Thursday 30 January 2014

Medal Quest - 100 Days to Darwin

The third Asia-Pacific Outgames in Darwin begin in 100 days time. The Outgames follow a different format to the Gay Games in that there are several continental Outgames as well as the World Outgames. Because of this it is difficult to produce a list of the overall Top Ten medal winners. It would be like comparing the continental EuroGames or Pan-American Games with the Olympics.

But then athletes wouldn’t have a medal quest to pursue if there weren’t any medals! So today I’m looking at some of the medals themselves. In an article last summer I mentioned Canadian artist Corrine Hunt designed both the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic medals and the 2011 North America (Vancouver) Outgames medals. I intend to post a more detailed article about these next month.

Until then, here is some information about the medals of some of the Outgames. For every medal there can be several designers. One person can design the actual medal, and another the medal ribbon. Yet another can be credited as designer of the official games logo which is always incorporated into the medal.

For the first World Outgames in Montréal in 2006 both the medal and the ribbon were designed by Jean-François Perrier. Jean-François was the Design Co-ordinator for the games with a place on the organising committee. He was also the designer and webmaster of the Montréal 2006 website. The medals he designed (pictured below) were of the traditional circular shape, though you may be able to see a cut-out section around the top rim of the medal through which the ribbon is threaded.

Jean-François was secretary of the Montréal bid to host the 2006 Gay Games. He bid, led by Olympian Mark Tewksbury, was accepted but later withdrawn and the Gay Games were awarded to Chicago instead. This led to the creation of the first World Outgames.

Jean-François knew Montréal well. He’s a qualified tourist guide for the city and former manager of the lgbt portfolio with Tourism Montréal. He was president of the Association Professionelle des Guides Touristique – Montréal, and is currently the administrator of the  association’s Facebook page.

The medals of the first Asia-Pacific Outgames in Melbourne in 2008 were designed by a local design company called Sabatini Belle Creative. This company was founded in 2004 by Belle Adziyovski and Ross Sabatini, who both have a B.A. in graphic design from Melbourne’s Monash University. They were appointed as the official designers for the first Asia-Pacific Outgames. Ross in particular had previous experience in the design and image of a big multi-sport festival. His first job was with the design company that worked on the Sydney 2000 Olympics and who designed the Sydney 2000 logo.

The Sabatini Belle medal for the Melbourne Outgames was, again, a circular design bearing the games logo. Medals were suspended on a green and black ribbon, the colours of the Melbourne games.

In 2009 the World Outgames were held in Copenhagen. The designer of the medals was a local fashionable goldsmith and jeweller called Mads Heindorf. Growing up as a gay teenager on the Danish island of Langeland Mads never thought he’d be designing jewellery for the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark, let alone an Outgames medal. He was a relative newcomer to the goldsmith and jewellery industry, having only just finished his apprenticeship in 2006.

It was after a Danish magazine interviewed him about his royal jewellery that he was invited to design the Outgames medals. Mads, medals, the largest in size so far, incorporated smaller discs and circles which he said would give them “a modern, tasteful and innovative design with Nordic inspiration” (pictured above). The innovative side of the medal came with the circular hole in the centre though which a plain black cord was threaded. The following year Mads designed the winner’s medal for the Mr Gay Denmark contest.

Of all the medal designs, perhaps the most distinctive at the Outgames was that designed for the most recent World Outgames in 2013 (pictured below). These were square with rounded corners. A heart-shaped depression in the centre carried the motto of the games.

I have no definitive information about the medal designers of the remaining World and Continental Outgames, but am still researching and hope to produce a complete list in the future.

Monday 27 January 2014

Holocaust Memorial Day - Some Holocaust Heroes

In recent years many gay victims and survivors of the Holocaust have become known to us. The last few of these survivors seem to have passed away now, and unless there are some who wish to live private lives away from “publicity” we have entered a new era when Nazi persecution of gay men moves from “living testimony” to “historical record”.

Among the many thousands of gay men imprisoned by the Nazis are those whose names are not as well-known as Gad Beck or Rudolf Brazda. I want to mention a handful of lgbt men – and women - whose stories are almost forgotten. They can be considered among the Holocaust Heroes because they resisted the Nazis, and some of them paid the ultimate price for doing so.

Robert Oelbermann (1896-1941) was, with his twin brother Karl, a co-founder of one of the many all-male youth groups in pre-Nazi Germany. Called the Nerother Bund the group centred their activities on outdoor pursuits such as camping and hiking. These youth groups were often places where close emotional and physical relationships were common among the boys. The Nerother Bund were known to accept these close relationships, mainly because Robert was himself almost certainly gay.

When the Nazis rose to power in 1933 all youth groups were required by law to disband and their young members were “encouraged” to join the Hitler Youth. Robert was on a world tour at the time, and on his return to Germany attempted to set up his group again. In 1936 Hitler cracked down on the remaining pockets of independent youth groups and Robert Oelbermann was arrested.

Robert’s arrest wasn’t enough to keep him in custody for long, so forced confessions from members of the Nerother Bund led to him being convicted of homosexuality, a charge he always denied, perhaps knowing he would end up in a concentration camp. In 1941 he was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later Dachau, where he died later that year. A small memorial plaque to him is located at Waldeck Castle, the meeting place of the Nerother Bund.

Lesbian couple Henrica “Ru” Paré (1896-1972) and Theodora “Do” Vesteegh (1889-1970) became heroes of the Dutch resistance movement. Ru was an artist and through her artistic connection with members and other artists in the resistance provided fake papers and passports for over 50 Jewish children and adults. She found temporary foster parents for some children, aided by many local priests.

