Thursday 27 April 2017

No Haven at the Castle

Between 1533 and 1861 (except when it was repealed during the brief reign of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor) homosexual acts in England and Wales were punishable by death (by parliament not the Church). Until intensive research into the first century of the Buggery Act 1533 which imposed the death penalty has been carried out we’ll never know for sure how extensive the prosecutions for homosexual acts there really were. Most court records are buried deep in archives.

It is only in exceptionally sensational cases that individuals are identified. There was probably no more sensational a case as that of the crimes of Sir Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven (1593-1631). His case revealed a catalogue of sexual abuse which lingered in the public memory for over 200 years. In the perverse justice system that Parliament created with the Buggery Act created, it was not the rapes and sexual abuses he perpetrated that led to Castlehaven’s execution but the consensual gay acts he had with other man.

Life seemed to be going well for Mervyn when he inherited his title from his father 400 years ago this February. Raised in his English family’s Irish estates and castles he had chosen to live in his ancestral properties in England. He was knighted in 1608 by King James I (or “Queen” James, as he was often referred to). Castlehaven inherited his maternal grandfather’s estates in 1611 (he was named after his grandfather Sir James Mervyn). He then married a coheiress of an extremely wealthy London alderman which brought him more estates. He finally inherited the rest of his Irish estates from his father and a cousin.

Life then began to take a different turn beginning with the death of his wife in around 1622. Castlehaven remarried not long afterwards to Lady Anne, Dowager Baroness Chandos (1580-1647). Virtually from the first day of the marriage Castlehaven exhibited unusually aggressive sexual behaviour.

To say the Castlehaven family was dysfunctional is an understatement. Accusations flew around between father and son, husband and wife, and master and servant. At the centre of it were the activities of the earl himself. First of all, here’s a simple family tree of some of the principal family members involved in the case. This may help to unclutter the jumble of relationships.
The marriage to Lady Anne was not a love-match. It was for money. Anne was 12 years older than Castlehaven and they never got on well. On the night following their wedding Castlehaven persuaded several of his servants to parade in front of her, genitals exposed, and the new countess was expected to praise the man with the biggest.

On several following nights Castelhaven invited a couple of servants, Henry Skipwith and John Antkill, into bed with him and his wife. When he wasn’t spending the night with his wife and his servants he was with prostitutes and serving boys, according to the countess.

John Antkill was of impoverished gentry stock. He became Lord Castlehaven’s page and rose to become manager of some of the estates before being elected to parliament in 1621. He was the first servant whom the countess accused the earl of forcing upon her. Castlehaven tried to convince her, and fail, that it was no sin to sleep with another man he had chosen for her. And if he couldn’t convince her he was equally unsuccessful in convincing her daughter (his step-daughter) Elizabeth Brydges to do so as well.

Elizabeth Brydges had married her step-brother, Castlehaven’s son and heir, when she was 15 years old. This was not unusual in aristocratic circles at this time. Again, it was a dynastic move and not a love-match. Like her mother the countess Elizabeth and her husband didn’t get on well. But she did seem to find some love in the household in the form of Henry Skipwith.

Henry Skipwith was Castlehaven’s favourite servant. They often slept together and “slept” together, and sometimes Skipwith slept between Castlehaven and the countess. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the countess became pregnant by Skipwith. Unhappily, the child “disappeared” and Skipwith blamed the countess of having something to do with it and despised her from then on. That’s when Castlehaven decided to couple Skipwith with his step/daughter-in-law to make his own son jealous. It worked.

Castlehaven’s son and heir James, styled Lord Audley, often argued his father over religion, a hot topic in England in those days when Catholics and Protestant were always at each other. Lord Audley was also jealous of the favours and money he poured on his servants Antkill and Skipwith. Forced into the marriage with his new step-sister while they we both just teenagers was no road to happiness. His only positive hope was his eventual inheritance. His succession to the earldom and titles was legally secure, but succession to the estates and wealth was not. Castlehaven could give them to whoever he wanted. When Skipwith began sleeping with the Audley’s wife (even though the couple were so incompatible that they only lived in the same house for a few months after marrying) Audley began to fear that he would become a penniless peer and Skipwith would inherit his estates. Castlehaven had hinted as much.

Undaunted by the family disputes he was fostering and the sexual liaisons he was orchestrating and forcing, Castlehaven continued with his devious crimes. When not doing so he was happily having consensual sex (apparently) with another servant called Florentius (or Lawrence) Fitzpatrick.

