Tuesday 29 September 2015

Michaelmas Blues

A Merry Michaelmas to all my readers.

Today is the Feast Day of the asexual St. Michael and All Angels. It’s an important date in European cultural tradition, being one of the four Quarter Days with which the Medieval world divided the years, all roughly corresponding to the present day equinoxes and solstices.

Of the many patronages attached to St. Michael is that of the police force and armed services. Consequently, the Catholic Church uses today’s feast day to hold a mass not only for St. Michael (hence Michael-mass) but for police officers, the armed forces, firefighters and emergency service personnel. Because of the colour of the uniform which most of these people wear this special mass is called the Blue Mass.

This year is the centenary of the appointment of the first female police officers. There were several women who had been given police roles before this but in 1915 the first female police officer with full arrest duties was appointed and several organisations were formed. One was the Women’s Police Service in England, and another was the organisation which became today’s International Association of Women Police, founded in the USA.

In salute to women who serve in the police forces around the world here are some British lgbt female police officers from past and recent history.

The origin of women serving in the police force in the UK grew out of several social issues of the period before 1915. One was the suffragette movement, another was the growth of the prostitution and white slave trade, and a third was the outbreak of the First World War.

As the majority of male police officers were called up for war service the government called for volunteers to replace them. They didn’t envisage women coming forward and before too long a part-time Women Police Volunteer force was created. It was led by Nina Boyle and Margaret Damer Dawson (1873-1920). Within a year a disagreement between them led to Margaret forming a new organisation called the Women Police Service (WPS). The first uniformed female police officer with full powers of arrest was recruited from the WPS in August 1915. Her name was Mrs. Edith Smith.

Margaret Damer Dawson acted as Commandant of the WPS until it was disbanded by the government after the war. They saw no need for a separate women’s police force once the war was over. Her second-in-command was her life partner Mary Allen (1878-1964). They designed the WPS uniforms themselves, and they continued to wear them long after the WPS was disbanded. They cut their hair short and, in their military-style uniforms, gave a very masculine appearance, as this photo of them both shows (Margaret Damer Dawson is on the left). In 1918 they were both honoured for their service to the police force by being awarded one of the recently created honours, the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire).

Margaret died in 1920. By this time the Metropolitan Police had created its own women’s police division. Mary Allen’s decision to wear her uniform for the rest of her life led to the Metropolitan Police to accuse her of masquerading as one of their officers. All accusations came to nothing. She travelled the world advising other nations on how to set up their own female police forces. Because of her uniform she was often mistaken for an official representative from the British police force.

Mary stood for parliament in 1922 as an Independent Liberal but wasn’t elected. In between the World Wars Mary’s political views were to dominate her life. She became an ardent far-right supporter, and this was to place her pioneering work in the women’s police force into shadow. Her membership of the British Union of Fascists and outspoken views eventually led to her being accused of spying for the Nazis and was she given restricted movement around her home in Cornwall. Mary Allen died at the age of 86 in 1961 in a nursing home.

The role of women in the police force has grown in recent decades. Their bravery and courage are recognised by the British public with pride. No more so than when and police officer loses his or her life on duty.

In September 2012 the UK was on a high after the spectacularly successful Olympics and Paralympics. We were jolted back down by the murder of two female police officers in Manchester. British police are not armed when on normal duty, so the murder of any of them is shocking. An extra unhappy aspect to this particular murder is that one of the police officers was planning to get married.

PC Fiona Bone was planning her Civil Partnership to her girlfriend Clare Curran later that year. She and fellow police constable Nicola Hughes were called to a house burglary. It was a trap. When they arrived at the house they were met with a hail of 32 bullets and a hand grenade attack. One died at the scene and the other died later in hospital. The murderer gave himself up. Apparently he was wanted for the similar-styled murder of a father and son in May 2012. Thankfully he was given a whole life prison sentence.

The funerals of both PC Bone and PC Hughes attracted huge crowds. Their lives and sacrifices were honoured in parliament. Next week marks the second anniversary of their funerals.

Before I finish todays there’s a male police officer I’d like to mention on this day of recognition for the world’s police.

 Sam Ciccone died in May this year at the age of 71. He was co-founder of the first lgbt police association in the USA. Sam became a police office in New Jersey in 1964 rising to become a Detective Sergeant. In 1979 he moved to New York after its mayor banned discrimination in the police force on the grounds of sexual orientation. With fellow NYPD officer Charles H. Cochrane jr. Sam co-founded the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) in 1982. GOAL now has over 2,000 members and many of them appear in uniform at various Pride parades across America.

I salute the work of all police officers.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 19 - A Battle

LAST TIME : 55) Paul Etheredge directed the first gay slasher film “Hellbent”, a title reminiscent of the gory “Hellraiser” films of splatterpunk writer 56) Clive Barker (b.1952). The slasher/splatter genre is an easy target for parody, which was the intention behind “The Slumber Party Massacre”, written by 57) Rita Mae Brown (b.1944) the year after she split up from 58) Martina Navratilova (b.1956).
58) Martina Navratilova was the biggest female tennis player of the 1980s and 90s. Czech by birth Martina defected to the USA in 1975 and gained American citizenship in 1981. Shortly afterwards she gave an interview with the New York Daily News in which she admitted to having had a relationship with 57) Rita Mae Brown (b.1944). By this time Martina was the number 1 ranked female singles player in world tennis. She was also rising in the ranks of doubles tennis. In 1984 she won the grand slam of titles with her doubles partner Pam Shriver. Consequently they were invited to take part in a Battle of the Sexes doubles match against Vitas Gerulaitis and Bobby Riggs.

