Wednesday 31 August 2016

Olympic Alphabet : X is for ...


Everyone has an X chromosome in every one of their body cells. Women have two. Occasionally they have a Y chromosome which is generally only found in men. His makes these women susceptible to the influence of this chromosome and its effects on the development of the creation of male hormones. It is this effect of hormones which we look at today.

The Rio Olympics has already been described as the most lgbt-friendly ever. A record 57 of the 59 known lgbt athletes competed openly during the games (two athletes have requested to remain anonymous for now). There have been at least three lgbt couples getting engaged as well as the first married couple, the Richardson-Walshes. A better review of Rio 2016 will appear after the Paralympics.

Among all the positive stories there has been several negative ones, but one is on-going. The inclusion of transgender, intersex athletes and women with high testosterone levels. It doesn’t matter how many X or Y chromosomes an athletes has there is still opposition to some female athletes being accepted into female competition. After the more subdued controversy around Caster Semenya’s inclusion in London 2012 she returned to the main pages in the press during Rio 2016. In several UK newspapers there have been banner headlines above a photo of Caster saying “Prove you’re a woman”. During the BBC’s coverage of the games, one of GB’s top ex-Olympians said this quite openly on several occasions on each day that Caster competed.

In my “Olympic Countdown” series in the run-up to London 2012 I wrote a brief outline of gender verification at the Olympic games. Since then there has been more controversies and revisions of verification policies.

There has never been any proof which shows that female athletes likes Caster Semenya with a condition called hyperandrogenism have any unfair advantage over other female athletes. Yet people accept that lgbt Olympian Brittney Griner has an unfair advantage over other female basketball players because she is taller. The same is true of Usain Bolt of course. He is taller and has longer legs that increases his stride further than others.

Hyperandrogenism is a genetic condition in which higher than normal levels of male hormones, androgens, are produced. Testosterone is just one of these hormones. The IOC and international sport has been struggling with the problem of how much is too much in a female athlete.

Just over a year ago the Court of Arbitration for Sport ordered the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to suspend all bans on female athletes with hyperandrogenism and high male hormone levels. They said, quite rightly, that there is no medical or physical evidence to prove that those with the condition have any advantage in sport.

The IAAF rules were formulated as a direct response to the success of South African athlete Caster Semenya in 2009. After the media fiasco of their media handling of that case the IAAF decided to allow Semenya to compete at the London 2012 Olympics. Other athletes, however, fared less well. The Indian athlete Dutee Chand was banned from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow because of her hyperandrogenism. It was her solicitors who challenged the ban and took the case to the Court of Arbitration.

The IAAF cannot be blamed for making rules based on their incomplete knowledge of the medical condition because no-one knows enough. But the Court of Arbitration advised that a proper scientific study should be made to provide once and for all any proof that female athletes gain any advantage. Until then all bans are suspended.

It should also be made clear that athletes with hyperandrogenism do not necessarily identify themselves as lgbt. Dutee Chand certainly has not, though Caster Semenya is known to be in a same-sex union.

Based on the suspension of the bans on athletes the IOC produced a new set of guidelines in January this year. The rules set down a limit to the testosterone and other hormone levels it accepts when considering the inclusion of women athletes.

The new guidelines also included recommendations for transgender athletes. While no transgender athletes were known to compete in Rio 2016 there are several who could have taken part in Olympic trials and qualifying events.

Some of the media who contacted me for interviews during the Rio games seemed to think that these rules were a result of the high profile transgender news surrounding Caitlyn Jenner. They were unaware that the matter was being considered long before that.

As more research is carried out and the public understanding of the many gender and biological complexities of the human species improves we can only say we have the best regulations that current knowledge and science suggests. It is to be hoped that any regulation or ban will never prevent aspiring athletes with any gender condition from pursuing their Olympic dreams.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Mumbling Knights and Vanishing Priests : Part 1

This is the first of two articles dealing with people and places involved in one of the major religious disputes in Medieval England with which I have very personal connections. These connections will become apparent as you read them. The connections are that I live in Nottingham and worked at Nottingham Castle for seven years; my direct ancestor is John Tansley; and I am also descended from Sir William Neville’s older brother and sister. So, I hope you will forgive this little indulgence.

