Wednesday 27 February 2013

On Display

For this year’s LGBT History Month I was asked by Unison, the trade union, to produce another display for Nottinghamshire County Hall just by Trent Bridge. It ran all last week. Most of the display was an update and recap on last year’s lgbt Olympic research (my list of lgbt Olympians/Paralympians has now reached 143). A draft of one of the panels is pictured just below. As the theme for 2013 is science I decided to create some new panels.

One of the first ideas I had was based on my Star-Gayzing series. I decided to restrict myself to the solar system as I knew I would be restricted by space anyway. Ironic – a display about outer space crammed into very little space! I knew I would have 2 display boards at my disposal, so my original idea was to have models of the planets hanging from a pole fastened between them. But I couldn’t find any that were suitable, so I printed out pictures of the planets onto card instead. I wrote up the labels and information onto A4 card and suspended them from the pole with silver string beneath the appropriate planet. Even with a little more research I didn’t have enough material to include all the planets and ended up with just the ones known to the ancients (no Uranus, Neptune or Pluto and the outer objects), with the inclusion of the Sun and asteroids.

There’s not so much room in my flat as in the display area so I didn’t actually see it all together until I put it up. It looked just how I thought it might.

Another idea which I didn’t have time to complete was something to explain how gender and sexuality emerge in the embryo. It took a while before I came up with an imaginative solution which I don’t think has been done before. It’s a bit complicated to explain but I hope to follow it.

Using the principle of old-fashioned fairground slot machines and Pascal’s Triangle I would have constructed a large triangular peg board with the point at the top where a button/token could be slotted. This represents the embryo and the board would show how it could develop. It would fall down, bouncing randomly off the pegs until it fell to the bottom. I’m sure you know what I mean. The board would be divided vertically into 2 colours – pink (representing female) and blue (representing male) – with a partition dividing them.

In my post on gender testing at the Olympics exactly a year ago tomorrow, in I mentioned the Y chromosome’s “male switch” that sets the embryo off on its development into a male. This is the moment I wanted to represent with the button/token, with the first peg it hit representing the moment when the “male switch” comes on – the first moment when the hormones determine whether the baby would be a boy or girl. If the token didn’t fall into the male half of the board it would mean the button/token represents an embryo with no “male switch” or Y chromosome and would end up producing a female baby. From then on the button would only descend on it’s “chosen” gender to the bottom.

Halfway down the central partition (on the blue half) was another partition and possible route. Sometimes the embryo with the “male switch” works but the embryo’s receptors don’t receive the full message and it reverts to a female development path. This route down the board was one-button-wide and went to the bottom row. This was to symbolise the many variations of androgen insensitivity syndrome – the development of what have been called intersexuals or hermaphrodites - or women who are born with the male Y chromosome which doesn’t switch on properly. Its too complicated to go into the many possible gender types and conditions – it’s why gender testing in sport has been so controversial over the decades.

There was also 2 final spots in the corners on the bottom row labelled “lgbt” – one in the pink half and one in the blue. This was to represent the sexuality rather than the gender of the baby. Of course, sexuality, being gay or being straight, isn’t determined in the embryo in the same way as physical gender, but I needed something to show how a percentage of the population can identity as lgbt.

I hope I’ve explained that okay. I think it would have worked well. It probably needs a lot more development before it is constructed, hopefully in time for my next display – if I’m invited again. And I’m sure it would have been a popular exhibit, especially with the name I was planning to give it – “The Sex Selector”!

Nottinghamshire County Hall

Monday 25 February 2013

Flags Out Again for Mr Leather

Last week I was asked by a reader of my “Flagging Up Mr Leather” post what the other Leather Pride flags in the little montage (above) at the end represented. It’s a while since I’ve written about flags, so it gives me a good excuse to write some more!

Before going on to the various Leather Pride flags I should give my personal criteria for what I consider to be a valid community flag. I’ve taken about 5 years to research as many lgbt flags as I can find. There are a lot of flag designs given online, sometimes by individual bloggers or web designers who just want to show their own ideas. For me, to have a flag included in my file as an “official” lgbt community flag the design has to be acknowledged or widely accepted by more than just the visitors to one blog. Think of it like new words and how some are accepted into dictionaries and others not, no matter how often you say them. Occasionally a flag proposal enters my list. This is because it may form part of a “contest” to choose one design from several.

