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, December 29, 2011

Prince Friedrich of Prussia

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Christoph
Dec. 19, 1911 – Apr. 20, 1966

I'm about convinced Prussia must have been the gayest country in Europe. I've written about Frederick the Great (link to post in sidebar) and Baron von Steuben (likewise in sidebar, and we'll get back to him in a bit*), and today we have Prince Friedrich of Prussia. He was a member of the German House of Hohenzollern, which never relinquished its claims to the throne of Prussia and the German Empire after they were abolished and replaced by the Weimar Republic in 1918. Educated at Cambridge University in England, Prince Friedrich settled in Britain in his late twenties just before war broke out in 1939. He became a British citizen, living in England as George Mansfield. For a time interned in Canada, he was able to return to England. However, in the 1950s he resumed his German titles, and to this day his descendants use the surname “von Preussen” (of Prussia).

He came to a mysterious end. Two weeks after he was reported missing in 1966, Friedrich’s body was recovered from the Rhine River, and it could not be determined whether he committed suicide or died accidentally. He was 55 years old. At that time his wife, Lady Brigid Guinness (heiress to the great brewing fortune), was living openly with Major Anthony Ness, whom she married in 1967, after Friedrich's death.

Lady Guinness had cause to be living with another man. Prince Friedrich had tempestuous, painful affairs and encounters with handsome young men. He was also notoriously unstable and caused his family much suffering. Friedrich did not choose his friends wisely. He was a close friend of the infamous Sir Henry "Chips" Channon (photo at end of post), who was married to Lady Honor Guinness, the older sister of Prince Friedrich's long-suffering wife, Lady Brigid Guinness, who died in 1995. Why both these attractive, fabulously wealthy women each married a gay man is a mystery.

Chicago-born Channon also became a naturalized British citizen, and he regarded America and its citizens with disdain. He was a promiscuous homosexual who made no effort to conceal it, and his wife, Lady Honor Guinness, finally left him. His published diaries are quite a revelation of scandalous self-serving behavior, even in their expurgated form. Channon was somewhat reviled as a poseur and social climber who cruelly exploited his wife.

In 1939 Channon met the landscape designer Peter Daniel Coats (nicknamed “petticoats”), with whom he began an affair that led to Channon's divorce. Among others with whom he is known to have had affairs was the playwright Terence Rattigan, the Duke of Kent (who resided next door to Channon on Belgrave Square in London) and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Chips named his only son Paul, and Terence Rattigan dedicated his play, The Winslow Boy, to Channon’s son.

Well, honestly.

All the while the two Guinness sisters – young, beautiful and exceedingly rich – were providing ready cash for the fortune hunters Prince Friedrich and Sir Channon. With facts such as these, who needs fiction?

The dashing and indiscreet Chips Channon:

*Sometimes I am nearly rendered speechless by a weird coincidence. I had made a post to this blog about Baron von Steuben, the Prussian military officer who trained our fledgling nation’s ragtag troops at Valley Forge at the request of George Washington. Steuben was also an unapologetic pederast who was nevertheless honored by our nation with citizenship, titles, land grants and a lifetime pension by our grateful government (see post on Baron von Steuben in sidebar). My post included an unattributed portrait of Steuben, since it was the only image of the man available on the Internet.

Imagine my surprise when I was visiting the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., yesterday morning and entered a gallery in which the first painting I encountered was the very same portrait of Baron von Steuben I had included in my blog entry. Had I not researched von Steuben for this blog I would likely have walked right past this portrait, since I was seeking out Jamie Wyeth’s famous paintings of a pig and raven. A mother leaned down to her young son, who was admiring the von Steuben portrait, and told him that von Steuben was “the guy who straightened out our Revolutionary War troops.” Poor choice of words.

In reading the portrait’s descriptive placard I learned that the painter was Ralph Earl, the famous portraitist born in Massachusetts in 1751. Due to his “sympathies for the British,” Earl was forced to leave the country at the start of the American Revolution. Deserting his wife and two children, he traveled to England for seven years, where he married again without having been divorced. After his return to the U.S., Earl was sent to debtor's prison for failure to repay loans. He earned his freedom by painting portraits of prominent New York members of the Society for the Relief of Distressed Debtors (who knew?). Upon his release, Earl began a successful career as an itinerant portrait painter. Traveling around new England, he painted notables of the Revolutionary War and prominent citizens in their natural surroundings, many shown in regional landscapes depicting the subjects’ newly built houses and opulent furnishings.

Ralph Earl spent the last two years of his life in Bolton, Connecticut, in the home of Dr. Samuel Cooley. Earl’s death was caused by alcoholism at the age of 50. In 1935 a stone in Earl’s memory was placed in the Bolton Center Cemetery by the Connecticut Antiquary. The memorial even mentions his famous 1786 portrait of Baron von Steuben.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cyril Collard, French Polymath

The “Découverte d’une oeuvre” series was launched by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in the late 1980s in an effort to make its holdings known to those who would otherwise not likely visit the museum. They chose the medium of television and proposed 5-minute audiovisual interpretations of several of its paintings, each produced by a team made up of a choreographer, a composer and a director. Among the first works was Les raboteurs (The Floor Scrapers, 1988; 7 minutes, clip at end of post) directed by Cyril Collard (1957-1993), from the painting of the same title by Gustave Caillebotte (1875, shown above). The film was a choreography about the floor scrapers, their movements and sounds amid an all-pervasive emptiness. The idea was fully rooted in what was known as video dance: the dancers danced and the camera with them, while at different moments details of the painting appeared.

Openly bisexual Collard abandoned his studies in mathematics and physics and moved to Puerto Rico, where he began to write and develop other interests such as film and video production. He was a singer, actor, director, author, composer and film maker. He formed CYR, a music group that produced a few albums, and worked as an assistant director on several of Maurice Pialat's films. Collard shot documentaries for television and produced video clips.

His second novel, the powerful “Les nuits fauves(Savage Nights, 1989), thoroughly examined his bisexuality and his defiant, unrealistic and irresponsible perception and handling of his HIV-positive status. The movie version was released in 1992 with Collard himself playing the protagonist, a hedonistic and self-important film maker with an insatiable sexual appetite who insists on living his prurient lifestyle to the absolute hilt despite his HIV status, with tragic consequences. This bleak, uncompromising piece both enraptured and enraged the French audience. Critics applauded his braveness and controversial approach to such a taboo subject. With Savage Nights, Collard became the first artist ever to be nominated for the three top categories of the French Cesar Awards – Best Film, Best Director and Best First Film. Tragically, Collard died at age 35 from AIDS, just three days before the César awards ceremony.

