On This Gay Day: Remembering Dr. James Barry

Only after his death colleagues discovered Dr Barry had been assigned female at birth

Dr James Mirandus Steuart Barry died on this day in 1865. His career saw him travel across the British Empire in his role as a military doctor, and he is credited with improving the lives of wounded soldiers alongside the health of local populations.

He rose to the position of Inspector General, the second highest rank in the medical section of the armed forces. It was only after he passed away that colleagues discovered he had been assigned female at birth, and had lived all of his adult life as a male.

Barry is believed to have been around 75 years old when he died, his exact year of birth is not known. Born Margaret Ann Bulkley in Cork, Ireland, Barry began living as a male just before entering university in Edinburgh in 1809. He took his mother’s maiden name as his new last name.

He qualified as a doctor in 1812, and then moved to London where he continued training to become a surgeon. He joined the army and in 1815 was sent to South Africa, where he became the personal physician of Governor Lord Somerset, who promoted his to the rank of Colonial Medical Inspector.

During his 10 years service in Cape Town he is credited with making significant improvements to sanitation and water systems, improving conditions for enslaved people, prisoners and mentally ill people, as well as supporting people suffering from leprosy. He also undertook one of the first documented caesarean sections where both the mother and child survived.

In 1827 he was promoted to the rank of Surgeon to the Forces, and the following year was transferred to Mauritius. He went absent with out leave in 1929 when he heard that Lord Somerset had fallen ill. Barry returned to England to treat Somerset, and remained there until his benefactor passed away in 1931.

He was subsequently assigned to serve in Jamaica, Saint Helena, Leeward Uslands and Winward Islands, and then Corfu. In 1851 he was transferred to Malta, and in 1857 moved to Canada.

Throughout his career Barry is remembered for fighting for better conditions for prisoners, soldiers and their families, and people with long term illnesses. There are accounts that describe his persona as being tactless, but he is also documented as having a good bedside manner as a doctor.

Throughout his life Barry was a vegetarian and shunned alcohol. He also employed the same servant throughout his career South African man John Joseph Danson followed Barry across the globe and worked for Barry until the doctor passed away.

He was forced to retire from the army in 1859 due to ill health and his advancing age. He spent the final six years of his life in London.

Barry’s life has been featured in several books, plays and songs.  This June author E. J. Levy released the novel The Cape Doctor, and actor Rachael Weisz has previously spoken about a film project she’s developing on Barry’s life.


A Chorus Line opened on Broadway in 1975

The musical A Chorus Line opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on this day in 1975. It ran for 6,137 performances, closing 15 years later in 1990. It holds the record as Broadways 7th longest running show.

It won 9 Tony Awards in 1975, including Best Musical, and in 1976 won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1984 it was given a special Tony Award when it became Broadways longest running musical – it’s longevity subsequently beaten by Les Miserables, Wicked, Cats, The Lion King, Chicago, and Phantom of the Opera.

With music by Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, A Chorus Line tells the story of performers auditioning for a part in a Broadway musical.

After whittling the hopefuls down to just 17 performers, the Director announced there are just 8 parts up for grabs, four male roles and four female. To decide who gets a job, the director asks the dancers to share a little about their background.

The story gives a glimpse into the lives of each performer and their journey from childhood to the stage.

One of the dancers Greg Gardner speaks about his homosexuality, while Paul San Marco painfully recalls his start in entertainment as a drag performer and his parent’s reaction when they discovered what he did a living.

The well-known songs from A Chorus Line include the powerful What I Did for Love, and the show’s finale One. A film version of the musical came out in 1985. It was directed by Sir Richard Attenborough and starred Michael Douglas.


In 1985 Rock Hudson confirmed that he was living with HIV

Rock Hudson was a massive Hollywood star in the 1950’s and 60’s. The heart-throb actor kept his homosexuality hidden out of fear it would ruin his career.

In the early 1950’s his agent kept stories out about him being gay out of the press by trading revelations about lesser successful clients. Shortly after avoiding the tabloid scandals Hudson married his agent’s secretary to keep up the pretense that he was straight.

One of Hudson’s most loved films is the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk which saw him star opposite Doris Day. His other well known films include Giant, A Farewell to Arms and Ice Station Zebra.  

In the 1970’s he moved into television staring in the series McMillan and Wife and appearing on the hit TV show Dynasty. 

In 1985 speculation about the actors health surfaced after he appeared at an event looking extremely gaunt. On July 16th Hudson appeared alongside Doris Day to promote a new television project they pair had collaborated on.

Hudson’s publicist denied that the actor had contracted AIDS. At the time HIV had not been discovered as the cause of the disease, and little was known about the condition.

A few days later the actor collapsed in his room at The Ritz Hotel in Paris. His publicists announced to the world that Hudson had inoperable liver cancer, but four days on 25th July 1985 later it was announced that the iconic screen star did in fact have have AIDS.

Hudson passed away in October 1985, he was 59 years old.  He became one of the first high profile AIDS related deaths.

His acknowledgement that he had the disease is seen as a major turning point in the fight against AIDS, after his death celebrities were more willing to take part in fundraising activities and there was a major upturn in financial donations to research efforts.

Nightclub impresario Steve Rubell died in 1989 

Steve Rubell found success as the co-founder of legendary nightclub Studio 54.

Rubell and business partner Ian Schrager opened their famous disco in an old New York television studio on West 54th street in 1977. Rubell was known for deciding who could come in the club, judging people’s choice of clothes and haircut and turning away many at the door.

Studio 54 became a famous hangout for celebrities with Andy Warhol, Bianca Jager, Truman Capote, Diana Ross, Liza Minelli and fashion designer Halston becoming club regulars.

In 1978 the club was raided for tax invasion and the owners were accused of skimming USD$2.5 million off the clubs income and not declaring the earnings to the government. Rubell and Schrager both sentenced to three and half years in prison, but ended up serving just 13 months.

The business pair went on to open Morgans hotel in New York with Schrager going on to build a hotel business empire. Rubell opened another nightclub, Palladium, in conjunction with club promoter Peter Gatien.

Rubell kept his homosexuality hidden for most of his life. In 1985 he discovered he had contracted HIV and he soon received an AIDS diagnosis. He died on this day in 1989, his death listed as hepatitis and sceptic shock complicated by AIDS.

Actor Mike Myers portrayed Rubell in 1998 drama 54. 

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