Saturday 30 June 2012

Putting Out the Rainbow Flag - Part 2

On 1stJune I gave the history of the rainbow flag up to the mid-1980s. By 1986 the gay community was fighting global homophobia in the face of the AIDS epidemic. There was a desire to show the world that the community wasn’t about to destroy itself through sex and disease. One group of San Franciscans decided to show the world that gay men are as healthy as any straight man. This group were the organisers of the 1986 Gay Games under the leadership of Tom Waddell.

Waddell’s Olympic career is told here. When the first Gay Games were held in 1982 the AIDS crisis was just building up. By the time of the 2nd Games the organisers decided to use the rainbow flag for the first time as a symbol of pride and celebration. The gay community in San Francisco was determined to show the wider lgbt community that it had to stop feeling sorry for itself and not let homophobia and AIDS drive it back into the closet.

The rainbow featured a lot in publicity for the 1986 Gay Games, even featuring on the cover of the official programme. Over 3,000 athletes from all over the world came to compete and many were seeing the rainbow flag for the first time. At many events and all around the streets the Rainbow Pride flag was waved enthusiastically – not in protest, but in celebration. It was a psychological boost that worked, and riding high on the euphoria of a successful high-profile Gay Games the San Franciscans had transformed the Rainbow flag.

But over here in the UK it was another 5 years before the lgbt community began to use the flag. Using symbolism that was already considered dated by the 1990s it was gay activists that were largely responsible for the delay. And, as in San Francisco, it was the community and not the activists who decided there was more to gay life than protest.

Many people in the UK say they first saw the Rainbow Pride flag at London Pride in June 1993. Some marchers and a few of the stalls flew the flags but few realised what significance it had. Even a glance through publications like Gay Times and Pink Paper reveals a distinct absence of rainbows before 1993.

In early 1994 the rainbow was seen in large numbers during rallies outside parliament during the campaign for the equalisation of the age of sexual consent. And in the months that followed Pride events around the country made extensive use of the flag at the head of their parades. The first was Brighton Pride in June 1994. London Pride followed a few weeks later.

Meanwhile, back across the Atlantic during the same weekend the rainbow flag reached another (literal) milestone in New York. To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots Gilbert Baker, the creator of the original rainbow flag in 1978, was asked to make a special flag measuring one mile in length. At New York Pride, at the end of the 4th Gay Games, 5,000 people carried the flag through the streets and the Guinness Book of Records was on hand to confirm this as the biggest flag in history.

The record was broken in June 2003 on the 25th anniversary of the Rainbow flag itself. Gilbert Baker was again called upon to recreate his flag – this time in the original 8 stripes. The location for this was Key West, Florida, and was a quarter mile longer that the New York flag. So, on 16th June 2003, the Guinness Book of Records confirmed again to Gilbert Baker that his rainbow flag was the biggest in the world. (The current record holder is a Syrian protest flag of 2011 – perhaps someone should try to claim the record back for the rainbow flag’s 35th anniversary next year.)

Today the Rainbow Pride flag still hold the record as the most widespread international community flag in history. There is no capital city in the world that has not seen an lgbt citizen waving it or flying it, and also in the Vatican and as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Antarctica. It has influenced hundreds of other flags and thousands of logos. It’s place in history is assured. And even though there have been attempts to introduce new designs it looks like the rainbow will be seen in lgbt skies for a good numbers of years to come.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Olympic Countdown

Continuing my look at the Sydney Olympics I’ll begin with an omission from part one. Danish handball player Lotte Kiaerskou won a gold medal with her national team. This brings the total lgbt athletes in Sydney to 41, and the gold medal tally to 10.

Now the remaining lgbt members of the home team. Lisa-Maria Vizaniari, one of the few out athletes at the games, was a Commonwealth gold and silver medallist discus thrower. She was coached by her girlfriend Michelle Reeves but only reached 8th place, as she had in 1996. Lisa-Marie has since given up the discus and taken up boxing.

Making his Olympic debut on home soil was a gay man called Mathew who soon became Australia’s top diver. Not Mitcham, but Helm. Mat Helm competed in both individual and synchronised events though didn’t reach higher than 5th place. By his next Olympics he was world champion.

Of the 7 lgbt Wimbledon champions to have been Olympians only 3 haven’t win medals - the Australian doubles players (and one-time life partners) Rennae Stubbs and Lisa Raymond (and, surprisingly, Martina Navratilova). Lisa debuted in 2004, but for Rennae this was her 2nd games. With her then doubles partner she went out in Round 2. However, she and Lisa won the Wimbledon doubles title the next year. Other Wimbledon champions in Sydney were Conchita Martínez and Amélie Mauresmo, neither of whom got past the quarter-finals.

