Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 22) Pride Takes to the Skies

Previously :  42) The Dance of The 41 (1901) gave its name to the derogatory term for a gay man in Mexico which was used by 43) Alberto B. Mendoza (b.1971) in the name of his lgbt organisation which annually honours 41 lgbt Hispanics, one of whom was 44 ) Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba (b.1958), a writer of a lesbian mystery novel, a genre pioneered by 45) Katherine V. Forrest (b.1939), a former editor of Naiad Press whose books were published in Czech by 46) Markéta Navratilova (1975).

46) Markéta Navratilova (no relation to the more famous Martina, as far as I know) founded LePress in 2007. It was the first lesbian publishing house to be established in the Czech Republic. Markéta had lived in the UK for a couple of years and was impressed by the amount of lesbian literature that was available in mainstream book stores.

Back home in the Czech Republic Markéta’s friends expressed an interest in reading lesbian fiction but none of the publications were available in Czech. This led Markéta to found LePress as a way of expanding the lesbian literature market into eastern Europe. Looking at the back catalogue of Naiad Press which had been sold to Bella Books Markéta selected two romantic novels which she published as the first Czech language lesbian novels in the Czech Republic. From such small beginnings LePress has grown to include other lgbt publications and genres, including children’s books like the famous “And Tango Makes Three”.

Markéta Navratilova is also an activist. She is a member of the organising committee of the 2019 International Gay and Lesbian Association Europe conference to be held in Prague, and of the organising committee of Prague Pride.

Another member of both committees, and the core team manager of the 2019 conference, is 47) Czeslaw Walek (b.1975). His involvement with Prague Pride came about through his career as a lawyer and human rights campaigner. Between 2009 and 2011 he was Deputy Minister of Human Rights and Minorities. In late 2010 Czeslaw was approached by a group of people who wanted to organise the first Prague Pride. They asked him to draw up a constitution for their committee. His position as a Deputy Minister meant that he had established contacts with the government and police and he attended the committee meetings to offer advice.

By January 2011 the committee was looking for a Chair. Czeslaw was persuaded to accept the position. “Let’s try for a month”, he is reported to have said. Seven years later, in July 2018, he’s still Chair of Prague Pride.

Czeslaw’s appointment as Deputy Minister came during an unstable period in Czech politics. Just two months into the job the Czech government collapsed, and two years later the Human Rights Minister resigned and Czeslaw was put in charge of the department.

One of the areas in which Czeslaw is particularly pleased to have made an impact was the increase in the rights and attitudes towards the Roma community. In 2003 he was appointed Director of the Office of the Governmental Council for the Roma Community. It was in collaboration with Roma groups and the Equal Opportunities Party that Czeslaw campaigned as the Green Party candidate in the 2013 Czech parliamentary election.

His appointments were, so far, non-elective, and during his time in office there was only one openly lgbt member of the Czech government, Gustav Slamečka, the non-elected Minister of Transport (2009-10). Czeslaw didn’t win his Prague seat in 2013 and so didn’t earn the honour of being the first openly elected member of the lower house of the Czech parliament.

However, there had already been an openly lgbt member of the upper house, the Senate. He was 48) Václav Fischer (b1954). He was elected as an independent, openly gay, Senator for Prague’s municipal district 1 in 1999 with a massive 71% of the vote. During his three-year term of office he worked on the European Integration Committee. He decided not to seek re-election at the end of the three years.

Part of the reason for his success in the election was due to him being a successful and popular businessman. In 1999 his airline company, Fischer Air, was (after Skoda and Budweiser) the most recognised corporate brand in the Czech Republic. The origin of the company went back to 1980 when Václav, then living in Germany, founded the Fischer Reisen travel agency.

Following the Velvet Revolution and the long-overdue collapse of the Communist Czech dictatorship Václav leapt into the growing tourism markets. This was the basis of his success. By 1995 his business had become so successful that he was able to sell the original German part of Fischer Reisen to Lufthansa, and with the money bought a fleet of planes and set up Fischer Air.
Despite this success Václav Fischer and his company were declared bankrupt in 2003. The Czech economy was not stable enough to sustain the demand of his services. In 2005 Václav returned to Germany and set up other travel/tourism ventures and currently runs Aircraftleasing Meier and Fischer.

