Today in LGBT History – July 23

There’s a far side to this American disgrace, a way to contain the damage, and it’s both utterly straightforward and entirely effective. It’s called voting.   —The New York Times

Learning our history IS resistance! Thanks for taking this journey with me. Now go write your story!

Today in LGBT History – July 23

1726, UK – Margaret Clap (died c. 1726) is convicted for of “keeping a disorderly house of the entertainment of sodomites.” Better known as Mother Clap, she was notable for running a molly house, an inn or tavern primarily frequented by homosexual men. She was also heavily involved in the ensuing legal battles after her premises were raided and shut down. Primarily targeted by the Society for the Reformation of Manners, the house had been under surveillance for two years. While not much is known about her life, she was an important part of the gay subculture of early 18th-century England. At the time sodomy in England was a crime under the Buggery Act 1533, punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or the death penalty. Despite this, particularly in larger cities, private homosexual activity took place. To service these actions there existed locations where men from all classes could find partners or just socialize, called molly houses, “molly” being slang for a gay man at the time. One of the most famous of these was Clap’s molly house.

1816 – Charlotte Cushman (July 23, 1816 – February 18, 1876) was born in Boston. She was an opera singer but when her voice began to fail she turned to acting, becoming America’s first great performer. Cushman did not limit her roles to females, earning accolades for Hamlet and Romeo. It may have been a hint about her own life. Cushman was involved romantically with just about every major female of her time including Rosalie Sully,  one of America’s first female foreign correspondentswriter Anne Hampton Brewster(October 29, 1818 – April 1, 1892), writer and actress Matilda Hays(8 September 1820 – 3 July 1897), African American/Native American sculptor Edmonia Lewis(c. July 4, 1844 – September 17, 1907),  the first female professional sculptor Harriet Hosmer(October 9, 1830 – February 21, 1908), sculptor Emma Stebbins(1 September 1815 – 25 October 1882), and actress, Emma Crow. In 1869, Cushman underwent treatment for breast cancer. Stebbins ignored her own sculpting career and devoted all of her time to caring for Cushman. In 1915 she was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Her Charlestown home is a site on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.

1899 – Birth date of Ruth Charlotte Ellis (July 23, 1899 – October 5, 2000) who was an open lesbian and an LGBT rights activist. Her life was the subject of the documentary directed by Yvonne Welbon, Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis at 100. Until her death in 2000 at age 101, she was thought to be the oldest living “out” African American lesbian. Her parents were born in the last years of slavery in Tennessee.  She came out as a lesbian around 1915, and graduated from Springfield High School in 1919, at a time when fewer than seven percent of African Americans graduated from secondary school. In the 1920s, she met the only woman she ever lived with, Ceciline “Babe” Franklin. They moved together to DetroitMichigan, in 1937 where Ellis became the first American woman to own a printing business in that city. She made a living printing stationery, fliers, and posters out of her house. Ellis and Franklin’s house was also known in the African American community as the “gay spot”. It was a central location for gay and lesbian parties, and also served as a refuge for African American gays and lesbians. Although Ellis and Franklin eventually separated, they were together for more than 30 years. Franklin died in 1973.Throughout her life, Ellis was an advocate of the rights of gays and lesbians, and of African Americans. She died in her sleep at her home on October 5, 2000.

1909 – Samuel M. Steward (July 23, 1909 – December 31, 1993) is born in Woodsfield, Ohio. He hated teaching and students so much he gave it up to become a tattoo artist. When he wasn’t tattooing he was feeding information about the tattoo subculture to Alfred Kinsey. He wrote under the name Phil Andros and became one of the 20th century’s greatest porn writers. Unlike modern gay porn, Steward’s characters spouted Shakespeare while they had sex with handsome young men. Starting in 2001, Steward’s biographer Justin Spring tracked down Steward’s archive and began writing Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade, which was ultimately published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010. The book was the recipient of many literary honors, and was a finalist for the National Book Award

