Editor’s Note: The sudden, shocking death by suicide of 26-year-old Aaron Swartz, programming genius and free speech activist, provoked a huge Internet backlash when it was learned that he was being aggressively pursued by a Massachusetts prosecutor for the alleged crime of downloading scholarly articles from the database GSTOR. The case raises all kinds of issues of prosecutorial overreach, antiquated laws governing cyberspace, and so on. But there’s also a curious twist in that Aaron Swartz was apparently gay or bi—or, rather, not gay or bi. Swartz expressly repudiated the term and wrote the following brief screed in 2009 (posted on Raw Thought). What’s interesting, I think, is the extent to which his disavowal of the word “gay,” and of all labels for sexual orientation, seems to reflect an attitude that’s typical of today’s twenty-somethings—a challenge to currently dominant assumptions about sexual orientation.
Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) helped in the development of RSS as a teenager and later founded the wiki platform Infogami. He founded the on-line group Demand Progress to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act. While a research fellow at Harvard, he was arrested by federal authorities for illegally downloading academic papers. He was found dead by hanging in his Brooklyn apartment on January 11, 2013.