October is LGBTQ+ History Month

Kumu Hina (1972- )  |  Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)  |  Harvey Milk (1930-1978) |  Pauli Murray (1910-1985)  |  Kiyoshi Kuromiya (1943-2000)  |  Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)  |  James Baldwin (1924-1987)    |   Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929)  |  Matthew Wayne Shepard (1976-1998)  |  Truman Garcia Capote (1924-1984)  |  Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)  |  Robina Fedora Asti (1921-2021)  |  Thomas(ine) Hall (c. 1603- post-1629)  |   Rachel Louise Carson (1907-1964)   |  Louis Graydon Sullivan (1951-1991)  | Sally Kristen Ride (1951-2012)  |  Leonard Bernstein (1918 –1990)  |  Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832 -1919)   |  Bobby Holcomb (1947–1991)   |  Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden (1872-1953)  |  Harris Glenn Milstead (1945 –1988)  |   Keith Haring (1958-1990)  |

Kumu Hina
Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu, known locally simply as Kumu Hina.

Kumu Hina is a Kānaka Maoli māhū– a traditional third-gender person who occupies "a place in the middle" between male and female – as well as a modern transgender woman. She is known for her work as a kumu hula, a filmmaker, an artist, an activist, and a community leader in the preservation and protection of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi and Kānaka Maoli culture. She is a fluent speaker of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi as well as several other Polynesian languages, including Tongan, Samoan, and Tahitian. She has been hailed as "a cultural icon," and has earned the respect and love of many by persevering in her efforts to always be a role model and earnest representative of the people of Hawai'i.  

She attended Kamehameha School (1990) and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (2004), where she began her activism career. One of three pioneer transgender women, Kumu Hina was a founder of the Kulia Na Mamo transgender health project in 2001, focusing on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Education in Hawai'i. She was the cultural director of Halau Lokahi Public Charter School for 13 years, dedicated to using native Hawaiian culture, history, and education as tools for developing and empowering the next generation of warrior scholars. In 2014, Hina announced her bid for a position on the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, one of the first transgender candidates to run for statewide political office in the United States. She has also taught Hawaiian language at Leeward Community College and currently devotes her time to teaching Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander men in incarceration in Hawaii. Kumu Hina is currently a cultural advisor and leader in many community affairs and civic activities, and she is in her 11th year of service to the community in her role as Chairperson and Kona moku representative for the O'ahu Island Burial Council, which oversees the management of Native Hawaiian burial sites and ancestral remains. 

She was the subject of the feature documentary film Kumu Hina, directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. In 2020, she directed, produced, and narrated The Healing Stones of Kapaemahu, an animated short film based on the Hawaiian story of four legendary māhū who brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawai'i and imbued their powers in giant boulders that still stand on Waikiki Beach. Narrated in the rare Ni'ihau dialect of Hawaiian, the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Award and being nominated for an Oscar. Kumu Hina is a recipient of the National Education Association Ellison Onizuka Human and Civil Rights Award, Native Hawaiian Community Educator of the Year, and a White House Champion of Change. USA Today named Wong-Kalu one of ten Women of the Century from Hawai'i. Kumu Hina is also featured in Naomi Hirada’s 2022 anthology We Are Here: 30 Inspiring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Have Shaped the United States, published by the Smithsonian Institute. 

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Johnson (1945-1992)
Johnson (1945-1992)

Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson (1945-1992), is one of the most venerated icons in LGBTQ+ history.

Johnson was a Black trans woman who was a force behind the Stonewall Riots and surrounding activism that sparked a new phase of the LGBTQ+ movement in 1969. When she came out in 1966, Johnson initially used the moniker "Black Marsha" but later decided on the drag queen name "Marsha P. Johnson," getting Johnson from the restaurant Howard Johnson's on 42nd Street, stating that the P stood for "pay it no mind." She always used the phrase sarcastically when questioned about gender, saying "It stands for 'pay it no mind.'" She variably identified as gay, as a transvestite (the term transgender woman was not in broad use during her lifetime), and as a queen (referring to drag queen). In 1972's Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, Johnson discussed being a Street Transvestite Action Revolutionary (STAR) and openly described her experiences of the dangers of working as a houseless street prostitute in drag. 

Johnson's style of drag was not what we think of today as "high drag" or "show drag," due to her being unable to afford to purchase expensive clothing, makeup, and accessories. Instead, she received leftover flowers after sleeping under tables used for sorting flowers in the Flower District of Manhattan, and was known for wearing crowns of fresh flowers; she was tall, slender, and often dressed in flowing robes and shiny dresses, red plastic high heels and bright wigs. Most of her drag performance work was with groups that were grassroots and political, including the drag performance troupe Hot Peaches, from 1972 through the 1990s. In 1975, she was photographed by famed artist Andy Warhol, as part of his Ladies and Gentlemen series of Polaroids.

Though generally regarded as "generous and warmhearted" and "saintly" under the Marsha persona, an angry, violent side of her personality could sometimes emerge when she was depressed or under severe stress. When this happened, Johnson would often get in fights and wind up hospitalized and sedated, and friends would have to organize and raise money to bail Johnson out of jail or try to secure release from places like Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. In the 1979 Village Voice article, "The Drag of Politics", by Steven Watson, other members of the gay community at the time explain that it was perhaps for this reason that other activists had been reluctant at first to credit Johnson for helping to spark the gay liberation movement of the early 1970s.

Johnson was one of the first drag queens to go to the now-famous Stonewall Inn after management began allowing women and drag queens inside; it was previously a bar for only gay men. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots began after Stormé DeLarverie fought back against the police officer who attempted to arrest her that night, spawning a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community in response to the police raid, which had quickly become violent. The riots are widely considered the watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement and the twentieth-century fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.

Johnson has been named as being one of "three individuals known to have been in the vanguard" of the pushback against the police at the uprising. Famously, it has been claimed that Johnson threw a brick at a police officer, an account that has never been verified. However, many have corroborated that on the second night of the riots, Johnson climbed up a lamppost and dropped a bag with a brick in it down on a police car, shattering the windshield.

Following the Stonewall uprising, Johnson joined the Gay Liberation Front and marched in the first Gay Pride rally on June 28, 1970. Shortly after that, Johnson and close friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) organization. STAR House became one of the first shelters for homeless gay and trans youth, and the two queens paid the rent for it with money they made themselves as sex workers, providing food, clothing, emotional support, and a sense of family for the young drag queens, trans women, gender nonconformists, and other gay street kids living in the Lower East Side of New York. Johnson and Rivera became a visible presence at gay liberation marches and other radical political actions. A reporter at one of these gay rights rallies once asked Johnson why the group was demonstrating, and Johnson shouted into the microphone, "Darling, I want my gay rights now!"

Between 1980 and her death in 1992, Johnson lived with a friend, Randy Wicker, and when Wicker's lover, David, became terminally ill with AIDS, she became his caregiver. After visiting David and other friends with the virus in the hospital during the AIDS pandemic, Johnson, who was also HIV-positive, became committed to caring for the sick and dying, as well as doing street activism with AIDS activist groups, including ACT UP. 

In 1992, "gay bashing" was an epidemic in New York. In 1992 alone, there were 1,300 reports of anti-LGBTQ+ violence, including many perpetrated by police. In response, marches were organized, and Johnson was one of the activists who marched in the streets, demanding justice. She had been speaking out against the "dirty cops" and elements of organized crime that many believed responsible for some of these assaults and murders, and had even voiced the concern that some of what Randy Wicker was stirring up, and pulling her into, "could get you murdered." Only weeks later, on July 6, 1992, Johnson's body was found floating in the Hudson River, a death initially ruled a suicide by the NYPD. At the time, several people came forward to say they had seen Johnson being harassed by a group of ruffians who had also robbed people; another witness saw a neighborhood resident fighting with Johnson on July 4 and reported that the individual had used a homophobic slur and had later bragged to someone at a bar that he had killed a drag queen named Marsha. All of these leads were dismissed and ignored by the NYPD.

Johnson's body was cremated and, following a funeral at a local church and a march down Seventh Avenue, friends released her ashes over the Hudson River, off the Christopher Street Piers. After the funeral, controversy and protest followed the case; following extensive lobbying by transgender activist Mariah Lopez, it was eventually re-opened in 2012 as a possible homicide. In 2016, Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project also addressed Johnson's case and succeeded in gaining access to previously unreleased documents and witness statements. Some of her work to find justice for Johnson was filmed by David France for the 2017 documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. 

Marsha Johnson's death remains an open case, with the cause of death being listed as "undetermined." Her actions and words continue to inspire trans activism and resistance and will continue to do so well into the future.

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Harvey Milk (1930-1978)
Harvey Milk (1930-1978)

Harvey Milk (1930-1978), an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in the history of California.

Harvey Milk came from a small middle-class Jewish family that had founded a Jewish synagogue and was well known in the New York Jewish community for their civic engagement. He knew he was gay by the time he attended Bayshore High School, where he was a popular student with interests ranging from opera to playing football.

While at New York State College for Teachers (now State University of New York) in Albany, where he studied math and history, Milk penned a popular weekly student newspaper column where he openly addressed issues of diversity with a reflection on the lessons learned from World War II. After graduation, Milk joined the United States Navy during the Korean War. He served aboard the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake as a diving officer. He later transferred to Naval Station, San Diego, to serve as a diving instructor. In 1955, he resigned from the Navy at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, forced to accept an "other than honorable" discharge and leave the service rather than face a court-martial after being officially questioned about his sexual orientation.

Following his Naval discharge, he began teaching at George W. Hewlett High School on Long Island. In 1956, he met Joe Campbell at the Jacob Riis Park beach, a popular location for gay men in Queens. Milk pursued Campbell passionately and they eventually began a committed relationship—one which would last six years. 

After parting ways with Campbell, Milk thought of moving to Miami to marry a lesbian friend so that they would "have a front and each would not be in the way of the other.” However, he instead decided to remain in New York, where he secretly pursued many gay relationships, all of which were brief. In 1962, Milk became involved with Craig Rodwell. Though Milk courted Rodwell ardently, he was uncomfortable with Rodwell's involvement with the New York Mattachine Society, a gay-rights organization. When Rodwell was arrested for walking in Riis Park, and charged with inciting a riot and with indecent exposure (the law required men's swimsuits to extend from above the navel to below the thigh, which Rodwell's did not), he spent three days in jail. The relationship ended soon afterward as Milk became alarmed at Rodwell's tendency to agitate the police.

Milk traveled to San Francisco in 1969 with the Broadway touring company of Hair, for which his then-lover was the stage manager. Since the end of World War II, San Francisco had been home to a sizable number of gay men who had been expelled from the military and decided to stay rather than return to their hometowns and face ostracism. The city appealed so much to Milk that he decided to stay, working at an investment firm. In 1970, increasingly frustrated with the political climate after the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, Milk let his hair grow long. When told to cut it, he refused and was fired.

Over the next few years, Milk drifted from California to Texas to New York, without a steady job or plan. The time he spent with flower children during his travels wore away much of his conservatism. Milk met Scott Smith, and they began a relationship, with the pair moving to San Francisco. In March 1973, after a roll of film Milk left at a local shop was ruined, he and Smith opened a camera store on Castro Street, in the heart of the city’s growing gay community, with their last $1,000.

Milk became more interested in political and civic matters when he was faced with civic problems and policies he disliked. One day in 1973, a state bureaucrat entered Castro Camera, claiming that Milk owed $100 as a deposit against state sales tax. Milk was incredulous and traded shouts with the man about the rights of business owners; after he complained for weeks at state offices, the deposit was reduced to $30. Milk also fumed about government priorities when a teacher came into his store to borrow a projector because the equipment in the schools did not function. Later in 1973, two gay men tried to open an antique shop nearby, but the local Merchants Association attempted to prevent them from receiving a business license. Milk and a few other gay business owners founded the Castro Village Association, a first-in-the-nation organizing of predominantly LGBTQ businesses, with Milk as president. He organized the Castro Street Fair in 1974 to attract more customers to area businesses. Its success made the Castro Village Association an effective power base for gay merchants and a blueprint for other LGBTQ communities in the US. Milk decided that the time had come to run for public office. He said later, "I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up.”

Milk had drifted through life up to this point, but he found his vocation in politics. At first, his inexperience showed. He tried to manage without money, support, or staff, and instead relied on his message of sound financial management, promoting individuals over large corporations and government. He supported the reorganization of supervisor elections from a citywide ballot to district ballots, which was intended to reduce the influence of money and give neighborhoods more control over their representatives in city government. He also ran on a culturally liberal platform, opposing government interference in private sexual matters and favoring the legalization of marijuana. Milk's fiery, flamboyant speeches and savvy media skills earned him a significant amount of press during the 1973 election, but he was not elected. In 1975, he ran again for the combined San Francisco City/County supervisor seat and narrowly lost.

By now, he was established as the leading political spokesman for the Castro’s vibrant gay community. In 1975, state senator George Moscone, who had been instrumental in repealing the sodomy law earlier that year in the California State Legislature, was elected mayor of San Francisco. He acknowledged Milk's influence in his election by visiting Milk's election night headquarters, thanking Milk personally. In one of Moscone's first acts as mayor, he appointed a police chief who made it clear that gay police officers would be welcomed in the department, against the wishes of the department but with the mayor's blessing; this became national news. 

 Milk's role as a representative of San Francisco's gay community expanded during this period. On September 22, 1975, a former Marine prevented the assassination of visiting President Gerald Ford by Sara Jane Moore. That former Marine was Oliver Sipple, whom Milk had known well in New York. On psychiatric disability leave from the military, Sipple refused to call himself a hero and did not want his sexuality disclosed. Milk, however, took advantage of the opportunity to illustrate his cause that the public perception of gay people would be improved if they came out of the closet. He told a friend: "It's too good an opportunity. For once we can show that gays do heroic things, not just all that ca-ca about molesting children and hanging out in bathrooms.” Milk contacted The San Francisco Chronicle, and exposed Sipple as gay. Although he had been involved with the gay community for years, even participating in Gay Pride events, Sipple sued the Chronicle for invasion of privacy. President Ford sent Sipple a note of thanks for saving his life, to which Milk responded that Sipple's sexual orientation was the reason he received only a note, rather than an invitation to the White House.

Milk was appointed to the Board of Permit Appeals in 1976, making him the first openly gay city commissioner in the United States. He soon filed candidacy papers for the state assembly but lost. In 1977, however, he easily won election as a San Francisco City-County Supervisor, and was inaugurated on January 9, 1978. This was an important symbolic victory for the LGBTQ community, as well as a personal triumph for Milk. His election made national and international headlines.
A commitment to serving a broad constituency, not just LGBTQ people, helped make Milk an effective and popular supervisor. His ambitious reform agenda included protecting gay rights—he sponsored an important anti-discrimination bill—as well as establishing day care centers for working mothers, the conversion of military facilities in the city to low-cost housing, reform of the tax code to attract industry to deserted warehouses and factories, and other issues. He was a powerful advocate for strong, safe neighborhoods, and pressured the mayor’s administration to improve services for the Castro such as library services and community policing. In addition, he spoke out on state and national issues of interest to LGBTQ people, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other marginalized communities.

One of these was a California ballot initiative, Proposition 6, which would have mandated the firing of gay teachers in the state's public schools—as well as the firing of any public school employees who supported gay rights. Proponents maintained that homosexual teachers wanted to abuse and recruit children. Milk responded with statistics compiled by law enforcement, providing evidence that pedophiles identified primarily as heterosexual. Attendance swelled at gay pride marches in San Francisco and Los Angeles as Milk and others campaigned against Proposition 6.

In one of his eloquent speeches, Milk spoke of the American ideal of equality, proclaiming, “Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.” With strong, effective opposition from Milk and others, Proposition 6 was defeated at a time when many other political attacks on gay people were being successfully waged all around the US.

Milk's energy, affinity for practical jokes and humor, and unpredictability at times exasperated Board of Supervisors President, Dianne Feinstein. Milk also became Mayor Moscone's closest ally on the Board of Supervisors. Milk was often willing to vote against Feinstein and other more tenured members of the board. In one controversy early in his term, Milk agreed with fellow Supervisor Dan White, whose district was located two miles south of the Castro, that a mental health facility for troubled adolescents should not be placed there. After Milk learned more about the facility, he decided to switch his vote, ensuring White's loss on the issue—a particularly poignant cause that White championed while campaigning. White did not forget it.and went on to oppose every initiative and issue Milk supported. 

Milk sponsored a bill banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation. The City Supervisors passed the bill by a vote of 11–1, with White's the sole opposing vote, and it was signed into law by Mayor Moscone, using a light blue pen purchased for him by Milk especially for the occasion. 

Given the hatred directed at gay people in general and Milk in particular—he received daily death threats—he was aware of the likelihood that he may well be assassinated. He recorded several versions of his will to be read in the event of his assassination. One of his tapes contained the now-famous statement, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” 

White resigned his position on November 10, 1978. Moscone planned to announce White's replacement on November 27. A half hour before the press conference, White avoided metal detectors by entering City Hall through a basement window and went to Moscone's office, where witnesses heard shouting followed by gunshots. White shot Moscone in the shoulder and chest, then twice in the head. White then quickly walked to his former office, reloading his police-issue revolver with hollow-point bullets along the way, and intercepted Milk, asking him to step inside for a moment. Dianne Feinstein heard gunshots and called police; she then found Milk face down on the floor, shot five times, including twice in the head. Soon after, she announced to the press, "Today, San Francisco has experienced a double tragedy of immense proportions. As President of the Board of Supervisors, it is my duty to inform you that both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed...." That night, a crowd of thousands spontaneously came together on Castro Street and marched to City Hall in a silent candlelight vigil that has been frequently cited as one of the most eloquent responses to violence that a community has ever expressed.

Milk’s assassin was acquitted of murder charges and given a mild reduced sentence for voluntary manslaughter, partly as a result of what became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” His attorney claimed that White had eaten too much junk food on the day of the killings and thus could not be held accountable for his crimes. White was sentenced on May 21, 1979—the day before what would have been Milk’s 49th birthday—igniting what came to be known as the White Night Riots. Enraged citizens stormed City Hall and rows of police cars were set on fire. The city suffered property damage and police officers retaliated by raiding the Castro, vandalizing gay businesses, and beating people on the street. 

In total, White served just over five years for the double homicide of Moscone and Milk; he was released from prison on January 7, 1984. On October 21, 1985, he was found dead in a running car in his ex-wife's garage, having committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. 

As a result of White's trial, California voters changed state law to reduce the likelihood of acquittals of accused who knew what they were doing but claimed their capacity was impaired. Diminished capacity was abolished as a defense to a charge, but courts allowed evidence of it when deciding whether to incarcerate, commit, or otherwise punish a convicted defendant.

The life and career of Harvey Milk have been the subjects of an opera as well as many books and films. These include the biography The Mayor of Castro Street (1982); the 1984 Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk; and the 2008 drama Milk, which received eight Academy Award nominations, winning in two categories: Sean Penn was named best actor for his performance in the title role, and Dustin Lance Black won for his screenplay. A statue of Milk was unveiled in the center rotunda at San Francisco City Hall in 2008. On August 12, 2009, his nephew, Stuart Milk, accepted the posthumously awarded Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who praised Milk’s “visionary courage and conviction” in fighting discrimination. The non-fiscal Harvey Milk state holiday (his birthday, May 22) was passed by the California State Legislature in 2009 and signed into law by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Milk’s day is observed with events across the nation and around the globe. In 2012, San Diego named the street that leads to the doors of that city’s LGBTQ center Harvey Milk Street, and Long Beach dedicated the Harvey Milk Oceanside Promenade and Park. In 2014, the White House, the United States Postal Service, and the Harvey Milk Foundation hosted a historic first day of issuance ceremony at the White House for the USPS Harvey Milk Forever Stamp, marking the first time that an openly LGBTQ official joined the limited number of “great and accomplished Americans to grace the corner of an envelope and represent the US to the world.” 

Harvey Milk was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. He believed that government should represent individuals, not just corporate interests, and should ensure equality for all citizens while providing needed services. He spoke for the participation of LGBTQ people and other minorities in the political process. The more gay people came out of the closet, he believed, the more their families and friends would support protections for their equal rights. In the years since Milk’s assassination, public opinion has shifted on gay marriage, gays in the military, and other issues, and there have been hundreds of openly LGBTQ public officials in America, yet the work continues.

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Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985)
Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985)

Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985), an American civil rights activist, advocate, legal scholar and theorist, author and poet, and--later in life--Episcopal priest and, posthumously, saint.

(According to the Pauli Murray Center, several scholars have explored Murray’s personal journals and writings and examined Murray’s relationship to their gender/s. Scholars have variably used “he/him/his” pronouns, “they/them/theirs” pronouns, “s/he” pronouns, and “she/her/hers” pronouns. Murray self-described as a “he/she personality,” so today’s article will follow that practice.)

Anna Pauline Murray was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 20, 1910, the fourth of six children of Agnes and William Murray. Agnes died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1914. William suffered from depression exacerbated by the long-term effects of typhoid fever and was eventually confined at Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Insane, where he was bludgeoned to death by a white guard with a baseball bat in 1923. Essentially orphaned after Agnes’ death, Murray was sent to live with his/her aunt, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, and his/her grandparents, Robert George and Cornelia Smith Fitzgerald, in Durham, North Carolina.

At age 16, Murray moved to New York City to finish high school and then attend Hunter College, graduating from Hunter with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1933, and changing his/her birth name to “Pauli.” During his/her undergraduate career, Murray had married William Roy Wynn, known as Billy Wynn, in secret on November 30, 1930, but quickly came to regret the decision. As Murray explained in notes to him/herself a few years later, he/she had felt repelled by the act of sexual intercourse. Part of him/her had wanted to be a "normal" woman, but another part resisted. "Why is it when men try to make love to me, something in me fights?" she wondered. Murray and Wynn only spent a few months together before both left town separately; they did not see one another again until Murray contacted him to have their marriage legally annulled in 1949.

Murray further continued his/her education at Jay Lovestone's New Workers School in New York, taking night classes on many subjects, including Marxist philosophy, historical materialism, Marxian economics, and problems of Communist organization. Throughout the 1930s, Murray actively questioned his/her gender and sex. He/she repeatedly asked various physicians for testosterone hormone therapy and exploratory surgery to investigate his/her reproductive organs, believing that he/she may have been intersex and had undescended testis, but he/she was repeatedly denied gender-affirming medical care throughout his/her lifetime. Murray always adopted androgynous dress, preferring pants to skirts, had a short hairstyle, and in fact often passed as a boy throughout his/her youth and 20s. He/she preferred to describe him/herself as having an "inverted sex instinct" that caused him/her to behave as a man would when attracted to women. He/she wanted a "monogamous married life,” but one in which he/she was in a man's role. The majority of his/her relationships were with women he/she described as "extremely feminine and heterosexual.” There is little doubt that throughout his/her lifetime, widespread homophobia and transphobia, and federal and state policies, severely constrained Pauli Murray’s ability to publicly or even privately explore his/her gender identity and sexuality thoroughly.

Murray took a job selling subscriptions to Opportunity, an academic journal of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization based in New York City. Poor health forced him/her to resign, and a doctor recommended that Murray seek a healthier environment, so Murray took a position at Camp Tera, a "She-She-She" conservation camp. Established at the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, these federally-funded camps provided employment to young women while improving national infrastructure. During three months at the camp, Murray's health recovered. He/she also met Eleanor Roosevelt for the first time, the beginning of what became a lifelong friendship. Unfortunately, Murray clashed with the camp's director, who had found a Marxist book from a Hunter College course among Murray's belongings and disapproved of Murray's cross-racial relationship with Peg Holmes, a white counselor at the camp. Murray and Holmes left the camp together in February 1935.

In 1938, Murray began a media and letter-writing campaign to enter the PhD in sociology program at the all-white University of North Carolina. Despite a lack of support from the NAACP, Murray’s campaign received national publicity, although it was ultimately unauccessful. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Murray also worked to end segregation on public transport. In 1940, he/she sat in the whites-only section of a Virginia bus with Adelene McBean, his/her roommate and girlfriend. Inspired by a conversation they had been having about Gandhian civil disobedience, the two women refused to return to the rear, even after the police were called. They were arrested, jailed, and convicted of disorderly conduct. The Workers' Defense League (WDL), a socialist labor rights organization that also was beginning to take civil rights cases, paid their fines, and a few months later, the WDL hired Murray for its administrative committee; Murray subsequently became involved in the civil rights movement. At the same time, he/she worked as a teacher at the New York City Remedial Reading Project. He/she wrote many articles and poems, some of which were published in various magazines, including Common Sense and The Crisis.

Murray enrolled in the Howard University Law School in 1941, with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer; he/she was the only woman in the class. The following year, he/she joined George Houser, James Farmer, and Bayard Rustin to form the nonviolence-focused Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and published an article, "Negro Youth's Dilemma," that challenged segregation in the US military. He/she also participated in sit-ins challenging several Washington, DC, restaurants with discriminatory seating policies. These activities foreshadowed the more widespread sit-ins during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Murray was elected chief justice of the Howard Court of Peers, the highest student position at Howard, and in 1943, published two important essays on civil rights: “Negroes Are Fed Up” in Common Sense, and an article about the Harlem race riot in the socialist newspaper, New York Call. His/her most famous poem, “Dark Testament,” was also written that year. It was at Howard that he/she also became acutely aware of the oppression he/she faced as a Black person perceived as a woman, coining the term “Jane Crow” to describe the experience. Murray graduated first-in-class in 1944, winning the coveted Rosenwald Fellowship. Traditionally, the Fellowship was for graduate work at Harvard University, but Harvard Law did not accept women at that time. Murray was thus rejected, despite a letter of support from sitting President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Murray wrote in response to the decision, "I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but since the way to such change has not been revealed to me, I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?" However, rejected again, Murray instead went on to earn a Master of Laws degree at the University of California, Berkeley, with a master’s thesis titled The Right to Equal Opportunity in Employment, which argued that "the right to work is an inalienable right.” After passing the California bar exam in 1945, Murray was hired as the state's first Black deputy attorney general in January of the following year. That year, the National Council of Negro Women named her its "Woman of the Year" and the feminist Mademoiselle magazine did the same in 1947.

Murray returned to New York City and provided support to the growing civil rights movement. His/her book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, was published in 1951 thanks to the United Methodist Women, who commissioned this work as a service to the movement and part of their Charters for Racial Justice. Thurgood Marshall, then-Chief Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and later an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, described the book as the “Bible” for civil rights litigators. In the early 1950s, Murray, like many Black citizens involved in the civil rights movement, was targeted by McCarthyism. In 1952, he/she lost a US State Department post at Cornell University because the people who had supplied her references (including Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, and trade unionist and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph) were considered “too radical.” He/she was told in a letter that the university's regents had  decided to give “one hundred percent protection” to the university “in view of the troublous times in which we live.”

In 1956, Murray published Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, a biography of how white supremacy and anti-Blackness oppressed his/her grandparents and their efforts to create racial uplift for their family, and a poignant portrayal of his/her hometown of Durham. Shortly after the book came out, Murray was offered a job in the litigation department at a new law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton, and Garrison. Murray was the first Black woman hired by the firm as an associate attorney, working there from 1956 to 1960. He/she first met Ruth Bader Ginsburg there, when Ginsburg was briefly a summer associate. Also while working there, Murray met Irene Barlow, the office manager at the firm. The two remained life partners until Barlow’s death in 1973.

In 1960, Murray traveled to Ghana to explore his/her African cultural roots and teach law. While there, he/she co-authored a book, The Constitution and Government of Ghana, with Leslie Rubin. When Murray returned to the U.S., he/she enrolled at Yale Law School to pursue the JSD degree and mentored several young women activists, including Marian Wright Edelman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Patricia Roberts Harris, who all became leaders in their own right.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Murray to the 1961–1963 Committee on Civil and Political Rights as a part of his Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. In the early 1960s, Murray worked closely with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King, Jr., but he/she was critical of the way that men dominated the leadership of these civil rights organizations. In August 1963, he/she wrote to Randolph and asserted that he/she had “been increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grass-roots levels of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions.” In a speech, "The Negro Woman in the Quest for Equality,” Murray criticized the fact that in the 1963 March on Washington, no women were invited to make any of the major speeches or to be part of its delegation of leaders who went to the White House, among other grievances. 
In 1964, Murray prepared a memo entitled "A Proposal to Reexamine the Applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment to State Laws and Practices Which Discriminate on the Basis of Sex Per Se," which argued that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade sex discrimination as well as racial discrimination, in support of the National Women's Party's successful effort to add "sex" as a protected category in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965, Murray published her landmark article (coauthored by Mary Eastwood), "Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII", in the George Washington Law Review. The article discussed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it applied to women, and drew comparisons between discriminatory laws against women and Jim Crow laws. The memo was shared with every member of Congress and Lady Bird Johnson, then First Lady, who brought it to President Lyndon B. Johnson's attention.

In 1965, Murray became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Yale Law School, with a dissertation titled Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy. Subsequently, he/she joined with Betty Friedan and others to found the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, but eventually moved away from a leading role because s/he did not believe that NOW appropriately addressed the issues of Black and working-class women. Later in 1966, she and Dorothy Kenyon of the ACLU successfully argued a case in which a three-judge court of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ruled that women had an equal right to serve on juries. When future Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then with the ACLU, wrote her brief for Reed v. Reed, which won a landmark SCOTUS decision establishing that the administrators of estates cannot be named in a way that discriminates between sexes, she added Murray and Kenyon as coauthors, in recognition of her debt to their work.  

Murray served as vice president of Benedict College from 1967 to 1968. She left Benedict to become a professor at Brandeis University, where he/she taught from 1968 to 1973, receiving tenure in 1971 as a full professor in American Studies and appointed as Louis Stulberg Chair in Law and Politics. In addition to teaching law, Murray introduced classes on African-American studies and women's studies, both firsts for the university. He/she also published a collection of poetry, Dark Testament and Other Poems, in 1970.

Following his/her partner’s death in 1973 and increasingly inspired by his/her connections with women in the Episcopal Church, Murray left Brandeis to attend General Theological Seminary, where he/she received a Master of Divinity in 1976 with the thesis, Black Theology and Feminist Theology: A Comparative Review. He/she was ordained to the diaconate in 1976, and, in 1977, became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest, one of the first generation of Episcopal women priests.

On July 1, 1985, Murray died of pancreatic cancer in the house she owned with lifelong friend Maida Springer Kemp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His/her autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, was published posthumously in 1987. The book was re-released as Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet in 1987, and was republished under its original title with a new introduction in 2018. 

Murray’s personal struggle with gender identity shaped his/her life as a civil rights pioneer, legal scholar, and feminist. While he/she lived openly in lesbian relationships for much of his/her later life, Murray’s career, Communist politics, and respectability politics shut down his/her options at a time when, in efforts to survive and maintain employment and housing, many gender-nonconforming people were forced to repress or conceal their identities. As biographer Naomi Simmons-Thorne writes, “Given the rigid enforcement of the gender binary, we do not, nor will we ever know, Murray’s true gender identity." What we do know, however, is that Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray's work greatly influenced the civil rights movement, expanded legal protection for gender equality, and inspired many others who followed her in the legal profession, academia, and the Episcopal church.

In 2012, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to honor Murray as one of its Holy Women, Holy Men, commemorated on July 1, the anniversary of his/her death, along with fellow writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 2018, Murray was made a permanent part of the Episcopal Church's calendar of saints.

In 2015, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Murray’s childhood home as a National Treasure. In December 2016, the Pauli Murray Family Home was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of Interior.

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Kiyoshi Kuromiya (1943 –2000)
Kiyoshi Kuromiya (1943 –2000)

Kiyoshi Kuromiya (1943 –2000) was a Japanese-American civil rights, anti-war, gay liberation, and HIV/AIDS activist. 

Kiyoshi Kuromiya was born on May 9, 1943, to California-born Nisei parents in Wyoming at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp, to which his family had been forcibly relocated from Monrovia, California, where Kuromiya later grew up, primarily attending white schools in the Los Angeles suburbs. (In 1983, Kuromiya visited the Camp with his mother, which he later recalled as being a formative experience for him as an activist.) By the early 1950s, he was using the name “Steve” instead of his given name, although in later life he returned to using his birth name.  

He came out as gay to his parents when he was roughly 8 or 9 years old, at which time he was already fairly sexually active. He was arrested in a public park with a 16-year-old boy for lewdness around this time and was put in juvenile hall for three days as punishment, with an additional court order demanding that he receive hormone treatments from a glandular specialist, an early attempt at conversion therapy. In addition to increasing his already-active sex drive and causing his voice to break soon afterwards, the incident left him with a feeling of shame and perversion. Kuromiya remembered the treatments as “a traumatic experience, partly because I didn’t know exactly what they were doing to me at the time.” He later mentioned in a 1997 interview that his being arrested made him feel like a sort of criminal without knowing it, and left him with a feeling of shame that forced him to be secretive about his sex life—even early on. At the time, he did not know any of the terminology due to a lack of literature—he had never heard the word gay and didn't know what a homosexual was. As a result, Kuromiya utilized the Monrovia Public Library to try to learn more about the identity that he knew "was very important to him."

In 1961, Kuromiya decided to leave the West Coast to go to college in Philadelphia to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania as one of six Benjamin Franklin National Scholars; the large scholarship covered almost all of the associated costs of attending. Kuromiya rarely attended classes, finding them “an incredible waste of time,” subpar to his high-school education. Instead, he immersed himself in creating and publishing a collegiate guidebook to greater Philadelphia’s restaurant scene—the book’s sales provided him with a substantial income—and activism. The University of Pennsylvania was very closeted at the time, but Kuromiya found other outlets for activism. In 1962, he participated in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Maryland diner sit-ins, and he was in attendance at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, not far from Martin Luther King Jr. during his "I Have a Dream" speech; Kuromiya met King, along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy and James Baldwin, later that night, and he continued to work closely with the reverend throughout the civil rights movement.

In 1965, Kuromiya and other activists took over Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—calling it the Freedom Hotel, in support of people injured at Pettus Bridge in Selma during the March 7 “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. A week later, on March 13, 1965, after traveling to Montgomery to assist Dr. King, Kuromiya, along with Dr. King, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Forman, were attacked by sheriff’s deputies and their volunteer crew while leading a group of Black high-school students on a voter registration march to the state capitol building The incident left Kuromiya bloodied and in need of 20 stitches to mend his head wounds. Though initially thought dead, due to the police attempts to cut off information about his condition, he was able to contact the media after gaining assistance from a gay hospital attendant. The following day, he confronted the county’s presiding officer, Sheriff Mac Sim Butler, alongside King, Foreman, John Lewis, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. After falsely accusing Kuromiya of attacking an officer with a knife, Butler recanted and apologized, which, according to King, “was the very first time a southern sheriff had apologized for injuring a civil rights worker.” As a sign of atonement, Butler signed a statement prepared by King and Kuromiya and “disbanded the sheriff’s volunteer posse,” a group of vigilantes on horseback associated with the White Citizens Council. The next day, President Johnson deputized Alabama’s national guard to protect the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 4, 1968, following Dr. King’s assassination, Kuromiya helped care for the King children, Martin III and Dexter, in Atlanta during the week of the funeral.

Kuromiya publicly came out as gay on July 4, 1965, at the first Independence Hall Annual Reminder, which organizer Frank Kameny insisted all twelve male demonstrators attend in coat and tie, despite the heat, to show that “We aren’t monsters.” These Annual Reminder events, which continued until 1969, marked the first time in American history that people publicly assembled to demand equal rights for homosexuals. Kuromiya also continued his activism in the anti-war and civil rights movements. On Oct. 20 and 21, 1967, he participated in Abbie Hoffman’s organized attempt to levitate the Pentagon, protesting the Vietnam War.

In April 1968, Kuromiya instigated the largest antiwar demonstration in the University of Pennsylvania’s history, attracting thousands of people. Kiyoshi had printed and put up leaflets from a fictional group called the Americong that said there would be an “innocent dog” burned with napalm in front of the Van Pelt Library at Penn in “protest of the horrors of using napalm on humans” by US armed forces in Vietnam. Among those who showed up on behalf of the dog on April 26 were several dozen plainclothesmen from the Pennsylvania S.P.C.A., agents from the police commissioner's office and civil disobedience squad, reporters from television, radio, and press offices, four veterinary ambulances, and faculty and students—in all, about 2,000 people. That day's editorial in the University's student newspaper correctly surmised, “We expect, and certainly hope, that the threatened dog-burning is only symbolic, and will not be carried out.” The opinion piece noted that “more ire has been raised over the fate of one dog in one day than over the lives of the thousands of Vietnamese peasants who have been subjected to napalm bombs for the past three years.” (Indeed, the graduate chair of the Romance Languages department was quoted as saying, “I think it’s a dreadful idea to napalm a dog—it’s even worse than napalming children.”) On the day of the protest, Kuromiya handed out leaflets that said "Congratulations, you've saved the life of an innocent dog. How about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese that have been burned alive?"

Later that same year, Kuromiya designed, created, and printed the iconic “Fuck the Draft” poster, which depicted Bill Greenshields burning his draft card at the Levitate the Pentagon demonstration. Though he used the pseudonym Dirty Linen Corporation, his provocative advertisement—“The perfect gift for Mother’s Day” and “Buy five, and we’ll send a sixth one to the mother of your choice”—put a target on his back. Undeterred, Kuromiya continued to share the poster by disseminating 2,000 copies at the August 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. There, many protesters, reporters, and bystanders were met with unprecedented levels of police brutality and police violence by the Chicago Police Department, particularly in Grant Park and Michigan Avenue in Chicago during the convention. It was a night of unrestrained police violence against peaceful onlookers who just happened to be in the area and who had broken no laws, even as protestors chanted, “The whole world is watching.”  Though then-mayor Richard Daley described the incident as the work of “professional trouble makers,” the actions by Chicago police, the Illinois National Guard, and other law enforcement agencies were later described by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence as a "police riot". Kuromiya escaped the riot mostly unscathed, although the FBI arrested and charged him in Philadelphia under U.S. Code title 18, section 1461 of the postal code, which considered the poster an obscene, indecent, and crime-inciting work.  He spent the next three years fighting his “Fuck the Draft” obscenity charge. It was eventually dismissed on June 7, 1971, in the Supreme Court case, Cohen v. California, which decided that the phrase was protected under freedom of speech.

Following the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, Kuromiya co-founded the Gay Liberation Front with Basil O’Brien after attending a Homophile Action League meeting. The GLF was one of the more radical pro-gay political organizations to launch post-Stonewall, and had a significant proportion of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians—though they were only a small group of about a dozen in 1969. At the time, Kuromiya wrote in the Free Press, “Homosexuals have burst their chains and abandoned their closets. We came battle-scarred and angry to topple your sexist, racist, hateful society. We came to challenge the incredible hypocrisy of your serial monogamy, your oppressive sexual role-playing, your nuclear family, your Protestant ethic, apple pie, and Mother.” In later years, he described the GLF’s tactics during this time as deliberately silly: “We’d go up to a line of cops with tear gas grenades and horses and clubs. And link arms and do a can-can. Really threw them off guard.” Unlike earlier gay rights groups of that time, GLF actively recruited a wide range of diversity and expressed solidarity with the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party. Kuromiya attended the 1970 Black Panther Party Convention in Philadelphia, representing GLF as an openly gay delegate, where he both introduced and received support for the gay liberation struggle. Also in 1970, Kuromiya attended Rebirth of Dionysian Spirit, a national gay liberation conference in Austin, Texas—an experience that changed the way he viewed the gay liberation struggle. In 1972, he created the first gay organization on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Gay Coffee Hour, which met every week on campus and was open to non-students and served as an alternative space to gay bars for gay people of all ages.

In 1974, Kuromiya was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, which he overcame in 1977 after having an upper lobectomy. A chance meeting with the acclaimed architect Buckminster Fuller resulted in the pair traveling around the world and co-writing six books together, until Fuller’s death in 1983. He assisted Fuller in writing Critical Path, which sketched a vision of a bountiful future created by technological advances. In what James Traub in The New York Times Book Review called “a bizarre and often revelatory volume,” the authors suggested that the blossoming of technology had the potential to end war.

Kuromiya began working earnestly on the AIDS movement once the AIDS epidemic began in America in the early 1980s, being most involved with the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). After being diagnosed with AIDS himself in 1989, Kuromiya only intensified his advocacy work. He created the ACT UP Standards of Care, which was the first of its kind for people with HIV produced by people with AIDS.  He approached his work with the motto "Information is power" and educated himself on AIDS issues to the point he was invited to participate in National Institutes of Health alternative therapy panels. This appointment came largely from his experience with medical marijuana, which he openly distributed to people living with AIDS through a medical marijuana buyers’ club called Transcendental Medication. As the lead plaintiff of a class-action lawsuit against the federal government’s prohibition of medical marijuana—Kiyoshi Kuromiya v. The United States of America—he argued marijuana provided relief against the side effects of early HIV medications and, for some people, was more effective treatment than existing medication. Though the Supreme Court decided against him in 1999, he continued to operate his dispensary.

Kuromiya founded the Critical Path Project newsletter, which brought Fuller’s strategies and theories to the struggle against AIDS. The newsletter, one of the earliest and most comprehensive sources of HIV treatment information, was routinely mailed to thousands of people living with HIV all over the world. Kuromiya also sent the newsletters to hundreds of incarcerated individuals to ensure their access to up-to-date treatment information. He was involved locally, nationally, and internationally in AIDS research as both a treatment activist and clinical trials participant, and he fought for research that involved the community in its design – particularly people of color, drug users, and women. He developed the newsletter into one of the very first websites on the public Internet, filled with the latest HIV/AIDS information. From there, the site became host to the Critical Path AIDS Project—through which Kuromiya operated a 24-hour hotline for anyone who sought his help and provided free internet access to hundreds of people with HIV in Philadelphia. According to transgender and health rights activist JD Davids, with whom he worked on this project, this was only possible because “Kiyoshi was one of those people who physiologically didn’t need to sleep.” Kuromiya was intensely stubborn, and Davids also credits him as instilling “in me that the importance of queer liberation is understanding not just that all people deserve equality, but that all of us bring something that can improve the rest of humanity.”

Kuromiya was also a leader in the struggle to maintain freedom of speech on the Internet. He went to the Supreme Court in 1997 in order to expand freedom of speech rights to protections of the circulation of sexually explicit information about AIDS on the Internet, which led to the court's striking down part of the Communications Decency Act. In his last act of civil disobedience, Kuromiya protested at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Oct. 6, 1999, seeking to stop the government from threatening sanctions against countries that were putting regulatory mechanisms in place to make generic HIV medication available at a low cost. He was horrified that transnational corporations, particularly pharmaceutical companies, were pushing to keep generic HIV drugs off the market at the expense of human lives.

When Kuromiya entered hospital with AIDS-related complications, he continued teaching people about the illness. “He’d say, ‘Does everyone understand? Do you have any more questions?’ That happened even on the day after his birthday, he never took a break, and then he died later that day,” on May 10, 2000, a day after his 57th birthday. (There has been some argument that Kuromiya died of cancer complications and not complications from AIDS, but most sources seem to indicate the latter was most likely.)

Kuromiya fought passionately against any form of limiting expression, although sometimes he did not acknowledge or seem to really understand the logical limit to this freedom for the sake of freedom. For example, he showed support for NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) in the 1980s, which dismayed many of his fellow activists and certainly complicates his legacy. One can imagine that Kuromiya saw the group through the eyes of his own childhood sexual experiences, which he enjoyed, or because of his singular commitment to free speech.

Whatever his complicated ideas, what truly matters is what Kiyoshi Kuromiya did and accomplished. He fought for free speech, equal rights, and equal access to information for all. He fervently believed in peace and the betterment of humanity through the use of technology and knowledge. Even on his last day, he was fighting to share his knowledge with people who needed him. 

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Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 - October 19, 1950) 

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 - October 19, 1950) was a Pulitzer Prize- and Frost Medal-winning lyrical poet and playwright, renowned social figure, and noted feminist and social activist in New York City during the Roaring Twenties and beyond.

Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, on February 22, 1892. Her middle name was derived from St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, where her uncle's life had been saved just before her birth. Throughout her lifetime, family and close friends often called her Vincent. In 1904, her parents officially divorced upon grounds of financial irresponsibility and domestic abuse, although they had already been separated for some years. Millay kept a letter correspondence with her father for many years, but he never re-entered the family. The family (mother, Cora, and her three daughters Edna, Norma, and Kathleen) moved from town to town, living in poverty. Cora traveled with a trunk full of classic literature, including Shakespeare and Milton, which she read to her children; she encouraged them to engage in music lessons, and she provided them with constant encouragement to excel. Millay recalled her mother’s support: “I cannot remember once in my life when you were not interested in what I was working on, or even suggested that I should put it aside for something else.” The family eventually settled in a small house on the property of Cora's aunt in Camden, Maine. 

The three sisters were independent and outspoken, which did not always sit well with the authority figures in their lives. Millay's grade school principal, offended by her frank attitude, refused to call her Vincent. Instead, he called her by any woman's name that began with a V. Millay initially hoped to become a concert pianist, but because her teacher insisted that her hands were too small, she directed her energies to writing instead. At Camden High School, she began developing her literary talents, starting at the school's literary magazine, The Megunticook. At 14, she won the St. Nicholas Gold Badge for poetry, and by 15, she had published her poetry in the prominent children's magazine St. Nicholas, the Camden Herald, and the high-profile anthology Current Literature. The deeply-rooted New England traditions of self-reliance and respect for education, the Penobscot Bay environment, and the spirit and example of her mother from this difficult time became tremendous influences on Millay’s personality, politics, and poetry in later life.

Millay's fame began in 1912 when, at the age of 20, she entered her poem “Renascence” in a poetry contest in The Lyric Year. The backer of the contest, Ferdinand P. Earle, chose Millay as the winner before consulting with the other judges, who had previously and separately agreed that the winning poem had to exhibit social relevance, which “Renascence” did not. Under this criterion, Millay ultimately placed fourth. The press drew attention to the fact that the Millays were a family of working-class women living in poverty, and because the three winners were all men, some felt that sexism and classism were a factor in Millay's poem coming in fourth place. This controversy launched the careers of both Millay and the contest winner, Orrick Glenday Johns. Johns, who was receiving hate mail because of the controversy, publicly conceded that he thought her poem was the better one. Additionally, the second-prize winner offered Millay his $250 prize money. In the immediate aftermath of the Lyric Year controversy, wealthy arts patron Caroline B. Dow heard Millay reciting her poetry and playing the piano at the Whitehall Inn in Camden, Maine, and was so impressed that she offered to pay for Millay's education at Vassar College, which Millay entered in 1913 at age 21.

At the time, Vassar was exclusively for female students, and Millay called it a “hell-hole” due to its rigid expectations that its students be refined and live according to their status as young ladies. Before she attended the college, Millay had had a liberal home life that included smoking, drinking, playing gin rummy, and flirting with men and women alike. During her time at Vassar, she was a prominent campus writer, becoming a regular contributor to The Vassar Miscellany. While at school, she had several romantic relationships with fellow students, including Edith Wynne Matthison, who would go on to become an actress in silent films. At the end of her senior year in 1917, the faculty voted to suspend Millay indefinitely; however, in response to a petition by her peers, she was allowed to graduate.

After her graduation from Vassar in 1917, Millay moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, just as it was becoming known as a bohemian writer's haven. While living in New York City, Millay was openly and actively bisexual, developing many passing relationships with both men and women. In December of that year, she secured a part in socialist Floyd Dell’s play The Angel Intrudes, which was being presented by the Provincetown Players, a group with which she continued to work for several years. Millay soon began a love affair with Dell, one that continued intermittently until late 1918, and during which he proposed marriage and was refused. Millay published her first book, Renascence, and Other Poems, in 1917. Although sympathetic with socialist hopes “of a free and equal society,” Millay never became a Communist. However, her works reflect the spirit of nonconformity that imbued her Greenwich Village experience and relationships. Among her close friends during this period were the writers Witter Bynner and Susan Glaspell. In February of 1918, poet Arthur Davison Ficke, a friend of Dell and correspondent of Millay, stopped off in New York. At the time, Ficke was a U.S. Army major bearing military dispatches to France. When he met Millay, they fell into a brief but intense affair that affected them for the rest of their lives and about which both wrote sonnets. Millay’s were serially published in 1920 and then collected in Second April (1921). In many of these sonnets, she suggested that lovers should suffer and that they should then sublimate their feelings by pouring them “into the golden vessel of great song.” Fearful of being possessed and dominated, especially in a traditional marriage-based relationship, the poet disparaged, at least temporarily, human passion and dedicated her soul to poetry.

While living in Greenwich Village, Millay learned to use her poetry to support feminist activism. She also wrote short stories, which paid better than poetry, for Ainslee's Magazine, under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd. In 1919, she wrote the experimental poetic drama Aria da Capo, which played at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City, starring her sister Norma. The one-act Aria portrays a symbolic playhouse where the play is grotesquely shifted into reality and those who were initially acting are ultimately murdered because of greed and suspicion, with the implication that the play's action would go on endlessly—da capo. Most critics called it an anti-war play, but it also expresses the representative and everlasting, like the Medieval morality play Everyman and the biblical story of Cain and Abel. For Millay, Aria da Capo represented a considerable achievement of which she always remained proud.

In 1920, Millay’s poems began to appear in Vanity Fair. Two of its editors, John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson, became Millay’s suitors, and in August, Wilson formally proposed marriage. Unwilling to subside into a domesticity that would curtail her career, Millay refused him. Her 1920 collection, A Few Figs From Thistles, drew controversy for its explicit exploration of female sexuality and feminism, and provided the basis for the so-called “Millay legend” of madcap youth and rebellion. She humorously and satirically expressed in Figs the postwar feelings of young people, their rebellion against tradition, and their mood of freedom symbolized for many women by the famously bobbed hair of the 1920s. The opening poem of the collection, “First Fig,” begins with the now-idiomatic line, “My candle burns at both ends.” Millay rejects prudence, respectability, and constancy in other poems of the volume, presenting the woman as an equal player in the love game and frankly embracing biological impulses in love affairs. “Rarely since Sappho,” wrote Carl Van Doren in Many Minds, had a woman “written as outspokenly as Millay.”

In his The Shores of Light: A Literary Chronicle of the Twenties and Thirties, Wilson noted the intensity with which Millay responded to every experience of life. That intensity used up her physical resources, and as the year went on, she suffered increasing fatigue and fell victim to a number of illnesses, culminating in what she described as a “small nervous breakdown.” Frank Crowninshield, another Vanity Fair editor, offered to let her go to Europe on a regular salary and write as she pleased under either her own name or as Nancy Boyd, and accordingly, she sailed for France on January 4, 1921. In Paris, Millay met and befriended the talented sculptor and famous lesbian expat Thelma Wood, sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, photographer Man Ray, and had affairs with journalists George Slocombe and John Carter, among other individuals. In March, she finished The Lamp and the Bell, her first verse drama, a five-act play commissioned by the Vassar College Alumnae Association for its fiftieth-anniversary celebration on June 18, 1921. Based on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red, The Lamp and the Bell was shrewdly calculated for the occasion: an outdoor production with a large cast, much spectacle, and colorful costumes of the medieval period. The play’s theme is friendship crossed by love, focusing on the love shared between women. In the end, integrity and unselfish love are vindicated.

Also in 1921, Millay became pregnant by a man named Daubigny. She secured a marriage license in Paris, but then returned to New England where her mother helped her induce an abortion with alkanet, as recommended in her old copy of Culpeper's Complete Herbal. Possibly as a result, Millay was frequently ill and weak for much of the next four years. In 1922, Millay returned to France, this time with her mother, a retreat during which Millay was supposed to complete “Hardigut,” a satiric and allegorical philosophical novel for which she had received an advance from her publisher. But, weakened by her ongoing illnesses, she did not finish the work, and the Millays returned to New York in February 1923.

Later that year, Millay met 43-year-old Eugen Jan Boissevain, the son of a Dutch newspaper owner, at a charades-playing party held at a mutual friend’s house. Boissevain was a businessman who had made his fortune by importing coffee from Java, and who had no literary pretensions whatsoever. Handsome, robust, adventurous, and quixotic, he was a widower, once married to feminist Inez Milholland, whom Millay had met during her time at Vassar. The two immediately fell in love, and, after Millay's refusing three more marriage proposals from other suitors, Millay wed Boissevain in July of 1923. A self-proclaimed feminist, Boissevain did not expect domesticity of his wife but was instead willing to devote himself entirely to the development of Millay’s talents and career. In addition, he assumed full responsibility for the medical care she needed and took her to New York for an operation the very day they were married. Millay famously described their marriage as being that they lived like two bachelors, having made an agreement that their marriage would be sexually “open.” Certainly, this was highly unusual in the 1920s. But this was indicative of Millay’s stubborn individuality and determination to do things in her own way. Both Millay and Boissevain had mtiple lovers throughout their 26-year marriage.

Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, a collection dedicated to her mother. She was the first woman to win the esteemed poetry prize, though two women (Sara Teasdale in 1918 and Margaret Widdemer in 1919) had previously won special prizes for their poetry prior to the establishment of the award. A carefully constructed mixture of ballad and nursery rhyme, the title poem of the collection tells a story of a penniless, self-sacrificing mother who spends Christmas Eve weaving for her son “wonderful things” on the strings of a harp, “the clothes of a king’s son.” Millay thus paid tribute to her mother’s sacrifices that enabled her to have gifts of music, poetry, and culture—the all-important clothing of mind and heart. Several of the collection’s poems speak out for the independence of women; others frankly portray both hetero and homosexuality; above all, the collection embodies and describes in new ways intimate female experiences and expressions. Also in the volume are seventeen “Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree,” telling of a New England farm woman who returns in winter to the house of an unloved, commonplace husband to care for him during the ordeal of his last days. Critics regarded the physical and psychological realism of this sequence as truly striking. The poems abound in accurate details of country life set down with startling precision of diction and imagery. 

Later in 1923, Millay, Evelyn Vaughn, William Rainey, and Reginald Travers commissioned famed scenic designer Cleon Throckmorton to convert an old box factory into Cherry Lane Playhouse, “to continue the staging of experimental drama.” Still in operation today (“the smallest stage in town [which] is asked to accommodate no end of enthusiastic performers), it is New York's longest continually running Off-Broadway theater. Cherry Lane Playhouse fueled some of the most ground-breaking experiments in the history of the American stage. The Downtown Theater movement, The Living Theatre, and Theatre of the Absurd all took root at the Playhouse, and it proved fertile ground for several of the 20th century’s most seminal dramatic voices.

By 1924, Millay was widely regarded as the finest living American lyric poet, but during this period her health faltered, with her suffering severe headaches and altered vision; despite this, she engaged in reading tours throughout the 1920s. Afflicted by neuroses and a basic shyness, she thought of these tours—arranged by her husband—as necessary ordeals, so she continued the readings for many years, and for many in her audiences her appearances were memorable. In 1925, Millay and Boissevain decided to leave New York for the country (Millay felt the city was too exciting and she needed quiet to write), so Boissevain gave up his import business, and in May he purchased Steepletop, a run-down, seven-hundred-acre farm in the Berkshire foothills near the village of Austerlitz, New York. They built a barn, a writing cabin, and a tennis court. Later, they bought Ragged Island in Casco Bay, Maine, as a summer retreat. The life and death, growth and decay of nature served Millay as an organizing principle both in her writing and in her life, and Steepletop became her sanctuary. She grew her own vegetables in a small garden, from which she derived considerable pleasure. Boissevain focused on his mission in the marriage, which he increasingly felt was to protect her from mundane tasks that would distract her from her writing.

Also in 1925, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned Deems Taylor to compose music for an opera to be sung in English, and he asked Millay, whom he had met in Paris, to write the libretto. She agreed to do so and began writing a blank verse libretto set in tenth-century England. The result, The King's Henchman, drew on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's account of Eadgar, King of Wessex. The opera began its production in 1927 to high praise; The New York Times described it as "the most effectively and artistically wrought American opera that has reached the stage.”

Later in 1927, Millay became involved in the Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti case. On August 22, she was arrested, with many others, for picketing the State House in Boston, protesting the execution of the two Italian anarchists who had been convicted of murder. Convinced, like thousands of others, of a miscarriage of justice, and frustrated at being unable to move Governor Fuller to exercise mercy, Millay later said that the case focused her social consciousness, making her “more aware of the underground workings of forces alien to true democracy.” The experience increased her political disillusionment, bitterness, and suspicion, and it resulted in her article “Fear,” published in Outlook on November 9, 1927, in which she vehemently lashed out against what she saw as the callousness of humankind and the “unkindness, hypocrisy, and greed” of many elders; she was appalled by “the ugliness of man, his cruelty, his greed, his lying face.”

During one of her reading tours in late 1928, Millay read at the University of Chicago, where she met and struck up an affair with George Dillon, a student 14 years her junior. This relationship inspired the love sonnets of her 1931 collection Fatal Interview. Fatal Interview is similar to an Elizabethan sonnet sequence but expresses a woman’s point of view. Several reviewers called the sequence great, praising both the remarkable technique of the sonnets and their meticulously accurate diction. Fatal Interview and her relationship with Dillon juxtapose with her lingering bitterness from 1927, which appears in the collections Millay published before and after: The Buck in the Snow, and Other Poems (1928) and Wine from These Grapes (1934). The latter contains a notable eighteen-sonnet sequence, “Epitaph for the Race of Man.” The first five sonnets describe the disappearance of the human race. The second set reveals humans' activities and capacity for heroism, but also human intolerance and alienation from nature. In the sequence’s final sonnets, the eventual extinction of humanity is described, with will and appetite dominating.

During early 1936, Millay began serious work on a long verse poem, Conversation at Midnight, which she had been planning for several years. She was staying at the Sanibel Palms Hotel in Florida, on a writing holiday, when, on May 2, 1936, a fire started after a kerosene heater on the second floor exploded. Everything was destroyed, including the only copy of Millay's manuscript and a 1600s poetry collection written by the Roman poet Catullus. Upon her return to Steepletop, she would go on to rewrite Conversation at Midnight from memory and release it the following year. In the summer of 1936, Millay was riding in her and Boissevain’s station wagon when the door suddenly swung open, causing her to be thrown from the vehicle into a rocky gully. The accident severely damaged nerves in her spine and arms, requiring frequent surgeries and hospitalizations, and at least daily doses of morphine. In the aftermath of this accident, Millay lived the rest of her life as a partial invalid in constant pain, tended lovingly by Boissevain.

During World War I, Millay had been a dedicated and active pacifist; however, by 1940, she was sufficiently alarmed by the rise of fascism to write against it, advocating for the U.S. to enter the war against the Axis. She became an ardent supporter of the war effort. She later worked with the Writers' War Board to create propaganda, including poetry. With what she herself described in her collected letters as “acres of bad poetry,” she hoped to rouse the nation. Unfortunately, her war work irreparably damaged Millay's reputation in poetry circles.

In 1943, Millay became the sixth person (and second woman) to win the Frost Medal for her contribution to American poetry, but her declining reputation, constant medical bills, and frequent demands from her mentally ill sister Kathleen meant that for most of her last years, she was in debt to her own publisher.  The strain led to a second nervous breakdown in 1944, and for a long time she was unable to write. Some friends who visited Steepletop thought Boissevain coddled her too much, but others felt that only his solicitude and encouragement enabled Millay to enjoy creative satisfaction again.

After Boissevain’s sudden death from a stroke in 1949 following the removal of a cancerous lung, Millay suffered greatly, drank recklessly, and eventually had to be hospitalized. There is speculation that this hospitalization was treatment for a morphine addiction that had stemmed from the 1936 car accident. A month later, she was back at Steepletop, where she stoically passed a lonely year working on a new book of poems. Millay died at her home on October 19, 1950, at age 58. She had suffered a heart attack and fallen, and was found with a broken neck at the bottom of the stairs. She is buried alongside her husband at Steepletop.  Her final volume of poems, Mine the Harvest (1954), was published four years after her death.
In 2015, Millay was named by Equality Forum as one of the ’31 Icons’ for the 2015 LGBT History Month.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the most skillful writers of sonnets in the 20th century, combining modern attitudes with traditional forms, creating a unique American poetry. She was a sexually adventurous bisexual who set a new and shocking precedent by acknowledging female sexuality as a viable literary subject, defining a female aesthetic that espoused liberation, polyamory, and fierce self-definition. She flaunted every expectation and snubbed every convention, becoming the embodiment of the post-war “New Woman,” yet she also paradoxically refused to be defined. She loved both women and men, frequently fell in and out of intense love, and somehow maintained multiple relationships at the same time. Since the 1960s, Millay has once again gained recognition as one of the world’s most influential female poets to write in English, one who upheld freedom and individualism, championed radical, idealistic humanist tenets, and held broad sympathies and a deep reverence for life.

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James Baldwin
James Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987)

James Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was a Black American author whose novels and essays captured the conflicted spirit of late 20th century America. (To avoid confusion with his father, the part of this article discussing Baldwin’s early life will refer to the author as “James,” switching to the more conventional use of his surname for the remainder of the article.)

On August 2, 1924, Emma Berdis Jones gave birth at Harlem Hospital in New York City to a baby boy she named James Arthur Jones. He was raised by his mother and, after 1927, stepfather David Baldwin, a Baptist preacher, whom James referred to as his father and whom he described as extremely strict. He did not know his biological father. Later in his life, James rarely wrote or spoke of his mother in his published works, but when he did, he made clear that he admired and loved her, often through reference to her loving smile.

James began school at Public School 24 on 128th Street in Harlem in 1929. The principal of the school was Gertrude E. Ayer, the first Black principal in the city, who encouraged James in his research and writing pursuits, as did some of his teachers, who recognized he had a brilliant mind. There, he also met Orilla "Bill" Miller, a young white schoolteacher from the Midwest whom James named as partially the reason that he "never really managed to hate white people.” Among other outings, Miller took him to see the all-Black rendition of Orson Welles's take on Macbeth in Lafayette Theatre, from which flowed his lifelong desire to succeed as a playwright. By fifth grade, Baldwin had read some of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's works, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which began his lifelong interest in Dickens' work. Baldwin's teachers recommended that he go to a public library on 135th Street in Harlem, a place that became a sanctuary for Baldwin—so much so that he would make a deathbed request for his papers and effects to be deposited there.

As the eldest of nine children, James took seriously the responsibility of being a big brother and his mother’s right hand, and he worked part-time from an early age to help support his family. He was molded not only by the difficult relationships in his own household but also by the results of poverty and discrimination he saw all around him. As Baldwin later wrote, "I never had a childhood ... I did not have any human identity ... I was born dead." James and his stepfather shared an extremely difficult relationship, nearly rising to physical fights on several occasions. "They fought because [James] read books, because he liked movies, because he had white friends", all of which, Baldwin Sr. thought, threatened James's "salvation.” Baldwin Sr. also hated white people and sometimes took out his anger on his family. The children became fearful of him, tensions to some degree balanced by the love lavished on them by their mother. James cared for and protected his younger siblings in a household governed by their father’s rigid rules.

During his early teen years, James attended Frederick Douglass Junior High School, where he met the renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen, who taught French and was a literary advisor in the English department. He also met Herman W. "Bill" Porter, a Black Harvard graduate, who was the faculty advisor to the school's newspaper, the Douglass Pilot, where James became the editor. Porter took James to the library on 42nd Street to research a piece that would turn into his first published essay, titled "Harlem—Then and Now", which appeared in the autumn 1937 issue of Douglass Pilot. James went on to DeWitt Clinton High School, a predominantly white, Jewish school, where he edited the school literary magazine Magpie and participated in the literary club, just as Cullen had done when he was a student there. During his high school years, uncomfortable with the fact that, unlike many of his peers, he was attracted to men rather than women, James sought refuge in religion. He joined Mount Calvary of the Pentecostal Faith Church on Lenox Avenue in 1937, but followed the preacher there, Bishop Rose Artemis Horn, who was affectionately called Mother Horn, when she left to preach at Fireside Pentecostal Assembly. Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, James became "Brother Baldwin,” a preacher at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly, where he developed a celebrated preaching style, an experience that would have a sustained impact on his rhetorical style and on the themes, symbols, and biblical allusions in his writing. By the time of his high school graduation in 1942, he had a group of close friends from DeWitt Clinton—Richard Avedon, Emile Capouya, and Sol Stein—with whom he kept in touch and even collaborated on some of his works. The year before he left De Witt Clinton and at Capuoya's urging, James went to Greenwich Village to meet Beauford Delaney, a modernist painter who would become his long-time friend and mentor. His yearbook listed his ambition as "novelist-playwright,” and his motto was "Fame is the spur and—ouch!"

After graduation, with the help of his friend Capouya, James secured a job laying tracks for the military in Belle Mead, New Jersey.  In Belle Mead, James came to know the face of a prejudice that deeply frustrated and angered him and that he named as the partial cause of his later emigration out of America. His fellow workmen, who were mostly whites from the South, derided him for what they saw as his "uppity" ways and his lack of "respect.” His sharp, ironic wit particularly upset them.

During these years, Baldwin was torn between his desire to write and his need to provide for his family. He took a succession of menial jobs, and feared becoming like his stepfather, who had never been unable to properly provide for his family. Fired from the track-laying job, he returned to Harlem in June 1943 to live with his family after taking a meat-packing job, which he also lost after falling asleep at the plant. He became listless and unstable, drifting from this odd job to that; he drank heavily, and endured the first of his nervous breakdowns. Baldwin Sr. had grown paranoid and was committed to a mental asylum in 1943, dying of tuberculosis on July 29 of that year. A few days later, James witnessed the Harlem Race Riot of 1943. After these emotionally harrowing experiences, he felt more than ever that it was important to play father figure to his eight brothers and sisters. He could not even dream of college. His friend Delaney helped James cast off his melancholy by showing him that a Black man could make his living in art. As World War II bore down on the United States, Harlem grew increasingly economically isolated and James considered his prospects there bleak. This led him to move to Greenwich Village, where he played guitar in cafes at night and wrote for long hours, trying to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer.

Baldwin lived in several locations in Greenwich Village, first with Delaney, then with a scattering of other friends in the area. Baldwin continued to explore his sexuality, coming out to Capouya and another friend, Stan Weir. He also had numerous one-night stands with various men, and several relationships with women. Baldwin's major love during these years in the Village was an ostensibly straight Black man named Eugene Worth. Worth introduced Baldwin to the Young People's Socialist League and Baldwin became a Trotskyist for a brief period. In 1944, Baldwin met Marlon Brando, whom he was also attracted to, at a theater class in The New School. The two became fast friends. Also in 1944, Baldwin met Richard Wright, who was the most famous Black American writer at the time. In time, Wright would also become his mentor, for Baldwin appreciated Wright’s strong opinions about race in America, and he also greatly valued their intellectual exchanges.

In these years in the Village, Baldwin made a number of connections in the liberal New York literary scene, primarily through Worth. Baldwin's first essay, "The Harlem Ghetto", was published in 1948 in Commentary and explored anti-Semitism among Black Americans. He then published his second essay, "Journey to Atlanta," in The New Leader, riding a mild wave of excitement over "Harlem Ghetto" to unleash a lashing of irony and scorn on the South, white radicals, and ideology itself.  Also in 1948, Baldwin published his first work of fiction, a short story called "Previous Condition," in the October 1948 issue of Commentary, about a 20-something Black man who is evicted from his apartment, the apartment a metaphor for white society.

In 1948, Wright helped Baldwin to obtain a $1,500 ($18,270 today) Rosenwald Fellowship. Baldwin attempted a photography and essay book titled Unto the Dying Lamb with a photographer friend named Theodore Pelatowski, whom Baldwin met through Richard Avedon. The book was intended as both a catalog of churches and an exploration of religiosity in Harlem, but it was never finished. However, the money did grant Baldwin the prospect of consummating a desire he had held for several years: moving to France. So, having given most of the fellowship funds to his mother, with forty dollars to his name, Baldwin flew from New York to Paris on November 11, 1948. Baldwin left America because of racism, and Harlem because of homophobia—two aspects of his identity that made him a frequent target of beatings by local youth and the police. He hoped for a more peaceable existence in Paris. While in France, Baldwin began to interact with other writers and reconnected with Richard Wright. Unfortunately, their friendship dissolved in disagreements over the ways in which they approached race in their writing, a falling out that Baldwin regretted after Wright’s death in 1960.

Baldwin would spend the majority of the next forty years abroad, where he wrote and published most of his works. Between 1948 and 1957, he lived primarily in France and traveled in Europe, returning frequently to the United States (he considered himself a “transatlantic commuter”) to visit family. Baldwin's time in Paris was spent mostly in itinerant lodgings, staying with various friends around the city and in various hotels. Most notable of these lodgings was Hôtel Verneuil, a hotel in Saint-Germain that had collected a motley crew of struggling expatriates, mostly writers. The so-called Verneuil Circle spawned numerous friendships that Baldwin relied upon in rough periods, as he was continuously poor, with only momentary respites. In his early years in Saint-Germain, Baldwin acquainted himself with Otto Friedrich, Mason Hoffenberg, Asa Benveniste, Themistocles Hoetis, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Max Ernst, Truman Capote, and Stephen Spender, among many others. Baldwin also met Lucien Happersberger, a Swiss boy, seventeen years old at the time of their first meeting, who came to France in search of excitement, and the two became lovers for the next two years. During this time, Baldwin wrote several notable works: "The Negro in Paris,” "The Preservation of Innocence," (which traced the violence against homosexuals in American life), "Too Little, Too Late,” and the short story "The Death of the Prophet.”

Beginning in the winter of 1951, Baldwin and Happersberger took several trips to Loèches-les-Bains in Switzerland, where Happersberger's family owned a small chateau. Happersberger married a young woman in 1952, which left Baldwin distraught; Happersberger grew worried for his friend and offered to take Baldwin to the Swiss village. When the marriage ended a few years later, the two men reconciled and remained lifelong friends. In May 1953, Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman, was published, the product of Baldwin's years of work and exploration since his first attempt at a novel in 1938.

Beauford Delaney arrived in France in late 1953, around the same time that Baldwin's circle of friends was shifting toward a coterie of Black American expatriates: Baldwin grew close to dancer Bernard Hassell; spent significant amounts of time at Gordon Heath's club in Paris; regularly listened to Bobby Short and Inez Cavanaugh's performances at their respective haunts around the city; met Maya Angelou for the first time in these years as she partook in various European renditions of Porgy and Bess; and occasionally met with writers Richard Gibson and Chester Himes, composer Howard Swanson, and even Richard Wright. In 1954, Baldwin published the three-act play The Amen Corner which features the preacher Sister Margaret, a fictionalized Mother Horn from Baldwin's time at Fireside Pentecostal. He spent several weeks in Washington, D.C. while he collaborated with Owen Dodson for the premiere of The Amen Corner, returning to Paris in October 1955. Baldwin's friend from high school, Sol Stein, encouraged him to write an essay collection reflecting on his work thus far. His first collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, appeared late in 1955, in which he came to something of a posthumous reconciliation with his father: "in his outrageously demanding and protective way, he loved his children, who were black like him and menaced like him.”

