Thursday 30 June 2016

Star-Gayzing on Asteroid Day

Do you remember that fiery meteorite that flashed through the skies of Russia a couple of years ago? They are called meteorites, but they are also asteroids. It was one of many thousands of asteroids whose orbits cross ours. Another one crashed into the Sahara desert in 2008. And I mentioned yet another one last time in my solstice article. But perhaps the most famous modern incident of an asteroid impact is the Tunguska Event of 30 June 1908, another Russian impact. The old photos which show the flattened, stripped trees still provide haunting images of what might happened if the asteroid had crashed into a populated area.

There is always a danger of some significant impact from an asteroid yet to be discovered, which is one reason why Asteroid Day was created in 2014 on the anniversary of the Tunguska Event. It was the brainchild of Brian May, famous as a member of the rock band Queen and less famous as an astronomer, and Grigorij Richters, a film director who’s film “51 Degrees North” was about an asteroid impact on London. The aim of Asteroid Day is to raise awareness of the dangers of asteroid impact and the closer study of such asteroids.

This gives me the excuse to look at the asteroids with lgbt names again. First of all, I use the word asteroid most of the time, though the term minor planet is the more official one. So, what about those Earth-crossing asteroids, the ones who may eventually hit us? How many of them are named after members of the lgbt community?

Most important of them all is an asteroid after which a whole group has been named, asteroid 1862 Apollo (the numbers preceding the names are the official asteroid numbers). The Greek god Apollo makes a regular appearance on this blog because of various same-sex aspects of his legends (again, he was mentioned in connection to the summer solstice a couple of days ago).

A lot of the Earth-crossing asteroids are named after Greek gods and heroes, all of whom are assumed to have engaged in the customary practice of taking young male lovers during their years of training. There are asteroids named after Adonis, Bacchus, Daedalus, Dionysus, Hephaistos, Heracles, Hermes, Hypnos, Icarus, Jason, Midas, Minos, Morpheus, Orpheus, Pan, Poseidon, Zephyr and Zeus. Several of these gods and heroes have appeared on this blog before.

Only one of the Earth-crossing asteroids has been named after a real lgbt person, (1863) Antinous, named after the partner of the Emperor Hadrian and who once had a constellation named after him.

Now for the update on previous lists. As in previous lists these asteroids belong to various groups, not just the Apollo Earth-crossers. As before I’ll give them in order of discovery, followed by their official number and name, date of discovery, then by part of the official citation, and finally any information on the lgbt connection. I’ve linked some back to articles I’ve written about them in the past.

(1208) Troilus                        Discovered 31 Dec 1931. “Named for the son of Priam (asteroid 884) who in a medieval legend loved Cressida (asteroid 548) and lost her to Diomedes (asteroid 1437). Troilus was killed by Achilles (asteroid 588).” Achilles was attracted to the handsome young Prince Troilus, though whether he was able to have any physical relationship is not made clear in the ancient legends.

(5451) Plato    Discovered 24 Sept. 1960. “Named after Plato (c. 428-348 BC), the most famous pupil of Sokrates (asteroid 5450). He was the founder of the philosophical Academy near Athens, which existed for over 900 years. His preserved papers were written in dialogue form as the ‘lessons’ of Sokrates. His philosophy has strongly influenced the western world to the present day. Plato is also honoured by a lunar crater.” Even though the idea of a non-sexual relationship is termed platonic after Plato, ancient sources also record his same-sex partners.

(12154) Callimachus             Discovered 26 March 1971. “Callimachus of Cyrene (c.305–c.240 BC) was a Hellenistic scholar and poet who worked in Alexandria, where he compiled a catalogue of the famous library. He wrote the poem “Coma Berenices” commemorating the creation of the eponymous constellation by Conon of Samos in 246 BC.” Callimachus was one of the most influential of the Greek poets, and his writing often describes boy-love and offer hints to a same-sex relationship with Theocritus, another Greek poet.

(8621) Jimparsons    Discovered 1 March 1981. “American actor James Joseph ‘Jim’ Parsons (b.1973) portrays the fictional Caltech theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper in the television sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’.”

(4570) Runcorn         Discovered 14 Aug. 1985. “Named in memory of Stanley Keith Runcorn (1922-1985), British geophysicist. Runcorn’s research centred on the magnetic properties of rocks. He used their palaeomagnetic signatures to make an important contribution to the emerging theory of plate tectonics, and he also studied the magnetism of the Moon, convection in planetary interiors, and geomagnetic polarity reversals. For many years head of the department of physics at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Runcorn was celebrated for his organisation of his NATO-sponsored international scientific discussion meetings.”

(6639) Marchis      Discovered 25 Sept. 1989. “Franck Marchis (b.1973) exploited the high-resolution capabilities offered by adaptive optics from ground-based telescopes to survey hundreds of main-belt minor planets and Trojans. In 2004 he led the team that discovered (87) Sylvia II (Remus), the only case where a main-belt object is known to have a second satellite.”  STOP PRESS : Two days ago (28 June 2016) the Czech Supreme Court finally overturned the ban on lgbt couples and individuals adopting children. The case of Franck Marchis and Jindra Vackar was the one which pioneered the ruling.

(5190) Fry       Discovered 16 Oct. 1990. “Stephen Fry (b.1957) is an English writer, actor, comedian, TV presenter and activist. He studied English Literature at Cambridge University, where he was very active in the Cambridge Footlights. Fry is the long-time host of the BBC comedy quiz show ‘QI’.”

(10211) La Spezia      Discovered 6 Sept. 1997. “La Spezia is a town near the Monte Viseggi Observatory. It is famous for its Poets’ Gulf, in honour of the 19th-century English poets Byron (asteroid 3306) and Shelley, who lived, loved and died in Italy, the country of their adoption.”

(22788) von Steuben             Discovered 15 May 1999. “A Prussian military officer, Friedrich Wilhelm Augustin Ludolf Gerhard von Steuben (1730–1794), taught standards of military drill and discipline to the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Steuben Day parades (September) in New York and other American cities celebrate German culture.” Von Steuben was unmarried and recent research suggests very heavily that he was gay. Many people, including the family of President John Adams, considered him to be gay. For the founding father of the US military, this makes the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that the States had for so many years somewhat hypocritical.

END NOTE: I mentioned Asteroid Day being founded by Grigorij Richters and Brian May. While neither of them are lgbt you might be interested to known that the most recent published list of new asteroid names (5 June 2015) includes one named after Richters. Brian May, incidentally, had an asteroid named after him in 2008.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Olympic Alphabet : Q is for ...


If, like me, you won’t be able to get anywhere near any Pride House Olympic party you can host your own. Get a few friends around, grab a few drinks and nibbles, and turn the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics and Paralympics into the biggest house party you’ve had since the Eurovision Song Contest.

Here’s a quiz for you and your guests. It might be an idea to get some appropriate images off the internet and make up some questions of your own. You can decide if some answers deserve more than one point.

Q1)      Without sneaking a peek, what is the colour of the middle ring on the top row on the Olympic flag?

A)        Black.

Q2)      In which year was the Olympic torch relay first fun?
                        a) Amsterdam 1926
                        b) Berlin 1936
                        c) London 1948

A)        b) Berlin 1936

Q3)      The Paralympic Games originate in games held for injured armed forces personnel at Stoke Mandeville hospital shortly after World War II. In which year?

A)        1948.

Q4)      Which Olympic games, so far, has had the most identified lgbt athletes?
                        a) Sydney 2000.
                        b) Athens 2004.
                        c) London 2012.

A)        a) Sydney 2000.

Q5)      To within 5 either way, how many lgbt athletes have been identified at the Sydney 2000 Olympics?

A)        54.

Q6)      After the Olympic flame is lit at Olympia it goes on a relay around Greece before the ceremonial handover to the host nation at the Panathenaiko stadium. In which city is the Panathenaiko stadium?

A)        Athens.

Q7)      Which international sporting event, held every 4 years since 1982, was created specifically for lgbt athletes and their allies by Tom Waddell, an athlete at the 1968 Mexico Olympics?
                        a) The Gay Games.
                        b) The Out Games.
                        c) The Pride Games.

A)        a) The Gay Games.

Q8)      Which Olympic sport has had the most known lgbt athletes?
                        a) figure skating.
                        b) football.
                        c) swimming.

