The month of June is pride month for the LGBTQ+ community. It's a tradition that started with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 (which were led by black and brown trans women, by the way!). LGBTQ+ activists and allies have made historic progress for the community in recent years, such as in SCOTUS rulings Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) and Bostock v. Clayton County (2020). Many people are familiar with pride parades and festivities but might not know that famous playwrights, actors, composers, etc. have also been part of the community. In honor of the many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people who have shaped theatre, here are 5 you should know.
1. Tennessee Williams
He's the mastermind playwright behind many of the shows you love, such as A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to name just a few. He was also a gay man, whose relationship with Frank Merlo lasted 14 years. Posthumously, numerous theatres, festivals, awards, and creative works now exist in his honor.
Peppermint (AKA Miss Peppermint) is a transgender actress, singer, and activist. Apart from her run on RuPaul's Drag Race, she is also the first out trans woman in a leading role on Broadway: in 2018, she played Pythio in Head Over Heels. Fun fact—for a while, she went by "Angel," which is a nod to the Rent character of the same name.
3. Alison Bechdel
Bechdel is a cartoonist from Pennsylvania whose 2006 graphic novel "Fun Home" has since been turned into a Broadway musical. It deals with her own journey discovering her lesbianism, her relationship with her gay father, and much more, plus some catchy songs like "Ring of Keys."
4. Billy Porter
You may know him for his avant-garde styles at the Golden Globes and the Met Gala. Not only did he graduate from the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, release four albums, write a play, and star in TV shows like American Horror Story, but the gay actor has also been in a variety of productions such as Kinky Boots and Jesus Christ Superstar.
5. Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Okay, so Tchaikovksy isn't a Broadway star, but he is one of the most famous composers of all time. His melodies are enduring and impact so much of the performing arts world. Many don't know of his homosexuality because it was censored by Russia, but historians and scholars tend to agree that he was a gay man (or at least bisexual), having had relationships with Aleksey Safronov and Vladimir “Bob” Davydov.
These are just a handful of LGBTQ+ people who have made big differences in the world of musical theatre. Their songs, plays, and performances are enjoyed globally, which helps bring recognition and merit to their community. Have you seen their works? How many of your favorites in the entertainment industry are part of the LGBTQ+ community?
Happy pride month!