LA Gay Men's Chorus: Love On Top

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore

Info: LGBTQ Movies and Film

Polari Mag: LGBTQ Arts & Culture

Boys in the Band Finally Nominated for a Tony Award

Queer Composers You Should Know

I Am What I Am: Song From La Cage Aux Folles

Info: LGBTQ Music and Songs

Broadway United: We Are the World

Hannah Gadsby: Allstars Supershow

Gay American Composers

Most Influential LGBTQ Plays

Poetry Slam: Princess in Distress

LGBTQ Writers Everyone Should Know


LGBTQ Artists: Painters and Photographers

Keith Haring (New York)
Annie Leibovitz (New York)
Frida Kahlo (Mexico)
Robert Mapplethorpe (New York)
Andy Warhol (New York)

Alvin Baltrop (New York)



Zanele Muholi (South Africa)
Richard Fung (Trinidad, Toronto)
Mickalene Thomas (New York)
K8 Hardy (New York)
Felix Gonzalez Torres (Cuba, Connecticut, New York)
Ellsworth Kelly (New York)
Rotimi Fani Kayode (Nigeria)
Brian Kenny (New York)
Cy Twombly (England)
Robert Rauschenberg (Texas, New York)

Gilbert Baker, Creator of Original Rainbow Flag (Arkansas)


Vaginal Davis (Germany)
Hannah Hoch (Germany)
David Hockney (England)
Adi Nes (Israel)
Betty Parsons (New York)
Zackary Drucker (Los Angeles)
Alice Neel (England)
David Wojnarowicz (New York)
Jasper Johns (New York)
Laurie Toby Edison (San Francisco)
Gilbert & George (England)
Catherine Opie (Los Angeles)
Berenice Abbott (New York)
Isaac Julien (England)



Queer Arts: List of LGBTQ Artists

Wikipedia: List of LGBTQ Dancers

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Poet Mary Oliver Dies at 83

Origin of Love: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Info: LGBTQ Television and Media

Twisted Broadway: Hey Big Spender

Photographer Meg Allen: Butch Photo Project

Hamilton: Schuyler Sisters Miscast

Taboo: Musical by Boy George

Queer Composers You Should Know

Out Plays: Landmark LGBTQ Plays of the 20th Century

Justin Sayre's Love-In: Music, Laughs, and Hope Through Gay Lens

Wikipedia: LGBTQ Related Plays

American Theatre: New Generation of LGBTQ Theatre

Torch Song Trilogy: 35 Years Later

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

Broadway Backwards: Cell Block Tangy


Alison Bechdel: Winner of McArthur Grant

Alison Bechdel, a lesbian artist and writer from Vermont, was the winner of the 2014 Mac Arthur Foundation Fellowship award, commonly referred to as the Genius Grant. She is known for such literary works as Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For, and Are You My Mother?


Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist and graphic memoirist exploring the complexities of familial relationships in multilayered works that use the interplay of word and image to weave sophisticated narratives. Bechdel’s command of sequential narrative and her aesthetic as a visual artist was established in her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008), which realistically captured the lives of women in the lesbian community as they influenced and were influenced by the important cultural and political events of the day.


Vermont Artist Receives MacArthur Fellowship

Washington Post: Bechdel Wins Genius Grant

Washington Post: Graphic Novelist Breaks Ground

MacArthur Foundation: Alison Bechdel

Home Page: Dykes to Watch Out For

Wikipedia: Dykes to Watch Out For



Garnering a devoted and diverse following, this pioneering work was a precursor to her book-length graphic memoirs. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) is a nuanced depiction of a childhood spent in an artistic family in a small Pennsylvania town and of her relationship with her father, a high school English teacher and funeral home director. An impeccable observer and record keeper, Bechdel incorporates drawings of archival materials, such as diaries, letters, photographs, and news clippings, as well as a variety of literary references in deep reflections into her own past.

