Sunday, 4 December 2022

Advent 2: A Letter To Santa

Have you written your letter to Santa yet? Don’t laugh. Some people take it seriously. In fact, there are many places around the world which are recognised by international postal services as the place to send letters addressed to Santa.

When I was young my parents would write to a certain address every December (I can’t remember where, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the Royal Mail) and every year my siblings and I would receive individual letters from “Santa”.

There’s a famous film called “Miracle on 34th Street” in which the principal character claims to be the real Santa Claus. Spoilers – if you haven’t seen it, but plan to, skip to the next paragraph to avoid reading how the film ends. Despite the fact that the character wrongly uses the name Kris Kringle (a totally different character who evolved out of the Christkind, as I explained last year), Santa ends up in court, where the judge refuses to believe he is the real Santa. However, sacks full of letters addressed to Santa are delivered to the court by the US Postal Service and the judge rules that if a government body believes this to be the real Santa then so should he. The case is dismissed and they “all live happily ever after”, as they say.

But what would you do if you start getting hundreds of letters addressed to Santa Claus dropping through your letterbox? That’s the question a gay couple in New York City wanted to know in 2007 when letters to Santa arrived at their apartment.

To be fair, when Jim Glaub and his partner Dylan Parker moved into the apartment on West 22nd Street they were “warned” this would happen by the previous tenants, but they thought nothing of it as there were only a handful of letters arriving every year. Three years later, in 2010, that handful of letters grew into an avalanche of several hundred.

Naturally, the first thing to do was find out why all these letters were being sent to their address, but many hours of investigation produced no definitive answer for Jim and Dylan. What all the letters seemed to have in common, however, was that they were all sent from the same areas in New York and New Jersey. Jim and Dylan assumed that their address was placed on a community newsletter or notice board in error some years ago. What I find intriguing is that while Jim and Dylan have had a lot of publicity across all media over the years regarding these letters, no-one has come forward to claim any involvement in giving out their address. Nor were there any letters saying where they got Jim and Dylan’s address from in the first place.

Whatever the reason the bigger question was what to do with them? There were too many to ignore, and too many for Jim and Dylan to deal with or answer on their own, so they took their conundrum to the wider community.

At first Jim asked friends and work colleagues to help by selecting one letter and, hopefully, providing at least a reply for the writer or by donating the requested present. These requests were varied, from simple small gifts to a bed for one child who wrote in who had to sleep on the sofa.

But, even then, there were still too many letters left unanswered. Jim went online and set up a Facebook group and he was surprised by how many people wanted to help. There were people around the world offering to help with money or by answering letters and providing requested gifts.

Very soon Jim realised this was going to be a massive operation, so he formed a non-profit charity called “Miracle of 22nd Street” (where did he get the idea for the name, I wonder?!). It became an immediate success, and it is still in operation today (here’sthe website).

Even after Jim and Dylan moved to the UK when Jim got a job in London they ensured that the new tenant at West 22nd Street kept all the letters addressed to Santa, scanned them and emailed them to Jim to distribute of the website.

Jim has since returned to the US where he continues to organise Miracle on 22nd Street and its army of many international volunteer Santas.

Here’s just one of several videos on YouTube featuring Miracle on 22nd Street.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Advent 1: A Market For It

Here we are again. It’s almost Christmas and I’m beginning my annual Advent series. Last year I looked at various seasonal characters who were either gender-variant, had changed gender over the centuries, or were played by people of the opposite gender. This year I’m looking at what some members of the lgbt community do to keep the Christmas spirit going.

There’s only really one place to go to in order to celebrate a traditional Christmas – Germany and Austria (that’s two, I know, but they share many cultural elements). No-one does a traditional Christmas better than them, and they have already started with one of the seasonal events they created – the Christmas Market.

Some cities now have regular lgbt Christmas Markets held at the same times. Here are three German/Austrian lgbt markets and a Christmas connection for each host city. Let’s start with the city which claims to have held the first ever seasonal market, Vienna.

VIENNA – The forerunner of the modern Christmas market was the December or Winter market. The first of these was held in Vienna way back in 1296. Permission to hold a special market was granted by Emperor Albrecht II in order to allow local people to stock up on goods to get them through the winter. Today the Vienna Christmas market is the biggest in the world, comprising of several separate markets held simultaneously.

The first Vienna lgbt Christmas market appears to have been in 2014 under the name of Pink Christmas. As well as the usual gift and food stalls there was plenty of entertainment. The market was held in the heart of the city’s gay village in the Naschmarkt area. The market was held again in 2015, but it seems to disappear after that.

Another way that Christmas can be made special is by celebrating it for the first time in a new home. One Viennese resident did just that at Christmas 1928. He was the famous gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). The new home in question still exists. It is situated a 9 Kundmanngasse and is still known as Haus Wittgenstein.

It was Ludwig’s sister Margaret who commissioned the building. She asked Ludwig to help in the design and he took great pains to get the details right, taking a year just to design the door knobs. When it was completed it got a mixed reception from the family. Half of them liked it, but the other half didn’t, including Ludwig himself who said it was too austere.

In 1968 the house was sold for demolition, but it was saved by the Vienna Landmark Commission who declared it a national monument in 1971.

MUNICH – We move to Germany and the city that hosts one of the most popular Christmas markets. It is also, probably, where the first lgbt Christmas market was held in Germany. Founded in 2005 Munich’s Pink Christmas market has been held continuously (covid permitting) ever since. It is held in the Stephanplatz, south of the old city – next to a cemetery!

Speaking of cemeteries, just across the River Isar from Stephanplatz is another, the Ostfriedhof cemetery. There you will find the grave of gay fashion designer Rudolph Mosshammer, who was murdered in 2005. Rudolph exhibited one of the most desired traits of the Christmas season, charity. He made a fortune designing clothes for the rich and famous, and he realised that with that wealth he could do some good for the less fortunate.

In August 2000 Rudolph founded Licht für Obdachlose (Light for the Homeless), an organisation which donated money, resources and equipment to Munich’s homeless charities. Every year Mosshammer hosted a lavish Christmas party and shelter for the city’s homeless and destitute. He also gave huge amounts of money to alcoholic treatment clinics and personally sold the German version of “Big Issue” on the streets.

Rudolph Mosshammer’s example of charity at Christmas has been mirrored by both millionaires and the modest incomed all around the world for a very long time. Long may they, and we, continue to do so.

HAMBURG – The lgbt Christmas market in Hamburg is called Winter Pride. It takes place in the St. Georg district, the city’s gay village. The modest sized Winter Pride also had music and DJs at the weekend, turning it into an outdoor party (other lgbt Christmas markets have regular music and entertainment). It is also one of the longest running, having first been held in 2009 with just a mulled wine booth.

When it comes to Christmas not only do we think about others, but we also wish for peace around the world. This was seen most significantly during World War I with the Christmas Truce in the trenches in 1914. During that same Christmas Hamburg was also involved in a desire for peace. It came from members of Germany’s women’s suffrage movement. One of the leaders was Hamburg-born Lida Gustava Heymann (1868-1943).

As soon as war broke out in 1914 there were many who called for peace. The women’s suffrage movement was just kicking in across the world at this time, and many suffragettes led these calls. Lida Heymann was one of them. She belonged to a wealthy Hamburg merchant family, no doubt very familiar with the city’s annual Christmas market.

With her life partner Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), Lida founded the Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1902. They both corresponded with other suffrage leaders around the world, and it was a letter that Lida wrote to the American suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt that prompted women in the UK to write the Open Christmas Letter in 1914.

Carrie Chapman Catt published Lida’s letter in the December issue of “Jus Suffragi”, the journal of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. British suffragette Emily Hobhouse responded by organising the circulation of the Open Christmas Letter which was signed by 101 British suffragettes, including the lesbians Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper. It was published in the January 1915 issue of “Jus Suffragi”.

This Christmas, as another war rages in Europe, we all hope for peace.

I was going to end with a YouTube video of a Christmas market, but then I thought of something I came across a couple of years ago. How many of you have heard of a 2015 comedy horror film called “Krampus”? Have you seen the trailer? Blink and you’ll miss it, but for one second, 7 seconds into the trailer, the 2014 Nottingham Christmas market flashes on screen. If you don’t believe me, read this. No-one was more surprised than the city council to see it appear in a film trailer. Here’s the trailer. See if you can pause it at the right moment.