In Paris, Baldwin had heard the whispers of a rising Civil Rights Movement in his homeland: the fury over school desegregation, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Autherine Lucy’s admission to and subsequent expulsion from the University of Alabama. The racially-motivated murder of Emmett Till in August 1955, and the subsequent acquittal of his killers, would burn in Baldwin's mind until he wrote the play Blues for Mister Charlie in 1964. Baldwin was increasingly burdened by the sense that he was wasting time in Paris; he committed himself to a return to the United States in 1957, so he set about in early 1956 to enjoy what he intended to be his last year in France. He became friends with Norman and Adele Mailer, was recognized by the National Institute of Arts and Letters with a grant, and published his second novel, Giovanni's Room, which caused great controversy due to its explicit homoerotic content. In the summer of 1956—after a failed affair with a Black musician named Arnold, Baldwin's first serious relationship since Happersberger— Baldwin sank deeply into emotional wreckage and overdosed on sleeping pills in a suicide attempt. He regretted the attempt almost instantly and called a friend who had him regurgitate the pills before the doctor arrived.

Baldwin’s first civil rights-aligned project became "The Crusade of Indignation," published in July 1956. The second project turned into the essay "William Faulkner and Desegregation." Baldwin initially intended to complete his third novel, Another Country, before returning to New York in the fall of 1957, but progress on the novel was slow, so he ultimately decided to go back to the United States sooner. Beauford Delaney was particularly upset about Baldwin's departure. Nonetheless, after a brief visit with Édith Piaf, Baldwin set sail for New York in July 1957.

Baldwin continued to explore black-white relations in a 1961 book of essays, "Nobody Knows My Name" (1961), and in Another Country, which was finally completed in 1962. 1963’s essay collection, “The Fire Next Time,” included his lengthy essay "Down at the Cross," which described the uneasy relationship between Christianity and the burgeoning Black Muslim movement. After its publication, several Black nationalists criticized Baldwin for his conciliatory attitude. They questioned whether his message of love and understanding would do much to change race relations in America. Baldwin declared that blacks and whites must find ways to come to terms with the past and make a future together or face destruction. He became a well-known spokesperson for civil rights and a celebrity noted for championing the cause of Black Americans, frequently appearing on television and delivering speeches on college campuses. While he wrote about the movement, Baldwin aligned himself with the ideals of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Joining CORE gave him the opportunity to travel across the American South lecturing on his views of racial inequality, traveling to Durham and Greensboro in North Carolina, and to New Orleans. During the tour, he lectured to students, white liberals, and anyone else listening about his racial ideology, an ideological position situated between the "muscular approach" of Malcolm X and the nonviolent program of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Baldwin expressed the hope that socialism would take root in the United States and become the engine by which racial equality would finally be achieved.

By the spring of 1963, the mainstream press began to recognize Baldwin's incisive analysis of white racism and his eloquent descriptions of Black pain and frustration. Unfortunately, his sexuality, though he was neither in the closet nor open to the public about his sexual orientation, clashed with his activism. The civil rights movement was hostile to homosexuals, and the only out gay men in the movement were Baldwin and Bayard Rustin. Rustin and Dr. Martin Luther King were very close, but King's key advisor, Stanley Levison, stated that Baldwin and Rustin were "better qualified to lead a homosexual movement than a civil rights movement.” The pressure later resulted in King distancing himself from both men. Baldwin attended the March on Washington in August 1963, with Harry Belafonte and long-time friends Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando; despite his enormous efforts within the movement, he was excluded from the inner circles of the civil rights movement and was conspicuously uninvited to speak at the end of the March.

When the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing happened in Birmingham three weeks later, Baldwin called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience in response to this "terrifying crisis.” In a cable he sent to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Baldwin blamed the violence on the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, Mississippi Senator James Eastland, and President Kennedy for failing to use "the great prestige of his office as the moral forum which it can be." He traveled to Selma, Alabama, where SNCC had organized a voter registration drive; he watched mothers with babies and elderly men and women standing in long lines for hours, as armed deputies and state troopers stood by—or moved to smash a reporter's camera or use cattle prods on SNCC workers. After his day of watching, he spoke in a crowded church, blaming Washington—"the good white people on the hill.” Attorney General Kennedy invited Baldwin to meet with him over breakfast, and that meeting was followed up with a second, when Kennedy met with Baldwin and others. The delegation included psychologist Kenneth B. Clark (who had played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education decision), actor Harry Belafonte, singer Lena Horne, writer Lorraine Hansberry, and several activists from various civil rights organizations.  Although most of the attendees of this meeting left feeling devastated, the meeting was an important one in voicing the concerns of the civil rights movement, and it provided opportunity to present the civil rights issue not just as a political issue but as a moral one. Time featured Baldwin on the cover of its May 17, 1963, issue.

Baldwin participated in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, and he also attended literary events, such as the 1965 conference titled The Negro Writer’s Vision of America sponsored by the New School of Social Research in New York. Later in 1965, Baldwin participated in a much-publicized debate with William F. Buckley on the topic of whether the American Dream had been achieved at the expense of African Americans. The debate took place at Cambridge Union in the UK, where the spectating student body voted overwhelmingly in Baldwin's favor.

The violence and assassinations of black leaders in the United States during the politically turbulent 1960s took a great emotional toll on Baldwin. After the assassinations of his three friends—Medgar Evers in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968—he became increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of a positive relationship between the races. He suffered an emotional breakdown, became ill, and eventually moved to the south of France to recuperate. In 1971, he settled in St. Paul de Vence, where he would create his most enduring household in an old Provençal house beneath the ramparts of the famous village. His house was always open to his friends, who frequently visited him while on trips to the French Riviera. Beauford Delaney made Baldwin's house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence his second home, often setting up his easel in the garden, and he painted several colorful portraits of Baldwin. Fred Nall Hollis also befriended Baldwin during this time. Actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were also regular house guests. Many of Baldwin's musician friends, including Nina Simone, Josephine Baker (whose sister lived in Nice), Miles Davis, and Ray Charles, dropped in during the Jazz à Juan and Nice Jazz Festivals. Baldwin learned to speak French fluently and developed friendships with French actor Yves Montand and French writer Marguerite Yourcenar, who translated Baldwin's play The Amen Corner into French.

Several of Baldwin’s essays and interviews of the 1970s and 1980s discuss homosexuality and homophobia with fervor and forthrightness. As he had been the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, he became an inspirational figure for the emerging gay rights movement. His two novels written in the 1970s, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) and Just Above My Head (1979), placed a strong emphasis on the importance of Black American families. He concluded his writing career by publishing a volume of poetry, Jimmy's Blues (1983), as well as another book-length essay, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), an extended reflection on race inspired by the Atlanta murders of 1979–1981. Baldwin received many awards during his lifetime, including France's highest civilian award, Commander of the Legion of Honor, presented by President François Mitterrand in 1986.

In 1987, Baldwin was working on a manuscript called Remember This House, a memoir of his personal recollections of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The manuscript was never completed. Fred Nall Hollis took care of him on his deathbed. After a short battle with cancer, Baldwin passed away on November 30, 1987, in his house in St. Paul de Vence. A week later, he was laid to rest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in New York. Family members and friends participated in a large service during which Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, and Maya Angelou delivered touching eulogies.

Baldwin remains one of the most important American authors and essayists of the twentieth century, and his influence on other writers has been profound. In 2012, Baldwin was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display that celebrates LGBTQ history and people. In 2014, Baldwin was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood celebrating LGBTQ people who have made significant contributions in their fields. Also in 2014, The Social Justice Hub at The New School's newly opened University Center was named the Baldwin Rivera Boggs Center after activists Baldwin, Sylvia Rivera, and Grace Lee Boggs.  In June 2019, Baldwin was one of the inaugural fifty American pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn, the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history. 

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Katharine Lee Bates
Katharine Lee Bates (August 12, 1859 – March 28, 1929)

Katharine Lee Bates (August 12, 1859 – March 28, 1929) was a noted American scholar, poet, and writer, chiefly remembered for her anthem "America the Beautiful," but also for her many books and articles on social reform, on which she was a noted speaker. She was a prolific author, publishing many volumes of poetry; books on her travels to Europe and the Middle East; and stories, verses, and plays for children. She also published several scholarly books on Shakespeare and pre-Shakespearean English Religious drama.

Bates was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the only child of the town's Congregational minister, who died a few weeks after she was born. She was primarily raised by her mother and aunt, both of whom had graduated from the all-women's Mount Holyoke Seminary. She attended Wellesley High School (then called Needham High School) in 1872 and then Newton High School until 1876. Bates entered Wellesley College, a women's college, as part of its second class in 1876. She graduated with a B.A. in 1880, and began teaching English at Natick High School in 1880–81 and at Dana Hall School from 1881 until 1885. In 1882, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was banned in Boston. Not all Bostonians were pleased, however, and Bates joined with other progressive Massachusettsans to form a local chapter of the International Walt Whitman Fellowship.

In 1889, Bates wrote and published "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride" in the children’s periodical Wide Awake, and then in her collection Sunshine and Other Verses for Children. The character of Santa’s “good wife” had been established by other writers in the mid-1870s (Sara Conant, Ada Shelton, Sarah J. Burke, Georgia Grey, Charles S. Dickinson, and M.B. Horton) as largely a background character to Santa – who was adamantly “not a woman’s rights man” – with images of a tearful Mrs. Claus, ignored by Santa, left to “cower alone” clasping the fingers she’d “worked to the bone” as Santa speeds off on his sleigh. Christmas in 19th-century America depended on women’s time and labor: Women prepared family celebrations, organized community and church events, and worked in industries that fed the seasonal demand for cards, toys, and clothing. Therefore, in most literary depictions Mrs. Claus came to embody the long hours, practical know-how, and managerial skills that women’s holiday preparations. Without her hard work, Santa could “never get through” the Christmas season, but come Christmas Eve, it was Santa who traveled the world filling stockings while Mrs. Claus stayed home to await his return. But Bates’ Mrs. Claus is given a voice and personality of her own—an outspoken powerhouse who loves her work and her husband – and is not about to be left behind when Santa makes his deliveries.

Santa, wouldn’t it be pleasant to surprise me with a present?

And this ride behind the reindeer is the gift your Goody begs;

Think how hard my extra work is, tending the Thanksgiving turkeys,

And our flocks of rainbow chickens—those that lay the Easter-eggs.

Home to womankind is suited? Nonsense, Good-man! Let our fruited

Orchards answer for the value of a woman out-of-doors,

Why then bid me chase the thunder, while the roof you’re safely under,

All to fashion fire-crackers with the lightning in their cores.

Bates’ Goody Claus is equally adept at housework and outdoor chores, and while Santa snacks on Christmas treats and relaxes by the fire, she tends Christmas trees, an orchard, and toy-growing plants, raises livestock, and takes on the risky-sounding task of chasing thunder to make fire-crackers! Although Santa allows Goody to ride beside him, he isn’t convinced that she has enough “brain” to fill a stocking, and he fears that seeing her climb a chimney would “give his nerves a shock.” Left alone on the rooftop while Santa does his work, Mrs. Claus peers through the skylight. But the holes in a poor child’s Christmas stocking stop Santa in his tracks; he doesn’t know what to do because the toys keep falling through the holes. Seizing her chance to shine, Goody breaks Santa’s rules about chimney-climbing and stocking-filling, mends the sock, proves the value of women’s work, and saves Christmas in the process. Bates’ thunder-chasing, bonnet-wearing, sweet-talking Goody – and the many Mrs. Clauses who came before her – still speak to every woman who has ever dreamed of a little rest, a little recognition, and a seat in the sleigh.

Also in 1889, Bates's young adult novel Rose and Thorn won a cash prize awarded by the Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society. The novel focuses on the lives of poor and working-class women, with the intention of teaching readers about the need for social reform. In 1890, Bates met fellow scholar Katharine Ellis Coman at Wellesley. Coman was professor of history and economics, and was acting dean from 1899 to 1900, during which time she established a new department of economics and sociology, becoming its head in 1900. She was the first American woman to teach college-level statistics, and had developed and taught the college's first classes in political economy, economics, including courses such as Statistical Study of Economic Problems, Industrial History of the United States, and Conservation of Our Natural Resources, all framed by sociological insights related to social justice. Because Coman believed that economics could address social problems, she often escorted her students on field trips to Boston's tenement houses, labor union meetings, factories, and sweatshops to help them learn about the practicality of applying economic theory to real-world economic and social problems. Bates and Coman became extremely close almost immediately.

Taking advantage of the new educational opportunities available to women after the Civil War, Bates used the prize money from Rose and Thorn to travel to England the following year and study at Oxford University. She then returned to Wellesley as an associate professor in 1891, earned her M.A. there, and was promoted to a full-tenured professor of English literature, helping to launch American literature as an academic specialty, and writing one of the first-ever college textbooks on it. 

Like Coman, Bates was a social activist interested in the struggles of women, workers, people of color, tenement residents, immigrants, and poor people. She had personally experienced sexist prejudice and discrimination, had witnessed the ravages of the Industrial Revolution in both America and Britain, had seen first-hand urban poverty and misery, and keenly wished for equality. Together, Coman and Bates—the “two Katharines,” as they became known—co-founded Denison House, a college women's settlement house, with other women friends and colleagues in 1892, a location which in time provided a center for Boston's labor activists. In the summer of 1893, Bates and Coman visited the great World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During the severe economic depression of 1893, its once gleaming white walls were turning a sooty gray, but Bates remembered it as the “alabaster city” of the future. The couple then traveled under “spacious skies” through “amber waves of grain” to Colorado Springs, where they taught for the summer at the new Colorado College and where Bates was greatly moved by the “purple mountain majesties” of the Rockies. The natural beauty of Colorado and other parts of the country she had seen during that summer commingled with Bates’ long desire for an all-inclusive egalitarian American community to inspire her. On their journey home, Bates hastily jotted down her thoughts and impressions in a notebook, crafting a poem she titled “America the Beautiful.” The poem first appeared in print in The Congregationalist, a weekly journal, for Independence Day, 1895, where it was well-received, but not widely circulated. In 1898, near the end of the Spanish–American War, Bates worked as a war correspondent for The New York Times, and strove to reduce widely-circulating negative stereotypes about Spaniards. Through the turn of the century, she contributed regularly to periodicals (sometimes under the pseudonym James Lincoln), including The Atlantic Monthly, The Congregationalist, Boston Evening Transcript, Christian Century, Contemporary Verse, Lippincott's, and The Delineator.  She wrote, edited, and compiled poetry, children’s works, travel logs, and scholarly materials voluminously, including The English Religious Drama (1893); Shakespeare's Comedy of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's Comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream, & Shakespeare's Comedy of As You Like It (editor, 1894-1896); Browning Studies: Bibliography (compiler, 1896); English Drama: A Working Basis (compiler, 1896); American Literature (1897); Historic Towns of New England (contributor, 1898); Spanish Highways and Byways (1900); English History Told by English Poets (compiler, 1902); Keats's The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (editor, 1902); The Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, fourteen volumes (editor, 1902); Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas (1902); John Ruskin, The King of the Golden River; or, the Black Brothers: A Legend of Stiria (editor, 1903); and Tennyson's The Princess (editor, 1904). Also in 1904, she revised “America, the Beautiful,” which was published to a wider audience in the Boston Evening Transcript on November 19, 1904.

In 1906, Bates and her brother Arthur signed a mortgage for a Wellesley houselot and house to be built on it for the Bates family (the Bates women were unable to purchase or own property without a man’s signature). While the house was being built, Bates traveled to Egypt and the Holy Land with Wellesley College president Caroline Hazard. Upon returning to Wellesley, Bates named the house "The Scarab," after the sacred Egyptian insect she admired as "always climbing." Coman and Bates shared the house with Bates' mother, Cornelia, and her sister, Jeannie. The four women reportedly enjoyed life together as family, and Bates and Coman lived together in what was colloquially termed a “Boston marriage” or “Wellesley marriage,” an intimate relationship that endured for 25 years. In 1910, when a colleague described the "free-flying spinsters" as "fringe on the garment of life,” Bates answered: "I always thought the fringe had the best of it. I don't think I mind not being woven in."

Coman and Bates were both passionate about social and economic issues, especially women's education, poverty, immigration, and labor, and were active in social reform movements, especially the labor movement and the settlement movement. Together, they organized a group of immigrant women who worked in Boston sweatshops, naming the group an "Evening Club for Tailoresses," and attempting to found a tailor shop that could have been an alternative to sweatshops. They assisted in organizing the 1910 Chicago garment workers' strike, which involved 40,000 factory workers, and worked with the Women's Trade Union League. 

In 1911, Coman discovered a lump in her left breast and underwent two surgeries in the following months. At the time, medical doctors did not understand the nature of breast cancer, its causes or its treatments, so the prognosis for Coman was poor. She retired from full-time teaching at Wellesley in 1913, becoming professor emeritus, although she continued to research and write despite her failing health. In writing about the farewell dinner held in her honor, the New York Times said: "Miss Coman has been so closely associated with the history and development of Wellesley for so long a time that her loss is felt very deeply by the whole college." During Coman's illness, friends of her and Bates—many of them also in "Wellesley marriages"—took Coman out for walks and visits, and invited them to stay at their country homes. They prepared meals, brought flowers and fresh vegetables, and performed tasks and services to keep their spirits up. Bates continued to revise “America, the Beautiful,” with the final expanded version written in 1913, even as she pursued her other academic pursuits, social activism, and continuing care for Coman. Near the end of Coman's life, the two women exchanged loving farewells through reciting poems and psalms to each other. Ever the scholars, they chronicled Coman's illness, with Bates noting hospital visits, surgical procedures, and details about Coman's pain and suffering. Coman died at home in January 1915 at the age of 58. At the time of her death, she was working on an industrial history of New England. According to cancer historian Ellen Leopold, in the days after Coman's death, Bates wrote a memorial to her, For Katharine Coman's Family and Innermost Circle of Friends, the first breast cancer narrative in American literature.

For several years after Coman's death, Bates continued to mourn and to recall Coman's suffering. In her virtuosic corona of sonnets "In Bohemia," she celebrates the vitality, adventurous spirit, and abiding spiritual presence of their love. In 1921, Wellesley College established the Katharine Coman Professorship of Industrial History to honor her service. In 1922, Bates published a book of poems about Coman's illness, Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance. The book's title emerged from the fact that the two Katharines would send each other sprigs of yellow clover as tokens of affection. In the forward, Bates wrote of Coman’s "vigorous and adventurous personality" and her "undaunted courage" in continuing to work during her final illness.

Bates became actively involved in the global peace movement that emerged after World War I. She was especially active in attempts to establish the League of Nations. Long an active Republican, Bates broke with the party to endorse Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis in 1924 because of Republican opposition to American participation in the League of Nations. She said: "Though born and bred in the Republican camp, I cannot bear their betrayal of Mr. Wilson and their rejection of the League of Nations, our one hope of peace on earth." Thinking of herself as a "global citizen," Bates decried the American policy of isolationism. Also in 1924, Bates was elected a member of the newly-formed Pi Gamma Mu honor society for the social sciences because of her interest in history and politics. She retired from Wellesley in 1925 at the age of 66.  In retirement, Bates continued to write and to publish poetry, and was in great demand as a writer and speaker.

Bates died of pneumonia in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on March 28, 1929, while listening to a friend read poetry to her. She is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery at Falmouth. The Katharine Lee Bates Chair in English Composition and Literature was established at Wellesley shortly after her death. Most of her papers, and Coman’s, are housed at the Wellesley College Archives and include diaries, correspondences, musical scores, publications, scrapbooks, manuscripts, reports, memorials and tributes, memorabilia concerning "America the Beautiful" and other writings.

The exact nature of Bates' and Coman’s relationship has been the subject of scholarly discussion for almost a century. Bates' adult diaries and surviving letters detail her warm friendships with several female peers, especially Coman, as well as her delight in the companionship of two men: Oscar Triggs (whom she met while at Oxford) and subsequently Theophilus Huntington Root (the brother of one of her Wellesley classmates). But Bates never married, possibly because, had she done so, she would have lost her hard-won tenured Wellesley faculty position and, of course, at least some of the independence that her childhood in a woman-led household and subsequent life course had, to one degree or another, accustomed her. That said, Bates destroyed most of the letters she and Coman had written to each other, presumably out of a concern to protect the privacy of their relationship. One of the few to survive was written by Bates to Coman in 1891, just before Bates left Oxford to return to Wellesley, and details a powerfully loving and romantic relationship: "You are always in my heart and in my longings... It was the living away from you that made, at first, the prospect of leaving Wellesley so heartachy. It was never very possible to leave Wellesley [for good], because so many love-anchors held me there, and it seemed least of all possible when I had just found the long-desired way to your dearest heart... Of course I want to come to you, very much as I want to come to Heaven."

Bates lived to see her most enduring poem become a globally recognized anthem of a grateful American nation, and always considered her "greatest tribute as a poet" to be that, November 11, 1918, as American soldiers in France received news that World War I was over, a battalion of the 26th Infantry Division of the US Army (colloquially known as the Yankee Division) sang "America the Beautiful": “American soldiers — exhausted, wounded and forever scarred, who had risked their lives for the country they loved — stood up and got themselves into military formation. Overwhelmed with shock, grief, and incredulous joy, they did not want a song about war. They wanted to celebrate the beauty and idealism of their beloved land. The men, with voices weak from poison gas and hunger, began to sing in celebration.” Bates was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, and in 2012, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the 2015 LGBT History Month. A prolific scholar, mentor, and teacher, a dedicated social activist invested in women’s education, the emancipator of Mrs. Claus, and the author of the hymn which very nearly became America’s national anthem, Katharine Lee Bates remains a powerful reminder of how the LGBTQ+ community has always been here, contributing to the creation of the nation.

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Matthew Wayne Shepard
Matthew Wayne Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998)

Today, 25 years ago, 21-year-old Matthew Wayne Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998) was murdered in an LGBTQ hate crime.  The manner of his killing detonated national outrage and galvanized a movement to demand change, change which took until October 28, 2009 to become law, amending the existing federal hate crimes definition and expanding it to cover gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

**Trigger warnings for drug use, violence, sexual assault, murder, and hate crime.**

Matthew Wayne Shepard was born in 1976 in Casper, Wyoming; he was the first of two sons born to Judy and Dennis Shepard. As a child, he was "friendly with all his classmates", but was targeted and teased due to his small stature and lack of athleticism. He developed an interest in politics at an early age. In 1994, the family relocated to Dhahran for Dennis to pursue employment as an oil rig inspector with Saudi Aramco. Shepard attended the American School in Switzerland, from which he graduated in May 1995. There, he participated in theater and took German and Italian courses. In 1995, during a high school trip to Marrakesh, Morocco, Shepard was beaten, robbed, and gang-raped, an experience that led to him experiencing depression, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation for the remainder of his life.

Shepard attended Catawba College in North Carolina and Casper College in Wyoming, before settling in Denver, Colorado in the summer of 1997. Multiple conflicting sources describe Shephard’s life over the next 15 months. While living in Denver for the next year, Shepard may have become addicted to crystal meth and cocaine, and may have met Aaron McKinney. According to some sources, by the end of his time in Denver, Shepard was enmeshed in the drug trade, primarily dealing meth. In the fall of 1998, he enrolled as a first-year political science major at the University of Wyoming in Laramie with a minor in languages. He was chosen as the student representative for the Wyoming Environmental Council; on campus, Shepard was open about his sexuality, and he was involved in the university’s LGBT student association.

Sometime in late August of that year, Shepard and McKinney may have smoked a bowl of meth together in a parked car. McKinney, according to come of Shepard’s friends, came back from the encounter angry at Shepard because he had turned down a proposed drug deal—perhaps refusing to give McKinney meth without a cash payment up front. The following month, when McKinney encountered Shepard at a Laramie convenience store, he yelled at Shepard, “you better watch your back.”

On October 4, Shepard called his close friend, Tina LaBrie, from a bar and asked her to join him. LaBrie later would describe his mood that day as pensive and worried. At this time, Shepard may have revealed to LaBrie that he had AIDS.

On October 6, Shepard went out with a few friends at the Library bar until 6 or 6:30 PM. He went to a meeting of the campus LGBTA, and then the group gathered at the Village Inn until about 9:00 PM. Shepard was dropped off at his apartment by several friends about 9 PM. About 10 PM, Shepard drove to the Fireside bar, where he took a seat at the bar and had a few drinks. McKinney and a friend, Russell Henderson, arrived at the Fireside sometime around 11:30 pm and sat down at the bar, about 4 or 5 seats from where Shepard was sitting. Shepard soon moved to a table where another patron, Mike St. Clair, was sitting, saying something about not wanting to be near “the assholes,” indicating McKinney and Henderson at the bar. Shortly after midnight, McKinney walked over to where Shepard and St. Clair were seated, where he bummed a cigarette from Shepard. They exchanged a few words and the two men got up and walked to the Fireside restroom. Albany County Sheriff Dave O'Malley, who was lead investigator in the case, says: "McKinney's own statement said he and Russell went into the restroom at the Fireside bar, where they planned to act like they were gay to try to gain Matthew's confidence.” They planned to lure Shepard into McKinney's truck so they could rob him. Sometime between 12:15 and 12:30 AM, McKinney, Shepard, and Henderson left the bar together (St. Clair believed they had offered to give Shepard a ride home), got into the truck, and headed east, with Henderson driving. In the pickup, McKinney began to pistol-whip Shepard with a .357 Magnum. Shepard handed over his wallet, which contained $20, but the beating continued. They drove about a mile out of town down a dirt road that ended in a rocky prairie of sagebrush and range grass, where they stopped near a rail fence. McKinney pulled Shepard from the vehicle and ordered Henderson to tie Shepard up with a clothesline. Henderson lashed Shepard to the fence. Henderson asked McKinney to stop the beating, but McKinney responded by striking Henderson in the face with his gun. McKinney delivered between 19 and 21 violent blows to Shepard’s head and face, with a final, violent blow to the back of the head that rendered Shepard unconscious, crushing his brain stem. Some sources suggest that the pair then lit Shepard’s clothing on fire. McKinney and Henderson stole their victim's patent leather shoes and then drove off, leaving Shepard to die from his injuries in the near-freezing temperatures. They had intended to rob his apartment, but instead the two returned to town and got into a fight with two other young men, Jeremy Herrera and Emiliano Morales, McKinney clubbing Morales on the head with the same gun, still covered in Matt's blood; police responding to the altercation picked up Henderson (McKinney had fled), saw the bloodied gun, and noticed Shepard's credit card and shoes in the truck, although they did not realize their significance. After he was released later that night, Henderson and his girlfriend, Chasity Pasley, and McKinney and his girlfriend, Kristen Price, began to hatch false alibis and dispose of evidence and drugs.

The following evening, around 6 PM (18 hours after the attack), a cyclist fell off his bike and saw Shepard, still tied to the fence, unconscious and severely injured. He at first mistook Shepard for a scarecrow, but quickly discovered this was a dying human being and called for help. Policewoman Reggie Fluty responded to the scene: “Shepard was on his back with his arms behind him. His respirations were far and few between. And I thought he was way younger than what he was just because his stature was so small” (Shepard was 5’2” and barely 100 pounds). She attempted to open Shepard's mouth to clear his airway, but it was clamped shut; she remembers trying to revive him, saying: "Baby boy, I'm here kiddo, you're going to be OK, hang in there, don't give up, come on, you can do this." Reports described how Shepard’s face was completely covered in blood, except where it had been partially cleansed by his tears. Shepard was taken to the emergency room of a Laramie hospital, and then transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Fort Collins. In addition to a crushed brain stem, Shepard had suffered four skull fractures. Sheriff O'Malley stated, "The only time I've ever seen those dramatic of injuries were in high-speed traffic crashes, you know, where there was just extremely violent compression fractures to the skull."

A few hours after Shepard was found, his friends Walt Boulden and Alex Trout began to contact media organizations, claiming that Shepard had been assaulted because he was gay. Boulden linked the attack to the absence of a Wyoming criminal statute providing for a hate crimes charge. 

On October 8, police questioned Henderson, Pasley, and Price, who provided varying and conflicting stories, although some facts came out about the beating. McKinney was arrested and charged with attempted murder. The following day, he confessed to the attack and stated that Shepard had offered him drugs in exchange for sex. At a press conference, Sheriff O'Malley suggested that Shepard might have been beaten because he was gay; the press began to call what happened a suspected hate crime. McKinney, Henderson, and their two girlfriends were arraigned that same day. At 12:53 AM on October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard died, having never regained consciousness. The charges against McKinney and Henderson were changed to first-degree murder, and their girlfriends, Price and Pasley, were charged with being accessories after the fact.

Two days later, President Clinton urged Congress to pass a federal hate crimes bill as several thousand people staged a candlelight vigil on the Capitol steps.

Matthew Shepard’s funeral service was held in Casper on October 16, 1998. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, led by Fred Phelps, received national attention for picketing Shepard's funeral with signs bearing homophobic slogans, such as "Matt in Hell" and "God Hates Fags.” Church members also mounted anti-gay protests during the trials of Henderson and McKinney. In response, Romaine Patterson, one of Shepard's friends, organized a group that assembled in a circle around the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. The group wore white robes and gigantic wings (resembling angels) that blocked the protesters from view. From this, Angel Action was founded by Patterson in April 1999.

In the winter 1998 session of the Wyoming Legislature, a bill was introduced that defined certain attacks motivated by a victim's sexual orientation as hate crimes. The measure failed on a 30–30.

Detective Ben Fritzen later testified that Price stated McKinney told her the violence against Shepard was triggered by how McKinney "[felt] about gays.” In December 1998, Pasley pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. On April 5, 1999, Henderson avoided going to trial when he pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping charges. In order to avoid the death penalty, he agreed to testify against McKinney and was sentenced by District Judge Jeffrey A. Donnell to two consecutive life terms. At Henderson's sentencing, his lawyer argued that Shepard had not been targeted because he was gay.

McKinney's trial took place in October and November 1999. McKinney's lawyer attempted to put forward a "gay panic defense," arguing that McKinney was driven to temporary insanity by alleged sexual advances by Shepard. This defense was rejected by the judge, who instructed the jury to ignore this argument. McKinney's lawyer stated that the two men wanted to rob Shepard but never intended to kill him, while the prosecution argued that the killing had been premeditated, driven by "greed and violence," rather than by Shepard's sexual orientation. The jury found McKinney not guilty of premeditated murder, but guilty of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and second-degree murder, and began to deliberate on the death penalty. Shepard's parents brokered a deal that resulted in McKinney receiving two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. Following her testimony at McKinney's trial, Price pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor interference with a police officer.

Shepard's murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at both the state and federal level. For years, Clinton renewed attempts to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay people, women, and people with disabilities. A Hate Crimes Prevention Act was introduced in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives in November 1997, and reintroduced in March 1999, but was passed by only the Senate in July 1999.  In September 2000, both houses of Congress passed such legislation; however, it was stripped out in conference committee. In 2007, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592) was introduced as federal bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress, sponsored by Democrat John Conyers with 171 co-sponsors. The bill passed the House and Senate; however then-President George W. Bush indicated he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk. The Democratic leadership dropped the legislation in response to opposition from conservative groups and Bush, and because the measure was attached to a defense bill there was a lack of support from antiwar Democrats. Subsequent bipartisan attempts were made in 2007 and 2008.

Ultimately, in October 2009, the United States Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (commonly the "Matthew Shepard Act" or "Shepard/Byrd Act" for short), and on October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law.

In the years following her son's death, Judy Shepard has worked as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, particularly issues relating to gay youth. She was a main force behind the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which she and her husband, Dennis, founded in December 1998. 

Matthew Shepard's life and death, and the aftermath, has inspired a number of films, novels, plays, songs, and other works, including The Laramie Project (a 2000 play and 2002 film) and Judy Shepard's 2009 memoir The Meaning of Matthew.

In October 2013, Stephen Jimenez published The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard. The book, which was extensively researched (Jimenez interviewed 112 named sources, in addition to a number of others who refused to be named), presented an argument that the murder of Shepard was about drugs and money, not his sexual orientation. Many commentators have criticized Jimenez's views on the attack by classifying them as being sensational and misleading. Some police who were involved in the investigation have also  criticized Jimenez's conclusions, while other police have said that there was evidence that drugs were a factor that led to the murder. When Shepard’s autopsy results were released in 2018, former Albany County Coroner, Julie Heggie, who performed the autopsy, tols reporters that hand-shaped bruises in Shepard's groin area convinced her that the murder was a hate crime.

On October 26, 2018, Shepard's ashes were interred at the crypt of Washington National Cathedral. In June 2019, Shepard was one of the inaugural 50 American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn.

Unfortunately, more recently, conservative politicians and activists have been emboldened to be more vocal in their anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric as they push to strip queer and trans people — including children — of their rights and humanity. States have passed or proposed a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including those that prohibit trans people from using restrooms that align with their gender, banning gender-affirming care, limiting trans athletes from competing in school sports, and even forcing teachers to out trans students. It’s a reminder that the ignorance, fear, and hostility toward queer and trans people has never fully gone away. Shepard was neither the first nor last person to be a victim of anti-LGBTQ+ violence. And not only are members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans women of color, still being killed for who they are, people are now being targeted just for being allies.

Particularly troubling have been laws that bar any mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, especially in light of the intensifying movement to ban books, including those that even hint at queer or trans subjects and themes, from schools, libraries, and reportedly even book fairs. This means it’s that much harder for kids to learn about queer history at a time when Shepard’s story is more relevant than ever. Still, a recent GLAAD study has found that an overwhelming majority of people who don’t identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community support equal rights for LGBTQ+ people and believe they shouldn’t be discriminated against. But despite this massive belief that queer and trans people should be able to live their lives freely, a separate joint study with the Anti-Defamation League found that more than 350 incidents of anti-LGBTQ+ harassment, vandalism, and assault were perpetrated between June 2022 and April 2023. Matthew Shepard’s story is a vital reminder for queer and trans people and our allies to stay vigilant. The fight isn’t over until everyone can feel free to live and thrive as who they are.

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Truman Garcia Capote
Truman Garcia Capote (September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984)

Truman Garcia Capote (September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984) was an American novelist, screenwriter, and playwright.

Truman Streckfus Persons was born in New Orleans in 1924. His parents divorced when he was two, and he was sent to Monroeville, Alabama, where, for the following four to five years, he was raised by his elderly aunts and cousins. He formed a very close bond with his mother's distant relative, Nanny Rumbley Faulk, whom Truman called "Sook.” Capote’s cousin recalled that as children, they never had trouble finding Sook in the darkened house on South Alabama Avenue because they simply looked for the bright colors of her coat. His baby blanket was a "granny square" blanket Sook made for him, which became one of Truman's most cherished possessions, and friends say he was seldom without it throughout his life– even when traveling. As a child, he lived a solitary and lonely existence, turning to writing for solace: “I began writing really sort of seriously when I was about eleven. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.” While growing up in Monroeville, he was a neighbor and friend of Harper Lee, who would go on to become a lifelong friend and the acclaimed author of To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee likely modeled Dill after her childhood friend).

  In his mid-teens, Capote was sent to New York to live with his mother, Lillie Mae Faulk, and her new husband, José García Capote, a former Spanish colonel who adopted him as his son and renamed him Truman García Capote.  In New York, he attended the Trinity School and subsequently St. Joseph Military Academy. In 1939, the family moved briefly to Greenwich, Connecticut, and when they returned to New York City in 1941, he attended the Franklin School, from which he graduated in 1942. That was the end of his formal education.

Capote worked briefly at The New Yorker magazine as a copyboy, but he left his job to live with relatives in Alabama and began writing his first novel, Summer Crossing (the manuscript was thought lost in 1950, but later rediscovered and published posthumously in 2004). He was called for induction into the armed services during World War II, but he later told a friend that he was "turned down for everything, including the WACS.” He later explained that he was found to be "too neurotic.” Within a few years, he was writing regularly. Between 1943 and 1946, Capote wrote a continual flow of short fiction for an assortment of publications including "Miriam", "My Side of the Matter", and "Shut a Final Door" (for which he won the O. Henry Award in 1948, at the age of 24). His stories were published in both literary quarterlies and well-known popular magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Bazaar, Harper's Magazine, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, Prairie Schooner, and Story.