The painting “Les raboteurs de parquet” (1875) is typical of Gustave Caillebotte's taste for unusual perspectives and scenes from modern life, including so humble an occupation as floor scraping. The 40" x 57" oil on canvas is on permanent display at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

Here is Collard's video interpretation of the painting:

Friday, December 23, 2011

John Medeiros, gay apologist

An Open Apology to Amy Koch
on behalf of all gay and lesbian Minnesotans

Dear Ms. Koch,

On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community's successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage. We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an "illicit affair" with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.

We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.

It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of "adultery."

Forgive us. As you know, we are not church-going people, so we are unable to fully appreciate that "gay marriage" is incompatible with Christian values, despite the fact that those values carry a biblical tradition of adultery such as yours. We applaud you for keeping that tradition going.

And finally, shame on us for thinking that marriage is a private affair, and that our marriage would have little impact on anyone's family. We now see that marriage is more than that. It is an agreement with society. We should listen to the Minnesota Family Council when it tells us that marriage is about being public, which explains why marriages are public ceremonies. Never did we realize that it is exactly because of this societal agreement that the entire world is looking at you in shame and disappointment instead of minding its own business.

From the bottom of our hearts, we ask that you please accept our apology.

Thank you.
John Medeiros
Minneapolis MN

John Medeiros, a gay writer working in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is curator of Queer Voices: a GLBT reading series for queer writers. Note: John sent me an E-mail stating that his photograph and bio I had placed on this blog were copyrighted, so I subsequently removed them.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bi-curious Essayist Christopher Hitchens

British-born author, literary critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens (62) died yesterday from pneumonia, a complication of oesophageal cancer. He was being treated at a Texas hospital.

Vanity Fair magazine, which announced his death, said there would never be another like Christopher. Editor Graydon Carter described the writer as someone of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar. Hitchens fostered a reputation as a cynical contrarian.

Born in 1949, he began his career as a journalist in Britain in the 1970s and later moved to New York, becoming contributing editor to Vanity Fair in 1992. Radicalized by the 1960s, Hitchens was often arrested at political rallies and was kicked out of the Labour Party over his opposition to the Vietnam War. He became a correspondent for the Socialist Workers Party's International Socialism magazine.

In later life he moved away from the left. Following the September 11 attacks he argued with Noam Chomsky and others who suggested that US foreign policy had helped cause the tragedy. He supported the Iraq War and backed George W. Bush for re-election in 2004. No one was immune to his scathing (but brilliantly written) remarks: Bill Clinton was called a cynical, self-seeking ambitious thug, Henry Kissinger a war criminal and Mother Teresa a fraudulent fanatic.

The publication of his 2007 book God Is Not Great made him a major celebrity in his adopted homeland of the United States, and he happily took on the role of the country's best-known atheist. Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious.

Although twice married and the father of children, Hitchins commented openly about his bisexual past, in particular the homosexual activity of his student years. Leaked snippets from his memoir, to be published next month:

"Most boys decided quite early on that, since their penises would evidently give them no rest at all, they would repay the favor by giving their penises no respite in return. It was quite possible to arrange a vigorous session of mutual relief without a word being spoken, even without eye contact.

I didn’t lack for partners when it came to the everyday business of sheer physical relief.

Were poems exchanged? Were there white-hot and snatched kisses? Did we sometimes pine for the holidays to end, so that (unlike everybody else) we actually yearned to be back at school? Yes, yes, and yes.

Every now and then, at Oxford, even though I was by then fixed on the pursuit of young women, a mild and enjoyable relapse would occur, and I suppose that I can ‘claim’ this of two young men who later became members of Margaret Thatcher’s government."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nicholas Rodriguez

34-year-old openly gay actor Nicholas Rodriguez is one of the stars (Dan) of the web series Then We Got Help, and made his mark in the role of Nick on ABC’s One Life to Live in 2009. His soap opera character came between Kyle and Oliver in daytime TV’s first gay love triangle. All of the gay characters were written out of the show in the early months of 2010, but the storyline touched many people (clip at end of post). Rodriguez turned a four episode hire into a seven month stint.

Nicholas told MetroWeekly last year: ”In New York I had this one kid come to me and say, ‘I watched you propose to that boy with my grandma.’ This gay, 13 year-old boy was so excited that he got to see a man propose to another man. It was incredible.”

Rodriguez, the son of a football coach, is a talented singer, actor and entertainer who hails from Austin, Texas. The 6'1" Latino tenor made his Broadway debut as the King of the Apes in Tarzan and starred in a Washington DC production of The Light in the Piazza. He also starred as Curly (at left) in the musical Oklahoma!, a multiracial revival that became the best selling show in the history of Washington DC’s Arena Stage. Regarding his own ethnicity, Nicholas says, “My father's Mexican-American, and my mom's Cherokee and Welsh.”

Rodriguez’s partner of eight years is director Matt Lenz. “We first met when he directed me as Ramon in Love! Valor! Compassion! at the Zach Scott Theatre in Austin, Texas. He's incredibly talented and obviously good-looking. Matt's a really caring, funny person.

Matt Lenz: Nicholas is special. He's so grounded. He dreams, but he's also a realist. It's been thrilling to see him grow into a leading man. He plays Curly with such a masculine vulnerability. I'm so proud of him. Someone asked me, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" I said, "I'm happily playing the role of Mrs. Rodriguez for a few days." And Nicholas is a great cook. He makes fantastic chicken enchiladas. I'm spoiled. I found a sexy guy who also cooks.

Nicholas Rodriguez: And Matt is the master of the grill. His steaks always taste good. For me, I love cooking, because it's similar to acting and singing. You have a recipe or a way to do it, but you can embellish it and get creative. I love the Food Network, and I'm addicted to Top Chef. After the D.C. stint, I'm taking a class at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Regarding his role as Nick Chavez on One Life to Live: “Mindblowing. Teenagers would find me on Facebook and say, 'I never saw a gay person on TV I could relate to, until you.' I got a letter from a grown man in Mississippi who lives there in a small town that he finds soulless; he watched clips from One Life to Live because he couldn't be as open as he'd like to be. It's incredible that people identified with it. Before I did One Life to Live, I always told people that, 'Yeah, I'm openly gay, but you won't find me at the front of the parade.' But now that I've played a gay activist and seen people's responses, I know it doesn't behoove any of us to sit at the back of the bus. Change can happen, but only if we stand up for it. Because of Nick Chavez, I've realized that my voice is important.

