"Wisdom comes with winters," Oscar Wilde once stated. And the Prime Time 25, The Advocate's annual list of outstanding LGBT activists and influencers over the age of 65, is proving this adage correct.
In a seminal year for the LGBT community, our elders continue to be at the vanguard of this progress, distinguishing themselves in the spheres of politics, art, activism, business, and entertainment, while serving as role models for younger generations.
Take a look at the 25 extraordinary writers, athletes, artists, military veterans, and even a magician who are disproving stereotypes of their age demographic by actively contributing to the betterment of the world.
Earlier this year, writer Armistead Maupin released The Days of Anna Madrigal, the final novel in his celebrated Tales of the City series. The stories, which were first printed in a San Francisco area newspaper in 1974, chronicle the West Coast LGBT community through Mary Ann Singleton, a newcomer whose Heartland-born eyes are opened by the diverse, colorful characters in her new city, including her mysterious landlord Anna Madrigal. The series was first novelized in 1978, and has grown into nine books, several of which were adapted into television programs for PBS and Showtime. As a result, generations of media consumers from all walks of life have gotten to know the beautiful, queer characters of Maupin’s world.
Maupin’s influence on culture was recently recognized by the LGBT film organization Outfest, which honored the writer at its 2014 Legacy Awards. Speaking to The Advocate about his impact on a younger generation of readers, Maupin acknowledged that in terms of audience size, there are “not as many as I’d like, but a growing number, and they recognize the basic emotional content of the story. And the rest of it, the colorful period details, are interesting to them in another way.”
He spoke about the perennial themes of the story — the search for love, acceptance, and individuality — that have given Tales life throughout the decades. And while the LGBT community has made great strides in making the world a better place for youth, there is still much work to be done, he says, and still a great need for voices that provide hope and support.
“Sadly, there’s still young people who need to know that they have a place in the world where they can live their lives as freely as they want. And that’s the simple message of Tales. Find your own family. Find your logical family if your biological family is not accepting you,” he said, in a nod to a saying from Anna Madrigal, one of the most prominent transgender characters in LGBT literature.
Maupin is married to a younger man — Christopher Turner, a photographer and the owner of DaddyHunt.com. Their relationship, as well as his past friendships and mentorships by older gay men, has given him an acute understanding of the importance of encouraging dialogue between gay men of different age groups.
“I live with a man who has celebrated older gay men in his own work, so perhaps I have a rosier vision of things than others do,” he says. “But we gay elders have a place in the world, and sometimes, it’s even sexual! And people need to know how to step forward and claim that.”
“We’ve learned things in the struggle that are useful,” he adds about the role of older men in a youth-obsessed culture. “When I was a young gay man, Christopher Isherwood was my mentor. And he and his partner, Don Bachardy, who was 30 years his junior, held dinner parties at their house in L.A. Almost every week, I find some instance where, OK, now you’re in the position of the 70-year-old gay man with a younger partner, and how do you behave toward these younger people who are here with you today? How do you represent for them?”
Maupin, who is famous for telling stories of ’70s San Francisco, revealed he has continued this tradition of mentorship with a group of men who are bringing tales to a new generation.
“We got together for a movie night with the cast of Looking the other night,” he confided.
“Oh, wow,” this reporter exclaimed. “That’s what I said!” he said with a laugh.
Decades after helping the Allied Forces win World War II, Robina Asti came away with another important victory: she won the legal right to benefits owed her through the Social Security Administration after her husband, Norwood Patton, died in 2012.
After her husband's death at the age of 97, Asti filed with the SSA for survivor benefits — and was promptly denied because she happens to be transgender. Despite the fact that Asti had legal documentation — including a driver's license, passport, and Federal Aviation Administration pilot's licence — identifying her as female, the federal agency claimed that Asti was legally male at the time she married her husband in 2004. Asti transitioned in 1976 and had been living as the woman she is for more than three decades when her husband died.
After SSA denied Asti's request for benefits that amounted to an estimated $500 a month, LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal got involved in January.
"I am so insulted that the Social Security Administration refused to recognize me as a woman and treated my marriage to Norwood in such a disrespectful way," Asti said in a January statement released by Lambda Legal. "I have lived a very private life, but the SSA is forcing me to speak out. I don't want other people to have to experience this."
After the national press picked up Asti's story — including the powerful and critically acclaimed documentary short below — the Social Security Administration abruptly reversed its decision in February, suddenly depositing the regularly allotted benefits in Asti's bank account. At no point was she formally notified that the SSA had changed its position. The deposit first appeared on Valentine's Day.
