Saturday 28 March 2015

Coded Lives : 50 Years of Being Fantabulosa

Well, how bona for all you dolly omis, palones and omipalones to vada my bijou blog again and hope there’s nanti naff in today’s fantabulosa piece from my luppers.

In other words, how nice it is to all you lovely people to read my blog again and hope there’ nothing bad in today’s wonderful piece I’ve written.

It’s a pleasure to write today’s article because it brings back so many happy memories of sitting at the table as a child for a traditional family Sunday lunch and listening to one of the BBC’s equally traditional Sunday lunchtime comedy programme. The comedy in question today being “Round the Horne”. You may have heard of it. It was a sketch and review comedy with lots of eccentric characters and situations, silly names and a song or two.

This month sees the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Round the Horne” and even though I was probably too young to remember the original series I certainly remember the reruns.

Two of the most popular recurring characters in the show, probably the most popular characters ever created on BBC radio in the 1960s, were Julian and Sandy. They made their first appearance 50 years ago this very day on 28th March 1965 and were an instant success. And their appearances thereafter brought to the attention of the general British public a secret language used my large portions of the gay community in those days when homosexual activity was illegal. The language is called Polari, and it’s the language in which today’s opening welcome was written.

Julian and Sandy were characters who were out of work chorus boys doing various other jobs in between theatre work. Each week they sprinkled their sentences with words form Polari, words which were unknown to the general public but the script was written in such a manner that the meanings were easily guessed. Even though Julian and Sandy were extremely camp and intended to be gay men their homosexuality was not the object of the comedy. It was the situation and the double entres that Polari implied that made them funny (“big bulging lallies and whopping great thews”), not to mention the unsuspecting use of Polari words like “cruise” and “cottage” which were “overlooked” by the BBC bosses. This was still during the time of state censorship (the Director General of the BBC once told the writers, with a twinkle in his eye, why he let them get away with it – “I like dirty shows!”, he said). Strangely, one of the rules laid down by the BBC was that there should be no jokes about effeminacy in men!

As the name Polari suggests, the language has Mediterranean roots. No-one is quite sure where or when it originated but many different influences may have converged. It is generally believed that the Italian Comedia dell’arte is the main source.

Polari was spoken mainly among circus, theatre and performing communities. In the pre-20th century period these professions were not considered “legitimate” and they often found themselves victimised by locals when they travelled the country. This attitude was similar to that directed against the travelling communities – Romani, gypsy and even vagabonds.

All these communities contributed to the vocabulary of travelling and performing communities during the late 19th century which became known as Parleyree, and this developed into the Polari of the 20th century. With slightly different emphasis on meanings and uses the gay community became the final influencers in the last stage of Polari’s evolution.

The creators, the writers, of the Julian and Sandy characters were two very heterosexual men – Barry Took and Marty Feldman. They had originally envisaged two elderly out-of-work actors as recurring characters, but the “Round the Horne” producer found them more sad than funny. Took and Feldman them came up with the young chorus-boys Julian and Sandy.

Barry Took had been a comedy performer on the theatre circuit back in the 1950s and had contact with many young chorus-boys who spoke Polari regularly so he understood some of the words. Fortunately the two actors who played Julian and Sandy (played respectively by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams) were both gay actors with musical comedy backgrounds who also spoke Polari between themselves.
Kenneth Williams was well-known to audiences by the mid 1960s through his comedy work on radio on the “Carry On” films. He always had problems accepting his homosexuality and was deeply insecure, despite the extrovert persona he displayed in his many later appearances as raconteur and chat show guest.

Hugh Paddick, on the other hand, was less well known and preferred to stay out of the limelight and private. I still can’t believe that he would have been 100 years old this year! Even though he was an all-round character actor Hugh played many camp characters on television, radio and film, one of the campest being as Robin Hood in “Up the Chastity Belt”.

Finally, I must say a word or two about Kenneth Horne, one of my heroes, the genius around whom “Round the Horne” was created. Kenneth, a straight man in both comedy and sexuality terms, was a star of British wartime radio comedy, and his progression into the “Swinging 60s” was extraordinary successful. He looked more like a businessman or MP than a comedian. Indeed, he was head of several big national companies in the 1950s until a heart attack almost killed him. His doctor told him he wouldn’t survive long with both his business and comedy careers and he must drop one. Fortunately he dropped his business career. Horne was a talented comedy writer himself, though “Round the Horne” was written for him by Took and Feldman. His sudden death while presenting an award ceremony in 1968, ironically moments after the presentation of an award to Took and Feldman, was a loss which has never been replaced.

Julian and Sandy and Polari continued on vinyl, books and cassettes. In 1988 BBC television hosted a special celebration of radio comedy in which many iconic performers from the Golden Age of Comedy reappeared. Barry Took wrote a brand new sketch for Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick as Julian and Sandy. Sadly Williams died three months later and Julian and Sandy died with him. Hugh Paddick died in 2000 at the age of 85.

I’ll leave you with this clip of Julian and Sandy at their best, which also illustrates just how many Polari words are now part of everyday speech (butch, camp, queer, cottage).

