Five queer men who helped change the world
Every so often, it’s worth remembering that there are some great things happening in the world and there are great people making them happen.
Some of those people are men who have sex with men and they’ve achieved some pretty significant things for the human race. Whether it’s through art, music, politics, science or activism, gay and bisexual guys are well represented in the long list of people who have changed the world.
Like our very own queer superheroes, here are some guys who helped make things just a little bit better for us all.
Rory O’Neill (Panti Bliss)
You probably know Rory O’Neill as Panti (technically Pandora Panti Bliss), the Queen of Ireland. The Emerald Isle’s most famous drag queen and gay activist, Panti got a lot of attention in the lead-up to Ireland’s 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage.
Her willingness to speak out against homophobic press, and the legal threats which followed, were discussed as far as the European Parliament, and her incredible speech on LGBT rights at the Abbey theatre has been watched nearly one million times on YouTube.
O’Neill has also been a proud advocate for people living with HIV, speaking openly about his own experience as an HIV-positive man, often with a little Panti humour.
O’Neill’s activism and the success of the ‘Yes’ vote in Ireland became the subject of the 2015 documentary The Queen of Ireland — and he also brought Panti along to campaign for another recent public decision on same-sex marriage.
b.1912 – d.1954
While he may not be a household name, Alan Turing has definitely made a difference to your household. Turing is considered the founding father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
He is most famous for cracking the ‘Enigma’ code, helping to end World War II, but you should also thank him for your computer, your smartphone, and the programming in all your favourite apps.
Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 under the UK’s anti-homosexuality laws, though he declined to defend himself, saying he saw no wrong in his actions. He accepted chemical castration to avoid prison, and ended his career in public disgrace.
Turing died two years later. While the exact circumstances are unclear, his death from cyanide poisoning may have been caused by a scientific experiment.
Homosexuality is no longer a criminal offense in the UK and Alan Turing has left a different mark more recently. Turing was posthumously pardoned in 2013, nearly 60 years after his death. In 2017, ‘Turing’s Law’ was passed in the UK, pardoning over 50,000 men convicted of homosexuality under the old laws, including the next member of our list.
b.1854 – d.1900
Most famous for his plays, including Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest, and his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde is one of English literature’s most famous queer men.
Along with his notorious appetite for handsome guys, Wilde was also romantically involved with a number of women — his wife, Constance Lloyd, was actually the third woman he proposed to.
His private life was made very public when the father of Lord Alfred Douglas, his lover, accused him of sodomy. He was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ in 1895. After serving two years in prison, Wilde moved to Paris where he died of meningitis in 1900.
Remembered as a poet, playwright, husband, father, Christian, lover and brilliant wit, Oscar Wilde is no longer, thankfully, a criminal — he was pardoned posthumously under Turing’s Law in 2017.
Well-known by his fans as Hikaru Sulu from the Star Trek universe, George Takei is an outspoken activist for LGBTI rights and a staunch campaigner for equality and diversity in all its forms.
In 2005, he came out publicly and began campaigning for same-sex marriage in the US, and he remains a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Day.
Beyond his acting and activism, he’s also tried his hand at writing and politics and in 2008 he married his partner Brad Altman, in one of the first same-sex marriages in West Hollywood.
Oh – and he does social media better than anyone you know. His Facebook page has over 9.5 million followers.
b.1946 – d.1991
By now you’ve probably seen Bohemian Rhapsody, the (controversial) biopic about Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Whatever your thoughts on the movie, the man himself remains one of the greatest musicians of all time. He also handled his sexuality on his own terms. He was described as an openly gay “posing, pouting, posturing tart” on-stage — with a love of gay bars off-stage — while at the same time keeping his personal life very private.
Mercury’s death from AIDS-related illness in 1991 was a milestone in the history of HIV, drawing the attention of the world to the epidemic. The year after he died, his Queen bandmates founded the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity which continues to donate millions of dollars to HIV/AIDS projects in 56 countries.