"When I saw that the money was in my account, I was so happy," Asti said in February through Lambda Legal. "I felt like it was my husband Norwood's Valentine's Day gift to me. I'm glad that Social Security finally came to its senses. I hope this means that other people won't have to experience this."
Watch the award-winning short profiling Asti below:
Madelynn "Lee" Taylor courageously served her country for six years in the U.S. Navy, presumably earning the right to respect in life — and death — that all veterans and their spouses should be afforded.
But there was just one "problem" in the eyes of administrators of the Idaho Veterans Cemetery, where Taylor has reserved a cremation plot: Taylor was married to a woman and wanted to have her wife's ashes interred alongside her own. After 17 years together, Taylor's wife, Jean Mixner, died last year — and Taylor sought to bury her wife's ashes in the space Taylor will one day call her final resting place as well.
But because Taylor made that request this spring — before Idaho reluctantly embraced marriage equality — officials with the Division of Veterans Services denied Taylor's request. Although federal law allows same-sex couples to be buried together in all national cemeteries, the Veterans Cemetery in Boise is a state-run facility — which prompted officials to point to then-current state law that refused to recognize as legal marriages between people of the same-sex.
When Taylor first took her story to the media in April, she offered a pointed critique of the state's policy:
"I'm not surprised," Taylor told KBOI TV. "I've been discriminated against for 70 years, and they might as well discriminate against me in death as well as life. … It's not taking up any more space to have both of us in there, and I don't see where the ashes of a couple of old lesbians is going to hurt anybody."
Even if she wasn't successful in her lawsuit to have her wife's ashes alongside her own, Taylor was confident in the ultimate victory of equality.
"I’ll have the paperwork and both of our ashes in someone’s care," she said. "So they can put it in when we get laws changed."
And in October those laws did indeed change. Following a series of federal court rulings striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, Idaho began recognizing such unions performed in other jurisdictions — including Taylor's.
"Words can’t describe how incredibly grateful I am for all the work that went into making our wishes possible," Taylor said in an October press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "Idaho is where some of our best memories together are and it’s where I want to spend eternity with Jean."
Meet Taylor in the video below, produced by the NCLR, which represented the veteran in her federal lawsuit seeking to have her wife's ashes interred with her own:
The Englishman known for his vivid paintings of Southern California scenes, among many other works, is proof that age doesn’t have to erode one’s artistic gifts — or energy. “I am working on a roll now and can’t really stop,” he told London’s Telegraph earlier this year. The occasion for the Telegraph’s report, headlined “David Hockney Is Proof That Artists Improve With the Years,” was the London exhibition of “The Arrival of Spring,” featuring two series of Hockney drawings — one set done on an iPad, the other in charcoal on paper — portraying the beginning of spring in two different years and locales. “Hockney is as preoccupied as ever with picking apart different forms of representation,” wrote a critic for the paper, later adding that “Britain’s most popular artist is still playing games with the way we see the world.”
The Pace Gallery in New York City, which hosted “The Arrival of Spring” in September and October, now has another Hockney show, “Some New Painting (and Photography),” the first exhibition of works he’s completed since returning to Los Angeles from England, where he spent a decade creating art of the Yorkshire region, where he grew up. “Some New Painting (and Photography)” includes several portraits of individuals, a series of paintings that recall Henri Matisse’s masterpiece Dance, and other art of people posing in his L.A. studio, with some figures appearing more than once in the same work, as Hockney manipulates time and space.
Hockney’s work since 2005 represents “the fiercest, most joyous, most sustained, and most prolific bout of painting of his entire career,” said art historian Lawrence Weschler. Not that the artist hasn’t had some setbacks in this period. In the fall of 2012 he suffered a minor stroke, which left him temporarily unable to speak. Shortly thereafter, one of his favorite art subjects was vandalized — a tree stump in Yorkshire’s Woldgate Woods, as tall as a person and which Hockney called “the totem,” was cut down by someone wielding an ax. That sent him into a deep depression. “I felt about as bad as I had in many years,” he told the Telegraph. He recovered, he said, by making art, and he doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon.
“I’ll just go on until I’m bored, and I think it will be a long time,” he said of a portrait series he was doing at the time of the interview. “I might do 100. I work in series and sequences. I always need a project to get me going as this has got me going now. It’s something I can see is endlessly fascinating.”
The younger half of a 33-year-long coupling with author and diarist Christopher Isherwood, Bachardy has been a working artist for five decades. After the start of their controversial relationship (Isherwood was 48 to Bachardy’s 18) Don Bachardy, through force of will, found his own hard-won identity and became the portraitist of note in Southern California.
