October Is GLBT History Month: Finally

Eleanor Roosevelt
First Lady
b.  October 11, 1884
d.  November 7, 1962
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
image Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of First Lady. She served as a diplomat and was a tireless champion of international human rights.
Roosevelt was born into a wealthy family in New York City. Both her parents died before she was 10; thereafter, she moved in with her grandmother in upstate New York. At the age of 15, she lived in England, where she learned to speak French and Italian fluently.
Soon after her return to New York, Roosevelt met her future husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her father’s fifth cousin. Franklin was attending Columbia Law School. The couple married and had six children, five of whom survived infancy. Franklin took his first leap into politics, winning a seat in the New York State Senate. The family moved to Washington, D.C., when he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President Wilson.
Life in the nation’s capital kindled Eleanor’s interests in policy making.  She joined the board of the League of Women Voters in 1924 and became involved in Democratic Party politics. In 1928, after her husband was elected governor of New York, she became actively engaged in domestic and international issues. She wrote a syndicated newspaper column titled “My Day.”
In 1933, Roosevelt became First Lady of the United States, a position she held for 12 years. While she assumed traditional duties, she did not allow them to compromise her ideals. In 1939, she announced in her column that she would resign her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, after the group refused to allow Marian Anderson, a black singer, to perform in Washington’s Constitution Hall. “The basic fact of segregation,” Roosevelt wrote, “is itself discriminatory.”
While First Lady, Roosevelt developed an intimate relationship with Lorena Hickock, a journalist who covered the White House. The relationship lasted for the rest of Roosevelt’s life.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s commitment to public service continued after her husband’s death in 1945. President Truman named her a delegate to the United Nations, where she was elected chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights. In that position, she helped draft the influential Universal Declaration on Human Rights. 
Roosevelt was a member of the Board of Trustees of Brandeis University and delivered the school’s first commencement address. She also authored several children’s books. In her lifetime, she received many civic awards and honorary degrees.
Jalal al-Din Rumi
Sufi Mystic/Poet
b. September 30, 1207
d. December 17, 1273
“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”
image Jalal al-Din Rumi was a poet, theologian and Sufi mystic. He founded the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, a branch of the Sufi tradition that practicies a gyrating dance ritual representing the revolving stages of life.
Rumi was born in the Persian province of Balkh, now part of Afghanistan. Rumi’s father was an author, a religious scholar and a leader in the Sufi movement—the mystical dimension of Islam.
When Rumi was 12, his father moved the family to escape the impending invasion of Mongol armies, eventually setting in Konya, Anatolia, the westernmost tip of Asia where Turkey is today.
In 1231, after his father died, Rumi began teaching, meditating and helping the poor. He amassed hundreds of disciples who attended his lectures and sermons.
Rumi was married and had one son. After his wife’s death, he remarried and fathered two more children. In 1244, Rumi met a man who changed his life. Shams of Tabriz was an older Sufi master who became Rumi’s spiritual mentor and constant companion. After Shams died, Rumi grieved for years. He began expressing his love and bereavement in poetry, music and dance.
Rumi had two other male companions, but none would replace his beloved Shams. One of Rumi’s major poetic works is named in honor of his master, “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” Rumi’s best-known work is “Spiritual Couplets,” a six-volume poem often referred to as the greatest work of mystical poetry.
In “Rumi: The Book of Love Poems of Ecstasy and Longing” (2003), Rumi expresses his perception of true love. “Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Rumi died surrounded by his family and disciples. His tomb is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Islam and is a spiritual center of Turkey.
David Sedaris
b. December 26, 1956
“A good short story would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.”
image David Sedaris is an award-winning best-selling author whose short stories depict, variously, the life of a young gay man in 20th century America, the experience of an American living abroad and the comedy of family life.
Sedaris, who was one of six children, was born in Binghamton, New York, and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1983, he graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He began writing and supported himself with odd jobs in Raleigh, in Chicago and eventually in New York. His big break came on National Public Radio, where he read his short stories.