But, first and foremost, it all comes down to one obvious criterium – a flag is a flag. If I see an actual flag being waved or sold, or read about it appearing at a specific event, it enters my files automatically. It doesn’t matter if it is only one person who has the flag (probably specially made for the event by the person concerned), but it is seen in public on open display and represents a specific part of the community. That is how several community Pride flags have originated. The Leather Pride flag itself had such an origin – a one-off flag designed for a specific event that became accepted immediately by the community.

Now that I’ve got that explained, on to the Leather flags. All of these have met the criteria I have just given. Some have been more difficult to research than others, and I would welcome information on any of them if you know anything.

I gave a history of the Leather Pride flag in “Flagging Up Mr Leather”, so it needn’t be repeated here. So here are short descriptions of all those in the montage at the end of that post and reproduced above.

They are, from top to bottom, left to right:

BDSM – This Bondage, Discipline and Sado-Masochism Pride flag first appeared in 1997. The central emblem was designed in 1995 by a website owner called “Quagmyr”.

Skinhead Pride – Not part of the leather community as such, but it is based on the Leather Pride flag. It was designed to commemorate the FENIX Global Skin Movement’s 10th anniversary in 2006. The only names I have for the designers are “Shadowskin” and “SkinDavid”.

Leather Girl – The blue of Leather Pride is substituted with pink to represent female leather-lovers. Designed by Sheryl Dee for the Ms San Diego Leather Contest in November 2003.

Bootblack Pride – For that part of the leather community who get a kick (if you’ll pardon the pun) out of shining leather boots worn by others. This was designed by Jesse Penley and introduced on 6 October 2005 at the International Leather Sir and Leatherboy Weekend.

Leather Boi – The blue of Leather Pride is substituted with green to symbolise  the young, fresh, leather lovers of the younger age group. This was designed by Keith Polannen and made its first appearance at the Mid-Atlantic Leather contest of 1998.

Slave pride – Some members of the BDSM community enjoy acting as slaves to masters. This is their flag. It’s origin and designed have not been identified.

Switch Pride – Some members of the leather and BDSM communities enjoy taking both dominant and passive roles, switching from one to the other. This is represented by the 2 arrows. I can find no reference to it before 2009.

Boot Pride – More for those with a boot fetish rather than the boot-shiners above. It’s designer is unknown, but it originates before 2009.

Dog/Puppy Pride – Role-play is big part of some communities, and most seem to adapt the Leather Pride flag. This is for those who role-play as dogs (one of the fetish stereotypes you often see on drama programmes). This is not the most common Puppy Pride flag but one of several variants dating from around 2009, and is included to illustrate the different orientation of the stripes.

Folsom Street Fair – A banner displayed at the Folsom Street Fair during San Francisco Leather Pride week. I have no record of its appearance before 1999 and have not identified a designer, though it may have been designed by the Fair’s organisers sometime in the mid-1990s (probably after 1994).

And finally,
Leather UK – not very common as yet, but I have seen it being advertised for sale as a flag, postcard, poster and badge. Designed by Mark Thaler in 2009. Other national and regional flags have been similarly adapted.

Friday 22 February 2013

Extraordinary Lives - George Washington Carver

My second Extraordinary Life this month is of one of America’s best known black scientists – George Washington Carver. He had much in common with Sir Francis Bacon, my first Extraordinary Life a few weeks ago. Both men used experimentation and observation as the basis of their work, and they promoted education. They both also had a strong belief in their work being for the benefit of mankind and in the name of God.

George Washington Carver was born into slavery, one of the last generation to do so. He was only a week old when he was kidnapped with his mother and sister by night raiders from the neighbouring state. It was as if they were cattle or sheep being rustled. Carver’s original owner, however, tracked them down and persuaded the bandits to let him take George back in exchange for a horse.

It was George’s owner who “adopted” him the following year when slavery was abolished. He encouraged George to read and write and helped to improve his general education. He encouraged George’s inquisitive mind which he showed from an early age – “I wanted to know the names of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast,” George would later admit.

In 1890 he was in Iowa studying botany at the state’s Agricultural College. He was the first black student there, and his talents were recognised by 2 professors who persuaded him to study for a Master’s degree in agriculture.

In 1896 George was invited to be head of the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he would teach, study and innovate for the rest of his life. On the Institute’s experimental farm station George developed effective new methods of crop rotation to improve soil fertility and productivity. He also created a wagon as a mobile classroom which acted as an outreach programme.

