Tag Archives: Rod McKuen

Gay History - April 29, 1955: Rod McKuen  Born Singer-Songwriter, Actor, and Gay Rights Activist

Gay History – April 29, 1955: Rod McKuen  Born Singer-Songwriter, Actor, and Gay Rights Activist

Rod McKuen was an American poet, singer-songwriter, and actor. He was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s. McKuen also produced a wide range of recordings, which included popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks and classical music. He earned two Academy Award nominations and one Pulitzer nomination for his music compositions and wrote over 1,500 songs.

But what many don’t know is that McKuen NEVER divulged his sexual preferences and was a dedicated gay rights activist.

In 1977 McKuen very publicly opposed Anita Bryant’s 1977 anti-gay Save Our Children—Campaign dubbing Bryant with the name ‘Ginny Orangeseed’—and gave benefit performances in Miami and at multiple gay discos in New York and LA to raise money for gay rights groups. His 1977 album Slide… Easy In‘s cover depicts the arm of 1970’s gay porn star Bruno, his fist filled with Crisco, hovering above a can with the label “disco” on it.. The so-called “Crisco/Disco” album featured the song “Don’t Drink the Orange Juice,” released during the national “gaycot” of Florida orange juice in response to the Anita Bryant campaign.

In fact in the 1950s, McKuen held a leadership role in the San Francisco chapter of The Mattachine Society. And in later years engaged in AIDS activism for well over a decade, participating in numerous fundraisers in support of AIDS related charities.

McKuen himself though refused to identify as gay, straight, or bisexual, but once explained his sexuality saying, “I can’t imagine choosing one sex over the other, that’s just too limiting. I can’t even honestly say I have a preference. I’ve been attracted to men and I’ve been attracted to women. I have a 16-year-old son. You put a label on.” (This caused The Advocate, to give McKuen the dubious “Something You Do in the Dark” award for refusing to identify as gay.)

For over half a century McKuen proudly advocated for gay rights while refusing sexual labels for himself

McKuen lived in Beverly Hills, California with his partner Edward, whom he called his “brother”, and four cats . He died of respiratory arrest, a result of pneumonia, at a hospital in Beverly Hills, California, on January 29, 2015.

Gay History - April 29, 1955: Rod McKuen  Born Singer-Songwriter, Actor, and Gay Rights Activist

PRIDE MONTH: The Hidden Gay Activism and Sexuality of Singer-Songwriter Rod McKuen

The Erased Gay Activism and Past of Singer Rod McKuen

“Rod” McKuen (April 29, 1933 – January 29, 2015) was an American singer-songwriter, musician and poet. He was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s. Throughout his career, McKuen produced a wide range of recordings, which included popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks and classical music. He earned two Academy Award nominations and one Pulitzer nomination for his music compositions. McKuen’s translations and adaptations of the songs of Jacques Brel were instrumental in bringing the Belgian songwriter to prominence in the English-speaking world. McKuen’s songs sold over 100 million recordings worldwide, and 60 million books of his poetry were sold as well, according to the Associated Press.  This is known to many.  But what’s not widely known about is McKuen’s queer past and his gay activism work.

Rod McKuenMcKuen was a longtime supporter of gay rights. not many know that in the 1950s, he held a leadership role in the San Francisco chapter of the Mattachine Society.  McKuen also publicly opposed Anita Bryant and dubbed her:  ‘Ginny Orangeseed’—and gave benefit performances gay discos in Miami, New York, and LA to raise money for gay rights groups to fight her. He also engaged in AIDS activism for well over a decade, participating in numerous fundraisers in support of AIDS related charities.

The cover for his 1977 album  Slide… Easy In album, (pictured left), depicts the arm of 1970’s gay porn star Bruno, his fist filled with Crisco, hovering above a can with the label “disco” on it. The so-called “Crisco/Disco” album featured the song “Don’t Drink the Orange Juice,” released during the national “gaycot” of Florida orange juice in response to the Anita Bryant campaign.

Later that same year the Associated Press asked McKuen if he was gay. He responded: “I’ve been attracted to men and I’ve been attracted to women. I have a 16-year-old son. You put a label on.” By the end of the year, the Baltimore Sun casually described McKuen as a homosexual. While the gay newspaper, The Advocate, in 1976, it had gave McKuen the dubious “Something You do in the Dark” closet case award for refusing to identify as gay.

