Friday 17 May 2024

Licence to Continue to Sing

In March I took a look at some of the early James Bond theme songs and music, whether used or rejected, that were created by lgbt+ artists. Today I finish off with the music from Daniel Craig’s term as 007.

Casino Royale (2006) – This “official” film version, as opposed to the 1967 cult spoof version I mentioned last time, was Daniel’s first appearance as James Bond. The music and theme song were not written or performed by an lgbt+ artist, but one of the “rejected” songs (which was never actually written!) was.

In 2006, when talk of the new James Bond was filling the internet rumour machines, news that the British electro-band Goldfrapp had been asked to write and perform the “Casino Royale” theme song.

Goldfrapp consists of Alison Goldfrapp (b.1966) and Will Gregory (b.1959). Alison has been reported to have been in relationships with both men and women (not at the same time). In an interview in 2010 she said that her then current relationship was with a woman, and that she was not a big fan of labels. This was reiterated in another interview given last year, when she was in a relationship with a man. In that interview she described her sexuality as “straight-ish”.

Back in 2006 the British tabloid press was full of news “confirming” that Goldfrapp had been asked to write the theme song. This was followed up with later reports that they had been dropped because the producers had decided on a more hard-edged Bond and needed a hard-edged theme to go with it, which they thought Goldfrapp could not supply. As with the Pet Shop Boys and “The Living Daylights” (see part 1) the truth wasn’t quite the same.

Both Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory knew David Arnold, the main Bond composer since “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997. Will’s impression was that Goldfrapp was just one of several bands whose name was thrown around as possible Bond theme writers. There was never an actual official approach from the producers, despite the tabloid press “confirming” it. So Goldfrapp never even started to write a Bond theme.

We have to move on almost a decade before another lgbt+ artist had an impact on Bond music, and a very divisive and controversial impact it has had. I have to admit that I have never been a fan of this artist who, in my opinion, can’t sing, and who has consistently proven to be a laughing-stock to the majority of the UK lgbt+ community.

Opinion is divided over Sam Smith’s (b.1992) song “Writing’s On The Wall” for 2015’s Bond film “Spectre”. Writing with Jimmy Napes, it is said that the song took just 30 minutes to write, and it shows in its poor quality and blandness. For many aficionados of Bond music, like myself, who have a best and least favourite, the best Bond song varies considerably among us. The least favourite (or worst) is usually “Writing’s On The Wall”, often vying for bottom position with Madonna’s “Die Another Day”.

The fact that Sam’s song won an Oscar for Best Original Song is not the honour it used to be. An analogy can be a barrel of rotting apples – how do you chose the least rotten? I’m not saying that Sam’s song or all recent Oscar winning songs are rotten, just that they’re not as good as they used to be. Relatively few songs are written for films these days, and their quality has suffered.

Which leads us to the blunder that cemented Sam Smith’s place in history as a laughing-stock, which was to claim to be the first lgbt+ person to win an Oscar in front of the audience at the Oscar ceremony itself and millions of media viewers. Almost immediately, many people who knew what they were talking about (i.e. many previous lgbt+ Oscar winners) took to social media to show how ignorant Sam Smith is. Until Sam does anything to earn my respect, I am not obliged to give it.

The latest Bond film was 2021’s “No Time To Die”. The theme song was co-written (with her brother) and performed by Billie Eilish (b.2001). Again, opinion is divided over this song among aficionados. It’s considered to be a good song (winning an Oscar, but see the previous paragraph), but many feel it is too slow paced to reflect the atmosphere of the film.

Billie broke a Bond record when she recorded “No Time To Die”. She was the youngest performer to do so. Billie and her brother Finneas O’Connell (Billie’s real family name) had often made up songs which they thought would make good Bond themes, and little did they know that one day they would actually be doing it.

Their chance came after performing at the annual Electric Picnic arts and music festival at Stradbally Hall, Ireland, in 2020. This is one of Billie’s favourite festivals because it connects her to her Irish heritage. “I’m part Irish, dude… This is my home”, she is quoted as saying.

Barbara Broccoli, one of the Bond producers, saw Billie’s performance and contacted her to discuss the Bond film then in production, “No Time To Die”, and asked Billie and her brother if they’d like to write the title song. There was no hesitation in their reply.

It took three days for them to write the song. They met Hans Zimmer, the overall music director of the film, and together they developed the final version that appears in the film.

Now we’re up to date. What will the future hold for Bond theme songs? Will they continue to be a significant part of the franchise? Which lgbt+ artists and composers will be invited to contribute? Will “Writing’s On The Wall” ever be liked? Only time will tell.

There are quite a few “rejected” Bond songs out there. Most of them are available on YouTube, and if you want to hear some of them (including songs by Jonny Cash and Alice Cooper) see this video.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Sailing Towards an Olympic Centenary

NOTE: The information below is accurate on the date of publication. Further research may reveal information which changes or replaces some of the details. Check later postings to keep up to date by select “Olympics” in the search box or the tag list.

Ella Maillart
The Olympic flame is being lit today for its relay to Paris. So, why don’t we celebrate with a bit of lgbt history from the last time the Olympics were held in Paris a hundred years ago.

At the 1924 Paris games there was the first currently-known female lgbt Olympian, the Swiss sailor Ella Maillart (1903-1997). She was also the first female sailor in the Olympics, and the youngest sailor and only woman to compete in her event. She was the youngest of the 5 women in the 141-strong Swiss Olympic team, and at the time was also the captain of the Swiss national women’s hockey team (which was not an Olympic event in 1924). So, Ella Maillart was not just another competitor, she has several records to her name.

If these achievements weren’t enough, Ella was also an international skier, a journalist, a photographer, an adventurer, and an anthropologist who travelled extensively in Asia and Russia, writing several books. In the future I’ll write a proper “Extraordinary Lives” article about her adventures, but for today I want to concentrate on her Olympic career, and a connection to another sportswoman.

Despite her active adult life, Ella was a sickly child. She was born in Switzerland into a wealthy family. She was an avid reader and soaked up information from geography books and maps and became fascinated by adventure and travel writing.

Like most people brought up in a country with a lot of snow, Ella learnt to ski as a child. At the age of 10 the family moved to a village on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was the yachts and boats on the lake that attracted her the most, and she soon had the sailors and boatmen teaching her and a friend, Miette de Saussure, how to sail a small boat. In fact, in less than three years Ella and Miette had won their first sailing race.

The open sea then beckoned. In 1923 Ella and Miette sailed from Cannes to Greece. They had then planned a voyage to the South Pacific but Miette fell ill soon after they set sail and the whole voyage was abandoned. That was lucky for us, because Ella would have been too far away and in the wrong part of the world to take part in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

The 1924 Olympic regatta was smaller than the previous one. In 1920 in Antwerp there were races for 12 classes of boat. In Paris there was just 3 classes, and they would be the first to feature single-handed boats. Ella entered this single-handed class, which was for the Olympic Monotype dinghy (also called the French National Monotype or the Meulan class dinghy). The dinghies were supplied by the French sailing association. However, only 10 of these monotypes were available, and there were 17 registered entries from 17 nations in the competition.

A set of elimination races had to be held. These took place on the Seine near Paris, the course going from Meulan to Le Mureaux and back again. There were 2 rounds of 2 heats each, with the first 2 finishers in round 1 going straight to the final. The others went into round 2 and the first 2 finishers of those heats also went in to the final. In heat 2 of round 1 Ella finished 5th out of 8 sailors in a time that placed her in 7th place over both heats. But she needed to finish in the top 2 in the round 2 heats to qualify for the final.

In heat 2 of round 2 she finished in 3rd place, just 5 seconds behind the 2 qualifiers for the final. The official Olympic results don’t include any of the heat times or places of the non-finalists in the final results table. They are all listed as “also competed”.

Today, all the finishing times would be taken into account and there would be a full placing list for all 17 entries. So, where would Ella Maillart have been placed if the best time of the non-finalists was taken into account? Of the 3 sailors in all the heats who did not qualify for the final, only 3 finished in under 2 minutes. The 3rd of these was Ella in round 1 in a time that was just half a second short of those 2 minutes. This would have placed her in 11th position overall. As I mentioned earlier, Ella was the first woman to skipper a boat at the Olympics, and was the youngest in the competition, so any result is history-making.

The 1924 regatta is being recreated to celebrate its centenary in June at the original location. There is also a new biography of Ella that has just been published (in French), and there are 2 exhibitions specifically dedicated to her. One is in Geneva, which end this week, and the other is opening in June in Morges, just 10 kilometres from the “Olympic capital” Lausanne.

Before I leave, I must mention Ella’s connection to an alleged lgbt+ Olympian. During her many travels around the world Ella was accompanied by Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908-1942), a Swiss journalist and photographer like Ella herself. Annemarie was openly lesbian and had many affairs. When it comes to her relationship with Ella Maillart biographers differ. The consensus is that their relationship was deeply emotional, but not all biographers go so far as to define it as lesbian. After mulling over the different opinions I consider a lesbian relationship to have been very likely, even if it was not physical.

