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History Calling Sony and Amazon: Da Vinci Was Gay!

Guys, Leonardo da Vinci was gay.

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Aidan Turner (L) as Leonardo da Vinci in Amazon Prime’s Leonardo. Matilda de Angelis as Caterina da Cremona, a woman who was not da Vinci’s lover.

By James Finn | The fact that LGBTQ people have traditionally been erased from history is well known. People today generally don’t like it. We want to know about Alexander the Great’s passionate affairs with handsome Hephaestion and beautiful Bagoas the gender-bending eunuch twink. That Roman emperor Hadrian elevated his tragically drowned male lover Antinous to the status of a god is (mostly) no longer suppressed in schools.

The queerness of the Italian Renaissance is a subject once kept quite hush hush. In high school, I dove into Irving Stone’s 1961 novel The Agony and the Ecstasyhoping to find a role mode in the great Michelangelo, whose rumored gayness I had never found discussed in history books.

Stone wrote delicately, clearly “in the know” but dancing around topics authors today address more clearly. I finished the book disappointed and dove into private research, further disappointed that “respectable” scholars denied all evidence of male/male passion … despite reams of homo-erotic poetry, themes of masculine beauty in paintings and sculpture, and despite the documented fact he was arrested for sodomy by Florence’s deliciously named Office of the Night.

Recent scholarship into the office’s meticulously preserved records have raised plenty of uncomfortable facts. Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence makes for fascinating and sometimes entertaining reading for those who want details.

Established in 1432 to root out homosexuality, the Office of the Night had its work cut out. Florence was apparently a cross between San Francisco’s gay Castro and NYC’s artsy SoHo. During the seventy years the office existed, prosecutors accused some seventeen thousand men of sodomy. Even so, sources say Florence remained a “gay” hot spot, possibly because the office was open to political suasion when members of powerful families got caught in their web.

Michelangelo was not powerful, but the young man he was accused of “corrupting” belonged to a wealthy clan that scholars say managed to get the charge dismissed.

Leonardo da Vinci was also caught in the Night Office’s clutches

Leonardo da Vinci was arrested by the Office of the Night when he was 24. He was jailed for only a few hours, but he sweated over his fate for many weeks. Elizabeth Abbott of Carleton University argues the experience terrified him and shaped him in negative ways, making him paranoid and confrontational on the subject of sex with men.

But Abbott and many other experts have concluded that while the concept of sexual orientation did not exist in Renaissance Italy, Da Vinci would almost certainly identify as gay if he were alive today. No evidence from his well documented life shows him falling in in love with or having sexual relationships with women, notable in a day when a man of his status would be expected to maintain mistresses.

His art is so homo-erotically charged that few are surprised by contemporary rumors that the beautiful male models he employed (and dressed like peacocks) were sometimes his lovers.

Salai was one model Leonardo particularly favored. He painted him as John the Baptist and probably also as a woman in the Virgin of the Rocks.

As far back as 1550, the biographer Giorgio Vasari reported da Vinci was “besotted” with Salai, “who was most comely in grace and beauty, having fine locks, curling in ringlets, in which Leonardo delighted.”

Like other observers of the time, Vasari notes an absence of women in the great artist’s life, at least in the romantic sense.

Like other observers of the time, Vasari notes an absence of women in the great artist’s life, at least in the romantic sense.

Leonardo da Vinci can be held up as a gay role model

Scholars have lost their reticence, storytellers are free to portray the truth, and LGBTQ kids are free to look up to one of Renaissance Italy’s most luminous artists as a kind of hero. Surely Leonardo is fit for inclusion in LGBTQ history curricula more and more school districts are developing.

We’re not erasing queer history anymore. Or are we?

Inventing a woman lover who didn’t exist

Not so fast! For reasons unknown, Sony Pictures Television has invented a heterosexual storyline in Leonardo, one of this year’s most anticipated period dramas.

The series is an eight-part dramatization of the Italian master’s life, produced by Lux Vide and Rai Fiction with Big Light Productions in association with France Télévisions and RTVE in Spain. It’s big budget, big glitz, big names, and big promo. While its release date in the U.S. has not yet been announced, it drops on Amazon Prime Video UK April 16.

While the series doesn’t shy away from Leonardo’s queerness, depicting some of his relationships with men, historians say the heterosexual relationship it features as central is fanciful, fictional, and based on the flimsiest of debunked scholarship.

