I am inspired by many great people and consider myself relatively well informed historically. I however am often at a loss to find a comprehensive history of major Gay historical figures. This is simply because from the start of the Christian era homosexuality has been frowned upon in most cultures of the world. It has been criminalised, ignored, wiped from the record and in some cases eradicated or imprisoned. Horrifically, after the Jews were liberated from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany many homosexuals forced to wear the pink triangle (pictured above) were re-imprisoned in Allied prisons. Because of this persecution and because of the ‘lost history’ I wanted to highlight three homosexuals who I believe have had a positive, lasting and inspiring effect on the world, (and me).
Staying with WW2 and our battle with the Nazis I want first to look at a quiet mathematician from Maida Vale. During the Second World War at Bletchley Park we as a nation were exceptionally fortunate to have a man named Alan Turing working, tirelessly to decode the German Cipher. This unassuming but remarkable man not only helped turn the tide of the Nazis by helping break the code but in doing so he also kick started us all on the path that eventually led to computers, the cornerstone of our technological age. Turning was not entirely erased from history but what happened to him, at the hand of our government is widely unknown. In 1952 the UK still regarded homosexuality as a crime and as such would routinely chemically castrate men found guilty as being homosexuals. Turing was one such individual who was given huge doses of female hormones as an alternative to prison. He lost his hair, lost bone mass, grew breasts and spiralled into deep depression. Within two short years he committed suicide with a Cyanide laced apple, he was 41. His grieving family had to wait another 55 years for a public apology from the UK Government.
|Alexander the Great with Hephaeston|
Because the word ‘Homosexual’ didn't enter the language until after 1869 it is more difficult to identify true homosexuals in the centuries prior. Looking back as far as Alexander the Great 300 years before the birth of Christ we are in difficult territory. Alexander was student of Aristotle in Ancient Greece at a time when love between two men was inconsequential. It is likely that great minds Aristotle and Socrates were both what we would now describe as ‘Bisexual’ even though such clumsy, modern terms imply some deviance from ‘normal’. We are now confident that the Greeks idea of ‘normal’ was far more progressive than our own. Alexander the Great perhaps went a step further than his tutor; it was a time when he was the most powerful man on Earth with an Empire that reached from Greece to North Africa and as far as India. Perhaps shockingly for such a powerful man his most notable relationship was with Hephaestion, a childhood friend turned bodyguard, Military officer and confidante. Alexander and Hephaeston were likely to have been partners in much the way we consider it today. Although Alexander was duty bound to marry to forge allegiances it is clear that Hephaeston was far more significant than any women in his life. In 324BC Hephaeston suddenly grew feverish and died, Alexander devastated, petitioned the Oracle at Siwa to bestow ‘divine status’ on Hephaeston in death. He was granted ‘Hero’ status and under Greek beliefs this meant Alexander (God Status) would be reunited with his lover in death. Alexander, perhaps safe in the knowledge Hephaeston would be waiting for him, became frail and detached before dying himself just eight months later at a mere 32 years old. Within a mere 300 years Homosexuality or ‘Sodomy’ became a sinful act and allusions to it started to disappear from the History books along with any mentions of Hephaeston. At the dawn of the Christian era we waved a solemn goodbye to the era of true Egalitarianism.
|Milk being sworn in|
The period of Homosexual persecution began to draw to a close with the sexual revolution of the 60s. Previously closeted, ashamed Gay Men and Women became politicised and militant, kick starting the Gay rights movement. None more so than Harvey Milk who was the first openly gay man to get elected into to public office in the state of California.
He began his adult life serving in the US Navy and was regarded, perhaps ironically, as a ‘man's man’ by those that knew him. He was secretive about his homosexuality for most of his life and only became militant after a string of suicides among his Friends and Lovers compelled him to rethink what damage ‘the closest’ could do. In addition to this personal revelation he was living in a community more and more repressed by the local government. Oral sex was a felony and homosexual sex in a rented accommodation would result in an eviction. As those in power tried to press further oppressive laws into place the opposition began to recognize the power of the gay community in San Francisco and engage them into fighting back. Harvey took the bait and ran repeatedly for election to office until finally succeeding in 1978. He began by sponsoring a Civil rights bill that would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It was passed and the tide had turned. Milk went on to become a Gay rights Martyr after he was assisinated by a fellow politician after only 10 months in office. He remains the highest profile openly homosexual campaigner to take office in the US and his words areas important now as they ever were:-
“I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they'll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects... I hope that every professional gay will say 'enough', come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help”