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with the name Sir William Neville, and that of his partner Sir John Clanvowe. They were friends and confidantes of the king and they lived at Nottingham Castle from 1381 to 1391. They were also a highly respected same-sex couple and were buried together as such.

During the reign of King Richard II in the late 1300s there arose a group of supporters of the religious reformer John Wycliff, an Oxford theologian who believed that all church authority derives from the Bible, not from Rome, and that everyone had the right to read the Bible in their own language.

Wycliff's followers were called Lollards, a name derived from a Dutch word for someone who mumbles (as in the act of praying). Wycliff's most senior sympathisers included the beautiful Joan, Princess of Wales, King Richard II's mother, known as the Fair Maid of Kent. King Richard himself was not a supporter but he was opposed to their persecution in the early years, no doubt through his mother's influence and because many of his friends and courtiers were Lollard sympathisers.

In 1385 some of the so-called Lollard Knights were appointed to attend upon the Fair Maid of Kent. Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville were among them. When Princess Joan died later that year some of these knights, including both Sir John and Sir William, were her executors.

As time passed Lollards were declared to be heretics. Less than ten years later there were condemned to be burnt at the stake. Fortunately, by that time (1402) Sir John Clanvowe and Sir William Neville, as well as Richard II, had died.

Sir John Clanvowe wrote a religious tract known as "The Two Ways". Although this work does not mention either Lollardy or Wycliffe by name it sets down the choices a man can make - the way to heaven or the way to hell. One aspect of Lollard doctrine is shown in the fact that "The Two Ways" was written in English not Latin. When Sir John Clanvowe died in Constantinople in 1391 he had his manuscript of "The Two Ways" with him. It is fortunate that his companions on that journey thought fit to bring the manuscript back to England such a work written by a layman is rare enough, but "The Two Ways" is unique in that it is the only written record by a Lollard Knight that contains Lollard ideas.

Sir William Neville didn’t leave any public declarations of his support for Lollardism like his partner. Yet, in his own way, Sir William exerted some Lollard influence in Nottingham, particularly in its main church, St. Mary’s.

During the 1380s when Sir William was Constable of Nottingham Castle, St. Mary’s church was undergoing an extensive rebuild. It is only in the past thirty years or so that it’s historical significance has been revealed. For many centuries Winchester cathedral had been put forward as the earliest major church in the English Perpendicular style, yet St. Mary’s in Nottingham has now been recognised as predating it by at least a decade.

A famous county historian of the 17th century noted some of the ancient stained glass which contained four heraldic shields. These offer clues to the date and benefactors of the rebuilding work. The shields were identified as those of 1) the royal arms of England, 2) King Richard II combined with his wife, 3) Archbishop Thomas Arundel of York, and 4) the Neville family. For a long time no-one could identify which member of the Neville family this represented. It must have been someone who was around after 1388 (the appointment of Archbishop Arundel) and before 1394 (the death of the queen). Today we know that the only Neville with a connection to Nottingham who fits those dates in Sir William.

The stone masons working on the rebuilding work would have probably been the same ones working on the repairs to Nottingham Castle during the same period. As a Lollard Sir William would have been in favour of a clear, non-ostentatious decoration that appeared in the regular Gothic architecture at the time. A simple style was in keeping with Lollardism. A simple, unfussy style of English Perpendicular is what we see at St. Mary’s, much of which survives to this day.

St. Mary's church, Nottingham, as it is today, very much as it was when
it was rebuilt  in the late 1300s.
One interesting thing to consider is the date on which the new church could have been dedicated. In the 16th century St. Mary’s celebrated its anniversary on the first Sunday in October. You’d think that they would have chosen one of the feast days of their patron saint, but they didn’t. We’ll never for sure why the date was chosen, but think about this – both Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe died in the first week of October 1391. Could the dedication of St. Mary’s church have taken place a year or two later on the anniversary of their death? That’s speculation, nothing more.

Sir William Neville wasn’t the only local benefactor to the rebuilding of St. Mary’s. A lot of gentry and wealthy burgesses did so also. Two of these were town mayors and Members of Parliament John Tansley (my ancestor) and his grandson John Samon. When they died they were buried in St. Mary’s. Their tombs can still be seen today. Both would have known Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe and, as leading citizens, may also have met King Richard II.

So, Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe were members of the “mumbling” Lollard Knights. But what about the “Vanishing Priest” of this article’s title? For him you’ll have to wait till next week for Part II.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Star-Gayzing : Starman

In several of my previous “Star-Gayzing” articles I’ve mentioned how some constellations have been created or removed by the simple alteration of the imaginary boundaries we put on them. One of those lost is the constellation created to honour the Emperor Hadrian’s lover Antinous.

The International Astronomical Union has been regulating all of the allocated constellations since 1922 and no new ones have been created. But that doesn’t stop people from creating what you could call “honorary constellations”, and one of the most recent was created in honour of the late musician David Bowie (1947-2015).

David Bowie became an iconic figure in the 1970s and 1980s. His gender-bending persona shifted with every new album, and many lgbt people saw him as an influential community hero. Like his musical persona Bowie’s sexuality shifted according to the decade in which he lived.

It took Belgian astronomers less than a week after Bowie’s death to come up with an “honorary constellation” to honour him. The idea seems actually to have come from a Belgian radio station called Studio Brussels. They contacted the MIRA Public Observatory in Grimbergen, Belgium, and asked if astronomers could honour Bowie with a constellation. The fact that an asteroid was named after him in January 2015 (no. 342843 Davidbowie) seems to have gone unnoticed in the media.

No doubt Studio Brussel, as a music station, had Bowie’s interplanetary music in mind. With song titles like “Space Oddity” and “Starman” it is easy to understand why. So what shape should the new constellation take? Another obvious idea was the famous lightning bolt design which Bowie sported (below) on the cover of his album “Aladdin Sane”. So the quest was on to find stars in the right configuration.

The staring point was the planet Mars, as featured in Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?”. As a planet Mars moves across the sky and isn’t fixed, so astronomers couldn’t use that. But they did use it as a marker for the stars at the top of the constellation. The astronomers chose the brightest star nearest to Mars on the day Bowie died as their prim marker. That star was Spica in the constellation Virgo.

From that starting point the Belgian astronomers searched for six others stars to form the other corners of the Bowie lightning bolt. The end result is what you see below. There is “before and after” view of the same part of the night sky where the Starman constellation can be found. On the left (before) are the official constellations with some of them named and Mars indicated, and on the right (after) is Starman outlined in red.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to see the whole constellation in the northern hemisphere because it is so long and large and covers a huge area of the night sky. The bottom stars are only visible from the southern hemisphere (where the constellation in upside down!).

Sunday 21 August 2016

Olympic Alphabet : W is for ...

Among all the highly anticipated pre-Olympic announcements one seems to generate more argument, and derision, than any other – the uniform and kits that the national teams will wear. Quite often some teams have marched into the opening ceremony and have made me think “what ARE they wearing?” and I’m not referring to the traditional and ethnic costumes (I wish there could be more of these).
Between 1912 and 1948 the Olympics had medal-winning competitions in music, art, poetry, sculpture, architecture and town planning. The first four of these are still part of the Olympic programme though they are part of cultural festivals and not competitions. Perhaps a new Olympic event could be introduced – fashion and clothes design, with a select group of top designers acting as judges?
All of this made me think about what other people wear at the Olympics, whether it’s in the sporting arena of in the ceremonies. With fashion and clothing design having such a big lgbt contingent I thought it might be fun to have a look at the huge variety of clothes that have been produced for the Olympics by lgbt designers.
We’ll begin with the official team uniforms and kit. Most leading fashion designers have designed team uniforms. Not all of them have been without criticism.
When Ralph Lauren unveiled his London 2012 uniform for Team USA came in for a bit of criticism for being too preppy. What Lauren tried to do was produce a uniform inspired by the one worn by Team USA at the previous London Olympics in 1948. But the biggest criticism he received came in 2008 when it was revealed that the uniforms he designed for Team USA were made in China.
The gay Canadian twins Dean and Dan Caten – Dsquared2 – came in for some criticism on the very first day that they were announced as the designers of Team Canada’s Rio 2016 uniform. In 2015 they had produced a fashion line which offended a lot of First Nation and Inuit people, for which they apologised. Some Canadian Olympians (none who are competing in Rio as far as I’m aware) said that they would feel uncomfortable wearing any Olympic uniform designed by DSquared 2. There was little complaint about their previous Olympic uniform for Canada at the Vancouver 2010 winter games.
Which brings me on to opening and closing ceremonies because DSquared2 designed the outfits worn by the volunteers and major performers (with the exception of lgbt performers k d lang and Ashley McIsaacs) at all four ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic games. From the outfits worn by Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams, to the voluminous gold dress of Measha Brueggergosman who sang the Olympic anthem, the Caten twins displayed their skill at designing clothes suitable for the intimate catwalk and the massive stadium.
Fashion catwalks may not seem to have much in common with sporting ceremonies, but there have been several segments specifically devoted to fashion catwalks. The most recent was just this month in the opening ceremony of Rio 2016 with supermodel Gisele B√ľndchen walking the entire length of the stadium in a glittering dress designed by the openly gay Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch. A similar, shorter, walk was made by Alessandra Ambr√≥sio at the London 2012 closing ceremony Rio handover segment. Herchcovitch himself is no stranger to the Olympics as he designed Brazil’s team uniform for Athens 2004.
In fact, it seems that if you need to make an impact in a frock (as we say in Yorkshire) it has to it glitter! The London 2012 closing ceremony, you may remember, had seven supermodels in shimmering gold dresses and a suit designed by some of the UK’s leading openly gay fashion designers, including Christopher Kane, Erdem and Jonathan Saunders.
Perhaps my personal favourite has to be the Armani dress worn by Carla Bruni at the Turin 2006 opening ceremony. In another glittering, flowing gown that looked like it was made out of ice crystals, Carla carried the Italian flag into the stadium. No photograph can ever capture the visual impact of this fantastic dress.
There were also catwalk segments in other Olympic ceremonies. Italian designers Dolce and Gabana, Valentino and Versace produced dresses worn in the handover segment at the Salt Lake City 2002 closing ceremony, and Spanish designers were featured in the opening ceremony of Barcelona 1992. In Sydney 2000 supermodel Elle McPherson appeared on a giant camera at the closing ceremony. She was, however, upstaged by the “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” bus, fifty drag queens and Kylie Minogue.
The ceremonies, of course, involve costumes for thousands of performers. While no one lgbt designer has personally designed all of those needed for entire four ceremonies there are several who have produced a major part of the visual impact of the Olympic ceremonies.
One who probably had the most involvement was award-winning film and stage costume designer Ray Aghayan who designed most of the costumes for the ceremonies of Los Angeles 1984. The Caten twins and Vancouver 2010 has already been mentioned. Harrison McEldowney and carnival designer Peter Minshall produced costumes for Barcelona 1992. Elements of Minshall’s ideas were used in Salt Lake City 2002 and Atlanta 1996. Among the Sydney 2000 costumes were the blue costumes designed by Peter Morrisey for the Oceana group in the “Arrivals” segment.
I could go on. However, one last name. Some athletes don’t compete in the official kit, they wear specially designed clothes by someone else. This is especially so in figure skating. So today’s final lgbt designer is the man who designed the costume worn by Yuzuru Hanyu in his gold medal-winning routine at Sochi 2014. That designer was no stranger to the ice and fancy costumes himself. He was none other than former Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir.
The montage above shows (from left to right)

Top row : Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado in DSquared2, Vancouver 2010; cast member of the Olympic Centennial marching band in a uniform by Ray Aghayan, Atlanta 1996; Team USA uniform by Ralph Lauren, London 2012.

Bottom row : cast member as a ray of the sun, designed by Peter Minshall, Barcelona 1992; Carla Bruni in Armani, Turin 2006; Yuzuru Hanyu on the medal podium in his Johnny Weir costume, Sochi 2014.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Queer Spirits Gather

This week the first festival celebrating the diversity of lgbt spirituality takes place in the UK – the Queer Spirit Festival.

When people think of “belief” we first tend to think of the “Big 5”, the historically major religions of the modern world – Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. In my lifetime there has been a visible gradual acceptance of other faiths and beliefs that do not identify themselves as religions. Along with modern revivals of old beliefs such as paganism and mother goddess faiths there has been a recognition that the belief in no god or deity is just as important to a lot of people.

