LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Icons.
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.
Gay and Lesbian History Month was endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association, and other national organizations. In 2006, Equality Forum assumed responsibility for providing content, promotion and resources for LGBT History Month.
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October 27 Pierre Seel
Pierre Seel was deported for being gay from France to a German concentration camp during World War II. He is known for speaking out about his Holocaust experience.
Seel was born to an affluent Catholic family in northern France, near the German border. In 1939, while in a public garden known for gay cruising, his pocket was picked. Seel reported the theft to police and was placed on a list of homosexuals, even though being gay was legal.
In 1941, during the German occupation, Seel was deported along with other French gays to the Schirmeck-Vorbruck concentration camp. He was tortured, starved and raped. He witnessed his boyfriend mauled to death by German shepherds. On his prison uniform, Seel was required to wear blue fabric that denoted clergymen, prostitutes and homosexuals.
After six months, Seel was removed from the camp and forced to enlist in the German army. After four years, he deserted and surrendered to the Allies, who returned him to France. Unlike others, gays did not receive compensation or acknowledgment from France for their concentration camp hardship.
In 1950, Seel entered into a marriage of convenience and never told his wife of 28 years that he was gay. They had three children.
In 1982, Seel responded to Bishop Leon Elchinger’s anti-gay remarks in a letter published in a French gay magazine. He advocated for France to honor gays persecuted by Nazis. In 1994, his memoir “I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual” was published. Seel’s story was featured in the documentary “Paragraph 175” (2000). In 2003, he received recognition as a victim of the Holocaust by the International Organization for Migration.
Seel spent his last 12 years with his partner, Eric Feliu, in France.
October 28: Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn was a celebrated composer and arranger. Best known for his collaborations with bandleader Duke Ellington, Strayhorn had an important influence on the American jazz movement.
The youngest of five children, Strayhorn spent his early years in Hillsborough, North Carolina. His grandmother, who was active in her church choir, encouraged Strayhorn’s musical interests. In 1924, his mother moved the family to Pittsburgh. At the Pittsburgh Musical Institute, he took piano lessons and studied classical music. Strayhorn’s musical focus shifted when he was introduced to jazz, a genre dominated by innovative and successful black musicians.
In 1937, he began to compose in the jazz style and formed his first jazz group. The following year, he was introduced to Duke Ellington, who took him on as a protégé. Strayhorn worked with Ellington for the next 25 years as a composer, arranger and pianist. He composed the band’s best-known theme song, “Take the A Train.” Although Strayhorn and Ellington collaborated on numerous pieces, Strayhorn remained fairly anonymous and was rarely credited or compensated for his work.
In 1946, he received the Esquire Award for Outstanding Arranger. Ellington and Strayhorn were equally credited on “Drum is a Woman” (1957). In 1965, Strayhorn played his only solo concert to a sold-out theater at the New School in New York City. Some of his best-known compositions are “Chelsea Bridge,” “Day Dream,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “Clementine” and the Ellington Band’s “Lotus Blossom.”
Strayhorn was openly gay. There is speculation that his sexual orientation motivated his decision to avoid the spotlight. He was actively involved in the African-American civil rights movement. For the musical revue “My People” he arranged “King Fought the Battle of ‘Bam,’” dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At 53, Strayhorn died from cancer. Although relatively unknown during his career, his complex arrangements and classical elements have inspired generations of jazz musicians. Although relatively unknown during his career, his complex arrangements and classical elements have inspired generations of jazz musicians.
October 29 Jon Stryker
Jon Stryker is a philanthropist and leading funder of national and international LGBT organizations.
Stryker was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Kalamazoo College and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. He is an heir to the Stryker fortune and a major shareholder in
Stryker Corporation, a hospital and surgical equipment manufacturer. Stryker founded and solely funded the Arcus Foundation, the largest grantmaker for LGBT issues. Established in 2000, the foundation’s mission also includes conservation of the great apes.
