12-12-1897 – 09-28-1966 Lillian Eugenia Smith – Born in Jasper, Florida, she grew up in Clayton, Georgia, where her father owned and operated the Laurel Falls Camp for Girls. Smith was a writer and social critic of the South. In the early 1920s, she was the musical director at a Methodist school for girls in Huzhou, China (now Wuxing, Zhejiang, China). While there, she studied Chinese philosophy and saw the similarities of suppression of the Chinese and African Americans in the US. Smith returned home in 1925 because of her father’s declining health. She took on operating the Laurel Falls Camp, a position she would hold for 23 years (1925-1948). While running the camp, Smith soon formed a lifelong relationship with one of the camp’s school counselors, Paula Snelling, of Pinehurst, Georgia. The couple remained closeted their entire lives. During that time, being gay was more of a taboo in Southern Society than desegregation. Smith never addressed her sexuality openly, although some of her literature’s characters were lesbian. In 1944, she published her bestselling novel, Strange Fruit, which dealt with interracial romance. (In Billy Holiday’s autobiography she wrote that Smith chose to name the book after her song, Strange Fruit.) The book was banned in Boston and Detroit for “lewdness” and crude language. The book was also banned from being mailed through the US Postal Service. The ban was lifted by President Franklin Roosevelt after his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, requested it. Smith fought racism all her life. In receiving an award from Fisk University, she said, “Segregation is evil; there is no pattern of life which can dehumanize men as can the way of segregation.” She died of breast cancer in 1966 at the age of 68.
12-12-1923 – 08-19-2013 Jose Julio Sarria – Born in San Francisco, California. He was the first openly gay candidate who ran for public office in the United States. He ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. Sarria put the gay vote on the map. He was also known as the Nightingale of Montgomery Street and for performing as a drag queen at the Black Cat Bar. His first serious romance with another man was with his language tutor, Paul Polish, an Austrian baron who had fled from the Nazis. Sarria and Polish fell in love, and their relationship lasted until Polish was killed in a car accident in 1947. Sarria served in the United States Army during WWII. He was discharged from the Army in 1947 as a Staff Sergeant. For his lifetime of activism, the city of San Francisco renamed a section of 16th Street in Sarria’s honor. In 2005, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Sarria.
12-12-1924 – 02-01-2013 Ed Koch – Born in The Bronx, New York City, New York. He was an American lawyer, politician, political commentator, movie critic, and reality television arbitrator. Koch served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 and served three terms as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989. While the mayor of New York City, he was criticized for not taking enough action during the AIDS crisis. Some of his critics called him a closeted gay man. A longtime friend, journalist Charles Kaiser, confirmed after Koch’s death in 2013, that the former mayor was indeed gay. Kaiser said he was not self-hating but was from a generation that did not address such matters publicly. Kaiser also said Koch regretted not doing more about AIDS but that he did take many pro-gay actions, including, while a U.S. congressman, introducing the first version of what is now known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
12-12-1952 Ken Yeager – Place of birth unknown. He is an American politician from California. He is openly gay and the first gay elected official in San Jose. He is a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. His long-time partner is Michael Hambrecht.
12-12-1960 Volker Beck – Born in Stuttgart, Germany. He is a German politician. He is openly gay. His life-partner of more than 16 years was Jacques Teyssier until Teyssier’s death in 2009. In 2014 he was elected as President of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group of the German Bundestag (legislative body). He is a supporter of same-sex marriage and has been referred to as the “Father of the German Registered Partnership Act.” In 2003, the German Bundestag decided on Beck’s initiative that the Federal Republic of Germany would erect a national memorial in the center of Berlin for homosexuals persecuted by the Nazi Party. On May 27, 2006, Beck was attacked and injured during a Gay Rights demonstration in Moscow. He has been a vocal critic of Russia’s human rights situation, especially towards the LGBT community.
12-12-1972 – 12-31-1993 Brandon Teena – Born in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was an American trans man. Teena is the person played by Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. He was raped and murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska. His violent death, along with the murder of Matthew Shepard, led to increased lobbying for hate crimes laws in the United States.
12-12-1984 Jessica Landstrom – Born in Nacka, Sweden. She was a 2012 Olympic Soccer player for Sweden. Landstrom is a professional soccer player. She has played not only for Sweden but for Germany and the United States as well. In 2014 she didn’t play but was in training with the Hammarby team for the 2015 season. She is an out lesbian and came out publicly in November 2008, to acknowledge the support she had received from her partner. Before turning professional, she had studied for a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
12-12-1991 Derrick Gordon – Born in Plainfield, New Jersey. He is an American former college basketball player. In 2014, Gordon became the first men’s basketball player in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division 1 to come out as gay and play in a game. Gordon said, “I just didn’t want to hide anymore, in any way. “ He also stated that Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA, inspired him to come out. In 2016, he became the first openly gay man to play in the March Madness tournament.