Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Flower Power - green carnation

One of the earliest symbols of the lgbt community to emerge in the Victorian period was the green carnation, a flower not found naturally. It seems to have originated in the early 1890s. Oscar Wilde remarked in an essay in 1889 that green was “in individuals … always a sign of a subtle artistic temperament …” Wilde had spent some time in the artistic and literary world of Paris earlier in that decade and may have got that impression during that time.  Whether it was actually a secret colour between French homosexuals isn’t clear, but it is clear that by 1891 Parisian gay men were wearing green carnations, not necessarily just to the theatre.

Wilde later claimed that he himself had invented the symbol, but whoever thought of it first it was Oscar Wilde who was it’s champion. In 1892 Wilde came up with a little publicity stunt for the opening of his play “Lady Windermere’s Fan”. He invited several friends to the opening night and asked them to wear a green carnation in their button-hole. One of them asked what it meant. “Nothing whatever”, was Wilde’s reply. Apparently he just wanted the public to see several men wearing green carnations and wonder what it was all about. To the audience of “Lady Windermere’s Fan” the mystery was heightened by having one of the actors wear one as well.

The actual carnation Oscar Wilde would have worn is a little-seen variety called a malmaison. It was developed in 1857 in France. It was larger than the common variety of carnation and would look more like a rose. The petals were white with shades of pink and easily took up the artificial green dye into which the stem was dipped. The longer it remained in the dye the darker green the petals would become.

A year or so later a “novel” called “The Green Carnation” was published anonymously. It was actually written by Robert Hichens, one of Wilde’s circle of admirers. Although claimed as fiction the novel was almost fact with “only peoples names have been changed to protect the innocent”. The people, however, were not protected or innocent. So great was the impression that this “novel” of a young aristocrat having and affair with an older man referred to Lord Alfred Douglas’s relationship with Oscar Wilde that even Douglas’s father was even more convinced than ever that Wilde should be arrested. In fact, people thought Wilde himself had written “The Green Carnation”. He refuted the claim in a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette.

The novel was instrumental in Wilde’s arrest. Because of it the public were beginning to lose their fascination with Wilde and Lord Arthur’s father had him arrested in 1895. The green carnation became unpopular, and even the novel was withdrawn from sale. But the connection didn’t fade away, it just went underground. Such was the negative connotation the flower had acquired that the malmaison carnation became virtually extinct.

A hint at the green carnation’s past symbolism emerged in lyrics in Noël Coward’s 1929 musical “Bitter Sweet” :-
“Pretty boys, witty boys,
You may sneer
At our disintegration.
Haughty boys, naughty boys,
Dear, dear, dear!
Swooning with affectation …
And as we are the reason
For the ‘Nineties’ being gay.
We all wear a green carnation.”

It should be noted that Coward’s use of the word “gay” denotes the older definition meaning “happy and carefree”, though it may be a contributory factor in today’s use of the word to mean homosexual.

The malmaison carnation would probably have become totally extinct by now had it not been the discovery of a lone specimen in Scotland from which the National Trust bred a whole greenhouse full of the flower in 1993. However, it may take a few more years before there’s enough blooms to start dying green for today’s lgbt community to wear.

As for the association with Oscar Wilde, that has had a more fruitful revival. Today there are many organisations which openly use the name in connection with the gay community. The annual International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival uses a green carnation in its logo, and the very hotel where Wilde was arrested in 1895 offers Green Carnation Packages for their guests to retrace his steps around London.


Saturday, 28 July 2012

Star Gayzing - Hercules

So, after many promises, here’s my post on Hercules (Herakles, in Greek) and his place in the night sky. And it all ties in nicely with the Olympics as well. This will have to be but the briefest of life stories as there are so many myths and stories about him. This can only serve as an overview.

Hercules’ constellation appears in the northern hemisphere. Originally the Greeks called his constellation the Kneeling Man, representing an un-named man resting from his labours. Even today the main star is called Rasalgethi, meaning “the Kneeler’s Head”. And, yes, the “Kneeler’s Head” is at the bottom of the star map! That’s because the constellation pictures the man upside down compared to those around it. When depicted as Hercules he is kneeling on the head of Draco the dragon, the constellation above him. Hercules was originally associated with Gemini, and it’s no wonder the Kneeling Man was later associated with him resting from his 12 Labours.

Hercules’ links to the night sky actually began before he could walk or talk. He was the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene. Zeus’s wife Hera was tricked into breast-feeing the baby, unaware that he was half-god. She soon found that Hercules was biting onto her too hard and she pulled him away. Milk from her breast sprayed across the sky to create the Milky Way. Having tasted Hera’s milk Hercules was now immortal as well as superhuman.

I told you last time that Hera became jealous of Hercules and how she tried to make life hell for him. She made him kill his family, and the 12 Labours were his punishment.

So how many of these Labours can be linked to the constellations? Here’s a checklist. Not all of them have star links. Some I’ve already dealt with and I’ve linked back to them. Others will be dealt with at a later date.

1.          Kill the Nemean Lion – LEO      
2.          Kill the Lernean Hydra – CANCER and HYDRA
3.          Capture the golden hind of Ceryneia
4.          Kill the Erymanthian Boar
5.          Clean the stables of King Augeias
6.          Kill the man-eating Stymphalian Birds – sometimes linked to ARGO, AQUILA and CYGNUS
7.          Capture the Cretan Bull – TAURUS
8.          Catch the man-eating horses of King Diomedes
9.          Steal the girdle of Queen Hippolyte
10.      Round up the cattle of the Titan Geryon
11.      Fetch the golden apples of the Hesperides – HERCULES, DRACO and THE SKY (via Atlas)
12.      Bring Cerberus up from Hades – HERCULES and CERBERUS (obsolete constellation)

In earlier times Hercules was depicted holding a branch from the tree of the golden apples of the Hesperides. Later it became the tail of Cerberus, a constellation now split between several others, including Hercules.

As I said in my Cancer post, Eurystheus though Hercules had help from his young lover Ioalus in two labours. But he wasn’t his only young boyfriend. The Greek writer Plutarch said Hercules had too many to count. In fact, myths about Hercules’ male lovers outnumber those of his female ones. I don’t need to remind you that the Ancient Greeks had different attitudes to same-sex activity – it was expected of all men. Another well-known boyfriend was Hylas. They both joined the crew of Jason and the Argonauts (ARIES and the obsolete constellation ARGO), but that’s a story of another post.

Finally, the link to the Olympics. One of the myths about the origin of the games (one that contradicts the origin depicted at Olympia) tells how Hercules set up the games as victory celebrations after sacking the city of King Augeias, who cheated him out of a reward for completing his 5th Labour.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Carrying the Torch With Pride

Tonight in London the Olympic cauldron will be lit. To get you in the mood for the climax of tonight’s ceremony my chronicle of the Olympics continues with the history of lgbt participation in the torch relay.

A torch relay never happened at the ancient Olympics. But there were torch relays in other parts of Ancient Greece. Almost a year ago, when I started my blog, I told you about the Great Panathenaean Games, what I have nicknamed the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”. Like today, one of the most important and popular events was the torch relay and you can read about it here.

The modern torch relay was created for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since then many thousands of people have carried the torch. It will be impossible to identify all the lgbt torch-bearers, though I have listed in chronological order below those I have found. If anyone knows of any more I’d be very interested to hear from you.

Some of the torch-bearers are famous lgbt Olympians while others have worked hard to promote diversity in sport and the community. In the following list I give the Olympic year and venue first, then the name of the torch-bearer and a little biodata, and lastly the location and date of their part in the relay.

1996    Atlanta
Vicky Galindo, Olympic silver medallist 2008 (USA softball); location and full date unknown.

2004    Athens
Daniel Kowalski, Olympic gold medallist (Australia swimming); Melbourne, Australia, 5 June 2004.

2008    Beijing
John Caldera, San Francisco Veteran Affairs Commission member, US Navy veteran, the first Mr International Bear 1992; San Francisco, 9 April 2008.
Helen Zia, former Executive editor of “Ms” magazine, journalist, advocate of same-sex marriage; San Francisco, 9 April 2008.

2010 Vancouver
Brian Orser, Olympic silver medallist (Canada figure skating); Pickering, Ontario, 17 December 2009.
Mark Tewksbury, Olympic gold medallist (USA swimming); Taber, British Colombia, 17 January 2010.
Marion Lay, Olympic bronze medallist (Canada swimming), past Chair of Vancouver 2010 Bid committee; Pemberton, British Colombia, 7 Feb 2010.

2012 London
Andy Stonehill-Brooks, founder of Support U, a charity created to build a network of lgbt support centres nationwide; Combe Martin, Devon,  21 May.
Vincent Jackson, charity fundraiser; Cardiff, 25 May.
Tara Mifflin, youth leader volunteer with Stonewall in their campaign to tackle homophobic bullying; Y Felinheli, Wales, 28 May.
Colin Renshaw, volunteer support worker in the lgbt community, and Manchester Pride and the 2002 Commonwealth Games; Bolton, Lancashire, 31 May.
Kevin Bartlett, amateur rugby coach, former recording artist (as Kevin Marques), 1990 Vancouver Gay Games gold medallist (UK athletics); Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, 3 June.
Heather Davidson, student, Cerebral Palsy sufferer, volunteer with lgbt support groups in Manchester; Trafford, Lancashire, 24 June.
Trevor Burchick, MBE, founder of the Pride Games, Manchester, representative on the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association; Stockport, Lancashire, 24 June.
Lorna McArdle, volunteer and past Chair of Reading Pride, member of local marching band; Reading, Berkshire, 10 July.
Jason Saw, head of MINDOUT, a charity founded to tackle mental illness in the lgbt community; Arundel, Sussex, 16 July.
Gideon Meade, founder of the Brighton Lesbian and Gay Sports Society; Brighton, Sussex, 16 July.
Colin Bentley, nursing assistant on an HIV ward, charity marathon runner; Brighton, Sussex, 17 July.
Gavin Owen, charity marathon runner, volunteer with Brighton Pride and London Pride; Eastbourne, Sussex, 17 July.
John Amaechi, OBE, former NBA basketball star, member of the London 2012 Diversity and Inclusion Group; campaigner for lgbt rights in sport; Greenwich, London, 21 July.
Tim Sullivan, Chairman of Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby club; Haringey, London, 22 July.
Mark Healey, founder of 17-24-30, a campaign set up to mark the anniversary of the London Nail Bomb attacks of 1999, founder of the Vigil Against Hate Crime; Lewisham, London, 23 July.
Chris Basiurski, Chair of the Gay Football Supporter’s Network, member of the Diversity Panel of the Football Association; Hammersmith, London, 26 July.

