Although few gay actors have been permitted the luxury of openness, many of them have challenged and helped reconfigure notions of masculinity and, to a lesser extent, of homosexuality.
Lesbian actresses have played a significant role in Hollywood, but their contributions have rarely been recognized or spoken of openly; the "lavender marriage" is by no means a relic of the past.
Although American gay film icon Brad Davis has been described as "the first heterosexual actor to die of AIDS," he was widely known as bisexual within the entertainment community.
Liberace was for many the epitome of flamboyant camp, yet he was also a gay man who steadfastly refused to acknowledge publicly his sexual identity.
Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.
Although sparse in images documenting the gay community, pre-Stonewall gay male photography blurs the boundaries between art, erotica, and social history.
Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.
Handsome, athletic, graceful, and charismatic, actor Errol Flynn was widely rumored to enjoy sexual relations with men as well as women.
Gad Beck (YouTube video still).
Gerhard "Gad" Beck, one of the last gay Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, died on June 24, 2012 in Berlin. As a young man, Beck joined an underground resistance movement and worked to save gay and Jewish Germans who were targeted for persecution by the Nazis.
As Neal Broverman reports in The Advocate, with a Jewish father and a mother who converted to Judaism, Beck was considered a half-breed ("Mischling") by the Nazis. When he and his father were taken to a holding compound in Berlin in 1943, protests by non-Jewish wives and relatives convinced the Nazis to release the prisoners.
As a member of a resistance group, Beck donned a Hitler Youth uniform in an attempt to rescue his boyfriend, Manfred Lewin. The attempt failed when Lewin was unwilling to leave the camp without his parents. The young man was later taken with his family to Auschwitz and murdered.
Beck himself was imprisoned in Berlin, but before he could be transferred to a death camp, Allied forces toppled the Nazi regime and liberated prisoners.
Following World War II, Beck emigrated to Israel, but returned to Germany in 1979 and became a well-known member of both the Jewish and gay communities of Berlin.
Benjamin Weinthal in the Jerusalem Post, describes Beck as "a pioneering gay activist and educator in a severely anti-homosexual, repressive post-World War II German society."
He also notes that Beck's resistance activities, and the Rosenstrasse demonstrations when the non-Jewish wives of Jewish prisoners protested, helped "debunk the widespread myth in post-Holocaust German society that resistance against Nazism was futile."
In the entry about Beck at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., he is quoted as saying that "as a homosexual, I was able to turn to my trusted non-Jewish, homosexual acquaintances to help supply food and hiding places" for his resistance activities.
In a moving account of meeting Beck in 1996 at a ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, David Mixner describes him as a man "who, with a huge smile, emanated pure joy as a way of life."
"The event," Mixner explains, "was to commemorate the members of the LGBT community who had died in the holocaust and for the museum to accept a $1.7 million gift raised in the last two years by LGBT Americans."
The ceremony was "a moving and powerful event that led to many tears throughout the evening. Just when we thought there were no more tears, Gad Beck stood to share his story with a dignity and pride rarely seen by any of us. His story of courage and love was riveting."
In his talk at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mixner reports, "Gad emotionally told us how he used his ties to members of the homosexual community, who already were in the closet and knew how to live an 'underground life,' to help other Jews escape into Switzerland. . . . Beck reminded us in the audience that [after liberating the camps] the allies took many of the gay prisoners . . . and held them in prison until 1949 because of their homosexuality."
In 2000, Beck published his autobiography, An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin.
He is featured in the Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's documentary, Paragraph 175 (2000). His life is also the subject of Carsten Does and Robin Cackett's film, The Story of Gad Beck (2006).
He is survived by Julius Laufer, his partner of 35 years.
Below is a trailer for Paragraph 175.