physically abused as a high school student in Ashland, Wisconsin, after he revealed his sexual orientation. Classmates urinated on him, simulated raping him and beat him to the point that he needed surgery. Although he and his parents reported the bullying repeatedly, Nabozny was told that, because he was openly gay, he should expect such behavior.
“I was numb most of the time, and I had to be numb to make it through,” Nabozny said. He left the school, moved to Minnesota with his family, and passed the GED exam.
His lawsuit against the school was initially dismissed, but the Nabozny family appealed. The appellate court, basing its ruling on the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, allowed the lawsuit to go forward. A jury then found the school liable for Nabozny’s injuries; the school district eventually agreed to a nearly $1 million settlement.
Nabozny’s story is featured in a documentary film and teaching kit produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History,” and its accompanying materials have been distributed to schools nationwide.
Nabozny has submitted written testimony to Congress and has lobbied lawmakers about school safety for GLBT youth. He was honored for his pioneering efforts by Equality Forum, which recognized him with its 1997 National Role Model Award.
Nabozny lives in Minneapolis. He travels the country speaking to diverse audiences about his experience and the importance of safe schools.
Cynthia Nixon
b. April 9, 1966
image “I never felt like there was an unconscious part of me that woke up or came out of the closet. I met this woman and I fell in love with her.”
Cynthia Nixon is a television, film and Broadway actress best known for her role as Miranda on “Sex and the City.” She is one of only 15 performers to receive a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy Award.
Nixon is a native New Yorker, the only child of Walter Nixon, a radio journalist, and Anne Kroll, an actress and a researcher on the television series “To Tell the Truth.” Cynthia’s first television appearance was at age 9 as an imposter on the show.
At age 12, Nixon began her acting career with a role in an ABC Afterschool Special. Her feature film debut came soon after in “Little Darlings” (1980), followed by her first role on Broadway in “The Philadelphia Story.”
Nixon graduated from Hunter College High School and attended Barnard College. As a freshman, she made theatrical history acting in two Broadway plays at the same time, “The Real Thing” and “Hurlyburly.”
A working actress since the 1980’s, Nixon received a Best Supporting Actress Emmy Award in 2004 for “Sex and the City.” In 2006, she was honored with a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in “The Rabbit Hole.” In 2008, Nixon received a second Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
In 2008, “Sex and the City” became a movie franchise. Nixon and her television co-stars reprised their roles in the film and a 2010 sequel, “Sex and the City 2.” The original film grossed over $415 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful R-rated comedies.
Nixon is engaged to Christine Marinoni. The couple plans to tie the knot in Manhattan when  same-sex marriage becomes legal in New York State. “We want to get married right here in New York City, where we live, where our kids live,” Nixon says. She and Marinoni share parenting responsibilities for Nixon’s two children from a previous relationship.
In 2009, Nixon shared a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for reading Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” In 2010, Nixon received the Vito Russo GLAAD Media Award for promoting equal rights for the gay community.
Nixon is a breast cancer survivor and a spokeswoman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Catherine Opie
b. April 14, 1961
image “Let’s push the boundaries a little bit here about what you guys think normal is.”
For over a decade, photographer Catherine Opie has used the power of her lens to create visibility for queer subcultures existing on society’s fringes. Her raw and honest photographs challenge viewers to reevaluate notions of sexuality and societal norms. Her groundbreaking work has adorned gallery walls worldwide, including The Guggenheim in New York and The Photographer’s Gallery in London.
At the age of 9, Opie decided to become a social documentary photographer after studying the work of Lewis Hine. Inspired by Hine’s use of photography as a means to effect social change around child labor, Opie pursued her  passion for documenting the world with her camera. At 18, she left her home in Sandusky, Ohio, to study at the San Francisco Art Institute where she received a BFA in 1985. She earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts three years later.
In 1995, Opie’s career gained momentum after her provocative portraits of gay fringe groups appeared at the Whitney Biennial, one of the world’s leading art shows. Images of pierced, tattooed and leather-clad members of Opie’s inner circle were presented to the public in a bold and unapologetic fashion. “Looking at her pictures can be uncomfortable,” observed The New York Times, “not because of their confrontational content but because they reveal as much about the beholder as the beheld.”
In addition to documenting sexual minority communities, Opie photographs landscapes and architecture. In her exhibit “Freeways” (1994-95) she explores the intricacies of Los Angeles’s highway system. In “Mini-malls” (1997-98), she reveals the rich ethnic diversity of Southern California’s shopping centers. Combining both landscape and portraiture in her series “Domestic,” Opie traveled nationwide photographing lesbian couples living together.
Opie is a professor of photography at UCLA. She has received various awards, including the Washington University Freud Fellowship in 1999 and the Larry Aldrich Award in 2004. In 2006, she was awarded the prestigious United States Artist Fellowship.
In an exhibit catalog interview, Opie reflects, “I have represented this country and this culture. And I’m glad that there is a queer, out, dyke artist that’s being called an American photographer.”
Sunil Babu Pant
Nepalese Politician
b.  June 28, 1972
image “People in general do not wish to discriminate against their fellow neighbors.”
Sunil Babu Pant is the first openly gay politician in Nepal. His 2008 election to the national legislature followed years of activism on behalf of the Nepalese GLBT community.
