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.

Friday, June 28, 2013


Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), considered the greatest French playwright of all time and one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature, was better known by his stage name, Molière (mohl-YAIR). He was also the leading French comic actor, stage director and dramatic theoretician of the 17th century. He abandoned a successful career as a lawyer to form an acting troupe that eventually played before King Louis XIV, whose brother became Molière’s patron. Thirteen years of work as an actor led to a career as an influential playwright, and the king granted a royal pension to his troupe, along with the title “Troupe du Roi” (the king’s troupe). Molière thus became the official author of entertainments for the royal court of France.

In 1662, at age forty, he married Armande Béjart, a 19-year-old actress whom historians say was either the sister of his mistress Madeleine, or (as some of the playwright's rivals claimed) her daughter by Molière. They had one child, Esprit-Madeleine, born in 1665. The tempestuous marriage led to more than one separation and reconciliation between the playwright and his wife, who was 21 years his junior. To her utter humiliation, while in his late 40s Molière fell in love with a 15-year-old actor named Michel Baron (1653-1729). When Molière’s wife learned of it, she demanded that the playwright make a choice between her and the boy. When she heard Molière’s decision, she started packing her bags. Molière and his young male lover were together until the playwright’s death.

In the late 1660s, Molière developed a lung ailment from which he never recovered, although he continued to write, act, direct, and manage his troupe as energetically as before. He finally collapsed on February 17, 1673, after the fourth performance of his new play, The Imaginary Invalid (oh, the irony!) and died at home that evening. Four days later, on the night of February 21, he was secretly interred in Saint Joseph's Cemetery, but church leaders refused to officiate or grant his body a formal burial, since at the time actors were not allowed to be buried on sacred ground. Later, his body was re-interred, and today Molière’s tomb is in the huge, prestigious Père-Lachaise cemetery in eastern Paris, near the tombs of Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde. 

Today Molière’s plays continue to be presented at the Comédie-Française in Paris, chiefly in the Salle Richelieu. Inside the Café de la Comédie Française, the wall mirrors have wonderful depictions of scenes from Moliere’s comedies.

Notable lines attributed to Molière:

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, and then for money.

I prefer a pleasant vice to an annoying virtue.

One ought to look a good deal at oneself before condemning others.

As the purpose of comedy is to correct the vices of men, I see no reason why anyone should be exempt.

We die only once, and for such a long time.

Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.

All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders – have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Manuel Puig

Argentinean writer Manuel Puig (1932-1990) was rescued from literary obscurity in 1985 when his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976) was made into a sensational film starring William Hurt as a gay window dresser sharing a Buenos Aires jail cell with political prisoner Raul Julia. The two men, with nothing in common, develop a strong relationship through retelling romantic plots of old movies, and eventually they make love. Hurt won an Oscar for Best Actor (1986), marking the first time an Academy Award went to an actor in an openly gay role. A 1992 Broadway musical version of this same novel starred Chita Rivera. With music by Kander and Ebb, book by Terrence McNally and direction by Harold Prince, this production won the 1993 Tony Award for Best Musical. When Vanessa Williams replaced Chita Rivera, her performance was so strong that a second cast album was recorded, a Broadway rarity.

Although the film and musical brought him international fame, Puig thought the movie was far too conservative, failing to capture the spirt of the novel, and he declared the musical version a “massacre” of his novel, whose original Spanish language title is El Beso de la Mujer Araña. Puig hated Hurt’s film performance, and he snidely commented, “La Hurt is so bad she probably will win an Oscar” – and that’s exactly what came to pass.

Puig came to be a novelist after failed attempts at other careers. Born in Buenos Aires, he spent most of his life in exile, frustrated by lack of success in having film scripts produced or finding work as a director. He lived and worked in Italy, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Cuernavaca. Eventually he began writing for himself, composing an autobiographical text based on his childhood memories of the tales he had seen in the movie houses of General Villegas, a small town on the Argentine pampas, where he grew up. Over the years the text evolved into his first novel, ''Betrayed by Rita Hayworth'' (1968).

His eight novels found their inspiration in cheap romance novels, soap operas and melodramas, gossip columns and tabloid scandals. Perhaps the greatest influence on his literary work was the pseudo reality of the plots, characters and dreams of films, which provided a lifeline of escape during his formative years growing up on a ranch near Buenos Aires. A sensitive child, real life was a harsh, continual trial in a culture saturated with machismo and savage prejudices, and his homosexuality condemned him to hostility, violence and ridicule from classmates and acquaintances, not to mention contempt from his own family. He was assaulted at school when it was discovered that he liked to dress up as a girl, but he found solace by devoting most of his time, energy and imagination to the escapist world of movies.