Bechdel came out as a lesbian at age 19. Bechdel's gender and sexual identity are a large part of the core message of her work. "The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings," she explains. In February 2004, Bechdel married her girlfriend since 1992, Amy Rubin, in a civil ceremony in San Francisco. Bechdel and Rubin separated in 2006. As of 2013, Bechdel lives in Bolton, Vermont with her partner, Holly Rae Taylor.


LA Gay Men's Chorus: Love On Top

The Prom Broadway Show: You Happened

Huff Post: 30 LGBTQ Artists You Should Know

Info: LGBTQ Books and Publications

Queer Arts: Queer Culture and Literature List

La Cage Aux Folles

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

Broadway Backwards: Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Why Aren't There More Famous Gay Comedians?

Info: LGBTQ Music and Songs

Trans Nonbinary Performer Tackles Greek Tragedy

Interview with Comedian Hannah Gadsby

Queer Composers You Should Know

Hallelujah: Queer Dance About Love, Hate, and Religion

Slam Poetry: Queer Marriage Poem

Polari Mag: LGBTQ Arts & Culture



LGBTQ Musicians and Composers

Leonard Bernstein
Aaron Copland
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Cole Porter
Samuel Barber
Johannes Brahms
John Cage

Franz Schubert
Stephen Sondheim
Igor Stravinsky
Frederic Chopin
Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov
Maurice Ravel
George Friderick Handel
Dave Koz


Gay American Composers

Most Influential LGBTQ Plays


Poetry Slam: Dear Straight People

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Ethan Smith Poem: Letter to the Girl I Used to Be

Info: LGBTQ Music and Musicians

Hannah Gadsby: Allstars Supershow

I Am What I Am: Song From La Cage Aux Folles

Photographer Meg Allen: Butch Photo Project

Hamilton: Schuyler Sisters Miscast

LGBTQ Artists You Should Know

Playbill: LGBTQ Theatre Heroes Who Inspire

Queer Composers You Should Know

Queer-Inclusive Bluegrass Music

Boys in the Band Finally Nominated for a Tony Award

Fire Island Artists Registry

Art Scene Today: LGBTQ Artists

Queer Arts: List of LGBTQ Museums and Galleries



Richard Blanco: Gay Latino Poet


In 2013, President Obama selected gay Latino poet Richard Blanco to recite an original poem at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony. Blanco, who was born in Cuba, was the first LGBTQ person and the first Hispanic-American person to recite a poem at the presidential swearing-in event.  At 44 years old, he was also the youngest.



Video & Text: Richard Blanco Reads Inauguration Poem

Pres Obama Selects Richard Blanco to Read at Inauguration Ceremony

Openly Gay Hispanic American Selected as Inaugural Poet

Wash Post: Blanco is First Gay, First Hispanic, Youngest Inaugural Poet

Richard Blanco Book: How to Love a Country


Rainbow Halo

Elżbieta Podlesna, a 51-year-old Polish woman was arrested in May 2019 for blasphemy after she painted the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo.   Polish interior minister Joachim Brudziński announced the arrest, saying she was detained for “carrying out a profanation of the Virgin Mary of Częstochowa.” The Black Madonna of Częstochowa is a Byzantine icon that is housed in the country’s holiest Catholic shrine.

“Offending religious feeling” is a crime in Poland punishable by up to two years in prison. “Telling stories about freedom and tolerance doesn’t give anyone the right to offend the feelings of believers,” Brudziński said, adding that the paintings are “cultural barbarism.”


The LGBTQ community in Poland has been under increasing attack in recent years as the country’s rightwing government attempts to copy Russian methods of demonizing LGBTQ people to hide their own failings.  “We are dealing with a direct attack on the family and children inspired by the LBGTQ movement,” Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling rightwing Law and Justice party, told supporters. “They actually threaten our identity, our nation, and the Polish state."


HRW: Arrest in Poland Over Virgin Mary's Rainbow Halo

Artist Arrested for Blasphemy for Painting Virgin May with Rainbow Halo

Art, Religion, and LGBTQ Rights in Poland

Unbreakable LGBTQ Art Installation in Warsaw

Art Exhibition: Gay in Trumpland

LGBTQ Latinix Mural Defaced in San Francisco

Artists Speak Up: LGBTQ People Under Attack in Brazil

Brazilian LGBTQ Art Show Shut Down

Boston Exhibits Artwork by LGBTQ Refugees



Maurice Sendak: Author and Illustrator of Children's Books

The beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died in 2012 at age 83. He is best known for his book, Where the Wild Things Are. Winner of countless awards and recognitions, Maurice Sendak is widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.


He was born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Polish-Jewish parents. As Maurice Sendak grew up (lower class, Jewish, gay) he felt permanently shunted to the margins of things. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told The New York Times in a 2008 interview. “They never, never, never knew.”  Sendak lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn's death in May 2007.


Maurice Sendak's NY Times Obituary

Believer: Maurice Sendak Interview

Vanity Fair: Sendak's Last Book

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

I Am What I Am: Song From La Cage Aux Folles

Good Reads: Best Gay Plays

Broadway Backwards: Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Ethan Smith Poem: Letter to the Girl I Used to Be

Lesbian Literature

Washington DC Gay Men's Chorus: I Am What I Am

Great Gay Moments in 20th Century Dance

La Cage Aux Folles

Trans Nonbinary Performer Tackles Greek Tragedy

Origin of Love: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Tribute to Gay Classical Musicians

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore

Twisted Broadway: Hey Big Spender



LGBTQ Theatre and Plays

Fun Home / Adapted by Lisa Kron & Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel's memoir

Kinky Boots / By Harvey Fierstein & Cyndi Lauper

Bare / By Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo
Spring Awakening / By Sater, Sheik

Unnatural Acts / By Tony Speciale
Man of No Importance

Avenue Q / By Lopez, Marx, Whitty
Invisible Thread / By Gould, Matthews

The Prom / By Beguelin, Sklar, Martin, Mitchell

Rent / By Jonathan Larson
Angels in America / By Tony Kushner

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Standing on Ceremony: Gay Marriage Plays / By Gaffney, Harrison, Kaufman, LaBute, MacLeod, Rivera, Rudnick, Wright

The Boy From Oz

Laramie Project / By Moises Kaufman
Taboo / By Boy George

Torch Song Trilogy / By Harvey Fierstein

Bent / By Martin Sherman
Falsettos / By Finn and Lapine

Telling Moments / By Robert C. Reinhart
La Cage Aux Folles /By Harvey Fierstein
Jeffrey / By Paul Rudnick
The Sum of Us / By David Stevens

Boys in the Band / By Mart Crowley
The Pink Unicorn / By Elise Forier Edie

Judge Roy Moore is Coming to Dinner / By Tom Wofford



Play About Gay Life After Marriage Equality

Hannah Gadsby: Allstars Supershow

Critically Queer: Being a Gay Student in the Humanities

Ethan Smith Poem: Letter to the Girl I Used to Be

Info: LGBTQ Books and Publications

MOMA: Creating Safe Spaces for Art-Loving LGBTQ Youth

Broadway Backwards: Cell Block Tangy

Slam Poetry: Coming Out Straight


Info: LGBTQ Magazines and Periodicals

Up and Coming LGBTQ Musicians

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

La Cage Aux Folles (Film)

NPR: When Art is Queer

Queer Composers You Should Know

The Prom Broadway Show: You Happened

Info: LGBTQ Television and Media

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

LGBTQ Artists in Bay Area



The Iterations of La Cage Aux Folles

1973 - La Cage Aux Folles / French play written by Jean Poiret

1978 - La Cage Aux Folles / French-Italian film directed by Édouard Molinaro, starring Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Serrault

1983 - La Cage Aux Folles / America musical play by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman

1996 - The Birdcage / American film directed by Mike Nichols, staring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane


LGBTQ Broadway Performers


Andrew Rannells / Actor (Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Falsettos, Boys in the Band)

Neil Patrick Harris / Actor (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

Jonathan Groff / Actor (New Brain)

Harvey Fierstein / Playwright (La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy, Kinky Boots)

Billy Porter / Actor (Kinky Boots)

Stephen Sondheim / Playwright

Tina Landau

Gavin Creel

Todrick Hall

Nathan Lane / Actor (The Producers)

Jenn Colella



Alison Bechdel / Playwright (Fun House)

Tituss Bergess

Alan Cumming

John Tartaglia / Actor (Avenue Q)

Ben Levi Ross

Javier Munoz

Beth Malone / Actor (Fun Home)

Jerry Mitchell

Lisa Kron

Chita Rivera / Actor (Kiss of the Spider Woman)

Grey Henson

Laverne Cox / Actor

William Finn

Indina Menzel / Actor (Rent)

Rory O'Malley

Taylor Trensch

Andy Mientus



LGBTQ Heroes in Theatre

LGBTQ-Related Broadway Musicals

List of LGBTQ-Related Musicals

LGBTQ Experiences on Stage

Best LGBTQ Plays and Musicals


Io Tillett Wright: Fifty Shades of Gay

Artist iO Tillett Wright has photographed 2,000 people who consider themselves somewhere on the LBGTQ spectrum and asked many of them: Can you assign a percentage to how gay or straight you are? Most people, it turns out, consider themselves to exist in the gray areas of sexuality, not 100% gay or straight. Which presents a real problem when it comes to discrimination: Where do you draw the line?


As a child actor, iO Tillett Wright turned her shoes around in the bathroom stall so that people would think she was a boy. As a teenager, she fell in love with both women and men. Her life in the grey areas of gender and sexuality deeply inform her work as an artist.

iO Tillett Wright is an artist whose work focuses on the leading margins of contemporary life and culture. Her photography is regularly featured on two blogs at the New York Times: Notes from the Underground and The Lowdown. iO created the Self Evident Truths project, an ongoing document of LGBTQ America, which she continues to work on. She had her first solo show at Fuse gallery in New York City in 2010, and exhibited her latest work at The Hole Gallery in early summer of 2012. She has published three limited edition books of photographs; Lose My Number, KISSER, and Look Ma No Hands. iO has directed several music videos, and worked as a professional film actor for nineteen years, in addition to founding the world’s first nationally distributed street art magazine.

Her TED Talk, released in 2013, entitled, Fifty Shades of Gay, is worth viewing.


Fifty Shades of Gay: iO Tillett Wright's TED Talk

iO Tillett Wright's Bio Notes

Gallery of iO Tillett Wright's Photography

TED Talk: Hannah Gadsby

Photographer Meg Allen: Butch Photo Project

Before Night: Short Film Tells Queer Stories in New and Authentic Ways

Love is Lifting: LGBTQ Couples in Trick Photo Series

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

Queer Arts: LGBTQ Photography

These Men and Their Glitter Beards

Interview with Comedian Hannah Gadsby



LGBTQ Authors, Poets, and Playwrights

Francis Bacon / English Statesman and Author
TE Lawrence / English Soldier and Author
Lord Byron / English Poet
Walt Whitman / US Poet and Author
Oscar Wilde / Irish Author
Marcel Proust / French Author
Gertrude Stein / US Poet and Author
Alice B. Toklas / US Author

Percy Bysshe Shelley / English Poet
James Baldwin / US Author
Herman Melville / US Author

Jack Kerouac / US Author

Federico Garcia Lorca / Spanish Poet



Thomas Love Peacock / English Poet
Willa Cather / US Author
Langston Hughes / US Author

Christina Rossetti / English Poet
EM Forster / English Author
Hans Christian Andersen / Danish Author

Alice Walker / US Author
Ralph Waldo Emerson / US Author
Virginia Woolf / English Author
Tennessee Williams / US Playwright
Rainer Maria Rilke / German Poet
Edward Albee / US Playwright

Lord Alfred Douglas / English Poet


Armistead Maupin / US Writer

Adrienne Rich / US Poet

Pierre Louys / French Poet

William S. Burroughs / US Author
Rita Mae Brown / US Novelist
Algernon Charles Swinburne / English Poet

Mary Oliver / US Poet

Gore Vidal / US Novelist
Antonio Botto / Portuguese Poet

Allen Ginsberg / US Poet
WH Auden / English Poet
Truman Capote / US Author
Frank O'Hara / US Poet

Maurice Sendak / US Author and Illustrator

Audre Lorde / US Poet



Gay Culture: Ancient Wonder or Modern Creation

Info: LGBTQ Books and Publications

History of Gay Art and Symbolism

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

NYC Gay Men's Chorus: All I Want for Christmas

Info: LGBTQ Movies and Film

Broadway Backwards: Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Art History: Queer Art 1960s to Present

Info: Fashion and Clothing

LGBTQ Poets Who Inspire

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Info: LGBTQ Music and Musicians

Hamilton: Schuyler Sisters Miscast

I Am What I Am: Song From La Cage Aux Folles


LGBTQ Theatre Companies


Buddies in Bad Times

Celebration Theatre

Five Lesbian Brothers

Frank Theatre Company

Pomo Afro Homos

Split Britches

Stage Q

Theatre Offensive

Theatre Rhinoceros

Triangle Theatre Company

Who Wants Cake Theatre


Playbill: Regional Companies Leading the Charge in Gay Theatre

Pride Youth Theatre Alliance

List: LGBTQ Related Plays

Playbill: LGBTQ Theatre Heroes Who Inspire

Purple Circuit: Most Influential LGBTQ Plays



LGBTQ Poets Who Inspire

Audre Lorde was a Black feminist, lesbian, poet, mother and justice warrior. Her writing, activism and poetry speak to the struggle often faced by people who have been marginalized by society, including LGBTQ people and people of color. The last four stanzas of one of her most famous poems, “The Black Unicorn,” show that even though progress has been made, more work remains in the fight for full equality for all people: “The black unicorn is restless, the black unicorn is unrelenting, the black unicorn is not free.”

Mary Oliver, an out poet who believed “poetry mustn’t be fancy,” wrote at length about nature and the beauty of the world around us. Inspired by other queer women poets including Edna St. Vincent Millay, she explored the intersection of herself as a queer woman and the world in which she lived, embracing everyday beauty.


Andrea Gibson is a poet and activist whose work focuses on gender, politics and the struggles that LGBTQ people still face. Many of their poems are spoken word, a form of poetry and performance art characterized by rhyme, repetition, improvisation and word play that frequently speaks to issues of social justice and community. One of Gibson’s most moving poems is their tribute to the victims of the deadly Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.

Fatimah Asghar is a Pakistani, Kashmiri, American poet and queer woman. In her debut book of poems, “If They Come For Us,” Asghar focuses on navigating coming of age and questioning her sexuality without guidance from her parents, who passed away when she was young. The book explores what it means to hold an intersectional identity in today’s world, while still remembering the history of those who came before.


Chen Chen is an up-and-coming poet who also explores the intersection of identities in today’s world in his poetry. His poem “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities” captures the heart of his work: “To be, in my spare time, / America for my uncle, who wants to be China / for me. … To be a cyclone / of laughter when my parents say / their new coworker is like that, they can tell / because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t, / can’t be one of them. To be the one / my parents raised me to be -- / a season from the planet / of planet-sized storms.”

A.W. is another young poet who is taking up the reins of the next generation of poets advocating for equality. A.W.’s poem “Differences” inspires us to be who we are, treat everyone equally and always stand up for ourselves and our friends: “Treat people well, don’t treat them different because they're different, all people should be able to do what other people can do if it is a good choice.”


[Source: Human Rights Campaign]


LGBTQ Poets Who Inspire

Info: LGBTQ Books and Publications

Photographer Meg Allen: Butch Photo Project

Art History: Queer Art 1960s to Present

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Info: LGBTQ Music and Musicians

Critically Queer: Being a Gay Student in the Humanities

MOMA: Creating Safe Spaces for Art-Loving LGBTQ Youth

Slam Poetry: Coming Out Straight

I Am What I Am: Song From La Cage Aux Folles

Info: LGBTQ Magazines and Periodicals

NPR: When Art is Queer


Laurie Rubin: Blind Jewish Lesbian Opera Singer

Blind since birth, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin tells her empowering story in memoir Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight. Acclaimed mezzo-soprano opera singer Laurie Rubin has been blind since birth, is openly lesbian, and of Jewish background. What better reason to write a memoir? On paper, she was, obviously, not your typical everyday teenager growing up. But with determination and a strong support system, she continually surpassed and redefined others’ expectations, both professionally in the music industry and outside of it.


Defying the naysayers since childhood, the lively and charismatic Rubin released Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight in 2012, recounting her experiences from childhood to full-fledged opera singer. An uplifting story about her journey to follow her dreams, Rubin’s story asks those universal questions (Who am I? and Where do I fit in?) while giving an insight into a musical world you probably know nothing about. Not only does she have a busy concert schedule, Rubin is also in developing a curriculum for Yale music (where she earned her master's degree) that will aim to dispel stereotypes and better the perceived value of people living with disabilities by allowing people of all ages and walks of life to share in the experiences of blindness.


TED Talk: Hannah Gadsby

You Tube: Do You Dream in Color?

Washington Post: Laurie Rubin Describes Her World of Color

Info: LGBTQ Television and Media

List of Gay Men's Choruses

Slam Poetry: Third Gender

Info: LGBTQ Magazines and Periodicals

LGBTQ Community Center: Arts and Culture

Blithe House Quarterly: LGBTQ Short Stories

Interview with Comedian Hannah Gadsby

Queer Arts: List of LGBTQ Organizations


LGBTQ Comedians


Ellen DeGeneres
Ross Matthews
Tig Notaro

Hannah Gadsby

Suzanne Westenhofer
DeAnne Smith

Margaret Cho

Dana Goldberg

Mario Cantone

Simon Amstell

Paula Pell

Sabrina Jalees

Eddie Izzard

Sandra Bernhard
Kate Clinton
Wanda Sykes

Gabe Liedman

Sampson McCormick

Eliot Glazer

Erin Foley

James Adomian

Fortune Feimster

Mae Martin

KeLanna Spiller


LGBTQ Dancers

Rudolf Nuryev / Russian Ballet Dancer
Tommy Tune / US Tap Dancer, Broadway Star
Josephine Baker / US Dancer
Isadora Duncan / US Dancer
Bronislava Nijinska / Russian Dancer
Vaslav Nijinsky / Russian Dancer



LGBTQ Fashion Designers


Giorgio Armani

Pierre Cardin

Christian Dior

Domenico Dolce

Stefano Gabbana

Perry Ellis


Isaac Mizrahi

Yves Saint Laurent


LGBTQ Composers

Info: Fashion and Clothing

Lesbian Stand-Up Comedian: DeAnne Smith

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore

Info: LGBTQ Authors and Books

Poetry Foundation: LGBTQ Pride Poems

Dana Goldberg: Jewish Lesbian Comedian

Out Beat: America's First LGBTQ Jazz Festival

Photographer Meg Allen: Butch Photo Project

Queer Composers You Should Know

Gay Comedian Sampson McCormick

List of LGBTQ Fashion Designers

Info: LGBTQ Motion Pictures and Film

Slam Poetry: The Straight Gay



Classical Composers: What's So Gay About American Music?

Musicologists now seem to agree that Handel was gay. So, it is thought, was Schubert. About Tchaikovsky there is no doubt: definitely gay, along with Britten, Copland and many other major composers and musicians. They may not have been gay in the modern sense of the word, as the defining component of their sexual identity. Certainly not Handel, who hid what must have been terrible loneliness under a cloak of irascible heartiness. Nor Schubert, whose relationships with the young men in his circle still elude our understanding. Schubert's devoted friends considered the pudgy, bespectacled and sickly composer a genius in their midst. But who was sleeping with whom? We're not sure.

That we can now flesh out these giants' stories with this crucial missing component of their character is due to the efforts of some pioneering cultural historians and musicologists. Yet, along with the outing of past master composers and musicians there has been a more dubious effort by some to find evidence of a collective gay sensibility in their music. What exactly is a gay sensibility? With today's gay icons ranging from the brainy, unkempt liberal firebrand Congressman Barney Frank to the stylish, flamboyant and cuttingly funny fashion guru Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, who can say? And if it does exist, just how is a gay sensibility expressed in music? Especially purely instrumental, or "absolute," music?



