Role models of greatness.

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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Michael Tilson Thomas, American Conductor

UPDATE to the original post (9/7/2011):

MTT will be one of five recipients of a Kennedy Center Honors Award to be broadcast December 15, 2019 at 8pm on CBS.

Michael Tilson Thomas (b. 1944) is an American conductor, composer, and pianist – and a gay man. A California native, he has been music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra since 1995, and beginning this evening he will lead the orchestra in the opening performances of the orchestra's 100th anniversary season.

Tilson Thomas is the first conductor to achieve prominence without concealing his homosexuality. For more than thirty years he has been partnered with Joshua Robison, who shares Tilson Thomas's  Edwardian house in San Francisco and a 1925 pink stucco palace in Miami. He has pushed audiences to rethink the relationship between classical music and homosexuality by celebrating gay composers and commissioning works that explore the experiences of gay men and lesbians.

After winning the 1968 Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, Tilson Thomas became the youngest assistant conductor in the history of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, when he garnered great critical praise by conducting the second half of the symphony’s 1969 New York concert after its musical director became ill.

From that point on, Tilson Thomas steadily rose in the world of classical music, serving as conductor of a number of prestigious orchestras. In 1987 he founded the New World Symphony, an orchestra academy in Miami Beach, which moved into its permanent new home designed by Frank Gehry for an inaugural concert on January 26, 2011. The academy prepares gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership positions in orchestras and ensembles around the world (www.nws.edu). Notably, four of them have been hired by the San Francisco Symphony. 

In 1988, Tilson Thomas became principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and in 1995 the music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. In June, 2000, he organized the American Mavericks music festival in San Francisco, highlighting the works of such gay composers as Lou Harrison, David Del Tredici and Meredith Monk.


In May 2001, Tilson Thomas conducted the premiere of Del Tredici’s “Gay Life,” a series of pieces he commissioned that explore the experiences of gay men in America, including the challenges that gay men have faced in their struggle to survive the AIDS epidemic. In addition, two of Tilson Thomas’ own compositions have added to the small but growing classical music repertoire focused on gay subjects. “Three Poems by Walt Whitman,” for baritone and orchestra, and “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” for baritone and piano, which use Whitman’s poetry to explore intimacy between men.

In February 25, 2010, President Obama presented Tilson Thomas with the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest award for artistic achievement.











Maestro Tilson Thomas narrates a history of the San Francisco Symphony. His commentary begins at the 1:36 mark in this video. Until I viewed this fascinating chronicle, I was unaware that the San Francisco Symphony was our nation's first professional orchestra to hire women to play instruments other than the harp.



Tilson Thomas embraced the YouTube genre in 2009 to help create the “YouTube Symphony Orchestra,” whose 96 members were selected from 30 countries based on more than 3,000 video auditions on YouTube. Here Tilson Thomas conducts gay composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Finale from Symphony No. 4, leading the YouTube Symphony Orchestra on April 15, 2009 at Carnegie Hall.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton was a United States Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton was the primary author of the economic policies of George Washington’s administration – specifically the funding of state debts by the Federal government, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs and friendly trade relations with England. He became the leader of the Federalist Party, created largely in support of his views.

On March 3, 1777, forty-five year old President George Washington hired twenty-two year old Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) to be his personal secretary and aide-de-camp, subsequently promoting him to lieutenant colonel. Of illegitimate birth and raised in the West Indies, Hamilton was educated in New York, where he lived with a 32-year old bachelor male haberdasher, Hercules Mulligan. After his studies, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from that state. He resigned to practice law and subsequently founded the Bank of New York. In 1789, after Hamilton returned from further military service, Washington appointed Hamilton as the first ever Treasury Secretary of the United States. Many researchers suggest that Washington, who was in a life-long childless marriage, and Hamilton likely had an intimate relationship, as well (Hamilton was known to have intimate relations with both men and women). Washington’s otherwise warm relations with Hamilton turned somewhat frosty after Hamilton married a woman following the death of the object of Hamilton’s devotion, John Laurens (1754-1782).

Hamilton and Laurens had an intense, intimate relationship and often compared each other to Damon and Pythias* (!), a euphemism used to denote a devoted gay couple. In 1779, chiding Laurens for not corresponding as often as he would have liked, Hamilton wrote, "like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued." In 1781 Hamilton requested a transfer from Washington’s staff to be able to serve in combat with Laurens, and the request was granted. Hamilton and Laurens engaged in several military campaigns together, but Laurens was tragically killed in a skirmish in 1782. Hamilton was completely devastated.

*In Greek mythology, Pythias, who had been condemned to death by Dionysius, wanted to return home first to put his affairs in order. Damon agreed to be put to death in his friend’s stead, should Pythias not return to face his execution. Pythias returned as promised, sparing Damon’s life. Dionysius was so impressed by the friends’ devotion to each other that he pardoned Pythias and asked to be friends with the two lovers.

Four months prior to John Laurens’s death on the battlefield, Hamilton wrote to Laurens playfully suggesting that Laurens find a wife for him, offering an exaggerated and amusing description of the ideal candidate’s appearance, personality and financial standing ("as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better"). Hamilton then withdrew the suggestion, writing, "Do I want a wife? No – I have plagues enough without desiring to add to the number that greatest of all."

Bronze statue of Alexander Hamilton outside Hamilton Hall, overlooking Hamilton Lawn at his alma mater, Columbia University in New York City.

