Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Olympian Stats


Following the publication of my list of LGBT Olympians last week several people have pointed out an error with one of the names. That name has been removed. However, a new name was suggested, which I’ve checked, and have added in its place.

Here are some facts and figures which may not be apparent from the new list. These statistics do not include the reserve/alternate Olympians or Paralympians.

131 athletes in the women’s competitions
73 athletes in the men’s competitions
160 athletes at the summer games
44 athletes at the winter games
1 entrant in the art competition

Earliest identified lgbt athletes - Summer
Amsterdam 1928 : Otto Peltzer, Germany (athletics), and Renée Sintenis, Germany (sculpture)

Earliest identified lgbt athlete - Winter
Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956 : Ronnie Robertson, USA (figure skating)

Earliest identified “out” lgbt athlete at the Games
Amsterdam 1928 : Renée Sintenis, Germany (sculpture)
Innsbruck 1976 : John Curry, GB (figure skating), outed by media after winning gold, he never denied it
Seoul 1988 : Robert Dover, USA, equestrianism (the first to compete as an out athlete)

Top 3 Summer Olympics with the most lgbt athletes (including those who were not openly lgbt at the time)
50 - Sydney 2000
45 - Beijing 2008
44 - London 2012

Top 3 Winter Olympics with the most lgbt athletes (including those who were not openly lgbt at the time)
18 - Turin 2006
15 - Vancouver 2010
12 - Sochi 2014

The Olympics with the most medals won by lgbt athletes
Summer : 22 medals won by 18 athletes – Athens 2004 (8 gold, 9 silver, 5 bronze)
Winter : 14 medals won by 11 athletes – Turin 2006 (5 gold, 4 silver, 5 bronze)

The Olympics with the most lgbt gold medal champions
Sydney 2000 - 11 medals won by 10 champions
London 2012 - 9 medals won by 9 champions

Top 3 Olympic sports with lgbt athletes
28 – football (26 of them women)
22 - track and field athletics
18 - figure skating (all men)

Top 3 lgbt Olympians with the most medals
9 - Ian Thorpe, Australia, swimming (5 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze)
8 - Ireen Wüst, Netherlands, speed skating (4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze)
7 - Karin Büttner-Janz, Germany, gymnastics (2 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze)

Top 4 lgbt Olympians with the most gold medals
5 - Ian Thorpe, Australia, swimming
4 - Greg Louganis, USA, diving
4 - Ireen Wüst, Netherlands, speed skating
4 - Jayna Hefford, Canada, ice hockey

Lgbt Olympian who have competed in the most games
6 - Robert Dover, USA, equestrianism (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004)

The 3 youngest lgbt Olympians
13 years old - Ondrej Nepela, Czechoslovakia, figure skating (Innsbruck 1964)
14 years old - Tom Daley, GB, diving (Beijing 2008)
15 years old - Marian Lay, Canada, swimming (Tokyo 1964)

The 3 oldest lgbt Olympians
48 years - Robert Dover, USA, equestrianism (Athens 2004)
47 years - Martina Navratilova, USA, tennis (Athens 2004)
47 years - Karen Hultzer, Germany, archery (London 2012)

The 3 youngest lgbt medal winners
16 years - Greg Louganis, USA, diving (1 silver : Montreal 1976)
16 years - Karin Büttner-Janz, E. Germany, gymnastics (1 silver, 1 bronze : Mexico City 1968)
17 years - Ian Thorpe, Australia, swimming (3 gold, 2 silver : Sydney 2000)
[[17 years - Ewa Kłobukowska, Poland, athletics (1 gold, 1 bronze : Tokyo 1964) The first Olympian to fail the gender test and stripped of her medals. The test is now discredited but her medals have not been reinstated]

The 3 oldest lgbt medal winners
48 years - Robert Dover, USA, equestrianism (1 bronze : Athens 2004)
45 years - Carl Hester, GB, equestrianism (1 gold : London 2012)
44 years - Robert Dover, USA, equestrianism (1 bronze : Sydney 2000)