The match took place on 23rd August 1985. Martina and Pam were a well-established doubles team and Giggs and Gerulaitis had never played doubles together before and they were very different players. Martina and Pam won easily, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Added to the fact that Bobby Riggs was 67 years old and well past his prime the result was no great surprise.

Martina was to play another Battle of the Sexes match, referred to as the Battle of the Champions, in a singles match against Jimmy Connor in 1992. Martina was no longer ranked number 1 (by then it was Monica Seles). The match took place in Caesar’s Palace, Nevada, and was a win for Connor, 7-6, 6-2.

The Battle of the Sexes tennis match “officially” refers to three specific singles matches, the third of which was the Navratilova/Connors match. The previous two featured Bobby Riggs, the doubles player who lost to Martina and Pam Shriver in 1985.

Bobby Riggs was a number 1 ranked tennis player of the 1940s. A very self-opinionated man and never one to shy away from self-publicity Riggs declared that male tennis players would always be superior players to female players. At the age of 55 he said he could beat any top ranked female player.

The first Battle of the Sexes match took place in 1972 between Riggs and number 1 ranked Margaret Court who, with 58) Martina Navratilova, is one of only three women to win a career grand slams in singles and doubles titles. Riggs won this first Battle 6-2, 6-1. But it is the second Battle of the Sexes match which has become the most famous.

The second Battle was held just four months after the first. Riggs’ opponent this time was the player who turned him down for the first match, 59) Billie Jean King (b.1943). The publicity for the match turned the event into something of a circus with Riggs playing on his opinions and courting controversy. Even their entry onto the court at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, was very theatrical, with both players entering being carried in Roman Imperial style. Riggs made sure that the match was broadcast live nationally, with a prize of $100,000 for the winner.

Billie Jean King won the Battle 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Riggs was reportedly devastated, but it didn’t stop him from mounting further Battle of the Sexes matches (a very lucrative venture as it turned out), including the 1985 doubles match.

Billie Jean King’s first singles win at Wimbledon was in 1966. At the time she had successfully coached a teenager to the US Junior Women’s Championship title. The girl was called 60) Tam O’Shaughnessy (b.1952).

Tam O’Shaughnessy was born into a tennis-loving family. Her mother ran a tennis tournament in Fullerton, California, in the 1960s. Billie Jean was a famous player who hadn’t yet won Wimbledon and was keen to encourage young players. So, when Tam’s mother invited Billie Jean to play in her tournament she jumped at the chance. A feature of the tournament was doubles matches with teams of different generations – parents and children competing against other parents and children. Billie Jean King agreed to partner the 13-year-old Tam in the doubles tournament. They won. Billie Jean then offered to coach Tam, and within a couple of years Tam was the national under-18 champion. Her highest world ranking was number 52, though she was number 3 in the US doubles rankings.

Tam O’Shaughnessy retired from tennis in the 1970s and turned to science. Her later career in science education was shared with someone she had known since her teenage tennis years, someone who became her life partner, and someone who would very literally reach higher than any American woman had done before. Tam’s partner was 61) Sally Ride (1951-2012), the first American woman in space.

Next time we see how going into space leads us under a volcano.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Lord Montagu - The Modest Pioneer

When I was young one of the highlights of UK television every autumn was coverage of the annual London to Brighton vintage car rally. The sight of those old cars chugging along the British roads beside modern cars was something which appealed to me. One of the characters who always appeared was Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. He was famous as the creator and owner of the National Motor Museum at his stately home. He appeared on lots of programmes throughout the years, sometimes popping up on chat shows and quiz shows as a celebrity guest. Lord Montagu died last month at the age of 88.

What I didn’t know as a child was that this famous “old car man” was famous for something else, and it was something which was successfully “ignored” by the scandal-seeking media of the 1970s. In 1953 Lord Montagu was one of the main protagonists in a landmark court case that paved the way for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the UK (homosexuality itself was not illegal).

The trial was labelled The Montagu Case because Lord Montagu was the only high profile member of the three men who were accused of conspiring to “commit unnatural offences” against two RAF pilots who had been invited to join them on Lord Montagu’s estate. The trial was front page material.

Lord Montagu had opened his motor museum three years earlier and he was one of the bright young stars of the heritage industry (he was 27 when he was arrested, and many years later he was to become Chairman of English Heritage). His arrest sent many closeted gay men into their secret stores of love letters and diaries and many stories of the hidden history of lgbt Britain were destroyed in fear of a possible “witch hunt”.

In March 1954 the all-male jury found Lord Montagu and his two companions guilty and they were given prison sentences. All through the trial Lord Montagu protested his innocence, whether through fear or belief that homosexual acts were nothing to be criminalised isn’t clear.

What the trial highlighted to all levels of society that even those in the highest echelons were not immune to imprisonment. Mostly significant it gave liberal-thinking politicians the impetus to have the whole legal position of homosexual men discussed and addressed properly. Parliament created an inquiry into the possible reform of the law, not only for gay men but also sex-workers and prostitutes. Heading the inquiry was John Wolfenden, whose own son was gay, and even today the Wolfenden Report is one of the well-known reform commissions in the UK. It recommended the decriminalisation of homosexual acts and the age of consent. However, it took Parliament another ten years before there was any change in the law. For his contribution to the inquiry John Wolfenden was knighted and later he was created a life peer.

By 1967 when homosexual acts were decriminalised Lord Montagu was back on his stately home running his famous motor museum. He was beginning to become a media celebrity and his role in the landmark Montagu Case was never mentioned.

While the others convicted with him in 1954 became more prominent campaigners Lord Montagu chose not to become an activist. Not every lgbt person wants to become an activist, which other lgbt activists sometimes unjustifiably demand of them. Montagu wanted an ordinary life where his sexuality was not an issue. In that respect he was not unlike most of us today who wish for a society where our sexuality isn’t an issue and we are treated the same as everyone else.

For many years Lord Montagu refused to speak about his sexuality or even deny his bisexuality, which is why I’ve written this tribute to Lord Montagu today, Celebrate Bisexuality Day.

Many in the lgbt community accused him of bi-phobia for not admitting his sexuality publicly. He always came across on the television screen as a modest man, never one to shout about himself, and I can’t imagine he would ever have been comfortable discussing any sexuality. It wasn’t until he was persuaded to write his autobiography in 2000 that Lord Montagu spoke about his bisexuality. He acknowledged that the Montagu Case was instrumental in the reform of lgbt legislation in the UK.

On this Celebrate Bisexuality Day let’s raise a glass and drink a toast to the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the modest pioneer.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Out Of Their Trees : Colombian Genes

Today I’m looking at the ancestry of a member of the lgbt community from the Hispanic world as part of my celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in the US which began last week. His name is Virgilio Barco Isakson (b.1965), pictured below.
Virgilio is the co-founder and board president of Colombia Diversa, an lgbt rights organisation. His immediate ancestry couldn’t be more illustrious. He father was Virgilio Barco Vargas (1921-1997) who was President of Colombia from 1986 to 1990, in between being Colombia to the USA and the UK. His mother is of mixed USA/Scandinavian blood.

At the time of writing Colombia has the most out lgbt politicians currently in office in South and Central America. They are 2 Ministers of State, a Senator and a member of Congress.

President Barco’s term of office was dominated by his battle against the drug lords, leading to much violence and murder. Controversially, he negotiated peace talks with leftist guerrillas. But, on the whole, his presidency is seen as one of the most liberal the country has seen, and he gave back land to indigenous communities.

Virgilio Barco Isakson is President Barco’s only son. Most of his ancestry is centred around the city of Cúcuta in north-eastern Colombia near the border with Venezuela. A large portion of the lands covered by Cúcuta was given to the municipal council by Virgilio’s great-great-grandfather in the 1850s. His name was Juan Manuel Atalaya y Pizano (1784-1860). In fact he was very generous to his adopted home town (he was Spanish by birth and emigrated to Colombia in 1815), that one of the barrios, the municipal districts of Cúcuta, is named after him. Juan’s wife, however, was of a long Colombian bloodline and she tragically died of injuries she sustained during the earthquake of 1875 which virtually destroyed Cúcuta.

Juan Atalaya y Pizano’s grand-daughter married the first Virgilio Barco (1858-1922), a general, our Virgilio Barco Isakson’s great-grandfather. General Barco was perhaps not the philanthropist that Juan Atalaya was, as he was a leading figure in the exploitation of the oil reserves and destruction of much of the rain forest. However, he was also a councillor in Cúcuta and established a medical foundation.

The ruling Hispanic dynasties of South America create a complex web of family relationships that means Virgilio Barco Isakson is related to most of the presidential families of the South American republics. Several of these dynasties feature prominently in Virgilio’s ancestry, mainly though his father’s mother who was born Julia Dúran Dúran (yes, it is a real name and not a 1980s pop group). Through both of her parents Julia is descended from the Rueda family several times.

The Rueda family arrived in Colombia around the year 1589. They were a Jewish family, and Cristóbal de Rueda González (1569-1610), a merchant, was the founder of the Colombian dynasty. The family settled in San Gil in the Santander province. As with most European invaders into the new World they established large plantations by taking land from local indigenous communities and making slaves of some of them.

One of Virgilio Barco Isakson’s ancestors through the Rueda family was the Conquistador Bartholomé Hernández Herreño (1502-1558). He and one of his sons met their deaths on the points of poisoned arrows shot by indigenous warriors in one of the many battles.

Herreño’s grandson was a Catholic priest. He had an illicit relationship with a woman called Beatriz who was half-Spanish, half-indigenous. Through this liaison Virgilio has native South American blood. It is very likely that he has more through other unresearched lines.

