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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Composer Clement Harris

Clement Hugh Gilbert Harris (1871-1897) was an English composer and pianist who was an intimate friend of Siegfried Wagner, the homosexual son of famed composer Richard Wagner and grandson of pianist/composer Franz Liszt. Although Clement was born in Wimbledon and educated at Harrow, he met Siegfried while a student in Germany, where he was studying piano with Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann. Clement was wealthy, handsome, sensitive and charismatic, and Siegfried was soon besotted with him.

In 1892 Clement and twenty-three-year-old Siegfried embarked on a six month world cruise and fell deeply in love during that journey. At the onset of their tour, which began in London*, Clement introduced Siegfried to Oscar Wilde. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, Clement convinced Siegfried to abandon his plans to become an architect and instead take up a career as a composer and conductor, thus following in the footsteps of his famous father.

During that same voyage Harris sketched his symphonic poem Paradise Lost, after Milton. The work was completed in 1895 and performed that year in the exclusive spa town of Bad Homburg, Germany, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the King of Belgium, and various and assorted  Grand Dukes and Duchesses. However, the English premiere did not take place until 1905 in Birmingham Town Hall, eight years after Harris's death.

Siegfried was composing on this voyage, as well, working on his symphonic poem, Sehnsucht (Yearning).

*Clement was the son of a wealthy London shipbuilder, and their cruise was on the Wakefield, one of his father’s vessels. The two men were the only passengers, except for the captain and crew and various pets picked up along the way - canaries, a monkey and a Chinese dog. When Siegfried returned to Bayreuth, full of effusive praise for Clement, those close to Wagner referred to this voyage as “Siegfried’s honeymoon.” Several musicologists concur that in Harris, Siegfried found and lost the love if his life. Although Wagner married in 1915 when confronted with a likely outing of his homosexual proclivities, he continued to engage in sexual activity with men, particularly during visits to Berlin, where the anonymity of a big, permissive city reduced the risks to his reputation.

Harris was an admirer of Greek culture who had the fateful misfortune of confronting the outbreak of the 1897 Greco-Turkish war while traveling through Greece. Harris organized his own battalion of mercenaries to fight on the Greek side and was tragically killed in action at the Battle of the Five Wells at Pente Pigadia, Epirus, on April 23, 1897 – three months shy of his twenty-sixth birthday. Wounded early in the day, Harris refused to leave his post and died setting an example of gallantry that was not shared by his fellow officers and soldiers, many of whom deserted their position. He was subsequently buried in the graveyard of the Anglican Church of St. Paul's in Athens, although his family did not know of it. When Clement's communication with his brother Walter ceased, they harbored hope that perhaps Clement had been kidnapped, instead. There is a plaque at St. Paul's (Athens) that commemorates Clement Harris. In 1905 his parents made a memorial gift of a pipe organ in his honor at Withyham Church near Turnbridge Wells, forty miles SE of London. The organ is a two-manual instrument built by the esteemed J. W. Walker & Sons organ builders.

Clement's death was also commemorated by Stefan George in the poem “Pente Pigadia” found in his collection, Der Siebente Ring (The Seventh Ring). Stefan George (1868-1933), also homosexual, was an influential German poet, editor and translator.

Siegfried Wagner (right) composed the symphonic poem Glück (1923) as a memorial to Harris, and Wagner kept a photo of Harris on his desk for the rest of his life. In his 1923 autobiography, Wagner joyfully recalled his travels with "Clementchen" (a German term of endearment best translated as “dear little Clement”) and mentioned their sharing a bed like "Orestes and Pylades," a mythological gay couple. He recalled their travels to Singapore, where they found an idyllic spot for nude bathing like "two Adams."

Although he died before he could mature musically, the extant compositions of Clement Harris do not suggest a major talent, and Harris is known today primarily as the youthful lover of Siegfried Wagner. Nevertheless, Harris left a small body of compositions that include the aforementioned symphonic tone poem, piano pieces, art songs, and chamber works for violin, piano, clarinet and cello. His derivative musical style is indebted to Richard Wagner, Brahms and Schumann.

