Saturday 29 August 2015

Queer Achievement : Byron's Pride

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

This weekend sees the climax of Manchester Pride. Wherever you go in the city you’ll see the city council’s coat of arms and derivatives of it – on buildings, on street signs, on litter bins. Here is the Manchester coat of arms with a few others that have incorporated parts of it.
The single design element that is common to them all is what we heraldists call “three bendlets enhanced” – three diagonal stripes slightly to one side of the shield.

Now, here’s the heraldic achievement of the poet Lord Byron, one of several that can be seen in Nottingham. Does the shield look familiar?

There is a family link between the pansexual Byron and the city of Manchester where the whole spectrum of the lgbt community is being celebrated this weekend.

Lord Byron’s earliest male-line ancestor is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as holder of several manors in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. These were the days before heraldry developed. Kings, barons and knights adopted any emblem they wanted, whether or not it had been used in their family or not. As generations passed these personal emblems were adopted by other members of the family. Some families adopted animals as emblems, like the lions of England inherited by “Queens” Edward II and James I.

In some cases the emblems originated in the construction elements of a shield. Central bosses and studs were painted and they became family emblems as discs. The three red discs of the Courtenay family (of which the 3rd Earl of Devon, young lover of William Beckford, was the family head) may have begun this way. Metal bars fixed across the shield to strengthen it because the bars and stripes in heraldry, and this is probably the ultimate origin of Lord Byron’s shield. Interestingly, the position of the bars, centred to one side of the shield, is the area most often hit during battle and jousts.

Another common practice in the early days of heraldry was to adapt the coat of arms of a related or connected family. That is how Lord Byron’s arms came into being.

In the 12th century Lord Byron’s ancestors married heiresses from Lancashire in the Manchester area and they established a second manorial base there. One family of local importance they married into were the Grelleys, lords of the manor of Manchester. The Grelleys had a coat of arms of three gold stripes on a red shield, the same one still used as part of the city arms of Manchester today.

The Byrons inherited the manor of Manchester from the Grelleys. To commemorate this descent they adopted the three stripes from the Grelley shield and turned them red. And when Sir John Byron, MP for Nottingham, was created a peer in 1643 he chose his full title to be Baron Byron of Rochdale in the County Palatine of Lancaster (having bought the manor of Rochdale in 1638 from “Queen” James I to add to his Manchester estates).

A coat of arms used by the old Failsworth Urban District Council, situated in Manchester, shows this inheritance in visual form perfectly. I’ve shown the Failsworth arms below. It shows the stripes of the Grelleys and Byrons joined together as is passing the manor of Manchester from one family to the other.
As people wander around Manchester this weekend during the city’s Pride celebrations, the spirit of Lord Byron will no doubt be there with them.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 17 - A Spy

LAST TIME : 48) Keith Tomlinson (b.1980) climbed Mount Elbrus in Russia, one of the 7 highest continental mountains (the Seven Summits), a mountaineering challenge completed by 49) Cason Crane (b.1992). A parallel challenge of running a marathon on each continent has been completed by 50) Todd J. Henry, an astronomer who searched for extra-terrestrial intelligence, a subject speculated upon in the 16th century by 51) Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).
51) Giordano Bruno was one of the leading mathematicians of his age, though his controversial views on the multiple existence of Christ on alien worlds put him in the black books of scientists and the Church alike and led to his execution for heresy.

In 1591 he applied for the vacant professorship of mathematics at Padua University. He was unsuccessful. Instead the position went to an up-and-coming mathematician by the name of Galileo. But then Galileo had influential patrons who campaigned on his behalf him to the university, though they denied it. These patrons were the Del Monte brothers, one of whom was 52) Cardinal Francesco del Monte (1549-1627).

Cardinal del Monte was also an amateur mathematician like his brothers, and it was his eldest brother, the Marchese del Monte, who influenced Galileo’s work on trajectories. The Cardinal is most famous (apart from being the first recorded owner of the Portland vase) as the patron of another rising young star of the Renaissance, the artist Caravaggio, under his patronage he painted “The Cardsharps”.

After failing to get the professorship at Padua Giordano Bruno found himself increasingly at odds with both the Church and the authorities over his views. Very shortly afterwards he became the subject of the heresy trial that led to his execution.

It is Bruno’s two-year stay in England that leads us on to the most intriguing (in more ways than one) period of his life. In 1583 he arrived in London as a guest of the French ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. The ambassador had made many friends in London, a few of them from the world of the theatre as well as politics. It was probably at one of his many dinners that the ambassador introduced Giordano Bruno to 53) Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593).

I cannot bring Marlowe into the story without mentioning two things about him. The first is his role as a spy, the other we’ll come to later. The French ambassador was no stranger to espionage himself. As ambassador he was able to place French Catholic spies at Elizabeth’s Protestant court and, no doubt, knew who some of Elizabeth’s spies were. Perhaps he knew that Christopher Marlowe was a spy.