Yet Hamilton did marry late the following year, entering into a union with the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in New York City, where Hamilton resumed his law practice. After the war he  participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. When he became president, Washington appointed Hamilton the nation’s first ever Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. However, Hamilton left the poorly-paid Treasury position in 1795 to resume his more lucrative law practice, but he remained a valued adviser to the president and a leader of the Federalist Party.

When the contentious presidential race of 1800 ended in an Electoral College tie, the House of Representatives was charged with resolving the impasse. Hamilton famously put the good of his young nation above party loyalty. Because he believed the Federalist candidate, Aaron Burr, would be a disastrous president, Hamilton went on a campaign to urge his fellow party members to vote instead for his longtime political adversary, Thomas Jefferson. Aaron Burr, who received the second highest number of votes, became Vice President, but he  never forgave Hamilton for his defeat. When Burr ran for governor in New York State in 1804, Hamilton's influence in his home state was strong enough to prevent a Burr victory. Taking offense at some of Hamilton's comments, Burr challenged him to a duel in July, 1804, and wounded Hamilton, who died of his injuries shortly thereafter.

Although Hamilton had a fruitful marriage (and eight children), researchers and biographers deem that Hamilton’s relationship with Laurens was the most important romantic and emotional bond of his life. Earlier biographers edited out the most embarrassing and damning paragraphs from Hamilton’s effusive letters to Laurens, but a 1902 biography relates that Laurens "took Hamilton by storm, capturing judgement as well as heart, and loving him as ardently in return." In describing Hamilton's reaction to the death of Laurens, "Hamilton mourned him passionately, and never ceased to regret him. Betsey [Schuyler Hamilton, his wife] consoled, diverted, and bewitched him, but there were times when he would have exchanged her for Laurens." She added, with some regret, "The perfect friendship of two men is the deepest and highest sentiment of which the finite mind is capable; women miss the best in life." Hamilton's grandson, Allen McLane Hamilton, wrote that many of his grandfather's male friends were attracted to his "almost feminine traits." So there you have it.

The memory of Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens lives on in San Francisco at the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion, the organization’s only branch comprised primarily of GLBTQ veterans.


Hamilton and Laurens are depicted standing together on the "Surrender of Cornwallis" commemorative U.S. postage stamp released in October of 1981. The stamp was based on a  painting of the same name commissioned by the U.S. Government in 1817 from painter John Trumbull. In the extreme right of the painting, Hamilton, with hands clasped in front of him, stands in the front row immediately to the right of the ash colored horse with the prominent neck; the similarly dressed John Laurens stands next to him (click to enlarge). This painting hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.

And of course, Hamilton’s image graces the U.S. ten-dollar bill in commemoration of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Vincent Price

On the set of the film Gods and Monsters, gayness was the subject of lunch discussion among the cast and crew. "Was Vincent Price gay?" someone asked, to which Sir Ian McKellen loudly replied, "Well, he was married to Coral Browne, wasn't he?!"

Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. (1911-1993) was married three times, the last a lavender marriage to lesbian actress Coral Browne. Upon their engagement, the Australian born Browne told critic Bernard Drew: "We've both decided to give up boys". In order to marry, Price converted to Catholicism, and Coral Browne became a U.S. citizen.

Vincent Price was an accomplished art critic and collector, a gourmand, a generous benefactor to those in need, a concerned and active political man, a devoted father – and a celebrated actor (who had a drinking problem). His bisexuality was an open secret to Hollywood insiders, and Scotty Bowers’s recent Hollywood tell-all book, Full Service, mentions that Price used his services to procure men, and Browne to procure women, for sexual gratification. But Price’s sexual predilection was surely the least interesting thing about him.

Price had a “grey” listing by the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings during the McCarthy era, and he made a somewhat shocking deal with them. He was a noted art lecturer in London. Price was involved in the 1959 rigged TV quiz-show hearings for his part in The $64,000 Question. He witnessed the Nazi regime first-hand while living overseas, even attending one of Adolph Hitler's many rallies. He played a young parasitic playboy from Kentucky in the Oscar-winning film Laura (1944, with Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney). Price graduated from Yale, plied the London stage, wrote a cookbook (A Treasury of Great Recipes, 1965), bore a son and a daughter (Victoria, a lesbian who wrote a book about her father), and developed a fine art sales division (1962-1971) for Sears-Roebuck (!). In the late 1960s he played the villain Egghead on ABC’s Batman television series. Back in the 1940s and 50s he was a popular radio actor (The Saint), while decades later Price provided a Sprechstimme “rap” contribution to Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller song track and video. He hosted BBC radio and PBS television series. In 1976 he was a featured guest on The Muppet Show. And that’s not the half.

Somewhere in there I forgot to mention the horror movies, his greatest legacy. Price's first venture into the horror genre was the 1939 Boris Karloff film Tower of London. There followed House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958) and a string of movies based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe: House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Raven (1963) chief among them.

Not bad for the son of a candy company president from St. Louis (Vincent Leonard Price Sr.). A lifelong smoker, Price died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 82, by which time he had packed in enough activity for three or four lifetimes. If you find yourself in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterrey Park, stop by the East Los Angeles College campus to visit the Vincent and Mary Price Gallery and the Vincent Price Art Museum, the repository of Price’s art collection, comprising some 9,000 items valued at more than $5 million.