Through our lifestyles and opinions, we express our individuality. Yet we are more than our choices and opinions. Greater knowledge, and a better understanding of the science, history, literature and art about the ways in which we divide ourselves can help us live more ethically, more fully, and shape a better world.
Diversity is the bedrock on which the richness of life rests. We have jazz, blues, rock, loosely termed “classical” music in every age for the past thousand years and music that is specific to virtually every ethnic culture, because we human beings have vivid imaginations and a myriad ways of expressing ourselves. We have a wealth of forms and styles in dress and virtually every form of art for that reason. We are free to pursue a variety of interests, and today our menu of choices is expanding because of the tremendous wealth of information we have at our fingertips through modern means of communication. We can witness two world champion events on the same day, in vivid color and in the comfort of our homes, simply by turning on our television; and then push a button and be transported undersea for a vivid survey of its scenery and wildlife. With the flick of a few switches, we can hear music that was once reserved for the ears of kings and their courts and then flick a few more switches and hear a reproduction of sound from a modern jazz club. Because of this richness, the vast majority of people in the developed world are richer than the richest and most powerful king in the first several thousands of years of our history.
In evolutionary history, diversity began with natural selection, which created a rich variety of life forms, and blossomed when living organisms began to reproduce sexually. Sexual reproduction ensured that each organism would be not only unique, but also identifiably so.
Yet sometimes, in our quest to reduce life to terms we can comprehend, we humans have tried to squelch diversity. Because of our particular nature as a social species, we developed a natural inclination to prefer conformity. Conformity has its place but sometimes people are inclined to suppress our differences solely for the sake of personal comfort. This has led to an unfortunate tendency toward unthinking suppression of dissent and unfamiliar lifestyles.
Perhaps nothing is more strongly disapproved in national life — especially the national life of a wealthy and successful people — than dissent. Yet in every field, dissent is indispensable to progress. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson did not write that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” but we might conclude that he believed it from some of his other remarks, quoted above. In a classic work of intellectual history, Thomas Kuhn observed that scientific progress usually results from crisis and turmoil in established fields of science, begins as dissenting scientists (usually young ones) challenge established theories, proceeds through a period of bitter rejection by the “establishment” and ends with the emergence of new theories replacing the old. [Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962).] We see the same process in virtually every field of human endeavor, and yet time after time otherwise intelligent people fight furiously to preserve established methods that have fallen into crisis. The struggle against this has been a long one and the battles have been intense. For that reason, our narrative on this subject is rich.
Currently in the United States at least, the rights of gays, lesbians, the bisexual and the transgendered (GLBT) are being suppressed and denied. However, the mere fact that there is a public struggle over the issue represents progress. Our Humanist ethic proposes a simple test for morality and ethics: what does not do harm, as far as the mind can reasonably foresee, is not wrong. It is for that reason that we stand firmly at the side of our sisters and brothers in the GLBT community in their struggle for equal treatment and equal rights.
The reader may react with puzzlement or disfavor to the juxtaposition of dissent and GLBT rights. I see them as illustrating the same point and invite the reader to consider the idea.
- David Carter, Stonewall:The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution (St. Martin's Press, 2004).
- Martin Duberman, Stonewall (Dutton, 1993).
- Henry Abelove, The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, andPolitic (Routledge, 1993).
- Eric Marcus, Making Gay History: The Half Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights (Harper Paperbacks, 2002).
- Chris Bull, Come Out Fighting: A Century of Essential Writing on Gay & Lesbian Liberation (Nation Books, 2001).
- Larry P. Gross and James D. Woods,The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (Columbia University Press, 1999).
- Roger Streitmatter, Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America (Diane Pub. Co., 1995).
- Mark Thompson and Randy Shilts, Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement (St. Martin's Press, 1994).
- Edward Alwood, Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media (Columbia University Press,1996).
- David Shneer and Caryn Aviv, American Queer, Now and Then (Paradigm Publishers, 2006).
- Edmund White, City Boy: My Life in New York during the 1960s and '70s (Bloomsbury USA, 2009).
- Linda Hirshman, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2012): “tracing the history of gay rights from the early 20th century to the present.”
- Bruce Bawer, A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society (Simon & Schuster, 1993).
