Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Heritage Spotlight : The Galleries of Justice

In a couple of months the award-winning Galleries of Justice in Nottingham will be relaunched as the National Justice Museum. Before it undergoes some physical transformations the last exhibition at the Galleries was held earlier this month. It was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which partly decriminalised homosexual acts.

The Galleries of Justice are housed in the former Nottingham County jail, Shire Hall and county police headquarters. The current building dates from 1770 but there was a court house on this site from before 1375. The oldest surviving part of this early building at the caves underneath the building which were used as prison cells from 1449.

The recent exhibition at the Galleries also commemorated the 120th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s release from Reading Jail. Oscar Wilde was no stranger to Nottingham himself. His first boyfriend was the son of a local vicar and he later gave several lectures in the city. There’s no evidence that he set foot in the Galleries of Justice while it was the Shire Hall and county court. However, several items in the Galleries’ collection are very solidly connected to him. First is the actual door of his cell from Reading Jail which has been housed at the Galleries of Justice for several years, as well as the dock from the old Bow Street magistrate’s court behind which Wilde stood when charged with gross indecency. This is the same dock behind which Sir Roger Casement stood when accused of treason.

One more physical link to Oscar Wilde is his grandson and biographer Merlin Holland who is a patron of the Galleries of Justice and has visited several times.

In 1902 a man called John Wood was appointed as a court bailiff. His son was Karl Wood (1988-1958), one of the thousands of men who were convicted of homosexual offences before the Sexual Offences Act came into force in 1967. Just 4 weeks ago a pardon was granted to all of them and Karl was pardoned posthumously along with Oscar Wilde. For a decade Karl actually lived 100 meters away from the Galleries of Justice before he volunteered for service in World War I.

Karl Wood’s trial was held in Lincoln because he was living in Lincolnshire at that time, but Nottingham has seen more than its fair share of prosecutions against local gay men.

In 1910 two men were charged with gross indecency at the Nottingham assizes held at the old Shire Hall. One was a local navvy (a general manual labourer) and the other was a 20-year-old Music Hall entertainer who went by the stage name of Mysterious Mabel. Fortunately, it took the jury an hour and a half to find them both not guilty.

Not so fortunate were a group of men who were convicted en masse in the largest group prosecution ever held in the England for gross indecency. A total of 23 men pleaded guilty in court on 21st November 1963. Sentences ranged from 3 years in prison to 1 year’s probation. The men were all visitors to a house in a local town in which regular gay parties were held. The men’s ages ranged from an un-named 16-year-old to a retired 70-year-old. One of those convicted was a cousin of my ex-partner.
The Galleries of Justice in Nottingham.
On a more pleasant note the Galleries of Justice is staffed by a group of people who are enthusiastic about revealing the hidden history behind England’s court system. One of the current employees, Rebecca Buck, is also a successful novelist and has used the Galleries of Justice as a setting.

Rebecca’s novels are historically-based romantic lesbian novels, generally set in the period of Jane Austen and the Brontes. One novel called “The Locket and the Flintlock” is set in my own old stomping ground of North Nottinghamshire and involves the love story of a young noblewoman and a masked highwayman who turns out to be a woman (another personal link here, in the research into my above-mentioned ex-partner’s family tree I discovered he had an ancestral uncle who was hanged as a highwayman just a few short miles from where Rebecca’s novel is set, and during the same period).

As parts of the Galleries of Justice close down for the transformation into the National Justice Museum we commemorate the building’s place in lgbt history and celebrate in the pardon granted to all those men who stood in the dock accused of nothing more than being themselves.

Friday, 24 February 2017

a-MAZE-ing

One of the new display panels I was producing for this month’s LGBT History Month in Nottingham was a fun puzzle. I wasn’t able to finish in time but it’s still something I’m working on for Nottinghamshire Pride in July. Until then, I thought you might like to see it (the people illustrated will be different in the finished panel but I think you get the general idea).