Another Conquistador ancestor was Pedro Gómez de Orozco (1517-1601), called “El Viejo”. He too attacked indigenous tribes and was struck by a poisoned arrow. Unlike Herreño he survived, though he was crippled for the rest of his life.

El Viejo’s great-grandson, also called Pedro Gómez de Orozco, married the aristocratic Doña Ana de Gorraiz Beaumont y Dega, a member of a noble Spanish family descended from Luis II de Beaumont, 2nd Count of Lerin (1430-1508) and his wife Doña Leona de Aragón. Leona was an illegitimate daughter of King Juan II of Aragon (1358-1479), while Luis’s mother was an illegitimate daughter of King Carlos III of Navarre (1361-1426). So, Virgilio Barco Isakson has royal Spanish blood in his veins as well as that of native South American tribes. Added to his North American, Scandinavian and Jewish blood this gives Virgilio Barco Isakson, as the name of his lgbt organisation suggests, a diverse heritage.

Friday 18 September 2015

Saluting One of The Few

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. Those are the words of Winston Churchill following the Battle of Britain in 1941. This week the UK is commemorating the battle’s 75th anniversary.

For my own modest contribution I’ve put together this photo (sorry about the poor quality). It is a homage to one of the lgbt fighter pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain – Wing Commander Ian Gleed, DSO.
The photo shows the model kit of the plane he piloted during the Battle, the Hawker Hurricane Mark 1. Regular readers may remember I gave a couple of progress reports on my attempt to build the model. It was produced by Airfix to commemorate the 60th anniversary, and for this year’s 75th anniversary a Hawker Hurricane (not specifically Gleed’s as before) is featured in a 4-plane commemorative model set. My complete model of the Gleed's 60th anniversary plane is in the photo.

Also in the photo is a portrait of Gleed himself. To the picture frame is attached the 1939-45 War Medal to which he would have been entitled had he not been killed on active duty before the end of the war.

The book is the biography of Wing Cdr. Gleed, a first edition copy, published in 1978.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Olympic Alphabet : B is for ...

Yesterday the US began its Hispanic Heritage Month. To mark my own celebration of world Hispanic heritage I’ll start the month with part 2 of my Olympic Alphabet. And where better to begin than with …

At present I have identified 19 Olympians and 2 Paralympians who competed in Barcelona in 1992. There’s no room to list them all here, but they included 2 host nation athletes – Conchita Martínez (tennis) and Kike Sarasola (equestrianism). For my original 2012 “Olympic Countdown” article on the Barcelona Olympics/Paralympics please go here.

There were only 2 out Olympians – Jana Novotna (Czech Republic, tennis) and Robert Dover (USA, equestrianism). Nine other lgbt Olympians and both Paralympians (Kathleen Rose Winter and Jen Armbruster of the USA) were making their debut.

The Barcelona games stand out for 2 reasons. Firstly, they were the first in which there was no mass boycott, either by nations or the IOC. This meant that there were a record number of competing nations, which also included the newly independent nations of the former soviet block in Europe.

Secondly, they were the first games which opened all the events to professional athletes. This caused some controversy in the basketball competition with the USA fielding their “Dream Team” of the world’s top players. Another controversy surrounding their inclusion was significant to future lgbt participation. Among the Dream Team was Earvin “Magic” Johnson who had revealed his HIV in 1991. The senior Australian basketball director was reprimanded by his government for recommending his team does not play in matches against Johnson.

What it alerted the IOC to was the presence of HIV in the top levels of international sport, and that it emphasised the fact that it wasn’t just a “gay disease”. The Barcelona organising committee took the lead immediately by providing over 2 million free condoms for the Olympic athletes.

As usual lgbt athletes were joined by lgbt coaches and officials. Although I haven’t positively identified any lgbt  member of the IOC in Barcelona there was one member of a national Olympic committee present – Benjamin Cruz (b.1957).

The tiny Pacific island of Guam became a full member of the IOC in 1988 and Barcelona was their second Olympic appearance. Benjamin Cruz, Guam’s Associate Judge of the Supreme Court at the time, was instrumental in organising his nation’s successful petition to join the IOC. He acted as Vice President of the Guam National Olympic Committee until 2001 when he became its Secretary General. Cruz has been openly gay since the early 1980s, and there were the inevitable protests from evangelical groups when he was first appointed as a judge in 1984.

As far as medals are concerned, 9 lgbt athletes won medals. Four gold medals were won, with Marnie McBean (Canada, rowing) winning 2 of them. The others were won by Petra Rossner (Germany, cycling), who broke an Olympic record in the process, and Gigi Fernandez (USA, tennis).

There is one significant lgbt link between the Barcelona 1992 games and the Rio 2016 games to be held next year in …

The lgbt community in Barcelona was the first to be recorded as organising special events and community areas for visiting Olympic athletes, officials and tourists. This can be regarded as the fore-runner of the Pride House movement. The first proper Pride House was created in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics in 2010 and has gone on to become a global movement. There are now Pride Houses established during many other international multi-sport events.

Brazil will be the first to host a Pride House in South America during the Rio Olympic and Paralympic games.

