Sunday, 17 January 2021

Star-Gayzing: A Celestial Swansong

Among the queer legends associated with the stars is one which is represented by two constellations in different parts of the sky. Being objects of the night sky it is ironic that they specifically represent a myth associated with the Sun.

In Greek mythology there are several deities associated with the Sun. Among the most popular was Apollo, who was called Apollo Helios in the 3rd century BC. It was as Apollo Helios that he was the lover of Prince Hyakinthos. The name Helios, though, was originally that of an older Sun god, one of the Titans.

It was Helios who was believed to have driven the Sun across the sky every day in his chariot. Like many of the Greek gods Helios had many children, both immortal and mortal. According to the most often recorded myth one of his mortal sons was called Phaethon whose mother was a sea nymph called Clymene.

Like many male Greek characters (though unlike his father Helios) Phaethon had a male lover, as was part of cultural tradition in ancient and classical Greece. Phaethon’s lover was King Kyknos of Liguria, more commonly known by his Latinised name of Cygnus. Most of the ancient writers don’t say explicitly that the two were lovers, though several do, and the king’s behaviour following Phaethon’s death is a strong indication that they were.

The name Cygnus will be familiar to both astronomers and ornithologists as the name of a constellation and the Latin name for a swan. There are several legends of how King Kyknos/Cygnus became a swan and how he became a constellation, and they are related to the most familiar myth about Phaethon. The following is a compilation of various versions of the story.

The youthful Phaethon was being taunted by his friends over his claim that Helios is his father. So, Phaethon went to his mother and asked her, and she confirmed his parentage. Phaethon then went to ask Helios himself and, again, confirmation was given.

The Sun god offered to grant any wish to his son as proof of his love for him. At that, Phaethon asked if he could drive the Sun chariot for one day. Helios was reluctant to grant this particular wish. He warned Phaethon that the fiery horses that pulled the chariot were difficult to control, even for the mighty god Zeus, so they would be barely responsive to a mortal. However, a promise is a promise, and Helios agreed to let his son drive the chariot across the sky the following day.

In the morning Phaethon took the reins of the Sun chariot and set off. He found that his father was right, the horses were difficult to control. Struggling with the reins Phaethon found the horses pulling the chariot high into the sky, causing great areas of frost to cover the Earth. Then the horses flew downwards towards the ground and Phaethon could not stop the Sun from scorching the Earth causing the massive expanse of the Sahara.

Helios and the pantheon of gods looked on, concerned for the safety of both Phaethon and the Earth and Zeus sent a thunderbolt to strike Phaethon dead. The youth fell from the chariot, which was immediately taken over by Helios, and Phaethon plummeted downwards and plunged into the waters of the River Eridanus. Eridanus was a mythical river believed by some to represent the Italian River Po. This ties in with the location of Liguria in northern Italy, the kingdom ruled over by Kyknos, through which the Po flows. Out of respect to Helios, Zeus placed the river in the night sky as the constellation which bears the same name.

The myth of Phaethon also influenced the naming of asteroid 3200. It was discovered in 1983 and is one of the Apollo asteroids, those which approach very close to Earth, sometimes crossing our orbit (there’s several of these every year, sometimes passing between the Earth and the Moon). Asteroid 3200 also has an orbit which takes it closer to the Sun than any other named asteroid, so the name Phaethon is very appropriate.

But what about his lover King Kyknos? He probably witnessed Phaethon struggling to control the Sun chariot and watched helpless as his body fall into the Eridanus. Kyknos raced to the river and wailed in despair. Some myths say he stayed there for years, and some say he was there for just a few days. However long it was, King Kyknos’ mourning for his lover eventually touched the hearts of the gods.

It was Apollo who decided to turn Kyknos into a swan. The swan was one of the animals sacred to Apollo. Again, the myths vary in the speed of the transformation. Some say it was instant, some say it took a few years, with Kyknos’s hair turning white with age and gradually transforming into swan’s feathers. As an extra tribute Zeus placed Kyknos in the sky as the constellation the Romans called Cygnus.

