In the decades before and early years following Stonewall and the modern gay rights movement, there were few, if any, positive depictions of gays and lesbians in the media. "The Naked Civil Servant" was later made into a film, starring John Hurt in his first portrayal of Crisp in 1975, making Crisp an international celebrity.
During the 60's and 70's the only openly gay man any of us had as a role model was Quentin Crisp, who was a frequent guest on TV talk shows like the "Dick Cavett Show" and "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson". It was a mixed blessing. While Crisp was defiantly out in a very public way, he was very old school in his self-loathing as a gay man. His flamboyant style, which included wearing makeup and nail polish as a boy, made him the frequent target of abuse in school, which would shape his self-perception for the rest of his 90-year life.
British LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell of OutRage! accuses the ITV bio-drama of sanitizing Crisps controversial life in tonight's airing of "An Englishman in New York". In a press release sent out Monday morning, Tatchell says, "Quentin Crisp was a contradictory, infuriating figure. Although astonishingly brave and defiant as an out gay man in the 1930s and 40s, he was later defiantly self-obsessed, homophobic and reactionary. Quentin denounced the gay rights movement and slammed homosexuality as 'a terrible disease'; adding that 'the world would be better without homosexuals."
Tatchell's press release goes on to say:
"This is a good film, with another stunning performance by John Hurt, but it sanitises Crisp's ignorant, pompous homophobia. Quentin disparaged homosexuality as an illness, affliction, burden, curse and abnormality. He regarded himself as 'disfigured' by his gayness. He never spoke out for gay rights or supported any gay equality cause," added Mr Tatchell.
"An Englishman in New York invites us to admire Crisp as a hero and pioneer. By the time he moved to the United States he had ceased to be either heroic or pioneering. He turned into an ever-more bitter, self-obsessed person who resented that they way millions of gay people had come out and stolen his limelight.
"Quentin hated the fact that he was no longer unique - no longer the only visible queer on the block. For this reason, he loathed the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It had encouraged and empowered the mass coming out of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. He disliked being over-taken and over-shadowed by others; dismissing the new generations of out and proud gay people as johnny-come-latelys.
"He never backed any campaign against homophobic discrimination or violence, and he declined to condemn anti-gay politicians and preachers.
"Quentin Crisp is no gay icon. The true icons and pioneers of the modern British gay community are heroes like Allan Horsfall and Antony Grey. They were the driving forces of the first gay rights organisations in Britain - the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee set up in 1964 and the Homosexual Law Reform Society, established earlier in 1958. These two men, who are still alive and have never received the public recognition they deserve, have done far more for gay dignity and advancement than Quentin Crisp.
"Crisp is a pale shadow of US gay rights trailblazers like Harry Hay, Frank Kameny, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
"The film acknowledges that Crisp disgracefully dismissed Aids as a 'fad', at a time when thousands of gay men were dying and the US government was largely ignoring the epidemic. Sadly, it ignores his ridiculing of the gay liberation movement and his dismissal of the struggle for lesbian and gay equal rights.
"Echoing the worst homophobes, Crisp said that gay men were incapable of love and incapable of caring about other people. The supposed lack of altruism among gay men was, according to Quentin, because they had 'feminine minds.' He was a misogynist, as well as a homophobe.
"In 1997, he told The Times that he would advise parents to abort a foetus if could be shown to be genetically predetermined to be gay: 'If it (homosexuality) can be avoided, I think it should be.'
"Compared to The Naked Civil Servant, this is a much less satisfying film, partly because it portrays Quentin true to life, as a much less sympathetic warts-and-all character, which is what he became in the latter part of his life," said Mr Tatchell.