Thursday, 15 September 2022

Heralding a New Reign

I didn’t think the death of Queen Elizabeth II would be an occasion to write something for this blog. Watching the proclamations of King Charles III, which are purely historical and ceremonial and not a legal requirement, reminded me of something I had planned to write next year.

At all of the great ceremonial state occasions, such as the proclamation or the State Opening of Parliament, you’ll see a group of people dressed in brightly coloured tabards and feathered hats. These are the heralds. They are members of the Royal Household.

You may know how much I love heraldry by the many articles I’ve written on the subject. Today I’d like to concentrate on two heralds, or more correctly, two officers of arms. The first is very openly gay, and the second is reported to be gay.

Maj.-Gen. Alastair Bruce (b.1960) holds the office of Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary. A pursuivant (pronounced “percy-vant”) is the lowest rank of officer of arms at the College of Arms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The word pursuivant come from the same root at “pursue”. Originally, a pursuivant was a person who follows or offers support. So, a heraldic pursuivant is someone who supports a herald in the performance of the latter’s duties. Fitzalan is the name of one of the junior titles of the Duke of Norfolk, the person at the very top of the English heraldic hierarchy. “Extraordinary” means Alastair is a part-time officer of arms and called upon for special occasions and ceremonies. However, last weeks’ proclamation was reserved for the senior heralds and Kings of Arms.

Being a part-time pursuivant Alastair Bruce doesn’t earn a living from it. Thankfully, he has a military pension and still holds several military appointments. He is also a familiar sight on UK television as a regular royal commentator and adviser. He was almost constantly on screen on various channels, UK and world-wide, during this summer’s Platinum Jubilee. Alastair is also the historical adviser to several well-known films and television series – e.g. “Downton Abbey” and “The King’s Speech”.

Although he is an English officer of arms Alastair Bruce is, as his name suggests, Scottish. In fact he holds a Scottish feudal title, the Bruce of Crionaich. He is also the current Governor of Edinburgh Castle. I didn’t notice him at the castle when the proclamation of King Charles was televised from there. No doubt he was in a television studio commentating on the event. His royal connection is evident in several ways. He was equerry to Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and interviewed the Queen in a BBC documentary about her coronation.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t said anything about his sexuality yet it’s because I thought the video below in which he speaks on UK television about it himself and his wedding would be better.

Given time, I’d like to do a full “Queer Achievement” article on Alastair Bruce, because he possesses several variations of his own coat of arms – personal, marital and official.

The second officer of arms I wish to mention is a man whose sexuality I haven’t been able to verify. His names is Rev. Canon Joseph Morrow (b.1955). He is the most senior officer of arms in Scotland with the title of Lord Lyon King of Arms. If you saw the proclamations of King Charles made around Edinburgh you’ll have seen him. He’s the person making the proclamation.

I am reluctant to claim that Rev. Morrow is gay because there’s only one source which states that he is, which is the “Mail of Sunday”. This is a publication that is not known for its accuracy or impartiality. It is a very right-wing newspaper.

In an article which the Main on Sunday on 4th September 2005 they reported on Rev. Morrow’s appointment the previous year as Grand master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The article mentions him as being openly gay twice, giving no source or supporting statement from Rev. Morrow himself.

Ten days later there was a report in The Scotsman, a very reliable publication, about Rev. Morrow’s resignation as Grant Master Mason due to “a change in personal circumstances and for health reasons”. The article refers to the Mail on Sunday article and Rev. Morrow’s reported sexuality, again giving no source. When The Scotsman contacted the Grand Lodge of Scotland they declined to comment on the story.

So, who is Rev. Canon Joseph Morrow? Unlike Alastair Bruce, he wasn’t born into and old landed Scottish gentry. One of his first jobs was as a bus conductor. He studied law, became a barrister, was ordained into the Scottish Episcopal Church, and was elected a Labour councillor in Dundee. Among his many honours is a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth in 2018 for services to mental health (he is president of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland). Rev. Morrow was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms by the Queen in 2014 and has many other royal connections through various appointments.

Whatever his sexuality may be, he has one of the most pleasing and distinctive coat of arms I’ve seen (as shown on the official Lord Lyon website). Like Alastair Bruce, there are several variations and ideal for one of my “Queer Achievements”.