In 2004, a reporter asked  McKuen once again if he was gay. As with his AP interview two decades earlier, McKuen refused to label his sexual activities:

Am I gay? Let me put it this way, Collectively I spend more hours brushing my teeth than having sex so I refuse to define my life in sexual terms. I’ve been to bed with women and men and in most cases enjoyed the experience with either sex immensely. Does that make me bi-sexual? Nope. Heterosexual? Not exclusively. Homosexual? Certainly not by my definition.

I am sexual by nature and I continue to fall in love with people and with any luck human beings of both sexes will now and again be drawn to me. I can’t imagine choosing one sex over the other, that’s just too limiting. I can’t even honestly say I have a preference. I’m attracted to different people for different reasons.

I do identify with the Gay Rights struggle, to me that battle is about nothing more or less than human rights. I marched in the 50’s and 60’s to protest the treatment of Blacks in this country and I’m proud of the fact that I broke the color barrier in South Africa by being the first artist to successfully demand integrated seating at my concerts. I am a die-hard feminist and will continue to speak out for women’s rights as long as they are threatened. These, of course, are all social issues and have nothing to do with my sex life (although admittedly I’ve met some pretty hot people of both sexes on the picket line.)

Singer Rod McKuen died on January 29, 2015 with many new outlets erasing the fact that for over half a century McKuen selflessly and  proudly advocated for gay rights while refusing to put a sexual label on himself.

And now you know.

This Week In Gay History April 28 – May 4: Alice B, Billie Jean, Gay Bar Terrorist Attack and More

Alice B and Guertrude

April 28

April 28, 1929 –  Gay journalist John Paul Hudson is born.  Hudson is one of the first gay writers to take up gay rights and become involved in the media. He wrote for the periodical Gay in 1969, the Advocate in 1970 and contributed to David, Gaysweek, News West, Flash and Vector. A tireless activist he is credited with being one of the founders of the gay rights movement that grew out of the Stonewall riots and was one of the principal organizers of the Christopher Street
Liberation Day (CSLD) committee, which put together the first GLBT Pride March, in 1970 on
the first anniversary of Stonewall.

April 28 1977 –  Florida Governor Reubin Askew asks Miami voters to rescind a recently passed ray rights ordinance saying, “I would not want a known homosexual teaching my children.  Askew was an ally of Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant, who conducted an anti-gay crusade and signed legislation prohibiting any gay or lesbians in Florida from adopting children.

April 28th, 1981 – Marilyn Barnett files a palimony suit against tennis icon Billie Jean King outing her.  At the time, King denies that she is a lesbian, although she acknowledges the affair. King lost all her endorsements in a 24-hour period (an estimated $2 million), wins the case and comes out officially.

April 28th, 1990 – Over 1000 people attend Queer Nation’s first major demonstration. Queer Nation founded by AIDS activists from ACT UP mobilized over a 1000 protesters in a matter of hours outside Uncle Charlie’s Downtown in NYC responding to pipe bomb which exploded at about 12:10 A.M injuring 3 men in the very popular Greenwich Village gay bar and marched their way to the NYPD’s 6th Precinct, blocking traffic.

Five years later in 1995  it was discovered that an extremist radical Muslim terrorist ring led by El Sayyid Nosair who was convicted of involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was responsible for the pipe bomb attack

April 29

April 29, 1933 – Singer Rod McKuen is born in Oakland, California. His “new age” songs made him a celebrity in the late 60s. He told an interviewer “I have had sex with men. Does that make me gay?” 

April 30

April 30, 1877 – Alice B. Toklas is born in San Francisco.  Toklas will become a lover of Gertrude Stein and become gay history’s most legendary lesbian couple.

After moving to Paris, Stein met Alice B. Toklas in 1907; she called her “Pussy” and Gertrude was Lovey” to Alice. Their apartment on the Rue de Fleurus became a famous meeting place for artists and writers.

During the period Toklas and Stein were together, they frequently exchanged love letters. Alice was an early riser, and Gertrude, who wrote late into the night, left her tender, passionate notes to cheer up her mornings. “Baby precious Hubby worked and / loved his wifey, sweet sleepy wifey, / dear dainty wifey, baby precious sleep,” Stein once rhymed.

Toklas gained wide attention with the publication of The Autobiogrphy of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which is actually Gertrude Stein’s memoirs. It records Toklas’s first-person observations of Stein’s life and her friends, among them Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque.

