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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grand Prince Vasili III of Russia

During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, Russian society embraced the greatest visibility and tolerance of homosexuality since ancient Greek and Roman times. When diplomats and foreign visitors came to Russia, they were shocked by the openness of homosexual behavior by Russian men of all social classes. When the English poet George Turberville traveled to Moscow with a diplomatic mission in 1568, he was astounded by the open homosexuality of the male peasants.

Homosexual behavior was also rife among the Russian ruling classes. Vasili III (1479-1533 shown in etching at left), who reigned as Grand Prince of Moscow from 1505 to 1533, was actively homosexual all his life. As a monarch, he was expected to produce an heir, but his sexual orientation made this a problem. It took him two marriages and over twenty years to accomplish this task.

By the time Vasili was forty-seven years old, his first wife of twenty years had yet to bear a child, so Vasili deflected blame by publicly pronouncing her barren and banishing her to a convent (where she later bore a son – not Vasili’s). After his controversial divorce, Prince Vasili shaved off his beard, which at the time was a signal to other homosexuals that he was one of them.

The powerful boyars suggested that Vasili take a new wife, so he divorced his first wife and married Princess Elena Glinskaya, the daughter of a Serbian princess. The Russian Orthodox clergy strongly opposed this marriage, since the princess was of Roman Catholic faith.

Vasili was able to achieve sexual intercourse with his new wife only when one of the officers of his guard stripped naked and joined them in bed for a little sexual “inspiration.” This unconventional arrangement did finally produce a male heir, Ivan IV, known to history as Ivan the Terrible. Vasili was so proud of this accomplishment that he built a church to commemorate the birth of his heir.

Prince Vasili was a powerful ruler and annexed previously autonomous territories for Russia. He captured Smolensk from Lithuania, had success in Crimea and established Russian influence along the Volga. Before he died from an abscess in his right hip at age 54, Vasili asked to be made a monk. Taking on the name Varlaam, Vasili died nine days later, at midnight on December 4, 1533, when his son Ivan was just three years old. The Russian nobles ran the country until Ivan was crowned at age sixteen, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kevin Jennings

Activist, teacher and author Kevin Jennings (b. 1963) responded to his anger over being taunted as a young student by founding the first organization to address gay bullying in the U.S. As leader of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Jennings campaigned tirelessly to educate teachers, parents, students, and community members about ending bias in K-12 schools. Although Jennings left his post as executive director of GLSEN in 2008, his legacy lives on in the GLSEN chapters that proliferate throughout the country.

Constantly bullied by his brothers, teachers and fellow students, at the start of the tenth grade Jennings, with the assistance of his mother, transferred to a high school for gifted and talented students. There he joined the debate team and had his first sexual experience with another male. Jennings’ father, a Baptist preacher, had died of a heart attack when Kevin was nine years old, and his mother struggled to support her children as a single, uneducated parent working at a fast food restaurant. Just before his high school junior year, Kevin and his mother moved to Hawaii to live with his sister, because his mother was exhausted from trying to scrape by on a minimum wage. When it came time to consider college, Jennings applied to Harvard and was accepted. Kevin thrived in that collegiate atmosphere and did well academically. He somehow gained the confidence to come out of the closet and subsequently told his mother that he was gay. She did not take the news well, and for years afterward they had a strained relationship.

After graduating from Harvard in 1985, Jennings accepted a teaching job in Rhode Island. Two years later he took a position on the faculty of Concord Academy in Massachusetts, where he came out to the entire campus in a Chapel Talk in the fall of 1988. His students embraced his bravery and convictions. One of his students, a girl whose mother was lesbian, asked Jennings to help her start a "Gay-Straight Alliance" at the academy. Jennings took up the cause and thus began his two-decade effort to support, protect and encourage glbtq students, and today there are more than 4,200 Gay-Straight Alliances. As he accepted speaking engagements at other schools, he was convinced that a national organization was needed to address the concerns of glbtq students, and in 1990 Jennings was one of four founders of GLISTeN, the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network. The next year the organization changed its name to GLSTN, Gay and Lesbian School Teachers Network.

Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld asked Jennings to serve on the Governor's 1992 Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. The following year the state board of education voted to make the Commission's recommendations the official policy of the state. This program, called Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students, was the first of its kind.

Jennings was awarded a Klingenstein Fellowship at Columbia University's Teachers College. After receiving his M.A., he began work to make GLSTN a national organization. Jennings met financial consultant Jeff Davis, his life partner, at GLSTN's first event in NYC in 1994. Kevin also published two books that chronicled the stories of gay students and teachers. Four other books on related issues followed later in his career.

Shortly thereafter Jennings conceived, helped write and produce a documentary called Out of the Past, a film based on the story of Kelli Peterson, a lesbian student who tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at a Utah high school in 1996. The incident, in which the school system banned all school clubs to prevent Kelli’s success, grabbed national headlines. The film went on to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

Jennings was invited to the White House in 1997, at the request of  President Clinton’s liaison to the glbtq community. Clinton wanted to repair his relationship with that constituency after he was unable to keep his promise to end the ban on gays in the military.

Jennings went on to be named to Newsweek Magazine's "Century Club" a compendium of 100 people to watch in the new century. He was also the recipient of the Human and Civil Rights Award of the National Education Association.

In 2005, Jennings suffered a heart attack after coming off the ice in a game with the New York Gay Hockey Association. Although Kevin and his partner Jeff Davis reside in NYC, Jennings joined the Obama administration as Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education and director of the Office of Safe & Drug-Free Schools in 2009. That appointment sparked a series of hysterical and libelous attacks by conservative activists (example at right), abetted by irresponsible reporting from the Washington Times newspaper and Fox News Network. Fortunately Jennings received strong support from President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The challenges from right wing activists spurred him on to ever more ambitious plans to prevent bullying in schools.

When a spate of suicides by bullied gay youths occurred in 2009, Jennings helped convene the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, headlined by the President and Mrs. Obama. In 2011, Kevin resigned his position at the Department of Education in order to head a new non-profit organization, "Be the Change," dedicated to addressing the growing problem of economic inequality in the country (Jennings had grown up dirt poor). A deciding factor was his ability to return to NYC to spend more time with his partner. Jennings has said that the anti-bullying movement he started has enough momentum and resources to go on without his active participation.

Note: This post is a condensation of an article by Victoria Shannon on the web site.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Montague Glover

Montague "Monty" Charles Glover (1898-1983) was an English freelance architect who is best remembered as a private photographer whose images chronicled London’s homosexual underground during the first half of the twentieth century. It is notable that Glover's photographs and personal relationships crossed strict social class barriers of the time, since he was primarily sexually attracted to working class men. His work documented rough trade, the male prostitutes of the period, and members of the military. Glover himself served with distinction as an officer in the British Army during WWI, being awarded the Military Cross for bravery. In the photo above, Glover is on the right, offering shoulder support to another WWI soldier.

Glover's work as an architect mostly involved projects for the British government. Monty had numerous affairs with working class men, to whom he was particularly attracted. These liaisons were with builders, road-workers, dockers, laborers, young military men and even rent-boys in Trafalgar Square

However, Monty is also remembered for his daring photographic record of his partnership with Ralph Hall (1913-1987, portrait at right), providing one of the rare documented examples of a long-term homosexual relationship prior to the legalization of homosexuality in Britain in the 1960s. The two met in 1930, and Monty subsequently employed Hall as his manservant, in order to provide a socially acceptable alibi for two men living together. Their relationship lasted for more than 50 years, surviving WWII (Hall was drafted into the Royal Air Force in 1940).

Hall was himself a cheerful working-class lad from London’s East End, fifteen years younger than Glover. Every year of their life together was documented in loving snapshots. Ralph was poorly educated, but absolutely devoted to Monty. The strikingly good looking Hall posed for Glover in outdoor settings, yielding photographs that were so suggestive that they could not be shared with the general public. While Ralph was serving for four years in the Royal Air Force, he sent Monty hundreds of love letters – the same sort of letters that countless boys sent to their sweethearts back home to bolster their spirits during the war. Ralph preserved them, and they were published after his death.