Monday, 14 November 2022

Game of Gay Thrones 7: Byzantium, Korea, England and Baden

Here we are again with another group of lgbt royal wannabes. Included are a couple of spouses who, for one reason or another, were prevented from sitting beside their spouses. I never stop being surprised by the number of queer claimants and disinherited heirs to thrones past and present there have been, not to mention their spouses. There are even more to come next year.

Imperial symbol adopted by the Byzantine emperors

1) Basiliskianos (pre-846- after 866); named as a possible Emperor of Byzantium, 866.

The throne of Byzantium has seen more than its fair share of dethronements, assassinations and claimants. Basiliskianos became a pawn in the power struggle between Emperor Mikhael III (840-866) and his lover and co-Emperor Basileios (c.830-886). I explain the emperors’ relationship in more detail here. Briefly, Mikhael spotted Basileios at a sporting event and became besotted with him. He later made him co-emperor.

In 866 Mikhael began to show more than a casual interest in a young courtier called Basiliskianos. After Mikhael won a chariot race Basiliskianos gave him a lot of enthusiastic praise. The emperor was wearing the imperial red boots, and he told Basiliskianos to remove them and wear them himself. This angered co-emperor Basileios and a bit of an argument ensured. Mikhael said to him “I made you emperor, and do I not have the power to create another?” He later added, “I am ready to make Basiliskianos emperor”. He never did, but the possibility was always there and it upset Basileios enough to assassinate Mikhael. There’s no record of what happened to Basiliskianos after Mikhael died.

Imperial emblem on the Joseon kingdom

2) Crown Princess Sun-Bin Bong (1414-after 1436); consort of the future king of Josean.

Sun-Bin was a member of the aristocratic Haeum Bong clan. In 1429 she married Crown Prince Hi Hyang of the Joseon kingdom in Korea. The marriage, however, was not a very congenial one, and it is reported that the king himself told the Crown Prince to take more interest in his new bride. It didn’t help the marriage, and it deteriorated even more when Princess Bong got angry after one of the Crown Prince’s concubines became pregnant.

Another stumbling block in the marriage was Princess Bong’s habit of giving clothes from the royal wardrobe to her own family. But what really put an end to the marriage, and any chance of her sitting on the Korean throne with her husband in the future, was her blatant over-friendliness towards her female servants, in particular a maid with whom she confesses to having been intimate with on more than one occasion.

This was too much for the king and he banished Sun-Bin Bong from court, annulled the marriage, and reduced her to the rank of commoner. As with Basiliskianos above, there’s no real record of what happened to her after that.

Coat of arms the Mervyn, Earl of Castlehaven

3) Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven (1594-1631); consort of the legal heir to King Henry VIII of England.

Before the 1701 Act of Settlement defined the order of succession to the British throne it was sometimes decided by the last will of the previous monarch. King Henry VIII’s will of 1546 decreed that after the extinction of his own descendants the throne should pass to descendants of his younger sister, not his elder sister as would have been the case under primogeniture rules.

After the last of Henry VIII’s children, Queen Elizabeth I, died in 1603 the heir to the throne under his will was Lady Anne Stanley (1580-1647), who should have become Queen Anne. However, parliament decided to ignore the will and gave the throne to the primogeniture heir, the gay King James VI of Scotland. Some people considered Anne to be the rightful monarch though she never pressed her claim.

It is Anne’s second husband, the Earl of Castlehaven, who is our lgbt royal wannabe. Their marriage was disastrous. I wrote about it several years ago and it is best to read about it here because it’s a bit complicated. Thankfully, the whole sordid affair ended in 1631 when the earl was executed and he never got the chance to be the prince consort to the lawful (under King Henry’s will) queen of England.

Coat of arms of the Pinces Sanguszko-Lubartowicz

4) Prince Janusz Sanguszko-Lubartowicz (1712-1775); bloodline heir of King Harold II of England.

The most famous date in English history is 1066 – the year of 4 kings and 2 invasions. King Edward the Confessor died and was succeeded by King Harold II. Harold faced an invasion led by William of Normandy. Harold was killed in battle, but before William could take the throne as the victor one of King Edward’s nephews was declared king. He quickly abdicated in William’s favour.

Several sites online track Harold’s bloodline to determine who is his direct heir. None match my own research, which I believe is accurate. Harold’s bloodline passed through his daughter to the Kievan royal family, then to the Princes of Warsaw, and finally to the Counts Potocki, the present heirs. On the way several senior bloodlines became extinct and switched to surviving junior branches. One such senior line ended with Prince Janusz Sanguszko-Lubart.