Throughout European history since the Middle Ages heralds have played an important and visible part of ceremonial and pageantry. Their official duties are to regulate the adoption and use of coats of arms, a task that has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 20th century. More people, many without titles or rank, have a coat of arms, either by grant of inheritance. In the UK these heralds and offices of arms are more visible than anywhere else, and continue to play important roles in royal and state ceremonial. The presence of one, perhaps two, openly gay officers of arms during this changeover of reigns only goes to show that the lgbt community are at the very heart of such occasions.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Better Late Than Never

After a little delay, HERE is the updated Commonwealth Games lgbt athlete list. Sorry for the delay. I hope you find the list useful and informative. Please note – this list will be deleted when a new updated version is published.

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Birmingham Breaks Records

The Birmingham Commonwealth Games ended a few days ago and they broke all previous records for lgbt inclusion. But first, I’d like to reveal that lgbt participation goes way back to 1934 and the first known lgbt athlete at the Commonwealth Games (then called the British Empire Games) was Edwin Halstead (1907-1962). He competed under the name of Edith Halstead and won the silver medal in the women’s javelin competition. Not much is known about his personal life and I have very little to tell you, except that he transitioned before 1944. I’m digging around for more information and will tell you what I’ve found next month when I write about a special sporting centenary.

I had hoped to publish the updated list of Commonwealth Games athletes today. Unfortunately, some errors in the list were noticed at the last minute and I’ll publish it later this week after I’ve been through it again. Thanks to Jon Holmes of Sports Media LGBT+ and Pride House Birmingham for helping to compile this list and for spotting the errors. Errors like this have been dogging me all year and is affecting my ability to produce accurate information. I hope it is just “old age”! The information below has been double-checked and is correct at the date of publication.

The prelude to the Birmingham 2022 games, as mentioned in my previous article, was the Queen’s baton relay. I mentioned Lauren Price being among the first baton bearers as it left Buckingham Palace in 2021. Here are a handful of the other lgbt baton bearers with date and locations.

Rachael Grinham, Commonwealth squash champion: 17th March 2022, Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia.

Ian Thorpe, Olympic and Commonwealth swimming multi-champion: 17th March 2022, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia.

Dame Kelly Holmes, Olympic and Commonwealth track champion: 7th July 2022, Tonbridge, Kent, England.

Colin Jackson, Olympic hurdler and Commonwealth champion: 8th July 2022, Basildon Sports Village, Essex, England.

Jason Watson, a.k.a. Jsky, BBC Radio Manchester and Gaydio presenter: 18 July 2022, Salford, Greater Manchester, England. (Jsky claims to be the first baton bearer to do so wearing high heels. This is unverified.)

Tom Bosworth, Olympic and Commonwealth race walker: 18th July 2022, Liverpool, Merseyside, England.

Piero Zizzi, Co-founder, Proud Baggies and Pride House Birmingham: 26 July 2022, Birmingham, West Midlands, England.

On several occasions the Queen’s baton relay ventured into the heart of the lgbt community. It was welcomed onto the stage at Cambridge Pride on 10th July, and went into Birmingham’s Gay village on 27th July. The last time anything like this happened was when the baton visited Toronto Pride House during the 2014 relay. 

On the last day of the relay the relay encountered a protest by veteran activist Peter Tatchell. With a small group of supporters he was protesting against the criminalisation of homosexuality in many Commonwealth nations. 

The relay culminated with the entry into the stadium during the opening ceremony on 28th July, carried by Olympic and Commonwealth diving champion Tom Daley. Accompanying him were six lgbt activists, each carrying a Pride Progress flag. This official statement made by the Birmingham 2022 organising committee also highlighted the homophobia around the Commonwealth. 

Birmingham 2022 can be called the Rainbow Games. The official presence of any lgbt flag during the opening ceremony is ground-breaking in itself, but the Commonwealth Games Federation made it very clear in December 2021 that there would be no objection to athletes carrying a rainbow flag onto the medal podium. This is in stark contrast to the Olympics. But, as we have seen at recent Commonwealth Games and Olympics, there’s nothing to stop spectators waving a flag.

The Pink Jack, the gay version of the UK’s national flag designed by David Gwinnutt, was seen several times at the aquatics centre. There was also a less well-know flag there on other days. The image below shows the Scottish version of the Rainbow flag depicting the Scottish lion.

