Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Alex Morse, Young Gay Mayor

UPDATE: In November, 2013, Morse was elected to a second term as mayor. In 2015 he was elected to a third term, and in January 2017 he turned 28 years old. Original post was published on November 16, 2011.

Out and gay Alex Morse (at left, photo by Rob Deza) is the newly-elected 22-year-old mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, but CBS did not mention his sexual orientation on their Sunday news segment on Morse. That issue simply wasn't an issue in this campaign, according to The New Civil Rights Movement, a website dedicated to gay rights topics, especially same-sex marriage.

"He is gay. He is out. He has worked for the cause. He just won a stunner of a political victory, and as hard as this is to conceptualize, being gay was not a complicating factor in his campaign," writes Jean Ann Esselink in an article titled "On Our Radar – Mayor-Elect Alex Morse" that was posted Sunday on the website.

The 2½-minute CBS news segment included some hardscrabble images of the heavily Hispanic city, where a third of residents live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers around 11 percent. Morse, who takes office in January, says he's looking forward to managing a city with a $120 million budget and nearly 40,000 residents.

"I think of my age as an incredible asset, in that I haven't been around for 20 (or) 30 years. I'm not beholden to special interests. I haven't been around long enough to owe anybody a political favor," the mayor-elect told CBS.

But the optimism of Morse – a recent Brown University graduate who launched a mayoral bid while still attending the Ivy League school – shines through. He played up the city's bright spots, including a high-tech office park expected to serve as a magnet for new jobs and plans to renovate the old Victory Theater.

"One of the most satisfying things to do in life is to do what others tell you you cannot do, and I think that's what we did throughout this campaign," Morse says in the CBS interview. "Never once did I listen to folks who said, 'You're too young, you haven't paid your dues.'"

Morse, a political neophyte who won 53 percent of the vote in last Tuesday's election, unseated incumbent mayor Elaine A. Pluta, a longtime public servant and Holyoke's first woman mayor.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Xavier Bettel

Luxembourg's prime minister, Xavier Bettel (b. 1973) is at present the only openly gay world leader*. He became the first European Union Leader to enter into a same-sex marriage when he wed his civil partner, Gauthier Destanay, in May, 2015. Destanay, who works as an architect, comes from neighboring Belgium, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel attended their wedding.

A native of Luxembourg, Bettel had become the youngest member of the Luxembourg Parliament at age 26 (1999). When he was sworn in as mayor of Luxembourg City in 2011, Destanay stood by his side. Continuing a meteoric political career, Bettel became Prime Minister of Luxembourg in 2013.

Bettel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Etienne Schneider (b. 1971) is also openly gay and married his partner, Jérôme Domange, earlier this year.

Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy, bordered by France, Germany and Belgium. The constitutional monarch is Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (b. 1955 – not gay!), who has the power to appoint the prime minister and represent Luxembourg’s interests in foreign affairs. Bettel with Grand Duke Henri (below):

Trivia: Bettel’s mother is the grand niece of Russian composer/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. 

*Bettel (b. 1973) is the third openly gay world leader. Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo left office in October, 2014, and Iceland’s Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir left office in May, 2013. That leaves Bettel as the only gay leader still in office.

In 1997 President Bill Clinton appointed openly gay James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Although Hormel was eminently qualified for the post and quickly won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was subjected to an ugly confirmation battle during which he was defamed and belittled by homophobic GOP senators such as Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft. His nomination was effectively blocked by Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who refused to schedule a vote. Finally, two years later, in May 1999, to the outrage of some Republicans, Clinton named Hormel ambassador via a “recess appointment.” Hormel thus became the first openly gay ambassador to represent the United States. That was the same year (still closeted) Xavier Bettel became the youngest member of the Luxembourg parliament. 

Luxembourg, the second-wealthiest country after Qatar*, was ranked #14 overall by U.S. News when it published a 2016 list of the 25 “best countries” **. Luxembourg ranked No. 1 in Open for Business and No. 10 in Quality of Life. Luxembourg is a major center for large private banking, and its finance sector is the largest contributor to its economy.