Brazil has a respectable record when it comes to lgbt Olympians. As of today I have identified 5 lgbt Olympians representing Brazil. The first of these was Paolo Figueredo who attended the 1968 Mexico City games (the same games in which Gay Games founder Tom Waddell completed; Paolo has also competed in the Gay Games and is a multi-medal winner). It would not be until the Atlanta games in 1996 that the second Brazilian Olympian competed – judoka Edinanci da Silva. In 2004 she was joined in her third Olympics in Athens by 15-year-old gymnast Lais Sousa, and in Beijing they were both joined by beach volleyball player Larissa França. London 2012 saw Sousa and França competing again.

Lais Sousa was poised to become only the second lgbt Olympian to compete at both the summer and winter games (the first being Chris Witty). Having retired from gymnastics she turned to freestyle skiing and was selected as a member of the Brazilian team for the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Unfortunately, she was injured a month before the games began and was unable to compete. She came out as a lesbian just before the Sochi games began.

Even though we’re still a year away from the Rio games there are several lgbt athletes who have already been selected to compete for their nations. Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstance, the lgbt list for Rio 2016 currently consists of Tom Daley, Helen Richardson-Walsh and Robbie Manson.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Heritage Sites - All In The Mind

The annual Heritage Open Days are taking place in the UK this weekend. This is when thousands of heritage sites, historic buildings and museums open their doors free to the public, many of them private homes of special historical interest don’t admit the public any other day.

There are hundreds of sites I’d like to visit, but today lets think about several historical sites of lgbt heritage that have long since disappeared. Recent coverage of the destruction of sites in Syria have outraged archaeologists, but ISIL are not the first people to deliberately destroy historic buildings and they won’t be the last. Some people may say it doesn’t matter, but try telling that to the lgbt community in New York if a property developer suddenly announces the demolition of the Stonewall Inn. Most buildings means something to someone, even if they mean nothing to you.

The article I wrote back in July about the possible threat to the ancient sites of Turkey get me thinking about other sites and buildings that we can no longer see. What locations can we visit – all in the mind? I’m going to take three heritage sites from three different periods which I would like to visit if they still existed.

We’ll start in the ancient world.

Alexander the Great founded several cities which he named after himself. The most easterly of these was called Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus in what is now Afghanistan, just 65 kilometres north-west of Kabul. This was at a period when Alexander was pushing eastward to expand his empire into India. His new city was at a crossroads of routes through the wilderness and mountains.

On Alexander’s death his empire was divided between his generals and the eastern half became ruled by Seleucos I Nikator and was, hence, afterwards called the Seleucid Empire. Twenty years later Emperor Seleucos swapped the city of Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus for 500 elephants and it came into the possession of the Maurya Empire of the Indian subcontinent. Several changes of ownership over the next centuries led to its gradual decline and eventually the buildings crumbled away.

Archaeological digs on the site began in 1833. Thousands of artefacts and coins were found but we can only imagine the splendour of the lost buildings.

The next site of lgbt interest in one which I’ve visited many times. It was popular place for a day trip when I was young, and my sister actually worked there for a while. It’s called Clumber Park and it is the site of a stately home that was demolished in 1938.

Clumber Park is significant to lgbt heritage because it was the home of the Pelham-Clinton family. The land was bought in 1707 by Henry Pelham-Clinton, 2nd Duke of Newcastle (1720-1794). In his teenage years he had a relationship with the writer Horace Walpole. Henry wanted to create a private park “for the better improvement and ornamentation of her Majestyes Forest of Sherwood”, as he wrote in a letter to Queen Anne. In 1770 built the first stately home there as his country residence.

The Duke of Newcastle also owned Nottingham castle, and it was his great-great-grandson, the 6th Duke, who sold the castle to the Corporation of Nottingham. The 6th Duke’s younger brother was Lt.-Col. Arthur Pelham-Clinton, MP, who lived with his brother at Clumber Park.

After a fire gutted most of the state rooms in 1879 they were redesigned in typical Victorian opulence that could outshine “Downton Abbey” or even Buckingham Palace. All of this was lost after 1938 when the then Duke of Newcastle decided to sell everything and demolish the empty shell that was left.

Today only the stables, church, entrance gates and clock tower remain to indicate that there was any stately building there at all. Clumber Park is now owned by the National Trust.

Alexandria-on-the-Caucasus was lost by neglect. Clumber Park House was lost by demolition. Our next heritage site was lost to Hurricane Katrina ten years ago.

Our next building was a private residence, designed by its occupant Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). In June I wrote briefly about Sullivan’s work on skyscrapers, but his lost building we’re looking at today was much more modest, a cottage bungalow.

Although primarily known as a Chicago-based architect, Sullivan built a rural getaway down on the Gulf of Mexico in 1890 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He is well-known for his collaborations with Frank Lloyd Wright, who later claimed to have designed the cottage, not Sullivan. Whoever is was, Sullivan lived there for 20 years. Although Wright tolerated gay men in the architectural office he was openly hostile to them outside work. Perhaps this is why Sullivan needed to get out of Chicago, in all probability he was gay himself.

Sullivan’s cottage may have been lost long before 2005. Sullivan had to give to over to another architect to pay some of his debts. During the 1980s it had been derelict and was rescued and renovated by a lawyer from Biloxi.