Religion has always had an uncomfortable, often abusive, relationship with the lgbt community. Perhaps this is why so many people seek other spiritual paths that give them a sense of their place in the universe. These are the Queer Spiritualities.
Queer spirituality has a long history. Many modern faiths still retain a certain special status for people who in ancient times were considered to have spiritual links with their gods and deities. Many of these have been lgbt in essence and, in turn, their special status has enabled them to develop esoteric practices that were assimilated into their community’s faith. The North American Two Spirit people are an example of this, and many spiritual practices have entered the Native American ethnic culture.

The global pre-modern Queer Spirit community, rather than being specifically persecuted for their sexual activity as demonstrated in the later dominant religions, flourished. In some communities, however, they were never accepted as full members of their community, just special “outsiders” who helped to commune with their deities. Without this persecution many ancient lgbt people accepted their outsider status and this influenced future generations.

George Klawitter, a professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has suggested that this is the reason why there is a disproportionate number of ordained lgbt clergy today in the major religions, about ten times the percentage of those in the community in general.

There seems to be some cultural legacy from those ancient faiths that still attracts lgbt people into religious ordination. As a historian I can see a certain element of truth behind this. All through the history of Christianity, for instance, there has always been a visible lgbt presence among its clergy. The debate on religion’s persecution of gay men seems to be at odds with this, but it shows the misunderstandings that both the lgbt community and the Church have about each others lifestyles. The debate on religious attitudes to homosexuality is a big subject and will be more suitably discussed as part of next year’s main theme – law and justice.

What a contrast there is with the high number of lgbt people who reject religion based on actual and perceived homophobia within various faiths. This has become more evident when the early gay rights movements grew in influence in the 1960s and 1970s. It may be no coincidence (I don’t believe in coincidence) that these decades saw the growth of more spiritual independence – free love, the hippy movement and flower power, gay and civil rights. All are inextricably linked.

In order to find some spiritual heritage the lgbt community looked back to the old beliefs, many of them pre-Christian, and many of them which were in times past the subject of persecution by surviving religions. Paganism, Wicca and Earth Goddess beliefs re-emerged and were embraced by the lgbt community. All of these modern interpretations of ancient beliefs already existed outside the lgbt community and most of them were welcoming to lgbt members.

New spiritualities developed from these modern interpretations. One of the most famous was the Radical Faeries movement which placed spirituality above religion and philosophy above doctrine.

The Queer Spirit festival being held this week has it’s origin in previous spiritual gatherings held by different communities around Europe since the 1990s. Among these were the first Radical Faery gathering in Europe in July 1995 and the first Queer Pagan gathering in the UK in 1998. The 21st century has seen a big increase in gatherings that have embraced many different Queer Spiritualities.

One of the symbols adopted by the Queer Spirit festival is the astrological symbol for the planet Uranus (shown below). This planet has several queer spiritual connections as described in one of my “Star Gayzing” articles.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Olympic Alphabet : V is for ...


Every Olympian dreams of winning a gold medal. Of course, silver and bronze medals are also awarded although this has not always been the case even in the modern Olympics, and not at all in the ancient games. Today we look at the various prizes that have been awarded to Olympic victors.

In all the years the modern Olympics has been awarding medals there has only been one that has been designed by an lgbt artist. The medals for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games of Vancouver 2010 were designed by Corinne Hunt. You can read more about her here.

The Athens Olympics of 2004 revived the ancient tradition of placing an olive wreath on the victor’s head. This was the most common way the ancient Olympic champions, such as those mentioned in a previous article, were crowned.

This crowning ceremony didn’t take place after the event but at the very end of the Olympic festival with all the victors receiving their wreaths at the same sacred ceremony. But each champion was proclaimed to the crowds immediately after winning their event. He received a palm branch and had a ribbon wrapped around his head, arm and leg. The victory olive wreaths were held in the Temple of Hera at Olympia until awarded to the victors.

At the other ancient Greek games they had different wreaths. There were four main pan-Hellenic games, as they are called – the Olympic, Nemean, Pythian and Isthmian Games. Each had a wreath made of plants that were scared to the patron god of their games. The Nemean Games had a victory wreath of wild celery, a plant sacred to Zeus. The Pythian Games had a wreath of bay laurel, sacred to Apollo. The Isthmian Games had a wreath of pine fronds, sacred to Poseidon.