The most medals won at one games by one lgbt athlete
5 (3 gold, 2 silver) - Ian Thorpe, Australia, swimming (Sydney 2000)
5 (2 gold, 3 silver) - Ireen Wüst, Netherlands, speed skating (Sochi 2014)
5 (2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze) - Karin Büttner-Janz, E. Germany, gymnastics (Munich 1972)

Only lgbt athlete to compete in both Summer and Winter Olympics
Christine Witty (USA)
Winter Olympics : speed skating - 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006
Summer Olympics : cycling – 2000

Top 4 countries with the most lgbt Olympians
46 - USA
28 - Canada
18 - Netherlands
18 - Germany (incl. East and West)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Twelve Noels of Christmas : 3


The 7th Noel – NOEL CRUZ-PACHECO
One difference I’ve noticed between UK universities and USA universities is the level of openness in listing lgbt students and staff. In the UK there are very few (if any) of these lists, whereas in the USA most lgbt groups in the major universities publish lists of out members. One of the biggest lists belongs to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Noel Cruz-Pacheco has been at UCSF since 2009. A graduate of the Pontifical Catholic University in Puerto Rico Noel arrived at UCSF as a staff research associate working in the Department of Cell and Tissue Biology. Most of his work there involved studying the genetic formation of a type of yeast fungus called Candida albicans. This organism lives within the human body, particularly in the intestines and mouth, and can cause several serious illnesses.

In 2012 Noel moved to another laboratory at USCF where his work involved studying the interaction between nerve cells and skin layers and how this creates new tissue and cell regeneration when the skin is damaged.

The 8th Noel – NOEL BAGGETT (b.1941)
One of my New Year resolutions every year is to get back into shape and into sport somehow. I don’t really have the conviction though and find it more difficult to get motivated than I did ten years ago. Which is why I’m always inspired to keep trying by hearing about people like Noel Baggett.

At the age of 63 Noel took up wrestling. He had done some at school and college but he didn’t continue into adult life. Noel always kept himself fit, however, by running.

In 2006 the Gay Games were held in Chicago. He competed in two sports – running and wrestling. He won a gold medal in his age group in the 5 km road race. Being relatively new to competitive wrestling Noel was just happy to compete, having only took up the sport less than two years previously. His first competitive bouts pre-Gay Games, however, didn’t bode well as he hadn’t acquired the flexibility and balance he needed. At the Gay Games he had trained hard enough to win himself a silver medal in his weight category.

Eight years on, and 73 years old, Noel is still training. He still does long-distance running, and has a personal trainer at the gym. He also still competes. His most recent event was the California Senior Games earlier this year where he broke his personal best results.

I only hope I can be in that good a shape when I’m that age!

The 9th Noel – GEORGE NOEL BYRON, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
You may not have realised that Lord Byron was called Noel. That’s probably because its not one he was born with, he acquired it in an attempt to escape his scandalous past.

Byron was bisexual – polysexual even. His sexual reputation became the centre of gossip after 1813 when it became common knowledge that he had slept with his half-sister, a married woman, and got her pregnant. The aristocracy usually turned a blind eye to homosexuality, but incest and adultery were definitely taboo.

Byron began flirting with another aristocratic lady but found that these affairs were affecting his poetry – both in his writing of them and in their popularity. Some of the poems he wrote at around this time were not up to his usual standard and his books were not selling as much as they had before.

In order to produce an image which reassured his public (and even himself) that he wasn’t the lecherous degenerate his public were beginning to think of him as being he decided to get married. He couldn’t have chosen a worse wife.

Anna Isabella Milbanke Noel was a dull woman by all accounts. She lacked the imaginative intellect of Byron. She was the only child of Sir Ralph Milbanke Noel and was the heir to both him and the barony of Wentworth. They married on 2nd January 1815. Part of the marriage contract included the condition that Lord Byron must adopt the surname Noel in front of his own. And so George Byron became George Noel Byron.

The newly-weds had one child, born in December 1815. She was the celebrated Ada, later to become the Countess of Lovelace, and the first “computer” who worked with Charles Babbage on the “difference engine” – the forerunner of the devices which now carry the name of “computer”.