Thursday 26 March 2015

Heritage Spotlight - The Riot Grrrl Collection

Last year I wrote about the origins of Riot Grrrl, a primarily music-based activist movement formed in the US in the late 1980s. In 2009 a specific archive of material belonging to members of the movement was created at the Fales Library and Special Collections in New York.

Naturally called The Riot Grrrl Collection this archive is the brainchild and responsibility of one of the early Riot Grrrl followers who, fortunately, is a qualified archivist at the Fales Library, Lisa Darms.

As a youngster Lisa had been active in the punk and feminist communities at college in Olympia, Washington State. This was the cradle of the Riot Grrrl movement as the 1980s turned into the 1990s. One of Lisa’s room-mates during this time at college was Kathleen Hanna, one of the pioneers of Riot Grrrl. Indeed, Kathleen is one of the creators of a fanzine called “Riot Grrrl” which gave the movement its name.

Both Kathleen and Lisa studied photography at Evergreen State College. Lisa’s interests began to turn of art history and research. After gaining an Advanced Certificate in Archival Management Lisa began working in a series of archivist positions, including at the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Mayor’s office.

In 2008 Lisa applied for the position of Senior Archivist at the Fales Library. Lisa had already had the idea of forming an archive of Riot Grrrl material when she was being interviewed for the post. She discussed it with her old friend Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman, another Riot Grrrl pioneer, after they all took part in a panel discussion at Fales about donations to libraries by musicians and artists generally.

Kathleen was very enthusiastic about the idea and once Lisa was appointed as Senior Archivist it seemed all the right people were in the right place at the right time to make the Riot Grrrl archive a possibility. Lisa suggested the idea to the library’s director, Marvin Taylor, and he agreed to help create the archive. With her connections and contacts in the movement Lisa had many possible donors to approach.

But why did such a relatively small and private library as Fales seem so keen on creating a new collection on the Riot Grrrl movement in its archive?

The Fales Library and Special Collections is part of New York University. It is named after DeCoursey Fales (1888-1966) who began donating thousands of manuscripts, books and documents to the university from 1957. From this core collection the Fales Library was formed. Over the decades new documents and collections began to be based there, including the Downtown Collection. This is a large archive of material relating to New York’s punk culture dating back to 1975. The Fales director, Marvin Taylor, recognised how the Riot Grrrl Collection would form an ideal parallel archive.

The Downtown Collection was created by Marvin himself. Being a self-confessed “queer boy from the Quaker Midwest” it seems a little incongruous to find him curating this collection, the most popular and most consulted of the special collections at Fales. Marvin has been Director for over twenty years, and as long as the Downtown Collection remains popular I don’t imagine he’ll leave until he retires.

So that’s how and why the Riot Grrrl Collection came into being. But what exactly does the archive contain? As I said earlier, Lisa has many personal contacts with some of the founders and pioneers of the movement, so it wasn’t difficult finding possible donors. Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman both donated material to the new collection, as well as several other pioneers.

Virtually anything is accepted – books, posters, artwork, diaries, personal papers, fanzines, old video tapes, audio cassettes, vinyl records, photographs, films, you name it. One of the more unexpected artifacts Lisa has had to refuse is a bottle containing someone’s poo (shades of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”)!

But it would be wrong to think that something like the Riot Grrrl Collection would be of no interest to anyone other than Riot Grrrl fans. Like most collections of this type, whatever the subject, it represents a snapshot of the society in which that particular subject developed. It can tell us a lot about the fashions, art and social attitudes of a particular time and place, and all too often it is the small, seemingly insignificant items that can reveal the most. Many a time I’ve regretted throwing away an old postcard or dog-eared magazine, or not hanging on to the flyers handed out at early Nottingham Pride event.

The Riot Grrrl Collection, while focussing on a particular sub-culture, is vital in understanding how the wider lgbt community has taken shape. And, most of all, it preserves the names of those who were part of it.

Monday 23 March 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 6 - A Murder

Last Time : HIV/AIDS educator and campaigner 13) Prudence Mabele received an award named after 14) Felipa de Sousa who was prosecuted during the 1591 Brazilian Inquisition, as was 15) Xica Manicongo, the earliest known transsexual in Brazil, a country that regularly tops the list of murders by country each Transgender Day of Remembrance, which began in response to the murder of 16) Rita Hester.

16) Rita Hester (1963-1998) was a well-known and much-loved person on the lgbt scene in Boston, Massachusetts. Born male Rita lived the last decade of her life as a woman, open, proud, and unashamed of her identity. It may have been her love of life and vivacity that endeared her so much to the community. So it came as a massive shock when she was found mortally attacked at her home on 28th November 1998.

This wasn’t the first transgender murder in Boston. The murder of 17) Chanelle Pickett (1972-1995) prompted a vigil by the lgbt community. The vigil was followed a couple of years later by anger and frustration at the acquittal of Chanelle’s killer. Instead of murder he was found guilty of assault and battery. The injustice was still in the minds of the Boston community 16 months later when 16) Rita Hester was murdered.

Rita’s death was also marked by a vigil, one of the largest ever seen in Boston. The circumstances surrounding Rita’s murder are vague. She was last seen in one of Boston’s popular gay and transgender bars at which she was a regular customer. Witnesses saw her leave with two men, one of whom she knew. The next thing anyone knew was that Rita was bleeding to death from 20 stab wounds in her chest.

