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This Week In Gay History April 14 – 20: DaVinci, The Boys, Abe Lincoln and the Gay Titanic

Gay Titanic

April 14

April  14, 1865 – President Lincoln is shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth while attending the comedy “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. He passes away the next day.

C..A. Tripp’s book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln makes the case that Lincoln had several homosexual relationships throughout his life.

Tripp states that Lincoln’s relationships with women were either invented by biographers (his love of Ann Rutledge) or were desolate botches (his courtship of Mary Owens and his marriage to Mary Todd). Tripp is not the first to argue that Lincoln was secretly gay — earlier writers have parsed his friendship with Joshua Speed, the young store owner he lived with after moving to Springfield, Ill.

Lincoln’s story becomes interesting when Tripp looks at 1831, when Lincoln was 22, and moved to New Salem, an Illinois frontier town, where he met Billy Greene. Greene coached Lincoln in grammar and shared a narrow bed with him. ”When one turned over the other had to do likewise,” Greene told Herndon. Bed-sharing was common enough in raw settlements, but Greene also had vivid memories of Lincoln’s physique: ”His thighs were as perfect as a human being could be.”

Six years later, Lincoln moved to Springfield, where he met Joshua Speed, who became a close friend; John G. Nicolay and John Hay, two early biographers, called him ”the only — as he was certainly the last — intimate friend that Lincoln ever had.”

April 14, 1904 – British actor John Gielgud is born in London. Perhaps the greatest actor to grace a stage in the English-speaking  world, Gielgud never came out publicly. Privately he gave large sums of money to gay rights organizations like Stonewall.

April 14th, 1912 – The RMS Titanic struck an iceberg just before midnight.  At  11:40 pm ship’s time. Titanic sideswiped an iceberg and the glancing collision caused Titanic‘s hull plates to buckle inwards along her starboard side and opened five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea.  By 2:20 AM, she broke apart and foundered,  taking  over one thousand three hundred people still aboard to their deaths.  Just under two hours after the Titanic foundered, the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene of the sinking, where she brought aboard an estimated 705 survivors.

Were there gay passengers and crew on the Titanic at its time of sinking?  Of course there was.  There was lovers Michael Whitney, Edward Wedding, and Archibald Butts and even the working crew including the rugged Balkan Stoker, the redheaded Royal Purser Felix Jones,  ship’s
second carpenter Michael Brice and Third Officer Sam Maxwell. 

You can watch Hugh Brewster, author of ‘RMS Titanic: Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage’ talks about the untold gay stories of the Titanic’s fatal maiden voyage by CLICKING HERE.

April 14, 1968 – Mart Crowley’s play, “The Boys in the Band” opens on Broadway in New York. Considered to be a groundbreaking work in American theater, the first truly “honest” portrayal of the lives of contemporary homosexuals. It opened in New York on April 14, 1968, at the off-Broadway Theater Four and ran for 1002 performances before being adapted to a successful motion picture. At a time when gay characters were seldom seen in commercial media except as crude stereotypes, although later in history some in the LGBT community would say that is indeed what Crowley’s play presented

The setup is pure theatrics. A  melange of gay men assemble in the apartment of catholically damaged Michael for   the birthday celebration of Harold a   self-proclaimed “32-year-old ugly pockmarked Jew fairy.” These boys were the last ones chosen for P. E., and the first to survive by wits. Tribal unity has the ironic element of verbal onslaughts as Crowley glories in a subculture’s   artful engagement with its own dialect.

Then came the backlash to the backlash in the early 1990’s with a revival production by San Francisco’s Theater Rhino company when fearful of the characters images some LGBT advocates denounced it as Uncle Tomism because they were worried about the LGBT organizations attempts to assimilate the community into straight society ignoring what a groundbreaking piece of LGBT history the play was for the 1960′.

April 14, 1983 – In the same year that Great Britain reports its first 17 cases of AIDS the only UK gay magazine, Gay News, stops publication.

April 14, 1985 – The first Gay Erotic Film Awards is held in Los Angeles.

 

April 15

April 15, 1843 – American writer Henry James is born in New York City. His biographer Leon Edel has endorsed a series of articles written by Richard Hall detailing the extent of James love for his brother the Harvard philosopher William James. Of Henry’s writing, Maugham summed it up
best: “I don’t think Henry James knew how ordinary people behave. His characters have neither bowels nor sexual organs. (In his books) people do not go away, they depart, they do not go home but repair to their domiciles.”

April 15, 1894 – Singer Bessie Smith is born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In “Foolish
Man Blues” Smith sang: “There’s two things got me puzzled, there’s two things I
don’t understand; That’s a mannish-actin’ woman, and a skippin, twistin’ woman-actin’ man.” Strange words for a woman whose best friend was male impersonator Gladys Fergusson and who had been introduced to the world of ‘women-lovin’ women’ by blues singer Ma Rainey.