Called the “preeminent humorist of his generation” by Entertainment Weekly, Sedaris is the author of numerous collections: “Barrel Fever” (1994), “Naked” (1997), “Holidays on Ice” (1997), “Me Talk Pretty One Day” (2000), “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” (2004) and “When You are Engulfed in Flames” (2008), which was number one on the New York Times best-seller list. He edited a 2005 collection of stories called “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules,” the proceeds from which benefit a nonprofit writing and tutorial center.
Sedaris is known for his distinctive style, combining elements of memoir, humor and the traditional short story. He is clear that his stories are embellished. “I’m a humorist,” he says. “I’m not a reporter.”
Sedaris is a frequent contributor to the award-winning “This American Life” public radio show. Along with his sister Amy, he is the author of numerous plays written under the name “The Talent Family.” He has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and was named Time magazine’s Humorist of the Year in 2001. In 2008, he delivered the commencement speech at Binghamton University and was awarded an honorary doctorate. 
Sedaris lives in London, Paris and Normandy with his longtime partner, Hugh Hamrick. 
Matthew Shepard
b.  December 1, 1976
d.  October 12, 1998
“Every American child deserves the strongest protections from some of the country’s most horrifying crimes.” – Judy Shepard
image As a gay college student, Matthew Shepard was the victim of a deadly hate crime. His murder brought national and international attention to the need for GLBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation.
Shepard was born in Casper, Wyoming, to Judy and Dennis Shepard. He was the older of two sons. Matthew completed high school at The American School in Switzerland. In 1998, he enrolled at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Soon afterward, he joined the campus gay alliance.
On October 6, 1998, two men—Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson—lured Shepard from a downtown Laramie bar. After Shepard acknowledged that he was gay, McKinney and Henderson beat and tortured him, then tied him to a tree in a remote, rural area and left him for dead. Eighteen hours later, a biker, who thought he saw a scarecrow, found Shepard barely breathing.
Shepard was rushed to the hospital, but never regained consciousness. He died on October 12. Both of Shepard’s killers were convicted of felony murder and are serving two consecutive life sentences.
Despite the outcome of the trial, the men who took Shepard’s life were not charged with a hate crime. Wyoming has no hate crimes law, which protects victims of crimes motivated by bias against a protected class. Shepard’s high-profile murder case sparked protests, vigils and calls for federal hate crimes legislation for GLBT victims of violence.
Shortly after their son’s death, Judy and Dennis Shepard founded The Matthew Shepard Foundation to honor his memory and to “replace hate with understanding, compassion, and acceptance.” Judy Shepard became a GLBT activist and the most recognized voice in the fight for a federal hate crimes bill.
In 2009, more than a decade after Shepard’s murder, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) was signed into law. HCPA added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes, giving the United States Department of Justice the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violent crimes against GLBT victims.
Dozens of songs have been written and recorded to honor Matthew Shepard’s legacy.  Several films, television movies and plays about him have been produced, including “The Laramie Project” (2002) and “The Matthew Shepard Story” (2002).
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
Prime Minister of Iceland
b. October 4, 1942
“Egalitarian policies are the best way to unite and empower people.”
image Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is the first female prime minister of Iceland and the world’s first openly GLBT national leader.
Sigurðardóttir was born in Reykjavik, where she received the equivalent of a high school diploma from the Commercial College of Iceland. Her first job was as a flight attendant for what is now Icelandair. After six years in that position, she became a union organizer with the airline—a move that served as her entree into Icelandic politics.
Sigurðardóttir was elected to Iceland’s Parliament in 1978. Viewed as a rising star, she was named minister of social affairs in 1987. In 1990, she ran for the top spot in her party, the Social Democrat Alliance. She narrowly lost that race, declaring, “My time will come,” which has become a common catchphrase in Iceland.
In January of 2009, following the collapse of the nation’s economy in the worldwide recession, Iceland’s president asked the Social Democrat Alliance to form a new government, which elevated Sigurðardóttir to the office of the prime minister. At the time of her appointment, she was the longest-serving member of Iceland’s Parliament.