Puig spent a lifetime looking for a partner, with no success. His romantic life was a series of one night stands or relationships that lasted a few weeks or months, at the most. When Yul Brynner (see post in sidebar) was in Paris making the film, Once More With Feeling, Puig was working as an assistant on the set in 1959. The two men had a brief sexual affair, and Puig bragged about Brynner’s generous endowment. Puig also has a sexual relationship with British stage and screen actor Stanley Baker.

Puig died in 1990, from complications from AIDS, according to his friend, the writer Jaime Manrique. Residing in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at the time, Puig was 57 years old when he died. Manrique relates that there was a cover-up about the cause of Puig’s death, which was officially listed as cardiac arrest following complications from gall bladder surgery.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (b. 1961) and his partner of 18 years, Paul, have homes in Los Angeles and Paris and often travel together. In fact, Thibaudet will not accept invitations unless his partner is also included.

“Very often I have invitations to go to dinner parties with heads of states or royalty or ambassadors or whoever and I’ll always say I have a companion with me and I’d like him to be invited,” says the French classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, age 51. “And though I don’t say it, what that basically means is, if he’s not invited, I’ll not come.”

In demand around the globe, Thibaudet tours nine months out of the year. He is a physical stand-out, with frosted hair and custom designed concert attire. His partner Paul, who works as an international marketing consultant, frequently accompanies Jean-Yves on his concert tours.  “Music has been a very important part of our relationship. When I play and he’s in the audience, there’s certain things that I know he feels. It’s not the same for me when he’s not there.”

Their passion for music isn’t restricted to the classical.  “We like jazz, we both love opera...We have a lot of pop music as well, Brazilian music, tangos. Paul knows the latest albums. So with him I’m always right on top of things.”

Thibaudet himself has made nearly 40 recordings, ranging from classical concertos and recitals to the jazz of Duke Ellington and pianist Bill Evans.

Thibaudet's concert attire is designed by Vivienne Westwood. He first asked her to design an outfit for his appearance at the London Proms in 2002, and she has been creating concert clothing for him ever since. He often wears shocking red socks when performing. “Rigid clothes just give the wrong impression of classical music, dusty, old and boring. People can relate to you more in clothes that they can identify with. I've loved fashion since I was a little boy. I met a lot of designers when I was a teenager, went to a lot of shows — and fashion became a part of my life.”

His playing may be recognized my non-classical music fans by his film performances, such as the Oscar and Golden Globe-award winning soundtrack of Universal Pictures’ film Atonement and the Oscar-nominated Pride and Prejudice. 

Jean-Yves was born in Lyon, France, where he began his piano studies at age five and made his first public appearance at age seven. At twelve, he entered the Paris Conservatory to study with Aldo Ciccolini and Lucette Descaves, a friend and collaborator of Maurice Ravel. At age fifteen, he won the Premier Prix du Conservatoire and three years later, won the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York City. In 2001, the Republic of France awarded Thibaudet the prestigious Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and in 2002, he was awarded the Premio Pegasus from the Spoleto Festival in Italy for his artistic achievements and his long-standing involvement with the festival. In 2007, he was awarded the Victoire d’Honneur, a lifetime career achievement award and the highest honor given by France’s Victoires de la Musique.

Photo below: a young Thibaudet before the blond highlights and designer-chic concert attire.

A personal note: I'm privileged to have tickets to hear Thibaudet perform live tonight. It will be a gay old time at the Kennedy Center June 22, when Thibaudet will play the Saint-Saëns fifth piano concerto (the exotic “Egyptian”) with the National Symphony Orchestra. When asked about his homosexuality, composer Camille Saint-Saëns (see sidebar) answered "I'm not gay, I'm a pederast"; at that time being gay (homosexual) was illegal, but a "pederast" was merely a man who practiced the Greek ideal of a grown man expressing love towards a young man. Go figure. The concert will open with Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite; Edvard Grieg had a major homosexual affair with Australian pianist/composer Percy Grainger (see sidebar). Young hottie conductor Krzysztof Urbanski (b. 1982 – I’m not kidding) will direct from the podium. While straight, it should be noted, however, that the Polish-born Urbanski is equipped with a  VERY long Mollard (photographic evidence below).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Henry Willson

Henry Willson with Shirley Temple in 1945.