Janusz became Harold’s heir at the age of 17 on the death of his mother, the previous bloodline heir. Janusz was a bit of a party animal and squandered his inheritance on parties and his many gay lovers. In contrast, he was also a great benefactor to local religious institutions. In 1730 he entered a dynastic marriage, but he showed little interest in performing his dynastic duty by fathering an heir. His wife soon left him, and Prince Janusz spent the rest of his life trying unsuccessfully to have his marriage annulled.

In 1748 his openly gay lifestyle was forced temporarily into the closet when his father imprisoned his lover for fraud. Two years later, his father died and Janusz had another vast inheritance to squander away. Although not interested in politics the king of Poland-Lithuania appointed him a Court Marshal, among other offices.

When Janusz died in 1775 he was in debt and there were no close living relatives on his mother’s side, King Harold’s bloodline, to succeed him. It had to go back to descendants of his great-grandfather’s younger brother, from which it has passed to today.

Coat of arms of the Grand Dukes of Baden

5) Prince Maximilian von Baden (1876-1929); heir presumptive to the Grand Duchy of Baden.

The Grand Duchy of Baden was one of the sovereign states within the Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire until it was abolished in 1918. The last Grand Duke was Prince Friedrich II (1857-1928). He was childless and his cousin Prince Maximilian was his nearest living male relative and heir presumptive.

In the 1890s the British Queen Victoria attempted to marry Maximilian to her grand-daughter, Princess Alexandra von Hessen. Alexandra wasn’t interested because she was already in love with the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. I wonder how history would have been different if Alexandra had married Maximilian. After all, it was Alexandra’s relationship with Rasputin that was one of the causes of the Russian Revolution.

In 1900 Prince Maximilian did marry into the British royal family. His wife was Princess Marie Louise, one of Queen Victoria’s cousins and a member of the “old Royal Family” (i.e. junior descendants of King George III), the Cumberlands. This branch of the family still exists, but most of them sided with Germany in World War I and were deprived of their British royal titles, Princess Marie Louise included.

Before his marriage Prince Maximilian was listed in Berlin police records as a homosexual. This fact was only revealed in a biography of him in 2013. Maximilian and Marie Louise had two children, both of whom have interesting connections. Their son married the late Duke of Edinburgh’s sister (he was named after Prince Philipp von Hessen, heir presumptive of Finland). Maximilian’s daughter married Philipp von Hessen’s twin brother.

In September 1918, when it seemed Germany would lose the war, the Kaiser appointed Prince Maximilian as Chancellor of Germany. The following day the Kaiser offered an armistice to the Allies and Maximilian advised him to abdicate. Once armistice was accepted a political “rebellion” against the Kaiser’s appointments forced Maximilian to resign. A republic was declared, royal titles were abolished, and Maximilian spent the rest of his life in retirement. On his cousin’s death in 1928 he became the head of the abolished Baden royal family, and claimed by monarchists as the rightful Grand Duke of Baden. He died the following year.

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

An Emperor Leaves His Mark



With all the various anniversaries being celebrated in the UK this year one significant anniversary in British heritage has been overshadowed.

Hadrian’s Wall is one of the UK’s most famous historical sites. It is named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian who ordered it to be built when he visited Britain in 122 AD, 1,900 years ago this year. Construction began almost immediately and it probably took six years to complete in its original form. So, Happy 19th Centenary Hadrian’s Wall.

When Donald Trump declared that he was going to build a wall along the US-Mexico border people laughed at the idea and said it would be impracticable, but the idea of building a wall to separate communities isn’t new. Look at the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall.

In 2017 I wrote about another significant legacy made by Hadrian during his visit to Britain – the establishment of Britannia as the female personification of the island.

There’s actually very little recorded information about Hadrian’s visit, though some details can be surmised by what happened and what changed after he left. First of all, we don’t know what time of year he visited. It was probably in June, and he didn’t come alone. As with all imperial visits there was a huge retinue of officials and servants and around 3,000 soldiers. There was also the Regio VI Victrix, the Victorious 6th Legion. Hadrian’s choice to bring the 6th Legion was significant because some historians believe that part of this legion was already stationed in northern England helping the diminishing 9th Legion (the alleged “lost” legion) to defend the empire’s northern border.

