Thursday, 22 June 2017

Death in the Low Countries

As we in the UK approach next month’s 50th anniversary of the partial discrimination of male homosexuality it is easy to forget that in other countries female homosexuality was a crime as well. Ever since King Henry VIII forced through the 1533 Buggery Act there has been no official condemnation of lesbian activity in England and Wales. The same cannot be said of other nations during the same period.

There have been a number of academic studies of female sexuality and court cases involving accusations of lesbianism in recent years. Unfortunately, there is less detailed information of many of these cases because of different attitudes towards female sexuality generally over time and across Europe. Records also show a wide variety of punishments given to convicted female sodomites, as lesbians are referred to in these records.

Many studies centre on the late medieval and early modern period, roughly corresponding to the early years of the Reformation and the expansion of Protestantism. Before we go further it should be pointed out that the laws and punishments were given out by the civil authorities not the church, either Catholic or Protestant. As with today’s legislation it is the politicians not the clergy that make laws. That’s not to say that the church had no influence, but there is little if no evidence that the Church punished male or female sodomy during the period we are looking at. If they were it was because they were found guilty of heresy not sodomy. Their power to punish was gradually removed by the civil authorities until they were banned.

Medieval Catholic prelates and philosophers had always written about same-sex activity but had concentrated on what men do. Relatively little was written about what women do. This is partly to do with the medieval attitude to women in general. The world was much more male-dominated than we think it is today. Sex was considered as an action a man has with a woman or another man. It was a phallocentric world where women were the objects of sexual activity, on the receiving end of sex. After all, medieval men reasoned, women didn’t have the necessary physical appendage for sex!

What is remarkable, however, is that some medieval writers mention the existence of what we would now term intersex females, though these writers seem to regard these as belonging to “foreign” or “exotic” nations, not European.

Although such religious luminaries as St. Paul, the Venerable Bede and St. Thomas Aquinas included female same-sex activity in their definitions of sodomy there were few actual laws against it, unlike male sodomy. It was, however, covered quite comprehensively in the rules of female enclosed religious orders – convents, nunneries, and so on. In the 13th century several Catholic Councils issued some principals that were intended to prevent female same-sex activities in these orders. These principals included prohibiting nuns from sharing beds, not visiting each other’s cells at night, and having lamps lit throughout the night in dormitories. The only punishments seems to have been penance before the altar. For women outside religious communities the civic authorities imposed harsher punishment.

In places like Orléans (France), Treviso (Venetian Republic) and Bamberg (Germany) laws against female sodomy were passed. In Portugal from 1499 and the Holy Roman Empire from 1532 female sodomy was punishable by death. Among the very few women recorded to have been executed for same-sex activity were Katherina Hetfeldorfer in Speyer (a Free Imperial City) in 1477, and Françoise Morel in Geneva in 1568.

The area of present Benelux, the Low Countries, was the most vigorous in arresting and punishing sodomites of all genders during the 15th and 16th centuries. Almost 300 people were tried in the civil courts of which 25 were women. Of those 25 women 15 were executed. In several cities as many as 5 or 6 women were executed on the same day.

One explanation put forward as to why the medieval Low Countries were so keen to punish sodomites was the relative freedom its female citizens enjoyed compared to the rest of Europe. Women had access to the same education as men, and the same employment opportunities. Many women joined trade guilds and had independent incomes. As a result they had no need to find a husband in their teenage years to provide stability. They could marry later, in their 20s, and in the Low Countries many women did just that. This meant there were fewer women available for young men to marry, and fewer opportunities for sex. What else could either gender do but be celibate into their 20s or have situational sex with someone of their own gender? It’s an interesting theory.

The case of medieval Low Countries is an exception in the history of the persecution of female same-sex activity. The idea that women “don’t do that sort of thing” prevailed until well into the early 20th century. People often say that lgbt heritage is hidden history. The records of lesbians and female same-sex attraction is even more so and those studies looking at the court cases of medieval women helps to bring them into the open.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Xtremely Queer : Climb Every Mountain - Part 2

In April I wrote about a handful of gay climbers from the early pioneering days of modern mountaineering in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today I’ll continue with another handful who began their climbing career before World War II.

The first climber today was among the first female mountaineers, Freda du Faur (1882-1935). She was the subject of my first “Xtremely Queer” article back in 2015 so I’ll direct you there rather than repeat myself.

The next climber, George Mallory (1886-1924), is one of the more well-known mountaineers. Mallory’s sexuality has been debated for several decades. The supporting evidence comes from letters written during his time at Cambridge University. He was closely associated with the group of artistic and literary students who were later called the Bloomsbury Group. The majority of these students were gay, lesbian or bisexual. George Mallory knew all of them and joined in their out of class socialising. His good looks and athletic physique drew the attention of many male and female admirers, particularly as he was not averse to taking all his clothes off in front of his friends. Mallory writes in his letters about being infatuated with fellow student James Strachey who was far more interested in pursuing Rupert Brooke to return his affection.

Throughout his life Mallory exhibited homoerotic sensibilities – he posed nude for photographs as well as appeared naked in front of male friends. Though he married and had children and was a perfect husband and father he probably felt that his first love was the mountains. It was a bug that had hit him in 1904 when studying at Winchester College. A climbing mentor was Geoffrey Winthrop Young whom I mentioned in my previous mountaineering article.

It was Mount Everest for which George Mallory’s name will always be most associated. Several reconnaissance climbs and summit attempts over several years culminated in the ill-fated 1924 expedition on which he and climbing partner Andrew Irvine died. No-one knows for sure if they made it to the summit and perished on the way down, or perished before they got there.

Another Everest mountaineer was Wilfrid Noyce (1917-1962). Several connections link Noyce and Mallory. Both were protégés of Geoffrey Winthrop Young, both taught at Charterhouse School, both climbed Everest and both were married. While there is no conclusive evidence of homosexuality one way or the other for either men they both enjoyed the company of gay and lesbian members of the Bloomsbury Group and also enjoyed the homoerotic naked swimming parties with some of the male Bloomsbury members hosted by Young at his Welsh mountain retreat.

Wilfrid Noyce was a member of the historic successful first summit of Everest in 1953. Noyce was responsible for the equipment, some of which were, no doubt, pioneered by Oscar Echenstein and his occultist friend Aleister Crowley, as I mentioned last time. Noyce stayed on South Col while Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing summited. Bad weather set in as they arrived back at South Col and Noyce’s own planned summit attempt was abandoned.

One final tragic link between Noyce and Mallory is that they both died on mountaineering expeditions. After Everest Noyce continued to climb. In 1962, after reaching the summit of Mount Garmo in the Pamir Mountains in present-day Tajikistan Noyce and his companion Robin Smith slipped on the ice on the descent and they fell to their deaths.

The final climber in this succession of lgbt mountaineers is John Menlove Edwards (1910-1958). His climbing career was predominantly on British peaks. Nevertheless, he is regarded by many as the finest British climber of the pre-World War II era, or at least the finest climber of British mountains. He pioneered many new routes up peaks and often went for those that other climbers avoided as being just plain “uninteresting” yet still quite challenging.

Edwards’ first successes and new routes were in Snowdonia in Wales when he was barely into his 20s. His physical strength gave him an advantage and he quickly became the rising star of British climbing. Despite this he always seemed to be uncertain of his own abilities and was rather introverted. Very few climbers ever accompanied him on his climbs, and these included Wilfrid Noyce on several occasions. Edwards’ self doubt was exacerbated by his recognition of his homosexuality. As a qualified psychiatrist he must have queried his motives to push himself to the limit as a means of tackling his sexual feelings.

Although he was no fan of the most extreme Alpine or Himalayan mountaineering he pushed himself to the limit in other ways besides tackling new and difficult British ascents. Several times he set off in a boat and rowed from the mainland to uninhabited off-shore islands, the most distant of these taking a day to row there before taking another day to row back.

In his 40s John Menlove Edwards became more mentally afflicted. He underwent electric shock treatment in a mental hospital and made two suicide attempts. It was a third attempt that took him from our world.

The sad fate of John Menlove Edwards and the losses of Mallory and Noyce on the mountains are exceptions rather than the norm in mountaineering. Throughout the history of modern mountaineering, from the later Victorian era onwards, many lgbt climbers have taken up the challenge to push themselves to the extreme. Even though many of them were not openly gay or lesbian, or left no conclusive proof that they were, they have provided inspiration to many lgbt mountaineers to push themselves to the limit in the 21st century.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

An Independent Campaign

Among the many on-going campaigns in the lgbt community is that of the recognition of same-sex marriage. It’s a campaign that is gradually being won nation by nation, territory by territory.

It is a campaign for same-sex marriage which gave birth to the world’s first “independent” lgbt nation, the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, on this very day in 2004.

More accurately it is designated a micro-nation, the name given to any region (specifically one with a very small land mass) which declares itself independent from the nation to which it formerly belonged. It establishes its own constitution and form of government. These micro-nations are not officially recognised by their former national governments or by international consensus. It seems that official recognition can only be legal if there is a formal diplomatic presence, such as an embassy, consul or government representative, from a foreign sovereign state in the micro-nation’s territory.

Various reasons are given for the founding of a micro-nation. Generally these reasons are political and revolve around a specific issue, such as that of same-sex marriage and the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands. But it is not unknown for someone to declare their bedroom independent and operate as an online nation and still be listed as a micro-nation. There’s even an international organisation of micro-nations.

The Gay and Lesbian Kingdom was founded in response to the Australian government’s Marriage Amendment Act introduced on 27th May 2004. This Act gave the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. The lgbt community in Australia campaigned hard to get politicians to vote against this definition. When it looked likely that their campaign would have no effect some members of the community decided on a more unusual method of campaign.

But it was not just about marriage rights. There was the wider concern of partnership rights generally. Hospital visiting, inheritance, adoption and other issues that depend on “next of kin” rights were denied to lgbt couples because their same-sex partnerships were not recognised by law. This included the rights of those who were legally married in other countries because their marriages were not recognised by the Australian government.

There is a part of the United Nations charter which states that any oppressed group of people who inhabit an external territory of a nation has the right to self-government and independence. What those activists decided to do was set up their own independent nation of gay inhabitants.

So how did these activists establish a new nation? First of all, international law requires an actual physical geographical location. With precedents established by previous Australian overseas territories such as Papua New Guinea, the activists chose the Coral Sea Islands Territory as their new nation. They then formed a Board of Administration and elected a leader, Dale Parker Anderson (b.1965). His own ancestral connection to the territory is explained here.

But it wasn’t Dale’s descent from English royalty that made him decide to become an emperor. It was because of an old Australian law which says that it is treason to stop a de facto prince from claiming his throne, in this case the Coral Sea Islands Territory. Emperor Dale had been democratically elected leader who had declared himself a sovereign prince with the title of emperor (as Napoleon Bonaparte had done several centuries earlier n France). If Emperor Dale had been a President of the Gay and Lesbian Republic of the Coral Sea Islands the Australian government could charge him and his citizens with treason.

When the Australian government seemed to dismiss their claims of independence the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom declared war on Australia on 13th September 2004.

The Coral Sea Islands are a number of small islands and coral reefs which cover over 780,000 square kilometres off the east coast of Australia. None of the islands were inhabited except for a weather station. The largest island, Cato Island, was chosen as the main settlement for the new inhabitants. It was on that island that the national flag, the Rainbow Pride flag was raised on 14th June 2004.

The following YouTube video gives a good all-round explanation of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom.
In the years since his kingdom was established Emperor Dale has relinquished his duties as sovereign. Whether than means he has abdicated or not is debatable! The kingdom’s online presence remains. It has a Facebook page, and its website is part of the Equality Campaign, a continuing campaign for same-sex marriage conducted jointly by Australian Marriage Equality and Australians For Equality.

The question in my mind is what will happen when same-sex marriage is granted? Will the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands join Yugoslavia and Sikkim in the pages of history? Will it revoke its independence and declaration of war on Australia by hosting a huge celebratory party (in Brisbane, I hope, as there’s not really enough room on the islands themselves!)?

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Heraldic Alphabet 2017

Well, it’s that day again – International Heraldry Day. Once again I’m bringing you the coats of arms of some members of our lgbt community. And, once again, it’s not a full alphabet because I still haven’t found any coats of arms for people whose surname begins with “X”. It has also been difficult finding appropriate arms for the letters Q, U and Z. But at least it leaves us with an even number.

This year’s list is the usual mixture of nationalities and periods. One regret is that I haven’t found any arms of transgender people this time. Hopefully I can make up for it next year.

The arms shown are also a mixture of personally granted arms, inherited family arms and arms of office, which I’ll indicate in the text below. This year I’ve chosen not to show the marital arms (i.e. arms of the husband) of married women.

Without any further ado here’s this year’s Heraldic Alphabet.

A) Clementina “Kit” Anstruther-Thomson (1857-1921): writer (inherited).
B) Lady Eve Balfour, OBE (1899-1990): agriculturalist (inherited).
C) Sir Roger Casement (1864-1910): Irish nationalist (inherited).
D) Mrs. Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828): sculptor (inherited).
E) Lius Escobar y Kirkpatrick, Marquess de Las Marismas (1905-1991): actor (inherited).
F) Judith Furse (1912-1974): actor (inherited).

G) Princess Vera Gedroitz (1876-1932): surgeon, poet (inherited).
H) Gerald Heard (1889-1971): writer and historian (inherited).
I) Colin Inglis (b.1957): Lord Mayor of Hull 2011-12 (arms of office, city of Hull).
J) Pope Julius II (1443-1513): (inherited, family of Della Rovere).
K) Count Diedrich von Keyserlingk (1689-1745): Prussian court chamberlain (inherited)
L) Charles W. Leadbeater (1854-1834): Presiding Bishop, Liberal Catholic Church (personal grant).

M) Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923): writer (inherited).
N) John Newman (1801-1890): Roman Catholic Cardinal (personal grant).
O) Connell Hill O’Donovan: Mormon historian (inherited).
P) Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494): philosopher (inherited).
R) Christine Root: Mayor of Horwich 2013-14 (arms of office, town of Horwich).
S) Francis Spellman (1889-1967): Cardinal Archbishop of New York (personal grant).

T) Patrick Trevor-Roper (1916-2004): activist and eye surgeon (inherited).
V) Sir George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628): statesman (inherited).
W) Dame Ethel Walker, DBE (1861-1951): artist (inherited)
Y) Geoffrey Winthrop Young (1878-1958): mountaineer (inherited).

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Will History Repeat Itself Tomorrow?

The UK goes to the voting booths in a general election again tomorrow only two years after the previous general election. At the 2015 election the UK voted in more openly lgbt politicians to a national parliament and government than any other country at any time. That number has increased by seven in the two years since. 

