Thursday, 2 July 2015

Happy Tenth Birthday, Pink Jack!

On Saturday 2nd July 2005 London celebrated its annual Pride. Something appeared that day which caught the collective imagination of all lgbt Brits. The Union Jack is already a unique design classic, and ten years ago today a new version appeared – the Pink Jack.

I’m delighted that the creator of the Pink Jack, David Guinnutt, has agreed to write something for me today on how this new design came into the world.

The first I realised ten years had passed since Pink Jack was created was when a letter from The Patent Office arrived asking me to renew the Trademark. Ten years, Wow. I’m very proud of this, it was an idea I hoped would last and be relevant for longer than my lifetime….I didn’t do it to make a lot of money (just as well as I haven’t!) I think it’s more important to make things that will always be around… and I have the same philosophy with my photographs, I want portraits to be interesting a hundred years hence, not just today. It’s early days but so far, so good!

The first flag I made was from company in East London, a proper old school flag maker. I still have it, it’s made of a very heavy cotton and has toggles on it where it would be tied to a mast. The pink is vibrant blancmange pink. It felt it was quite punk in a Westwood kinda way as I imagined it flying on a (gay) galleon –pirate or otherwise and the pink was quite shocking and it seemed a bit anti-establishment….in a good way.

The first day I ‘flew’ the flag it was at the Pride London march, 2004. I remember carrying it on the tube on a bamboo cane, wrapped around the cane so no one could see it , felt a really self-conscious, it’s not in my nature to seek out attention on me but I’m compelled to push myself forward for things I believe in.

Getting off the tube at Hyde Park Corner I remember it was absolutely rammed with people arriving for the march, whistles blowing, people shouting, chatting, waving banners, I shuffled along in a sea of revellers, questioning when I’d have the bottle to start waving the flag- I’m not sure what I thought would happen- maybe everyone stop and stare and laugh at me.

I found my way to where the march was to start, everyone was milling around, lying in small groups on the grass, some already lined up at the head of the march. I was envious of other people who’d already got their banners or flag up. They didn’t look bothered or scared at all. I waited, trying to decide the right moment.

As time came for the march to start, the atmosphere was electric, everyone starts shouting, blowing whatever and making crazy noise, its the most incredible feeling the first time. Fuck it I couldn’t wait any longer and plucked up my nerve to unfurl the flag, up she went, heart in my mouth, it felt as if life would change forever ….but no one batted an eyelid.

It’s amazing the power carrying a flag gives you, people make way and I got to the front easily and marched behind Paul O’Grady, Stephen Fry, Wayne Sleep and I think Simon Callow and some other notable figures. I wanted the flag to get noticed and waved it for my life above Paul & Stephen’s heads!

Looking back there have been so many moments when the Pink Jack has appeared, being carried by people who I don’t know but who are celebrating what it stands for, it makes me so proud. It has to have a life of its own, nothing to do with me and it feels as if it does. Just today a friend texted to say it’s showing on a billboard in Canary Wharf re ‘What does Pride’ mean to you?’ 

My top ten moments are in no particular order :

Europride launch in 2005, my friend calling me from Oxford St screaming down the phone, ‘Your flags are everywhere! 

British Ambassador in Budapest flying the flag in the embassy to support the gay pride march there. 

Two guys waving the flag in Red Square, risking arrest 

Three large flags waving at the front of Last Night of the Proms – every year! 

A large flag being waved behind Jessica Ennis in the long jump at the London Olympics 

Being on the cover of QX for their ‘Faces of Soho’ edition 

Being at World Pride one year with all the other countries National flags 

Seeing two gay dads and their kids carrying them at Brighton Pride 

Being voted 16th in the Independents top 100 Pink List in 2013 

Alan Cumming always hanging one in his dressing room at Trafalgar Studios during Bent in Canada and London

For more information on the Pink Jack go to its website here.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Star-Gayzing : Out of This World Update

Today is Asteroid Day. Its main objective is to raise awareness of the many hundreds of asteroids which cross Earth’s orbit and have a possibility of crashing into it one day, and try to work out what to do about it. There are several “close shaves” each year, and one in 2013 by asteroid Duende (on the same day as another one made that spectacular impact in Russia that hit the headlines) actually got closer than most geostationary satellites! Over 700 of these Near Earth Objects, as they’re called, have been discovered so far this year! But, for me, it gives me the opportunity to return to the subject of asteroids named after members of the lgbt community and their allies.