Just like Olympic champions today the ancient victors were idolised, perhaps more so than their modern equivalents. Statues were made at Olympia and in the athlete’s home town, and there are records of some even being exempt from paying taxes for the rest of their life.

The erection of statues has a modern, quirky, equivalent. For the London 2012 Olympics the Royal Mail decided that it would paint red post boxes in the home town of each champion in gold paint. This was originally a temporary way of commemorating the victories of the home nations’ athletes and would have been repainted red some time later. However, the idea was so brilliant, imaginative and so typically British that the British public became very enthusiastic and supportive. The Royal Mail was persuaded (perhaps with very little persuasion) to retain all the gold post boxes for posterity. Each was even given a specially engraved plaque giving the details of the athlete and his/her victory. A new “sport” was even spawned – gold post box visiting! Even my bother got involved.
The photo above shows two gold post boxes (technically, there’s three, because the one on the right is a double post box). This is the only case of three being painted for one athlete, the lgbt community’s very own boxing champion, Nicola Adams. The post box for the other lgbt Olympic champion, equestrian Carl Hester, is also notable in that it is the most southerly of all the gold post boxes, situated on the Channel Island of Sark. The remaining third gold post box, in Bagnall, Staffordshire, commemorates Lee Pearson, the Paralympic equestrian champion who holds the record for the most medals won by any lgbt athlete at the Olympic or Paralympic. He has 10 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze.

One of the leading figures in the gold post box initiative was Royal Mail’s Head of Public Affairs. Appropriately his name is David Gold. Even more appropriately in relation to this blog he is an openly gay man. In fact, he has place in British political history as being the first openly gay man to stand as a Conservative Member of Parliament, which he did in the 2001 General Election. He wasn’t elected.

I read an article a few weeks ago on the “Voice of Vexillology, Flags and Heraldry” blog which suggested that the awarding of medals at the modern Olympics should be extended to the top 5 finishers in each event. This would mirror the 5 rings on the Olympic flag. This would be fine for solo events but for team events the medal podium would be heaving under the weight of so many medal winners. That article’s writer seems to be unaware that all athletes receive participation medals. In a previous Olympic Alphabet article I explained how all of the first 8 finishers in all events also receive diplomas.

It remains to be seen how many medals the lgbt athletes will accumulate at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic games, and how high in the medal table Team LGBT will finish.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

The Seven Heavenly Gay Virtues : It's Nice to be Kind

It’s very easy to think that Kindness is not all that different from the previous Heavenly Virtue I wrote about, Charity. What distinguishes them is that the act of Kindness doesn’t need to involve any form of “sacrifice” on the part of the giver. Charity is an act of responding to a need you recognise in others and offering your time or money. Kindness needs no motive to get a response. Holding a door open for someone is Kindness not Charity. Quite often, though, the line between the two becomes indistinguishable.

The opposing Deadly Sin to Kindness is Envy, the famous green-eyed monster. So let’s put Kindness onto our Rainbow Virtues flag.
Among the many awareness days that have been created there is one called World Kindness Day. Its origin takes us to the very heart of one of the biggest causes of concern in the lgbt community today.

The international movement called the World Kindness Movement was set up in 1998 on the initiative of a Japanese organisation called the Small Kindness Movement. The date of the opening day of their first conference, November 13, was designated World Kindness Day.
Kindness Day UK, which is affiliated to the World Kindness Movement and is also celebrated on November 13, was founded by Mrs. Louise Burfitt-Dons and David Janilly in 2010. Both had previously set up organisations which encouraged kindness. Louise Burfitt-Dons in particular was influenced by the growth of bullying and founded the Act Against Bullying campaign. This was a response to the bullying her own daughter has received at school and also to the rising cases of cyber-bullying that were being reported. She created several other “kindness” campaigns before she founded the UK Kindness Movement and co-found Kindness Day UK.

The aims of Louise Burfitt-Dons campaigns have always emphasised the need to challenge all forms of bullying and abuse, and this has included homophobia and transphobia.

