Saturday 28 June 2014

The Mother of Pride

We are now well into the Pride season. June is the month the USA celebrates Pride Month, their annual celebration of the lgbt community first established by President Clinton in 2000. June was chosen in commemoration of the events 45 years ago tonight on 28th June 1969 – the Stonewall Riots – which are considered as a pivotal moment in the history of lgbt rights. 

Most lgbt people will have attended at least one Pride march or event. Some people, like myself, know from experience that a Pride event doesn’t organise itself, it needs a group of dedicated volunteers to plan ahead and co-ordinate. It was the same in 1969 just a month after the Stonewall Riots took place, and in the first recognised Pride March that took place on its first anniversary in 1970. 

One name which often leaps out as a major pioneer in the organisation of these two events, and in shaping the development of Pride today, is Brenda Howard (1946-2005). 

Brenda was present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and co-ordinated the rally one month later. At that time there was no thought of an annual event. That idea seems to have been first suggested by members of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organisations. It was they who formed the first organising committee of a march which they would hold annually in June as near as possible to the actual anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. 

But it wasn’t called Pride. That name didn’t start to be applied to the event until 1971. Brenda Howard is credited as being one of several people who first popularised the word in relation to the Stonewall march, which was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, named after the street on which the Stonewall Riots took place. 

One Pride element we can be sure was the brainchild of Brenda is Pride Week, a series of events that lasted several days around the Pride march. Brenda’s idea was the spark that ignited a chain of events which have travelled around the world. 

Think about it for a while. The first Pride Weeks were a way for the lgbt community to come together to discuss, socialise and, yes, celebrate their existence in the face of homophobia. Today these Pride weeks involve everything from lgbt rights conferences to pool parties, from marches to high-brow art installations. There doesn’t even have to be a Pride march to go with it, as can be seen in the creation of events such as the British Film Institute’s LGBT Film Festival. 

From Pride Week the lgbt community recognised a sense of togetherness which over the decades has also come to recognise its own diversity. So now we have Bi Pride, Bear Pride, Leather Pride, and many more. And not only that, but non-lgbt communities have started to use the format – Pagan Pride, Black Pride. Brenda, unintentionally, created a global phenomenon. 

From Pride Week the lgbt community also began to acknowledge the struggles and discrimination of their predecessors. That is the whole reason for the first marches – to remember the Stonewall Riots and the people who stood up for their rights. This developed into a need to protect and reveal the heritage of the lgbt community, to discover those struggles that have been forgotten yet can reveal so much about how the modern community evolved. From individual cities and regions the importance of these lgbt histories and heritage led to the creation of LGBT History Month. 

From Pride Week the lgbt community showed the world that there is nothing wrong in celebrating your identity or your diversity. The USA in particular has embraced the diversity of its nation – Asia-Pacific Heritage Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage Month, and others. 

While I have said very little about Brenda Howard’s life, I hope I have given you some idea of how great a legacy she left behind after her untimely death from cancer, also on this day, in 2005, the same day as the Stonewall Riots in 1969. 

In time I hope that the name of Brenda Howard will be used in the same breath as other pioneers of the modern lgbt community like Harvey Milk, Gilbert Baker (the designer of the Rainbow Pride flag) and Tom Waddell (founder of the Gay Games).

AMENDMENT : Further research has proved that the first use of the word "Pride" was by the Chicago lgbt community for their march to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on 27th June 1970, the day before New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles held their own marches.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Pride in Toronto

This week WorldPride is taking place in Toronto, Canada. Oh, how I wish I could be there! I consider Toronto to be one of my “ancestral” homes. My grandfather and his brothers lived in and around Toronto at the start of the 20th century. My grandfather returned to the UK in 1911 and had loved his life in Canada so much that he named his house after the village where he had lived – Newton Brook. It still has this name and my eldest brother still lives there. When my father got married in 1952 and my grandfather moved out and built a bungalow next door he named it after another Toronto village he knew – Willow Dale. It was in Willow Dale that my grandfather died in 1979 at the gage of 101. His brothers remained in Canada and their families, my cousins, still live in Toronto. 

The villages on Newton Brook and Willow Dale are now suburbs of the largest city in Canada (as Newtonbrook and Willowdale). The lgbt history of Toronto hasn’t touched either place very much over the past 100 years. Most of it has been based further south in the larger old settlement areas. Being largely residential areas there aren’t the usual gathering places associated with city centres though you can get occasional glimpses of lgbt heritage. 

Take, for instance, the United Church of Canada. The church in Newtonbrook was the place of worship of Ruth Bramham, the first transgender member of the United Church’s lgbt network Affirm United. She is also a director on its National Board. Another lgbt church member who lived in Toronto for a while is Rt. Rev. Gary Paterson who became the first gay leader of a Christian church in Canada when he was elected Moderator of the United Church in 2012 (he is married to Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson who was part of the Canadian delegation to the Sochi Winter Olympics). 

The widely recognised Gay Village of Toronto is further south in the main metropolis. The area is called Church and Wellesley, after Church Street and Wellesley Street which cross in the heart of the district. This has long been the location of Toronto Pride and is where WorldPride is being held.