Hurricane Katrina blasted its way across the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005 leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Louis Sullivan’s cottage was reduced to rubble. Only one chimney remained standing.

However great the loss to world heritage, one consolation is that there are many photographs and images of both Sullivan’s cottage and Clumber Park House. It is possible to reconstruct them virtually, but their personal connections can never be reconstructed. But while we "mourn" the loss of heritage sites we have plenty to look forward to in the future as more ancient and demolished sites are revealed through the work of archaeologists.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 18 - A Bloodbath

Last Time : 51) Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was prevented from becoming a professor through the influence of 52) Cardinal Francisco del Monte (1549-1627), was himself embroiled in political machinations as part of the same spy-ring as 53) Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) and 54) Anthony Bacon (1558-1601). Marlowe, the alleged real writer of Shakespeare’s plays, wrote a play which influenced Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”, a form of revenge play that developed into the modern slasher film, the first gay example being written by 55) Paul Etheredge.
When 55) Paul Etheredge (also known as Paul Etheredge-Ouzts) was approached by film producers to write and direct a slasher film about and for gay men. He hadn’t written or directed a film before. Pal came up with a film that was very typical of the genre, with the stock characters and plot, though with gay victims and murderer. However, the most difficult part of the process was coming up with a title. His solution was to organise an online contest to let the public suggest a title.

Some of the suggested titles were truly awful! “A Fagulously Bloody Night Out” is particularly awful and sounds like something I’d come up with as a title for one of my articles! Paul decided on the simple title “Hellbent”.

“Hellbent” was released in 2004 and was shown on the lgbt film circuit before going on general release in 2005. It was well received by its intended audience, but mainstream audiences weren’t quite ready for a fully gay-themed slasher film where the last survivor was gay. It probably did well with lgbt audiences because of an unconscious link to a previous slasher film written by another gay man, “Clive Barker’s Hellraiser”.

56) Clive Barker (b.1952) is one of the greatest masters of horror in our time. He is a leading exponent of the literary version of the slasher film called splatterpunk. The “Hellraiser” film franchise grew out of Clive’s 1986 novel “The Hellbound Heart”. Made on a relatively small budget “Clive Barker’s Hellraiser” realised his words with remarkable effect, giving it a cult status before it was acknowledged by other as a classic of the genre. The film owes more to the Grand Guignol legacy than the established splatter/slasher film format.

Grand Guignol was a form of theatre pioneered in France in the 19th century in which graphic horror and gore was the centrepiece. Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”, as performed by The Globe company recently, was firmly created in the Grand Guignol style. Clive Barker wrote several plays in the Grand Guignol style in his early years.

The slasher/splatter film can be regarded as a sort of parody of the Grand Guignol, and the genre itself has found success in parodying itself (e.g. in the “Scream” series). The genre is easy to parody and sometimes film makers don’t know the difference.

One case in mind is the 1982 slasher film “The Slumber Party Massacre”. Deliberately written as a parody its producers made it as a serious film, with the inevitable consequence that it was unintentionally funny and helped to create the clichés that slasher parodies would later exploit.

The screenwriter of “The Slumber Party massacre” was 57) Rita Mae Brown (b.1944), a writer better known for her more serious novels and her activism. The original script for “Slumber Party” was written in the mid 1970s under the title “Sleepless Nights”, one of two screenplays Rita Mae was commissioned to write by the well-known film director Roger Corman. Neither screenplay was filmed, but it was picked up in 1982 and made into the slasher film.

Rite Mae Brown’s most famous work is her 1973 novel “Rubyfruit Jungle”, a lesbian that was quite explicit for the time.  Her most prolific output had been in the mystery novel genre. The slasher film she wrote was released in between the publications of two of her other novels, the letter of which was called “Sudden Death” and was set in the world of tennis.

Rita Mae is no stranger to tennis. She played on her college team, and for the two years prior to writing the final script for “The Slumber Party Massacre” she was in a relationship with the great tennis star 58) Martina Navratilova (b.1956).

We’ll have another bloodbath in December near the end of our “80 Gays”, but before then we’ll battle our way into space.

Monday 7 September 2015

An Outing to Westminster

Less than a month after the UK’s General Election on 7th May when a record number of out lgbt MPs were elected, our newest parliament broke its own record again when a government minister, Nick Gibb, revealed he was also gay and was going to marry his partner.

The record that was broken on 7th May was that 32 openly lgbt MPs were elected, the largest ever number of candidates voted into national office on the same day anywhere in the world, and formed the largest group of openly lgbt members in any national parliament in the history of politics.

In this special year when we celebrate 750 years of the current form of parliament and 800 years of the Magna Carta it is fitting that we celebrate this achievement.

I’d like to think that each lgbt MP was elected because of his/her politics and not because of his/her gender/sexuality. No-one will deny that some voters would have deliberately voted against an lgbt candidate, that’s their right, but also some voters would for them.

A lot of research has been, and is still being, carried out by the LGBT Representation and Rights Research Initiative. This is the first academic programme in the USA, located at the University of North Carolina, which centres its research on how the lgbt community is represented in governments around the world. Their website is here.