Clement’s diaries, which detailed his close friendship with Oscar Wilde, were published in German by Claus Victor Bock.

Siegfried Wagner: Glück (dedicated to the memory of Clement Harris)

For a brief sound sample of Harris’s tone poem Paradise Lost, click on this link:

A note from your blogger: I have wanted to publish this post for some time but have been frustrated that I can find no photographic image or portrait of Harris. If a reader is aware of one, please contact me at

Monday, January 21, 2013

"One, Today": Richard Blanco: Part II

Gay rights at the forefront 
Of Obama's inauguration speech

Obama’s inaugural address a few minutes ago made history, in that he linked the struggle for gay rights (Stonewall) with the women’s movement (Seneca Falls) and civil rights for black Americans (Selma).* It is assumed that this speech was heard by millions, and when gay marriage and gay equality were mentioned, those words received some of the loudest cheers from the huge crowd (the mall was at capacity, and authorities had to turn away many who were among the last to arrive).

*We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

Equality for gay Americans was mentioned several times*, and the icing on the cake was a poem – “One, Today” – written and recited (just after the public swearing in) by openly gay Latino poet Richard Blanco. I had to pinch myself, because a little more than four years ago I would have thought this unimaginable. Blanco followed in the footsteps of our first inaugural poet, Robert Frost, who was chosen by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and Maya Angelou, who was chosen by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

*Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 

I have already made a post about Richard Blanco, but I have since learned a little more about him. The roots of his writing began in 1968, when his parents fled Communist Cuba and went into exile in Spain. At the time, Blanco’s mother, a teacher, was pregnant with Richard, her second son. After five months in Madrid, where she gave birth to Richard, they immigrated to New York. As a boy, she said, Richard always had an interest in exploring his Cuban roots.

"I always had questions about Cuba, about the family we left there," he said. On his website he refers to himself as being “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the U.S.”

That sense of not belonging and trying to belong seeps through his books of poetry, which often feature his family and their efforts to hold on to their traditions. Richard got to visit the homeland his parents yearned for when he was growing up. His relatives, who feared he would not speak Spanish and would feel uncomfortable, were surprised when he picked yucca in the fields, jumped into the canals and danced a lot – just like everyone else.  That trip as a young man would shape the poet’s future work, in which he writes about his roots.

“I would say that poetry is the place we go to when we don't have any more words – that place that is so emotionally centered,” says Richard. “It is the place we go to when we have something that we can't quite put a finger on, that we can't explain away, that we can't easily understand with the mind. It's the reason I come to poetry as well. As I love to say in my writing classes: If you sit down totally convinced of what the poem is going to be, don't even sit down, because writing a poem is a discovery process.

I immediately found a reason for writing beyond the love of the words. I had something that I wanted to discover. All of a sudden I was twenty-something thinking: Wait a minute, I'm not as Cuban as I thought and I'm not as American either. That kind of trumped a lot of sexual identity questions.

My third book is sort of the book in which I came out of the literary closet. Its theme and topic was the intersection of these identities, or how they collided. What does it mean to be a gay Cuban man? Asking that really opened the door. It piqued my interest in that sense. And now I've been with my partner for twelve years, and I'm 44. It's almost like my mind couldn't handle negotiating both things at the same time, until this third book.

My work has to do with searching – searching within myself, but searching for what the universal experience is that poetry taps into as well.”

Or click on this link for video of Blanco delivering his poem during Obama’s inauguration:

The full text of Mr. Blanco's poem:

One, Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes,
spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains,
then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one,
a story told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper –
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives –
to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.
Many prayers, but one light breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues,
warmth onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat and hands,
hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm,
hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables,
hands as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind – our breath. Breathe.
Hear it through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony of footsteps,
guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me – in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives without prejudice,
as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always – home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country – all of us –
facing the stars.
Hope – a new constellation waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it – together.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tracy Thorne-Begland

Judge Thorne-Begland Confirmed
To Virginia Court January 15, 2013

The Virginia General Assembly confirmed Tracy Thorne-Begland as the state’s first openly gay judge, who will serve on the Richmond General Circuit Court. Thorne-Begland had been appointed to the court last June to fill a vacancy on the bench after lawmakers had rejected his nomination, an act most assume was because of his sexual orientation. This interim appointment infuriated Delegate Robert G. Marshall, a Republican who led the charge against Thorne-Begland's nomination. Marshall opposed the judicial nomination, insisting that “sodomy is not a civil right.”

