A word before we begin:
I almost didn’t write this blog, though I’d been planning on it for well over a week. In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando, I feared that I would be seen as capitalizing on the event, or that the very nature of the post would undermine the thing I was hoping to highlight – the power, diversity, and longevity of the LGBT+ movement. I consulted with friends, with my editor-in-chief, and with my own feelings. Obviously, in the end I decided to continue with my original idea, for a couple reasons.
Firstly because, to paraphrase one friend, to change your topic based solely on the actions of one violent criminal would be to give in to fear. If we don’t continue to demonstrate the humanity and visibility of the LGBT+ community, even (and especially) in the face of violent resistance, how can we ever stop the stigma against it? As someone who has always identified as an ally, and who now identifies on the asexual spectrum, to censor my post would feel like a compromise of my integrity. I am aware, however, that I only add my voice to the more important voices already speaking out.
Secondly, June is LGBT Pride Month, which was the reason I had chosen LGBT+ poets as my topic. It’s still Pride Month, and in light of the Pulse shooting, we could all use some reminders of the beauty and power of expression – expression which is central to poetry. Many LGBT poets found release for their feelings only in poetry, because they live(d) in societies that did not/do not accept them. I refuse to silence them, and choose instead to use my humble platform to help amplify their voices.
Our hearts are with the victims, survivors, and friends and family affected by the Orlando tragedy, and let’s remember that the fight for equality has been going for years, even before the labels in “LGBT+” existed. This horror will not stop us – members and allies alike – from continuing to fight ignorance, bigotry, and hatred. Below I will list some famous poets, and I will link to some lists of LGBT poets. I will also link to some ways you can help in Orlando, if you are able.
Reminder: This list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. It is merely a starting point, a few names out of many, listed in chronological order by birth.
Sappho (circa 630 BCE): I’ve touched on Sappho before, but she’s definitely worth mentioning here. Her poems exist mostly in fragments, but are known for their homoerotic content. From Sappho’s home, the Isle of Lesbos, we get the term “lesbian.”
Walt Whitman (1819-1892): Some claim that Whitman was gay, some that he was bisexual. Either way, the love of humanity in all forms glows from his long, winding lines.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900): Wilde, known for his sharp wit and love of beauty, was imprisoned for his orientation after he attempted to bring private prosecution against someone for libel.
Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936): Lorca lived during a time of upheaval in Europe, and was part of an important movement in the art/literary world. Many of his poems dealt with themes of homosexuality, and some believe that his orientation contributed to his assassination.
W.H. Auden (1907-1973): Britain-born Auden became an American citizen in 1946. A Pulitzer-prize winning author, Auden’s work is still admired today for its technical power. Auden had many romantic relationships with men throughout his life, and his poems reflect his struggles with his sexuality in a way that still resounds.
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997): Ginsberg is perhaps best known for his famous poem, “Howl,” which is often cited as an example to encapsulate the beat poetry movement. “Howl” was the subject of an obscenity trial, where it was decried because of its homosexual content.
Adrienne Rich (1929-2012): Known for both her poems and her essays, Rich has amassed a host of awards. Amidst all her success, she maintained her personal integrity, even turning down awards in protest. Rich’s body of work often highlights the issues of the lesbian community.
Audre Lorde (1934-1992): Audre Lorde’s impact stretches far beyond poetry – her powerful activism for the rights of marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and, of course, the gay community.
June Jordan (1936-2002): Jordan, Caribbean-American poet, advocated for LGB rights as well as African-American rights, which causes are often an important element of her poetry. Jordan identified as a bisexual, though she was the once the recipient of a “Lesbian Poetry” award.
Trace Peterson (?-present): Trace Peterson is a pioneer for trans poets. Her poems, writings, and tireless activism seek to increase visibility for trans people. She is known for her poetry collection, Since I Moved In, as well as her work on the anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.
Staceyann Chin (1972-present): Videos of Chin’s beautiful spoken-word poetry can be found on her youtube channel. Much of her work tackles themes of oppression and feminism.
More Info on LGBT+ Poets:
http://www.masstpc.org/poetry-day-2014/ (“Five Poems for Trans Folks, by Trans Folks”)
How to Help in Orlando:
(All biographical information was pulled from the author’s Wikipedia page, except for Trace Peterson, whose information was obtained from Poets & Writers. Please visit the Wikpedia list of sources for more information on each author).