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, August 7, 2019

Titanic Memorial: A Tribute to "Friendship"

Just a few yards from the White House south lawn sits a little-known monument related to the ill-fated passenger ship Titanic, which struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. Described as a “tribute to friendship,” this fountain along E St. honors Francis Davis Millet and Archibald Butt, two men who went down with the vessel, selflessly assisting women and children as the ship sank. Millet was 60, and Butt 46 at the time of the tragedy.

The two “devoted friends” shared a house in DC, even though Millet had married (his wife lived elsewhere). Butt described Millet as “my artist friend who lives with me.” Their only recorded spat was over the wallpaper Millet had chosen for their home (too many red and pink roses for Butt’s taste). Their live-in Filipino houseboys served presidents, cabinet members, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices during lavish parties and dinners the male hosts were famous for. President Taft wept openly when he learned that Butt had perished in the Titanic tragedy, yet the two well-connected men have been forgotten with the passage of time.

The joint monument is a stone fountain designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Thomas Hastings. Among other of French's works here in Washington are the seated statue of Lincoln inside the Lincoln memorial and the Dupont Circle Fountain. Hastings was architect of the elegant amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, but his best known building is the New York Public Library. At any rate, the design team boasted impeccable pedigrees.

This memorial was paid for by funds raised privately by friends of the two men, both of whom were widely known in Washington's cultural, social, and political circles. Frank Millet (right), a skilled painter, was a member of the Fine Arts Commission who also directed the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Major Butt had been a military aide to both President Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The fountain today sits not far from where Major Butt's White House office was located.

The two men had a tenant in their Washington home, a young diplomat named Archie Clark Kerr, who worked at the British Embassy. He returned to Washington 35 years later as Lord Inverchapel, the British Ambassador. Kerr caused quite a stir among diplomatic circles by suddenly disappearing to Eagle Grove, Iowa, to stay with a strapping farm boy Kerr had come upon while the lad was waiting for a bus on the streets of Washington. So there you have it.

Frank Millet had a studio in Rome in the early 1870s, and one in Venice a few years later. While in Venice Millet lived with Charles Warren Stoddard, a well-known American travel journalist and poet who had a sexual interest in men. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz published letters from Millet to Stoddard that confirm they lived a bohemian life together in a romantic and intimate relationship. But the most important relationship of Millet’s life was not with Stoddard or even his wife – it was with Archibald Butt.

Fast forward to the early spring of 1912. Millet and Butt (left) together boarded the steamship Berlin for a six-week trip to Europe. To say that they were a conspicuous pair is understatement. Butt wore bright, copper-colored trousers with a Norfolk jacket, fastened by big ball-shaped buttons of red porcelain, a lavender tie, a tall collar, broad-brimmed hat, patent leather shoes with white tops, a bunch of lilies in his buttonhole and a handkerchief tucked into his sleeve. The two men returned home to America together, too, in first class cabins aboard the “unsinkable” Whitestar liner RMS Titanic. On the night of April 14, the ship struck an iceberg and sank the next morning with Butt and Millet among the 1,517 victims of the disaster.

Although the intimate relationship between Millet and Butt was never mentioned publicly, it was common knowledge among Washington insiders, and the fact that their friends erected a joint monument to their memory is a remarkable and poignant tribute, considering the mores of the day.

The 8-foot tall marble fountain displays bas-reliefs of both men. On one side of the shaft placed atop the fountain is a military figure with sword and shield representing Major Butt, and an artist with palette and brush represents Millet. Besides being a memorial, the fountain was designed to double as a water fountain for the horses ridden by U.S. Park Police while on patrol.

Inscription carved around the upper rim of the fountain:

IN MEMORY OF FRANCIS DAVIS MILLET · 1846 - 1912 ·
AND ARCHIBALD WILLINGHAM BUTT · 1865 - 1912 ·
THIS MONUMENT HAS BEEN ERECTED BY THEIR FRIENDS WITH THE SANCTION OF CONGRESS

Friday, July 19, 2019

Keith Haring

Pop culture artist Keith Haring (1958-1990), was a gay man whose simplistic images were influenced by New York City graffiti artists. His art had a strong graphic quality, with figures or objects drawn in outline form with rays emanating from them – instantly recognizable the world over. Unfortunately, his short life was halted by AIDS, and he succumbed to the disease at the age of thirty-one.