When you think which sport would have the most lgbt competitors in Sydney which would you say? Swimming? Beach volleyball? In fact, the combined contingent of both is less than the actual top sport – equestrianism (8). Ironically, when Australia hosted the Olympics in 1956 horses were subject to strict quarantine and the equestrian events were held in Stockholm. Last time I mentioned the 4 equestrian medallists. Two others, Robert Costello (USA) and Carl Hester (GB) came 8th in their respective events.

The remaining riders are particularly note-worthy in that they are the first male couple to compete at the same games. New Zealander Blyth Tait was one of the best known riders. At his first Olympics in 1992 he won 4 medals. His partner was Paul O’Brien. The pair met in the UK where they both went to train. The Sydney Olympics looked good for Blyth and Paul. Blyth was chosen as team captain and carried their national flag at the opening ceremony. Unfortunately, his first horse died in quarantine and both his 2nd horse and Paul’s horse were withdrawn injured. The best result either of them reached was 8th in the 3-day event team competition. Blyth returned in 2004 and Paul was an Olympic selector in 2008.

In the athletic stadium was Swedish long jumper Peter Häggström and German heptathlete Sabine Braun in her 5th and last Olympics. She finished in 5th place. In the pole vault competition was fellow German Yvonne Buschbaum, the reigning European Junior Champion. In 2007 he announced his retirement from sport and began gender reassignment. He adopted the name Balian and became a pole vault coach.

Edinanci Silva, the Brazilian judoka who underwent surgery to enable her to compete at the 1996 Olympics as a woman, returned but lost in the semi-finals. At the other end of the weight categories was American Lauren Meece, who went out in Round 1.

In the cycling competition partners Judith Arndt and Petra Rossner took part, though not in the same race. Another cyclist was Chris Witty, becoming the first and only lgbt Olympian to compete at both the summer and winter games. She finished in 5th place in the 500m time trial, helping to break the Olympic record.

In the pool we had Francilia Agar of Dominica and David Pichler of the USA. The US diving coach was former Olympian Patrick Jeffrey. In the Paralympic events was swimmer Anne Polinario of Canada who won 3 bronze medals. She was trained by her father Rafael, who is the only lgbt Olympian to be parent of another.

Three other lgbt athletes debuted in Sydney – German fencer Imke Duplizter, Swedish footballer Victoria Svensson, and South African hockey player Marilyn Agliotti.

To end the games Sydney put on the campest closing ceremony ever. Centre stage was gay icon Kylie Minogue. Also performing was Darren Hayes with Savage Garden. But what raised eyebrows, and quite a lot of criticism from some Australians, was the appearance of 50 drag queens and the eponymous bus from the film “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.

For more, official, information on the Games go to

Saturday 23 June 2012

Turing Centenary

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, without whom little of this would have been possible.

Friday 22 June 2012

Star Gayzing - Cancer and Hydra

The Ancient Greeks REALLY had a thing about Heracles/Hercules. Even before I’ve dealt with his own personal constellation he’s cropped up several times already in my Star Gayzing series. It seems that wherever you look in the night sky there’s a reminder of him. The constellations of Cancer and Hydra are just more reminders.

The Babylonians pictured Cancer as a crab or a turtle. It seems perfectly natural for the Greeks to see it as such as well, but how did they explain it?

In the legends of the 12 Labours of Hercules the great hero battles against monsters and confronts difficult challenges. Among the most famous is the slaying of the 7-headed Hydra. As seen in the Disney cartoon as soon as Hercules chops off one head another 2 grow in its place. But unlike the cartoon the mythical hydra is killed by burning the severed neck sumps before the new heads can grow. Eventually all the hydra heads are gone and Hercules slays the monster.

However, in amongst all this action the myths say that Hera, the enemy of Hercules, sent a crab to keep pinching at the hero’s ankle to distract him. Being a hero Hercules just stepped on the crab and carried on slicing. Hera placed the crab and the hydra beside each other in the night sky as constellations.

But Hercules had help with this particular labour. As the crab kept nipping at his ankles Hercules called to his boyfriend Iolaus for help. He was also Hercules’ nephew and the most important of his many male lovers. The two had been travelling companions on many journeys. It was actually Iolaus who came up with the idea of burning the hydra’s neck stumps to stop new heads from growing, and he dashed around with a burning brand at the ready every time Hercules sliced another head off. For some reason, when the American tv company made the series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”, which was quite popular a few years ago, Iolaus was Hercules constant companion – yet for some reason they never mentioned that he was his lover (I wonder why).

Unfortunately, because of Iolaus’s help with this labour, Hercules was given 2 extra ones by King Eurystheus on top of the 10 he had originally given him. I’ll tell you more about Eurystheus and the Labours of Hercules next month when we learn about the first one.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Putting Out Sean Campbell's Flags

Way back in January you may have read how my guest blogger Sean Campbell created the Feather/Drag Pride flag. Today I’m looking at some more of his designs.

