Editors’ Note: Guest blogger Jeremy Redlien is the author/creator of the blog Queering the Closet and holds a B.S. in Philosophy, with a minor in Mathematics from SUNY Oneonta.
After reading the Bilerico Project’s list of the Top 20 Most Important LGBT Figures in History by Adam Polaski, I thought that it would be a good idea to create an entirely different sort of list. Rather then focusing on individuals, I decided to focus on the accomplishments of queer (or likely queer) individuals that had a positive or significant impact on human history.
Thus, I give you:
The Top 20 Things That Owe Their Existence to Queers (or at least a hearty thanks)
20 - Copernicus’s Model of the Solar System
Queer to thank: Georg Joachim Rheticus
Nicolaus Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the solar system which still happens to be viewed as true today, despite the best efforts of the Flat Earth Society. In any case, Copernicicus’s work could have been lost, if it had not been for the efforts of George Joachim Rheticus. Copernican scholar Edward Rosen posited, “Is it going too far to claim that without Rheticus, no Copernicus, without Copernicus, no moving Earth; and without geodynamic astonomy, no modern science?” In 1551, Rheticus was accused of trying to seduce a 17 year old male, which resulted in Rheticus being exiled from Leipzig for 101 years
19 - Sexuality of the Human Male, Sexuality of the Human Female, Coming of Age in Samoa,Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies
Queers to thank: Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead
Combined the above works led directly to what is referred to as the Sexual Revolution, a cultural phenomenon whose fallouts are still being felt today. It probably should not come as much of a shock that both of these individuals were bisexual. Kinsey experimented with sexual relationships with both sexes. Mead herself was married three times and letters published after her death revealed that she had an intimate relationship with Rhoda Metraux.
18 - The British Broadcasting Corporation
Queer to thank: John Reith, 1st Baron Reith
John Reith played a critical role in the formation of the BBC, so much the term Reithian became a word, describing his particular management style. The BBC model that Reith pionered - based around his summary of what the BBC’s mission should be, Inform, Educate, Entertain - also influenced other broadcast organizations such as PBS.
Reith himself was intimately involved with a man named Charlie Bowser, the depth and intimacy of the relationship which was revealed in Reith’s diaries when they were analysed by Ian McIntyre.
17 - Keynesian Economics
Queer to Thank: John Maynard Keynes
Keynesian Economics, first presented in the 1936 book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes, has profoundly influenced economic theory ever since. Keynesian Economics was the reason for the controversial stimulus plans backed by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
Keynes was always open about his sexuality and the numerous affairs he had with men.
16 - Peanuts, Soybeans, Pecans & Sweet Potatoes
Queer to thank: George Washington Carver
Here is an exercise for anybody reading this list. Go to your fridge or any cabinet in your house. Pick an item at random. Chances are, the item you are now holding, would not exist in it’s current form if it were not for the work of George Washington Carver, a black man born in 1864 Missouri. Carver is credited with developing hundreds of uses for peanuts, soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. He also developed or popularized uses for such products as diverse as shaving cream, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonaise, meat tenderizer, shoe polish, talcum powder, cosmetics, and synthetic rubber.
By promoting peanuts, soybeans, pecan trees, and sweet potatoes as alternative crops, Carver helped save agriculture in the south, as these products restored soil nutrients lost thanks to cotton farming, which monopolized farmland at the time.
Carver is thought to have been intimate with Austin W. Curtis, Jr.
15 - Eradication of Tuberculosis
Queer to thank: Alan L. Hart
In the early Twentieth Century, tuberculosis was the number one killer in the Unites States. Today, less then 10 percent of the U.S. population typically test positive for the disease and for those that are found to be infected, the chances of survival are dramatically better than they were 100 years ago. This can be attributed in part to the efforts of Alan L. Hart, who innovated numerous ways of detecting and treating the disease. Early detection methods pionered by Hart, such as using x-ray screenings, also helped prevent the disease from infecting more patients since doctors could quarantine those individuals found to have tuberculosis. His efforts are credited with helping to contain TB and therefore saving thousands of lives.
Born Alberta Lucille Hart, Alan L. Hart was among the first female to male transsexuals to have a hysterectomy and gonadectomy performed in the United States.