In one of those weird turns of historical events Church and Wellesley provides a direct link back to one of the earliest gay scandals in Toronto. Way back in 1820, less than a decade after the settlement was founded, a local magistrate called Alexander Wood owned an estate which covered part of the present Church and Wellesley area. The scandal arose when he was accused of misusing his powers as a magistrate by ordering local men to show him their private parts, ostensibly for inspection to identify a rapist. 

Since to 1970s Church and Wellesley has become the lgbt hub of Toronto. In 1991 the area elected the city’s first openly gay councillor, Kyle Rae, and after his retirement his successor was the fist openly lesbian councillor, Kristin Wong-Tam. Toronto provided the first openly lesbian provincial Premier in 2013. Kathleen Wynne replaced the then leader of her party and Premier of Ontario. She won the provincial election for the post in her own right just a few days ago. 

In the world of art and culture one of the most significant people to put Toronto onto the art map was Douglas Duncan. He was a wealthy heir who in 1936 opened an art gallery in which he showcased many up-and-coming Canadian artists. Like many he led a closeted gay life during this period when homosexuality was illegal. A hint to his sexuality was made at his memorial service when one artist remarked that Duncan had done a lot for female artists but didn’t actually love women. 

Toronto has provided several Olympians to Team Canada. Scott Cranham (diving), Norman Elder (equestrian), Mark Leduc (boxing) and Emanuel Sandhu (figure skating) all have sporting links with the city. 

Canada was one of the first countries to introduce same-sex marriages and Toronto was the location of the first. On 14th January 2001 in the Metropolitan Community Church Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Ann and Elaine Vantour, were married. Their fight to have their marriages legally recognised is told here. Just hours after the ruling in 2003 which recognised same-sex marriages another Toronto couple, Michael Stark and Michael Leshner, became the first same-sex couple to be married. 

The University of Toronto is home to the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. As well as providing research courses for students and organising conferences the Bonham Centre also publishes the most comprehensive (and reliable!) online list of lgbt people on its website

I hope everyone has a good time at WorldPride and wish I could be there to visit my “ancestral” home.

Sunday 22 June 2014


The term “classical” has been applied popularly to all post-medieval music, but there are several periods within “classical” music which relate to specific styles. One of these is baroque music which was written between about 1600 and 1750.

Baroque was an artistic style which also included art and literature and was originally created by the Vatican to attract people back to the Catholic Church after the rise of Protestantism. Baroque tried to be more popular and appeal to the ordinary person in the street and move away from the more formal, somewhat stuffy, music of the 17th century. That’s not to say that music before baroque was always stuffy, but baroque tended to be more melodic and frequently more up-beat and livelier. In this respect it had the same impact as rock’n’roll in the 1950s when the music industry tried to appeal to a younger audience.

Many household names in music rose to fame in the baroque period – Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. All of them are familiar names and you probably know more of their music than you realise. With regards to attracting people back to the Catholic Church one of the most successful attempts was by Handel. His “Messiah” was hugely popular in his time, and still is today. 

There are several other queer composers who made a name for themselves and helped to give music its “baroque’n’roll” flavour to the 17th century. 

Top of the list is Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). This Italian-born composer became one of the most important cultural figures at the court of King Louis XIV of France. As well as being a composer and talented musician Lully was a dancer, and most of his baroque work was for the theatre and dance hall more than for the church. 

As superintendent of music at the royal court Lully created many innovative ballets, operas and theatrical entertainments which can be compared to the modern stage musicals of recent years with their special mechanical effects. Working in collaboration with such famous French writers as Molière Lully transformed French theatrical music and opera and influenced the way stage productions are produced. 

Lully lost his royal position in 1685 after a scandal involving him and a boy in the royal music school, amongst other probable affairs. The alleged account of his death surely ranks amongst the most extraordinary. But we’ll leave that for later in the year! But until then I found this amusing little cartoon which features Lully and his part in the development of the orchestra.

In Lully’s native Italy another queer composer was rocking the baroque. Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was a performer like Lully as well as a composer. He was regarded as one of the top violinists of his day and highly influential in the establishing of a distinct Italian baroque style. His music had fewer of the “fiddly” bits (pardon the violin pun) than most baroque composers, and he wrote music which people considered to be perfection. 

Having been born into an impoverished landed family Arcangelo’s rise to musical heights began after his talents were spotted by some of the most important patrons around at the time – Queen Kristina of Sweden, Cardinal Pamfili and, most importantly, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (the pope’s great-nephew). 

Arcangelo presided over the weekly concerts at Ottoboni’s palace in Rome. The Cardinal is regarded as one of the many closeted gay cardinals who gathered a group of talented, artistic young men around him, and Arcangelo, who lived in his palace for a while, probably came under the Cardinal’s patronage because of his looks as much as for his music. Arcangelo formed an attachment to another violinist in Rome called Matteo Fornari. Neither men married or are known to have had any female romantic interests and they were hardly ever separated. Another composer even dedicated a new sonata to the pair. 

Arcangelo’s music influenced many composers that followed, including Handel and Bach. The German baroque music scene was highly influenced by the Italians. One German queer baroque composed who was influenced by the Italians before Arcangelo was even born was Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684). 