This is only one of several legends about the origin of the constellation Cygnus. Another is that it represents the swan into which Zeus transformed himself to pursue Leda and thereby become the father of Helen of Troy and Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins.

And the swansong? The myths say that as King Kyknos wailed in lament over his lost love and turned into a swan his voice changed and turned into a birdsong of great beauty. On his complete transformation into a swan he was placed in the sky, making his swan song the last sound he uttered. Since then a swansong has come to mean any great final performance given by a singer, actor or musician.

Monday, 11 January 2021

In Memoriam 2020: Part 2

Here is the second list of lgbt people who passed away during 2020.

Rich Thigpen, d. 6 June 2020. American comic book expert. He was heavily involved in Prism Comics, an organisation supporting and promoting lgbt comic and graphic novel artists and illustrators. He edited “Gay Agenda” and the annual “Prism Comics: Your LGBT Guide to Comics”, a publication produced for mainstream comic conventions.

Jon Gee, b. 29 July 1945, d. 14 June 2020. Co-founder of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. Participated in the 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King made his famous “Dream” speech.

Sarah Hegazi, b. 1989, d. 14 June 2020. Egyptian asylum seeker in Canada; imprisoned in Egypt for flying the rainbow Pride flag.

James Furlong, b. 1984, d. 20 June 2020, teacher. Head of History, Holt School, Wokingham, England; Joe Ritchie-Bennett, b. 1981, d. 20 June 2020, American-born employee of a Dutch pharmaceutical company in Reading; and Dr. David Wails, b. 1971, d. 20 June 2020, Senior principal scientist with Johnson Matthey, a global chemicals company. All three were murdered while enjoying meeting up in a local park after the national pandemic lockdown was relaxed.

Angela Madsen, b. 10 May 1960, d. 20 June 2020. American Paralympian who competed in rowing and track and field athletics, winning a bronze medal at London 2012 in shot put. She held over a dozen world records in rowing, including the oldest solo female rower. She died during her trans-Pacific rowing attempt.

Harry Britt, b. 8 June 1938, d. 24 June 2020. Elected member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors 1979-92 in succession to the assassinated Harvey Milk. President of the Board of Supervisors 1989-90.

Tony Fenwick, b. 26 Mar. 1960, d. 8 July 2020. Co-founder LGBT History Month UK, and CEO of Schools OUT, an organisation for lgbt teachers and educators. He was awarded an OBE (officer of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen in 2017 for services to equality in education.

Dr. Joseph Costa, b. 1964, d. 25 July 2020. Chief of Critical Care, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore. One of many front-line workers who have died from covid-19.

Hadley Dale Hall, b. 8 July 1933, d. 10 Aug. 2020. Founder of San Francisco Home Health Services. Founder of Coming Home Hospice, the first residential AIDS hospice in the US.

Chris Graham-Bell, b. 30 Oct. 1951, d. 12 Aug. 2020. UK publisher. Chair of Millivres Publishing. Founder of “Gay Times”. Former Chair of the Gay Business Association. Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Ash Christian, b. 16 Jan. 1965, d. 13 Aug. 2020. American actor, and tv producer; founder of Cranium Entertainment; won an Emmy in 2014 for his short daytime drama “ml promise”.

James Humphreys, b. 10 Dec. 1939, d. 27 Aug. 2020. American mathematician. Associate Professor (1974), Professor (1976), and Emeritus Professor (2003), University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He died of covid-19.

Henry van Ameringen, b. 1931, d. 9 Sept. 2020. American businessman and philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to lgbt charities and causes. Founder of the van Ameringen Foundation. He inherited his father’s perfume company, International Flavors and Fragrances.