 

April 16

April 16, 1453 – Leonardo da Vinci is born near Florence, Italy. When he was 24 he was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old youth of “questionable” background.

Along with three other young men, he was anonymously accused of sodomy, which in Florence was a criminal offense, even though in most cases the authorities looked the other way and the general culture attached little social stigma to homosexuality.

The accusation specifically charged him with a homosexual interaction with one Jacopo Saltarelli, a notorious prostitute. The charges were brought in April, and for a time Leonardo and the other defendants were under the watchful eye of Florence’s “Officers of the Night“–a kind of renaissance vice squad.

However, the charges were dismissed in June, due to a lack of witnesses and evidence. It is probable that the Medici family brought had something to do with this outcome, as another of the defendants was Lionardo de Tornabuoni, and Lorenzo de Medici’s mother had been a Tornabuoni.

DaVinci never married or showed any (recorded) interest in women; indeed, he wrote in his notebooks that male-female intercourse disgusted him. His anatomical drawings naturally include the sexual organs of both genders, but those of the male exhibit much more extensive attention. Finally, Leonardo surrounded himself with beautiful young male assistants, such as Salai and Melzi.

This is a bit of gay history that is conveniently being straightwashed out of Starz’new drama series, “Da Vinci’s Demons,” where young and sexy Leonardo (Tom Riley), who also seems to have invented the stubble trimmer and Supercuts along the way to designing  the paraglider and the helicopter. shares the storyline and his bed with high-class Medici mistress Lucrezia Donadi (Laura Haddock) who does more than pose (topless of course) with Leonardo while he’s supposed to spend painting her portrait.

 

April 17

April 17, 1863 – C.V. Cavafy is born in Alexandria, Egypt. During his lifetime Cavafy was considered the poet of Alexandria. Today he is primarily identified with Lawrence Durrell’s
characterization of him in the Alexandria Quartet.

April 17, 1897Thornton Wilder is born in Madison Wisconsin. Best known as the writer of “Our Town”, Wilder suffered “writer’s block” finishing the last act of the play. His close friend, writer Samuel M. Steward helped him through it all as only gone good buddy can help another. *wink wink – nudge nudge*

 

April 18

April 18, 382, BC – Phillip of Macedonia is born. Philip II was the military genius who defeated the combined armies of Athens and Thebes, conquering all of Greece. Along the way he availed himself of the 800 young eunuchs that had been brought with the army for his pleasure.

 

April 19

April 19, 1967The Student Homophile League of Columbia University becomes the first gay group to obtain a campus charter.

The SHL had twelve members who fought with university administrators for a year before the group was officially recognized. Stephen Donaldson, a bisexual identified LGBT rights activist is commemorated by a plaque in the queer lounge that bears his name in one of Columbia’s residence halls for spearheading the creation of the group.

When the charter was ultimately granted in April 1967 it earned media attention with the New York Times printing a story on the front page, the Columbia Daily Spectator reported that some students believed that the creation of the group was an April Fool’s Day joke.

The group is still in existence to this day and is now called the Columbia Queer Alliance
April 19, 1982The Gay Officers Action League, Inc. (GOAL)  is founded by NYPD Sergeant Charles Cochrane and retired Detective Sam Ciccone establishing the first official police fraternal society in the world to represent LGBT people within the criminal justice system.

Cochrane, a 14 year veteran of the NYPD, created shock waves by testifying before a NYC Council hearing in favor of a gay rights bill. Following the testimony of a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Vice President, who denounced the bill and declared, “I didn’t know of any homosexual police officers.”, Cochrane stunned all present as well as NYC as a whole by his testimony: “I am very proud of being a New York City Police Officer, and I am equally proud of being gay.”

In 1987, at the persistent urging of GOAL, the  NYPD began a concerted effort to actively enlist qualified gay candidates. In 2002, GOAL was admitted into COPS, The Committee of Police Societies, an organization consisting of all recognized NYPD religious, ethnic fraternal organizations.

Since its inception, GOAL has evolved not only as a fraternal organization, but also as an
activist organization that represents the interests of its LGBT members in all agencies and branches within the criminal justice system.

 

April 20

April 20, 1492 –  Renaissance writer and dramatist Pietro Aretino is born in Tuscany. The first well-known writer of his era his works are bawdy and pornographic, at least by the standards of the 15th century.  Aretino was a pioneer of the dirty book.  His book The School of Whoredom is the dialogue between Nanna and her 14-year-old daughter, Pippa, on the tricks of the trade, (remember this is the 1400’s) it is highly sophisticated, while not only being a satire but also a sex manual.

Aretino is said to have died of a stroke laughing at a dirty joke.

What a way to go.

 

The Boys In The Band Movie Trailer (1970)

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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3 thoughts on “This Week In Gay History April 14 – 20: DaVinci, The Boys, Abe Lincoln and the Gay Titanic”

  1. Love articles like this. You don’t learn about the important roles gay people have played in history when you are in school. Thanks for posting this!

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