On This Gay Day: Maureen Colquhoun was born in Eastbourne

Maureen Colquhoun was born on this day in 1928

In 1974 Colquhoun made history when she became the first lesbian, who had been public about her sexuality, to be elected as a member of the British Parliament.

Born Maureen Smith in 1928, she was raided in a politically active household in Eastbourne. After completing her education at the London School of Economics she worked as a literary research assistant.

In 1950 she married Keith Colquhoun and the couple had three children.

She first ran for parliament as a member of the Labour party at the 1970 election, but was unsuccessful. She was elected to serve as a councilor at Shoreham-by-Sea from 1971 to 1974, where she was the only woman on the council.

In 1973 she left her husband and began a relationship with Barbara ‘Babs’ Todd who was the publisher of Sappho magazine. The couple would remain together until Todd’s death in 2020.

At the 1974 General Election Colquhoun was elected to parliament. During her time in parliament she argued for sexual equality, highlighting that the majority of positions and boards appointed by Ministers were filled by men.

She also introduced a bill to decriminalise prostitution, turning up to parliament with fifty sex workers to launch the campaign. Colquhoun also earns a place in the history books as the first person to request being addressed as ‘Ms’ in the parliament.

Colquhoun’s parliamentary career came to an end in 1979 when she was deselected by her party. Her local branch members complained that they had selected a married mother with three children and she’d turned out to be a lesbian.

“She was elected as a working wife and mother… this business has blackened her image irredeemably” the local party chair Norman Ashby is quoted as saying.

Despite being dropped by the party as an MP, Maureen Colquhoun remained in Westminster working as an assistant to other MPs. She went on to serve on the Hackney London Borough Council from 1982 to 1990.

She died, aged 92, on 2nd February 2021.

Katherine Lee Bates

Katherine Lee Bates was born in 1859 

Poet and author Katherine Lee Bates was born on this day in 1859. She wrote many books on social reform and became an academic, but her poetry has been her legacy.

In 1895 the poem America the Beautiful was first published. Bates original poem was simply titled America. In 1910 an updated version of the poem was authored and put to music by church organist Samuel A Ward. Despite creating one of America’s most patriotic songs Bates and Ward never met.

Ward died before the song became the popular anthem it is today for Americans. Bates however lived until 1929, and by this stage the song was well established.

Bates was a Professor of English Literature at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she lived with close friend and companion Katherine Coman. Some of their letters suggest they were in a sexual relationship, while other scholars have suggested their relationship was a ‘Boston Marriage’ – and purely platonic.

Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2019 Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award is the highest civilian honour in the USA.

The award was received by his nephew Stuart Milk and was presented by President Barack Obama.

On the same day the same ward was given to Chita Rivera, Sidney Poitier, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Billie Jean King, Stephen Hawking, Sandra Day O’Connor and several other high achieving individuals.

Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. After three unsuccessful campaigns he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978.

During his eleven months in office Milk helped pass a string of ordinances that helped the LGBT community in San Francisco.

In November 1978 he was assassinated by Dan White, another supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back. White also shot and killed the city’s Mayor George Moscone.

Sean Penn won the Academy Award for his portrayal of the politician in the biopic ‘Milk’.  The films screenwriter Dustin Lance Black also picked up an Oscar.

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.” is one of many quotes attributed to Milk. He also advocated for all LGBTIQ+ people to come out and be proud of their sexuality.

Prior to his assassination Milk had been receiving a lot of death threats. He recorded his thoughts on tape recording his ‘political will’ saying; “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door”.

OIP Staff, This post was first published in 2021 has been updated. 

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