As a part of our celebrations for LGBT History Month our member Philippa Punchard organised an art project asking our members and the wider LGBTQ+ community to share biographical details and portraits of their personal or famous LGBTQ+ heroes, heroines and trailblazers. Our contributors could choose contemporary or historical figures who are important to them and were asked to share with us the reason why they admire that person.

We’re sharing below the submissions we had and we hope this can inspire you to think about your own heroes/heroines! If you’re interested in taking part in this project and being featured on this page, please email [email protected]

Keith Vaughan (1912-77) Contribution made by Martin Ireland

Source: Art Blat

Keith Vaughan was born in 1912. Because of the early defection of his father he was thrust prematurely into the role of being the man of the family for his mother and his younger brother, Dick. The latter went into the Royal Air Force and was killed in 1940 at the age of twenty-five.

Feeling anything but at home in the commercial world he had fallen into on leaving Christ’s Hospital, his life in the Pioneer Corps gave him security of a sort and a framework of relationships that allowed his interests in photography, drawing, painting and writing to take root, first as a purely private and tentative preoccupation, but later as a widely acclaimed and assured accomplishment. The first extract from his journal was published by John Lehman in Penguin New Writing in 1940 and was followed years later by a much more extended and all richly illustrated extract published by Alan Ross in 1966.

Despite being in the same generation of post-war figurative, abstract and expressionist painters, and despite living in the same house as the tumultuous Johnny Minton, he worked out his own personal and thoughtful style that was little influenced by anything that was going on round about him. Even trips abroad to places of great visual stimulus had always to be transmuted via his notebooks and sketches to paintings that in fact emerged from studios in either Hamilton Terrace or Belsize Park. His first exhibition was at the Lefevre Gallery in 1942, but there have been many, many more since then and in many parts of the world. There must be countless thousands who know his paintings and have been unforgettably touched by them.

Despite being self taught and nobody’s protégé, at the Camberwell School of Art, then at the Central School and for the past twenty-three years at the Slade, his teaching has impinged on many generations of students, either positively or negatively, as a guide or a warning, as a technical assistance or as a most articulate critic. Having never seen himself in any sort of mainstream, his own work grew from an internal compulsion that was forever being reconsidered. The work of his contemporaries and his students, he saw as being interesting and often intriguing products of other peoples’ minds, in later years somewhat alien and largely incomprehensible. He was made CBE in 1965.

In 1976 he found that he had cancer and this stopped him in his tracks. He went through with the inevitable surgery and radiotherapy but became increasingly depressed and unable to work. In the end he decided that the blank prospect before him made living a life of quality no longer possible. He died quietly in his studio, as ever working away on his journal.

He was a passionate man who held most of himself private, contained and reasonable. He was who enormously enriched the lives of everyone who knew him with his sharp wit, his uncompromising frankness and his love for painting the male nude.

Alexander the Great (356 BC–323 BC) Contribution made by Andrew Savill

In legend, Alexander reached the Indian Ocean and wept because he saw no more lands to conquer. While some historians are still reluctant to conclude that Alexander was gay, the evidence is pretty clear that he was, at the least, bisexual. A far from perfect man, he was nonetheless extraordinary; trained by Aristotle, adoring the tales of Achilles and Patroclus form Homer’s Iliad, brilliant military tactician and, for his time, advanced in wanting his campaigns to improve the lives of those whose lands he conquered. His likely lovers were both Bagoas, ‘The Persian Boy’ from Mary Renault’s acclaimed novels, and Hephaestion, the steadfast companion from his boyhood. Endlessly fascinating, enduring, alluring, Alexander already has his place in history, but deserves a spot in any LGBTQ+ story as well.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892) Contribution made by Andrew Savill

Poet, journalist, humanitarian, slavery abolitionist, American Civil War nurse, nature prophet, quiet celebrator of male love, Whitman is worthy of continued rediscovery and celebration. “I proceed for all who are or have been young men / To tell the secret of my nights and days / To celebrate the need of comrades.” – Excerpt from Calamus [In Paths Untrodden].

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 - 1935) Contribution made by Philippa Punchard

He campaigned against the anti-gay and cross-dressing laws and set up the first gay group (the Scientific Humanitarian Committee), which was supported by Albert Einstein and Leo Tolstoy; in effect developing the first gay liberation movement. He also provided help to the LGBTQIA community with his Institute of Sexual Research. which opened in 1919, using money from one of the first gender reassignment operations. It had a full range of medical/clinical staff, a Museum of Sex and library and research. It was also home to Hirschfeld, his sister and his cross-dressing partner, Karl Giese. The clinic provided reassignment surgery to people like Karl M. Baer, Dora Richter and Lili Elbe (see portraits).

He created the term ‘transsexualismus’ in 1923. It was one of the 64 categories of sexuality that he defined, including his idea of a third gender that he outlined in the 1919 film, Different from the Others, which may be the first gay film. His partner, Karl Giese, Dora Richter, Conrad Veidt and others appeared in the film along with Hirschfeld himself (using the intertitles to deliver lectures such as, “Love for one’s own sex can be just as pure and noble as that for the opposite sex.”. The film was edited into a new film, Laws of Love, which also survives. Hirschfeld also fought for the decriminalisation of abortion, women’s right to work and opposed the white supremacist rule in German colonies and the genocide in what is now called Namibia. He was vilified by the leaders of the populist, nationalist völkisch movement, which the Nazis later incorporated into their anti-Semitic ethos. He was left for dead after one attack by some of the movement’s thugs. Hirschfeld left an increasingly repressive Germany and toured the world. He lectured in America, Japan, Egypt, India, Palestine and elsewhere. In China he met Tao Li, the partner for the rest of his life. In 1933 the Nazis destroyed the Institute, its records and research.

He settled in France with Tao Li and Karl Giese (who was later deported back to Germany and committed suicide in 1938). Hirschfeld’s tomb is in the Caucade Cemetery in Nice. His sister was gassed in a death camp. There is a new centre to continue his work, with the help of federal grants. Different from the Others has been restored as much as possible. Rosa von Praunheim 1999 film, ‘The Einstein of Sex’ and books by and about him are also currently available.