Sunday, 22 May 2016

Olympic Alphabet : O is for ...

OLYMPIA

For today’s look at the contribution the lgbt community has made to the Olympics we go back to its origins in Ancient Greece and Olympia.

There are so many lgbt associations with Olympia that it is perhaps best to adapt one of my other mini-series themes and present a “City Pride” guide to the site. In this way it may help any of you who visit the site to appreciate its same-sex heritage better.

One thing to keep in mind, as I’ve said before, is that our modern interpretation of homosexuality is different to the same-sex activity that was part of Ancient Greek culture. Although many men engaged in sex with younger men and boys they would never define themselves by our term of “gay”.

Every athlete was expected to have sex with another man or boy, and that includes all the Olympic champions. As such the ancient Olympics was full of same-sex practices.

The ancient site of Olympia is familiar to us today through the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame which has signalled the start of the torch relay since 1936, making the torch relay 80 years old this year (more will be said about this on the actual 80th anniversary).

The map below isn’t a true representation of what exists in physical form at the Olympia site but indicates the location of ruins of buildings. Ancient Olympia didn’t have a flag and the one shown is of the former municipality to which Ancient Olympia belonged prior to 2011. It isn’t known if the present municipality has its own flag.

1) The Gymnasium : The training area for the athletes of the running and throwing events during the games.

2) The Palaistra : The training area for the fighting and jumping events during the games.

3) The Prytaneion : The base of the officials responsible for the ritual sacrifices on site. The victory feasts for the Olympic champions were held here.

4) The Philippeion : Built by King Philip II of Macedonia after his victory at the Battle of Chaeronea over the Sacred Band of Thebes, an army made up of entirely of same-sex partners. The building was complete by Philip’s son Alexander the Great.

5) The Temple of Hera : In little niches in the main columns were painted the portraits of the champions of the Heraia, the local version of the Olympics held just before the main games. Here was housed the disc of Iphitos one which was inscribed the Olympic truce. On a gold and ivory table laid the olive wreaths which were to be awarded to the Olympic champions.

6) The Nymphaion : The water supply built by Herodes Atticus and his wife Regilla in 160 AD. The semi-circular walls contained statues of Herodes and his family.

7) This is where the modern Olympic flame is kindled from the rays of the Sun. From here the priestesses parade to the stadium (no. 8).

8) The Zanes : Here was a line of bronze statues of athletes. They weren’t there because of the athlete’s prowess but because they were found guilty of cheating, cowardice or bribing the judges. Corruption in sport isn’t new!

9) The Stadium : The athletic track where the ancient games took place, and where the modern Olympic flame is use to light the first torch in the Greek stage of the relay.

10) The Theekoloen : This is probably where I would be working if I was living all those centuries ago. It was the home of the priests, but also of “tour guides” who showed visitors, dignitaries and pilgrims around the site during the games.

11) Phidias’s workshop : The most celebrated sculptor of his day, Phidias created the statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, here. On the little finger of Zeus’s hand he carved “Pantarkes is gorgeous” in celebration of his lover who was an Olympic wrestler.

12) The Temple of Zeus : The most sacred and venerated site at Olympia. The Olympic champions were crowned with the olive wreaths from the Temple of Hera in here. Phidias’s statue of Zeus dominated the interior.

13) The Bouleuterion : The base of the “organising committee” of the ancient Olympics and where judging disputes were examined.

14) The Villa of Nero : Built specially for the Emperor Nero when he competed at the Olympics.

Finally, there was also an Olympic Village in ancient times. Athletes had to arrive at Elis near Olympia one month before the games to compete in a kind of Olympic trials event. The organisers chose the best athletes to compete at the real Olympics. Athletes who were not selected were regarded as great as the selected athletes, while selected athletes who pulled out of the Olympics during competition were humiliated. One story about these “Olympic trials” I really like is of a huuuuuuuuuuge wrestler turning up. As soon as he took his clothes off to train all the other wrestling entrants pulled out of the competition!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Clothes Maketh the Man

On this International Museum Day I want to reflect on someone in the museum service I had the pleasure of working with. I’ve worked in several historic buildings and museums over the past 28 years – Epworth Old Rectory, Gainsborough Old Hall and Nottingham Castle. I’ve worked with a lot of interesting people and have taken even more interesting visitors on guided tours (from 200 Methodists bishops to the Dandy Warhols).

My last museum job was in 2005 at the Museum of Costume and Textiles here in Nottingham (pictured below). Since then my connection to the world of heritage has concentrated on lgbt history.
My last “boss” was a man I wish I had talked with more often. He had the official title of Keeper of the Costume and Textiles Collection of Nottingham City Council. His name was Jeremy Farrell (1947-2008), and a more gently soul I have rarely met. When I worked with him he was based in the costume museum, his baby, so to speak, which opened its doors to the public 40 years ago this June. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived the museum had been closed for several years. More of that later.

Jeremy William Farrell was born in 1947 and studied modern history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In 1970 he was appointed to the Costume and Textiles position in Nottingham.

At one time Nottingham was world-renowned as a leading centre of textile manufacture. Many innovations originated here. The framework knitting machine was invented nearby in 1589. In the 1770s Sir Richard Arkwright built the world’s first cotton mill just a few hundred metres from where I now live (it was a gay bar in the 1990s and early 2000s called The Mill and its interior kept the original wooden floorings, brickwork in the walls, and massive iron support beams – it’s now luxury apartments). Then lace-making factories were built in the surrounding streets. These mills and the machines were the target of the Luddites, championed by Lord Byron. The machines have gone, the factories are now apartments, studios and multi-storey car parks, but the area is still called The Lace Market. Nottingham lace is still sought after, though not much is made here any more.

With this rich heritage it was natural that Nottingham should have its own museum dedicated to textiles. The politicians at Nottingham city hall preferred not to. When Jeremy Farrell took up his post as Keeper the collection was housed at Nottingham Castle. Very little of it was on display amongst the many decorative and fine art galleries. Jeremy decided that a new museum would showcase the collection better.

After a lot of persuasion Jeremy convinced the city council to create the museum of costume. The photo above is of the Georgian terraced houses just across the road from Nottingham Castle that was chosen for the new museum. The first galleries were open to the public in June 1976. The museum was completed in 1983.

The layout remained virtually the same when I began working there in 2005. There were three floors, and 6 of the rooms were recreated in period style, each displaying costumes from that period. They also exhibited items from the decorative and fine arts collections to make the rooms look more authentic. In some of the other rooms were cases and cabinets which displayed everything from parasols to plimsolls, and from lace collars to corsets. On the top 2 floors were the offices, workrooms and stores where Jeremy was based.

The museum was extremely successful, and through Jeremy’s hard work and eye for a significant addition the collection grew very quickly into one of the most important costume and textile collections in the country.

Jeremy was also a writer of definitive books on umbrellas and parasols, and socks and stockings. He wrote many articles for textile publications.

In 2003 the museum was forced to close because it couldn’t be adapted for complete wheelchair access. As a Grade II listed building a lift could not be built. This was a hard blow to Jeremy. However, the collection remained on display and the museum was only open by prior arrangement for schools and academic groups. It had become a ghost of its former self. Nottingham city council also decided to go back to the old days and have the costumes at the Castle Museum. At that time I was working at the Castle and it was generally felt, though not openly expressed, that the city’s Labour politicians weren’t interested in preserving heritage (they preferred to spend it on a massive new HQ for themselves, and the city’s 5th art gallery). This was the same Labour council who several years before wanted to ban Robin Hood because having a robber as a hero gave the city a bad image!

The council tried to convince people that they were going to rehouse the costume collection in a new purposely-designed building, but everyone knew they weren’t interested.

When I arrived at the Costume Museum there were only 3 people working there – Jeremy himself, his partner David working as a volunteer, and a university intern. It never had any other full-time staff was always staffed by employees borrowed part-time from other council sites.

My work with Jeremy was to re-catalogue the collection. Much of the work had already been done but it was also slow work. Thousands of index cards had to be put onto computer. Jeremy quickly recognised my skills in research and gave me the extra task of doing additional research into the owners and families of the items in the collection. I was able to re-attribute several items which led to them being re-dated by Jeremy.