Today George Washington Carver is regarded by many as the Father of Chemurgy – the science of using agricultural products in industry. In the early 20th century he developed new uses for many food plants, including sweet potatoes, pecan nuts and soybeans. But it was his development of many uses for the peanut that turned him into one of the best-known African-Americans of the period.

Using great imagination and inventiveness George came up with several hundred uses for various parts of the peanut plant. He actively developed and produced peanut products such as massage oil, cheese, soap, TB medication, face powder, wood stain, and printing ink. But the most famous product he developed (but did not invent) was peanut butter (you either love it or, like me, hate it, yeuch!).

But what about George’s sexuality? George never married, but he did have a relationship with a female school teacher for 3 years. There’s no evidence that he had any sexual contact with anyone at all, but that doesn’t prove anything. What was noticed during his lifetime was that he had many young male students to whom he wrote affectionate letters. If he did that today he would be charged with misconduct. What would the authorities today think about him giving any young male students who agreed a massage, sometimes with his special peanut oil? If his students were not young adults that would certainly have been grounds for inappropriate sexual misconduct (in the UK at least). Perhaps this contact George had with other males was no more than paternalistic or “bromantic”. And it was a much more innocent age back then. George left no writings on his feelings, so we’ll never know for sure.

He developed a close friendship/relationship with Austin W. Curtis, a Cornell University graduate and colleague at Tuskegee with whom he spent most of his final years. After George’s death Curtis was dismissed from Tuskegee. There is still speculation about George’s sexuality. I find it difficult to come to any definite opinion.

George died at the age of 78 from injuries sustained in a fall. He was a national hero. A national monument to him, including a museum, a statue and a nature trail, was being planned even before his death. World War II and budget cuts meant it wasn’t opened until 1953. It was the first US national monument to an African-American.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Leo Meets Leo at the Palace

On one of several trips with my brother to London last year I went to Buckingham Palace to see the exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist”. My middle name is Leonard (a family name and no indication that I was named after da Vinci), and even though I worked in an art gallery for 7 years this was my first encounter with actual works by Leonardo.

The exhibition brought together the largest number of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings ever displayed in one place. My brother and I were there for nearly 2 hours and still didn’t see all of them properly.

The drawing are all part of the Royal Collection and came from Leonardo’s studios via his student Francesco Melzi, sculptor Pompeo Leoni, and the Earl of Arundel. The exhibition’s curator, Martin Clayton, said that the drawings are some of the best, if not the best, depictions of the human body that have ever been produced. Wandering round the exhibition I was certainly impressed by the almost pathologically accurate way that Leonardo was looking at parts of the human body.

First and foremost Leonardo was an artist, and his detailed drawings were to aid him in his art. Like all good artists of his day he needed a good knowledge of human anatomy to paint realistic looking people. He also had an enquiring mind, a desire for knowledge which drove him on. Leonardo also hoped that all his anatomical drawings would be published in his lifetime, something which didn’t actually happen until the late 1800s.

Leonardo started thinking about this anatomical treatise in Milan in 1489. From the start he wanted it to be something more than a reference guide for artists, with examples of laughing, crying and shouting faces. But he also wanted to depict the whole human life cycle, from conception to death.

At first there were few human bodies for Leonardo to dissect. He was only allowed to use the occasional body of an executed criminal – other bodies were too difficult to obtain without grave robbing. A lot of his drawings were of parts of animals instead. However, he did manage to get hold of a human leg and a skull from somewhere. The skull in particular was a subject of intense scrutiny as Leonardo tried to find where a man’s soul was located in the brain.

Leonardo got a bit disillusioned with his anatomical work because of the difficulty in obtaining bodies. So he gave it up for 15 years and didn’t start again until he moved to Florence. There he began to leave the first detailed visual records of heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver.

In 1510 he went to the University of Pavia’s medical school and was able to dissect about 20 cadavers. His aim to produce an illustrated anatomical treatise looked like it might be completed. Unfortunately, the city was invaded and his enthusiasm for the subject faded again in the chaos. He didn’t stop work completely. He dissected animal parts and looked at blood circulation, but even then his enthusiasm didn’t last.