Rainbows didn’t always appear on flags. The captains of the UK home nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) wore rainbow armbands in their matches. Similarly, Australia’s women’s rugby sevens captain, Sharni Williams, who wore rainbow headgear. More rainbows were spotted at other competitions. But the most rainbows in one place occurred during the opening ceremony. Every member of Team England wore badges of the Pride Progress flag. 

However, one important flag was absent. With hype surrounding homophobia in the Commonwealth there was no visible attention made to the exclusion of transgender athletes. In all my recordings of the events and review of other media I could see no transgender flag or statement from athletes about transgender inclusion, which has been a prominent debate this year. Double standards? After all, the Commonwealth Games is primarily about sport. 

Earlier this year US swimming debated the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s competition, sparked by the successes of Lea Thomas. There was a similar debate in British cycling over Emily Bridges which led to her being excluded from elite competition. As long as sport is divided into two gender categories the debates will continue into the foreseeable future. 

Here are some statistics from Birmingham 2022, which will obviously change as new information comes to light. There were 46 confirmed out lgb+ athletes (no transgender athletes), more than three times the number listed at the time of the previous games in 2018, 13 (a further 24 came out or have been identified since then). Only 5 athletes in Birmingham competed in male categories (compared to 6 out of the 37 athletes in 2018). Twelve out of the 72 competing nations had lgb+ athletes, ranging from the most populous Commonwealth nation, India, to one of the least, the Falkland Islands. 

A total of 16 members of Team LGB+ won medals in 8 events – 7 gold, 3 silver, 6 bronze. All were won by female athletes. For the purposes of the official medal table they count as 5 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze, because team sports count as one medal even when all team members receive one each. This made Team LGB+ finish 14th on the final medal table (duplicating team medals with their national medals to take into account non-lgbt team members, and transferring individually-won medals from national scores into Team LGB+). Only one athlete, English squash player Sarah-Jane Perry, won more than one medal (1 silver, 1 bronze). All but 2 athletes finished in the top 8 in their event. No male athlete finished higher than 6th place, the first time since the 1970 games in Edinburgh, Scotland, that no men won medals. At the moment, even though more athletes competed in 2020, their overall results are lower than in 2018. 

What does the overall lgbt medal table look like? Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe remains at the top with 10 gold medals and 1 silver. Five of the athletes making their Commonwealth debut in Birmingham (Ashleigh Brazill, Rachael Haynes, Jess Jonassen, Tara Llanes and Megan Schutt) went straight into the top 30 with their gold medal wins. 

The highest climber from the pre-2022 table was boxer Michaela Walsh (Northern Ireland’s flag carrier at the opening ceremony) who moved up from 38th place to 17th with her gold medal adding to her previous 2 silvers. 

The most successful nation was Australia (no surprise there) with 5 athletes winning gold medals in 3 events (cricket, netball and rugby sevens). Their netball win was Australia’s 1,000th Commonwealth gold medal. 

England’s cricket captain, Katherine Brunt, earned her 100th cap at the first match England played in the tournament. 

Canadian 3x3 wheelchair basketball player Tara Llanes became the oldest ever Commonwealth Games medallist by winning gold at the age of 43. The youngest medallist in Birmingham was Australian cricketer Jess Jonassen, aged 29. 

I could be here for days rolling out information and statistics, but I think this is enough for now. If there are any specific statistics you’d like to know please ask in the comments below. 

If there’s one thing to take away from all this, to balance the negative issues surrounding lgbt inclusion in sport and the Commonwealth, is that we should realise we have seen a huge increase in lgbt visibility and participation in both the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics over the past four years. Long may it continue.

Saturday, 16 July 2022

Birmingham Beckons

When I mentioned several years ago that I was abandoning research into lgbt Paralympians to concentrate on Olympians I didn’t abandon parasports completely. One of my other sporting interests is the Commonwealth Games which, for several decades, have included various parasports.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Commonwealth Games here’s a brief explanation and history. What we now call the Commonwealth Games began in 1930 as the British Empire Games. It was actually first suggested in 1891 but nothing came of it, though it was one inspirations behind Pierre de Coubertin’s creation of the modern Olympics. The Commonwealth Games have been held every four years (except during the war) ever since 1930. The next games will be held in Birmingham, England, later this month, so I thought I’d write about the various lgbt contributions in its history to add to my previous articles on previous games – Gold Coast 2018 and Glasgow 2014. I’ll give the full list of lgbt Commonwealth athletes next month after the games have finished.