As before I’ve listed them in order of discovery. Once discovered each asteroid’s orbit is calculated, and if it proves to be a new one it is given an official number (the number I give in brackets before each of the name). Later the International Astronomical Union, who govern these things, approves a name for the asteroid. Since the 1970s these new names have been published in the bulletin of the Minor Planets Center, by which means it becomes official. A citation is often given to explain the name, and I’ve included these in quotation marks. I’ve added a comment or two of my own after the quotation to highlight any other lgbt link.

In the original “Out of This World” series I included asteroids with names created in the works of lgbt writers (e.g. Neverland, and Moomintroll). I’ve included more today. The huge amount of newly discovered asteroids (nearly 48,000 have been discovered this year so far, and we’re only half way through it!) means that I can bring you more lists like this every year. I’ve also linked some names to articles I’ve written about each individual.

(80) Sappho   Discovered 2 May 1864. “Named in honour of the renowned Greek lyric poetess (610 BC) who threw herself into the ocean because of her unrequited love for the young Phaon.”

(563) Suleika  Discovered 6 Apr 1905. “Named for a character in ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (1885) by the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900). Suleika and Dudu are mentioned in part IV in the chapter ‘Unter Töchtern der Wüste’. These are the only feminine characters in Zarathustra.”

(564) Dudu     Discovered 9 May 1905. “Named for a character in ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (1885) by the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900).”

(763) Cupido  Discovered 25 Sept 1913. “Named after the Roman god of erotic love because of its relatively small distance from the Sun.”

(1010) Marlene           Discovered 12 Nov 1923. “The name honours the Berlin born motion picture star Maria Magdalena von Losch alias Marlene Deitrich (1901-1992).”

(1221) Amor   Discovered 12 Mar 1932. “Amor is the Latin name for the Greek Eros, the god of love. Like (433) Eros this planet makes close approaches to Earth.”

(1730) Marceline        Discovered 17 Oct 1936. Name published 8 Apr 1982. “Named for the heroine of André Gide’s novel ‘L’Immoraliste’. As a beautiful and devoted young wife Marceline nursed her husband from the brink of death to robust health. When soon afterward Marceline became ill her husband benignly neglected her. Marceline suffered much physical and mental anguish and finally died needlessly.”

(5148) Giordano        Discovered 17 Oct 1960. Name published 1 Sept 1993. “Named in honour of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Dominican priest, who spent 16 years travelling through Europe, but who was mostly in London, where many of his papers were published. Bruno assumed the existence of other worlds on which people could live, and he was convinced of the correctness of the heliocentric system. This brought him in conflict with the church and he was condemned and burned on the Campo dei Fiori in Rome.”

(1943) Anteros           Discovered 13 Mar 1973. Named published 1978. “Anteros was in attendance upon Eros and was sometimes said to be the avenger of slighted over, sometimes the one who opposes love, and was said by other authorities to be the twin brother of Eros.”

(3826) Handel            Discovered 27 Oct 1973. Name published 27 Aug 1988. “Named for the illustrious composer George Friedrich Handel (1685-1759). Although his greatest works were composed after he moved to England, Handel was born in Halle, only some 60 km from Tautenberg.”

(3318) Blixen              Discovered 23 Apr 1985. Name published 18 Sept 1986. “Named in memory of the celebrated Danish writer Karen Blixen (1885-1962) on the hundredth anniversary of her birth. Among her best known writings are ‘Seven Gothic Tales’ (1934) and the memory-novel ‘Out of Africa’ (1937). An American screen version of the latter was produced in 1985.”

(6549) Skryabin         Discovered 13 Aug 1988. Name published 5 Mar 1996. “Named in memory of the Russian composer Alexandr Nikolaevich Skryabin (1872-1915). Though one of the most fascinating phenomena at the beginning of the 20th century, his music was largely unappreciated because of his contradictory philosophical ideas. His most important symphonies, sonatas and other pieces for the piano were composed to an ever-increasing degree following his bold aim to create a mystery that should unite all the arts in a grand liturgical-artistical action to uplift and redeem humanity above itself into a condition of supreme ecstasy.”