*GDP per capita $88,000; Luxembourg was $81,000.

**There were nine categories, such as Heritage, Entrepreneurship, Cultural Influence, etc. The U.S. ranked #4 overall, Great Britain #3, Canada #2 and Germany #1.  


Pope Francis Welcomes Bettel and Husband 

In March 2017 Pope Francis welcomed the world’s only openly gay leader and his husband to the Vatican. Catholic officials invited Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel (center) and his husband Gauthier Destenay (left) to the Holy See, where they were met upon arrival by Georg Gänswein* (above right), the dashing German-born Archbishop who still serves as personal secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Bettel and Destenay joined other European heads of government for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.  The treaty established the European Economic Community (EEC), a major stepping stone to the establishment of the European Union (EU).

Bettel commented, “It was a great pleasure and honour for me and Gauthier to be welcomed by the leader of the Catholic Church.”

*60-year-old Gänswein rightfully earned the nickname “Gorgeous George” (Bel Giorgio). He appeared on the cover of the January 2013 Italian version of Vanity Fair magazine and was the inspiration for fashion designer Donatella Versace’s 2007 “Clergyman Collection.” For recreation the Archbishop plays tennis, flies airplanes and skis (he was once a ski instructor).

So there you have it.


Joe Morgan (Gay Star News)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Poet Fitz-Greene Halleck

I just cracked open Adventures in Old New York* (Bowery Boys 2016), a birthday gift presented to me last month. There’s an entire chapter on Central Park, which I have visited too many times to count, but I didn’t know the quarter mile path bordered by huge American Elm trees that makes a straight shot north from the zoo to the Bethesda fountain and terrace is called The Mall**, and the southern part of it is known as Literary Walk. It’s here that our Bowery Boys make the gay connection. Literary honorees include Sir Walter Scott, Shakespeare and Robert Burns, but there’s also a statue of Fitz-Greene Halleck. Who? Never heard of him.

Turns out Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) was a Connecticut-born writer of romantic and satirical poetry who was so popular that 10,000 rabid poetry fans joined President Rutherford Hayes and his entire cabinet for the dedication of his Literary Walk statue in 1877, marking the tenth anniversary of  the writer’s death. Imagine that today – 10,000 people attending the unveiling of a statue of a poet. Hard to believe, but at that time (pre-radio and TV) authors were the celebrities of American culture. Halleck enjoyed tremendous readership among the general public, even though his poems and essays were infused with homosexual themes. Considering late nineteenth-century mores, the celebrants likely played down the gay stuff.

Halleck was dubbed “the American Byron” during his lifetime. Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck.” Charles Dickens spoke fondly of Halleck, and Abraham Lincoln read his poems out loud to friends at the White House. Newspapers published his newly-minted poems all across America and Great Britain. These were extraordinary endorsements, considering that Halleck’s writings had “gay” written all over them. Not all criticism was positive. Mark Twain ridiculed Halleck and referred to him as "girl."

Fitz-Greene, also an essayist and noted Byron scholar, moved to NYC when he was twenty-one and found a job as personal secretary to John Jacob Astor. Halleck became one of the original trustees for the Astor Library, which later formed the nucleus of the New York Public Library (Fifth Ave. at 41st Street).

Halleck was love sick for a certain fellow poet Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), who partnered with Halleck in writing The Croaker Papers, a satirical send up of New York society. Published anonymously and serialized in leading newspapers, these poems seemed to delight even their targets of derision, the upper crust of New York City. Both writers were members of the “Ugly Club”***, a club specifically for handsome young men. Drake played the flute and had a fine singing voice, and joined by Halleck’s recitations, the two would entertain the membership of The Ugly Club. The two soon became inseparable.

