Role models of greatness.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Earl Kage and Hamilton Driggs

Out in the office place at Eastman Kodak (Rochester)

By the 1950s the Eastman Kodak Company (Rochester, NY) had a number of gay male employees who,  although not "out" by today’s standards, did not keep their sexual orientation secret. Two examples were Earl Kage (1919-2008) and his partner, Hamilton “Bud” Driggs (1925-2008), who shared a home on Lafayette Park and a 100-acre country estate in the Bristol Hills, both in the Rochester area. After their deaths in 2008, the estate was donated to the University of Rochester.

Kodak photographer and arts patron Earl Kage  (photo above) was a one man cultural institution in his native Rochester. Distinguished by his pure white handlebar moustache, he was recognized as a sponsor of opera, dance, fine arts and numerous other cultural institutions. He worked at Eastman Kodak for 44 years, from youth to retirement. In 1987 he received the Culture and Arts Civic Award from the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and in 1989 a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts and Cultural Council. Kage became head of Kodak Camera Research after attending The University of Rochester and serving in the U.S. Army in England during World War II as a photographer for the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

His dedication to the arts resulted in his serving on boards of the Friends of Eastman Opera, Garth Fagan Dance Company, the Rochester City Ballet, The Aesthetic Education Institute, Friends of School of the Arts and affiliations with the George Eastman House of International Photography, Rochester Children's Theater and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He often served as a judge for many art-related shows over the years.

Hamilton “Bud” Driggs worked for Eastman Kodak for 30 years as head of Exhibits and Displays, following employment at the Atomic Labs at the University of Rochester. He assisted Kage in setting up a photographic studio in Rochester. Driggs was also a talented silversmith who won prizes for his craft work. A professional photographer, he recorded his travels to such remote spots as the Arctic Circle, Nepal and New Guinea. Both Driggs and Kage enjoyed an atmosphere of acceptance while working at Eastman Kodak.

In fact, some historians purport that George Eastman (1854-1932), the father of modern photography and founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, was himself a gay man.  In the late 19th century homosexuality was a major taboo, so Eastman never went public with his sexual orientation. However, his private correspondence of over 700 letters and general accounts of Eastman’s personal life confirm that he was not heterosexual. Eastman was a generous philanthropist, and he established and supported the Eastman School of Music, one of the nation’s preeminent institutions of music. During the 1920s, Eastman was listed as the fifth-largest individual donor in the United States, and by his death he had given away about $100 million.  His total donations to the University of Rochester totaled $50 million. Using the name "Mr. Smith," Eastman gave $20 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) over many years. He also donated to several colleges for African Americans. At the onset of a nerve disorder and general failing health, Eastman took his own life with a pistol in 1932.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Carl Austin-Behan, Lord Mayor of Manchester

Last week openly gay Carl Austin-Behan was sworn in as the new Lord Mayor of Manchester, a city in northwest England. Manchester is the second most populous English city after London. Austin-Behan made history not only for being Manchester’s first openly gay Lord Mayor in the position’s 124-year history, but at 44 years old he is also the youngest.

Carl Austin (he has used a hyphenated surname only since his marriage last year) had recently built a career as a Labour Party councillor on the Manchester City Council and was named earlier this year as that party’s choice to be the city’s new ceremonial Lord Mayor. Prior to entering politics, he had served as a firefighter in the Royal Air Force, from which he was discharged in 1997 for being homosexual (the discriminatory ban was lifted in 2000). Nevertheless, during his time in the RAF, Mr. Austin was awarded the Good Show Award for Bravery, The Royal Humane Society Bronze Award for rescuing a pilot from a burning Hawk Aircraft, and a special mention in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List (1996) with a Commander in Chief’s Commendation. After his discharge he entered the Greater Manchester Fire Service. Shortly thereafter he won the title of Mr. Gay UK in 2001 (photo below) during which time he was working as an events manager.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I thought it was time we had an openly gay Lord Mayor. We have already had different races and cultures doing it, so this is a recognition of the LGBT community.” Manchester is known for its large gay population and social culture. The city has hosted an annual gay pride event since 1991.

Last year the new Lord Mayor married Simon Behan, his partner of 12 years, and they are currently in the process of seeking to adopt a child. Officially, Simon Austin-Behan is referred to as "The Lord Mayor's Consort." Carl told reporters that he will not be wearing the traditional uniform of black and grey trousers sported by previous Lord Mayors, and he commented that he has only one white shirt in his wardrobe. “I want people to feel like they can relate to the Lord Mayor.”

Note from your blogger: In the United Kingdom “Lord Mayor” is the title of the ceremonial mayor of a major city with special recognition bestowed by the sovereign, in this instance Queen Elizabeth. The proper style of address for the office is “The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Manchester.” I kid you not.

For an extended bio, click on this link to visit the official web site of Manchester's Lord Mayor:

So there you have it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Guido Westerwelle

Germany's former Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, died from leukemia last Friday at age 54. As vice chancellor (2009-2011) he was the first openly gay man to hold high office in Germany. He “came out” when he attended Angela Merkel’s 50th birthday party with his male partner, Michael Mronz. They entered into a civil partnership in 2010. In a recent statement on the Westerwelle Foundation website, the couple said they were "thankful for an unbelievably good time together. Love remains."

Westerwelle, a former chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), saw his party form a coalition with Angela Merkel’s government. He went on to serve as a deputy in her cabinet. A lawyer by profession, Westerwelle was a member of the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) from 1996-2013.

Among the controversies that peppered his political career, Westerwelle announced in 2010 that he would not be taking his civil partner Michael Mronz along with him to countries with anti-gay policies. Other official trips as foreign minister, however, included Mronz, who is an events manager.

Guido Westerwelle became ill with leukemia just months after leaving government in 2014. His last public appearance was in November, 2015, when he was promoting his book about his battle with acute blood cancer, “Between Two Lives.”

Westerwelle with partner Michael Mronz: