LGBT History Month 2014: Sylvester, Singer

Photo (c) Project Open Hand

LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Icons. Each day in October, a new LGBT Icon is featured with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.

In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.

October 31, Sylvester, Singer

Before he became “Sylvester” and before he was crowned the “Queen of Disco,” Sylvester James Jr. was a member of a group of transvestites known as the Disquotays. While many Disquotays explored their identities as trans women in a cross-dressing party circuit, Sylvester identified as male.
After the dissolution of the Disquotays, Sylvester joined the Cockettes, a San Francisco drag theater troupe. While Sylvester appreciated the open lifestyle of the Cockettes, he maintained a distance from their psychedelic performances.

After the Cockettes, Sylvester—known by his first name only—struck out on a solo career. Songs like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat)” made it to the top of the pop music charts. Sylvester became renowned for his exquisite falsetto and soulful showmanship.

When Joan Rivers called him a drag queen, a peeved Sylvester corrected her, declaring, “I’m Sylvester!” A critic of conformity, Sylvester decried Castro clones—gay men who idealized masculine attire and scorned flamboyance.
Sylvester was vocal about LGBT issues, especially AIDS awareness and prevention. He wrote songs about AIDS and held AIDS benefit concerts. At age 41, he died from complications of AIDS.