Capote was openly gay, and his first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms, published in 1948, was dedicated to Jack Dunphy, a fellow writer whom he had met and fallen in love with earlier that year. Ten years older than Capote, Dunphy was in many ways Capote’s opposite, as solitary as Capote was exuberantly social. Though they drifted more and more apart in the later years, the couple stayed together until Capote's death. Other Voices, Other Rooms received instant notoriety for its fine prose, its frank discussion of homosexual themes, and, perhaps most of all, for its erotically suggestive dustcover photograph of Capote himself. The novel made The New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for nine weeks, selling more than 26,000 copies, catapulting Capote to fame.

With literary success came social celebrity. Capote was seen at the best parties, clubs, and restaurants, responding to accusations of frivolousness by claiming he was researching a future book. In the early 1950s, Capote took on Broadway and films, adapting his 1951 novella, The Grass Harp, into a 1952 play of the same name, followed by the musical House of Flowers in 1954, which spawned the song "A Sleepin' Bee". Capote co-wrote the screenplay for John Huston's film Beat the Devil in 1953). Later, traveling through the Soviet Union with a touring production of Porgy and Bess, he produced a series of articles for The New Yorker that became his first book-length work of nonfiction, The Muses Are Heard, which was published in 1956.

The publication of Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories in 1958 was a turning point in Capote’s career. The title novella took much of its inspiration from his experiences as a social celebrity in the earlier part of the decade, and the heroine, Holly Golightly, became one of Capote's best-known creations. With the subsequent hit film starring Audrey Hepburn, Capote’s popularity and place among the upper crust was assured. His ambition, however, was to be great as well as popular, and so he began work on a new experimental project that he imagined would revolutionize the field of journalism. In 1959, Capote wrote an autobiographical essay for Holiday Magazine—one of his personal favorites—about his life in Brooklyn Heights in the late 1950s, titled Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir.

Later in 1959, Capote set about creating a new literary genre — the non-fiction novel. Fascinated by a 300-word article that ran in the November 16, 1959 issue of The New York Times, in which the unexplained murder of the Clutter family in rural Holcomb, Kansas, was explained and the local sheriff was quoted as saying, "This is apparently the case of a psychopathic killer,” Capote traveled with Harper Lee to Holcomb and visited the scene of the massacre. They arrived just two days after the Clutter family’s funeral. Over the course of the next six years, he became acquainted with everyone involved in the investigation and most of the residents of the small town and the area. Rather than taking notes during interviews, Capote committed conversations to memory and immediately wrote quotes as soon as an interview ended. He claimed his memory retention for verbatim conversations had been tested at "over 90%.” Lee made inroads into the community by befriending the wives of those Capote wanted to interview. During his stay, the two murderers were caught, and Capote began involved interviews with both. He became enmeshed in the lives of both the killers and the townspeople, taking thousands of pages of notes.

In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, the book that most consider Capote’s masterpiece, was published in 1966. After Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and In Cold Blood was published, the authors became increasingly distant from each other, although they remained friends. Of In Cold Blood, Capote said, “This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” In Cold Blood sold out instantly, and became one of the most talked-about books of its time, garnering its author millions of dollars and a fame unparalleled by nearly any other literary author at the time. To celebrate the book’s success and in honor of The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, on November 28, 1966, Capote hosted a now-legendary masked ball, called the Black and White Ball, in the Grand Ballroom of New York City's Plaza Hotel. It was considered the social event of not only that season but of many to follow, with The New York Times and other publications giving it considerable coverage. Capote dangled the prized invitations for months, enjoying his influence to determine who was "in" and who was "out." This was the pinnacle of both his literary endeavors and his popularity.

But while In Cold Blood brought Capote much praise from the literary community, many have questioned the veracity of certain events as reported in the book. In 1966, Phillip K. Tompkins summed up the discrepancies he found by saying, “Capote has, in short, achieved a work of art. He has told exceedingly well a tale of high terror in his own way. But … [b]y insisting that ‘every word’ of his book is true he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim.” Other true crime writers, like Jack Olsen, also commented on the fabrications: “ I recognized it as a work of art, but I know fakery when I see it.… Capote completely fabricated quotes and whole scenes.” Alvin Dewey, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation detective portrayed in In Cold Blood, later said that the last scene, in which he visits the Clutters' graves, was Capote's invention, while other Holcomb residents whom Capote interviewed have claimed they or their relatives were mischaracterized or misquoted.

Capote continued to write occasional brief articles for magazines as he entrenched himself more deeply in the world of the jet set. He was well-known for his distinctive, high-pitched voice and odd vocal mannerisms, his offbeat manner of dress, and his fabrications. He often claimed to intimately know people he had never met, such as Greta Garbo. He professed to have had numerous liaisons with men thought to be heterosexual, including, he claimed, Errol Flynn. He traveled in an eclectic array of social circles, hobnobbing with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty, and members of high society, both in the U.S. and abroad. 
Despite his assertion earlier in life that one "lost an IQ point for every year spent on the West Coast,", Capote purchased a home in Palm Springs in the late 1960s and began to indulge in a more aimless life and heavy drinking. This resulted in bitter quarreling with Dunphy, with whom he had shared a nonexclusive relationship since the 1950s. Their partnership changed form and continued as a nonsexual one, and they were separated during much of the 1970s. In July 1973, Capote met John O'Shea, the middle-aged vice president of a Marine Midland Bank branch on Long Island, while visiting a New York bathhouse. The married father of three found Capote's fortune alluring and harbored aspirations to become a professional writer. After consummating their relationship in Palm Springs, the two engaged in a war of jealousy and manipulation for the remainder of the decade. Longtime friends were appalled when O'Shea, who was officially employed as Capote's manager, attempted (but failed) to take total control of the author's literary and business interests.

Through his jet-set social life of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Capote had been gathering observations for a tell-all novel, Answered Prayers (after Saint Theresa of Avila’s saying that answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered). The book, which had been in the planning stages since 1958, was intended to be a culmination of Capote’s non-fiction novel format. Initially scheduled for publication in 1968, Capote insisted on multiple postponements, first to 1972, and then to 1974. Capote spoke about the novel in interviews, but he continued to postpone the delivery date. Because of the delay, he was forced to return money received for the film rights to 20th Century Fox. In 1975 and 1976, Capote permitted Esquire to publish four chapters of the unfinished novel. The first to appear, "Mojave," ran as a self-contained short story and was favorably received, but the second, "La Côte Basque 1965," based in part on the dysfunctional personal lives of Capote's friends, some under pseudonyms and others by their real names, was a tremendous betrayal of confidences that alienated Capote from his established base of middle-aged, wealthy female friends, who feared the intimate and often sordid details of their ostensibly glamorous lives would be exposed to the public. Columnist Liz Smith explained, “He wrote what he knew, which is what people always tell writers to do, but he just didn’t wait till they were dead to do it.” The fallout from "La Côte Basque 1965" saw Truman Capote ostracized from New York society, and from many of his former friends.  Another two chapters – "Unspoiled Monsters" and "Kate McCloud" – appeared subsequently, with "Unspoiled Monsters” containing a thinly-veiled satire of Tennessee Williams, whose friendship with Capote had become strained.

The aftermath of the publication of "La Côte Basque" pushed Capote to new levels of drug abuse and alcoholism, mainly because he had not anticipated the backlash the scandal caused in his personal life. He was treated at multiple drug rehabilitation clinics, but he was unable to overcome his reliance upon drugs and liquor. News of his various breakdowns frequently reached the public. In 1978, talk show host Stanley Siegel conducted a live on-air interview with Capote, who, in an extraordinarily intoxicated state, confessed that he had been awake for 48 hours and when questioned by Siegel, "What's going to happen unless you lick this problem of drugs and alcohol?" Capote responded, "The obvious answer is that eventually, I mean, I'll kill myself...without meaning to." Capote then arranged a return visit to Stanley Siegel's show in which he went into bizarre and salacious details regarding the personal life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Dunphy and Capote relocated to separate neighboring houses in Sagaponack, New York, near Crooked Pond. Andy Warhol, who had looked up to the writer as a mentor in his early days in New York and often partied with Capote at Studio 54, agreed to paint Capote's portrait as "a personal gift" in exchange for Capote's contributing short pieces to Warhol's Interview magazine every month for a year in the form of a column, Conversations with Capote. These pieces eventually formed the basis for the bestselling Music for Chameleons, published in 1980. After the revocation of his driver's license (the result of speeding near his Long Island residence) and a hallucination-based seizure in 1980 that required hospitalization, Capote became fairly reclusive. These hallucinations continued unabated; medical scans eventually revealed that his brain mass had perceptibly shrunk. On the rare occasions when he was lucid, he continued to promote Answered Prayers as being nearly complete and was reportedly planning a reprise of the Black and White Ball to be held either in Los Angeles or a more exotic locale in South America. On a few occasions, he was still able to write. In 1982, a new short story, "One Christmas," appeared in the December issue of Ladies' Home Journal; the following year it became, like its predecessors "A Christmas Memory" and "The Thanksgiving Visitor," a holiday gift book. In 1983, "Remembering Tennessee," an essay in tribute to Tennessee Williams, who had died in February of that year, appeared in Playboy magazine.

On August 23, 1984, Capote flew from New York to Bel Air, Los Angeles, with his well-traveled baby blanket, to visit his old friend Joanne Carson, the ex-wife of late-night TV host Johnny Carson. On the evening of August 25, 1984, Capote died at her home. His last words were, "It's me; it's Buddy," followed by, "I'm cold." Buddy was Sook's name for him. The coroner determined the cause of death to be "liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication." Capote’s cremated ashes were reportedly divided between Carson and Dunphy (although Dunphy maintained that he received all the ashes). When Capote died, he left behind no evidence of any continued progress on Answered Prayers. His will named Dunphy as the chief beneficiary.

Dunphy died in 1992, and in 1994, his and Capote's comingled ashes were scattered at Crooked Pond. A stone marker indicates the spot. Capote's will provided that after Dunphy's death, a literary trust would be established, sustained by revenues from Capote's works, to fund various literary prizes, fellowships, and scholarships, including the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin, commemorating not only Capote but also his friend Newton Arvin, the Smith College professor and critic who lost his job after his homosexuality was revealed. As such, the Truman Capote Literary Trust was established in 1994, two years after Dunphy's death.

Although arguably the most visible and well-known gay author of his time, Capote never embraced the gay rights movement, but his own openness about homosexuality and his encouragement for openness in others made him an important player in the realm of gay rights. Though many feel that Capote did not live up to the promise of his early work, it is clear from what he wrote that he was an artist of exquisite talent and vision. With both his fiction and his non-fiction, he created a body of work that will continue to move readers and inspire writers for years.

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Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943)

Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was an asexual Serbian-American inventor and futurist, best known as one of most brilliant mechanical and electrical engineers in history. His oddness is part of the reason he was not as fondly remembered as his contemporaries until more recently. 

Nikola Tesla was born during a lightning storm in the village of Smiljan in the Austrian Empire (present-day Croatia) on July 10, 1856, the fourth of five children. The poor weather on the night of his birth worried the midwife, who saw the storm as a bad omen. However, Tesla’s mother claimed that it was a sign her son would be a "child of light.” His father was an Eastern Orthodox priest, and his mother, who had never received any formal education, had a talent for making home-crafted tools and mechanical appliances, and an extraordinary memory which enabled her to memorize Serbian epic poems. Tesla later credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother's genetics and influence. During high school, because he was able to perform integral calculus in his head, his teachers believed that he was cheating, and he had to complete his examinations under constant supervision to prove that he was not. He finished high school in three years, graduating in 1873, and then went on to study engineering and physics on his own. After graduating, Tesla contracted cholera (some sources say deliberately) and was bedridden for nine months, coming near death multiple times, and the lingering weakness from this illness allowed him to evade conscription into the Austro-Hungarian Army. During his recovery, he explored the mountains and spent much time reading and meticulously memorizing the majority of the local library’s contents. Tesla enrolled at the Imperial-Royal Technical College in Graz in 1875 on a Military Frontier scholarship. He passed nine subject exams (students were only required to complete five during their four years of study) and received a letter of commendation from the dean of the technical faculty. But he never graduated, leaving Graz in December 1878. In 1879, Tesla traveled to Prague, where he attended lectures in philosophy at the university as an auditor, and he organized the first intercollegiate activity in which a team from one university would challenge a team from another university: chess.

Instead of pursuing higher education, Tesla moved to Hungary, in 1881 to work at the Budapest Telephone Exchange and at the Central Telegraph Office instead. During his employment, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station equipment and claimed to have perfected a telephone repeater or amplifier, which was never patented nor publicly described. Also during this time, there is some evidence that Tesla may have begun exhibiting symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is likely that the same mental focus and intensity that helped him accomplish complex scientific tasks and calculations were a facet of his obsessive tendencies. Tesla's OCD impaired him in many domains, especially in social interactions; his obsessions included phobias of dirt and germs, as well as an intense focus on the number three and on completing calculations about things in his immediate environment. Tesla felt driven to perform repetitive behaviors, such as doing everything in sets of three. For instance, after walking around a block once, he would feel compelled to do so two more times. He also preferred to dine alone, due to his meticulous compulsion to clean his plates and silverware with 18 (divisible by 3) napkins before a meal. Afterwards, he would calculate the cubic contents of all the food on his plate before eating.

In 1882, was hired at the Continental Edison Company in Paris, where he designed and built improved versions of generating dynamos and motors. He was often sent to troubleshoot engineering problems at other Edison utilities being built around France and in Germany. Iin June 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States and began working at the Edison Machine Works on Manhattan's Lower East Side, working on troubleshooting installations and improving generators. Unfortunately, Tesla’s obsessive-compulsive nature began to cause him difficulties interacting with authority figures, especially his employers. This was due in part to his superior understanding of the electrical systems that he was working on. He faced constant frustration because his mind held perfect designs for futuristic machines that did not yet exist in reality. Instead of being able to freely create his designs, he was forced to work instead for people whom he felt could not even comprehend them. At times, these "creative differences" would lead to his dismissal. Tesla quit working at the Machine Works after only six months, for undocumented reasons, and struck out on his own. With the help of financial partners, Tesla set up laboratories and companies in New York to develop a range of electrical and mechanical devices, including an improved direct current generator and arc lighting system.  His partners then formed a new utility company, took Tesla’s patents, abandoned Tesla's company, and left the inventor penniless. He had to work at various electrical repair jobs and as a ditch digger for $2 per day.

In late 1886, Tesla worked with new investors to form the Tesla Electric Company in April 1887. The following year, he developed an induction motor that ran on alternating current (AC), a power system format that was rapidly expanding in Europe and the United States because of its advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission. Tesla’s motor and polyphase AC was licensed by Westinghouse Electric later that year, earning Tesla a considerable amount of money.  In the summer of 1889, Tesla traveled to the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris and learned of Heinrich Hertz's 1886–1888 experiments that proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation, including radio waves. In repeating and then expanding on these experiments, he developed the Tesla coil, which could reliably and safely produce high-voltage, low-current, high frequency alternating-current electricity. He would use this resonant transformer circuit in his later wireless power work.

On July 30, 1891, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Four years later, Westinghouse purchased Tesla's patent outright as part of a patent-sharing agreement signed with General Electric (a company created from the 1892 merger of Edison and Thomson-Houston). This made Tesla independently wealthy and gave him the time and funds to pursue his own interests. For the next dozen years, he continued to experiment with transmitting power by inductive and capacitive coupling using high AC voltages generated with his Tesla coil. He attempted to develop a wireless lighting system, which he demonstrated at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light wireless gas-discharge lamps tubes and even incandescent light bulbs from across the stage. At the time, Tesla told astonished onlookers that he was sure a system like his could eventually conduct "intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires" by conducting it through the Earth, a project which would dominate his efforts for the decades following.  From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla spent a great deal of his time and fortune on a series of projects trying to develop the transmission of electrical power without wires.

In 1895, Tesla founded the Nikola Tesla Company with a new investor and began investigating what he referred to as radiant energy of "invisible" kinds. A few months later, a fire destroyed the lab, including his notes and research material, models, and demonstration pieces. Tesla told The New York Times ,"I am in too much grief to talk. What can I say?"

With his classic good looks and considerable wealth, many women of the New York social scene fawned over Tesla, but he often insisted that romance or sex would hinder his creativity and scientific abilities. With his great aversion to intimate physical contact (he was famously germophobic and celibate), the fastidious inventor had a strict personal hygiene regimen that would have prevented him from having sexual intimacy, even if he had desired it. In fact, he was wholly uninterested in romance and lacked any sexual interest in women or men. There is no evidence whatsoever that he had ever engaged in sex or romance, and this caused rumors in the scientific community that he was a voyeur; the idea that he might be entirely asexual was simply not within the accepted spectrum of behavior.  During his lifetime, Tesla never used the term “asexual” or “aromantic,” but these terms were not really established during his lifetime. In an 1896 interview published in the New York Herald, Tesla was asked about his open declaration he would remain a bachelor for life. "I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of his brain unfolding to success, as he watches some crucial experiment prove that through months of waiting and hoping he has been in the right. Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything."

To further study the conductive nature of low-pressure air, Tesla set up an experimental station at high altitude in Colorado Springs during 1899. There, he conducted experiments with a large coil operating in the megavolts range, producing artificial lightning (and thunder) consisting of millions of volts and discharges of up to 135 feet in length. In one experiment, he lit 200 light bulbs from a power source 26 miles away. Also during this time, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he speculated to be "intelligently controlled signals" from another planet.  It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Guglielmo Marconi's European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado.

In March 1901, Tesla began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, with additional funding by J.P. Morgan. In December 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the letter S from England to Newfoundland, defeating Tesla in the race to be first to complete such a transmission. The tower was erected to its full height of 187 feet. Tesla envisioned a huge tower that would distribute free energy to everyone on Earth by bouncing current off the ionosphere, but he did not realize that this technique would not generate sufficiently high currents for running things like lights and appliances (although it does work for AM radio). He also believed that one could use this energy to change Earth's weather patterns, which scientists today believe is impossible.  In June 1902, Tesla moved his lab operations from Houston Street to Wardenclyffe, even though investors were putting their money into Marconi's system; some in the press began turning against Tesla's project, claiming it was a hoax. By 1906, financial problems and other events may have led to what Tesla biographer Marc J. Seifer suspects was a nervous breakdown. Tesla mortgaged the Wardenclyffe property to cover his debts, and he lost the property in foreclosure in 1915. In 1915, Tesla attempted to sue the Marconi Company for infringement of his wireless patents. Marconi's initial radio patent had been awarded in the US in 1897, but his 1900 patent submission covering improvements to radio transmission had been rejected several times on the grounds that it infringed on two 1897 Tesla wireless power tuning patents. Tesla's 1915 case went nowhere, but in a related case, where the Marconi Company tried to sue the US government over WWI patent infringements, a Supreme Court of the United States 1943 decision restored the prior patents of Oliver Lodge, John Stone, and, posthumously, Tesla.

After Wardenclyffe closed, Tesla experimented with a series of inventions in the 1910s and 1920s with varying degrees of success. He was the recipient of the Edison Medal in 1917, the highest honor that the American Institute of Electrical Engineers could bestow. Well into the 1920s and 1930s, reporters, interviewers, and interested ladies were asking him why he wasn't getting married: In the article "Mr. Tesla Explains Why He Will Never Marry" (published on August 10, 1924), the interviewer asserts, “when a man who has made a name for himself deliberately chooses to remain a bachelor, the world is naturally curious to know what the reasons were that impelled him to this choice."  In an interview with a Serbian reporter in 1927, Tesla stated emphatically, "I have never touched a woman. As a student, and while vacationing at my parents' home in Lika, I fell in love with one girl’s…extraordinary understandable eyes." Although Tesla sometimes described the physical attractiveness of both men and women, it seems that he was looking for a platonic/intellectual connection with another person to whom he could relate and who would understand him, rather than a sexual or romantic relationship.

Like any man, Tesla was far from perfect and sometimes had very warped ideas about how the world should operate. One of Tesla’s most disturbing ideas was his belief in using eugenics to purify the human race. In the February 9, 1935, issue of Liberty magazine, he wrote about eugenics:

The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. As a result, we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct. Several European countries and a number of states of the American Union sterilize the criminal and the insane. This is not sufficient. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.

The ideas behind eugenics would become substantially less popular after World War II, for obvious reasons. While Tesla was likely unaware of the scope of the atrocities that were being committed in Europe (and by the California eugenics movement), his ideas were clear: the world should be rid of so-called undesirables, and he included himself in the “undesirable” category, being well-aware of his own psychological problems.

In his later years, Tesla became even more socially isolated. He began to spend part of each day methodically feeding pigeons and bringing injured birds back to his Waldorf Astoria apartment to care for them. Despite his irrational fear of germs, he was often seen in the park with pigeons covering his arms (he even had a favorite white pigeon who visited his apartment window). Having spent most of his money, Tesla lived in a series of New York hotels, leaving behind unpaid bills. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1937, but he did not win. He died in New York City in January 1943. Immediately following his death, the FBI seized the contents of his hotel room, even though Tesla’s journal and some technical reports had already disappeared. Some papers ended up at Patterson Air Force Base, where the military conducted experiments – the results of which have never been released.

Known to many as the “Genius who lit the world,” Nikola Tesla was a controversial, eccentric, and misunderstood man who came from nowhere yet became world famous; claimed to be devoted solely to discovery but relished the role of a showman; attracted the romantic attention of many women and men but was aromantic and asexual; and generated ideas that transformed daily life and created multiple fortunes but died nearly penniless. But today, he is universally recognized as one of the fathers of modern electricity, having laid the groundwork for the electricity generation and delivery systems that we take for granted today. The airport in Belgrade bears his name, as does the world's best-known electric car, and the International System of Units (SI) measurement of magnetic flux density is named the Tesla in his honor. He once said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” Tesla scaled great heights to bring lightning down to earth, yet his rare cast of mind and uncommon habits eventually led to his downfall.

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Robina Fedora Asti
Robina Fedora Asti (April 7, 1921 – March 12, 2021)

Robina Fedora Asti (April 7, 1921 – March 12, 2021) was an American World War II veteran, naval flight instructor, mutual fund executive, and powerful advocate for women's and transgender rights. Her advocacy inspired a generation of transgender people when her actions changed government rules to allow transgender people to receive Social Security survivor benefits.

(This article discusses Asti’s life both before and after her transition but uses Asti’s preferred pronouns—she/her—throughout.)

Robina Fedora Asti was born April 7, 1921, in Manhattan, New York, with the surname “Astey.” Astey was assigned male at birth, although ever since she was a child, she had had an internal sense that her gender was different from the way the world perceived her but didn’t understand it or how to deal with it. She grew up in Greenwich Village, taking an early interest in electrical engineering. As a teenager, she earned money fixing radios around the neighborhood, with a steady flow of customers. She attended Brooklyn Technical High School until age 17, when she dropped out to join the United States Navy as a pilot.

Astey was initially stationed on Wake Island, where she was active in installing radios in naval aircraft in the run-up to World War II. She later became a reconnaissance pilot, stationed at Midway Island, whence she flew PBY Catalina planes to detect Japanese ships. She was later promoted to test pilot. She was left the Navy after the war ended at the rank of lieutenant commander. Upon returning to New York, she continued working as a flight instructor and opened a supper club in White Plains, New York with three friends from the Navy, although the restaurant business did not suit her, and she soon sold her share of the company.  She went on to work at the mutual fund company E.W. Axe, where she rose to become a mutual fund vice-president.

Astey married Evangeline Diaz-Perez of Palm Beach, Florida in 1958. In 1972, following a snowmobile accident in Utah, their 8-year-old son, Pepe, died in his 12-year-old sister, Coca’s, arms. Astey and Diaz-Perez were devastated: “When my child died, I felt there was no way I could use that as an excuse to end my life, but I also couldn’t find anything to do that would justify my living.” However, it was this tragic event that finally prompted Astey to deeply examine her identity and realize that she wanted to change her life by becoming a woman. For the next three years, she would go to work as a man, and then, after returning home, dress as a woman. It felt, she said, like “tearing myself apart.”

Astey longed to live her life fully as a woman, but the decision to transition was more than an emotional and physical one; it also meant leaving her lucrative mutual fund job, a profession which was not readily open to women in 1970s America: “I had a pretty good salary at that outfit, [so] I wasn’t necessarily ready to give it up,” she said. “I needed the money; I had children to raise and all of that. But finally, I just said, ‘I’ve had enough. I can’t do it anymore; something has to change.’ So I quit and I became only a woman.” In 1975, Astey told Diaz-Perez she had decided to fully transition. “I finally decided that I must become a woman,” she said. “What was so amazing about it, once I made the change, I became a woman in body and soul and mind.” Diaz-Perez wanted to have a fourth child before Astey transitioned, so Astey waited to begin hormone replacement therapy, with Diaz-Perez’s full support, until February 14, 1976, following the birth of their youngest child, Eamonn. Gender-affirming surgery followed. Before her own birth, her father had Anglicized the family’s last name, but following her transition, she changed it back to the original Italian spelling, “Asti.” Transitioning during a time when few Americans even knew transgender people existed was painful, but also joyful. Asti and Diaz-Perez amicably separated soon afterward, and Asti moved back to New York City.  There, she took the jobs available to her as a woman, including working as a makeup artist at Bloomingdale's, a typist, housekeeper, and an off-the-books hairdresser; she learned how to sew and use an iron on clothing in order to become the "best goddamned woman I could be.” She also began trading stocks, eventually earning enough money to make that her full-time source of income.

Asti was not an activist for much of her life, but she never shied away from confronting injustice where and when she encountered it. Shortly after transitioning, Asti learned from her doctor that the Federal Aviation Administration required an internal physical exam in order to renew her pilot's license. She found this highly invasive and demeaning, and, working with the Ninety-Nines women's aviation organization, which she chaired, successfully petitioned the government to drop the rule.

In 1980, she met artist Norwood Patte; Asti struggled with how to tell Patten about her transition. “It wasn’t too long before I realized this is make-or-break for me – either I tell him and he leaves, or I tell him and he stays,” she said. “But he was very upset because he never expected anything like this. So I said goodnight and I said goodbye, and I thought surely I would never see him again. But within a week he came back to me, and he said, ‘Robina, I love you. I don’t care. You are a woman, I never thought of you as any other thing, and I will never think of you as any other person.'” They married in 2004 in an airplane hangar at the Orange County Airport in upstate New York.

The couple spent the next three decades together. Along the way, Asti found acceptance with her mother, who was initially confused and upset by Asti’s transition, and with Coca, who had been 16 when Asti transitioned and struggled with it, unlike Eamonn, who had always known Asti as a woman from the time she was a baby. It was that acceptance that made Asti feel comfortable telling young LGBTQ people that things can get better, because she had walked that path herself. “Don’t lose patience, no matter what they do. If they throw you out of the house, or kick you out forcibly, go – but don’t close the door,” she said. “Send a birthday card to your mother, send a card to your father, remember Christmas and New Year’s. If you’re Jewish, remember the Jewish holidays. And always, even if you know that they tossed it out or they sent it back to you, they know you sent them a card.”

Following her husband's death in 2012, Asti applied for Social Security benefits. It took a year for the agency to deny her application, on the grounds that she was not legally a woman at the time of her marriage. Although all of her government-issued documents, including her Veteran’s Affairs card, pilot’s license, and driver’s license, recognized her as a woman, the agency’s determination of survivor benefits was based solely on her birth certificate, on which she was assigned male. Ms. Asti was livid: “I was shocked; I was shamed. That is so insulting. It was just devastating.” She searched online for help and found Lambda Legal, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. “It was an amazing day when she walked into our offices,” said Dru Levasseur, who ran Lambda’s transgender rights practice at the time and now works for the National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation. “We could feel her energy, her anger at the system.” Asti said she hoped she’d win the case, “not for the money, but for the act of humanity that is absolutely necessary here.” Lambda took the federal government to court in June 2013. Eight months later, on Valentine’s Day 2014, Ms. Asti checked her bank account and found a large deposit: nearly two years of back pay from the Social Security Administration. Not only did Ms. Asti win her case; the administration changed its rule regarding transgender survivors — and the documentation requirements for proving one’s gender in the first place. “Her telling her story has had a huge impact for the transgender community,” Levasseur said. “Because of violence against transgender people, many of us don’t get to grow old, but here she was, enjoying her life in her 90s.”

Following the successful legal battle, Ms. Asti became a celebrity in the LGBTQ community at a time when transgender rights were just beginning to be a national issue. She embraced her newfound role — giving speeches, marching in pride parades, and simply living her full life as an older transgender woman.  A film titled Flying Solo: A Transgender Widow Fights Discrimination about her life and struggles with Social Security was produced and aired at the 2015 TransReelization event. “What do I like about flying?” she asked in the documentary. “I guess it’s being a bird.” She gave a TEDx presentation in 2016, titled "War Stories and a Woman's Changes," about her life as a trans individual, her advice for young LGBTQ people, and the ongoing fight for equality.

She worked with her grandson to found the Cloud Dancers Foundation in 2019, which provides assistance, advocacy, and awareness for older transgender people. Cloud Dancer is a nickname for an acrobatically inclined pilot, and Ms. Asti saw a strong connection between flying and living as a transgender person. “One of the unique things about flying,” she said in 2018, “is that you’ve got to be able to move from one position to another, because you can’t accept where you are.” She hoped to give other people who had seen so much hurt and adversity in life an experience that celebrated them for who they are. “She would say that she had been through a Depression, through a World War, and that she had learned to just keep living,” her son Erik Hummel said. “She wanted to remind other transgender people who feel alone that there are people who care about them.”  So far, the foundation has raised $10,000 and granted two wishes: one to an 80-year-old man to complete a surgery related to his transition, and another to fund transcription services for a 57-year-old man who is compiling the stories of transgender elders.

Ms. Asti’s greatest enjoyment came in the air.  She continued to fly every weekend well into her 90s, traveling from her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey. She moved to San Diego at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to live with Coca, reading, laughing, practicing yoga, and reflecting. She took her last flight, with a student, on July 23, 2020, establishing a Guinness World Record as the world’s oldest active pilot and oldest flight instructor. She was listed in the 2020 edition of the Out100 list of most influential LGBTQ+ individuals of the year. Asti died peacefully in her sleep on March 12, 2021—just a month short of her 100th birthday—at Coca’s home.

Through her extraordinary life, Robina Asti taught many transgender people about the joy of living as one’s true, authentic self – even if it takes decades to get there. And her message always was, “don't give up hope. People might be confused and they might not understand you, but people still love you.”  “Go live and enjoy it. There is joy in all of living if we see it in the right way.” 


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Thomas(ine) Hall
Thomas(ine) Hall (c. 1603- post-April 8, 1629)

Thomas(ine) Hall (c. 1603- post-April 8, 1629) was the first intersex and genderfluid person formally recognized as such in American law in seventeenth-century Virginia. (No images of Thomas/ine Hall survive. Pictured here is an artist's rendition.)

**CONTENT WARNING: Some discussion of genitalia** TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault**

According to Hall's own account, they were born and christened Thomasine Hall at All Saints' Church, Newcastle upon Tyne in England. Hall was raised as a female and became skilled at traditional women's crafts, such as needlework, brewing, baking, tending a kitchen garden, and making cheese, butter, and home remedies.  At the age of twelve, they were sent to London to live with an aunt, and lived there for ten years and observed the popularity among the aristocracy of crossover male and female fashion. These trends may have influenced them to break away from social norms.

As a young adult in the early 1620s, Hall decided to adopt a man's hairstyle and "changed into the fashion of a man" in order to follow a brother into the all-male military service. They then served in the military in England and France, serving in the 1625 Cádiz naval expedition against Spanish forces and seeing action in the siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré on Ré Island off the west coast of France. Following their military service, they returned to Plymouth, and earned a living for a time by making bone lace and other needlework, reverting to a “female” lifestyle.

Around 1627, Hall donned men's clothing again, left England, and settled in Jamestown as an indentured servant; however, they soon relocated to Treasurer’s Plantation, near the small settlement at Warrosquyoacke, Virginia, a village of likely fewer than 200 people, dressing and presenting as a woman at the time. Eventually, they agreed to a contract to serve as an indentured servant to John Tyos and Robert Eyres. Hall’s decision to present as a woman could reflect what Hall had learned about conditions in early Virginia—that with male indentured servants outnumbering women indentured servants six to one, there was a shortage of women to perform traditionally female domestic tasks. As one who possessed domestic skills, Hall might have seen an advantage in presenting as a woman to avoid working in the tobacco fields. In early 1628, Hall appears to have been arrested on a charge of receiving stolen goods, though there is some doubt about whether this is the same Thomas Hall. Hall was living with Tyo’s family at the time, and it was claimed that Hall and the Tyoses had encouraged a neighbor to commit theft and sell the stolen goods to them. The stolen property was found in the Tyoses' house.

Hall was never particularly strict about presenting consistently as either gender. When they wore female clothing, which confused neighbors, masters, and captains of plantations, they explained “I goe in womans apparel to get a bitt for my Catt," apparently meaning that it allowed Hall to have sexual relations with men, although sometimes, when presenting as female, Hall was also rumored to be having sexual relations with women.

In early February 1629, a colonist named Mr. Stacy reported that he thought Hall was both “a man and woeman.” This could have been an indication that they had been seen wearing both men’s and women’s attire or it could have been based on rumors that Hall had engaged in sexual intercourse with a maid. In any case, Stacy’s pronouncement brought Hall to the attention of local residents. In particular, they caught the interest of several local married women: Dorothy Rodes and Barbara Hall from Treasurer’s Plantation, and Alice Long from Basse’s Choice, another nearby settlement. These women demanded to know whether Hall was a man or a woman. They claimed the authority to investigate Hall’s body because Hall wore women’s clothing, and English courts gave women authority to search female bodies if the evidence would be crucial to a case. The women examined Hall’s body. Since they did not find evidence that Hall could give birth to a child, they announced “that hee was a man.” Hall’s master Tyos, however, “swore the said Hall was a woeman,” although he had not examined the body of his servant. When John Atkins, a resident of Warrosquyoake, wanted to acquire Hall’s contract from Tyos and Eyres, he turned to Nathaniel Basse, the commander of Basse’s Choice, for a ruling on the question of Hall’s gender. When Basse asked Hall “whether hee were man or woeman,” Hall replied that “hee was both.” Hall said that he had “a peece of fleshe growing at the … belly as bigg as the topp of his little finger,” but also said that they did not have use of what he called a “mans parte.” Basse determined that Hall was a woman and ordered Hall to “bee put in woemans apparell.” Hall became Atkins’s indentured servant soon after, laboring for him as a domestic servant.

However, Basse’s ruling had undermined Rodes, Hall, and Long’s authority as the elder women of the community, and they decided to reexamine Hall before they could challenge Basse’s decision. On about February 12, 1629, the three women illicitly examined Hall as Hall slept and again concluded that Hall was a man, lacking a "readable set of female genitalia.” Next, they asked Atkins to join them in an examination of his servant. Initially, Atkins refused. But on the following Sunday, Rodes, Hall, Long, and two additional women went to Atkins’s house and examined Hall in the presence of Atkins. When Atkins “asked him if that were all hee had,” Hall replied, “I have a peece of an hole.” This was Hall’s first reference to having female anatomy, but their wording implies that, like their penis, their vagina was not fully functional. Atkins then told Hall “to lye on his backe and shew the same.” Atkins and the women searched Hall for evidence of a vagina, and when they didn’t find it, Atkins reversed his decision and declared Hall must wear men’s clothing from that point forward. The following day, Atkins informed Basse that he believed Hall to be a man and asked him to punish Hall for “his abuse.” Basse confronted Hall and bluntly asked if they were a man or a woman. Hall again asserted they were both, having "what appeared to be a small penis," which they said was only an inch long and not functional. Because male incompetence/impotence was considered sufficient to determine female sex at the time, Basse decided that Hall was not properly a man, and therefore must be a woman.