A)        b) football (28, only 2 of them are men).

Q9)      In 1960 the Paralympic Games were held in the same host city as the Olympics for the first time? Which city?

A)        Rome.

Q10)    Renée Sintenis is the first identified lgbt Olympic medallist, but it wasn’t in sport, it was in the art competition. In which art form did she win her medal?
                        a) music.
                        b) painting.
                        c) sculpture.

A)        c) sculpture.

Q11)    Martina Navratilova is the oldest female lgbt Olympian. How old was she when she competed in tennis at the Athens 2004 Olympics?

A)        47.

Q12)    Ian Thorpe, the lgbt Olympian to win more medals than any other (5 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze), carried his national flag at the closing ceremony of the games held in his home nation. Which city and nation?

A)        Sydney, Australia.

Q13)    In 2012 London became the first city to host 3 summer Olympic Games. Earlier in 2012 which Austrian city became the first to host 3 winter Olympic Games?

A)        Innsbruck - 1964, 1972, 2012 (Youth Winter Olympics).

Q14)    Six Olympians have died of AIDS. All except one competed in the same sport of which John Curry is the most famous victim. Which sport?

A)        Figure skating.

Q15)    Who is the odd one out in this list of lgbt Olympians, and why?
                        Tom Daley
                        Greg Louganis
                        Ian Thorpe

A)        Ian Thorpe, he’s a swimmer, the other two are divers.

Q16)    And which is the odd one out in this list of lgbt Olympic tennis players, and why?
                        Gigi Fernandez
                        Martina Navratilova
                        Amélie Mauresmo

A)        Martina Navratilova – she never won an Olympic medal, the other two did.

Q17)    Singer k d lang has performed in two Olympic Winter games ceremonies, both of them in her home nation. Which nation?

A)        Canada – Calgary 1988 closing ceremony, Vancouver 2010 opening ceremony.

Q18)    The American diver Greg Louganis made history at the 1988 Seoul Olympics by defending both gold medals he won in 1984. But what other incident is Greg most remembered for at the Seoul Olympics?

A)        Hitting his head on the diving board.

Q19)    Of the 230 known lgbt Olympians, how many (within 5 either way) have won gold medals?

A)        54.

Q20)    The London Gay Men’s Chorus sang at the opening ceremony of which Paralympic Games?

A)        London 2012.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Here Comes the Sun

It doesn’t matter who or what you believe in, this time of year is celebrated the whole world over because of one thing, and one thing alone – the Sun. A couple of days ago people celebrated the solstice, the astronomical point in the Earth’s orbit where hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere and of night-time in the southern hemisphere are at their greatest.

You don’t need to believe in any god or deity to realise that this happens every year. Ancient civilisations knew this as well. They used the solstices and equinoxes to mark specific times in their calendar and determine when their year begins and when to plant and harvest crops, etc. They were points to celebrate. Just when these celebrations began to be associated with deities will never be known, but over the centuries the ritual elements of these celebrations became more important. People around the world have different myths and stories about the importance of the summer solstice. And just like people today who celebrate summer with a holiday so did the ancients, a religious holiday.

Here are some stories of the summer solstice that embrace lgbt aspects.

One of my favourite stories is that of Apollo and his young lover Prince Hyakinthos. My own retelling of this story is found here. Another favourite story concerns the camp young Roman Emperor known as Elegabalus. He was the hereditary high priest of the Syrian sun god, which was worshipped in the form of a meteorite. I retell that story here. When he brought the sacred meteorite to Rome he built an elaborate temple to house it. He also created a festival in its honour at the summer solstice. For three successive solstices Elegabalus brought out the stone and paraded it though the streets of Rome in as splendid a manner as its arrival in 218. The event was depicted on coins from his reign (pictured below). It wasn’t long before the Roman senate and the military ganged up and assassinated the 18-year-old emperor and shipped his beloved lump of rock back to Syria where it vanished from history.
An earlier emperor fared better and used the solstice to commemorate another imported god. During the time of the Emperor Hadrian the Egyptian goddess Isis was introduced into the Roman Pantheon. Recent archaeological research has suggested that Hadrian used both the summer and winter solstices to plan the lay-out of some of his villas.

