At year’s end, we look back and remember those members of the LGBT community who improved our lives or made valuable contributions to our culture.
One who was left out of our obituary lists was John Lauritsen (1939-2022), who passed away at his home in Dorchester, Massachusetts on his birthday, March 5. Lauritsen’s contributions were many. “In my time I’ve been an antiwar activist, a gay liberationist, an AIDS dissident, a publisher, and an all-around freethinker,” he once wrote. “I’ve spoken out when people with common sense kept their mouths shut. I’ve exposed fraud, punctured group fantasies, and blasphemed against the prevailing superstitions.”
Lauritsen was active in the gay liberation movement since the summer of 1969 and was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Academic Union, and Columbia University’s Seminar on Homosexualities. His first contribution to LGBT history was The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935) (Times Change Press), a classic in gay studies that he wrote with his fellow activist David Thorstad.
In 1982, Lauritsen founded Pagan Press to “publish books of interest to the intelligent gay man.” The first Pagan Press books were ones highly critical of the AIDS establishment: Death Rush: Poppers and AIDS (1986), written with Hank Wilson; Poison by Prescription: The AZT Story (1990); The AIDS War (1993); and The AIDS Cult (1997), co-edited with Ian Young. In 1998 Pagan published A Freethinker’s Primer of Male Love, which I believe was Lauritsen’s masterpiece. During his last two decades Lauritsen has concentrated on the English Romantics, especially Percy Bysshe Shelley. From this newfound interest Lauritsen wrote The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (2007) and The Shelley-Byron Men (2017). Pagan Press also published classic works by Aeschylus, Lord Byron, Edward Carpenter, Plato, and John Addington Symonds.
Lauritsen called himself “an independent scholar” who has “the freedom to tell the truth as I see it, without concerns for career or ‘collegiality.’” Needless to say, his books were often controversial. His essays “Dangerous Trends in Feminism” (1976) and “Censorship and Feminism” (1978) were exceedingly critical of the women’s movement. (To his end, Lauritsen remained committed to the history and rights of gay men to the exclusion of lesbians, trans people and other colors of our rainbow.) As an “AIDS dissident” Lauritsen did not hesitate to criticize sacred cows like Larry Kramer or Anthony Fauci (already the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) or to dispute the common belief that HIV is the cause of AIDS. In The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, Lauritsen’s most famous book, he goes out on a limb by arguing that Frankenstein was written by Percy Shelley and not his wife Mary. Here again, Lauritsen showed his bias towards gay men and prejudice against women.
All in all, John Lauritsen deserves a place in last year’s obituary lists. With all his biases and prejudices, Lauritsen was a major contributor to gay studies and his Pagan Press books, at their best, were important works of gay history and literature. We must honor his memory, as one who taught us about our collective past.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.