Part 1: Born before 1800

The Great Queers of History

Compiled by Rictor Norton

Part 3: Born since 1900


Part 2: Born 1800–1900




Aaron Copland (1900-1990) American composer
Ballets drawing from American folk tradition (Billy the Kid 1938, Appalachian Spring 1944). Also operas, symphonies (El Salon Mexico), film scores. Honors included Pulitzer Prize, Congressional Gold Medal.

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) American anthropologist
Bisexual cultural relativist, ethnologist & curator at American Museum of Natural History. Popular works Coming of Age in Samoa and Growing up in New Guinea argued that personality, sexuality & gender are shaped more by culture than heredity.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) German-American actress
Cabaret performer in Nazi Berlin, sang lesbian songs, famous role in film The Blue Angel (1930), then became a Hollywood goddess whose roles emphasized sexual ambiguity. Bisexual glamour offstage, popularized women's trousers.

Luis Cernuda (1902-1963) Spanish poet
Romantic autobiographicl poetry of isolation and suffering, trying to recapture lost pleasures, openly homoerotic. Identified as a dandy, celebrated gay culture. Left Spain after the Civil War.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) African-American poet
Central figure in Harlem Renaissance, founding father of black American literature. Popular poetry combining black folk culture, jazz, colloquial speech (Weary Blues 1926), also plays, short stories, journalism. Guarded his privacy.

Countée Cullen (1903-1946) African-American poet
"Poet laureate" of the Harlem Renaissance, friend of Langston Hughes. Poetry about the Negro experience using classical models (Color 1925). Five vols of verse; journalism ("The Dark Tower" column). Member of a Harlem gay coterie.







Marguerite Yourcenar (pseud. de Crayencour) (1903-1987) Belgian-born French novelist, poet
Many honors, first woman elected to Académie Française. Humanistic novels, historical reconstructions, some on gay love (Memoirs of Hadrian 1951). Lived with her lover for 42 years.

Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) British photographer, stage designer
Stylish portraits of high society celebrities incl. royalty. Fashion photography, designed scenery & costumes for theater & film (My Fair Lady, Gigi) with a camp aesthetic. Kept humorous, bitchy diaries.

Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) British-American writer
Novels on decadent 1930s Berlin (Mr Norris Changes Trains, Goodbye to Berlin), basis of the musical Cabaret. Moved to California 1939, worked with W. H. Auden, scriptwriter for MGM. Later became a follower of Hinduism. Gay diaries.

Sir John Gielgud (1904-2000) British actor, producer
Leading Shakespearean actor (Hamlet) of his generation, also director. Cameos in films in the 1980s (the father in Brideshead Revisited; recited every role of The Tempest in Prospero's Books). Beautiful voice, fastidious style.

Mary Renault (pseud. Mary Challans) (1905-1983) British novelist
Trained as a nurse, after WWII settled in South Africa with Julie Mullard for 50 years. Acclaimed novels about ancient Hellas (The Last of the Wine), often with gay heroes, also WWII gay novel The Charioteer.

Greta Garbo (1905-1990) Swedish-American film actress
Hollywood star (Queen Christina, Anna Karenina, Camille), retired in 1941, became a recluse. Affair with scriptwriter Mercedes de Acosta was foundation for her lesbian-coded portrayal of Queen Christina.







Sir Michael Tippet (1905-1998) British composer
Held strong social-political convictions, as in oratorio A Child of our Time 1939; imprisoned as a conscientious objector in WWII. Successful operas The Midsummer Marriage 1952, The Knot Garden 1970, with gay characters.

Luchino Visconti (1906-1976) Italian film director
Important neo-realist films, often with gay themes (trilogy The Damned 1969, Death in Venice 1971, Ludwig 1973). Evocations of a vanished Belle Epoque. Also theater and opera productions.

John Beresford Fowler (1906-1977) British interior decorator
Established the romantic English Country House Style with Nancy Lancaster and Sibyl Colefax in 1940s-1960s. Advisor to England's National Trust, responsible for authentic restoration of many historic interiors in 1970s.

(Richard) Bruce Nugent (1906-1987) African-American writer, artist
Member of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote important short stories "Sahdji" and "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade" (1926), the first African-American gay short story. Founded a salon for black writers called the Dark Tower.

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) American architect
Prize-winning designer of Seagram Building in NYC (with Mies van der Rohe, 1945), Lincoln Center, postmodernist buildings since the 1980s (AT&T Building). Designed a proposed Cathedral of Hope for gay & lesbian Metropolitan Community Church.

George Platt Lynes (1907-1955) American photographer
Knew Gide, Cocteau, Gertrude Stein in 1920s, fashion photographer in 1930s, notable dance photography in 1940s. Shared studio with gay artist Marsden Hartley. Many dramatic photos of the male nude, often erotic.