This did not end the community’s curiosity about Hall. In late February, Hall was accosted by two local men, Francis England and Richard Rodes, who was the master of the maid with whom Hall was rumored to have had sexual intercourse. Encountering Hall along the road, the men threw them to the ground, stripped them and forcibly examined their genitalia to see “what thou carriest,” and decided that Hall was “a perfect man.”

Surviving records do not indicate when rumors about Hall reached Jamestown or why the colony’s leadership became involved in the assessment of Hall’s gender. Perhaps the community felt that the question of Hall’s gender was settled and now felt they had to be punished for the crime of pretending to be a woman and upsetting the whole community. Basse may have asked the General Court, which was composed of the members of the governor’s Council and the governor, to make a decision about Hall’s identity because he wanted to put an end to the ongoing conflict in his community. The court records indicate Basse was seeking a "solution consistent with scripture-based laws as interpreted by Talmudic commentaries and consonant with early modern European customs”—which likely meant to make an individual choose either male or female gender. This is how Thomas(ine) Hall found themselves standing before the Quarter Court of Virginia on April 8, 1629, sharing a gender-defying life story that upset all of colonial Virginia’s understandings of the roles of men and women. After listening to Hall’s story, and the testimony of various witnesses, Governor John Pott handed down an extraordinary verdict. In a departure from similar European cases, Pott ruled that Hall had a "dual nature" gender, or what modern society classifies as intersex: "hee is a man and a woeman." Before this, any individual determined by a court to be "man and woman" was forced to adopt either a permanent male or female identity. Instead Hall was required to wear men’s clothing but with a “Coyfe and Croscloth,” which were distinctly female head coverings, and an apron. Dual-sexed, Hall embodied an uncomfortable, impermissible third gender, and so the court marked them as visibly different. Was this so-called solution a deliberate form of punishment, or a compromise? Following this court case, Hall disappears from the historical record.

In early Western medicine, medical theorists and scientists worked under a framework that posited that women were not a separate sex but rather "an imperfect variant of men.” They believed that male organs were simply “tucked inside” of women because they did not have enough heat to develop external genitalia, and that strenuous physical activity or even "mannish behavior" could cause testicles to exit from inside the vagina. This left the work of defining the sexes—gendering—to observing how it was "performed" gender through consistent dress, names, occupations, and sexual relationships. However, early common law held that the sex of a hermaphroditic individual (a term now considered to be misleading, stigmatizing, and scientifically specious in reference to humans) depended on the genitalia that visually predominated.  Today, we use the term intersex to describe individuals born with any of several sex characteristics including chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.” The number of intersex births is in the range of 0.02%–1.7%. (Since some other conditions involve atypical chromosomes, gonads, or hormones, it’s difficult to get a definitive statistic.) But we do know that from early history (as far back as 4000 years), societies have been aware of intersex people. It’s also clear that intersex people face stigmatization and discrimination from birth, or following the discovery of intersex traits at stages of development such as puberty. Intersex people may face infanticide, abandonment, and stigmatization from their families. Many intersex infants and children, such as those with ambiguous outer genitalia, have been routinely subjected to non-consensual surgery or hormone therapy for no legitimate medical reason—only to create more socially acceptable sex characteristics, with no firm evidence of favorable outcomes. Adults, including elite female athletes, have also been subjects of such treatment. Increasingly, these issues are considered human rights abuses. Hall, defying these practices by freely using the clothes and names of both genders, and openly discussing their penis and “peece of an hole,” is perhaps the earliest example of an intersex, gender nonconforming individual in America. 

The first public demonstration by intersex people took place in Boston on October 26, 1996, outside the venue in Boston where the American Academy of Pediatrics was holding its annual conference. The group demonstrated against these "normalizing" treatments, and carried a sign saying "Hermaphrodites With Attitude.” The event is now commemorated annually on October 26, Intersex Awareness Day.

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Rachel Louise Carson
Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)

Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist, writer, and conservationist whose influential 1962 book Silent Spring is credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Rachel Carson was born on a family farm near Springdale, Pennsylvania. An avid reader, she began writing stories (often involving animals) at age eight and had her first story published at age ten. She especially enjoyed the St. Nicholas Magazine (which carried her first published stories), the works of Beatrix Potter, and later the novels of Gene Stratton-Porter, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The natural world, particularly the ocean, was the common thread of her favorite literature.

At the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University), as in high school, Carson was somewhat of a loner. She originally studied English but switched her major to biology in January 1928. However, she continued contributing to the school's student newspaper and literary supplement. Though admitted to Johns Hopkins University in 1928, she was forced to remain at the Pennsylvania College for Women for her senior year due to financial difficulties; she graduated magna cum laude in 1929. After a summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory, she continued her studies in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1929. She earned a master's degree in zoology in June 1932, with a dissertation on the embryonic development of the pronephros in fish. Carson had intended to pursue a doctorate; however, she was forced to leave Johns Hopkins in 1934 to search for a full-time teaching position to help support her family during the Great Depression. In 1935, her father died suddenly, worsening their already critical financial situation and leaving Carson to care for her aging mother. At the urging of her undergraduate biology mentor, Mary Scott Skinker, she settled for a temporary position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, writing radio copy for a series of weekly educational broadcasts entitled Romance Under the Waters. The series of 52 seven-minute programs focused on aquatic life and was intended to generate public interest in fish biology and the bureau's work, a task the various writers before Carson had not managed, but which she accomplished with aplomb. Carson also began submitting articles on marine life in Chesapeake Bay to local newspapers and magazines. Her supervisor, pleased with the success of the radio series, asked her to write the introduction to a public brochure about the fisheries bureau. Sitting for the civil service exam, Carson outscored all other applicants and, in 1936, became the second woman hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries for a full-time professional position, as a junior aquatic biologist.

At the Bureau, Carson's primary responsibilities were to analyze and report field data on fish populations and write brochures and other literature for the public. She also wrote a steady stream of articles for The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers. Her family responsibilities further increased in January 1937 when her older sister died, leaving Carson as the sole breadwinner for her mother and two nieces. In July of that year, the Atlantic Monthly accepted a revised version of an essay, The World of Waters, that she had originally written for her first fisheries bureau brochure but which her supervisor had deemed too good for that purpose. The essay, published as Undersea, was a vivid narrative of a journey along the ocean floor and marked a major turning point in Carson's writing career. Publishing house Simon & Schuster, impressed by Undersea, contacted her and suggested that she expand the work into a full-length book. Several years of writing resulted in Under the Sea Wind being published in 1941, receiving excellent reviews but selling poorly. In the meantime, Carson's article-writing success continued—her features appeared in Sun Magazine, Nature, and Collier's.

Carson considered leaving the Bureau (which had transformed into the United States Fish and Wildlife Service) in 1945, but very few jobs for naturalists were available, as most money for science was focused on technical fields in the wake of the Manhattan Project. In mid-1945, Carson first encountered the subject of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), a revolutionary new pesticide that was only beginning to undergo tests for safety and ecological effects. DDT was only one of Carson's many writing interests at the time, but editors found the subject unappealing, and thus she published nothing on DDT until 1962.

Carson rose within the Fish and Wildlife Service, by 1945 supervising a small writing staff and in 1949 becoming chief editor of publications. Her position provided increasing opportunities for fieldwork and freedom in choosing her writing projects; however, it also entailed increasingly tedious administrative responsibilities. By 1948, Carson was working on material for a second book and had made the conscious decision to begin a transition to writing full-time. That year, she took on a literary agent, Marie Rodell; they formed a close professional relationship that would last the rest of Carson's career.

Oxford University Press expressed interest in Carson's book proposal for a life history of the ocean, spurring her to complete by early 1950 the manuscript of what would become The Sea Around Us. Chapters appeared in Science Digest and The Yale Review, with the latter chapter, "The Birth of an Island," winning the American Association for the Advancement of Science's George Westinghouse Science Writing Prize. Beginning in June 1951, nine chapters were serialized in The New Yorker. The full book was published July 2, 1951. The Sea Around Us remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 86 weeks, was abridged by Reader's Digest, won the 1952 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the John Burroughs Medal, and resulted in Carson's being awarded two honorary doctorates. The book’s stunning success led to the republication of Under the Sea Wind, which became a bestseller itself. With success came financial security, and in 1952 Carson was able to give up her civil service job to pursue her dream of writing full-time.

Carson licensed a documentary film based on The Sea Around Us, with rights to review the script. She was, however, very unhappy with the final version of the script by writer, director, and producer Irwin Allen; she found it untrue to the atmosphere of the book and scientifically embarrassing, describing it as "a cross between a believe-it-or-not and a breezy travelogue." Unfortunately, her right to review the script did not extend to any control over its content. This led to many scientific inconsistencies remaining, and, despite her repeated requests to resolve these problems, Allen went forward with the script. He succeeded in producing a very successful documentary that went on to win the 1953 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. However, Carson was so embittered by the experience that she never again sold film rights to her work.

Early in 1953, Carson began library and field research on the ecology and organisms of the Atlantic shore. In the summer of 1953, Carson met Dorothy M. Freeman on Southport Island, Maine. Freeman had written to Carson welcoming her to the area when she had heard that the famous author was to become her neighbor. It was the beginning of a devoted relationship that would last the rest of Carson's life, conducted mainly through letters and during summers spent together in Maine. The two women had common interests, nature chief among them, and began exchanging letters regularly while apart—over 12 years, they exchanged around 900 letters. They shared summers for the remainder of Carson's life and met whenever their schedules permitted. Carson's biographer, Linda J. Lear, writes that "Carson sorely needed a devoted friend and kindred spirit who would listen to her without advising and accept her wholly, the writer as well as the woman." Carson found this in Freeman.  Concerning the depth of their relationship, commentators have said: “the expression of their love was limited almost wholly to letters and very occasional farewell kisses or holding of hands.” Freeman shared parts of Carson's letters with her husband to help him understand her relationship with Carson, but much of their correspondence was carefully guarded and it is very likely that Freeman and Carson's relationship was romantic in nature. One of the letters from Carson to Freeman reads, "But, oh darling, I want to be with you so terribly that it hurts!", while in another, Freeman writes, "I love you beyond expression... My love is boundless as the Sea."

In 1955, Carson completed the third volume of her sea trilogy, The Edge of the Sea, which focuses on life in coastal ecosystems, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard. Through 1955 and 1956, Carson worked on several projects—including the script for an Omnibus episode, "Something About the Sky," and wrote articles for popular magazines. Her initial plan for the next book was to address evolution, but instead, her interests were turning to conservation. She considered an environment-themed book project tentatively titled Remembrance of the Earth and became involved with The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups. She also made plans to buy and preserve from development an area in Maine she and Freeman called the "Lost Woods."

In early 1957, family tragedy struck for the third time when one of her nieces she had cared for since the 1940s died at the age of 31, leaving her 5-year-old son, Roger Christie, an orphan. Carson took on the responsibility for Roger, adopting him and continuing to care for her aging mother. Carson moved to Silver Spring, Maryland to care for Roger and spent much of 1957 putting together a new living situation and studying specific environmental threats. By late 1957, Carson was closely following federal proposals for widespread pesticide spraying: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) planned to eradicate fire ants, and other spraying programs involving chlorinated hydrocarbons and organophosphates were on the rise. For the rest of her life, Carson's main professional focus would be the dangers of pesticide overuse.

The Audubon Naturalist Society recruited Carson to help make public the government's exact spraying practices and the related research. Carson began a four-year research project and attempted to enlist others to join the cause, such as essayist E. B. White and several journalists and scientists. By 1958, Carson had arranged a book deal. As her research progressed, Carson found a sizable community of scientists who were documenting the physiological and environmental effects of pesticides. She also found significant support and extensive evidence from a group of biodynamic agriculture organic market gardeners, their adviser, Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, other contacts, and their suite of legal actions (1957-1960) against the U.S. Government. By 1959, the USDA responded to the criticism by Carson and others with a public service film, Fire Ant on Trial, which Carson and others characterized it as "flagrant propaganda" that ignored the dangers that spraying pesticides posed to humans and wildlife. That spring, Carson wrote a letter, published in The Washington Post, that attributed the recent decline in bird populations—in her words, the "silencing of birds"—to pesticide overuse. That was also the year of the "Great Cranberry Scandal": the 1957, 1958, and 1959 crops of U.S. cranberries were found to contain high levels of the herbicide aminotriazole (which caused cancer in laboratory rats), and the sale of all cranberry products was halted. Carson attended the subsequent FDA hearings on revising pesticide regulations; she came away discouraged by the aggressive lobbying tactics of the chemical industry, which included expert testimony that was firmly contradicted by the bulk of the scientific literature she had been studying. She also wondered about the possible "financial inducements behind certain pesticide programs."

Continued research brought Carson into contact with National Cancer Institute researcher and environmental cancer section founding director Wilhelm Hueper, who classified many pesticides as carcinogens. Carson, with the help of National Institutes of Health librarian Dorothy Algire, found evidence to support the pesticide-cancer connection; to Carson, the evidence for the toxicity of a wide array of synthetic pesticides was clear-cut, though such conclusions were very controversial beyond the small community of scientists studying pesticide carcinogenesis.

In January 1960, a duodenal ulcer followed by several infections kept Carson bedridden for weeks, greatly delaying the completion of her research. As she was nearing full recovery in March, she discovered cysts in her left breast, one of which necessitated a mastectomy. Though her doctor described the procedure as precautionary and recommended no further treatment, by December, Carson discovered that the tumor was malignant and the cancer had metastasized. While writing the book, Carson chose to hide her illness so that the pesticide companies could not use it against her (she worried that if the companies knew, they would use it as ammunition to make her book look untrustworthy and biased).

Carson expected fierce criticism, but because she was undergoing radiation therapy to combat her spreading cancer and expected to have little energy to devote to defending her work and responding to critics, she attempted to amass as many prominent supporters as possible before the book's release. Most of the book's scientific chapters were reviewed by scientists with relevant expertise, among whom Carson found strong support. Carson was not the first or the only person to raise concern about DDT, but her combination of "scientific knowledge and poetic writing" reached a broad audience and helped to focus opposition to DDT use. Though the book, Silent Spring, had generated considerable interest based on pre-publication promotion, this became much more intense with its serialization in The New Yorker, which began on June 16, 1962, issue. This brought the book to the attention of the chemical industry and its lobbyists and a wide swath of the American populace. Around that time, Carson also learned that Silent Spring had been selected as the Book of the Month for October; as she put it, this would "carry it to farms and hamlets all over that country that don't know what a bookstore looks like—much less The New Yorker." Other publicity included a positive editorial in The New York Times and excerpts of the serialized version in Audubon magazine, with another round of publicity in July and August as chemical companies responded. The story of the birth defect-causing drug thalidomide broke just before the book's publication in September as well, inviting comparisons between Carson and Frances Oldham Kelsey, the Food and Drug Administration reviewer who had blocked the drug's sale in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, there was strong opposition to Silent Spring from the chemical industry., particularly  DuPont (a main manufacturer of DDT and 2,4-D) and Velsicol Chemical Corporation (exclusive manufacturer of chlordane and heptachlor). Chemical industry representatives and lobbyists lodged a range of non-specific complaints, and chemical companies and associated organizations produced a number of their own brochures and articles promoting and defending pesticide use. However, Carson's and the publishers' lawyers were confident in the vetting process Silent Spring had undergone. The magazine and book publications proceeded as planned, as did the large Book-of-the-Month printing.

American Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens and former Cyanamid chemist Thomas Jukes were among the most aggressive critics. Others went further, attacking Carson's scientific credentials (because her training was in marine biology rather than biochemistry) and her character. White-Stevens labeled her "...a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature," while former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, in a letter to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, reportedly concluded that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was "probably a Communist."

The academic community, including prominent defenders such as H. J. Muller, Loren Eiseley, Clarence Cottam, and Frank Egler, backed the book's scientific claims, and soon public opinion turned Carson's way as well. The chemical industry campaign backfired, as the controversy greatly increased public awareness of potential pesticide dangers, as well as Silent Spring book sales. Pesticide use became a major public issue, especially after a CBS TV special, The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson, aired on April 3, 1963. The program included segments of Carson reading from Silent Spring and interviews with several other experts, mostly critics (including White-Stevens); according to biographer Linda Lear, "in juxtaposition to the wild-eyed, loud-voiced Dr. Robert White-Stevens in a white lab coat, Carson appeared anything but the hysterical alarmist that her critics contended." Reactions from the estimated audience of ten to fifteen million were overwhelmingly positive, and the program spurred a congressional review of pesticide dangers and the public release of a pesticide report by the President's Science Advisory Committee. Within a year or so of publication, the attacks on the book and Carson had largely lost momentum. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Nixon Administration in 1970 addressed another concern that Carson had brought to light. Until then, the same agency (the USDA) was responsible both for regulating pesticides and promoting the concerns of the agriculture industry; Carson saw this as a conflict of interest since the agency was not responsible for effects on wildlife or other environmental concerns beyond farm policy. One journalist has described the EPA as "the extended shadow of Silent Spring." Much of the agency's early work, such as enforcing the 1972 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, was directly related to Carson's work.

In one of her last public appearances, Carson testified before President John F. Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee. The committee issued its report on May 15, 1963, largely backing Carson's scientific claims. Following the report's release, she also testified before a United States Senate subcommittee to make policy recommendations. Though Carson received hundreds of other speaking invitations, she could not accept the great majority of them. Her health was steadily declining as her cancer outpaced the radiation therapy, with only brief periods of remission. She spoke as much as she was physically able, however, including a notable appearance on The Today Show and speeches at several dinners held in her honor. In late 1963, she received a flurry of awards and honors: the Audubon Medal (from the National Audubon Society), the Cullum Geographical Medal (from the American Geographical Society), and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Weakened from breast cancer and her treatment regimen, Carson became ill with a respiratory virus in January 1964. Her condition worsened, and in February, doctors found that she had severe anemia from her radiation treatments, and in March they discovered that the cancer had reached her liver. Carson's final letter to Freeman ends with, "Never forget, dear one, how deeply I have loved you all these years." Shortly before Carson's death, both women mutually agreed to destroy hundreds of their letters. According to one reviewer, the pair "fit Carolyn Heilbrun's characterization of a strong female friendship, where what matters is 'not whether friends are homosexual or heterosexual, lovers or not, but whether they share the wonderful energy of work in the public sphere.'" Carson died of a heart attack on April 14, 1964, in her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

According to her biographer, Linda Lear, there was a disagreement about the final arrangements for Carson. Her brother, Robert Carson, insisted that her cremated remains be buried beside their mother in Maryland. This was against her wishes, which were for her ashes to be scattered along the rocky shores of Squirrel Island near Sheepscot River in Maine. In the end, a compromise was reached. In the spring of 1964, Robert mailed half of Carson’s ashes to Freeman, who carried out Rachel's final wishes in the summer of that year.

In one of her last essays, Carson exhorts parents to help their children experience the "...lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world ... available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea, and sky and their amazing life." Carson's work, and the activism it inspired, are at least partly responsible for the deep ecology movement and the overall strength of the grassroots environmental movement since the 1960s. Her most direct legacy in the environmental movement was the campaign to ban DDT in the United States (and related efforts to ban or limit its use throughout the world). Her work, especially Silent Spring, was also instrumental in the rise of ecofeminism and influenced many feminist scientists. In 1973, Carson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. On June 9, 1980, Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. Two research vessels have sailed in the United States bearing the name R/V Rachel Carson. One is on the west coast, owned by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and the other is on the east coast, operated by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The Rachel Carson Prize, founded in Stavanger, Norway in 1991, is awarded to women who have made a contribution to the field of environmental protection. The American Society for Environmental History has been awarded the Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation since 1993. 

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Louis Graydon Sullivan
Louis Graydon Sullivan (June 16, 1951 – March 2, 1991) 

Louis Graydon Sullivan (June 16, 1951 – March 2, 1991) was an American author and activist known for his work on behalf of trans men. He was certainly one of the first transgender men to publicly identify as gay, and he is largely responsible for the modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as distinct concepts.

Louis Graydon Sullivan was born on June 16, 1951, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was assigned female at birth. He was the third child of six in a very religious Catholic family, and attended Catholic schools from grade school through high school.

Sullivan started keeping a journal at the age of 10, recording the joy of “playing boys.” As a teenager, Sullivan fantasized about being a gay man and explored his continued confusion and frustration about his identity: “I want to look like what I am, but I don’t know what someone like me looks like.  I mean, when people look at me, I want them to think—there's one of those people […] that has their own interpretation of happiness. That's what I am.”  Sullivan was attracted to the idea of playing different gender roles, and his attraction to male roles was outlined in his writing (short stories, poems, and diaries) throughout high school; he often explored the ideas of male homosexuality and gender identity. At the age of seventeen, he began a relationship with a self-described "feminine" male lover, and together they would play with gender roles and gender-bending. When Sullivan began to identify as a transgender gay man, he realized the prospects were daunting: “What can become of a girl whose real desire and passion is with male homosexuals?”

In 1973, after joining a The Gay People’s Union, a gay liberation organization, Sullivan began to identify himself as a "female transvestite," and by early 1975 he was describing himself as a "female-to-male transsexual,” which he abbreviated as FTM. In 1975, he realized he needed to leave Milwaukee for somewhere he could find more understanding and access appropriate medical care for his transition, so he decided to move to San Francisco. His family was surprisingly supportive of the move and gave him "a handsome man's suit and [his] grandfather's pocket watch" as going-away presents.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, Sullivan began working at the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, where he was employed as a woman but cross-dressed as a man much of the time. He also became involved with Golden Gate Girls/Guys (later known as the Gateway Gender Alliance), one of the first social and educational transgender organizations, serving as the main writer and overall editor of the organization’s newsletter from July 1979 to October 1980. In fact, it was Sullivan who successfully petitioned to add "Guys" to its name. He transformed the newsletter so that trans people could still obtain information from it on how to pass without having to attend the group’s gatherings in person. 

In his personal life, Sullivan lived as an out gay man, but he was repeatedly denied both gender-affirming care and sex reassignment surgery (SRS) because of his sexual orientation. In a powerfully worded response to a denial letter he received from Stanford University’s Gender Dysphoria Clinic, Sullivan wrote, “The general human populace is made up of many sexual persuasions — it is incredible that your program requires all transsexuals to be of one fabric.” At issue was the fact that doctors in the 1970s had strict criteria for what qualified people for SRS, and one of those criteria was based on the assumption that transgender people wanted to adopt the heterosexual gender roles of the gender to which they had transitioned. Therefore, homosexuality was considered a disqualifying characteristic for those seeking to medically transition. Sullivan was once asked to classify his activities as masculine and feminine, to better identify which gender he “ought to be”; he expressed his bafflement over this in his diary: “How the hell am I supposed to answer that??”  Many of the medical professionals he met with had never heard of a female-to-gay-male transition, and in fact the medical establishment largely maintained that no such person could possibly exist. But even when it would have made his transition easier, Sullivan refused to lie about his sexuality, remaining committed to his vision of becoming his most authentic self. 

These repeated setbacks led to his suffering a severe crisis of gender identity in 1976, and he began living as a stereotypically feminine heterosexual woman. Finally, in 1979, Sullivan was able to find doctors and therapists at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, who accepted his sexuality, and he began taking testosterone, with double mastectomy surgery following a year later. Then, so that he could fully embrace his new identity as a man with new co-workers, he left his job to work as an engineering technician at the Atlantic-Ritchfield Company. 

Throughout the 1980s, Sullivan aggressively lobbied the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA), now known as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), to remove sexual orientation from the diagnostic criteria of what was then called “transsexualism” and later “gender identity disorder” (now termed “gender dysphoria”), so that gay trans people could more easily access medical transition. He also wrote extensively in support of transgender awareness and acceptance, worked tirelessly to create peer support networks for trans men, and advocated for gay and lesbian trans people. In 1980, Sullivan published his first edition of Information for the FTM, one of the first guidebooks for trans men. He became a peer counselor for gender-questioning women through San Francisco’s Janus Information Facility and corresponded with FTMs nationwide and internationally. He was one of the first writers to talk about the eroticism of male clothing. He was also a frequent contributor to Rupert Raj’s FTM newsletter out of Toronto, Metamorphosis. In 1985, Sullivan helped found the GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco, which today houses all of his papers and diaries.

In 1986, Sullivan at last obtained genital reconstruction surgery, but tragically, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive during his surgery, and was told he only had 10 months to live. At the time, Sullivan wrote, "I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic [that had previously rejected me] that even though their program told me I could not live as a Gay man, it looks like I'm going to die like one." From his letters and his diaries, it appears that he tried to keep himself in good spirits about his diagnosis, and it did not slow down his activism. He conducted several recorded interviews with one of the most well-known doctors for transgender men, Dr. Ira Pauly, on his experiences as a gay transgender man. He felt a certain urgency to do this because he knew his AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. He also used his status as a historian to publish a biography of Jack Bee Garland, a gay trans man who lived in San Francisco until he passed away in 1939. 

Up to the very end of his life, Sullivan remained outspoken about the fundamental differences between gender identity and sexual orientation. He died of AIDS-related complications on March 2, 1991, and is generally considered to have been the first trans man to die from AIDS in America. Sullivan was often concerned with being remembered, not necessarily for himself, but more so that others would know that gay trans men existed and had a right to exist. Today, largely due to his efforts, sexual orientation is no longer a barrier to accessing transition-related care. He challenged assumptions and forced the medical and psychological establishments to acknowledge that sexual orientation and gender identity are completely different, unrelated things. In June 2019, Sullivan was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn. In August 2019, Sullivan was one of the honorees inducted in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields.”

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Sally Kristen Ride
Sally Kristen Ride (1951 – 2012)

Sally Kristen Ride (1951 – 2012) was an American astronaut, physicist, professor, and education advocate. She was the first American woman and the third woman to fly in space. She was also the youngest American astronaut to have flown in space, and, following her posthumous disclosure concerning her sexuality, the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to have participated in the U.S. Space Program.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles, California,  the first child of political science professor Dale Burdell Ride and women’s correctional facility counselor Carol Joyce Ride. She had one sibling, Karen, known as "Bear." Ride grew up in Los Angeles. She enjoyed sports, but tennis most of all, and at age 10 was coached by Alice Marble, a former world number one player; by 1963, Ride was ranked number 20 in Southern California for girls aged 12 and under, and she continued to play throughout middle and high school. Following high school graduation in 1968, her friend Sue Okie was interested in going to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, so Ride applied there too. She was interviewed by the Dean of Admissions, who, impressed by both her mental acuity and her tennis ability, admitted her on a full scholarship. Ride also played golf and made Swarthmore's field hockey varsity team. She won all six of her intercollegiate tennis matches and became the Eastern Intercollegiate Women's Singles champion. But Ride was homesick, and she returned to California in January 1970, with the aim of becoming a professional tennis player.

Ride entered the University of California, Los Angeles, where she enrolled in courses toward a double major in English and physics, earning A's in both subjects. Her foray into professional tennis was unsuccessful; after playing three matches on a single August morning, her whole body ached the following day. She realized that practicing eight hours a day would be necessary in order to reach the required level of fitness, concluded that she did not have what it took to be a professional tennis player, and instead resolved to become an astrophysicist. Ride applied for a transfer to Stanford University as a junior, where the tennis coach was eager to have her on the team. 
While at Stanford, Ride renewed her acquaintance with Molly Tyson, whom she had previously met on the tennis circuit as junior tennis players. Although Ride was rated number one at Stanford and Tyson was number six, the two played doubles together. Ride later quit the Stanford tennis team in protest against the university's refusal to join the Pac-8 Conference in women's tennis. To earn money, Ride and her now-girlfriend Tyson gave tennis lessons, and in 1971 and 1972, they were counselors at the TennisAmerica summer camp at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. In August 1972, Ride played in a doubles match with Dennis Van der Meer against Billie Jean King, the world number 1 ranked female tennis player, and Dick Peters, the camp director; Martin Luther King III and Dexter King served as ball boys. Following this, Billie Jean King became a lifelong mentor and a friend. Ride graduated from Stanford in 1973 with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature, and decided to pursue graduate study in physics.  Tyson ended their relationship in 1975, and Ride moved in with Bill Colson, a fellow graduate physics student who was recently divorced. She subsequently earned a Master of Science degree in physics in 1975.

In January 1977, Ride spotted an article on the front page of The Stanford Daily that told how the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was recruiting a new group of astronauts for the Space Shuttle program and wanted to recruit women. No women had previously been NASA astronauts, although the Soviet Union's cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova had flown in space in 1963. Ride's was one of 8,079 applications NASA received by the June 30, 1977, deadline. She then became one of 208 finalists.

Following many interviews, examinations, and other assessments, on January 16, 1978, she received a phone call from George Abbey, NASA's director of flight operations, who informed her that she had been selected as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8. Later that year, Ride graduated with a PhD in physics in 1978, with a doctoral dissertation on the interaction of X-rays with the interstellar medium. She bought a condo unit in the Nassau Bay, Texas, area, and moved there with Colson, who secured a research grant at Rice University so they could move to Texas together, but they split up shortly after the move, in January 1979. Astronaut candidate training included learning to fly NASA's T-38 Talon jet aircraft, and Ride even flew "under the hood", with the windows blacked out and using instruments only. She enjoyed flying so much she took private flying lessons and earned a private pilot's license. On August 31, 1979, she officially became an astronaut, qualified for selection on space flight crews.

In 1981, Ride began dating Steven Hawley, another Group 8 astronaut. They moved in together and considered themselves engaged. Unlike Colson, Hawley was not aware of her earlier relationship with Tyson. They were married on July 26, 1982, in the backyard of Hawley's parents' house in Salina, Kansas, becoming the third NASA astronaut couple. The ceremony was jointly conducted by Hawley's father, the pastor at the local Presbyterian church, and Ride's sister, Bear. For NASA astronauts, conforming to the "Right Stuff" stereotype was essential, and a significant part of having the “Right Stuff” was having at least the appearance of being happily, heterosexually married; even mundane issues such as alcohol abuse or marital problems were generally simply swept under the carpet. Public non-conformity, however, would almost certainly mean not being selected for spaceflight missions, so it is no surprise that Ride kept her private life and true sexual orientation a closely-guarded secret. She did not, however, take her husband's name.

Ride served as a ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third Space Shuttle flights in 1981 and 1982, and she also helped develop the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (RMS), also known as the "Canadarm" or robot arm. She was the first woman to serve as a CapCom. NASA Headquarters approved Ride's selection for the next Space Shuttle mission, which was officially announced in April 1982. As the first American woman to fly in space, Ride was subjected to unwanted media attention and considerable sexism. NASA engineers asked Ride to assist them in developing a "space makeup kit," assuming it would be something a woman would want on board, and they also infamously suggested providing Ride with a supply of 100 tampons for the six-day mission. There were over five hundred requests for private interviews, all of which she declined. Instead, NASA hosted the usual pre-launch press conference on May 24, 1983, during which Ride was asked questions such as, "Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?" She insisted that she saw herself in only one way—as an astronaut, and the mission was about science and getting the job done. When the Challenger lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on June 18, 1983, Ride became the first American woman to fly in space, and the third woman overall. She also became the youngest American astronaut in space. Many of the people attending the launch wore T-shirts bearing the words "Ride, Sally Ride", lyrics from Wilson Pickett's song "Mustang Sally.”

After returning to earth, Ride, along with her crewmates, spent the next few months on tour, meeting the Governor of California, the Mayor of New York, and President Ronald Reagan, whom the crew presented with jellybeans that had been flown into space on the Shuttle. She testified before the Congressional Space Caucus on the efficacy of the new robot arm and addressed the National Press Club, but declined to appear with Bob Hope, whom she regarded as sexist. In September 1983, on her own initiative, she met with Svetlana Savitskaya, the second woman to fly in space, in Budapest. The two found an instant camaraderie, and they were able to converse freely, thanks to Savitskaya's command of English. Savitskaya presented Ride with Russian dolls, books and a scarf, and Ride gave Savitskaya a Shuttle Mission 7 charm that had flown on the mission and a crew shirt.

While she was still engaged on the publicity tour, Ride was assigned to a new Shuttle mission. When Challenger next lifted off, on October 5, 1984, Ride became the first American woman to fly twice, and her Astronaut Group 8 crewmate Kathryn Sullivan would become the first American woman to perform an extravehicular activity before the mission concluded successfully on October 13. It was the first time that two women were on a space mission together. During the mission, Ride carried a white silk scarf that had been worn by Amelia Earhart. She was soon back in the mission rotation, training for her third flight, scheduled to be flown no later than July 15, 1986.

During 1985, she began an affair with Tam O'Shaughnessy. The two knew each other from the junior tennis circuit, and from when Ride was at Stanford. O'Shaughnessy had recently broken up with her female partner and was now living in Atlanta, and Ride visited when she went to Atlanta on speaking engagements. Hawley was aware that his marriage was in trouble, but not that O'Shaughnessy was more than a friend. Ride still performed her astronaut spousal duties when Hawley flew in space for the second time in January 1986.  Astronauts and their spouses were quarantined for a few days before launch, and they stayed at the astronaut beach house at the KSC. Spouses were expected to attend all NASA public events before and after launches, including the post-mission publicity tour. This time, it was agonizing for Ride and Hawley.

Ride’s scheduled flight was cancelled after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. Instead, she was appointed to the presidential commission investigating the disaster, and chaired its subcommittee on operations. She was the only Space Shuttle astronaut and the only current NASA employee on the commission. After Ride’s death in 2012, commission member Major General Donald J. Kutyna revealed that she had discreetly provided him with the key information that O-rings become stiff at low temperatures, information that eventually led to identifying the cause of the explosion. Ride explained that test data since 1977 had revealed a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings. Neither NASA nor the O-ring manufacturer Morton-Thiokol had addressed the issue, and NASA managers had also disregarded engineers' warnings about the dangers of launching in cold temperatures. To protect the source, Kutyna had fed this information to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, who also was serving on the commission. During a televised hearing on February 11, Feynman demonstrated the loss of rubber's elasticity in cold temperatures using a glass of cold water and a piece of rubber, which received considerable media attention. Feynman threatened to remove his name from the commission’s final report unless it included his personal observations on the reliability of the O-rings. Following the publication of the commission’s findings in June 1986, Roger Boisjoly, one of the engineers whose concerns about the potentially dangerous technical problems had been ignored, went public with his pre-disaster warnings. When he was publicly shunned by his previous employer, Morton-Thiokol, Ride was the only public figure to show support for him.

Following the Challenger investigation, Ride was assigned to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she led NASA's first strategic planning effort, authoring a report titled "NASA Leadership and America's Future in Space.” She also founded NASA's Office of Exploration, which she headed for two months. On weekends, she flew to Atlanta to be with O'Shaughnessy. In October 1986, she published a children's book, To Space and Back, which she co-wrote with Sue Okie, her high school and Swarthmore friend.

In May 1987, Ride announced that she was leaving NASA to take up a fellowship at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control (CISAC). She divorced Hawley the following month. Although she had hoped to secure a permanent position at Stanford following the 2-year fellowship, Ride was not appointed to a professorship. Instead, in 1989, she became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and director of the California Space Institute (Cal Space), part of the university's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1992, Ride revised her will to ensure that O'Shaughnessy would inherit her estate, even though, at the time, they could not legally marry or establish a domestic partnership. In the mid-1990s, Ride began two public-outreach programs for NASA—the ISS EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM projects—in cooperation with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCSD. The programs allowed middle school students to request images of the earth and the moon. She remained director of Cal Space until 1996. Ride also bought a house in La Jolla, California, and O'Shaughnessy moved in with her after taking up a teaching position at San Diego Mesa College.

Ride turned down offers from President Bill Clinton to become NASA Administrator, not wanting to leave California, but did agree to serve on the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). This involved flying to Washington, D.C., every few months for studies and presentations. From September 1999 to July 2000, Ride was the president of Space.com, a company that aggregated news about science and space on its website. In 2001, she became the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company she co-founded with O'Shaughnessy, who served as the chief executive officer and chair of the board. Sally Ride Science created entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a particular focus on girls. Ride and O'Shaughnessy co-wrote six books on space aimed at children, with the goal of encouraging children to study science.