Jeremy’s kindness at what was a difficult time for me can never be over-emphasised. He never had a bad word to say about anyone and never judged them. I spent many hours with Jeremy up in the top attic stores re-boxing and examining hundreds of items. With every box Jeremy had a story to tell about its contents. His partner David often expanded on these with his own extensive knowledge.

I left Nottingham City Council and its museum service in November 2005 (not from choice). I tried to keep in touch with my former colleagues and it was on a regular visit to the Castle in 2008 that I learnt that Jeremy had died suddenly from cancer.

Jeremy Farrell will be remembered by all of us who worked with him as the kind of person you don’t want to leave. There was always something you wanted to go back and talk to him about, and he never disappointed. He told me so much that I’ve forgotten most of it. But what he taught me about the history of costume and textiles, in Nottingham specifically, was priceless.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Queer Philosophical Achievement

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

This is the first Irish achievement of arms I’ve featured in this series. It belongs to Gerald Heard (1889-1971), a prolific writer in genres as diverse as philosophy, detective fiction and science correspondence.

His role in the development of modern philosophy began in 1929 with his book “The Ascent of Humanity”, though his most significant work in said to be “The Five Ages of Man” published in 1963. This influenced the “consciousness development” movement. Gerald moved to the USA in 1937.
Gerald Heard, born Henry Fitzgerald Heard, was a junior member of the landed gentry in Ireland. It is said that the first Heard went to Ireland with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1579. The family coat of arms was confirmed by the Ulster King of Arms in 1734 to Gerald’s direct ancestor, John Heard (1690-1763) of Kinsale, County Cork. A confirmation usually means that the family had been using a coat of arms unofficially without heraldic authority. It appears that the Heard family had used these arms since shortly after their arrival in Ireland. The Ulster King of Arms found no reason to prevent them from using them so gave John a confirmation rather than a grant of new arms.

Those strange black objects you see on the shield are called water bougets. They represent leather water bags that were hung around traveller’s necks, sometimes hanging from a stick that the traveller carried on his/her shoulder. This is a very old heraldic device and has become more elaborate over the centuries until, in some case, it is unrecognisable as a couple of water bags hanging from a stick.

When these arms were confirmed to John Heard in 1734 he had been elected Sovereign of Kinsale. This wasn’t a regal title but a civic office originally appointed by the burgesses of the port of Kinsale. The Sovereign was in charge of collecting taxes that were to pay for repairs to the town walls in the 1300s. In 1482 the Sovereign was also appointed Admiral of the Port. Although the official explanation for the design of this coat of arms has not survived we can, perhaps, guess at why the antelope in the crest has a coronet around his neck. Was this an extra detail granted by the Ulster King of Arms to indicate John’s office as Sovereign of Kinsale?

The design of these arms are very traditional, but it could have looked a lot different if the Heards were granted a brand new coat of arms several decades later when one of the family, Sir Isaac Heard, was Garter King of Arms. Isaac was only 4 years old when John Heard had his arms confirmed, and Isaac was to become one of the most famous, and notorious, heralds in British history. Notorious, because he championed “landscape heraldry”.

Heraldry should really be simple and symbolic. Sir Isaac produced heraldry which was more realistic and more akin to historical illustration. For instance, he was responsible for added a depiction of the Battle of the Nile to Nelson’s coat of arms. Sir Isaac himself could have been used the arms confirmed to his cousin John but instead designed something new. To represent his own rescue from drowning at sea, Sir Isaac adopted a coat of arms showing Neptune rising from a stormy sea pulling a wrecked ship out of the waves. Mind you, Sir Isaac did have his good days. In 1801 when the United Kingdom was created he had the idea of adding St. Patrick’s Cross to the Union Jack of Great Britain adopted by “Queen” James I.

Back to our subject for today, the philosopher Gerald Heard. Gerald is descended from the second son of john Heard. On the shield I have placed a red crescent to indicate this. This is called a cadency mark, and English/Irish heraldry has for many centuries assigned a crescent (in any appropriate colour) to a second son. Gerald, however, was actually the 3rd son of an only son of the eldest of a 2nd son of this 2nd son of John Heard. Technically, all of this needs to be represented on a coat of arms, but as you can imagine all those cadency marks would be a bit confusing.

So, how could I depict Gerald Heard’s full achievement of arms without cluttering it up with cadency marks? After all, all the male line and female heirs descended from John Heard’s second son would inherit this coat of arms as well. One method I’ve used through this series, something permissible under heraldic license, is to put the Rainbow Pride flag colours on the back of the motto scroll, which I’ve done. But I wanted to indicate Gerald’s arms specifically in an additional way.

Gerald had no personal military honours or awards that could be shown hanging from the shield so I went back to his academic career. Even though he worked at several universities I thought the most appropriate choice would be the college from which he obtained his degree, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The only part of Gerald’s full achievement of arms where I could show this is on the mantling, the fabric glowing from the helmet. It’s using artistic and heraldic license again, but I thought I’d colour the mantling in the colours of Gonville and Caius College - black and light blue.

I hope you like today’s heraldic achievement. Several regular readers have sent me messages to say how much they enjoy these articles, and I’ve even had several commissions offered to me (all of which I’ve turned down – I prefer this to be a hobby, not a career). Next time I’ll celebrate International Heraldry Day with another Heraldic Alphabet.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Star Gayzing : Twins, Triplets and Enormous Eruptions

Five of the major planets have been known about since ancient times. The others have been discovered by scientific observations since 1781 when Uranus was found. The names of the people who discovered these planets were well-known in their lifetimes, even the discoverer of the demoted dwarf planet Pluto became a celebrity when he found it in the 1930s.

But, unless you look it up, would you know who discovered the most recent asteroids, comets or satellites? Since the development of better technology the discovery of extra-terrestrial objects has rocketed out of all proportion compared to what has been discovered on Earth. In fact, there’s so many interstellar objects that most of them don’t even have names yet, only reference identity codes (a topic I’ll return to later this year).

One lgbt astronomer has made some important discoveries in recent years and very few outside the scientific world have heard of him. His name is Franck Marchis (b.1973).

With so many astronomical discoveries being made all the time we may be forgiven for not being aware of Franck Marchis’s own discoveries. French-born Marchis earned his PhD in planetary science from the University of Toulouse in 2000. During his studies at La Silla Observatory in Chile he participated in the development of a technique called adaptive optics. This is a technique which enables ground-based telescopes to compensate for the atmospheric distortions which can blur the images of space.

After his PhD he got a postdoctoral position at the University of California Berkeley. It was using the adaptive optics system that Franck and his team discovered the biggest volcanic eruption ever seen. It was on Jupiter’s moon Io, a moon more or less the same size as our Moon.

One of the biggest surprises when the Voyager spacecraft reached Jupiter in the 1970s was the sight of Io. Even the scientists, who are always saying their view of the solar system is right because it’s based on scientific principles, were surprised. Io turned out to be the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Its position in the satellite system of Jupiter creates pressures which constantly pull at the moon. In February 2001 Franck and his team spotted a particularly large volcanic eruption on Io. Measurements indicated that the lava spurted several miles into the sky at great speed. The lava settled to cover an area bigger than London or Los Angeles. If Io was our own Moon the sight would have been spectacular and would have lit up the sky, even during daytime. It was the biggest volcanic eruption ever seen.

Using adaptive optics can also be used to discover small objects. Franck has used this technique to discover more moons, this time orbiting asteroids. When Pluto was being demoted there was a debate on how to define a planet. Some said that planets were objects which orbit the Sun and are big enough to have moons. Pluto had a moon so it was planet, they said. It was pointed out that some small asteroids had moons as well.

In 2005 Franck Marchis discovered a second little moon around one asteroid, an asteroid called Sylvia. Perhaps companion would be a better description than moon. This meant that Sylvia became the first known triple asteroid. The already known companion-moon was called Romulus, and Franck’s new one was named Remus (in full, 87 Sylvia II Remus). In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Sylvia. The photo below is an actual image of the triple asteroid taken by Franck Marchis.
Since then he has discovered four moonlets that make up three more triple asteroids, and several twin asteroids (see here for the discovery by Franck and fellow gay astronomer Mike Wong of a moonlet around the asteroid Hektor).

