The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 977: The early days of LGBTQ+ rock

Once upon a time not so long ago, it was illegal–criminal!–to be anything other than heterosexual. Any hint that you may be something other than straight could get you into all sorts of trouble.

In 1895, the English playwright Oscar Wilde was put on trial for “homosexual practices.” He was found guilty and sentenced to two years in jail. He never really recovered from the ordeal and died soon after his release.

In 1950, Liberace, the famous pianist, sued the London Daily Mirror for libel after the paper implied that he was gay. It went to trial and on the stand and under oath, Liberace stated that he had never indulged in those same “homosexual practices” that doomed Oscar Wilde. The judge believed him. Liberace won $24,000 from the Mirror. Fast-forward to 1982 when a former male bodyguard sued him for palimony. Liberace had to pay out $95,000. Finally, in 1987, Liberace died of complications of AIDS. The Mirror soon came calling, asking for their $24,000 back.

And then there’s the case of Elton John. Despite marrying a woman in 1984, the rumours of his homo- and bisexuality eroded his fanbase in the last 70s. He had to hide who he really was for decades, resulting in a serious emotional toll. Meanwhile, metal fans chose to ignore all the signals projected by Rob Halford of Judas Priest. Interesting.

When you put everything into this context, you can see how far things have come today. If someone comes out, the admission is greeted with a cheer or maybe a shrug. It’s like “Okay, cool. Whatever. You be you.” And sexual orientation is now protected by law in much of the world.

But it wasn’t always this way. The rock scene was supposed to be so progressive, so liberal, so rebellious, so tolerant–but it wasn’t. Far from it, in fact. Here are some stories of brave people who took a lot of arrows in the back just for daring to be who they were.

Songs heard on this show:

    • Tom Robinson, Glad to be Gay
    • David Bowie, The Man Who Sold the World
    • Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side
    • Jobriath, Take Me I’m Yours
    • Buzzcocks, Orgasm Addict
    • Elton Motello, Jet Boy Jet Girl
    • Rough Trade, High School Confidential
    • Franke Goes to Hollywood, Relax
    • Bronski Beat, Smalltown Boy

Here’s a playlist to go along with everything from Eric Wilhite. The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s, and anywhere else with a transmitter and I’ll see what I can do.

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