Much of their later years were spent at Glover's country house in a village near Coventry, where his sister lived with them until her death in the 1950s. Glover himself died in 1983 at the age of 86, leaving Ralph Hall as his sole heir. Hall died four years later after suffering a gradual decline in health. Friends of the couple described Monty as "charming, if somewhat reserved", and Ralph as an "outgoing cheerful cockney".

Montague's possessions were put up for auction in 1988 by Hall's heirs. One lot was a box that contained a collection of negatives from Glover’s photographs taken since serving in the trenches during WWI, as well as journals and correspondence from his many lovers spanning a period of several decades. Among them were letters from Hall written during his air force  service in WWII. Much of the collection was published in a book with text by James Gardiner – A Class Apart: The Private Pictures of Montague Glover (1992), and it gives great insight into the underworld of gay British society in the early twentieth century. Many of the photographs are sexually charged, but stop short of being pornographic. Any Internet search for Glover's photographs will yield dozens of examples.

A portrait of Glover's lover Ralph Hall is shown on the book's cover.

Special thanks to blog reader Michael for bringing this photographer to my attention.

Monty Glover's partner Ralph Hall (below):

Two boys in Victoria Park in London's East End (1930s):

Necktie and salaciously tight shorts:

London delivery boy (1920s):

Rough trade in the then notorious cruising ground of Trafalgar Square, London:

Another portrait of Monty's partner, Ralph Hall:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Clive Davis

In his just published memoir, music industry executive and record producer Clive Davis (b. 1932) states that he is bisexual. He is currently involved with another man, who is not in the entertainment industry. His new book, titled The Soundtrack of My Life, states that he remains close to his family, which includes three sons, a daughter and six grandchildren. Davis, who has been married to two women in the past, says that his family has always known of his bisexuality. For many years there have been rumors that Davis had sexual relationships with men, so this memoir confirms the validity of insider gossip.

"After my second marriage failed in 1985, I met a man who was also grounded in music. Having only had loving relationships and sexual intimacy with women, I opened myself up to the possibility that I could have that with a male, and found that I could, but I never stopped being attracted to women. Bisexuality is misunderstood; the adage is that you're either straight or gay or lying, but that's not my experience. To call me anything other than bisexual would be inaccurate."

Among the personal revelations laid bare in the book is the admission that for the past 20 years he has had two long-term male partners, with a doctor for thirteen years and for the past seven with another man he does not name.

Eighty-year-old Davis has won five Grammy Awards and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer. From 1967 to 1973 he was president of Columbia Records, and he later founded Arista Records and J Records. From 2002 to 2008, Davis was the Chairman and CEO of the RCA Music Group. Currently Davis is currently the Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment and today plays a part in the careers of Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Alicia Keys, Barry Manilow, Christina Aguilera, Carlos Santana, Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis and Jennifer Hudson. Davis is credited with bringing Whitney Houston (shown below) to prominence.

Davis was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, NY. Both his mother and father died when Davis was a teenager, leaving him an orphan with no money to support himself, but he did not allow those adverse conditions to hold him back. He earned a full scholarship to NYU, from which he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, then went on to receive a full scholarship to Harvard Law School. He began working in a NYC law office in the late 1950s, and by the age on twenty nine was general counsel to Columbia Records, a CBS subsidiary (and a client of his firm). Ten years later the Columbia Records president appointed Davis as its General Manager, and by 1966 Davis was himself president of Columbia Records. Davis led Columbia’s entry into rock music, signing Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro, Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Blood Sweat & Tears and countless others, doubling the label’s market share in three years.