The latest to enter the discussion is Nadine Hubbs, a professor of music and women's studies at the University of Michigan, whose new book, The Queer Composition of America's Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music and National Identity, has just been released by University of California Press. This is an ambitious, provocative and impressively documented work, with more than 70 pages of detailed footnotes for a 178-page text. It tries to prove that what has come to be considered the distinctive American sound in mid-20th-century American music (that Coplandesque tableau of widely spaced harmonies and melancholic tunes run through with elements of elegiac folk music and spiked with jerky American dance rhythms) was essentially invented by a group of Manhattan-based gay composers: Copland, of course, and Virgil Thomson, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.

Ms. Hubbs's treatise, which focuses mostly on Copland and Thomson, is enriched by her keen sensitivity to traces of coded gay sexuality, veiled homophobia and cultural anxieties in American music and life during the early decades of the 20th century. The book will rightly provoke heated discussion in musicological and queer-history circles. My gay brothers and sisters should welcome Ms. Hubbs's account of the pivotal role played by gay composers in the development of a musical idiom that as the book argues, still signifies "America," not just in the concert hall but also in movies, television and commercial culture.


Yet, I suspect that many musicians, however fascinated by Ms. Hubbs's treatise, will share my discomfort over the notion of trying to identify anything as elusive as a gay sensibility in music. It's significant, I think, that most of the advance praise for the book ("a landmark study," "breathtakingly original history") comes from cultural historians, not musicians. My aim here is not to review the book but to raise the stakes for the debate Ms. Hubbs's work is sure to provoke.

One admiring blurb on the dust jacket comes from a well-known musicologist, Susan McClary, winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, whose contentious 1991 article Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert's Music became a manifesto for a number of queer theorists. Ms. McClary tried to identify homosexual qualities in the slow movement of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. Her notion that Schubert was inviting listeners to "forgo the security of a centered, stable tonality" and "experience (even enjoy) a flexible sense of self," has always struck me as a convoluted way to account for perfectly explicable disruptions of key.


But Ms. McClary's lead was followed by smart critics like K. Robert Schwarz, long a contributor to The New York Times, who died in 1999. Schwarz wrote impassioned liner notes for a shamelessly commercial though perfectly harmless 1995 recording, Out Classics: Seductive Classics by the World's Greatest Gay Composers.


Before long, Schwarz speculated, "we may possess the analytic tools to decode a gay aesthetic in music." As I suggested at the time, I cannot imagine how this would work. Will theorists check chord components against a table of telltale interval combinations? Will we someday speak not only of tonic and dominant chords but also of butch and femme chords? Is Ms. Hubbs heading down that path? She is least convincing when discussing the particulars of the music in question. What she does brilliantly is amass evidence of the pervasive influence Copland and his gay composer colleagues had on the formation of the American national identity.


In her introduction Ms. Hubbs points out that no less an authority than the United States Army confirms Copland's status as "America's most prominent composer." This claim comes from an essay accompanying a pair of recordings of Copland's music by the Army Field Band and Soldiers' Chorus, released in 2000 to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Moreover, the essay points to Copland's life and career as a quintessentially American story and talks glowingly of his Jewish heritage, his Russian immigrant parents, his sensitivity to racial prejudice and admirable collaborations with black artists. But never hinted at is Copland's homosexuality, which of course would have branded him as unfit for service in the military.

So how did Copland's music, with its "sonic representation of American vastness and rugged, simple beauty," as Ms. Hubbs puts it, come to be the most potent cultural emblem of Americanness? How did Copland and the gay composers in his circle come to write music the way they did? Though often too sweeping and sometimes laden with jargon (one subchapter is titled Music as Sex as Identity and as Identity Solvent), the book sheds more light on these questions than any study to date. Take Ms. Hubbs's comments on the aggressively homophobic Charles Ives in the subchapter Ives, American Music and Mutating Manliness. Ives came of age at a time when American music was obsequiously beholden, Ives believed, to European late Romanticism. Ives considered American composers sissified. He wanted them to shape up, get some spine and invent a radically new American sound that embraced vernacular American music. He wanted the audience to stop whining and take its dissonance like a man.


