Friday, 5 October 2018

Rainbows Over the Antarctic

In June this year a significant Pride first was added to the list I gave in that month. In June the first official Pride took place on one of the continents, the Antarctic.

There’s no permanent population in Antarctica and they are spread in small group across the whole continent on various scientific bases. Apart from the scientists and support teams the only other people who go there are adventurers, polar explorers and tourists. The transient nature of the population may be the main reason there hasn’t been an official Pride there before.

In reporting the first Antarctic Pride the lgbt media (particularly the notoriously inaccurate Gay Star News) has claimed that the Rainbow Pride flag hadn’t been flown on the continent before. Of course, we all know that isn’t true. If you’ve been following my blog for a number of years you’ll remember Cason Crane, the young gay mountaineer who flew the flag from Vinson Massif, the highest point on Antarctica, in 2012.

There have been many other lgbt workers and visitors to Antarctica over the years, and I set out to see if I could determine the identity of the first person to display the Rainbow Pride flag, or any other lgbt and gender flag, on Antarctica, including its associated island groups that not part of other continents.

As the first Pride flag dates from 1978 I had a starting date for my search. It is safe to say that it wasn’t likely to have been used as a flag of the community, rather than a flag of protest and activism in the USA, until early 1980.

Let’s go backwards in time to see how far back we can go. Below is a map of Antarctica showing the places where the Rainbow Pride flag is known to have been flown prior to this year’s Antarctic Pride.
Locations mentioned, with the three known locations where the Rainbow Pride flag has been flown.

2018 June 9th – Antarctic Pride, the first official Pride on the continent with an organising committee and planned programme of events open to the wider community. The celebrations were centred on McMurdo Station, a US research base.

2016 March – Antarctic declared the world’s first lgbt+-friendly continent by the US charity Planting Peace. This was during a trip to Antarctica by their founding president, Aaron Jackson. Aaron (who is straight) travelled around several areas, waving the rainbow and transgender flags at various locations (at the moment not identified). This is probably the first occasion the transgender Flag was flown on the continent. You can see photos of Aaron’s visit here.

2012 December 12th – Cason Crane’s Seven Summit climb. The rainbow flag was flown from the highest point on Antarctica on this date.

Before 2012 we are on less certain ground, with one exception. While it is known that many scientists, polar adventurers and tourists have visited the continent there is no record of them displaying a Rainbow Pride flag. Here are just a few of those lgbt visitors.

2005 – Dr. Stephen Roberts, a member of the British Antarctic Survey, has been involved in mapping and obtaining geological samples since 2005. He has returned to the continent several times – to the George VI ice shelf and Berkner Island. His most recent research, carried out last year, looked at historical volcanic eruptions and their effects on penguin colonies.

1999 – Novelist, science writer and Gay Games cycling bronze medallist, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, has visited Antarctica several times since 1999 and has written about her experiences. In 2003 she published her children’s book “The Antarctic Scoop”.

1995 – In a ground-breaking thesis on gender and art, specifically relating to his own experiences as an intersex artist, Chris Somers explained how he went to Antarctica during 1995 and 1996 as a member of the 1990 International Trans-Antarctic Expedition (“trans”, as in “across”, not transgender). During his visit he flew both the Rainbow Pride flag and a specially designed flag symbolizing his personal karyotype (the chromosomal arrangement within his body cells). This is the first verifiable occasion that the Rainbow Pride flag and another gender flag were flown on Antarctica. His thesis contains photos of both flags flying at Patriot Hills.

1992 – Mariah Crossland made her first trip to McMurdo Station as a computer support worker. She made several other trips there over the next ten years. In 2002 she represented Antarctica as the Gay Games in Sydney, Australia, with a straight colleague.

1985 – In one of the tragic incidents on the continent in recent decades eight men were killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985. They were all members of a tourist group run by Hanns Ebersten Travel, one of the earliest gay tourist organisations. The plane in which they were travelling crashed on Nelson Island in fog. There were plans for to have a barbecue on the island to celebrate the New Year. While the sexuality of the eight men is not known, three of them were from California, the birthplace of the Rainbow Pride flag. Were they gay? And did they have a Rainbow Pride flag which they hoped to unfurl at their barbecue?

It would be sad if the first Rainbow Pride flag arrived on Antarctica under such tragic circumstances. Hanns Ebersten Travel had operated tours there before, so perhaps, hidden in the recesses of someone’s personal history, there may be a more pleasant story behind the first lgbt Rainbow Over the Antarctic. I will be most grateful to anyone who has been on Antarctica with any lgbt flag to let me know when and where.

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