Friday, 28 February 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 6) Under Southern Rainbow Skies

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 12) Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942) built a villa on the site of an ancient temple, as did 13) Robert Kitson (1873-1947) on the site of a temple to 14) Zeus-Serapis, both in Taormina, a Sicilian town with mythological connections to the constellation Taurus, the location of a star cluster which gives its name to an initiative chaired by 15) Lisa Harvey-Smith (b.1979).

15) Dr. Lisa Harvey-Smith was Chair of the Women in Astronomy chapter of the Astronomical Society of Australia. In 2014 they launched the Pleiades Awards which aims to promote and encourage female inclusion, involvement and recognition in astronomical sciences. The awards are named after the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus.

Lisa Harvey-Smith is at the forefront of popular science education and is well-known in Australia, appearing in many programmes, documentaries and news reports. Among her many public appearances was a question-and-answer session at Sydney Observatory during Sydney Mardi Gras 2015. This led to Lisa developing a touring lecture show called “Star-gayzing”.

Lisa’s main work in the field was in a major role in the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). As its name suggests, this is an array of linked antennae that covers an area of a square kilometre. It is located near the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory in the homeland of the Yamatji people of Western Australia.

From the start the Murchison scientists included the indigenous community when planning the SKA, showing local elders where the antennae might be placed and learning about the significance of the locations in Yamatji heritage. This produced an increased awareness of the rich heritage of the traditional indigenous view of the night sky and inspired an exhibition by Yamatji artists on the subject which toured several countries. Lisa Harvey-Smith co-authored a paper called “Engaging Indigenous Students in the Australian SKA Project” which detailed other ways in which scientists and the Yamatji had worked together.

There are a variety of different stories of the night sky among the indigenous nations in Australia. One of these is that the Milky Way represents the creator god common to the indigenous nations, the Rainbow Serpent, which has many local names but all of them refer essentially to the same deity. The most significant stories of the Rainbow Serpent occur in the Dreaming, the time when the universe was formed and the land created.

To the Yamatji the Rainbow Serpent is called 16) Bimarri. Bimarri is believed to live below a cliff at Ellendale, some 364 kilometres from the Murchison Observatory. One story about Bimarri recounts its battle with a sea snake after which it moved inland, creating the rivers, streams and landscape as it went. The Rainbow Serpent has no set gender or sexuality. Most stories seem to prefer to identify the Bimarri as male. Stories of other representations of the Rainbow Serpent prefer a female or androgynous identification.
Sculpture depicting Bimarri, the Rainbow Serpent of the Yamatji, at Ellendale. Photo by Richard McLellan.
Australia produced many exhibitions and performances which showcased their cultures. The first was the “Festival of the Dreaming” in 1997, an arts festivals held to celebrate the forthcoming 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Many of the productions featured all-Aboriginal casts, including a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream” directed by 17) Noel Tovey (b.1934), an indigenous actor and choreographer, and was a landmark in Shakespearean theatre as the first all-indigenous cast. Noel took the idea of dreaming and wove the Rainbow Serpent into the design of set and costumes. The Rainbow Serpent is very much a living part of indigenous culture and is a frequent inspiration for art. Noel was later called upon to be artistic director of the indigenous welcoming ceremony for members of the International Olympic Committee to the Sydney 2000 games.

The Sydney Olympics have, retrospectively, become the most diverse in Olympic history. To date, 66 lgbt Olympians have been identified, of which 12 were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. In addition there were 2 Olympians who would today be identified as intersex. There were also 3 athletes who have since become transgender. The most recent of these is 18) Sandra Forgues (b.1969).

Sandra Forgues competed for France in the men’s doubles slalom canoe at three Olympics. She won a bronze medal in Barcelona 1992 and a gold in Atlanta 1996. Sydney was her final Olympic appearance. She was also three times world champion, and won two gold medals at World Cup events in 1992 and 1994 held here in Nottingham.

Sandra was able to train full-time while she was employed by France Telecom. On leaving France Telecom she set up her own company in 2004 called Media Broadcast Technology (MBT). The company provides digital and software provision to broadcasters in Europe and Morocco. The biggest project so far was for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 2015. BMT provided time logging and results used by the world’s media at the inaugural European Games.

A link between the EBU and Morocco comes in the form of the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite its aim to unite member broadcasters in music the Eurovision Song Contest has often been dogged by racist, political and homophobic conflict. In 2019 France attracted opposition to its choice of performer, a  French-born Moroccan inger called 19) Bilal Hassani (b.1999).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We enter a fictional world of racist and ethnic conflict when life begins to imitate art, and we see how easily mistakes are made.

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