Ms. Hubbs places Ives's diatribes in the context of the genuine crisis of confidence in American music at the time. The composer appears "less as an eccentric crank with personal issues concerning women, queers and music," she writes, "than as a stentorian mouthpiece for interlinked cultural anxieties around gender, sexuality, musicality and national identity that significantly shaped 20th-century American music."

Paradoxically, it was Copland and his gay composer colleagues who answered Ives's call, steered American music through those anxieties and found the new American voice. They were bound together by codes of secrecy, and with good reason. To understand the social climate they faced, consider that in 1942, while he was the powerful chief music critic of The New York Herald Tribune, Thomson was arrested in a raid on a private house in Brooklyn where gay professionals socialized with young men, including sailors from the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard. After he spent a night in jail, the charges against Thomson were dropped, and the incident was hushed up, though a veiled reference to his disgrace turned up in a Walter Winchell gossip column.

Perhaps a sense of separateness emboldened this circle of gay composers, who shared an affinity for French culture and aesthetics, to distance themselves from the domineering, aggressive (meaning rigorously German) brand of 1920's modernism. Copland first turned to jazz as a vehicle to break free. Jazz was by far the most original American music. But eventually he found it hard to incorporate this improvised art into formal concert works. Thomson impishly called Copland's short-lived venture writing jazz-infused concert works his "one wild oat."


In later life Thomson claimed (fairly, most historians agree) that he provided the impetus for Copland's invention of the quintessential American sound through the example of his own simplified musical style. The late 1920's was a time of growing musical complexity and "100 percent dissonance saturation," as Thomson put it. Thinking this direction a dead end, he chose to simplify his language radically. The Thomson work in this vein that most impressed Copland was the Symphony on a Hymn Tune, which used hymns familiar to Thomson from his Kansas City, Mo., youth as thematic materials for a genre-busting, unconventional cut-and-paste symphony.

By the late 1930's, Copland, with his language now simplified as well, was writing the works that would make him famous, especially the ballet scores Billy the Kid and Rodeo. Still, what is so gay about a symphony that uses hymns as thematic fodder, or a ballet score run through with cowboy tunes and Old West dance rhythms? What is the gay sensibility of Copland's 1939 Quiet City or the vibrant 1943 Violin Sonata?

Words have meanings, of course, as does all music with words. Even if you did not know that Britten was gay, you might guess as much from the content of his operas. Some deal with thwarted or idealized homoerotic yearning (Billy Budd, Death in Venice). Others are moral parables about sensitive, volatile and ostracized souls (Peter Grimes, even the comedy Albert Herring). But is there anything gay about Britten's instrumental work, like the Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, an ingenious, exciting and deeply moving work?

Ms. Hubbs offers a provocative subchapter, Complexity Music and the American Way, on the challenge posed by the American composers who championed 12-tone techniques starting in the 1950's, and an apt analysis of "Frenchness as Queer Americanness." But the gender identity questions she raises cannot be answered. How do you explain the crucial presence of thoroughly heterosexual composers like Roy Harris and Walter Piston in the "commando squad," as Thomson called the circle of composers who set out to establish American music in the mid-20th century? How do you explain that after branding 12-tone music as elitist, arid and Germanic (meaning bad) in the 1940's, Copland took up the technique in the 50's and 60's? To me, his inexplicably neglected 12-tone works still have that clarion, widely spaced harmonic vigor that characterized his influential music in the much-beloved "American" style. Ms. Hubbs takes on this question but leaves it as one of many loose ends.

Ultimately, what we may most value about music is that it moves us in powerful but indistinct ways. It's the one thing that cannot be analyzed or deconstructed for its expressive content, and thank goodness for that.

[Source: Anthony Tommasini / New York Times]



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