Marlowe was just one of many in the pay of Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. He was employed for many years to spy on Catholic sympathisers and plotters. But the French ambassador probably didn’t know there was another spy living under his very nose.

When Giordano Bruno arrived there was a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, invade England from Spain, and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Plans for this were rather carelessly revealed during the after-dinner chat at the French ambassador’s residence. Walsingham was informed and the plotter executed for treason. Walsingham had a double agent working in the ambassador’s house called Henry Fagot. It has been revealed in recent years that Fagot was actually 51) Giordano Bruno.

The other thing to mention about 53) Christopher Marlowe is his often alleged authorship of some (or all) of the works of Shakespeare. While this is a subject of constant discussion and speculation there is evidence that one of Marlowe’s works influenced one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays.

Another famous writer often alleged to have written Shakespeare’s plays, or at least the ones written after Marlowe’s death was Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626). He makes just a cameo appearance today because his brother, 54) Anthony Bacon (1558-1601), also worked in Walsingham’s spy ring. One intriguing theory put forward recently is that Christopher Marlowe faked his own death and that Anthony Bacon helped him to escape to France.

Back to Marlowe’s influence on Shakespeare. “Titus Andronicus” is one of the Bard’s early plays whose authorship has been questioned the most. It isn’t considered one of his best. T. S. Eliot called it “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written”. In that respect it can be said to have inspired a genre of film that is popular purely because it is just that.

“Titus Andronicus” was partly inspired by several Elizabethan revenge tragedies, one of which was called “Tambourline”, written by Christopher Marlowe. What marks “Titus” out is its violence and gore. It was very popular with Elizabethan audiences, and it still is. A recent production by The Globe even had people fainting in the audience because of the graphic nature of the modern stage effects of rape and mutilation. It’s all very reminiscent of the reports of audience reactions when “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was first released. And that’s the next connection in the chain (pardon the pun).

Modern slasher films and splatter movies are deliberately made to highlight the gore and horror and are not known for their strength of script or depth of character. Most characters are there purely to be disposed of in the most gruesome and entertaining manner possible. T. S. Eliot could have used his above-quoted remark to describe any slasher film. However, it is a genre with a distinguished history going back to “Titus Andronicus” and beyond and remains one of the greatest contributors to modern culture.

Even though there have been many lgbt characters in horror and slasher films over the years (the most famous being Norman Bates in “Psycho”), and there have been many lgbt horror writers, the genre didn’t really get a specifically gay slasher film until 2004 when “Hellbent” was released. The writer and director of that film was 55) Paul Etheredge.

When “80 Gays” returns in a couple of weeks we’ll discover what slasher films have in common with Wimbledon.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Xtremely Queer : Freda du Faur

To start the ball rolling with this new series we look to the hills and at the career of one of the first female mountaineers in history – Freda du Faur (1882-1935).

Although female mountaineers were not unknown of in the Edwardian era just over a hundred years ago it was rare to come across one who was unmarried. Freda was one such mountaineer. She was born in Sydney, Australia, into a wealthy family. Her father Frederick was a public servant working as a land agent and cartographer for the Crown Lands Office. He was a founder member and first chairman of the Geographical Society of Australia in 1883, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, so exploration was in Freda’s blood.

In 1894 Frederick was instrumental in having Ku-ring-gai Chase near Sydney declared a national park and he was appointed as its managing trustee. The family moved there, and it was the rugged natural landscape which attracted the young Freda to the outdoors. She would often wander through the park with her dog exploring all the hidden gullies and scrambling up rocks.

Rock climbing was not a profession a well-educated young lady like Freda du Faur could pursue unquestioned and she began to train to be a nurse instead. However, she was dogged by mental illness throughout her life, and she had to stop her training because of what was called her “sensitive, highly-strung nature”. Today she would be diagnosed as bipolar. Fortunately, a family inheritance meant that Freda could live independently and do whatever she wanted. And that meant she could travel and explore to her heart’s content.

In 1906 Freda visited New Zealand and became fascinated by that country’s highest peak, Mount Aoraki-Cook, and the Southern Alps. When she was able to return two years later she contacted a well-known guide, Peter Graham, to help her learn the techniques in altitude climbing that would help her reach the summit of Aoraki-Cook.

They had only been work together for a few weeks when Freda made her first mountain climb up Mount Sealy. This was remarkable enough for a woman who had no previous experience, but what concerned people more than anything was that she didn’t have a chaperone when she and Peter Graham were camping out overnight on the mountains alone. It was only after she secured her reputation as a serious and successful climber that she stopped using chaperone-porters.

Just a few weeks later Freda made her first attempt on Mount Aoraki-Cook, but ice and crevasses prevented her and Graham from completing the climb. However, she did complete other climbs so her novice season wasn’t a total failure.