In addition to the foundation, Stryker has personally donated more than $247 million to LGBT causes and great ape conservation. He is a founding board member of the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya and Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida. The threatened colobine species Rhinopithecus strykeri was named in his honor.
A registered architect, he is the president of Depot Landmark, which specializes in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Since 2004, he has been a Global Philanthropists Circle Member. In 2008, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force awarded Stryker the Creating Change Award.
Stryker is divorced with two children. In 2011, he was listed among The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s top 50 donors. The following year, Forbes named him one of the “400 Richest People in America.”
October 30 Tom Waddell
Tom Waddell was an Olympic athlete and founder of the international sporting event, the Gay Games.
Born Thomas Flubacher in New Jersey, Waddell’s parents divorced. At 15, he moved in with his neighbors, Gene and Hazel Waddell, who adopted him. Waddell attended Springfield College, where he studied pre-medicine and was a star gymnast and football player. In 1960, he enrolled at New Jersey College of Medicine. In the early 1960’s, he participated in the African-American civil rights demonstrations in Alabama.
In 1966, Wadell joined the Army and served as a medical doctor. Two years later, he competed in the Olympics, placing sixth in the decathlon. Because of a knee injury, he retired from athletics. After the Army, Waddell completed a graduate fellowship at Stanford University.
In the mid-1970’s, WaddellIn the mid-1970’s, Waddell came out to friends and family and began exploring the burgeoning gay scene in San Francisco. After attending a gay bowling competition, he was inspired to organize a gay sporting event. Modeled on the Olympics, he founded the Gay Games, which first took place in 1982 in San Francisco. Originally called the “Gay Olympics,” the U.S. Olympic Committee sued Waddell for the use of the word “Olympics” and the organization was renamed “Gay Games.”
In 1981, Waddell began a relationship with Zohn Artman. That same year, he met lesbian athlete Sara Lewinstein, and they decided to have a child. After their daughter was born, Waddell and Lewinstein married to ensure joint custody.
Waddell experienced the success and international impact of the Gay Games. “Tom wanted to emphasize that gay men were men, not that they were gay,” said Waddell’s biographer. “He didn’t want them to lose their homosexual identity, or hide it; he just didn’t want them to be pigeonholed by it.’’ In 1987, Waddell died of AIDS-related complications.
October 31 Rev Tom Wood
The Reverend Robert Wood authored the first book in the United States on Christianity and homosexuality. He is the first clergyman to picket for gay rights.
Wood was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. He enlisted in the Army and was severely wounded in the invasion of Italy. He was awarded a Purple Heart, two Battle Stars, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star. With the help of the G.I. Bill, Wood graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the Oberlin School of Theology.
In 1951, he was ordained in Vermont in the Congregational Christian denomination. He served on the Board for Homeland Ministries for the United Church of Christ and on the World Ministries Board.
In 1956, he wrote an article titled “Spiritual Exercises” for a gay physique magazine, which featured a photo of him in his clerical collar. After meeting Edward Sagarin, author of the groundbreaking book “The Homosexual in America” (1951), Wood was inspired to write “Christ and the Homosexual” (1960). Wood’s book was the first to call for the Christian faith to welcome homosexuals without repudiating their sexuality.
In 1960, the Mattachine Society and The Prosperos honored Wood with Awards of Merit. Each Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969, Wood picketed in his clerical collar at “Annual Reminders,” which launched the LGBT civil rights movement. He appeared in “Gay Pioneers,” a documentary about the demonstrations. In 2001, the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania honored him as a gay pioneer.
Wood retired from the ministry after serving 35 years in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. For 27 years, he lived openly with his partner Hugh Coulter.
Equality Forum is a national and international LGBT civil rights organization with an educational focus. Equality Forum coordinates LGBT History Month, produces documentary films, undertakes high-impact initiatives and presents the largest annual national and international LGBT civil rights summit. For more information, visit www.equalityforum.com.