Vaclac Fischer is one of very few lgbt businessmen to run an airline. Another, who also has links to Lufthansa, is 49) Sir Michael Bishop, Baron Glendonbrook (b.1942).

Next time : We fly down to Rio with Lufthansa.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Questions of Identity

One of the direct consequences of the homohoax called the Popish Plot, about which I wrote earlier this week, was to whip up anti-Catholic frenzy in England to such as extent that parliament banned Catholics from the House of Commons and House of Lords, and changed the laws of succession to the throne to exclude Catholics.

King James II of England (James VII of Scotland) was deemed to have abdicated when he fled the country during the Glorious Revolution on 1688 and he set up a court in exile in France. His Protestant daughter became Queen Mary II and her husband (and cousin, himself third in line of Protestant succession to the throne after her) became joint sovereign as King William III.

Supporters of the exiled King James II became known as Jacobites (after Jacobus, the Latin for James) and over the next 57 years aided James’ Catholic son and grandsons in their attempts to regain the British throne.

The most famous of the Jacobite claimants was Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was James II’s grandson. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s younger brother was Prince Henry Stuart (1725-1807) who later became a Catholic cardinal we have met before on this blog. He is generally known today as Cardinal York.

The first Question of Identity is the Jacobite belief that these two princes were the rightful kings of England under the titles Charles III and Henry IX. The second Question of Identity concerns the royal portrait shown below on the left.
The portrait is by the French artist Maurice Quentin de La Tour and was bought by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1994. It is a pastel portrait on paper of Bonnie Prince Charlie dating to about 1747. Or is it? It was the basis of several portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie over the succeeding years, even being reproduced by the Scottish Gallery on postcards and souvenirs as being him. But ten years ago serious doubts about who the man really was began to make ripples in the art world.

Eminent art detective Dr. Bendor Grosvenor put forward the evidence to support his theory that the pastel portrait was actually of Cardinal York. Grosvenor’s original paper on the subject can be found here. Despite scepticism from the leading expert on Jacobite portraiture, who said in 1997 that there was no doubt that the portrait was of Bonnie Prince Charlie, it is now accepted that it depicts Cardinal York. The Jacobite expert has since agreed with this new identification.

How the portrait was re-identified involved (among other scientific methods) comparing the face to that of known portraits of both Bonnie Prince Charlie and Cardinal York. One portrait in particular was used for comparison, the one I’ve shown above on the right which depicts Cardinal York. The faces are identical. There is no doubt about the portrait on the right was painted from life, so one face cannot be that of someone else.

The next question to be answered is when was the portrait made? Scottish National Portrait Gallery originally put a date of 1746 or 1747 to it. At that time Cardinal York was living in Rome and was preparing to be created a cardinal in July 1747.

Michael Nevin, Chair of the 1745 Association, researched into the question of the date and, obviously, ruled out any date in or around July 1747. He also excluded the previous months in 1747 as it would have been very unlikely that Cardinal York would be portrayed in armour while preparing for entry the cardinalate.

In 1746 the Jacobite rebellion was effectively over. At the Battle of Culloden in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated and returned to France. His brother York was in France to help drum up support from the French king, but the Jacobites blamed York for not doing enough and he left France for Rome after serving in the French army for a few months.

So, if the Jacobite rebellion was over by 1745 and Cardinal York had returned to Rome in 1746 there would be little point in showing him in armour after that.

There is no record of the artist Maurice Quentin de La Tour travelling to Rome to carry out this portrait. It is most likely that it was done when York was in Paris in 1745 gathering support for his brother prior to the battle of Culloden.

Michael Nevin also came up with an interesting theory to explain why it was painted. When Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army were on their campaigns in England and Scotland during 1745 the Jacobites felt that the dynasty was on the verge of regaining the throne. There was much optimism and, perhaps, York had his portrait done during this time of optimism in anticipation of Bonnie Prince Charlie becoming king.