The following year Freda returned to New Zealand and this time she was successful in climbing to the top of Aoraki-Cook. She was the first woman (and the first ever Australian) to reach the top. Spurred on by enthusiasm after her success Freda went on to climb another four mountains that season.

Over the next two years Freda returned to climb more peaks of the Southern Alps, gaining a reputation as a great pioneer of female mountain climbing.

In 1912 she made her final ascent up Aoraki-Cook by making the first successful climb along the ridge that ran between the mountain’s three main peaks. This was considered impossible, but she, Peter Graham and David Thompson completed it at the beginning of 1913.

Later that year Freda moved to England with her life partner Muriel Cadogan, planning to climb in the Alps. But the First World War broke out and put a halt to the plans. Instead Freda wrote a book about her exploits and feats.

Both Freda and Muriel were dogged by ill health. Muriel was admitted into an institution following a breakdown and Freda moved in with her for a while. In 1927 Muriel’s family took her back to Australia, but she died on the voyage home. Freda herself returned to Australia shortly afterwards.

In 1935 Freda du Faur, after years of bouts of depression, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. She was 53.  She was buried privately in an unmarked grave, seemingly forgotten by all those outside her family.

But Freda’s achievements were not forgotten. They were commemorated in 2013 for the centenary of her first ascent up Aoraki-Cook. A group of professional New Zealand mountain climbers kept her memory alive, and in 2006 had paid for a memorial stone and plaque to be placed at her grave.

Today there are many female mountaineers following in Freda du Faur’s footsteps, some whose own mentors may have been inspired by the feats of this extremely adventurous pioneer.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Xtremely Queer

This is an introduction to a new series of articles in which I look at those lgbt athletes and adventurers who take themselves to the limit and push themselves to the extreme.

In part this series is inspired by research I undertook last year when I was putting together my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series. The most recent of these articles ten days ago featured some extreme athletes – mountaineers and multi-marathon runners. There were many others I would also liked to have mentioned, so many that I had no space for them, so what better place to begin this new “Xtremely Queer” series by coming hot on the trail after my article of Keith Tomlinson, Cason Crane and Todd Henry. Of others that I’ve previously written about I will mention Count Eigil Knuth, the Danish archaeologist who discovered the world’s most northerly civilisation beyond the Arctic Circle.

There are various activities that can be classed as “extreme”. You may have tried some of them yourself. Some are son popular that people have forgotten that they’re actually “extreme”. Marathon running is an example. We should remember that the very first marathon run by Pheidippides in 490 BC ended in his death from exhaustion. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures and film of marathon runners in difficulties during a run.

But the facts behind Pheidippides’ marathon run are not as we may think. Modern scholars believe the story of hi s run is a mixture of other, unconnected, stories that were confused together by authors writing down the event decades after it was supposed to have occurred. It is not now believed that the message that Pheidippides conveyed was not delivered after the Battle of Marathon but before. The confusion may have been created by Lucian, the Roman writer who also described a fantastic journey to the intersex race of human on the Moon.

Pheidippides may have been a real person. He is mentioned in other ancient Greek writings as a kind of long-distance messenger. Over the rough mountain tracks between the ancient city states it would have been quicker to send runners instead of messengers on horseback because the rough terrain would slow the horses down to a walk, even though they could go faster on the flat. It seems there was a special class of messenger, a specially trained long-distance runner, of which Pheidippides was one.

In the full legendary version of his run Pheidippides not only ran the 26 miles to Athens to bring news of the victory at the battle of marathon but he had also run 150 miles to Sparta and back in the previous two days. So it’s no wonder that the story of him collapsing and dying from exhaustion was created.

The first part of the legend is probably true. The esteemed writer Herodotus records Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta on a mission to ask for military help in fighting the Persians at marathon. The next day he ran back to Athens.

One diversion on the mission was an encounter with the shepherd-loving god Pan. Phiedippides was met by Pan on the run to Sparta who asked him why the Athenians hadn’t called upon him for help against the Persians. He had helped them in the past and was willing to help again. So, when Phiedippides returned to Athens 2 days later he passed on his message as well as the one from the Spartans.

The Athenians called upon Pan’s assistance and they firmly believed that the god was with them at the Battle of Marathon and helped in their victory. As a result they built a new shrine to Pan next to the Acropolis and instituted a new annual festival in his honour complete with games, sacrifice and torch race. Even though Pheidippides’ run to Sparta is recorded by Herodotus, the famous run from Marathon is not and doesn’t appear until Lucian wrote it down 500 years later.

A modern ultra-marathon event commemorating Pheidippides’ 150 mile Spartan run is a much more fitting tribute to this long-distance messenger. The event, called the Spartathlon, was created in 1983 after a group of RAF officers proved it was possible. I haven’t been able to ascertain if any lgbt runners have competed but they’ll feature in a future “Xtremely Queer” article if they have.