Annemarie’s mother was a famous equestrian rider, Renée Schwarzenbach-Wille (1883-1959). She was married with four children in addition to Annemarie. She was openly bisexual and had a long affair with an opera singer.

Many online references, including Wikipedia (no surprise), claim that Renée competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She was certainly a champion horse rider, as her many recorded results testify. But as far as the Olympics is concerned there is no record of her. Her name does not appear in any of the official published Olympic reports or results books. She does not appear on any official Olympic website. There isn’t even any mention of her attending any Olympics in the biography of her written by her own great-grandson in 2004. In fact, everything suggests that she had stopped competing before 1936. So, no, she doesn’t go on my lgbt+ Olympian list.

That wraps it up for today. As I said, next year I’ll try to write a full account of Ella Maillart’s “Extraordinary Life”. Until then we have the 2024 Paris Olympics to look forward to, and new batch of lgbt+ athletes ready to enter the record books alongside Ella Maillart.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

License to Sing

Among the many days that have traditional names ascribed to them (e.g. New Year’s Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mother’s Day) is Spy Wednesday, which is today. It’s the name given to the Wednesday before Easter Sunday and marks the day that Judas Iscariot decided to betray Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Some Christian denominations still mark this day in their services.

So, as I did a few years ago I’ll mark Spy Wednesday by writing about the world’s most famous spy, James Bond. My intention was to write about the gay artist who designed many of the original book covers, but I had already done a bit about that last time. What I hadn’t done is write about the Bond themes and their lgbt+ connections. This is the first of two articles about the music of 007.

Music has always been a significant element of the Bond films, especially the title songs and the iconic Bond theme itself. I’m a fan of the Bond themes (except the bland Daniel Craig songs). Over the years a handful of lgbt+ singers and songwriters who have contributed to the Bond franchise. Some of the songs and music were rejected or used elsewhere, and these will also be covered.

Here is the chronological list of known lgbt+ singers and songwriters from the pre-Daniel Craig era.

“From Russia With Love” (1963) – The second Bond film and the first to include the film’s title in the theme song. He writer of the song was Lionel Bart (1930-1999), perhaps best known for writing the musical “Oliver!”

It may sound strange to some of you, but Lionel Bart is one of the many songwriters and musicians (like Elton John and Paul McCartney) who can’t read or write music, but could play an instrument (it’s like speaking without knowing how to read or write, as long as you make the right sound). Lionel would play the song on piano, perhaps record it, and a fellow musician would convert what he or she heard into musical notation. In the case of “From Russia With Love” it appears that John Barry, the main Bond composer of the 1960s, wrote down Lionel’s song and gave it the full orchestral arrangement for the film. That is why John Barry is often given a co-writing credit for the song.

“Thunderball” (1965) – Several other artists recorded a theme song, including Johnny Cash, which were all rejected. Twelve years ago, some 47 years after the film was released, a rejected theme for “Thunderball” by the above-mentioned Lionel Bart was rediscovered by Bond music expert Jon Burlingame.

As well as the title song, Bart also composed several variations which were probably intended to be used as incidental music. These all may have been demo recordings and not submitted officially to the Bond producers.

“Casino Royale” (1967) – Although not a part of the official James Bond franchise, this spoof film has become something of a cult. The film score was composed by music legend Burt Bacharach who, with his lyricist Hal David, came up with what is regarded as the film’s signature song, “The Look of Love”. In fact, the song almost never made it into the film at all.

The sequence in which “The Look of Love” features was directed by James McGrath. He played the song “The Girl From Ipanema” on set many times. When he came to shoot the seduction sequence with Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress he felt “The Girl From Ipanema” fitted the scene. However, the producers thought this would be too “arty” and threatened to cut the scene out altogether. So, McGrath asked Bacharach and David to come up with a song that gave the same feeling. They came up with “The Look of Love”. Thank goodness McGrath decided to keep the scene against the producer’s wishes or we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of hearing one of the best Bond songs ever.

Credit for the success of the song must also be given to its singer, the lesbian icon Dusty Springfield (1949-1999). A favourite singer of Burt Bacharach, Dusty’s smoky voice emphasises the sensual nature of the scene. Bacharach always referred to “The Look of Love” as a sexual song, not a love song. Fortunately for all concerned, the song was a massive hit and was nominated for an Oscar (it lost to “Talk to the Animals” from “Doctor Doolittle”).

“The Living Daylights” (1987) – It would be another 20 years and 12 films later that any lgbt+ singer or songwriter is known to have written for Bond. However, this time the song never made the film. It also connects us quite neatly with Dusty Springfield, because the group whose song was rejected was the Pet Shop Boys, featuring openly gay Neil Tennant (b.1954). The Pet Shop Boys are often wrongly credited with bringing Dusty Springfield out of “retirement” in 1987, when in fact Richard Carpenter had done so several months beforehand with the song “Something In Your Eyes”, but that’s another story.

The Pet Shop Boys wrote their “The Living Daylights” theme song in 1986. The story goes that someone connected with the production of the film had remarked that the group may be approached to write the theme song. The identity of that production crew member is uncertain, as is the exact nature of the “approach”. Perhaps it was just a rumour, or a case of the Pet Shop Boys being one of many names mentioned informally as a possibly suitable commercial choice. In the end the Pet Shop Boys wrote their song and recorded it, only to find that the band A-ha had been chosen instead.

Not letting a good song go to waste, the Pet Shop Boys reworked the song into a track called “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave”. It was featured on their 1990 album “Behaviour”. Recording the theme song for a Bond film only to have it rejected is not uncommon.

“Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Moving on another ten years, we come to the film with one accepted and one rejected son featuring lgbt+ artists.

Not all Bond films have their signature song played over the opening credits. One or two are played over the closing credits. The most famous of these is “We have All the Time In the World” (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”). One less well-known end credit song is overshadowed by the opening credit title song in “Tomorrow Never Dies”. The end credit song is sung by another lesbian icon, k. d. lang (b.1961).

Unlike many other Bond songs, the producers of this film let it be known that they would be willing to accept any prospective Bond theme from any artist and writer. This led to more possible Bond songs that before, 12 in all, officially. One of the songs was written and sung by Marc Almond (b.1957). Unfortunately, his song is one of several that has never been released commercially or has been reworked and recorded fro public release, so we may never hear it.

The story of how k. d. lang ended up singing the closing theme and not the opening one was different. In 1997 British film composer David Arnold (“Stargate”, “Independence Day”, and the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, amongst other projects) produced a Bond music tribute album called “Shaken and Stirred”, consisting of Bond songs covered by other artists. For “Diamonds Are Forever” Arnold chose gay singer-songwriter David McAlmont (b.1967). The Bond producers heard the album and offered Arnold the job of scoring the whole “Tomorrow Never Dies” film. However, the first thing Arnold did was to ask McAlmont to co-write the theme song. Basically, the melody is McAlmont’s, the arrangement is Arnold’s, and the lyrics are by Bond legend Don Black. McAlmont was the singer on the demo tape.

However, the Bond producer’s had decided that none of the artists who submitted songs would be commercial enough to use, so they chose a popular singer of that period, Cheryl Crow, to write and perform the eventual Bond opening song instead.

Not to be outdone, Arnold rescored his theme, now retitled “Surrender”, with k. d. lang as the singer. The producers agreed to put the song at the end of the film over the closing credits. It’s a typical Bond song, with blaring trumpets, strong bass chords, and soaring vocals. I wonder it wasn’t chosen for the opening titles precisely because it too stereotypically Bond.

There’s actually a video on YouTube in which someone has put k.d. lang’s “Surrender” over the opening credits of “Tomorrow Never Dies” (below). I think you’ll agree, you can’t get any more “Bondy” than that.

That’s about it for today. I’ll continue this look at 007’s queer music in May.

Friday 1 March 2024

City Pride: Singapore

I haven’t done a “City Pride” for a long time. In fact, I think the last one I did was for Paris to celebrate the Gay Games in 2018. So, last year I decided it was time to highlight another city and its lgbt+ heritage. The question was, which city? Then I noticed I had a lot of readers in Singapore, and I realised that I knew hardly anything about its lgbt+ community, except for Pink Dot. So, after months of looking for appropriate points in Singapore’s queer history and culture I have selected the following. The main task was to find places that are grouped together which are as diverse as the community itself.

If you’re from Singapore I doubt any of these will be unknown to you, and I hope I have done my research correctly.

As before, the map is not intended to be used as the means for you to get from one location to another. It is intended purely as a rough guide to where the locations are situated. Many roads and streets are omitted, but I hope there is enough information for you to find them on proper maps.

1) Crocodile Rock, Scotts Road - The oldest and longest-running lesbian bar in Singapore, operating between 1992 and 2007. Alternatively known as Croc Rock.

2) KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Bukit Timah Road - More Singaporians have been born here than in any other hospital in Singapore, so naturally this would include a lot of lgbt+ people. However, the reason I put it on this list is because it was also the hospital which performed the first male-to-female sex-assignment surgery in the country in 1971.

3) Pelangi Pride Centre, Rowell Road - This is the original location of Singapore’s first lgbt+ centre. It was founded in 2003 by the city’s Action for AIDS (AfA) charity in the offices above their headquarters. Both the Pelangi Pride Centre and Action for AIDS have moved to other premises (see number 4).

4) Action for AIDS (AfA), Kelantan Lane - The charity’s present location. AfA was founded in 1988 by dermatologist Dr. Roy Chan (b.1955) who is still it’s President. Dr. Chan competed for Singapore in swimming at the 1972 Olympics.

5) The Substation, Armenian Street - The first independent contemporary arts centre in Singapore, founded in 1990 on the site of a former power station. It has organised many exhibitions of lgbt+ artists and interests. It was the venue of the monthly forum of People Like Us (PLU), 1993-4, an lgbt+ lobby group formed in 1993.

6) Suntec Singapore International Conference and Exhibition Centre - Venue of Singapore’s first National AIDS Conference on 12 December 1998. At this conference Paddy Chew became the first person in Singapore to come out publicly as having HIV. He died the following year. His life was the basis for the play “Completely With/Out Character” by Haresh Sharma. More recently, it was the venue for the wrestling competition at the very first Youth Olympic Games in 2010 (see number 8). Here, the oldest of the 9 lgbt+ athletes, 17-year-old Jenna Burkert, competed for the USA.

7) Rascals, Pan Pacific Hotel - Rascals was a club that organised a gay night at the Pan Pacific Hotel every Sunday. On 30 May 1993, Singapore police raided the club and interrogated its customers. It is regarded as Singapore’s “Stonewall”, an event which had a significant effect on the lgbt community and its future.

8) The Float, Marina Bay - With my specialist interest in the Olympics it comes as no surprise that I mention it several times. The very first Youth Olympic Games were held in Singapore in 2010. The opening ceremony was held at The Float, and is the first Olympic opening ceremony to be held on water, despite what Paris 2024 thinks. The Singapore Youth Olympics were also significant for currently having the most known lgbt+ athletes, 9, though none of them were publicly out at the time. Among them was British diver Tom Daley, the only one of the 9 who had competed in a previous Olympics (Beijing 2008, aged 14). If Tom makes it to Paris 2024 without injury, he will equal US equestrian rider Robert Dover’s record of competing at 6 Olympics. Only one lgbt+ Youth Olympian won a medal in Singapore 2010, a gold for Austrian sailor Lara Vadlau. She, like Tom Daley, has qualified for Paris 2024.

 9) Pink Dot, Speaker’s Corner, Hong Lim Park - Location of the annual Pink Dot Pride event. The first was held here on 16 May 2009, when it attracted the largest attendance for any gathering at Speaker’s Corner up to that date. The only years it was not held here were during the covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 when they were held online. Pink Dot events have been held in other cities around the world, all following the same signature format of attendees wearing pink.

10) Boat Quay - Before this area was redeveloped in the 1990s, the streets around Boat Quay were popular cruising grounds for gay men.

Thursday 1 February 2024

24 for '24

LGBT History Month UK is with us again. Following on from my previous post about the number 24 being regarded as homophobic, I will reclaim the number for our community and present 24 facts and trivia about the lgbt+ community and culture. You may even already know about some of these, and some of these come from posts and articles I have written in the past.

1) The first AIDS awareness ribbon was created by Barnaby Miln (b.1947), an openly gay member of the General Synod of the Church of England, who distributed small pieces of rainbow ribbon in 1986 through his charity Christian Action on AIDS. Miln also came up with the idea of World AIDS Day.

2) The door of Freddie Mercury’s garden lodge was sold at auction in 2023 for £400,000 ($508,160). It was covered in hand-written tributes and messages left by fans following his death in 1991.

3) Ukrainian lgbt+ soldiers have taken to wearing a unicorn badge on their uniform in defiance of Russia’s homophobic laws. Russia has claimed that lgbt+ soldiers don’t exist in their own army, so the Ukrainian soldiers adopted a non-existence animal to represent themselves.

4) Scientific studies have shown that there is a higher percentage of left-handed people (like myself) in the lgbt+ community than in the non-lgbt+ community.

5) In 1967 the state of Illinois became the first in the USA to decriminalise homosexuality.

6) Following the accession of King Charles III, Ellen Lascelles (b.1984) became 74th in line of succession to the UK throne (merely a hypothetical list beyond the first 3 or 4). Ellen is currently (Feb 2024) 76th, and the highest placed member of the lgbt+ community on the list.

7) The clownfish can change gender as it grows older. All clownfish are born male, and some change gender when there is a shortage or absence of female clownfish. It makes you see the Disney film “Finding Nemo” in a new light!

8) Noel Currer-Briggs (1919-2004), one of several gay World War II codebreakers who worked at Bletchley Park with Alan Turing, was a prominent genealogist of the late 20th century, and a leading authority on the Shroud of Turin, the suppose shroud of Christ.

9) Nicholas Cherrywood (b.1996) of Dallas, USA, a gay model and make-up artist, holds the current Guinness World Record for owning the biggest collection of Care Bears memorabilia and items. He has collected 1,234 items with an estimated value of £120,000 ($152,379). Incidentally, Nicholas Cherrywood is also the name of one the villains in the Care Bears franchise.

10) This week in Venice they are halfway through their annual carnival. Cat masks, called “gnago” or “gnaghe” are popular, and were once a sign of homosexuality. In the 16th century male prostitutes wore cat masks during the carnival to approach prospective clients. Homosexuality was illegal, but Venetian law said that wearing a mask during carnival meant you were playing a character and not yourself, so you couldn’t be arrested. However, female prostitutes complained that their business was being taken away, so…

11) …in 1511 the Venetian authorities added female prostitutes to their list of commercial enterprises who were required by law to display their wares in public. Female prostitutes were thus allowed to lean out of windows with their breasts exposed. That’s why modern Venice has a Street of Breasts and a Bridge of Breasts. And all because male prostitutes were taking their business away.

12) Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, built by the gay King Ludwig II (1845-1886), became familiar to millions of children after 1968 when it featured prominently in the film “Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang” as the castle of Baron Bomburst.

13) The first player in the Ladies Professional Golf Association to come out publicly while still a competitor was Muffin Spencer-Devlin (b.1953) in 1996.

14) Figures originally published by the Office for National Statistics based on the 2021 UK census mistakenly overestimated the number of people self-identifying as pansexual due to a faulty census code. The figure was originally published was 112,000. The corrected figure published in October 2023 is 48,000.

15) The oldest known lgbt+ couple to get married did so on 6th September 2014. Vivien Bazack (1923-2016) and Verona “Nonie” Dubes (1924-2022) married in the First Christian Church, Davenport, Iowa, USA. Vivien was 91, Nonie was 90.

16) The urban rainbow-painted road crossings that are popular in some cities around the world are thought to have originated in Taiwan in June 2008. The first was part of a gender equality campaign created by Prof. Jerry H. Hsia and the Graduate School of Fine Arts.

17) The longest surviving rainbow crossing is in West Hollywood, California, USA. It was created to celebrate Gay Pride Month 2012.

18) The gay Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (1877-1933) has been called the Father of Palaeobiology because he tried to work out how dinosaurs lived and theorised that they are the ancestors of birds. Scientists mocked him, but his ideas are now considered standard knowledge.

19) Deborah Sampson (1760-1827), who served in the American Revolution dressed as a man, is the only historical lgbt+ female to feature on a flag. She appears on the town flag of Plympton, Massachusetts, USA, where she was born.

20) In 2012, military historian Gavin Menzies wrote a book claiming that Zheng He (1371-c.1434), a Chinese admiral and eunuch, “discovered” the American continent in 1421. The claim is generally regarded as pseudo-history without genuine evidence, though Zheng He was a great explorer.

21) In 2019, Otis Francis-Smith became the first baby to be carried by both female parents. Lance-Corporal Donna Francis-Smith is the biological mother whose egg was fertilised and then implanted into her partner Jasmine Francis-Smith, who gave birth to Otis. The procedure has successfully been carried out only once more since then.

22) Von Steuben Day is celebrated in mid-September every year in several cities across the USA, primarily in New York City and Philadelphia. It commemorates Baron Friedrich von Steuben (1730-1794), a Prussian officer regarded as the Father of the American Revolutionary Army. He fled from Europe to escape accusations of homosexuality.

23) New Zealand was the first country to legally recognise gender-diverse identities in 2015. Technically, the law includes anyone who identifies as a straight drag performer.

24) Clatterdevengeance is a derogatory slang term for the penis which appears only twice in print (other than slang dictionaries). It appears in two satirical broadsheets called “Mercurius Demoncritus” by John Crouch in 1659 and 1660. They were published at the end of the Protectorate, the period when England was a republic, and just before the restoration of the monarchy.

Monday 15 January 2024

The World's Most Homophobic Number?

It’s not a pleasant note to begin the New Year with, but 2024 may be regarded by some as a year to avoid because the number 24 is considered as unlucky as the number 13, particularly in Brazil. The only difference is that 24’s reputation stems from its association with homosexuality. Is it the world’s most homophobic number?

So many numbers are considered as either lucky of unlucky. Most of these beliefs are based on superstition or pseudo-numerology.

We don’t have to go that far back to discover why. To 1892, in fact. That’s within the lifetimes of two of my grandparents, both of whom lived into the 1980s. The story behind it involves a monkey farm, a zoo, and a lottery.

We’ll start with the monkey farm. Despite first impressions, the monkey farm, or the Fazenda do Macacos, was a complex of fruit orchards, gardens and sugar cane plantations in Rio de Janeiro. Once owned by the Franciscans, it got its name because it was over-run by monkeys in the harvesting season, all eager to snatch some fresh fruit.

The Fazenda passed from the Franciscans to the Portuguese crown, of which Brazil was still then a colony, in the 1750s. After independence in 1825 the first Emperor of Brazil, as the King of Portugal became, visited the Fazenda from Portugal for hunting and riding. After several years the emperor stopped visiting Rio and the Fazenda began to be neglected. By the 1870s the Rio municipal authorities were developing the area around the Fazenda. João Batista Viana Drummond, Baron Drummond (1825-1897) bought the Fazenda in 1872 and decided to create Rio’s first zoo on the site in 1888.

Entry to the zoo was free, but the baron received tax rebates and subsidies from the city council. This financial arrangement soon vanished the following year when Brazil became a republic. Income and attendance at the zoo fell, so in 1892 Baron Drummond came up with a lottery to raise funds, basing it on animals in his zoo.

The lottery was called the Jogo do Bicho, or Game of Beasts. Everyone visiting the zoo could buy a ticket upon which were printed the name of one of 25 different animals in the zoo. At the start of each day the baron would chose which animal would be the winning ticket. A picture of the chosen animal was revealed later that day, and holders of the winning tickets won the prize money. The winning animal was publicised in the Rio newsagents.

Very soon people were asking for tickets of their favourite or lucky animals. Then people began buying tickets without entering the zoo, and the whole thing blew up into a big gambling racket. Within four years some people were buying tickets in bulk, and these “intermediaries” began re-selling them on the streets for a profit. The lottery gradually evolved. Numbers were allotted to each of the 25 animals, and soon people began betting on their favourite number as well. Bets were taken in newspaper kiosks, on street corners and anywhere the “intermediaries” could attract custom.

By this time Baron Drummond was dead, and most of the money from ticket sales that should have gone to the zoo was going into the pockets of the “intermediaries”. In the 1890s the Brazilian government tried to crack down of gambling, but the Jogo do Bicho survived because police and local authorities turned a blind eye, and were probably being bribed. Officially the Jogo do Bicho was banned in 1946, but it still survives as an underground lottery, which everyone, including the government, knows about.

So, why did the number 24 in the Jogo do Bicho lottery become associated with the gay community and become so homophobic? It’s all about one of those animals featured on the tickets, specifically the animal that was numbered 24, a deer. In Portuguese this animal is called “veado”. In the mid-20th century the word “veado” began to be used as a derogatory term for gay men in Brazil, first appearing in print in 1956. Because the Jogo do Bicho was such a huge part of Brazilian culture, it wasn’t long before people were linking the number 24 with homosexuality purely because it was the number assigned to a deer on the lottery ticket.

The link between 24 and the deer may even have been a misunderstanding of the word “veado”, because there is another theory that says that “veado” is short for “transviado”, which means “deviant” or “immoral”. There may be no connection to a deer at all. But this hasn’t stopped 24 from being regarded as both unlucky, and unmanly. In Brazilian sport there are many sportsmen who refuse to play in a team (e.g in football) if their shirt number is 24. There have been a few cases in recent years of male footballers defiantly wearing 24 on their shirt, regardless of the homophobic abuse they receive from fans during a match because of it. Other people renumber their house if it is number 24, changing it 23.5. There are people who would prefer not to celebrate their 24th birthday, and celebrate being 23+1 instead. There’s even 23+1 birthday candles (pictured above).

Even though gambling in Brazil is illegal (mainly applying to casinos) the Jogo do Bicho still exists, though its 20th century history was polluted by the involvement of crime gangs and money laundering. But two surprising outcomes of their involvement is the formation of local football (soccer) clubs, and the growth of the carnival parade culture in Brazil.

Although crime gangs weren’t the only influence on carnival culture, the money they accumulated through their use of “intermediaries” to sell Jogo do Bicho tickets at a profit went towards keeping the local citizens on their side, so to speak, without having to make overt threats. To do this, the crime bosses gave money to local communities to set up football clubs (and we know how much Brazilians love their football) and samba dance schools (samba being a vital part of the carnival culture, which the Brazilians love just as equally). This was more effective in the larger Brazilian cities. It could be claimed that the famous carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo only became so big through the money given by crime gangs.

Back to the number 24 and homosexuality. Just like the Nazi pink triangle the lgbt+ community has begun to “reclaim” the number 24 and use it to help the cause of democracy. This was seen during Brazil’s municipal elections in 2012 when over 100 lgbt+ candidates stood for election. All candidates receive an official electoral number, without which they could not legally stand for election. Many of the lgbt+ candidates included the number 24 in their electoral number.

The 2012 election saw the largest ever number of lgbt+ candidates in municipal election in Brazil up to that time. According to Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis e Transexuais (ABGLT), a leading lgbt+ rights organisation in Brazil, there were only 78 in the previous election in 2008.

One of the 2012 candidates was Bia Ifran Oliveira (1969-2019), a transgender candidate for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party) in the election to the city council of São Borja, her home city in the southernmost province of Brazil. The 2012 election was taking place several years before Brazil passed the law recognising non-reassigned transgender individuals’ right to legally change their gender on their birth certificates, so Bia was registered as a male candidate.

Bia was a hairdresser and stylist as a profession and was well-known figure in São Borja. She was president of the city’s prestigious samba school (not founded by Jogo do Bicho crime gangs as far as I can discover), which is also one of the biggest participants in the city’s annual carnival parade. Bia was also an lgbt+ activist. She was the first transwoman to run for municipal election for the Partido dos Trabalhadores. Below is one of her campaign adverts in which you can see her election number containing 24. In the election Bia won 339 votes, placing her 35th, which isn’t bad when you consider that she was up against 102 other candidates.

It remains to be seen whether the stigma attached to 24 in Brazil will finally disappear during 2024. After all, it’s the first time that the number has been part of the year number since it became a derogatory term. Brazil is one of those contradictory places – you hear so much about homophobia and transgender murders, yet at the end 2023 Brazil was placed higher than the UK and the USA in many equality indexes (I’ve never understood the USA’s self-declared place as a champion of lgbt rights anyway). Just in case you question Brazil’s placing, you can do what I did and look online (organisations which publish figures include the UN, World Population Review, Human Rights Campaign, Amnesty International, Equaldex, and many more).

But let’s forget about the stigma and homophobia of the number 24 and follow the example of Brazil’s lgbt candidates in 2012 and make 2024 the year in which we can all show that it is a year of hope, acceptance and enlightenment for all communities of every race, gender, politics, faith, non-faith, age, ability, culture, and opinion.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

What's in Store for '24

Happy New Year.

This year is going to be busy for me. This is an Olympic year, with the summer games being held in Paris this coming July and August. There’s also the Olympic Youth Winter Games later this month. 

My Olympic research has increased in the past months as I have been tracking over 200 lgbt athletes as they compete in Olympic qualifying and ranking events, of which there are over a dozen each week. The all-time lgbt Olympian list currently stands at 710. I doubt if it’ll get up to 750 before the games begin in July, but you never know.

On top of all that, I still have a “proper” job to go to five days a week. What this means is that I have less time to research other subjects. But I don’t want to neglect covering the diversity of topics that I have for the past 12 years. They will be less frequent this year. 

I have produced a schedule of what I am planning to post in 2024. The list below is purely provisional. If any significant event or subject crops up I may have to reschedule some articles. There may be additional posts that are just links to YouTube videos or other articles, whatever I think you might be interested in.

Here is my provisional calendar for the first half of 2024. 

January 15 – The World’s Most Homophobic Number? 

February 1 – LGBT History Month UK - 24 Fax for ‘24. 

March 1 – City Pride (an Asian city). 

March 27 – Spy Wednesday: Covering Bond. 

April 26 – An early French Olympian. 

May 17 – Game of Gay Thrones 9. 

June 10 – Heraldic Alphabet 2024. 

July 1 – (Not Quite) 80 Gays Around the World: Part 6. 

July 24 – Eve of the Olympics.