The Romans had ventured into the Scottish Lowlands, but withdrew south of a Roman road called Stanegate which ran horizontally across part of northern England. Hadrian was aware of the various skirmishes his army had with tribes from the Lowlands. These skirmishes had died down by the time he arrived in Britain, but it is clear that he intended to mark the northern border of the Roman Empire with a wall.

Hadrian’s movements in Britain are very uncertain. We have no surviving itinerary or full account. We are fairly sure that he visited York, or Eboracum as the Romans called it, because he ordered the building of a temple to the new goddess Britannia. This may have been on his way up to, or down from, Vindolanda.

Vindolanda was a major fort on Stanegate. It was a wooden fort which had just been rebuilt to house the Cohort of Tungrians, a thousand infantry men from the region of Belgium. There’s archaeological evidence that a luxurious new building was being constructed around the time of Hadrian’s British visit. It was too lavish for even a provincial governor so it must have been intended for someone of the highest importance – like the emperor.

Hadrian and his massive entourage sailed from Boulogne to the south coast of Britain and went by carriage train to London. The 6th Legion, however, continued to sail up the coast to the River Tyne.

When he arrived at Vindolanda, Hadrian had a look at the defences, and even though he probably didn’t need it, he decided to have a wall built across the country just north of the Stanegate road. Historians think this was a means of marking the northern border of the Roman Empire rather than a defence measure to keep the northern tribes out of England. There are indications that there was some movement of people, for trade and immigration to some degree, both ways across the wall.

The 6th Legion began to construct the wall almost immediately. Hadrian didn’t hang around long after that. The wall took about six years to complete and there were another ten years of modifications. It may seem strange to us today, but originally there were no forts planned for the wall. They were thought of as building progressed.

Since its first completion Hadrian’s Wall has been a significant structure on the landscape, earning an iconic place in British history. So iconic, in fact, that the great walls featured in “Game of Thrones” is based on it, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After the Romans left Britain in 410 AD the wall fell into disrepair. It was an ideal source for building stone by the local Britons. Thankfully, it was such a substantial structure that large parts of it remain, helped by the fact that there is very few settlements in that part of the country. The remains of many of the wall’s structure exist underground and archaeologists are constantly discovering new facts about the wall and Roman life.

Needless to day, there have been anniversary events held along the whole length of the wall this year. There are also several re-enactment groups who stage several events every year. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the places I have yet to visit even though it has been on by bucket list of British heritage sites I want to see.

So happy 1900th birthday, Hadrian’s Wall.

Sunday, 16 October 2022

Happy 100th Birthday, Aunty Beeb

Following the centenary of the Women’s World Games which I wrote about last time, we celebrate another this coming week. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was founded on 18th October 1922. The BBC, affectionately known as “Auntie Beeb”, is perhaps the world’s most famous broadcaster, though it was by no means the first (and despite what you read on certain websites, “Auntie Beeb” is not, and never has been, used derogatively, at least not by people whose opinions matter).

The BBC was founded by royal charter, meaning it is an independent organisation overseen by the British government on behalf of the Crown. Since it’s very beginning the BBC has had many lgbt broadcasters, producers, creative artists and governors.

The BBC has produced a special website to promote their centenary. They have created a page dedicated to their lgbt broadcasting history. You can see it here, though I suspect the website will be taken down after the celebrations have ended. If this is the case I will reproduce the lgbt history page in a future article.

It would be impossible to write about the history of the BBC without mentioning Sir John Reith, Baron Reith (1889-1971), successively its first manager, first managing director, and first director general. Even today his name and reputation are known to many.

Rumours and speculation about Reith’s sexuality have been going around for decades. There is a lot of disagreement on the subject, but I think the definitive answer comes from his daughter who acknowledged her father’s bisexuality in 2006. This has been accepted by most people and is included in the BBC 100 website referred to above.

The evidence suggests that Reith had a gay relationship before his career with the BBC. His affections were directed towards Charlie Bowser (b.1894). They met in May 1929. Their close friendship didn’t please Reith’s father, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, and Reith’s brother was particularly vocal in his opposition to it. Two years later, however, the Bowser family moved to London and Reith decided to follow them.