“Do” Vesteegh was trained as a classical singer. She produced concerts during the war to secretly raise funds for help keep the escape routes open. The money would pay for the fake passports and transport costs.

Nicknamed “Aunt Zus”, perhaps originally her code name within the resistance, Ru Paré kept in touch with many of the children she and Do rescued from the Nazis, and some of these children were instrumental in getting streets and schools named after the couple in the Netherlands.

Count Albrecht von Bernstorff (1890-1945) was from an influential German family of diplomats and soldiers. True, his blue blood and diplomatic connections protected him from much of the Nazi persecution, but in the end he was branded a traitor.

The Count was a diplomat in London when Hitler came to power, and he immediately went back to Germany to protect his family estates. Albrecht was a vocal opponent of Hitler, and he flaunted his position as a well-connected man by deliberately joining the board of the main Jewish bank in Berlin (he wasn’t Jewish).

On the outside Count Albrecht was a spoilt aristo – renowned in London for his partying, drinking, and his flirting and propositioning of waiters in cafes. Yet this foppish exterior masked a Scarlet Pimpernel interior. In Berlin he used his good connections to smuggle many Jews out of Germany.

He also belonged to a group of conspirators who plotted to overthrow Hitler. He was arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he was tortured. Bernstorff's influential and aristocratic connections led to his release but the Gestapo kept an eye on him. In 1943 he was rearrested and held in various prisons, warehouse basements and Ravensbruck concentration camp accused of sedition. Bernstorff was shot without trial by the SS in April 1943.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Let's Grab a Grammy : Part 2

Tomorrow the Grammy awards for 2013 will be presented at a glittering ceremony in Los Angeles. Two days ago I gave a brief look at the lgbt Grammy winners of the early years and today I bring the story up to date and look at some of the popular music winners of recent years. As mentioned last time, many lgbt artists had been nominated for Grammys without winning one. So, as last time, I’ll just mention winners not nominees.

Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, members of Prince’s backing band “the Revolution”, were the first lgbt pop winners. In fact they won 2 with Prince for their 1984 sound-track album “Purple Rain”, one for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture, and another for Best Rock Performance by a Group with Vocals.

Elton John came next. Surprisingly, Elton’s first Grammy was for a collaboration. He, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder won Best Pop Performance by a Duo of Group with Vocals of 1986 with “That’s What Friends Are For”. Even though it wasn’t written by or for them, the famous foursome recorded the song as a charity fund-raiser for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Even more surprisingly, Elton didn’t receive another Grammy until 1992, when he won Best Instrumental Composition of 1991 with “Basque”.

“That’s What Friends Are For” was the first of several recordings with links to AIDS that won Grammys. In 1992, two Grammys were awarded for John Corigliano’s “Symphony No.1” – Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Contemporary Composition for John himself.

Inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, Corigliano used his composition to remember friends and colleagues who had died from AIDS, including extending an improvisation between himself and a friend from a tape recording he made several decades earlier. I hope to write more about this and other AIDS-inspired music on World AIDS Day.

As with Elton, George Michael’s first Grammy was for a collaboration – Best R+B Performance of 1987 by a Duo of Group with Vocals - with his duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”. Fortunately George Michael didn’t have to wait as long as Elton for his first solo Grammy. The next year “Faith” won Best Album of the Year, the first in this category to be won by an lgbt solo artist.

Looking through the various genres of music and categories in which the Grammys are awarded I’ve compiled the following list of the first lgbt winners in each category.
Best Alternative Music Album of 1991
“Out of Time” by R.E.M. (with Michael Stipe)
Best Rock Vocal Performance Female of 1992
“Ain’t It Heavy”, Melissa Etheridge
Best Musical Show Album of 1993
“Tommy”, The Who (words and lyrics by Pete Townshend)
Best Long Form Music Video of 1998
America Masters – Lou Reed Rock and Roll Heart”, Lou Reed
Best Album of 1999, and
Best Rock Album of 1999 (to producer)
Clive Davis, producer, for “Supernatural” by Santana
Best Song of 2003, and
Best R+B Album of 2003
“Dance With My Father”, Luther Vandross
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album of 2003
“A Wonderful World”, k d lang and Tony Bennett
Best Rock Album of 2004 (to performers)
“American Idiot”, Green Day (with Billie Joe Armstrong)
Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group of 2004
“Let’s Get It Started”, Black Eyed Peas (with Fergie)
Best Dance Recording of 2009
“Poker Face”, Lady Gaga
Best Electronic/Dance Album of 2009
“The Fame”, Lady Gaga
Best Metal Performance of 2009
“Dissident Aggressor”, Judas Priest (with Rob Halford)
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance of 2010
“Bad Romance”, Lady Gaga
Best Pop Vocal Album of 2010
“The Fame Monster”, Lady Gaga
Best Rap/Song Collaboration of 2011
“All of the Lights”, Fergie
Best Urban Contemporary Album of 2012
“Channel Orange”, Frank Ocean

Thursday 23 January 2014

Let's Grab A Grammy : Part 1

This weekend sees the annual celebration of the Grammy awards, the top awards in the international music recording industry. What better way to help celebrate my year of music than by taking a brief look at the lgbt Grammy winners.

What all Grammys have in common is that they are awarded for recorded music and not live performance, and there are many lgbt singers, musicians, producers, composers and technicians who have been nominated over the years. However, there’s no room to name them all so these articles I’m writing mention a few of the winners and not the nominations.