After the torch relay comes the lighting of the cauldron, not unlike the ceremonial lighting of the sacrificial fire on the Acropolis at the Great Panathenaean Games. My research has yet to identify any lgbt cauldron-lighter, and the chance of it happening tonight is zero (not unlike the Paralympic Games – Lee Pearson?)

But I actually have a connection to this year’s Olympic cauldron, which makes me really proud. The cauldron was designed and built by Heatherwick Studios in London. One of the freelance model makers they employed recently was my old friend Mark.

So I’ll be watching the ceremony very closely tonight and making notes for a post next month about the various opening and closing ceremonies.

Before then, I’ll bring you some of the lgbt involvement in the London games from its original bid up to the opening ceremony.

For all official information on the Olympics go to www.london2012.com

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Star Gayzing - Leo

As a way of a prelude to my next Star Gayzing post which will be on Hercules we’ll look at the first of his famous labours – the defeat of the Nemean Lion.

The constellation we now call Leo was represented as a winged lion by the Babylonians, a creature seen a lot in their architecture. This idea of a super-lion transferred to the Greeks who identified the constellation with a super-lion of their own – the Nemean Lion.

In true ancient Greek style the creature was given a fantastical parentage. Several different sets of monstrous parents are mentioned in myths – his usual parents being the Titan Typhon (who had 100 heads and was as tall as the sky), and Echnida (a serpent-woman), who were also parents of Cerberus, the Gorgon, the Lernean Hydra and the Sphinx).

The lion’s fur was said to be pure gold and his skin was impervious to arrows or swords. This meant you had to be up close and personal if you wanted to deal with it, that’s if you manage to avoid it’s claws which could slice through thick armour like a hot knife through butter.

So how did Hercules get started on his labours? It started when the goddess Hera, angry that Hercules was yet another of her husband Zeus's illegitimate sons, sent Hercules mad. He killed his wife Megara and their children. Hercules travelled to see the Oracle of Delphi to be told what punishment he should receive. The Oracle decreed that Hercules should serve King Eurystheus of Athens and complete any task he set.

Eurystheus was a little scared of Hercules, so he came up with 10 difficult quests – the Labours – for Hercules to perform, hoping he’d not survive even the first one. As I mentioned last time, Eurystheus thought Hercules had help from his boyfriend Iolaus for two of these labours so Eurystheus added two more, giving 12 Labours in all.

The first labour the king sent Hercules on was to defeat the monstrous lion that was terrorizing the city of Nemea. Hercules took some arrows with him, but these would have been useless, of course, if he’d known.

After learning the hard way that arrows are no good Hercules trapped the lion in his cave and used a great club to stun the lion with a big wallop to the head. Then he used his great strength to strangle and kill the beast. With the lion now dead Hercules tried to skin the beast so he could wear its impervious fur as armour, but only the lion’s claws were sharp enough to cut through. Because of this Hercules was usually depicted wearing the Nemean Lion’s skin around him (other myths say it was different lion).

Like the Cancer crab and the Nemean Lion’s own brother the Lernean Hydra encountered by Hercules in his next labour, the super-lion was put among the stars by Hera.

Now that we’ve got Hercules firmly in our mind in this Star Gayzing series we’ll have our proper look at him next week.

[Article revised on 27 February 2017]

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Olympic Countdown

Maybe it’s because the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010 were the most recent that I enjoyed them the most. Or it could just be family loyalty – my grandfather lived in Canada and I still have cousins there. It could also be because of a lot of lgbt coverage given to the Pride Houses by the media (more of which later).

Lgbt involvement in the Vancouver Olympics began before they own their bid for the games in 1998. The first Chair of the bid committee was Vancouver-born Olympic bronze medallist Marion Lay. She competed in Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968. The pressures and demands of being Chair led to Marion leaving the post before the bid was won, but she remained involved as the Vancouver city representative on the Organising Committee’s board of directors. The IOC recognised Marion’s contribution to sport in 2001 by awarding her the Women and Sport Trophy for the Americas.

These definitely felt like a more gay-friendly games – except when it came to American figure skater Johnny Weir. Speculation about his sexuality had been circulating since his first Olympics in 2006. His performances were flamboyant and regarded by some as almost too camp. The Canadian media in particular thought this was enough of a reason to discuss Johnny’s sexuality on air. To his credit Johnny brushed most of this aside, rightly saying that his skating was the only thing that was important at the games.

Johnny couldn’t quite reach his 2006 5th place, finishing 6th. It wasn’t until January 2011 that he came out in his autobiography.

Johnny Weir wasn’t the only identified lgbt figure skater in Vancouver, because previous Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser was choreographer and coach to the female champion skater Yu-Na Kim.

But Johnny Weir wasn’t the only athlete in Vancouver who has since come out. New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup was out to family and friends and made no attempt to “hide” his boyfriend in the athlete’s village. Being out was relatively new to him. He had come out to his family only the previous September and, like Johnny, decided his skating performance was more important in Vancouver. Fortunately, having a gay uncle and cousin meant his family were supportive.

Blake’s best result in Vancouver was 16th place, having reached the quarter-final of the 1,000 meters. Once the games were over Blake felt comfortable enough to come out publicly the following May, the first to do so after Vancouver 2010.

Also in speed skating were 3 Dutch skaters – Renate Groenewold, Sanne van Kerkhof and Ireen Wüst. Sanne was making her Olympic debut and had been the partner of Ireen since the previous May. They didn’t compete against each other, however, because Sanne competed in the short track events and Ireen in the longer distances.

Naturally, the Canadians had high hopes of gold in the ice hockey tournament. The women’s team succeeded in holding on to their gold medals from Turin, again with Sarah Vaillancourt on the team. In the semi-finals they beat Finland who went on to beat Sweden for the bronze medal. Erika Holst made her 4th Olympic appearance in the Swedish team.

The only other lgbt gold medal in Vancouver was won by Vibeke Skofterud, the Norwegian cross-country skier. This was a personal triumph for Vibeke after recovering from an eating disorder which stopped her from competing in 2006.

Also on the ski slopes Sweden’s Anja Pärson hoped to defend her slalom gold medal but crashed out near the end. She escaped serious injury and the following day won bronze in the combined event, as she did in the previous games. This was her 6th Olympic medal, giving her the most medals of any individual female lgbt Olympian – 1 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze (Sheryl Swoopes won 3 team golds).

Now to the Pride Houses. A previous attempt to provide a special gathering place for lgbt Olympians to relax and be themselves was in Barcelona 1992. With the Vancouver games being centred around a well-known gay ski resort at Whistler it was natural that the community there should set up a Pride House there. Whistler had been the home of Gay Ski Week since 1993.

Two Pride Houses were set up, by gaywhistler.com and the Vancouver Queer Resource Centre. Both were very successful and influenced the decision by community groups to set up a Pride House in London 2012 and Sochi 2014. The Sochi house has since been banned by the Russian courts because of its alleged bad influence on children. The London Pride House will go ahead after being rescued with support from Pridesports UK, the European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation and the Federation of Gay Games.

In connection with that last named organisation, several lgbt Olympians have become Gay Games Ambassadors. I will list them all on the 30th anniversary of the Gay Games in August.

The 2012 games has already broken lgbt records, with a record 19 out athletes (and counting) gathering with their teams in London. Before the next games in Sochi 2014 I expected more London Olympians will come out, and we shall see if its possible to exceed the list of 42 lgbt athletes who were at the Sydney 2000 games.

In 5 days time the waiting will be over. But my chronicle of lgbt Olympians will continue. I’ll also reveal the lgbt involvement in the torch relay and the opening and closing ceremonies. So I hope you “stay tuned”.

For all official information on the Olympics go to www.london2012.com

Friday, 20 July 2012

Warhol's Olympics

Almost a month ago a work of art was sold at the Phillips auction house in London for a record £6,761,250. It was the highest price ever paid for a joint work by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat called “Olympics” (1984).

Most people think the Olympics is only about sport. When Baron Pierre de Coubertin began the present modern revival of the games he wanted to include competitions for art, architecture, sculpture and music, and it is these “events” and associated artistic lgbt contributions which I’ll concentrate on in 2 posts over the next few weeks. Today we’ll look specifically at the Warhol and the Olympics.

Perhaps Andy Warhol seems an unlikely contender for an Olympic artist but he used the theme of sport before being invited to submit a work for the games. In 1977 the American art collector Richard Weisman asked Warhol to produce a series of paintings based on sport. The result was a series of 10 portraits of great sporting legends of the time, including Muhammad Ali and Pele.

Perhaps prompted by this sporting portrait series the organisers of the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984 invited Warhol to submit a new work inspired by sport. It would be included is a portfolio of other work by other artists. Warhol used 2 images of a speed skater superimposed one on top of the other, giving the impression of speed.

In late 1983 Warhol was asked by Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger to work with young graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Warhol was one of Basquiat’s heroes and his energy brought a fresh source of inspiration to Warhol. Between them they produced several joint works inspired by the Olympics, which were being held in Los Angeles in 1984.

After his death in 1987 Andy Warhol became part of the “Olympic Establishment” when the Olympic Museum in Lausanne staged a retrospective exhibition of his sport-inspired work in 1995.

Another of the Warhol/Basquiat Olympic collaborations is on display in London this month. The Gagosian Gallery is showing the 1985 work “Olympic Rings”.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Olympic Countdown

Going into the Beijing games the lgbt media again attempted to list the lgbt Olympians competing in 2008. Their highest estimate was 11, but with some athletes coming out since then the list can now be recorded as 24, of which 13 were making their Olympic debut.

This time around women’s football tops the lgbt athlete list with 7 players. For the 3rd Olympics in a row Germany won the bronze medal. In the team were Linda Bresonik and Nadine Angerer. Nadine missed out on a medal in the previous 2 Olympics because she was the substitute goalkeeper and didn’t actually play in the bronze medal match. But this time she was head goalkeeper and at last received her bronze medal. Unfortunately, Ursula Holl, her substitute, thereby missed out on a bronze.

One player with football in her blood was Isabell Herlovsen, a striker on the Norwegian team. Her father is Olympian and former Norwegian international Kia Erik Herlovsen.

The gold medal was won by the USA. They were coached by Pia Sundhage who had played for Sweden in the 1996 Atlanta games. On the Swedish team in Beijing was Jessica Lindström. Perhaps the most unusual record of any lgbt Olympian has to be held by American football forward Natasha Kai - the record for the most tattoos – over 55 in all!

Handball had 3 lesbian players. In the gold medal-winning Norwegian team were Katja Nyberg and team captain Gro Hammerseng. The pair had been living and working openly as a couple for 3 years and had sought to play for clubs in which they could play alongside each other. Gro had the honour of carrying her national flag in the closing ceremony. Katja was actually Finnish by birth and she became a Norwegian citizen in 2001. The couple have since split up, though they continued to play on the same club until 2011 when Gro retired to have a child.

Alexandra Labracére played handball for France, losing in a first round match to Norway but reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to Russia.

Lee Pearson returned to defend his 3 paralympic equestrian gold medals for Team GB. On 11th September 2008 he became the greatest lgbt Olympian when his total gold medal tally reached 9. Who knows – will he make it 12 in 2012? In the main equestrian arena Hans Peter Minderhoud won a silver medal. The New Zealand couple of Blyth Tait and Paul O’Brien did not compete, but Blyth was the equestrian team manager for the Kiwis in Beijing, and Paul was an Olympic selector.

Winning a gold medal in women’s hockey was Marilyn Agliotti, She returned after an absence of 8 years to play for the Netherlands after playing for her native South Africa in 2000.

In the diving pool were the 2 Australian Matthews – Helm and Mitcham. Mathew Helm was making his 3rd Olympic appearance. He had won a silver and bronze at the 2004 Olympics and 2 golds in the Commonwealth Games in 2006. He was tipped for 2 golds in Beijing. However, rising superstar Matthew Mitcham, who had come 4th in the Commonwealth Games, exceeded most people’s expectations by beating Helm to the gold in the platform competition. Disappointingly, Helm missed any medal.

The remaining medals from Beijing went to Lauren Lappin and Vicky Galindo who won silver with the American softball team. Vicky’s involvement in the Olympics actually goes back to 1996 when, at the age of 12, she took part in the torch relay for the Atlanta games.

Of the remaining lgbt athletes in Beijing 4 were making their 4th appearance: “veteran” German cyclist Judith Arndt, Australian beach volleyball player Natalie Cook, Brazilian judoka Edinanci da Silva and Australian tennis player Rennae Stubbs. A tennis player making her only Olympic appearance was Israel’s Tzipora Obziler.

German fencer Imke Duplitzer made her 3rd Olympic appearance. She refused to attend the opening ceremony saying that she didn’t want to be part of the “circus” of a Chinese propaganda spectacle. Canadian swimmer Anne Polinario was also making her 3rd appearance, coached by her father, gay Olympian Rafael Polinario. Anne defended her Paralympic 50m gold medal.

To finish on a golden note, the US women’s basketball with Seimone Augustus became Olympic champions.

For all official information on the Olympics go to www.london2012.com

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Flower Power - Hyacinth

In this special year for sport it seems appropriate that I should bring Ancient Greek sport and flowers together with the story of a tragedy in which the 2 are inextricably linked.

Many Greek states had religious festivals which included sport. The second most important in Sparta all began with a hyacinth.

I’ll only use the word hyacinth to describe the flower because it’s used more for a girl’s name than its original use as a man’s name. For the man’s name I’ll use the more accurate Greek name of Hyakinthos.

The King of Sparta had a son called Hyakinthos. The young prince had everything a Spartan athlete could ever want – good looks, great personality, excellent athletic skills, lots of older men fighting over his attention, and the most perfect god-like body ever seen on a mortal. In fact he was so good that even the gods were fighting over him, two in particular – Apollo, patron god of Sparta, and Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. Even though same-sex relationships in Ancient Greece was common in the gymnasiums and amongst training soldiers all these relationships were monogamous. But Hyakinthos was seeing both gods at the same time. The image below comes from an Ancient Greek dish shows Hyakinthos and Zephyrus together (Zephyrus is the one with wings, of course).

Unsurprisingly, Apollo was quite jealous, so he gave Hyakinthos an ultimatum. He must choose only one god to be his lover. The prince, bearing in mind who would be the protector of his state when he succeeded to the throne, chose to stay with Apollo.

Now it was Zephyrus’s turn to be jealous and he planned his revenge. His opportunity came at the annual festival in honour of Apollo in July.

So, on a scorching summer afternoon the great and the good assembled at the Temple of Apollo. All the young athletes lined up, naked, ready to show the crowds what they could do. High up in the sky Zephyrus saw his chance for revenge and waited for the right moment.

Prince Hyakinthos was an expert discus thrower. When it came to his turn he couldn’t resist showing off.  He launched his discus high into the air. Eager to show how good an athlete he was he raced after it as it flew across the stadium, perhaps hoping to impress Apollo by catching the discus when it bounced off the ground. But when it struck the ground it hit a rock and rebounded into the air. Zephyrus was ready to make his move and he blew the discus straight at Hyakinthos. It struck the prince squarely in the forehead, cracking his skull like an eggshell. He fell to the ground, motionless.

As blood poured from his wound and seeped into the sandy soil of the arena the spectators lifted up his limp body and rushed him into the cool air of Apollo’s Temple. Apollo was the god of healing, so if any god could save this young man’s life then surely it must be him. But it was too late. The injury was too severe and he had lost too much blood, and as the whole of the city waited outside the temple, Prince Hyakinthos breathed his last.

The prince’s father was grief-stricken. As he descended the temple steps he could see the fateful arena where his son and heir was killed. A patch of deep crimson in the sand showed the spot where Hyakinthos’s blood had flowed, by now dried by the heat from Apollo the Sun himself. And as Apollo’s heat dried the patch of blood even darker a green shoot began to appear from its centre. Apollo’s grief was turning the blood into a flower.

Legends say that Eros was also there, weeping with Apollo at the death of his lover. From then on the new flower was named hyacinth in his honour. The king gave Prince Hyakinthos a magnificent funeral with lots of sports and contests and his remains were placed in an equally magnificent tomb at the foot of the statue of Apollo.

But the king thought a bigger memorial should be created. The following year the festival of Apollo was renamed the Hyakinthia and extended to three days.

A final twist to the tale is that the flower we recognise as a hyacinth today is not the same as that which the Ancient Greeks knew. In all probability the original hyacinth was a type of lily. It’s 3 petals symbolised royal male power all over the eastern Mediterranean.

The Hyakinthia festival survived into the Roman period and may have been one of the many surviving festivals banned, along with the Olympics and the Great Panatheneaean Games, by the Emperor Theodosius I in 393.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Olympic Countdown

Continuing my chronicle of lgbt participation in the Olympic Games we come to 2006 and Turin which saw more lgbt winter medals than any other – 3 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze.

At the opening ceremony there was a great chance for well-known Italian fashion designers like Armani to showcase their skills. He designed the official Italian team uniform. In the opening ceremony Chris Witty carried the Stars and Stripes ahead of her team. This was her 3rd Olympic appearance in 4 years, and she hoped to defend her speed skating gold medal from 2002. Unfortunately, she finished in 27th place.

Perhaps one of the big surprises in Turin involved two other speed skaters – Renate Groenewold and Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands. Renate was hoping to improve on her silver medal from 2002. The 3000 meters was her favourite distance, the distance in which she has won the most medals. However, in Turin Renate was up against newcomer Ireen Wüst, who beat Renate into silver medal position again. Ireen was considered an outsider in the event, and at the age of 19 she became the youngest Dutch winter Olympic champion on record. Ireen also won a bronze medal in the 1,500 meter event.

Turin saw Swedish skier Anja Parson returned to improve on her medals from 2002. After winning a bronze on the slalom in Salt Lake City Anja became Olympic champion by winning gold. She also won a bronze in the combined event.

Sarah Vaillancourt is the third gold medallists from Turin. Canadian by birth Sarah moved to study in the USA entering Harvard University in 2004. She made the Canadian national ice hockey team in 2005 and took a year off from Harvard to train for the Turin games. In the final Sarah and the Canadians beat Sweden. In the Swedish team were Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg, both making their 3rd appearance. By winning silver they improved on their 2002 bronze medals. Three months later they both came out as lesbian.

More figure skaters appeared in Turin than at any games since 1988 – 3 of them. Emanuel Sandhu returned, hoping his 2nd place in the previous Canadian championships would help him to win an Olympic medal after the disappointment of pulling out injured in 2002. Unfortunately, he finished 13th.

In 5th place was American figure skater Johnny Weir making his Olympic debut. Between these games and the next speculation of Johnny’s sexuality seemed to interest the media more than his skating. He always stated that his sexuality, whatever it was, was irrelevant and private. By the next winter games the Canadian media in particular were becoming a bit too persistent and somewhat derogatory about Johnny’s flamboyant skating style.

The American Ryan O’Meara made his only Olympic appearance in 2006 despite having been a competitive pairs figure skater since 1999. Ryan began training with new partner Jamie Silverstein in 2005 and the pair won bronze at the US Championships. Their Olympic results were not so good, finishing 16th overall. Afterwards Ryan retired from competitive skating and became a coach.

Having gone through all the known lgbt athletes, one final lgbt competitor cannot be named. This athlete was (and still is) a captain in the US army, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regulation, which meant that anyone serving in the American forces would be fired if their homosexuality was admitted, prevented the captain from coming out. The regulation has since been abolished and, to my knowledge, the captain still hasn’t come out publicly. The captain, who  competed in the bobsleigh competition and finished in 6th place, has not returned to the games. I do know this Illinois-born athlete’s identity, but won’t reveal it (the name hasn’t even appeared in rumours or online lists).

