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Alfred Nobel And The Gays

Andre_Gide_1930Nobel Week is over! Many congrats to the winners. But the question nags: Why are there almost no LGBT Nobel laureates?

This thought's been bugging HuffPo's Laurence Watts all month, and the resulting essay, "Where Are The Gay Nobel Prize Winners?", is worth a read. He writes:

Let me rattle off some names you should recognize, and hopefully you'll see my point: Marie Curie (physics in 1903, chemistry in 1911), T.S. Eliot (literature in 1943), Winston Churchill (literature in 1953), Ernest Hemingway (literature in 1954), Martin Luther King, Jr. (peace in 1964), Henry Kissinger (peace in 1973), Milton Friedman (economics in 1976), Desmond Tutu (peace in 1984), Mikhail Gorbachev (peace in 1990), Kofi Annan (peace in 2001), Jimmy Carter (peace in 2002), Harold Pinter (literature in 2005), Paul Krugman (economics in 2008), Al Gore (peace in 2007) and Barack Obama (peace in 2009).

Obviously I've only picked the famous names, so this is not a representative selection, but all of the above share one thing in common aside from being Nobel Prize winners: they were all married, and not to someone of the same sex ...

I've tried to go through the ranks of non-famous Nobel Prize winners, as well, the ones who won for discovering new elements or very small things, or for inventing Band-Aids. I found nothing, which leads me to conclude that either we don't know enough about the private lives of these sweater-wearing types or the Noble Foundation is a bunch of queer-bashers.

Laurence mentions two names that, you'd think, ought to appear on a list of Nobel laureates: the Englishmen John Maynard Keynes and Alan Turing. Turns out, there's good reasons these gayfolk never won. Keynes, who was at one time regarded as a brilliant conservative economist (and who has, for some reason, lately been written off as a socialist freedom-killer), did his work decades before the introduction of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Alan Turing, the freakish polymath who helped build advanced code-breaking computers for the Allies in WWII, and proceeded to do pioneering work on both artiicial intelligence as well as cellular biology, probably couldn't have won because his accomplishments were so diffuse. (Anyway, the Nobel committee prefers to award living people, and after being found guilty of sodomy by the English court, Turing committed suicide rather than submit to chemical castration.)

Laurence acknowledges that somewhere, deep in the bowels of Nobel history, one of the more obscure winners might've played for our team. And he's right, if you liberally interpret the word "obscure": Andre Gide, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947, was quite gay and quite famous. Still, there are a lot of Nobel laureates, and especially when considering literature, one doesn't seem like enough. Perhaps Capote flamed out early; maybe James Baldwin didn't write enough; and yeah, Ginsberg was really inconsistent. But Frederico Garcia Lorca? Jean Genet? Tennessee Williams? Marcel Proust?

All ignored. Oversight? Happenstance? I've got no idea, but I hope the situation changes soon. At HuffPo, Laurence writes:

Why, then, is having a gay Nobel Prize winner important? Duh, why was having a black president important? It's about aspiration. It seems odd to me as a writer that I can interview gay Oscar winners (Dustin Lance Black), Olympic gold medallists (Greg Louganis), Grammy Award winners (Elton John), CEOs (Apple's Tim Cook), Prime Ministers (Iceland's Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir) and even billionaires (David Geffen), but not a Nobel Prize winner.

I think that sounds right. IMHO, it's about time that Tony Kushner walked away with the prize. That guy's magic.

What other LGBT folk deserve it? Do we have a bunch of brilliant chemists, physicists, biologists, economists, epic poets, novelists or dramatists waiting in the wings? Who are they, and why aren't they famous?


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