Barbara “Soraya” Santaigo Solla, b. 6 Dec. 1947, d. 22 Sept. 2020. Puerto Rican transgender activist, and the first person in Puerto Rico to change her gender designation on her birth certificate. In October the TranSalud Clinic on Puerto Rico was renamed in her honour.

Timothy Ray Brown, b. 11 Mar. 1966, d. 29 Sept. 2020. “The Berlin Patient”, the first person to be cured of HIV, by bone marrow transplant.

Kenzō Takada, b. 27 Feb. 1939, d. 4 Oct. 2020. Japanese fashion designer. With compensation from the Japanese government for demolishing his Tokyo home to make way for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Kenzō travelled to Paris, France, where he formed his fashion house. Chevalier, Legion d’Honneur. He died of covid-19.

Monica Roberts, b. 4 May 1962, d. 5 Oct. 2020. American transgender activist. Journalist and founding editor of TransGriot, a blog on transgender issues, with an emphasis on the African-American and ethnic transgender community.

James Randi, b. 7 Aug. 1928, d. 20 Oct. 2020. Canadian-American magician and psychic/paranormal “debunker”. He founded the James Randi Educational Foundation which offered a million dollars to anyone who can prove scientifically the existence of paranormal abilities. Asteroid 3163 is named after him.

David Scondras, b. 1946, d. 21 Oct. 2020. The first openly lgbt person elected to the city council of Boston, Massachusetts, 1983.

John Sessions, b. 11 Jan. 1953, d. 2 Nov. 2020. Scottish actor and comedian, popular on many comedy improvisation shows. He also impersonated many contemporary public figures for the 1980s satirical puppet show “Spitting Image”.

Joan Drury, b. 1945, d. 9 Nov. 2020. American author, bookseller, publisher and philanthropist. Owner of Spinsters Ink, a feminist lesbian press, 1992-2001. Won the Lambda Literary Publisher Service Award in 1999.

Anthony Sullivan, b. 25 Feb. 1942, d. 10 Nov. 2020. Australian-born campaigner for same-sex marriage in the USA. His marriage to Richard Adams (d.2012) in 1975 was the first to campaign for recognition by the US Federal Court. In 2015 the marriage was recognised by the US government as the first US same-sex marriage.

Dr. Michael Kelly, b. 1954, d. 14 Nov. 2020. Australian queer theologian and author. Co-founder of the Rainbow Sash Movement, an organisation lgbt Catholics who campaign for acceptance in Communion.

Witold Sadowy, b. 7 Jan. 1920, d. 15 Nov. 2020. Polish actor and author who came out at the age of 100, probably the oldest coming out.

Jan Morris, b. 2 Oct. 1926, d. 20 Nov. 2020. Welsh transgender author, historian and travel writer. She was the journalist on the 1952 Everest expedition who reported the successful conquest. Awarded the CBE (Companion of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen in 1999 for services to literature.

Deb Price, b. 27 Feb. 1958, d. 20 Nov. 2020. Pioneering American lesbian columnist, the first to have her columns syndicated across the US (1992).

Pat Patterson, b. 14 Jan. 1941, d. 2 Dec. 2020. Canadian/American professional wrestler, consultant and producer. Acknowledged as a leading figure in the global success of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). His long career culminated in him being the oldest person to win a WWE wrestling title in 2019 at the age of 78.

Here is the second half of the transgender murder victims of 2020.

Brian “Egypt’ Powers, killed in Akron, Ohio, on 13th June 2020, aged 43.

Brayla Stone, killed in Dallas, Texas, on 25th June 2020, aged 17. 

Merci Mack, killed in Dallas, Texas, on 30th June 30, aged 22. 

Shaki Peters, killed in Amite City, Louisiana, on 1st July 2020, aged 32. 

Bree Black, killed in Pompano Beach, Florida, on 3rd July 2020, aged 27.

Summer Taylor, killed in Seattle, Washington on 4th July 2020. 

Marilyn Cazares, killed in Brawley, California, in July 2020. 

