Today is the official celebration for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta has become a symbol of
rights and freedoms in society and even though it was only legal for 9 weeks
back in 1215 its legacy has influenced later declarations of human rights that
are in existence today. What I’d like to show today is that many lgbt
activists, whether they campaign for lgbt rights, women’s rights, or human
rights in general, have Magna Carta “in their blood”.
Hundreds of thousands of lgbt people
descend from either King John or one (or more) of the 25 barons who acted as
sureties, a group regarded among American genealogists as being as significant
as signatories of the Declaration of Independence or Revolutionary soldiers.
Although I wouldn’t regard myself as an activist I can claim descent from King
John and 15 of the 17 surety barons who left descendants. There are no living
descendants of the other 8 barons.
Statistically speaking it’s impossible
for anyone of English descent NOT to have at least one Magna Carta ancestor.
You’ll be surprised by the famous activists, revolutionaries, freedom fighters
and campaigners who do (for example, most of the leaders of the American War of
Independence, leading members in the English Civil War, and several leaders of
the French Revolution).
I’ve chosen a representative group of
lgbt activists and campaigners and have shown their Magna Carta ancestors on
the chart below. Going into detail would take up a huge amount of space so I’ve
written only a short description of the individual’s campaigning career and
indicated their Magna Carta ancestors using the numbers given.
There’s one oddity which the chart
reveals. Of King John and the 17 barons who have many thousands of living
descendants walking around today, not one of the selected lgbt activists is
descended from one of those barons - Sir Geoffrey de Say. Neither am I, but
lots of people are. Its just one of those things.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) - Social
reformer and campaigner for women’s rights. She was an anti-slavery activist in
the 1850s before concentrating of women’s suffrage, being President of the
National Women’s Suffrage Association 1892-1900. The 10th Amendment
to the US Constitution giving women the vote is known as the Anthony Amendment.
George Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824) - Before finding fame as a Romantic poet Byron sat in the
House of Lords. His maiden speech was in defence of the Luddites of Nottingham,
weavers who were smashing the new machines that were taking their work and
livelihood away. Parliament decreed that Luddites be executed, and Byron
defended their right to live and work. At the end of his life Byron fought with
the Greeks in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire.
Hon. Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet (1912-1991) - Born female and the youngest child of a
Scottish baronet, Sir Ewan successfully fought to have his birth certificate
changed by law after his transition. He then succeeded in a court case over the
family title against a male cousin who didn’t recognise Sir Ewan’s gender.
Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926) - Eva
fought against her privileged background and was also an active suffragette,
founding a branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Association in Sligo. With her
lover Esther Roper she became co-secretary of the Women’s Textile and Other
Workers Representation Committee. Eva was also an Irish nationalist and
campaigned for the release of nationalists who were imprisoned as traitors, one
of whom was her sister Constance, Countess Markiewicz, the first women elected
to the UK parliament.
Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) - One
of the Founding Fathers of the USA, a veteran of the War of Independence, and
co-founder of the Federalist Party.
Harry Hay (1912-2002) - A
leading figure in gay rights in the USA. He co-founded the Mattachine Society
in 1951, one of the most influential pre-Stonewall organisations which lobbied
the US government for equal rights. Later he went on to be elected Chair of the
Southern California Gay Liberation Front, and co-founded the Radical Faeries.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) - First
Lady of America, humanitarian and diplomat. In 1948 Eleanor was chosen to chair
the committee which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) - Having
fought against her family to pursue what they regarded as an unfeminine career
as a composer Ethel used her talents in the suffragette movement by composer
their anthem “The March of the Women”. Her own campaigning for votes for women
earned her a prison sentence.
John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) - Although
he never came out as a homosexual in his lifetime Symonds’ writings displayed
more than a hint to his sexuality. His defence of the homosexual lifestyle was
daring for his time. In his writings he advocated the decriminalisation of