During the 1950s, Hollywood talent agent Henry Willson (1911-1978) was responsible for discovering and manufacturing careers of a stable of handsome, but not necessarily talented, movie stars, who became known as “beefcake” actors. His roster included Rock Hudson (born Roy Scherer), Tab Hunter (Arthur Kelm), Guy Madison (Robert Moseley) and Troy Donahue (Merle Johnson), men born with far too pedestrian names, willingly rechristened by the fertile imagination of Willson. Ditto Yale Summers, Rad Fulton and Race Gentry.

He provided fan magazines and other media outlets with a steady stream of his male “stars” photographed with as little clothing as possible. Rarely was there evidence of so much as a shirt. He was able to get right to the point, and his business card read: "If you're interested in getting into the movies, I can help you. Henry Willson. Agent." For those who fell for his come-on, Willson heightened the lure with comments such as, “You are already a star. Now it’s up to me to let Hollywood know.”

Willson, who grew up in New York City (Forest Hills), was reared in the underbelly of Hollywood. While still in high school he went to Broadway shows and wrote about them for Variety. His first major Hollywood job, as a talent scout for David Selznick, included duties of procuring women for his employer. Once out on his own, Willson could fully realize his homosexual fantasies by dealing in the beefcake trade. Indeed, many say that Willson “invented” the beefcake trade, which was pretty much defined as pure male beauty, undiluted by talent.

Try to keep a straight face as you read this photo caption: “Calling All Girls: Whistle-bait in the beefcake brigade. Tab Hunter and Roddy McDowall do some prowling of their own!” Hollywood insiders knew that both Tab and Roddy were gay, although deeply closeted at the time.

Unfortunately, many of his clients were also objects of Willson’s hands-on lechery, taking the casting-couch technique to new heights. He also had an unfortunate habit of insinuating himself into the lives of his clients, something for which any talent agent would be fired today. There exists a photo of Henry at home at the breakfast table with the maid serving Guy Madison, dressed in his sailor’s uniform. It was a publicity shot for a story about how Guy stayed at Henry Willson’s house when on shore leave. Madison’s only complaint was how the bed at Henry’s was too big and too soft. Really. Save that thought – we’ll get back to Mr. Madison.

Yet Willson exacted a tremendous influence over Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. He could also project a genuine and even paternal side, not to discount his success in discovering bona fide talent (Natalie Wood, Rhonda Fleming, Gena Rowlands and Lana Turner). Shirley Temple talked about going to Henry’s house, where they enjoyed having séances together. She recalled that Henry served hot dogs and was like a dear uncle to her.

From left to right:
Jack Warner, Natalie Wood, Henry Willson, Phyllis Gates and Rock Hudson. Gates, Willson's secretary, entered into an arranged marriage to Rock Hudson for two years, to deflect persistent rumors of Hudson's homosexuality (the rumors were all true). Phyllis, by the way, was lesbian, and she and Rock never had a physical relationship.

Fortunately, Willson’s instincts led him to exercise caution in some instances. He wouldn’t take liberties with an actor the likes of John Gavin or others who hailed from moneyed, high society families. Henry was more apt to molest the naïve, off-the-bus types who would do anything to see their names in lights. And often did. Henry favored inexperienced actors who needed a father figure. He fixed their teeth, bought them clothes,  taught them how to speak, even which fork to use. He yanked handsome truck drivers off the street and dazzled them with dinners at the finest restaurants, pointing out the stars at other tables, then telling them he could make them a movie star – quickly followed by a hand on the knee. Incipient acting talent was entirely optional.

As time went on, however, Willson’s reputation as a notorious homosexual adversely affected his professional life, as more and more of his clients distanced themselves from his agency for fear they’d be labeled homosexual themselves, which was the kiss of death to many a Hollywood career – witness William "Billie" Haines and George Nader (entries in sidebar). As a result, Willson’s final years were spent in poverty; he was accepted as a charity case at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, where in 1978, Willson died from cirrhosis of the liver.

In his heyday, however, Willson was drunk on his own power, proving adept at publicity stunts and manipulation of his clients’ careers. When Confidential magazine was about to out Rock Hudson as gay, Willson arranged Hudson’s marriage to one of his own secretaries, Phyllis Gates. Willson traded dirty secrets about some clients to tabloid reporters in exchange for silence about others, and it was known that he employed off-duty LAPD officers to intimidate would-be blackmailers.