Johann studied at the University of Leipzig and lived in the city for many years. He became organist at one of the main cathedrals and was lined up to take over the post of Cantor, or director of music, after the current holder. This offer was swiftly dropped after Johann and several choirboys were arrested for sodomy. Johann was sentenced to jail, but he managed to escape and ended up in Venice. 

Venice helped to increase the Italian influence in Johann’s music and he wrote a lot while he was there, teaching at a girl’s school. Composers from Germany came to be trained by him and return home with the Italian influences. 

In 1682 Johann himself returned to Germany to become the choir master at the court of Anton-Ulric von Gelf, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel. It was there that Johann died in 1684. 

There are many other composers who influenced the development of music and produce the “baroque’n’roll” of the 17th century. The three queer composers mentioned today are just a few of those who passed on their influence all over continental Europe.

Thursday 19 June 2014

The Music of the Rainbow

Among the ever-growing number of classical composers whose sexuality has been discussed by biographers is one whose name is probably unfamiliar to you – Aleksandr Scriabin (1872-1915). 

Scriabin was a Russian composer, often called a pioneer of modern classical music. One of the elements in his extraordinary life was his belief in the influence colour has on music, which I’ll come to in a moment. Before that we’ll have a brief look at his life to understand why his sexuality has been discussed. 

On the face of it Scriabin was a regular straight guy. He married twice and had 7 children. It is biographers who interpret what little evidence there is to form an opinion. And opinion seems to be all we have with Scriabin. 

Outward appearances can be misinterpreted. Scriabin was quite short and considered effeminate. He was nicknamed “Pussy”, and I don’t need to explain that word’s use in sexual slang. Suffice it to say that during his lifetime Scriabin was never regarded as particularly masculine, even though he was a habitual womaniser and assaulter of young girls. During the turn of the century he had a very close relationship with his music publisher. But was it romantic or bromantic? Faubion Bowers, in the 1996 edition of his biography of Scriabin, wrote “to impute homosexuality – latent, passive or ultimately triumphed over, as it was in Scriabin’s case, in my opinion – still it would be recreant to shirk a rather homosexual interpretation of Scriabin’s life. Incontrovertible proof cannot now be dredged up from the past, but so many symptoms there seem to be”. Robert Craft (Stravinsky’s biographer) refers to Scriabin as “emotionally hermaphrodite”, and a handful of other historians openly label Scriabin as bisexual. The jury is still out as far as I’m concerned. 

So, back to the music. There are many instances in medical history where one sense is expressed by another. For example, seeing a shape and hearing a sound, or touching an object and smelling a fragrance. This very real phenomenon is called synesthesia. Although Aleksandr Scriabin was probably not a true synesthete he formulated a theory in which specific colour represent specific musical keys. He wasn’t the first or only composer who saw colour in music. Even Sir Isaac Newton came up with a similar theory way back in 1702 (I might say more about that later in the year). Here’s how his theory works, and I’m not particularly well versed in music theory so I hope I can explain this properly. 

Starting with the piano keyboard, there are 12 musical keys. Scriabin divided the rainbow colours into 12 hues which he placed in a circle, one colour representing one key, like a clock face. He placed them in a circle because they then coincided with what is called the Circle of Fifths (pictured below). We needn’t say more about it, except to say it’s all about how chords work together. 

Much of Scriabin’s reasoning for his application of colour to music was influenced by his own mystical beliefs and philosophy rather than true synesthesia. From about 1903 he began composing pieces based on his colour theory. The most significant of these was “Prometheus: Poem of Fire”. Scriabin invented a new “musical” instrument called a “clavier à lumières” (“keyboard with lights”) to be played during the piece. The keyboard was linked to projectors, so that whichever key or chord was played its corresponding colour in the Circle of Fifths was projected onto a screen or around the walls. 

The clavier à lumières was such a complex instrument to construct that it wasn’t actually used in the world premiere of “Prometheus: Poem of Fire”. One was built for a performance in 1915 in New York. Scriabin’s original clavier is preserved in his Moscow apartment which is now a museum. This video shows how a recent performance of “Prometheus”. 

The culmination of Scriabin’s colour music was to be extended to all the other senses in a monumental piece called “Mysterium”. This was to have been the salvation of mankind (he was a bit of an egotist and thought he was God!). “Mysterium” was to have been a week-long performance located in the foothills of the Himalayas and would have filled the air with music, light, colour and fragrance, with full orchestra, clavier and dancers. In Scriabin’s mind “Mysterium” was to have created such an aura of bliss on its audience that this bliss would spread around the world and rid mankind of its evils to create a new world of peace. 

Bearing in mind that “Mysterium” was being written in the years running up to 1914 it seems somewhat ironic that such a delusion of the power of his music would never be completed. As Scriabin saw the world descend into the war whose century is being marked this year he caught septicemia, and in April 1915 he died with “Mysterium” unfinished.

Several recreation and reconstructions of Scriabin’s colour/music have been performed in recent years.