(4382) Stravinsky      Discovered 29 Nov 1989. Name published 8 June 1990. “Named in memory of the famous composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), known for his very versatile musical creations, including ballet music and operas... Born in Russia, Stravinsky lived in Switzerland and France before moving to the United States in 1939.”

(8676) Lully    Discovered 2 Feb 1992. Name published 20 Nov 2002. “Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), an Italian-French composer, created very lively style of composition by introducing quicker dances such as the bourée, gavotte and gigue into his ballets. A beautiful example of his music is ‘La Marche des Combattans’.”

(13602) Pierreboulez            Discovered 10 Aug 1994. Name published 2 June 2015. “Pierre Boulez (b.1925) is a French composer, conductor and pianist. As a child he showed a great aptitude for music and mathematics. He discovered the twelve-tone technique and wrote atonic music in a post-Weberian style.”

(13223) Cenaceneri               Discovered 13 Aug 1997. Name published 23 May 2000. “ ‘La Cena della Ceneri’ (‘The Dinner of the Ashes’) is a work by the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) in which, for the first time in Western philosophical thought, there is discussion of the infinity of worlds in the universe.” It wasn’t the infinity of worlds which earned him condemnation from the Church (they had no problem with that idea) but his belief that a separate Christ inhabits each and every one of them, and the Church taught that Christ was unique.

15959) Rhaeticus     Discovered 17 Jan 1998. Name published 9 Mar 2002. Rhaeticus (Georg Joachim Lauchen, 1514-1574) was a humanist, physician, mathematician and astronomer at the universities of Vienna, Leipzig and Wittenburg. He summarised and popularised the work of his teacher Copernicus, initiating the first printing of ‘De Revolutionibus’.”

(342843) Davidbowie            Discovered 21 Dec 2008. Name published 5 Jan 2015 “David Bowie (David Robert Jones, b.1947) is a British musician, singer, producer and actor. He started his career in the 1960s and became widely known in the early 1970s. One of the most influential artists, he has released more than 25 albums and has stared in several movies like ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Prestige’.”


19175) Peterpiot       Discovered 2 Aug 1991. Name published 8 Oct 2014. “Peter Piot (b.1949), a Belgian physician, co-discovered the ebola virus in Zaire in 1976. In addition to providing the foundations of our understanding of HIV infection, he is the author of 16 books and 500 scientific articles. He has been the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine since 2010.”

(6692) Antonínholý   Discovered 18 Apr 1985. Name published 2 June 2015. “Antonín Holý (1936–2012) was a renowned Czech chemist who significantly contributed to the development of antiretroviral drugs used in the treatment of HIV and hepatitis B. He was the author of more than 400 scientific papers and was awarded with honorary degrees from several universities at home and abroad.”

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Marching Out

All around the UK today there’ll by military bands and soldiers parading through towns and cities for our annual Armed Forces Day. Each year one city hosts the main national celebration, and I remember well the parade in Nottingham when it was hosted here 2 years ago.

Today it seems impossible to have a military parade without a marching band. But that’s how they were until about 350 years ago when a courtier adapted an idea from the Turks and applied it to the French army.

There are two types of military music. First is the music played on the battlefield. This can be imagined in the bugle charges of the cavalry, or the solitary bagpipe. The Turks had a particular type of band who would gather around their military standard during battle and play loud music to reassure the soldiers that their standard was still flying. This military band was a small group of perhaps ten musicians.

The Turks had an elite fighting force called the Janissaries and they seem to have been the first to form these small military bands in the 1330s. As well as performing on the battlefield the Janissary bands also played at ceremonial events and parades, and it is this second type which influenced the creation of the modern military parade. The ceremonial use of military music has survived and flourished more than the music of the battlefield.

The first European power to use recognisably Turkish military music was Poland, in a fusion with European music which quickly spread westwards. What made these military bands sound Turkish was the introduction of instruments not used in European music – big bass drums and cymbals. Imagine a modern marching band without them! And there was one new instrument developed by the Europeans especially to make military bands sound more Turkish – the triangle. Yes, that small bit of bent metal rod in a shape that has its own resonance in lgbt heritage was invented to create a feel of the Ottoman Empire.

With these new instruments and the traditional European forefathers of the oboe and trombone the modern military band was formed. This combination was pioneered by that French courtier I mentioned back at the top of this article. But what is most significant about his contribution to military bands is that he decided to put the band among the ranks of the marching soldiers instead of have them stand to one side – he invented the marching band. His name was Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687).

An Italian by birth Lully was appointed Superintendent of the Royal Music by the French King Louis XIV. Several important changes were being made in the military during King Louis’s reign. First was the establishing of Europe’s first full-time standing army. Next was the introduction of the flintlock musket and bayonet. Then there was the close formation marching. It was only natural that Lully would be dragged in to write the first military marches.

Lully was already experienced in writing music for people to move by. He was an enthusiastic dancer (he first met the king at a dance) and working with the royal dance master Lully created the first modern ballets. King Louis’ enthusiasm for the ballet and opera faded in the 1680s, and he became tired of Lully’s open gay relationships. Louis apparently knew of several courtiers who had homosexual affairs, and one of Lully’s with a young “music page” called Brunet attracted too much notice.

Here’s one final connection between the modern military marching band and Lully. During Lully’s lifetime the method of conducting a band or orchestra was with the use of a large staff which the conductor tapped onto the floor to help keep time. Lully used one of these staffs to conduct the royal orchestra in a celebration of the king’s recovery from surgery.

During the performance Lully jabbed himself in the foot. Rather vainly he refused to have the foot amputated because it would mean he wouldn’t be able to dance. Gangrene set in, which spread to his brain and he died.

And the connection to modern marching bands? Who do you see marching at the front of the band? A man with a big staff, just like the one that killed Lully.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Built To Last

Writing about Sergei Eisenstein’s father being an architect in my City Pride article of Riga last week got me thinking about what buildings have been designed by lgbt architects.

Art and design has many well-known lgbt contributors but architecture still seems to have a macho, heterosexual feel about it. This is despite the fact that my lgbt database lists over 50 lgbt architects in the last hundred years (including several Gay/Out/EuroGames medallists and a former Mr Gay Mexico). However, I suspect that because the general public just sees the buildings and doesn’t think about the architect makes them virtually anonymous. It’s only when the building creates some controversy or is especially significant that the architect’s name is remembered.

The diversity of styles and construction methods of buildings are as varied as the people who design them. To illustrate this here is a diverse group of lgbt architects and their designs which have influenced the world.

Let’s start in Ancient Greece. Many of the architects of the Greek temples and buildings will undoubtedly have indulged in the traditional mentor-student sexual relationships their culture favoured. One in particular is well known, mainly because one building he helped to create is an iconic example of Ancient Greek architecture – the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Although primarily regarded as a sculptor Phidias was the architectural supervisor on the project.

During my first weeks writing this blog games I wrote about Phidias and his contribution to Olympian architecture, and his young lover’s contribution to Olympic sport.

The Classical styles of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire became very popular after the Renaissance of the 14th century. As we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo this month we can picture the imperial architecture of the Napoleonic Empire with its Classical style triumphal arches and interior designs. The style is so distinctive. Among the triumphal arches is one built near the Louvre and the Tuilleries. It was designed by the two architects who created the Imperial Napoleonic style, Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) and Charles Percier-Bassant (1764-1838).

Some lgbt sites say Fontaine and Percier-Bassant were a gay couple. It is true that they spent most of their lives together, but it would be better if someone found proper confirming evidence.

In another part of Europe a generation later one gay monarch influenced the design of several fairy tale castles that would not look out of place in Disneyland. King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) got his architects to create some of the most fantastic castles and grottoes. One castle, Neuschwanstein (pictured left), is so well known that most people call it the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” castle because it was a major location for that film.

Speaking of Disneyland – Cinderella’s castle was directly influence by Neuschwanstein. Over the years the Disney corporation has commissioned several world-renowned lgbt architects like Philip Johnson and Robert Stern to design various buildings.

Now we’ll move into just about every metropolitan city in the world. You can’t go anywhere in a city without seeing a skyscraper. The man often described as the “Father of the Skyscraper” is Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). The actual “father” should really be William LeBaron Jenney, the architect Louis worked for in Chicago, though Louis did pioneer a new method of constructing high-rise buildings which led the way for the skyscrapers we see today.

One neat little visual trick Louis used on most of his skyscrapers was to put vertical strips on the outside walls which made them look taller.

There was a time when the biggest buildings in any city, town or village in Europe was a church. The gothic architecture of Medieval churches is so familiar to us that we sometimes don’t realise that some Gothic architecture isn’t Medieval. Ralph Adam Cram (1863-1942) designed many churches in the Gothic Revival or New-Gothic style that became popular in the Victorian period.