Rock Hudson, like his agent/mentor Willson, was seldom discreet. While nearly every actor and actress liked the always affable Rock Hudson, others in the know used their insider knowledge of his sexual orientation to taunt him. Hudson had to sell his favorite sailboat, which he piloted on many a weekend over to Catalina Island, because vandals kept spray painting “faggot” and “queer” on the bow. This, during the time Rock Hudson was voted the number one box office star in 1957.

Willson’s life, achievements and scandals are recounted in Robert Hofler’s tell-all book, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson (2006, available in e-reader formats).

Now, back to Guy Madison, one of Willsons’ handsomest clients, and a completely manufactured Hollywood star. His story is typical of a Willson-discovered beefcake actor. Robert Moseley (1922-1996) was a former California lifeguard working as a telephone lineman when he answered his nation’s call by enlisting in the Coast Guard at the onset of WWII. During a weekend leave in 1943 Moseley attended a broadcast of a Lux Radio Theater program, where he was spotted by Henry Willson, then a talent scout for David O. Selznick. Selznick was looking for an unknown to play a sailor in a cameo role in a new film, Since You Went Away. Willson spotted the spectacularly handsome soldier among the audience and thought he looked terrific in his uniform. Turns out he looked even better without it.

With no experience, training or ambition to be an actor, Moseley was signed as an extra. He completed his scene while on a weekend pass and returned to duty. When the big-budget war epic was released in 1944, Selznick’s studio received thousands of fan letters for the unknown actor. Three minutes of on-screen time had in fact elicited 43,000 pieces of fan mail. Willson thought Robert Moseley too lackluster a name, so he created the more tantalizing moniker Guy Madison, who thus joined Henry’s stable of male stars whose physical appeal transcended lack of talent.

So long as he kept his shirt off, Madison’s public was more than happy to buy tickets to his movies. His unselfconscious screen persona, shy smile and mind-altering good looks delivered him to the very peak of the 1950s beefcake craze. His wooden acting, however, sent him straight into the arms of television, where he became a household name as the star of The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, a startlingly successful TV series that ran from 1951 to 1958.

You might want to know that subsequent lack of work led Madison to Europe, where he starred in a string of spaghetti westerns and B-grade German adventure films for ten years. But any more text in this post would deprive space better taken up by photographs of one of the all-time most photogenic entertainment stars. Need an eye-candy fix? Watch a Guy Madison movie. If for nothing else, we owe the lecherous Henry Willson for the discovery of "pretty boys" the likes of hearth-throb Guy Madison. So here we go:

Genetic evidence that beauty is inherited, as revealed in this photo of Madison's only son Roberto (born 1967 in Rome), who is today a major star of Italian television:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Emile Griffith

Champion” is a jazz opera about bisexual boxer Emile Griffith, an immigrant from St. Thomas (Virgin Islands), who landed 17 punches in seven seconds on Cuban boxer Benny "The Kid" Paret in 1962, resulting in not only a knockout, but also a coma from which Paret never recovered. He died ten days later. The match, held at NYC’s Madison Square Garden, was televised nationally by the ABC network. Before the fight Paret had taunted Griffith with gay slurs, calling him a “maricón” (faggot) at the weigh-in.

The world premiere of this opera takes place tonight at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and five more performances will be offered through Sunday, June 30. Arthur Woodley plays the older Emile Griffith, while Aubrey Allicock (photo at top of this post and below) will portray the younger Griffith. Famed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves is cast as Emelda Griffith, Emile’s mother. Direction is by James Robinson. The opera presents different episodes of Griffith’s life, each separated by the bell sounding a new round.

Baritone Aubrey Allicock (b. 1983), portrays Emile Griffith.

With music by jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer Terence Blanchard (b. 1962, the very year of this fateful boxing match) and libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, “Champion” is inspired by the true event of Griffith’s meeting with the son of Benny Paret forty years later. Paret’s son was two years old at the time of his father’s death. Flooded by memories of his career, his checkered personal life, and a later attack that exposed his homosexual activity*, the character of Emile explores his finding himself in the face of his greatest tragedy. Paret’s son is expected to attend the premiere performance, but Griffith himself, now 75 years old, is not well enough to attend.

*In 1992 Griffith was viciously beaten by a gang upon exiting a gay bar in NYC’s Port Authority Bus Terminal vicinity. He was hospitalized for four months as a result of his massive injuries. In a 2005 interview with Sports Illustrated magazine, Griffith discussed his struggle with his sexual attraction to both men and women. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, a documentary about the life of Emile Griffith, was released in 2005.

"I kill a man," Griffith said, "and most people understand and forgive me. I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgivable sin." Later in his life, Griffith began to suffer from dementia, and today he lives in a New York nursing home, requiring full-time medical attention.