Whatever the reason, and whenever it was done, this portrait remained in Cardinal York’s possession. In 1842 his executors sold it to the Townley Balfour family. Whether they knew who the subject in the portrait was is not known, but between then and 1994 when it was bough by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery the man in armour became confused with similar portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Happily, this portrait of Cardinal York, the last to show him in armour before him entering the Church, fills the gap in the pictorial representation of the last true Jacobite claimant to the throne.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Homohoax : The Popish Plot

The conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the UK lasted several centuries, dominating the Tudor period and causing the demise of the Stuart dynasty. It was an era when propaganda and fake news from both sides led to the execution of innocent people.

Perhaps the most important hoax of the period was the Popish Plot of 1678 which had far-reaching consequences, including the reason Queen Elizabeth II sits on the throne of the UK and not Prince Franz von Wittelsbach, Hereditary Duke of Bavaria.

The Popish Plot was the brainchild of Titus Oates (1649-1705) who spent his entire life telling lies. Even though he was educated at the best schools Titus was not good academically and got thrown out of all of them. It was remarked, however, that he had a good memory, something which is an apocryphal requirement for anyone who habitually lies.
Portrait of Titus Oates by an unknown artist (Wikimedia Commons)
Titus went to Cambridge University but left before completing any courses. That didn’t stop him from falsely claiming he had a degree in order to obtain a license to preach in 1670. He became Vicar of Bobbing in Kent and then became curate to his father, a Protestant clergyman, in Hastings.

There Titus began fabricating stories about other people. He accused a school master of having sex with his boy pupils in order to get him fired (and executed under the Buggery Act of 1534). Titus hoped he would be given the job of master. The accusations was proved false and Titus was charged with perjury. The irony of this is that Titus himself had earned a reputation for homosexuality while he was at Cambridge.

Realising his plan had backfired Titus fled to escape trial and in 1675 was appointed chaplain on the ship “Adventurer”. He didn’t serve on the ship long before he was accused of homosexuality. As an ordained priest he had the “benefit of the clergy” and escaped execution. This is probably the only time when one of his lies, that of having a degree enabling him to be ordained, actually saved his life.

Titus was discharged from the navy and was soon re-arrested to face the perjury charges in Hastings. Again, he escaped. For a few months he conned his way into the employ of the Duke of Norfolk, the senior Catholic peer in England. This job didn’t last long either and he returned to London.

In London Titus met Rev. Israel Tonge, a critic of the Jesuits, the powerful order of Catholic priests, and he persuaded Titus to write propaganda pamphlets against them. To help him find reasons to fabricate accusations against them Titus feigned conversion to Catholicism and joined a Jesuit college in Spain. Five months later, in November 1677, the Jesuits threw him out for “scandalous behaviour”. Titus then found a placement in a Jesuit seminary in France, who also threw him out after a few months. It was on his return to England that he concocted the Popish Plot.

It began with persuading an acquaintance to intercept King Charles II in St. James’s Park one morning in August 1678 and warn him of a plot by the Jesuits to assassinate him. This plot was backed up by a lengthy manuscript, written by Titus Oates, which outlined the plot in detail and named almost a hundred conspirators.

The king was highly sceptical but the government believed it and began an investigation. Before the Privy Council Titus repeated his accusations with many additional elaborations. The king noticed glaring discrepancies in his statements but the Privy Council, like the government, believed him and had several alleged conspirators arrested.

As anti-Catholic hysteria grew Titus Oates came up with new accusations against five Catholic lords. Again, the king was sceptical but parliament believed him and sent the lords of the Tower of London. One was executed, one died naturally and the others were freed on a technicality. It was at this time that some MPs started to demand that the king’s Catholic brother, James, Duke of York, be excluded from succession to the throne. They also managed to ban Catholics from being members of both Houses of Parliament. By the end of 1678 Catholics had been forced out of London.

As arrests of the innocent increased the public began to be aware that something wasn’t quite right. People they knew were innocent were being arrested. Even the courts began to side with caution. Eventually the Chief Justice of England started to throw out all new accusations. The king himself was horrified at the number of people who were executed over something he didn’t believe existed, and pardoned everyone who were convicted or awaiting trial.