Monday 16 June 2014

Extraordinary Lives : The Rebellious Dame

What have a toothbrush, sheep dogs and a life of rebellion all have in common? The answer: they have all played an important part in the life of Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), one of the leading British female composers of the 20th century, and certainly the first female composer to be made a Dame. 

If Ethel had been born a man her life would not have been as extraordinary as it was. The fact that she was a women makes her life stand out in what was a male-dominated world and profession. And her life coincided with one of history’s great battles for equality – women’s suffrage. 

Although I don’t think Ethel could have been labelled as a true English eccentric her life was certainly unconventional. I prefer to call her a pioneer because she successfully fought against the stereotypes of Victorian womanhood and found such success in her chosen career that she could, like Florence Nightingale, be called a “national treasure” during her own lifetime. 

Putting those two women’s names together also points out the great chasm there was between them ideologically. Ethel Smyth was one of the most active of the Suffragettes. Florence Nightingale, on the other hand, was no supporter of votes for women. It can be argued that Florence’s influence and iconic status was a major factor in the delay of giving votes to women in the UK until after her death in 1910. 

The suffrage movement was a major cause for which Ethel Smyth was prepared to put her musical career on hold for two years. She did, however, compose an anthem which was adopted by the Suffragettes called “March of the Women”. There are various interpretations of this anthem online and I chose the one below because it is probably the nearest we can get to hearing how it would have been performed most often, without orchestra, just piano accompaniment at suffrage meetings. 

The streak of rebellion in her veins began when Ethel was young. Growing up in a Victorian middle-class military family her desire to pursue a career in music was opposed by her father. There were frequent shouting matches between them which sometimes led Ethel to refuse to attend the usual social round of dinner parties and receptions. Ethel locked herself in her room to avoid them and eventually her father relented and reluctantly agreed to let her study music in Germany.

It was while she was in Leipzig that she had the first of several romantic relationships with women. Lisl von Herzogenberg, wife of Ethel’s tutor Heinrich, formed a close bond and, more or less, accepted Ethel as a full member of the family. Through them Ethel got to meet many of the great composers of the time – Dvorak, Greig, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. She also met Lisl’s brother-in-law Henry Brewster, the only man to whom Ethel is known to have had a romantic attachment. They wrote several works together, Brewster writing the libretto for Ethel’s operas.

Although there were several other women that Ethel loved it doesn’t seem as though she ever set up home with any of them. In fact, her constant companions for more than 50 years were a string of sheepdogs, all of them called Pan. In her later years when hearing problems began to restrict her composing Ethel turned to writing and became a well-known writer. She wrote about her dogs in a book called “Inordinate(?) Affection: A Story for Dog Lovers” (1936). 

In a way her writing actually helped to improve her popularity as a composer as the general non-opera-going public became aware of her. The struggle for awareness of her work continued throughout most of Ethel’s life. The fact that she was a woman was the biggest struggle she had to overcome. She did have a few influential supporters and advocates, including Sir Thomas Beecham, and even enjoyed the patronage of the exiled Empress Eugenie of France and Princess de Polignac (Winnaretta Singer, lesbian sewing machine heiress). 

Even at the end of her life Ethel never really believed she had truly overcome discrimination, despite the fact that she became the first female composer to be made a Dame in 1922, and that her music was popular and played in concert halls all around the world. 

Which just leaves the toothbrush I mentioned at the beginning. It plays an important part in the most famous incident in her life after she was arrested for smashing the window of a politician’s home during a Suffragette protest. It’s a story worth re-telling because it illustrates more than any other incident in her life how she wasn’t going to be pushed around because she was a woman. Ethel was sentenced to a term in Holloway Prison. One day, when fellow Suffragettes struck up her “March of the Women” outside her window, Ethel picked up her toothbrush and went to the window and used it to conduct the women in rousing song. What an extraordinary sight that would have been.

Friday 13 June 2014

Out Of This World : Part 7

Continuing my series on asteroids named after lgbt people we reach those asteroids discovered from 1995 to 1999. As before I’ve quoted from the original citations and added extra information were necessary. The numbers which precede each name are those officially assigned to them.

(11098) Ginsberg                  Discovered 2 Apr. 1995. Name published 9 May 2001. “Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), American lyric poet and teacher, was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and studied at Columbia College, New York City. He became a central figure among the Beats… with the publication of his long poem ‘Howl’ in October 1955.” 

(12413) Johnnyweir              Discovered 26 Sept. 1995. Name published 30 Mar. 2010. “Johnny G. Weir (b.1984) is an American athlete, figure-skating champion and Olympian, talented in many spheres of artistic endeavour. He is known for his unique skating style, outspokenness and love for Russian culture. The name was suggested by his Russian fan-site.” 

(10204) Turing                       Discovered 1 Aug. 1997. Name published 4 May 1999. “Named in memory of Alan Turing (1912—1954), English mathematician and logician, a pioneer in the study of computability. In a fundamental paper published in 1936, he introduced the concept of an abstract computing machine and showed how such a machine can be programmed to simulate the behaviour of any other computing device. This concept, now referred to as a “universal Turing machine”, was introduced years before the advent of programmable computers, and it was used to demonstrate the existence of non-computable numbers and undecidable mathematical propositions.”