The stunned community banded together and held a march and candlelit vigil in Rita’s memory. One of the leading transgender activists who helped to organise the vigils for both Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett was 18) Nancy Nangeroni.

Nancy has been involved in transgender activism since 1995 when she founded the Boston chapter of The Transgender Menace. One of the first actions she took was to organise the vigil for Chanelle Pickett. In 1998, after she helped organise the vigil for Rita, she and her partner Gordene MacKenzie produced a music video called “In Memory of Rita”.

It was also at about this time that the transgender community in Boston began to use a new symbol designed by Holly Boswell to be used to identify transgender issues. It has become universally accepted. The emblem (pictured) was promoted by Nancy Nageroni on “Gender Vision”, a cable television series on transgender issues aimed at a wider audience. This grew out of a radio series broadcast in Massachusetts called “Gender Talk” on which Nancy was host presenter.

Still active in transgender campaigns Nancy and Boston’s transgender community can be claimed as the pioneers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Their stand against transphobic abuse triggered by the deaths of Chanelle Pickett and Rita Hester inspired activists in San Francisco to create the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999 which is still observed every year on the anniversary of Chanelle’s death on 20th November 1995.

The city of Boston has earned another place in lgbt world heritage by lending its name to the “Boston marriage”. This was a term used specifically to describe a relationship between 2 women. In the 19th century a lot of privileged women living in the north-eastern USA formed romantic partnerships that were very much like marriages. Because Boston was a major centre of these relationships they became known as Boston marriages.

It is highly appropriate that Boston has this connection with same-sex relationships because the state of Massachusetts played a significant part in the fight to legalise same-sex marriages in the USA. Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriage in May 2004. There are several couples I could nominate for the next 2 of my 80 Gays – Marcia Hayes and Susan Shepherd (the first couple to obtain a licence to marry), or Tanya McClosky and Marcia Kadish (the first couple to actually marry). Instead I’ll choose the Boston couple who were the lead plaintiffs in the pioneering court case which led to the legalisation of same-sex marriage. This couple are 19) Hillary Goodridge (b.1956) and 20) Julie Goodridge (b.1958). The story of their campaign to be married will be told next time.

Friday 20 March 2015

Thoroughly Mineralogical Millie

Have I mentioned before that my only academic qualification in a science subject is in geology? I’ve a large mineral collection at home which is mostly hidden away in boxes. One day I’ll have more space to put them all out of display, a hope that has been fuelled over the fast few weeks by one of those fortnightly publications that goes on sale every year or so that gives a different mineral with a magazine with each issue.

That also got me thinking about a mineralogist I researched a couple of years ago for my Ology of the Month series. I didn’t have time to write about her then so I’ll write about her now. She was, like myself, an enthusiastic collector rather than a proper scientist, and she was called Mildred Berryman (1901-1972).

Mildred Jessie Berryman was born in Salt Lake City, the youngest of the three children of English-born Richard Berryman. She was named after her mother, Richard’s actress wife Mildred “Millie” Stokes. Richard was working as a bartender but had spent some time as a miner in Colorado. Perhaps this is where he became interested in minerals, a passion his daughter shared, though his birthplace back in England, Cornwall, is also a rich source of minerals and he could have worked in one of the famous tin mines.

Mildred’s first academic interest when she was teenager at Westminster College in Salt Lake City was controversial to say the least. She wanted to do a study on lesbianism. The College was appalled. Mildred had also just come out as a lesbian to her future sister-in-law and became very distressed by the attitude of the college, and the families of some of her classmates who objected to her presence in class.

In order to get away from the pressure Mildred ran away and got married. The physical nature of the relationship repulsed her so much that she left her husband and returned to Westminster College to finish her education. In his biographical article on Mildred last year for the “Mineralogical Record” Wendell E. Wilson suggests that she may have taken introductory courses in geology and mineralogy on her return to college.

Mildred joined the Mineralogical Society of Utah, formed at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, before the autumn of 1940. In that year two reports indicate she was active in mineral collection. First is a report in the “Salt Lake Tribune” of 2nd October which includes an account of Mildred giving details to the society of their next field trip. The second, in the specialist magazine “The Mineralogist”, was the first advert for “The Berryman Menage”.

This Berryman Menage was a mineral showroom and shop which also offered gem stones for jewellery. It was located in the family home in Salt Lake City and was run by Mildred and her father Richard. Mildred had had several jobs before the Menage opened, including those of stenographer and photographer, and she carried on with her photography for another year or so. Her studio was located on the upper floor of her home, and doubtless the photos she displayed to the Minerological Society at the University of Utah when she gave details of the field trip mentioned above were taken by herself. Another report in the “Salt Lake Tribune” in January 1941 describes her as “historian and photographer for the Mineralogical Society of Utah”. Although Mildred didn’t seem to hold any official position within the society it is clear she was highly regarded and led some of their meetings.

During World War II Mildred worked in a factory making small arms. It was there that she met her partner for the rest of her life, Mrs. Ruth Usherman Dempsey. By this time Mildred’s father was becoming ill and he died in 1945. Mildred, preferring to be called Barrie (a diminutive form of her surname, no doubt) and Ruth began a jewellery-making business called Berryman Novelty Manufacturing and the Berryman Menage seems to have ceased trading.

