Truman Capote once said, "I used to go home from school every day and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.” Capote's penchant in literary work led to the creation of the beloved novel (later film) "Breakfast at Tiffany's" starring Audrey Hepburn. The gay author also wrote about homosexuality in his first book, "Other Voices, Other Rooms."
Filmmaker, director and writer John Waters earned the nicknames "King of Bad Taste" and "Pope of Trash" because of his satirical work that challenges traditional social conventions, including the groundbreaking move of placing drag performer Divine as the leading character in many of his movies.
The openly gay director is perhaps most beloved by mainstream audiences for creating the iconic 1988 movie, "Hairspray," which later became a Tony-award winning Broadway show. Water's film was also revived in a 2007 release starring John Travolta.
Oscar Wilde, author of “The Importance of Being Earnest" (1895) and “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” (1890) is also known for his infamous imprisonment because of his sexuality.
Wilde’s father called out his son’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, prompting the writer to sue on grounds of libel. That decision backfired when courts decided his homosexuality was “gross indecency” and sentenced Wilde to prison for two years from 1895 to 1897.
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A leader of the Harlem Renaissance, poet, writer and playwright Langston Hughes is one of the most prominent historical black cultural figures.
Hughes shed light on the lives of African-Americans in his work, drawing both support and criticism from the community. Many of his poems also had homosexual allusions and advocated for gay rights.
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The 15th and 16th century artist Michelangelo is best known for his sculpting of "David" and painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. But many may not know that Michelangelo was widely considered to have been gay.
The artist wrote numerous gay love poems and one historian even claims that his famed "The Last Judgement" fresco was inspired by visits to gay saunas.
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American architect Philip C. Johnson designed many buildings throughout the U.S., including the Seagram Building and Lincoln Center in NYC and the One Detroit Center in Michigan. But The Glass House he designed and finished in 1949 in New Canaan, Conn. became a National Trust Historic Site.
Johnson died at 98 in 2005, leaving behind his partner, David Whitney, of 45 years.
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The great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote some of history's most iconic orchestral pieces and ballets including: “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty.”
Tchaikovsky’s death was speculated as suicide because of his homosexuality. And in May, a “gay gag rule” was put into effect in St. Petersburg, Tchaikovsky’s hometown, prohibiting anyone from endorsing homosexuality to minors. Activists against the law brought up the late musician and suggested that even mentioning Tchaikovsky is now illegal.
Leonard Bernstein was an accomplished musician, composer and conductor who wrote the score for “West Side Story.”
A genius at his craft, Bernstein started playing the piano at the age of 10, which led to his eventual career, becoming one of the first American-born conductors to lead world-class orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic.
Married to a woman for 25 years, Bernstein struggled with his sexuality but ultimately ended up leaving his wife for a man in 1976.
Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” was also a scholar, documenting his studies from anatomy (the "Vitruvian Man”) to war machines.
When da Vinci was 22, a Florentine court charged and acquitted him of sodomy. In February, the head of Italy’s National Historic Commission claimed the mystery person (person, not woman) in the "Mona Lisa" was not only a man but da Vinci’s gay lover.
Composer Aaron Copland, born in Brooklyn and son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, championed American stylizations, such as jazz and folk, in his classical compositions.
In addition to writing musical pieces, Copland also wrote scholarly articles, essays and books about music, and even travelled the world to expose American sounds abroad. The gay musician’s music was ironically featured in Rick Perry’s 2012 Election “Strong” ad, in which Perry denounces gays serving openly in the military.
Born into slavery, black and LGBT history icon George Washington Carver overcame his misfortune by becoming a successful scientist and inventor. Carver’s crop research, especially of the humble peanut, led to his inventions of plastics, paints, dyes and even a type of gasoline.
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New York native Stephen Sondheim is a mainstay in modern Broadway history, having written the lyrics for musicals including “Sweeney Todd” (1979), “West Side Story” (1957) and “Gypsy” (1959).
The openly gay composer-lyricist has won multiple accolades, which includes a record eight Tony awards.
Deemed the godfather of the '60s Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol, originally from Pittsburgh, moved to NYC in 1949 to pursue his career as a commercial artist.
Warhol, who was openly gay, was most famous for his whimsical paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, using unconventional (consumer) products as subjects, and fun, colorful portraits of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and changed the face of modern art.
Renowned and revered poet-essayist Adrienne Rich passed away in March, leaving behind a legacy of literary work that championed women’s and lesbian visibility.
Rich wrote 24 volumes of poetry, which sold nearly 800,000 copies, and more than half a dozen works of prose. Rich publicly came out in 1976, after having been married to a man, with her publication of “Twenty-One Love Poems."
Born in Germany and eventually bringing her talents to Hollywood, Marlene Dietrich was truly her own woman, going against societal norms with her not-so-subtle sexual appeal and unconventional beliefs (she was an atheist) in the 1920s-30s.
The openly bisexual Dietrich was one of the most successful actresses of her time, starring in her Oscar nominated lead role in “Morocco,” where she played a scandalous cabaret performer.
The late film actor Montgomery Clift was one of Hollywood’s first “Method” actors in which performers took a pledge "to sincerity and emotional truth.”
His films, which earned him four Oscar nominations, included “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961).
Clift lived a life wrought with pain. He struggled with a substance abuse problem and was unable to deal with the fact that he was gay. Clift was in a terrible car accident, which derailed his career in 1957, and passed away in 1966.
The revered and influential poet Walt Whitman was best known for his collection of poems “Leaves of Grass."
Whitman was a pioneer for equal rights and treatment of all people, often showing his views in his poetry, as well as his homosexuality, writing suggestive poems such as “We Two Boys Together Clinging.”