Keith Allen Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and he was raised in a nearby rural farming community. He showed artistic promise from his childhood years, when he was an avid drawer of cartoons. As a teenager he became aware of Andy Warhol’s work and was fascinated by the prospect of mass-produced pop art that celebrated common objects. He moved to Pittsburgh after graduating from high school and it was there that he realized his homosexuality and art were interconnected, prompting a move to NYC, the center of both the art world and gay culture.


In the early 1980s he began creating his iconic graffiti drawings in the city’s subways. Haring worked at the Tony Shafrazi gallery, and in 1982 his employer launched his first major show, in which many of the works displayed homoerotic content. His images, bereft of detail, were ideal for social awareness campaigns, and his designs were soon used for UNICEF causes, AIDS prevention, literacy campaigns and even to fight apartheid in South Africa.

Within five years of his arrival in NYC, Haring’s popularity and unique artistic expression made him a rich man and a cultural celebrity. Madonna, one of his biggest fans, explained that Haring’s art had such a vast appeal because, "there was a lot of innocence and joy that was coupled with a brutal awareness of the world."

Among his projects included a mural created for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, on which Haring worked with 900 children,  a mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, France in 1987, and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before its fall. Haring also held drawing workshops for children in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, and produced imagery for many literacy programs and other public service campaigns.

Influenced by Andy Warhols’ commercialism, Haring opened the Pop Shop in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood, where products bearing his images could reach a mass market. Responding to critics who said he had “sold out” his art, Haring explained that fine art was an expensive commodity beyond the reach of the middle class, and his retail outlet allowed ordinary people to own his work. More than twenty years after his death, the Pop Shop lives on and has expanded to encompass Internet operations.

Portrait of Haring (at left)



Saturday, June 8, 2019

Umberto II of Savoy

Last King of Italy

The only son of Italian King Victor Emmanuel III, King Umberto II (1904-1983) is found on many lists of the shortest-reigning monarchs in history. He was regent of Italy from May 9 to June 12, 1945. Thus known as the “May King”, he was Italy’s last king before the monarchy was abolished and the nation became a Republic. After a dubious 1945 plebiscite, Umberto of Savoy was forced into exile in Cascais, Portugal, to avoid a civil war. His family ties to Musolini did not favor his fate.

Umberto had earlier entered into an arranged marriage to a Belgian Princess, carrying out a tradition common to European royalty, but he lived apart from his wife except for public appearances. It is confirmed that he spent his wedding night and entire honeymoon apart from his wife, instead enjoying the company of male “friends” to whom Umberto gave diamond-studded fleur-de-lis shaped mementos and jewels in the shape of the letter “U” (the fleur-de-lis was the symbol of the Savoy dynasty). Those young men flaunted the gifts in public. When Umberto later called on his wife, he was always in the company of someone else and had himself formally announced. Their first child was not born until after four years of marriage, and rumors persisted that they were born by artificial insemination or were fathered by men other than Umberto. Umberto and his wife kept separate apartments, separate beds and had separate circles of friends. Hmm...

He also engaged in relations with many homosexuals of both high and low born pedigree. Many of them were oung military officers, such as Enrico Montanari, who recounted that in the city of Turin during 1927, as a lieutenant he was persistently courted by Prince Umberto. Montanari wrote that Umberto gave him a silver cigarette lighter inscribed with "Dimmi di sì!" (Say yes to me!). Further, a biography of film-director Luchino Visconti revealed explicit details about the director’s sexual relationship with the Prince. Others have come forward with evidence that Umberto’s lovers included French actor Jean Marais and boxer Primo Carnera.


Various actresses have been forthcoming with details of how Umberto (1944 photo at right) surrounded himself with glamorous women to give the impression that he was a gallant playboy, but all of them said their relationships with Umberto were platonic, and that these “romances” were merely staged to deflect rumors of his homosexual activity.

When Umberto became ill in his late seventies, he was not allowed to return to Italy to die. His death occurred in 1983 in Geneva, Switzerland, but he was buried on French soil in the Savoy family tomb in Haute-Combe. No representative of the Italian government attended his funeral.