Leonardo never did finish his treatise. He tried to add to it from time to time but probably felt it was a never-ending project that it was never going to be finished. His drawings show what a perfectionist he was. Perhaps its just as well it wasn’t finished. It would have been a best-seller, and so well known that the drawings may not have had the same value we put on them today.

But, then again, did the non-publication of these drawings in Leonardo’s lifetime rob doctors, surgeons and medics vital reference guides that would not otherwise appear until several hundred years after his death? Would we know more about the human body today and be more advance in medicine than we actually are?

It doesn’t really matter. Leonardo’s anatomical drawings are awe-inspiring. I was amazed at the fine detail and tiny writing. And if the drawings had been published in the 16th century I don’t think the exhibition would have pulled such a large crowd. I only wish I could have gone back for a second look.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Grin and Bear it for 17 Years

For 17 years one of the highlights of the bear calendar – for those who like big and hairy men – was the International Bear Rendezvous (IBR) held annually on the third weekend in February, and the contest to find International Mr Bear. The last one was held two years ago.

The organisers of IBR, the Bears of San Francisco club, found it difficult to provide enough funding for the event and hand out substantial donations to charity, which was always a cornerstone of the event. The worldwide lgbt community has also changed since the first IBR in 1995, as were global social networks and the internet. Other bear events around the world had also been growing in popularity. Like most organisations in other communities this led to a fall-off of volunteer commitment, which was essential for the success of IBR. The committee decided that 2011 would be the last IBR and it’s International Mr Bear contest.

I won’t go into the history of the use of the word “bear” in the lgbt community. Instead, in celebration of the 17 years of the IBR, I bring you a brief history of the International Mr Bear contest and it’s winners.

San Francisco can be called the home of International Mr Bear. It was there in the 1980s that a huge bear community began to dream of a competition on the lines of the highly popular International Mr Leather contest. The first International Bear Expo was organised in 1992 in San Francisco and it featured the first International Mr Bear contest. The winner was John Caldera, a Mexican-American army veteran. He was (and still is) an active member of the bear community and had won other similar local titles, and was a founding member of the Bears of San Francisco. On something of a surreal note, he was one of the torch relay carriers on 9th April 2008 when the Beijing Olympic torch came to San Francisco. Unfortunately the International Olympic Committee would have banned him from taking part if he wore his leather bear outfit! Pity!

In 1994 John acquired the ownership of the bear title and established the first International Bear Rendezvous in 1995. A committee made up of members of the Bears of San Francisco club organised all the IBR contests right up until the last one.

To end today, here is a full list of the winners of the International Mr Bear title :
1992    John Caldera               San Francisco, USA
1993    Stephen Heyl               Denver, USA
1994    Michael Myhand
1995    Will Pettite                   Mr. Southern California Bear
1996    Steve Blancset            Long Beach, California, USA
1997    Jim Parton                   Mr. Southern California Bear
1998    Rob Savides               Leeds, UK
1999    Craig Byrnes               Mr. Washington DC Bear 1998
2000    Heath McKay               Mr. Grizzly New England
2001    Scott Perry                  Kentucky, USA
2002    Pat Thorne                  Virginia, USA
2003    Klaus Regel                Cologne, Germany
2004    Scott Hunter                California, USA
2005    Harvey Mallory            Kentucky, USA
2006    Pedro Veral                 Zaragoza, Spain
2007    Andreas Piedehierro   Madrid, Spain
2008    Scott Turner                 (for the 2nd time) Alaska, USA
2009    John David Elam         Kentucky, USA
2010    J. D. Leggett                New York, USA
2011    Paul Hensley               Washington State, USA

The International Bear Rendezvous also held three other bear contests for various bear types, and the winners were :

International Mr Grizzly Bear
1992    Van Floyd                   Denver, USA
1993    Clark Jellison              San Francisco, USA
1994    Rodger Ream
1995    Rodger Ream             Baltimore, USA
1996    Jacques Zonne           Amsterdam, Netherlands
1997    Michael Freer              Seattle, USA
1998    Sherman Hanke          Massachusetts, USA
1999    Michael Patterson       Tuscon, USA
2000    Robert Kenny              Ottowa, Canada
2001    Hal Hillman                  Rhode Island, USA
2002    Robert Cannon           Phoenix, USA
2003    David Mendelson        Seattle, USA
2004    Jay Duckworth            New Jersey, USA
2005    David Nigro                 New York, USA
2006    Tom Swanton             Seattle, USA
2007    Steve Strong               Washington State, USA
2008    Dean Bruno                 Boston, USA
2009    Barry Welch                California, USA
2010    George Hains              New York, USA
2011    Curtis Stanton             California, USA