The first lgbt winner of a Grammy was pianist Van Cliburn who died last year. In the very first year the Grammys were awarded, 1959, Van won the award for Best Classical Performance – Instrumentalist (with concerto scale accompaniment) of 1958. The rather long award title reflects the desire to recognise as many different styles within one category, not unlike the many different categories in the same event at the Paralympic Games.

Van Cliburn is also the first multi-Grammy winner. His second was awarded in the following year for his recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in the slightly longer category title of (deep breath) Best Classical Performance – Concerto or Instrumental Soloist with full Orchestral Accompaniment (phew!).

The lgbt musicians with the most Grammys is composer Pierre Boulez, with 26. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz is one below him with 25.

The honour of being the first lgbt composer to be a Grammy winner goes to Aaron Copland. He won the award in 1960 for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Also in 1960 Cole Porter receive a Grammy for his musical “Can Can”, winning (another deep breath) the Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture.

The first lgbt musician to win more than one Grammy in the same year was Leonard Bernstein in 1961, though only one was for music. Grammys have been awarded for spoken recordings, and Bernstein won the Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording Other than Comedy for his narration of “Humour in Music” (slightly confusing considering the category title!).

The Best Documentary of Spoken Word award holds the record for the most consecutive lgbt winners – 1961 - Bernstein, 1962 – Charles Laughton for “The Story-Teller: A Session with Charles Laughton”, 1963 – Edward Albee for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, and 1964 – the cast of BBC tv’s “That Was The Week That Was” (with producer and head writer Ned Sherrin) for their tribute to John F. Kennedy (though, technically, Sherrin isn’t an official winner).

The first lgbt musician to win more than one Grammy in the same year for the same recording was Benjamin Britten. In 1963 he won Classical Album of the Year for 1962, Best Classical Performance – Choral (Other than Opera), and Best Classical Composition by a Contemporary Composer. All three were for his recording of his “War Requiem”.

Film and stage musicals have always featured in the Grammys, and gay men have an apocryphal reputation for being their biggest fans. After Cole Porter’s “Can Can” in 1960 the next Grammy to an lgbt musical personality went in 1964 to Jerry Herman. He won the Song of the Year award with “Hello, Dolly!” from the film version of the stage musical of the same name, which also won Best Male Vocal Performance for Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, Jerry Herman lost the award for the best soundtrack recording of “Hello, Dolly!” to “Mary Poppins”. But you lose some and you win some. In 1966 Herman won Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album with “Mame”.

The first individual lgbt instrumentalist still living to win a Grammy was Gary Burton in 1972. Gary plays the vibraphone, an instrument that was popular during the 1970s. His album “Alone at Last” won for him the Best Jazz Performance by a Soloist. He has won a further 6 Grammys, the last being last year as Best Improvised Jazz Solo.

If you’re thinking there’s a distinct lack of popular music among the winners I’ve named so far, you’d be right. Even though pop, rock’n’roll and soul Grammys have been awarded since the 1960s the first lgbt pop singer/musician to win was, unbelievably, not until 1984. That year David Bowie, Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin joined Stephen Sondheim and Samuel Barber on the winner’s list. Bowie’s award was for Best Short Form Video, and Lisa and Wendy, members of Prince's band The Revolution, shared the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals for their album “Purple Rain – Music From the Motion Picture”.

In two day’s time I’ll concentrate on the lgbt popular music Grammys.

Note: This article was amended on 27rh January 2014.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Medal Quest - 200 Days to Ohio

It’s another great year for international lgbt sport. As well as the Olympics and Paralympics there’s the Commonwealth Games, the Summer Youth Olympics, and the Asian Games. All of these will have lgbt athletes, but the games which are of special interest this year are the Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron and the Asia-Pacific Outgames in Darwin.

I’ll be looking at both the Gay Games and the Outgames in the run-up to these events in this new mini-series of articles called Medal Quest. At various stages in the run-up to each games I’ll look at one particular theme, something all lgbt athletes strive to be – medal winners.

With today marking 200 days to go before the start of Gay Games IX in Ohio I’ll begin this Medal Quest by looking at the Top Ten athletes who have won the most Gay Games medals.

There are 2 ways you can calculate top medal lists. First, as her in the UK, you count the number of gold medals first, then silver, then bronze. Other countries count all the medals together, which often leads to a situation where an athlete who comes 3rd twice and wins 2 bronze medals comes higher than a champion who wins 1 gold. I’ll be using the UK method in my Medal Quest series.

Swimming has always been the most popular sport at both the Gay and Outgames with many swimmer competing in several different races. The age categories, like the ones used in international Masters Swimming competitions, also means that a swimmer can compete throughout his/her active life.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than in the Top Ten Gay Games medallists who are all swimmers from the USA. They are listed below in reverse order. My database is far from complete for the early games, so these statistics may well need revising after further research. I welcome any extra information to help produce the most definitive list of medallists by the summer.

10.       MICHAEL MEALIFFE (b.1940)
22 gold, 3 silver
The elder one of twins (by 15 minutes) Michael was a successful competitive swimmer in high school and college. He set many age-group records, including several Junior Olympic records. He returned to competition in 1990 at the Vancouver Gay Games, and also competed in 1994 and 2002. In 2008 Michael married Dean Pitchford, Oscar-winning songwriter of “Fame” and song/screenwriter of “Footloose”.

9.         MICHAEL DIVELY (b.1938)
            23 gold, 6 silver, 5 bronze
Philanthropist, art-collector, and former Michigan State representative and law professor, Michael returned to competitive swimming in 1974, though his first Gay Games were the 4th in New York in 1994. He has competed in every games since then, and just 5 months ago became the oldest gold medallist at the Canakkale Straits competition in Turkey.