Dior H Ova/Tiffany Harris, was killed in the Bronx, New York, in July 2020. 

Queasha D Hardy, killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 27th July 2020, aged 22.

Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears (a.k.a. Rocky Rhone), killed in Portland, Oregon, on 28th July 2020. 

Kee Sam, killed in Lafayette, Louisiana on 12th August 2020. 

Aerrion Burnett, killed in independence, Missouri on 19th September 2020. 

Mia Green, killed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 28th September 2020, aged 29. 

Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, killed in Puerto Rico on 30th September 30, 2020. 

Felycya Harris, killed in Augusta, Georgia, in October 2020, aged 33. 

Brooklyn Deshuna, killed in Shreveport, Louisiana, on 7th October 2020, aged 20. 

Sara Blackwood, killed in Indianapolis, Indiana, on 11th October 2020.

Angel Unique, killed in Memphis, Tennessee, on 25th October 2020, aged 25. 

Yunieski Carey Herrera, killed in Miami, Florida, on 17th November 2020, aged 39. 

Asia Jynaé Foster, killed in Houston, Texas, on 20th November 2020, aged 22.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

In Memoriam 2020: Part 1

I hope it’s not too late to wish you a Happy New Year.

Before I begin this year’s blogging I want to look back at the members of the lgbt community who passed away in 2020. Below is the first half of my selection of people who made some contribution to international, national of local lgbt lives. The list covers the months January to May 2020.

Edward Jeunette, b. 10 Aug. 1957, d. 1 Jan. 2020. Lawyer with Baltimore City Department of Social Services. Lgbt activist and Baltimore community volunteer.

Sylvio Horta, b. 17 Aug. 1974, d. 7 Jan. 2020. American tv writer and creator of the “Ugly Betty” tv series, adapting it from a Colombian telenovela.

Anthony Crickmay, b. 20 May 1937, d. 8 Jan. 2020. British photographer who specialised in opera and dance portraits. Some of his portraits of famous ballet dancers are in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Dr. Donald West, b. 9 June 1924, d. 20 Jan. 2020. Professor of Clinical Criminology, Cambridge University. Pioneer researcher into homosexuality.

Michou, b. 18 June 1931, d.  26 Jan. 2020. Real name Michel Catty. French cabaret singer and drag performer. Chevalier, Legion d’Honneur.

Hon. Deborah Batts, b. 13 Apr. 1947, d. 3 Feb. 2020. Senior Judge of the Southern District of New York since 2012; the first African-American and openly lgbt US Federal Judge.

Camila Maria Concepción, b. 20 Dec. 1991, d. 21 Feb. 2020. American transgender activist. Assistant writer of the Netfix series “Gentefied” and “Daybreak”.

Tom Watkins, b. 21 Sept. 1949, d. 24 Feb. 2020. British music and pop manager of the bands Pet Shop Boys, Bros, and East 17. Early in his career he designed logos and album covers for Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Wham! and Duran Duran.

Mart Crowley, b. 21 Aug. 1935, d. 7 Mar. 2020. American playwright, best-known for “The Boys in the Band”, a ground-breaking play about the lives of young gay men in New York. He was also script editor and producer of the tv mystery series “Hart to Hart”.

Donald Howarth, b. 5 Nov. 1931, d. 24 Mar. 2020. British playwright and theatre director, the last of the “Angry Young Men” who revolutionised British theatre in the 1960s. He wrote and directed anti-apartheid plays in South Africa for black Africans.

Terrence McNally, b. 3 Nov. 1938, d. 24 Mar. 2020. American playwright, screenwriter and librettist, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2019. Died of covid-19.

Glenn Stevens, b. 1946, d. 30 Mar. 2020. Businessman, often called the Founder of Manchester’s Gay Village. Affectionately known as Mr. Manchester. Died of covid-19.