Although twenty-seven other Delegates voted against Thorne-Begland, Virginia Equality applauded his confirmation. “This is a big step forward after last year's actions made embarrassing national headlines. Equality Virginia is pleased that the House of Delegates could see that Thorne-Begland is a qualified candidate with integrity and a long history of public service. He has served his country and his city with honor and unquestioned competence, first as a Navy pilot and then as a prosecutor. We're glad the House of Delegates took a second look at his candidacy, ...this time basing the decision on his qualifications, and not on who he is – or who he loves.”

On January 15 the House of Delegates elected Thorne-Begland to a full six-year term to end on January 31, 2019, by a vote of 66–28, with one abstention. The 28 votes against him were all cast by members of the Republican party. The Senate followed with a vote of 28–0, with 12 Republican senators not voting.

Tracy Thorne-Begland (b. 1967 as Tracy Thorne) grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida, the son of a surgeon who was a Korean War vet. Following Tracy's graduation from Vanderbilt University, he entered the US Navy in 1988, was first in his flight training class, and served in a jet combat squadron at Oceana Naval Air Station, flying the A-6 Intruder.

Tracy lives with his partner, a Richmond attorney born with the name Michael Begland. They combined their surnames, and both now go by Thorne-Begland. They had a commitment ceremony in 2001 after eight years of partnership, and their twin children, a girl and a boy, were born to a surrogate mother in 2005.

My earlier post on Tracy Thorne-Begland from November, 2011 is here:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Victor Garber

In a recent interview character actor Victor Garber confirmed that he is gay. Garber is currently on-screen in the much-lauded hit film Argo, in which he plays the Canadian ambassador. The Argo ensemble cast has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Canadian-born Garber, 63, lives in New York City’s West Village with his partner, portrait artist Rainer Andreesen, age 49. Andreesen has also done modeling work for Armani, Gucci, Valentino, Hugo Boss and Ermenegildo Zegna. Victor and Rainer have been partners for thirteen years, and on Sunday, January 27, they plan to attend the SAG Awards ceremony in Los Angeles as a couple.

Garber also appears in the current TV series Deception and has been nominated six times for an Emmy award. Among his film roles are shipbuilder Thomas Andrews in Titanic and San Francisco mayor George Moscone in Milk. He has also appeared frequently on stage, earning four Tony Award nominations.

Rainer Andreesen:

Andreesen’s oil portrait of his partner, Victor Garber:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

David Bowie

Openly bisexual British rocker David Bowie (b. 1947) has been reinventing himself for over four decades and still records at age 66, although his last live performances were in 2006. He cut his teeth on glam rock in the early 1970s (the Ziggy Stardust persona), but has blown through blue-eyed soul, folk, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle genres. Throughout his career, he has sold an estimated 140 million albums. In the U.K., he has been awarded nine Platinum album certifications, 11 Gold and eight Silver, and in the U.S., five Platinum and seven Gold certifications. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 39th on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and 23rd on their list of the best singers of all time.

While a student of art, music, drama and design at a technical school, Bowie learned to play piano, recorder, ukelele and saxophone, and he sang in his school choir. He formed his first band, The Konrads, in 1962, and within a decade had established his androgynous persona that made him famous all over the world.  His Ziggy Stardust shows were ultra-theatrical affairs filled with shocking stage moments, such as Bowie stripping down to a sumo wrestling loincloth and simulating oral sex with a band member’s guitar. In spite of the debilitating effects of cocaine and heroin use, Bowie achieved superstar status by 1980, and by 1990 he was dubbed a megastar with a solo musical career, an acting career (on both stage and screen) and a revived career as a band member.