8.         MICHELE HUYETTE (b.1968)
            24 gold, 6 silver, 2 bronze
Michele won her first Gay Games swimming medal in New York in 1994 and has won gold medals at the last 3 Gay Games. It was a fellow Pompano Beach Patrol lifeguard who persuaded her to take up triathlon in 1996, and she won the triathlon silver medal for her age-group at the Gay Games in Sydney 2002.

7.         NEILL WILLIAMS (b.1968)
            26 gold, 8 silver, 3 bronze
The youngest person on this list, Neill has been swimming competitively since winning a swimming scholarship to America University. He considers his first best year as 1994, the year he won his first Gay Games gold in New York. He has competed and won gold in all Gay Games since.

6.         PHILIP JOHNSON (b.1925)
            27 gold
The oldest person on this list. US World War II veteran Phil Johnson has often been the oldest competitor in his events at the Gay Games, his first being the second in San Francisco in 1986. He has been an activist since the pioneer years of gay rights, and founded the Phil John (originally the Dallas Gay) Historic Archives.

5.         MARY COFFEY (b.1939)
            27 gold, 6 bronze
Retired high school teacher Mary Coffey won her first Gay Games medal in San Francisco in 1986. She has medalled at every Gay Games up to Chicago 2006.

4.         M. ELLEN (MELON) DASH
            29 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze
M. Ellen (usually referred to as “Melon”) has been a competitive swimmer all her life and has been a swimming teacher since her undergraduate days. She has competed in 6 Gay Games since the very first one in 1982. In 1983 she developed a highly successful teaching method for people afraid of the water, which she still teaches.

3.         JAMES BALLARD (b.1957)
            30 gold, 5 silver, 1 bronze
Being diagnosed HIV+ in the early days of prejudice James Ballard entered his first Gay Games in 1994 less than 3 months after recovering from hepatitis to win the first of his many medals and Masters world records. He has competed at every Gay Games (except Chicago 2006) since.

2.         JESSICA SEATON (b.1954)
            33 gold, 8 silver, 3 bronze
Dr. Seaton is a chiropractic orthopaedist by profession, and is prominent in health and medical advice circles in swimming. Jessica has served on many swimming committees, including the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics and the Federation of Gay Games. Her first medal was in New York in 1994, and she has won many medals at every games since. jessica has a Medal of Honour from the Federation of Gay Games in recognition of her contribution to athletics and service as a volunteer in lgbt sport.

1.         JAN LEVINRAD (b.1947)
            35 gold, 6 silver, 2 bronze
South Africa-born Jan returned to swimming after an injury stopped her from skiing. She joined West Hollywood Aquatics in 1993 and was persuaded by Jessica Seaton (above), among others, to compete in her first Gay Games in New York in 1994. Jan has competed in every Gay Games since then.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Euro Bikers Hit 40

It was 40 years ago today that the European Confederation of Motorsport Clubs (ECMC) was formed. The cross-continental gay leather culture was well established in America but in Europe it was patchy because of the many individual nations. There were many leather and motorbike clubs dotted around Europe, many of which followed the US convention of using the word “motorcycle” in their title to bypass any suggestion of being a club for gay leather lovers (homosexuality was illegal in most European countries at the time).

Europe has a significant role in establishing the image of the leather biker thanks, in no small part, to the erotic art of Tom of Finland, who was himself a founding member of SLM (Scandinavian Leather Men) Finland in 1976.

In the 1970s international communications and travel was very expensive for any leather-biker club, being generally volunteer-run on a shoestring budget. Phone-calls cost the earth and in these pre-internet days instant contact was impossible. So those representatives from the founding clubs of the ECMC were true pioneers in the European leather community.

As with all groups it takes one or two people to seize the initiative after the initial idea is mooted. As president of Europe’s first leather club, Frazer Lowden of London’s Sixty Nine Club (founded in 1965) invited members from other known clubs in Europe to a meeting in London in January 1974. Several clubs from the continent attended, but the majority were, naturally, British. These clubs formed the founding members of the ECMC 40 years ago. These founding members (note : MSC means “Motor Sport Club”) were :
Sixty Nine Club (London)
Sherwood Choppers (presumably based in the Midlands)
Northern Riders (possibly from Manchester)
V Senses (“V” as in “5”)
Boys Cuir (France)
MSC London
MSC Amsterdam
MSC Belgica
Loge 70 (Switzerland)

John Willis of Sixty Nine Club was chosen as the first Secretary of ECMC with the responsibility of co-ordinating communication and information between the clubs and publicising events. He was probably the person who designed the confederation’s logo (above).

More clubs joined soon after the ECMC was formed and now there are 38 member clubs.