Before I sign off for today there’s another lgbt link between the Battle of Marathon and sport. Leading the Persian army at the battle was the exiled Athenian tyrant Hippias. He, along with his brother Hipparchus, was one of the most hated rulers of Athens. In 514 BC a plot to assassinate them was hatched up by the couple Harmodius and Aristogeiton. The plan was to kill the tyrants during the Greater Panathenaean Games – the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”. I told the story of the assassination here. In brief, Hipparchus was assassinated and Hippias escaped to rule as tyrant alone. Also, as Pheidippides was Athenian we assume that he competed at the Panathenaean Games at some point in his life.

The first regular “Xtremely Queer” article will appear at the weekend with a look at an lgbt pioneer of female mountaineering.

Monday 17 August 2015

Coded Lives : The Code of King Minos

Picture two couples – an older man and a youth in each. Picture them among the trees away from the city. Now picture them separated by 4,000 years and 1,684 miles. One thing connects both couples, and that is an undecyphered alphabet discovered in 1893.

The most recent of these couple are Arthur Evans and George Cook, both arrested in Hyde Park on 29th January 1924 for a “violation of public decency”. Arthur was fined and George ordered to leave London. A week later after his arrest Arthur – the well-known archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) – gave his personal estate on the island of Crete to the British School at Athens. The estate consisted of a huge archaeological site.

Now, let’s go to that other couple several thousand years earlier. The older man is also well-known – King Minos of Crete – and the youth with him among the trees is Ganymede. The most common version of the story of Ganymede involves his kidnap by the god Zeus, but this older version may have been inspired by the Cretan ritual of kidnapping a youth to establish a sexual relationship.

The Cretan ritual consisted of the consensual “kidnap” of a youth or boy by an older, aristocratic man, who took the youngster into the woods for a period of “getting to know you”. A sexual relationship developed and this is said to be the origin of the practice of man-youth sex found in all the gymnasia and army barracks found throughout Ancient Greece.

The undecyphered alphabet belonged to the Cretans, a civilisation Sir Arthur Evans named Minoan after King Minos, and it was the reason the archaeologist went to Crete in the first place.

The son of another noted antiquarian, Sir John Evans, Arthur’s interest in archaeology was with him from a very young age.

It was in 1886 when he was Director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that Arthur was given a seal stone, a small stone used to impress a design or writing into clay or wax. It was inscribed with marks that looked like Mycenaean, the early alphabet of the Greek mainland, In 1893 Arthur purchased more of these small stones that were being sold as antiquarian souvenirs in Athens. Try as he could he was unable to read the inscriptions. He realised they must be in a language hitherto unknown and his quest to decode this language began.

Arthur was told that seal stones could be found in great numbers on the island of Crete so in 1894 he set off to find more. He had no difficulty finding them as they were all over the place. They were even being worn as amulets by the local women.

There was an abandoned archaeological site on Crete called Knossos, discovered in 1878. Sectarian conflict in the area led to the excavations being halted. When the dispute was resolved by the island becoming a Greek possession in 1899 it was safe to resume. Arthur was keen to prevent political interference of his own excavations at Knossos by buying the whole site. In 1900 full excavations began.

Just like his hero Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy, Arthur was keen on rediscovering the sites mentioned in the ancient myths and legends. As he dug his site Arthur began to be convinced that Knossos, with its labyrinthine passages and many images of bulls, was the palace of King Minos and the inspiration behind the legend of the Minotaur. It was a civilisation much older and a lot different to the Mycenaean mainland.

Arthur found more examples of the mysterious writing on clay tablets, and realised that there were actually two distinct versions. Because the writings consisted mainly of straight lines he called them Linear A and Linear B. In Arthur’s mind these coded scripts were the precursors of the Greek alphabet and quite vehemently defended his opinion. It has emerged since his death that Linear A existed on the Greek mainland also and may have been a shared alphabet.

Arthur Evans spent the rest of his trying to decode the Linear alphabet without success. When he died in 1941 he was no nearer discovering what they said and what they revealed about the Minoan civilisation than he did on the day he picked up his first seal stone. Other archaeologists were just as mystified and many of them tried to decipher the Minoan code.

With Linear B being a later version of Linear A and consequently nearer in form to more recent alphabets it was easier to find some structure to the writing. An archaeologist called Alice Kober managed to construct a list of symbols in Linear B which corresponded to syllables in words based on phonetics. However, no-one knew how these phonetic syllables were pronounced. A kind of breakthrough was made when it was suggested that Linear B might contain the names of important Cretan cities.

You could say there was a “Rosetta Stone” moment. The Rosetta Stone was the means by which the Egyptian hieroglyphics were decoded using names of kings written in one script that were identified in the hieroglyphics. Linear B contained the names of towns, and once these were identified the whole alphabet could be unravelled.