Platt Lynes




W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden (1907-1973) British-American poet
"Poet of the Thirties" with left-wing commitments. Worked with Isherwood on plays; librettos for Britten (Paul Bunyan). Stormy lifelong affair with Chester Kallman, together wrote libretto for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) British writer, celebrity
Courageous queen in 1930s Soho, model celebrated as The Naked Civil Servant (his 1968 autobiography; film starring John Hurt). Showed how to construct an effeminate identity in defiance of homophobia. Emigrated to NYC 1982.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) Irish painter
Settled in England in 1928. Self-taught. Celebrated blurred & distorted human figures (Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944), sometimes gory or terrifying images (Screaming Popes after Velązquez 1953). Existential alienation.

Jean Genet (1910-1986) French novelist, playwright
A thief-turned-writer who celebrated the queer as outcast, in the criminal underworld where queers wear their stigma like a crown (Our Lady of the Flowers, Miracle of the Rose, Querelle of Brest). Canonized by Sartre.

Bayard Rustin (1910-1987) African-American civil rights activist
Main organizer of the black civil rights movement, esp. the March on Washington (1963). Openly gay, but kept out of the limelight to avoid damaging image of the black movement. Friend & supporter of Martin Luther King.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) American playwright
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for The Glass Menagerie (1945), Pulitzer Prize for A Streetcar Named Desire (1948) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). Gay themes in Suddenly Last Summer (1958) and Night of the Iguana (1961).





Harry Hay


Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) British mathematician
Pioneer inventor of computer programming, "the Turing machine". Cracked the German Enigma Code during WWII. Awarded OBE and elected FRS. Forced to have hormone therapy for a gay offence, he ate an apple dipped in cyanide.

Patrick White (1912-1990) Australian novelist, writer
Oblique homosexual themes and closeted characters of ambiguous sexuality & gender in all his works (The Twyborn Affair). Received Nobel prize for literature in 1973. Came out in 1981 autobiography Flaws in the Glass.

Henry (Harry) Hay, Jr. (1912-2001) American activist
Member Communist Party 1933-c.1953. Founded pioneer gay rights campaigning group the Mattachine Society in 1951 and One, first American gay periodical, in 1952. First chair of South. Calif. GLF 1969. Founded Radical Faeries 1978.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) British composer
Worked with Auden in America 1939-1942. Popular instrumental works (The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra). Major operas (Peter Grimes), some with gay themes (The Turn of the Screw), many for his lover, the tenor Sir Peter Pears (1910-1986).

Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) African-American jazz musician, composer
Nicknamed Swee Pea. In 1939 joined Duke Ellington, who recorded his works ("Satin Doll"). Openly gay and a dandy, but had close relationship with Lena Horne, who sang many of his songs ("You're the One").

Roland Barthes (1915-1980) French critic, philosopher
Revolutionized literary criticism with structuralist focus on "texts" & "discourse". Founder of Cultural Studies movement to unmask codes of convention. Drew aside the veil on his own gay life in 1975 autobiography.




Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) American composer, conductor
Became celebrity after conducting New York Philharmonic in 1943. Composed popular musicals (West Side Story 1957), operetta (Candide 1956, with the song "Glitter and Be Gay"). Status as conductor-as-superstar was partly due to TV.


Tom of Finland


Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) American dancer, choreographer, director
American Ballet Theatre & Broadway musicals (Fancy Free 1944, Gypsy 1959). Dancer, choreographer, joint director of New York City Ballet for 40+ years. Awards incl. Oscars for Hollywood's West Side Story 1961.

Liberace (Wladziu Valentino) (1919-1987) American pianist, entertainer
Camp showman, exuded charm, popularized piano classics on his TV show, candelabra trademark. Live appearances broke all box office records. Flamboyant lifestyle, outrageous costumes.

Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen) (1920-1991) Finnish erotic graphic artist
Commercial artist after service in WWII, published popular "dirty drawings" from 1950s in Physique Pictorial, B&W comic-strip Kake booklets from 1968. Macho men in uniforms enjoying gay sex.

André (Émile) Baudry (1922-   ) French activist
Jesuit-trained "pope of the homophiles". Wrote for Swiss gay magazine Der Kreis in 1952, joined Dutch gay rights org. COC in 1953, launched French gay magazine Arcadie 1952-1982 (10,000 subscribers in 1970s).

