Saturday, 8 August 2020

My Happy 9th Anniversary!

Well what can I say? I’m posting my 1,000th article today, though I have to admit that it is by design. I planned this year’s schedule specifically so that I could reach the magic 1,000 on this day, my 9th anniversary.

When I began my blog way back in 2011 I never thought I’d reach the start of my 10th year. It was never an intention to carry on after a couple of years. What changed my mind was the ever increasing number of readers and followers I built up over the months. It is with gratitude that I thank each and every one of you who read my blog, even if you get here by accident.

I’ve noticed a few changes over the years. My first articles were quite short. This was because I wanted to get as much information out there as possible, and I didn’t really make a plan for the future until I saw how the blog was received. It wasn’t long before I came up with the idea of doing an intermittent continuing series of articles on various subjects. The first was a series on the Greater Panathenean Games, which came about through a talk I was giving to a gay men’s support group here in Nottingham.

There was also the London Olympics, and I was beginning research into lgbt Olympians and lgbt participation in the games. London 2012 gave me the impetus to do more research. This is when I compiled my first list of lgbt Olympians. As I mentioned a few days ago, the list is rapidly approaching the 400 mark (another name has been added since then, a rower).

This research led to me becoming a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, the organisation affiliated to the International Olympic Committee and recognised as the “official” body for research into the Olympics.

On many occasions I have let my own personal interests influence what I write – it is my blog, after all. These interests have included family history, heraldry, and vexillilogy (flags).

I can understand why some people don’t think these subjects are significant to lgbt history, but just look at the Rainbow Pride flag and the many gender and sexuality flags there are out there. My next flag article will be on World Vexillology Day on 1st October when I’ll write about a special project that has collected over 100 of them.

Heraldry may seem to be an archaic subject, but if that is the case why have there been more coats of arms granted and adopted in the past 50 years than in the previous 500? My heraldry articles have also attracted comment and requests. I’ve been asked to do commissions, but I’ve turned them down because I know that there are better heraldic artists out there. Several armigers (people who have a coat of arms) have also contacted me to ask if I could include their coat of arms in my annual Heraldic Alphabet. I’ve been glad to.

In June I was contacted by the Australian Heraldry Society who were including an article on lgbt heraldry in their members’ journal. I like to think that my articles influenced their own. They wanted to include my original representation of Sir Elton John’s coat of arms which I produced for this blog, to which I gladly consented.

My family history research has also been appreciated by readers. In particular I’d like to mention my debunking of the Mail on Sunday’s claim of an American royal claimant to the British throne. The claimant in question contacted me to thank me for my research into his family. This led directly into research for my “Game of Gay Thrones” series. Initially I thought this would be a one-off article but I’ve found enough lgbt claimants and pretenders for a fifth article next year.

Another result of my genealogical research was an approach from the sister of a recently deceased lgbt Olympian who wanted to include my research in the biography of her brother that she was writing.

While writing my blog I have researched many subjects that I had absolutely no interest or knowledge of beforehand. This is best illustrated in the three “80 Gays Around the World” series I have produced. I would never have researched the colours of the uniform worn by the American Revolutionary soldiers if it hadn’t been for sculptor Anne Seymour Damer’s political activities, for example.

As well as covering well-known events and reviving forgotten stories my blog has given me a chance to recognise that not all lgbt history you read or hear about from activists is necessarily true. They only tell you what they want you to hear.

When I started this blog I was led to believe from lgbt activists that: 1) Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person elected to public office in the USA (there were 3 openly lgbt public officials elected in Illinois before him); 2) drag queens started the Stonewall Riot (they didn’t, they weren’t there until the riot was well under way – they’ve said so themselves); and 3) New York City held the first modern Pride March (if you ignore the Candelora parade in Italy dating back to 1256, the first Pride march was in Chicago).

I also get a little upset when people write themselves into someone else’s history. That second point is an example. Yes, drag queens were at Stonewall, but they didn’t start it or play a more significant part than anyone else. They have enough pioneering history of their own without pushing someone else out of theirs. The first self-identified drag queen in America was a gay, freed black slave. His story and struggles are more relevant to them and so many human rights issues of today in the USA than leading the Stonewall riots.