Cram was a devout High Church Anglican. His contribution to the design and construction of so many churches in America earned him a place in the liturgical calendar of the US Episcopal Church. He is venerated as a saint with a feast day on 16th December, his birthday.

So far we’ve looked at public, commercial and ecclesiastical architecture. What about domestic architecture – people’s homes?

One of the few female architects pioneered several eco-designs. Eleanor Raymond (1887-1989) favoured the simple functional design of New England homes and avoided a lot of the fancy decoration that was popular when she opened her architectural office in 1928. Of particular importance in Eleanor’s work is her use of solar panels from the 1940s, one design element that only now seems to be considered an essential part of many building’s design.

This has been just a small cross section of the many lgbt architects. What they have in common is that they were influenced by, and were influences for, other architects to the present day. Even if some of their buildings no longer exist their architectural legacies show that their ideas were “Built to Last”.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 12 - A Lesbian

Last time : 32) Niels Bukh (1880-1950) developed a form of gymnastics that was adopted by the Japanese military in which 33) Goh Mishima (1921-1989) served. Goh was a pseudonym adopted after the death of his friend 34) Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), who encouraged him to pursue more sado-masochistic representation in his art, the “sado” being named after 35) the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), whose ancestors were Lords of Lesbos, the island home of 36) Sappho (6th-7th century BC).
36) Sappho was a lyric poet, one of the first female poets whose name is known to us. Most of her life has been reconstructed through her poems, some of which are considered to be autobiographical.

During ancient times and during the Roman period Sappho’s reputation as a poet was high. The “Dark Ages” lost much of the knowledge and literature of the ancient world after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the Eastern Byzantine empire decided to drop the study of Sappho from their academies. Consequently, very little of her work was copied out and distributed, leaving the few fragments that remain from ancient Greece. Sappho’s popularity re-emerged after the redistribution of ancient texts during the Renaissance of the 14th century. Even then, it was her use of grammar that was more important than her poetry.

Sappho’s poetry describes love for both men and women, and it is the references to the latter which led to 19th century writers to adapt her name and that of Lesbos as poetic named for female same-sex desire.

As a lyric poet, as opposed to a heroic epic poet in the manner of Homer, Sappho is regarded as the first romantic poet in history. In several of her poems she uses the wedding ceremony as a theme. In the article I posted at the beginning of May about the hawthorn I mentioned how the plant was sacred to Hymenaios, the god of the wedding ceremony. I also mentioned that Sappho provided the first written reference to Hymenaios and weddings.

In another of Sappho’s wedding-related poems she includes the popular notion in Ancient Greece that when a couple marry they become “as gods”, acknowledging the heroic tradition in poetry by praising the bridegroom for his bravery in battle with terminology found in Homer’s Trojan epics. Classical scholars have ascribed an identity to Sappho’s anonymous bridegroom based on these phrases she used, and that person is 37) Achilles, the legendary Greek hero of the Trojan War.

37) Achilles has his own links with Lesbos. Bring only a few miles from the fabled Troy it’s no surprise that it finds its way into the Trojan stories. Traditional belief on Lesbos says that it was Achilles who took the island from the Phrygians for the Greeks. Some of the women were taken as slaves, including Briseis with whom Achilles was particularly taken with.

But before all that Achilles displayed some transvestite/lesbian behaviour of his own.

As a youth Achilles was sent by his mother to live at the court of the king of Skyros to avoid being called up to fight in the Trojan War. To further her plan she disguised Achilles as girl. In fact, the ancient poems say that Achilles learnt how to talk and walk like a woman and was so good that he fooled everyone for several years.

However, Achilles fell in love with the king’s daughter, Deidamia. Still disguised as a woman Achilles suggested they shared companionship in the bed at night, justifying it by saying that other women do it so why don’t they. The princess was still unaware of his true gender and it gives the incident a lesbian flavour. His romantic words as recorded in the surviving poems are reminiscent of those written by the only ancient poet who gave desire a female voice, 36) Sappho, which indicates the writer knew of her work.

Achilles then reveals his true gender to Deidamia and they continue with the pretence for several more years – they have two children before another Greek hero, Odysseus, arrives and “outs” Achilles as a man. Achilles then has no choice but to go off to the Trojan War.