Drake’s relationship with Halleck was fictionalized in what many call America’s first gay novel, Bayard Taylor’s “Joseph and His Friend” (1870, three years after Halleck’s death). The book is addressed to “those who believe in the truth and tenderness of man’s love for man.” Taylor had known both men and even delivered a speech at the dedication of a Halleck statue in Connecticut, in addition to the one in Central Park. See sidebar for separate post on Bayard Taylor.

But Drake (pictured above, on a vintage cigar box label), who had studied medicine, was unable to delay his early death from tuberculosis, and Halleck mourned the loss for the rest of his life. When Drake died, his coffin was followed by thirty carriages, a fitting tribute to his enormous fame at the time.

Drake had married a year before his death, and Halleck reluctantly served as best man.

“I officiated as groomsman, though much against my will...He is perhaps the handsomest man in New York – a face like and angel, a form like an Apollo...I felt myself during the ceremony as committing a crime in aiding and assisting such a sacrifice.” While Drake was on his honeymoon, Halleck could not eat, sleep or work, and fell into a serious depression. Such was the extent of Halleck’s life-long obsession with Drake that in his will the poet asked for Drake’s body to be exhumed and buried next to him.

Halleck’s biographer described the poet’s last major work, “Young America,” as both a jaded critique of marriage and a pederastic boy-worship reminiscent of classical homosexuality. Halleck rhapsodizes over his fourteen-year-old male subject in salacious detail.

All of this was news to me. So a recent warm spring day found me strolling Central Park’s Literary Walk, where I located Halleck’s granite statue. There he sits, with legs crossed, for all eternity. According to the Bowery Boys, his was Central Park’s first statue of an American.

*528 pages of fascinating details of NYC’s history told in a way that never fails to captivate. The Bowery Boys are the transplanted midwestern guys – Greg Young and Tom Myers – who produce award-winning podcasts about NYC, their adoptive home.   

**The mall is on the east side of the park, running roughly from 66th-72nd streets.    

***The Ugly Club was exclusive to the point of secrecy. Membership was by invitation, and open only to the handsomest and most foppish young men in NYC. They held seances and all male balls and recruited members from “what the ladies call rather pretty” and the men called “models of manly beauty.” Even so, there is no evidence that it was an exclusively homosexual body.

Halleck’s poetry is breezy, charming and witty. One can understand his popularity among readers of the day in this excerpt from “Fanny”. What many readers missed, however, was that his poem was the vengeful response to the fact that Drake withdrew from their writing partnership upon  marriage. This poem rails against matrimony, suggesting that marriage should be for money (Fanny’s father was rich!), not love.

FANNY (1819): excerpted verses; the entire poem numbers more than 1,500 lines

A decent kind of person; one whose head
   Was not of brains particularly full;
It was not known that he had ever said
   Anything worth repeating—’twas a dull,
Good, honest man—what Paulding’s muse would call
A “cabbage head”—but he excelled them all

In that most noble of the sciences,
   The art of making money; and he found
The zeal for quizzing him grew less and less,
   As he grew richer; till upon the ground
Of Pearl-street, treading proudly in the might
And majesty of wealth, a sudden light

Flash’d like the midnight lightning on the eyes
   Of all who knew him; brilliant traits of mind,
And genius, clear and countless as the dies
   Upon the peacock’s plumage; taste refined,
Wisdom and wit, were his—perhaps much more.
’Twas strange they had not found it out before.

Dear to the exile is his native land,
   In memory’s twilight beauty seen afar:
Dear to the broker is a note of hand,
   Collaterally secured—the polar star
Is dear at midnight to the sailor’s eyes,
And dear are Bristed’s volumes at “half price;”

But dearer far to me each fairy minute
   Spent in that fond forgetfulness of grief;
There is an airy web of magic in it,
   As in Othello’s pocket-handkerchief,
Veiling the wrinkles on the brow of sorrow,
The gathering gloom to-day, the thunder cloud to-morrow.


The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck
(2000), by John Hallock.

That’s So Gay: Outing Early America –  The Library Company of Philadelphia