Ada was barely a month old before her mother left Byron. The scandal of his earlier affairs were not dying down, and eventually Byron and his wife obtained a legal separation, though they were never officially divorced.

Byron thought it best to leave England and spent the rest of his life on the Continent. His estranged with Anna Isabella, inherited the title of Baroness Wentworth and died in 1860. She passed this title and the Noel name to her daughter Ada, who passed them down to her descendants.

In the final three Noels next Sunday we’ll meet one who named himself after the first.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Queer Achievement : Courage and Conscience

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

For my final Year of Remembrance article I’m looking at how one lgbt war hero from the First World War, who was brought forward as a hero of the modern anti-Iraq campaign, displayed the medals he was awarded for bravery on his coat of arms.

This is the full armorial achievement of Air Commodore Lionel Charlton (1879-1958). He served in the Boer War and was one of the first officers in the Royal Flying Corps and RAF.
In 1923 Charlton was appointed to the RAF’s Iraq Command. It was the British bombing of Iraqi villages that created a matter of conscience and he resigned in protest. He openly expressed his opposition to the bombing and firmly believed he’d be discharged from the RAF, but he wasn’t Because of this he was brought to the attention of modern anti-Iraq campaigners in the UK as his actions given as an example of good military policy.

The Charlton family can trace their family back to the 1290s in Northumberland. There were several families of this name in England at around that time, none of them directly related. The coat of arms of Baron Charlton, who fought at the Siege of Rouen in 1418, was a red lion on a gold shield. Lionel Charlton’s family have no proven relationship to the baron, so could not use the red lion unless that added something else to the design. Lionel’s ancestors added the green fretty design and the black square with gold lion.

I’ll concentrate from now on the medals and honours Lionel could display on his achievement. I’ll take them in order of official precedence. In the painting they are arranged below the shield and (with 1 as the highest in precedence) they rank, from left to right, as follows : 3,1,2,4.

1)            Lionel was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath on New Year’s Day 1919, entitling him to place the letters CB after his name. The Most Honourable Order of the Bath was created in 1725. Today it consists of 2 divisions – military and civilian. As a Companion of the Order Lionel could place the order’s badge beneath his shield. He was also entitled to place a circlet around his shield – the red circlet shown here. On it is written the motto of the Order, “Tria Juncto in Uno”. Around this circlet is a wreath which denotes his membership in the military division, and it has a small blue scroll at the bottom bearing the words “Ich Dien”.

2)            The next most senior award Lionel received was the Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG). This Order is not specifically a military one but is awarded to people who have served the British Crown abroad. Today this is usually given to diplomats. Lionel was awarded the CMG in 1916 and may have been in recognition of his appointment as ADC to the Governor of the Leeward Islands.

3)            The earliest award for bravery which Lionel could have shown is the DSO, a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. Up until the last decade this was the highest military award fro bravery below the Victoria Cross. Lionel received this award in November 1900 in recognition of his bravery during the Boer War. He was a lieutenant with the West African Frontier Force at the Battle of Spion Kop in January 1900. Lionel was severely wounded but kept on fighting for 9 hours until his commanding officer ordered him to leave.

4)            Lionel received the Légion d’Honneur for his services in France. During World War I. Shortly after its formation Lionel transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. On the outbreak of World War I he was Flight Commander of No. 3 Squadron in northern France. Lionel was appointed a Chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’Honneur in November 1914, and after the war he was promoted to Officer. The badge of the Officer is shown on the extreme right of the medals.

Two bravery awards are not shown, though they are not generally included in any English armorial achievement. The first is the Royal Humane Society’s bronze medal awarded to him in 1899 for saving a man from drowning. The other is his Mention in Despatches (MiD). Lionel received 3 of these, the first in May 1918 and the last in July 1919. All 3 of his MiDs are commemorated on his Victory Medal as 3 oak leaves (as in the example is pictured below).
The family motto, “Sans Varier” (“Without Change”) is usually shown below the shield, though artistic licence is allowed. That’s why I’ve drawn in curling from behind the shield, creating a less “vertical” design. I chose not to colour the reverse of the motto scroll in Rainbow Pride colours as I have done with other lgbt achievements because I thought it would crowd the design with too much colour.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

200 For My 500th

THIS IS MY 500TH POSTING!