Following the re-entry destruction of the Columbia Space Shuttle on February 1, 2003, Ride served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the only person to serve on both the panel that investigated the Challenger disaster and the one that investigated the Columbia disaster. She retired from UCSD in 2007 and became a professor emeritus. Ride was contacted by Barack Obama's transition team in 2008 and offered the post of NASA administrator, but, as with the Clinton administration, she once again made it clear that she was not interested. She served on the board of the National Math and Science Initiative in 2007 and the Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009, and was a member of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, which conducted an independent review of American space policy requested by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on May 7, 2009. 
Ride received numerous awards throughout her lifetime. She received the National Space Society's von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle by the Charles A. Lindbergh Fund, and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame and was awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal twice. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Ride into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts on December 6, 2006. The following year she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.

When Ride delivered a speech at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in San Francisco on March 10, 2011, O'Shaughnessy and a friend noted that she looked ill. Alarmed, O'Shaughnessy had her book a doctor's appointment for the following day, and a medical ultrasound revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball in Ride’s abdomen. A follow-up CT scan at UCSD confirmed a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Ride underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy to reduce the size of the tumor, and surgeons removed part of her pancreas, bile duct, stomach, and intestine, along with her gallbladder. Ride and O’Shaughnessy registered their domestic partnership on August 15, 2011.

Following a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, Ride died on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, at her home in La Jolla, with her sister, Bear, and O’Shaughnessy at her side. Following cremation, her ashes were interred next to those of her father at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica. Ride's obituary publicly revealed for the first time that O'Shaughnessy had been her partner of 27 years; O’Shaughnessy later stated that Ride had struggled with the decision for a long time because she "didn't want to hurt NASA" by publicly coming out. This made Ride, posthumously, the first known LGBTQ astronaut. As Bear Ride described her, "my sister was a very private person” “[who] didn't use labels," and she would no doubt be uncomfortable with a public discussion of her sexuality, although she also recognized how important it was to represent and be visible—she and O'Shaughnessy had carefully worked out the phrasing of the announcement before Ride's death. “Her personal feelings were just that: personal. Not right or wrong — simply Sally. Everyone who knows her well really got that about her." Ride's main concern in the last days of her life was making sure that Sally Ride Science survived her passing. “Her true passion really was science education, and inspiring more young people, particularly girls, to follow a career path in science and technology.”

Posthumously, Ride has received many honors. On December 17, 2012, the two GRAIL probes, Ebb and Flow, were directed to complete their mission by crashing on an unnamed lunar mountain near the crater Goldschmidt. NASA announced that it was naming the landing site in her honor. Also in December 2012, the Space Foundation bestowed upon Ride its highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award. In April 2013, the United States Navy announced that a research ship would be named in honor of Ride; RV Sally Ride (AGOR-28) was christened by O'Shaughnessy on August 9, 2014, and was delivered to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2016.  A "National Tribute to Sally Ride" was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2013, during which President Barack Obama announced that Ride would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. The medal was presented to O'Shaughnessy in a ceremony at the White House on November 20, 2013. Ride was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display in Chicago that celebrates LGBTQ history and people, in 2014. Stanford University's Serra House located in Lucie Stern Hall was renamed the Sally Ride House in 2019. The U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class postage stamp honoring her in 2018, and Ride appeared as one of the first two honorees of the American Women Quarters series in March 2022, the first known LGBTQ person to appear on U.S. currency. On April 1, 2022, a satellite named after Ride was launched into space as part of the Satellogic Aleph-1 constellation, and a Cygnus spacecraft used for the NG-18 mission, launched successfully on November 7, 2022, was named the S.S. Sally Ride in her honor.

In an elegiac essay published immediately after Ride’s death, Bear Ride described her big sister: "Sally lived her life to the fullest with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless. Sally died the same way she lived: without fear. Sally's signature statement was 'Reach for the Stars.' Surely she did this, and she blazed a trail for all the rest of us.” Sally Ride continues to be a role model who shows women and the LGBTQ community that they, too, can achieve greatness; her achievements make others’ dreams possible. She famously said, "You can't be what you can't see," which speaks to the power of representation. She "demonstrated to the world that LGBTQ people can be astronauts, that we can be part of every single field and industry, and that we can do incredible things in those jobs.”

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Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein (1918 –1990)

Leonard Bernstein (1918 –1990) was an American conductor, composer, pianist, music educator, author, and humanitarian. Considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time, indeed "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history," he was the first American conductor to receive international acclaim.

Louis Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Ukrainian Jewish émigré parents. His grandmother insisted that his first name be Louis, but his parents always called him Leonard. He was to be the eldest of three siblings—his sister, Shirley, was born in 1923, and his brother, Burton, in 1932. Despite the large age differences, the three siblings remained close their entire lives. In Bernstein’s early youth, his only exposure to music was the household radio and music on Friday nights at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Bernstein's first two education environments were both public schools: the William Lloyd Garrison School, followed by the prestigious Boston Latin School, for which Bernstein and classmate Lawrence F. Ebb wrote the Class Song.

When Bernstein was ten years old, his Aunt Clara gave her upright piano to the family, and Bernstein began teaching himself piano and music theory, and was soon clamoring for lessons. His father was initially opposed to his son’s interest in music and attempted to discourage it by refusing to pay for lessons, so the young Bernstein began giving piano lessons to younger children in order to finance his own lessons. One of his students, Sid Ramin, became Bernstein’s most frequent orchestrator and lifelong beloved friend. Bernstein had a variety of piano teachers in his youth, including Helen Coates, who later became his secretary. His prodigious talent was such that he became highly proficient on the instrument within a few years, achieving fluency in both classical styles and the uniquely American idioms of jazz and blues. While still in high school, Bernstein assumed the responsibility for mounting performances of a satirical musical comedy work based on Bizet's Carmen, as well as of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore. He and Shirley would often play entire operas or Beethoven symphonies together.  Eventually, Bernstein’s father began to support his music education, and took his son to music performances; in May 1932, he attended his first orchestral concert with the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler. Bernstein recalled, “To me, in those days, the Pops was heaven itself … I thought … it was the supreme achievement of the human race.” It was at this concert that Bernstein first heard Ravel's Boléro, which made a tremendous impression on him.

Bernstein legally changed his first name to Leonard when he was 18, shortly after his grandmother’s death. To his friends, Bernstein was simply known as “Lenny.” He had asthma, and the condition kept him from serving in the military during World War II. Bernstein was well-aware of his sexual orientation at this point as well, although his upbringing led him to be somewhat torn about it. Throughout his life, he had affairs with both women and men, although he generally thought of himself as primarily gay.  Later, he would engage in years of therapy about his sexual orientation, with the apparent hope of being “cured,” although by the mid-1950s he abandoned this and accepted his “gayness.”

In 1935, Bernstein enrolled at Harvard College, where he majored in music. One of his intellectual influences at Harvard was the aesthetics Professor David Prall, whose multidisciplinary outlook on the arts inspired Bernstein for the rest of his life. In 1937, a chance meeting with Greek conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos, a man of great intensity, instilled in Bernstein a desire to pursue a career in conducting. Mitropoulos himself encouraged Bernstein's ambitions; the two men remained friends and intermittent lovers until Mitropoulos's death. Another chance meeting later that year with American composer Aaron Copland resulted in the establishment of another lifelong friendship and affair, despite the contrast in Copland's reserved, down-to-earth personality with Bernstein's natural and relentless ebullience. In the years to follow, their friendship successfully operated on both personal and professional levels, with Copland often providing practical advice and encouragement to Bernstein (he called Copland his "only real composition teacher").  Bernstein wrote of his friend, “I can’t quite believe that I should have found all the things I’ve wanted rolled into one. It’s a hell of an experience – nerve-racking and guts tearing and wonderful. It’s changed everything.” At Harvard, Bernstein solidified his commitment to furthering social change and making the world a better place. His first public efforts for social change became apparent in 1939 when he organized and led a performance of Marc Blitzstein's recently banned musical, The Cradle Will Rock, about the struggles of the working class. Bernstein graduated from Harvard in 1939 with a Bachelor of Arts cum laude, with a final year thesis titled "The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.”

In the fall of that same year, Bernstein began his studies at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, although he did so with some trepidation, far removed as it was from the emotional, intellectual and financial support of family and friends in Cambridge. At Curtis, Bernstein studied conducting with Fritz Reiner (who anecdotally is said to have given Bernstein the only "A" grade he ever awarded); piano with Isabelle Vengerova; orchestration with Randall Thompson; counterpoint with Richard Stöhr; and score reading with Renée Longy Miquelle. In 1940, Bernstein attended the inaugural year of the Tanglewood Music Center (then called the Berkshire Music Center) at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's (BSO) summer home. Bernstein studied conducting with the BSO's music director, Serge Koussevitzky, who became a profound lifelong inspiration to Bernstein. That summer at Tanglewood also marked the beginning of his association with many of the finest musicians of the day, and especially with Koussevitzky, for whom Bernstein became a protégé, his "Lenushka." Bernstein returned to Tanglewood nearly every summer for the rest of his life to teach and conduct the young music students.

Soon after he left Curtis, Bernstein moved to New York City in September 1942, where he lived in various apartments in Manhattan. There, he supported himself with a succession of ungratifying jobs in order to pay the bills. Yet despite its difficulties, this period was a productive one for Bernstein, who focused his energies on musical composition. Although he had little formal training in composition, Bernstein nevertheless revealed an innate mastery of musical expression, soon producing both Symphony no. 1, 'Jeremiah,' and the ironically-titled song cycle I Hate Music. Eventually, he found work with Harms-Witmark, transcribing jazz and pop music and publishing his work under the pseudonym "Lenny Amber.” Bernstein sought advice in April 1943 from Copland about living as a gay man in the public eye, suggesting he could resolve the dilemma by marrying his "girl-friend ... my dentist's daughter,” a notion he brought up again in later letters. He continually worried that public acknowledgement of his homosexual activities would prevent him from landing a major conducting appointment. 

On his twenty-fifth birthday in 1943, Bernstein's patience was rewarded by his appointment as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic by the orchestra's then-principal conductor, Artur Rodziński. A few months later, on November 14, 1943, he was called upon, with less than a day's notice, to conduct the Philharmonic in place of the scheduled guest conductor, Bruno Walter, who had fallen ill. The scheduled program that day (a challenging one for any conductor, including works by Robert Schumann, Miklós Rózsa, Richard Wagner, and Richard Strauss) was compounded by the fact that Bernstein had never rehearsed or even conducted most the works to be performed, and by the added pressure that a portion of the concert was to be broadcast live nationally on the CBS Radio Network. Despite these obstacles, Bernstein’s début was an unqualified triumph. The instant fame that resulted from this success established Bernstein's career on an international level. His legendary conducting début was quickly followed by other triumphs as both conductor and composer. In the following two years, he conducted ten different orchestras in the United States and Canada, greatly broadening his repertoire and initiating a lifelong frequent practice of conducting concertos from the piano. He conducted the première performances of his 'Jeremiah' Symphony, the ballet Fancy Free, and 1944’s musical On the Town, a film version of which was later produced by MGM Studios in 1949. On the Town resonated with audiences during World War II, and it broke race barriers on Broadway: Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato in a leading role; a multiracial cast dancing as mixed race couples; and a Black concertmaster, Everett Lee, who eventually took over as music director of the show.

From 1945 to 1947, Bernstein was the music director of the New York City Symphony, which had been founded the previous year by the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski. Under Bernstein’s guidance, the orchestra was one of the first major American orchestras to have modern programs and affordable tickets. In 1946, Bernstein made his overseas debut with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague, and in 1947, he conducted in Tel Aviv for the first time, beginning a lifelong association with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, then known as the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. The next year, he conducted an open-air concert for Israeli troops at Beersheba in the middle of the desert during the Arab-Israeli war; during this visit to Israel, he fell briefly in love with a young soldier, Azariah Rapoport.

During this period, Bernstein also met Felicia Montealegre, a stunningly beautiful Chilean stage and television actress, at a party hosted by pianist Claudio Arrau. They were engaged a few months later, but the engagement was broken off after less than a year. The reason for the break-up of the relationship was not a secret, as Bernstein’s gay liaisons were well-known in the New York music scene. Montealegre was fully aware of his sexual preferences, but she nevertheless continued to pursue him over the next three years.

On December 10, 1949, Bernstein made his first television appearance as conductor with the BSO at Carnegie Hall. The concert, which included an address by Eleanor Roosevelt, celebrated the first anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and included the premiere of Aaron Copland's "Preamble" with Sir Laurence Olivier narrating text from the UN Charter. The concert was televised by NBC Television Network. In April 1949, Bernstein performed as piano soloist in the world premiere of his Symphony No. 2: The Age of Anxiety, with Koussevitzy conducting the BSO. Later that year, Bernstein conducted the BSO in the world premiere of Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie. Part of the rehearsal for the concert was recorded and released by the orchestra. When Koussevitzky died in 1951, Bernstein became head of the orchestra and conducting departments at Tanglewood.

The 1950s comprised among the most active years of Bernstein's career. He had been involved in numerous left-wing causes and organizations since the 1940s, at which time the FBI began its decades-long monitoring of his activities "for his ties to communist organizations." In the early 1950s, he was briefly blacklisted by the United States Department of State and CBS, but he was never asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1950, Bernstein composed incidental music for a Broadway production of J. M. Barrie's play Peter Pan. The production starred Jean Arthur as Peter Pan and Boris Karloff in the dual roles of George Darling and Captain Hook; the show ran for 321 performances. In 1951, Bernstein composed Trouble in Tahiti, a one-act opera in English that portrayed the troubled marriage of a couple whose idyllic suburban post-war environment belies their inner turmoil. (Three decades later, he wrote a second opera, A Quiet Place, which picked up the story and characters of Trouble in Tahiti in a later period.) Ironically, Bernstein wrote most of the opera while on his honeymoon in Mexico with Montealegre, whom he married in September, with the clear understanding that as long as Bernstein did not embarrass Montealegre publicly, he was free to pursue his homosexual affairs. Despite this obvious marriage of convenience, there was a good deal of love between them. Soon after their wedding, Montealegre wrote to her husband, “If I seemed sad as you drove away today, it was not because I felt in any way deserted but because I was left alone to face myself and this whole bloody mess which is our “connubial” life. I’ve done a lot of thinking and have decided that it’s not such a mess after all. First: we are not committed to a life sentence—nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so). Second: you are a homosexual and may never change—you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depends on a certain sexual pattern, what can you do? Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar. (I happen to love you very much—this may be a disease and if it is what better cure?) Let’s try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please! The feelings you have for me will be clearer and easier to express—our marriage is not based on passion but on tenderness and mutual respect.” Initially, at least, Montealegre believed she could change Bernstein because he didn’t exclusively sleep with men. In describing his sexual attraction toward men, Bernstein wrote to his sister, “I have been engaged in an imaginary life with Felicia,” an imaginary life that endured for the next 26 years.

Bernstein was a visiting music professor at Brandeis University from 1951 to 1956, during which time his and Montealegre’s first two children were born: a daughter, Jamie, in 1952, and a son, Alexander, in 1955. In the public eye, Bernstein seemed like a devoted husband and father, but in reality, he was always engaged with multiple affairs with both men and women while married. In 1952, he created the Brandeis Festival of the Creative Arts, where he conducted the premiere of Trouble in Tahiti. He also wrote symphonic works at this time: Serenade after Plato's "Symposium"; the score On the Waterfront; and Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, composed for jazz big band and solo clarinet. In 1953, Bernstein became the first American conductor to appear at La Scala in Milan, conducting Cherubini's Medea, with Maria Callas in the title role. 

In 1953, Bernstein wrote the score for the musical Wonderful Town on very short notice, with a book by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actress. In 1954, Bernstein began television lectures intended to bring music appreciation to the general public on the CBS Television Network arts program, Omnibus. The first live lecture, entitled "Beethoven's Fifth Symphony", involved Bernstein explaining the symphony's first movement with the aid of musicians from the "Symphony of the Air.” The program featured manuscripts from Beethoven's own hand, as well as a giant painting of the first page of the score covering the studio floor. Six more Omnibus lectures followed from 1955 to 1961 (later on ABC and then NBC) covering a broad range of topics, including jazz, conducting, American musical comedy, modern music, J.S. Bach, and grand opera.

Callas and Bernstein reunited at La Scala to perform Bellini's La Sonnambula in 1955, while he simultaneously worked on the scores for two Broadway shows: Candide and West Side Story. The comic operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s story, opened on Broadway in December 1956, with its most incendiary sections cut prior to opening night due to the producer’s anxiety over the deliberate parallels between Voltaire's story and the ongoing hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. While the production was a box office disaster, the cast album became a cult classic.

For West Side Story, Bernstein collaborated with director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, author Arthur Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim to create an updated retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, set in the mid-1950s in the slums of New York City's Upper West Side. The original Broadway production opened on September 26, 1957, and ran for 732 performances. Robbins won the Tony Award for Best Choreographer, and Oliver Smith won the Tony for Best Scenic Designer.  One of Bernstein's most enduring and well-known works, the score for West Side Story blends "jazz, Latin rhythms, symphonic sweep, and musical-comedy conventions in groundbreaking ways.” The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in musical theatre. According to Laurents, at this stage of his life, Bernstein was “a gay man who got married. He wasn’t conflicted about it at all. He was just gay.” In 1960, Bernstein prepared a suite of orchestral music from the show, titled Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, which continues to be popular with orchestras worldwide. The 1961 United Artists film adaptation, won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture and a ground-breaking Best Supporting Actress award for Puerto Rican-born Rita Moreno playing the role of Anita.

In 1957, Bernstein conducted the inaugural concert of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. He was appointed the music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957, sharing the post jointly with Dimitri Mitropoulos until he took sole charge in 1958. Despite receiving criticism for his flamboyance on the podium, Bernstein nevertheless became renowned for the excitement and sincerity of musical interpretation that he brought to live concerts. Many of his concerts were also designed around musical, historical, or social themes, illustrated by the music to be performed, and he was one of the first conductors to often encourage pre-concert discussion for audiences about the works to be performed and their themes; his open rehearsals of the New York Philharmonic for the benefit of students were often followed by informal question-and-answer sessions. Bernstein also initiated the Philharmonic's informal Thursday Evening Preview Concerts, which included Bernstein's talks from the stage, a practice that was unheard of at the time. In one oft-reported incident, on April 6, 1962, Bernstein appeared on stage before a performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor to explain that the soloist, Glenn Gould, had chosen an idiosyncratic approach to the work. Bernstein explained that while he did not totally agree with it, he thought Gould's interpretation was an artistically worthy exploration. Bernstein questioned: "In a concerto, who is the boss: the soloist or the conductor?" The incident created a stir that reverberated in the press for decades.

In 1958, Bernstein’s commitment to education audiences took a quantum leap when he put the New York Philharmonic’s traditional Saturday afternoon Young People's Concerts on the CBS Television Network. Millions of viewers of all ages and around the world enthusiastically embraced Bernstein and his engaging presentations about classical music, providing an introduction to shared musical culture for an entire generation.  From 1958 until 1972, the 53 Young People's Concerts comprised arguably the most influential series of music education programs ever produced on television.

In 1958, Bernstein and Mitropoulos led the New York Philharmonic on its first tour south of the border, through 12 countries in Central and South America. The United States Department of State sponsored the tour to improve the nation's relations with its southern neighbors. In 1959, the Department of State also sponsored Bernstein and the Philharmonic on a 50-concert tour through Europe and the Soviet Union, portions of which were filmed by the CBS Television Network. A highlight of the tour was the performance of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, in the presence of the composer, who came on stage at the end to congratulate Bernstein and the musicians. Another milestone was the Philharmonic's first visit to Japan in 1961, when Bernstein led acclaimed Philharmonic concerts and engaged in cultural exchange. Over the years, he led the Orchestra on tours to 144 cities in 38 countries.

In 1961, Bernstein composed and conducted a fanfare for President John F. Kennedy's pre-inaugural gala. His and Felicia’s marriage, while strained by his many affairs, remained, in her words, “immensely fulfilling and exciting,” and a second daughter, Nina, was born in 1962.  On November 23, 1963, the day after the President’s assassination, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic and the Schola Cantorum of New York in a nationally televised memorial featuring the Mahler's Symphony No. 2: "Resurrection". Later that week, in a speech to the United Jewish Appeal, he said: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." His Symphony No. 3: Kaddish was written in 1963; Bernstein dedicated the work: "To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy." "Kaddish" refers to the Jewish prayer recited for the dead. The work features a large orchestra, a full choir, a boys' choir, a soprano soloist, and a narrator. Bernstein wrote the text of the narration himself; his wife narrated the US premiere of the work.

In 1965, Bernstein took a sabbatical year from the New York Philharmonic in order to concentrate on composition, during which he composed Chichester Psalms. For his text, he chose excerpts from the Book of Psalms in the original Hebrew. Today, Chichester Psalms is one of the most-performed concert works worldwide. Bernstein also shared the Philharmonic's commitment to connecting with as many New Yorkers as possible. That vision became a reality with the launch of the Concerts in the Parks in 1965, which Bernstein conducted often.  In 1967, he conducted a concert on Mount Scopus to commemorate the Reunification of Jerusalem, featuring Mahler's Symphony No. 2 and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with soloist Isaac Stern. The city of Tel Aviv added his name to the Habima Square (Orchestra Plaza) in the center of the city. After Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Bernstein conducted the "Adagietto" movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 at the funeral mass. Bernstein held the music directorship until 1969 when he was appointed "Laureate Conductor." He continued to conduct and make recordings with the orchestra for the rest of his life.

On January 14, 1970, Bernstein and his wife held an event at their Manhattan apartment seeking to raise awareness and funds for the defense of members of the Black Panther Party, known as the Panther 21. The story became widely publicized, climaxing in June of that year with the appearance of "Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's," a cover story by journalist Tom Wolfe in New York Magazine. Bernstein and Felicia received hate mail, and their building was picketed by Jewish Defense League protesters. Bernstein's FBI file later revealed that the Bureau had generated the letters, and had implanted agents to make the protests look more substantial.

Bernstein began writing Mass in 1969 as a large-scale theatrical work based on the Tridentine Mass of the Catholic Church, and in 1971, he invited the young composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz to collaborate as co-lyricist. The world premiere took place on September 8, 1971. The masterful score combines elements of musical theater, jazz, gospel, blues, folk, rock, and symphonic music, and the libretto combines Latin and English liturgy, Hebrew prayer, and additional lyrics written by Bernstein and Schwartz. Mass received mixed reactions, from audiences and music critics alike. While some members of the Catholic Church praised the piece's expression of contemporary crises of faith, others considered it blasphemous. (In 2000, Pope John Paul II requested a performance of Mass at the Vatican itself.) President Richard Nixon declined to attend the premiere due to its anti-Vietnam War message. Viewpoints on Mass continue to evolve over time, and Edward Seckerson wrote in 2021, 50 years after its premiere: "Put simply, no other work of Bernstein's encapsulates exactly who he was as a man or as a musician; no other work displays his genius, his intellect, his musical virtuosity and innate theatricality quite like Mass."

In the 1972–73 academic year, Bernstein was appointed to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair as Professor of Poetry at Harvard, where he delivered six lectures, The Unanswered Question, which explored such elements as tonality, harmony, and form through the lens of Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories. Bernstein provided musical examples from the piano, and pre-recorded musical works with the BSO.  In 1971, he met and fell in love with Tom Cothran, the music director of a San Francisco classical radio station. After bonding over their love of music, the two began an affair and repeatedly took vacations together, until, in 1976, Bernstein left Montealegre to live with Cothran in California. The very next year, Felicia was diagnosed with lung cancer, and upon learning this, Bernstein returned to care for her. His Songfest: A Cycle of American Poems for Six Singers and Orchestra premiered in 1977, with the composer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. The work, which sets an array of texts by 13 American poets spanning three centuries to music, was intended as a tribute to the 1976 American Bicentennial, but it was not finished in time. Bernstein deliberately selected the widest possible array of literary voices to express the nation's essential diversity; the poets include June Jordan, Julia de Burgos, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes.

Bernstein cared for Montealegre until her death on June 16, 1978. He never fully recovered from the loss. “He was heartbroken,” his friend Yehudi Menuhin said. “He is a man who feels so very deeply.” After her death, Bernstein gave free reign to his addiction to alcohol and drugs, and engaged in openly crude homosexual activities. Yet, he always felt guilty about how his double life had adversely affected her. Bernstein didn’t resume his romance with Cothran, though the two remained friends until Cothran died from AIDS in 1987. In 1979, Bernstein conducted the Berlin Philharmonic for the first and only time, in two charity concerts for Amnesty International featuring performances of Mahler's Ninth Symphony.  Also in 1979, Bernstein visited Tokyo with the New York Philharmonic, where he met Kunihiko Hashimoto. “I noticed that he was gazing upon me, said Hashimoto. “It is hard to explain about his eyes. It was not to try to talk to me nor seduce me, just he was looking at me. It was irresistible.” The two ended up spending the night together. When Bernstein left, Hashimoto was devastated. The following day, he wrote to him: “After you left Japan, my mind became vacant, because the one night and afternoon that we had were like a beautiful dream.” Bernstein’s manager later invited Hashimoto to become the composer’s Japan representative, and Hashimoto played a crucial role in some of Bernstein’s major projects in his late career, including organizing the Hiroshima peace concerts in 1985. Over the next few years, on at least two occasions Bernstein arranged to bring Hashimoto to Europe to spend time with him. They engaged in frequent correspondence for the remainder of Bernstein’s life. One of Hashimoto’s letters reads, “I never forget that you asked me where we should live. Your question was where ‘we’ should live, wasn’t it?’ I would like to live with you. Even as a maid (but I am not good at cooking and sewing). Even as a secretary (but I cannot type quickly). Even as like a doll (but I have a mind) … I was born to meet you and to be with you.”

During the 1980s, Bernstein pursued a packed schedule, continuing to conduct, teach, compose, and produce several television documentaries. He was a committed and outspoken supporter of nuclear disarmament, and in 1980, gave a passionate commencement speech at Johns Hopkins University to the graduating class warning of the dangers of nuclear proliferation. He received the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1980.  In 1983, he dedicated the activities surrounding his 65th birthday to the issue of nuclear disarmament. In 1985, he brought the European Community Youth Orchestra on a "Journey for Peace" tour across Europe and Japan, performing at the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the bombing, an event arranged by his friend and lover, Hashimoto. In 1984, Bernstein reconfigured A Quiet Place to include Trouble in Tahiti in its middle, and saw this version performed at La Scala and the Kennedy Center, although he did not conduct it. He was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and France's Legion of Honor (Commandeur) in 1985. He also co-founded three music academies: Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival Orchestral Academy, and the Pacific Music Festival. In 1986, Bernstein himself conducted and recorded A Quiet Place at the Vienna State Opera.

As a humanitarian and a gay man, Bernstein also wanted to understand and help raise funds to fight the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. In 1986, he and his manager, Harry Kraut, brought the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) a proposal for a special fund-raising concert in which all kinds of artists would perform pieces other than from their repertoires. And so it was that six short weeks later, on a cold December night, Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt sang "Ave Maria" together, Isaac Stern played "Fiddler on the Roof;" Bernadette Peters performed the First Would War song "My Buddy," and Hildegard Behrens sang, "Falling in Love Again." The evening ended with a standing and swaying audience joining the performers singing "Somewhere" from West Side Story. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. It was another Bernstein "miracle night," unforgettable for its intensity, beauty and depth of emotion that also provided manna from heaven to several unfunded but most deserving AIDS research projects. And, in 1987, Bernstein led another AmFAR event: a major event at Carnegie Hall to be called “Serenade.” That December, “Serenade,” featuring an extraordinary assortment of Bernstein's friends and admirers,f rom James Levine to Plácido Domingo, from Meryl Streep to Steve Martin, AmFAR raised the first million dollars for its community-based clinical trials program, organizing practicing physicians into a nationwide network to test promising new drugs at the community level, so as to greatly increase the number of people with AIDS who would have access to new treatments. This developed into a nationwide network of 45 cooperating HIV/AIDS clinical research centers. One year later, the government finally joined in funding community-based clinical research.

On December 25, 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin's Konzerthaus as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He had conducted the same work in West Berlin the previous day. The orchestra consisted of members representing the two German States and the four occupying powers of post-war Berlin. The Christmas Day concert was broadcast live to an estimated audience of 100 million people in more than twenty countries. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded Friedrich Schiller's text of the Ode to Joy, replacing the word Freude (joy) with the word Freiheit (freedom), stating, “I'm sure that Beethoven would have given us his blessing.”

Bernstein was awarded Japan's Praemium Imperiale in 1990, among other honors. Also in 1990, he established The Bernstein Education Through the Arts (BETA) Fund. He provided this grant to develop an arts-based education program: "And my decision has been, without too much thought, to spend most of the remaining energy and time the Lord grants me in education and sharing, as much as possible, with younger people."  Bernstein conducted his last concert on August 19, 1990, with the BSO at Tanglewood. He led Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. The program also included Bernstein's own Arias and Barcarolles in a new orchestration by Bright Sheng. However, poor health prevented Bernstein from preparing it, and Tanglewood Conducting Fellow Carl St. Clair was engaged to conduct the work in his stead. A longtime heavy smoker (he had battled emphysema from his mid-20s), Bernstein suffered a coughing fit during the third movement of the Beethoven, but continued to conduct the piece to its conclusion, leaving the stage during the ovation, appearing exhausted and in pain. Bernstein died in New York on October 14, 1990. On the day of his funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, construction workers removed their hats and waved and yelled "Goodbye Lenny." Bernstein is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

A close family friend once remarked, “Leonard required man sexually and women emotionally.” Although Bernstein wasn’t open about his sexuality until later in life, he was open about his liberal views, which included being anti-war, pro-Black Panther Party, and pro-rock and roll. He was a lifelong humanitarian, working in support of civil rights, protesting against the Vietnam War, advocating for nuclear disarmament, organizing funding for AIDS research and treatment, and engaging in multiple international initiatives for human rights and world peace. A true renaissance man of the twentieth century--conductor, composer, activist, and educator—Leonard Bernstein remains one of the most celebrated musicians in American history. Perhaps more than any other composer, his work has become synonymous with the very identity of American music, and his work resulted in hundreds of timeless recordings and brought the gift of music to millions.

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Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832 –1919) 

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832 –1919) was an American women’s rights advocate, abolitionist, prohibitionist, and surgeon. She is the only woman in all of U.S. history to receive the Medal of Honor. 

Mary Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York. She was youngest of seven children, the fifth daughter of abolitionists Alvah and Vesta Whitcomb Walker, who also started the first free school in Oswego so their daughters would be just as educated as their son. Her parents encouraged her to think freely, and also encouraged her to wear “bloomer” pants, instead of the skirts and corsets women were required to wear at the time, because they felt that these tight lacings were unhealthy. The Walkers modeled nonconforming gender roles for their children: Vesta often participated in heavy labor while Alvah took part in general household chores. After finishing at her parent’s school, Walker and two of her older sisters attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York, and upon graduation, she became a teacher in Minetto, New York. While encouraged by her family, Walker's nonconforming wardrobe choices were often met with criticism. Once, while a schoolteacher, she was assaulted on her way home by a neighboring farmer and a group of boys, who chased her and attacked her with eggs and other projectiles. 

But she knew she wanted to become a doctor, and worked as a teacher only until she had saved enough to pay for medical school. Walker then attended Syracuse Medical College, where her colleagues criticized her clothing choices, and patients often gawked at and teased her. Nonetheless, Walker received her medical degree with top honors in 1855, the second woman to graduate from this college (the first was Elizabeth Blackwell). 

Shortly after she graduated, Walker married another medical school student, Albert Miller, on November 16, 1855. At the wedding, Walker wore a short skirt with trousers underneath, refused to include "obey" in her vows, and retained her last name, all characteristic of her obstinate nonconformity. They started a medical practice together in Rome, New York. The practice did not flourish, as female physicians were generally not trusted or respected at that time, and they later divorced, on grounds of Miller's infidelity. Following the divorce, Walker briefly attended Bowen Collegiate Institute (later named Lenox College) in Hopkinton, Iowa, in 1860, until she was suspended for refusing to resign from the school's debating society, which until she joined had been all-male.

By 1861, her typical clothing ensemble included trousers with suspenders under a knee-length dress with a tight waist and full skirt, which she wore unapologetically. When the Civil War began in 1861, Walker volunteered to serve as a surgeon for the Union Army, but was rejected because she was a woman (despite having kept a private practice for many years). She was offered the role of a nurse, but declined and chose to volunteer as a surgeon for the Union Army as a civilian instead, but still, she was only allowed to practice as a nurse. She always wore men's clothing during her work, asserting that it was more practical and healthier. Walker served at the First Battle of Bull Run (Mantissas), July 21, 1861, and at the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C.  As a suffragist, she was happy to see women serving as soldiers, and alerted the press to the case of Frances Hook, in Ward 2 of the Chattanooga hospital, a woman who served in the Union forces disguised as a man. 

She organized the Women's Relief Organization that helped families of the wounded who came to visit their loved ones at the hospital, and in 1862 she traveled to Virginia and worked as an unpaid field surgeon near the Union front lines, including at the Battle of Fredericksburg and in Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga. She also wrote to the War Department in September of that year requesting to become a spy, but she was rejected. However, in 1863 her request to practice as a surgeon was finally accepted. She became a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)" in the Army of the Cumberland, becoming the first female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army Surgeon. Walker was later appointed assistant surgeon of the 52nd Ohio Infantry. During her service, she frequently crossed battle lines to treat both soldiers and civilians.

On April 10, 1864, Walker was captured by Confederate troops, and arrested as a spy, just after she had finished helping a Confederate doctor perform an amputation. While she was imprisoned, she refused to wear the clothes provided her, said to be more "becoming of her sex." She was sent to Castle Thunder in Richmond, Virginia, and remained there until August 12, 1864, when she was released as part of a prisoner exchange for a Confederate surgeon from Tennessee. She became the assistant surgeon of the Ohio 52nd Infantry a month later, where she served until the end of the war. After the war, Walker sought a retroactive brevet or commission to validate her service. President Andrew Johnson directed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to study the legality of the issue, and he solicited an opinion from the Army's Judge Advocate General, who determined that there was no precedent for commissioning a female, but that a "commendatory acknowledgment" could be issued in lieu of the commission. This led President Johnson to personally award the Medal of Honor to Walker in 1865, recognizing her efforts to treat the wounded in battle and across enemy lines during the Civil War. Thus, Walker was not formally recommended for the Medal of Honor, and this unusual process may also explain why authorities overlooked her ineligibility, ironically on the grounds of lacking a commission. In addition, she was awarded a disability pension for partial muscular atrophy suffered while she was imprisoned by the enemy. She was given $8.50 a month, beginning June 13, 1865, but in 1899 that amount was raised to $20 per month. 

In addition to her medical work with the army, Walker also advocated for women’s suffrage (trying to register to vote in 1871), and was a member of the Central Woman's Suffrage Bureau in Washington, DC, soliciting funds to endow a chair for a female professor at Howard University medical school. The initial stance of the movement, following her lead, was to claim that women already had the right to vote, and Congress needed only to enact enabling legislation. After a number of fruitless years advocating this position, the movement promoted the adoption of a constitutional amendment. This was diametrically opposed to her position, and she fell out of favor with the movement.