I’ve illustrated the current state of parliamentary representation here in the figure of the Big Ben clock tower. Included in the number of lgbt MPs is Nick Gibb. The squares represent each UK constituency, coloured and grouped according to party. Constituencies which elected lgbt members are coloured pink at the top of their respective party group. BLUE is the Conservative Party, RED the Labour Party, and YELLOW the Scottish National Party (SNP). Other parties not electing lgbt members are at the bottom (for our purposes it’s not relevant to name them).

The total numbers of out lgbt candidates in the election was remarkable enough in itself. There were 155 who had declared their sexuality/gender prior to the election – far too many to list in details, so I’ll refer you to that analysis I just mentioned where the full list is given. At the previous general election of 2010 there was no definitive list of out candidates other than those who represented the three major parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat).

There are other facts not mentioned in the LGBT Representation analysis. The first is that the SNP achieved a 100% record of having all 7 lgbt candidates elected. Among those 7 is another record breaker. Mhairi Black, the newly elected MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, was only 20 when she won her seat. That makes her the youngest MP in the House of Commons. Not only that but because between 1832 and 2006 the minimum legal age anyone was eligible to stand for parliament was 21 Mhairi is the youngest MP the country has had in over 183 years.

Since the 2010 general election UK politics has seen several major changes. The first is the SNP’s rise in national politics outside Scotland. Another is the more spectacular rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). In the popular mind UKIP has been given a right-wing stance which had been traditionally homophobic. UKIP put 6 lgbt candidates forward at the election, all but one of them coming in the top 3, but none of them winners. The 7th candidate, David Coburn, came 4th (out of 5), but as he is already an MEP I doubt if he or UKIP are very disappointed.

The election also highlighted the delicate path a candidate walks before an election. While representing his/her political party he/she has to be careful not to express a personal opinion. Many homophobic remarks have been spoken by candidates of all parties. Kerry Smith (UKIP, South Basildon and East Thunnock candidate) was heard to say last December that gay UKIP are “poofters”. He apologised during his election campaigning and blamed it on the medication he was taking!

Sometimes a candidates remarks from further back come back to haunt them. Rupert Reed (Green Party, Cambridge) was questioned about words he wrote in 2013 that people should not be forced to accept transgender women as “real” women. He too apologised.

A more serious allegation was made against Jason Zadrozny (Liberal Democrat, Ashfield), who was arrested on suspicion of child abuse with his partner just weeks before the election. Even though he was never actually charged with any offence he was deselected by his party and replaced. However, Jason stood as an independent candidate in the local elections held the same day and retained his seat for Ashfield on Nottinghamshire County Council.

The Labour Party came under fire over several unsubstantiated and false claims of championing equality, including that of its candidate for Sutton and Cheam, Emily Brothers, who claimed to be the first openly transgender candidate. Within hours people (including 2 transgender candidates from previous election) were informing her that she was, at least, the 4th.

Among other facts disclosed by lgbt candidates was that several revealed their HIV status – Adrian Hyyrylianen-Trett (Liberal Democrat, Vauxhall), Paul Childs (Liberal Democrat, Liverpool Riverside) and David Kirwan (Green, Broxtowe).

There’s a whole mountain of other information and analysis, but that’s enough for now. What will the new parliament hold for the lgbt community? It may encourage more lgbt politicians and candidates to be open about their sexuality and gender in the future, and may even influence politicians in other countries to do the same.

Friday 4 September 2015

Oh (Leather) Boy!

Among the many lgbt pageants and titles are several being decided this week. Dallas is hosting this year’s annual International LeatherSIR, Leather boy, and Community Bootblack titles. Even though the contests are termed “International” they are effectively just North American contests with entrants for the USA and Canada.

Rather than give a history of the competitions I want to write about the Leather Boy flag (pictured below) because it also appears at other leather contests as well.
The Leather Boy flag predates the current International Leather Boy contest. Many leather clubs around North America held their own contests to find regional title-holders who qualified for the Drummer Sir and Drummer Boy contests which predate the current International contests. What makes those contests and the International Leather Sir and Boy contests different from the International Mr Leather title is an emphasis on the erotic and sexual nature of the leather community.

In January 1998 the Mid Atlantic Leather (MAL) contest was held. One of those competing was Keith C. Pollanen, a member of the DC Boys of Leather club (DCBOL) in Washington. The previous year he had got himself a tattoo of the Leather Pride flag. This flag had been designed in 1989 by Tony DeBlase and had become an established symbol of the leather community by 1998.

Keith was approached by a man at the Mid Atlantic Leather contest who noticed Keith’s tattoo. Rather than paraphrase Keith’s own description of how he came up with the Leather Boy flag in response to this encounter, here is his description as published in “Woolf Watch” on 6th June 2007.

“The boy pride flag idea came to me at Mid Atlantic Leather 98 in which I was competing. The year before I had gotten a tattoo of the leather pride flag on my arm. As MAL got underway a gentleman came up to me and asked about the tattoo on my arm. Asking me what it was and why I got it. He also made an odd comment: ‘You know that will never come off’.