As Sean explained in his post all of his flag designs originated during his time in the publishing industry. In the early days on the Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Times at which Sean worked there was a limited number of images they had access to. In June 200 the magazine ran a special Pride edition and rather than hunt around getting copyright clearance for photos and images Sean came up with the imaginative idea of designing flags for various sections of the lgbt community.

As well as the Feather/Drag Pride flag featured in January, Sean also designed the following 3 flags.

This is composed entirely of established symbols. The colour lavender has been used by and for the lgbt community for many decades. The history of it’s use will be gone into in more detail in a future Flower Power post, the colour symbolism passing to the flower. The black triangle was used by the Nazis in their colour-coded persecution. The most famous of these was the pink triangle used for homosexuals. The black triangle covered several so-called “anti-social” groups which included lesbians. The Nazis believed that women who didn’t actively produce little Nazis were not fit for society and “anti-social”. The black triangle has been used by lesbian and women’s rights groups many times. Sean’s flag design also turns the symbol into a positive affirmation of female power by placing the double-edged axe, the labrys, firmly on top of the triangle. The labrys was an ancient symbol of matriarchal power in the eastern Mediterranean, and I said more about that in my post on World Digger’s Day.

Although there had been a more widely used Cowboy Pride flag based on the Rainbow flag prior to Sean’s, this one moved away from the rainbow stripes to concentrate on the Leather Pride flag which may not be immediately obvious. This flag was originally designed for the leather cowboy “fetish” community. This is reflected in the black stripes which are in the same positions as they appear on the Leather Pride flag. It avoids traditional lgbt symbolism, except a white triangle. A horse’s head provides an element of life into the design.

I don’t know if there’s a Cowgirl Pride flag out there, but I’ll be very interested to know in anybody has seen one.

Variations of this design had probably been used unofficially in several places in the USA, being a format often used before Sean Campbell changed the blue behind the stars to pink. This was another of the designs used in the 2000 Pride edition of the Gay and Lesbian Times (Palm Springs edition).

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Fate That Waited 7 Centuries?

"Edward II and Piers Gaveston" - detail of an engraving from a painting by Marcus Stone (1840-1921). Edward and Piers are on the left, Queen Isabella and the disapproving courtiers watch on.
I’m not sure if I believe in fate. I certainly don’t believe in coincidence. So I am sometimes gob-smacked by similarities in history and the present day that you wouldn’t believe if it was put into a novel. One of these similarities centres around me, one of my ex-partners and Piers Gaveston.

Gaveston was the lover of King Edward II, one of the most famous “queens” of England. Their relationship was part of the reason why Edward was hated by the ruling classes (he was adored by the people because he actually talked to them and helped them thatch roofs, dig ditches and trim hedges). Piers, on the other hand, was undoubtedly arrogant and he thought nothing of insulting the top officers of state publicly. But he knew King Edward wouldn’t do anything to stop him.

Like a later King Edward, Edward II put his heart first. The only difference is that in medieval times the king didn’t abdicate – not until he was forced to.

Gaveston was showered with gifts and titles. Some of these were traditionally held by the English barons but Gaveston, being a Gascon knight, became the first “foreigner” to be given them. This included being appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle and Keeper of Sherwood Forest, and on one occasion regent of England which the barons certainly thought wasn’t right.

Gaveston was forced into exile by the barons 3 times, and when Edward brought him back for the third time the barons had had enough. They captured Gaveston and condemned him to death. Before they could arrange the execution Gaveston was seized by the Earl of Warwick and was ignominiously murdered by the roadside – 700 years ago today.

As for King Edward, a rebellion led by his wife and her lover Roger Mortimer forced him to abdicate in favour of his teenage son, but Mortimer made sure he was out of the picture for good by having Edward murdered as well.

Almost 700 years later I found myself working at Nottingham Castle as a tour guide. This was the place where the tyrannical Roger Mortimer was captured and deposed by the powerless teenage king who wanted his power back. The most popular part of my tours were when I explained how Mortimer was executed – hanged, drawn and quartered – and demonstrated on a volunteer child (not for real, of course!). In 2004 my tour helped to win the Best Guided Tour in the UK award for Nottingham Castle.

A couple of years after I started working at the castle a young man called Mark joined the team. We quickly became friends (at the time that was all it could be because he already had a boyfriend). For reasons I won’t go into here I left Nottingham Castle in 2005.

Mark went to off to university, and when he came back to the area a couple of years later we met up again. He was now single, and before I knew it we were briefly seeing each other. That’s when I asked if I could research his ancestry. I wished we were still working at Nottingham Castle – you’ll realise why.

For a few years I’ve known I’m descended from King Edward II. Researching Mark’s ancestry I discovered he was descended from Piers Gaveston. That really put a tingle down my spine! Was it fate that brought me and Mark together I thought? If nothing else it would have been a unique publicity angle for Nottingham Castle if we were still working there. But realistically I don’t suppose it’s anything but chance.

