04-15-1894 – 09-26-1937 Bessie Smith – Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was an American blues singer. Nicknamed “The Empress of the Blues” she was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. Smith is regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on other jazz vocalists. She started recording in 1923. She married Jack Gee, a security guard on June 7, 1923, just as her first record was released. During the marriage – a stormy one, with infidelity on both sides – Smith became the highest paid black entertainer. Her husband was impressed by the money, but never adjusted to show business life, or to Smith’s bisexuality. On September 26, 1937, Bessie Smith was critically injured in a car accident. She died at the age of 43 at Clarkdale’s G. T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital. Her funeral was held in Philadelphia on October 4, 1937.
04-15-1933 — o5-18-1995 Elizabeth Montgomery – Born in Hollywood, California. She was an American film, stage and television actress. Her role as Samantha Stephens on the television series Bewitched made her a household name and is how she is best remembered. Montgomery was a straight ally to the LGBT community being one of the earliest celebrities to support gay rights and advocate for AIDS victims, volunteering with the AIDS Project Los Angeles and amfAR at the height of the AIDS epidemic. In 1992, she rode with Grand Marshal Dick Sargent in the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade. She died of colon cancer in 1995.
04-15-1866 – 02-22-1949 Marie Høeg – Born in Langesund, Norway. She was a Norwegian photographer and suffragette. From 1890 to 1895, Høeg lived in Finland working as a photographer. She was greatly influenced by the Finnish women’s rights movement. It was in Finland that she met her life-long partner Bolette Berg (1872 – 1944), who was five years younger than Høeg and also a photographer. The couple opened up their own photography studio in Horten, Norway. They used their studio not only for photography, but also as a meeting place for women interested in feminism and women’s suffrage. In 1903, they moved to Kristiania (present-day Oslo) and continued to work as professional photographers. Berg died in 1944, Høeg in 1949. Many of their glass negatives were discovered after her death inside a barn in the 1980s. The barn was on the property the couple owned at the end of their lives. A series of negatives in a box labelled “private” contained photographs of Berg and Høeg dressed in men’s clothes, smoking, and wearing mustaches. The 440 glass negatives are now in the collection of the Preus Museum, located in Horten, Norway.
04-15-1907 – 12-06-1955 George Platt Lynes – Born in East Orange, New Jersey. He was an American fashion and commercial photographer. In 1925, while in Paris, he became friends with Gertrude Stein, Glenway Wescott, and Monroe Wheeler. In 1927, he returned to the US and opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey. It was here that he first exhibited his photographs. The art dealer and critic, Julien Levy, exhibited Lynes photographs in his gallery. He soon received commissions from Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country, and Vogue. In 1935, he was hired to document the principal dancers and the productions of George Balanchine’s newly founded American Ballet company (now the New York City Ballet). For over ten years, Lynes had a love affair with both Monroe Wheeler, the museum curator, and Glenway Wescott, the writer. Besides his commercial photography, Lynes took photos of nude males, many of which were homoerotic. A large number of those photos were left to the Kinsey Institute after his death from lung cancer in 1955. (photograph is a self-portrait — courtesy of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery)
04-15-1916 – 05-28-1981 Lem Billings (b. Kirk LeMoyne Billings) – Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Billings met JFK at Choate, an elite preparatory school, in 1933. They became life-long friends. Billings worked on Kennedy’s successful campaign for Congress in 1946. In 1961, Billings declined Kennedy’s offer to appoint him the first head of the Peace Corps, or the director of the U.S. Travel Service. He later said, “I realized that I did not want to work for the president—because I felt it would change our relationship.” In September 1961, he accepted an appointment to the board of trustees of the National Cultural Center, which later became the Kennedy Center. He was also named to a board to plan America’s participation in the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. It was known by JFK that Billings was gay. Friends from the 1970s confirmed that Billings was gay but they were not open to discuss it. Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, said: “I suppose it’s known that Lem was gay…It impressed me that Jack (JFK) had gay friends.” One historian wrote that after the 1963 assassination of JFK, Billings was: “Probably the saddest of the Kennedy ‘widows’.” Billings died in 1981 from a heart attack.
