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.