I’ve chosen 9 lgbt personalities and one fact about each of them which might not be generally known. The names and portraits of the personalities are placed alternately with the facts around a maze in a random order, making sure that they match through the maze. What the viewer has to do is to guess which personality matches the personality before following the track through the maze and see if they guessed correctly. I don’t expect anyone to know all the personalities or facts. It’s just a bit of fun.

Below is the maze. The letters represent the lgbt personalities and the numbers represent the facts. On the display I’ll have photos of the personalities and have everything printed in the squares, but for now I’ve put them below.

So, if you want to play along just start with the number or letter on the maze, and then try to guess to which letter or number the track through the maze finally takes you. See if you can guess all 9 correctly without cheating.

PERSONALITIES
A) Caitlin Kiernan (b.1964), palaeontologist, leading authority on mosasaur dinosaurs.

B) Carl Austin (b.1972), Mr Gay Manchester 2001, Mr Gay UK 2001.

C) Nikolas Lemos (b.1971), lgbt campaigner who dresses up as the Statue of Liberty in Pride parades.

D) Cyrus Cassells III (b.1957), poet, Professor of English at Texas State University.

E) Linda Hunt (b.1945), actor.

F) Chris Dickerson (b.1939), multi-champion and record-breaking bodybuilder.

G) Sally Ride (1951-2012), the first American woman in space.

H) Spencer Bergstedt (b.1963), American lawyer activist.

I) George Takei (b.1937), actor, star of the original Star Trek television series.
 

FACTS
1) The youngest of identical triplets.

2) Nationally ranked junior tennis player coached by an ex-Wimbledon champion.

3) Won the International Ms Leather (not Mr Leather) title in 1994.

4) Has won 4 International Horror Guild Awards for best horror novel.

5) Creator of trace DNA techniques in forensic crime detection.

6) Lord Mayor of Manchester 2016-17.

7) A direct descendant of President Thomas Jefferson and a black slave.

8) The first actor of win an Oscar for playing a character of the opposite sex.

9) Won a gold medal at the 1996 Gay Games in athletics.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Xtremely Queer : Tri-ing To Be Last

I was riveted to the Olympic triathlon last year as two fellow Yorkshiremen, the Brownlee brother, swam, cycled and ran to earn their places on the medal podium, and equally riveted to the first ever Paralympic triathlon in which fellow gay Brit David Hill competed.

Thinking back to my childhood it seemed that the marathon was the ultimate in extreme sports. These days millions of people run marathons, some even running more than one in a week. The idea that the marathon, as exemplified in the very first one in Ancient Greece in which the runner died, was the ultimate in human endeavour has long since been surpassed.

Triathlon was the immediate extreme successor to the marathon. Again, today there are thousands of people who ware regular triathletes. One of the pioneers of women’s marathon and triathlon is Sally Edwards (b.1947).

Sally was born in Florida. She has 3 older brothers. Coming from a large family myself (I have 5 siblings) I know how a competitive streak can develop early in life. After graduating from the University of California Berkeley with degrees in physical education and exercise physiology Sally served in the American Red Cross before taking up teaching.

In 1976 Sally founded her first business, Fleet Foot Sports, with her then partner Elizabeth James. Starting from one store in Sacramento Fleet Foot, which sold specialist sports footwear, had expanded to 40 stores across the US by the time they sold the business in 1993.

By this time Sally was an experienced marathon runner. Her first triathlon was in 1980 during the early years of the sport. In fact, in 1980 the current format hadn’t been established. Today the order of triathlon is swim, cycle, run. In 1980 it was the other way round. Sally didn’t finish her first triathlon. Many of those early triathletes found that the final swim led to difficulties in the water and even hypothermia in some cases, like Sally’s. The order was reversed to prevent the probability of triathletes drowning in the final stage.

Also in 1980 Sally competed in the Western States Endeavour Run, a gruelling 100 mile run, which she won in a time of just over 22 hours. The next year she finished in an even faster time, though in second place. During the 1980s Sally continued to compete in marathon, triathlon and Ironman events. She has competed in 16 Ironman triathlons.

In 1982 she co-founded the Sacramento Long Distance Running Association which now attracts over 8,000 runners to its annual marathon.

In 1984 Sally became one of the pioneers of women’s Olympic marathon. The Olympic Games in Los Angeles were the first to feature women’s marathon and Sally was selected for the US trials though she didn’t reach the required time for selection to the Olympic team.

However, Sally’s successes in triathlon continued. In 1989 she was approached by the sportswear company Danskin with the offer to become their figurehead for a brand new women-only triathlon series, the first of these being held in 1990. There were very few female triathletes at the time and they often competed alongside the men.

Sally had by now also started to become an established writer. To date she has written 24 books on triathlon, health and fitness. No doubt these books (the first one published in 1982) and her role with Danskin helped to inspire thousands of women to take up triathlon. During the Danskin triathlon’s 20th anniversary in 2009 it was announced that over 23,000 women had registered to compete that year.

One aspect of triathlon which Sally feels is very important is to make women feel they can complete the gruelling event and not be afraid of finishing last. To this end Sally decided that the best encouragement she can give is to be the last finisher herself, so that no other woman can be. It’s ironic that Sally, one of the pioneers and early record-holders in women’s triathlon should now have the record for finishing last in more triathlons than anyone else.

The number of marathons, triathlons and long-distance running events Sally Edwards has compete in runs into the hundreds. She was recognised by the organisers of the sport by being inducted into several triathlon Halls of Fame, including the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sally continues to inspire athletes with guest lectures and talks, and her most recent business venture involving using technology in school sports and fitness classes.

Even though Sally Edwards hits her 70th birthday later this year she shows no sign of slowing down. Her energy has kept her going and in my calculations are right she has swum, cycled and run the equivalent of the whole of the equator. If that’s not extreme I don’t know what is!

Friday, 17 February 2017

A New Flag Rises

Throughout history campaigners and fighters for human rights have used flags to rally their supporters. As we in the UK are celebrating LGBT History Month the USA is celebrating Black History Month. The black civil rights movement was the largest of those which emerged in the second half of the last century. Yet, like the lgbt community, there is still sections of society which need improvement to eliminate prejudice.

Last summer a new flag emerged which, it is hoped, will come to be a familiar symbol of pride for the black lgbt community. It was unveiled for the first time on 14th August 2016 during the Montréal Pride parade. Below is a photo of the flag being waved at the head of the parade.
Jonathan Lamothe, one of several members of Arc-en-ciel d’Afrique who carried the new flag at the head of Montreal’s Pride parade on 14th August 2016 (photo from Arc-en-ciel d’Agrique Facebook page)
Flags were a main feature of last year’s Montréal Pride. The theme for the parade was “Our Flag, Our Nature”. The Quebec-based organisation which supports the black lgbt community in the province, Arc-en-ciel d’Afrique, was invited to lead the parade. It was an excellent opportunity to highlight the challenges of prejudice and racism which the community faces.

As an enthusiastic vexillologist (flag-lover) I was particularly pleased with this design. Far too many lgbt community and diversity flags follow the striped format and look too similar. There are not enough flags that are distinctive. Another positive element I like in the new flag is its clear symbolism. The design speaks for itself and needs little explanation as all the elements are already well-known and recognised. The black background, the pink triangle, the clenched fist and the rainbow colours all derive from some form of activism or protest.

The black background became an “official” symbol of black African identity in 1921 when it was defined in the Universal Negro Catechism. This was published by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), one of the earliest black rights movements in the USA. The UNIA had adopted a flag of red, black and green horizontal stripes in 1920 which was created as a protest against racist attitudes in America at that time. I loath to repeat derogatory words, but as Marcus Garvey, the great black rights leader, said himself, “In song and mimicry they have said, ‘Every race has a flag but the coon’ … They can’t say it now …”. The flag became known as the Pan-African flag, and its colours have been incorporated into many flags of African nations and states ever since.

The pink triangle, as we all should know, has its origins in Nazi Germany. Its history and use within the lgbt community began in Germany itself when it was used as a symbol of activism by the gay liberation group Homosexualle Aktion Westberlin in the early 1970s. Since the creation of the Rainbow Pride flag the pink triangle has gradually declined in use in the community though, just as in this new flag, it still appears from time to time.

The Rainbow Pride flag, the flag of 6 stripes which we recognise today, was an adaptation of the original 8 striped version which first appeared at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade on 25th June 1978. The 6 striped version came about due to the practicality of production as much as protest. When San Francisco’s Harvey Milk was assassinated a few months after the Gay Freedom Day parade he was the first openly gay man who has been elected to office in the USA. Many San Franciscans wanted to show their protest against the deliberate homophobic murder by waving copies of the 8-striped flag, a giant version of which Milk had stood in front of on Gay Freedom Day. Some of the dyes used in the original flag were hand-mixed by its creator, Gilbert Baker, and demand was so great that he had to provide commercially available 6-striped flags instead. Those 6 colours have appeared in thousands of lgbt flags and logos ever since.

The clenched fist may be one of the oldest symbols of protest in existence. It appears in ancient statues, though it may be more symbolic of power rather then protest. Our modern interpretation dates back to a hundred years ago and the Industrial Workers of the World, an American left-wing worker’s union formed in 1905. They used a clenched fist on a campaign illustration. From then on the fist came to be identified with political militancy, and from there it became a general symbol of defiance and the fight for the rights of various communities. As a symbol of gender rights it was used extensively by the feminist movement in combination with the female gender symbol. Perhaps the most well-known use of the fist was during the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games when John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the gold and bronze medallist in the 200 meters, raised their gloved fists during the medal ceremony. This sign of protest had been used by the Black Panther Party and had become closely associated with the black civil rights movement.
All of these four elements came together last year in the distinctive new flag for the black lgbt community. I look forward to seeing the new flag flying at Pride events in the near future.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Flower Power : The Petals of Death

Horror and crime fiction have come up with some extraordinarily imaginative means of killing people but perhaps more have been as fragrant as being killed by rose petals. More accurately, millions of rose petals.

One of my favourite paintings, even though it looks very “chocolate box” in appearance, actually depicts the deaths of a group of unsuspecting guests at a party in which the host looks on.

The painting, shown below, is called “The Roses of Heliogabalus” and was painted by Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema in 1888. Heliogabalus, also called Elagabalus, was the teenaged Emperor of Rome who was the hereditary high priest who worshipped a meteorite.
The party depicted in the painting may not even have occurred. It could easily be a story made up to add extra atrocities to the list which Elagabalus is said to have perpetrated. Alma-Tadema based his painting on one specific reference in “Historiae Augustae”, a pseudo-history of Roman emperors probably written in the 4th century some 200 years after Elagabalus’s assassination. Most of “Historiae Augustae” is full of fanciful elaboration, but it was perfect material for Victorian artists.

Let’s have a closer look at the painting and the story it depicts.

The setting is the banqueting hall of the imperial palace. The teenage Emperor Elagabalus is hosting a party. Dressed in a flowing gold robe he lounges at the banqueting table with his companions, probably including the man he married (being a high priest Elagabalus could perform marriages with anyone he wished), his former chariot driver Hierocles. Undoubtedly present also was the emperor’s mother and grandmother, the powers behind the throne.

To symbolise the debauchery of the banquet Alma-Tadema paints a statue of the god Dionysus standing high in the background. Dionysus stands with his arm on the shoulder of his young boy-lover Ampelos, the personification of the grape vine (as featured in my “Star-Gayzing” article on the constellation Virgo).

