Undated vintage photograph of the poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Photo credit: Culver Pictures, Inc. Bohemian novelist Floyd Dell, before seducing Millay and becoming her lover, remarked to her, "You are still a virgin. You have merely had homosexual affairs with girls in college."[9] Years later when interviewed he recalled, "It was impossible to understand [her] . . . I've often thought she may have been fonder of women than of men."[10] Although she married, she and her husband "lived," by her own account, "like two bachelers."[11] In the late 1920s Vincent (as she was known in college) was arrested for protesting on behalf of two anarchists whose trial she felt was unjust.[12] In her 1927 essay, Fear, she rebuked those individuals inclinded to remain silent in the face of wrong. To them she declared, "You are as cross as an old dog asleep on the hearth if I shake you and try to get you out into the rainy wind. This is because what you most want out of life is not to be disturbed."[13]

The people profiled here fought at the forefront of the quest for human progress. Most or all of them have made it onto pages of mainstream history books (even while their alternative natures, loves, and desires were edited out). Their stories are the main point here. An intriguing question, nonetheless, lingers.

What about the queer folks (the ones, as yet, unknown) who strove beside Jane, Carl, Esther, and the others? Some of the unnamed LGBT heroes appear here. One would be the gay nurse who comforted Kiyoshi Kuromiya and, under the noses of racist authorities, supplied him a crucial list of media contacts. Another would be the peace advocate with whom David Dellinger had a “short-run sexual liaison.”[1] Betty Dellinger commented that her husband may have had homosexual interests—“because young men just clung to him so often.”[2] She revealed that “his most intimate relationships were with young men.”[3] Conceivably, some of those males were homosexual or bisexual activists collaborating with him for radical peace.

Of the “freedom riders” who, with courage and a mere bus ticket in hand, defied institutionalized racism, was Aaron Henry the only bisexual? Of the resolute dissidents who confronted a centuries-old status quo of racism, and sexism too, was Pauli Murray the only one with transgender feelings? To say that they were the only ones, smacks of crazy talk.

We may never know many of the names of other LGBT ancestors who joined efforts to abolish slavery, exploitation, and poverty, to fulfill and safeguard civil liberties and human rights, to replace perpetual war-making with radical peace, or to achieve real justice and decent standards of living for everyone. Smug homophobia as evidenced by Tom Hayden, “gay-baiting” campaigns as waged against bisexual Greg Calvert, anti-lesbian bigotry that kept Bettina Aptheker “highly closeted” for years, and the kind of social prejudice that “sometimes” got Dr. Pauli Murray “into trouble” because of her transgender “pattern of life,” made masking transgressive sexual and gender natures compelling, if not imperative.[4][5][6]

No surprise that during a West Coast anti-war action, the Vietnam Day Moratorium in October 1969, the Gay Liberation Theater group unfurled a particular banner. It declared, “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me a Queer.”[7] Our nation owes much to individuals, whether famous or less known, who are part of our LGBT heritage, but it is a nation that—by continuing to deny LGBT people full equality—willfully and disgracefully continues to fall short in gratitude. So, we must—as Mrs. Gross' lover, the relentless suffragist Susan B. Anthony, once proclaimed—agitate, agitate, agitate, until the full measure of our rights is achieved. Until that measure is met, what the nonchalant, bisexual poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, called the “blue hem of Justice,” remains dragged through the mire.[8] 


1. David Dellinger, From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter (New York: Pantheon, 1993), 454.

2. Andrew E. Hunt, David Dellinger: The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Revolutionary (New York: New York University, 2006), 105.

3. Hunt, 105.

4. Tom Wells, The War Within: America's Battle over Vietnam (Lincoln: iUniverse, 2005), 216,

5. Bettina F. Aptheker, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, and Became a Feminist Rebel (Emeryville: Seal, 2006), 299.

6. Sarah Azaransky, The Dream Is Freedom: Pauli Murray and American Democratic Faith (New York: Oxford University, 2011), 22.

7. Justin David Suran, “Coming Out against the War: Antimilitarism and the Politicization of Homosexuality in the Era of Vietnam,” American Quarterly 53, no. 3 (September 2001): 468, PDF,

8. Edna St. Vincent Millay, Fear (New York: Distributed by Sacco-Vanzetti National League, n.d.), n.p.

9. Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: a History of Lesbian Life in Twenthieth-Century America (New York: Penquin, 1992), 86.

10. Faderman, 87.

11. Faderman, 87.

12. Faderman, 85.

13. Millay, n.p.