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LGBT History: Valentine's Day Edition

Today is Valentine's Day, which is the day when lovers celebrate their romantic affection for one another. While most commercial representations of this traditional festival depict the relationships of heterosexual couples, we know that the rituals of the day are observed just as earnestly by same-sex couples. It is, therefore, serendipitous that the first weekly installment of the Ameriqueer LGBT History Project is posted on Valentine's Day.

On February 14, 1953, the trailblazing lesbian couple of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon celebrated Valentine's Day by moving in together in an apartment in the Castro District of San Francisco. The couple shared their lives together until Martin's death in 2008. Throughout their decades-long relationship, Martin and Lyon were leaders in the fight for gay rights and women's rights. The two women were among the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, became the first lesbian couple to join the National Organization for Women, and were instrumental in organizing the Alive B. Toklas Democratic Club.

On February 15, 1820, Susan B. Anthony was born. Although some modern conservatives have attempted to co-opt the image of Susan B. Anthony to turn her into a pro-life icon, the truth is that Susan B. Anthony is a great hero both to progressives and to feminists. While it is not specifically known that Anthony was either lesbian or bisexual, she never married, nor did she bear children. The encyclopedia entry about her at provides an excellent summary of the many close relationships she is known to have had with other women in the early abolitionist and suffrage movements.

On February 16. 1918, the controversial article “Cult of the Clitoris” is published in what could be the earliest known case of celebrity “outing.” Among the personalities consumed by the subsequent libel suit and public scandal were lesbian dancer and musician Maud Allan, anti-gay crusader and British MP Noel Pemberton Billing, and Oscar Wilde's infamous lover Lord Bosie Douglas.

On February 17, 1994, openly gay American Journalist Randy Shilts died. Among Shilts' many accomplishments were three groundbreaking tomes: a biography of Harvey Milk, an account of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and an examination of the history of gays serving in the US military.

On February 18, 2007 pioneering lesbian activist Barbara Gittings died. Gittings worked closely with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in the Daughter's of Bilitis, and was also instrumental in persuading the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of disorders.

On February 19, 2007, the state of New Jersey began accepting applications for same-sex civil unions. The legislature passed the civil union law after having been ordered by the state's Supreme Court to provide for equal treatment of same-sex couples under the law.

On February 20, 1893, tennis player Bill Tilden was born. Tilden, known as one of the greatest male tennis players of all time, was forced by societal homophobia to live his life as a closeted gay man. In the late 1940's, Tilden had two seperate run-ins with the police in which he was charged with “morals” crimes. The scandal resulting from his arrests caused Tilden's relationships with the professional tennis world to become strained. Eventually, unable to make a living despite his legendary athletic career, Tilden died penniless and alone.

All dates and information are based upon publicly published data (links provided where possible). If there are sources that provide contradictory data, please pass your sources along. If you have suggestions for other events that should be included in the list of important dates in LGBT history, please pass those along as well. Any suggestions and feedback are, of course, encouraged.


Ameriqueer said…
The day Barbara Gittings died was so sad. I'm glad you're memorializing her. The work that she did is so important to ALL of us--we wouldn't be who we are now without her. Yet so many of these young queers will never know who she is! I think on the 17th I'm wearing big giant round glasses in her memory! I'll always remember her best as she looked in the After/Before Stonewall documentaries!!
therealpatrick said…
Barbara Gittings is one of the great heroes. We could use her help today.

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