(17744) Jodiefoster               Discovered 18 Jan. 1998. Name published 21 Sept. 2002. “Jodie Foster (b.1962) is an accomplished actress and film director. For most astronomers she will always be Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Arroway in Robert Zemeckis' movie ‘Contact’, based on the novel by the same name written by the late Carl Sagan.” 

(11385) Beauvoir       Discovered 20 Sept. 1998. Name published 23 May 2000. “Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) was a French writer of great courage and integrity, who made a point of equal vocation for man and woman. In her treatise ‘Le Deuxième Sexe’ (1949) she pleaded passionately for the abolition of the myth of “eternal feminine”. She was the lifelong companion of Jean-Paul Sartre.” 

(12923) Zephyr          Discovered 11 Apr. 1999. Name published 28 Sept. 2004. “The word zephyr derives from the name of the ancient Greek god of the west wind, Zephyros.” Zephyros and Apollo were rivals in love of the prince Hyakinthos (Hyacinth). 

(40463) Frankkameny           Discovered 15 Sept. 1999. Name published 3 July 2012. “Frank L. Kameny (1925–2011) trained as a variable star astronomer in the 1950s, but joined the Civil Rights struggle. His contributions included removing homosexuality from being termed a mental disorder in 1973 and shepherding passage of the District of Columbia marriage equality law in 2009.” 

(25619) Martonspohn           Discovered 3 Jan. 2000. Name published 28 Apr. 2010. “Márton Spohn (b.1989) was awarded second place in the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his cellular and molecular biology project. He attends the Fazekas Mihaly Secondary Grammar School, Budapest, Hungary.” 

(37117) Narcissus     Discovered 1 Nov. 2000. Name published 9 Apr. 2009. “In Greek mythology Narcissus was a hero from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. In the various stories, he became obsessed with his own reflection in a pool and, for one reason or another, died as a result.” 

Asteroids that are not named after lgbt people but have lgbt links.

(58345) Moomintroll             Discovered 7 Feb. 1995. Name published 17 May 2011. “Moomintroll is the central character of the classic 1946 novel ‘Comet in Moominland’ … by Finnish author Tove Jansson. Moomintroll and his friends discover that a comet is on a collision orbit with the Earth and the story details their adventures to avoid the threatened catastrophe.” Tove (1914-2001) was a well-known out lesbian writer and artist in Finland.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Flying Figaro

Last November I wrote about the gay Battle of Britain fight pilot Squadron Leader Ian Gleed. I also told you about the plastic model kit I was putting together of one of Gleed’s aircraft, the Hawker Hurricane Mk1. I’ve not been rushing to complete it and its still not finished (photo below). The internet is full of forums where others have been making this model. 

With the airplane being one of the very few commercially available model kits which is of a plane flown by a specific fighter pilot, and certainly only one of the two I know about (there’s also a model kit of Gleed’s Spitfire), I thought I’d have a look at his association with the Hawker Hurricane and how it helped him to become a war hero. 

Acting Flight Lieutenant Ian Gleed acquired the specific plane reproduced in the model kit on 17th May 1940 shortly after he arrived at 87 Squadron’s base near Lille in France. The Hawker Hurricane Mk1 was one of the most reliable and rugged fighter planes in the RAF. Gleed had his Hurricane painted in standard camouflage with the squadron’s code letter LK and the individual plane letter A. 

Wartime pilots often adopted lucky mascots. Ian Gleed’s mascot was the cartoon cat called Figaro from the Disney film “Pinocchio” which had recently been released. You can’t see it on the photo above but it was painted on the other side of the plane on the detachable cockpit door. This mascot was painted on all of the subsequent planes Gleed flew as well. The picture below (by “stickman” on shows Figaro swatting a swastika with his paw, the usual pose Gleed used for his mascot and it proved so distinctive that the Hurricane soon gained the nickname “Figaro”. 
Another distinctive paint job on “Figaro” was the propeller cone. It was painted red, and the very front of the fuselage was painted with a pair of red lips so that it looked as though “Figaro” was blowing a raspberry at Nazi enemy planes. 

Gleed’s first day of operations in his new plane was the following morning, 18th May, as leader of a dawn patrol over the French/Belgian border. They encountered 5 Nazi Messerschmitts and immediately engaged them. Gleed shot down 2 of them. That was just the start of an intense period. He shot down another 6 enemy planes over the next 2 days. 

87 Squadron was based in France until the advance of Nazi troops came too close and the pilots were ordered to evacuate back to England. In the ten days that the squadron fought the attacks on the ground and in the air some 70 Nazi planes was shot down, at least. Pilots and civilians were killed. It was safer for the British pilots to be brought home. Besides, a much bigger battle was on the way, and Britain needed as many pilots as it could muster. 

As second in command of the squadron Gleed became the force behind rebuilding the team and morale. Stationed in the south of England they encountered sporadic night raids which increased over several weeks. Many Nazi planes were shot down and several 87 Squadron pilots were lost in battle. This was the prelude to the Battle of Britain.

