The Great Men and Women of History who were gay

“Within the typical secondary school curriculum,  homosexuals  do not exist.   They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations.  The lesson to the heterosexual student is abundantly clear: homosexuals do nothing of consequence. To the homosexual student, the message has even greater power: no one who has ever felt as you do has done anything worth mentioning.” -Gerald Unks, editor, The Gay Teen, p. 5. From Famous Gay People.

It’s difficult for gay Christians to come out because they don’t see a place for themselves in the world–because frankly, all the past gay people have been erased from history, or had their gayness washed away.  What could you accomplish, really, as a gay or lesbian in this world?

Famous People who were gay

There are some hugely famous people who were gay.  In fact, as an English Teacher I could design a syllabus of American Literature solely with GLBT authors and you’d think it looked like every other American Literature survey in colleges:  Willa Cather, Tennessee Williams, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman (of course), James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Henry David Thoreau, Countee Cullen, Adrienne Rich, just to name a few.  These are hardly the marginalized authors of American literature–these are The Canon.  You can’t do a survey course without Whitman, Melville, Williams, Dickinson, Hughes, Emerson and Thoreau…you can’t.  Our culture has been interpreted and refined through their pens and their lens.

As for history, you can look to Alexander the Great, Emperor Hadrian, Sappho, King Richard the Lionhearted, Julius and Augustus Caesar, Aristotle, Socrates, Erasmus, Christina of Sweden, Virginia Woolf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Anne, Marie Antoinette, Margaret Fuller, and more modern names like Dag Hammerskjold (UN Secretary), Josephine Baker, Isadora Duncan, Frida Cahlo, Ellen Degeneres, Sir Ian McKellan, Gene Robinson, Mary Glasspool.   We have actors who defined masculinity for several generations of movie viewers: Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Raymond Burr, Rudolf Valentino, Montgomery Clift, Tab Hunter.  In sports, John Amaechi (NY Knicks), Gareth Thomas (out rugby player), Esera Tuaolo, David Kopay, Roy Simmons (all football players), Sheryl Swoopes, Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova.

You know these people. They aren’t hidden from our history, just the fact that they were gay.  They did great things, made great accomplishments.  And they were well-respected, well-followed, leaders of their communities and made a huge impact on the World.  How’s that for gay people impacting the world in great ways?

Yes, but what about famous gay Christians?

We listed some in other places, but I’ll repeat here:  Henri Nouwen, Erasmus, Cardinal John Henry Newman, even King James (who asked to have the Bible most people in North America read to be put together), and artist, Michaelangelo.  The people I listed– these are not small potatoes.  I can’t imagine a single seminarian who did not go through years of study learning their craft of theology and pastoring who didn’t read Henri Nouwen.  Who can say that their ideas of Christianity and of God were not influenced in part by Michaelangelo’s depiction of Adam touching the finger of God?

Modern gay Christians are leading the way in helping others see the importance of gay Christians in the administration and application of Christ’s love: Gene Robinson, first ordained Episcopal Bishop, Mary Glasspool, the second Episcopal Bishop–both out, and there are scores of good Anglican priests, United Church of Canada and Lutheran pastors–and there will be more.  Authors Mel White, John J. McNeill, Perry Moore, John Boswell, Chris Glaser, Paula Gunn Allen, Candace Chellew-Hodge, and other gay christian authors write about being both Christian and gay.  In Christian music, artists Ray Boltz, Jennifer Knapp, Sarah Em, so far, have come out.  We’ve already talked about Ray Boltz’ impact on Christian music.  I’m sure more gay Christians will emerge over the next ten years.

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Don’t Lose Heart

We have a huge history–of gay and lesbian people bettering society. I have only scratched the surface: others do a much better job of listing the complete famous gays and lesbians.   If you’re ever asking yourself what you can do as a gay or lesbian person, think about these people and what they accomplished.  Set no limits on yourself.  God certainly hasn’t.  The church tries to.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Please remember that the scorn Jesus received from the “sinners” mentioned in this text was from the church establishment of that time: the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Saducees.  They crucified Jesus, and for his mission, he endured the cross.  Don’t lose heart.

You must cast off those restrictions, those binding entanglements, that the church hands you.  They will tell you that to become anything in God’s kingdom, you must first become straight, or celibate.  They will tell you that God does not love you as a “practicing” gay or lesbian.  They will try to convince you that the Bible condemns you.  Not true, on all counts. (If you’re ever in doubt see the Helpful Resources page.)

What can I do?  Who can I become?

You can become anything you want to become.  There are no restrictions on your future, at all.  Look above:  these gay people became world leaders, cultural icons, they promoted change and they benefitted the world.  “Go thou and do likewise.”

Right now, we need people who will stand up and say that being gay is okay, especially in our churches.  There is a great need for individuals to tell their stories to everyone.  To show that God is working in the lives of gays and lesbians.  But you have to believe in yourself first.  And you have to believe that God loves you and has a plan for you.  And you need to be in a supportive environment.

If necessary, and I know this is hard, you will have to find yourself a new church, one that affirms you.  If you want to stay in your church–to help them understand and know you and work through their feelings and beliefs, you can.  I outline steps on coming out to your church.  Overall, though, God has a plan for you–so you need to go wherever it is that you can be nourished in the word and in church.  Because God has big things for you.  You are His witness to those who don’t yet understand that gays and lesbians are fully part of the church of God.

Be priests and pastors and bishops.  Be writers and communicators.  Be counselors and social workers.  Also be scientists, actors, businessmen, congressmen and women.  Be leaders in your community. Make sure that the PFLAG booth at the fair isn’t the only place that people see gay people, or hear positive things about being gay.  You can decide how much you want to come out, but being positive about being gay helps everyone who is out.

You must keep the faith.

And you must run…. run hard and long…..run a good race.

Be the men and the women God created you to be.  Be a part of History.  Be active in it. Create change where there needs to be change.  God watches you, encourages you, and counts on you to be who he created you to be.  He is not finished with that work, and he promises to finish it with you.

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