Mildred died in 1972 aged 71. Ruth died in 1979. Mildred had achieved some social standing in Salt Lake City. As well as being a successful businesswoman she was a President of the Business and Professional Women’s Organisation. She wrote several articles for “The Mineralogist” magazine, the last one being published in 1943. Other work was published after her death.

You remember that thesis on lesbianism that Westminster College stopped her from writing? Well, Mildred began writing it after leaving college and completed it in 1939. It was titled “The Psychological Phenomena of the Homosexual” though it remained unpublished. On Mildred’s death Ruth hid the manuscript from Mildred’s family when they descended on her home to take away anything they could. Fortunately the jewellery business was in Ruth’s name so that was safe and at least she had an income. In the late 1970s Ruth passed the manuscript on to her daughter in the hope that she would have it published. Some of Mildred’s thesis was reached publication in “Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society” in 1978.

As a passionate photographer and mineralogist Mildred Berryman provided Utah with a wealth of visual and physical material, some of which still survives in the archives at the University of Utah. But it is probably her thesis on lesbianism, a snapshot of the lives of women during the middle of the 20th century, which is more likely to be studied more closely.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

City Pride : Dublin

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have Irish blood on my mother’s side. I’m proud of my Celtic heritage and my Irish great-grandmother, Sarah Maria Bagley. Being one-eighth Irish I often joke that I always celebrate the fact on the eighth day of the week! That’s true Irishness!

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day I’ve turned today’s article into emerald green. Let’s look at the city in which my great-grandmother was born, Dublin, and discover its lgbt heritage. I’ve selected ten subjects and tried to make them as varied as possible while still within walking distance of each other (without being clumped together). The simplified map below shows present-day Dublin and the subjects I’ll describe below.

1) Upper Mount Street. This was the home of my great-grandmother’s father Noel. He was a game-keeper to one of Dublin’s prominent families. My mother always said that Noel and/or Sarah Maria worked for a Lady Leonette La Touche. I think there must have been some confusion over the name as I’ve only been able to find a Lady Annette La Touche in Dublin at the time. It must be the same person. The La Touches were influential Dubliners and no doubt knew of Oscar Wilde’s family, if not knew them personally. Speaking of whom, just a short walk away we find…

2) Oscar Wilde’s birthplace, 21 Westland Row. The building is now home to the Oscar Wilde Centre, a research and educational organisation run by Trinity College. I don’t want to say more about this today because it seems like a very good subject for a Heritage Spotlight article in the future.

3) Merrion Square. One of several public parks in Dublin opened in the 1800s. Oscar Wilde and his family lived in one of the posh houses around the perimeter until 1879 when his mother sold the house and moved to London. The park contains a statue of Oscar Wilde, an unusual example of a reclining figure, which is facing the old family home. The annual Dublin Pride festival has been held in Merrion Square since 2012, the parade through the city centre ending here.

4) The George, South Great George’s Street. This is one of Ireland’s oldest existing gay bars and clubs and celebrates its 40th anniversary this Easter. Before then it was a traditional Irish pub with a reputation for having and ageing clientele. In 1985 it was bought by Cyril O’Brien, an openly gay businessman, who turned it into a brighter, more vibrant, gay-friendly bar and club. Homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland when The George opened, but it quickly became the main venue for the lgbt community.

5) Rice’s, South King Street. Before The George there were other gay bars, including Rice’s, owned by Bobby Rice and opened in 1960. Again, it was previously a traditional pub but whereas The George’s straight and gay clientele mingled freely, the gay clientele at Rice’s had a separate bar area where they could socialise more comfortably. Rice’s closed in 1986 shortly after The George opened, and was demolished to make way for a shopping centre.

6) The Gate Theatre, North Frederick Street. This small theatre is housed in a former public function room of an old hospital. In 1928 it became the home of a new theatre company formed by what has been called Ireland’s most famous gay couple (despite the fact that both were English-born), Hilton Edwards and Miche├íl Mac Liammoir. The Gate Theatre introduced Irish audiences to many American and European plays for the first time. Edwards and Mac Liammoir were regulars at Rice’s pub.

7) Alternative Miss Ireland, Olympia Theatre. For 17 consecutive years, and for one earlier contest, Dublin celebrated diversity and fun together with the Alternative Miss Ireland contest. For the last half of its long run the contest finals were held at the Olympia Theatre. The first contest was held in 1987 with Miss Isle as the winner. The contest returned in 1996 and was held every year on the Sunday nearest St. Patrick’s Day. The last contest in 2012 was filmed by the Irish broadcaster RTE, and was won by Miss Minnie Melange (real name Sinead Burke)

8) Dublin Pride (several locations on the map). The first Dublin Pride took place in June 1983. The parade went from St. Stephen’s Green, a notorious gay cruising site, to the front of the General Post Office on O’Connell Street. For several years the post-parade festival was held at the city council’s offices on Wood Quay before relocating to Merrion Square in 2012.