Clive Davis was summarily fired from CBS Records for using company funds to bankroll his son's bar mitzvah, but he bounced back to found Arista Records, named after New York City's secondary school honor society of which he was a member. Thereafter his career was a stellar trajectory to success far beyond that of any other producer. Many in the industry consider Davis a legend in his own time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fashion Designer Thom Browne

I’ve always written off openly gay men’s fashion designer Thom Browne as a joke. Who would wear pants cuffed so short that several inches of naked ankle is revealed? Who would buy a shirt with sleeves a foot too long with the cuffs tied behind one’s back? His designs were pure shock-value, headline-screaming nonsense. His jackets were cut so close and short that the models looked for all the world like an expensively dressed Pee-wee Herman. I figured this was a man who clearly did not get enough attention as a child.

Then he began showing women’s wear last year, and suddenly his name was everywhere. Michelle Obama wore one of his creations for her inaugural morning outfit. Constructed from a silk jacquard fabric used for men’s neckties, her navy blue coat was seen by millions on televisions around the world. Mr. Browne himself did not learn that Mrs. Obama had selected his outfit until a half-hour after television viewers started sending him text messages. He was in Paris at the time, following his men’s wear runway show. Critics were astonished that Michelle Obama was secure enough to wear clothing by a designer who had previously sought attention by outfitting men in dresses, three-legged suits and see-through overcoats (and that’s not the half).

Browne was profiled in the New York Times a week ago, but I just now got around to reading it. The 47-year-old designer, who hails from Allentown, PA, was a competitive swimmer in high school and college. He says he was influenced by the 1960s fashions of conservative America, resulting in his revisionist cardigan sweaters, seersucker shorts, bow ties and Oxford cloth shirts.

On a personal level, he is partnered with Andrew Bolton (right), a curator at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. They live in a sparsely furnished Greenwich Village apartment where Browne dedicates time on a treadmill every day. Browne’s father lived the conservative life of an attorney, and Thom and Andrew say they also live a quiet, non-splashy lifestyle.

Although Browne apprenticed at Armani and Club Monaco in the 1990s, he says he learned everything he knows from Rocco Ciccarelli, the tailor who owns the factory that makes all of Browne’s clothes. Browne debuted his own line relatively late, when he was already in his late 30s. In the ten years he has been showing his men’s line, he won awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and GQ magazine. When he won the National Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the award’s patron was Michelle Obama.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sean Karson

Still regarded as one of the riskiest environments for coming out, the closet door in team sports is beginning to crack open a bit. Sean Karson is the starting third baseman on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology baseball team as well as co-captain. He had a .350 batting average last year and a seven-game hitting streak in which he hit .540. During an indoor practice earlier this month, Karson asked coach Andy Barlow if he could say a few words to his teammates.

“I had no idea what he had in mind,” Barlow said. “He had just returned from a conference in California, so I assumed he was going to talk about that.”

Instead, Karson stood up and told his coaches and teammates that he’s gay.

“They came up and gave me high fives and said they’d have my back and everything,” Karson said. “It was so supportive, it was ridiculous.”

Karson did notice that a couple of teammates held back, but he received E-mails from them afterward saying "how much they respected me, but that they needed to collect their thoughts first."

Sean, who says he has known he was gay since the age of thirteen, is the founder of a technology start-up called Sponge Systems, but he is still working toward his chemistry degree from MIT, where he is a junior this year.

Karson’s been following the work of the ‘You Can Play’ project, founded in memory of Brendan Burke, whose own coming-out story continues to inspire. And he was deeply moved by James Nutter, the former University of Southern Maine baseball player who recently came out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás

The tale of Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (1877-1933, also known as Baron von Nopsca) is a fantastic account of privilege and fortune lost to the vagaries of war and politics, an unsuccessful bid to become the King of Albania, and a great scientific mind that came to a tragic end with the murder of his male lover and subsequent suicide.

Nopsca (shown at right in traditional Albanian costume c. 1916) was born into a wealthy Hungarian noble family in Transylvania, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A gifted student, he was promoted and supported by his uncle, who was head master of the court of Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth. His family lived the lifestyle of royalty.

While still a teenager, Franz and his sister found some dinosaur fossils on their family estate, a discovery that sparked Franz’s life-long interest in paleontology. He became famous for these hundred million year old fossilized remains, and his subsequent research and scholarly publications led him to be considered the father of modern paleobiology.

