Native New Yorker Stephen Sondheim, the winningest composer in Broadway history, has earned eight Tonys, eight Grammys, seven Drama Desk awards, an Obie, an Oscar, and a Pulitzer Prize. Last year he turned 80 and was feted with major special concerts by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, and assorted stage and screen legends at benefits by the Roundabout Theatre Company and the New York City Center. Also, they renamed the former Henry Miller Theatre on 43rd Street in his honor. Arlington Virginia's acclaimed Signature Theatre created the Sondheim Award, of which Sondheim was the premiere recipient, Angela Lansbury the second, and next will be Bernadette Peters. Last October, Knopf published Sondheim's Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes, this coming October they'll release Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes. A great lover of puzzles and games, he contemplated giving up theater to write mysteries, and did co-author two whodunnit screenplays; The Last of Sheila, co-written with Anthony Perkins, won them an Edgar. Sondheim did not have a live-in boyfriend until 1992, when he was 61; he and dramatist Peter Jones lasted seven years.
Born of Indian parents in South Africa in 1962, Zackie Achmat grew up in the "coloured" community and was always a rebel for equality. By the time he was ten he was a total bookworm and gained special permission to use the whites-only library for reading, but he was still prohibited from using its restrooms. When he was fourteen, during the Sowetto Uprisings, he set his school on fire to convince his classmates to join the boycott. As an active member of the illegal ANC for years, he was jailed many times before apartheid ended and the ANC's Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994. That same year Achmat co-founded the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, and in 1996 South Africa had become the first nation whose Bill of Rights bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Building on lessons from the gay rights and anti-apartheid movements, in 1998 Achmat created the Treatment Action Campaign [TAC] to fight aids through prevention, to increase awareness, and to get medicines to the poor. Immediately he gained worldwide attention by announcing he was HIV+ and would refuse to take his drugs until they were available to all South Africans. Among the many ways TAC has changed lives is by helping to erode the shame and stigma of HIV, proclaiming one's positive status with bold t-shirts rather than hiding or lying. Winning numerous legal and public relations victories against the government and international pharmaceutical corporations, Achmat finally resumed his meds when he was very ill in August 2004, anticipating correctly that in November the Ministry of Health would announce its plan to distribute ARVs widely. The New Yorker ran an excellent profile of him written by Samantha Power in 2003, and the following year the American Friends Service Committee nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize (which went to Kenya's Wangari Maathai). In 2008, he married his partner Dalli Weyers, 25, in a terrific wedding where the traditional caketop figures of a bride and groom were replaced by a king and a cowboy.
When Publishing Triangle ranked the 100 Best LGBT Nonfiction Books of all time, they included works by Plato, Freud, Foucault, Faderman, Duberman, et al., and their undisputed choice at #1 was Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality by John Boswell, a history professor at Yale. He was 33 when it was published in 1980. Newsweek said it was, "an astonishing work of scholarship that ranges with ease over fourteen centuries...What makes the work so exciting is not simply its content -- fascinating though that is -- but its revolutionary challenge to some of Western culture's most familiar moral assumptions." Specifically, he proved that the Roman Catholic Church hadn't always been antigay, had either been indifferent to or had actually celebrated male - male love until the twelfth century. No surprise, Boswell was attacked by some conservative academics who thought he was promoting a gay agenda and by some gay people who said he was a Church apologist. Ultimately the complaints only added to the book's popularity because it was impeccably researched; it won the 1981 American Book Award for history.
After writing the first book about the widespread practice of child abandonment in medieval times, Boswell returned to gay topics and the early Church in another groundbreaking work, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. This time he argued the Church actually condoned certain male - male relationships with ceremonies that could be seen as precursors to gay marriage. Again, the book was brilliantly researched; again, the uproar; but the public debate was cut short: Boswell died of aids in December 1994 when he was 47. At Yale, he helped start the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, and his pre-modern history courses were immensely popular, among the top ten in enrollments. He is said to have written his comments on student papers in perfect medieval calligraphy.