9) “Bunny” Murphy, Queen Street and Grafton Street. These were the home and business addresses respectively of Bernard “Bunny” Murphy, a society and celebrity hairdresser. During the 1940s his clientele included stars such as Maureen O’Hara and Paulette Goddard. In the 1950s he moved to London. After his partner’s death he moved to Brighton where he met Dominic Dalton. A relationship developed, despite the age gap – Bunny was 65, Dominic was 29. Bunny developed Alzheimer’s in the 1990s and Dominic became his carer. The pressure led to depression and in 2001, in a depressive rage, Dominic strangled Bunny. He admitted to the killing, and the court found that due to his mental state at the time the crime was declared manslaughter. Dominic was sentenced to 6 years.

10) Outhouse, 105 Capel Street. Outhouse is Dublin’s main lgbt community and resource centre. It was founded in 1996 and moved to its present location on Capel Street in 2001. It was officially opened by the Irish President Mary McAlysse.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Coded Lives : Lady Mary's Flower Code

Today’s Coded Lives looks at a code that was popular in the romantic circles of the Victorian period. It was a code which expressed secret desires and emotions, and one of the acknowledged originators of this code was Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu (1689-1762).

Lady Mary has featured several times on this blog over the years, and today, looking forward to a summer of floral colour, we’ll have a look at the code she popularised.

The flower code, or language of flowers (it even has its own name, floriography) was most popular during the reign of Queen Victoria across Europe and in northern America. Many different meanings have been given to flower since Lady Mary’s time and there hasn’t been a central authoritative body to decide which definition is “correct”. Before I list some of the more popular meanings of flowers in use today we’ll take a look at the Turkish influence of Lady Mary’s language of flowers and its development.

Lady Mary was the wife of the UK’s Ambassador in Turkey between 1716 and 1718, William Wortley-Montagu. Among the folk cultures of Turkey there was a system of rhymes and poems which were to help in remembering medicinal, herbal and culinary uses for a whole variety of plants, not just the flowers but the seeds, roots and leaves as well. This was known as a “selam”. The selam wasn’t a code like the later romantic language of flowers became. It was acknowledged in the 1830s, long after the secret language of flowers became popular, that the selam was a system of openness in its meanings and was no secret at all. Lady Mary wrote about the selam in her letters which were published after her death and she believed them to be just that, secret meanings, and it is her misconception of the selam that led to the coded meanings of flowers that developed.

Meanwhile, another visitor to Constantinople, Aubrey, Seigneur de la Mottraye, also mentioned the selam in a book published in 1727. By the early 1800s the phrase “language of flowers” had become common across Europe in romantic literature and poetry. Many books were published in the middle of the 19th century which gave lists of flowers and their secret meanings. This was when different definitions for the same flowers began to emerge. Most of the current meanings derive from a book published in 1819 called “Le Language des Flores” by Charlotte de Latour. These lists were republished year after year in the popular annual almanacs.

Lady Mary may not recognise today’s language of flowers but the predominantly romantic meanings will be familiar. From the original memory-aiding rhymes of the selam to the romantic lists of the Victorian era new floral “codes” developed, with specific flowers now being assigned to birth-months and star signs.

So, if you want to give your loved one or secret love some flowers this summer expressing your emotions you could choose from the list of selected flowers below.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Around The World In 80 Gays : Part 5 - An Inquisition

Last time : 10) Tom Waddell founded the Gay Games in which he, 9) Jacques Snyman Wiechiech and 12) Shaun Mellors have competed. Jacques was a member of the gay rugby club of which 11) Tim Sullivan is Chair, and who was an Olympic torch bearer, as was Shaun Mellors and 13) Prudence Mabele.
13) Prudence Mabele (b.1971) was the first black woman in South Africa to reveal her HIV status in 1992. Like 12) Shaun Mellors Prudence has become a leading activist and educator for fellow HIV patients, and both were chosen to carry the Olympic torch in 2004 in recognition for their work. Prudence is a founder member of the Treatment Action Campaign and the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS.

As well as being honoured by carrying the Olympic torch Prudence has received many other international awards for her HIV/AIDS work. In 1999 the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) presented Prudence with their Felipa de Sousa Award. This award is named after a Brazilian woman called 14) Felipa de Sousa (1556-c.1600) and is presented to individuals and organisations who have made a significant contribution to AIDS research and education.

14) Felipa de Sousa was born in the Alvarge, Portugal, and was known to have been well-educated for a 16th century woman of working class background. She was probably educated in a convent school, for the IGLHRC says on its website that Felipa was expelled from a convent for “sodomy”.

The year of Felipa’s arrival in the Portuguese colony of Brazil is not known but it is recorded that she was a widow. It doesn’t appear to have been long before she married again. Her second husband was a baker called Francisco Pires. Apparently there were no children from either marriage.

In 1591 the Catholic Church of Portugal decided to begin an Inquisition into what it saw as heretical practices in the empire. Most of this was anti-Semitic in origin, though witchcraft and sodomy were to be included. The Inquisition had been in Brazil before 1591 but in this year it arrived in Bahia, the main Brazilian province, with the main intent of dealing with alleged sodomy.

There were many cases of homosexuality, lesbianism and cross-dressing reported to the Inquisitor and they were put on trial. In December 1591 Felipa de Sousa was accused of lesbian contact with several women. By this time Felipa was widowed again, and it isn’t clear if the sexual activity she was accused of began before or after her husband’s death.