"My father loved opera," says jazz composer Terence Blanchard, a five-time Grammy winner. "He was a baritone who studied opera, so it was impossible not to feel an emotional connection to him in writing Champion. I was drawn to tell Emile's story through music from the moment I first heard of his incredible journey. I knew there was no other way to tell this story but through the unique power of opera." Blanchard took on the project to honor his father, who was unable to realize his dream of becoming an opera singer in an era when opera companies did not hire black male singers.

Said librettist Cristofer, "Champion is the story of a man struggling to make peace with himself and to find his place in the world as a fighter and a gay man. It's the story of courage in the face of sexual oppression, of love in the face of hate, of grace in the face of physical and mental decline. For me, Emile's story not only asks the question of what it means to be a man. It asks what it means to be a human being."

Victor Ryan Robertson as Benny “The Kid” Paret (boxing gloves, left background), Aubrey Allicock as boxer Emile Griffith (center) and Denyce Graves as his mother Emelda (right).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ralph Burns

Jazz great Ralph Burns (1922-2001) was one of the most important arranger-composers you’ve never heard of. In the early days of his career he worked as a pianist, composer and arranger for swing bands. Fresh out of studying classical piano at the New England Conservatory of Music, he found himself working with ensembles that included jazz royalty such as Nat King Cole, Stan Getz and Art Tatum. In 1944 he joined the Woody Herman band, writing and arranging some of their greatest hits for a span of fifteen years.

During his years as a touring pianist with jazz bands, he kept a closely guarded secret. He was a gay man in a field dominated by libidinous straight guys. Burns did not have a Duke Ellington to protect him (as did Billy Strayhorn), so he lived in utter fear of being found out. In his 1971 memoir “The Night People”, jazz trombonist Dicky Wells recalled the main topic of conversation on the Count Basie band tour bus: “Chicks. What else?” Burns knew that those who did not join in the banter faced big trouble, so he walked on egg shells his whole career. Burns recalled, “Everybody would joke, ‘Oh, that fag!’, and if they wanted to be funny, they’d lisp. My one fear was that at one time or another they’d turn on me, but luckily they never did.”

During the 1940s in New York City, all that was available to Burns socially as a gay man was the  opportunity to fraternize at friends-of-friends private parties behind closed doors. Many of those events were hosted by fellow gay musician Billy Strayhorn, with whom Burns loved to play piano duets for the assembled guests. The talent of both Strayhorn and Burns was so great that, out of respect for their careers, their straight colleagues never mentioned their sexual orientation, even though nearly everyone knew their secret.

Early Autumn (1949, composed & arranged by Ralph Burns)
Woody Herman band, featuring tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. Johnny Mercer added lyrics after the song had already become a hit.

Burns saw the writing on the wall for jazz bands and began to record under his own name in the 1950s, working with Billy Strayhorn (see entry in sidebar) and saxophonist Ben Webster. Ralph made a successful transition from big bands to bebop style. He went on to write material for singers such as Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, Natalie Cole and Aretha Franklin. He wrote arrangements for two mega-hits by Ray Charles: Georgia on My Mind and Come Rain or Come Shine – it was Burns’s idea to incorporate a string orchestra on those two songs.

By the 1960s Burns ventured into arranging and orchestrating Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks. Among his many successes were Funny Girl, Chicago, Sweet Charity, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Urban Cowboy, Cabaret (won 1972 Academy Award as music supervisor), New York New York, All That Jazz (won 1979 Academy Award), and Annie (1982 Academy Award nomination). Among notable television works was Baryshnikov on Broadway (won 1980 Emmy Award), followed by work with major cabaret performers during the 1990s, chief among them Mel Tormé, John Pizzarelli and Michael Feinstein.

In 2001 Burns died from complications from a stroke and subsequent pneumonia in Los Angeles at age 79. During the later decades of his life, Burns had lived as an openly gay man, and he was able to get commissions right up until his death. At the time he succumbed to his fatal illness, manuscripts for a planned musical lay upon his desk. A Massachusetts native, he was inducted into the New England Jazz Hall of Fame in 2004. Do not despair if you've never heard of this influential musician, since his entire career was carried out in behind-the-scenes work, providing the best possible support for the great stars. He liked it that way.