In 2007 Franck Marchis’s achievements were recognised when he actually had an asteroid named after him, the name being published just two days before his 24th birthday. AND it was discovered by La Silla Observatory where Franck conducted most of his thesis research. Actually, today, 12 May 2016, is quite special, because today Earth reached its closest point to asteroid 6639 Marchis. It is orbiting in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter at almost twice the distance from the Sun as we are.

All this talk of twins neatly links Franck Marchis to another significant achievement. Last November he and his husband won a legal battle to have their adopted twin sons officially recognised in the Czech Republic, where his husband Jindra and the twins come from. Destiny or synchronicity (I don’t believe in coincidence)? The twins were born on the same day that Franck and Jindra got married! Czech law did not allow adoption by gay couples, but Franck’s case changed all that, paving the way for more gay adoptions in that country.

Franck Marchis (left) and husband Jindra Vackar (right)
with their twin sons Viktor and Etian Marchis-Vackar.
Photo by Steve Underhill.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Heritage Spotlight : The Religious Archives Network

Today’s Heritage Spotlight looks at an online archive, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archive Network (LGBT-RAN). Its main aim, as given in its mission statement, is to co-ordinate and support “the identification, collection and preservation of personal papers and organisational records from [lgbt] religious movements. To encourage scholarly research and historical study of these important movements for social change.”

What the LGBT-RAN does not do is go into detail about the much-deplored homophobia of various religions over past centuries and concentrates very much on “living testimony” and the development of the present state of lgbt participation in all faiths.

The archives began in 2001 as a project created by the Chicago Theological Seminary. The Seminary was Chicago’s first higher education institution, founded in 1855. It has a long history of openness and acceptance of diversity (it was the first seminary to award an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity to Rev. Martin Luther King jr, in 1957). Since 1991 it has run an lgbt studies programme.

The founder and co-ordinator of LGBT-RAN is Mark Bowman (b.1951) who has been involved in the recognition and acceptance of lgbt religious people within the lgbt and religious communities since 1980. His early work was with Affirmation, the lgbt group within the US United Methodist Church.

The Chicago Theological Seminary put together a team of leading historians and activists in the religious lgbt community to organise the LGBT-RAN, the Chair of the committee being the Seminary’s own Library Director, Rev. Dr. Neil Gerdes. The initial funding for the project came from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Riverside Church Sharing Fund, and the United Church of Christ’s Wider Church Ministries.

From 2008 LGBT-RAN has been run by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Berkeley, California. Virtually as old as the LGBT-RAN itself, the Center was founded in 2000 at Berkeley’s Pacific School of Religion.

The largest section of LGBT-RAN is the Profiles Gallery. Here are given the biographical information of over 400 members of the lgbt community from recent history and the present, and from many faiths and spiritualities. Not all of them are ordained. The Profiles include people like the writer Christopher Isherwood and the pioneering campaigners Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Even the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence has a representative in the profiles.

If there’s one criticism I could make about the archive is that it does not contain any profile of people in the religious lgbt community who have shown us the bad side of the coin. There are several Roman Catholic cardinals and priests who have been guilty of sexual abuse in the past hundred years. There’s nothing about them. Their story is as much a part of our own as is that of the pioneers. Similarly with other people who have blackened the name of religion in recent years. LGBT-RAN gives the impression that it is only concerned with the lives of “saints” and not the “sinners”. Unfortunately, LGBT-RAN falls into the common trap among lgbt heritage organisations, including LGBT History Month, of concentrating on how much the lgbt community has been a victim and not enough on how many great achievements in the wider world outside the gay rights movement it has achieved.

Among the many denominations represented in the Profiles Gallery are individuals from all the established faiths (e.g. the Anglican priest Rev. Diarmaid MacCulloch, one of my favourite historians, and Father Mychal Judge, the Catholic priest who was the first recorded victim of 9/11). Founders of lgbt churches are inevitably included (Rev. Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church, and Rev. Robert Mary Clement of the Church of the Beloved Disciple). There are also a good representation of people from the Pagan, Wiccan and New Age spiritualities.

The LGBT-RAN website allows access to its online exhibitions. These include a complete digitised run of an early lgbt religious magazine called “Open Hands”. The exhibition which appeals to my quirky interests is the “Shower of Stoles”. This is a collection of stoles worn by lgbt members of various denominations. Other online exhibitions centre on more traditional heritage topics such as “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” and a history of the world’s largest lgbt synagogue.