Source:
Giovanni Dall’Orto in “Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History” (Vol. I, 2001), edited by Aldrich and Wotherspoon.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Pete Buttigieg

Gay Rust Belt Mayor Pete Buttigieg Qualifies for First Presidential Debate; Pinch Yourself


For the first time in history, an openly gay man will participate in a Democratic party presidential debate. South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced on Saturday, March 16 that he had reached the 65,000* individual donor goal which qualifies him to be invited to the first DNC debate (June 2019) before the 2020 presidential election. He also met the requirement that donors must come from at least 20 states.

*76,025 donors as of Saturday morning, March 16, 2019

Buttigieg is competing for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2020 national election. If successful, he would be the first openly gay president, as well as the youngest (39 on inauguration day 2021). Mayor Pete, as he likes to be called, considering that tongue stopping last name (BOOT-edge-edge), turned in a star performance March 10, 2019, on a live CNN Town Hall held in Austin, TX. If you have not listened to this broadcast, see the YouTube link below. 

Your blogger was born (and continues to live) in the Washington DC suburbs, so I have been saturated with politics my entire life, yet I have never heard a politician speak so calmly and eloquently, with a quiet determination and assurance. He answers every question! No deflections! He mentions solutions and policies that need to be explored, all delivered with a refreshing candor and vision. And relatable. I’m still pinching myself. Consider it your civic duty to listen to the entire broadcast of 43 minutes. If nothing else, he should be hired by any candidate on how to handle an interview or town hall session.

My favorite quote from the CNN Town Hall:

When asked how he would respond to criticism from Trump:

"I'm a gay man from Indiana. I know how to handle a bully."




This man is only 37 (born January 19, 1982), openly gay (married public school teacher Chasten Glezman in June 2018; photo below), informed and eloquent. A Harvard graduate (BA) and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford (MA), where he received a “first” in economics. Not to mention a veteran of the war in Afghanistan; he remains a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. Mayor Pete speaks English, Arabic, Dari, Spanish, Norwegian, French, Italian and Maltese (his father emigrated from Malta, where Buttigieg is a common name). When he ran for reelection for mayor as an out gay man in 2015, he won with more than 80% of the vote. In red state Indiana. Believe it.


P.S.: Interested in learning more about Mayor Pete? He has a new book out, a memoir -- Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future (pub. Feb. 12, 2019). The Guardian (British daily newspaper) stated that Buttigieg “has written the best political autobiography since Barack Obama”. 


An excerpt:


(Buttigieg met his husband online, and their first date included a visit to the South Bend Cubs. They made it to the sixth inning before they ditched the game for a walk by the river.)


“I felt the slight brushing of his hand coming closer to mine,” he writes, “and I took hold of it. Nothing in my life, from shaking hands with a president to experiencing my first rocket attack, matched the thrill of holding Chasten’s hand for the first time. I was electrified. We got back to the car just as the post-game fireworks began, and as the explosions and lit colors unfolded over us, he went in for a kiss … It only took a few weeks for me to acknowledge the obvious: I was in love.”

Photo below: Buttigieg upon returning from deployment in Afghanistan.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Johann Rosenmüller



2019 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684), an important baroque composer of instrumental and sacred vocal music in Germany and Italy at the middle of the seventeenth century. He was an organist, trombonist, teacher and composer who survived a homosexual scandal in Leipzig and escaped to Italy, where he resurrected a major career in Venice.


After graduating from the University of Leipzig, he became the assistant to the Thomasschule Cantor (director of music). Working his way up, he was next appointed organist at the Nicolaikirche, one of the three important churches in the city. As his boss became increasingly ill, Rosenmüller was assured he would be next in line for the position of Cantor at the Thomasschule, the same position that Johann Sebastian Bach would assume seventy years later. In 1655, however, Rosenmüller was arrested on charges of seducing several of his choir boys; he subsequently escaped from jail and fled to Venice, where he supported himself by playing trombone at St. Mark’s Basilica.



Some years later, he attained a position as maestro di coro (master of the chorus), at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage school that featured an acclaimed all-girl* choir and orchestra that performed liturgical functions and gave concerts on Sunday afternoons. A generation later Antonio Vivaldi famously directed the musical activities at this orphanage school, elevating the female choir and orchestra to world-wide fame, attracting many tourists. Today the Metropole Hotel is the former music building, and guides point out (erroneously) that the church to the left of the hotel was the church where Vivaldi’s girls performed. In fact, the church was built many years after Vivaldi’s death.