A scene from One Life to Live:

In his review of Oklahoma!, Patrick Foillard of the Washington Blade wrote: “Rodriguez again destroys the fallacy that gay actors cannot credibly play straight romantic leads. The chemistry between him and Gamble is palpable.” A clip from a promotion interview during the Arena Stage production of Oklahoma!, for which Rodriguez won a Helen Hayes award:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stephen Daldry

English-born film director Stephen Daldry (b. 1961) has had male lovers, he's had female lovers. He's not keen to be called bisexual, but he decided to take the path of convention by marrying New Yorker Lucy Sexton in 2001 – even though he does not call himself straight, either. Confused? Me too. Daldry and Sexton had a daughter in 2003. His 13-year relationship with male stage designer Ian MacNeil foundered a year before his marriage, when Dalton was named to Britain’s Pink List of most influential gay men.

Of course, what he does is his own business. What gay men do in their private lives no longer seems to matter so much in a wider social context, but I find it curious that he bristles at the “bisexual” label. WTF? Daldry himself has addressed his unorthodox lifestyle, saying: “I refuse to be boxed into the idea that 'oh no, I can't have kids because I'm gay.' I can have kids if I'm gay. And I can also get married and have a fantastic life." Lucy Sexton was a long-term friend before their marriage.

So there you have it.

What is not confusing about Daldry is his talent. He had a long and successful career directing stage plays before his first film, Billy Elliott, appeared in 2000. He is the only person to receive best director nominations for his first three movies. Billy Elliott was followed by The Hours (2002), The Reader (2008) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011).

Daldry and his family make their home in NYC’s meatpacking district. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Barrowman

Entertainer/actor John Barrowman was born to be on the stage. He's a dual citizen of the US and Great Britain, born in 1967 in Scotland but moving with his family to Illinois when he was eight years old. He relocated to San Diego to study performing arts at the United States International University, and as part of an exchange program, he returned to the United Kingdom in 1989 to study Shakespeare for six months. Because of his bi-national background, he alternately speaks with an American and Scottish (with his parents) accent.

Barrowman has scaled the heights of television and stage on both sides of the Atlantic, while forging a successful singing and entertainment career. As well, he has authored two memoirs. Barrowman is hugely popular in Great Britain.

Perhaps his highest public profile comes from his role as Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood, in which he plays a lead bisexual character (pan-sexual might be more apt; he has sexual relations with men, women and aliens alike). These two interrelated television shows have aired from 2005 to the present. Torchwood is a BBC science fiction series about a team of alien hunters. The fourth season was aired during the summer of 2011 on the Starz network.

Here is a clip from Season 1: Episode 12 (aired January 2007)
Jack (Barrowman) travels back in time to 1941 and meets his namesake, an American Army Captain named Jack Harkness (in military uniform), the man whose identity he assumed after his death. The song is the 1940 standard, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, sung by Melissa Moore.

Barrowman's partner since 1993 has been Scott Gill. They became civil partners in 2006 and have homes in Cardiff (Wales) and in London.

In a recently published memoir, Barrowman revealed that when he was just beginning his acting career, management sent a gay producer to talk to him. The producer told Barrowman that he should try to pretend to be heterosexual in order to be successful. Barrowman was offended by the incident, and it made him more aware of the importance of his role as a gay public figure: "One of my explicit missions as an entertainer is to work to create a world where no one will ever make a statement like this producer did to me to anyone who's gay.” He has worked tirelessly as an activist for LGBT rights. In June 2010, Barrowman met with England’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron as a representative of the LGBT community.

According to his memoir, when the part of Will in Will & Grace came down to a decision between him and Eric McCormack, the producers decided to go with Eric, because John was too "straight-acting." John, who is openly gay, lost the role of a gay character to a straight actor. Nonetheless, it has been no detriment to Barrowman's career.

Here’s a clip of Mr. Barrowman showing his skills as a singer (he has several best-selling CDs as a vocalist). This is a television performance of John singing Maria from West Side Story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Belgium Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo

Belgium held a national election last summer, but it was only this week that the European debt crisis forced the formation of a coalition government. Leading that coalition come Monday will be the quietly gay head of the Socialist Party, Elio Di Rupo.

The real problem Di Rupo will face is not that he’s gay, but that he speaks very poor Dutch. Mr. Di Rupo, the son of an Italian immigrant, is committed to cutting 11.3 billion euros from the national budget. He has also promised to improve his spoken Dutch, which is glaringly weak in a country where officials and politicians routinely are fluent in both of the country’s main languages. Mr. Di Rupo’s English is also weak.

“If you’re looking for public support for a government, it may be a problem when the leader of that government has difficulty speaking the language of the majority,” said Yves Leterme, the caretaker prime minister who will yield to Mr. Di Rupo (no sour grapes intended, I'm sure).

At 60, Di Rupo will be Belgium's first French-speaking prime minister in 30 years, a rare center-left voice in a European Union that has veered right, and one of few out gay world leaders. He's also the first Socialist to take the premiership in Belgium since 1974. But the fact that he speaks poor Dutch is a serious problem in a country where language is so important and so fiercely protected that, in areas of Dutch-speaking Flanders, town council meetings can find their decisions annulled if anyone is heard to utter a word of French.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Johnny Mathis

Openly gay singer Johnny Mathis was a star athlete at George Washington High School in San Francisco. He was a high jumper and hurdler, and played on the basketball team, earning four athletic letters. In 1954, he enrolled at San Francisco State University on a scholarship, intending to become an English and physical education teacher. That year he broke the college high jump record by successfully clearing 6-ft. 5-inches; at the time only four Olympic athletes had managed to jump that height. But Mathis had other talents, as well.

His father had worked in vaudeville, and when he recognized his son's dancing and singing abilities, he bought an old upright piano for $25 and encouraged his efforts. Mathis began learning songs and routines from his father, such as the popular song "My Blue Heaven." Mathis soon began singing and dancing for visitors at home, school and for church functions. When Mathis was thirteen, Connie Cox, a voice teacher, accepted him as her student in exchange for his work around her house. He studied with her for six years, learning vocal scales and exercises, voice production, classical and operatic skills. Mathis is one of the few popular singers who received years of professional voice training that included opera.

In 1955, Mathis landed a job singing weekends at Ann Dee's 440 Club. Jazz producer George Avakian came to hear him sing, and subsequently sent a telegram to Columbia Records noting: “Have found phenomenal 19-year old boy who could go all the way. Send blank contracts.”