Taking to his “Figaro” plane many times over the next months as the Battle of Britain raged on Gleed shot down 7 Nazi planes. For his actions Gleed was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the end of September 1940 he was promoted to Squadron Leader with full command of 87 Squadron.

During 1941 Gleed continued to take to the air in “Figaro” to engage enemy raiders. The main duty of 87 Squadron at this time was in night flying, so “Figaro” was painted black. Gleed flew over London during one of the most intensive nights of the blitz. 

On promotion to Wing Commander in November 1941 Ian Gleed left 87 Squadron and his loyal companion of the sky “Figaro”. It had been developing mechanical problems over the previous months and had not flown in it since August. Gleed had to leave “Figaro” behind with the squadron, for from now on he’d be flying mostly in the iconic plane of Fighter Command, the Spitfire. “Figaro” was decommissioned, and after Gleed was shot down and killed in 1942 his family was given the cockpit door of “Figaro” with Figaro the cat (the very one in the photo above). This is now in the RAF Museum collection.

Monday 9 June 2014

Queer Achievements for International Heraldry Day

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

Tomorrow in International Heraldry Day (yes, these really is one). In celebration I have trawled through my files and done some new research to bring you a whole (or almost whole) alphabet of lgbt heraldry. I don't have room to show the full heraldic achievements, so instead here are 24 shields of lgbt people and, in keeping with the international flavour, I have included as many nationalities as possible. I’ve also tried to include at least one person from each century since the origins of medieval heraldry. Some shields you may recognise from my regular Queer Achievement articles. Other will re-appear in future ones. 
A) Francilia Agar (b.1975), Olympic swimmer from Dominica.
B) George Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), Romantic poet.
C) Sir John Clanvowe (c.1341-1391), knight and poet.
D) Michael Dillon (1915-1962), doctor and transgender pioneer.
E) King Edward II of England (1284-1327).
F) Mark Frankland (1934-2012), MI5 spy.
G) Manhendra Gohil Singh (b.1965), Prince of Rajpipla.
H) Antonio Hoyos y Vinent (1885-1940), writer.
I) Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), writer.
J) Sir Elton John (b.1947), singer songwriter and campaigner.
K) Eigil Knuth (1903-1996), archaeologist and polar explorer.
L) Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), composer.
M) Michelangelo (1475-1564), painter and sculptor.
N) Sir William Neville (c.1341-1391), Constable of Nottingham Castle.
O) Lawrence Olivier (1907-1989), actor.
P) Julia Pell (1953-2006), civil rights activist.
Q) Roger Quilter (1877-1953), composer.
R) Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), First Lady of America.
S) Tom Shakespeare (b.1966), sociologist.
T) Alan Turing (1912-1954), mathematician and father of computer science.
U) Count Sergei Uvarov (1786-1855), diplomat.
V) Rev. Charles Vaughan (1816-1897), Chaplain to Queen Victoria.
W) Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930), composer and director of the Bayreuth Festival.
Y) Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987), novelist and poet.

Friday 6 June 2014

Philip Brett Awards

One of the leading musicologists to look at the way gender and sexuality, in particular lgbt sexuality, effects and influences music was Philip Brett (1937-2002). In commemoration of Philip’s pioneering work in queer musicology the American Musicological Society (AMS) created the Philip Brett Award, an annual prize which recognises the work of one or more individual in the academic study of queer music. 

The AMS is currently looking for nominations for this year’s award, and their deadline in 1st July. The award winner will be announced later in the year. In advance of that announcement here is the first part the list of all recipients of the Philip Brett Award so far. I can’t go into much detail with all of them, so I’ll look at just a few of the recipients and their work. The rest of the list will be given when the latest award in announced. 

1997    Elizabeth Wood, for “Decomposition” in “Decomposition: Post-Disciplinary Performance”, and for “The Lesbian in Opera: Desire Unmasked in Smyth’s ‘Fantasio and Fete Galante’ in “En Travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera””. Elizabeth was one of the first collaborators with Philip Brett on queer musicology, and one of the very few out lesbian musicologists around at the time. They appeared at many seminars and conferences together, and co-authored the entry “Lesbian and Gay Music” for the 2001 edition of “The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians”. Elizabeth was a founder member of the Gay and Lesbian Study Group of the AMS in 1990. Just as Philip Brett was known for his work on Benjamin Britten, Elizabeth was equally well-known for her work on Dame Ethel Smyth, both delving into the significance of each composer’s sexuality in relation to their music. 

1998    Gillian Rodgers, for “Male Impersonation on the North American Variety and Vaudeville Stage, 1868-1930” (PhD dissertation). Gillian was a founder member and early committee member of the Gay and Lesbian Study Group. The musical theatre of 19th century America is her speciality, particularly it’s evolution from minstrelsy to vaudeville. 

1999    Martha Mockus, for “Sounding Out: Lesbian Feminism and the Music of Pauline Oliveros” (PhD dissertation). 

2000    Byron Adams, for “The ‘Dark Saying’ of the Enigma: Homoeroticism and the Elgarian Paradox” in “19th Century Music”, and for “No Armpits, Please, We’re British: Whitman and English Music, 1884-1936” in “Walt Whitman and Modern Music: War, Desire and the Trials of Nationhood”. 

