Saturday, 9 May 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 11) Olympic Dreams

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 28) Dorothy Allison (b.1949) has won two Lambda Literary Awards, created by 29) L. Page Deacon Maccubbin, owner of the Oscar Wilde Book Shop in which 30) Ellen Broidy (b.1946) worked at around the time she was an organiser of the first New York Pride march and a member of the Radicalesbians, as was 31) Barbara Love (b.1937).

31) Barbara Love was also one of the early members of the National Organisation for Women (NOW). She was one of the campaigners for the acceptance and inclusion of lesbians and lesbian rights within NOW, which had initially been opposed by the organisation’s president. While some lesbians chose to leave NOW and form separate groups Barbara remained within the organisation.

In 1971 Barbara and her partner Sydney Abbott (another lesbian feminist activist) wrote the ground-breaking book “Sappho Was a Right-On Woman”, one of the first positive non-fiction insights into lesbianism and feminism. Several decades later Barbara wrote the equally influential book “Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975”.

As well as feminism Barbara has championed another cause in the lgbt communities – families. In 1970 Barbara, who had come out to her parents a couple of years previously, was accompanied on the first Christopher Street Freedom Day march (the first New York Pride) by her mother Lois. In the 1972 march another activist, Morty Manford, marched with his mother, as mentioned in this article. Between them the Loves and Manfords formed Parents of Gays, an organisation which evolved into PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which has taken part in hundreds of Prides around the world.

Outside activism Barbara Love’s real passion is swimming. She began when she was 3 and went on to compete in school and state championships, winning many of them. At the age of 15 Barbara qualified for the 1952 US Olympic swimming trials in Indianapolis. She competed in the 100 metres and 400 metres freestyle events. She didn’t make it into the finals, but it qualifies her to be included in my lgbt Olympian trials file. Barbara entered the trials again in 1956 in the same events, again not making the finals.

Barbara has never stopped competitive swimming and has won many national masters titles, and around a dozen Gay Games and Outgames medals.

The 1952 swimming trials were held for the Olympic Games in Helsinki. Only one lgbt athlete is currently known to have made it to those games, 32) Marjorie Larney (b.1937).

Marjorie, like Barbara, was a teenager in 1952, and was (and still is, as far as I can tell) the youngest javelin thrower to compete at the Olympics.

One of my favourite stories from the Olympics involves Marjorie and her time in Helsinki. It begins with her visit to a sports shop in the city where she spotted a really classy javelin. The elderly shop owner encouraged her to handle it. Marjorie had been trained in the Finnish style of throwing (no, I didn’t know there was more than one way either) and the shop owner seemed pleased that this was the way Marjorie went through the throwing movements. The javelin was expensive, but the shop owner saw Marjorie’s disappointment in not being able to afford it, so he crossed out the price and let her buy it half-price.

Olympic rules stated that she couldn’t use that javelin in the competition, but Marjorie was uplifted by something that happened during the cold, rain-soaked opening ceremony. As the athletes stood in the stadium to watch the lighting of the cauldron Marjorie suddenly shrieked and stared in disbelief. The person lighting the cauldron was the elderly shop owner. He was a Finnish sporting hero, Hannes Kohlemainen, double Olympic distance running champion from 1912.

Marjorie Larney was also a feminist activist in the 1970s. She was a member of Rif-Raf Radical Writers and founded Acacia Books. But there’s also another field of activism where Marjorie made her voice heard in the 1970s – the anti-Vietnam War campaign.

One of the biggest demonstrations was the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam held across the USA. One of the people who organised the Moratorium was a gay political campaigner and anti-war activist called 33) David Mixner (b.1946).

Mixner’s involvement in the Moratorium came though his friend Sam Brown who, in turn, had been contacted by the Moratorium’s proposer, Jerome Grossman. Joined by several of Mixner’s colleagues from a political campaign of a couple of years previously the team organised the Moratorium that took place on 15th October 1969. Millions of Americans joined the demonstration, stopping work and joining marches and peaceful protests in many cities.

Later in the 1970s David became involved in a prominent campaign in California. In 1977 Proposition 6 was an initiative to make it illegal to teach homosexuality in schools or employ lgbt teachers. Harvey Milk was a member of the “No on 6” campaign and his election to the San Francisco city council helped to defeat it. Sadly, as is widely known, Harvey Milk was assassinated three weeks after Proposition 6 was defeated.

Among the other “No on 6” campaigners was someone who was also leading his own personal campaign. His name was 34) Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We don’t ask, and find out that lgbt US armed service personnel, both male and female, have been victimised because of their sexuality for several centuries.

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