By now the end was in sight for Titus Oates’ scheme. Having realised that the Popish Plot was a hoax the authorities arrested him for perjury. His trial was presided over by the infamous Judge Jeffreys who sentenced him to life imprisonment. To ensure his total humiliation he also ordered that Titus be whipped and pilloried in public five days a years.
Engraving of Titus Oates in the pillory, taken from “Chambers’ Book of Days” 1864.
Even though the Popish Plot was uncovered many of its consequences remain to this day. Supporters of the exclusion of the Duke of York from the throne were nicknamed Whigs, and opponents were nicknamed Tories. These names survived for several centuries as names of political parties which eventually became the Liberal and Conservative Parties respectively. Conservative MPs are still called Tories.

Thanks to Tory support in the House of Commons the Duke of York succeeded his brother as King James II of England. The Whigs, however, kept pushing for total Catholic exclusion and eventually forced James to flee the country. The Protestant Prince of Orange was invited to take the throne with his wife, King James’s Protestant daughter, in 1688 and they reigned jointly as King William III and Queen Mary II. To ensure Protestant succession parliament passed the Act of Settlement 1701 by which the current rules of succession to the British throne are governed. The Catholic family of ex-King James led several rebellions in attempts to regain the throne. These were the Jacobite rebellions (more of which later this week).

Even today there are Jacobite supporters who consider that Prince Franz of Bavaria is the rightful king of the UK, being the most senior Catholic descendant of the family.

As for Titus Oates, after being hailed as a national hero for uncovering the Popish Plot, and then hated once it was revealed to be a hoax, he ended his life in obscurity. He had been pardoned by William and Mary, but was largely forgotten by the British public when he died in 1705.

Despite his ignominious final years Titus may actually have the last laugh. He wanted Catholics off the throne of England and that is what happened.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 20) The 41

Previously : 39) Ivor Novello (1893-1951) failed to become a Hollywood sex symbol, unlike 40) Ramon Novarro (1899-1968) who had escaped Mexico City after 41) Amelio Robles Avila (1889-1984) and the Zapatistas took it over in the Mexican Revolution, one of whose origins was in a scandal involving 42) The Dance of The 41 (1901).

Unlike the Sacred Band ofThebes in January I can’t represent 42) The Dance of The 41 with a single representative because their names have not been revealed. Only one name has been linked to The 41, that of Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, the son-in-law of Mexican President Diaz. Some of the allegations of Diaz’s corruption centred round the cover-up and conspiracy of silence that surrounded this homosexual scandal in 1901.
A contemporary satirical leaflet about the Dance of The 41.
The identities of The 41 was suppressed and removed from Mexican history, though the significance of their number as a derogatory term for homosexual men continues in the public consciousness today. There is no conclusive proof that Ignacio de la Torre y Mier was one of The 41 (or The 42), only rumours of his participation after the media began to report the incident.

Lgbt history is full of anonymous victims of persecution and the Dance of The 41 is a perfect example. All we know about them is that police raided a private address in Mexico City in the early hours of 17th November 1901. There the police found 41 men, 19 of them dressed as women, having a dance party. This was enough for them all to be arrested.

Most of those present at the party were probably members of the highest social levels in Mexico City, so there was enough pressure on President Diaz from powerful families to keep the names of those present secret.

No-one is sure what happened to The 41. It is said that half of them were released without charge through the influence of their wealthy families. The others were said to have been sentenced to hard labour in prison. Ever since then the number 41 has been stigmatised and associated with homosexuality. Even some hotels in Mexico have no Room 41. Over a century later the number 41 was reclaimed as a mark of honour by the lgbt community in much the same way as the Nazi pink triangle was in the 1970s.

43) Alberto B. Mendoza (b.1971), an activist living in the USA, was bullied at school in his native Mexico because of his sexuality. He was called “41” but didn’t realise the true origin of this insult until his 41st birthday when he decided to find out why. This led him to discover the story of the Dance of The 41 and to create a charity named after them which campaigns to combat homophobia in the Latin American and Hispanic communities.
Alberto’s charity, Honor41, produces an annual list of 41 lgbt Latin American pioneers and heroes from all walks of life. The first list was published in 2013. With over 200 names from which to continue my 80 Gays I took one at random. The name I chose was 44) Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba (b.1958).

Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba appeared on the 2016 Honor41 list. She is an academic at the University of California Los Angeles which she joined in 1994 and specialises in Hispanic studies and is a prolific writer on the subject.

Dr. Alicia was born in El Paso in Texas near the Mexican border. One incident near El Paso in the 1990s inspired her to write a mystery novel. The incident concerned the very real unsolved murders of over 500 Mexican women. Alicia spent several years researching their deaths. With so many questions and few answers Alicia decided to write a novel based on the murders. The novel, “Desert Blood” (published 2005), featured the murder of Mexican women and the problems of immigration and treatment of female immigrants by the authorities.

For “Desert Blood” Alicia received the Lambda Literary Award for the Best Lesbian Mystery. Murder and mystery is genre in which women have always been prominent. Writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, among others, have produced some of the most popular mystery novels. Leading the lgbt contingent of female mystery writers are Val McDermid and Patricia Cornwell.

The person generally credited with starting the modern lesbian mystery genre is 45) Katherine V. Forrest (b.1939). Katherine’s 1984 novel “Amateur City” featured a lesbian homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department by the name of Kate Delafield, the first lesbian detective to feature in her own series of novels. Of the nine published books in the series Katherine Forrest has won 7 Lambda Literary Awards.

Katherine was also the fiction editor of Naiad Press for ten years. Naiad Press was one of the first publishing houses which concentrated on books by lesbian writers founded in 1973. In 2003 the founders retired and sold their stock and titles to another publisher specialising in lesbian literature, Bella Books.

Bella Books also produces foreign translations of their books. These include into French, German and Spanish. Some translations of Bella Books became the first novels published by LePress. Despite sounding French, this publishing company is based in the Czech Republic. The founder of LePress is 46) Markéta Navrátilová (b.1975).

Next time : Czech Pride takes to the air.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

The First Openly Gay Olympian - A Century Ago

With the World Cup dominating the television channels at the moment let’s take a look at another sport which is just behind in media coverage – tennis.

What can connect the two sports is the issue of lgbt inclusion. Football is notorious for not welcoming (male) lgbt players, despite their worthless paper declarations to the contrary. Reports of homophobic chants at World Cup matches and the general anti-gay stance of the host nation Russia has highlighted the problems.

The issue of lgbt inclusion in sport goes back further than you might think, and it illustrates well the long-standing homophobia of football and its damaging influence on other sports.

At the beginning of the 20th century Danish tennis tournaments were governed by the Dansk Bolspil-Union (DBU, the Danish Football Union). One of the stars of Danish tennis was Leif Rovsing (1887-1977). Between 1907 and 1916 he won five national doubles championships.

Leif Rovsing came from a wealthy family. On the whole tennis was a sport of the wealthy while football was a favoured sport of the ordinary working people. This was a European-wide distinction and in football, with its class prejudices, echoes of this distinction still linger. Leif joined the Copenhagen Ball Club, a member of the DBU, which had a tennis section.

At the Wimbledon tournament in 1910 Leif competed in both the men’s singles and doubles competitions, though he was knocked out in the second round of the singles tournament by Britain’s Lt. L. E. Milburn, and knocked out of the doubles tournament in the first round by the Fyzee brothers from India.

Despite this Leif was Danish national singles champion, and in 1912 qualified for the Stockholm Olympics. Again, he played in the outdoor singles and doubles tournaments (in those days there was both an indoor and outdoor tournament). He only played two matches, both of which he lost and didn’t progress to the next round. Yesterday and today are the anniversaries of those two matches.

His first match on 29th June 1912 was against Sweden’s Sven Wennergen in the third round, after having been awarded a walkover result in his first scheduled match. With his doubles partner Victor Hansen Leif played against a Russian couple in the second round on 30th July, again after a walkover decision in their first scheduled match.
These matches on 29th and 30th June 1912 at the Stockholm Olympics make Leif Rovsing (abovve) the first known lgbt Olympian.