In a September 1976 magazine interview Bowie said. "It's true – I am a bisexual. But I can't deny that I've used that fact very well. I suppose it's the best thing that ever happened to me.” Ava Cherry, Bowie’s backup singer, reported that Mick Jagger and Bowie were really sexually obsessed with each other. “Even though I was in bed with them many times, I ended up just watching them have sex.” Nevertheless, Bowie married twice and has a son, Duncan Jones, an English film director, from his first marriage.

If business or pleasure takes you to London this spring or summer, queue up for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s special exhibit that forms the first international retrospective of the career of the extraordinary rock musician David Bowie. More than 300 objects in display will include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, film, music videos, set designs and Bowie's own instruments, as well as items from collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film. The exhibit will feature Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, photography by Brian Duffy, album sleeve artwork by Guy Peellaert and Edward Bell, visual excerpts from films and live performances including The Man Who Fell to Earth, music videos (such as Boys Keep Swinging) and set designs created for the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour. The evolution of his creative ideas will be revealed through personal items, such as never before seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics, Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries.

The exhibition David Bowie is... opens March 23 at the Victoria & Albert Museum and runs through July 28, 2013. Info about advance tickets sales, hours, etc., at:

*Bowie’s new album The Next Day will be released on March 11, 2013. Where Are We Now? (see music video below) was released on January 8, Bowie’s 66th birthday.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Richard Blanco

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that Richard Blanco, a partnered Latino gay immigrant, will read an original poem at President Obama's inauguration on January 21. Blanco, age 44, will be the nation's fifth inaugural poet and as such will augment a group that includes Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. John F. Kennedy was the frst president to name an inaugural poet.

Blanco, the son of Cuban exiles living in Spain, was raised and educated in Miami. He will be the youngest-ever inaugural poet, the first Latino, and the first LGBT person to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. His reading will be part of the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Blanco lives in Maine with his partner, Mark, and we may presume that Richard is dealing well with the challenge of writing a poem for the ceremony (no pressure!). He intends to write three poems from which the inaugural team may select the one for him to read during the ceremony.

Blanco’s latest collection of poetry, “Looking for the Gulf Motel” (2012) deals with his life as a gay man in conservative Cuban culture. Richard has worked for years as a structural engineer and only recently devoted himself to writing poetry full-time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lou Reed

UPDATE: Lou Reed died of liver disease on October 27, 2013. He had undergone a liver transplant the previous May.

Lou Reed (b. 1942) is a bisexual American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for The Velvet Underground (1965-1973), but has enjoyed a decades-long successful solo career.

Reed grew up in a middle-class Long Island, NY, Jewish household, but he was greatly at odds with his parents. While a teenager, his parents had him confined to a mental hospital, where he was forcibly administered electro-shock treatments and various drug therapies to counter his nascent homosexual tendencies. I’m not making this up. Nevertheless, he survived undeterred and played in amateur bands until he left for Syracuse University, where he experimented in free jazz and avant garde musical forms. At some point during these college years Reed decided to become a writer, declaring a major in English Literature (he graduated with honors). While at Syracuse he had his first gay love affair, but for the next decade Lou dated both men and women in a sexually ambiguous, drug-fueled haze.

Post college, Lou found himself in New York City, where he joined with several other musicians to form The Velvet Underground in 1965. Pop artist Andy Warhol became their manager and sent them out on tour. Warhol designed the now-famous album cover of a peelable banana. Several albums received luke-warm reception, and by 1970 Reed had resigned from the group and moved back into his parent’s home on Long Island, working at his father’s accounting firm. He worked on a solo album that was released in 1971, again garnering little notice. Assisted by his fans David Bowie and Mick Ronson, he was given a glam makeover to accompany the issue of his second solo album, Transformer (1972), which contained a bona-fide hit, Walk on the Wild Side, a top-20 song that celebrated drag queens, male prostitutes, and a gay lifestyle. The subjects of many of his lyrics were drag queens and heroin.

