Gay rights pioneers you should just know
After WWII, America was a hot pot of artistic activity that drew a lot of attention because of its homosexual influences. From Samuel Barber at the Met, to Gore Vidal’s The Best Man on Broadway, homosexuals were everywhere. We’re not even going to touch Hollywood back then. But without the political organizing of average citizens, social progression wouldn’t have been as successful. By now we’re all pretty familiar with the wild styles and radical politics of Harry Hay and his seminal group, the Mattachine Society. But check out a few other great and eccentric personalities that advanced civil rights for LGBTQ people in this country. Life wasn’t always one big happy musical.
- Faygele ben Miriam: If anyone knows a gentle being, with a passion for social equality, and the natural instinct of a cabaret performer, akin to Faygele ben Miriam, please send them our way. In 1971, Faygele (born John Singer) marched into a Washington state courthouse with his political friend, and FWB, Paul Barwick asking for a marriage license. They knew they didn’t have much of a chance acquiring one, but it was grounds for the first gay marriage lawsuit in American history. Singer v. Hara, they didn’t win, but it was the first blow against the sacred institution of marriage that divorcees like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly protect like vigilant hawks against other winged menaces. Faygele is Yiddish for little bird.
- Jack Nichols: Nichols and came out to his parents as a teenager in the 1950’s. He was inspired at age 15 by the poems of Walt Whitman and the works of Robert Burns and was sharing Donald Webster Cory’s The Homosexual in America with his gay friends during America’s great pinko communist scare. The son of an FBI agent, Nichols led the first gay rights march on the White House, in April 1965. In 1967 he became one of the first Americans to talk openly about his homosexuality on national television when he appeared in the documentary CBS Reports: The Homosexuals. He also wrote the first column about gay life in a straight rag, Screw (we miss Screw). What else? In 1969 he co-founded the first LGBT newspaper sold on newsstands across America, appropriately titled GAY.
- Bayard Rustin: Mixing his Quaker values with the practices of non-violence advocated by Ghandi, Rustin was responsible for organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the US, where MLK delivered his I Have a Dream Speech, along with being responsible for the Civil rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. An openly gay man in a conservative African American community, Bayard was removed from many prominent positions during the civil rights era. But the man kept his cool. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. Check out BROTHER OUTSIDER: THE LIFE OF BAYARD RUSTIN.
- Del Martin: One of the founding members of America’s first Lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, Del was searching for a way for lesbians to socialize and develop a community (lesbians love community). Even if it was just a place for them to dance together lesbians love to dance together). During the nascent homophile movement and the rumblings of the Mattachine society, Del with her life long partner Phyllis Lyon led a charge to show straight America that lesbians were no different than they were. Which, romantically enough, culminated with their wedding on June 16th, 2008. Lesbians love romance. So do we.