One of Hadrian’s villas, some 30 kilometres east of Rome, has an elongated vertical slit above the entrance doorway and the summer solstice sun shone through it and illuminated a niche inside the entrance hall. This niche probably contained a statue of Isis.

In another of Hadrian’s buildings, a temple, the solstice sun shines through a series of doorways which produces an illuminated passageway. This would have been used during ritual celebrations of the solstice. Many archaeologists support these ideas and suggest that these and other examples of seasonally-aligned buildings should be studied more closely. So far only more ancient buildings like Stonehenge have been studied.

An even earlier emperor planned whole cities aligned towards the sun. Alexander the Great built many cities wherever he conquered. Historians have previously believed that these had no uniform plan but in the last couple of years a theory has been put forward to suggest that Alexander deliberately planned several cities that had streets aligned to point to the rising sun on his birthday just after the summer solstice.

When was Alexander’s birthday? Ancient sources record that he was born on the 6th day of the New Year. Their year began on the day of the first new Moon after the summer solstice. Modern astronomers have calculated that this event occurred on the equivalent date to our 14th July in the year Alexander was born. Alexander was born six days later.

The most famous of Alexander’s cities was Alexandria on the Nile delta in Egypt. Research carried out by Luisa Ferro and Giulio Magli has suggested that Alexandria was planned around one specific road, called the Canopic road. This led from the Nile to Abukir Bay. The rest of Alexandria radiates out from this road. At either end were constructed city gates which came to be known as the Gate of the Sun (as the eastern end) and the Gate of the Moon (at the western end). Just like the Sun illuminated the niche in Hadrian’s villa on the solstice, so it did on Alexander’s birthday along the Canopic road. To the people of Alexandria this was proof of Alexander’s power as a living god.

Alexandria became the model for other Hellenistic cities which are also aligned to astronomical events. Again, archaeologists are generally supportive of this idea though some offer coincidence as some explanation – as I’ve said in the past, I don’t believe in coincidence.

Monday 20 June 2016

The Seven Heavenly Gay Virtues : Charity Begins at Home

At first glance it might be puzzling to write about the virtue of Charity on World Refugee Day. Like the names of some other Heavenly Virtues the word charity has a meaning that isn’t generally remembered. Charity also has the meaning of “caring for others more than for yourself”. You give to others at your own expense. Charity is not just about donating money to organisations, it also includes voluntary action and acceptance of others into your social environment.

When we place Charity against its Deadly Sin counterpart of Greed we get a better idea of what it means. Greed is over-indulgence in anything or everything. Charity is the opposite. It’s not self-restraint in the same way as Temperance because that particular virtue and Greed are all about self and Charity is all about others. Can you see how this links to refugees? So, let’s place Charity on our Rainbow Virtue flag in the same colour associated in Medieval times with Greed.
Asylum and refuge goes way back to ancient times. The Biblical Exodus and the Mayflower Pilgrims are famous stories of refugees and asylum seeking. I’ve also written on this blog about the Masquerader, a Serbian refugee who lived in Nottingham a century ago.

It wasn’t until as recently as 2010 that the UK’s lgbt rights charity Stonewall conducted a survey into the workings of the UK immigration service when it applies to lgbt asylum seekers and refugees, which I’ll come to later.

Stonewall formed an Immigration Group in 1993 but asylum wasn’t its focus. Many foreign nationals were in relationships with UK nationals. Many of these foreign nationals were being deported because the law did not recognise same-sex relationships. Most of those were sent back to their home countries where homosexuality was not even illegal and there was no more chance of persecution than in the UK. Stonewall was campaigning for the rights of UK nationals with foreign partners rather than lgbt asylum seekers and refugees.

Stonewall lobbied Opposition parties (I can find no evidence that they even attempted any serious contact with the government or immigration service). After several years the Opposition party was elected to power and after much delay introduced the “unmarried partners concession” which applied to both lgbt and straight couples. But still Stonewall showed no interest in any similar lobbying campaign for cases of lgbt asylum seekers escaping persecution and death threats.

