How It Works
GLBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Icons.
Beginning October 1, 2010, a new GLBT Icon is featured each day with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources on the Equality Forum Website. Each Thursday of this month, I will feature the 7 GLBT Icons featured that week.
Visit the Equality Forum Web site.
Celebrate the 5th Anniversary: 155 Icons!
1. Eric Alva
Eric Alva, 37, a native of San Antonio, was sworn into the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 19 years old after attending community college. He graduated from Southwest High School in 1989.
Alva served in the Marine Corps for 13 years, and was a member of the 3rd Battalion of the 7th Marines. At the age of 22, he was deployed to Somalia for Operation Restore Hope. Over the years he was stationed from California to Japan. He was deployed to the Middle East in January of 2003.
On March, 21, 2003, the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom; Marine Staff Sgt. Alva was traveling in Iraq in a convoy to Basra with his battalion - where he was in charge of 11 Marines - when he stepped on a landmine, breaking his right arm and damaging his leg so badly that it needed to be amputated. Alva was awarded a Purple Heart and received a medical discharge from the military.
Alva, the first American wounded in the war in Iraq, has been on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and various TV news shows and has appeared in People magazine and major newspapers.
Alva, is an avid scuba diver and likes to ski as well. Alva graduated from college in May of 2008, with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. Currently, he is studying for a master's degree in social work in San Antonio, where he lives with his partner, Darrell, to continue, he says, to work for social justice.
2. George Washington Carver
Carver was born a slave in Diamond Grove, Missouri. Nevertheless, he managed to acquire some elementary education and went on to study at the Iowa State Agricultural College from which he graduated in 1892. He taught at Iowa until 1896, when he returned to the South to become director of the department of agricultural research at the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. There he stayed despite lucrative offers to work for such magnates as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
His main achievement was to introduce new crops into the agricultural system of the South, in particular arguing for large-scale plantings of peanuts and sweet potatoes. He saw that such new crops were vital if only to replenish the soil, which had become impoverished by the regular growth of cotton and tobacco.
But he did much more than introduce new crops for he tried to show that they could be used to develop many new products. He showed that peanuts contained several different kinds of oil. So successful was he in this that by the 1930s the South was producing 60 million dollars worth of oil a year. Peanut butter was another of his innovations. In all he is reported to have developed over 300 new products from peanuts and over 100 from sweet potatoes.
Little information has survived about Carver’s romantic life, but he has come to be an icon of the gay community. Such a fact is testified to by his inclusion in the encyclopedia glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture and books such as Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America. Carver never married or expressed interest in dating women, and rumors circulated about his sexuality at Tuskegee Institute while he was an employee. In particular, his enjoyment of giving “therapeutic” peanut oil massages to and engaging in horseplay with handsome men was seen as unusual. Late in his career, Carver established a life and research partnership with another male scientist—Austin W. Curtis, Jr.. The two men kept details of their lives discreet, and as such historians know little about how these men understood their relationship. Nonetheless, the fact that Carver willed his assets to this man (consisting of royalties from an authorized biography by Rackham Holt) testifies to the importance of each other in their lives. After the death of his research partner in 1943, Curtis was fired from Tuskegee Institute. He left Alabama and resettled in Detroit, where he used the knowledge of peanuts he had gained from Carver to manufacture and sell peanut-based personal care products.
On his grave was written, He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.
3. George Eastman
Born in Waterville, New York, Eastman moved with his family to Rochester. His father died when George was 7. Eastman dropped out of school at age 14, and took a job with an insurance company to support his mother and two sisters, one of whom was severely disabled.
Eastman began working in banking, but it was his passion for photography that made him a household name. His ingenuity and marketing savvy transformed photography from a pricey hobby to an affordable, popular pastime.
In the business world, Eastman was a leader. His company was among the first to offer its employees retirement and insurance benefits, as well as profit sharing.