In 1985 the ECMC organised the first Mr Leather Europe contest, open to any member of an ECMC club. These contests are usually held during the period of the AGM and both are hosted by a different member club each year. Full lists of the Mr Leather Europe contest are difficult to find and there are several years when the identity of the winner hasn’t been established. Here’s a list of those known winners, their regional titles (if known) and whether they went on to win the International Mr Leather (IML) title as well :

1985    David Risenborough
1987    Thomas Karasch (d.1994), IML 1987
1988    Vincente Jimenez
1992    A. J. Steigenberger
1995    Antonio Sanchez, also Mr Drummer Europe 1995
1996    Dario van der Lundin Videla, Mr Leather Sweden
1997    Stein Losnegaard
1998    Rob Scheers, also Mr Drummer Europe 1998
1999    Peter Wallace, Mr Leather SLM-Oslo
2001    Maurizio, Mr Leatherman Italia
2002    Fernando Manzali, Mr Leatherman Italia
2003    Saad Hasson, Mr Baltic Battle
2004    Robert Menichetti, (Mr Leather Belgium?)
2005    Christian Roger
2006    Simen Enersen, Mr Leather Denmark
2007    Martin Cedergen, Mr Baltic Battle
2008    Ralf Rasmussen, Mr Leather Denmark
2009    Pieter Claeys, Mr MS Amsterdam
2010    Eric Gutierrez, Mr Leather France, IML 2011
2011    Alexi Carpentieri, Mr Baltic Battle
2012    Kilker Alcaraz, Mr Leather UK
2013    Francesco, Mr Leatherman Italia

Happy 40th Birthday to the ECMC.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Queer Star-Gayzing Achievement - Wagner's Assumed Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
Today’s article title is very deceptive, but accurate. Combining my musical theme for 2014, my Wagner theme for January, and my “Star Gayzing” with my “Queer Achievement” series I look at the composer’s coat of arms. My previous articles have dealt with coats of arms that were either inherited or granted to their owners. Richard Wagner’s was neither. They were devised by himself in 1870 – assumed, in heraldic terms.

The problem with Wagner’s arms is that there are variations used by Wagner himself precisely because they were assumed and unofficial. My painting is an interpretation of Wagner’s design to which I have added other elements to produce a full achievement.

As I remarked in my article on Wagner’s sexuality a few days ago, Richard Wagner wasn’t gay but his son Siegfried was. More confusion arises when we consider that Siegfried’s parents weren’t married when he was born – they married afterwards. In lawful heraldry this brings into doubt whether Siegfried would be entitled to use these arms at all, as only legitimate children can inherit them. As far as I’m concerned, because the arms weren’t lawfully adopted anyway, the proper rules don’t apply and they could be used by any of the Wagner family, Siegfried included.

The central device on the shield shows the constellation of the Plough, or Ursa Major, or Big Dipper, whichever you prefer. This, and the rest of the design, shows Wagner had some understanding of heraldic convention. I’ve mentioned in previous heraldic articles that puns and visual clues play an important part in heraldry. Wagner chose the plough constellation as a reference to his family name. In German “plough” is ”wagen”. The plough (both its constellation and representation of the real thing) have also been used by other unrelated Wagner families in other countries as well.

I don’t know why Wagner positioned the constellation upside down in relation to its usual representation, but the number of stars is significant. When Richard Wagner was just 6 months old his father died, leaving Richard and his 6 siblings fatherless. Their mother remarried to Ludwig Geyer. Wagner once recalled that the 7 stars represent the 7 Wagner children which Geyer took under his wing.

And the shield shows quite literally Geyer taking these 7 children under his wing. The bird, a vulture, is called “geier” in German. It’s another pun. Vultures are rare in heraldry, mainly due to their reputation as scavengers and their rather un-attractive appearance. Wagner’s own drawings of the bird are more like eagles or hawks. I’ve chosen to depict the intended vulture.

Wagner designed no crest to go with his coat of arms. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, compulsory to have a crest if you have a coat of arms. As Wagner’s arms were assumed I have no qualms in using artistic licence and using the vulture again as the crest.

As well as a crest, Wagner didn’t come up with a family motto. I decided not to create one. Regular readers will know that I colour the motto scroll in Rainbow Pride colours. With this in mind I’ve put the rainbow colours onto the twisted cloth band (the torse in heraldic terms) that sits on top of the helmet to keep the flowing mantling in place.

Wagner put an illustration of his arms on the frontispiece of “Mein Leben” (My Life), his autobiography. He used it as a seal on his ring, and in a glass panel over the front door of his home in Bayreuth. He seems to have become quite taken with his design. It may not have been created at all if it hadn’t been suggested by the young man he had appointed as proof reader on “Mein Leben”, Friedrich Nietzsche, later to become known as a highly influential philosopher.

Monday 13 January 2014

The Right Notes for the Olympics

Just over 3 weeks away from the Sochi Olympics my thoughts turn to the opening ceremony. With all the controversy surrounding President Putin’s anti-gay laws it’s a virtual certainty that few lgbt performers will be identified at either the opening or closing ceremony. Putin refuses to accept that any famous Russian is, or was, gay, even Tchaikovsky or Nureyev. So let’s rub Putin’s nose in it by celebrating the contributions lgbt music has made to the Olympic Winter ceremonies.

Olympic opening and closing ceremonies were fairly formal affairs until relatively recently. The only music likely to be heard were the Olympic and national anthems, and music for the entry of the teams. The big spectaculars familiar to us today only really entered the Olympics at the 1976 Montréal games. The Montréal opening ceremony is famous as being the first event where the Mexican wave, a staple event in stadiums ever since, was filmed. Opening ceremonies until Montréal consisted of the welcoming segment, athlete’s parade, regional/national band/music, official opening, oaths, and entry of the torch and lighting of cauldron. Montréal introduced the pure entertainment segment of inflated dinosaurs and giant eggs which opened to reveal dancing baby dinosaurs. Interestingly, pre-Montréal opening ceremonies had a parade of athletes OUT of the stadium after the cauldron was lit so that the “entertainment”, usually a national or regional dance, could begin. Moscow 1980 introduced the large-scale full-arena entertainment (after the teams had marched out) that is common today.