As November began I couldn’t think of a suitable celebratory subject. None of the articles I’d already planned seem to be “special” enough. Then, on 11th November I found my subject.

Regular readers will know of my specialist interest in lgbt participation at the Olympic Games. Through 2012 I wrote a history of lgbt Olympians to celebrate the London games (I’m working of a revised and updated version for publication in time for the 2016 Rio games). Over the past 4 years I’ve also been trying to compile the most comprehensive list of lgbt Olympians.

And so, in the very early hours of 11th November I reached my target of being able to list 200 LGBT OLYMPIANS.

Since that November night I’ve carried on researching and several more Olympians have come out, so I’m pleased to say the list has 204 names! Previous lists have included Paralympians, but I started a separate Paralympic list and they are not included in the 204. In addition there is a list of some of the reserve/alternate team members, and add the Paralympians, it makes the published list below actually 218 names long.

You may question some of the names on my list. It depends on your definition of an Olympian. First and foremost, all the listed names are those who have been named as a playing member of the official national teams. Most people regard Olympians as athletes, but one name on the list – the first openly lgbt Olympian and first lgbt medallist – wasn’t an athlete at all, she was a sculptor.

A hundred years ago the Olympic Games included contests for art, music, literature, architecture, and even town planning. They had equal status with the sport. The only criteria for submission was that the entry must have a sporting theme. Even today the medallists of these contests are included in official statistics.

The first lgbt Olympian was Renée Sintenis (1888-1965). I intend to write about her next year so will concentrate briefly on her Olympic involvement for now. Renée specialised in sculpture of human figures and animals. One of her pre-Olympic works was a sculpture of the legendary Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi. This eventually (1932) won her the Olympia Prize. The piece she submitted for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics was a bronze statue of a footballer called, not surprisingly, “Footballeur”. For this she won a bronze medal.

Also at the Amsterdam games was the first lgbt Olympic athlete, Otto Peltzer (1900-1970). You can read more about him here and here.

Another lgbt connection in the 1928 art competition is the silver medallist in architecture Ejnar Mindedal Rasmussen (1892-1975). He designed the swimming pool, Denmark’s first indoor pool, at the Ollerup Gymnastic School. This school was set up by Niels Bukh, a gay gymnast who was de-selected from the Danish team for the 1908 London Olympics because he was too muscular and looked out of place! He later became a pioneer of modern gymnastics (and, unfortunately, one of Hitler’s heroes), and he coached Denmark’s men’s gymnastics team to a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Some of you may think that the art competitions shouldn’t be counted. So for those who don’t it’s a good job I’ve got extra names on the list to ensure there’s 200.

One other name may be questioned – Caster Semenya.

Caster Semenya is a South African runner who became the centre of controversy when she emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, to begin winning international races. Much speculation emerged in the media, all of it revolving around two words – drugs, gender.

Having been tested and cleared of all drugs charges Caster underwent gender testing. The media were more interested in this gender angle than the drugs and subjected Caster to public discussion on her private life, all through the gender verification process. Once completed the results were kept secret, even though Australian media reported that someone had leaked to them results which state that Caster was born intersex. Whatever the accuracy of these reports Caster was cleared to return to international female competition in 2011.

Even if we disregard the intersexual rumours one question remains – if Caster Semenya’s gender is 100% female, why keep it a secret? There’s still a question mark over the results as far as I’m concerned. And it is the non-disclosure of Caster’s full results and non-confirmation of her gender which persuades me to add her to my lgbt list. Even if you don’t think Caster Semenya should be included, the list remains at the 200 mark.

There’s one anonymous athlete on the list. A member of the Greek track and field team at the Athens 2004 Olympics has not come out but has spoken about his experiences of homophobia in Greek sport.

Next week I’ll continue my celebration by giving a few facts and figures. In the mean time here’s the full list.