Trained as a computer engineer, Pant received a scholarship to study in Belarus. It was there that he first heard the word “homosexual” and identified as a gay man. It was also where he was first exposed to entrenched homophobia, inspiring him to fight for equality in his home country.
In 2002, Pant founded the Blue Diamond Society. The group consists of more than 20 organizations and 120,000 members representing the interests of the country’s GLBT and HIV/AIDS communities. Leaders and members of the society have continued their advocacy in the face of threats of arrest and violence.
The Blue Diamond Society was party to a 2007 case that led Nepal’s highest court to declare that GLBT individuals were “natural persons” who deserve protection and civil rights. The court also ordered the establishment of a commission to study same-sex marriage as well as the addition of a third gender option on official government documents.
Pant was elected to Nepal’s Constituent Assembly as a member of Nepal’s Communist Party United. His legislative goals include equal justice and economic rights. He serves on a committee charged with rewriting Nepal’s constitution. In spite of his many accomplishments, Pant insists that his work is far from complete: “With our progress, however, is the awareness that so many more need to be served.”
In 2005, Pant and the Blue Diamond Society were awarded the Utopia Award, Asia’s leading GLBT honor. In 2007, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission bestowed the group with its Felippa de Souza Award.
Pant, who lives in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, recently founded Pink Mountain, a company that offers GLBT-geared travel packages to Nepal.
Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston
b. May 17, 1956
image “The voters of Houston have opened the door to history. I know what this means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office.”
In 2009, when Annise Parker was elected, Houston became the largest city in the nation with an openly gay mayor. Houston is the fourth most populous city in the United States.
Annise Parker was born and raised in Houston. Her mother was a bookkeeper, and her father worked for the Red Cross. Annise received a National Merit Scholarship to Rice University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology.  
After graduation, Parker began a 20-year career as a software analyst in the oil and gas industry. In 1997, she won a seat on the Houston City Council, making her Houston’s first out elected official. In 2003, Parker was elected city controller. She served two additional terms before being elected mayor.
Parker’s mayoral triumph didn’t come without a fight and controversy. Conservative groups criticized Parker for her “gay agenda” and distributed fliers featuring Parker and her partner, asking the question, “Is this the image Houston wants to portray?” Parker campaigned with her partner, Kathy Hubbard, and their three children.
Despite the attacks, Parker won the election in a city that denies its employees domestic partner benefits, and in a state where gay marriage and civil unions are constitutionally banned.
Parker was recognized as Council Member of the Year by the Houston Police Officers Union. In 2008, Houston Woman Magazine named her one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women. 
John A. Pérez
Speaker of the California Assembly
b. September 28, 1969
image “Yes I’m gay, and I’m a politician. It’s a descriptor. I don’t think it’s a definer.”
John A. Pérez is the openly gay speaker of the California Assembly. He is the first GLBT person of color to hold such a position and only the third out leader of a legislative body in United States history. 
Pérez was born in working-class Los Angeles, the son of Felipe, a Mexican immigrant who was disabled from a workplace accident, and Vera, who directed a community clinic. At age 14, Pérez became politically active, motivated by government cuts in disability payments to his father and in government subsidies to his mother’s clinic.
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Pérez spent several years as a labor organizer in Southern California. He served as political director for the United Food and Commercial Workers in Orange County.
Before he held an elective office, Pérez was actively engaged in public service. He was integral in founding California’s statewide GLBT organization, now called Equality California. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appointed him to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS.  Pérez was a gubernatorial appointee to a panel charged with reforming California’s initiative system and a mayoral appointee to the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.
Pérez was elected to the California Assembly in 2008, winning 85 percent of the vote in his Los Angeles district. Two years later, he was selected as speaker by members of the Democratic Party and formally elected by the Assembly. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma said, “He’s someone who sends a signal to the nation that being gay is no longer a barrier to greatness.”
Pérez is a fan of classical music, art museums and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

2 responses to “October Is GLBT History Month: Week 3

  • jaygeemmm

    I read this through tears. You really should use larger fonts. HAHAHAHA! What a massively positive post. May I link to this? Your post needs to be seen far and wide. Thank you, because this shows ADULTS as successful gays. It reinforces the "It Gets Better" project. I'm torn about the direction of the IGBP, but with reinforcement like this, it absolutely shows that gays are SOMEONE, and can achieve anything they want to. WOW, thanks again!Peace <3Jay

  • JoeBlow

    Jay, I am glad you liked the post. I can't really take credit for it though. Equality Forum (http://www.equalityforum.com/) set up a website for this month with their 31 days of heroes and invited bloggers to post the videos, I chose instead to post all of the biographies from that week. I do find the pictures and occasionally add more information on particular individuals. I am so glad that the "October Is GLBT History Month" (http://www.glbthistorymonth.com) is up and running. It does show us that it does get better and what GLBT people have been able to accomplish because they have not let their sexuality hold them back.

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