Ky. Voices: Celebrate cultural gifts of gay geniuses

Roger Guffey teaching at Lafayette High School in Lexington in 2009.
Roger Guffey teaching at Lafayette High School in Lexington in 2009. Herald-Leader

President Bill Clinton made a comment that has stuck in my head for years: "Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other. All of us — we need each other. We don't have a person to waste."

In the debate on same-sex marriage and gay rights, many demonize gay people as having nothing constructive to give to our society. It is time to educate people about the diverse and significant contributions gay people have made.

Contrary to some views, gays are not a recent invention but have appeared in all societies throughout recorded history. Alexander the Great was gay, as was the Roman emperor Hadrian and Richard the Lionhearted. Many Greek philosophers, including Plato, who provided the foundations of Western thought, were gay. Two Renaissance artists who produced some of the greatest pieces of Christian art, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were gay. Must we dismiss their contributions because they were gay?

Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer of The Nutcracker Suite and the 1812 Overture, was a gay man who married to satisfy social conventions — as many do today. Many of the greatest musical composers were gay: Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Katherine Lee Bates. Many of our best contemporary musicians are also gay: Elton John, Janis Ian, k.d. lang, Johnny Mathis, Stephen Sondheim and many others.

Are we willing to forego the pleasure of their music because they are gay?

Many great writers of poetry, fiction and plays were or are gay: the quintessential American poet Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, W.H. Auden, Gore Vidal, E.M. Forster, A.E. Housman, Marcel Proust, Lord Byron, Gustav Flaubert, Thornton Wilder, Noel Coward, Hart Crane, Somerset Maugham and Tennessee Williams. Shall we refuse to read their works because they are gay?

Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the infamous Enigma encoding machine used by the Nazis in World War II was gay. In 1952, the government tried to change his sexual orientation by giving him large doses of estrogen that drove him to commit suicide.

Recently, a Harvard economist dismissed the contributions of John Maynard Keynes, whose theories on macroeconomics have shaped modern thought on economics, because of the view gay people are not concerned with the future because they do not have children. This absurd argument would "prove" that none of the people mentioned here have been concerned with the future.

The world of movies and television is replete with gay people: Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Charles Laughton, Sergei Eisenstein, Raymond Burr, Paul Lynde, Robert Reed, Anthony Perkins, George Takei, Derek Jacobi, Richard Chamberlain, Ian McKellen, John Gielgud and many others.

Can we not enjoy their films and television shows? Anyone who would choose to boycott works by gay people would lead a very impoverished life.

But the ultimate irony is that the very instrument that people use to condemn gay people, the King James Bible, was commissioned by King James I of England — who was gay himself.

Various researchers have documented homosexual relationships between James and the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Somerset. When James inherited the throne from Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, it was openly joked in London that "Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen!" In keeping with the necessity of leaving heirs, James married and fathered children, but he is buried between two of his homosexual lovers in Westminster Abbey.

Will religious zealots of the world stop reading the masterful King James Bible because it was commissioned by a gay man?

Dismissing or denigrating the contributions of a whole group of people because they are different diminishes us as a civilized society, whether those groups are gay, African-American, Jewish, Catholic, Asian or whatever. Diversity in race, ethnicity, religions, gender and sexual orientation is what makes America strong. Instead of condemning people with whom we disagree, let's celebrate the unique gifts they offer us.