- Dale Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012): “Texas justice has rarely been kind to homosexuals.”
- Hugh Ryan, When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History (St. Martin’s Press, 2019): “ . . . a few years ago, he set up an amateur museum of local queer history in his Bushwick loft — he prefers the term ‘queer’ for its chronological sweep and denotation of gender and sexual nonconformity — and noticed that queers in Brooklyn today know little about their antecedents.”
- Jan Morris, Conundrum: From James to Jan – an extraordinary personal narrative of transsexualism (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974) “ . . . I used to understand every word he wrote while I was a woman and he was a man, now that we are both women he mystifies me.”
- Eric Cervini, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020): “. . . for almost a decade before Stonewall, (Franklin) Kameny boldly challenged the reigning orthodoxy that homosexuality was a mental illness and led an audacious campaign against the federal government’s ban on employing gay workers.”
- Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, The Freezer Door (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents, 2020): “In a Gentrifying Seattle, a Queer Activist Works to Blur Borders”.
- Elon Green, Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York (Celadon, 2021): “These Gay Men Frequented Manhattan Piano Bars. So Did Their Killer.”
- Sarah Schulman, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 (Straus, Farrar & Giroux, 2021): “Nearly every Monday night from 1987 to 1992, hundreds of people met on West 13th Street in New York City to plan and execute the fight of their lives.”
- James Ivory, Solid Ivory: Memoirs (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021): “There is a wistful defiance to his sexual frankness as a Protestant gay man who came of age in an era of intense repression, as well as the Depression . . .”
- James Kirchick, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington (Henry Holt & Co., 2022), “tallies the cost of homophobia on lives and careers in Washington, D.C., from the days of F.D.R. to the Clinton presidency.”
- Jack Parlett, Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise (Hanover Square Press, 2022): “. . . a sweeping, meditative history of the queer summer mecca.”
- James Gavin, George Michael: A Life (Harry N. Abrams, 2022): “Michael emerges as a gifted, tragic and infuriating figure, whose tortured relationship to his sexuality steered him into artistic confusion and self-sabotage.”
- Taylor Brorby, Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land (Liveright, 2022): “. . . learning allowed Brorby to envision a different kind of future for himself, one that would eventually lead him to places where people were more accepting of his sexuality. Education also opened up new professional opportunities that helped him to escape his 'fossil-fuel heritage' — a long history of family members working for the coal industry and damaging the very land he had grown to love.”
Religious opinion has long been a dividing line, with tragic consequences.
- James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001), on “Christianity’s original sin”
In Paris, on August 24, 1572, 20,000 Huguenots were systematically slaughtered by the Catholic hierarchy for the heresy of Protestantism in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
- Barbara B. Diefendorf, The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2008).
- Barbara O’Sullivan, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre at Paris, 1572 (digital).
- Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (VSD, 2012).
Documentary and Educational Films
Documentaries about gay and lesbian people and issues:
- The Times of Harvey Milk
- Paragraph 175, aboutNazi persecution of homosexuals
- 8: The Mormon Proposition: Equality for Some, about the Mormon church's attempt to deny equal rights to homosexuals
- Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community
- Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, first-hand accounts of twenty-six people
- Valentino: The Last Emperor, about the fashion designer and his life with his partner
- Coming Out: Voices of Gay and Lesbian Teens and Their Families
- One Nation, Under God, about efforts to "cure" homosexual men
- The Celluloid Closet, about Hollywood's treatment of gays and lesbians
Documentaries about people on the outside of society:
- Paradise Lost – The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, about the West Memphis 3, who were accused of crimes they may not have committed
Film and Stage
Dramatizations about gay and lesbian life:
- La Cage Aux Folles
- When Night Is Falling
- Torch Song Trilogy
- The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love
- All Over Me
- And the Band Played On
- Carol: Two women fall in love with each other in the 1950s, then struggle to overcome social bigotry.
- Le Gout des Autres (The Taste of Others/It Takes All Kinds): a romantic comedy about seeing things from a new perspective
- One Potato, Two Potato: about miscegenation in 1964
- Gustav Klimt, The Virgin (1913)
- Gustav Klimt, Two Woman Friends (1916-17)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Only recently in the United States, and across the world, has a right to marry been accorded to same-sex couples. Only a few decades ago, the subject was taboo, even for discussion. Benjamin Britten, who was a gay man, sought to open the door a bit through his work.