Felipa confessed to her “sins” and said that she had been having sex with other women since 1583. It was the most recent of her lovers, Paula de Siqueiro, who had reported her to the Inquisitor. The penalty for “sodomy” for both men and women was death, but the Inquisitor let it be known that he would be lenient with those who confessed. This would be why Felipa revealed her affairs, and why other women came forward to accuse her and escape prosecution.

Of all the women in the provincial capital of Salvador who were accused of sodomy only Felipa was put on trial. There was no question from the start that she would be found guilty. On 4 January 1592 she was condemned to exile from Brazil. Before that, however, she was whipped through the streets and had to pay the trial costs.

Another person who was investigated during the same 1591 Inquisition and after whom an award is also named, is 15) Francisco “Xica” Manicongo (exact dates of birth and death unknown). Xica was a slave from West Africa. She always wore female clothes and behaved like a woman at all times, so complies with our modern concept of a transsexual rather than a cross-dresser. A male by birth, she was baptised as Francisco, and her given surname Manicongo was a common title in the African tribes from which she was kidnapped. Whether this means Xica came from the ruling class of her tribe isn’t known.

It was common knowledge among the other slaves that Xica preferred sex with men. In her native West Africa Xica would have been referred to as a “quimbanda”. Her owner ordered her to stop wearing women’s clothes several times and she eventually complied, reluctantly. After being presented to the Inquisitor she was “denounced” for wearing female attire. After that Xica disappears from the records.

The Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals in Rio de Janeiro (ASTRA-Rio) declared 9 March as Xica Manicongo Day, and presents their Xica Manicongo Award each year to people and allies who have made a significant contribution to the trans identity in Brazil.

With such an open celebration of Brazilian transgender identity it seems at odds with the statistic that most transgender murders occur in Brazil. This is made apparent every year during the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999. However, it wasn’t a Brazilian murder which was the catalyst but the murder of 16) Rita Hester (1963-1998). We’ll look at how and where the Day of Remembrance began next time.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Out of Their Trees : The "Queen" of Maryland

To mark today’s International Women’s Day we concentrate on one woman who has conquered the American entertainment industry – Ellen DeGeneres. In 2010 Lisa Kudrow revealed some of Ellen’s French-Canadian ancestry and cousinship to Madonna on her tv show. What I’d like to do today is look at Ellen’s other ancestors. Her ancestry reveals her DNA has been inherited from some influential woman in British and American history.

Ellen is descended from a network of close family relationships and is descended from people who not only founded America (Mayflower ancestors included) but also founded Maryland, Baltimore and Capitol Hill. In fact, Ellen’s ancestors WERE Maryland.

Let’s begin in the 16th century and the heart of England where we find Ellen’s most influential female ancestor of the Elizabethan age. No, not the Virgin Queen herself but a woman known as the Queen of the Midlands, and popularly known as Bess of Hardwick.

My own family has a distant genealogical link to Bess, but a closer link comes through some of the properties her children inherited – Clumber Park, Nottingham Castle and Welbeck Abbey. My sister, myself and my eldest brother have worked in those respective properties.

Elizabeth “Bess” Hardwicke (1520-1608) was born into the minor gentry of Derbyshire. By a fortunate string of four marriages Bess rose to become one of the richest women in England owning more estates than most men. Her first marriage was when she was a teenager and she was widowed soon after. It is her second marriage in 1547 which has the biggest impact on genealogy. Her second husband was Sir William Cavendish of Chatsworth. They had 8 children. One son became the 1st Earl of Devonshire (ancestor of the later Dukes) and is ancestor of many UK Prime Ministers (including David Cameron) and the Queen. Incidentally, there’s no such place as Devonshire – Devon is a county not a shire, the 1st Earl invented the name to stop being confused with already existing Earl of Devon. It is from Bess and Sir William’s eldest son Henry Cavendish (1550-1616) that Ellen DeGeneres descends.

After Sir William’s death Bess remarried in 1559 to Sir William St. Loe, another wealthy landowner. He died in suspicious circumstances in 1565, probably poisoned by his brother – and this isn’t the last murder in Ellen’s ancestry, as we’ll see later.

By 1565 Bess of Hardwick was the wealthiest woman in England after the Queen, whom she knew personally and acted as Lady of the Bedchamber. Bess’s final marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury brings Mary, Queen of Scots, into the story. When Mary was arrested and awaiting execution she was placed under house arrest in the custody of Bess and the Earl.

Henry Cavendish (mentioned above) had several illegitimate children. One daughter, Anne, married Vincent Lowe of Derbyshire and they were the parents of Jane Lowe (1633-1700), our second influential female in Ellen’s ancestry.

Jane Lowe and two brothers settled in Maryland in the early 1660s (Ellen is also descended from one of these brothers). Jane followed her great-grandmother by marrying well. First she married Col. Henry Sewall who became Secretary of Maryland. He was given lots of land in the colony by the governor, Hon. Charles Calvert.

A brief word on the Calverts. They “owned” Maryland. The family held the title of Lord Baltimore, and the present city is named after them. Also, as their colonial flag the Calverts used their family standard (coat of arms in flag form) and this is still the flag of Maryland (pictured).