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook came out when Toklas was 77. It contained 300 recipes and became famous because of one special dish, Toklas’s Haschich Fudge (“which anyone could whip up on a rainy day,” as she wrote),

May 1

May 1, 1974 – Studio One disco opens in West Hollywood, CA.  Started in an old WW2-era bomb-sight manufacturing building, Studio One has a long history that played a big part in the lives, politics and gay rights movement.

May 1, 1974 – Gay activists march in Portugal for the first time, demanding an end to the country’s sodomy laws and a repeal of all statutes that discriminate against gays and lesbians.

May 1, 1975 – Maine Legislators decriminalize homosexuality between consenting adults by repealing its sodomy laws.

May 1, 1975Published reports confirm that Paul Newman is having financing trouble with his attempt to bring The Front Runner,  a 1974 novel by Patricia Nell Warren. considered now to be a classic of LGBT literature  to the big screen. Newman eventually allows his option to lapse.

May 1, 1976 – Christopher Street magazine a gay-oriented magazine published in New York City, New York debuts.  Known both for its serious discussion of issues within the gay community and its satire of anti-gay criticism, it was one of the two most-widely read gay-issues publications in the USA.  Christopher Street covered politics and culture and its aim was to become a gay New Yorker.  Christopher Street printed 231 issues before closing its doors in December 1995.

May 1, 1977 – Wyoming decriminalizes private consensual adult homosexual acts. 

May 2

May 2, 1895 – Lorenz Hart was born in New York. Richard Rogers wrote the perfect scores for Hart’s words. They became some of the best songs of the ’20s and ’30s. It was a closely guarded secret he was gay. No one knew until a biography came out 30 years after his death.

May 2, 1972 – J. Edgar Hoover dies, and leaves the bulk of his estate to Clyde Tolson, his “companion” of over 40 years.  To this day no one really knows th truth if Hoover was gay or not.  But for LGBT history’s sake lets hope that it wasn’t so.

May 3

May 3, 1912 – Writer May Sarton is born in Wendelgem, Belgium. The writer of some of the most lyric poetry of the 20th century. Satron didn’t see herself as a “lesbian” writer, instead wanting to touch on what is universally human about love in all its manifestations. When publishing her novel Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing in 1965, she feared that writing openly about lesbianism would lead to a diminution of the previously established value of her work. “The fear of homosexuality is so great that it took courage to write  a novel about a woman homosexual who is not a sex maniac, a drunkard, a drug-taker, or in any way repulsive” wrote Sarton in Journal of a Solitude.  After the book’s release, many of Sarton’s works began to be studied in university level Women’s Studies classes, being embraced by feminists and lesbians alike

May 3, 1989 – Christine Jorgenson, pioneering transsexual, dies of cancer at age sixty-two.  Jorgensen was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery—in this case, male to female.  

Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx area of New York and upon returning to New York after military service and increasingly concerned over (as one obituary called it at the time) her “lack of male physical development” Jorgensen heard about sex reassignment surgery, and began taking the female hormone ethinyl estradiol on her own. She researched the subject with the help of Dr. Joseph Angelo, a husband of one of Jorgensen’s friends.

Jorgensen had intended to go to Sweden, where at the time the only doctors in the world performing this surgery were located. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, however, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. Jorgensen stayed in Denmark, and under Dr. Hamburger’s direction, was allowed to begin hormone replacement therapy. She then got special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo the series of operations for sex re-assignment.

Jorgensen chose the name Christine in honor of Dr. Hamburger and she became the most famous and outspoken figures and for transsexual and transgender community.

May 4

May 4, 1993“Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” opens on Broadway.   Millenium Approaches is part one of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes the Pulitzer Prize-winning play in two parts by American playwright Tony Kushner.

The two parts of the play are separately presentable and entitled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, respectively and have been made into both a television miniseries and an opera by Peter Eötvös.

Angels in America received numerous awards, including the 1993 and 1994 Tony Awards for Best Play. The play’s first part, Millennium Approaches, received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play garnered much praise upon its release for its dialogue and exploration of social issues. “Mr. Kushner has written the most thrilling American play in years,” wrote The New York Times and  decade after the play’s premier, Metro Weekly labeled it “one of the most important pieces of theater to come out of the late 20th century.”