Several times in the past decade we have heard of young lgbt victims of cyber-bullying taking their own lives. The most high profile case was that of Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, who took his own life in 2010 after his room-mate distributed footage he took secretly of Tyler with another man. In the worst cases the bullying have become physically violent and ended in the death of a gay youth. Mathew Shepherd’s 1988 murder has led to legislation in the USA dealing with hate crimes.

Even the fact that people are not gay has not been enough to stop anti-gay bullying in schools. The word “gay” has been used as an insult for many years.

In the UK similar, though rarer, events have occasionally hit the headlines. The name of Damilola Taylor, of an immigrant family from Nigeria, is still known. He was bullied at school and was often called gay. Damilola didn’t even know what “gay” meant, and he wasn’t homosexual. But the bullying continued until eventually his bullies stabbed his and he bled to death.

The specific problems of homophobic bullying have influence the creation of several campaigns and charities. Louise Burfitt-Dons’ Act Against Bullying includes providing advice to schools on how to tackle anti-gay bullying. The leading lgbt charity in the UK, Stonewall, also has its anti-bullying campaign.

In the USA many celebrities and members of the international community have lent their support to the It Gets Better Project.

The problem of battling the bullies is still with us. Only last week a young American youth committed suicide because he was the victim of homophobic bullying. People wonder why the lgbt community wants to keep holding Pride events. The answer is plain and simple - we are being bullied and abused and want to show our support for victims, and the Orlando massacre a month ago proves that point more than any other this summer.

Bullying may never be eradicated. But I hope that all of us have enough kindness in our hearts to show that bullying is not acceptable. It sounds a bit twee, but what’s wrong with being kind, polite and nice to each other?

Friday 5 August 2016

Olympic Outlist

As we strap ourselves in for nineteen days of non-stop sport tonight (perhaps with an Olympic Pride party and quiz, perhaps?) I feel a sense of achievement.

At the beginning of this year my list of lgbt Olympians numbered 216 plus 9 Paralympians. Over the months that number has risen steadily and I had a dream target of reaching 250 Olympians and Paralympians before the Rio games started today.

The 14 publicly out lgbt Olympians making their debut in Rio helped to add to the numbers. All 44 out athletes are listed on the Outsports website here. It is more than probable that the number will rise before the Paralympics finish in September.

One weird consequence of doing the research for my full list is that in the past month more names have been popping up with very little research. It’s as if the internet itself is deliberately directing those names to my laptop for me to find! Silly, I know, but I can’t understand why, after several years of discovering an average of only 2 or 3 names each month there suddenly appears 12 in July alone.

Before I drive myself mad trying to work out what’s been happening I’ll rejoice in the fact that after all the hard work I’ve put in since I first began to list lgbt Olympians way back in 2011 I can now say that there have been over 250 lgbt Olympians since the modern games began, and 11 Paralympians. My dream target of the combined number of 250 passed on July 8th. The list stands today at 257 Olympians, 11 Paralympians, and 10 Olympic alternate/reserve athletes.

There are several additions to make. In the past week it has been announced that Tongan swimmer Amini Fonua and GB Paralympian Claire Harvey are returning to compete in Rio 2016. One new name to add is American basketball player Elena Delle Donne who came out publicly two days ago. There's one slight mistake - Edinanci da Silva gets two mentions!

So, without further ado, here is my official list of out Olympians. A brand new list with all the Rio medals will be made available on New Year's Eve.

[This list is now out of date. For the newest list go here.]

Monday 1 August 2016

My Top Ten Tykes

Happy Yorkshire Day.

I’m proud to have been born a Yorkshireman even though it was in a maternity hospital across the county border from my family home in Nottinghamshire.

The county of Yorkshire has always had a strong spirit of independence, a legacy of the old Viking kingdom of Yorvik which covered most of northern England over a thousand years ago.

To celebrate Yorkshire Day I’ve made a list of ten significant lgbt people who were also born in Yorkshire. “Tyke” by the way, is the dialect word for someone from Yorkshire. In chronological order, here are my Top Ten LGBT Tykes.

ANNE LISTER (1791-1840) has featured in a previous article about her coded diaries. She inherited Shidben Hall near Halifax in 1826 having lived there with her uncle as his heir. More information is given in my previous article here.

