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On This Gay Day | Singer and actor Judy Garland died in 1969

Judy Garland died in her London apartment on this day in 1969, she was aged just 47 but she’d already had a massive career in Hollywood and on the stage.

Garland found fame as a child star, most famously appearing as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. She was born Frances Gumm and began her career performing alongside her two older sisters in a vaudeville act. She moved from being a child star into one of Hollywood’s leading ladies of the 1940s and 1950s.

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She often appeared alongside Mickey Rooney, and screen idol Gene Kelly, and collaborated several times with her second husband director Vincente Minnelli. Her memorable films include Easter Parade, A Star is Born, Meet Me in St Louis and many others.

While she is remembered for the many musicals she starred in, Garland also took on dramatic roles, and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Judgement at Nuremberg.

She was the first woman to win a Grammy for Album of the Year, the youngest person to be awarded the Cecile B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award, and she had her own TV variety show that is still being replayed today.

Throughout her life Garland struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues. She was often let go from films because she was unable to complete them, replaced by other actors.

She was married five times, and had three children. Her daughters Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft have gone on to be stars in their own right.

Garland’s death was ruled an accidental overdose of barbiturates, a result of many years of substance abuse. Throughout her career Garland had always enjoyed a huge following from gay men, which only increase in the years after her death.

In the 1960’s Garland was asked by a reporter how she felt about her homosexual following. “I couldn’t care less. I sing to people!” she replied.

It’s often been reported that the Stonewall Riots which occurred on June 28th 1969, were sparked by Garland’s death but this has been determined to be largely folklore. Composer Stephen Merritt from The Magnetic Fields wrote the song ’69: Judy Garland about the idea that the two events were connected.


Opera singer Sir Peter Pears was born on this day in 1910

His career was closely linked with his partner composer Benjamin Britten, they worked together and were a couple for nearly 40 years.

The English tenor performed more than 10 different roles in operas written by Britten, and they were also highly regarded as recitalists of works by other composers, especially the lieder works of Schubert and Schumann.

Pears began performing and made his first recording in the 1930’s. He met the composer Benjamin Britten in 1936 through a mutual friend. When their friend was killed in a car crash in 1937, they volunteered to clear his cottage of possessions, and it was during this few days their friendship – which at first was platonic-  was cemented.

Two years later the pair travelled to North America and it was during this time they became romantically involved. Britten began writing song cycles for Pears and they collaborated and remained a couple until their respective deaths.

In 1948 the couple created the Aldeburgh Festival, in a small seaside community in Suffolk. It still runs today and is a major cultural event in the region. Pears was awarded a CBE in 1957 and was knighted in 1978.

Britten died of congestive heart failure in 1976, aged just 63. Pears died a decade later in Aldeburgh, aged 75. He was buried next to Pears in the local church.


Jimmy Somerville was born on this day in 1961

Somerville found success as the lead singer of 80’s band Bronski Beat, a trio of openly gay men whose catchy dance songs featured strong political messages. Their debut album Age of Consent contained the hits Smalltown Boy and Why.

Smalltown Boy told the story of a young man who leaves the family home because he is gay, the song was accompanied by a dramatic narrative video.

The band’s second hit Why also highlighted gay prejudice in its lyrics. The album’s titled highlighted that the age of consent for homosexual acts in Britain at the time was 21, while it was 16 for heterosexual acts.

Somerville left Bronski Beat before their second album was recorded. The band went on to have more hits with a new singer.

In 1985 Somerville teamed up with Richard Coles and formed a new band, The Communards. The band had their greatest success with covers of 70’s disco hits like Don’t Leave Me This Way and Never Can Say Goodbye.

In 1988 Somerville launched his solo career which has spawned five solo albums and a whole bunch of chart and underground hits including Heartbeat, Laydown and a killer cover of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel Mighty Real. Over the years he’s performed in Perth as part of our annual Pride celebrations.


In 1982 singer Johnny Mathis came out

In an interview with Us magazine published on this day in 1982 singer Johnny Mathis came out. Over his career the singer has sold over 100 million albums.

Mathis later commented that he was disappointed with the interview because he believed the comment he had made was ‘off the record’, and the magazine had effectively outed him without his permission.

In 2006 he revealed that he never spoke about his sexuality again due to the high number of death threats he received following the publication of the Us article.

Mathis has had over 200 singles during his career and 71 charting hits around the globe. He’s one of only four artists to have five albums concurrently on the US Billboard charts, alongside Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, and Prince – who achieved the record posthumously.


Leonard P Matlovich died on this day in 1988

On September 8th, in 1975, US airman and Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovich became the first serving member of the US military to purposefully ‘out’ himself.

Matlovich also became the first openly gay person to appear on the cover of a major weekly magazine in the USA.

The groundbreaking issue of TIME magazine revealed Matlovich as a serving member of the US forces who was declaring that he was gay. It made the serviceman one of the most well know gay people in America, next to politician Harvey Milk.

Matlovich worked in the Airforce teaching incoming servicemen that racism was not acceptable within the forces, and he saw a lot of parallels between racism and the discrimination of gay people.

Matlovich officially informed his superiors of his sexuality to create a test case about discrimination within the military. Matlovich was honourably discharged from the service.

Commenting on his discharge Matlovich said,”Maybe not in my lifetime, but we are going to win in the end.”

It would be another 36 years before the USA military removed all forms of discrimination from their rule book.

He went on to volunteer on many gay rights campaigns and following his diagnosis of contracting HIV, he became a vocal campaigner for the rights of positive people.

He passed away on this day in 1988, aged just 45. He was buried at the Congressional Cemetery and his tombstone states the famous quote;

“When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Technical Sargeant Leonard P Matlovich

OIP Staff. This post was first published in 2022 and had been updated. 

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