14 - Abolition of Slavery (United States)
Queer to thank: Abraham Lincoln
Honorable Mentions: Susan B. Anthony, Alexander Hamilton
Although slavery would not be abolished entirely in the Unites States until the passage of the 13th Amendment, it was Abraham Lincoln who first wrote the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves on a large scale. Without the Emancipation Proclamation or Lincoln’s leadership during the Amercan Civil War, the North could have lost and slavery would probably have continued in the Confederacy.
Lincoln wrote one of the earliest explicit gay themed poems in American literature and shared a bed with Captain David V. Derickson, who was the head of his guards.
Other notable queers involved in the abolishment were suffragette Susan B. Anthony and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton even used Britain’s support for slavery as one reason for the colonies seceding from Great Britain.
13 - Woman’s Suffrage
Queer to Thank: Susan B. Anthony
Honorable Mentions, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, Nancy Cook, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Charley Parkhurst, Eva Gore-Booth
Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, one of the earliest organizations dedicated to woman’s rights in the United States. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton originally wrote the original draft of what would eventually become the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
Other notable members of the suffrage movement include Anthony’s lover, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, as well as Nancy Cook, who became the intimate of Eleanore Roosevelt.
Trivia: It is thought that Charley Parkhurst was possibly the first biological female to vote in the United States. Parkhurst was stagecoach driver in California and after his death in 1879, it was discovered that Parkurst was not biologically male.
12 - The Napoleonic Code
Queer to thank: Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès
Honorable Mention: Napoleon Bonaparte
The Napoleonic Code was written by Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès, who was open about his sexuality and preference for men. The Napoleonic Code is one of the most influential documents of the modern era. Napoleon biographer Robert Holtman declared in his The Napoleonic Revolution that The Napoleonic Code was among the few documents to have changed the entire world.
The code was originally enacted in the European territories that Napoleon had conquered. Specifically, the Napoleonic Code forbade special privileges based upon birthright, secret or unpublished laws, special laws that applied to specific incidents, and ex post facto laws (laws written and applied to events that have already occurred). Just as importantly, The Napoleonic Code reformed judicial procedures and the treatment of criminals.
As for the Emperor himself, he was rumored to have had many male lovers among his aides, guards, and fellow soldiers. According to biographer Evangiline Bruce, Napoleon once wrote a note declaring that whenever he met a good looking man, Napoleons feelings were felt “first in the loins and in another place I will leave unnamed.”
11 - Helicopters & Modern Aviation
Queers to thank: Leonardo da Vinci, Howard Hughes
Leonardo da Vinci was the legendary Renaissance artist who was arrested twice following accusations that he had engaged in same-sex activity. Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, who inherited the Mona Lisa, had an unusually close and suggestive relationship with da Vinci. However, one possibility regarding who the real life subject of the Mona Lisa was provides a scintillating clue here. This proposal put forth by Susan Dorothea White, has that the Mona Lisa was actually a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in drag. Also, Keith Stern claims that an article published in the April 1995 edition of Scientific America described a computer scan that came to that conclusion as well.
As for helicopters, Leonardo da Vinci designed many fantastical mechanical devices, but unfortunately the materials necessary for those devices to actually work were not created until many years after his death. One such device was a primitive helicopter, with Leonardo’s design used as the inspiration for the modern flying contraption.
Howard Hughes was the producer and director for The Outlaw a movie filled with homoerotic subtexts (and Jane Russell’s bosoms). In her autobiography, Greta Keller claimed that Hughes engaged in a sexual relationship with her husband, David Bacon. Bette Davis who had a sexual relationship with Hughes, claimed that Hughes frequently liked to fantasize that she was a man.
Howard Hughes is credited with quite a few aviation innovations and set many world records flying air-planes that he had commissioned. Hughes was awarded several aviation awards, in addition to the Congressional Gold Medal in 1939 for his contributions to the industry.
10 - The Computer
Queer to thank: Alan Turring
Honorable Mentions: Lynn Conway, Mary Ann Horton, Sophie Wilson, Audrey Tang, Kate Craig-Wood
Alan Turing was an early pioneer in the field of computer science and artificial intelligence. His work included developing the Turing Test, which is intended to test if a computer has achieved human level sentience. He also helped design the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) which was the first computer built in Great Britain. Turing’s numerous accomplishments have lead many to declare him the father of the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence.