Through the hard work of modern archaeologists the lost language of the Minoans was revealed. Unfortunately there is little in Linear B that works when applied to Linear A. They seem to be very different languages. More than 60 years after the death of Sir Arthur Evans we’re no nearer discovering what Linear A says, or of decoding the secret language of King Minos and the Minoans.

Friday 14 August 2015

The Seven Deadly Gay Sins : Going Green With Envy

It’s time to get sinful again! This time we go green with ENVY.

Along with red and blue, green is a colour which is instantly associated with one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The association dates from Medieval times and entered Christian tradition (not to be confused with Christian doctrine). So we place ENVY on the green stripe of the Rainbow Pride flag.
I suppose, like many gay men, I’ve been guilty of envy many times. I’ve lost count of times I wish I was as young and gorgeous as Tom Daley!

Envy has often been substituted with JEALOUSY. In modern psychological terms the two are slightly different. Jealousy is the negative emotion felt at the uncontrollable loss of something which you want back (your ex, your job, etc.). ENVY is felt against people who possess something you never had in the first place, whether status, abilities or attributes of someone else. To the medieval mind there was no difference however.

If there’s one thing my researches have shown me over the years it’s that when it comes to envy its best NOT to be highly placed in society. In particular, it best not to be a male favourite of a king, because most of them have come to a sticky end because of it.

Of particular personal interest is the fate that befell the two favourites of my ancestor King Edward II of England (1284-1327). I know I’ve mentioned them several times on this blog, most notably in this article. But it illustrates well the role that both envy and jealousy played in the downfall of Piers Gaveston, murdered by the barons whose traditional positions at court and influence were given to the favourite.

King Edward’s next favourite didn’t fare any better. Hugh le Despencer (d.1326) rose to prominence as a royal favourite 700 years ago in 1315. He was among a group of nobles who supported the king in his battle against the Earl of Lancaster. When open hostilities broke out in 1321 Hugh was well placed at court. On Lancaster’s defeat Hugh received many estates that belonged to the rebels. In 1322 King Edward (accompanied by Hugh) came to Nottingham Castle to pardon all the rebels (including one Robin Hood of Wakefield).

Soon Hugh was being envied and hated by the barons as much as Gaveston was. Even Edward’s queen, Isabella, was jealous of Hugh’s influence. It was the catalyst for her rebellion and Edward’s forced abdication. Even though I doubt there was any sexual aspect to the relationship between Hugh and the king it’s clear that their contemporaries were sure of it. Hugh suffered the fate of all those condemned for treason in England – he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Even his 89-year-old father didn’t escape punishment – he was hanged and fed to the dogs.

But envy and jealousy can work the other way round. In one of my “Around the World in 80 Gays” articles a few weeks ago I recounted how the Byzantine Emperor Mikhael III fell in love with a hunky peasant called Basileios. With no legitimate heir to succeed him Mikhael quickly elevated Basileios into a succession of imperial offices of state, culminating in that of Co-Emperor.

Apart from the general political and dynastic rivalries that characterised Byzantine history there was very little envy on display. True, there was some envy of the former peasant’s rise to power, but he was wily enough to keep in everyone’s favour. Until, that is, the arrival of a new favourite.

In 866 the 26-year-old Mikhael found a new favourite, presumably one a lot younger than the 30-plus-year-old Basileios. The new favourite flattered Mikhael so much that he was rewarded by being given the emperor’s shoes to wear. Not just any shoes, but the official red jewelled shoes that were part of the imperial regalia. Only an emperor was entitled to wear them. Even Basileios hadn’t been allowed to wear them, and he was Co-Emperor. It would be like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” giving her ruby slippers to the Munchkins to play with. Basileios complained vigorously. Mikhael threatened to give the co-emperorship to the new favourite if he didn’t mind his own business. You can guess what happened next.

Basileios became jealous and envious of the new favourite’s position and feared losing this title, even if Mikhael didn’t really mean it. But to make sure that he remained Co-Emperor he decided to assassinate them both.

After a particularly alcohol-filled evening (Mikhael’s nickname was “the Drunkard”) the emperor retired to bed with the new favourite in the adjoining room, reserved for the most trusted imperial official. Basileios burst through the chambers and stabbed Mikhael before he could get out of bed. The new favourite was dragged away, and presumably executed, though there’s no actual record of what happened to him.

Basileios was now sole Emperor of Byzantium and he reigned for 19 years. It was his envy and jealousy that got him there, but he was actually a popular ruler – you couldn’t reign for 19 years in those days without being liked! So at least envy did someone a favour even if it IS one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

(NOTE: The reason I haven’t named Mikhael’s new favourite is because I didn’t want him to be confused with Basileois. The new favourite was called Basiliskos).