Barbara Farrelly, b. 1943, d. 3 Apr. 2020. First editor of “Star Observer” 1992-4, Australia’s leading lgbt newspaper.

David Harvey, b. 1961, d. 5 Apr. 2020. Chair of Brighton and Hove Pride 2002-6. Radio and tv journalist. Producer of popular BBC consumer tv series “That’s Life”. He died of covid-19.

Phyllis Lyon, b. 10 Nov. 1924, d. 9 Apr. 2020. American writer and activist with her wife Del Martin. They co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian activist group of the 1950s. Del died in 2008.

Robbie Browne, b. 1949, d. 11 Apr. 2020. American real estate agent, businessman and philanthropist. Board member of GLAAD. He donated millions of dollars to LGBT+ charities. Died of covid-19.

Don Haines, b. 5 May 1950, d. 24 Apr. 2020. Lawyer and administrative officer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

David Carter, b. 1954, d. 1 May 2020. American historian, author of “Stonewall: the Riot that Sparked the Gay Revolution”, the first definitive account of the 1969 riots.

Douglas Chambers, b. 29 Nov. 1939, d. 1 May 2020. Canadian academic. Professor Emeritus of English, University of Toronto. Died of covid-19.

Maurice Lapierre, b. 1935, d. 2 May 2020. American librarian who taught library science at many universities. Chief Medical Librarian, Ministry of Health, Bahrain 1982-4. Died of covid-19.

Roy Horn, b. 3 Oct. 1944, d. 8 May 2020. German-born American magician with his partner Siegfried Fischbacher. He died of covid-19.

Lynn Shelton, b. 27 Aug. 1965, d. 16 May 2020. American film-maker, nominated shortly before her death for two Emmys for her miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere”.

Little Richard, b. 5 Dec. 1932, d. 20 May 2020. Rock’n’roll and gospel singer-songwriter. His real name was Richard Penniman.

Larry Kramer, b. 25 June 1935, d. 27 May 2020. American playwright and activist. Oscar nominated for his screenplay of “Women in Love” (1969). Founder of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

Dr. Ron Simmons, b. 2 Mar. 1950, d. 28 May 2020. Black men’s health and AIDS campaigner. Assistant Professor, Howard University School of Communications. Executive Director of “Us Leading Us”, an HIV support group for the black community.

The year 2020 also saw a tragic rise in the reports of murders of transgender people. No list could ever do justice to their memory and courage. The list below is a random selection of transgender murder victims from January to May 2020.

Dustin Parker, killed in McAlester, Oklahoma, on 1st January 2020, aged 25.

Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, killed in Puerto Rico on 24th February 2020.

Yampi Méndez Arocho, killed in Moca, Puerto Rico, on 5th March 2020, aged 19.

Scott/Scottlynn Devore, killed in Augusta, Georgia, in March 2020, aged 51.

Monika Diamond, killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 18th March 2020, aged 34.

Lexi, killed in Harlem, New York, on 28th March 2020, aged 33.

Johanna Metzger, killed in Baltimore, Maryland, on 11th April 2020.

Layla Pelaez Sánchez and Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, both killed in Puerto Rico on 21st April 2020, aged 21 and 32 respectively.

Penélope Díaz Ramírez, killed in Puerto Rico on 13th April 2020.

Nina Pop, killed in Sikeston, Missouri, on 3rd May 2020.

Helle Jae O’Regan, killed in San Antonio, Texas, on 6th May 2020, aged 20.

Tony McDade, killed in Tallahasee Florida, on 27th May 2020.

Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, killed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 9th June 2020.

Riah Milton, killed in Liberty Township, Ohio, on 9th June 2020, aged 25.

Jayne Thompson, killed in Mesa County, Colorado, on 9th May 2020, aged 33.

Selena Reyes-Hernandez, killed in Chicago, Illinois, on 31st May 2020, aged 37.

Next week I'll list some of the lgbt+ lives we lost from June to December 2020.