The following MPs have come out as lgbt since 2015, further consolidate the UK’s position.
            Hannah Bardell (Scottish National Party, SNP)
            Nick Gibb (Conservative)
            Justine Greening (Conservative)
            Nia Griffith (Labour)
            Mark Menzies (Conservative)
            David Mundell (Conservative)
            William Wragg (Conservative).
The illustration of Big Ben’s clock tower (left) was first used in my article “An Outing to Westminster” in 2015. Each square represents one elected Member of Parliament. The pink squares represent the openly lgbt MPs. I have updated it to include the seven more recent out MPs.
In 2015 there were 155 known openly lgbt candidates standing for election. Today there are 151. All of the 39 lgbt MPs who were elected in 2015 are standing for re-election tomorrow.
In 2015 there were four transgender candidates, none of whom were elected. This time there are seven.
Northern Ireland increases its lgbt candidates by 400%. That sounds great when written as a percentage, but only one lgbt candidate stood for election in 2015. Northern Ireland will also see a new party enter the lgbt political scene. The SDLP will field its first two openly gay candidates tomorrow.
The table below gives a visual comparison of the openly lgbt candidates from 2015 and 2017. One square represents one candidate. The section in the middle represents the candidates who were elected in 2015 and the seven MPs who came out since. Those seven candidates are represented with triangles.
The parties in the table are represented by the following letters:
CONS (Conservative)
LAB (Labour)
LIB DEM (Liberal Democrat)
SNP (Scottish National Party)
GRN (Green Party)
UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party)
PC (Plaid Cymru)
ALL (Alliance Party of Northern Ireland)
SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party).
Although there has been fewer incidents of openly homophobic campaigning amongst candidates this year there has been one notable lgbt candidate who pulled out of the election last moth. Jack Monroe, a prominent author and journalist who identifies as non-binary (there are two non-binary candidates still in the race for Westminster), withdrew because of death threats which caused great stress. Monroe was standing as a candidate for the National Health Action Party.
On a related election note, last Friday the Republic of Ireland joined Luxemburg in having an openly gay head of government, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who now joins a very exclusive group. Even though the UK leads the world on elected MPs there is no hint that there will be an openly lgbt Prime Minister in the foreseeable future.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Queen's Honourable Companions

On the same day that King George V created the Order of the British Empire (see the previous article) he created another honour which celebrates its centenary today. It’s an honour that is not as well known, is more exclusive and is given to some of the finest artists, scientists, politicians, actors and prominent people in the country. It is called the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH).

Like all UK honours, with the exception of the Knight Bachelor, the numbers of living Companions of Honour are restricted to a specific number. In this case to 65 living members (excluding even fewer honorary members). People who become a Companion of Honour don’t get a title but add the letters CH after their name.

Because there have been far fewer Companions of Honour than recipients of the Order of the British Empire it makes it easier for me to list all the lgbt members from its very creation. Generally speaking the appointments to the Order are made in the New Year and Sovereign’s Birthday Honours lists (January and June respectively), as all of the following have.

Vita Sackville-West
1 Jan 1948
E. M. Forster
1 Jan 1953
Benjamin Britten
1 Jun 1953
W. Somerset Maugham
10 Jun 1954
Sir Osbert Sitwell
12 Jun 1958
Alan Lennox-Boyd,
later 1st Viscount Boyd
MP, Secretary of State
for the Colonies 1954-9
1 Jan 1960
Sir Frederick Ashton
dancer and choreographer
14 Jun 1970
Sir Maurice Bowra
Classical scholar
1 Jan 1971
Sir John Gielgud
11 Jun 1977
Sir Michael Tippett
16 Jun 1979
Sir Alec Guinness
11 Jun 1994
A. L. Rowse
1 Jan 1997
David Hockney
14 Jun 1997
Peter Brook
theatre director
13 Jun 1998
Sir Howard Hodgkin
1 Jan 2003
Sir Ian McKellen
actor and activist
1 Jan 2008
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
composer and conductor
1 Jan 2013

As you can see from this list there are more lgbt Companions of Honour from the arts than any other profession. This is disproportionate to the composition of professions in the complete list. The complete list contains many more politicians and statesmen than any other group. The oldest member on the list is Peter Brook, who is also the 3rd oldest of all the current Companions.