Whatever we think about historical events, whatever side or angle we take, our opinion of history is only formed by contemporary attitudes. We are all involved in making history, our own and our predecessors. Recent events have brought forward many revisionist views of our past and its people. Added to this is the work of academics and archaeologists who present new information which also change our views. A phrase I’ve often used when talking to friends is “history is always changing” and no-one can guarantee that what we think today will be acceptable in the future.

We live in a time where more of the past is revealed, recorded and accessible than at any other. Debate and controversy over what happened in the past helps us to understand the lives and attitudes of the people who lived there. It is also very easy for politicians and militants to manipulate history to promote their own agenda because there will always be someone who’ll listen.

I hope that my blog has been honest, not covering up or changing history to suit my own agenda, if I ever have one. I’ve tried to cover the good and bad in lgbt history, and I will continue to do so for another year. There have been a handful of mistakes and wrong information, I admit, but I’ve tried to correct them. Overall I think I’ve provided a fresh look at our lgbt heritage.

Please continue to read my blog and, once again, thank you for you interest.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

The Spartan Harvest and the Naked Chase

Even though our attention should have been on the Olympics at the moment we should remember that there were other festivals in ancient Greece. I’ve covered several of these festivals with sporting connection in some of my early articles.

In the first months of my blog I wrote about the Greater Panathenean Games. Just before the London Olympics I wrote about the Hyakinthia festival. This was the second of the three main festivals held in Sparta. The first was the Gymnopedia. The third was held during the last month of the Spartan calendar, just around now, and was called the Karneia. It is this festival about which I write today.

All three festivals were held in honour of the patron god of Sparta, Apollo, whose part in a gay love triangle formed the origin myth of the Hyakinthia. Even though all three festivals eventually included some sport the main emphasis, as in the Olympics, was on the cult of the patron god. To understand the involvement of the main participants in the Karneia we will look at who was excluded from the other two.

The responsibilities of Spartan men was to fight for the state, and marry and father the next generation of Spartan soldiers. There were several groups in the community who were considered to be un-Spartan, inferior and were denied rights and respect. These groups included men who dropped out of education (dominated by military training) before completion, freed slaves and their children, non-Spartans living in Sparta and their children, men who had shown cowardice in battle, and unmarried men over the age of 30 with no children. This last group is known as the agamoi.

It seems there was a change in attitude towards the agamoi over the centuries. The historian Plutarch writing at the turn of the 1st century says that the Spartans wouldn’t allow the agamoi to participate in or attend the Gymnopedia festival games. The reason he gave was that the Spartans believed the sight of so many athletic young men would be too much of a temptation for the agamoi. This seems at odds with the acceptance of the boy-adult same-sex relationships (up to the age of about 30) common to Greek culture at the time. These agamoi may be the nearest we can get in ancient Greece to men closest to our present definition of gay – same-sex relationships that remained physical past the age of 30.

The agamoi were, however, allowed to compete in their own games – in the middle of winter where even in Sparta the temperature could go below zero. And they were expected to compete naked just like the athletes in the summer games. In addition they had to perform dances and songs that ridiculed their status. During other events the agamoi were expected to give up their seats to anyone on demand (never by request). Another task enforced upon the agamoi was the financing and organising of the Karneia festival.

We know less about the Karneia than we do about the Hyakinthia and Gymnopedia. It may have begun as a harvest celebration, as it was held during the harvest season. There are several origin myths, including being based on the foundation of Sparta, or the commemoration of the assassination of a local seer. A fourth origin story involves the worship of an ancient ram god called Karneios.

Whatever it’s origin the Karneia festival became scared to Apollo who became known as Apollo Karneia. In this incarnation he was depicted with ram’s horns, as shown in the ancient coin below.
Although Plutarch wrote that the agamoi were ridiculed it seems that at other times they were respected within the community. Some of the earliest agamoi appear to have been servants to the priests in the temple of Apollo Karneios. Five agamoi from each of the Spartans tribes were selected by lot to organise the Karneia festival, and they held this post for four years.