At the time those dinosaurs roamed the earth (Cretaceous Periord), Transylvania was an island, and the defining characteristic of the “Hateg Island” dinosaurs was their size. They appeared to be miniature, juvenile versions of better known dinosaurs. However, Nopsca’s research led him to promote the theory of Island Dwarfism – that animals that evolved on islands grew to smaller size because of fewer resources being available. His scientific peers scoffed at this notion, but his theory is widely accepted today. Nopcsa was the first scientist to suggest that these reptiles cared for their young and exhibited complex social behavior. Another of Nopcsa’s hypotheses that was ahead of its time was that birds evolved from ground-dwelling, feathered dinosaurs, an idea that found favor in the 1960s and later gained wide acceptance.  Additionally, Nopcsa’s conclusion that at least some Mesozoic era reptiles were warm-blooded is now shared by much of the international scientific community.

Nopsca subsequently traveled south to Albania, then part of the Ottoman Empire, to conduct some digs for more dinosaur fossils. While there he became enchanted by the countryside and culture of the Albanians, and he soon dedicated himself to liberating Albania from the Ottomans in an effort to establish Albania as an independent country. Using his personal fortune to acquire weapons, he organized rebellious forces and led the Albanians in fighting against the Turks. At the end of the First Balkan War, Albania became an independent state in 1913 under the Treaty of London.

This new Albania was to be a kingdom, but there was no native dynasty. In order to secure the recognition of the nation by other European countries, the Albanian Congress of Trieste was convened in 1913 to choose a nobleman to become king. Nopsca put forth the proposition that he would be an ideal choice as king, because he was of noble birth and had strong ties to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, the fact that he was homosexual and made no effort to hide it thwarted his dream from becoming reality.He flounced around in a black velvet cape and made his attention and interest in men obvious.

The Albanians quite naturally expected their king to marry and produce heirs, but Nopsca tried to use his sexual orientation to advantage. He suggested that Albania sell the title of “Queen of Albania” to the highest bidder, since he did not care which woman he would marry and sleep with. He agreed to produce an heir with whomever paid the highest price and use the money for badly needed infrastructure, such as building roads and hospitals. Although the Albanians were grateful for his role in liberating the people from the grip of the Turks, he was passed over as their king*. Realizing he had no chance for success, the Baron withdrew his bid to become Albania's new king, and from that moment his life took a nosedive.

*Instead, the European powers installed a minor German prince, Wilhelm von Weid, who was deposed and expelled from Albania six months later.

Transylvania, which had been part of Hungary for nearly a thousand years, was annexed by Romania after World War I under the Treaty of Trianon, and Baron Franz lost his family estate (shown at right) and fortune in the transfer. For the first time in his life he needed to support himself, so he and his Albanian lover/secretary, Bayazid Doda, moved to Vienna, where the Baron taught paleontology at the university.

The lifestyle of a working man did not suit him, and he lapsed into severe fits of depression. His financial humiliation was so extreme that by the end of his life his household servant had not been paid for four months. To cover his debts, he sold his fossil collection to the Natural History Museum in London, which caused his depression to worsen. Finally, after selling many of his prized books in 1933, he drugged Doda’s tea and fatally shot first his lover and then himself. In a letter left for the police, he explained that his decision to commit suicide was the result of a nervous breakdown. His letter stated: “The reason that I shot my longtime friend and secretary, Mr. Bayazid Elmas Doda, in his sleep without his suspecting at all is that I did not wish to leave him behind sick, in misery and without a penny, because he would have suffered too much.”

Baron Franz von Nopcsa left his detailed observations of the Albanian people and landscape to fellow scholar Norbert Jokl, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1942. The documents, which give a valuable account of the Albanian culture before modernization, were then transferred to the Austrian National Library in Vienna, and Nopsca's paleontological manuscripts went to the British Museum, where they languished in storage.