2001    Bruce Holsinger, for “Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture: Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer”. 

2002    Sophie Fuller and Lloyd Whitesell, editors of “Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Modernity”. 

2003    Boden Sandstrom, for the documentary film “Radical Harmonies”, of which she was co-producer. The documentary dealt with the emergence of the Women’s Music Cultural movement in America which began in the early 1970s. It chronicled the evolution of the work of female producers and technicians who, with performers, found very few women-based record companies and show producers with whom they could collaborate. June Millington was associate director on the documentary. Boden is a technician and sound engineer herself, a Doctor in audio technology, and is currently a lecturer in the Musicology and Ethnomusicology Division of the University of Maryland. 

2004    Ruth Sara Longobardi, for “Music as Subtext; Reading Between the Lines” from “Models and Modes of Musical Representation in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’: Musical, Historical, and Ideological Contexts” (PhD dissertation). 

2005    Judith Ann Peraino, for “Listening to the Sirens: Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to ‘Hedwig’ ”.

2006    (joint award) Nadine Hubbs, for “The Queer Composition of America’s Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music, and National Identity”. Nadine is a founding co-director of the Lesbian-Gay-Queer Research Initiative. She has written many other books on popular queer music culture, and is currently Professor of Women's Studies and Music, Faculty Associate of the Department of American Culture, at the University of Michigan.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

The Gay Boys in the Band

Every now and again we hear of a young boyband member coming out as gay or bisexual. It doesn’t seem to affect the headlines these days, not unless the boyband member is a huge celebrity.
It seems that a lot of the most popular boybands of the 1980s and 1990s had one lgbt member, and so here’s an overall look at the history of the Gay Boys in the Band.
First of all, let’s set some criteria. What do I regard as a boyband? Obviously, all members of the band are “boys”, that is of any age up to their mid-20s (some even re-form when the members are in their 30s, but they still get labelled as boybands). Whether they play an instrument or not isn’t important. Next in importance is the target audience. Generally, a boyband appeals to the teenage market, usually teenage girls. Their music is pop-based, and their band’s image is usually carefully managed – during one phase during the 90s lots of naked young torsos were on show! 

Very often a boyband has been specially “manufactured” and created by record producers rather than evolve out of previous years of performing before being “discovered”. 

The roots of boyband culture go back several decades. Groups like the Beach Boy and the Beatles can all be said to have influenced the boyband style. The Osmonds, the Jacksons and the Monkees were probably the first “proper” boybands. 

One of the earliest, and most literal, boybands was the Puerto Rico group Menudo. Members of this band had to be aged between 12 and 16. Once past that age a band member was replaced with someone younger. Menudo produced one of the most famous gay boyband members, Ricky Martin, one of the few gay ex-boyband members to have success in a solo career. But he wasn’t the first member of Menudo to come out. 

At the age of 14 Angelo Garcia left Menudo to pursue a solo career. Unlike fellow band member Ricky Martin Angelo recognised his sexuality in his teenage years, yet he didn’t come out publicly until 2010, influencing Ricky’s decision to come out several weeks later. 

But who was the first boyband member to come out officially during his boyband career? During the 1990s, at the height of the boyband phenomenon, there was a spate of manufactured bands whose members were all, or almost all, gay. Generally these were formed by record producers who had a large association with the lgbt club and dance scene and who thought an all-gay boyband would have as much success as any other. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your personal view of boybands), the all-gay line-up had only a fleeting success and they all disappeared after a year or two. 

In the UK the most well-known, or at least most moderately successful at the time, was a band called 2wo Third3 (pronounced Two Thirds) in 1994. The name of this 3-member boyband was supposed to indicate the sexuality of the singers – two were gay, one was straight (a 4th member was a cartoon character!). Only one of these gay members, Lee Thomas, is still active in the music industry. 

Across the Irish Sea at about the same time another gay boyband was put together, assembled from young lads who answered an ad in an Irish lgbt magazine called “Guyz”. The success of the Irish boyband Boyzone led “Guyz” publisher to form an all-gay Irish line-up of 5 boys in a clear imitation. The band’s name was influenced by the magazine – 4Guyz – a name which clearly indicated its target market. After a flurry of publicity and a few gigs, including London Pride 1996, 4Guyz failed to get as far as releasing a single. 

Which brings me back to Boyzone. In the UK there hadn’t been such a fuss made out of a current/former boyband member coming out since George Michael as that of Stephen Gately of Boyzone in 1999. When he decided to come out in the Sun newspaper before they had a chance to out him there was such a wave of support from fans and public alike that it can be said to have been a turning point in the media’s (particularly the Sun’s) reputation in handling coming out stories. Stephen Gatley’s coming out was treated sympathetically and without sensationalising his sex life. 

Former Wham member George Michael, on the other hand, as I’m sure most of you will remember, outed himself in spectacular fashion in 1998. It probably lost him a lot of fans, and it certainly helped the British media to begin labelling him as the bad boy of pop after years of them lauding him as one of the greatest singer songwriters this country has produced. 