Over the next few months and years John Reith and Charlie Bowser spent much time together, living in the same apartment, and going on holidays together. They shared a bed, but that meant nothing in those days (modern sex-obsessed society is conditioned into not understanding any innocence in it, and touching someone on the shoulder can lead to accusations of sexual abuse – talking from experience). In this case, however, we can assume it was significant in their relationship.

Reith was commissioned into the 5th Scottish Rifles, Territorial Battalion, in 1911, and following the outbreak of World War I, was transferred to the Royal Engineers. When he was posted to France Charlie Bowser was there to see him off. Throughout the war Reith carried a photo of Charlie in his wallet. In 1915 Reith was hit in the face by a rifle bullet. The scar was visible for the rest of his life.

Reith’s broadcasting career and the establishment of the BBC is well covered elsewhere on the internet. His bisexuality, however, was largely ignored or denied until more recent decades. The definitive word on the subject should go to his daughter, Marista, who confirmed Reith’s bisexuality in 2006.

On Reith’s appointment as the first manager of the BBC there was no television broadcasting. It was solely radio. Fellow Scotsman John Logie Baird developed the first broadcastable television system. An experimental broadcast produced jointly by the BBC and Baird’s company, a play, was broadcast in 1930, but the fist full BBC television broadcast was made on 22nd August 1932. It consisted of a brief message of Logie Baird himself, followed by a variety programme featuring dancers, songs from popular singers of the time, a ju-jitsu demonstration, and Sammy the performing sea-lion.

The producer of this programme was an ex-army officer called Eustace Robb (1897-1983). He had joined the BBC in its gramophone department before being appointed producer of that first light entertainment television programme 90 years ago this year.

It was around this time that Robb’s wife decided to divorce him on account of his many affairs with young men, which he never his from her.

By 1934 Robb had become the BBC’s first Director of Television Programming, responsible for deciding what programmes should be made and broadcast. He left the BBC in 1935 after the company switched television production to its new Alexandra Palace studios and changed from Baird’s system to the higher-definition Marconi-EMI system which it continued to use until 1985.

Eustace Robb was redeployed during World War II, working with the British Expeditionary Force and in the War Office.

On retirement from the army Robb became a landowner, inheriting and living at Great Tew House in Oxfordshire from the 1950s. This was once owned by his great-great-grandfather Matthew Boulton, the industrial pioneer. Boulton appeared on the UK’s £50 note with his business partner, the more famous steam engine pioneer James Watt. They was replaced in 2020 by the gay code-breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing. Ironically, part of Eustace Robb’s duties at the War Office included receiving and distributing decoded messages from Turing and the other code-breakers at Bletchley Park.

Robb lived at Great Tew for the rest of his life. Great Tew entered the headlines in 2018 when the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex rented a converted barn on the estate for two years.

From its very beginning the BBC has been influenced by members of the lgbt community.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

A Women's Sporting Centenary

The year 2022 has seen great summer of sport of lgbt athletes. Sadly, it has also been not so great for others who were not allowed to compete. However, the EuroGames in the Netherlands just before the Commonwealth Games began provided a multi-sport festival that excluded no-one. This year would have been ever better if the Gay Games in Hong Kong has not been postponed until next year.

Sporting anniversaries abound. The Gay Games celebrates 40 years this year. The EuroGames, the mini version of the Gay Games, celebrated its 30th anniversary, and another sporting festival which I mentioned in passing last month was founded 100 years ago. That festival was the Women’s World Games.

Rather than give a history of the Women’s World Games I’d like to write about the few competitors who were lesbian, bisexual or transgender in its twelve year run. There’s an excellent history of the game here on the Inside the Games website, the perfect sport website because it includes all sports except football, thank God.

Briefly, here are the official editions of the Women’s World Games

1922 – Paris, France
1926 – Gothenburg, Sweden
1930 – Prague, Czechoslovakia
1934 – London, UK.

Not all names of participating athletes are readily available, so there may be others. Here is the list of known athletes at the games. They are list in order of participation.

Mark Weston (1905-1978)

(competed as Mary Weston)
Representing England
Shot put
1926 Gothenburg

Mark Weston was the British women’s shot put champion for several years. He was born in 1905 with a genital abnormality, probably some form of intersex condition, and was assigned and raised as a girl. In 1936 he underwent surgery to realign as male and took the name Mark Weston.

