February is LGBTQ+ History Month here in the UK so we want to highlight the impact of the LGBTQ+ community, both past and present, in the vintage world. You can see some present stories over on our Instagram throughout the month.
We are lucky to now live in a time that is much more tolerant towards LGBTQ+ people than it was in the past; there is more work to do to make it a safer, more loving place to be, but we are on the right path. This has not always been the case. From loving who you want to love being illegal, to being shunned from family, to intolerance in the work place, the journey towards more equality has been a long and arduous one.
Along the way, there have been beacons of light who have shone in the history of LGBTQ+ and we'd like to introduce some to you. Some might be names you are familiar with, some maybe not so much.
Virginia Woolf is just one of most famous LGBTQ+ authors of the early 20th century. Her work was filled with feminist ideas, and, although Woolf was married to a man, she often explored same-sex love affairs. The most famous being with her life-long friend, Vita Sackville-West, which was partially immortalised in Woolf's novel Orlando.
Moving forward a couple of decades to the 1950s and 1960s, it was still illegal to be a gay man (although lesbianism was never actually against the law in the UK, it was strongly discouraged). During this time, in what many would call the Golden Age of Hollywood, many LGBTQ+ people had to hide their true sexuality to ensure that they would still be able to work, and still have their day-to-day freedoms. Although many never confirmed their sexuality, there were a handful who managed their public careers and their private lives in sync.
Tab Hunter, best known for westerns and war movies, genres that were so popular in the mid-century years, and then later for an appearance as Mr Stuart in Grease 2, was arrested for 'lewdness' in the early 1950s but tried to not let this affect his career. In 2005, Tab came out as a gay man and married his life partner, Allan Glaser, in 2013.
Rock Hudson is linked to Tab Hunter in the unfortunate way that the two men shared the same agent, Henry Wilson. Wilson gave up Hunter's pre-career arrest story to the press to preserve Hudson's reputation in Hollywood, elevating one man whilst pushing down the other. Rock Hudson, like so many, married a woman to hide his sexuality and his relationships. In 1984, Rock Hudson was diagnosed with HIV, and in October 1985, he sadly died of AIDS.
Another interlinked (although they disputed it) story of LGBTQ+ Hollywood icons is that of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. Both denied that they had had a love affair before they both found fame in Hollywood, but the stories always linger.
Garbo, who preferred women to men but had relationships with both, wrote several love letters to Swedish actress Mimi Pollack who she described to the conflict between doing as society dictates and the overwhelming feeling that she and Pollack should be together.
Marlene Dietrich was openly bisexual, enjoying a non-conforming lifestyle in 1920s Berlin before taking Hollywood by storm in the 1930s. And what a storm it was. Morocco came out in 1930 and featured Dietrich's famous tuxedo and top hat combo, plus a scandalous kiss on the lips with another woman. Although same sex relationships had been shown on screen in Europe, this was one of the first times such an act had gone mainstream in Hollywood.
That was just a little dip into the pool of LGBTQ+ icons within the vintage world. There are so many more, each with stories to tell and love to give. From rights activists such as Marsha P. Johnson, who was a figurehead of the Stonewall uprising and a hero to draq and trans folk everywhere, to musicians like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, the stories should be told and heard to keep the momentum of equality going.