- Benjamin Britten, Turn of the Screw, Op. 54 (1954) (approx. 105-115’) (libretto) (score): adapted from Henry James’ novel, this is a story about the fear of otherness. Here are links to performances on disc conducted by Davis, Britten and Harding. Here are links to video recordings of the opera, conducted by Ono and Stanhope.
- Britten, who was gay, wrote many songs for his life partner, tenor Peter Pears. They performed many of the works together, with Britten on piano. Here they are performing Schubert’s Winterreise.
Many “classical” composers were or are believed to have been of other than “straight” orientation. They include:
- Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) was influential in orchestral instrumentation, and an opera composer
- Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), known as father of the concerto grosso
- Georg Frideric Händel (1685-1759), a champion of the oratorio
- Frederick the Great (1712-1786), minor composer but a major political figure of his time
- Franz Schubert (1797-1828), our most prolific lieder composer
- Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), in the pantheon of great composers for piano repertoire
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), a great symphonist and composer of ballet scores
- Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) composed mainly orchestral music and opera
- Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), a top composer of chamber works
- Aaron Copland (1900-1990), a great American composer
- Samuel Barber (1910-1981), a great modern composer
- Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007), mainly known for composing contemporary operas
- John Cage (1912-1992), a groundbreaking minimalist
- Benjamin Britten (1917-1976): his compositional interests were wide-ranging, including opera, choral, chamber and orchestral works
- Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), a widely respected composer of a wide variety of works, and one of the great conductors of his time
Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1836 opera, Les Huguenots (approx. 200-220’) (downloadable libretto), is a dramatization of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of August 24, 1572, in Paris. It begins with an orchestral version of Bach’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, a theme made chilling by the tragic story that is to unfold. Performances on video are conducted by Soltesz in Berlin, Diederich in Montpellier, and Bonynge in Australia. Excellent performances on disc are conducted by Gavazzeni in 1962, Bonynge in 1970, Savini in 1971, Märzdorfer in 1971, and Minkowski in 2011.
- Aaron Jay Kernis, Double Concerto for Violin and Guitar (1997) (approx. 30’) brings together two widely different solo voices.
- Samuel Zyman, Quintet for Winds, Strings, and Piano; Concerto for Piano and Chamber Ensemble (approx. 25’): in these two works, the composer brings together numerous instruments with remarkably different soundscapes.
- Ottorino Respighi, songs, on albums by Ian Bostridge (2021) (68’) and by Veronika Kincses (2014) (63’), who “covers much of the same repertoire but with a lush voice that makes her disc a polar-opposite experience to Bostridge’s.”
- Anthony Braxton, “4 (Ensemble) Compositions, 1992” (1993) (73’): “. . . Braxton removed the guitar and the electronics and replaced them with two accordion players (one who also plays ‘bodysounds’), steel drum (!), and a harp . . . it's best to listen to them with an open frame of mind: not trying to make sense of them per se but rather listening for all the little surprises lurking in every corner and seeing how these connect with the overall feel of the piece. . . .”
- Yael Acher Modiano, “Humanity is an ocean – Flute Soundscapes” (2020) (66’): “Most the of the program is made up of compositions by the performer/composer, but the program also includes one work each by J.S. Bach and Claude Debussy.”
- VWCR, “Noise of Our Time” (2018) (44’): Vandermark, Wooley and Courvoisier each contributed three compositions to this nine-track album. The result is a fascinating blend of ideas, styles and moods.
- Valerie Martin, The Ghost of Mary Celeste: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2014) employing “multiple voices, styles and points of view, even interpolated genres . . .”
- Gengorah Tagame, My Brother’s Husband, Volume 2 (Pantheon, 2018), “ . . . a sweet fictional tale that scrutinizes Japan’s widespread cultural taboo against gay marriage.”
- Christopher Castellani, Leading Men: A Novel (Viking, 2019), “His first achievement in ‘Leading Men’ is to create a world, one inhabited largely by young, charming gay men, that seems to be comprised almost entirely of late nights and last cigarettes and picnics on good blankets and linen suits with the trousers rolled to the knees. This writer’s scenes glitter, and they have a strong sexual pulse.”
