On This Gay Day: Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’ is published

In 1928, Viginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando: A Biography’ was released

Author Virginia Woolf released her satirical novel Orlando: A Biography on this day in 1928. One of Woolf’s most popular works it tells the story of a poet who changes sex from being a man to a woman and lives for several centuries.

Considered a feminist classic, it is also a much loved book of people who are transgender. In the book Orlando is a male nobleman in the time of Elizabeth I. When he is around 30 years old he suddenly wakes up having changed sex and become a woman. He lives for another 300 years without ageing and meets many historical figures through the centuries.

Woolf was inspired by her the tumultuous family history of friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. Both were members of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of writers, academics and philosophers who embraced liberal ideals about sexuality.

The work has been adapted for both the stage and screen. Actor Miranda Richardson starred in a 1989 theatrical adaptation created by director Robert Wilson and writer Darryl Pinckney. A film version by Sally Potter, which came out in 1992, saw Tilda Swinton portraying Orlando and Quentin Crisp playing Queen Elizabeth I.

A second theatrical adaptation was created by playwright Sarah Rahul. After debuting in the USA, the Sydney Theatre Company staged a production starring Jaqueline McKenzie.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884

Eleanor Roosevelt was born on this day in 1884, a member of the prominent Roosevelt and Livingston families. She was a niece of US President Theodore Roosevelt.

Her early life was unhappy, both her parent and one of her brothers had died by the tme she was 15 years of age. She was educated at a British boarding school, and upon returning to the US married a distant relative Franklin Roosevelt.

Her husband went on to become America’s 26th President, and during her time as First Lady Eleanor was remembered for her outspoken nature on many civil rights issues. She was the first presidential spouse to give speeches, hold press conferences, write newspaper columns and host a radio show. On occasions she held differing views to her husband.

After he died in office in 1945, she remained politically active, becoming the United States first Ambassador to the United Nations, and was the first Chair of UN Commission on Human Rights. During her time at the United Nations Roosevelt was involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later she chaired US President John F Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

During her life she also authored over 25 books.

While the couple had six children, Eleanor also had close friendships and wrote intimate letters to other women. Many believe that she was bisexual and had a relationship with journalist Lorena Hickock.

Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962 aged 78.

LGBTIQA+ rights activst Cleve Jones was born in 1954

Prominent LGBTIQA+ rights activist Cleve Jones was born on this day in 1954.

Jones work as as activist began in the 1970’s when he became friends in Harvey Milk. He worked as an intern in Harvey Milk’s office.

In 1982 he co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation which has grown to become one of the largest HIV support organisations in the world.

In 1985 at a memorial for Harvey Milk he proposed the idea of a Memorial Quilt for people lost to the AIDS pandemic. In 1987 he created the quilt’s first panel in honour of his friend Marvin Feldman. The project grew to become the world’s largest community art project, with over 94,000 panels being created – each representing someone who died as a result of AIDS.

Jones has also spoken about his own experiences of being HIV positive. In the film Milk, Jones is portrayed by Emile Hirsch. Jones’ autobiography When We Rise which documents the fight for gay rights was also turned into a TV miniseries with Guy Pearce and Austin P McKenzie both playing Jones at different points in his life.

The first showing of the AIDS Quilt also took place on this day, in 1987. It was presented in Washington as part of a national march for gay and lesbian rights.  At the rally in 1987 the Reverend Jesse Jackson addressed the crowd calling for more funding for AIDS research and assistance, and end to violence against gay and lesbian people and civil rights protections.

The following year the USA’s National Coming Out Day was established on the same day, and October was declared Gay History Month.

In 1989 the film ‘Longtime Companion’ was released

Longtime Companion was the first film, that was widely released, that dealt with the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s.

Directed by Norman Rene, it starred Bruce Davison, Campbell Scott, Patrick Cassidy and Mary-Louise Parker. The film takes it name from the euphemism the New York Times would use to describe the partners of men who died of AIDS.

The story charts a group of friends whose lives and friendships are dramatically changed with the discovery of HIV and AIDS.

Jean Cocteau died on this day in 1963

Cocteau was an author, playwright, poet, designer, filmmaker, visual artist and critic. Born in 1889 he never hid his homosexuality and his sexuality was central to many of his works.

Cocteau died, aged 74, after a period of ill health. His close friend singer Edith Piaf died the day before, but her death was not announced until the morning on the 11th of October.

OIP Staff , image of Cleeve Jones by Pax Ahimsa Gethen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, image of the AIDS Quilt By US National Institutes of Health. 

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