LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Icons. In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month. Gay and Lesbian History Month was endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association and other national organizations. In 2006 Equality Forum assumed responsibility for providing content, promotion and resources for LGBT History Month. The LGBT community is the only community worldwide that is not taught its history at home, in public schools or in religious institutions. LGBT History Month provides role models, builds community and makes the civil rights statement about our extraordinary national and international contributions.
This week we profile Lance Bass, Gilbert Baker and James Beard.
Pop Singer (Born: May 4, 1979)
“The constant fear of people discovering who you really were and the inevitable shame that would fall upon you and your family dictated how you lived your life every day.”
Lance Bass is an American singer who rose to fame as a member of the pop group NSYNC, one of the best-selling boy bands of all time. NSYNC produced two Billboard No. 1 albums, “No Strings Attached” (2000) and “Celebrity” (2001), before splitting up. Bass came out as gay in a People magazine cover story in July 2006.
Born in Laurel, Mississippi, Bass was raised Southern Baptist. He sang in the church choir and in local and state performance groups. He joined NSYNC at age 16 and toured Europe with the group from 1995 to 1997. RCA Records signed the band in 1998, launching their career in the United States.
NSYNC performed five national and international concert tours and sold over 70 million records. “No Strings Attached,” the group’s second album, was the fastest-selling record in history with sales of 1.1 million copies on the day of its release. Two of the band’s best-performing singles, the No. 1 hits “It’s Gonna Be Me” and “Bye Bye Bye” appear on the album. NSYNC received eight Grammy Award nominations between 2000 and 2003, including the 2001 nomination of “Bye Bye Bye” for Record of the Year.
Bass also enjoyed a career in film, television and radio. In 2001 he guest starred on the television drama “7th Heaven.” The same year, he played the lead in the romantic comedy film “On the Line.” In 2005 Bass finished in third place on the seventh season of the television series “Dancing With the Stars.” From 2012 to 2016, he hosted “Dirty Pop with Lance Bass,” a daily radio show on Sirius XM featuring LGBT-related topics.
In addition to his entertainment endeavors, Bass is a space exploration advocate. From 2003 to 2005, he served as World Space Week’s Youth Spokesman, traveling to high schools to encourage students to explore science and space-related careers. Since 2004 he has served on the National Space Society’s board of governors.
In 2014 Bass married Ben Thigpen, a New York City hairstylist, in a ceremony on the E! channel. The broadcast made them the first same-sex couple to wed on an American television network.
The Human Rights Campaign honored Bass with its Visibility Award in October 2006. His autobiography, “Out of Sync,” debuted on the New York Times best-seller list upon its release in October 2007. NSYNC received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April 2018.
Rainbow Flag Designer (born: June 2, 1951-d. March 31, 2017)
“I love going to cities around the world and seeing the rainbow flag.”
Gilbert Baker was an American artist and LGBT activist best known for creating the rainbow flag. The flag provided a defining symbol for the LGBT civil rights movement and is considered the first and most widely recognized gay symbol today.
Growing up gay in the small rural town of Chanute, Kansas, Baker felt like an outcast. After spending a year in college, he was drafted into the army and served as a medic. He was stationed in San Francisco, where he remained for most of his life.
Baker became friends with Harvey Milk, a gay rights leader and among the first openly gay politicians elected to public office. A member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Milk asked Baker to create a symbol for the gay rights movement. Baker flew his first rainbow flag at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978, where roughly a quarter of a million marchers participated. Milk was assassinated in November of that year. Following Milk’s death, demand for Baker’s flag increased dramatically.
With the help of volunteers using trash cans of dye, Baker made his first flag in the attic of the Gay Community Center of San Francisco. The original design included eight stripes: pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for peace and purple for the human spirit.
Many years and flags later, the self-described “gay Betsy Ross” spent months creating a 30-foot wide, mile-long flag featuring just six colors of the rainbow. Commissioned in 1994 for the 25thanniversary of the Stonewall riots, it was hoisted by thousands of New York City marchers. The Guinness Book of World Records officially declared it the largest flag in the world.
In 2003 Baker was the subject of a feature-length documentary, “Rainbow Pride.” He was interviewed for the DVD of the 2008 Academy Award-winning film “Milk,” and he was featured in Dustin Lance Black’s 2017 documentary series about LGBT rights, “When We Rise.”
In 2015 the Museum of Modern Art listed the rainbow flag as one of the most important symbols globally. It continues to fly at gay marches and events around the world.
Baker died at age 65. The New York Times published his obituary.
Internationally Renowned Chef (Born: May 5, 1903 – d. January 21, 1985)
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
Dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery” by The New York Times in 1954, James Beard was a prominent American chef, culinary instructor and television personality. He is regarded as the first TV chef. Beard wrote 20 cookbooks and trained countless other acclaimed chefs.
Born in Portland, Oregon, Beard was exposed to Pacific Northwest cooking, which included seafood, moose meat and venison. His family made meals using wild berries and freshly caught fish. Chinese culture and the meals prepared by his family’s Chinese helper also influenced him, along with the culture and cuisine of France, where he spent his 20s. During the 1950s, Beard was known for bringing French cuisine to the American middle and upper classes.
After briefly attending Reed College in Portland, Beard was expelled. He believed it was due to his homosexuality. In 1937 he moved to New York City, and in 1939 he founded a successful catering company, Hors D’oeuvre, Inc., which served the Manhattan elite.
In 1940, at age 37, Beard published his first cookbook, “Hors D’oeuvre & Canapés,” which contained a collection of his catering recipes. In 1942 he garnered acclaim for elevating outdoor cooking with “Cook It Outdoors.” His best-selling cookbook, “Beard on Beard,” was released in 1973. He also wrote articles and columns for numerous magazines such as Woman’s Day and House & Garden.
In 1946 Beard began hosting television’s first live cooking show, “I Love to Eat,” on NBC. His popularity led to endorsement deals for products such as Omaha Steaks and Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer. In 1955 he created the James Beard Cooking School in New York City and Seaside, Oregon. He dedicated more than 30 years of his life to teaching and mentoring chefs at his two schools and to lecturing at women’s clubs and other civic groups around the nation.
Beard died of heart failure at the age of 81. The James Beard Foundation was established in 1986 to honor his life’s work. Since 1991 the prestigious James Beard Awards have annually honored chefs and restaurants. Early recipients included Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless. The Foundation’s scholarship program has provided more than $4.6 million in financial assistance to students and chefs to help develop and advance their culinary careers.