Winter ceremonies were shorter and simpler due to their being held in freezing cold open air venues. The 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics moved the closing ceremony to an indoor ice arena. This led to the incorporation into the ceremony of the traditional ice skating gala performed by the Olympic medallists and more music. These galas were the main entertainment right up to Sarajevo 1984 (Calgary 1988 introduced specially choreographed sequences – see below).

Most of the lgbt Olympic figure skating medallists performed at the closing ceremony ice galas. Complete records of performers (let alone which music they skated to) are pretty rare, but the first known gay figure skater at the closing gala could well have been silver medallist Robbie Robertson in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956. It’s virtually certain that Ondrej Nepela, as the new Olympic champion, performed at the gala in Grenoble 1968. Others have followed, with John Curry, Toller Cranston, Brian Pockar and Brian Orser all performing at closing galas. These days the ice gala has been held separately from the closing ceremony (a great pity to my mind).

Moving on to musical performances proper it seems that 1960s television influenced the ceremonies the most. Broadcasting rights, particularly from American companies, meant that ceremonies had a bigger audience and something more spectacular needed to be produced. What audiences wanted was a show, and that’s what Olympic ceremonies became, growing bigger every time, with more and more big-name stars, and a virtually continuous musical sound track.

Well-known national and international performers have appeared in ceremonies since the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics. It wasn’t until the summer games in Los Angeles 1984 that a real “show” can be said to have been produced. The winter games were slower to build up to the same level, with k d lang rounding off the Calgary 1988 closing gala (being mobbed mid-song by the athletes, including being hugged by Brian Orser) as one of the few non-skating performer. Calgary was the first gala to be largely choreographed with champions, past and present, appearing together in a special Victorian-style cavalcade on ice. The Artistic Director was Brian Pockar, and subsequent closing winter ceremonies have followed this example.

We had to wait until Salt Lake City in 2002 before the winter closing ceremony got more than one or two big name performer (Kiss, Cristina Aguilera, Harry Connick jr., Bon Jovi, Gloria Estefan, Earth Wing and Fire, and Donny and Marie Osmond, and many others). Most of the lgbt involvement was backstage, mainly choreographic and design, but the honour of singing the American national anthem went to the boyband N’Sync with gay band member Lance Bass.

Turin 2006 had fewer performers but the closing ceremony ended with Ricky Martin. The parade of athletes at Turin entered to a soundtrack of many disco/dance songs and gay anthems, including “Y.M.C.A”. In fact, “Y.M.C.A” was used twice – it was also used in the middle of the ceremony as an audience participation segment (something absent in the London 2012 ceremonies). Victor Willis, the lead singer of The Village People, has recently turned down an invitation to sing “Y.M.C.A” at the Sochi Olympics (fair enough, he wrote it).
And that brings us up to date, more or less, with Vancouver 2010. The Director of Choreography for both Olympic ceremonies was the openly gay Artistic Director of the Alberta Ballet, Jean Grand-Maître. His main personal involvement was choreographing the sequence to gay composer Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”. Immediately following this was a rock-folk section which involved several rock fiddlers, the climax being openly gay fiddler Ashley MacIsaacs. The opening ceremony ended with the return of k d lang singing “Hallelujah” during the symbolic release of the doves.

Before we know it the Sochi games will have come and gone. What will the ceremonies hold in the way of lgbt participation? Bearing in mind Putin’s anti-gay laws, his refusal to acknowledge Tchaikovsky’s sexuality and his own pathetic attempts to portray a macho image any lgbt performer may not wish to be identified.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Year of Remembrance : Israel Remembers Gay Victims

About a month ago a new Holocaust memorial was unveiled. It was a historic occasion in itself but what made it doubly historical was that it was the first memorial in Israel dedicated to the lgbt victims of the Holocaust, not only in memory of Jews but non-Jews as well.

The new memorial is situated in Meir Park in Tel Aviv in front of the city’s lgbt centre. The lgbt centre and the initial idea for the memorial came from a gay city councillor and lgbt community leader called Etai Pinkas.

Etai Pinkas was elected to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council in 2003. He made history in 2006 when he succeeded in his campaign to have his same-sex marriage registered in Israel. The marriage was conducted in Canada, the only country at the time who offered same-sex marriages to non-Canadians. It was the first same-sex marriage registered in Israel.

In 2007 Etai was visiting Amsterdam when he had the idea of a memorial to gay Holocaust victims for his own city. As soon as he could he approached the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, with the idea. Fortunately Huldai was receptive to the idea after having already approved of municipal funding for the lgbt centre.

Shortly before the lgbt centre opened in 2008 Mayor Huldai announced the plans for the gay memorial. The memorial, designed by Ron Assouline, was to be of three large iron panels arranged  to form a standing triangle. In the centre a triangular pit dug into the ground represented “the deep well of hatred”, said Etai.

Even though the lgbt centre opened as planned, the memorial never came to fruition. The idea, though, was not forgotten. It was another five years before a memorial was built, and it had a different design.

The driving force behind the second memorial was another Tel Aviv city councillor and lgbt community leader, Eran Lev. Once again Mayor Huldai gave his unqualified support for the project and secured municipal funding for it. A larger memorial was planned, under the direction of Yael Moriah, the landscape architect who had been working on the renovation of Meir Park for several years.

Triangles form a prominent part of the design again, this time there are several. The memorial itself is a concrete triangle inscribed with an explanation of the persecution of gay men under the Nazi regime. In one corner is a small inverted pink triangle representing the badge worn by gay men in the concentration camps. To one side is a wall inscribed with names of victims of this persecution, including the last known gay Holocaust survivor, Gad Beck, who died in 2012. Next to the memorial are three long pink stone seats arranged in another triangle where visitors can sit and contemplate the memorial.