The Companion who enjoyed the honour for the shortest period was Sir Maurice Bowra. He was appointed a CH in the New year Honours list of 1972 and died the following July. Historian A. L. Rowse was appointed CH in New Year 1997 and he died the following October.

Between 1960 and 1962 there were 6 living lgbt Companions of Honour, the first 6 listed above. Between 2013 and 2016 there were 5, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies being the last appointed of those 5, and the first to pass away.

At present there are only 53 Companions of Honour. Whether it will have the full component of members is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

It's An Honour

There may not be a British Empire any more, but twice a year it returns in the form of the New Year and Queen’s Birthday Honours lists. One of the most popular and well-known of all UK honours is the OBE, the Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Even though it bears an outdated imperial name it is among the honours that is given to more UK citizens than any other, and it celebrates its centenary on Sunday. Earlier this year I had a lesser celebration in an article on tartan at the palace.

The OBE is just one of several honours that belong to the order, in full the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. There are very few honours that are anticipated and criticised in equal measure.

I have a very good reason to celebrate the centenary because two close family members have been honoured. My uncle, a former Honorary Physician to the Queen, was awarded the OBE in 1993, and my cousin was awarded the MBE on his retirement from the diplomatic service in 1991.

There are several levels, or classes, in the Order and these are (in descending order):
GBE : Knight Grand Cross, and Dame Grand Cross
KBE and DBE : Knight Commander and Dame Commander
CBE : Commander
OBE : Officer
MBE : Member
BEM : British Empire Medal (not strictly part of the order but affiliated with it).

The origins of the Order of the British Empire are in World War I. Until then all honours and awards were predominantly for political, military or royal service. Ordinary British citizens had little chance of being honoured. King George V realised that many people were providing invaluable and brave service during the war. Awards were also to be made for community, charitable and humanitarian service. He created the Order of the British Empire as the “people’s honour” and it has remained so ever since.

There are two divisions of the Order, military and civil. The difference can be seen in the medal ribbon in that the military division has a white stripe down the middle. While it is not possible for a person to hold two medals in the same division (e.g. 2 OBEs in the civil division, or 1 CBE and an MBE in the civil division, or any other combination). There is no restriction on holding one in each division, as in the case of Sir Maurice Oldfield (whom I mentioned in my James Bond article in April). He was awarded a military MBE in 1946 for services to the Intelligence Corps, and in 1956 was awarded a civil CBE for his services to the Foreign Office.

People who are promoted in the Order, that is get another medal of a higher class, are expected to return the lower one. A good case to illustrate this is the newly knighted gay Paralympian Sir Lee Pearson. Like many others, especially in sport, he received an MBE and was awarded higher medals in later years. He received the MBE in 2001 for winning 3 gold medals at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, followed by promotion to OBE in 2005 for winning 3 more gold medals in Athens 2004, and a further promotion in 2009 for winning yet 3 more gold medals in Beijing 2008. Finally he was knighted this year after winning a total of 12 Paralympic gold medals and many more in his career so far.

You may be forgiven for thinking that men like Sir Lee Pearson are given the KBE or GBE. The vast majority of knights are Knights Bachelor, the lowest ranking of the 11 knighthoods in the UK. It actually ranks lower than all Dames and there is no female equivalent. This explains why Sir Lee, and other knights like Sir Elton John and Sir Ian McKellen, can still put CBE after their names.

This doesn’t mean that there are no lgbt GBEs or KBEs. Lord Boothby (mentioned in this article), Sir Philip Sassoon and Sir Anthony Sher are knights of the Order of the British Empire. Franco Zeffirelli was awarded and Honorary KBE in 2004.

Within a year of the Order of the British Empire being created there were lgbt recipients. The first was awarded to journalist and writer Hugh Walpole (1884-1941). He worked at the Department of Information at the Foreign Office and was awarded a CBE on 7th January 1918 (he later became a Knight Bachelor). Two days later Margaret Damer Dawson (1873-1920) and her partner Mary Sophia Allen (1878-1964) received OBEs for their pioneering service to the women’s police force.