Tragically, Alan Turing was convicted for committing homosexual acts and sentenced to probation and chemical castration. This punishment is thought to have led him to commit suicide in 1954 at the age of 41.
Lynn Conway is a computer engineer who first worked at IBM, but was fired in 1968 when she transitioned into a woman. She is credited with having developed numerous computer science innovations, many whose names make no sense to me, such as generalised dynamic instruction handling and Mead & Conway revolution in VLSI design.
Mary Ann Horton is a computer scientist and trans activist whose innovations aided the developement of Usenet and later the Internet itself. Sophie Wilson is a trans woman who designed the Acorn Micro Computer.
Audrey Tang, who transitioned from a man to a woman in 2005, is a Taiwanese free software programmer, who taught herself Perl at age 12 and is considered to be one of the “ten greats of Taiwanese computing.”
Kate Craig-Wood is a British innovater, co-founder and managing director of Memset, the first British carbon neutral ISP. She is a proponent of greater energy efficiency in electronic technology. Kate Craig-Wood transitioned in 2005.
9 - Christianity
Queer to thank: Alexander the Great
Honorable Mentions: Desideririus Erasmus, Théodore de Bèze, King James I
The exploits of Alexander the Great, who was lovers with Hephaestion, are legendary. Most people know that he conquered “the known world” spreading Greek culture as he went. What many people, outside of historians, are not so aware of, is that this hellenization (as Alexander’s spread of Greek culture is referred to) later helped ease the subsequent growth and spread of Christianity.
Desideririus Erasmus was the controversial writer/editor behind several influential editions of both the Old and New Testaments. Erasmus’s writings also included many letters to his fellow monk, Servatius Roger, that were highly suggestive and included phrases like, “You are half my soul… I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly.” Roger’s responses were usually more to the point and included phrases like, “What is wrong with you?”
Théodore de Bèze was a follower of John Calvin and played an important role in the Protostant Reformation. After the death of John Calvin, Bèze succeded Calvin as the leader of the reformation. Bèze was also criticized for a relationship he had with a young man, Audebert, whom Bèze wrote numerous love poems.
King James I, the man responsible for the King James Bible, had a secret passage that linked his royal bedchambers with those of George Villiers, with whom it was thought that King James I was intimate. He was also rumored/thought to have been intimate with others, including male courtiers, Robert Carr, and Esmé Stewart.
8 - The Great March on Washington & the Civil Rights Movement
Queers to thank: Bayard Rustin
Honorable Mentions: Alain LeRoy Locke, Langston Hughes, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Alice Walker
Bayard Rustin was the chief organizer behind the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin was also a highly influential advisor to King and was the individual responsible for convincing King to adopt non-violence as a key strategy. Rustin was open about his sexuality and in 1986 gave a speech entitled “The New Niggers Are Gays”.
Other important contributions to the Civil Rights Movement came from Alain LeRoy Locke, Langston Hughes, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker.
7 - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations
Queer to thank: Eleanore Roosevelt
Eleanore Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has proven enormously influential on international law and U.N. policy since it was first adopted. Roosevelt also campaigned heavily for the formation of the United Nations and founded the UN Association of the United States for that purpose.
Roosevelt is thought to have been intimate with suffragette Nancy Cook.
6 - [Insert Title of Pretty Much Any Significant or Popular Work of Art]
Very short list of queers to thank: William Shakespeare, Sapho, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde,Graham Chapin, Cole Porter, James Ivory, Roland Emmerich, Elton John, Langston Hughes,Dee Palmer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo, Rupaul, Lady Gaga, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Lorraine Hansberry, Countee Cullen, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Octavia E. Butler, Billie Holiday, Jacqueline Woodson, Wanda Sykes, Bill T. Jones, Zora Neale Hurston, E. Lynn Harris,Alvin Ailey, Pedro Almodóvar, Charlie Anders, Molly Cutpurse, Candy Darling, Harisu, Dana International, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Terre Thaemlitz, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Jin Xing, Antonia San Juan, Witi Ihimaera, Bessie Smith, Sylvester James
Nearly every artistic form, genre, and work, from the highbrow films of James Ivory to the lowbrow sci-fi action pornos of Roland Emmerich, to the pop songs of Lady Gaga, there is probably not a single work of art that does not owe some dept, to some queer, somewhere. If a work of art was not created by a queer, then it was probably inspired by some other work that was created by a queer.