So, if you though lgbt religion was only about persecution or the Metropolitan Community Church then a visit to the LGBT-RAN website could open a whole new outlook.


On a very personal note. About an hour before I posted this article my “page views” exceeded 125,000. Many, many thanks to everyone who takes the time to read my blog, and a bigger thank you to everyone who returns. In fact, I give you all a quarter of a million thanks in return!!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Olympic Alphabet : N is for ...

NUMBERS AND NOSTALGIA.

Hopefully, readers will have recovered enough from the number crunching in my previous Olympic article to put up with another.

Today the number crunching concerns numbers themselves – the numbers of lgbt athletes who competed at each Olympic Games (again, the Paralympics will be covered in a separate article).

The table below gives a straight-forward record of the Olympic Games in which lgbt athletes have competed. I do not include the Youth Olympics in this table. Each games has one square next to it for each identified lgbt athlete. The Winter Games have always been smaller than the Summer Games, and this is reflected in the numbers of lgbt Olympians.

Not immediately noticeable is that since the 1956 Winter games in Cortina d’Ampezzo only one Olympics has no known identified lgbt athlete – the 1960 Winter games in Squaw Valley. For me, this is a very significant fact. I was born during the Olympic torch relay that led up to the 1960 Rome Olympics and I was 2 months old when those games began. Rome had one known lgbt athlete, the Canadian equestrian rider Norman Elder, so I can say with certainty that in my lifetime there has never been an Olympic Games without an lgbt athlete.

I don’t want to speculate on how much an event like the Olympics, the largest event in the media at the time, had on a 2-month-old baby, but they say that we’re all influenced by what goes on around us at that age. More of nostalgia later. Back to the numbers.

What I haven’t done is indicate how many athletes were open about their sexuality while competing. This is because there is still not enough information available on when, and if, athletes come out. Also quite a few living Olympians have been openly lgbt without declaring it to the media. Karen Hultzer is an example of this. Karen, a South African archer, was openly lesbian before competing at the London 2012 games. There’s no evidence that she would have mentioned anything about it if someone else hadn’t mentioned it to the media. Just because she hadn’t told the media, it didn’t mean she was closeted. Indicating athletes who were openly lgbt would not, therefore, be entirely accurate.

NOSTALGIA

Even if the 1960 Rome Olympics had no effect on my subconscious I know that the 1976 games had the most significant effect on my future enthusiasm, and I’m celebrating my own 40th anniversary of both 1976 Olympics. I don’t remember having any real interest in the 1972 Munich games, but by the start of the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck I was hooked. The enthusiasm was influenced by the popularity of the UK figure skater John Curry who had taken UK sport by storm in a way that was echoed by that of diver Tom Daley in 2012.

Below are the front covers of the very first Olympic scrapbooks I compiled (yes, I know I’ve spelt Montreal wrong). At the time I also made a medal chart which I put on the kitchen door. I updated this every day and it’s something I did for many later Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

With hindsight both scrapbooks hold records of historical significance because of one athlete from each games who came to represent the best in lgbt sport – John Curry and Caitlyn Jenner. Both hold significant firsts in lgbt Olympism as I have written in several previous articles. John Curry was the first openly gay Olympic champion, although for many years he was reluctant to talk about it. He was outed the day after winning his gold medal, and performed at the closing ceremony as an (albeit reluctant) out athlete and was the openly gay reigning Olympic champion until 1980.

I want to give an update on the article on John Curry’s ancestry I wrote in 2014. In that article I mentioned his ancestry Benjamin Wigley and wondered if there was a connection to the Wigley ancestors of my ex-partner. In March this year I found the connection. Benjamin was born in Nottingham and was indeed descended from the same family as my partner.

Caitlyn Jenner became Olympic champion at the summer games in Montreal. She is the fist Olympic champion to become transgender.

