clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Has Pennsylvania Historic Program ignored Bill Tilden because he was gay?

A Philadelphia-area resident says local politicians have ignored an historic marker for tennis great Bill Tilden, and he wonders if it's because he was jailed for being gay.

A Philadelphia suburb resident has had trouble gaining political support for a Pennsylvania Historic marker acknowledging tennis great Bill Tilden, and he thinks it's due to homophobia. Tilden was born and raised in Philadelphia and became one of the greatest tennis players of the 20th Century. He was the first American to win Wimbledon (in 1920, also winning in '21 and '30). He also won the U.S. Open singles title seven times.

Yet Jon Rossman of West Mt. Airy cannot get the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission to recognize Tilden with an historic markerFrom the Chestnut Hill Local:

"Why is there no marker?" Rossman wanted to know and wondered, "Maybe because he was gay? Tilden was well known in this country," Rossman reasons. "He was right up there with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. These are outstanding athletes whom America honors."

Rossman believes politicians, like Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, have ignored his pleas to support an historic marker because Tilden was imprisoned for being gay. That prompted the Chestnut Hill Local editor to weigh in strongly:

The list of luminaries who were imprisoned and/or committed suicide because they were gay is long and includes author/playwright Oscar Wilde, World War II Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing (the current movie, "The Imitation Game"), German steel manufacturer Friedrich Krupp, poet Hart Crane, British four-time "Fashion Designer of the Year" Alexander McQueen, photographer Diane Arbus, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, fashion model Margaux Hemingway, explorer Meriwether Lewis, folksinger Phil Ochs, poet Sylvia Plath, painter Mark Rothko, actor George Sanders, author Virginia Woolf, et al. I find it interesting and extraordinarily hypocritical that current politicians like Mayor Nutter and City Council members who have embraced gay voters should turn their backs on Bill Tilden, a victim of grave injustice who obviously cannot vote anymore.

Tilden was one of the first great professional athletes in America. His birthplace and the home where he was raised would certainly be great candidates for recognition by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Markers for professional sports personalities are aplenty, one just last year being erected for Philadelphia Warriors coach Eddie Gottlieb.

Hopefully local politicians will get over the fact that Tilden was imprisoned for being gay and will support a marker for this historic American.