In our own time, when Caitlyn Jenner transitioned in 2015, there were calls for her to return her Olympic decathlon gold medal. Mark Weston actually offered to return all of his medals that had won during his female career because he considered he had not won them fairly, but the sporting authorities refused to accept them.

Weston married in 1936 and had three children. He died in 1978. Interestingly, his sibling Harry Weston (a non-athlete) also transitioned in the 1930s. Even when competing in 1928 Mark felt he was different and, in his own words, “had no right to compete as a woman”.

Stanislawa Walasiewicz (1911-1980)

(also known as Stella Walsh)
Representing Poland
Track athletics
1930 Prague – 2 gold medals
1934 London – 1 gold medal, 2 silvers

Stella was one of the more famous female Olympic athletes in the early 20th century. I’ll direct you to this part of my 2018 “Around the World in Another 80 Gays” series in which I wrote about Stella Walsh’s career and controversy surrounding her gender. At the Women’s World Games Stella won 2 golds medals in 1930 in the 100m and 200m. In 1934 she won silver in both of these distances, but she won the gold medal in the 60m.

Zdeněk Koubek (1913-1986)

(competed as Zdena Koubková)
Representing Czechoslovakia
Track athletics and long jump
1934 London – 1 gold medal and 1 bronze

Koubek was one of Czechoslovakia’s most successful female athletes. Before his appearance at the Women’s World Games he held the Czech national titles in the 100 metres, 200 metres, 800 metres, high jump and long jump. It wasn’t unusual for female athletes of that time to compete in multiple disciplines, more so than male athletes. Koubek also held several world records before the 1934 games. He broke another while winning the 800 metres gold medal. He also won a bronze medal in the javelin throw.

Those 1934 games seem to have been Koubek’s last competitive appearance. He retired from athletics in 1935 and shortly afterwards began the process of transitioning. After its completion he courted publicity and interviews during 1936 before retiring to family life in Czechoslovakia with his new wife.

The last Women’s World Games in London were held from 9th to 11th August 1934 at the White City Stadium in London. Just six miles away on exactly the same dates the 2nd Commonwealth Games (then called the British Empire Games) were being held in Wembley Park.

Another athlete was almost certain to have competed at the 1934 Women’s World Games had the Commonwealth Games not taken place at the same time. I mentioned this athlete briefly in my piece about the Birmingham 2022 games last month. His name was Edwin Halstead (1907-1962). He was the UK’s top female javelin thrower, competing under the name of Edith Halstead, and at the 1934 games he won the silver medal.

As I said in that earlier article, very little is known about Edwin, so I used my genealogical skills to find out more. First, I needed to establish that Edwin and Edith Halstead were the same person. This is confirmed on the 1939 Register of England and Wales. As the war progressed the information was amended. Amendments were still being made in the 1980s when it was consigned to the National Archives. Below is the entry which proves Edith and Edwin Halstead are the same person. Edwin is living in Radcliffe, Lancashire, with his half-sister Eva Dawson.

The amendment code means – IC (identity card – a new one being issued in this case) /NWT (the enumeration district of Radcliffe). I haven’t deciphered CS36337 yet. The handwritten date, 22nd August 1944, is when the amendment was made, not when Edwin transitioned. So, we can be sure that Edwin transitioned during the war. He probably chose the name Edwin after his mother’s first husband, Edwin Dawson (an unfortunate man who died at the age of 38 after being run over by a train).

Other records tell us that Edwin married Ellen Rothwell in 1946. In 1948 he was working as a telephonist at the Post Office phone exchange in Blackpool (just like you see in old movies). He died in Blackpool on 5th May 1962. He and Ellen had no children.

There’s yet another possible addition to this list. At the 1934 Women’s World Games was the German sprinter and discus thrower Käthe Krauss (1906-1970). At the games she won 3 gold sprint medals and 1 bronze discus medal. Her gender was questioned during her career, though mostly through hearsay and rumour rather than definitive evidence. Athletes competing against her often expressed the opinion that Kathe was not completely female. I can only be surmised that they thought she was intersex. Perhaps we’ll never know for sure.

I’ve managed to find a short vide of the 1934 Women’s World Games. It shows Stella Walsh winning the 60m, and possibly Zdeněk Koubek competing in the long jump. Käthe Krauss is in the athlete's parade.

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.