For all official information on the Olympics go to www.london2012.com

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Putting It Straight About - the Gay Caveman

This month is British Archaeology Month. I mentioned a handful of gay archaeologists in my post on World Diggers Day, and today I want to expand our horizons further.

We must remind ourselves that attitudes towards sexuality and gender have changed over the centuries and our definitions may not be appropriate, particularly in a society that existed so long ago that very little survives from it.

So you can imagine the media frenzy created a little over a year ago when headlines began to appear in newspapers declaring “The First Gay Caveman Found”.

The background to the story takes us across Europe to Prague. Czech archaeologists found the burial of a man who lived about 4,700 years ago. He belonged to a culture known as Corded Ware, so called because of the frequent use of cord impressions on their pottery. This civilisation stretched across most of northern central Europe.

Even though the skeleton was identified as a man the burial objects suggested something else. Instead of the usual male artifacts like weapons or hand tools this man was buried with none. What intrigued archaeologists most, though, was that this man was buried on his left side facing west. This is the usual position in which women from the Corded Ware culture were buried. But there weren’t any of the usual female burial goods either – cooking pots and jewellery.

You can imagine the conclusion people came to first. Media journalists being what they are, several newspapers tried to reconstruct the man’s whole life-style from the barest minimum of evidence.

Archaeologists jumped at the media immediately. To journalists archaeologists are just nerd in stripy jumpers and took no notice. So you can imagine how much the archaeologists shouted when a couple of months ago, just a year after the story first broke, the media trumpeted the discovery of “the gay caveman’s village”.

Journalists were informed last year that the sexuality of the buried man was unknown. If he was alive today, apart from being very old, the man could prosecute the media under current law for assuming anything about his sexuality based on nothing but their own preconceptions. Just because a man is buried in a female manner it doesn’t make him gay, bisexual, transgender or anything. Without grave goods we can’t even say if he or his culture regarded as such. No-one knows if the Corded Ware people even had any specific attitudes towards different sexualities.

So far archaeologists haven’t come up with a particular reason why the man was buried like this. He could have been buried in preparation for a proper burial later elsewhere; he could have been a visitor from a different culture and buried by the Corded Ware people this way (as early Christians often buried non-Christians in a different manner); or that this man was unknown to the villagers, a stranger found dead outside the village, and they didn't want to insult his memory by burying him in a manner he may not have understood or approved of.

As far as the name “caveman” is concerned, the Cored Ware culture existed in the Chalcolithic period, part of the Bronze Age. They were capable of building their own homes and villages and didn’t live in caves. “Caveman” is popularly given to people living 35,000 years ago – the Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons. The Corded Ware people lived no more than 5,000 years ago.

Surely the world has produced at least one intelligent journalist who knows enough maths to work out the difference between 35,000 and 5,000. Until it has I suppose we can look forward to reading more inaccuracies and misinformation on the subject.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Olympic Countdown

The Olympics returned home in 2004 when they were held in Greece. These were the first games where the lgbt media began to list lgbt athletes. Society had at last started to get used to the idea that there are lgbt athletes and the lgbt media was now proud to point some of them out.

There was only one identified lgbt athlete from the home nation, tennis player Eleni Daniilidou. She debuted in Sydney in 2000 at the age of 17. Eleni had reached No. 22 ranking in the world in 2002 but never reached higher, despite having several championship wins.

As in 2000 equestrianism tops both the lgbt athlete and medal lists. And once again British Paralympian Lee Pearson tops the individual table defending all 3 golds he won in 2000. Three American riders won bronze. Robert Dover, in his 6th and last Olympics, won bronze in the mixed team 3-day event with Guenther Seidel. Darren Chiacchia won bronze in the mixed team 3-day event. This was Darren’s first Olympics and a series of major setbacks prevented him from returning.

First was a horrific accident 6 months before the Beijing Olympics when Darren’s horse tumbled over a fence and fell on top of him. With multiple fractures, a punctured lung and severe head injuries Darren was in a coma and on a breathing ventilator for about a week. His doctors didn’t envisage a full recovery. But Darren stunned them by recovering enough to climb back on a horse 2 months later. With steely determination Darren returned to competitive riding in 2009.

Then in 2010 Darren’s partner had him arrested for not telling him he was HIV+. In Florida, where they lived, this was illegal. Very quickly this “outing” turned into a bigger personal setback as inaccurate media reports of him being “the Olympian who gave a man AIDS” lost him thousands of dollars in endorsements and business deals. Eventually all charges against Darren were dismissed in September 2011.

The other equestrian athletes were Carl Hester (GB) and Blyth Tait (New Zealand).

Second to equestrianism comes tennis with 6 lgbt players, all except the above-mentioned Eleni Daniilidou were Wimbledon champions – Conchita Martínez, Amélie Mauresmo, Rennae Stubbs, Lisa Raymond, and (in her only Olympic appearance) Martina Navratilova, at 47 the oldest ever lgbt competitor.

Amélie knocked out Conchita in the first round and went on to win the silver medal. But Conchita went on to win a silver in the doubles tournament. One-time life partners and Wimbledon doubles champions Rennae Stubbs and Lisa Raymond returned, but because Lisa is American and Rennae is Australian they couldn’t compete together. They didn’t even get to play against each other. Both Rennae and Lisa (with her doubles partner Martina) went out in the quarter-finals.