*Many of these girls were the illegitimate children of Venetian nobles, who lavishly supported the school. The girls performed behind screens so that their “comeliness would not distract those in attendance”. Your blogger surmises that a more plausible cause might have been to hide any physical resemblance of the orphans to their noble (actual) parents. Scandal!



Rosenmüller’s sacred compositions reflected an obvious Italian influence, and students who came from Germany to study with him took these works back to their homeland, thus introducing Italian musician idioms to Germany. In 1682, considering that the coast was clear after an interval of nearly 30 years, he left Italy and returned to his homeland, Germany, where he became court composer for a duke at Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony. He died there in 1684, at age 65. In the annals of classical music history, Rosenmüller is hardly a household word, but his name is frequently mentioned as the man who held two posts eventually filled by much more famous men, J. S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Not to mention the well-documented homosexual scandal.

Sources:

Graeme Skinner: “Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II”.

Robert A. Green, Professor at the School of Music, Northern Illinois University. GLBTQ Archive.

Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Frank Kameny

Kameny picketing in front of the White House in 1965 (he is second in line, immediately to the right of the policeman's elbow, his face partially obscured).


Gay rights activist Frank Kameny (1925-2011) died eight years ago at age 86, in Washington, DC, not far from your blogger's home. He was crusty, in-your-face stubborn and possessed of a one track mind: equality for homosexuals. He was out, loud and proud 24 hours a day. I consider him the most important person I’ve ever entertained in my home, although he was a difficult guest. Frank was not capable of chit-chat or polite discourse. Nevertheless, we all owe this man, big time.

Born and raised in NYC, Kameny saw combat as an Army soldier in Europe during WW II. After earning a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University, he went to work as an astronomer for the US Army map service in the 1950s and was fired in 1957 after authorities discovered he was homosexual. Kameny fought the firing and appealed his case to the US Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a homosexual-related case before the high court. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling against Kameny and declined to hear the case, but Kameny’s decision to appeal through the court system motivated him to become a lifelong advocate for LGBT* equality.

*Actually, he disliked the moniker LGBT. He used the word "gay" as an all inclusive term. An article in the current issue of The  Atlantic magazine ("Don't Call Me LGBTQ" by Jonathan Rauch) proposes using the single letter "Q" as a replacement for LGBTQ, countering that the procession of letters has become too unwieldy. So stay tuned.

1961: Kameny and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, an organization that embraced aggressive action for the civil rights of homosexuals. In 1963 the group was the subject of Congressional hearings over its right to solicit funds.

1968: He gave us the phrase ''Gay is Good'' back when homosexuality and shame were partners. The Library of Congress archives contain this original example.

1973: The American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and Kameny had played a major role in that change. Kameny “crashed the APA conference in Washington DC, seized the microphone and shouted, ‘We’re not the problem. You’re the problem!’” He and lesbian activist Barbara Gittings were the first recipients of the American Psychiatric Association's John M. Fryer, M.D., Award, recognizing their contribution to fighting against that association’s earlier homophobia.

2006: the Human Rights Campaign presented him with the National Capital Area Leadership Award. That same year the Library of Congress accepted 77,000 items from his collected papers.



2009: President Obama signed an executive order that granted benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees; Kameny was by his side in the Oval Office and received a pen from Obama. Also that year, he received a formal apology from the U.S. government for his treatment all those years ago, and Kameny’s home in Washington DC was designated a Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board.

The Smithsonian Institution’s “Treasures of American History” exhibit includes Kameny's picket signs carried in front of the White House in 1965. The Smithsonian now has 12 of the original picket signs carried by homosexual Americans in the first-ever White House demonstration for gay rights. 

By his example, perseverance and sacrifice, he showed Americans what courage looked like.


Note: Controversy followed Kameny even after his death. After cremation, his legal heir Timothy Clark took possession of the ashes. Because the estate did not have financial resources to purchase a memorial, a gay charitable group known as Helping Our Brothers and Sisters purchased a plot at DC's Congressional Cemetery* and erected head and foot stones, which have become a gay tourist attraction. But Clark would not allow interment of the ashes to take place until ownership of the plot was signed over to Kameny's estate. To this day the grave remains empty, and Clark interred Kameny's ashes at an undisclosed location, requesting the public to respect his "wishes and privacy."

*The grave's location is right behind that of Leonard Matlovich, a gay Vietnam veteran whose tombstone bears the epitaph: When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one. Other gay rights activists and members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have chosen to be buried in this cemetery.