Throughout the so- called Harlem Renaissance period, roughly to , black lesbians and gay men were meeting each other [on] street corners, socializing in cabarets and rent parties, and worshiping in church on Sundays, creating a language, a social structure, and a complex network of institutions.
Nugent, known as the "perfumed orchid of the New Negro Movement," didn't hide his sexuality either in life or in print. He contributed the blatantly homoerotic short story "Smoke, Lilies and Jade" to the black literary journal Fire!! Nobody was in the closet. There wasn't any closet. Everybody who was anybody — gay and straight, black and white, uptown and downtown — knew about the infamous homosexual haunt the Clam House on rd Street.
Bawdy blues singer Gladys Bentley presided over the raucous fun, all pounds of her cross-dressed in tux and top hat. Anyone who voiced disapproval risked being uninvited from her lavish and legendary parties.
But gayest of all: Several thousand came to gawk at the cross-dressing extravaganza as hundreds of mainly working-class young men showed up in over-the-top drag. Despite this kind of freedom and pageantry, homosexuality wasn't universally accepted. Harlem's most powerful minister, Adam Clayton Powell, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church until , campaigned against what he saw as the growing scourge of sexual perversion and moral degeneracy.
And the annual Hamilton Lodge event was openly referred to as the "parade of the pansies," "dance of the fairies" and "faggots' ball. Against this complicated landscape, some claim that scholars of the New Negro Movement have erased the LGBT history of the Renaissance in biographies and textbooks. In Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance , author Schwarz explains that historians either deliberately or inadvertently sidelined the link between the Harlem Renaissance and homosexuality.
In a essay " 'Outing' Alain L. Locke," biographer Leonard Harris accused some scholars of obscuring Locke's gay life, leading to the false idea that "Locke's sexuality was irrelevant to his intellectual and personal history. And when the groundbreaking film Looking for Langston was released to critical acclaim, the Langston Hughes estate did its best to shut it down.
The Gay Harlem Renaissance
Directed by Isaac Julien, the lyrical film is a gay love letter to Hughes and the Renaissance. The past isn't the present, and it would be unfair to slap a 21st-century out-and-proud frame around 20th-century Harlem.
Plus, to borrow the words of Renaissance writer Jessie Redmon Fauset, there is confusion: Many of the New Negros who are now identified as gay had spouses of the opposite sex. Some were bisexual, while others, like Cullen, lived double lives. After his failed marriage, Cullen wed again. Wallace Thurman, author of the novels The Blacker the Berry and Infants of the Spring , was arrested in for having sex with a man.
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