However, she still energetically supported such issues as public health care, temperance, and dress reform for women. She was frequently arrested for wearing men's clothing, including a top hat, and insisted on her right to wear clothing that she thought appropriate, advocating the so-called “rational dress” movement. She was arrested in New Orleans in 1870 because she was dressed like a man; the arresting officer twisted her arm and asked her if she had ever had sex with a man. Walker was released from custody when she was recognized at Police Court, at which she stated, "I don't wear men's clothes, I wear my own clothes." In 1871, she wrote, "The greatest sorrows from which women suffer to-day are those physical, moral, and mental ones, that are caused by their unhygienic manner of dressing!" She strongly opposed women's long skirts with numerous petticoats, not only for their discomfort and their inhibition to the wearer's mobility, but for their collection and spread of dust and dirt. Despite public pressure to the contrary, Walker persisted in her mission to reform women's dress. Her view that women's dress should "protect the person, and allow freedom of motion and circulation, and not make the wearer a slave to it" made her commitment to dress reform as great as her zeal for abolitionism. She famously wrote to the women's journal, The Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society, about her campaign against women's fashion, amongst other things, for its injuries to health, its expense, and its contribution to the dissolution of marriages. Her literature contributed to the spread of her ideas and made her a popular figure among other feminists and female physicians. She wrote two books that discussed women's rights and dress, including Hit in 1871.

Walker then campaigned for the U.S. Senate in 1881 and ran as a Democratic candidate for Congress in 1890, but lost both times. In 1907, she published "Crowning Constitutional Argument", in which she argued that some States, as well as the federal Constitution, had already granted women the right to vote, and she testified in front of the US House of Representatives in support of women's suffrage 1912 and 1914. Walker later went on to serve as supervisor of a female prison in Louisville, Kentucky, and as the head of an orphanage in Tennessee.

Walker’s name was deleted from the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 (along with over 900 other recipients), after the government reviewed their eligibility. Although she had been given the award by the President, she did not meet the requirements to qualify for the award. The Medal of Honor Board nonetheless likely discriminated against Walker because it declined to revoke the Medal of at least two other contract surgeons who were ineligible on the same grounds of not having been commissioned officers or enlisted service members. One of these other surgeons, Leonard Wood, was a civilian contract surgeon of the same status as Walker when he was recommended for the award. All of this was known to the Medal of Honor Board, as board president General Nelson Miles had twice recommended Wood for the medal and knew that he was ineligible. Nonetheless, Walker was stripped of her award, although she continued wearing her medal for the remainder of her life. She felt that she had been awarded the Medal of Honor because she had gone into enemy territory to care for the suffering inhabitants, when no man had the courage to do so for fear of being imprisoned.

After a long illness, Walker died at home on February 21, 1919, at the age of eighty-six She was buried at Rural Cemetery in Oswego, wearing a black suit instead of a dress, with an American flag draped over her casket. Her death came just one year before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote. During World War II, a Liberty ship, the SS Mary Walker, was named for her. The Carter administration legally restored the Medal of Honor to Walker’s name in 1977, citing her for “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country.” She is the only woman, and one of only eight civilians, to have ever received the medal. In 1982, the U.S. Postal Service issued a twenty-cent stamp in her honor, commemorating the anniversary of her birth. The medical facilities at SUNY Oswego are named in her honor (Mary Walker Health Center). The Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., is named in honor of the poet Walt Whitman and Mary Edwards Walker, and The Mary Walker Clinic at Fort Irwin National Training Center in California is named in honor of Walker. The Mary E. Walker House is a thirty-bed transitional residence run by the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center for homeless women veterans. Walker was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2000. On August 25, 2023, Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia was officially renamed Fort Walker in her honor, as part of the US Defense Department's decision to change the names of military bases named after Confederate soldiers. Walker thus became the first woman in US History to have a United States military installation exclusively named after them. Walker will be an honoree on an American Women quarter in 2024, with a design depicting Walker holding her pocket surgical kit with the Medal of Honor and a surgeon's pin on her uniform.

While suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony deliberately sought to conceal the queerness of the suffrage movement by deriding her (and others) as a “she-man” and a “ghoul,” Dr. Mary Walker’s unwavering gender nonconformity made her a person who was ahead of her time. She lectured throughout the United States and abroad on women’s rights, dress reform, health and temperance issues, and on sexual and political equality. She spoke against imperialism, the Spanish-American War, and America’s acquisition of colonies abroad. She worked for equal rights in all facets of life, from love and marriage to the workplace. She urged the reform of divorce laws that placed women in deplorable situations. She advocated women retaining their own surnames. Much to the horror of her contemporaries, she foresaw that a time would come when men and women would keep their own names when they married and that the children of these alliances would choose the name they preferred. Despite the controversy surrounding her career and her politics, she was unapologetically proud of her accomplishments as a physician and an advocate for women's rights and rational dress. As she concluded in 1897, "I am the original new woman...Why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony were—before they were, I am. In the early '40's, when they began their work in dress reform, I was already wearing pants...I have made it possible for the bicycle girl to wear the abbreviated skirt, and I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers." She lost work because of her refusal to bow to the will of others or to conform to socially generated gender expectations, and she was ridiculed for many of her ideas and assertive manner. But today, society recognizes Dr. Walker’s achievements and her insistence that women be treated with the same respect as men.

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Bobby Holcomb
Bobby Holcomb (1947–1991)

Bobby Holcomb (1947–1991) was a Hawaiian-born nonbinary māhū artist and musician who helped bring traditional Polynesian music to a world audience. Considered a cultural icon in his adopted home of Tahiti, he is better known for his music than for his painting.

Bobby Holcomb was born in 1947 in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of a Black-Native American father from Georgia, and a Hawaiian-Portuguese mother. This mixed heritage would propel him to explore multiple cultural influences in music and art throughout his life. Holcomb never knew his father, and so instead he found an inspirational father figure in Duke Kahanamoku and his sense of “goodwill to all nations.” Holcomb left for California at the age of 11 and eventually attended the School of Music and Dance in Los Angeles. He was informally adopted by a Black family who introduced him to the nuances of Black music, blues, and jazz, and promoted his talents as a draftsman and painter. 

The Hippie era of the late 1960s was creatively important for Holcomb. All the things that the Hippies saw wrong with America—racism, environmental destruction, poverty, sexism and sexual repression, violence at home and the war in Vietnam, depersonalization from new technologies, corruption in politics, and restrictive gender roles—were familiar battles in which he had found himself immured. The anti-consumerist, naturalistic focus of the hippie movement greatly appealed to him. He performed in early productions of the cult musical Hair. After the Hippie years in a bubbling America, Holcomb left the United States to travel around the world. He traveled extensively through Asia, Europe, and the Americas. His biographical anecdotes told to friends and acquaintances later in life were filled with gypsy festivals, Afghan mountains, Istanbul mosques, Haight-Ashbury concerts, and Parisian parties. In France, he performed with French dance and comedy groups such as Zig Zag Community and Johane of Arch, and he collaborated with French artists Sylvain Duplant, Jean-Pierre Auffredo, and Éric Estève. He met world-famous artists like Frank Zappa and Salvador Dali. Sometime during his travels, Holcomb began to identify himself as nonbinary, a third gender, an intermediate state between man and woman known as "gender liminality." 

In 1976, with his ukulele as his only luggage, Holcomb arrived in Papeʻete in Tōtaiete mā (The Society Islands of French Polynesia), after a Swiss heiress had bought him a trip to Polynesia on a luxury liner.  Shortly after his arrival in Papeʻete, Holcomb met Dorothy Levy, who along with Bernard Moitissier, the famous French sailor who was one of the first to solo circumnavigate the globe, would become his lifelong friends and confidantes. Levy remembers, "I had a Citroen 2CV. Bobby and Bernard would climb in and we would explore the valleys in Tahiti where there were small farms. OK, we did this to pilfer fruits and vegetables. The local people knew but didn't mind. Bobby and Bernard loved these little adventures.” When Levy was pregnant with her daughter, she went to the hospital for an ultrasound. "Bobby said he wanted to go with me to see the pictures. On the way there, we ran into Bernard, carrying his javelo (spear) to get some exercise in the athletic field. We told him about the ultrasound, he wanted to come too. So there I was in the waiting area with Bobby in his dreadlocks and Bernard, looking like Gandalf, with his spear. The doctor and nurses didn't know what to make of us. Bobby and Bernard were fascinated by the ultrasound pictures."

Two years later, Holcomb settled in the village of Maeva, which was the seat of ancient Mā'ohi royalty when Huahine was still called Mata'irea. For the first time in his life, he really settled down, at last finding himself in the world of his dreams. Here, people took the time to live, to talk, to sing, to drink, to dance; and they loved, above all, large public gatherings, particularly those of a religious nature. Holcomb’s own unconventional religious feelings brought him close to these people. The ancestors of the people of this country were his ancestors; he immediately felt that he was one of them, and he learned Reo Tahiti (the Tahitian language). He invited Levy and Moitissier to join him there: "’Dorothy, why don't you and Sabrina move here with me?’ He said to be sure to bring the geese, guinea pigs, and the horse. We did! Bernard visited and taught one of the geese, Mr. White, to sing along with Happy Birthday.” Levy lived with Holcomb for the remainder of his life, with Moitissier a frequent visitor.

“[Holcomb] was an exotic sight,” writes his friend John Lind. He always wore a couronne de tete, a flower and leaf wreath. He never owned a car, so he would ride his bicycle into Fare for shopping or to play music. “A shopping bag of woven pandanus leaves hung from his bicycle’s handlebars. His feet were bare, and his body was decorated with Polynesian tattoos.” Holcomb was deeply engaged in the maintenance of the Marae, open-air places of worship originally constructed by the Polynesian ancestors. In particular, he cared for the marae at Maeva and would anoint its stones in fragrant oil and drape them with garlands of flowers. He joined and soon became the teacher of Maeva’s folkloric dance group. His friends were touched by his extreme generosity. He gave his paintings away and freely offered his services to assist movements or associations formed to protect nature and traditional culture. Always willing to lend his time and talents, happy to learn by creating, he also loved to teach. A number of his songs were written for children and carry messages in the form of mnemotechnic phrases, making it easy for children to remember them. In the village of Fare, he taught high-school students to make 'aumoa and other traditional games from the past. In the schools and elsewhere, he produced plays adapted from legends, his favorite being Pipirima. Indeed, children loved him, the younger generation admired him, and Polynesian society recognized him as a leader. So much did he resemble the people of Huahine that he was looked upon as a cousin or parent who had been overseas for a long time, but who had come home to take his place in the great Polynesian family. He was accepted as a third-gender person, māhū, and he embraced that traditional spiritual and social role within the culture, particularly respected as a teacher and keeper of cultural traditions, one both "compassionate and creative." Holcomb was beloved on Huahine and across French Polynesia, always smiling, simply dressed, crowned with flowers, and intelligent in speech, manipulating the French language with elegance and Reo Tahiti with goodwill.

Along with personalities such as the poet Henri Hiro, playwright and broadcaster John Mairai, linguist and theologian Turo Raapoto, and dancer and choreographer Coco Hotahota, he became involved in the awakening and cultural renaissance of the indigenous Mā’ohi people. In 1978, he collaborated with Hiro on a play, an adaptation of a legend from Huahine: Ari'ipaea Vahine. The actors, drawn from the Mā'ohi cultural renaissance movement, joined together to form the 'Pupu Arioi', a group of artists and intellectuals who wanted to revive the Mā’ohi culture through the arts. Holcomb read avidly, not just for pleasure or from habit, but to discover and pass on the techniques of lost crafts, the use of certain materials, and the ancient pastimes. The theme of traditional Mā'ohi games—archery, kite flying, floating rafts of wood and leaves—enriched his paintings, as did the motifs of dance costumes and musical instruments. Holcomb’s work as a painter was recognized by relatively few during his lifetime, despite the fact that he earned his living through his art. Often he would get up early and climb to the marae to paint and compose music. Or he would paint early at home, from 4:30 a.m. until sunrise. His paintings explore traditional life and the symbolism inherent within it; warm colors and textures draw on connections with Tahiti, the Marquesas, Rurutu in the Austral Islands, and his native Hawai‘i. The book Varua Tupu (published posthumously in 2006) contains many of his paintings. The cover image of a tattooed man blowing on a hermit crab in its similarly decorated shell, for example, is a play on the idea that the tattoo is also like the crab’s shell: It protects the man’s soul. His works followed and resembled one another but are not repetitive. It is difficult to find one that is aesthetically displeasing, though many of them benefit from being explained so that their depth may be fully appreciated. The depth in Holcomb’s art comes as no surprise, for, Bohemianism aside, there was a deeply contemplative side to his life. Across French Polynesia, he painted many murals, using his art to promote Tahitian culture, and protest against the abuses of colonization, atomic intrusion by the French government, and the loss of traditional spiritual values. 

Despite his considerable talent as a visual artist, it was as a musician that Holcomb’s influence was perhaps strongest. His work in the late 1970s and early 80s revolutionized Tahitian music. He began composing songs in Reo Tahiti, and combined traditional Polynesian melodies with reggae and popular rhythms. He became known to local audiences simply as "Bobby," recognized for his voice, warm and resonant, spreading across the airwaves of both radio and television. His early music was mostly produced on cassettes. Fortunately, Tahitian television made a few recordings of Holcomb performing his music in the 1980s, and some of those videos can be found on the internet.

In 1982, Holcomb met Pascal Nabet Meyer, who had moved to Tahiti, and the two collaborated in writing songs. Nabet Meyer produced and recorded his first number-one Billboard's album, entitled Rapa Iti, with The Tahitian Choir, bringing traditional Polynesian music to a world audience. The following year, in 1983, Jimmy Buffet visited Huahine and someone in Fare told him about Holcomb, bringing Buffet to the house around noon. “Bobby hadn't heard of Jimmy Buffet. Jimmy was carrying his Martin guitar and said, ‘Maybe you know this song.’ He played Margaritaville. Bobby said no, he hadn't heard it. But the two of them started playing music together and gained respect for each other's talents. Bobby took Jimmy through the jungle path to the marae and there they composed "One Particular Harbor,”” which became one of Holcomb's most famous tunes in the U.S. The song appears on Buffett's album of the same title and is performed at nearly all of his concerts. The chorus and several verses are sung in Tahitian. Holcomb’s most popular song in Tahiti was "Orio," produced 1985.
It came as no surprise when Holcomb was honored by the country in 1988 as French Polynesia’s Personality of the Year. When he died tragically of cancer three years later, on February 15, 1991, news of his death was covered by local television ahead of the first Gulf War, and his music was played all day by local radio stations. His gravesite is a simple mound in Maeva, surrounded by colorful croton plants.

In the 1980s, māhū and fa'afafine of Samoa and other queer cultures of the Pacific began to receive international recognition in various fields, and Holcomb was certainly one of the individuals at the forefront of this shift, carrying on Polynesian culture, gathering and maintaining knowledge and traditions of connection to the land and language, and preserving and reviving cultural activities including traditional dances, songs, and stories. He once said, "If you think you can offer something, do not hold it, the world needs it now.”  Bobby Holcomb offered much, and he held nothing back.

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Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden
Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden (1872 –1953)

Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden (1872 –1953), known professionally as Maude Adams, was an American actress and stage designer who achieved her greatest success as the character Peter Pan, first playing the role in the 1905 Broadway production of Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. Adams' personality appealed to a large audience and helped her become the most successful and highest-paid performer of her day, with a yearly income of more than $1 million during her peak. Whilst she never appeared on screen, she nevertheless made a significant contribution to the film industry through research into lighting technology and color cinematography during the 1920s.
Adams was born on November 1, 1872, in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. Adams's mother was an actress, and her father died when she was young. On her mother's side, Adams's great-grandfather Platt Banker converted to Mormonism and moved his family to Missouri, where his daughter, Julia, married Barnabus Adams. Barnabus and Julia then migrated as part of the first company to enter the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young in 1847, where he cut timbers for the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Adams was also a descendant of Mayflower passenger John Howland. It is not clear whether she identified as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as her mother did. She was never baptized Presbyterian, like her father, although she attended a Presbyterian school. Later in life, Adams took long sabbaticals in Catholic convents, although she never converted to Catholicism.

Adams’ first stage appearance was at 2 months of age in the play The Lost Baby at the Salt Lake City Brigham Young Theatre. She appeared again in another play at the age of nine months in her mother's arms. Adams began acting as a small child, adopting her mother's maiden name as her stage name. They toured throughout the western U.S. with a theatrical troupe that played in rural areas, mining towns and some cities. At the age of five, Adams starred in a San Francisco theater as Little Schneider in Fritz, Our German Cousin and as Adrienne Renaud in A Celebrated Case.

Adams debuted in New York at age 10 in Esmeralda and then returned briefly to California to live with cousins. She then returned to Salt Lake City to live with her grandmother and studied at the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute. She later wrote of Salt Lake City: "The people of the valley have gentle manners, as if their spirits moved with dignity." Adams also later wrote the short essay "The One I Knew Least", where she described her difficulty in discovering her personality because of playing so many theatrical roles as a child. At age 16, she made her Broadway debut in The Paymaster, and became a member of E. H. Sothern's theatre company in Boston, appearing in The Highest Bidder, and then returned to Broadway in Lord Chumley in 1888. Charles H. Hoyt then cast her in A Midnight Bell where audiences, if not the critics, took notice of her. In 1889, sensing he had a potential new star on his hands, Hoyt offered her a five-year contract, but Adams declined in favor of a lesser offer from the powerful producer Charles Frohman who, from that point forward, took control of her career.  

Frohman and his business partner, Elixabeth Marbury, the nation’s premiere acting agent, were both homosexual. Frohman was publicly known to own a home with and cohabit with his partner and co-producer, Charles Dillingham, and Marbury was in a devoted forty-year relationship with Elsie de Wolfe, who is now known as the nation’s first professional interior decorator. The four formed the center of what was perhaps the most powerful artistic group in America, willing to produce plays that challenged American sexual mores of the time and to champion queer artists, and their queer friendship circle intersected frequently with their business ventures. Such choices were not just a matter of giving friends a break, but often introduced or expanded notions into the cultural landscape of the time. Adams’ association with this circle of “odd girls and twilight lovers” allowed her to expand the kinds of parts she could portray, including those involving cross-dressing (so called “breeches productions”). Living openly as a lesbian was fraught with danger, guilt, and anxiety, so this circle of nonconforming artists tightly protected its own. Adams soon left behind juvenile parts and began to play leading roles for Frohman, often alongside her mother. In 1890, Frohman asked David Belasco and Henry C. de Mille to specially write the part of Dora Prescott for Adams in their new play Men and Women, which Frohman was producing. The next year, she appeared as Nell in The Lost Paradise. Often described as shy, Adams was referred to by Ethel Barrymore as the "original 'I want to be alone' woman.” Her retiring lifestyle, including the absence of any relationships with men, contributed to the virtuous and innocent public image promoted by Frohman and was reflected in her most successful roles. Adams instead formed her intimate relationships exclusively with other women.

In 1892, John Drew Jr., one of the leading stars of the day, joined Frohman's company. Over the course of the next four years, Frohman paired Adams and Drew in a series of plays, beginning with The Masked Ball. Audiences came to see its star, Drew, but left remembering Adams. Most memorable was a scene in which her character feigned tipsiness for which she received a two-minute ovation on opening night. Drew was the star, but it was for Adams that the audience gave twelve curtain calls. Harpers Weekly wrote: "It is difficult to see just who is going to prevent Miss Adams from becoming the leading exponent of light comedy in America. The New York Times wrote that Adams, "not John Drew, has made the success of The Masked Ball at Palmer's, and is the star of the comedy. Manager Charles Frohman, in attempting to exploit one star, has happened upon another of greater magnitude." Also in 1892, Adams first met Lillie Florence, as Florence played Rose in The Masked Ball. The pair lived together, with Florence officially employed as Adams’ secretary, but actually filling the unspecified job of closest friend and steady companion, until Florence’s premature death from a terminal illness in 1901, a grievous loss for Adams which left a void in her life.

Drew and Adams’ final show with Frohman’s company in 1896, Rosemary, was a comedy about the failed elopement of a young couple, sheltered for the night by an older man; the play received critical praise and box office success. Adams then went on to spend five years as the leading lady in John Drew's own company. There, "her work was praised for its charm, delicacy, and simplicity." Frohman had been pursuing British author and playwright J. M. Barrie (the future author of Peter Pan) to adapt his popular book, The Little Minister, into a play, but Barrie had resisted because he felt there was no actress who could play Lady Babbie. On a trip to New York in 1896, Barrie attended a performance of Rosemary and at once decided that Adams was the actress for the part. With Barrie's consent, several key scenes were changed to favor Lady Babbie, and the play opened in 1897 at the Empire Theatre. It was a tremendous success, running for 300 performances in New York (289 of which were standing-room only) and setting a new all-time box office record of $370,000; it made Adams a superstar.

In 1899, she portrayed Shakespeare's Juliet. While audiences loved her in the role, selling out the 16 performances in New York, critics generally disliked it. Romeo and Juliet was followed by L'Aiglon in 1900, a French play about the life of Napoleon II of France in which Adams played the leading role, foreshadowing her portrayal of another male (Peter Pan) five years later. The play had starred Sarah Bernhardt in Paris with enthusiastic reviews, but Adams's L'Aiglon received mixed reviews in New York. Adams starred in another work by Barrie, Quality Street, in 1901, and then, in 1905, she starred in Barrie’s Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, which was ever after the role with which Adams was most closely identified. Peter Pan opened on October 16, 1905, at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. to little success, but it soon moved to Broadway, where the play enjoyed a long run. Adams was the first actress to play Peter Pan on Broadway. The collar of her 1905 Peter Pan costume, which she had co-designed, was an immediate fashion success and was henceforth known as the "Peter Pan collar.” These Barrie productions made Adams the most popular actress in America, and She was known for sending tickets for blocks of seats to disadvantaged kids so they could see Peter Pan, and for supplementing the salaries of fellow performers out of her own pay. Once while touring, a theater owner significantly raised the price of tickets, knowing Adams's name meant a sold-out house. Adams made the owner refund the difference before she appeared on the stage that night.

In 1905, Adams began a passionate and deeply private relationship with Louise Boynton that lasted for forty-six years, during which time Boynton “dedicated herself to Miss Adams and won her lifelong love.” Adams starred in his What Every Woman Knows in 1908, and in 1909, she played Joan of Arc in Friedrich Schiller's The Maid of Orleans., which she personally produced on a gigantic scale at the Harvard University Stadium: “The experiment of producing Schiller's Maid of Orleans beneath starry skies … was carried out [by] Adams and a company numbering about two thousand persons ... at the Harvard Stadium. ... A special electric light plant was installed ... a great cathedral was erected, background constructed and a realistic forest created. ... Miss Adams was accorded an ovation at the end of the performance.”
During her many years in theater, Adams had become very interested in stage production and in particular stage lighting technology and design; during the Joan of Arc production, she worked closely with technicians and engineers, and continued to do so in all of her subsequent productions. Her most significant collaboration was with Bassett Jones, an electrical and lighting engineer consultant, with whom she worked extensively between 1905 and 1915. Together they developed and modified existing incandescent electrical lighting, which was too weak and unwieldy for the theater. Adams and Jones’ research made its use in the theater practicable by making incandescent lighting stronger, smaller, and more mobile. In addition, Adams worked to develop ways to implement new technologies and techniques for the stage, and created many novel lighting effects in her productions. For example, she is credited in The New York Times in 1908 with coordinating research into the development of a light bridge, which held seven incandescent spotlights that could be used during a performance.

Adams appeared in another French play with 1911's Chantecler, the story of a rooster who believes his crowing makes the sun rise. She fared only slightly better than in L'Aiglon with the critics, but audiences again embraced her, on one occasion giving her 22 curtain calls. Adams later cited it as her favorite role, with Peter Pan a close second. Later Barrie plays in which she starred included The Legend of Leonora in 1914 and A Kiss for Cinderella in 1916.
In 1916, after a series of close friends and family died in a span of a few months, including her producer Charles Frohman, her costume designer, her stage manager, and her mother, Adams retired for a time from acting after a severe bout of influenza. She began World War I war work classes where she learned cooking, marketing, and gardening, volunteered at the YWCA, and did some entertainment touring during the war. “One of her dearest ambitions was to educate women about society’s needs, hoping to inspire more responsibility in public affairs.” Additionally, her philanthropy work included helping recovering soldiers and earthquake and flood victims and appearing at fundraisers to help build new college theaters. 

Adams’ immense wealth allowed her to purchase properties in Salt Lake City, Manhattan, and a 400-acre farm and estate on Lake Ronkonkoma in Long Island with a summer home in the Catskill Mountains. During the 1920s, she worked with General Electric to patent improved and more powerful stage lighting. She also worked extensively with the Eastman Company to develop color photography. It has been suggested that her motivation for her association with these technology companies was that she wished to appear in a color film version of Peter Pan, which required better lighting and techniques for color photography. The result of her research and collaborations with General Electric and Eastman Kodak was the manufacturing of the world’s then-largest incandescent lamp in 1922. The lamp used a tungsten filament and was eighteen-and-a-half inches high with a bulb that was twelve inches in diameter. It required 30,000 watts to operate and emitted 60,000 candlepower of illumination. Despite Adams’ contributions, she did not feature in any of General Electric’s incandescent lighting patents and received no financial reward for her work. Her name is also largely missing from General Electric’s official accounts and surviving archive. After “suffering a nervous breakdown in 1922, she found solace and comfort among the sisters of Our Lady of the Cenacle and bequeathed her land to them” for use as a novitiate and retreat house. Adams’ electric lights ultimately became the industry standard in Hollywood with the advent of sound in motion pictures in the late 1920s.

After 13 years away from the stage, she returned to acting, appearing occasionally in regional productions of Shakespeare plays, including as Portia in The Merchant of Venice in Ohio, in 1931, and as Maria in Twelfth Night in 1934 in Maine. She traveled during the summers for rejuvenation to Europe, even spending a year in France to learn to speak the language. Adams went on to become the head of the drama department at Stephens College in Missouri in 1937, at the age of 65. After her retirement from acting, Adams was on occasion pursued for roles in film. The closest she came to accepting was in 1938, when producer David O. Selznick persuaded her to do a screen test for the role of Miss Fortune in the film The Young in Heart. After negotiations failed, the role was played by Minnie Dupree. She taught there until 1949, becoming known as an inspiring acting coach and teacher. Even though she was suffering from poor health, she threw herself into the work of developing young women actors.

When Boynton’s death in 1951 finally severed their union, Adams laid her partner to rest alongside the place where she herself would be buried two years later. Adams died on of a heart attack July 17, 1953, aged 80, at her summer home, Caddam Hill, in Tannersville, New York. She and Boynton are interred with a shared headstone in the cemetery of the Sisters of the Cenacle, Lake Ronkonkoma, New York.

According to Bassett Jones, “Maude Adams was the greatest production artist this country ever saw,” and was also arguably the most famous American actress of the 1900s and 1910s, originating the role of Peter Pan in the United States and working behind the scenes on the era’s most sumptuous stage productions. With no formal training in electrical engineering but a wealth of experience in stagecraft and performance, she helped transform American theater, both as an actress and a designer. She was a giant in the art and science of theater, and nonetheless managed to keep fans in the dark as to her personal life and private passions. She deliberately created productions that appealed to gay and lesbian audiences, with suggestive motifs, phrases, and costuming choices that spoke directly to audience members outside the sexual mainstream. “The only thing that can save [Tinkerbell] is for you to believe in fairies. Do you believe in fairies?” was a line in Peter Pan delivered directly to the audience by an actress in drag, playing a character who lived in a dreamworld according to his own sense of right and wrong, supported by a group of lost boys who were also actresses in drag. As such, the line had multiple meanings, to be sure, but one of them, according to theater historians, was a plea for compassion and understanding when it came to members of a sexual minority. Lesbians in the audience rewarded Adams by making her one of their idols. A fan base developed that itself constituted a kind of community organized around admiration for Adams as a prominent and beautiful example of successful queer womanhood at a time when lesbians were largely invisible in American culture.

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Harris Glenn Milstead
Harris Glenn Milstead (1945 –1988)

Harris Glenn Milstead (1945 –1988), was an American actor, singer, and drag queen. Closely associated with independent filmmaker John Waters, Milstead was a character actor, usually performing female roles in cinematic and theatrical productions. Baltimore's most outrageous resident eventually became the international icon of ultra-low budget, taboo-breaking cinema, in his always-shocking and highly-entertaining stage persona, Divine.

 **CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of Shock Cinema and explicit language; TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault**

Harris Glenn Milstead was born on October 19, 1945, at Women's Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Milsteads were affluent and socially conservative Baptists, and, describing his upbringing, Milstead recollected: "I was an only child in, I guess, your upper middle-class American family. I was probably your American spoiled brat.” By his request, his parents and friends called him by his middle name, Glenn, to distinguish him from his father. His parents lavished almost anything that he wanted on him, including food, and he became extremely overweight, a condition he struggled with for the rest of his life.

Milstead attended Towson High School, where he was bullied by other students because of his weight and perceived effeminacy; he later reminisced that he "wasn't rough and tough" but instead "loved painting and … flowers and things.” The bullying became so serious that he was transferred to a girls' gym class and ferried to school in a police car. Every day after school, he would dress up in his mother's clothes and go prancing happily about the house. During high school, he took a part-time job at a local florist's shop, and he also helped out at his parents' daycare business, including dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain the children at Christmas time. When he was 17, his parents sent him to a psychiatrist, where he first realized his sexual attraction to men, something then taboo in conventional American society. After graduating in 1963, he began attending the Marinella Beauty School, where he learned hair styling and, after completing his studies, gained employment at a couple of local salons, specializing in the creation of beehives and other upswept styles. He eventually gave up the job and for a while was financially supported by his parents, who catered, albeit reluctantly, to his expensive taste in clothes, parties, and cars. Milstead developed a large coterie of friends at his lavish parties where he dressed in drag as his favorite celebrity, actress Elizabeth Taylor.

In the mid-1960s, Milstead befriended John Waters through a mutual friend; both embraced Baltimore's countercultural and underground elements. Along with other friends, they began hanging out as a group at a beatnik bar in downtown Baltimore named Martick's, where they associated with hippies and smoked marijuana, bonding into what Waters described as "a family of sorts.” Waters gave his friends new nicknames, and it was he who first called Milstead "Divine." Waters later remarked that he had borrowed the name from a character in Jean Genet's 1943 novel Our Lady of the Flowers, a controversial book about homosexuals living on the margins of Parisian society, which Waters – himself gay – was reading at the time. Waters also introduced Divine as "the most beautiful woman in the world, almost," a description widely repeated in ensuing years. Waters was an aspiring filmmaker, intent on making "the trashiest motion pictures in cinema history.” Many of his friends, a group which came to be known as "the Dreamlanders," appeared in his low-budget productions, filmed on Sunday afternoons, including Roman Candles in 1966, the first film to star Milstead, in drag as Divine, portraying a smoking nun. It featured the Dreamlanders modeling shoplifted clothes and performing various unrelated activities. Roman Candles held its premiere at the annual Mt. Vernon Flower Mart in Baltimore, which had become popular with "elderly dames, young faggots and hustlers, and of course a whole bunch of hippies."  In 1968, Waters followed Roman Candles with another short film, Eat Your Makeup, in which Divine portrayed a fictionalized version of Jackie Kennedy, the widow of recently assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy. In the film, she turns to kidnapping models and forcing them to eat their own makeup. Waters helped Divine craft her image, suggesting something strange and extravagant for her appearance, which included Divine shaving her hairline back to the middle of her head and wearing wildly-drawn eye makeup. “John wanted a very large woman because he wanted the exact opposite of what normally would be beautiful. He wanted a 300-pound beauty, as opposed to a 110-pound beauty. He wanted, as I've been called, [an] inflated Jayne Mansfield.”

Milstead kept his involvement with Waters and these early underground films a secret from his conservative parents, believing that they would not understand them or the reason for his involvement in such controversial and bad-taste films; they would not find out about them for many years. They bought him his own beauty shop, hoping that the financial responsibility would help him to settle down and perhaps curtail his extravagant spending, but Milstead only agreed to work there as a stylist, refusing to be involved in managing the establishment, leaving that to his mother. In the summer of 1968, he moved out of his parents’ home, and rented his own apartment.

Divine appeared in Waters's 1969 short film, The Diane Linkletter Story, a black comedy based upon the true story of Diane Linkletter, the daughter of media personality Art Linkletter, who had committed suicide earlier that year, with various sources erroneously claiming that she had done so under the influence of the psychedelic LSD. Soon afterwards, Waters began filming a full-length motion picture, Mondo Trasho, starring Divine as one of the main characters, an unnamed blonde woman who drives around town and runs over a hitchhiker. In one scene, an actor was required to walk along a street naked, which was a crime in the state of Maryland at the time, leading to the arrest of Waters and most of the actors associated with the film; Milstead escaped, having speedily driven away from the police when they arrived. In their review of the film, the Los Angeles Free Press exclaimed that “the 300-pound sex symbol Divine is undoubtedly some sort of discovery.” In 1970, Milstead abandoned work as a hairdresser, opening up a vintage clothing store, "Divine Trash," in Provincetown, Massachusetts using his parents' money. The store sold items that he had purchased in thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales, but, realizing that this was not financially viable, he sold off his stock at very low prices. In the hope of raising some extra money, he even sold the furniture of his rented, furnished apartment, leading the landlady to put out a warrant for his arrest. He evaded the local police by traveling to San Francisco for a time. Later in 1970, Milstead, again as Divine, played the role of Lady Divine, the operator of an exhibit known as The Cavalcade of Perversion who turns to murdering visitors, in Waters's film Multiple Maniacs. The film contained several controversial scenes, notably one which involved Lady Divine masturbating using a rosary while sitting inside a church. In another, Lady Divine kills her boyfriend and proceeds to eat his heart; in actuality, Divine bit into a cow's heart which had gone rotten from being left out on the set all day. At the end of the film, Lady Divine is sexually assaulted by a giant lobster named Lobstora; driven further into madness, she subsequently goes on a killing spree in Fell's Point before being shot down by the National Guard. Due to its controversial nature, Waters feared that the film would be banned and confiscated by the Maryland State Board of Censors, so he avoided their jurisdiction by only screening it at non-commercial venues, which were ironically usually rented church premises. Multiple Maniacs was the first of Waters' films to receive widespread attention, and it brought Divine to the mainstream media’s attention.

Following his San Francisco stay, Milstead returned to Baltimore in late 1971 to participate in Waters' next film, Pink Flamingos. Designed by Waters to be "an exercise in poor taste,” the production was filmed in a hippie commune in Phoenix, Maryland, where the cast members spent much of the time smoking cigarettes and marijuana and taking amphetamines. The film featured Milstead in his Divine persona as Babs Johnson, a woman who claims to be "the filthiest person alive" and who is forced to prove her right to the title by challengers Connie and Raymond Marble. The film features scenes involving feces being presented to Babs as a birthday present, and the final infamous scene in the film involves Babs’ eating dog excrement. The film premiered in March 1972 at the third Annual Baltimore Film Festival, held on the campus of the University of Baltimore, where it sold out tickets for three successive screenings; the film aroused particular interest among underground cinema fans following the success of Multiple Maniacs, which had begun to be screened in New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Picked up by the new independent distribution company New Line Cinema, Pink Flamingos was distributed to the Elgin Theater in New York City. The Elgin had been promoting the midnight movie scene and felt that the avant-garde Pink Flamingos would fit in well with this crowd, screening it at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. The film quickly gained a cult following, with its early fans primarily being "downtown gay people, more of the hipper set," but after a while this group broadened, with the film becoming popular with "working-class kids from New Jersey who would become a little rowdy.” Many of these cult cinema fans learned all of the film's lines, reciting them at the screenings, a phenomenon which later became most closely associated with another popular midnight movie of the era, The Rocky Horror Picture Show of 1975.