Nothing of course would be wrong with portraying the artist as bisexual if he actually had been. But experts who study the subject are united in observing that he almost certainly never had romantic or sexual relationships with women and — more to the point — could not have had such a relationship with Caterina da Cremona as portrayed in the series.

Jonathan Jones observes that “Caterina is a figment, a fantasy, a complete piece of tosh, invented by a 19th-century Romantic and for some reason given highly unconvincing credence by one modern biographer,” Charles Nicholl in Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind.

The actual evidence? There isn’t any. An 19th century Italian writer once claimed to have seen “La Cremona” written one time in Leonardo’s notes in reference to a woman lover. But historians searched hard and never found that entry. There’s no way to match it to a historical person if they had, so even in the Romantic age, the theory died fast.

Nicholl tried to revive it by claiming Leonardo couldn’t have painted female nudes without experiencing heterosexual love. Yup, that’s it, that’s all. That’s his argument.

Excuse us gay men as we clutch our pearls and remember George Platt LynesCecil Beaton, and a score of more recent gay artists who somehow manage to represent the nude female form without having sexual affairs with women.

Excuse us also as we ask ourselves why Sony Pictures is inventing a heterosexual relationship out of whole cloth in what they’re billing as a “historical masterpiece.”

Guys, Leonardo da Vinci was gay.

The only intimate relationships he ever had were with men. The evidence is voluminous and convincing. He continued those relationships in spite of the threat of prison and the anxiety the threat produced in him.

He produced gorgeous, luminous, revolutionary art that changed the world, or at least the art world. He did it as as man who fell in love only with other men. And that’s OK. It’s more than OK, it’s to be celebrated. Leonardo is a genuine hero and representative of men everywhere who transgress sexual norms.

When I was in high school, I couldn’t look up to him or his contemporary Michelangelo, because authorities hid their true sexuality, treating it as shameful.

I thought things had changed, but now it feels like Sony Pictures and Amazon Prime are right back at it. Why invent a heterosexual storyline, guys? Leonardo is ours, and you shouldn’t be lying about him.

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

This piece was originally published at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling.’ Republished by permission.

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Television

Ellen signs off after 19 seasons

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years then took a moment to dance through the audience with Twitch

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Screenshot/YouTube

BURBANK – The lights went dark forever at the Warner Brothers Stage 1 complex on the lot at Warner Brothers Studio, home to the Ellen show, as comedian Ellen DeGeneres ended her daytime talk show after a 19 season run Thursday.

In a highly charged emotional hour, DeGeneres paid tribute to her staff, executive producers and a global audience of loyal viewers. Highlighting the end run of the show DeGeneres brought on guest Jennifer Aniston, the actress having been the comedian’s very first guest on the first show.

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years and she then took a moment to dance through the audience with her ‘DJ’ Twitch. During the course of the hour she discussed the progress that had been made since the series premiered in 2003, noting that she “couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show” when it started or make a reference to her wife, Portia de Rossi, because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal.

“Now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” she said.  Noting that there was resistance to the show and that few gave it a chance of surviving, DeGeneres promised that she wouldn’t be gone for long. “Today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break,” she said. “You can see other talk shows now.”

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Celebrity News

Crown Prosecution Service UK charges Kevin Spacey with sexual assault

The CPS told the BBC it could not confirm or deny whether or not Spacey will need to be extradited to the UK

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Screenshot/Sky News UK

LONDON – The Crown Prosecution Service announced Thursday that actor Kevin Spacey has been charged with five counts including three complaints relating to sexual abuse, which is alleged to have taken place in London, and one in Gloucestershire during the time period between 2005 and 2013.

Crown prosecutors told media outlets that the decision to move forward was based on a lengthy investigation by the Metropolitan Police Specialist Crime Directorate at Scotland Yard. The Directorate is a national police agency which handles specialist crime investigations such as e-crime, sex crimes (paedophile unit) or kidnappings.

In its reporting Thursday, the BBC outlined the cases against the actor.

The first two charges relate to alleged sexual assaults on a man, now in his 40s, in London in March 2005, while a second alleged victim, a man now in his 30s, is claimed to have been assaulted in London in August 2008.

The serious sexual offence charge – causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent – also relates to the second alleged victim.

The third complainant relates to an alleged assault on a man who is now in his 30s in Gloucestershire in April 2013.

Rosemary Ainslie, head of the CPS Special Crime Division, told the BBC that following the Met’s review of evidence the CPS had “authorised criminal charges against Kevin Spacey, 62, for four counts of sexual assault against three men”.

She added: “The Crown Prosecution Service reminds all concerned that criminal proceedings against Mr Spacey are active and that he has the right to a fair trial.”

The CPS told the BBC it could not confirm or deny whether or not Spacey will need to be extradited to the UK.

Spacey’s alleged sexual assaults occurred while he was living in London and employed as the renowned Old Vic Theatre’s artistic director in London between 2004 and 2015.

Spacey has been embroiled publicly and later in court over sexual assault allegations since October of 2017 when Out actor Anthony Rapp told the world that the Oscar-winning actor had tried to “seduced” him when Rapp was 14 years old. 

Rumours about Spacey’s behaviour had circulated in film and theatre circles for a considerable length of time previous to Rapp’s allegation.

Spacey’s response was immediate. He apologized and came out. “I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years,” Spacey wrote on Twitter.

“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me, and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my own privacy,” Spacey said, adding “I now chose to live as a gay man.”

In July of 2019, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe announced that a charge against Spacey which accused the actor of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old boy in a Nantucket, Mass. bar had been dropped.

In court documents, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said the charge was dropped “due to an unavailability of the complaining witness.”

News anchor Heather Unruh accused Spacey of getting her son, William Little, drunk at the Club Car, a bar in Nantucket, Mass., and groping him in July 2016 when Little was 18 years old.

In October of 2019, the office of then Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that prosecutors have declined to move forward in a sexual battery case against the actor because the accuser had died.

That case, one of several involving accusations of sexual misconduct and assault by the Oscar winning actor, allegedly occurred after an October 2016 incident. A masseur had claimed that Spacey had inappropriately touched him in a sexual manor at a private home in Malibu as he was giving Spacey a massage.

A statement released by the LADA’s office notes that the masseur’s allegations against could not be proven without his participation in court proceedings. The alleged victim had also civil suit pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Spacey for the same incident.

Kevin Spacey charged with sexual assault:

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Notables

Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith named to Time’s Top 100 list for 2022

“In the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith”

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Courtesy of Equality Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – Time magazine released its annual 100 most influential people list and this year one of the honorees was Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. In the biographical sketch accompanying Smith’s listing, Time writer Kristen Arnett noted “in the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith.”

“I am deeply honored to be included in the TIME100,” said Smith, a Black, queer woman. “This recognizes decades of work not only by me, but by the dedicated team of volunteers, staff and supporters I’ve had the privilege to work with at Equality Florida.  Our work is far from done as Florida, once again, stands at the center of the fight against extremism and hate.  We are bearing the brunt of a governor willing to sacrifice the safety of children and destroy our most basic liberties in his desperate bid to be President. But this is not simply Florida’s fight. The wave of anti-LGBTQ, racist, freedom-destroying bills sweeping the country calls each of us to fight for our rights and, indeed, our democracy.”

The list, now in its nineteenth year, recognizes the impact, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals. 

Smith comes from a long line of activists and barrier breakers. Her grandparents helped form the Southern Tenant Farmers Union to fight for the rights of sharecroppers. While in college, Smith co-founded IGLYO, the world’s largest LGBTQ youth and student organization. She co-chaired the 1993 March on Washington that drew a million marchers and she was part of the first Oval Office meeting between a sitting President and LGBTQ leaders. In the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Smith and her team coordinated a national response including raising millions in direct resources for survivors and families of the 49 killed. 

Smith’s recognition comes as Florida has taken center stage in the right wing, anti-freedom agenda aimed at erasing LGBTQ people from classrooms, propagandizing curriculum, censoring history, banning books, and putting politicians in control of personal medical decisions.

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential ambitions have fueled bills like Don’t Say Gay, the Stop WOKE Act, a 15-week abortion ban, and dangerous national rhetoric that seeks to dehumanize LGBTQ people in service to the most extreme segment of his base,” Equality Florida stated in a press release Monday.

The 2022 TIME100, and its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, with related tributes appear in the June 6/June 13 double issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, May 27, and online now at time.com/time100.

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