It was 2003 before Stonewall began to think about the issue. It took them another six years before they realised there were problems with the process and the Labour government refused to change their policy. Stonewall’s 2010 report highlighted the out-dated and unreliable information and advice the government was providing.

Stonewall’s report also found that lgbt asylum seekers were often too afraid and embarrassed to reveal the true reason for seeking asylum on grounds of their sexuality because the Labour government had introduced it’s “prove it” policy. This often resulted in their cases being turned down (the government regarded them as not being honest enough at the outset, or of using sexuality as a last excuse). Immigration officials also told asylum seekers when deported back into danger to be “more discreet” about their sexuality. The government introduced a “fast-track” procedure for lgbt asylum seekers. This was another reason many of them didn’t mention their sexuality on their asylum claim - their cases would take longer to process by doing so and they’d stay in safety longer.

It wasn’t until after Labour was replaced by a Coalition government shortly after the publication of the Stonewall report that the “be discreet” was dropped and the “prove it” policy relaxed.

There are still many problems in the lgbt asylum process in the UK. There have been successes and failures, but still the UK has a better record than most other European countries.

With the USA calling itself the “land of the free” it may come as a surprise to learn that they have often barred people from entering the country. Their Immigration Act of 1917 specifically banned ALL lgbt immigrants because homosexuality was considered to be a disease. This ban was only lifted in 1980, long after the USA began claiming to be pioneers of lgbt rights. Ten years later lgbt refugees and asylum seekers were regarded as “a particular social group” under the terms of the US Board of Immigration Appeals. The first refugee accepted into the US under those terms was Marcelo Tenorio from Brazil in 1993 (Canada, by the way, beat them by over a year, accepting an Argentinian gay refugee in January 1992). The first successful lgbt asylum claim in the EU countries was in 1997 after an Algerian activist was targeted by police and extremists. He was granted asylum in France.

The plight of lgbt refugees continues to hit the headlines. Just a couple of months ago lgbt refugees fleeing Syria were attacked by fellow refugees in a camp in Germany purely because of their sexuality.

It’s a difficult issue for governments and society in general. Asylum has never been simple or easy. Whatever ethical or spiritual opinions we all have there is no harm in following that Biblical phrase “faith, hope and charity, and the greatest of these is charity”. The asylum seekers’ faith (whether in the religion, regime or process), and their hope of escape from persecution will not work effectively without the virtue of Charity/Love from others.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Out of his Tree : The Blood of Dracula

Today is the 200th anniversary of the dark and stormy night which saw the creation of two monstrous creations.

In the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland in 1816 a small group of friends wiled away the stormy night by telling ghost stories to scare each other. Among those friends were the polyamorous Lord Byron and Mary Shelley. Mary came up with the story of Frankenstein, and Byron came up with a vampire story.

It is Byron’s vampire story which I celebrate today. The vampire of European folklore is different to our modern image. The medieval vampire was more like the modern image of the flesh-eating zombie (real zombies have no need to eat, and don’t carry a contagious “zombie virus”). We owe our modern image of a vampire to that story Lord Byron told on that stormy night. In fact, we owe the sexual interpretation to vampire stories to the very real personality of Lord Byron himself. Traditional vampires had no sexual motives whatsoever. Even portrayals of contemporary vampires owe more to our Romantic image of Lord Byron.

Bram Stoker developed the legend by creating a suave, aristocratic vampire called Dracula. He “borrowed” the name from a real blood-thirsty (though not vampiric) noble called Vlad Dracula, the ruler of the province of Wallachia in Romania.

Believe it or not there are descendants of the Dracula family alive today, and they still use the name Dracula. One of these is a gay writer and actor called David Drake who researched his ancestry in search of proof of a link to Vlad Dracula. He then turned his search into a hit one-man show, with him taking on the roles of many colourful characters he met along the journey. He even got to play “Countess Dracula” herself.

David Drake had always wondered about his name. He was born David Drakula (his family have always used a “k”), and when his parents divorced when he was 7 his mother chose the informal surname Drake for her son (“Thank God I’m no longer a Drakula!” she once remarked). The Drakula family, not surprisingly, often brushed off any enquiry into their vampire connection. David, though, was intrigued, and in the late 1990s began to so some serious research into his family tree to discover if he really did have the blood of Dracula in his veins.