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 16 - Extreme

LAST TIME : 44) Modest Tchaikovsky (1850-1916) and his famous composing brother 45) Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) are linked by marriage to 46) Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) and 47) Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). All four featured prominently in the opening or closing ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, despite the Russian government’s anti-gay views over which many called for a boycott, but one man who protested by going to Russia was 48) Keith Tomlinson (b.1980).
Rather than join a boycott 48) Keith Tomlinson decided that the best way he could highlight the homophobia in Russia was to raise funds for the lgbt charity Stonewall, and the way he chose to do it was to climb the highest mountain in Europe, Mount Elbrus in Russia, just 148 miles from Sochi.

In August last year Keith reached the summit of Elbrus and unfurled a Rainbow Pride flag. This isn’t the first time a rainbow has flown from the summit. In 2013 I write a series of articles about 49) Cason Crane (b.1992), another young gay mountaineer who climbed Elbrus for his Rainbow Summit project.

Being the highest mountain in Europe makes Mount Elbrus a popular challenge for mountaineers. As such it belongs to a specific challenge called the Seven Summits in which the aim is to climb the highest mountain of each continent (Elbrus in Europe, Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, McKinley-Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and either Carstenz or Kosciuszko in Australasia).

Quite often the first continental summit attempted is the shortest, Kilimanjaro. Cason completed his climb at the age of 15, and Keith completed his climb in 2011. The experience was so inspiring that Keith came out as gay 2 days later. Although mountaineering has taken a back seat Keith Tomlinson still continues to raise money for lgbt charities by running marathons. Even if he doesn’t complete the Seven Summits challenge he may still get the chance to complete an equivalent challenge, to run a marathon on each continent, even in Antarctica.

Many marathon runners, both professional and amateur, take up the continental marathon challenge. One person to have completed it is 50) Todd J. Henry, Professor of Astronomy at Georgia State University. We’ve encountered Professor Henry before in an article I wrote in March in my “StarGayzing” series. Todd has been running marathons since 1980 and took part in the very first Antarctic marathon in 1995. He came second. Since then he has run over 40 marathons and reached the seven-continental target in 2008.

Todd Henry’s main work in astronomy has been in the study of Earth’s nearest stars. In 1994 he founded RECONS, the Research Consortium On Nearby Stars, of which he is still the Director. Since then he has become one of the leading educators into our immediate interstellar neighbourhood, working with NASA on their own Nearby Stars Project.

On earning his PhD Todd Henry was appointed a postdoctoral fellow with the SETI Project at the Phoenix Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. SETI is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. That’s not looking for bug-eyed monster or Martians but the examination of radio emissions could indicate that they are not naturally created, or even looking for evidence that organic molecules exist in space which could form life. There are several scientific research programmes into SETI, of which the project Todd Henry worked on is just one. Another is the SETI League.

The idea that life exists on other worlds isn’t new. As I mentioned several years ago a 2nd century writer called Lucian wrote about a fantastical voyage to the Moon and the strange life that lived there (including something that sounds very much like a kangaroo).

The birth of modern science in the 16th century saw new techniques applied to the study of astronomy. The idea of life existing on other possible worlds gained renewed speculation. One scientist in particular is remembered for his theory about extra-terrestrial life – for the wrong reasons.

The SETI League created an annual prize named after this 16th century scientist, awarded to scientists who make a significant contribution to SETI. They hail him as a hero of science against religion, even though his only contribution to SETI was his belief that if life exists on other worlds then God sent Christ to minister to each and every one of them. We all know how preposterous the multiplicity of one person is, and so did the Church, so they labelled him a heretic even though they accepted his scientific theories. But some scientists today use this to distort historical fact for their own anti-religion agenda and claim he was declared a heretic because of his science. He wasn’t.

The award the SETI League created in his memory is called a Bruno, and the scientist himself, the subject of an article I wrote in January, was 51) Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).

Next time we see how Bruno links to splatter movies through Shakespeare.

Saturday 8 August 2015

Four Years Old Today!

I can’t believe that its my blog anniversary again. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past 4 years and plan ahead for the future.

First of all I send all my best wishes and thanks to everyone who has read my blog. Without you it would be just like talking to myself. A big thank you also to those who have responded or contributed to my research, including my recent guest blogger David Gwinnutt, the Irish Olympian who asked to be added to my lgbt Olympian list, and to several people who helped to put the record straight on a couple of lgbt community flags.

However much I enjoy researching and writing my blog it is hard work. Trying to fit it in with my job and other commitments has been difficult at times, but that won’t put me off from continuing. However, I hope you won’t mind if I take it easy today.

As you can see by today’s page view count I (90,823) I do have an audience and I’m gradually creeping up to the number I never dreamed of reaching – the magic 100,000, and hopefully I’ll reach that magic number before the New Year. The steady increase has always encouraged me to continue.

Over the past year I’ve been thinking about ways to expand the Queerstory Files presence, toying with the idea of revamping the layout of the page. Stay tuned.