However, the Baron’s work has been the subject of renewed interest in recent years, and the “dinosaur hunter” has been recognized for his scientific contributions. His studies in tectonic geology, evolutionary biology, paleobiology and sexual dimorphism illustrate his ability to discover and solve scientific problems in creative, intelligent ways. Nopcsa was one of the first great theorists in vertebrate paleontology and made many noteworthy theoretical contributions to geology and evolutionary biology.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sean Eldridge

According to the Federal Election Commission, 26-year-old Sean Eldridge, the political activist/investor who married Facebook co-founder mega-millionaire Chris Hughes last summer, has just filed papers in New York to run for U.S. Congress.

Eldridge, a staunch Democrat known in political circles for his advocacy of same-sex marriage and public financing of political campaigns, currently heads an investment firm in New York. He will be seeking a House seat in New York's 19th District, represented by Chris Gibson, a two-term Republican and former West Point professor who was reelected last November by just a 6-point margin. But because the 19th District went with Obama, it is one of the vulnerable districts Democratic strategists are gunning for in 2014, in hopes to reclaim the House. Heady stuff, no?

For previous posts about Sean and Chris, click on their names in the sidebar.

Here's Sean Eldridge with hubby Chris Hughes:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blake Skjellerup

Short track speed skater Blake Skjellerup (b. 1985) competed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, and he’s training to represent New Zealand in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. At the age of ten he suffered a broken arm as a rugby player, causing him to switch sports to speed skating. He placed 16th overall in the Vancouver Olympic Games, and he came out publicly shortly thereafter.

Blake, whose boyfriend is also an athlete, lives and trains in Calgary, Canada.  He is an advocate for Pink Shirt Day, a nationwide campaign to fight bullying in New Zealand. Along with Matthew Mitcham, the gay Olympic swimmer from Australia, Blake was named by the Federation of Gay Games as ambassadors to the 2014 Gay Games to be held in Cleveland, Ohio (not a typo! – Cleveland beat out Boston, Miami and Washington, DC).

From Blake Skjellerup – May 30, 2010:

“My choice to come out was not an easy one...I had to weigh up the impact coming out would have on me personally, on my family and my sport. With a decision like this I knew not everyone would be accepting of my decision. The Olympics had been and gone, and I had time to reflect on my journey. The opportunity to speak to DNA [magazine] about the Olympics resurfaced. I realised that the opportunity to share my story with other athletes and mums with gay sons and sports teams with a gay teammate would help redefine the perception of being gay and being in sports.

My passage into...accepting my sexuality took quite a long time. I had my first experience with another guy when I was 16. The eight years after that until I came out were full of highs and lows. I struggled with accepting how I could be gay, be successful and get everything I wanted out of life. In my teenage years there was no Gareth Thomas or Matthew Mitcham. Reading their stories and witnessing how comfortable and nonchalant Mitcham was about his sexuality at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 really opened my eyes.

I came out to break the stereotype of gay men and gay athletes. We can be anybody. We are anybody. My friends, family and team know me; they know I don't wear a skirt! I am no less of a man because I am gay...

There is still very apparent discrimination against gay people. I was an angry teenager at some points. I never felt comfortable with telling anyone about being gay. From a young age and through high school I was that kid who got called faggot and homo. It was apparent to me that being different was not an option, but the one thing that got me through was that I knew, one day, I would be better than they were. I reminded myself that everyday. I know first hand that hiding something puts a tremendous pressure on a person. Hiding my sexuality is something I regret, as today, being an openly gay man and athlete, I feel much greater and more significant than ever before.”

Friday, February 8, 2013

George Kalogridis

George Kalogridis became Walt Disney World’s first gay president on Friday, February 1.  George, age 59, started out bussing tables at Disney World (Florida) in 1971, the year the theme park opened more than 41 years ago. He is now in charge of the entire operation – a 40-square-mile spread of four theme parks, two water parks, 24,000 hotel rooms, 3,000 time-share suites, a 120-acre retail complex and a 230-acre sports campus. Disney World generates more than $6 billion in annual revenue and employs nearly 67,000 people.