Eastman is nearly as famous for his philanthropy. In addition to contributing millions to the University of Rochester, M.I.T. and the Tuskegee Institute, he established and supported the Eastman School of Music, one of the nation’s preeminent music institutions.
Despite his achievements in the world of photography, few pictures of Eastman exist. He was a shy, unassuming man who steered clear of publicity.
In 1946, Eastman’s home became the George Eastman International Museum, housing the world’s leading collections of photography and film.
In the final years of his life, Eastman suffered from severe pain caused by a degenerative disorder of the spine. At age 77, depressed over his inability to lead an active life, Eastman killed himself with a gunshot to the heart. His suicide note read, “To my friends. My work is done, why wait?”
While George Eastman's sexuality is still often debated, his contributions to the world of photography, his philanthropy and his generous spirit have all undoubtedly earned him a special place in history.
While some maintain Eastman was simply a life-long bachelor and others argue that his epic private correspondence, amounting to over 700 letters, reveal his same-sex feelings, Eastman, regardless, remains a remarkable character worthy of study.
4. Sharon Farmer
Sharon Farmer was a White House photographer during both terms of the Clinton presidency. She was the first woman and African American to direct the office charged with chronicling nearly every second – from the mundane to the monumental – of the nation’s highest office.
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1951, Farmer was interested in photography from a young age. She discovered the power of the medium looking at pictures in her family’s encyclopedia. Farmer attended Ohio State University, intending to study bassoon. She quickly switched her major to photography and honed her skills on the staff of the yearbook.
The Associated Press hired Farmer for a photojournalism internship during her senior year. After graduation, she returned to her hometown of Washington, D.C., where she was a freelancer and photographer for album covers.
In 1993, she was hired as a White House photographer, a fast-paced job in which she used approximately 3,000 rolls of film per year and traveled the globe on a moment’s notice. In 1999, she was promoted to Director of White House Photography.
During her stint at the White House, Farmer captured many prominent events, including the handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the swearing in of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa.
Farmer also chronicled many campaigns, from local to national races. In 2004, she served as the head photographer for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
In addition to being featured in individual shows and group exhibitions nationwide, Farmer has lectured for National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution and taught at American University. She resides in Washington, D.C.
5. Leslie Feinberg
Leslie Feinberg is a leading transgender activist, speaker and writer. Feinberg is a national leader in the Workers World Party and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper.
Feinberg was born in Kansas City, Missouri, into a working-class family. In the 1960’s, she came of age in the gay bars of Buffalo, New York.
Now a surgically female-to-male transgender, Feinberg is an outspoken opponent of traditional Western concepts about how a “real man” or “real woman” should look and act. Feinberg supports the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze” instead of he or she, and “hir” instead of him or her.
Feinberg is well-known for forging a strong bond between the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and other oppressed minorities. “Everyone who is under the gun of reaction and economic violence is a potential ally,” Feinberg says.
“Stone Butch Blues” (1993), Feinberg’s widely acclaimed first book, is a semi-autobiographical novel about a lesbian questioning her gender identity. It received an American Literary Association Award for Gay and Lesbian Literature and the Lambda Small Press Literary Award.
“Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Ru Paul” (1996), Feinberg’s first nonfiction work, examines the structures of societies that welcome or are threatened by gender variance. The book was selected as one of The Publishing Triangle’s “100 Best Lesbian and Gay Nonfiction Books.”
“Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue” (1998), another nonfiction work, documents Feinberg’s near-death experience after being denied medical treatment for a heart problem. The doctor, after discovering his patient was transgender, turned hir away.
“Drag King Dreams” (2006), Feinberg’s second novel, picks up where “Stone Butch Blues” left off, chronicling the issues of transgender life today.
In 2008, after Feinberg became disabled from a degenerative disease, the author began telling hir stories through photography. Feinberg was named one of the “15 Most Influential” in the battle for gay and lesbian rights by Curve Magazine. The celebrated author has delivered speeches at colleges, universities, conferences and Pride festivals across the country.