Another addition I hope to introduce is a Facebook page. Many times, when I’ve been researching or reading the news, that there’s been a snippet of information which was ideal to pass on, whether it was news of events, historical anniversaries or other Facebook and internet sites that may be of interest. I’ve often had to wait several weeks or even months before I find the appropriate place on the blog. So, again, stay tuned.

In the meantime I hope you won’t mind if I open a bottle of champagne tonight and drink a toast to you all.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

City Pride : Stockholm

Following a highly successful Stockholm Pride last weekend the Eurogames begin today. The Eurogames are the longest running international lgbt sport festival in Europe, having been founded in 1992. It gives me a good reason to feature Stockholm in my “City Pride” series. Here are some locations in the city that feature in Sweden’s lgbt heritage.
1) Kungsträdgården – We’ll start with the Eurogames, at the venue where the games begin. The grand opening ceremony is being held tonight here at the Kungsträdgården after an afternoon of fun sporting activities for visitors. The ceremony itself will include the customary entrance of the teams, not only from across Europe but from as far afield as Australia as well.

2) Olympic Stadium – Stockholm has actually hosted the Olympic Games twice. The first was in 1912 as host of the summer games, and the second was in 1956 for the Melbourne games. Australia has strict quarantine rules on horses so couldn’t host the equestrian events. So Stockholm was chosen as an alternate venue. There was even an opening ceremony and Olympic cauldron. This stadium was built for the 1912 Olympics and hosted several events, including gymnastics. This was the year that gymnastic pioneer and coach Niels Bukh finally got to the Olympics after being dropped from the Danish team in 1908 (which would have made him the first lgbt Olympian). He was selected as a team coach for the Stockholm 1912 games and they came away with the silver medal (in the now discontinued Swedish System event).

3) Skeppargaten – This was the final home of the distinguished Swedish writer and leading figure of the Swedish socialist movement, Karin Boye (1900-1941). She was born in Gothenburg and the family moved to Stockholm when Karin was young. After meeting her life partner Margot Hanel in Berlin the couple moved into this house. In 1941 they both committed suicide, Margot shortly after Karin.

4) Parliament building – Home of the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag. It has seen 19 elected lgbt members – 14 men and 5 women. After the UK the Swedish parliament has the most lgbt MP sitting at the present time, with 12 (including a government minister). The first lgbt MP was Kent Carlsson in 1991 who wasn’t openly gay at the time. The first openly lgbt MP in Sweden was Tasso Stafilidis, a member of the Left Party who was elected in 1998.

5) The Kronor Palace – the birthplace of Queen Kristina of Sweden in 1626. Her father treated her as his male heir, giving her an education more suited to a boy. He was killed in battle when Kristina was 6 and she succeeded to the throne. After reigning well and wisely for 22 years she abdicated in 1654 and travelled around Europe. She had a relationship with a courtier called Ebba Sparre, and the enigmatic nature of their sexuality still lingers over 400 years later. A famous film of Kristina’s life was made in 1933, starring Greta Garbo (below) in the title role.

6) Lutheran Cathedral – in 2009 the Lutheran Church of Sweden appointed the world’s first openly lesbian bishop as Bishop of Stockholm, Eva Brunne (b.1954). She was ordained in 1978 and has served in the Stockholm diocese since 1980. While serving as Dean of Huddinge and Botkyrka Eva registered her partnership with a fellow Lutheran minister, Gunilla Linden, with the church’s blessing. Eva’s consecration as bishop in the cathedral was attended by the King and Queen of Sweden.

7) The Swedish Academy - This is the home of the organisation which is responsible for choosing the winner of the annual Nobel Prize for Literature. Over the decades they have chosen such lgbt authors as Thomas Mann (in 1929), Patrick White (in 1973) and Selma Lagerlöf (in 1909, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature). The Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustav III, whose reign saw Sweden’s golden age of cultural achievements. Gustav had many male “favourites” as court and gave them high positions at court. Lgbt members of the Swedish Academy include the above-mentioned Selma Lagerlöf (from 1914-1940), historian Wilhelm Erik Svedelius (from1864-1889), author Viktor Rydberg (from 1877-1895), and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld (from 1954-61).

8) Cirkus – This is the venue for Sweden’s annual national song contest, the Melodifestivalen. The winning song goes on to represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest. It hasn’t done badly – 6 winners in total, including this year’s winner, which means the Eurovision Song Contest returns to Sweden in 2016. Unfortunately 1992 wasn’t a good year. Gay singer Christer Björkmann won the Melodifestivalen that year and went to the Eurovision finals – he came second from last. Undaunted, Christer entered the Melodifestivalen again in 1999 – and came last. Not to let these set-backs get him down, he went on to become the festival’s supervisor, and returned to Eurovision in 2013 as the producer of the finals held in Malmo.

9) Södra Maternity Hospital – The first and biggest movie megastar to come from Stockholm was Greta Garbo (1905-1990). There are many places in the city which commemorate her, including several of her homes, but here, at Stockholm’s maternity hospital, Great was born. Her starring role in the film biography of Queen Kristina helped to form her iconic status that lasted long after she retired from public life in 1991. The speculations on her bisexuality have helped to ensure that Greta Garbo remains one of the world’s most enigmatic stars.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Olympic Alphabet : A is for ...

Believe it or not the Rio Olympics begin in one year from this Wednesday. Long-term followers of my blog may remember the “Olympic Countdown” series I wrote in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, the first attempt anyone had ever made to chronicle lgbt involvement in the Olympic movement (I hope to publish a new, more comprehensive online book version next year).

Today I begin my new Olympic-Paralympic series. Inspired by the beginning of the 2014 Sochi opening ceremony I’m taking the alphabet and looking at all aspects of the games with an emphasis on contributions from the lgbt community. I won’t link back to my earlier Olympic Countdown series unless it gives more information than I can’t include in this new series.

So, let’s get started and look at the letter “A”.

“A” is for … ATHENS  and ATTICUS
What better place to start than with ancient Greece. Even though the ancient Olympics never took place in Athens the Greek capital has a special place in the history of the modern games. It was where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, and where the 2004 games were held.

Most of the modern Olympics made use of several ancient sporting sites in Athens, frequently using the Panathanaiko Stadium. It was built over 2,500 years ago to host the athletic events at the Panathenaean Games, the games I called “The Gayest Games in Ancient Greece” (I covered these games way back in the first months of this blog 4 years ago). The stadium was used during the 2004 Athens games for the archery contest. It is also the place where the Olympic torch arrives from Olympia and is handed over to the host city.

In the year 140 the Panathanaiko Stadium was enlarged, funded by a distinguished Greek aristocrat called Herodes Atticus. During his lifetime Greece was part of the Roman Empire and Herodes was appointed Prefect of the free cities of Asia in 125 by the gay emperor Hadrian.

Herodes and his wife Regilla were also linked to Olympia. Regilla was a priestess at the temple of Demeter Chamayne and, as such, was the only woman allowed to attend the ancient Olympic Games. I’ll say more about this couple when we reach “O is for … Olympia” next year.

The customary practice of having a younger male lover (termed an eromenos) extended beyond the ancient Greek army and gymnasia. Herodes Atticus had an eromenos called Polydeukes. In around 160 double tragedy struck Herodes. His wife Regilla died after an attack (some call it murder), and Polydeukes seems to have died not long afterwards. He was only 15 years old, and Herodes was grief-stricken at both losses.

Herodes built monuments and statues in memory of both his wife and young eromenos. To Polydeukes he also commissioned funeral games, no doubt held at the Panathanaiko Stadium he had rebuilt. Herodes was inconsolable over his losses and he too died shortly afterwards.

“A” is for … ATHENS 2004
The 2004 Athens Olympics and Paralympics currently hold the distinction of having the most lgbt medallists of any games – 22 at the Olympics and 7 at the Paralympics. Of these 12 were gold medals. Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe won the most medals – 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.

The most successful sport was equestrianism with 6 medals being won, half of them gold medal won by UK’s Lee Pearson, the most highly medalled Olympian/Paralympian to date. American equestrian rider Robert Dover was making his 6th and last competitive appearance in Athens, winning a bronze medal. As well as being the male athlete who has competed in the most Olympics he was also the first openly gay male athlete to compete, which he did in Seoul 1988 (the first female lgbt Olympian was sculptor Renée Sintenis in 1928; John Curry was outed during the 1976 Innsbruck games after competing but before the end of the games so, although he acknowledged his sexuality, he wasn’t the first to actually compete as an out gay athlete).

The women’s tennis competition saw 5 former Wimbledon champions compete, including Martina Navratilova who, at the age of 47, is the oldest female athlete to compete.

Outside the sporting event, the torch relay had 8 known lgbt relay runners, including former Olympic swimming champions Mark Tewksbury and Daniel Kowalski. Prudence Mabele and Shaun Mellors were mentioned in one of my “80 Gays” articles.

The artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies was gay director Dimitris Panaioannou.

“A” is for … AIDS
Sport has seen the loss of so many talented athletes. The Olympic Games has also felt this loss. Here are the Olympians who passed away due to AIDS-related illnesses:
Tom Waddell (1937-1987), American decathlete and founder of the Gay Games.
Ondrej Nepela (1951-1989), Czech 1972 Olympic figure skating champion.
Rob McCall (1958-1991), Canadian 1988 Olympic figure skating bronze medallist.
Brian Pockar (1959-1992), Canadian figure skater.
John Curry (1949-1994), British 1978 Olympic figure skating champion.

The website of the RioOlympics is already up and running and I love it! It’s well worth a look. The official IOC website is here.