Throughout the 1970s, Lou Reed alternated between commercial and artistic success and failure. Significantly, he married Betty Kronstadt in late 1972, but they divorced within a year. Lou Reed married Sylvia Morales in 1980 after meeting her in a gay SM club. Amazingly, their marriage lasted for more than a decade. After quelling his personal demons and self-destructive habits, Reed hit his stride in the 1980s, although he was quoted at the time, “I have such a heavy resentment thing because of all the prejudices against my being gay. How can anybody gay keep their sanity?” He also made this statement, “I just wouldn’t want listeners to be under a false impression. I want them to know that if they’re liking a man, he’s a gay one – from top to bottom. You want to know the real Lou Reed? Turn around. Now bend over.”

Well, there you have it.

In the 1990s he began a successful collaboration with performance artist Laurie Anderson and theatre director Robert Wilson. In 2007 Reed revived his 1973 Berlin album, touring in a mixed media performance. Reed married Anderson in 2008, and so far as I can determine, their relationship endures in a home they share in Greenwich Village. Reed, who also has a home in Southampton, Long Island, continues to record and tour, and is now regarded as a respected and influential rock music veteran, although he continues to send out mixed signals about his sexual orientation. As he makes outrageous contradictory statements about his life and philosophy, we realize nothing’s changed in all those years.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Brian Sims

When Democrat Brian Sims (b. 1978) won a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last November, he became the first openly gay member elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In a sort of group hug gesture, on the first day Sims reported for work, Republican representative Mike Fleck came out in a newspaper article later that day.* Commenting on Fleck’s revelation, Sims said, “The representative is an honorable man who has served his community well, and while I may disagree with him on a number of policy issues, if we are ever going to claw our way back out of this awful partisan divide that so many of our politicians have thrust us into, it's going to have to start with finding places of mutual respect and common ground. This is the perfect place to start.”

*Nothing like a little friendly competition, and pretty good for a state that spawned the political career of Rick Santorum.

Thirty-four-year-old Sims, who was sworn in Tuesday, has vowed to focus on gun control, saying, "We had more murders last year in Philadelphia than in all of Germany. Some people may have a deer problem. We have a murder problem."

In his role as a state legislator, he also plans to focus on jobs creation and education. His outspoken comment on the recent swearing-in ceremony:

"Each of us put our hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the constitution. We did not put our hand on the constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." - Brian Sims

Activist Sims recently stepped down as board president of Equality Pennsylvania, the statewide lesbian and gay advocacy organization. He also brings to politics a celebrated past as an openly gay football jock. As defensive tackle Sims had been captain of his college football team. In a 2009 article on, Sims shared with reporter Cyd Ziegler jr. that midway through the 2000 football season at Bloomsburg University (Pennsylvania) an ex-boyfriend tried to seek revenge by telling one of Sims’s teammates about their gay affair. When several of the guys on his team asked for confirmation, Sims was honest with them, freely admitting that he was gay.

To the credit of everyone involved, as word spread to the other players, no one made a big deal of it or kept their distance in the locker room. The team went on to complete a winning season and won playoff games until they found themselves participating in the Division II National Championship game. Sims said that his teammates actually took pride in having a gay player. He was hearing comments like, “Not only is this guy an All-Conference player, and not only is he a starter, and not only is he a good friend of mine, but I'm all right with the fact that he's gay.”

Relating to the Philadephia Inquirer how his sports career might help him in politics, he said, “If your opposition is dumb machismo, I speak the language.”

Sims earned a law degree from Michigan State University (2004) and took a job with the Philadelphia Bar Association, where he drafted a resolution in support of state legislation to protect against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Sims also joined the Board of Directors for Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia.

Citing our constitution’s separation of church and state and equal protection under the law for our citizens, Sims said, “There's not a valid policy argument to be made for why there isn't...100% equal rights for LGBT folks. There just isn't. The only argument that can be made... trace(s) back to religious norms. I happen to pay taxes to a government that says it won't base how it treats me on what a religion has to say about me.”

As a contributor to The Huffington Post, Sims commented last month, “Let's show the haters, the naysayers, the cynics and the critics all across the country that honesty is rewarded, integrity widespread, and an open mind and an open heart will always carry the day against fear, judgment and contempt.”