As Elagabalus watches his guests below he signals for the false ceiling in the banquet hall to be opened, releasing millions of fragrant rose petals. As the petals flutter down the drunken guests gasp in wonder and pleasure. But these gasps turn to gasps for breath as the petals keep pouring and pouring down upon them.

The painting shows the early stages of the petal shower as the guests seen oblivious to their fate. Perhaps too drunk to move some guests find they cannot move under the growing weight of the petals until, eventually, they succumb to this shower of death.

The pseudo-historical account in the “Historiae Augustae” refers to “violets and other flowers” rather than rose petals. Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema chose roses which had a strong romantic symbolism which masks the hidden danger. He had thousands of roses shipped in from the continent especially for the purposes of preparing for this painting.

In many ways this painting illustrates both Elagabalus and Victorian England. They both are pleasant to look at but look closer and you find some very dark elements lurking behind the façade.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Queer Trace of Forensics

I love all those television programmes about forensic science, both factual and fiction, and so do millions of others. These days there are dozens of crime dramas and true crime series which deal with forensic detection.

Even though DNA testing has been around in crime detection since the early 1990s there is one particular technique developed by a gay forensic scientist which provides more plot twists than any other – trace DNA evidence.

We take it for granted these days that people leave microscopic traces of their DNA on objects they touch. That wasn’t always the case. At the end of the last century that gay scientist I mentioned, with the City of London Police and a Home Office agency, worked to create a means of obtaining DNA from microscopic trace, or touch, evidence obtained from hard surfaces.

The whole project was the brainchild of Dr. Nikolas Lemos (b.1971), a Greek-born forensic scientist who was until last year the Chief Forensic Toxicologist in San Francisco. By his own admission he was “the first ever openly gay chief forensic toxicologist in the world.”

In 1999 he was Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at South Bank University in Greater London. In London at that time there had been a lot of computer thefts from some of the major financial institutions in the City. Millions of pounds-worth of equipment was stolen and police had difficulty finding the thieves.

Scientists had been using DNA found in dandruff, hair follicles and fingerprints as evidence in cases for several years. But what if there is no dandruff, hair or fingerprint? It was widely accepted that traces of DNA could be left behind on objects just by touch. But the technology to obtain DNA from evidence invisible to the naked eye wasn’t advanced enough. Nikolas Lemos believed you could obtain adequate samples if the DNA was put through a process of amplification (or duplication of DNA sequences) to provide one large enough to generate a profile. In standard DNA testing a sample of between 50 and 100 cells were needed to produce an adequate profile. The new technique developed by Nikolas Lemos at South Bank University, the City of London Police and the Forensic Science Service of the Home Office only needed 5 cells and is called LCN (low copy number) analysis.

It should be stressed that fictional crime dramas use over-simplification when featuring such techniques. In reality trace DNA identification by LCN is not without controversy. The technique is also not yet as widespread as crime dramas might suggest.
Despite its critics the LCN technique was adopted by the UK and has been used to provide DNA evidence in over 21,000 trials. Unfortunately, there have been some miscarriages of justice (as there can be if based on any other type of evidence) based on the LCN DNA used in some cases. Consequently, a review of the technique was conducted by the Crown Prosecution Service in 2007 during which time the technique was suspended for a couple of months. The review found that it was “fit for purpose” and reinstated.

More recently an American judge refused to accept LCN DNA evidence because he didn’t believe the technique had gained enough acceptance among the US scientific community.

By that time Dr. Nikolas Lemos had left the UK and had been Chief Forensic Toxicologist at San Francisco’ Medical Examiner’s office for several years. His work had always involved general forensic toxicology and the LCN DNA detection is just one part of Nikolas’s ground-breaking work.

Other high-profile work he had become involved with while in San Francisco was the study of the toxic effects of cannabis, and the toxicology report on the death of Whitney Houston.

In 2005 Nikolas received a Proclamation of Achievement for his “prestigious involvement in crime detection” from the United States Congress.