NOTE : Since this list was first published on 9th December an error has been spotted. This has now been corrected and this list is the revised list as of 12th December 2014. There are now 203 names. Sorry to have cause any confusion.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Twelve Noels of Christmas : 2

Today’s three Noels have this name in different places. The first one has it as his first name, the second as his middle name and the third as his surname.

The 4th Noel – NOEL CURRER-BRIGGS (1919-2004)
Noel Currer-Briggs was a man with many “hats”, in that throughout his life he could be different things at different times – war-time code-breaker, gays-in-the-military advocate, husband, genealogist, and historian of the Turin Shroud and Holy Grail. I’ve written about Currer-Briggs a couple of times before – here and here.

Even though I’ve mentioned his code-breaking role I haven’t really covered the others, so I’ll do that now. During his military service Noel was always aware of his sexuality. He married Barbara in 1947 after meeting at Cambridge University. They got on like a house on fire and Noel loved her very much – but he was not sexually attracted to her. “I regarded it to some extent as a duty,” he said in a Channel 4 documentary on UK television in 2002.

Noel’s work as a professional genealogist and historian dates from the early 1960s until his death. He was a consultant on Debrett’s Peerage for a number of years and published many articles and books. One specialist area of research was into Huguenot refugee families of the 16th century. But the subject which earned him the greatest attention was his work on the genealogy of the owners of the Shroud of Turin. This was the legendary shroud in which Christ was wrapped after his crucifixion. By researching the earliest recorded references to the Shroud Noel proved its existence and ownership through several influential families from the 11th to 13th centuries – ownership which predated the now discredited scientifically-derived date of origin in the 14th century. Unfortunately for Noel, genealogical proof has no scientific meaning to scientists.

Of all Noel’s books only one was fiction – “Young Men at War”, published in 1970. This novel is a love story between two soldiers, one English and the other German. Noel used personal experience to call upon, and in his later years supported the campaign for more acceptance of lgbt military personnel. He was invited to speak at the first lgbt Remembrance Day event at the Cenotaph in 1999, but was unable to attend.

The 5th Noel – DAVID NOEL BOSLEY (b.1974)
There isn’t a lot of available information on David Noel Bosley, despite his high profile in the lgbt community in the Philippines. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a mixed race family, and studied at the St. Louis Anne Academy in San Pedro in the Philippines, and at the Philippine Christian University in Manila.

He started working as a visual merchandiser in Makati, a job which encompasses many aspects of promoting and displaying products in retail outlets. In the “old days” David would have been called a window dresser, but visual merchandising has advanced so much since the 1960s that the two jobs can hardly be considered the same. A lot more technology and design goes into merchandising these days, and more money to fund it. At this time of year, in the run up to Christmas, the role of a visual merchandiser is more important than it probably is at any other time of the year. Just take a walk down your nearest high street and look at how stores have displayed their merchandise and you’ll see what I mean.

David rose to prominence in 2009 when he entered and won the Mr Gay Philippine contest. This gave him a place in the Mr Gay World finals in early 2010 in Oslo. David made it to the final round, but the eventual winner was Mr Gay South Africa, Charl van den Berg.

David currently lives in Quezon City in the Philippines and still works in marketing, this time for an international online gay dating website. He is also a “poster boy” for the Philippine National AIDS Council’s AWARE campaign.

The 6th Noel - RODEN NOEL (1834-1894)
Lord Byron (himself a Noel, as we’ll see next time) is not the only vain, aristocratic lgbt poet to come from the UK. In the generation after Byron comes the Honourable Roden Noel, a younger son of the 1st Earl of Gainsborough. Roden (named after the title in his mother’s family) never denied his bisexuality and he contributed to Havelock Ellis’s book “Sexual Inversion” (1897). He said that “sexual inversion” was “hereditary and inborn” in his family, recounting that his great-uncle, the Bishop of Clogher, was arrested after being caught in an intimate embrace with a soldier.

What Roden and Byron have most in common is their vanity. Both were always fussing over their appearance, and Roden in particular often remarked on how gorgeous he was!