04-15-1452 – 05-02-1519 Leonardo da Vinci – Born in the Tuscan town of Vinci, Italy. Little is known about Leonardo’s intimate relationships from his own writing. Some evidence of Leonardo’s personal relationships emerges both from historic records and the writings of his many biographers. Leonardo maintained long-lasting relationships with two pupils who were apprenticed to him as children. These were Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, who entered the household in 1490 at the age of 10, and Count Francesco Melzi, the son of a Milan aristocrat who was apprenticed to Leonardo by his father in 1506, at the age of 14, remaining with him until his death. Little is known about Leonardo’s sexuality. He left hundreds of pages of writing but very little of it is personal in nature. The only historical document concerning his sexual life is an accusation of sodomy made in 1476, while he was still at the workshop of Vercocchio. An anonymous denunciation was left in the tambour (letter box) in the Palazzo della Signoria (town hall) accusing four people, including Leonardo, of sodomizing Jacopo Saltarelli (a male prostitute). The charges were dismissed on the condition that no further accusations appear in the tambour. The same charges did appear again but were dismissed because the letter was not signed. Sodomy was also an offense for which punishment was very seldom handed down in Florence, where homosexuality was sufficiently widespread and tolerated to make the word Florenzer (Florentine) a slang word for homosexual in Germany. Leonardo’s near-contemporary biographer Vasari makes no reference to Leonardo’s sexuality whatsoever. In the 20th century, biographers made explicit reference to a probability that Leonardo was homosexual though others concluded that for much of his life he was celibate. Leonardo never married. One of the few references that he made to sexuality in his notebooks states: “The act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions.”
04-15-1970 Drake Jensen – Born in Glace Bay, Canada. He is a Canadian country music artist. In 2007, he moved to Ottawa and in 2008, married partner Michael Morin, who is also his personal manager. On January 16, 2012, he publicly announced that he is gay and told his story of severe childhood abuse and bullying. He left school in the eighth grade because of the bullying. He dedicated the video of his single, the title tract to his album, On My Way to Finding You, to the memory of Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley, who committed suicide after having been severely bullied. In May 2102, Jensen was awarded Montreal’s Foundation Émergence at their annual Coup de Chapeau (Hats Off) Award in recognition of his contribution to the fight against homophobia.
04-15-1931 Sally Miller Gearhart – Born in Pearisburg, Virginia. She grew up in the Appalachia mountains of Virginia. Gearhart is an American teacher, feminist, science fiction writer, and political activist. In 1973 she became the first out lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position when she was hired by San Francisco State University, where she helped establish one of the first women and gender study programs in the country. In her book The Future-If There is One-is-Female, she made the controversial statement that, “The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race.” She retired from teaching in 1992.
04-15-1949 Craig Zadan – Born in Miami, Florida. He is an American executive producer, director, and writer. He and his partner, Neil Meron, are the producers of the 2013 Oscars. They also formed the production company Storyline Entertainment which has had success with film musicals, such as Chicago and Hairspray. In 2008, Zadan and Meron were awarded the “Career Achievement Award” by the Casting Society of America. He has been nominated for the Emmy Award eight times, along with his co-executive producer Meron (and the respective producers). Both Zadan and Meron are out gay.
04-15-1952 – 09-07-2010 Glenn Shadix – Born in Bessemer, Alabama. He was an American actor, best known for his role as Otho Fenlock in the film Beetlejuice. He also did the voice of the Mayor of Halloween Town in The Nightmare Before Christmas. In a Truth Wins Out video that Shadix made before his death, he said that when he was 17 he told his parents that he was gay. After being told by his father that if he did not “beat this thing” he wouldn’t be allowed to be around his younger brothers and sisters, he agreed to undergo aversion therapy with a psychologist in Birmingham, Alabama. Shadix said that after the therapy, he had “this overwhelming sense of shame,” overdosed on Elavil (medication used for depression), then was in a coma for three days. After he was released from the hospital, his father told him he wanted me to live, that it would destroy my mother if I killed myself. He said he wanted me to be who I wanted to be and that he loved me. On September 7, 2010, he fell in the kitchen of his condominium and died of blunt trauma to his head.
04-15-1965 Linda Perry – Born in Springfield, Massachusetts. She is an American rock singer-songwriter and record producer. She has written and produced hit songs for several successful female singers, including Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, and Grace Slick. From 1989 to 1995, she was lead singer and primary songwriter for the rock group 4 Non Blondes. Perry won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 2004 for her song Beautiful. Perry began a relationship with Sara Gilbert in 2011. They married on March 30, 2014. Their son was born to Gilbert on February 28, 2015. Perry is stepmother to Gilbert’s son and daughter from a previous relationship.