Four months later, Sigurðardóttir’s party, along with its coalition partner, won a majority of seats in the Parliament, handing her a strong mandate to lead Iceland’s economic revitalization efforts and to work toward joining the European Union. While focusing on these important tasks, Sigurðardóttir has not forgotten the value of equity in politics. “A society that does not use the intellectual power of its female population fully is not a wise society,” she says.
Sigurðardóttir was married to a man prior to coming out. She and her ex-husband are the parents of two adult children. On June 11, 2010, by a vote of 49 to 0, Iceland’s Parliament approved same-sex marriage. On June 26, 2010, the first day that legislation became effective, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and Jónína Leósdóttir were married. 
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
b. May 7, 1840
d. November 6, 1893
“Music’s triumphant power lies in the fact that it reveals to us beauties we find in no other sphere.”
image Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular composers in history. His best-known works include the ballets “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Nutcracker”;  the operas “The Queen of Spades” and “Eugene Onegin”; and the widely recognized Fantasy Overture “Romeo and Juliet” and “1812 Overture.”
Tchaikovsky was born in Votinsk, Russia, a small industrial town. His father was a mine inspector. His mother, who was of French and Russian heritage, strongly influenced his education and cultural upbringing.
At age 5, Tchaikovsky began piano lessons. His parents nurtured his musical talents, but had a different career path in mind for their son. In 1850, the family enrolled him at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, where he prepared for a job in civil service.
After working in government for a few years, Tchaikovsky pursued his passion at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After graduation, he taught music theory at the Moscow Conservatory and worked on new compositions. Tchaikovsky created concertos, symphonies, ballets, chamber music, and concert and theatrical pieces. His passionate, emotional compositions represented a departure from traditional Russian music, and his work became popular with Western audiences.
Despite his career success, Tchaikovsky’s personal life was filled with crises and bouts of depression. After receiving letters of admiration from a former student, Tchaikovsky married her. Historians speculate the marriage took place to dispel rumors that Tchaikovsky was gay. The marriage was a disaster and Tchaikovsky left his wife after nine days.
Tchaikovsky began an unconventional relationship with a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Mek, who agreed to be his benefactor on one condition: they were never to meet face to face. The couple exchanged more than 1,000 letters, until von Mek abruptly ended their 13-year liaison.
The famed composer died suddenly at age 53. The cause of his death, believed by some to be suicide, remains a mystery.
Rufus Wainwright
b. July 22, 1973
“It’s important for famous people to be an example for gay teens.”
image Known for his unique style and daring artistic endeavors, Rufus Wainwright is one of the most accomplished singer/songwriters of his generation. He has produced six albums and is the recipient of two Juno Awards and five GLAAD Media Awards.
Wainwright’s musical talent was shaped by his folksinger parents, Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. He was born in Rhinebeck, New York, and holds dual United States and Canadian citizenship. After his parents divorced, he spent most of his youth with his mother in Montreal.
At age 14, Wainwright broke into the entertainment world with a song he composed and sang in the film “Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller,” earning him a Juno Award nomination for “Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year.” That same year, he was sexually assaulted by a man he met at a bar. Deeply disturbed by the attack, he remained celibate for seven years.
In 1998, following the release of his first album, Wainwright was named “Best New Artist” by Rolling Stone. He composes music for theater, dance and opera, and has contributed to numerous film soundtracks, including “Moulin Rouge” and “Brokeback Mountain.” Additionally, he has acted in “The Aviator” and “Heights,” among other films.
As a collaborator, Wainwright has worked on albums with music greats Rosanne Cash and Elton John. John hailed him as “the greatest songwriter on the planet.” His first opera, “Prima Donna,” premiered in 2009 at the Manchester International Festival and was the subject of a documentary film that premiered on Bravo! in 2010.
Despite fame and success, Wainwright struggled with crystal meth addiction, a habit he eventually recovered from in 2002. With two decades of performing under his belt, Wainwright assures his fans that he won’t be retiring any time soon: “I am a self-sustaining, vibrant, long-term artist, and I’m not going away!” 