However, it’s a story I still use on my lgbt tours of Nottingham. I also mention that I’m descended from both Roger Mortimer and the Earl of Warwick, the men responsible for the murders of Edward II and Piers Gaveston. So if it was fate perhaps it cancelled itself out! My relationship with Mark didn’t last long, so perhaps history was telling me it wouldn’t have lasted anyway!

Sunday 17 June 2012

Olympic Countdown

The Sydney Olympics of 2000 were the gayest ever! As well as an impressive 40 athletes the closing ceremony could not have been more camp! To give the Sydney games justice I’ve decided to split it into 2. Today I’ll concentrate on the 17 medallists – also the most for any Olympics. Even though 40 is an impressive number, only 8 were out publicly.

Leading the lgbt medal table was the home country Australia. Defending her gold medal was hockey player Alyson Annan. During the games she and her husband, Argentinian Olympic hockey player Max Caldes, split up. It was in this tournament that Alyson became friends with rival player Carole Thate of the Netherlands. They had both played against each other 4 years previously as well, with the same result – gold for Australia, bronze for the Netherlands. Retiring from competition Alyson moved to Holland where she and Carole married in 2005.

The Australian beach volleyball player Natalie Cook dominated the competition with her volleyball partner and they won the gold. They became Members of the Order of Australia in the following honours list. Natalie went on to compete twice more at the Olympics.

Other Australian medallists were Daniel Kowalski (gold, swimming), and Ji Wallace (silver, trampoline).

Returning to go one better than a silver medal from 1996 was cyclist Michelle Ferris. Competing on home soil added extra pressure from national expectations. Michelle was up against her old rival from France but could only manage silver again. The nation’s disappointment disappeared when Michelle said that the only important thing was that she had beaten her personal best time – and beat the Olympic record with her rival.

Although retired from elite competition, Michelle continues to take part in Masters events and the Gay Games, competing in the Cologne games in 2010 winning a gold and silver medal.

The Danish handball team successfully defended their gold medal. This competition saw for the one and only time in Olympic history a married couple playing against each other – Camilla Andersen (Denmark) and Mia Hundvin (Norway). They registered their partnership earlier that year and  played in a preliminary round match against each other. Mia and the Norwegian team went on to win bronze. Their relationship, however, didn’t last long and they divorced in 2003.

The sport with the most lgbt medallists in 2000 was equestrianism. British paralympian Lee Pearson made his debut and instantly entered the record books as the first gay paralympian, and finished the games with another record of being the only lgbt athlete to win 3 gold medals at one Olympics.

One remarkable incident occurred at the medal ceremony of the team dressage. Of the 12 people who received medals, 3 of them were men – and all of them gay. They were Robert Dover and Guenter Seidel (both USA, bronze) and Arjen  Teeuwissen (Netherlands, silver).

The women’s football competition also saw a couple of medals. On the gold medal-winning Norwegian team was Bente Nordby. In the semi-finals they beat Germany, who then beat Brazil to the bronze medal. On the German team was the 1999 German Female Footballer of the Year, Inka Grings, while German substitute goalkeeper Nadine Angerer didn’t get a medal because she didn’t play in the bronze medal match.

The remaining lgbt gold medal went to Sheryl Swoopes on the US basketball team.

Finally 2 bronze medals – Swedish high jumper Kajsa Bergqvist, and Dutch swimmer Johan Kenhkuis in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

Next time I’ll look at the other lgbt athletes at Sydney, and camp it up with the closing ceremony.

For more, official, information on the Games go to

Thursday 14 June 2012

Putting Out the Mexican Bisexual Flag

Today I’m going to take a look at one specific bisexual pride flag, and one that is quite different from the flag designed in 1998 by Michael Page. It is this one –

I first came across this flag on the Flags of the World website a couple of years ago and, as far as I have discovered, is the only bisexual flag designed for a specific country. That country is Mexico.

In many ways this design falls into the category of national flags that have been adapted for and by the lgbt community. Here is the Mexican national flag alongside the rainbow version seen on a few other websites.

The most obvious similarity between all 3 of these flags above is the tricolour format. Mexico adopted this particular format for their national flag in 1821, basing it on the recently created French tricolour in direct rebellion against their former Spanish government.

In designing a flag for Mexican bisexuals the outer stripes were changed to reflect gender/sexuality – the traditional blue for men and a deep pink for women. The colours, with the purple of the central emblem, are taken from the Bisexual Pride flag of 1998.