Despite being known more as a poet these days Roden’s life followed that traditional path on an aristocrat. His father was an influential landowner. Though it is his mother, Lady Frances Jocelyn, daughter of the Earl of Roden (the elder brother of the Bishop of Clogher mentioned earlier), that Roden Noel has a royal connection. Lady Frances was one of Queen Victoria’s Ladies of the Bedchamber. This connection led to Queen Victoria becoming Roden’s godmother, a sort of real fairy godmother in effect who personally appointed him as a courtier himself in 1867 as Groom of the Privy Chamber.

Roden wasn’t really cut out for royal duty so he resigned in 1871 to pursue his poetic career. He also became one of those forgotten Victorian philanthropists who championed the poor.

You can read about Roden’s poetry and his sexual leanings in this article by Dr. Rictor Norton on his website.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Out Of Their Trees : Diving Into Daley's DNA

Tom's most recent Facebook profile photo.
Next week I reach another milestone on my blog – I post my 500th article. I’ve got a special article for that, but I think I’m entitled to celebrate with 2 special articles! And this is the first.

Last month I completed preliminary research into the ancestry of Olympic diver Tom Daley. The original idea was to write about it on his 21st birthday next May, but I just couldn’t wait that long and decided to do an intensive 2 week verification process so I can bring it to you today – 2 days after the anniversary of Tom Daley coming out last year. And I would feel really bad if someone else had done their own research and posted it somewhere online before I did!

Actually, somebody already has done. Seamus Rush posted some of Tom Daley’s ancestry online last year. You can read Seamus’s article here. I can’t write a better article, as there’s not a lot that I can say that will be new, so I won’t bother.

Being a perfectionist I verified all the information in Seamus’s article for myself. What it doesn’t have, however, is any of Tom’s ancestry before official registration and census returns began. That set me off on my own original research to find Tom’s more distant ancestry.

At first I was worried that there’d be nothing of interest and no lines of descent to follow, as most of Tom’s ancestors were not as geographically dispersed as they have been in some of my previous “Out Of Their Trees” articles. This, in itself, proved to be a blessing. I had the same experience when researching my ex-partner’s ancestry. All of his recent ancestors were firmly based in one county and it was only when I found a bloodline from a “gateway” family that ancestors came flooding out of history.

A “gateway” family or ancestor is one who comes from a higher social background with direct links into the landed gentry, aristocracy or royalty. In my ancestry that gateway family are the Appleyards, for my ex-partner the Gells, and for Tom Daley it is the Yeos.

Once I’d established a member of the Yeo family as Tom’s ancestor it was relatively easy to go further back because the Yeos are a big, well-established family in Devon, and they help to give Tom an unbroken Devon descent through his grandmother Winifred Eastlake back to at least 1338.

The earliest recorded Yeo is Willliam atte Yeo who was Sheriff of Devon in 1359 (he must have been aged 21 or over to be appointed a sheriff). There is a website of the Yeo Society here which gives a detailed history of the family. There are a couple of errors on the website, but it is still an excellent genealogical resource.

Being a distinctive name makes it highly likely that any member of the Yeo family worldwide (several Yeos emigrated to Canada and Australia) is related to Tom Daley, including several in the lgbt community. I haven’t done the proper research yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom is related to Liz Yeo of Sydney, a Gay Games gold medallist in tennis in 2010, or to Paul Yeo, a Gay Games gold medallist in squash in 1990. Other proven descendants of the Yeos include the Princes William, Harry and George (through Princess Diana).

That’s enough of Tom’s general Yeo ancestry, let’s get more personal. I’ll move up Tom’s line of descent to one William Yeo (d.1481) of Heanton Satchville, Devon. Through the marriage of HIS ancestors into other Devon families William was related to all of the major political and royal officials in the county. His wife was Ellen Grenville. Unfortunately there’s a lot of conflicting information about HER ancestry. I’ve spent many hours studying as many references and sources as possible and have come up with an ancestry which I believe fits all the conflicting facts.