In 1665 Col. Sewall died, leaving Jane a wealthy woman and owner of over 9,000 acres of land. Not long afterwards she married the aforementioned Governor Calvert. He moved in with her on her Sewall estates and Jane became First Lady of Baltimore. Nine years later Calvert inherited his father’s title and Jane became Lady Baltimore. Jane has many descendants by both Col. Sewall and Lord Baltimore, including Charles Carroll, one of the Signatories of the Declaration of Independence, all cousins of Ellen DeGeneres.

In 1681 Lady Baltimore’s brother, Vincent Lowe, accused one Christopher Rousby of treacherous words against Lord Baltimore and the king. Accusations flew around for a couple of years until 1684 when Rousby was stabbed to death by Lord Baltimore’s cousin. The king gave him a pardon! However, that’s not the end of it. In 1691 Rousby’s successor as the king’s tax collector was murdered by Nicholas Sewall, Lady Baltimore’s son! So that’s 3 murderers in Ellen’s ancestry!

Let’s leave all this law-breaking and look at some law-making. The murderous Nicholas’s sister Elizabeth followed her mother’s example and married colonial governors, Jesse Wharton followed by William Digges. Elizabeth’s children by Digges gives Ellen DeGeneres a descent from King Edward III. Lady Baltimore’s grandson Notley Rozier (1673-1727) (Ellen’s direct ancestor) inherited the Duddington manor in Maryland. In 1791 Notley’s grandson sold the estate to the US government who were looking for a site for their parliament building. Today, that Duddington manor (Ellen’s ancestral estate) is known as Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

Finally, another lawful, if not crusading, connection comes in Lady Baltimore’s more distant ancestors. Through her father Jane is descended from the Willoughby’s of Wollaton Hall in Nottingham. This stately home became a film star in 2012 when it was turned into Bruce Wayne’s stately mansion for the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” (seen near the start of this official trailer). Also, most of the properties inherited from Bess of Hardwick have been used for tv and film locations.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Star-Gayzing : A Threesome is Revealed in Chile

It’s not often that a chance meeting between an openly gay astronomer and a physics professor leads to a threesome, but that’s what happened in Chile in 2013.

The threesome in question, however, didn’t actually take place between the two scientists but 25 light years away in the constellations of Piscus Austrinus and Aquarius. All three members of the new threesome are stars known as Fomalhaut A, B, and C.

Fomalhaut deserves to be more well-known in the popular imagination, on a par with the Pole Star, Alpha Centauri or Betelgeuse. It’s one of the most dynamic star systems known, and is the only system where you can actually SEE another planet orbiting another star with the naked eye (you’ll need a VERY big telescope, though).

Let’s look at the Fomalhaut system before we look at the gay astronomer who helped to uncover the threesome. The illustration below shows the stars in the night sky (stars shown larger than actual size) divided into constellations, showing where all three of the Fomalhaut stars are located. All 3 stars are orbiting each other but with so many other stars in between them it seems difficult to visualise. But when you realise that the Fomalhaut stars are nearer to us than the others it becomes easier to visualise.
Ancient astronomers thought all stars were the same distance away – fixed onto a dome’s inside surface. We all know that they aren’t, of course. It’s a pity we can’t see the night sky in true 3D – it’ll be mind-blowing!

How big is this Fomalhaut 3-star system? The sheer size of the Fomalhaut system is itself a rarity. Very few triple stars are so disperse. That’s one reason why it wasn’t until 2013 that Fomalhaut C was recognised as being the third star in this triple system. Which brings me back to that chance meeting in Chile.

Dr. Todd Henry, a member of the Out LGBT Astronomers list, and 1994 Gay Games 5,000 and 10,000 meters champion, is founding Director of RECONS. He is also Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at Georgia State University where RECONS is based.

RECONS is the Research Consortium on Nearby Stars, and Fomalhaut, at 25 light years, is one of the nearest. The RECONS astronomers had detailed data on all of the nearest stars, including one in the constellation Aquarius called LP876-10. One of Todd Henry’s students was working on a thesis with RECONS and had obtained more detailed information about the star’s movement and characteristics.

Todd Henry had the research notes with him when he was staying at a hotel in Chile, and that’s where he met Dr. Eric Mamajek, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester. Dr. Mamajek, knowing Todd’s expert knowledge of near-by stars, got talking about LP876-10, which he noticed a few years earlier when he was studying the motions of all the stars in that part of the sky.

In 2013 Mamajek was hoping to discover if LP876-10 was actually linked to Fomalhaut (already known to be a double star). LP876-10 seemed to be moving in the same direction and at the same speed at Fomalhaut and he needed more detailed information. Hence the chance meeting between Todd Henry and Eric Mamajek led to the discovery that LP876-10 was indeed the third member of the Fomalhaut system, and it was renamed Fomalhaut C.

Again, it was the apparent distance from Fomalhaut A and B that led astronomers to think that LP876-10 wasn’t part of the system – it was so far across the sky, and in a totally different constellation. In fact, against the deceptive, flat-looking night sky you can put 11 full Moons between Fomalhaut A and the new Fomalhaut C.