I explained to him that it was the Leather Pride flag. I had gotten because that’s what I am, and I am proud to wear it on my sleeve. After his odd comment I replied ‘I hope not’. We went on our separate ways.

Later that evening the contestants were gathered to meet the judges. As I was being introduced we got to the man that approached me earlier. He said ‘We met earlies, hi, I am Tony DeBlase’. After the Meet and Greet Tony and myself chatted for a while. I explained to him I was a boy, and asked him if there was a Boy Pride Flag? He said he wasn’t aware of any. At that moment I had the first idea.

The idea hadn’t been put into motion till about a year later, I emailed Tony my Draft of the proposed flag to get his ok and approval of, being the similarities of the Leather Pride Flag. I still have the email response from him. It simply read: Keith, It looks great! Tony. I never publicly announced the flag but used it as a personal symbol.

When the DCBOL was founded, I bought up the flag and offered to design the club colors. At the second meeting the design was approved by DCBOL for the club colors and the Flag was now sparking interest.

The first flag was produced with a friend of mine. (Robert Dogan) Robert had excellent sewing skills and I called on him to assist me in making the flag so that DCBOL could carry it in the DC Pride Parade. It took us 6 hours and what looked like a 10 year old could have done in 15 minutes. But it is a grand Flag. Roughly 3 feet by 5 feet the first ever physical Leatherboy Pride flag was created January 2000. Later that year it was donated to the Leather Archives and Museum. Where it still is today.

The design was based on the leather pride flag, equal number of stripes, but they are diagonal from left to right, left higher symbolizing the Sir, and the right lower representing the boy. The heart was moved to the right to show where the boys heart is, and the blue changed to green to represent boy.

The flag has become more known and recognized as the boy movement of the 2000’s had grown. I took Tony DeBlase’s concept with the flag: It is for the community and as long as it is not disgraced anyone may use it. Produce it and profit from it. I copyrighted it in June 1999, but consider it public domain.”

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Michelangelo - Fake or Fortune?

There’s a popular series on BBC television called “Fake or Fortune?”. Various works of art attributed to famous artists are examined and researched in the hope that the can be revealed as genuine pieces by the attributed artist.

Of course, you don’t need a television programme to do that. A couple of years ago I wrote about a work called “The Cardsharps” that was revealed by be by Caravaggio. More recently the very remains of Caravaggio himself are claimed to have been discovered.

So there was quite a bit of excitement in the art world again earlier this year when some bronze statues were claimed to be long-long works by none other than Michelangelo. If they are, they are the only surviving bronze statues by him. I say “if” because art experts are not unanimous in agreeing. It’s a big deal to discover lost works by someone as great as Michelangelo, so their cautious approach is to be expected.

The statues, known as the Rothschild bronzes, have been in private ownership since they were first documented in the collection of Baron Adolphe de Rothschild (d.1900). No-one thought they were by Michelangelo, but the Rothschilds certainly did and exhibited the two bronzes as such in 1878 in Paris. Doubts were cast on the attribution by leading figures in the art world, and since then the statues have been attributed to others.

The bronzes are of two naked muscular men sitting astride two panthers. The men are sat in mirrored poses with one arm raised high with clenched fist. One of them is bearded and the other is youthfully clean-shaven. The panthers are, to my mind, rather mild-mannered in appearance with a somewhat bored appearance in their expression and stance. It’s obvious that it is the male figures who are the main focus of the pieces.

Because they were in a private collection art historians had not seen them on display for a long time. In 2012 the bronzes were put on display at the Royal Academy, and it was their appearance at that time that gave hints to some historians that they were by Michelangelo.

A lot of research into Michelangelo had been done since the bronzes last appeared. When at last art historians saw the bronzes “in the flesh” some remarked how very similar they were to some recently researched sketches by Michelangelo and the overall appearance and musculature of the male figures looked a lot like some of his other work as well.

These similarities sparked new research into the Rothschild bronzes themselves. Even though no documentation existed of their creation or provenance up to the 19th century there was a whole army of scientific techniques that were used to ascertain an accurate age of the statues and clear hints of their creator.

Pail Joannides, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Cambridge spotted a remarkable similarity between the poses of the men and a sketch by one of Michelangelo’s apprentices. The sketch dates from about 1508 and is a copy of one of Michelangelo’s own sketches of a young man sitting on a panther. Prof. Joannides had catalogued many hundreds of drawings and sketches by Michelangelo and his apprentices so had enough authority to make the connection.

Scientists and academics from Cambridge University and the Fitzwilliam Museum then teamed together to give the bronzes a thorough investigation.

They announced their findings and their theories in support of the Michelangelo attribution during a special symposium in July called “A Michelangelo Discovery”. Experts who gave presentations included a sculptor and a researcher who made laser scans and 3D copies of the statues to learn more about how they were made.

The Rothschild bronzes were on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum from February to August this year. Art historians have mulled over the evidence and the statues, and while there is no strong voice coming up with contrary evidence there does not yet to be any definite consensus. Perhaps the art world is too cautious. In a time when art treasures are being destroyed and lost forever in the Middle East we should be treasure the new discoveries that come along.

So, Fake or Fortune?