Regarding his legacy, Burns’s masterpiece was Summer Sequence, a 20-minute suite introduced to the world by Woody Herman at Carnegie Hall on March 25, 1946. “That was something I wish I could remember more,” said Burns years later. “It was a thrilling night. The band was at its absolute peak. We thought nothing of it at the time, like a baseball team that went on to the World Series.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hudson Taylor

It's rare that I feature a straight man on this blog, but today I make such an exception. Hudson Taylor (b. 1987) is a Columbia University wrestling coach, LGBT activist, and Founding Director of Athlete Ally. Although he is straight  (married to Lia Alexandra Mandaglio), his actions have had an enormous influence on LGBT persons, particularly athletes.

Taylor was an NCAA All-American wrestler before graduating and becoming a coach at Columbia University (NYC). He also secured the most pins and the most wins in the history of collegiate wrestling at the University of Maryland, and is ranked among the top five pinners in NCAA wrestling history. As well, he holds several hall-of-fame records.

Taylor is descended from a long line of Christian missionaries, including James Hudson Taylor, one of the first Christians to attempt to evangelize China. The Christianity of Taylor's family instilled in him a "strong sense of inclusion over exclusion," unlike many other Christian families who advocate homophobic policies and intolerance.

An athlete all his life, Taylor experienced denigration in high school and college sports, but befriended many gay people while majoring in Interactive Performance Art at the University of Maryland. When he wore an equality sticker from the Human Rights Campaign on his wrestling headgear, he faced backlash from his peers, but gained media attention. When he blogged about experiencing homophobia in collegiate sports, he received hundreds of emails from closeted athletes.

This experience inspired him to found the non-profit organization Athlete Ally, with the mission of "educating, encouraging and empowering straight athlete allies to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports." Athlete Ally provides social advocacy campaigns, on-campus training and practical tools, including resources to locate and learn about allied athletes, coaches, teams, athletic clubs and sports-based advocacy projects around the country.

Since January, 2011 (founding date of Athlete Ally), more than 13,000 people have signed the Athlete Ally Pledge. Ambassadors for this organization include Chris Kluwe (Minnesota Vikings), Brendon Ayanbadejo (Baltimore Ravens), Connor Barwin (Philadelphia Eagles), D’Qwell Jackson and Eric Barton (both of the Cleveland Browns), Donte Stallworth (New England Patriots) and Scott Fujita (New Orleans Saints). 23-year-old Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), raised by a lesbian couple in Newark, NJ, was the first NBA player to join. Just a month ago, high profile tennis player Andy Roddick added his endorsement. Board members include former New York Rangers hockey player Sean Avery (!), former NFL player Dave Kopay (see blog entry in sidebar), sportscaster Dave Haber and Minnesota United Football Club president Nick Rogers.

Details at

"For me and my generation, LGBT rights is a pressing issue," says Taylor. "I believe that whatever history I'm a part of, I'm responsible for it. If I feel something is unjust or unequal, I feel a responsibility to do something about it."

As Executive Director of Athlete Ally, a public speaker and recurring blogger for the Huffington Post, he continues to spread his message of equality and inclusion. In 2010, Taylor was named by The Advocate as one of the “Top 150 Reasons to Have Gay Pride". In 2011 he received the PFLAG Straight for Equality Award and was named "Greatest Person of the Day" on April 8 by the Huffington Post. He was later honored by Buick and the NCAA alongside as a feature story of the Buick Human Highlight Reel.

His work is now featured in the permanent Miller Family Youth Exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which aims to empower young persons to stand as leaders against discrimination. In April 2012, Hudson Taylor was named University of Maryland Alumnus of the Year for the school of Undergraduate Studies for his work as an LGBT rights activist.

Hats off to one of our most significant advocates, gentlemen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Glenn Burke

Glenn Burke (1952-1995) was a major league baseball player perhaps best known today as the man who invented the “high five*.” But to gay athletes he left a legacy far more important than a hand gesture. Burke was, and remains, the first and only MLB player out to his teammates and team owners during his professional career (1976-1979). He was also the first American professional team sports player to acknowledge his homosexuality publicly during his pro career (sorry, Jason Collins).

*During a 1977 Dodgers game, Burke ran out onto the field to congratulate teammate Dusty Baker on hitting his 30th home run, raising his open palm into the air. Baker slapped Burke’s hand with his own open palm, and the rest is history. After retiring from baseball, Burke used the “high five” with other homosexual residents of the Castro district of San Francisco, where it became a gesture of gay pride and identification.

