Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lynn Riggs

Born on a farm outside Claremore, Oklahoma, gay poet and playwright Rollie Lynn Riggs (1899-1954) had once worked as a day laborer, a movie cowboy, a reporter, a Hollywood screenwriter, a proofreader at the Wall Street Journal and a school teacher in Chicago. His father was a cattleman turned bank president, and his mother was 1/8th Cherokee. Lynn grew up during Oklahoma’s territorial days.
His first poem was published in 1919 in the Los Angeles Times, where he was working as a proof reader. Before relocating to NYC in 1926, he had worked on a chicken ranch, in a glass factory, and had sung in a Chautauqua quintet. Now he was setting his sights on Broadway.

In 1928 he went to Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship, arriving in Paris to work on a new play. Settling in at the famed Les Deux Magots café, Lynn Riggs wrote about life on the Oklahoma Indian territory, relating the loneliness, isolation and violent emotions of life on the frontier before Oklahoma became a state. Many of the characters were based on his own family and friends. As work progressed, he relocated to a $2-a-night rented room in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the French Riviera west of Nice. He titled his play Green Grow the Lilacs, after a nineteenth-century folk song, and it became the source material for the 1943 landmark Broadway musical Oklahoma!, the first ever collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. 

The first production of Green Grow the Lilacs was a 1931 presentation by the Theatre Guild in NYC, and the cast included Lee Strasberg and a troupe of real cowboys from a rodeo that had just closed at Madison Square Garden. While Rodgers and Hammerstein began crafting their musical version of Riggs’s play in 1942, Lynn was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving his country at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. He did not know that Hammerstein was frequently lifting melodious dialogue from his play verbatim for use as lyrics for the musical’s songs.

Some of Lynn’s postwar scripts achieved success in NYC, where he lived out his days with a series of male companions. Riggs was described as a slight man with fine brown hair and gentle manners. While living in Los Angeles he became a confidant of both Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, functioning as their frequent public escort. In an affectionate gesture Crawford presented him with a Scottish terrier he named The Baron.

Riggs died in NYC of stomach cancer in 1954 at age 54, but his body was returned to his hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma, for interment. A park in Claremore is named in his honor, and a museum in the same town displays photographs that chronicle his lifetime. Also on display are artifacts from the film version of Oklahoma!, including the “Surry with the Fringe on Top” and Laurey’s honeymoon dress. 918.342.1127.

Something Wonderful by Todd Purdum (2018)
Thomas Erhard, Oklahoma Historical Society (2009)
A Handbook of Oklahoma Writers by Mary Hays Marable and Elaine Boylan (1939)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Frank Kameny

Kameny picketing in front of the White House in 1965 (he is second in line, immediately to the right of the policeman's elbow, his face partially obscured; click to enlarge).

Gay rights activist Frank Kameny (1925-2011) died this week at age 86, in Washington, DC. He was crusty, in-your-face stubborn and possessed of a one track mind: equality for homosexuals. He was out, loud and proud 24 hours a day. I consider him the most important person I’ve ever entertained in my home. We all owe this man, big time.

Born and raised in NYC, Kameny saw combat as an Army soldier in Europe during WW II. After earning a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University, he went to work as an astronomer for the US Army map service in the 1950s and was fired in 1957 after authorities discovered he was homosexual. Kameny fought the firing and appealed his case to the US Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a homosexual-related case before the high court. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling against Kameny and declined to hear the case, but Kameny’s decision to appeal through the court system motivated him to become a lifelong advocate for LGBT equality.

1961: Kameny and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, an organization that embraced aggressive action for the civil rights of homosexuals. In 1963 the group was the subject of Congressional hearings over its right to solicit funds.

1968: He gave us the phrase ''Gay is Good'' back when homosexuality and shame were partners. The Library of Congress archives contain this original example.

1973: The American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and Kameny had played a major role in that change. Kameny “crashed the APA conference in Washington DC, seized the microphone and shouted, ‘We’re not the problem. You’re the problem!’” He and lesbian activist Barbara Gittings were the first recipients of the American Psychiatric Association's John M. Fryer, M.D., Award, recognizing their contribution to fighting against that association’s earlier homophobia.

2006: the Human Rights Campaign presented him with the National Capital Area Leadership Award. That same year the Library of Congress accepted 77,000 items from his collected papers.

2009: President Obama signed an executive order that granted benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees; Kameny was by his side in the Oval Office and received a pen from Obama. Also that year, he received a formal apology from the U.S. government for his treatment all those years ago, and Kameny’s home in Washington DC was designated a Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board.

The Smithsonian Institution’s “Treasures of American History” exhibit includes Kameny's picket signs carried in front of the White House in 1965. The Smithsonian now has 12 of the original picket signs carried by homosexual Americans in the first-ever White House demonstration for gay rights.

By his example, perseverance and sacrifice, he showed Americans what courage looked like.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Dave Kopay - Jerry Smith: NFL team love affair

Washington Redskins: NFL’s Gayest Team?

At least four players and an assistant General Manager of the Washington Redskins football team were known to be gay. The players were Dave Kopay (left), Jerry Smith, Wade Davis and Roy Simmons, and the General Manager was David Slattery.

While a running back for the Washington Redskins, Dave Kopay (b. 1942) had a relationship with teammate Jerry Smith, a star tight end for the team from 1965-1977. In 1975, three years after his career in football had ended, Kopay gave an interview to the Washington Star (newspaper) in which he declared his homosexuality. He is believed to be the first professional athlete to do so. It was while playing for the Redskins under legendary coach Vince Lombardi that Kopay and Smith had their affair.

In 1977 he wrote his autobiography, “The David Kopay Story: An Extraordinary Self-Revelation,” currently in its 5th printing. The book remains a perennial favorite with people coming to grips with their sexual identities.

Kopay told the cable sports network ESPN about his relationship with Jerry Smith, calling it his “first real coming-out experience.” Although Smith died of complications from AIDS in 1987 at age forty-three, he never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality.

Teammate and lover Jerry Smith:

At the Gay Games VII in Chicago (July 2006), Kopay was a featured announcer in the opening ceremonies. Currently active as a motivational speaker, Kopay announced in September 2007 that he would be leaving $1 million as an endowment to the University of Washington Q Center, a resource and support center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and faculty. In early 2008 Kopay left the Los Angeles area to relocate to Seattle, where he still receives hundreds of letters from fans of his book who received understanding, support and inspiration from his life story.

In 1992, Roy Simmons, who had been a linebacker for the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in the 1980s, came out on the national television talk show, “Donahue.” In 2003, on World AIDS Day, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1997. His book that tells his story about being in the closet while playing with the NFL is titled "Out of Bounds."

In 1993 David Slattery, general manager of the Washington Redskins in the early 1970s, came out as homosexual, long after he had left the sport.

Wade Davis (below) was a defensive back for the Redskins for the 2003 season. He announced he was gay when he participated in the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network's "Changing The Game" program, which is designed to fight against homophobia in K thru 12 athletics by starting a dialogue about the issue.