At San Francisco State, Mathis had gained fame as a high jumper, and in early 1956 he had been asked to attend the trials for the 1956 Olympic teams that would travel to Melbourne, Australia that summer. Mathis had to decide whether to go to the Olympic tryouts or to keep an appointment in New York to make his first recordings, which were subsequently released in 1956. With his father's blessings, Mathis opted for a recording career. To date Johnny Mathis has sold 350 million records worldwide, most of them romantic ballads delivered with a somewhat breathy, tremulous tenor voice. His extraordinary singing career has spanned 55 years.

His career took off immediately, and by 1958 he had already released a “Greatest Hits” album, the first ever of that genre. He was one of the first African-American pop singers to gain wide acceptance with white audiences in America.

In the mid 1960s Mathis purchased a mansion in the Hollywood Hills that was originally built by billionaire Howard Hughes in 1946. Later owned by hotel owner Hyatt R. Von Dehn and oilman Robert Calhoun, that house is where Mathis still maintains his residence.

The 1981 release of his 25th Anniversary Album, a double LP, spent an unprecedented 491 consecutive weeks – nine and a half years – on the Billboard top 100 album charts, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records . He has had five of his albums on the Billboard charts simultaneously, an achievement equaled by only Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. Mathis is the 3rd most successful recording artist in the USA.

In a 1982 Us Magazine article, Mathis was quoted as saying, "Homosexuality is a way of life that I've grown accustomed to." Mathis later revealed in a 2006 interview that he received death threats as a result of that 1982 article. In the early 1990s, a group of gay rights activists were planning to “out” Johnny Mathis, when they discovered that he had already revealed his homosexuality in that 1982 Us Magazine article.

Mathis continues to record and performs live today, at the age of 76. His most recent album is Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville, released 14 months ago.

In this video, out gay saxophonist Dave Koz tells the story of the ballad, The Shadow of Your Smile, from the 1965 film The Sandpiper, starring Elizabeth Taylor. Then he and Mathis perform a duet version, which appeared on At the Movies, a huge hit album for Koz in 2007. The voice of Johnny Mathis is in amazingly good form, considering that he is nearly 30 years older than Koz, now 48. Listen for trumpeter Chris Botti, who performs in the background, without appearing in the video. Update: Dave Koz today earned his seventh Grammy nomination  in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album for his album Hello Tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Josey Greenwell

Josey stands out among the clutch of up-and-coming country singers. He is, well, umm – attractive.

The blond-haired blue-eyed 23-year-old Kentucky bred hunkster won the Colgate Country Showdown in 2006 and was signed to a record deal in Nashville at age 19. When the label discovered that Greenwell was gay, he was promptly dropped.

Now the singer is finding his own way, writing his own songs and getting his music out there on his own. It also pays to have a talented photographer in your pocket and a smokin’ hot bod. Not a bad voice, either.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Raymond Burr's Fabricated Hetero Life

Many gay actors invest enormous amounts of energy to remain closeted, but few deceptions were as convoluted as that of Canadian-born Raymond Burr (1917-1993), known for decades as TV’s Perry Mason. He believed he could conceal his homosexuality by creating an imaginary life to hide his thirty-five-year relationship with Robert Benevides. Burr told everyone he was married three times and had a son who died of leukemia at the age of ten. However, a few years after his death, Burr’s sister admitted that her brother was married only once (the marriage was annulled after a few months) and never had a son.

Burr was leading a secret gay life at a time in Hollywood when an acknowledged homosexuality was career suicide, so he fabricated a tragic biography for himself in which he was mythologized as a heartbroken husband and father. There was even an invented affair with a teenage Natalie Wood, 21 years his junior.

At the height of his popularity in television and film, he frequently gave speeches to the American Bar Association, by virtue of his famous portrayal of lawyer Perry Mason. Burr was driven to embellish this elaborate façade when he found out in 1961 that a member of the American Bar Association had given the FBI documents indicating that Burr was "a noted sex deviate." Burr’s response was a classic case of gay panic.

Burr’s television persona, Perry Mason, was a defense attorney who was the main character in works of detective fiction by celebrated author Erle Stanley Gardner. Burr played this role for an astonishing five decades. He won fame, fortune, and numerous awards for portraying Mason for nine years on TV, followed by 26 made-for-TV movies. When TV Guide asked Burr shortly before his 1993 death to name a single regret, he answered, “It was accepting the role that made me famous: Perry Mason. It dominated my life. Perry took over, and it became a burden.”

In 1993, Burr’s close friend, actor Charles Macaulay, told Mary Murphy of TV Guide, “Raymond Burr really was Perry Mason. The two were one and the same.” Maybe so, but Raymond Burr had other interests. He was an innovative breeder of orchids, an award-winning vintner, a respected Beverly Hills art dealer, and foster father to more than twenty children.

The 6'3" actor began work as a teenaged lounge singer, and soon thereafter Dragnet’s Jack Webb gave him work as a radio actor, which led to theater work. At age twenty, Burr became a member of a Toronto-based repertory theater. However, his real fame was achieved as a TV and movie actor.

In 1954 he played the menacing wife-killer Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window. Two years later, the tall, rotund actor appeared in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the first of the Godzilla movies. That same year Burr auditioned for the title role in CBS’s upcoming Perry Mason series. At the audition, Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner witnessed Burr’s reading and exclaimed “He’s Perry Mason.”

After the CBS drama premiered in 1957, Raymond Burr was suddenly a big star and one of television’s highest paid actors. He spent much of his income to support a philanthropic lifestyle. Burr famously opened his home and wallet to out of work actors. As well, he supported more than twenty foster children. Without publicity, and at his own expense, Burr made trips to Korea and Vietnam to support and speak with our soldiers serving on the front lines. He was awarded an honorary law doctorate from the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, on the basis of his association with the role of TV lawyer Perry Mason.

Burr’s generosity took other forms, as well. When William Talman, who played the forever losing prosecutor Hamilton Burger on Perry Mason, was busted during a raid at a pot party (in the nude no less), he was fired by CBS. They used the morals clause in their contract to dump him. But Burr tirelessly worked on behalf of Talman to get his job back. Burr refused to remove Talman’s coffee mug from the rack on the set and forbade Talman’s dressing room to be cleaned out or his space on the studio parking lot to be reassigned. Eventually the executives at CBS relented and Talman was back on the show, but his career would have been finished if it had not been for Burr’s intervention.

Nine seasons, 271 episodes, and two Best Actor Emmy wins later, the Perry Mason series came to an end. This gig was followed by the highly successful Ironside NBC series (1967-1975), in which Burr played paralyzed police detective Robert Ironside.