1924, UK – Birth date of Gavin Lambert  (23 July 1924 – 17 July 2005), a British screenwriter, novelist and biographer who lived for part of his life in Hollywood. His final biography was Natalie Wood: A Life(2004) where he claimed that Wood frequently dated gay and bisexual men including director Nicholas Ray (August 7, 1911 – June 16, 1979)and actors Nick Adams (July 10, 1931 – February 7, 1968), Raymond Burr  (May 21, 1917 – September 12, 1993), James Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955), Tab Hunter (July 11, 1931 – July 8, 2018) , and Scott Marlowe (November 28, 1932 – January 6, 2001). Lambert said he was also involved with Ray and that Wood supported playwright Mart Crowley (born August 21, 1935)(a later lover of Lambert’s) in a manner that made it possible for him to write his play The Boys in the Band(1968). Lambert was also a biographer and novelist, who focused his efforts on biographies of gay and lesbianfigures in Hollywood.

1944 – Birth date of novelist Lisa Alther  (born July 23, 1944). Alther’s most recent book, published in spring 2007, is a nonfiction work entitled Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree, the Search for My Melungeon Ancestors. As in others of Alther’s novels, lesbianism is portrayed as one of several possible versions of how one might live one’s life. Alther’s heroines tend not to have a single sexual identity but move from lesbian relationships to heterosexual ones, or vice versa.

1985 – A publicist for Rock Hudson (November 17, 1925 – October 2, 1985) announces that he is being treated for inoperable liver cancer in Paris. The AIDS epidemic got much needed publicity and support after it was revealed that Hudson actually had AIDS.

1985 – After a two-year legal battle, a Minnesota judge grants custody of Sharon Kowalski to her father rather than her lover, Karen Thompson. After Kowalski was severely disabled, her father put her in a nursing home and forbade visits by Thompson. Thompson continued the legal fight, but it was more than three years before she saw Kowalski again. In re Guardianship of Kowalski478 N.W.2d 790 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991), is a Minnesota Court of Appeals case that established a lesbian‘s partner as her legal guardian after she became incapacitated following an automobile accident. Because the case was contested by Kowalski’s parents and family and initially resulted in the partner being excluded for several years from visiting Kowalski, the gay community celebrated the final resolution in favor of the partner as a victory for gay rights. Karen Thompson received several awards for her work to achieve LGBT equality, including 2012, “100 Women We Love” from Go Magazine, the Liberty Award from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the 1989 Annual Humanitarian Award from the American Psychological Association. Together Thompson and Sharon Kowalski received the 1990 Woman of Courage Award from the National Organization for Women, the 1991 Feminist of the Year Award from the Feminist Majority Foundation, and a 1990 Creating Change Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

1987 – At its national convention in Miami, Florida, The Catholic Gay organization Dignity voted to peacefully challenge the Vatican’s Ratzinger letter that referred to homosexuality as “a strong tendency to behavior which is intrinsically evil.” It opposed civil rights for gays and lesbians, barred churches from allowing organizations that do not agree with church teachings on homosexuality from using church facilities, and suggested that anti-gay violence should not come as a surprise to society. On the same day in San Francisco, several groups protest the Pope’s visit, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Jewish holocaust survivors.

1987- President Ronald Reagan announces the formation of a presidential commission on AIDS. None of the 13 members was an expert on AIDS. It includes Richard DeVos, political ally of Pat Robertson; homophobic New York Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor; and Penny Pullen, an associate of homophobe Phyllis Schlafley. Conservatives had a hissy-fit over the selection of Dr. Frank Lilly, a medical researcher who said that “As far as I know, I’m the only gay on the panel. “It was viewed as an embarrassment by medical authorities, a joke by the gay community, and a fiasco by several members of the Reagan administration.

2001, Canada – Eight British Columbia couples took the fight for legalized gay and lesbian marriage to the BC Supreme Court. They argued that the federal definition of marriage (between a man and a woman) bans gays and lesbians from marrying and is therefore unconstitutional.

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(Historical information obtained from a variety of sources including QUIST at,, Lavender Effect,, Arron’s Gay Info, All Things Queer, RS Levinson, Amara Das Wilhelm,, Safe Schools Coalition, and/or Wikipedia. If you wish to edit an item or add an item, please send an email to me at Thanks!)

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