The queer spirit of Valentine’s Day love

Valentine’s Day is for lovers — including LGBTQ people.

‘The love that dare not speak its name’ – a phrase coined by Lord Alfred Douglas and used against his lover, Oscar Wilde, in his gross indecency trial in 1895 – is finally and forever out of the closet.
In the US, last June’s historic Supreme Court ruling – Obergefell v. Hodges – that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states saw to that.

But homophobia has never stopped us entirely from revealing our affection for one another.

For example, during the repressive 1950s McCarthy era, Gladys Bentley (1907 to 1960) – a talented pianist and blues singer, and one of the most notorious and successful African American lesbians in the US during the Harlem Renaissance – sang raunchy and salacious lyrics to popular tunes.

Bentley not only openly sang about heterosexual and homosexual sex but she also lived openly and celebrated her sexual orientation as an out lesbian.

Known to perform in her infamous white tuxedo and top hat, Bentley by today’s terms would be considered a gender-fluid lesbian, if not more. Back then, she was just know by the by lesbian parlance as a ‘butch’.

As troubling as that was for society, especially given her public lesbianism, Bentley’s most disturbing behavior was her active participation in this country’s racial and gender obsession: interracial marriage.

Had her ‘woman-friend’ been African American or another woman of color their coupling would have clearly been subjected to condemnation and jeering, but it would not have conjured up the wrath, fear and disgust that interracial marriage did.

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