It was on the set of Perry Mason that Burr first met Robert Benevides, the man who would become his companion and partner. Burr and Benevides discovered a mutual interest in the hybridization of orchids. Together they started a nursery with orchid ranges in Fiji, Hawaii, the Azores and Southern California. Over a twenty-year period, their hybridization was responsible for more than fifteen hundred new orchids being added to the worldwide catalogue. Also with Benevides, Burr opened a successful Rodeo Drive art gallery.

By the mid 1980s, the portly actor and some of his series co-stars returned for the first of twenty-six, two-hour made-for-TV Perry Mason movies. It was about that same time that Burr and Benevides began growing grapes in Sonoma County, California. Their first releases came to market in 1990. To this day, Robert Benevides oversees the award-winning Chardonnay and Cabernets at Raymond Burr Vineyards. These wines have won a number of gold medals and even a Sweeps prize at the 2008 San Diego Wine Competition.

Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 1992, Burr retreated with Benevides to their Sonoma Valley ranch, where the TV icon spent his final days dispersing his wealth through charities, gifts to friends, and the development of grant and trust programs. In the last two weeks of his life, Raymond Burr hosted farewell parties for his friends and foster children. He was buried in New Westminster, British Columbia, the town where he was born, and where a Raymond Burr Performing Arts Center operated until 2006.

Fred Steiner, composer of the Perry Mason theme, died this past June at the age of 88. He wrote numerous TV themes, including music for the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, Gunsmoke, The Danny Thomas Show, and “Park Avenue Beat,” the name of the Perry Mason theme music. Have a listen to this distinctive composition.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Michael Brooks Raises Rainbow Flag Over Oxford

A seventeenth-century Oxford University college has flown the homosexual rainbow flag over one of its buildings, becoming the first Oxford college ever to do so. Of the 38 colleges that make up the prestigious university, Wadham College, housed in a 17th-century castle at the center of the university, is often considered the progressive college. Founded in 1610, the college made history by hoisting the flag as it marked “Queerweek” – a collection of talks, discussions and social events scheduled from November 14-20. The flag flew for the entire week, and the action was supported by the college Dean and the Governing Body.

Organizer and student Michael Brooks, 19, came up with the idea after consulting with other students. “We discussed it with the college dean, and then the idea went through to the Governing Body," he said in the report. "Everyone responded really positively to the idea, and we ended up flying the rainbow flag over Wadham for an entire week." Brooks, a Philosophy and German undergraduate, said flying the flag had a “huge effect on Oxford”.

Local author Ross Brooks (no relation), the creator of Oxford’s only gay guide – Queer Oxford – welcomed the college’s decision to hoist the flag. “This is the first time ever that the University of Oxford has flown the rainbow flag. It is certainly a bit different and something special, I think, ‘to write home about’. For centuries, LGBT culture has been integral to life here in Oxford although it has not always been acknowledged and appreciated. It was heartwarming to see Oxford University celebrating diversity in the community so publicly.” While the flag was first used by the LGBT community in the 1970s, it is believed this is the first official gay symbol to be displayed since teaching began on the university’s site in the 11th century, over 900 years ago.

He went on to explain why Wadham College was such a poignant place for the flag to fly. “The fact is that Wadham College was the scene of one of Oxford’s most notorious scandals. On February 3, 1739, Robert Thistlethwayte, Doctor of Divinity and Warden of Wadham, attempted to seduce William French, a commoner of the College. The ensuing scandal shook the University to its foundations. Thistlethwayte’s career at Oxford was ruined (he had to flee to France) but he was immortalized in several cheeky limericks which have been uttered here in Oxford ever since the 1730s! For example:

There once was a Warden of Wadham
Who approved of the folkways of Sodom,
For a man might, he said,
Have a very poor head
But be a fine Fellow at bottom

So there you have it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alan Shayne & Norman Sunshine

Gay marriage is at the forefront of today's political battles, and a book was published Tuesday that puts a human face on this contentious debate:

Double Life: A Love Story
By Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine

It’s a dual memoir by a gay male couple who have been in a relationship for more than 50 years. With high profiles in the entertainment, advertising and art communities, the authors share inside stories from film, television and media, featuring Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, Laurence Olivier, Truman Capote and Robert Redford. A standout is their neighbor Rock Hudson’s generosity in lending the couple his house after a fire had made their own home uninhabitable for many months. A nosy Katherine Hepburn invited herself over to see what changes Rock Hudson had made to the house, since she knew the previous owner. The book is brimming with tantalizing anecdotes such as this.

“We both grew up at a time when homosexuality was not even spoken about,” the couple writes. “There were certainly no books that could help a young person understand that two people of the same sex could build a happy, productive and loving life together. We wanted to show people who were not gay that our life was not unlike theirs. We are all pretty much the same, so we deserve equal protection under the Constitution.”

Alan Shayne retired as President of Warner Brothers Television in 1986, following a career that included Broadway, playing opposite Lena Horne in his early years. As a leading casting director, he worked on such films as Catch 22, All the President’s Men and many others. At Warner Brothers, he shepherded long-running television series such as as Alice, Night Court and The Dukes of Hazard.

Norman Sunshine was a successful magazine illustrator in New York who went on to be a painter and sculptor whose works are in museums as well as in important private collections. In the early years of his career, he was vice president, creative director of an advertising agency, and coined the phrase, “What Becomes a Legend Most?” (for Blackglama Mink) as well as “Danskins are not just for Dancing.”

Upon the two men meeting in New York in 1958, “We didn’t want to live together,” says Shayne. “We didn’t have any examples of what a good love relationship between two men could be. And there was always the problem of hiding so no one would know we were gay. There was no question that if I were known to be gay, living with another man, it would make it more difficult for me to get work as an actor.”

As an artist, Sunshine was able to maintain a moderately out lifestyle. But when the first exhibition of his paintings in New York brought on a profile in The New York Times in 1968, he was photographed in the apartment that he revealed sharing with Shayne. At both his advertising agency and Shayne’s television production company, the article was met with icy, absolute silence.

Shayne and Sunshine flank their good friend and neighbor, Joan Rivers, who hosted their book release party at New York’s 21 Club.

Even in the 1970s, when Sunshine won an Emmy for the graphics and title design he had created for one of Shayne’s television productions, “Alan and I agreed it was not a good idea for us to be seen together at an industry event,” he remembers. “Alan, after all, was one of the very few homosexuals who had such a powerful, high profile job, and who lived openly with a man. Homophobia had its adherents and some ruthless climber up the executive ladder would certainly love an opportunity to use it…‘Better to be seen with a woman,’ we were advised by a very trusted friend. ‘Makes everyone more comfortable.’”