Like other festivals, there was of truce. This was not for a desire for peace but, as in the Olympic truce, a chance for soldiers to participate in their sacred games without the enemy attacking. Attack during the games and you are attacking the gods. This is the reason the Spartans arrived late to the Battle of Marathon – they were at the Karneia and would not fight.

The main element of the Karneia was a race, more of a chase really. It had the long name of staphylodromoi. Split the word into two and you get an indication of the harvest aspect of the earliest Karneia – staphylo (grape), dromoi (runner). One agamoi was chosen as “bait” and garlanded with a ribbon. Running naked through the streets of Sparta he would pray to Apollo Karneia to bestow good fortune on the city. Running a little behind him, also naked, were a group of other agamoi (or, in some sources, unmarried younger men in their 20s) who had to catch the “bait”. If they did, the prayers of the “bait” would be answered. As the name of the race suggests, the original “bait” runners had bunches of grapes rather than a ribbon that the others had to snatch.

One part common to most festivals were song and dance contests. Not Fred Astaire-type songs and dances but ritual lyric poems with or without musical accompaniment, and rhythmic movement. Hellanikos of Lesbos, a writer from the 5th century BC, compiled a list of winners of the song contest.

What appears to be a later addition to the Karneia is a more military component. Nine military tents were erected near the temple and nine agamoi, again selected by lot, were served a meal in each of them.

The Karneia lasted for nine days, though how those days were filled is uncertain. The staphylodromoi was probably held on the first day. There could have been different types of song and dance contests most of the other days. The military tents may have been towards the end. Undoubtedly there would have been animal sacrifices made by the priests and the king, and the non-agamoi Spartans would have feasted and worshipped every day.

So, there seems to be two different attitudes to unmarried men over the age of 30 in Sparta. Or perhaps the agamoi were ridiculed and despised throughout the year, banned from the Gymnopedia and forced to play sport naked in the middle of winter, but at the Karneia they were tolerated and respected because they were providing a sacred service to the community. I know which I would rather have taken part in.

Friday, 31 July 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 17) Going South

Last time of “80 More Gays”: 44) Jack Larson (1928-2015) was the co-star of the 1950s television series about Superman, who was revitalised with the 1978 film for which 34) Neal Pozner (1955-1994) designed a promotional magazine before redesigning Aquaman, a superhero from Atlantis whose supernatural culture was a vital influence on the Theosophical belief of 46) Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934), and a continent that was proven not to exist in the Atlantic by geomagnetic evidence provided by 47) Allan Cox (1926-1987).

47) Allan Cox is one of the scientists who proved that continental drift existed. Very few other scientists believed in it at the time, despite evidence dating back 50 years. In an article I wrote back in 2013 called “Rock Solid Couple” I mentioned that Allan Cox was lucky to be mentored by one of the few scientists in the 1950s who believed in continental drift. Looking back on that article I don’t think I properly explained the process, but Allan proved that the changing magnetism preserved in rock proved that the earth’s crust was splitting apart. Once scientists began to realise that Allan and other continental drift supporters might be on to something they began research into plate tectonics.

Before Cox published his research palaeontologists had long recognised that fossils of the same species of animal were found on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Originally they believed there was an ancient intercontinental landmass over which the animals travelled which had long since been submerged, not unlike Atlantis (thus science suggesting its possible existence).

The evidence of plant species evolving on continents that may once have been connected was suggested by a British botanist called 48) Elke Mackenzie (1911-1990). Although not explicitly expressed Mackenzie noted that the same species of lichens existed on different continents in her 1942 doctoral thesis which dealt with lichens from the Antarctic and South Atlantic. Her massive contribution to the study of lichens is marked in the botanical names of several species that are named after her, including Buella lambii and Verrucaria Mackenzie-lambii.

You’ll notice that these species are called “lambii”. This is because they were named before Elke began to transition to female in 1971. She was baptised Ivan Mackenzie Lamb. During her career Elke was Assistant Keeper at the British Natural History Museum, Professor of Cryptogamic (i.e. spore-reproducing) Botany at the National Institute of Tucumán (Argentina), and Director of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard, among other appointments. Elke retired from her Harvard post in 1973 and turned to translating German botanical texts. She died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1983.