Prior to Friday’s appointment George most recently served as president of Disneyland Resort (California). He has also been CEO of Disney Resort Paris.

Kalogridis was born in Winter Haven, FL, just a few miles from Lake Buena Vista, the site of Disney World. A sociology graduate from the University of Central Florida, George works for the same company as his partner of 12 years, Andy Hardy, who is a finance manager with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts global entertainment. Friends report that Kalogridis “lives and breathes Disney.” The couple plans to build a home in Golden Oak, a Disney World luxury housing project located on a corner of the resort’s vast property.

In 2011, Kalogridis filmed an "It Gets Better" video segment in which he addressed "anyone who has ever been bullied, teased, or harassed for being different.” This moving video message is delivered by Disney employees.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (1860-1943) was a noted American botanist who introduced crop rotation to southern U.S. agriculture. He was particularly known for developing hundreds of uses for the peanut.

Born into slavery in Missouri, George (along with his mother and brother) was owned by a German immigrant named Moses Carver. When he was an infant, George and his mother were kidnapped in hopes that they could be sold for profit. Although George was returned to his rightful owner, his mother was lost. His frequent bouts with croup and whooping cough temporarily stunted his growth and permanently injured his vocal chords, leaving him with a high-pitched voice throughout his life. These respiratory illnesses prohibited his being able to work in the fields, so he spent his time in Moses Carver’s gardens. As a child he became so knowledgeable that he was known as "the plant doctor".

He changed his name from Carver's George to George Carver when he was freed from slavery. He continued to work on his former master's farm and taught himself to read and write before earning a high-school diploma in Kansas. Accepted by mail at a Presbyterian college in Highland, Kansas, he was refused admission when he arrived because of his race. Undaunted, he went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from Iowa State University, where he showed advanced skills in painting, sculpture, singing and science. He began college studies as a music major (he played the piano and organ), and he learned to paint so well that his paintings were selected for international exhibitions; he made his own paints. Carver was also adept at handwork – he sewed, knitted, and crocheted his own clothes while working his way through school, and he took up weaving baskets and rugs and doing woodwork. Around this time he started to use the name George Washington Carver, upon being asked to furnish a middle name. While at college in Iowa, Carver was the only black student, so he lived in an old office and ate in the basement.

In 1896 he went to Tuskegee University, an all-black trade school, to specialize in botany at the invitation of Booker T. Washington. Carver soon became director of agricultural research there. This is when his interest in peanuts came to the forefront. He once carved a miniature sculpture of the image of George Washington from a peanut and sold it for great profit. He took advantage of this opportunity and carved and sold thousands of miniature peanut sculptures each month. They became so popular in gift shops that he eventually became a millionaire.  When Carver arrived at Tuskegee, the peanut was not even recognized as a crop. Among the uses he invented for peanuts included various oils, gums, paints, food products and packaging materials. He repeated his success with the sweet potato, producing 118 products. He postulated that if all other foods were gone from the earth, the peanut and sweet potato alone could provide sufficient food, in both nutrition and in variety of preparation, to sustain humans indefinitely.

Carver never married or even dated women, and rumors circulated about his sexuality at Tuskegee Institute while he was on faculty there. In particular, his enjoyment of giving “therapeutic” peanut oil massages to and engaging in horseplay with handsome young men was seen as suspect. Some historians have claimed that there is no real "proof" that Carver was gay, but all agree that Carver  rebuffed all match-making efforts by his friends. From 1935 on he was the constant companion of young Austin Wingate Curtis Jr. (shown in inset at left), a Cornell graduate in chemistry. Austin accompanied Carver everywhere, providing comfort, assistance and protection, making it possible for Carver to continue his work. Carver and Curtis would walk arm-in-arm when the two set off to check on their experiments. The two men lived as partners from 1934 until Carver’s death, and the fact that Carver left all of his assets to Curtis validates the nature of their relationship.