Mel White
b. July 26, 1940
“I’m perfectly happy going on TV now and saying I’m a gay man. I’m happy and proud to say that.”
image Mel White is an ordained minister who left his career as an adviser to prominent Christian evangelists when he came out during the mid 1990’s. White has dedicated his life to gaining acceptance for GLBT Christians.
In 1962, White graduated from Warner Pacific College. He received a master’s degree in communications from the University of Portland and a Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he was also a professor.
Early in his career, White served as a speechwriter for evangelical leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He married a woman with whom he had one son. When he realized he was attracted to men, he tried to “cure” his homosexuality with therapy and exorcism.  Acknowledging that nothing could alter his sexual orientation, White attempted suicide.
White ultimately accepted his sexuality and amicably divorced his wife. In 1993, he publicly acknowledged that he was gay when he was named dean of the Dallas Cathedral of Hope of the Universal Fellowship at Metropolitan Community Churches. Two years later, he published “Stranger at the Gate,” a book that chronicles his struggles as a gay Christian.
In the early 1990’s, White shifted his focus to GLBT advocacy, both within and outside of the church. In 1996, White led a two-week fast on the steps of Congress as the Senate considered and ultimately passed the Defense of Marriage Act. He moved the fast to the White House, where he was arrested. “How can we stand by in silent acceptance while the president and the Congress sacrifice lesbian and gay Americans for some ‘greater political good’?” he asked.
In 1998, White and his partner of more than 25 years, Gary Nixon, founded Soulforce, an organization whose mission is to “seek freedom from religious and political oppression” for GLBT people. Its name comes from “satyagraha,” a term meaning “soul force” used by Gandhi in to describe his civil rights struggle.
White is the author of nearly 20 books, including “Religion Gone Bad: Hidden Dangers from the Christian Right” (2009). His story is featured in “Friends of God” (2007), a documentary film about evangelical Christians.
In 2008, White and Nixon were legally married in California. In 2009, White and his son, Mike, were a team on the 14th season of “The Amazing Race.”
Emanuel Xavier
b. May 3, 1971  
“Being Latino and gay gives me much to write about. Anything that oppresses us as artists is always great fodder for art.”
image Emanuel Xavier is a poet, author and editor. He is one of the most significant openly gay Latino spoken word artists of his generation. 
Xavier was born in Brooklyn, New York, the child of an Ecuadorian mother and a Puerto Rican father who abandoned the family before his son was born. When Xavier was three, he was sexually abused by a family member. At 16, when Xavier came out to his mother, she threw him out of the house.
A homeless gay teen on the streets of New York, Xavier soon turned to sex and drugs for money. He became a hustler at the West Side Highway piers and sold drugs in gay clubs. After landing a job at a gay bookstore, A Different Light, Xavier began to write poetry and perform as a spoken word artist.
“Pier Queen” (1997), Xavier’s self-published poetry collection, established him in the New York underground arts scene. “Christ Like” (1999), Xavier’s novel, was the first coming of age story by a gay Nuyorican (Puerto Rican living in New York) and earned him a Lambda Literary Award nomination. Fellow author Jaime Manrique said, “Once in a generation, a new voice emerges that makes us see the world in a dazzling new light. Emanuel Xavier is that kind of writer.”
“Americano” (2002), another poetry collection and Xavier’s first official published work, advanced his prominence within the literary community of color. Xavier edited “Bullets & Butterflies: Queer Spoken Word Poetry” (2005), for which he received a second Lambda Literary Award nomination. 
In 2005, Xavier was the victim of a random attack by a group of young men. As a result of the beating, he lost all hearing in his right ear, but continued to write and perform.
Xavier reflects on the assault in his poem “Passage”:

Had they known I was gay they would have killed me
None of my poems about peace and unity
would have kept me whole

Also an activist, Xavier focuses his work on homeless gay youth. He has organized benefits for many organizations, including The New York Pier AIDS Education Coalition, Live Out Loud, and Sylvia’s Place, a shelter for homeless GLBTQ youth.
Xavier has appeared on HBO’s “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry” and “In the Life” on PBS. In 2010, his CD “Legendary—The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier” was released to critical acclaim.

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

4 responses to “October Is GLBT History Month: Finally

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