Elke’s work on lichens could fill several articles but it is her Antarctic studies which takes us on our next path of connections.

During World War II there were fears that Nazi u-boats were targeting shipping in the southern hemisphere. The British government were also worried that there were signs that neutral Argentina was sending ships to uninhabited South Atlantic islands that were recognised in international law as British territories.

The British response was to launch a secret expedition to reassert British sovereignty of those territories, disguising it behind a real scientific research expedition called Operation Tabarin. The ship had a crew of 27 Canadian Arctic seaman, and among the handful of scientists was botanist Elke Mackenzie. Once in the South Atlantic Operation Tabarin proceeded to establish bases on several islands to deter Argentine settlement, carrying out their scientific research all the time. Elke wrote a book about the operation and her part it in called “The Secret South”.

Operation Tabarin succeeded in deterring Argentinian reprisals for the time being, but once the war was over Argentina and Chile signed a defence agreement over Antarctic land claims. From Operation Tabarin came the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, now called the British Antarctic Survey.
Antarctica (the continental ice shelf) showing the disputed territories. The area within the pie segment is the British Antarctic Territory. The area in pink is the region claimed by Chile, and area in red in claimed by both Chile and Argentina
Those of us who live in the UK are constantly aware of the dispute over territorial claims in the South Atlantic, most famously over the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas as the South Americans call them. The legal and historical roots of this dispute are themselves debated, and I won’t go into them here. But the dispute is very much alive. Just seven weeks ago the Argentine government proposed new measures to protect and enforce their territorial claims to the Falklands and British South Atlantic and Antarctic possessions. One of the initiatives is the establishing of a National Advisory Council of Malvinas Policy. A member of that council is the current provincial governor whose area covers the Falklands/Malvinas, Argentina’s first openly gay governor 49) Gustavo Mellela (b.1970).

Gustavo Mellela’s full title (in English) is Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and the Southern Atlantic Islands. Although this province is the least populated in Argentina it covers the largest area, the majority of it being in the Atlantic Ocean. Its Antarctic territory covers most of the British Antarctic Territory (the rest is claimed by Chile, who also claims most of the Argentine territory).

Gustavo is not the first openly gay governor in that particular part of the world. In 2016-17 the Commissioner (governor) of the British Antarctic Territory was John Kittmer, also openly gay.

Gustavo Melella was elected Governor of Tierra del Fuego in June 2019, taking up office in December. He didn’t run for office as an openly gay candidate, and came out publicly shortly afterwards. He had previously been Mayor of Rio Grande.

I don’t think Gustavo has a very high opinion of us Brits. In 2014 when he was Mayor of Rio Grande he signed a twinning agreement with Algeciras, the city which faces Gibraltar across the Bay of Gibraltar. Now, I’m sure you’re aware that Gibraltar is another British possession. In a very undiplomatic move Gustavo signed the twinning agreement on the anniversary of the 1982 Argentine occupation of the Falklands.

Until Gustavo came out publicly a year ago the most recent openly gay provincial or state governor was the Governor of Colorado in the USA, 50) Jared Polis (b.1975).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We discover that being in the governor’s mansion is truly iconic, which leads us to some really smashing Byzantines.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Queer Olympic Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

There are not that many lgbt Olympians who are entitled to a coat of arms, as far as my research has shown. There’s Francilia Agar (included in my first Heraldic Alphabet article) and Dan Veatch (in my 2016 article). Another is Mark Chatfield (1953-1998), and I thought I’d do his full achievement to celebrate what should have been the Olympics this week. Here is it –
Mark Webster Chatfield represented the USA in swimming at the 1972 Munich Olympics, coming 4th in the 100 metres breaststroke final. However, he broke the Olympic record by winning his heat, a record which lasted until the final. He was a Pan-American Games champion, and went on to train and compete with the West Hollywood Aquatics gay swimming team. He won 6 gold medals at the 1990 Vancouver Gay Games. He died in 1998 from lymphoma.

