- 27 Jun 18
Pride Week culminates in Ireland with the Dublin march, which this year surely promises to be the biggest ever. It has become a wonderfully boisterous, colourful, celebratory occasion, into which the citizenry of the capital and visitors alike have been throwing themselves with increasing abandon.
That mood is likely to be intensified with the current good weather, which will likely inspire a greater display of scanty clothing and skin than normal. Then, again, maybe not! We will have to wait until the weekend to see for sure.
To get into the mood, we wanted to mark the occasion by highlighting some of the key figures in gay lore – beginning today with a deliberately idiosyncratic selection of 10 Lesbians Who Made A Difference, including a number of prominent Irish women. Some of those selected seem to have liked men too – well, on occasion at least.
First on our list is Sappho, the Greek poet – almost certainly the most famous lesbian of all time. The word Lesbian originates from her poetry and her home island Lesbos is now a major gay tourist destination. However, Sappho was not always considered to be a gay icon. Early translators heterosexualised her poetry and changed the objects of her desire to male. Scholars now widely accept that her poetry is a celebration of “eros” between two women.
2.Eleanor Charlotte Butler and Sarah Ponsonby
The Ladies of Llangollen, as Eleanor and Sarah were known, were upper class Georgian Irish women. They scandalised respectable society at the time when they ran away together and moved to Llagollen, Wales in 1778. These two Kilkenny women made this rural Welsh idyll their home for the rest of their lives. Interest amassed around the lifestyle of these women and the couple hosted many well-known guests in their home, “Plas Newydd”. Among their visitors were Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. Eventually King George III granted them a pension.
Stein – a celebrated novelist, playwright and art collector – was openly gay throughout her life. She is most famous for her Paris salon where key figures of modernism such as F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse and Sinclair Lewis met. Stein wrote one of the earliest coming out stories, Q.E.D. She met her partner Alice B Tolkas in 1907. They are buried alongside one another in Père Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris, France.
Kathleen Lynn was a Sinn Fein politician, suffragette and doctor. Born in 1874, in Mullafarry, County Mayo, she joined the Irish Citizen Army and was chief medical officer during the 1916 Rising. She was later imprisoned for this role. She founded Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital, which closed in 1984 when it merged with the National’s Children Hospital. Lynn lived in Rathmines from 1903 to 1955 with her life-long partner Madeleine ffrench Mullen. In 1955, she was buried with full military honours.
5. Eleanor Roosevelt
First lady, diplomat and activist, Roosevelt had an intimate relationship with Lorena Hickok. While it remains uncertain that the relationship was physical, Hickok was said to be “madly in love” with Roosevelt . The pair became close in 1932 when Hickok, a journalist, was tasked with reporting on the Roosevelts during the four month period between Franklin D Roosevelt’s election and his inauguration. Roosevelt and Hickok became inseparable. On days when the were apart Roosevelt wrote Hickok letters, ten to fifteen pages in length, expressing intense physical desire. Hickok lived in the White House with the Roosevelts and ultimately found she could no longer objectively report on the first couple. The marker where her ashes are scattered reads “A.P reporter, author, activist and friend of E.R”.
6. Eileen Gray (pictured above)
Architect, furniture designer and pioneer of the modernist movement, Eileen Gray may well be Ireland’s most famous lesbian of all time, although the truth is that she should probably be properly described as bisexual. Born in Enniscorthy, Wexford in 1878, Gray enjoyed relationships with both men and women throughout her life. She lived mostly in the south of France. Her designs drew international attention afresh when her “Dragon Chair” sold at Christie’s in Paris for €22 million. Her extraordinary work can be seen at The National Museum of Ireland at Collins’ Barracks.
7. Greta Garbo
The great star of the golden age of cinema Greta Garbo was bisexual. The Swedish born actress starred in a number of major movies, including Anna Christie, Grand Hotel, Anna Karenina, Camille and Ninotchka and was nominated for an Academy Award on three occasions. She retired at the
extraordinarily young age of 35, in order to enjoy a private life. Her famous relationships included star
of the silver screen John Gilbert, photographer Cecil Beaton and silent film star Louise Brooks.
8. Billie Holiday
Eleanora Fagan – better known by her stage name Billie Holiday – had romantic liaisons with both men and women. Billie Holiday was one of the greatest singers of her generation, a seminal influence on jazz, and winner of four Grammy Awards. Holiday was linked with American actress and devastating wit Tallulah Bankhead. She had a tumultuous personal life and struggled with drug and alcohol abuse throughout. In 1959, she died from liver damage.
9. Patricia Highsmith
An American novelist and short story writer, Patricia Highsmith’s work includes The Talented Mr Ripley, Strangers on a Train and The Price of Salt – which was re-published 38 years later as Carol. Carol has since been adapted as a widely acclaimed film, starring Cate Blanchett in the title role (she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance) and Rooney Mara. While she originally published The Price of Salt under a pseudonym, Highsmith was an open lesbian, stating “The only difference between us and hetrosexuals is what we do in bed.”
10. Angela Davis
The American activist, academic and author identified as lesbian in Out magazine in 1997. Davis has been a countercultural protester since her days as a girl scout, when she picketed against racial segregation in Birmingham. She gained notoriety after her weapons were used in the Marin County Courthouse incident, when a judge was kidnapped in order to negotiate freedom for the “Soledad Brothers”. The “Soledad Brothers” were three prisoners from Soledad prison, who were accused of murdering a prison guard. J Edgar Hoover put Davis on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List for her suspected role in the ‘conspiracy’. She was the 3rd women to hold this honour. Davis was found not guilty in July 1972. John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote the song ‘Angela’ – found on their fifth studio album Sometime in New York City – in support. Davis was the honorary co-chair of the Women’s March On Washington protest.