Other than the manufactured all-gay line-ups of the 1990s, who was the earliest known boyband member to be openly gay from the start of the boyband’s existence? That honour goes to Andrew Kinlochan of the UK boyband Phixx. When the band was formed in 2003 he was already openly gay, though this was not known to the media at large until he admitted it to the Sun newspaper in the publicity surrounding the release of Phixx’s first single. Recently Andrew tried to revive his singing career as a soloist on a tv talent show, but this was unsuccessful and he is currently working for Burberry. 

Perhaps the experience of Stephen Gately’s coming out (and particularly after the hugely supportive and respectful coverage of his sad death and funeral, despite attempts by some tabloids to do otherwise) probably encouraged other gay boyband members to come out. Stephen’s partner at the time of his outing was Eloy de Jong, member of the Dutch boyband Caught in the Act. Another Irish boyband member, Mark Feehily of Westlife, came out in 2005, again in the Sun newspaper (what’s the big deal with the Sun newspaper, I don’t know?). 

Thanks to talent shows like “X-Factor” there has been many young gay singers emerging onto the pop scene. The popularity of boybands, not seen since the 1990s, has brought more gay boyband members to the public notice. The most recent of these, in the UK, is Jaymi Hensley of the band Union J, who found fame in the 2012 UK series of “X-Factor” (Union J is managed by Louis Walsh who also managed Boyzone and Westlife). 

Other boybands with gay members, some more well-known than others, have been ‘N Sync (Lance Bass), Blue (Duncan James), New Kids on the Block (Jonathan Knight), and V (Kevin McDaid). 

These days any new boyband seems to be subject to “which one is gay” speculation, such has been the regularity of former boyband members coming out and the acceptance by fans of openly gay singers. Even One Direction and the Wanted haven’t escaped this speculation. Who knows? Only time will tell.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Putting the Flags Out for Pride Month

It’s been a while since I wrote a proper article on flags so for the start of this Pride Month here’s a brief look at some of the many flags adopted for and by various sexualities, genders and relationships in the lgbt community.

My main criteria for inclusion is that the flag should be recognised by members of the community it represents. Some are proposed designs which have found support and may not yet have been produced as actual flags but are designed to be flown as such if desired. For the same of visual uniformity I have shown all flags in the same ratio.

There’s only space to give the name of community the flag represents, and it’s year of creation if known. Brief descriptions of some communities are given, just in case they are new to you. I apologise in advance for any misunderstandings or inaccuracies in the descriptions I give. This isn't meant to be the ultimate authority on lgbt flags but a record of their use.
Polyamorous people are those who have multiple, often simultaneous, relationships with others of any gender.
The Two Spirit emblem was adopted by the Committee of the International Two Spirit Gathering.

Intersexuals have often been grouped with hermaphrodites purely because of the presence of the physical properties of male and female sex organs. Some intersexuals also include transgender people who are transitioning and not born as intersex. It has often been called the bi-gender flag.
Lipstick lesbians are those who prefer the more feminine characteristics and don't have physical attraction to masculine lesbians.
Pansexuals have relationships with anyone of any gender or sexuality and, unlike the polyamorous, are often monogamous.
Aromantics don't experience love in the way that it occurs in other relationships. There is close friendship and physical contact.
Genderqueer is an umbrella term for various non-binary relationships - people who do not feel that can be labelled as any one particular sexuality or gender. (See also genderqueer and gender non-binary below)
Autosexuals find that sexual activity with others is a problem, either physically or psychologically, and find satisfaction in exploring and enjoying their own sexual pleasure. In other respects their relationships can be as conventional as any other.
Neutrois is a term which can be used by several other genders/sexualities. What they have in common is a recognition of an asexual or gender-neutral identity. Sometimes trans-sexuals have been included. The flag is also seen as a horizontal tricolour.
Genderfluid people are often grouped with the genderqueer. The difference is often personal to each person.
Hermaphrodite is an old-fashioned term still used among some intersexuals. The physical characteristics of both male and female genders are more noticeable in hermaphrodites, whereas intersexuals may only display this on a genetic level.
Gender non-binary is a sexual identity in the genderqueer spectrum. This is not intended as a replacement for the genderqueer identity or flag but as a companion.
G0y is a recently established term for a gay man who is only interested in masculine men and don't involve themselves in some major parts of the lgbt community (Pride marches, dance culture, etc.). Most importantly, the g0ys (yes, that's the number zero and not the letter O) do not indulge in some sexual practices that are otherwise common in the gay community. The stripes are often shown horizontally.
Androphilia is the sexual attraction to men, irrespective of your own gender/sexuality.
Gynephilia is the sexual attraction to women, irrespective of your own gender/sexuality.
Greyromantic is an umbrella term for several identities, the main characteristics of which are the refusal to have their romantic attraction to someone returned even when a sexual attraction is declared, or they can only feel romantic attraction after an deep emotional bond is formed first.
Demisexuals are almost the same a greyromantics in that no sexual attraction (as opposed to romantic attraction in greyromantics) is felt until after a strong emotional bond is formed.
What I hope this look at some of the many identities that are being recognised with flags will help you realise what a diverse community we live in. However, with so many identities adopting very similar flags I feel there is a need for flag design to become more imaginative.