David knew a little about his immediate ancestry and nothing before the life of his great-grandfather, an immigrant from eastern Europe in 1907. The real Vlad Dracula lived over 500 years before that, so to close the gap David contacted many of the world’s leading authorities on Dracula to see if they could provide any clues to what happened in between.

Vlad was an important local ruler whose own bloodline had been traced back six generations to the ruler of Wallachia who may even have been a Tatar chieftain descended from Genghis Khan. The name Dracula means “son of the dragon”. Vlad’s father was invested as a Knight of the Order of the Dragon by his own cousin the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund.

Vlad’s family has been extensively researched though there are still some tantalising gaps in the junior lines.

Vlad’s own descendants can be traced down to the late 1600s and were spread around a wide area of south east Europe. David Drake has managed to trace his ancestry to the Drakulas of Serbia in 1611. One of those tantalising gaps in the records in the positive link between his ancestor and Vlad Dracula’s dynasty. Although there are several known illegitimate lines there could be others that have not been discovered. There are many known descendants of Vlad’s extended family, including the Duke of Cambridge (though his great-great-grandmother Queen Mary, a member of the previous royal Cambridges, who’s mother was a descendant of Vlad Dracula’s brother).

After several years of research and contact with Dracula scholars David decided to attend his first World Dracula Congress (yes, it does exist) in Transylvania in 2000. Among all the academics and experts David met was Countess Dracula herself! The actress Ingrid Pitt is most famous for portraying the blood-drinking Countess Elisabeth Bathori in the Hammer film “Countess Dracula”. They joined a tour of the sites associated with Vlad Dracula in Romania.

At the 2001 World Dracula Congress David Drake gave a speech about his search for his Dracula bloodline. It got a mixed response. One of the leading Dracula authorities believes there IS a link through the Hungarian branch of the family. Afterwards David decided to turn the whole search into a one-man show called “Son of Dracula”. It premiered in Baltimore, Maryland, in May 2002. After much editing and rewriting he performed it again in New York, San Francisco and Anchorage.

Perhaps David will never find that elusive missing link that will finally prove his bloodline to the real Vlad Dracula.

Monday 13 June 2016

Looking For Leo

It’s been a good year for Leonardo da Vinci so far. Not only has he been the subject of many exhibitions, as he is every year, but several other bits of news have come out in the last two months.

The first news that filtered through was that a couple of historians in Italy had traced living descendants of Leonardo’s father. Leonardo himself had no children and thus had no direct descendants, but historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato believe they have traced 15 generations of his family down to the present day.

The research began by looking through legal documents and written records from Leonardo’s time over 500 years ago. Vezzosi and Sabato went hunting around for family graves and tombs to try to fill in any gaps in the written record and provide clues for further research. In the end they came up with their 15 generation descent from Leonardo’s grandfather down to people who still live around Florence where Leo lived. Among the descendants is a policeman, a pastry chef, an accountant, a blacksmith, and an architect.

Not every Leonardo scholar has accepted this new research. They suggest that the paper trail Vezzoni and Sabato followed could have unnoticed errors. As a family historian I can see their point. Lots of records from 500 years ago are missing and I’ve had to reconstruct some of my own ancestry using probability based on the evidence of matching names, dates and places. Having said that I don’t doubt that some de Vinci family descendants walk among us (it’s certainly more believable than the infamous Holy Grail descendants invented by Dan Brown in “The Da Vinci Code”).

Perhaps DNA could help resolve the doubts. But that presents another problem. No-one knows what Leonardo’s DNA looks like, and its no good using any of the newly discovered descendants’ DNA until after they’ve found Leonardo’s.

The hunt for Leo’s DNA is another piece of news that emerged this Spring. The “Leonardo Project” is hoping to find traces of his DNA in his paintings. He is known to have used his fingers while painting as well as brushes – there are Leo’s fingerprints on some of his works. So perhaps there may be some microscopic skin cells embedded in the paint. This would have sounded very far-fetched a couple of decades ago, but today it seems that anything is possible – or at least attemptable.