International Mr Daddy Bear
1995    Clark Bufkin                 California, USA
1996    Sean Minogue             San Diego, USA
1997    Lance Lirette               Vancouver, Canada
1998    Loyd Powell                 Houston, USA
1999    Rob Hathaway            Newberg, USA
2000    Craig McCauslan        California, USA
2001    Dave Ward                  Leicester, UK
2002    Jeremy Fennell           London, UK
2003    Roger Spencer           Cincinnati, USA
2004    Bill Howard                  Lexington, USA
2005    Mischa Kitain               Sacramento, USA
2006    Ali Lopez                     Maryland, USA
2007    Todd Bennett              Salt Lake City, USA
2008    Ringo Nannings          Amsterdam, Netherlands
2009    Joe Mannetti                California, USA
2010    Paul D. Cain                Nevada, USA
2011    Craig Gundersen        Wisconsin, USA

International Mr Bear Cub
1994    Dominick Zurlo
1995    Glen McClintock          California, USA
1996    Joe Parker                   Austin, USA
1997    Duane Mosco              California, USA
1998    Jeff Boone                   Ontario, Canada
1999    Steve Earle                 Kent, UK
2000    Brad Bivvins                Tuscon, USA
2001    Scooter Garoutte        California, USA
2002    Stephen Jensen          Massachusetts, USA
2003    Ian Urwin                     Newcastle, UK
2004    Juan Viera                   Madrid, Spain
2005    Manny Diaz                 Brooklyn, USA
2006    Louis Colasurdo          New jersey, USA
2007    Steve Finch                 Long Beach, USA
2008    Bud Gundy                  San Francisco, USA
2009    Jose Zurbano              Seville, Spain
2010    Javier Perez
2011    Erik Green                   Santa Cruz, USA

This post was updated in February 2017 to include the information kindly provided by my readers below.

Thursday 14 February 2013

A Queer Flower Power Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

I’m combining two of my subject series to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day today – flowers and heraldry. As I said a few months back heraldry has always used puns and symbolism. In the Middle Ages not many people could read a knight’s name if it was written down, so if nothing else using puns on a coat of arms would help you remember who it was. It was kind of medieval branding or logo.

When we come to think about flowers only one symbolises St. Valentine’s Day – the red rose. In heraldry the rose has been used extensively, and anyone with the surname Rose has frequently put one in their coat of arms, as did today’s family, a family that has produced two Presidents and a First Lady to the USA. They are the Roosevelts, and they use a red rose as a pun on their name.

The achievement I have produced here is that of Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece and wife of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt respectively.
 Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, beginning by entering the women’s rights movement after World War One. When her husband became president in 1933 she helped to bring several human rights causes to the fore. During this time she was a prolific columnist, and through this she met Lorena Hickok. They had a strong emotional relationship and their surviving letters suggest it was lesbian in essence.

As a married woman Eleanor would by entitled to use both her father’s and husband’s coat of arms. These would be depicted side by side as shown in my painting. Under UK heraldry law she would not have been entitled to use a shield, helmet or crest, and until she got married would have displayed her father’s arms on a diamond-shaped lozenge. She would not have been allowed to show a helmet or family crest, which is why I’ve chosen to show her heraldic achievement as a married woman.

The Roosevelt arms are Dutch in origin as is the Roosevelt family itself. A more detailed account of the Roosevelt arms in found here.

Eleanor herself inherited the arms of her 4-times-great-grandfather Nicholas, a first-generation American of Dutch parentage who became an Alderman of New York in 1698. Theodore and Eleanor descend from his 2nd son, and Franklin D. Roosevelt descends from Nicholas’s 3rd son.

On the shield you can see the 2 branches of the family reunited in marriage. On the left half those of Eleanor’s husband, and on the right those of her father’s (and Theodore’s) branch. You’ll see a slight difference. On the right the roses grow from a grassy mount like a bush. Being descended from Nicholas’s 2nd son this is the oldest and most senior version of the Roosevelt arms. It seems that Franklin Roosevelt himself decided to change his junior branch’s version to just the 3 roses.