The coat of arms I’ve illustrated is based on those used by his direct ancestors, the three Chatfield brothers, George, Thomas and Francis, mentioned in my article about William Plaine, the first colonist to be executed for sodomy in America. These are the arms of the middle brother, Thomas Chatfield (1620-1686), as recorded in “Crozier’s General Armory”, edited by William A. Crozier and published in 1904.

The Chatfield brothers were the great-great-grandchildren of Richard Chatfield (1500-1586) of Chichester, England. He is the person to whom the coat of arms were originally granted in 1564. A complete line of descent is documented from him down to Olympian Mark. As well as the three brothers who settled in America there’s another Chatfield, their grandfather’s brother Thomas, who married in the Netherlands and had descendants there, the Chatvelt family, who used the same coat of arms (as recorded by Jean-Baptiste Rietstap in his “Armorial Général” published in 1861). Over the centuries the arms have been represented with slight alterations.

Sometimes you can guess how old a coat of arms is by its design, usually because a lot of Heralds had distinctive styles or the period had a specific artistic look. The earliest coats of arms had simple shapes and lines, or perhaps a lion or eagle. What the Chatfield arms said to me when I first saw it was “Tudor”. This is because of the band across the top, called a chief. Originally the chief was a plain band but in the Tudor period in England heralds began to place various objects on them more frequently. Of course, this is not an assumption that can be made every time you see a chief with objects on it, but in this case I just happened to be right.

The griffin is a traditional heraldic beast (the term used to describe mythical monsters and hybrid animals in heraldry). On a side note, the griffin in English heraldry is always female. The male griffin (always named as such) is unique to English heraldry and is the same eagle-lion hybrid but has no wings and is covered in tufts of sharp spines.

Another heraldic beast is featured in the crest, an antelope. It’s not a natural antelope, but a heraldic depiction of one, with straight serrated horns, a down-turned horn on its nose and sharp fangs. This resulted from medieval heralds drawing something they’d never seen but heard vague descriptions of.

Two different mottos have been recorded for the Chatfields. The one shown above translates as “Faithful to the end”. Crozier records another, “Que sera sera”. Like all the colours and objects in the full achievement we have no explanation for the choice of motto.

Although directly descended from Richard Chatfield, Mark is not from a senior line and, technically, would have to include all the cadency marks indicating which son of which son, etc., he descends from Richard. This could produce a very overcrowded coat of arms obscured with dozens of cadency emblems. People in this situation often ignore cadency and may change the colours or quarter their arms with any they inherit from heraldic heiresses (as in the case of Michele Duramesq’s ancestors). Also, a person could display an unaltered coat of arms with any medals or badges of chivalry they possess hanging below the shield. This last example is the one chosen by a famous actor, a junior member of his family, in the photo of his arms which he sent to me many years ago.

It is this last example which influenced my choice for Mark Chatfield. With no state heraldic authority in the USA I would not be breaking any heraldic convention by incorporating Mark’s Olympic medal into his full achievement.

In 2017 the World Olympians Association created an initiative which awarded the post-nominal letters of OLY after the name of living Olympians, past and present. The award is not automatic and athletes have to apply personally. Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh are a couple of lgbt Olympians who have been granted the OLY.

At the moment there’s no provision for deceased Olympians to receive the letters. I think they should be given them automatically. In the absence being able to refer to him as Mark Chatfield OLY I’ve chosen to incorporate the Munich Olympic participation medal beneath his shield (all Olympians get a participation medal). The medal has no ribbon or chain so I’ve created a ribbon in the official Munich Olympic colours.

I hope you like my painting of Mark Chatfield’s achievement. It’s a design I find very appealing, distinctive and eye-catching, all the requirements of a perfect coat of arms, and a fitting tribute to Mark’s contribution to lgbt participation at the Olympic Games.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Viral Olympics

Tomorrow I was hoping to settle down in front of the tv with a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne to watch the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. We all know why I can’t, but that’s not going to stop me from bringing you several articles on the Olympics over the next few weeks.