5 - U.S. Constitution
Queer to thank: Alexander Hamilton
Honorable Mention: Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Although the Federalist Papers were written anonymously, historians generally attribute their primary authorship to Alexander Hamilton. The purpose of the Federalist Papers was to argue that the U.S. Constitution should be ratified by the states. Alexander Hamilton was possibly an intimate of John Laurens, to whom Hamilton wrote, “I wish, Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you.”
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was an important military leader in the Revolutionary War, who helped General Washington install discipline into the entire Continental Army. A hero of the American Revolution, Steuben came to America and the aid of General Washington after he was accused of “improper relations” in his homeland of Prussia. Steuben was thought to have been the intimate of John H. Mulligan, William North, and Ben Walker.
4 - Philosophy
Queers to thank: Socrates, Plato
Honorable Mentions: Marsilo Ficino, Francis Bacon, Francesco Algaratti, Goerge Santayana,Gerald Heard, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Ram Dass, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Hazel Barnes, Marquis de Sade, Simone de Beauvoir, Allan Bloom, Judith Butler, Alain LeRoy Locke, Peter Gomes, Saint Anselm, Audre Lorde, Jane Addams, Didier Eribon, Raewyn Connell, Deirdre McCloskey
Thales may be credited as being the “first” western Philosopher, but it was Socrates, along with his student Plato, who took it to the next level. So radical and offensive were the notions of Socrates to the ancient Athenians, that he was pretty much the original Marilyn Manson. After Socrates was put to death following accusations of corrupting the Athenian youth and questioning the existence of the Gods, Plato fled Athens in disgust, before returning to found the original Academia.
In addition to having been teacher and student, Socrates and Plato are also thought to have been lovers. Plato argues in the Symposium that same-sex love is the highest form of love of all.
Trivia: Plato was the teacher of Aristotle and Aristotle in turn would tutor Alexander the Great, making the total influence of Plato and Socrates on world history and culture so great to be immeasurable.
3 - Calculus & Various Mathematical Theories
Queer to thank: Isaac Newton
Honorable Mentions: Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov, Sofia Kovalevskaya, Alan Turing
Granted, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz developed calculus at the same time, so maybe calculus does not owe it’s existence to calculus. However, Leibniz’s and Newton’s versions of calculus differed on several points, so calculus can be said to at least owe a debt and a hearty thanks to both. Isaac Newton also developed an early way of calculating the roots of a function and made many other independent and significant contributions to the field of mathematics.
Isaac Newton is believed to have been intimate with Fatio de Duillier and Newton became depressed when Duillier moved out/broke up in 1693.
Other important mathematical theories were developed by queers such as Andrey Nicolaevich Kolmogorov and Alan Turing. Furthermore, anyone who thinks that a woman cannot compete with men on the same level with regards to fields such as mathematics should read the story of Sofia Kovalevskaya. What makes her notable was that Sofia was forbidden from studying mathematics in Russia, because she’s a woman. Outside of Russia, she was forced to obtain alternative means to obtain advanced degrees, as the university where she was studying would not even allow her to audit classes. Her contributions to the field of mathematics include the discover of the “Kovalevsky top” and the Cauchy-Kovalevski theorem.
2 - Modern Science
Queers to thank: Isaac Newton
Honorable Mentions: Alexander von Humboldt, Count Justus von Liebig, Alan Turing, Georg Joachim Rheticus
Isaac Newton did not develop calculus on a whim, he did it to help with his work creating the three laws of physics that bear his name. Newton’s theories held until Einstein came along and made everything relative. Physicists and engineers still rely on Newton’s equations in situations involving the macro universe and speed not approaching the speed of light. Furthermore, Einstein could not have developed his theories without the previous work of Newton.
Count Justus von Liebig developed the modern chemistry lab set up that is still used today.
1 - Democracy
Queer to thank: Solon of Athens
Honorable Mention: Alexander the Great
Solon of Athens is credited with instituting legal reforms that helped pave the way for the development of democracy in ancient Athens. Solon of Athens also composed poems expressing his love for boys.
The Hellenization brought about Alexander the Great, also helped with the spread of democracy, in addition to Christianity.