The feathers on the crest are a reminder of the original ones worn in medieval times. Originally crests were just feathers or fans and all knights had them. The most famous of these is still in use – the three feathers of the Prince of Wales. These early feather fans were called panaches and were an impressive display on top of a knight’s helmet. So if you hear of someone having great panache it goes back to these showy feather fans. Gradually knights decided to have distinctive crests that reflected their active service or family, such as the royal lion adopted by the kings of England.

Unfortunately, neither Eleanor nor Franklin Roosevelt received any honours that can be displayed on their coat of arms. The motto translates as “He who planted will preserve”.

Monday 11 February 2013

Extraordinary Lives - Sir Francis Bacon

The person who can be said to be the first modern scientist was Sir Frances Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans (left). Even though his research methods were considered eccentric in his time they led the way in observation and experimentation in research.

For several centuries Bacon’s sexuality was either ignored or misinterpreted. Rictor Norton, one of the world’s current leading lgbt historians, has written: “Historians regularly hide what they cannot deny, and suppress evidence of the homosexuality of historical figures”. The evidence in Francis Bacon’s case is everywhere. During his lifetime he was known to show a particularly close interest in a string of young Welsh servants and attendants he employed. One of his contemporaries wrote an autobiography in which he goes into some detail about a certain “bedfellow” of Bacon’s by the name of Godrick. Even Bacon’s own mother complained about him allowing his servants to sleep (and more) with him in his own bed. It wasn’t the sex that offended her so much as the fact that the servants were allowed to enter the master’s bedroom!

The bulk of Bacon’s career was taken up with the law. He joined the Inns of Court in London in 1575. He was elected MP of several successive constituencies right up to 1614. By this time Bacon was also one of the most influential figures at the court of King James I. This started through his friendship with the Earl of Essex who tried to have Bacon appointed by Queen Elizabeth I to several key positions. When Essex fell out of favour and executed Bacon helped to prosecute him.

When James I succeeded to the throne of England Bacon tried to improve his standing further. Perhaps James recognised a kindred spirit in Bacon. The king had several toy-boys whom he advanced at court. The most important of these was George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Bacon’s letters show he obviously fancied Buckingham as much as the king did, but wisely kept his distance. It wasn’t long before Bacon was knighted and climbed the legal ladder from King’s Counsel to Solicitor General to Attorney General to Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and finally, in 1618, Lord Chancellor, the highest position in the country after the king himself.

One of the first responsibilities Bacon was charged with when James succeeded was as a member of the commission to unite the Crowns of Scotland and England politically into Great Britain. In the present day there’s a lot of talk about Scotland leaving the United Kingdom (leaving Great Britain, actually, as it would still leave England and Northern Ireland and the united kingdoms).

By 1621 Bacon had been given a peerage and was Viscount St Albans. But his influence at court was soon cut short. Through the machinations of his political rivals he was convicted to accepting bribes as a judge and briefly locked up in the Tower of London. On his release he had the chance to spend more time on his final career choice – that of scientific researcher and a writer.

Bacon had dabbled in science before his conviction. At university as a teenager he had no interest in the views of Aristotle which dominated scientific thought at the time and wanted to pursue his own experimental techniques.

In 1592 he said that all knowledge was his province, and over the next few years he gradually developed his theories of learning, so that by 1621 he was more than ready to pursue his dream of full-time research. The scope of Bacon’s research and thinking covers many subjects. From the origin of ancient myths to the nature of learning, from the causes of hiccups to the shortage of rain in Egypt, Bacon had a theory.

What amazes me about Bacon’s observations is that sometimes he noticed things that are not explained until 300 years later. Bacon had looked at maps of the coastlines of Africa and newly explored South America and noticed that they almost fitted together. Today we know why – because they DID fit together, many millions of years ago. Bacon didn’t try to explain continental drift, he didn’t think anything of it, he was just making an observation.

What Bacon espoused more than anything else is his scientific writing was that only proper experimentation led to the truth. This is best explained in his novel “New Atlantis”. It describes the fictional island of Bensalem and it’s scientific institute full of eager researchers into all things. From this fictional institute grew an idea among scientists to create something similar in reality, and in 1660 the Royal Society was founded in London. It was partly inspired by Bacon.

As a piece of fiction “New Atlantis” also influenced, and was satirised by, Jonathan Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels” (having read both in the past I recommend those who haven’t read either to read “Gulliver’s Travels” first – chapters 2 to 6 of Book 3; a parody often makes the original easier to read).