NAOMI JACOB (1884-1964), even though her father was the son of a Polish Jewish refugee, had Yorkshire blood through her mother. Naomi was born in Ripon and from that moment her relationship between father and daughter contained no love – he wanted a son. Although primarily known as a novelist and writer Naomi became endeared to the UK public by returning from her home in Italy to give morale-boosting broadcasts during World War II and entertained the troops. Earlier she was a supporter of women’s suffrage and once placed a box containing a clock outside the home of the then Prime Minister. People thought it was bomb and threw it into the sea.

W. H. AUDEN (1907-1973) was born in York into a landed gentry family. He became one of the great English poets though he chose to live in the USA and become an American citizen. But we still like to claim him as a Brit!  The sheer talent which shows in his writing can never be fully covered in a short paragraph like this, so I’ll leave it for another time. Auden’s friendship with fellow author Christopher Isherwood and their time in interwar Berlin brought the world of the vibrant lgbt underworld that existed in the city to a wider audience.

MAURICE DOBSON (1912-1990) and FRED HALLIDAY (1914-1988). These men lived as an openly gay couple in the coal-mining area of South Yorkshire from the 1950s. Maurice was born in the village of Wombwell, where my grandfather was born, and Fed was born in Pudsey. They met while working in a hotel in the south of England and moved back up to Yorkshire, to Darfield, in 1956. They ran a grocery store and sweet shop and had a parrot which Maurice had trained to squawk out “bugger”! The usually homophobic working-class community of South Yorkshire in which they lived (which I experienced several times myself in the 1980s) accepted them. Maurice stipulated in his will that his shop and home should be turned into a museum to display his antique collection. In 2000 the museum opened as the Maurice Dobson Museum and heritage Centre. It is the only museum in the UK named after an lgbt individual who wasn’t famous or a celebrity.

FRANKIE HOWERD (1917-1992). The comedic talents of this York-born entertainer were reborn for three successive generations. He first became famous during World War II as a stand-up comedian on the BBC and entertained the troops. His popularity continued into the 1960s until the new generation of satirical, university-graduate comedy made his style outdated. Frankie’s celebrity was revived when he was cast as Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (more of that here). By the 1980s his style of bawdy humour had again become outdated and considered sexist and unpopular. Ironically, it was the university graduates of the 1990s who rediscovered him and Frankie returned to the top of the stand-up comedy circuit by the time he died.

ANGELA MORLEY (1924-2009). Angela was born in Leeds. In the years following World War II the airwaves of the BBC radio rang with the music of Angela Morley in such comedy classics as “the Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. After transitioning she wrote for many famous films, from “Schindler’s List” to “The Slipper and the Rose”. You can read more about Angela in this article I wrote several years ago.

ALAN BENNETT (b.1934). I first became aware of Alan Bennett when I was a child. He was regular reader on a popular children’s story-telling programme called “Jackanory”. Alan was a perfect choice to read the Winnie the Pooh stories. When I became older I became aware of his greater fame as a playwright. He has written for television, film, radio, theatre and film. One of his famous works is “The History Boys”, but for me he’ll always be the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

DAVID HOCKNEY (b.1937) is the UK’s greatest living artist, a fact recognised by the Queen in her decision to award him the Order of Merit, the exclusive, highest non-title honour in the UK. He was born in Bradford and despite his international wanderings still feels at home in the Yorkshire dales. Still producing top works Hockney has turned his hand to photography, print-making, lithography, illustration and theatre design as well as painting.

NICOLA ADAMS (b.1982) made history when she won the first Olympic gold medal in women’s boxing four years ago. Hopefully she’ll make history again in Rio where she defends her title. Nicola was born in Leeds and won her first boxing bout at the age of 13. She was the first female boxer to represent England in an international contest. In 2007 she won the first of a string of international silver medals, so by the time of London 2012 she was ranked No. 2 in the world in her weight category. Nicola was up against the world No. 1 in the Olympic final and, as I said, the result made history. It also made Nicola an overnight hero and several months later topped “The Independent” newspaper’s annual list of the most influential lgbt people in the UK. Along with several other Olympic champions from London 2012, the Queen gave her an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2013.