A California native, Burke, an African-American, played for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland As. He made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends. He spoke freely with sportswriters, as well, but they kept silent, commenting that they couldn’t write about such a thing in their publications. Indeed, the sports media found Burke's sexual orientation an inconvenient truth. Burke told People magazine, "I think everyone just pretended not to hear me. It just wasn't a story they were ready to hear." In fact, Burke was so open about his homosexuality that the Dodgers offered him $75,000 if he would participate in a sham marriage. Although his talent was so great that some were calling him the next Willie Mays, and he became the only rookie to start in the 1977 World Series, center-fielder Burke still refused, knowing that to do so put his career at risk.

One of the Dodgers who tried to talk Burke into getting married was his manager, Tommy Lasorda, whose own son Tom Jr. died from AIDS complications in 1991. Although Tom Jr. and Burke were friends, even dating for a while, to this day Lasorda Sr. refuses to acknowledge his son's homosexuality.

Burke wrote in his autobiography (Out at Home, 1995), "By 1978 I think everybody knew," and was "sure his teammates didn't care." Former Dodgers team captain Davey Lopes said "No one cared about his lifestyle." Burke told the New York Times that "Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have, but I wasn't changing," and stated in his autobiography that "prejudice just won out." Glenn Burke left professional sports for good at age 27. He told People magazine in 1994 that his "mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype" and that he thinks "it worked. They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man, and I made it”.

Dusty and Glenn spontaneously creating the "High Five."

But all was not well. Billy Martin, upon becoming a manager for the Oakland Athletics in 1980, used the word "faggot" in the clubhouse, and some teammates refused to shower with Burke. During spring training, Billy Martin, a world class bigot, was introducing the team to the new players who were coming in. When he got to Glenn, he said, "Oh, by the way, this is Glenn Burke, and he's a faggot." After Glenn suffered a knee injury, the Athletics sent Burke to the minors in Utah. He was released from his MLB contract in 1980, just before the season began.

"I didn't want to make other people uncomfortable," said Glenn, "so I faded away. My teammates' wives might have been threatened by a gay man in the locker room. I could have been a superstar but I was too worried about protecting everybody else from knowing. If I thought I could be accepted, I'd be there now. It is the first thing in my life I ever backed down from. No, I'm not disappointed in myself, I'm disappointed in the system. Your sex should be private, and I always kept it that way. Deep inside, I know the Dodgers traded me because I was gay."

After retiring from baseball, Glenn competed in the 1986 Gay Games in basketball and won medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprints in the first Gay Games in 1982. His jersey number at Berkeley High School was retired in his honor. In 1982, Inside Sports magazine finally broke the media silence by publishing an article in which Burke's homosexuality became public knowledge, and Burke echoed that story during a Today Show interview with Bryant Gumbel. Tragically, it was a downhill death spiral after that. An addiction to cocaine destroyed him both physically and financially. In 1987 his leg and foot were crushed when he was hit by a car in San Francisco. Even worse, Burke was subsequently arrested and jailed for drugs, and for a time was homeless on the streets of San Francisco. He contracted AIDS and spent his final months with his sister in Oakland.

However, when news of his struggle with AIDS became public knowledge in 1994, he received the support of his former teammates and the Oakland Athletics organization. In interviews given while he was fighting the disease, Burke expressed only one big regret – that he never had the opportunity to pursue a second professional sports career in basketball. Burke died at the tender age of 42.

An outstanding documentary, Out: The Glenn Burke Story, by Bay Area filmmakers Doug Harris and Sean Maddison, was released in 2010 but remains little seen. If the film had been shown on ESPN or another major network, Burke might have finally gotten the credit he deserved.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who bought the film rights to Burke's autobiography years ago, now hopes, in the wake of recent revelations by out athletes such as Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers (see post in sidebar), to get a feature film on Burke into production.

Stay tuned, sports fans.

Here's the trailer for the documentary film Out: The Glenn Burke Story

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

James Bridges

Arkansas native James Bridges (1936-1993) was an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and film director who got his start as a writer for the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. One episode, An Unlocked Window (1966), won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Bridges went on to write and direct a number of feature films, including The Baby Maker (1970), The Paper Chase (1973), September 30, 1955 (1977), The China Syndrome (1979), Urban Cowboy (1980), Mike’s Murder (1984), Perfect (1985), and Bright Lights, Big City (1988).

For a number of years he was a mentor to actress Debra Winger. In fact, Bridges nearly quit the production of Urban Cowboy, because Paramount didn't want Debra Winger to play the role of John Travolta's love interest, the independent cowgirl Sissy.

From 1958 until his death in 1993, he was life partner to actor Jack Larson (b. 1928, photo at right), best known for his portrayal of Jimmy Olsen in the TV series Adventures of Superman. Prior to his commitment to Bridges, Larson had been in a relationship with actor Montgomery Clift.