As an openly gay man Nikolas had campaigned for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, even going so far as to dress up as the Statue of Liberty and stand on the steps of San Francisco’s city hall. In 2013 he was nominated as a Grand Marshal of San Francisco Pride. Even though he wasn’t selected he again donned his Statue of Liberty costume to take part in the parade.

Dr. Nikolas Lemos left San Francisco’s ME office last year leaving a substantial contribution to crime detection and investigative techniques. Even though the LCN DNA technique he developed is not yet universally used it is a breakthrough that can only improve as science and technology advances.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Vote! Vote! Vote!

At the start of this year’s 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which partly decriminalised homosexual activity in the UK there were 34 openly MPs in the UK’s House of Commons. This is the largest group of elected representatives sitting concurrently in any national parliament. This record was discussed in my previous article which followed the 2015 General Election when 32 lgbt MPs were elected.

The best resource available online which records and chronicles the current state of lgbt parliamentarians around the world is the LGBT Representation and Rights Researches Initiative at the University of North Carolina. If you’re interested in the subject you can look at their Facebook page which gives a continual update on world elections in which lgbt candidates are standing.

The Research Initiative begins its statistics with the 1970s. The first listed out MP, Coos Huisjan, was openly gay when he was elected to the Dutch parliament in 1976. It is certain that there were some lgbt people already elected to parliament who were not publicly open about their sexuality before this date.

During the period between the establishment of the Wolfenden Committee in 1955 and the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 there were several gay members of the UK parliament whose sexuality have since become known to us. Three of these had particularly colourful personalities and were semi-open about their sexuality in as much as it was an open secret in parliament and the press but not widely known by the public.

Robert Boothby (1900-1986) was a Conservative MP between 1923 and 1958. He was one of the first to call for the reform of homosexuality laws. He was also an advocate of the UK joining what is now called the European Union, ironic now that the Conservative Party are leading our departure.

Boothby was also a broadcaster on radio and television and appeared regularly in the society columns. It was his connection to influential media moguls that helped to keep his bisexuality out of the press, though his involvement with the notorious Kray Twins, Britain’s biggest crime gang leaders (one of whom was gay), caused a stir when revealed in the 1960s. At the same time the most sordid details of the parties they held were deemed too sensational for publication.

By the 1960s Boothby had left the House of Commons after being created a peer in 1958. In the House of Lords he continued to advocate for the change in homosexuality laws, and he voted in favour of the Sexual Offences Act at both readings in the Lords.

A close friend of Boothby’s, although on the opposite political side of the House of Commons, was Labour MP Tom Driberg (1905-1976). He, too, voted in favour of the Sexual Offences Act and was openly gay within the corridors of parliament but more discreet in public. Like Boothby, Driberg was an associate of the Kray Twins and had enough influential friends in the press, just like Boothby, to keep it out of the public eye.

Driberg’s public reputation lies in his left-wing politics and as a well-known newspaper columnist. Ill health led to his departure from the Commons but he was soon elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Bradwell.

From these two examples of pre-1967 lgbt MPs it might appear that it was common for such MPs to be associated with criminals and use their position in parliament to avoid prosecution. Being gay wasn’t illegal, gay sexual activity was, and it was only proof of sexual contact that was the whole point behind the pre-1967 laws.

We should not forget also that as well as the House of Commons there is “the other place”, as it is referred to by MPs, the House of Lords. There were a few lgbt peers who were as much responsible for the success of the Sexual Offences Act.

Perhaps the most colourful of those Lords was Gavin Henderson, 2nd Baron Faringdon (1902-1977). He inherited his title from his grandfather in 1934. He was a pacifist and conscientious objector and worked at various times with the London Fire Brigade and in a field hospital during the Spanish Civil War. Although not elected to parliament Faringdon was elected to the then London County Council (as a member of the Labour Party, mainly to shock his family rather than out of political belief).