Perhaps the utopian island created by Bacon reflected his own belief in the creation of an ideal new state in the New World. The American colonies were just being established and Bacon had a leading role in the creation of Virginia.

How do you sum up the life of a man like Sir Francis Bacon? I can think of no better way than to recount the manner of his death. It illustrates his enquiring mind, his eagerness to learn, and his approach to experimentation that is the basis of all science today.

One snowy day in March 1626 Bacon was travelling through the countryside. Looking at the snow through his carriage window he wondered if it would preserve food with its coldness. He asked his coachman to stop and buy a chicken from a nearby house (every country house kept chickens at this time). Bacon left the relative comfort of his carriage and began to stuff the dead chicken with snow. I know that Spring air can be a bit nippy at times, but March 1626 must have been particularly cold. Bacon caught a chill and it soon developed into bronchitis. Several days later, on Easter Day, 19th April 1626. Sir Francis Bacon breathed his last.

An extraordinary end to an extraordinarily progressive mind.

Saturday 9 February 2013

On Track to the Outgames II

The first World Outgames took place in Montréal from 29th July to 5th August 2006. They were just a few days after the Gay Games in Chicago finished, and many people feared that one would overshadow the other or force athletes to chose which event to attend.

As it turned out both events proved equally popular. Montréal had an lgbt and human rights conference whose attendees are often added to the total figure for Rendez-Vous (the name of the overall sporting, cultural and conference events).

The format for the sporting competitions followed that of the Gay Games and other international lgbt events. Medals were awarded in age groups for many individual sports, like swimming and athletics. When it came to rowing, however, the sport’s sanctioning body, the International Rowing Association, said it would only recognise first place winners in each event. That meant no silver or bronze medals. Instead the Outgames organisers awarded gold medals to all heat winners as well as the winner of the final – all those in the rowing finals had already won gold by winning their heats.

The rowers included Danish Olympian Inger Pors, who won 3 gold medals ( and 2 bronzes in athletics). She was one of the organisers of the rowing competition at the 2nd World Outgames in 2009 in Copenhagen.

Even though Montréal-born Christian Hogue and his American boyfriend James McAnally finished second in both of their heats in the coxed fours, they still had reason to celebrate. They took advantage of the Canadian same-sex marriage laws and tied the knot the day after their final race. Several other athlete couples got married during the Outgames as well.

One noticeable aspect of the Outgames was the number of openly straight athletes. The organisers estimated that about 5% of competitors were not lgbt. This was about the same at the Chicago Gay Games but was less obvious. This shows how many straight athletes are not conned by the homophobia of the majority of major professional sporting communities, and both the Outgames and the Gay Games have always been accepting of straight athletes (straight Olympic hammer thrower and world record holder George Frenn took part in the first Gay Games in 1982, for instance).

The powerlifting competition saw two straight athletes from the tiny island of Tahiti winning gold medals. Tahiti also sent 3 bodybuilders, including Patrick Praud who won 2 gold medals. The overall winner of the male bodybuilding competition was Chris Fillipelli, a well-known professional bodybuilder and gay erotic muscle model.

The Montréal games were not without their fair share of more well-known names, not least of all being the games co-president Mark Tewksbury. You’d have thought that being one of the organisers meant you were kept very busy, but Mark found time to get back into the pool for a couple of events.

Tewksbury provided one of the sporting highlights of the games. In the 100m backstroke (the event in which he won an Olympic gold medal in 1992) Mark was up against an old Olympic rival, the USA’s Dan Veatch. They had both swum in the 200m backstroke competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympics though not in the same heats (Dan came 7th in the final, Mark came 4th in the B final to decide the lower places). This time it Mark finished in first place, but in the way in which medals are awarded, both men won gold for being the top finisher in their age group.

Other less internationally-known names included top Canadian speed skater Mathieu Giroux. He was one of the many straight athletes and won a bronze medal in the roller-racing marathon. He went on to win a speed skating gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.

An unusual combination of sport and politics could be found in the person of Réal Ménard, an openly gay member of the Quebec parliament who won a silver medal in the wrestling competition.

The figure skating competition saw Joel Mangs win 2 silver medals. He was a former Swedish Junior Champion and future professional dance partner in the Dutch version of “Dancing on Ice”. But he was more familiar to a lot of gay men in 2006 as gay porn actor Brad Patton.