While still keeping his involvement with Waters' underground filmmaking a secret from his parents, Milstead continued relying on them financially, charging them for expensive parties that he held and writing bad checks. After he charged them for a major repair to his car in 1972, his parents confiscated it from him and told him that they would not continue to support him in such a manner. In retaliation, he came by their house the following day to collect his two pet bulldogs, on which he doted, naming them Beatrix and Claus after Queen Beatrix and her husband Prince Claus of the Netherlands. On numerous occasions he would pose for photographs as Divine with them and later would sometimes use these images for record covers and posters. After retrieving his pets, Milstead then disappeared from his parents’ lives, not seeing or speaking with them for the next nine years. Instead, he sent them over fifty postcards from around the world, informing them that he was fine, but never with a return address. The elder Milsteads retired soon after and moved to Florida. Milstead returned to San Francisco, where he and fellow Dreamlander Mink Stole starred in a number of small-budget plays at the Palace Theater as part of drag troupe The Cockettes, including Divine and Her Stimulating Studs, Divine Saves the World, Vice Palace, Journey to the Center of Uranus, and The Heartbreak of Psoriasis. The Cockettes had been founded by drag queen Hibiscus in 1970, were involved in the Gay Liberation movement, and were influenced by the ethos of the hippie movement, living communally, embracing free love, and consuming mind-altering substances such as marijuana and LSD. It was here that he first met androgynous performer Sylvester, known for his flamboyant and androgynous appearance and falsetto singing voice, who went on to become a highly successful singer-songwriter in the genres of disco, rhythm and blues, and soul. Milstead purchased a house in Santa Monica, which he lavishly furnished. On visits to Washington D.C. during the early 1970s, Milstead and Waters attended the city's balls that were frequented by Black LGBTQ artists. Here, Waters encouraged Divine's drag persona to become increasingly outrageous, sometimes exposing her overweight stomach and carrying weapons. He later commented that he and Milstead wanted Divine to become "the Godzilla of drag queens,” a deliberate contrast to the majority of Euro-American drag queens, who pursued a more Miss America-type look. In his private life, Milstead became the godfather of Brook Yeaton, the son of his friends Chuck Yeaton and Pat Moran; Brook and Milstead remained very close.

In 1974, Milstead returned to Baltimore to film Waters's next motion picture, Female Trouble, in which he played the lead role, once again as Divine. Divine's character, teenage delinquent Dawn Davenport, embraces the idea that crime is art and is eventually executed in the electric chair for her violent behavior. Waters claimed that the character of Dawn had been partly based on the mutual friend who had introduced him to Divine, Carol Wernig, while the costumes and make-up were once more designed to create the "trashy, slutty look” Waters desired. In the film, Milstead did his own stunts, including the trampoline scene, for which he had to undertake a number of trampolining lessons; he also played his first on-screen male role in the film, Earl Peterson, and, as a joke, Waters included a scene during which these two characters had sexual intercourse. Female Trouble proved to be Milstead's favorite of his films, because it both allowed him to develop his character and to finally play a male role, something he had always felt important because he feared being typecast only as a drag performer. As Divine, Milstead also recorded the theme song for Female Trouble, although it was never released as a single.

Milstead was unable to appear in Waters's 1977 feature, Desperate Living, despite the fact that the role of Mole McHenry had been written for him, because he had returned to working in the theater, billed as Divine, this time taking the role of the scheming prison matron Pauline in Tom Eyen's comedy Women Behind Bars at New York City's Truck and Warehouse Theater; the play proved popular and was later taken to London's Whitehall Theater next to Trafalgar Square. It was in London that Milstead met a group of people whom he would come to call his "London family": fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, photographer Robyn Beeche, sculptor Andrew Logan, and the latter's partner, Michael Davis. Impressed with Milstead’s performance in Women Behind Bars, Eyen decided to write a new play that would feature him in a starring role. The result was The Neon Woman, a story set in 1962 featuring Milstead (billed as Divine) as Flash Storm, the female owner of a Baltimore strip club. It played at the Hurrah! club in New York City before moving on to the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco. Milstead remained very proud of the work, seeing it as evidence that his acting skills were coming to wider recognition, and his performances were attended by such celebrities as Eartha Kitt, Elton John, and Liza Minnelli. It was during the New York leg of the play's tour that Milstead befriended Bernard Jay; they subsequently began renting an apartment together on 58th Street and Jay later became Milstead’s manager. Milstead assembled a group of friends that came to be known as his "New York family": designer Larry LeGaspi, makeup artist Conrad Santiago, Vincent Nasso, and dresser Frankie Piazza. While there, he frequented the famous club Studio 54, having a love of partying and club culture.

At Jay’s suggestion, Milstead decided to appear at clubs performing as Divine, first appearing in 1979 at a gay club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where his unscripted act included shouting "fuck you" repeatedly at the audience and then getting into a fight with another drag queen, a gimmick that proved popular with the club's clientele. Subsequently, he saw the commercial potential of including disco songs in the act and, with playwright Eyen and composer Henry Krieger, created "Born to be Cheap" in 1981. In stage performances, Divine displayed "Trash. Filth. Obscenity. In bucket-loads,” and self-described the performances as "just good, dirty fun, and if you find it offensive, honey, don't join in." Divine constantly swore at the audience, often using the signature line of "fuck you very much." Excited audience members would frequently come onstage, where Divine would fondle their buttocks, groins, and breasts, to the approval of the audience.

Milstead identified as a gay man, and during the 1980s, he had an extended relationship with a married man named Lee L'Ecuyer, who accompanied him almost everywhere that he went. They later separated, and Milstead went on to have a brief affair with gay porn star Leo Ford, which was widely reported upon by the gay press. In 1981, he also appeared in John Waters's next film, Polyester, starring as Francine Fishpaw. Unlike earlier roles, Fishpaw was a meek and victimized woman who falls in love with her dream lover, Todd Tomorrow. The film was released in "Odorama," accompanied by "scratch 'n' sniff" cards for the audience to smell at key points in the film. Soon after Polyester, Milstead auditioned for a male role in Ridley Scott's upcoming science-fiction film Blade Runner, although Scott decided he was unsuitable for the part.

That same year, Milstead decided to get back in contact with his estranged parents. His mother had learned of his cinematic and disco career after reading an article about the films of John Waters in Life magazine, and she had gone to see Female Trouble at the cinema in 1974, but had not felt emotionally able to get back in contact with her son until 1981. She got a friend to hand Divine a note during a performance, leading Milstead to telephone her, and the family relationship was mended; Milstead bought his parents lavish gifts and informed them of how wealthy he was. In fact, according to Jay, he was already heavily in debt due to his extravagant spending. In 1982, Milstead joined forces with young American composer Bobby Orlando, who wrote a number of Hi-NRG singles for Divine, including "Native Love (Step By Step)," "Shoot Your Shot," and "Love Reaction." To help publicize these singles, which proved to be successful in many discos across the world, Divine went on television shows like Good Morning America, as well as on a series of tours in which musical performances were combined with comedic stunts and routines that often played up to his characters' stereotype of being "trashy" and outrageous. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Milstead toured the world as Divine, attaining a particularly large following in Europe.

Divine became increasingly known for outlandish stunts onstage, each time trying to outdo previous performances. At one performance in London's Hippodrome coinciding with American Independence Day, Divine rose up from the floor on a hydraulic lift, draped in the American flag, and declared: "I'm here representing Freedom, Liberty, Family Values, and the fucking American Way of Life." When Divine performed at the London Gay Pride parade, she sang on the roof of a hired pleasure boat that floated down the Thames past Jubilee Gardens. Milstead was reportedly not happy with being known primarily for his drag act, and he told an interviewer that "my favorite part of drag is getting out of it. Drag is my work clothes. I only put it on when someone pays me to,” a view he also shared with his friends. As a private person, his friends agree, Milstead was nothing at all like the monster of vulgarity he played on stage and screen. In his personal life, he was a gentle, likable, quiet-spoken man who loved to entertain a few friends quietly at tea. However, Milstead also frequently conflated his identity as Divine with his personal one, telling one interviewer that "Divine" and "Glenn Milstead" were "both just names. Glenn is the name I was brought up with, Divine is the name I've been using for the past 23 years. I guess it's always Glenn and it's always Divine. Do you mean the character Divine or the person Divine? You see, it gets very complicated. There's the Divine you're talking to now and there's the character Divine, which is just something I do to make a living. She doesn't really exist at all." At one point, the name "Divine" officially appeared on his passport, and in keeping with his personal use of the name, his close friends nicknamed him "Divy.”

Divine's career as a disco singer continued and records had sold well, but Milstead and Jay felt that they were not receiving their share of the profits. They went to court against Orlando and his company, O-Records, and successfully nullified their contract. Divine then released several new disco records, including "You Think You're a Man," "Walk Like a Man," and "I'm So Beautiful.” In the United Kingdom, Divine sang "You Think You're a Man" – a song which Milstead had dedicated to his parents – on BBC television show Top of the Pops. In 1985, Divine appeared in Lust in the Dust; it was Divine's first film not directed by John Waters. Set in the Wild West during the nineteenth century, the movie was a sex comedy that starred Divine as Rosie Velez, a promiscuous woman who works as a singer in saloons and competes for the love of Abel Wood against another woman. A parody of the 1946 western, Duel in the Sun, the film was a critical success. Later that year, Milstead followed this production with a very different role, that of gay male gangster Hilly Blue in Trouble in Mind, a script written with Milstead in mind.

According to his manager, Jay, Milstead regularly engaged in sexual activities with young men that he would meet while on tour, sometimes becoming infatuated with them; in one case, he met a young man in Israel whom he wanted to bring back to the United States, but was prevented from doing so by Jay. This image of promiscuity was disputed by his friend Anne Cersosimo, who claimed that Milstead never exhibited such behavior when on tour. Milstead initially avoided informing the media about his sexuality, even when directly questioned about it by interviewers, and would sometimes hint that he was bisexual, but in the latter part of the 1980s, he changed this attitude and began being open about his homosexuality. Nonetheless, he avoided discussing gay rights, partially at Jay’s advice, realizing that it would have had a negative effect on his career.

After finishing his work on Trouble in Mind, Milstead again became involved with a John Waters project, the film Hairspray, produced in 1988. Set in Baltimore during the 1960s, Hairspray revolved around self-proclaimed "pleasantly plump" teenager Tracy Turnblad as she pursues stardom as a dancer on a local television show and rallies against racial segregation. As he had in Waters's earlier film Female Trouble, Milstead took on two roles in the film, one of which was female and the other male. The first of these, Edna Turnblad, was Tracy's loving mother, played by Divine; the second character was that of the racist television station owner Arvin Hodgepile, played by Milstead. For his roles in Hairspray, he was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male. In one interview, Milstead admitted that he had hoped to play both the role of mother and daughter in Hairspray, but that the producers had chosen Ricki Lake for the latter role instead: he jokingly told the interviewer, "She is nineteen and delightful. I hate her." In fact, Milstead and Lake became good friends while working together on set. Several film reviewers expressed their opinion that Hairspray marked Divine's breakthrough into mainstream cinema. Milstead subsequently took his mother to the film's premiere in the Miami Film Festival before she once more accompanied him to the Baltimore premiere, this time with several of his other relatives. Milstead's final film role was in the low-budget comedy horror Out of the Dark, filmed and produced in Los Angeles with the same crew as Lust in the Dust. Appearing in only one scene within the film, he played the character of Detective Langella, a foul-mouthed policeman investigating the murders of a killer clown. Out of the Dark was released the year after Milstead's death.

Milstead’s love of food had caused him problems with obesity since childhood, and in later life, his hunger was only exacerbated by his daily use of marijuana, an addiction to which he publicly admitted. Depressed and increasingly unhealthy, he soon found himself "completely losing touch with reality, and I didn't care." He managed to quit marijuana about eight months before his death, but he continued to overeat. At one sitting, he could down two whole pies, a quart of ice cream, and a gallon of milk. He was often alarmingly short of breath, and sometimes during the night would wake just in time to stave off asphyxiation due to sleep apnea. On March 7, 1988, three weeks after Hairspray was released nationwide, Milstead was staying at the Regency Plaza Suites Hotel in Los Angeles. He was scheduled to tape a guest appearance the following day as Uncle Otto on the Fox network's popular television series Married... with Children in the second season wrap-up episode. He dined with friends at the hotel restaurant before returning to his room. Shortly before midnight, he died in his sleep, at age 42, of heart failure brought on by cardiomegaly. Half an hour before Milstead was due on the set, Jay found him in his bed in room 261 of the hotel; Milstead was smiling. Jay and three of Milstead’s other friends then sat with the body for the next six hours. They contacted Thomas Noguchi, the former chief coroner of Los Angeles County, who arranged for removal of the body; Milstead’s friends were able to prevent the press from taking any photographs of the body as it was being carried out of the hotel.

Milstead’s body was flown back to Maryland, and the funeral took place at Prospect Hill Cemetery, where a crowd of hundreds had assembled to pay their respects. The ceremony was conducted by Leland Higginbotham, who had baptized Milstead into the Christian faith many years before. Waters gave a eulogy and was one of the pallbearers who then carried the casket to its final resting place, next to the grave of Milstead’s grandmother. Many flowers were left at the grave, including a wreath sent by actress Whoopi Goldberg, which bore the remark "See what happens when you get good reviews.” Following the funeral, a tribute was held at the Baltimore Governor's Mansion. In the ensuing weeks, the Internal Revenue Service confiscated many of Milstead’s possessions and auctioned them off, as restitution for unpaid taxes.

"Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine's performances discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick." After Milstead’s death, Divine was described as "one of the few truly radical and essential artists of the century... [who] was an audacious symbol of man's quest for liberty and freedom.” People magazine described Divine as "the Goddess of Gross, the Punk Elephant, the Big Bad Mama of the Midnight Movies... [and] a Miss Piggy for the blissfully depraved.” John Waters said, "People [think] Divine — they always think wrong — was trans. Divine never dressed as a woman except when he was working. He had no desire to be a woman... He didn't want to pass as a woman; he wanted to pass as a monster. He was thought up to scare hippies. And that's what he wanted to do. He wanted to be Godzilla. Well, he wanted to be Elizabeth Taylor and Godzilla put together.” In what has become a tradition, fans have been known to leave makeup, food, and graffiti on his grave in memoriam; Waters claims that some fans have sexual intercourse on his grave, which he believes Divine would love. Divine’s influence is everywhere today: from RuPaul’s Drag Race, which dedicated an entire episode to John Waters and Divine in Season 7; to Disney’s The Little Mermaid, where he served as the inspiration for the villainous Ursula; to Multiple Maniacs being included in the Criterion Collection of influential films; to the 2013 documentary I Am Divine. In August 2015, a play based on the final day of Divine's life, Divine/Intervention, was performed at the New York Fringe Festival. Today, a 10-foot high statue of Divine stands at the American Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore, and Pink Flamingos resides in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Described at the time of Milstead’s death by People magazine as the "Drag Queen of the Century", Divine has remained a cult figure, particularly within the LGBTQ community: “Look at me,” Divine says as Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble. “I’m the most famous person you’ve ever seen!” “Divine made all drag queens cool [because] she broke every rule. And now every drag queen, every one that’s successful today, is cutting edge.”

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Keith Haring
Keith Haring (1958 –1990)

Keith Haring (1958 –1990) was an American artist whose pop art emerged from the New York City graffiti subculture of the 1980s. His animated imagery has "become a widely recognized visual language,” particularly within the LGBTQ+ community. Much of his work includes sexual allusions that became widely used in social activism advocating for safe sex and AIDS awareness during the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s. Haring designed the First National Coming Out Day (NCOD) Poster for the Human Rights Campaign's advocacy of the day, October 11, 1988—the iconic image remains the single most recognizable artwork connected with NCOD.

Keith Allen Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1958. He and his three younger sisters were raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He became interested in art at a very young age, spending time with his father producing creative drawings. His early influences included Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, and Looney Tunes characters. The family attended the United Church of Christ, and in his teenage years, Haring was involved with the Jesus Movement. Composed in part of former drug users, the Jesus People Movement had its roots in the counterculture and the hippie movement. The most pervasive concern of the Jesus Movement was the threat of a fast-approaching apocalypse. Many movement publications, such as Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, which Haring read as a teenager, espoused these ideas. Characterized by esoteric symbolism, the pitting of good against evil, and the belief that the End is a catastrophic event that will occur in the immediate future, this kind of literature also offered the expectation of salvation for loyal Christians during times of upheaval. Duane Pederson, one of the movement's most popular and charismatic leaders, created the Hollywood Free Paper (1969-75). Its cartoon images critiqued fundamentalism (for example, one cartoon called the Plastic Christian Molding Company depicted figures popping out of a mold) and became emblems of the movement as a whole--with a profound influence on Haring's later art. He threw himself into the Jesus Movement with the same intensity that would characterize much of his art, saying later that he "absorbed all of it at a very impressionable age." His intense religious engagement is apparent in several diaries he kept as a youth: "The fundamentalist Christians, all dogmatic 'control religions,' are evil." These antichurch sentiments would later appear frequently in his art, which often portrayed cartoon figures using the cross as a weapon or people marked with the cross who inflict violence on others.

Haring graduated from Kutztown Area High School in 1976, and went on to study commercial art from 1976 to 1978 at Pittsburgh's Ivy School of Professional Art. At this time, he had a maintenance job at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and was able to explore the art of Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey. He was highly influenced around this time by a 1977 retrospective of Pierre Alechinsky's work and by a lecture that the sculptor Christo gave in 1978. From Alechinsky's work, he felt encouraged to create large images that featured writing and characters. From Christo, Haring was introduced to ways of incorporating the public into his art. His first significant one-man exhibition was in Pittsburgh at the Center for the Arts in 1978. Following that exhibition, he moved to the Lower East Side of New York to study painting at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Haring's direct involvement with the Jesus Movement decreased with his move to New York, owing in part to his discovery of drugs and, later, the New York gay club and party scene. In New York, he discovered an “infinite landscape of dark boys,” alongside hip-hop and graffiti--his admitted obsessions. While attending SVA, Haring also studied semiotics with Bill Beckley and experimented with video and performance art. He became friends with classmates Kenny Scharf, Samantha McEwen, and John Sex, and eventually, he befriended Jean-Michel Basquiat, who would write his SAMO graffiti around the campus. At the time, Haring wrote in his journal: “I am becoming much more aware of movement. The importance of movement is intensified when a painting becomes a performance. The performance (the act of painting) becomes as important as the resulting painting.” In 1979, Haring met photographer Tseng Kwong Chi in the East Village. They became lifelong friends, with Tseng documenting much of Haring’s ensuing career on film. Haring's emotional proximity to the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in March of 1979, occurring scarcely fifty miles from Haring's hometown and family home, had an enormous impact on him. Worried about the dangers of nuclear power in general as well as fallout from this specific disaster near his hometown, Haring joined the first antinuclear rally in Washington, D.C., in 1979. There he demonstrated with hundreds of others against the use of nuclear power and weapons. The events at Three Mile Island made destruction by nuclear arms or fallout a real possibility to the artist, and his fear of nuclear disaster later appeared in his art in the form of a black-and-white striped flag that he said symbolized the danger of a nuclear apocalypse.

Haring first received public attention with his graffiti art in New York subways, where he created white chalk drawings on black, unused advertisement backboards in the stations. He considered the subways to be his “laboratory,” a place where he could experiment and create his artwork and saw the black advertisement paper as a free space and “the perfect place to draw.” He tagged his graffiti work with the Radiant Child, a crawling infant emitting rays of light, which Haring called, "the purest and most positive experience of human existence." Although seemingly simplistic, this baby tag is rich with symbolic meaning indicating Haring's hope for the future and continuing interest in the powers of Jesus. In drawing his child with energized rays emanating from its body, Haring later explained that he was mimicking a well-known convention in religious art, popular in medieval and Renaissance painting: these "lines radiating from the baby indicate spiritual light glowing from within, as though the baby were a holy figure from a religious painting, only the glow is rendered in the visual vocabulary of a cartoon." At the same time, symbolic literary works by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin inspired Haring’s inclusion of lettering and words. In 1980, he created headlines using word juxtaposition and attached hundreds to lampposts around Manhattan. These included phrases like "Reagan Slain by Hero Cop" and "Pope Killed for Freed Hostage." That same year, as part of his participating in The Times Square Show, one of his earliest public projects, Haring altered a banner advertisement above a subway entrance in Times Square that showed a woman embracing a man’s legs, blacking-out the first letter so that it essentially read "hardón" instead of the name of the advertised French clothing brand, Chardón. Haring immersed himself in the NYC underground downtown art and music scene, home to new wave and punk. He became a fixture at Club 57, where he made friends and creative connections with fellow artists, and experienced his identity as an openly gay man in an environment that celebrated queer culture. Late in 1980, Haring began organizing art exhibitions at Club 57, which were filmed by his close friend, Tseng. In February 1981, Haring had his first solo exhibition at Westbeth Painters Space in the West Village, followed by another at Hal Bromm Gallery in Tribeca in November 1981. In October of 1981, Haring met Juan Dubose, a successful DJ playing at Area and many of the best clubs in New York City. Dubose was so successful, in fact, that Mick Jagger had him do the mixing on his first solo album. Dubose became Haring’s companion and lover. They had a passionate, if unfaithful, relationship for years that was predominantly driven by physical attraction. In Haring’s own words, “It’s probably one of my major faults that I pursue physical love with such obsession. It was always the first and foremost aspect that I took care of. I always felt that intellectual stimulation and companionship could be supplied by other people…For me, the physical part was so overpowering that I just let it lead me around in this really obsessive way.”

The 1980s were a furiously productive period for Haring; between 1982 and 1989, he was featured in more than 100 solo and group exhibitions and produced more than 50 public artworks in dozens of charities, hospitals, day care centers, and orphanages. Haring was also openly embracing a “gay lifestyle,” and was a strong advocate of safe sex; references to his sexual orientation are apparent throughout his work, with his personal journals confirming the impact on his work of being gay in a straight world. Haring maintained an interest in religion throughout the decade of New York club hopping and promiscuity, never forgetting his youthful experiences at church and with the Jesus People. "[A]ll that stuff stuck in my head and even now there are lots of religious images in my work."

In January 1982, Haring was the first of twelve artists organized by Public Art Fund to display work on the computer-animated Spectacolor billboard in Times Square, and that summer, he created his first major outdoor mural on the Houston Bowery Wall on the Lower East Side. He participated in documenta 7 in Kassel, where his works were exhibited alongside Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol, followed by an exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery with his collaborator graffiti artist Angel "LA II" Ortiz in October 1982. Warhol befriended Haring, and was the theme of Haring’s 1986 Andy Mouse series. Through Warhol, he became friends with Grace Jones, Francesco Clemente, and Yoko Ono. He also formed friendships with George Condo, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, and Claude Picasso. Haring was represented in several group exhibitions that year, including Fast at the Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York.

In February 1983, Haring had a solo exhibition at the Fun Gallery in the East Village, Manhattan, and participated in the São Paulo Biennale in Brazil and the Whitney Biennial in New York. In April 1983, Haring was commissioned to paint a mural, Construction Fence, at the construction site of the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee. Warhol created a portrait of Haring and his partner Juan Dubose, and later that year, Haring took part in the exhibition Urban Pulses: the Artist and the City in Pittsburgh by spray painting a room at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and creating an outdoor mural at PPG Place. In October 1983, Elio Fiorucci invited Haring to Milan to paint the walls of his Fiorucci store. While Haring was in London for the opening of his exhibition at the Robert Fraser Gallery in October 1983, he met and began collaborating with choreographer Bill T. Jones, using Jones' body as the canvas to paint from head to toe. After Haring was profiled in Paper magazine, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood reached out to editor-in-chief Kim Hastreiter to facilitate a collaboration with Haring. Haring presented Westwood with two large sheets of drawings, and she turned them into textiles for her Autumn/Winter 1983-84 Witches collection. Haring's work also became part of 1980s rock/pop culture, with him designing and illustrating vinyl covers for various influential artists, such as David Bowie's "Without You," N.Y.C. Peech Boys' “Life Is Something Special,” and Malcolm McLaren's "Duck For The Oyster"; his friend Madonna wore a skirt from Westwood’s collection in the music video her 1984 single "Borderline."

Haring's swift rise to international celebrity status was covered by the media, even as he continued to draw in the subways, contrasting with the rocketing prices for his canvas-based work. In 1984, he released a book titled Art in Transit, which featured photography by Tseng Kwong Chi and an introduction by Henry Geldzahler. His art covered the February 1984 issue of Vanity Fair, and he was featured in the October 1984 issue of Newsweek. Later in 1984, the New York City Department of Sanitation asked Haring to design a logo for their anti-litter campaign, which became well-known in the city. Haring was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to create a mural, based on his drug addiction, which temporarily replaced the water curtain at the National Gallery. During this visit to Australia, he also painted the permanent Keith Haring Mural at Collingwood Technical College in Melbourne, as well as murals at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and in Rio de Janeiro. Haring even designed the stage set for the production of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane's Secret Pastures at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Also in 1984, Haring began collaborating with Grace Jones, whom he had met through their mutual friendship with Warhol.

Haring was commissioned by the United Nations to commemorate 1985 as International Youth Year. He designed MTV set decorations and painted murals for various art institutions and nightclubs, such as the Palladium in Manhattan. In July 1985, he made a painting for the Live Aid concert at J.F.K. Stadium in Philadelphia. He made an appearance on MTV in November 1985, painting the set during a "guest VJ" special hosted by his friend, keyboardist Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran. Later in 1985, Haring broke off his relationship with Dubose, to whom he had been regularly unfaithful; Haring told Dubose that there were just too many boys to experience and being with just one held him down. Despite this, Haring later expressed that he felt guilty pushing away his relationship with a man who was sensitive and truly loved him.

Haring continued to be politically active by designing Free South Africa posters in 1985, and he created a poster for the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. Additionally, he painted a car owned by art dealer Max Protetch to be auctioned with proceeds donated to African famine relief. In the spring of 1986, Haring had another solo museum exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and created public murals in the lobby and ambulatory care department of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. His collaborative work in 1986 included painting Grace Jones' body for her music video "I'm Not Perfect" and live performances at the Paradise Garage. He also painted Jones for her role of Katrina the Queen of The Vampires in the film Vamp, collaborating with famed jewelry designer David Spada to design Jones’ sculptural adornments in the film.

In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in Soho, selling shirts, posters, and other items, making his work readily accessible to purchase at very reasonable prices. Speaking about the Pop Shop, Haring said: "For the past five or six years, the rewards I've gotten are very disproportionate to what I deserve...I make a lot more money than what I should make, so it's a little bit of guilt, of wanting to give it back." Having achieved what he wanted, which was "getting the work out to the public at large," he stopped his subway art endeavors entirely, which also stopped people taking the subway drawings and selling them. With the arrival of Pop Shop, his non-commisioned work began more obviously reflecting his own socio-political concerns, such as anti-Apartheid, AIDS awareness, safe sex, and the crack cocaine epidemic.

In June 1986, Haring created a 90-foot banner in conjunction with The CityKids Foundation to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Statue of Liberty's arrival in the United States. Later that month, he created his Crack is Wack mural in East Harlem, visible from New York's FDR Drive. It was originally considered vandalism by the New York Police Department, and Haring was arrested. But after local media outlets picked up the story, he was released on a lesser charge. While he was in jail, Haring's original work was vandalized, and he re-painted an updated version of the mural on the same wall in October of that year. On October 23, 1986, Haring created a mural on the Berlin Wall for the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. The mural was 980 feet long and depicted interlocking red and black human figures against a yellow background. The colors were a representation of the German flag and symbolized the hope of unity between East and West Germany.

Also in 1986, Haring met Juanito Manuel “Xtravaganza” Rivera, a carpenter/limo driver, at the Paradise Garage, a legendary underground disco where black and Latino gay youth, vogueing drag queen divas, and homeless kids partied with music business insiders and up-and-coming media celebrities. Rivera had arrived in New York from a poor inner-city Connecticut neighborhood toward the end of the 1970s as a runaway, and had been making end meet with odd jobs. Rivera was exceedingly attractive, and Haring's posthumously published journals show how Haring immediately saw him as one of those special people in whose eyes he was able to recognize and see his own difference. In the ensuing years, Rivera very actively assisted and supported Haring, managing tasks that ranged from stretching canvasses to filling in murals, from driving to cooking.

In 1987, Haring had exhibitions in Helsinki, Paris, and elsewhere. During his stay in Paris for the 10th anniversary exhibition of American artists at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Haring and Rivera painted the Tower mural on an 88-foot-high exterior stairwell at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital. While in Belgium for his exhibition at Gallery 121, Haring painted a mural at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp. That same year, Haring was also invited by artist Roger Nellens to paint a mural at his Casino Knokke. He designed a carousel for André Heller's Luna Luna, a temporary amusement park in Hamburg from June to August 1987 that featured rides designed by renowned contemporary artists. In August 1987, Haring painted a large mural at the Carmine Street Recreation Center's outdoor pool in the West Village, and in September 1987, he painted a temporary mural, Detroit Notes, at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Also in 1987, Haring painted a mural in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Point Breeze titled 'We the Youth' to commemorate the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. Originally intended as a placeholder, the planned construction never took place and the lot instead became a park. The mural remains Haring's longest standing public mural at its original location. Haring designed the cover for the 1987 benefit rock/pop album A Very Special Christmas and the Run-DMC single "Christmas in Hollis"; proceeds from both went to the Special Olympics. The image for the A Very Special Christmas compilation album consists of a typical Haring figure holding a baby, a sort of "Jesus iconography" that is still considered unusual in modern rock holiday albums.

In 1988, Haring’s work appeared on the label of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine. In April 1988, he created a mural on the South Lawn for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, which he donated to Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Late that summer, Haring traveled to Düsseldorf for a show of his paintings and sculptures at the Hans Mayer Gallery. When his friend Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose, Haring wrote his obituary for Vogue magazine, and he paid homage to him with the painting A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat. Haring and Rivera’s relationship also began to deteriorate around this time. Haring had a voracious appetite for difference, for otherness, and as Rivera had become more demanding about being seen as an important individual in the relationship, it began to falter, and Haring increasingly searched elsewhere for that initial look of recognition across differences that had first attracted him to Rivera.

Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in the autumn of 1988, although he did not let this be known broadly for some time. His anxieties about AIDS and its relation both to his own life and to the end of the world are evident in his 1988 collaborative work with William S. Burroughs entitled Apocalypse, in strange iconography referred to as "devil sperm." These hideous creatures represent the AIDS virus being unleashed onto the world and are coupled in Haring’s imagery with the number "666" and a phallic mushroom cloud. In tandem with Burroughs' text, Haring's illustrations state that contemporary events, including the AIDS epidemic, were the beginnings of the apocalypse. In December 1988, Haring's exhibition opened at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, which he stated was his most important show to date. He felt he had something to prove because of his health condition and the deaths of his friends, Warhol and Basquiat. After his AIDS diagnosis became more broadly known, he used his art to speak about his illness and to generate activism and awareness about AIDS.

In February 1989, Haring painted the Todos Juntos Podemos Parar el SIDA mural in the drug-infested Barrio Chino neighborhood of Barcelona to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic. In May 1989, at the invitation of a teacher named Irving Zucker, Haring visited Chicago to paint a 480-foot mural in Grant Park along with nearly 500 students. Three other Haring murals materialized in Chicago around the same time: two at Rush University Medical Center, and the other at Wells Community Academy High School. The latter was completed days before Haring's arrival in Chicago, as a sort of welcome. According to Zucker, Haring sent the school a design template for the mural, which was executed by a fellow teacher, Tony Abboreno, an abstract artist, and Wells High School art students, but Haring gave it his final approval and signed it himself.

Haring began to hear from mutual acquaintances that Dubose had gone home to Harlem to live with his mother in early 1989 and that he was sick and deteriorating. He visited Dubose in hospital and learned that Dubose had AIDS, which Haring had already suspected. Haring advocated and paid for Dubose to finally begin receiving treatment at the hospital, which up to that point had not been providing him with AZT treatments. Haring said, “I made sure Juan was comfortable. I talked to him for a long time. When I left, Juan reached up to kiss me goodbye. At the door, I turned and waved goodbye to him.” When Dubose died later that year from AIDS complications, Haring paid for his medical bills and the funeral: “The coffin is open and I think I'm really going to be scared looking at Juan. But he looks so beautiful! He looks so peaceful!”

In 1989, Haring established the Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's programs. The foundation's stated goal is to keep his wishes and expand his legacy by providing grants and funding to non-profit organizations that educate disadvantaged youths and inform the public about HIV and AIDS. The foundation also supports arts and educational institutions by funding exhibitions, educational programs, and publications. For The Center Show, an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Haring was invited by the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York to create a site-specific work. He chose the second-floor men's bathroom to paint his Once Upon a Time... mural in May 1989. In June 1989, Haring painted his Tuttomondo mural on the rear wall of the convent of the Sant'Antonio Abate church in Pisa. Later in the year, Haring criticized the avoidance of social issues such as AIDS through a 1989 piece called Rebel with Many Causes that revolved around a theme of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”  During the last week of November 1989, Haring painted a mural at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena for "A Day Without Art." He commemorated the mural on December 1, 1989, the second annual AIDS Awareness Day, and told the Los Angeles Times: "My life is my art, it's intertwined. When AIDS became a reality in terms of my life, it started becoming a subject in my paintings. The more it affected my life the more it affected my work." From Pasadena, Haring flew to Atlanta for the opening of his dual show with photographer Herb Ritts at the Fay Gold Gallery on December 2. Despite his high levels of professional activity at this time, Haring’s health was nonetheless failing quickly. Rivera had taken care of him since Haring’s diagnosis in 1988, and the two had remained together despite Haring’s frequent infidelities. However, after Christmas of 1989, Haring abruptly separated from Rivera.

In 1990, Haring returned to the Hans Mayer Gallery in Düsseldorf to paint a BMW Z1. He also returned to Paris for what would be his last exhibition, Keith Haring 1983, at Galerie 1900-2000/La Galerie de Poche in January 1990, and then flew home to New York. On February 16, 1990, Haring died of AIDS-related complications at his LaGuardia Place apartment in Greenwich Village. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in a field near Bowers, Pennsylvania, just south of his hometown of Kutztown. Inexplicably, Haring had left Rivera completely out of his will. Rivera returned to a small apartment in Spanish Harlem, where he still resides, an HIV-positive bachelor.

Three months after his death, Haring posthumously appeared in Rosa von Praunheim's 1990 documentary film Silence = Death about gay artists in New York City fighting for the rights of people with AIDS. It was released on May 4, which would have been his 32nd birthday. As a celebration of his life, Madonna declared that the final American date of her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour would be a benefit concert for Haring's memory. The show made more than $300,000 from ticket sales, which was donated to the Foundation for AIDS Research.

In 1991, Haring was commemorated on the AIDS Memorial Quilt with his famous Radiant Child icon on a fabric panel. The baby was embroidered by Haring's aunt, Jeannette Ebling, and Haring's mother, Joan Haring, did much of the sewing. In 2006, Haring was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of LGBTQ History Month. Madonna used animations of Haring's art as backdrops for her 2008/2009 Sticky and Sweet Tour. In 2010, The Keith Haring Foundation partnered with the AIDS Service Center NYC to open the Keith Haring ASC Harlem Center to provide HIV peer education and access to care services in Harlem. In 2014, Haring was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields." In 2017, his sister Kay wrote a children's book, Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, which ranked among the top ten sellers every week for over a year in the Amazon category of Children's Art History. In June 2019, Haring was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within New York’s Stonewall National Monument (SNM), the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history.

Composed of simple outlined forms and with typically bare backgrounds, Haring's art uses only the most basic forms, yet is powerfully expressive. "[M]ost of Haring's figures are without gender, race, age (except the Radiant Child), or even facial features. They represent humankind, not men or women, not whites or blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Native Americans, not adults, the elderly, or children, but everyone." With his subway work and enormous public murals, he engaged people from a variety of cultural, class, and educational backgrounds in a direct dialogue with art. By expressing concepts of birth, death, sex, and war, Haring's imagery remains some of the most instantly recognizable visual language of the 20th century.

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