b. January 1, 1788, London, England
d. April 19, 1824, Ottoman Empire
“The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.”
Born George Gordon, Lord Byron was a leading poet of the Romantic period. His ambiguous sexuality, flamboyant persona, and lifestyle of excess have made him a cultural and literary legend and among the first prominent bisexuals.
Byron studied at Trinity College in Cambridge, where he published his first volumes of poetry. In his early 20s, he traveled throughout the Mediterranean region and took up residency in Greece. When Byron returned to England in 1811, he published “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which garnered him a following among aristocrats and intellectuals.
Byron’s personal life was steeped in mystery. It is speculated that he had a child with his half-sister Augusta. In 1816 he spent the summer with authors Mary and Percy Shelley, with whom Byron is thought to have had more than a platonic relationship. His extravagant personality and penchant for scandal made Byron a celebrity of the Romantic era.
Lord Byron’s literary legacy is defined by his satirical epic poem, “Don Juan.” Byron’s hero, Don Juan is a fictional libertine characterized by cynicism, magnetism and rebellion.
Byron wrote openly about love and lust for both men and women. He was among the first important writers labeled as bisexual. Some scholars assert that such a label does not encompass the full complexity of the poet’s fluid sexuality. Noted literature professor Emily Bernhard Jackson stated:
“It is not so simple to define Byron as homosexual or heterosexual: he seems rather to have been both, and neither ... For Byron, sexuality was not this -ality or that -ality, not this aim or that object, not this particular yearning or that particular desire. It was just desire, and it just was.”
b. April 11, 1955, Rising Sun, Indiana
d. December 27, 1993, Los Angeles, CA
“The party that was the ’70s is over.”
Michael Callen was a pioneering AIDS activist. In 1982, when Callen was diagnosed with Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), little was known about the “gay cancer.” Those with the disease knew their days were numbered and that the disease stigmatized them. Callen did not hesitate to come out openly as a gay man with the fatal disease and to take action.
He was convinced that GRID was sexually transmitted. In 1983 Callen co-wrote one of the first guides on safe-sex practices, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic.” He appeared on television talk shows and wrote for newspapers and magazines. He became the face of AIDS, as the disease was renamed.
While Callen never advocated for the closure of bathhouses, he did believe that gay men were suffering from their own promiscuity. In 1982 he coauthored an article in the New York Native in which he declared “war on promiscuity” and argued that gay men needed to rethink their attitudes toward sex and relationships.
Callen also gained recognition as a songwriter and singer. His music reflects the frustration of living with a chronic disease but also celebrates love as a powerful force for healing. His lyrics promote loving companionship and long-term partnerships for gay men.
Callen toured internationally with the gay a capella group The Flirtations. His solo album, “Purple Heart” (1988), won wide acclaim and features the hit song “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” which he performed at the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Rights.
In 1985 Callen helped found the People With AIDS Coalition. In doing so he coined the term PWA’s (People With AIDS) to foster a self-empowered movement. He served on many boards and provided testimony for government bodies including the President’s Commission on AIDS. Callen died of AIDS-related complications.
b. December 5, 1968, San Francisco, California
“Try to love someone you want to hate, because they are just like you, somewhere inside, in a way you may never expect.”
Margaret Cho is a nationally known comedian. She was born to Korean immigrant parents in San Francisco, a place that she calls “different than any other place on Earth.” Despite this melting pot of ethnicities and sexualities, Cho faced discrimination because of her weight.
“Being bullied influenced my adult life because I grew up too fast,” Cho said. “I was in such a hurry to escape that I cheated myself out of a childhood.” Through this struggle, she found the emotional strength to advocate for those facing discrimination and ridicule.
At age 14, Cho channeled her experiences into stand-up comedy. In college she won a stand-up comedy contest. The first prize was opening for Jerry Seinfeld. Upon seeing her act, Seinfeld suggested that Cho quit college and pursue a career in comedy. Cho was among the first to bring LGBT rights out of the shadows and into the mainstream comedy circuit.
About her own sexuality Cho stated, “I refer to myself as gay, but I am married to a man. Of course, I’ve had relationships with women, but my politics are more queer than my lifestyle.” Cho’s uncensored stand-up routines often include queer politics. Her stance against bullying and discrimination earned her a GLAAD Golden Gate Award for enhancing the understanding, advocacy and visibility of the LGBT community.