To round up this short recap of the sport at the first World Outgames here is an almost surreal image from the swimming pool. New Zealand lawyer Jills Angus Burney competed in 5 swimming events but she broke no records. However, she was already a record holder. In 1989 she became the world’s fastest female sheep shearer, shearing 541 lambs in 9 hours – a record which she held for 18 years!

Despite fears that the first Outgames would be overshadowed by the immediately preceding Gay Games, or vice versa, Montréal Rendez-Vous and the World Outgames were a huge success. This was hinted at in the pre-games registration period when thousands of athletes signed up, though no-one was sure how many would actually turn up, especially as a good proportion of them had signed up for the Gay Games as well.

What marked out Montréal’s success was the professional organisation and an atmosphere of friendliness and acceptance felt by the athletes in the host city. Many athletes who had also competed in Chicago said that Montréal “felt better”. The Montréal organising committee had proved they were more than capable of organising the large-scale event that was envisaged from the start. Even though they and the Chicago Gay Games suffered financial losses, the success of both in such a short period of time (and relative geographical proximity), the success of both ensured that they would both continue.

In my next Outgames post I’ll look briefly at the element which distinguishes these games from any other – the human rights conference.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Black Scientists for History Month

In celebration of the US Black History Month here are some black lgbt scientists and mathematicians. I have been unable to find a group or organisation specifically for black lgbt scientists, though there are several for black scientists in general, and it is believed in scientific circles that there are many who are not out. However, I have selected the following to illustrate the variety of subjects where black scientists have made, and are still making, a contribution.

First and foremost is George Washington Carver (d.1943), perhaps the only black scientist known outside science circles. Perhaps you’ve never hear of him until now, but I bet you’ve eaten something he developed. In fact, his life is so full and varied that it seems more appropriate to feature him in one of my Extraordinary Lives series. Which is exactly what I’m going to do later this month, so sorry if I’m leaving you in tenterhooks!

Born over a hundred years before George Washington Carver was Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806). Having been born in the age of slavery Benjamin was fortunate in actually having been born a free man. Like Carver after him, Benjamin left little real evidence of his sexuality and historians have suggested the probability that both were closeted gay men. Both came from an era, country and ethnic community in which homosexuality wasn’t accepted. There were multiple prejudices against them. However, there was no intolerance when it came to their skills.

Like most pre-Industrial Revolution scientists, Benjamin didn’t specialise in any specific subject. Mathematics was the basis of most sciences in those days. Benjamin used his great mathematical mind to show off his mechanic skills. He built a clock made entirely out of wood – cogs and wheels included. It was perfect, and kept time from the day he constructed it at the age of 22 to over 40 years later.

Among Benjamin’s other achievements was the compiling of an almanac of dates and calendars, mainly for the agriculture industry. He even predicted an eclipse without the use of pre-published tables. The biggest physical legacy he left behind is the layout of present day Washington DC. After the original city architect stormed off in a huff with all the plans Benjamin managed to reproduce them all from memory in 2 days. Otherwise another architect would have been brought in to draw up new plans.

Benjamin is now regarded as the first African-American scientist, and possibly also the USA’s first native-born lgbt scientist. Today there are many lgbt black scientists, but few of them are not, believing they are the still subject to double-discrimination.

This has been the experience of Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical physicist who found that both her sexuality and race were the subject of questions when she was interviewed for a postdoctoral research position. Being a woman also brought her triple discrimination in her chosen subject. Today Chanda is at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

One black scientist who has done well in his chosen career is Dr. Ron Buckmire, known on the blogosphere as MadProfessah. He is Associate Professor of Mathematics at Occidental College, California, where he first arrived in 1994 as a Minority Scholar-in-Residence Postdoctoral Fellow. As an out gay man for many years Ron has also carved out a place in lgbt rights in America, particularly California. As a mathematician he is a keen advocate of the more pro-active teaching of maths and algebra in schools, and is Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation. In 1996 Ron was listed in the Top 100 Gay and Lesbian Activists of the Year by “Out” magazine.

Perhaps MadProfessah’s first taste of fame came at the age of 17, when he beat Geoff Lawton, an international Chess Master, at the British Chess Championships in Edinburgh in 1985 – in just 14 moves! By the next year he was a US Chess Master himself.

There are many, many more black and ethnic lgbt scientists and I hope to include as many as possible throughout the year.