During the war Achilles forms an equally loving and deep relationship with someone else, a fellow soldier, 38) Patroclus. I’ve often commented on the same-sex coupling in the ancient gymnasiums where both Achilles and Patroclus would have trained. What seems to be more than just the traditional coupling in this case is the fact that both men are apparently of the same age and display strong emotional bonds contrary to the man-youth norm. By the time they were fighting in the Trojan War both were expected to have formed relationships with younger men, but they hadn’t. The reaction of Achilles to the death of Patroclus is a strong indication of their love, whichever form it took.

The “lesbian” episode on Achilles and Deidamia leads us back to Lesbos and Sappho. Around 600 BC Sappho was exiled from Lesbos after a political coup. What is ironic is that during the later Roman and Byzantine periods the island became neglected and was used as a place where politicians were exiled to. It was not the place to be seen.

Not, that is, until 1354 when a Genoese freebooter came to the aid of Emperor John V who had been “retired” to Lesbos by his deposer. Having helped John to regain his throne the freebooter was rewarded by having the emperor’s sister in marriage and being made Lord of Lesbos. The new lord regenerated the island back to the centre of trade and commerce it once was. His direct descendant was 35) the Marquis de Sade.

Emperor John V was one of the lucky ones. He was exiled returned and died of old age. Other emperors were assassinated, as happened to 39) Emperor Mikhael III (840-867).

Thursday, 18 June 2015

City Pride : Riga - Three Prides in One

There can’t be that many cities that host 3 Pride festivals at the same time, but Riga, the capital city of Latvia, is doing just that this week.

Not only is Riga holding it’s annual Riga Pride, but it’s also this city’s turn to hold Baltic Pride (alternating between Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), and has been chosen to host Euro Pride 2015.

Lgbt rights in Latvia still face many of the problems encountered in other former Eastern block nations where homophobia is still rampant. As a relatively small nation there is just a small lgbt community to go with it, with the only real visible presence of that community in Riga itself.

In celebration of this week’s Riga/Baltic/Euro Pride I’ve selected a few locations for my latest City Pride map.

1) Graduate School of Law – A privately-governed law school co-founded by the Latvian and Swedish governments in 1998 and set up by lawyer Linda Freimane, who became its first Pro-Rector. Linda became a board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Association, and is a founder member of Mozaika (see no.4)

2) Skonto Hall – Venue for the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest final. The television commentator for the host broadcast was Lativa’s only openly gay broadcaster, Karlis Streips. Although he was born in the USA Karlis’s parents came from Riga and he has worked for Latvian tv since the mid-1990s. Karlis is no stranger to Eurovision – he has commented several times, and in 2012 actually co-wrote one of the songs that made the national selection final (it came last).

3) “The House on the Corner” – This name, spoken with hushed voice during the Soviet era, was the KGB headquarters in Latvia. Many gay men were persecuted by the KGB and this building was where many were interrogated in the desire to discover secret enemies of the USSR. In 2014 it was opened as a museum and site of remembrance for all victims of the KGB in Latvia.

4) Mozaika – The location of the head office of Mozaika, Latvia’s leading lgbt rights organisation. It was founded in 2006 in response to homophobic reaction to Riga’s first Pride march the previous year. Mozaika organised subsequent Riga Pride and Friendship Days, and created Baltic Pride in 2009. Its logo was designed by the partner of Linda Freimane (see no.1).

5) Verman Gardens - Venue for several of Riga’s Pride and Friendship Days. The first to take place here in 2007, was attended by about 800 marchers. It was marred by anti-gay protestors through large fireworks into the park, injuring some of the marchers.

6) AIDS Memorial – A line of cobbled stones recalls the names of people who have died from AIDS-related causes, not necessarily of Latvian nationality. Names inscribed on the stones include Rudolf Nureyev, Freddie Mercury and Anthony Perkins. It was created in 1993.

7) Doma Square – Two memorial stones were laid in the square in April 1993 to remember AIDS victims. Riga hosted a World Health Organisation conference where 39 countries created an initiative, called the Riga Initiative, to tackle the spread of HIV in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the USSR.

8) The Parliament Building – This is where the nation’s government sits, including Latvia’s only openly gay elected member, Edgars Rinkevics (b.1973). He is currently the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The government decriminalised homosexuality shortly after gaining independence from the USSR in 1992. Same-sex marriage, however, was banned by law in 2006.