Truman Capote (1924-1984) American writer
Gay Southern Gothic (Other Voices, Other Rooms), portrait of a playgirl (Breakfast at Tiffany's), invented "non-fiction novel" (In Cold Blood). Books became successful films. Became a celebrity, petted then dumped by socialites.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) African-American novelist, writer
Brought up in Harlem, lived mainly in Paris. Autobiographical gay novels Giovanni's Room, Another Country. Campaigned for black civil rights in USA (The Fire Next Time). Exemplifies revolutionary spirit of the 1960s.




Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (right) in 2003. On 12 February 2004 they were the first same-sex couple granted marriage licenses in San Francisco, after being together for 51 years. (Photo by Jane Cleland, special to Woman Vision © 2003)

Phyllis Lyon (1924-   ) American activist

Founded the first US lesbian civil rights organization, Daughters of Bilitis, in 1955, and the lesbian magazine The Ladder in 1956, with her partner Dorothy (Del) Martin (1921-2008), designed to overcome isolation and support lesbian identity.

Rock Hudson


Thom Gunn

Rock Hudson (1925-1985) American film actor
Hollywood's top box office star as the boy next door (many films with Doris Day, e.g. Pillow Talk), allowed the heterosexual image constructed for him by his managers to be shattered only a few weeks before he died from AIDS.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) French philosopher of history
Influential books on the ideological history of madness, sexuality, prisons and social control, emphasizing use of power to "construct" and oppress "deviants". Postmodern social constructionist, fount of Queer Theory.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) American poet, activist
The Beat Generation, with Jack Kerouac & William Burroughs. Major notoriety with Howl (1955), defiantly gay. Anti-establishment speaker at universities 1960s-1970s. Poet of drugs, Buddhism & gay liberation. Many literary awards.

Andy Warhol (c.1928-1987) American pop artist, filmmaker
Pioneer of pop art (Campbell's Soup Cans), silk-screen portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Mao Zedong. Underground films from his "factory" with Paul Morrissey, mostly gay, starring Joe Dallesandro (Flesh, Trash).

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) British-American poet
Moved to USA after publishing Fighting Terms in 1954. Formalist, influenced by 17th cent. Metaphysical poets. Contemplative My Sad Captains 1961, frankly gay Jack Straw's Castle 1976, The Man with Night Sweats 1992 about lovers dead from AIDS.

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) American politician, activist
Involved in local politics, openly gay, elected San Francisco Supervisor in 1977. He and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by disgruntled "family values" colleague Dan White on 27 Nov. 1978; lenient sentence provoked riots.



Harvey Milk





Joe Orton (1933-1967) British playwright
Outrageous sex farces (Loot 1966, What the Butler Saw posth. 1969), with subversive gay themes (Entertaining Mr Sloane 1964). Black comic view of human cynicism, intended to shock. Murdered by his envious lover & mentor Kenneth Halliwell.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) African-American writer, activist
West Indian parents settled in Harlem. Black lesbian feminist writer (Sister Outsider 1984) and campaigner, arguing that respect for differences fuels social change. Autobiography Zami 1982 explores black lesbian cultural roots.

David Hockney (1937-   ) British painter, artist
Early gay-themed work influenced by pop art. Erotic etchings (Cavafy Poems), hedonistic swimming-pool acrylics (A Bigger Splash), opera stage sets (The Rake's Progress) and composite photography. Settled in California 1963.

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) Russian dancer, choreographer
International icon, sex symbol & superstar "god of the dance", successor to Nijinsky (whom he portrayed on film). Left Kirov Ballet for Britain's Royal Ballet 1962-1977, many performances in USA. Left US$40m to charities.

Troy D. Perry (1940-   ) American religious leader
Baptist preacher, founded Metropolitan Community Church for gay Christians in 1968 in Los Angeles, now largest GLBT religious ministry in the world with over 250 congregations. Motto: "The Lord is my shepherd and he knows I'm gay."

Lillian Faderman (1940-   ) American scholar, activist
Prof. of English, Univ. of California-Fresno. Major work on lesbian history, Surpassing the Love of Men (1981); history of lesbian life in 20th-cent. America, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers (1991); ed. anthology of lesbian literature (1994).

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) American photographer
Homoerotic photographs, fetishistic imagery from the world of SM contained by classical formalism, exhibited in art galleries amidst great controversy. Many striking portraits of both people and flowers.

Martina Navratilova (1956-   ) Czech-American tennis player
Czech National Tennis Champion 1972, defected to USA 1975. Won Wimbledon 7 times & US Open 3 times, holds world record for singles (166) and doubles (163) titles, 54 Grand Slams. Widely publicized lesbian relationships.





Part 1: Born before 1800   Part 2: Born 1800–1900   Part 3: Born since 1900

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (compiler), "The Great Queers of History, Part 3: Born since 1900", 1 May 2004, updated 11 September 2008 <>.

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