In 2008 the State of Massachusetts allowed the opportunity for the couple to be married on a beach in Nantucket. “We were like a long, empty, closed-up house where the windows have just been opened,” writes Shayne. “The fresh air thrilled through us, and after years of only being who we were in the privacy of our homes or with a few friends, we were out in the world, under the sky, no longer pretending. We were at last free.”

The couple also collaborated on several literary projects, including the popular Christmas classic, The Minstrel Tree (published 10 years ago), an old-fashioned family Christmas story. Equally popular with children and adults, it appeared in condensed form in Good Housekeeping magazine in December, 2001. That book, along with this just-published memoir, would make a fine pair of holiday gifts.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trajan & Hadrian: Successive Homosexual Emperors

Bearded Emperor Hadrian

Roman Emperor Hadrian, the subject of yesterday’s post, lost his father when he was just 10 years old, becoming the ward of a relative, Trajan, who eventually adopted him (Trajan was a cousin of Hadrian’s father). Trajan went on to become Emperor of Rome, beginning his reign in the year 98, when Hadrian was 22 years old. Both Trajan and Hadrian were included in the set known as the Five Good Emperors, numbers two and three respectively. Trajan’s campaigns expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest ever territorial extent, and Hadrian traveled from one end of his adoptive father’s empire to the other.

One of the most beloved of Roman emperors, Trajan (who was also adopted) was also well known for his homosexuality and fondness for young males. Both Trajan and Hadrian kept harems of boys who were in their early teens, and many of the troubles between the two were caused by the boys they kept. Both men were exclusively homosexual. They maintained marriages "blanc" (sexless, childless unions), but for formal purposes they each married.

Trajan's image on a Roman coin

Trajan’s love of young male flesh was once used to advantage by the king of Edessa, Abgar VII, who had angered Trajan for some misdeed; to obtain a pardon, Abgar sent his handsome young son to make his apologies to Trajan. Worked like a charm, if you get my drift. Nothing like pimping out your own son to set things right with the emperor.

While is was not the norm for men of that era to be exclusively homosexual, homosexual behavior was accepted and not questioned, particularly between older men and adolescent boys. From the time of Plato to the beginning of the Christian Era, some eight hundred years, wives were thought of only as a means for procreation. In 385 B.C. Plato’s Symposium was published. He argued that love between males was the highest form of love, and that sex with women was lustful and only for means of reproduction. Only with men, he argued, could the Greek male reach his full intellectual potential.

Fifty years later the sacred Band of Thebes, an army of male lovers (couples), represented the ideal of military strength and might. Twelve years later Alexander the Great converted millions of his conquered people to the gay-ideals of the Hellenistic Age.

The Roman Empire began with the reign of Augustus in 27 B.C. The first recorded same sex marriages occurred during this time, and art and literature depicted homosexual love in a positive light. Romans, like the Greeks, celebrated love and sex among men. Two Roman Emperors publicly married men, some had gay lovers themselves, and homosexual prostitution was so established that it was taxed. It was into this world view that homosexual rulers Trajan and Hadrian held sway over vast empires.

Some eighty years later, in 218 A.D., the Roman emperor Elagabalus began his reign. He married a man named Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna, in a lavish public ceremony in Rome, amid public rejoicing. But details of that union will have to wait for a later post.

To my blog readers:
I just received a comment by Australian author George Gardiner. You may be interested in his book.

Readers of your Antinous/Hadrian materials may be also be interested in the recently-published novel about this historic relationship in "THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History". It is available in 500-page paperback and Kindle ebook formats at Amazon USA, UK, & Australia.

George Gardiner

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Roman Emperor Hadrian and Antinous

Roman Emperor Hadrian, who reigned in the early years of the second century, sought to promote his devotion to his Greek male lover, Antinous (statue at left), who drowned in Egypt in the year 130 during a state visit. After this tragic death, Hadrian went through a period of intense, obsessive mourning and "wept for him like a woman" when his lover's body was presented to him.

The emperor, who had spent seven years with his young lover, subsequently commissioned 2,000 naked or partially clothed statues of the beautiful teenager for display throughout the empire. Hadrian declared his beloved to be a god and founded a cult city in his honor, Antinoopolis, in Middle Egypt along the banks of the Nile. Temples were dedicated to the worship of the Roman Empire’s newest God. This was an astonishing act, because heretofore in the Roman Empire, deification was only conferred upon emperors.

The new city of Antinoopolis was a forest of white-marble temples, monuments and colonnades laid out on a grid pattern and adorned with hundreds of images of the New God Antinous. A great arch welcomed travelers arriving by boat at the marble docks. Broad streets lined with fine shops and luxurious homes led to a central intersection, where a colossal gilded bronze statue of Antinous Epiphanes “coming forth” towered over the square. A north-south colonnade was matched by an east-west colonnade which ran the length of the city, linking the Mausoleum of Antinous at one end with the Theater at the other. Beyond the city walls, on the dusty plain between the river and the eastern cliffs, an enormous Hippodrome dominated the elevated land east of the city gates.

Antinoopolis c. 1799

At the direction of Hadrian, cities throughout his empire organized festivals and games to commemorate Antinous. Between 133 and 137, thirty-one Greek cities issued coins bearing his image. In addition to the bronze and marble statues and busts of Antinous (more than 100 of which survive), countless reliefs, medals, cameos and gems were crafted to further honor the emperor’s young lover. Private shrines dedicated to Antinous sprang up everywhere, from Britania, to the Danube Frontier to North Africa. Priests of Antinous were appointed to perform the ceremonies that would perpetuate the memory of the new God for all eternity.
The competitors in the Antonous festival games were primarily young men called Ephebes. In Antinoopolis these included swimming and boat races in the Nile, but the Antinous games were unique in that they included competition in the arts and music, as well. The over-all winner was consecrated as the living embodiment of Antinous and given citizenship in Antinoopolis, with an all-expenses-paid life of luxury and adoration. The victor was worshiped in the temple as the representative of Antinous, the emblem of youth and masculinity. Thus the winner was the "Divine Ephebe." The image of Antinous established the last great ancient type of male adolescent perfection, and his cult endured for several hundred years, lasting well into the Christian era.

During the Byzantine Period, after the fall of the Western Empire, Antinoopolis was renamed Ansena, to distance itself from it Greco-Roman past. When the Byzantine Empire was ultimately overrun by Muslims, Antinoopolis/Ansena was abandoned and vanished from history. The village that today occupies the city’s site, Sheik Abadeh, suggests nothing of its former glories. It is known that the Egyptian Caliph plundered the heavy bronze doors of the Temple of Antinous and brought them to his new city of Cairo, but they have since vanished, unfortunately.