This Mexican Bisexual flag is one of several designed by Francisco Javier Lagunes Gaitán and Miguel Ángel Corona. Both were active members of the lgbt community in Mexico City. Francisco is particular was (and still is) a leading voice in lgbt, AIDS and human rights organisations. He was press officer for Mexico City Pride for 4 years from 2003, and in 2007 he was President of the Organising Committee. Francisco and Miguel designed their flags in 2001 and they became “official” symbols of the Mexican lgbt community at Mexico City Pride on 29th June 2002.

In recent years the special Mexican Bisexual flag hasn’t been seen at Mexico City Pride as most people have preferred the Rainbow Pride flag. This is rather a shame, as I’m all in favour of diversity and expressing separate identity.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Olympic Countdown

Only two sports had lgbt athletes competing at the 1998 Winter Olympic in Nagano, Japan – speed skating and ice hockey.

Marieke Wijsman first skated competitively in 1988 at the age of 13. In 1996 she became Dutch champion in the 1000 metres. Marieke was the first female skater to compete internationally in clap skates. These are skates that aren’t fixed rigidly along the sole of the boot but hinged at one end so that the blade has longer contact with the ice. Soon the rest of the world followed suit and because of the increased efficiency on the ice dozens of world records were smashed by clap-skate wearers in Nagano.

American speed skater Chris Witty made her second Olympic appearance in Nagano. She improved on her 23rd position in 1000m at the 1994 games by winning silver. She also won a bronze in the 1500m. (As I said in a previous post I have only seen her name on one internet list of lgbt athletes).

The Nagano Olympics saw the introduction of women’s ice hockey, and it is in this sport that the other 3 lgbt athletes competed.

Nancy Drolet had been a member of the Canadian women’s ice hockey team since 1992. That year the team won the World Championships and Nancy was named Athlete of the Year by the Canadian Sports Council. The team won the world championships twice more before the Nagano Olympics and three more times afterwards. At Nagano Nancy and the Canadian team won the silver medal.

In the round robin stage of the tournament the Canadians beat the Swedish team. Playing for Sweden was Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg. Even though they didn’t win a medal they finished in 5th position with Olympic diplomas.

For only the second time since 1972 there were no identified lgbt figure skaters competing in the winter Olympics. That doesn’t mean they had no influence on the competition.

Brian Wright (1959-2003) was one of the top choreographers in figure skating who influenced many others. It was watching the 1968 Winter Olympics held in Grenoble that inspired Brian to take up skating. Even though he came 2nd in the US national novice championships and was tipped for a place on a future Olympic team Brian chose choreography instead of competition. He did, however, create medal-winning routines for top skaters, most famously Michael Weiss. Brian choreographed Michael’s free routine in 1995, making perfect use of Michael’s muscular physique and jumping prowess.

Brian realised his dream of seeing Michael compete at the 1998 Olympics. When he began working with Michael in 1995 he didn’t know how much longer he had to live because he had been HIV+ since 1986. He was always open about it and was a leading figure in promoting AIDS awareness within his sport. During the Nagano Olympics CBS broadcast a profile of Brian’s choreography of Michael Weiss’s routines, which can be seen here.

AIDS hit figure skating quite hard in the 1980s and 90s. Four Olympic figure skaters died of the disease – Ondrej Nepala (1989), Rob McCall (1991), John Curry (1994) and Brian Pockar (1995). In the US alone 40 top skaters died of AIDS up to 1993. Brian Wright lost his battle with the disease in 2003.

For more, official, information on the Games go to

Saturday 9 June 2012

Putting Out the Trans Flags

The transgender community has used several flags and emblems over the years. Even within the trans community itself there are sub-communities which have begun to use their own flags. The design seen most often as the Trans Pride flag is this one.

This was designed by Monica Helms, a transsexual US navy veteran. Like a lot of transsexuals Monica felt that, in her own words, “something was different about me”. Growing up in the 1960s there wasn’t anyone or anything to explain this difference, so she accepted life as a boy while secretly praying to be turned into a girl.

During her time in the US navy Monica began cross-dressing. After leaving the navy she married and fathered 2 sons. It wasn’t until 1987 that she realised she was transsexual and began the transition in 1992.

In 1999 Monica designed the trans flag. As with other flag designers she didn’t feel the Rainbow Pride flag captured the separate identity of transsexuals and transgenders. The colours are baby blue and baby pink representing the traditional male and female colours. The white stripe represents those who are in the process of transitioning, or those who consider themselves to be of a neutral gender.

Monica’s design became accepted around the world quite quickly. In 2000 it was first seen as a flag at Phoenix Pride in Arizona in June. Like the colours of the Rainbow Pride flag the trans flag colours have been used in badges, logos and other designs by the community.

There are other trans flags that have emerged over the years and here are a few.

Perhaps the earliest trans flag is this one was created by the Queer Nation Transgender Focus Group on 17th October 1991.

Dawn Holland is responsible for the central design, using traditional gay and gender symbolism.

In 1999, at about the time Monica Helms came up with her design, someone on the internet called “Captain John” created this design.

Again, it uses the traditional baby pink and blue. This time a different trans emblem appears in the corner. I haven’t been able to discover if this design was actually flown.

Another popular though less seen trans flag is this one.

It was designed by Jennifer Pellinen and made its debut on her website on 20th July 2002. Jennifer was apparently unaware of Monica’s design and, like her, wanted to create a separate flag of identity for the trans community. Jennifer’s flag is clearly influenced by the Rainbow Pride flag and represents the various “shades” to transgenderism between the traditional pink and blue gender colours.

Finally, one flag which I personally find distinctive is this one flown in Ottawa, Canada, during the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November (I am not aware of any other cities having their own flags for the Day of Remembrance).

It was designed by Michelle Lindsay sometime before 2009. It incorporates the transgender symbol that is becoming the most popular among several. Although this particular configuration of the male and female gender symbols may have been used before, the present accepted opinion is that it originated with the American Gender Talk radio station sometime before 2002. It was originally the idea of Holly Boswell of North Carolina, who passed the design on to Wendy Parker, who in turn passed it on to the founder of Gender Talk, Nancy Nangeroni, for computer generation.

Several communities who recognise a separate identity within the trans community have also adopted flags and designs.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Olympic Countdown

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics currently holds the record for the most lgbt medals – 6 gold, 4 silver and 11 bronze. Of these only 4 were individual medallists – tennis player Jana Novotná (bronze), swimmer Daniel Kowalski (2 silver, 1 bronze), and cyclists Michelle Ferris (silver) and Judith Arndt (bronze).

Since her last Olympic appearance Jana gained some notoriety by crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent when she lost the 1993 Wimbledon final. Also in tennis Gigi Fernandez won her 2nd gold medal in women’s doubles. Conchita Martínez, having been beaten by Gigi in the semi-final, won bronze by winning in the 3rd place match.

Australian Daniel Kowalski, in his Olympic debut, became the first swimmer in 94 years to win medals in 3 distances - 200m, 400m and 1500m freestyle.

The remaining medallists played in team or pairs sports. In fact team players formed the majority of lgbt athletes in Atlanta (this includes some who also competed individually, e.g. cycling, swimming and equestrianism).

The first team sport is hockey. In the 1992 Barcelona games Alyson Annan played in the Australian national team. They also won the World Hockey Cup in 1994 and the Australian Team of the Year award 3 years running. At the Atlanta games Alyson and the team won gold. Winning bronze in women’s hockey was the Netherlands, of which Alyson’s future life partner Carole Thate was a member.

Women’s football made its debut in Atlanta, providing 3 players and 1 reserve – the most in one sport that year. Pia Sundhage played for Sweden, but Norway had 2 players, Bente Nordby and Linda Medalen. They beat Brazil to win bronze. Saskia Webber was a reserve member of the US team.

Two members of the gold-medal-winning Danish handball team share the same surname but are not related – Anja and Camilla Andersen. Both have handball in their genes with their parents being national handball players, Anja’s father also being an Olympian.

Sheryl Swoopes won the first of her 3 consecutive Olympic gold medals with the US basketball team.

The diving pool provided 3 athletes – Americans Patrick Jeffrey and David Pichler, and Swede Jimmy Sjödin. At the time David was embroiled in a long-running disagreement with the national diving coach over his partner Steve. Accusations of interference in David’s training against both sides resulted in Steve receiving a restraining order. Whether this affected David’s diving or not is difficult to tell, but he only managed 6th place in the final.

Patrick Jeffrey finished 3 places behind David. When he retired from competition in 1999 Patrick became the diving coach to the national team, coaching David Pichler for the 2000 Olympics.

Blyth Tait, the New Zealand equestrian rider, won 2 medals, an individual gold and a team bronze. The remaining medals were all team bronzes – Natalie Cook (volleyball, Australia), and US equestrians Robert Dover and Guenter Seidel.

Brazilian judoka Edinanci Silva was one of 7 to fail the gender test, but they were all allowed to compete as women. Edinanci was born with both male and female sexual organs and had always felt more female than male. Then, just 3 months before the 1996 Olympics, she completed surgery to become female. Even though Edinanci is one of those women who have a male Y chromosome (see my post on gender testing) the IOC accepted her as female and she has competed at every Olympics since.

I can’t leave the Atlanta Olympics without a mention of the bomb attacks. Even though the bombing of the lesbian bar the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta occurred 7 months after the Olympics had finished, the same bomber was responsible. It was a hate campaign that claimed the deaths of 2 people.

On 27th July 1996 a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park killing one and injuring 111 others. The following January an abortion clinic was targeted, and after the Otherside Lounge another abortion clinic was bombed. The bomber was a member of a Christian extremist sect with an anti-abortion and anti-gay agenda.

