Edward Carpenter born 29 August 1844 (d. 1929)
Born in Brighton, Carpenter was educated like all his brothers at Brighton College where his father was a governor. He then attended Trinity Hall, Cambridge before joining the Church of England as a curate.
Carpenter left the church in 1874 and became a lecturer in astronomy. During this period, he moved to Sheffield to live in a same sex relationship with George Merrill, a working class man he had met on a train. Two men of different classes living together fairly openly as a couple was almost unheard of in England in the 1890s, but they would remain partners for the rest of their lives. E M Forster was close friends with the couple, and he claimed that George Merrill was the inspiration for his novel Maurice. Carpenter was also a significant influence on the author D H Lawrence, whose Lady Chatterley's Lover can be seen as a heterosexualised Maurice.
In 1883, Carpenter joined the Social Democratic Federation, and in 1885 he left with William Morris to join the Socialist League. Never committing to any narrow doctrine, he dabbled in the Labour Church movement, and studied Eastern Religion, travelling to Ceylon and India in 1890. On his return he developed a kind of 'mystic socialism' which produced campaigns against air pollution and vivisection, promoted vegetarianism and 'rational dress', a reaction to Victorian clothing which included the making and wearing of sandals. These ideas were considered crackpot by many in the Left.
Later he became a founder member of the Independent Labour Party in 1893. His pacifism led him to become a vocal opponent of first the Second Boer War and then the First World War.
In the 1890s, Carpenter began to campaign against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. He strongly believed that homosexuality was a natural orientation for people of a 'third sex'. His 1908 book on the subject, The Intermediate Sex, would become a foundational text of the LGBT movements of the 20th century. Carpenter also both supported and drew inspiration from the Women's movement.
He died in 1929, thirteen months after suffering a stroke, and was buried in Mount Cemetery at Guildford in Surrey.
Edmund Carpenter was the first gay activist of the modern age. A true pioneer.
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