When the ruins of Antinoopolis were surveyed in 1798 by Napoleon’s representative Edme-Francois Jomard, 1,344 statues of Antinous were discovered. Archaeologists subsequently found over half a million jars containing offerings to the shrine at Antinoopolis. Unfortunately the ruins of Antinoopolis were lost in the early nineteenth century when an Egyptian construction company ground most of the city’s remaining pillars into cement. A few, however, survive to the present day (shown below).

However, the extraordinary story of Antinous was inadvertently preserved by the Catholic Church in documents denouncing paganism. Thus the beautiful sculptures and images of Antinous were often carefully buried underground by his worshipers to protect them from destruction. Hundreds of years later, the statues were unearthed and subsequently hailed as magnificent treasures from the ancient age.

Hadrian’s predominant sexual taste, like that of Trajan, his predecessor as emperor, was for teenage boys, and he fathered no children. The emperor wrote extravagant love poems idolizing young men, all of which have been lost, unfortunately. However, the surviving examples of the sculptures and busts of Antinous he commissioned rank among the greatest extant works of art of the Hellenistic period. Some of these are currently displayed in the Vatican, Louvre, Fitzwilliam and Altes Museum (Berlin). Hadrian flaunted same sex love by filling the gardens of his villa at Tivoli with suggestive statues of teenage boys.

Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose homosexuality failed to diminish even after harsh treatment by his father, imitated Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli when he built his own palace, called Sans Souci. Frederick incorporated busts of Antinous to function as a subtle code for his own homosexual desires.

In more modern times the love affair between Hadrian and Antinous is acutely and sympathetically analyzed in Marguerite Yourcenar's historical novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), which led to her election to the French Academy as its first female member.

I recall a 2008 visit to London’s British Museum, which featured an exhibit called Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. Among the images of Antinous was an enormous bust (shown above) depicting a male youth sporting elaborate cascades of hair. The notes explained that the holes drilled into his hair were for attaching  flowers and fruit, and the empty eye sockets would have been filled with precious stones to make the eyes look alive. As well, the voluptuous lips (a trademark of all images of Antinous) would have been painted red. I wish I had known all this when I lived as a student in Germany, where I often crossed the Limes, the ancient remains of Hadrian’s wall that ran through the Odenwald in southern Germany, not far from my university city of Würzburg.

To my blog readers:
I just received a comment by Australian author George Gardiner. You may be interested in his book.

Readers of your Antinous/Hadrian materials may be also be interested in the recently-published novel about this historic relationship in "THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History". It is available in 500-page paperback and Kindle ebook formats at Amazon USA, UK, & Australia.

George Gardiner

Friday, November 18, 2011

Justin Utley

Out country singer/songwriter Justin Utley occupies a spot more rarified than out professional athletes. Country music is about the last frontier waiting to be conquered by gay men. But wait! He’s also a Utah born-and-bred Mormon. Well, a former Mormon. He was able to escape the clutches of the church and take his act to New York.

That was quite a change for a kid who once was a best-selling Christian artist in Salt Lake City's Mormon community. Justin’s charismatic stage moves and commanding vocal presence have made an impact on the New York music scene. His debut album as a solo artist, "Runaway," blends singer/songwriter sensitivity with hard-rock attitude, all delivered with plenty of hungry big-city energy served up in a country/folk style.

"I was the prince of Mormon pop with a couple of Mormon albums that did pretty well when I was 15," Utley confesses with a laugh. "The Mormon Church also has its own movie industry, and I've written songs for some of those films. There's this strange alternate universe of Mormon film and music in Utah. You go to the multiplex and you have the major nationwide releases playing right next door to a missionary movie."

Utley grew up in a conservative house and was "forced into taking piano lessons" at a young age. He put music aside until high school, when he returned to the keyboard and started writing songs to release the emotions he couldn't get to any other way. He also found his way into musical theater.

"My mom got me into a play singing Disney songs, and that kinda spawned my career," he says. "As I got older, I was in everything from 'Bye Bye Birdie' to 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' When I told her I was gay, she said, 'I thought you just had commitment issues, but I should have known. You spent too much time alone with those He-Man action figures.' "

After high school, Utley started Found, a mainstream rock project that won a Slammy (awarded by Salt Lake's indie newspaper The City Weekly) for best new band. He also won Best Singer and Songwriter and was a featured performer at the 2002 Winter Olympics, but Salt Lake City was getting too small to contain his musical ambitions. "After the Olympics, I realized I had to get out of town to make the next step. There's a punk rock scene, but it's very localized. You rarely get noticed from outside. The gay scene is very underground in its own little sphere. Gay Pride draws about 30,000 people, but there's only one gay club in the entire city."

Before he left, Utley decided to come out, which was a generally positive experience. He also left the Mormon Church. "Brent, my first boyfriend, passed away suddenly during the process of coming out, and that was difficult. When I told my mom, she said she was sorry she didn't get to meet him, that he never came over for dinner. Everyone I told remained a part of my life and was supportive – except my Mormon bishop, who told me that Brent died because God did not approve of that kind of relationship.”

After coming out, Justin became a noted activist and advocate for civil rights and LGBT equality in the United States, and an outspoken personality against the Mormon church's use of conversion therapy, a method Utley endured for two years at Evergreen, after serving a two-year full-time mission for the church.

"I wrote a letter to the church excommunicating myself. They say they allow everyone to worship as they please; yet they create an environment that's closed and make plenty of pro-family anti-gay contributions. They don't really live by the live-and-let-live rule they profess to follow."

Utley worked on "Runaway" while he was in the process of moving to New York, bouncing between sessions in Salt Lake and the Big Apple. He played most of the instruments himself, but invited Lance Yergensen, his band-mate from Found, to lay down some shredding electric guitar parts. The music has a bright live feel, bursting with energy and confidence. "Goodbye, Goodbye" is a rocking kiss-off to a faithless lover with a big anthem-like chorus; "Little White Lies," based on Utley's disillusionment with the Mormon Church, has a '50s R&B feel and searing guitar work from Yergensen, while "Crash & Burn," one of Utley's most requested songs in his live set, is a bittersweet tune about overcoming life's difficulties, marked by Utley's pleading, emotional vocal.

Utley wrote and produced "Runaway" by himself. "My studio has digital and analog equipment because analog captures something digital can't. It opens up the soul of the music a bit more. "Runaway" has an introspective feel, with lyrics that I wrote before and after coming out, so the images are open enough that everyone can relate to them.