If any DNA is found on the paintings it would also help to prove if the remains in Leonardo’s tomb actually belong to him. Although he was buried in the chapel of St. Florentin at the Chateau d’Amboise in France, the chapel was destroyed shortly after the French Revolution. The stone coffin that was discovered in 1863 and reburied in the Chateau’s St. Hubert chapel is only “presumed” to be Leonardo’s, despite the inscription on the coffin which reads “LEO DUS VINC”.

Only after DNA has been obtained from a painting and compared with that of Vinci descendants will church authorities allow the coffin be opened and DNA obtained from the remains. If all three samples of DNA show enough of a match then two questions will be answered at once – 1) are the remains really of Leonardo da Vinci, and 2) are there Vinci descendants living today.

The Leonardo Project team hopes that the research will be finished in time for the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death in 2019.

Leonardo’s paintings are as much of a mystery as his DNA, especially the famous Mona Lisa. Many theories have been put forward as to the real identity of this enigmatic woman, not least of all being the unlikely idea that it is Leonardo’s self portrait.

Another theory that resurfaced this Spring was that the Mona Lisa may even be a portrait of Leonardo’s young boyfriend and apprentice, Gian Giacomo Caprotti. The theory has been around for about five years so why it re-emerged again this year is unclear. The theory was put forward by Silvano Vinceti, head of the National Committee for Cultural Heritage, a man who has set himself up as the Indiana Jones of the art world. Under his leadership the Committee has hunted down the “lost” remains of many artists, including Caravaggio’s and the Mona Lisa herself.

Vinceti studied many of Leonardo’s portraits and claimed that the Mona Lisa was, as generally accepted, that of Lisa Gherardini. What Vinceti then claimed was that the Mona Lisa is also a portrait of young Caprotti. He saw a lot of facial similarities in the Mona Lisa with known portraits of Caprotti, and in the portraits of others in Leonardo’s paintings for whom Caprotti posed as model.

Caprotti was a very androgynous looking youth and Leonardo used him as a model for both male and female characters in his paintings. Caprotti was the model for John the Baptist on a couple of occasions. Maybe he was also the model for the famous representation of John the Evangelist in “The Last Supper”, the figure often mistaken as a woman.

The reputation of Silvano Vinceti isn’t that great among some art historians and his theories are often disregarded. Whatever the truth behind the paintings and life of Leonardo de Vinci, Vinceti and the other researchers I’ve mentioned today can only enhance the mystery behind the world’s most famous painter.

Friday 10 June 2016

International (Queer) Heraldry Day 2016

Here’s my annual group of lgbt armigers (people who are entitled to have a coat of arms) for today’s International Heraldry Day. It’s a shorter list this time, only 21 people, because I’ve had less time to research this year, but it’s still a diverse group of people from around the world and of diverse sexualities and genders.

Once again, it’s a mixture of inherited, granted and marital heraldry, and arms of office. Unless otherwise indicated the arms are personal arms, either inherited or granted.
A) W. H. Auden (1907-1973), author.
B) Eleanor Butler (1728-1829), eccentric recluse.
C) Rose Cleveland (1846-1918), US President Cleveland’s daughter.
D) Michelle Dumaresq (b.1970), mountain bike racer.
E) Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941), archaeologist.
F) Elsa von Freytag-Loringoven (1874-1927), poet and artist (marital arms).
G) Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926), suffragette, social reformer.
H) David Hope (b.1941), Archbishop of York 1995-2005.
J) Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912), doctor.
K) Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891), mathematician.
L) William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp (1872-1934), colonial governor.
M) Charles Maude (1951-1993), AIDS victim, brother of UK Cabinet minister.
N) Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877-1933), palaeontologist.
O) Keith O’Brien (b.1938), Cardinal Archbishop of St. Andrews 1985-2013.
P) Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton (1840-1870), war hero, MP.
R) Gene Robinson (b.1947), Bishop of New Hampshire 2004-13 (arms of office).
S) Edith Somerville (1856-1949), novelist.
T) Raleigh Trevelyan (1923-2014), historian and biographer.
U) Leon Unczur, Lord Mayor of Nottingham 2011-2 (arms of office).
V) Dan Veatch (b.1965), Olympic and Gay Games swimmer.
W) Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu (1686-1762), traveller and writer.