Also at Stockholm was fellow gay Dane Niels Bukh who was coach to the gold medal winning Swedish men’s gymnastics team. Niels had hoped to compete at the previous games in London 1908 but was dropped from the Danish gymnastics team because he was too muscular and butch and his physique didn’t fit in with those of the rest of the team.

In 1917 the DBU began investigating reports that Leif Rovsing had sexual relations at his home with an 18-year-old male tennis student. We are still familiar with the old homophobic excuse that gay men are a corrupting influence on the young, and the DBU used this as their reason to ban Leif from playing in any tennis tournament for four years.

At the investigation committee Leif admitted that he did indeed have intimate moments with young men, without actually admitted to sexual activity which would undoubtedly have resulted in a life ban.

As such this also makes Leif Rovsing the first openly gay former Olympian in 1917.

Tennis was Leif’s life. Having inherited a fortune from his father he didn’t need to find employment and he lived for tennis. He urged the DBU to reconsider their ban, but to no avail. Using part of his fortune he set up his own private tennis club, the Dansk Tennis Club, in 1919.

In 1921 the ban on Leif’s playing career expired and he immediately launched himself back onto the Danish tennis circuit. The newly-formed Danish Lawn Tennis Association invited Leif to become a member of their team heading to the 1923 Indoor Tennis World Championships in Barcelona. With doubles partner Erik Tegner he reached the final, but lost to the French couple Henri Cochet and Jean Couiteas.

Things seemed to be returning to normal for Leif, but in the background the Copenhagen Ball Club reopened the 1917 case and called for a renewed investigation. They recommended a further ban on Leif Rovsing in 1924, which the DBU agreed to put into force. However, this time there was at least a little leeway for Leif. Even though he was banned from playing for Danish clubs or from representing Denmark he could play against Danish players abroad, as long as their clubs agreed.

For a couple of years there was the hope of a revival to his career. In 1927 the Klovermarkens Tennis Club organised a tournament at which Leif was invited to play. Lots of top Danish players were also invited but, because these players were members of the Danish Lawn Tennis Association, one of the organisations included in the 1924 ban and still under the control of the Danish Football Union, the Association refused to allow Leif to take part. The Klovermarkens Tennis Club took the DBU to court and, once again, the unfounded belief that gay men are a corrupting influence dominated the case and a new ban was imposed on Leif.

With his professional tennis career now over Leif concentrated on his own Dansk Tennis Club. He travelled extensively in the Far East and recaptured his love of its culture in the decoration of the club buildings. He then began to concentrate on a campaign to demand that lgbt athletes in all sports should not be discriminated against and allowed to compete at the same level as any other athlete. This he did through letters, magazines and lectures.

After World War II Leif began writing regular articles in “Vennen”, the magazine published by the Forbundet af 1948 (The Association of 1948), the gay rights organisation founded by the activist couple Axel and Eigil Axgil. Leif also contributed financially towards the publication coats of the magazine.

In 1955 police raided the offices of “Vennen” is response to reports that it had published pornographic images of boys. The police extended their raids to the homes of people they considered were directly responsible for publishing the images. Leif Rovsing’s home was one of them. He was arrested and held in custody for fifteen days before being released. Leif was convinced an unfounded accusation made of him having sex with a teenage boy was made against him out of revenge for him writing against the DBU.

Leif continued to write articles for lgbt publications up to his death in 1977. He had blazed a trail of activism in sport for fifty years, and all funded though his inherited fortune. He didn’t ask for donations and he had no charitable organisation to fund his work. He left his fortune to the Dansk Tennis Fund which he had founded to manage his Dansk Tennis Club. The Club is still in existence today.

Leif Rovsing was the first openly gay athlete to challenge the established homophobia in sport, and in particular against the football organisations who controlled tennis in those days.

With the world in the midst of football and tennis frenzy it would be appropriate to bring Leif Rovsing out of the shadows and give him his rightful place as a pioneer of lgbt inclusion in sport.