Feinberg is married to poet and activist Minnie Bruce Pratt.
6. Tom Ford
Tom Ford is a prominent creative entrepreneur whose accomplishments—first in the fashion world and later in the film industry—have earned him worldwide acclaim.
Born in Austin, Texas, Ford grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At 17, he moved to New York to study art history at New York University, but was smitten with fashion and design. He graduated with a degree in architecture from what is now Parsons The New School for Design.
His first foray into fashion was in Paris, where he interned for Chloe. He worked for American designer Cathy Hardwick next, before moving on to Perry Ellis.
Ford moved to Milan in 1990, where he served as Gucci’s head women’s designer. Two years later, he was named design director. In 1994, he became creative director of Gucci's Italian label. Ford is credited with turning around the historic fashion house in his short time at the company. In 2000, he was granted new responsibilities at sister label Yves Saint Laurent, where he served as the creative director for YSL Rive Gauche and YSL Beaute.
In 2005, Ford left Gucci and formed his own fashion brand, TOM FORD. Two years later, his flagship store opened in New York. By the summer of 2010, TOM FORD had opened 20 more stores worldwide. In addition to his remarkable financial success, Ford has won many prestigious awards, including five from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Ford’s lifetime ambition, however, was to make a film. He says, “I guess I’m just one of these people who when I decide I’m going to do something, I just do it.” In 2009, he wrote, produced, financed and directed “A Single Man,” an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel. The movie centers on a gay man’s mourning over his partner’s tragic death. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for numerous awards, including a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Colin Firth.
Ford lives with his partner of more than 20 years, journalist Richard Buckley, in their London, Santa Fe and Los Angeles homes.
7. E. Lynn Harris
E. Lynn Harris is one of the nation’s most popular authors. Considered a literary pioneer, Harris introduced millions of readers to characters rarely seen in literature—black gay men who are affluent, complex and sometimes troubled. With 10 consecutive New York Times best sellers, he remains one of the most successful African-American novelists.
Harris was born Everette Lynn Jeter in Flint, Michigan, to unmarried parents. At age 3, Everette moved with his mother to Little Rock, Arkansas. Everette's surname was changed to Harris after his mother married Ben Harris. When Everette was 13, his mother divorced his stepfather, who had abused the boy for years.
Harris attended the University of Arkansas. In 1977, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Harris was the school’s first black cheerleader.
After graduation, Harris worked as a sales executive for IBM, eventually settling in Atlanta. He remained in the closet for many years, which led to depression, heavy drinking and a suicide attempt in 1990. Writing helped him find the will to live.
His first novel, “Invisible Life” (1991), was self-published and quickly rose to the top of the Blackboard Bestseller List of African-American titles. Harris sold the books door-to-door from the trunk of his car to local beauty salons and bookstores. After the success of his first book, Doubleday signed Harris and became his long-term publishing company.
" 'Invisible Life' had to be the first book out of me,” Harris said. “It helped me deal with my own sexuality.”
Harris wrote more than a dozen novels and paved the way for the next generation of African-American novelists. His books are accessible to the masses and appeal to a diverse audience. Harris always made time for his fans, whom he said changed his life. He would answer up to 200 e-mails from readers every day.
Harris received numerous awards. His honors include three Blackboard Novel of the Year Awards, the James Baldwin Award for Literacy Excellence and three nominations for NAACP Image Awards.
Harris died from heart disease. “People loved him,” said Tina McElroy Ansa, a fellow author and friend. “A spirit of joy followed him through his life.”
And as a bonus, here is a lovely add for Tom Ford from his Spring/Summer collection in 2008:
Sorry about the naked women, but the cock at the top of the picture is quite lovely.
Sorry, but I haven’t had time to do a Friday post this week, so I decided to use my CAM post from yesterday. Please forgive me guys.