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Playwright Tennessee Williams often wrote plays, like "The Glass Menagerie," that mirrored his own life.
An outspoken man who talked about sex and his sexuality once said, “I never considered my homosexuality as anything to be disguised. Neither did I consider it a matter to be over-emphasized.”
Williams, a two-time Oscar nominated writer, was also considered a pioneer for his inclusion of gay characters in his plays.
Famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo drew and painted bold self-portraits. Having suffered health ailments for most of her life, including a bus accident that led to many painful operations, Kahlo drew inspiration from her suffering and detailed it in her work.
Kahlo’s complicated life was depicted by actress Salma Hayek in the Oscar award-winning 2002 film, “Frida,” where the artist’s affairs with women were brought to the big screen.
Former leading man Rock Hudson was known for his roles both on the big and small screens including the film "Pillow Talk" with Doris Day, his own TV series, “McMillan & Wife,” and regular appearances on the ‘80s hit show, “Dynasty.”
Hudson, whose sexuality was rumored about for many years but remained hidden until the mid-'80s when he was diagnosed with AIDS, also received an academy award nomination in 1957 for his work on “Giant.”
The actor is considered by many to be the first A-list star to reveal he was battling AIDS.
Gertrude Stein, who was born in Pennsylvania, was a patron of the arts, opening a famous literary and artistic salon with her brother in Paris. The venue hosted writers from all over the world such as T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The French capital is also where Stein met her lifelong companion and lover, Alice B. Toklas. Stein was a writer herself, publishing titles such as “Three Lives” (1909) and “Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms” (1914).
Courtesy of Penguin Classics
James Baldwin was a renowned author who wrote about race and sexuality in the middle of the 20th century. One of his many notable works, “Nobody Knows My Name,” was a best seller, and sold more than a million copies. Baldwin was openly gay and appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1963.
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Bessie Smith was known as the “Empress of the Blues" and toured extensively throughout her life.
Not only was the singing legend the best-selling African-American artist in the ‘20s, she was also bisexual and supposedly had a relationship with fellow singer, Ma Rainey.
The legendary singer-songwriter Freddie Mercury captivated audiences around the world as the leading frontman for the band Queen.
Writing and singing hits such as, “We Will Rock You,” “We Are The Champions,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Mercury was regarded as one of rock music’s most influential stars.
The openly bisexual performer kept the fact that he had been diagnosed with AIDS a secret until November 1991. Little more than 24 hours after his announcement, Mercury passed away at the age of 45.
Elton John’s accomplishments include composing the score to the multiple Tony award-winning Broadway show “Billy Elliot," getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and being knighted in 1998 (and those are only but a few of them).
The openly gay pop song hit-maker married his partner, David Furnish, in a civil union in 2005. Together the couple has one son, Zachary Furnish-John, who was born in December 2010. John has always been an advocate for LGBT rights, establishing The Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, after losing many friends to the illness in the ‘80s.
Bisexual rock star Janis Joplin captured the world’s attention with her raspy, bluesy vocals but her struggle with alcohol and drugs cut her career short and led to her untimely death on October 1970 at just 27 years old.
Joplin got her break with the band Big Brother before pursuing her solo career. Her posthumous, second album, “Pearl,” became her best-selling title. Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a lifetime achievement award at the 2005 Grammys.
The performance artist known as Mx. Justin Vivian Bond is a vocal transgender spokesperson and the “loving Aunt to the gender non-conforming children,” according to Bond’s Twitter account.
Bond became a NYC underground sensation, creating the cabaret duo Kiki and Herb alongside Kenny Mellman in San Francisco in 1993. Bond’s most recent accomplishments include writing “Tango,” a Lambda Literary Award winning memoir and 2012 album “Silver Wells.”
Filmmaker Lana Wachowski is best known for writing and directing the blockbuster “Matrix” trilogy alongside her brother, Andy Wachowski.
The Chicago native came out as transgender in July, becoming the first major Hollywood director to do so and most recently directed "Cloud Atlas."
Alan Turing was a mathematic and scientific scholar who proved in his 1936-1937 paper, "On Computable Numbers," that there can't be an algorithmic method for solving all mathematical problems, a concept that would lead to the Turing machine, which led to the invention of the modern computer.
Turing was also responsible for decoding German Nazi messages in WWII. In 1952, the inventor was arrested and prosecuted for being gay, a criminal offense at that time. He was "treated" for his homosexuality via chemical castration as an alternative to going to prison and committed suicide in 1954.
In September 2009 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered an official public apology from the British government for the inhuman treatment to which he was subjected.
The British fashion designer was known for his avant-garde, bold and innovative designs, showcasing some of fashion's most exciting runway shows. McQueen, who was openly gay, won numerous industry rewards including International Designer of the Year (2003) by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. His clothing was adored by many celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna. McQueen's suicide in 2010 shocked the world, but his work lives on in fashion shows everywhere.
John Burnside, who passed away in 2008, invented the teleidoscope , a kaleidoscope without colored glass. The late inventor was also a gay rights activist along with his life partner, Harry Hay. Burnside died in his San Francisco home at 91.
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One of our nation's anthems, "America The Beautiful," was written by Katharine Lee Bates who was in a same-sex relationship with Katharine Coman. After Coman passed away, Bates wrote about their partnership in a volume of work called, "Yellow Clover, A Book of Remembrance.”
Ryan Murphy, creator of the hit show "Glee," has brought LGBT issues and characters to the forefront of mainstream media arguably more than anyone else. Murphy, 46 and openly gay, won an Emmy for "Glee" in 2009 for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series. His latest show, "The New Normal," premiered this fall and centers around a woman who becomes a surrogate to a gay couple.