Finally, one of my treasured items in my scrapbook is an original page from a British newspaper the day after John Curry became champion which addressed the question of the “outing”. In it the writer wondered why someone’s private life should be used to judge a person’s athletic skills and speculates if there’ll be a time when it wouldn’t matter. It’s a question which is still a large part of sport today, 40 years later.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Xtremely Queer : Pole to Pole

Every year has its own fair share of anniversaries. Some are widely celebrated while others are remembered more modestly. One anniversary which I think needs to be widely celebrated this year is the 30th anniversary of the first woman and first lesbian to reach the North Pole.

The 8-person expedition set off 30 years ago in March to try to become the first to reach the North Pole over the ice by dogsled and foot without being re-provisioned on the way. The only female member of that team was Ann Bancroft (b.1955). It was the first of several expeditions that put her in the record books.

Rather than go over the expedition itself, just as I have done with several other adventurers (Cason Crane, Sarah Outen, Larry Jacobson) I want to concentrate on Ann Bancroft herself today and look at her achievements.

Among these achievements, as well as being the first woman to reach the North Pole in 1986 Anne also Led the first all-female east-to-west crossing of Greenland (1992), became the first woman to have reached the North and South Pole (1993), and with Liv Arnesen became the first women to ski across Antarctica (2001).

The Minnesota-born polar adventurer was often taken on camping trips by her father and enjoyed canoeing in Boundary Waters Canoe Area next to the Superior National Forest in the north of the state. It gave Ann the enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits. Diagnosed as a child with a form of dyslexia Ann found physical activity less of a struggle and she acquired a determination to overcome any limit to he abilities.

Having developed a love of physical activity Ann went to the University of Oregon to study for a Bachelor’s degree in physical education. She then became a teacher of physical education in several schools. In 1983 Ann and a friend climbed up Mount McKinley Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, and one of the Seven Summits (the 7 highest mountains on the 7 continents – see here).

Two years later Ann got the call to join the North Pole expedition which celebrates its 30th anniversary today. The expedition leaders were Will Steger and Paul Scharke. Ann was the only female member of the 8 person team. Ann gave up her teaching job and polished up on her photography skills as “National Geographic”, one of the expedition sponsors, had chosen her to take photos of the trek. Some of her photos and excerpts from her expedition journal were published by “National Geographic”.

The tram, reduced to 6 members due to illness, reached the North Pole 30 years ago today. This success made them all huge celebrities in America at the time, and they were even invited to meet President Reagan at the White House.

With this boost to her reputation as a prominent female adventurer was also invited to give talks and presentations. She turned down an invitation to join an expedition to climb Everest. But she had her mind set on her own challenges. The next one was an al-female trek across Antarctica, called the American Women’s Expedition. Fundraising proved a little frustrating as not many sponsors were interested unless there was at least one man on the team. Also, as an open lesbian, corporate sponsors were reluctant to contribute. Ann admitted in an interview, “They don’t know what to do about that. That’s certainly not an image they want to portray … I can’t lie to get corporate money.”

With the Antarctic expedition on hold until full funding was acquired Ann continued to train for it. As part of this she organised the first all-female expedition to cross Greenland (east to west) in 1992. Later that year Ann took the decision to go ahead with the Antarctic crossing despite not having the full funding. Arriving there on 9th November 1992 the four women in the team set off in the all-day-round sunshine of an Antarctic summer and took 67 days to reach the South Pole. In doing so Ann Bancroft became the first woman in history to reach both the North and South Poles over the icecaps. The team continued on across the continent to complete their expedition but were delayed by the weather and had to abandon their trans-continental trek.

Back in Minnesota Ann had to clear all the debts caused by the delay and shortfall in expenses. Once that was done she was already planning her next venture, a renewed effort at the Antarctic crossing. This time there would just be two team members, Ann herself and Liv Arnesen. Liv had already become the first woman to ski to the South Pole. The expedition was successfully completed in 2001.

Since then Ann had helped to award and grant scholarships to recognise and encourage the achievements f women and girls. She and Liv also founded Bancroft Arnesen Explore, an organisation which encourages women to follow their dreams.

A trek by Anna and Live across the Arctic Ocean in 2007 to highlight the problem of global warming had to be abandoned.

In 1995 Ann Bancroft was inducted as an Honorary Member into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

“I’m in love with these cold, faraway places” Ann told “Runner’s World” magazine in 1994, and her determination and pioneering spirit has pushed her to the limit and placed her at the top of the world of female exploration.