On This Gay Day: Poet Robert Duncan was born in California

American Poet Robert Duncan was born

Robert Duncan was born on this day back in 1919 in Oakland, California.

He was born Edward Howard Duncan. His mother died in childbirth and in 1920 when his father was unable to take care of him he was adopted by Edwin and Minnehaha Symmes.

His adoptive parent renamed him Robert Edward Symmes, it was only after he was discharged from the army for being a homosexual that he decided to take on the name Robert Edward Duncan, a combination of his birth and adoptive names.

Duncan developed an interest in writing poetry and lived Bohemian communities. After a spell in Philadelphia he moved to a commune in Woodstock, New York.

In 1944 Duncan had a notable affair with the painter Robert De Niro Sr, the father of actor Robert De Niro.

The same year Duncan wrote the landmark essay The Homosexual in Society. The essay, in which Duncan compared the plight of homosexuals with that of African Americans and Jews is credited as being a major influence on the growth of gay rights.

His essay made him one of the first American’s with a public profile to reveal that they were homosexual. In 1951 he met the visual artist Jess Collins, who would got on to be known under the mononym Jess. They remained a couple until Duncan’s death in 1988.

Duncan became an acclaimed poet publishing many different works. One of his best known poems Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow was published in his book The Opening of the Field in 1960.

Also On This Day

What is widely credited as being the first-ever televised lesbian kiss in the UK aired on this day in 1994.

On TV soap opera Brookside Beth Jordache kissed Margaret Clemence sealing their budding romance. The role of Beth made actress Anna Friel a major TV star, while Nicola Stephenson who played Margaret has gone on to appear in many British programs including Holby City and Emmerdale.

Six million viewers watched the scene. The soap opera set in Liverpool, England began on the launch night of Channel 4 on 2nd November, 1982, and ran for 21 years until 4th November, 2003.

It wasn’t the first time a lesbian kiss had been featured on British screens however, but it was the first time it had occurred ‘pre-watershed’ before 9pm. Before 9pm in Britain viewing is considered to be ‘family friendly’.

OIP Staff – this post was first published on 7th January 2020.

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