On 10th December 2013 the memorial was officially inaugurated. It is the latest in a long line of Holocaust memorials that specifically remember the many gay victims.

Thursday 9 January 2014

Getting it Straight About the Wagners

Unfortunately its very difficult to get it straight about Richard Wagner’s sexuality. Even lgbt historians and music lovers disagree. Among the main music Establishment the question of whether Wagner was gay/bisexual is also hotly debated. Last February the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” and the manager of Las Scala opera house in Milan became locked in a battle of words, not over Wagner’s sexuality specifically but at the manner in which the orchestra was being conducted during a production of Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde”!

The production was being conducted by British conductor Daniel Harding. The opera critic of “Corriere della Sera”, Paolo Isotta, gave a scathing review of Harding’s performance, saying “it was so soft it made you think he wanted to back the unfounded theory that Wagner was homosexual”. Las Scala’s general manager accused Isotta of always using his reviews as “instruments of power, weapons against someone or something”, and banned him from reviewing any further La Scala production. The newspaper’s editor jumped into the fight by admitting that Isotta tended to be outspoken and unpredictable but refused to sanction him. It became apparent that there was some underlying animosity between La Scala and Isotta.

What the whole affair brings to light, apart from the fact that some people don’t believe Wagner was gay, is that a critic uses his own unfounded perception of homosexuality as being “soft” as a valid means of criticism. I bet he wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with his comments if it was racial.

I don’t believe Wagner was gay. That’s not to say that love wasn’t involved in his relationship with his young patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria. There are over 600 letters written between them that shows obvious deep affection and love between them. The well-known lgbt historian Rictor Norton believes their relationship was physical though not actually sexual. Wagner’s own descendants often deny there was any sexual connection between the two. Bearing in mind that same-sex affection was expressed differently in the 19th century, often written in terms and phrases that today would be taken as gay, I tend to agree with the Wagners.

My mind is also certain about Richard Wagener’s son Siegfried (1869-1930). Siegfried, named after one of the great German heroes featured in his father’s operas, was also a composer. He wrote 18 operas, mainly based on German folk tales, though his father’s reputation always overshadowed him. Siegfried became a leading family figure and guardian of his father’s legacy, taking over the artistic directorship of the Bayreuth Festival, founded by Wagner, between 1908 and 1930.

Siegfried was openly bisexual to his family. He had a string of male lovers and companions throughout his teenage years and into his 40s. There were no similar strong of female lovers. Just like his father’s patron King Ludwig Siegfried enjoyed all-male gatherings. These, and similar gatherings all across Germany, were seen with suspicion after the Eulenberg Affair of 1907-9 when the Kaiser was accused of surrounding himself with “sodomites”. The Wagner family had managed to hush up rumours of Siegfried’s involvement in any “sodomite” gathering but decided to take further action when hints and insinuations about his sexuality began to appear in the German press.

Siegfried was married at his mother’s insistence to quell the rumours. It worked. Siegfried fathered 4 children. The question of his relationships with men were either expunged or queried by his future biographers. The Wagner dynasty seemed eager to keep it quiet. Even in the 1980s Siegfried’s descendants were denying it.

Richard Wagner’s sexuality will probably always be a subject of debate and controversy, but that of his son Siegfried is emerging from the shadows and is becoming more widely accepted, more so than it was in his own lifetime.

Monday 6 January 2014

In the Name of the Kings

As a kind of Christmas epilogue I thought I’d look at another three lgbt people with seasonal connections. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, when Christian tradition celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings at the Nativity. Instead of birthdays I’ve looked for three people whose names are the same as the three kings. The Bible doesn’t name them, or even how many there were, but Christian folklore soon gave them names and back-stories. The names most often given to them are Melchior, Casper and Balthazar.

Let’s start with our musical theme for 2014 and our first look this month at Wagnerian music.

Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was a Danish opera singer who performed many of Richard Wagner’s pieces for a “heldentenor” (a “heroic tenor” specialising in the type of role created by composers like Wagner). One music critic write that Lauritz was “not the world’s greatest Wagner tenor” but “the only one!”

Lauritz became a professional singer in 1913, and ten years later he won an audition for Wagner’s widow Cosima and son Siegfried (more of whom in a couple of days). This was at the prompting of Lauritz’s lover at the time, the British writer Hugh Walpole. The Wagner’s were reviving the Bayreuth Festival which Wagner had founded and which had been suspended because of World War I. Under Cosima’s direction Lauritz learned the nuances and techniques which Wagner had intended got his heldentenor roles. Lauritz’s debut at the revived Bayreuth Festival in 1924 was hugely successful. Any other less powerful or able singer would have turned the revival into a damp squib, and Lauritz continued to perform at Bayreuth for several more years, ensuring its continued success.

In 1926 Lauritz began a long association with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. For the next 24 years he was to sing in over 500 Wagnerian performances. With his large stature and powerful voice he earned the nickname “Mammoth Melchior, the Great Dane of the Met”.

In later years Lauritz and his wife emigrated to the USA. As well as performing at the Met he entered the film industry and musicals from MGM and Paramount, often appearing as a kindly grandfather-type character. Even though his films are not well known he shared the screen with many famous musical stars.

For Casper I’ve chosen Casper Schroder (d.1730). The Netherlands may seem a homosexual paradise compared to some countries, but it was not always the case. In 1730 there was such a huge amount of arrests and persecutions of homosexual men that at times it sounds like a gay witch-hunt.