The whole Fomalhaut system is an amazing place. There are bright dust and debris rings and comet clouds, and each of the 3 stars is different. Fomalhaut A, star known to the ancient Arabs as “fum al-hawt” (“mouth of the fish”), is about twice the size of our Sun but 16 times brighter. One planet was discovered orbiting on the edge of a dust cloud and comet belt. Fomalhaut B is a variable star, fluctuating in brightness due to an orbiting dust cloud. Fomalhaut C is red dwarf star and, like Fomalhaut A, has a dust ring.

Todd Henry’s work at RECONS is helping us to understand our nearest interstellar neighbours. By studying the planet, and others orbiting other stars, he is following on from his earlier research into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). I’ll return to Todd Henry and SETI later in the year.

Monday 2 March 2015

Extraordinary Lives : Stagecoach Mary

Of the stories about women’s lives in the Wild, Wild West of the 19th century none can be more extraordinary than that of Mary Fields (c.1932-1914), pictured left. She was even a hero to one of the great Wild West movie cowboys.

Mary’s story begins, as does so many black Americans in the 19th century, in slavery. The exact year of her birth has not been ascertained, but it is believed she was born in, or about, 1832. Even the date of her birth is a mystery. In the town of Cascade, Montana, the townspeople held her is such high esteem in her later years that the local schools were closed on her birthday which, she variously claimed, was in March or October. Yes, Cascade accepted that Mary had two birthdays a year, such was their high regard for her!

Following the abolition of slavery many former slaves left their old slave homes for new lives elsewhere. Mary Fields was one who remained in the service of her former owner, Judge Edmund Dunne, and became a valued and trusted employee. When she felt it was time to leave and move on Mary found work as a chambermaid on the legendary steamboat “Robert E. Lee”. Mary was actually on board the “Robert E. Lee” when it won the race up the Mississippi against the steamboat “Natchez” in 1870.

After a few years Mary decided to go back to work for Judge Dunne. When the judge’s wife died in 1883 Mary took the five Dunne children to live with their aunt, the Mother Superior of a convent in Toledo, Ohio. A few months later, however, the aunt was appointed to lead a mission to Cascade, Montana, to establish a Catholic school for local Native American girls.

On receiving news of the Mother Superior’s ill health in Montana some months later Mary Fields left her job as a carpenter at the Toledo convent and sped across to nurse her old friend. From that moment the Catholic mission of St. Peter’s and the town of Cascade became Mary’s home.

Until now Mary’s life was only extraordinary in that she lived pretty much as a man in a world where women had to know their place. Once in Cascade her life became extraordinary even for a man. Many of the details have been elaborated with legend and apocryphal stories, but there’s no smoke without fire, as they say, and there’s no reason to doubt some of the most extraordinary tales told about her.

Mary’s everyday life at the Mission near cascade consisted of acting as a general “handyman” – chopping firewood, building stone walls, digging trenches. She probably built the schoolhouse and chapel single-handedly. She also tended the mission’s chickens and garden.

One story told is of one of her regular trips to Helena township 120 miles away. Travelling alone as usual, her waggon was attacked by wolves on her return journey. The houses bolted and overturned the waggon spilling all the food and provisions onto the ground, and Mary kept the wolves at bay all night, protecting the supplies for the convent with her rifle and revolvers.

Mary was also quite adept with her fists as well as her guns. Reports tell of many unfortunate men who tried to get the better of her. She was a regular drinker, and the Mayor of Cascade gave her permission to drink in any male-only saloon she liked. There was a standing bet in one saloon that she could knock a man flat with one punch. The bet lapsed after 2 men lost their bet. A local newspaper once wrote that Mary had “broken more noses than any other person in Montana”. Even when she was 69 years old she flattened a man who refused to pay her for his laundry cleaning!

It was this feisty temper that lost Mary her job at the mission. Another mission handyman complained that she earned more than he did, so Mary challenged him to a duel. The unfortunate man ended up with one of Mary’s bullets in his backside, and Mary was dismissed for firing a gun on convent property.

Mary tried several jobs after that. She opened a couple of restaurants but was so charitable towards genuinely poor and needy customers by giving them free meals that they went bust.

In 1895 Mary got the job which led to her nickname. By hitching a team of horses quicker than any of the male applicants she got a job with the US Postal Service.

Now in her 60s Mary drove the mail coach single-handedly. Loaded with mail, money and valuables she made the daily trips across the state of Montana, with just her trusty revolver under her apron and a rifle by her side. Day after day, without fail, Mary travelled over the rough roads (when there were any) to ensure the US mail arrived at its destination, no matter what the weather or attack from Sioux tribes. When the mountain snow got too deep for the horses Mary would strap the mail bags over her shoulder and walk miles and miles. Mary’s reliability earned her the nickname “Stagecoach Mary”.

Mary retired from the mail service in 1901 and opened a laundry in Cascade. She also baby-sat for most of the families in town. At this stage of her life Mary was a well-known character. The Hollywood cowboy Gary Cooper met Mary when he was a youngster and he was living in Helena township. He admired Mary greatly and contributed to an article about Stagecoach Mary in “Ebony” magazine in 1977.

In 1912 tragedy struck when Mary’s laundry and home burnt down. The people of Cascade clubbed together and built her a new home. Mary died of liver failure 2 years later at the age of about 82.