- Shannon Pufahl, On Swift Horses: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2019): “It’s a book about the midcentury American West, gambling and queer love; but it doesn’t follow the plow of stories from any of these territories. Pufahl’s voice is strikingly solid, timeworn but not nostalgic, as she unravels a cinematic story that avoids genre clichés or sentimentality.”
- Brandon Taylor, Real Life: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2020): “. . . a novel that probes — painstakingly, with the same microscopic precision its protagonist uses in the lab — the ways that an anxious queer black brain is mutated by the legacies of growing up in a society (in Wallace’s case, rural Alabama) where the body that houses it is not welcome.”
- Pajtim Statovci, Bolla: A Novel (Pantheon, 2021): a young man has a homosexual affair in Kosovo, at great risk.
- Akwaeke Ezemi, The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel (Riverhead, 2020): “The reader understands that Vivek’s long hair and lipstick are clues to something Kavita doesn’t have words to discuss. Neither does her husband, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, whose fellow church members attempt a 'deliverance' to flog the 'demon' out of Vivek.”
- Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets: A Novel (Putnam, 2021): “The central story . . . is anchored by Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved boys on the Halifax plantation, also known as Empty. In each other, Isaiah and Samuel find a love that brings peace to the hearts of the many enslaved people on the plantation, until they are betrayed by a fellow enslaved man . . .”
- Robbie Couch, The Sky Blues (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021): “Sky Baker may be openly gay, but in his small, insular town, making sure he was invisible has always been easier than being himself. Determined not to let anything ruin his senior year, Sky decides to make a splash at his high school’s annual beach bum party by asking his crush, Ali, to prom . . .”
- San Young Park, Love in the Big City: A Novel (Grove Press, 2021): “A Queer, Literary Coming-of-Age in Seoul”.
- Tonyi Onyebuchi, Goliath: A Novel (Tordotcom, 2022): “Onyebuchi suburbanizes outer space and makes battered, almost uninhabitable provincial America the frontier. ‘Best thing that coulda happened to the planet was all the white folks left it,’ thinks one of the men left behind. Except now the white folks are coming back.”
- Davey Davis, X: A Novel (Catapult, 2022): “After an intense sadomasochistic one-night stand at a Brooklyn warehouse party, the narrator fixates on X as a distraction — or perhaps a chance at salvation — as the world slips ever further into fascism. A mysterious government agency is encouraging undesirables to 'export,' or voluntarily leave the country.”
- James Hannaham, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta: A Novel (Little Brown and Company, 2022): “After 20 Years in a Men’s Prison, a Trans Woman Returns Home”.
Music: songs and other short pieces
Songs about or advancing LGBTQ communities:
- Donna Summer, “I Feel Love”(1977)
- Village People, “YMCA” (1978)
- Sylvester, “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real” (1978)
- Queen, “Don't Stop Me Now” (1978)
- Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out” (1980)
- Elton John, “Elton’s Song” (1981)
- The Weather Girls, “It’s Raining Men” (1983)
- Erasure, “A Little Respect” (1988)
- Madonna, “Vogue” (1990)
- George Michael, “Freedom! ‘90” (1990)
- Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart” (1990)
- Pansy Division, “Anthem” (1993)
- Melissa Etheridge, “Come to My Window” (1993)
- Peaches, “Fuck the Pain Away” (2000)
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch, “Wig in a Box” (2001)
- Limp Wrist “I Love Hardcore Boys/I Love Boys Hardcore” (2001)
- Scissor Sisters, “Take Your Mama” (2004)
- Hercules and Love Affair, “Blind” (2008)
- Robyn, “Dancing on My Own” (2010)
- Lady Gaga, “Born This Way” (2011)
- Mary Lambert, “She Keeps Me Warm” (2013)
- Tegan and Sara, “Closer” (2013)
- Perfume Genius, “Queen” (2014)
- Against Me!, “True Trans Soul Rebel” (2014)
- Shamir, “On the Regular” (2015)
- Sia, “Alive” (2015)