Even though covid19 is the reason why the Olympics and Paralympics have been postponed this is not the first time that a virus has created some concern during the games. Here are some of the health scares that have effected the games over the years.During the current pandemic there has been a renewed awareness of the previous world pandemic, the 1918 outbreak of flu. This was a year that the Olympics were planned to be held in Berlin but, obviously, the First World War led to its cancellation so there was no effect on the athletes.

Flu threatened several later Olympics. In Nagano at the winter games of 1998 a major outbreak occurred which effected 900,000 people, including the wife of the Japanese Prime Minister. A Norwegian speed skater, who won the gold medal in the 1500 meters, had to pull out of the 1000 meter final because he caught flu. Flu outbreaks affected several other Olympics – Vancouver 2010, Beijing 2008, and Salt lake City 2002.

An outbreak of norovirus occurred at the 2018 PyeongChang winter games which effected 261 people. Most of these cases were reported before the games began and it was mainly security personnel who were infected. The military was brought in to cover them, and the games organisers increased hygiene facilities. Nevertheless, on 16th February, halfway through the games, two Swiss slopestyle skiers became infected and were isolated. Like covid19, the most serious cases of norovirus can be fatal, but the majority of patients recover. The two skiers both recovered enough to continue competing in the slopestyle finals alongside gay skier Gus Kenworthy two days later.

At the preceding summer Olympics in Rio 2016 you may remember the fuss about the diving pool being an alarming shade of green. But the biggest health threat was the growing zika virus epidemic. Even before the games began several athletes decided not to go to Rio. Thankfully, the zika virus didn’t make an impact on the Rio Olympics, again due to increased hygiene procedures and mosquito repellents (zika is mosquito transmitted).

One virus which has had the biggest effect on the lgbt community and the Olympics is HIV. At the Olympics themselves there was a bit of concern, retrospectively, surrounding the preliminary round of the men’s springboard competition at the 1988 Seoul summer Olympics. This was the well-known incident in which Greg Louganis, who was not openly gay at the time, hit his head on the diving board and bled in the pool. He had also just been diagnosed HIV+ but he didn’t reveal this publicly until 1995. There was a lot of media speculation about contamination but there’s no evidence that any diver suffered any ill effect from diving into the same pool when competition resumed.

The sport of figure skating has been particularly hard hit by HIV and AIDS. The first Olympian to die from an AIDS-related condition was actually a track and field athlete, Tom Waddell, the founder of the Gay Games, in 1987. He was followed two years later by Olympic figure skating champion of 1972, Ondrej Nepela.

Returning to the present pandemic we are thankful that no lgbt Olympian has yet died from covid19 (several non-lgbt former Olympians, sadly, have). The media has brought to light some covid19-related news concerning some athletes. The above-mentioned Gus Kenworthy has been helping to look after his 9-month-old nephew and 4-year-old niece after they became ill. They were both treated in Denver Children’s Hospital.

Fellow 2018 US Winter Olympic team-mate, ice hockey champion Meghan Duggan returned to her former school as a substitute physical education teacher after the serving teacher contracted the virus.

On those notes let’s look forward with heightened hope and eager anticipation for the return of the Olympics in 2021.

As far as my lgbt Olympic research goes perhaps it is best that the Tokyo games have been postponed. I’m so close to having 400 athletes on my list. Ten have been added this year so far (number 391, an equestrian 3-day eventer, was added three days ago). Perhaps, if the games had not been postponed, there would have been enough athletes coming out as lgbt in Tokyo that the magic number of 400 would have been reached anyway.

The trend since Atlanta 1996 has been for new openly lgbt athletes to made their debut at the Olympics. There are 16 athletes who have already competed in their first Olympic qualifying tournaments or achieved the required points or scores to qualify and half of them could have been selected. An additional 19 have had their qualification events postponed until next year. I’m confident that a year from now there’ll be over 100 openly lgbt Olympians competing in Tokyo and over 400 on the all-time list.

On a related topic, At the moment I’m continuing to list lgbt Paralympians, though I am thinking about moving away from the Paralympics to concentrate on the Olympics. I’m sure there’s someone out there with the enthusiasm to carry on the work.

In the absence of a full lgbt Olympian list I’ve updated some of the statistics and facts and these are shown below.