In Utrecht in April 1730 a group of men were arrested on suspicion of sodomy. Under interrogation they revealed a network of other gay men and meeting places across the country. There followed a wave of persecution and arrests and trials of many men from all walks of life. The penalty in convicted of sodomy was death. Most of them were strangled, the usual means of execution for female criminals in the Netherlands.

Casper Schroder was just one of the many executed homosexuals. Little is known about him other than that information given at his trial. Casper was a distiller from Rotterdam and was convicted alongside 2 other from the same city. Their execution took place on 17th July 1730. Casper and the 2 others were strangled. Their body was then burned and their ashes carried out to sea and thrown overboard.

My Balthazar for today’s celebration of the Three Kings is Raymundo Baltazar (b.1981). He acquired “celebrity” status after he appeared as a contestant in the second series of the fashion designing series “Project Runway” in 2005. A Mexican by birth Raymundo has been involved in the US fashion, art and media industry since he was a teenager, working on both sides of the coin as a stylist and in retail. His Catholic father was not too pleased with his chosen career because he though it was too gay.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles Raymundo set up his own brand of youth-wear called Young Balls. In 2001 Raymundo had a small part in the film “Shooting LA”, written and directed by Dan Clark.

Raymundo was one of the 16 contestants lined up at the start of “Project Runway” season 2, but was eliminated in programme 3 after losing the contest to design a human-sized Barbie doll outfit. Ironically, almost the next job Raymundo got was as costume designer on a gay puppet comedy series by the Dan Clark Company, “Playing With Dolls”, where the puppets were made of assorted dolls. Other design work has been with the Jim Henson Company.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Out Of Their Trees - Virgil Thomson

As part of my celebration of music in 2013 I’ll be following on from my look at Benjamin Britten’s ancestry last November and look at the family trees of other lgbt musicians and singers to see if their musical talents were inherited - and at what skeletons or saints they have in their family closets. I’ll begin with the American composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989).

Virgil Thomson certainly didn’t get his musical talents from his father Quincy Alfred Thomson. Quincy was tone deaf. There’s not much to suggest music ran in his father’s family either. The Thomson’s were Scottish in origin. The first definite recorded member of the family was Samuel Thomson (1691-1753), who emigrated from the Scottish Lowlands (via Wales) in 1717 to become a planter in Virginia Colony. Some researchers have traced Samuel’s ancestry back a further 3 generations, but I’d prefer more proof before I agree with them.

The above-mentioned Samuel Thomson, it is said, was an Anabaptist. This was a faith which advocated simplicity and rejection of luxury. They were also against church hierarchy, making them unpopular with both Catholic and Protestant authorities. Because of this, the Anabaptists were persecuted in the 16th and 17th centuries. As with some other persecuted religious groups (such as the Mayflower Pilgrims) the Anabaptists sought refuge in the New World.

Samuel’s son William was a Captain in the Virginia state regiment during the War of Independence, and his grandson was called Asa Thomson. Their wives were, respectively, Anne Rodes and Diana Quarles. I’ll come back to these ladies later.

Even if there’s only circumstantial evidence that Samuel Thomson was Anabaptist, it is certain that his great-grandson (the son of Asa Thomson) was a Baptist preacher. His name was Robert Yancey Thomson and he married in 1826. His wife was the daughter of a Baptist minister, Rev. Peyton Nowlin, whose grandfather was an immigrant from Ireland. Virgil Thomson was Robert’s great-grandson.

Looking at Virgil’s maternal line of descent there’s also no real evidence of a musical strain to the family, though it shows a similar mix of English, Scottish and Irish colonial ancestry as his father’s. In fact, it goes all the way back to the first colonial settlement of Jamestown.

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in American, founded in 1607. Capt. Thomas Graves, Virgil’s direct ancestor, came to Jamestown in the Second Supply convoy in 1608. He founded an estate about 10 miles from the main settlement and was one of the burgesses in American’s first Representative Legislative Assembly. Five generations later Thomas’s descendant John Graves junior (1737-1825) moved the family home from Virginia to Kentucky. The Graves line continues down to Mary Eliza Graves, who married Benjamin Watts Gaines, and was Virgil Thomson’s grandmother. Benjamin himself also descended from John Graves junior – his grandmother was John’s daughter.

And now let’s return to the wives of Asa and Capt. William Thomson. Both wives come from colonial families with well documented ancestries.

Diana Quarles, the wife of Asa Thomson, belonged to a prominent settler family, and the couple were not only ancestors of Virgil Thomson but also one of the Hollywood Greats, Steve McQueen. The Quarles have distinguished ancestry going back to bad King John of Magna Carta and Robin Hood fame.

The other wife I mentioned, the wife of Capt. William Thomson, was Anne Rodes. She, too, belonged to a distinguished settler family. Her grandfather was almost certainly the emigrant Charles Rodes. Only circumstantial evidence links them, but several of the most respected American and British genealogists accept the link with 99% certainty.

Charles Rodes came from Sturton-le-Steeple in Nottinghamshire, a village right in the heart of Mayflower Pilgrim country just a few miles from where I originally come from. Charles inherited his estate through his grandmother who was the daughter of Sir George Lascelles. Charles’s grandfather was Sir Francis Rodes (1588-1645) of Barlborough Hall in neighbouring Derbyshire. Through his mother Frances (née Constable) Sir Francis has several lines of descent from several kings of England and Scotland, and shares ancestry with myself – Virgil Thomson (through Constable and Rodes) and myself (through Constable, Monckton, Appleyard and Scupham) are direct descendants of King Henry II of England.