Basically (I won’t bore you with the detail), Ellen’s mother Philippa, generally thought to be a daughter of the 1st Baron Bonville is (I believe) his sister. And Ellen’s father and grandfather, as generally accepted, are (I believe) the same man. The dates of birth for all of them only match if my theory is correct. It remains to be seen if other genealogists agree. So, the couples previously regarded as Ellen’s great-grandparents are all now her grandparents.

One of these couples are Sir Theobald Grenville and his wife Margaret Courtenay. Margaret’s parentage has also been questioned in recent years, but there’s no question of her descent from the Earls of Devon, and also from King Edward I.

Tom joins an ever-increasing number of lgbt people and Olympians (including my newly discovered descent from King Edward I for Oscar Pistorius) who can be connected by blood, however distant.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Songs For AIDS

To mark today’s World AIDS Day I’m looking at how music has been used to raise awareness of the disease.

Less than a month ago a newly completed song performed by Freddie Mercury and Queen was released. Freddie died of AIDS-related causes in 1991 and became one of the first international music stars to reveal he had the disease.

The new song, “Let Me In Your Heart Again”, was recorded in the 1980s and was never completed or released, though it was later recorded and released as an album track in 1988 by Anita Dobson, the wife of Queen’s guitarist Brian May. It has been included in Queen’s new compilation album “Forever”.

The song forms part of a campaign organised by Coca Cola and (RED) charity called “Share the Sound of an AIDS-Free Generation”. Other artists and songs are included in the campaign but this is by no means the first musical fundraiser for AIDS awareness. The first concert to have any specific mention of AIDS in its content was back in 1992 with the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt Songbook.

The brainchild behind this Songbook concert was William Parker (1943-1993), He was a professional baritone singer who had been diagnosed with HIV in 1986. During the early years following the initial shock caused by the outbreak of AIDS many lgbt communities across America began fundraising events to help the many victims and surviving partners.

William Parker felt that, although well intended, many of these fundraising concerts and recitals did not contain any works by openly lgbt composers or addressed the issue of AIDS awareness. Concerts included works already known by composers and writers also already known, in attempts, perhaps, to appeal to the widest possible audience.  Parker sang at several AIDS fundraisers himself where the very word itself was never mentioned out loud. Parker felt that with so many in the music industry affected by HIV and AIDS there would be enough support within the community to organise a fundraiser by lgbt composers and performers.

William approached a lot of composers and writers, most of whom he had worked with and knew, and he was pleasantly surprised at how many agreed to participate.

Very early on in the planning stage William envisaged the project as a companion to the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt, the ever-growing patchwork of fabric squares, each one dedicated to loved ones who had died of AIDS. Like the quilt the Quilt Songbook was intended as an ever-growing project with new works being submitted for future performance.

The Songbook concert was premiered on 4th June (not July, as Wikipedia claims) 1992 at the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York. Most of the contributing composers and writers were present, and some of them performed their own pieces. William Parker was joined by three other baritones – Kurt Ollman, William Sharp and Sanford Sylvan. They sang solo and together.

The following day the songs were recorded, except for William Parker’s three solo pieces. He had been feeling unwell on the day of the concert and the effort of performing and organising the event had exhausted him. He was too unwell to record his pieces.

After the AIDS Quilt Songbook’s premiere William Parker’s health deteriorated. Although wheelchair-bound towards the end, he managed to sing at several recitals, standing out of his wheelchair for the fist of these.

William’s last public performance was on 1st December 1992, which is another reason why I chose to feature him on this World AIDS Day.

William died in his New York apartment, having been cared for by his sister Amy, on 29th March 1993. The previous day he had received friends from the Songbook project and they listened to the first mastered recording of “Fury”, one of the tracks William was well enough to record after the premiere. This track is the first one on the official AIDS Quilt Songbook album.

William Parker’s legacy was a realisation that sufferers, partners, family and friends affected by HIV/AIDS can find a channel through which this can be channelled through music and poetry. Since the first album release in 1993 more songs have been added to the Songbook, growing, like the AIDS Quilt itself, into a multi-coloured patchwork, reflecting the varied lives and loves of people who have died. The most recent AIDS Quilt Songbook concert took place in New York on 14th November to mark its 22nd anniversary.