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Uncanny X-Men #414 © 2002 Marvel Comics. COVER ART BY STEVE UY.

Although he was not the comic-book world's first openly gay superhero, Marvel Comics' Northstar is certainly the most well-known homosexual in comics. First appearing in X-Men #120–#121 (April–May 1979) with a team of heroes called Alpha Flight, Northstar was described as Jean-Paul Beaubier, Olympic and professional ski champion. His mutant powers included flight and superspeed, and when he clasped hands with his sister Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier), they could create brilliant bursts of light.

Northstar would appear a few more times with the Alpha Flight team prior to the first issue of their own comic book debuting in August 1983. There, readers learned that Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie were orphans who were raised separately. Jean-Paul had run away from his foster family, joined a circus, traveled through France, and eventually developed his mutant powers. He also became involved with Raymonde Belmonde, an older man who became his mentor and trainer (and perhaps lover). Later, Beaubier joined a radical separatist organization of Quebec Nationalists known as Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), but he left when their activities turned violent.

By the time he was recruited to join Alpha Flight, Jean-Paul Beaubier had become a wealthy world-class skiing champion, full of ego, rudeness, and unexplained grumpiness. He became a member of the superhero group, reuniting with his troubled sister, who had developed a split personality. He also developed an unrequited crush on his teammate, Walter Langkowski, a.k.a. Sasquatch. In Alpha Flight #41 (December 1986), Beaubier's secret identity as a mutant superhero was revealed to the world, and he was disgraced in the competitive skiing community.

Shortly thereafter, Northstar began to develop a seemingly incurable illness. Writer Bill Mantlo planned to reveal that the illness was AIDS—and planned to have Northstar die—but his editor Carl Potts, and Marvel's editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, put a halt to that storyline, forcing Mantlo to change the disease to a curable magic-based health problem. Mantlo made a public outcry about the subject to newspapers and magazines; reporters investigating found that many Marvel freelancers said that Shooter had reportedly declared a no gays in the Marvel universe policy. After Shooter's departure from Marvel, new editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco said no such policy ever existed, nor was ever enforced. Still, despite hints about Northstar's sexual orientation dropped by both John Byrne and Mantlo over the years, writers were not allowed to have him come out of the closet.

That finally changed with Alpha Flight #106 (March 1992), in a story called The Walking Wounded. In it, Northstar adopts a young baby girl infected with AIDS, but upon her death—and a fight with Canadian hero Major Maple Leaf—Beaubier came out as a gay hero to the world. The story got a huge amount of publicity, prompting Marvel to back-pedal, fearing controversy (editors were reportedly instructed to refer reporters to DC Comics rather than comment!). A 1994 Northstar miniseries barely made mention of the character's sexuality, though by the late 1990s, mention of his homosexuality became almost de rigueur for any story in which he appeared.

Although he can lay claim to being Marvel's first openly gay superhero, Northstar is not the industry's first. Alan Moore introduced gay heroes in his groundbreaking Watchmen series (1986–1987) and also revealed that one of the Miracleman family members was gay (Miracleman #12, September 1987). But it was in DC's Millennium and New Guardians (1988) that Gregorio—one of ten chosen to become the next step in humanity's evolution—became the first major gay superhero, Extrano. Since that time, many heroes have come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered: Pride in Gay Comics; Fade in Milestone's Blood Syndicate; Hero in DC's Superboy and the Ravers; Spectral in Malibu's The Strangers; Josiah Power in DC's The Power Company; Amazon in Marvel's Thunderbolts; Flying Fox in Homage's Astro City; Pied Piper in DC's The Flash; Cobweb in ABC's Tomorrow Stories and Jack Phantom and Jetman in ABC's Top Ten; and perhaps the most infamous in today's comics world, Apollo and Midnighter in Wildstorm's The Authority.

Given its history, it is ironic that in the modern era of Marvel Comics the company features more regularly seen gay and lesbian superheroes than any other company. The X-Men books alone feature several, making the corollary between social pressures on gays and mutants more obvious. Even the 2003 film X2: X-Men United features a character coming out to his parents about being a mutant, while in New X-Men #134 (January 2003), founding member Beast tells Cyclops he is not gay, but, I might as well be! I've been taunted all my life for my individualistic looks and style of dress I've been hounded and called names in the street and I've risen above it Come on, I'm as gay as the next mutant! I make a great role model for alienated young men and women. X-Statix has Phat and Vivisector, Exiles has Sunfire II, New Mutants has Karma, and Mystique has its bisexual title character.

Northstar is no longer alone then, as a gay hero or as a publicly-out mutant. He is also more high-profile today; after some guest appearances in 2001—in which it was revealed that he had written an autobiography titled Born Normal—Northstar joined the cast of Uncanny X-Men with issue #414 (December 2002). At Professor Charles Xavier's school for mutants, he supposedly teaches Business, Economics, and Flight. But mostly, Northstar doles out well-meaning lessons of tolerance to mutants, when not pining over unavailable straight teammates. —AM

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