Lord Faringdon was noted for his effeminate personality, once described as a “roaring pansy”. He is reported to have begun a speech in the House of Lords with the words “My dears” rather than the customary “My lords”. He, like his friends Boothby and Driberg, was open about his sexuality among family and parliament. His family forced him into marrying, though he spent his actual wedding night with a sailor. Not surprisingly, the marriage only lasted four weeks!

When the Sexual Offences Act was going through the House of Lords Faringdon, like Boothby, voted in its favour.

With the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act this year we can celebrate the fact that the often forgotten semi-openly gay MPs and lords mentioned today, and others who weren’t, helped to start the road to acceptance and equality under the law.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Queer Archaeology Rocks!

In celebration of this year’s World Diggers Day I’d like to feature a gay archaeologist who has played a significant role in the interpretation of one of the most enigmatic of archaeological topics – prehistoric rock art – and who pioneered the science of Queer Archaeology. His name is Thomas Dowson.

You may be familiar with images of the cave paintings at Lascaux in France of the rock art of the aboriginal Australians at Uluru. Cave paintings exist all around the world. There was a time when archaeologists couldn’t believe that there was any connection between them across the continents, but Thomas Dowson formed a theory which suggested they were – and he used South African rock art to illustrate it.

Thomas Dowson was born in pre-independence Zimbabwe. On the farm where he lived there were old paintings on rock outcrops which were to influence his decision to switch from geology to archaeology at university.

During the 1980 and 1990s he worked closely with David Lewis-Williams, one of the world’s leading experts on rock art. Together they studied the rock art of South Africa and the San people in particular. Up until then archaeologists only had vague ideas of how rock art fits into a society’s narrative history. Very few paintings would be dated and could have been painted between hundreds or thousands of years ago, so they were virtually ignored. Thomas Dowson showed that they were more important than most archaeologists had thought.

What Thomas was to claim was that much of the rock art was produced and influenced by shamanistic experiences and trances. When seen in this context many previously unexplained and enigmatic images in cave paintings become more understandable, such as human-like images with strange heads which could easily be portrayals of the shamans themselves wearing masks. Quite often the paintings would have been made by the shamans themselves during or immediately after their trances.

This theory didn’t go down well with the archaeological establishment. However, other archaeologists were coming round to a similar theory about other cave paintings on other continents. While there may still be some debate over individual examples the concept of shamanistic rock art has become an established part of scientific research.

And we have Thomas Dowson to thank for that, because he was instrumental in establishing the field of rock art studies in its own right. He co-wrote several leading books on the subject and came to the attention of the University of Southampton in the UK. They invited him to establish the world’s first postgraduate degree course on rock art.

The other academic discipline Thomas pioneered was Queer Archaeology. As an openly gay man he experienced homophobia and followed the emerging discipline of Queer Theory.

Queer Archaeology is very much a subject of the 21st century. It was in the October 2000 edition of “World Archaeology”, the world’s leading academic journal on the subject, that Thomas Dowson proposed and set out the concept of Queer Archaeology. That 2000 edition broke new ground. Queer studies had hitherto been more associated with the social and political sciences. Thomas had felt that archaeology should not be excluded from queer interpretations.

As with many other scientific subjects archaeology was dominated by male heterosexual thought. It was with some trepidation that Thomas approached the editorial board of “World Archaeology” and suggested an issue devoted entirely to Queer Archaeology. In a later interview he admitted that he was so nervous that he could barely speak and a colleague had to finish giving his ideas to the board. To his relief (and probable astonishment) his idea was accepted and he was appointed editor of the October 2000 edition.
Since that issue was published many other archaeologists have been looking at queer interpretations of some sites and artefacts. My short series of articles on archaeology in my “Ology of the Month” in April 2013 give some examples.
 
As far as Thomas Dowson is concerned he has set the ball rolling and has let others develop his concept of Queer Archaeology. He laid out the initial concept and can be claimed as its founding father.