Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2001

Who’s Who In Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, edited by Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon

reviewed by George Broadhead

This is the companion volume to the one I reviewed in the Spring 2001 issue of G&LH. Running to 460 pages, it has some 500 subjects drawn mainly from the arts, politics, show business and sport.

Many of them are well known to Britons, but many more are not. This is partly because the editors (two Australian academics) have quite rightly included non-English-speaking subjects. Also, as the editors point out in their introduction in the first volume: “Readers may well feel that the list is not perfect, and some reviewers may find that favourite figures are absent.”

Point taken. Nevertheless, for me, three notable omissions are a GALHA member, Antony Grey, who, as secretary of the UK Homosexual Law Reform Society in the 1950s and 60s, probably did more than anyone to achieve the law reform enacted in 1967; the lesbian novelist and GALHA president Maureen Duffy, who has been described by the Guardian as “one of Britain’s foremost writers”; and the late John Curry, the internationally famous gay ice-skating champion.

As well as famous lesbians and gay men such as Martina Navratilova, Sir Elton John, David Hockney (one of whose swimming pool paintings decorates the dust jacket) and Peter Tatchell, the subjects include men and women who have some connection with homosexuality, for example the actor Peter Finch, who starred as Oscar Wilde in The Trials of Oscar Wilde and as a gay doctor in Sunday Bloody Sunday. Other subjects such as Marlene Dietrich seem to have been included mainly because of their status as gay icons, and Diana, Princess of Wales, specifically because of her involvement with AIDS.

Musicians and composers are well represented and include those who have featured in Gay and Lesbian Humanist CD reviews: Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Ned Rorem and Sir Michael Tippett. Among the atheists and humanists listed are the writer Joe Ackerley (a close friend of E. M. Forster, who is a subject in the first volume), the painter Francis Bacon, the playwright Joe Orton, the US activist and politician Harvey Milk (all deceased) and the American author Gore Vidal, who is quoted as saying about himself: “I am exactly as I appear. There is no lovable, warm person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

The subjects include some arch-homophobes, notably the US tele-evangelist Jerry Falwell and the Southern Baptist singer Anita Bryant, “the Florida Orange Juice Queen”. Her entry records how she met her comeuppance after gay activists formed the (greater Miami) Dale County Coalition for the Humanistic Rights of Gays. Bryant’s UK equivalent, Mary Whitehouse, is another subject. She is said to have regularly attacked “what she saw as the homosexual/intellectual humanist lobby”, and her prosecution of Gay News prompted the formation of GALHA.

Ironically, the very next entry to Anita Bryant is Vern Bullough – one of the best-known figures in the worldwide humanist movement and a strong supporter of lesbian and gay rights. With his wife Bonnie, he co-authored or edited more than fifty books, mostly on sexual and gender history. However, as the entry points out, his involvement with the homosexual community went beyond academic interest as he became a supporter of the gay liberation movement. With his wife, he helped found the original Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Los Angeles.

I was pleased to find four other prominent humanists included in the entries: Karen-Christine Friele, Laurence Collinson, Professor Rob Tielman and Sir Angus Wilson. Friele is the lesbian activist whom I featured in my last G&LH World Watch column and who has done so much for lesbian and gay rights in Norway. Collinson was a GALHA member until his death in 1986. He was a poet and playwright who returned from Australia to the UK in 1964 and soon became heavily involved in the gay rights movement. He was a founder member of the original Gay News collective and a regular contributor to the paper. As a playwright, he contributed the successful Thinking Straight to the first Gay Sweatshop season and coined the group’s name.

Tielman, a GALHA vice-president who rates a page and a half in the book, has played a very active role in both the Dutch gay and international humanist movements. He served as secretary of the Dutch Society for the Integration of Homosexuality and was head of the Homostudies Department at Utrecht University. Like Friele, he received the equivalent of a knighthood for work in the field of lesbian and gay rights. For a time, he was president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Wilson was a GALHA vice-president until he died in 1991. He achieved considerable success as a novelist and short-story writer in the 1950s and, though his entry in the book neglects to mention it, he was very active in the early gay rights campaigns, taking part in demos before OutRage! was ever thought of.

Like its companion volume, this is a fascinating compilation and an invaluable work of reference.

URI of this page :
Created : Sunday, 2001-07-29 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :