On the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, we remember its LGBT+ history

According to Kinsey, approximately 225 gay men died making Titanic an overlooked but essential chapter in LGBT+ history.

Titanic passengers Major Archibald Willingham Butt and Francis Millet
Image: Bill Gonyo Via Library of Congress- 2010 | Wikimedia Commons

Today (April 15) marks 108 years since the sinking of Titanic. Over 1500 people perished when the ‘unsinkable’ ship sank in the Mid-Atlantic ocean, over two hours after striking an Iceberg.

The ship had only entered service four days prior and was expected to complete its maiden voyage to New York by April 17.

The story of Titanic has been retold many times, most notably through the 1997 Blockbuster triggering a pop culture phenomena of iconic scenes, quotes and characters. The tragic love story of Jack and Rose enchanted the imagination of so many in the LGBT+ community for the past 23 years.

Louis Stables explains this might be due to the deep storyline of Rose and her “coming out” to herself both socially and sexually, liberating herself from her repressive background.

Something many in the LGBT+ community can relate to, particularly those growing up in an era where representation was virtually non-existent on the big screen.

After all one of the earliest quotes from Rose in the movie was:

“Outwardly, I was everything a well-brought-up girl should be. Inside, I was screaming.”

Feel familiar?

It got me thinking about Titanic as a setting for gay fiction and while researching for my Easter entertainment, I discovered an interesting story of real passengers.

Titanic
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on 10 April 1912

Gay activist, historian Jack Fritscher and author of Titanic-themed Gay fiction ‘Titanic: The Untold Tale of Gay Passengers and Crew’ describes it best:

“If, according to Kinsey, one out of six ordinary men is gay, 225 gay men died. If two out of six in the travel industry are gay, 450 gay men died, making Titanic an overlooked but essential chapter in gay history.”

Well, don’t get your hopes up about a tragic gay love story on Titanic too quickly, this is very speculative stuff.

Since the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking back in 2012, several news outlets have discussed an essay written by historian James Gifford for OutHistory.org who suggests two prominent figures; US army officer and journalist Archibald Butt (above left) and sculpture Francis Millet (above right) were gay.

The essay refers to the two men as travel companions, be it they berthed separately and held separate accommodation on Titanic.

The essay emphasises that there is no “concrete evidence” to suggest the two were lovers or that Butt was even gay.

They do suggest that Gifford was a little more convinced of Millet’s sexuality despite him been married.

What is conclusive is that the two friends tragically lost their lives in the disaster and are memorialised in the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain in Washington, D.C.

46 year-old Archibald Butt served as a military aide to US presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, while 63 year-old Francis Millet designed US military medials for the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine Insurrection among many other worthy contributions.

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