In June 2010, Utley released "Stand for Something." a single written to inspire and motivate to take action towards securing LGBT equality in America, ending youth homelessness, and increasing community awareness. The single was nominated by the LGBT Academy of Recording Arts for 4 OutMusic Awards, including Best Songwriter and Artist of the Year, winning Best Country/Folk Song of the Year.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mitchell Gold

President Obama's favorite chair: Michelle chair from Mitchell Gold.

Washington DC’s first Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture store opened on 14th Street NW in 2007, and now the Obamas have two pieces of Mitchell Gold’s upholstery in the White House, which lends a strong endorsement to the furniture brand. Married partners Mitchell and Tim Gold have been to the White House for a few receptions and have chatted up President Obama about the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture in the private spaces upstairs.

Mitchell says, “When I met the president there for the first time, I mentioned that our things were in the private quarters, and he asked which ones.” Mitchell told the president that the Dr. Pitt sectional sofa and an upholstered chair (now discontinued) called the Michelle were from his factory. “Obama told me that was one of the chairs he sits in the most.”

Last year, Mitchell Gold (60) married Tim Scofield (34), who now goes by Tim Gold, a graduate of the University of Maryland whose job often brings him to Washington. It all added up to enough reasons for Mitchell and Tim to buy a loft overlooking the terraces and fountains of Meridian Hill Park.

Mitchell already had three residences, so he had to be convinced he needed a fourth home. After they got married, he and Tim spent so much time staying in Washington hotels that they started looking at real estate and subsequently bought the loft in February.

Mitchell co-owns a $100 million furniture business, so he shops his own stores. In his D.C. home are his company’s dining banquette, winged platform bed and a brown-and-white cowhide ottoman. There are also one-of-a-kind furnishings, collections and mid-century modern pieces. Large framed photographs taken by friend and client Tipper Gore are hung throughout the loft. Mitchell interviewed a few interior designers, but decided that longtime business associate and former life partner Bob Williams was the right guy for the job.

“This chunk of teak wood here in the corner is our natural touch” (see photo), says Tim, pointing out a sculptural piece of Thai wood he and Mitchell picked out at the last furniture market. “Mitchell and I are known for killing plants, even cactus.”

The Golds are always on the move. In North Carolina, their primary residence is a lakeside retreat near the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams factory in Taylorsville; they also have a 1950s ranch house in High Point. Then there’s their trophy 58th-floor condo in Manhattan’s gay neighborhood of the moment, Hell’s Kitchen.

Tim and Mitchell were introduced through mutual friends in New York four years ago. The couple married at an arts center in Des Moines, because Iowa was one of five states at that time that permitted same-sex marriages. “We liked the fact that it was in the heartland,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell and his business partner Bob Williams, who was once his partner in life, have run the company for 22 years. They design and produce home furnishings sold at retailers across the country and at 16 Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams stores. They do private-label designs for Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and Restoration Hardware, among others.

Mitchell also heads Faith in America, an advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Tim worked at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum for seven years as an exhibition specialist. Today, he is CEO of the Velvet Foundation, working to establish a national museum of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history and culture.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tracy Thorne-Begland

Former Navy pilot Tracy Thorne-Begland, age 44, is a living legend of American gay history. Never heard of him? Well, I’m happy to take care of that oversight by relating the story of a man who lives and works in my home state.

Officer Thorne-Begland decided to come out at the height of the Clinton-era gays in the military debate. He appeared on ABC’s Nightline on May 19, 1992, and revealed to anchor Ted Koppel that he was both a homosexual and a military officer. The following year, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – rather than Clinton’s promised repeal of the ban on homosexuals in the military – became law, and Thorne-Begland was honorably discharged. He was reinstated in 1993 after filing suit in federal court, but was discharged again in 1995, after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeal.

Twenty years ago, Thorne-Begland put a public face on the dilemma of gays serving in the military. He had graduated at the top of his class from Navy flight school in Pensacola, Fla. He was assigned to Oceana Naval Air Station near Virginia Beach as a bombardier navigator and flew A-6 intruder attack planes for three years. He wrestled with having to lie about his sexual orientation and eventually came out to his fellow fliers.

“It was a complete non-issue,” says Thorne-Begland. “Everyone was supportive of me.” Thorne-Begland continued flying with his squadron, and his fellow pilots flew with him without a second thought.

Both his mother and sister knew he was gay at the time, but his brother and father did not. He broke the news to the male members of his immediate family, and then told his entire family that “next week I’m going on TV to tell 13 million of my closest friends” that he was gay. “They thought I was flushing my life down the drain.”

When asked how it felt to come out to millions of people, Thorne-Begland reminisces that it “felt like I was having a personal conversation,” a conversation without any need to cloak his identity. “It was the first time I was who I was.”

When he returned to Virginia Beach, fellow soldiers shook his hand and patted his back. “There wasn’t a breakdown of morale,” says Thorne-Begland, criticizing the accusation by those who aimed to keep gays out of the military. However, his commanding officer, following official protocol, had to implement the strict policy that Thorne-Begland was attempting to challenge publicly.

Although his efforts at the time were ultimately unsuccessful, during his legal battles Thorne-Begland developed a fascination with the law. After spending some time working with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington DC as a spokesperson for their Coming Out Project in the early 90s, Tracy went back to school and received his law degree from the University of Richmond in 1997. Currently, he is a Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for the city of Richmond, dealing with Major Crimes. His life partner, Michael Thorne-Begland, also followed Tracy to Richmond and enrolled in law school.

The two were married in an Episcopal ceremony in 1999. They have twin children, daughter Logan and son Chance. The twins were carried to term by a surrogate in a pregnancy that was the product of sperm from one of the partners and eggs donated by the sister of the other. When Tracy and Michael sought work after obtaining their degrees from the University of Richmond, they both were up-front with potential employers about who they were. There would be no hiding. “I had already lost one career,” said Thorne-Begland. Until 1994, there were no openly gay lawyers in Richmond.

It is easy to contrast Tracy’s costly honesty with that of Florida politician Mark Foley. Tracy grew up in Palm Beach, Florida, and used to see Foley with his boyfriend vacationing at Little Palm Key. Foley became a family friend, and Foley was supportive of Tracy during his travails in the nearly 1990s. When Foley voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, Thorne-Begland had an angry conversation with him, raking him over the coals for such lack of integrity, for taking the road of political survival and hypocrisy.

When President Obama signed the repeal of DADT last December, sitting in the front row was Tracy Thorne-Begland. It was a historic moment, and Thorne-Begland was one of the principal players that made that turnabout possible. We all owe this man, big time.

Tracy with President Obama and life partner Michael.