9) No. 6, Valdemara Street – There’s only one really famous lgbt person I can find who was born in Riga, and that person is Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948). He was born at this address and lived in a third floor apartment until 1916. A plaque on the wall commemorates his birth. Although he is best known outside Riga as a film director, he is equally well-known in Latvia as the son of a leading art nouveau architect. A lot of the fabulous buildings in Riga were designed by Eisenstein’s father who even has a street named after him.
An example of the art nouveau architecture of Sergei Eisenstein’s father. Ó Mark J. Newton 2015.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Out Of Their Trees : Magna Carta Bloodlines

Today is the official celebration for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta has become a symbol of rights and freedoms in society and even though it was only legal for 9 weeks back in 1215 its legacy has influenced later declarations of human rights that are in existence today. What I’d like to show today is that many lgbt activists, whether they campaign for lgbt rights, women’s rights, or human rights in general, have Magna Carta “in their blood”.

Hundreds of thousands of lgbt people descend from either King John or one (or more) of the 25 barons who acted as sureties, a group regarded among American genealogists as being as significant as signatories of the Declaration of Independence or Revolutionary soldiers. Although I wouldn’t regard myself as an activist I can claim descent from King John and 15 of the 17 surety barons who left descendants. There are no living descendants of the other 8 barons.

Statistically speaking it’s impossible for anyone of English descent NOT to have at least one Magna Carta ancestor. You’ll be surprised by the famous activists, revolutionaries, freedom fighters and campaigners who do (for example, most of the leaders of the American War of Independence, leading members in the English Civil War, and several leaders of the French Revolution).

I’ve chosen a representative group of lgbt activists and campaigners and have shown their Magna Carta ancestors on the chart below. Going into detail would take up a huge amount of space so I’ve written only a short description of the individual’s campaigning career and indicated their Magna Carta ancestors using the numbers given.

There’s one oddity which the chart reveals. Of King John and the 17 barons who have many thousands of living descendants walking around today, not one of the selected lgbt activists is descended from one of those barons - Sir Geoffrey de Say. Neither am I, but lots of people are. Its just one of those things.

1) Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) - Social reformer and campaigner for women’s rights. She was an anti-slavery activist in the 1850s before concentrating of women’s suffrage, being President of the National Women’s Suffrage Association 1892-1900. The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution giving women the vote is known as the Anthony Amendment.

2) George Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824) - Before finding fame as a Romantic poet Byron sat in the House of Lords. His maiden speech was in defence of the Luddites of Nottingham, weavers who were smashing the new machines that were taking their work and livelihood away. Parliament decreed that Luddites be executed, and Byron defended their right to live and work. At the end of his life Byron fought with the Greeks in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

3) Hon. Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet (1912-1991) - Born female and the youngest child of a Scottish baronet, Sir Ewan successfully fought to have his birth certificate changed by law after his transition. He then succeeded in a court case over the family title against a male cousin who didn’t recognise Sir Ewan’s gender.

4) Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926) - Eva fought against her privileged background and was also an active suffragette, founding a branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Association in Sligo. With her lover Esther Roper she became co-secretary of the Women’s Textile and Other Workers Representation Committee. Eva was also an Irish nationalist and campaigned for the release of nationalists who were imprisoned as traitors, one of whom was her sister Constance, Countess Markiewicz, the first women elected to the UK parliament.

5) Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) - One of the Founding Fathers of the USA, a veteran of the War of Independence, and co-founder of the Federalist Party.

6) Harry Hay (1912-2002) - A leading figure in gay rights in the USA. He co-founded the Mattachine Society in 1951, one of the most influential pre-Stonewall organisations which lobbied the US government for equal rights. Later he went on to be elected Chair of the Southern California Gay Liberation Front, and co-founded the Radical Faeries.

7) Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) - First Lady of America, humanitarian and diplomat. In 1948 Eleanor was chosen to chair the committee which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

8) Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) - Having fought against her family to pursue what they regarded as an unfeminine career as a composer Ethel used her talents in the suffragette movement by composer their anthem “The March of the Women”. Her own campaigning for votes for women earned her a prison sentence.

9) John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) - Although he never came out as a homosexual in his lifetime Symonds’ writings displayed more than a hint to his sexuality. His defence of the homosexual lifestyle was daring for his time. In his writings he advocated the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.