Three years before his death in 1943 Carver founded the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee, using his own funds to establish the facility. Carver Hall at Iowa State University and the Carver Science Building at Simpson College are named after him. Carver appeared on U.S. commemorative stamps in 1947 and 1998 and was depicted on a half-dollar in 1951.

February is Black History Month. 
Gay African-American men I have already featured are listed here:
(click on names in sidebar)

Poet Langston Hughes
Singer Andy Bey
Football player Roy Simmons
Composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn
Rev./Theologian Peter Gomes
Pro-basketball player John Amaechi
Singer Johnny Mathis
Author James Baldwin
Football player Wade Davis
Singer/composer Frank Ocean

Monday, February 4, 2013

Patrick Gale

British novelist Patrick Gale was born in 1962 on the Isle of Wight, where his father was the prison governor.  Gale grew up in and around prisons, and in his novel Rough Music (2000) the main character is the son of a prison governor.

Gale boarded at the choir school for Winchester Cathedral, and he completed his formal education with a degree in English from New College, Oxford, in 1983. Following university he sang for the London Philharmonic Choir and took a variety of odd jobs as a typist, a designer’s secretary, a ghost-writer for an encyclopedia of the musical and as a book reviewer for The Daily Telegraph. Gale penned his first novel, The Aerodynamics of Pork (1986), while working as a singing waiter in an all-night restaurant.

Critic Richard Canning from The Independent writes:

Patrick Gale is among the great, unsung English novelists. He has written a dozen books, each confirming a remarkable insight into his chosen subject, the vagaries of the human heart. His works attract large readerships – mostly women or gay men – drawn by the witty, pathos-filled analyses of how we conduct relationships, both within the family and outside. His novels form a quiet gathering, not a series of brash entrances. They impress confidently but gently, like those of the closest of his peers, Barbara Trapido, Helen Dunmore and Colm Tóibin…. If Rough Music sounds dark, it is rather – but marvelously so. Gripping, elegant and wise, it is Gale’s best book to date, and should not be missed. 

In 2007, his bestseller Notes from an Exhibition garnered similar praise: "unutterably moving" (Daily Express), "quietly radiant intelligence, craft and integrity...powerful and surprising" (Sunday Times), "uplifting, immensely empathetic" (Guardian), "dense, thought-provoking, sensitive, satisfying, humorous, humane – a real treat" (Telegraph). A character from that book reappears in his most recent novel A Perfectly Good Man (2012). In 2000 he published a biography of his friend, American writer Armistead Maupin; Gale said Maupin "taught me that fiction need not thump tubs to change opinions, and that a gently comic tone can work wonders."

He now lives on a farm owned by his husband, Aidan Hicks, near Land’s End, Cornwall, where Gale is an avid gardener, chef, cellist and whippet walker. As partners they raise beef cattle, barley and vegetables, and Gale’s current ambition is to perfect the art of reversing a tractor and trailer around a corner.

Click on this link to visit Gale's web site:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mike Verschuur

Openly gay Dutch race car driver Mike Verschuur (b. 1987) has competed in the prestigious Porsche Supercup (2008) and won the Eurocup Mégane Trophy series in 2009 and the Renault Cliocup in 2006.

“Many fellow drivers – not mentioning any names – have told me they are gay, too. But they dare not say so in public, which is a real pity, because there is nothing to fear. On the contrary, it has only made me stronger. It’s made me a better driver.”

In the 2012 Cliocup he set the two fastest times in qualifying heats, outpacing such luminaries as Marc Guillot, Rafael Villanueva and Robert Van den Berg. The son of celebrated driver Frans Verschuur, Mike grew up around cars, racetracks and the fellowship of the motorsport circuit. He drove his first course at age twelve and made his professional debut at age 15 in the Toyota Yaris Cup. Last year Mike drove a Chevrolet Camaro in the Dutch GT4 Championship, and at the tender age of 25 he already has a decade of experience under his belt.

Verschuur was one of 27 sports personalities to come out publicly during the first half of 2011. Others in that group included Dutch gymnast Jeffrey Wammes and Swedish national footballer Anton Hysen. The times, they are a changin'.