Monday 6 June 2016

Olympic Alphabet : P is for ...


Although the Paralympic Games are now organised by the same committee as the Olympics and hosted in the same city they are very much separate events. They have very different origins and their own international governing body.

The first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960 just after the Olympics. Before this they were known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, named after the hospital where the games’ founder Sir Ludwig Guttman worked. Those first games were more akin to the modern Invictus Games where injured ex-service personnel competed. Sir Ludwig hoped his Stoke Mandeville games would become the “Olympics for the disabled”. In 1960 that hope came true.

Not every Paralympic Games has been held in Olympic host cities, so here’s a list of where they have been held.

1960 Rome
1964 Tokyo
1968 Tel Aviv
1972 Heidelberg
1976 Toronto
1980 Arnheim
1984 Stoke Mandeville and New York
Since 1988 the Paralympics have shared host city and organising committee with the Olympic Games.

There have been relatively few identified lgbt Paralympic athletes compared to their Olympic counterparts, even as a percentage of total athletes. Here’s the full list in alphabetical order as of today’s date. There have been no known lgbt athletes at the Winter Paralympic Games.

Jen Armbruster (USA)
Goalball: 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London

Claire Harvey (GB)
Sitting volleyball: 2012 London

David Hill (GB)
Swimming: 2004 Athens

Hope Lewellen (USA)
Wheelchair tennis: 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney
Sitting volleyball: 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing

Asya Miller (USA)
Discus: 2000 Sydney
Goalball: 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing 2012 London

Lee Pearson (GB)
Equestrianism: 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London

Danielle Peers (Canada)
Wheelchair basketball: 2004 Athens, 2010 Vancouver Olympic torch relay

Stephanie Wheeler (USA)
Wheelchair basketball: 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing

Kathleen Rose Winter (1956-2008) (USA)
Athletics: 1992 Barcelona
Fencing: 1996 Atlanta
Powerlifting: 2000 Sydney

There has been a continuous lgbt presence at the Paralympics since 1992 with only Jen Armbruster competing at all 6 games since then. She equals Robert Dover’s 6 Olympic appearances.

Robert Dover, the equestrian rider, brings me on to Lee Pearson, one of the most well-known Paralympians in the UK. He has appeared at 5 Paralympics since 2000 and has won at least 1 gold medal at each. Lee holds the record for the most Paralympic/Olympic medals for an lgbt athlete – 10 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.

The Paralympic Games in which lgbt athletes won more medals than they did in the others was in Athens 2004. Lee Pearson won his second haul of 3 gold medals, Stephanie Wheeler won 1 gold, Jen Armbruster and Asya Miller won 1 silver apiece, and Hope Lewellen and Danielle Peers both won a bronze. The following games in Beijing 2008 provided the only 100% medal haul by the 5 lgbt Paralympians who were competing.

Several athletes have competed in more than one sport, even at the same Paralympics, as you can see from the above list. Kathleen Rose Winter competed in 3 events at 3 successive game. For more information about Kathleen see my article here.

As with the Olympics there is also a group of lgbt coaches, officials, volunteers and ceremony performers. Among the coaches have been former Olympian Rafael Polinario and Gay Games swimming medallist Michelle Weltman who have both coached swimmers, with Michelle’s swimmers winning 2 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze over 3 Paralympic Games.

Among the officials has been Darren Stolz. He was the Senior Co-ordinator of the Canadian Paralympic teams at the 2008 Beijing games and in the run-up to the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter games.

Among the lgbt performers are Sir Ian McKellen, Miro Civin, Daryl Beeton and the London Gay Men’s Chorus who all performed at the London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony.

Finally, the Paralympic torch relay has always been on a smaller scale than its Olympic counterpart. To date I’ve identified only one lgbt Paralympic torch relay runner. Canadian broadcaster and comedian Rick Mercer ran with the torch through Ottawa on 3rd March 2010 for the Vancouver games. Only one of the lgbt Paralympians has carried the Olympic torch. Danielle Peers carried the torch through the University of Alberta campus on 13th January 2010, again prior to the Vancouver Olympics.

Next time I change tack slightly and offer a quiz to help you celebrate the Rio Olympics and Paralympics with your own Pride party.