Bachardy and Isherwood moved the needle forward for acceptance and understanding of same-sex relationships by simply living their lives openly and continuing to create works of art, both individually and collaboratively. To understand the bravery of these acts may only be possible in the context of the extremely homophobic atmosphere of the times.
Bachardy’s book Stars in My Eyes (2000) was a collection of his celebrity portraits, often searing and unapologetic. His haunting and unflinching Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood, assembled in 1990, is an elegy to his long-term partner, made up of drawings and paintings he created in a frenzy of activity as Isherwood lay dying, and some even after Isherwood was dead.
He has appeared in a number of documentaries about himself and Isherwood, including the acclaimed Chris & Don: A Love Story, released in 2008. And he had a cameo role in A Single Man, the film by Tom Ford based on Isherwood’s novel about what his life might have been like without Don.
His latest book, Hollywood, published in November of this year, includes over 300 works, from his subtle pencil-on-paper explorations to his bold-stroked, fauvist color paintings. Included is a galaxy of stars and cultural icons from the last century as well as some new millennium personalities. Interspersed like palate cleansers are his delightful abstracts, which come as a Zen-like surprise. The sheer number of famous people Bachardy has painted is hard to believe. And he has been gathering these portraits and autographs for 50 years.
One of England’s most prominent thespians, Sir Derek George Jacobi is a shining example that out LGBT actors can not only have successful careers in their field, but can also become masters of their craft.
Jacobi’s body of work is nothing short of legendary. He has brought the works of Shakespeare to life in dozens of productions around the world. He has also starred in numerous television and feature film adaptations of the master playwright’s classics, and he was a founding member of the Royal National Theatre, which has become one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent performing arts troupes.
His filmography boasts an impressive number of roles in a wide variety of projects ranging from animated classics such as The Secret of NIMH and sword-and-sandals epics like Gladiator to Academy Award-winning masterpieces such as The King’s Speech and sci-fi favorites like Doctor Who.
His long list of accolades include being knighted by three separate organizations, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and the Helen Hayes Tribute for Lifetime Achievement for excellence in theatre achievement.
In addition to his exemplary work as an actor, Jacobi became an inspiration for LGBT people around the world by living his life openly and entering into a registered partnership with Richard Clifford in March 2006, a few months after same-sex civil partnerships became legally recognized in the United Kingdom.
Today, he continues to blaze a trail with his role in the new British sitcom Vicious, in which he and out costar Ian McKellen play gay partners of 50 years. Having already been renewed for a second season, the series ups the visibility of aging LGBT characters in entertainment and reinforces the message that gay men can lead fulfilling lives long after the age of 29. It’s a message Jacobi embodies every day living life as his most authentic self.
Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, Sir Ian Murray McKellen is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. After spending several years building his reputation in British theater, McKellen came out of the closet to the general public during an interview on BBC Radio 3 in 1988, spurred to action by the British Parliament’s consideration and eventual passing of Section 28, a bill that prevented local authorities from “promoting homosexuality.”
Despite the common belief that such an admission would be career suicide, McKellen’s star continued to rise higher in his home country, where he was knighted in 1991 for his dedication to the arts, and in the United States, where his film career took off with critically acclaimed performances in And the Band Played On, Six Degrees of Separation, and Gods and Monsters.
With his reputation as a master thespian well secured, McKellen began to venture into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy movies, gaining mainstream popularity thanks to his portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men films and the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. His part in these successful franchises proved broad audiences would not only embrace a gay actor in an action role, but view them as the living embodiment of popular characters.
Today, McKellen continues his unwavering dedication to furthering LGBT equality around the world. He cofounded Stonewall, an LGBT activist group in the U.K., and has worked with several other LGBT organizations, including the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
With his role in the new British TV series Vicious, McKellen continues to break down barriers for LGBT people onscreen as well. The sitcom is the first of its kind to hit the small screen, telling the story of partners Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (played by out actor Derek Jacobi) who have lived together for nearly 50 years in a small flat in central London. The series provides much-needed visibility for aging gay men on TV while simultaneously showing LGBT youth that a long, fulfilling life can be lived as a queer person.
“I suppose I’m making up for those early years, the first half of my life, when I didn’t talk about it,” McKellen recently told The Advocate about his passion for being an out gay man in show business. “We have to come out whether we live in Russia or Africa, the States or the United Kingdom. So I’m very happy to keep telling people I’m gay, because being out, that’s what changes the world.”