Gold medals were won by the life-partners Lotte Kiaerskou and Rikke Skov who played in the Danish women’s handball team.

Diving also produced 2 medals, both won by the Australian diver Mat Helm – a silver and bronze. Also in the pool were paralympic swimmers from Canada coached by former Olympian Rafael Polinario, including his daughter Anne who won 2 gold medals and 3 silver.

Sheryl Swoopes won her 3rd successive gold medal with the American women’s basketball team, becoming the top female gold medallist.

The remaining medallists of 2004 were German fencer Imke Duplitzer (silver) and Dutch swimmer Johan Kenkhuis (silver). Top German cyclist Judith Arndt also won silver – and a fine for giving the finger sign as she crossed the finish line as a protest against her partner Petra Rossner being dropped from the team.

Nadine Angerer returned as substitute goalkeeper for Germany’s women’s football team, but again missed out on her team’s bronze medal by not playing in the bronze medal match. They beat the Swedish team, on which Victoria Svensson played.

Australian beach volleyball star and former Olympic champion Natalie Cook lost to Brazil in the semi-finals. Another beach volleyball player, South African Leigh-Ann Naidoo, unfortunately lost all her matches.

Finally, judoka Edinanci Silva returned but didn’t improve on her placing from 2000, and Britain’s Rob Newton (from my home county Nottinghamshire) finished 7th in his heat of the hurdles.

One athlete who didn’t make Athens was Hungarian wrestler Grego Szabo. Just before the games his team managers discovered he had “performed” in many gay videos and banned him for life!

For more, official, information on the Games go to www.london2012.com

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Putting Out the Union Jack

Whatever your opinion of the Union Jack (as a national symbol of pride, or a hated symbol of imperialism) you have to admit that it’s a design classic. You can hardly miss it this year with the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. But this week you’ll see it turn London pink because today the World Pride is taking place in the nation’s capital as well.

There was already a good reason to call the Union Jack the gayest national flag around because the design was chosen by one of the “Queens” of Great Britain, James I.

Before we go any further, let’s clear up a common misconception. This flag IS called the Union Jack – named after its use as a flag of national identity flown from the jack staff on a ship. It is also called the Union Flag – it is the flag of the union of the crowns of England and Scotland. The name was given parliamentary approval on 14th July 1908 when the UK government issued the statement that “the Union Jack should be regarded as the national flag [on land]” - actually the first time in history that the UK officially adopted a national flag. Places like Australia used it long before we did when they adopted the UK naval ensign as their national flag (all the colonies used the blue or red naval ensigns before independence). Before 1908 the Union Jack was a government and naval flag.

So to James I. He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her 2nd husband Lord Darnley, an arrogant bisexual cross-dresser who was blown to bits by Mary’s 3rd husband. In 1603 James inherited the English throne from Queen Elizabeth I. James was quite open in his choice of “male favourites”. In fact, when he succeeded to the English throne pamphlets were circulating with declared “Elizabeth was king, now James is queen”.

Politicians then had a problem. In previous centuries, with sea trade and exploration and the accompanying growth in piracy and naval warfare, it was necessary for ships to display national insignia so that your own ships don’t fire on them. Flags were easily seen, so ships around the world carried the first real flags of national identity (as opposed to identity on land being signified by the coat of arms of the person who owned it – like the king). England flew St. George’s Cross and Scotland flew St. Andrew’s Cross. But with the united crowns which flag should the new Great British ships fly, the English one of the Scottish one?

Under international law it should be the Scottish flag because the kingdom of Scotland is older than the kingdom of England. It was decided that the new flag for ships would be that of England and Scotland combined in such a way that neither had preference. The College of Arms came up with these suggestions, with the Lord High Admiral giving his signed approval.

But none of these met with “Queen” James’ approval. Even in those days it was a “queer eye” that taught the straight guy about good design! So James told them to go away and try again. So the heralds went back to square one and came up with a more familiar design …

Heraldically speaking this does gives Scotland precedence – the blue background and white saltire is described first, and the red cross of St. George last. James liked this design and it was used on British ships right up to 1801 when the United Kingdom was created and the Irish cross of St. Patrick was added.

But “Queen” James didn’t provide the only lgbt contribution to the Union Jack. Quite early in the modern gay rights movement this flag emerged in Pride marches. Naturally, it’s just the Union Jack with the red crosses turned to pink.

A much more popular version, below, has been seen everywhere in recent years (including thousands of miles away at Santiago Pride 2008 in Chile). Obviously, it’s called the Pink Jack. It’s the sort of idea that is so obvious you wonder why you didn’t think of it first. The man who did think of it first was David Gwinnutt, an artist and photographer from London who thought that the Rainbow flag was too American. He wanted to create something that said gay and British. In 2005 he created the first Pink Jack for an art exhibition about sexuality. Later that year he carried his flag at several Pride events and he began to manufacture all kinds of Pink Jack merchandise. Just like every other flag, there is no copyright on flag designs and he was happy to let the community adopt it in great numbers.