First of all, let’s get some facts straight. The Commonwealth not the British Empire under a different name. It originated during imperial times, that’s all. Many former British colonial possessions are not members of the Commonwealth (Ireland and the Arab states), and several nations that were never part of the British Empire are (Rwanda, Mozambique, Cameroon, and many others who are waiting to join). On a side note, Portugal and France have similar international games based on their own former colonial ties.

Just as the Olympics are preceded by a torch relay, the Commonwealth Games are preceded by the Queen’s Baton relay. The first baton relay was held in 1958 for the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. The baton relay was relatively small compared to the Olympic torch relay, but since 1998 it has gone to all Commonwealth nations and territories before reaching the host city. It is now bigger than the Olympic torch relay.

I’ve seen the baton relay twice. The first was in 1990 when it visited Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire, where I worked at the time. The second time was last Sunday, when it was carried on a canoe being paddled along Nottingham Canal and on to Nottingham Castle.

More often than not the relay has begun at Buckingham Palace. So far, only two lgbt athletes have been the baton bearers at the Palace. The first was Dame Kelly Holmes who was the first baton bearer in 2009 (for the 2010 games in Delhi). At the time, Dame Kelly was President of Commonwealth Games England. For the current baton relay the third baton bearer at the Palace was Lauren Price, an Olympic boxing champion from Tokyo 2020/1.

Sadly, the person who attended the start of the 2018 baton relay, proudly displaying the Pink Jack flag outside Buckingham Palace (pictured below) wasn’t there this year.

One of the Commonwealth Games I mentioned in one of my previous articles, the ones held in Melbourne in 1996, were one of my favourite. In particular, I thought the opening ceremony was the best I’d seen. This may have been because of the staging, but probably more because the athletes’ parade was split up into continental sections which made it feel shorter, even though it wasn’t. I shouldn’t have been surprised about liking the ceremony because so many of those involved in its creation also went on to be responsible for my favourite Olympic opening ceremony – Sydney 2000.

Starting off the 1996 Melbourne ceremony was a sequence directed by Nigel Triffitt (1949-2012), the openly gay co-founder of Tap Dogs, a tap dancing troupe who became very popular in the 1990 and 2000s. Triffitt’s segment for Melbourne didn’t involve a lot of dancing, but it did introduce people to Melbourne quite effectively, including starting with the entrance of an actual tram car with wings flying in from the top of the stadium.

Australia has done very well at the Commonwealth Games. It tops the medal table with a grand total of 2,415, which includes the top lgbt athlete, swimmer Ian Thorpe, who has 10 gold and 1 silver Commonwealth medal. Australia has also hosted the games more than anyone else (bearing in mind that England, Scotland and Wales are separate sporting nations). Australia has hosted the games five times, and will host it again in 2026.

Hosting an event like the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics has become increasingly expensive. Many host cities have withdrawn their bids for both games because of the cost, or because of opposition from local populations. Support from the local city council is, of course, crucial.

In 2007 Glasgow was chosen as the host of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The leader of Glasgow City Council helped to launch the bid in 2005. His name was Steven Purcell, and he was one of the first openly lgbt council leaders in Scotland. He was instrumental in raising awareness, funds, and support for the games. Sadly, however, the pressure of the job forced him to resign in 2010. Other issues cause further stress and he resigned as council leader.

The Glasgow games followed the example of the London 2012 London Olympics by promoting and encouraging lgbt inclusion in all of its sports and events. It was also the first Commonwealth Games to have a Pride House.

Finally for today, the Commonwealth Games Federation set up the Commonwealth Sports Pride Network last December. This is a voluntary network of organisations and individuals who are bringing lgbt athletes and supporters together to enable sport to be more inclusive. This will be vital work in the campaign to influence change within the Commonwealth where many nations are still homophobic.

I hope you can watch some of the media coverage of the Commonwealth Games if you can’t get there in person. There’ll be plenty of top class elite sports on view. The games with end on 8th August, and I hope to complete the full list of athletes, medals and statistics about a week later.

Until then, Birmingham beckons.