In 5 days time I’ll return to the Olympics proper and look at the effects another tragedy, a natural one, had on one sport in particular.

For more, official, information on the Games go to  

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Putting Out the Bears Flag

Perhaps the most familiar 4 lgbt flags are the Rainbow flag, the Leather flag, the Bi flag, and today’s subject, the Bear flag.

The official name for this is the flag of the International Bear Brotherhood. Its not an official organisation but the name used informally for all lovers of bears and hairy men.

In recent years some controversy has surrounded the origin and design of this flag. Most reference sources refer to Craig Byrnes as its creator. He certainly has the right qualifications – he was a founding member of the Chesapeake Bay Bears group and was Mr. Baltimore Bear Cub in 1993 and Mr. Teddy Bear Leather of Virginia in 1994. He also posed naked in “American Grizzly” magazine and in “American Bear” magazine twice. In the past couple of years, though, Craig’s reputation had been tarnished.

The story of the International Bear Brotherhood flag begins in 1995 when Craig was studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology. His thesis was on the bear community. He was already aware of the Leather Pride flag and he decided to design a flag for the bear community to be included with his thesis.

For his birthday that year Craig’s boyfriend bought him a box of crayons (strange present!). Using these Craig came up with his first design. He then contacted an old boyfriend, Paul Witzkoske, a professional graphic designer. Paul offered his professional advice and suggested some changes. They couldn’t agree on a single design, so Craig suggested they should hold a competition at an up-coming summer pool party of the Chesapeake Bay Bears group and let the bear community decide which to adopt.

Pictured here are the 4 designs Craig and Paul chose to display at the pool party. Two were Craig’s suggestions and two were Paul’s The party guests were asked to place 25 cents in a bucket beneath the flag they preferred. The winner would be the flag with the most money, and the cash went to AIDS charities.

At the end of the pool party the winner was revealed to be this one …

… the one which is now familiar around the world. It was one of Paul’s designs.

Craig Byrnes set up a company called Bear Manufacturing which produced this flag commercially and began to claim sole credit for the design. Debate has been going on in America as to how much credit Paul should get. Generally he never gets a mention but support for his involvement has been growing. The original concept and idea was certainly Craig’s and he should be given full credit for that. But the actual end design, a clear modification of the original design for Craig’s thesis, is Paul Witzkoske’s.

Events involving Craig Byrnes and the courts in Washington DC are outside the scope of this particular post, and some may consider his name taboo in light of them. But in the name of history I think Craig and Paul should be given equal credit for designing the International Bear Brotherhood flag.

Monday 4 June 2012

Flower Power - By the River Bank

I was hoping to post this very early yesterday because my brother and I were travelling down to London to see the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant, but I didn’t get time. We had a wonderful time, and got very wet! I realised last night that today’s post has a river theme. It wasn’t planned, so it seems very topical.

Not all Greek myths were written down in ancient times. Not many people could read or write. So myths were passed on in long verses, epic poems and fables. One flower/plant fable seems to have remained unwritten until the 4th century.

It occurs in “Dionysaica”, the longest surviving poem, and among the last, from Ancient Greece or Rome. It was written by an Egyptian called Nonnus. The plot follows the exploits of the cross-dressing god of Dionysus and his various adventures in India. It includes the story of his love affair with a young lad called Ampelus (the subject of a future Flower Power post). When Ampelus is killed Dionysus is grief-stricken, so our old friend Eros, the god of gay sex, comforts him by telling him the story of Kalamos and Karpos.

As seems usual with semi-divine youths Kalamos was remarkably gorgeous and athletic. He was the son of Maiandros, the god of the river whose winding and wandering course gives us the word “meander”. Kalamos had a mortal boyfriend called Karpos who was equally gorgeous. Some myths say Karpos was also semi-divine though Nonnus’s “Dionysaica” implies he was mortal.

One day the two youths were enjoying a day beside the Meander river and they decide to have a swimming race to the opposite bank and back again. Kalamos, being the son of that river’s god, was quite literally in his element and he reached the far back first. Realising he had an unfair and unnatural advantage he slowed down on the return leg to let Karpos overtake him and reach the start bank first.

Then a sudden gust of wind and large wave came down the river. Even Kalamos struggled briefly to keep his head above water and when he reached the bank he climbed out and looked around for his boyfriend. Karpos was nowhere to be seen.

When he realised Karpos had drowned Kalamos went into throes of deep grief, and his words take up quite a few lines in the poem. First he denies that his father the river god could have drowned Karpos, then he blames the gods of the four winds.

“My star sank in the stream and hasn’t risen”, he cries. “My morning star has not shone. Karpos is drowned, and why should I see the daylight any more? Who has quenched the light of love? Come along, my boy, why do you stay in the water so long? Have you found a better friend than me? Have you thrown the love of poor Kalamos away so that you can stay with him? If a water nymph has carried you off I will kill them all! Karpos, have you reached the bank further down the river? I’ve shouted till I’m tired and you don’t answer”.