Bridges and Larson shared the historical Frank Lloyd Wright-designed “George Sturges” house (1939) in Brentwood Heights, CA, where Larson still resides. It is the only southern California example of the modest modern style house called "Usonian" by Wright (photo below). This example boasts extreme cantilevers to deal with the steeply  sloped lot, and it has been impeccably maintained by Larson.

In a feature article published in the Los Angeles Times, Larson revealed that Bridges made only eight feature films because he wouldn't compromise. "There were many films that he didn't do if the situation was going to be bad, because he didn't want to go through that. He would not argue with people. He was Southern and polite, but he was very tough..."

Larson (top) with Bridges (right) and their dog Max.

Actor Larson, forever typecast as Jimmy Olson, found later success as a playwright and opera librettist (Larson wrote the libretto to the opera Lord Byron, with music by Virgil Thomson). After Bridges' career took off, they formed a production company, with Larson producing several of his partner’s films. Said Olson, "It was obvious to anyone that since we lived together we were partners. We always went places together. We never pretended (otherwise).”

Bridges died of cancer in Los Angeles, California, at age 57. The James Bridges Theater at  UCLA was named in his honor in November, 1999. Bridges had once been a faculty member there. Every year the Bridges/Larson Foundation issues the James Bridges Award in Film Directing at UCLA, USC, Columbia University and the American Film Institute.

Peter Tonguette's book, The Films of James Bridges (2011) is the first substantive volume on Bridges, and Jack Larson gives the publication his whole-hearted approval.

In  this filmed interview, Jack Larson reminisces about his life partnership with James Bridges:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

King Vajiravudh, Rama VI of Siam

According to Thongchai Winichakul (Assistant Professor of History, University of Wisconsin), the homosexuality of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI (1881-1925) of Siam* is one of the worst kept secrets among Thai historians. King Vajiravudh ruled Siam from 1910-1925, and although there were a few passing references to his sexual orientation in both English and Thai sources, it was generally not spoken about. Thongchai Winichakul states that the king’s homosexuality must have been common knowledge to his court at the time. There were four attempts to marry him to princesses, and all failed. Eventually he married three times, each a brief union during which the status of his wives was swiftly elevated only to be promptly demoted.

*The country's official name was Siam until June 23. 1939, when it was changed to Thailand. It was then renamed Siam from 1945 to 1949, after which it reverted back to Thailand.

Following the death of his elder half-brother, Crown Prince Maha Vajirunhis, at the age of sixteen in 1895, Vajiravudh was appointed Crown Prince. He had been educated at Oxford in England, and his great love of literature and poetry in both Thai and English, alongside his scholastic abilities, was later to manifest itself during his reign.

King Vajiravudh's coronation in Bangkok on December 2, 1911 was an occasion of much splendor. Among those present at the ceremonies were members of the royal families of Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Japan – the largest gathering of European royalty on the Asian continent before or since. The Russian imperial jeweler, Carl Fabergé, even set up a temporary shop within the Oriental Hotel to coincide with the festivities.

Through most of his reign there was a good deal of open criticism of the king. Some charged that the real power of the state lay with the young men of the king's inner entourage, for whom Vajiravudh had written plays and with whom he played games. This male circle formed the nucleus of the king’s social life, and Vajiravudh organized all-male clubs and societies with their numbers.

Early in his reign a coup was plotted against him. Their leaders accused the King of devoting all his time to writing plays and acting in them with his male companions. They also accused him of living a luxurious western lifestyle, building palaces and gardens and owning expensive horses from Australia, while preaching to his subjects to be austere and nationalistic. News of the plot was leaked, and the conspirators were arrested and sentenced to death or long prison terms. The king, however, released them all, stating that their motivations had been for the sake of the kingdom.

King Vajiravudh took steps to align Siam with the modern international world, and his reign was characterized by Siam's movement further towards democracy. He established a university, built Siam’s first airport and expanded public transportation systems. Among the king’s lasting achievements were devising a system of transliteration of Thai into English and of translating the entire works of Shakespeare into Thai. His passion for traditional Thai theater and ballet has left a massive collection of published scores which form the basis of the study of these arts to the present day.

In 1916, just five years after his coronation, King Vajiravudh declared war on Germany, and Siamese troops fought with the Allies during the latter part of World War I. The king died nine years later in Bangkok at the age of 44, without a direct male heir; therefore his brother Prajadhipok became the new monarch.