There have been lgbt recipients in all classes of the Order of the British Empire. The above-mentioned Sir Philip Sassoon (1888-1939), a second-cousin of Siegfried Sassoon (they had the same great-grandfather), was awarded the GBE in 1922 for his work as Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Lloyd George. He is the first known lgbt recipient of a knighthood of the Order of the British Empire.

At the other end of the Order is the most recent lgbt recipient of the British Empire Medal, Gordon Aikman (1985-2017). He received the BEM in 2015 “for services to motor neurone disease awareness and research”. He was diagnosed with the disease while he was campaigning during the Scottish independence referendum (in favour of union). He turned to fundraising and campaigning for the disease and sadly succumbed to the illness on 2nd February this year.

A few other lgbt people have only been able to enjoy their honours for a short time. Dusty Springfield (1939-1999) received the OBE in the 1999 New Year Honours “for services to popular music”. She became too ill with cancer to attend her investiture at Buckingham Palace. A private ceremony was held at her bedside a few days beforehand and she died on the day her investiture was planned.

The oldest known lgbt recipient of an award in the Order was Lady Eve Balfour (1898-1990). At the age of 91 she received the OBE in the 1990 New Years Honours for services to. She died just 14 days later.

Several families, as well as my own, have had more than one recipient of an honour in the Order of the British Empire. Among the families with more than one lgbt recipient is the above mentioned Sassoon cousins, they were the first – Sir Philip (GBE 1922) and Siegfried (CBE 1951). A closer family connection comes with Sir Malcolm Bullock (MBE 1924) and his great-grand-daughter Clare Balding (OBE 2013). The closest family link comes with the first same-sex married Olympians, members of Great Britain’s Olympic hockey champions from Rio, Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh. Team captain Kate received the MBE in 2015. In this year’s New Years Honours list she was promoted to OBE while her wife Helen received the MBE.

There have been many lgbt recipients of honours who have been recognised specifically for their work in lgbt, gender or sexuality issues and charities. The first of these to be made with explicit reference in the official citation was Inspector Paul Cahill of the Metropolitan Police who was listed as “Chair, Gay Police Association”. He received the MBE in 2004 for “services to diversity in the police and wider community”. However, Sir Elton John had received the CBE in 1995 for “services to music and for charitable service”, referring to his work with AIDS and HIV without being specific. Sir Nick Partridge was made OBE in 1999 for “services to people affected by HIV/AIDS”, again without specifically referring to sexuality.

In 2005 first two transgender recipients were both recognised for their “services to gender issues”, Professor Stephen Whittle (OBE) and Angela Clayton (MBE). Two other transgender recipients have been Jan Morris (CBE 1999 “for services to literature”) and April Ashley (MBE 2012 “for services to transgender equality”).

There has also been one award made specifically for “services to the bisexual community”, Jen Yockney who received the MBE in 2016.

Even though around 100,000 people have accepted honours in the Order some have refused them. Many refusals have justifiably referred to the imperial name and its connotations. Two known lgbt refusals have come from heritage author and diarist James Lee-Milne (1908-1997) who turned down a CBE in 1993. More recently Phyll Opoku-Gyimah turned down an MBE in 2016. Both expressed their pride at being considered for an honour but turned them down as being inappropriate.

As we (or at least me) celebrates the centenary of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire my fellow Brits should join me in trying to convince the powers be (the Queen, government and Civil Service) that a re-name and re-brand will be welcome. Perhaps it could become an all-encompassing honour with no classes or divisions. Perhaps a change of name from the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to the Order of British Excellence. That way we can keep the popular OBE letters after people’s names.

In the mean time the country waits in anticipation of the new Queen’s Birthday Honours list in a couple of weekend's time and hope that more lgbt recipients will continue to be recognised for their work in the community.