Sunday, 29 April 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 14) Towards a Galaxy of Beauty

Previously : 26) Irena Klefisz (b.1941) is a leader in the study of Yiddish heritage which, in the form of film, was pioneered by 27) Eve Sicular (b.1961) who was inspired by “The Celluloid Closet”, a book which listed the world’s first pro-gay film as “Different From the Others”, which featured 28) Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1925).

Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld not only appeared in the 1919 silent film “Different From the Others” (“Anders als die Andern”) but he co-wrote it and was also heavily involved in its production. The film was part-funded by the organisation which Hirschfeld co-founded, Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, the WhK or Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.

Last year I wrote about the four founding fathers of the WhK, so I won’t go over its creation again today. Following World War I the new Weimar Republic in Germany led to more liberal attitudes across a range of social issues. This allowed Hirschfeld to expand his work in the education of sexual matters and homosexuality through film which would spread his message outside the scientific world and into the general public sphere.

“Different From the Others” was a success following its release in May 1919. However, because of the social message of gay rights it became subjected to criticism and calls for it to be banned. The year after its release the authorities restricted screenings of the film to the medical profession and researchers. Eventually it was banned totally and all known copies were destroyed. One copy and several clips survived, and these have been shown at film festivals in recent years.

The legacy of Magnus Hirschfeld can never be overestimated. Many gay rights groups have looked to Hirschfeld as their champion. Several organisations have named awards and projects after him. One of them, the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation, was formed in 2007 by the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany. The Foundation’s aim is to provide support for lgbt activists around the world and foster respect for the rights of the lgbt community.
The Foundation is also named in honour of a more recent lgbt activist, 29) FannyAnn Eddy (1974-2004) of Sierra Leone. FannyAnn was the founder of her nation’s first lgbt organisation, the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association. She became her nation’s leading lgbt activist.

Sierra Leone has never criminalised lesbian activity as it was never specifically included in the Victorian British laws on sexuality which were retained on independence. This doesn’t mean that lesbians in some former colonial states accept lesbian activity as normal. There are many stories that come out of Africa from time to time about lesbians who are raped to “cure” them of their sexuality, what has been called “corrective rape”.

FannyAnn Eddy may have been a victim of corrective rape herself. On 29th September 2004 men broke into the offices of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association while FannyAnn was at work. Initial crime reports stated that she was gang-raped, stabbed and strangled. Later reports from human rights agencies said that the police didn’t find any evidence of sexual violence and were not treating it as an lgbt hate crime. There is no protection from discrimination in the country, in fact the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission states clearly that it doesn’t have a mandate to support lgbt rights.

Whatever the facts are behind the tragic murder FannyAnn’s death gave impetus to lgbt groups in Africa to campaign against homophobia. It was for her activism that FannyAnn was honoured alongside 28) Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in the naming of the Hirschfeld-Eddy Stiftung, or Foundation.

The founding council members of the Foundation in 2007 included representatives from all continents and of diverse sexualities and gender identities. Among the founders was 30) Joey Joleen Mataele, a board member of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. She was also co-founder and is current Executive Director of the Tonga Leitis Association.

Tonga is one of the Pacific nations which have a distinct gender heritage. Different island communities have different names for a related group of identities which the West often interprets as transgender. Joey Joleen Mataele is a leiti, someone who is born physically male but lives as a woman. They don’t consider themselves as gay because they don’t identify as male.

The leiti of Tonga enjoy more a higher degree acceptance than transgender people in places like Sydney, Australia. The Tonga Leitis Association has royal patronage, and Joey was invited to the coronation of King Tupou IV in 2015. She is also a Member of the Order of Queen Salote Tupou III. More recently Joey attended the Commonwealth summit in London earlier this month.

The Tonga Leitis Association was formed in 1992 in response to the AIDS crisis. A leiti was the first recorded HIV patient in Tonga. Funding was scare at first so fund-raising ideas were formed. One of these was the Miss Galaxy pageant, created by Joey Joleen Maetele, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this July.

The Miss Galaxy pageant is very much based on the western beauty pageants. Entrants, however, must be leiti or a member of one of the other Pacific gender identities. From its beginnings as a fund-raiser in 1993 the pageant has become a popular annual event in Tonga.

There are several other pageants in the Pacific and South East Asian regions for members of the traditional eastern gender communities. The West has fewer of these because of the massive influence of the long-established female “bathing beauty” pageants. The lgbt community has developed a whole gamut of pageants for diverse communities, and even though there are hundreds of them which attract thousands of contestants each year there are relatively few lgbt contestants in traditional beauty pageants.

As far as I can determine the contestant of a national beauty pageant who was the first to come out as lgbt is 31) Julia Lemigova (b.1972), a former Miss USSR.

Next time : From the Galaxy of Beauty we visit the Island of Beauty before entering it’s parliament while trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid Donald Trump on the way.

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