Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Billy Tipton

Born as Dorothy Lucille Tipton in Oklahoma City and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Tipton displayed musical talent while still young and came of age determined to be a musician. But the world of jazz, especially for musicians, was almost entirely restricted to men, and so Tipton decided to take on a male identity, wearing men’s clothes and adopting the name of Billy. In the 1930s and 1940s, he played with a number of bands in the Midwest and Plains States. In the early 1950s, he formed the Billy Tipton trio, which regularly toured the western states. During these decades, Tipton had a number of long-term intimate relationships with women, including with Kitty Kelly, whom he married and with whom he adopted and raised three sons. Living in Spokane, Washington, and unwilling to risk the discovery by others of his female body, Tipton avoided seeing doctors and, as he got older, lived with a number of untreated ailments. When he died in 1989 of perforated ulcers, Tipton’s anatomy was exposed. It was a shock and surprise to his former wife and to his sons, none of whom knew, and it became a major news story.