Kalamos can take it no longer and decided to join his boyfriend. “If my father carried you off in the merciless rush of his wave, let him receive his son also in the waters.” In floods of tears he cuts off a lock of his hair (a traditional custom to honour the dead). “Accept this hair and then my body for I can’t see another dawn without Karpos.  Karpos and Kalamos had one life and both one watery death together in the same stream. Build on the river bank, water nymphs, one grave for us both and put this verse on the gravestone, ‘I am the grave of Karpos and Kalamos, a pair of lovers whom the pitiless water slew in days of yore’.” And with those words Kalamos leapt into the river and allowed himself to be drowned.

To honour his self-sacrifice the gods turned Kalamos into a water reed. His name became used in several languages (e.g. Sanskrit, Hebrew and Latin) as the word for a writing pen, as reeds were often fashioned into writing implements.

Karpos, the boyfriend, whose name means “fruit”, lent his name to various flower-related words. From the Latin version of his name comes “carpel”, the female part of a flower, and “carpology”, the study of fruit and seeds.

Friday 1 June 2012

Putting Out the Rainbow Flag

June is Pride Month. I’m celebrating by presenting the histories of some of the many lgbt flags that you’re almost certain to see at a Pride event this summer. First and foremost is the Rainbow Pride flag. Its history is well documented but this mini series wouldn’t be complete without it.

We have to go back to San Francisco 34 years ago where a small group of volunteers were stitching together the first rainbow flags for the city’s Gay Freedom Day parade.

In the flag’s 30th anniversary year in 2008 the parade and flags were recreated in the Oscar-winning film “Milk”, and it is Harvey Milk who led to the rainbow flag being used as a symbol of protest and gay rights.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to a local government position in California. Early in 1978 he suggested to a friend, Gilbert Baker, that there should be a logo or symbol the gay community could rally around for the following year’s 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Baker who had been designing banners and flags for several years so it is safe to assume that Milk suspected he would come up with a flag.

All of the original flags were hand-dyed and stitched by Baker and 30 volunteers, and on 25th June 1978 they were unfurled for the first time in front of 350,000 people – the largest gay rights parade the world had yet seen. But the original flag (pictured at the top) differs from the one we know today with 2 colours which have gone - the pink stripe at the top and the turquoise stripe.

Just 5 months after the parade, Harvey Milk was assassinated. Almost immediately gay San Franciscans began clamouring for rainbow flags to fly at vigils and protests. But because the original flags were made by a small group of volunteers there was only a handful available.

People turned to flag manufacturers. One began selling flags of the International Order of the Rainbow Girls, a masonic youth movement which used a 7-colour rainbow. The pink stripe of Baker’s flag couldn’t be reproduced because it was custom-mixed by him so was never used again. After the Rainbow Girls flags sold out the manufacturer began making its own rainbow flags.

During 1979 many gay venues and businesses in San Francisco began displaying the flag. The Pride committee decided to use it again for the Freedom Day parade. But after seeing it displayed vertically from a lamp-post they noticed that the central stripe was largely obscured. So the committee dropped the turquoise stripe, turned the indigo stripe to blue, and the present Rainbow Pride flag was born.

Four months later the first March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights took place. At the head of the San Francisco contingent marchers carried the rainbow flag, bringing it to the attention of the rest of America. But for several years it was still considered just a San Francisco flag.

It was also the AIDS crisis that brought the rainbow to the UK. Two men were responsible for this – Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and the first openly gay member of the General Synod of the Church of England Barnaby Miln.

During 1985 Runcie went to San Francisco to see the devastation caused to the gay community. At the following General Synod he met Miln who asked what the church was doing about AIDS. Runcie gave Miln the job of Advisor on AIDS and Human Sexuality. In 1986 Miln set up a charity called Christian Action of AIDS. In San Francisco he got inspiration from the rainbow flag to create the world’s first ribbon to raise awareness of a specific disease or cause (pictured).

Hundreds of rainbow ribbons were handed out at the General Synod of 1987 where homosexuality was a major subject of debate, worn on the lapels of clergymen everywhere. Even though it wasn’t in the familiar loop it predates the red AIDS ribbon by 6 years. It was also at this Synod that Miln proposed the idea of World AIDS Day.

What put a stop to the Church of England’s support of the gay community was the Local Government Act of 1988 and the infamous Section 28. As a part of government the church had to toe the line and very little came out of the Synod. Even the rainbow ribbon disappeared.

Meanwhile, back in America the Rainbow Pride flag was to develop a new meaning, and again it was San Francisco where it happened. Just what they did, and how the Rainbow Pride flag became a symbol of celebration, will be told at the end of the month.