And then Giles Broadway arrived on the scene. He was another poor country lad who became a servant. One night as they lay in bed together Castlehaven claimed he had become too old to satisfy his lusty wife, despite being 12 years younger than she was (he didn’t seem to have a problem satisfying his male servants). He encouraged Broadway to sleep with her, and even suggested he marry her after his death. Broadway agreed. So days later Broadway was invited into Castlehaven’s marital bed and while the earl held his wife’s arms firmly to stop her from struggling Broadway raped her.

In November 1630 James, Lord Audley, had had enough of his father’s abusive behaviour and reported him to the authorities. Castlehaven was arrested and put on trial for sodomy and rape in April 1631. Various family members and servants gave evidence against him, but the outcome was not in doubt. The Buggery Act of 1533, under which he was charged, offered only one punishment if found guilty – death. And, indeed, the earl was beheaded on 14th May.
Skipwith and Broadway were also tried and convicted on the evidence they gave at the earl’s trial and they were both executed in July 1631.

The Castlehaven case became the subject of pamphlets and ballads for several centuries. It would be the sex case everyone mentioned whenever another gay scandal emerged – until the arrest of a certain Oscar Wilde in 1895.

Sunday 23 April 2017

City Pride : The City of St. George

Happy St. George’s Day.

You’ll probably be thinking that I’m going to celebrate by bringing you something typically English, but I’m not. St. George may be the patron saint of England but he’s also the patron saint of many other places as well – he even has a country named after him, Georgia (the US state is named after King George II). I’ll stick to Europe and celebrate the lgbt heritage of a city of which St. George is its patron saint, who appears on the city’s flag, and it’s a city that can hardly be called gay-friendly at the moment and has been at the centre of some violent gay rights campaigns and protests – Moscow.

Below is a very simple map of the city with 10 locations of lgbt heritage. Roads are given in white, rivers and water in blue, parks and open areas in green, the Kremlin complex is in purple and Red Square is in (what else) red.

1) OLYMPIC STADIUM AND PARK – Built for the 1980 summer Olympics this stadium was deprived of seeing the likes of lgbt Olympians Greg Duhaime and Louise Ritter compete in steeplechase and high jump respectively. However, elsewhere in the city Cuba’s Rafael Polinario and Brazil’s Jackie Silva did compete in swimming and volleyball respectively. In 2009 the arena was the venue for the Eurovision Song Contest. The only lgbt performer was Alex Panayi, backing singer for the Greek entry. He had previously represented Cyprus as one half of the duo Voice, and has been backing singer in 4 Eurovision finals, including the winning Greek entry in 2004. In the 2009 Eurovision semi-finals held here the Swedish band The Ark with gay singer Ola Salo, finished 18th.

2) TVERSKAYA YAMSKAYA STREET – Sophia Parnok (1885-1933) was dubbed “the Sappho of Tverskaya Yamskaya street”. She was Russia’s first openly lesbian poet. In 1909 she moved to Moscow but never really settled in one place. She lived at 17 different addresses in Moscow between 1909 and 1932. Tverskaya Yamskaya was her Moscow home for the longest period. Sophia’s lesbian poetry caused problems with the Soviet censors who eventually declared her work as unlawful. Sophia died in a village not far from Moscow.

3) PUSHKIN STREET – One of the most influential lgbt writers in Russia in the second half of the 20th century was Yevgeny Kharitonov (1941-1981). He lived during the time of Soviet suspicion of anything different, and Yevgeny’s openly gay writing was certainly seen as un-Soviet. The KGB were always watching him, and they let him know it. The pressure from this constant persecution may have contributed to the fatal heart attack he had in June 1981 as he was walking down Pushkin Street.

4) MOSCOW TCHAIKOVSKY CONSERVATORY – Many Russian musicians have attended this establishment. One of the people regarded as one of the country’s greatest pianists, Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), studied here from 1937. Despite rumours of his homosexuality circulating during his lifetime he remained a very private and discreet man. He met soprano Nina Dorliak in 1945 and she became his life companion in the public eye. The Moscow Conservatory was named after the most famous of Russia’s lgbt composers, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, in 1940.

5) BOLSHOI THEATRE - This venue has seen the world premiers of several famous productions by lgbt Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” in 1877. Among the gay dancers who have been members of the Bolshoi ballet company is Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), and Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) of Ballet Russes was a guest dancer many times.

6) LUBYANKA BUILDING – Formerly the HQ of the NKVD (in English, the People’s Commisariat for Internal Affairs), and later the KGB. During the period 1936-8 the Head of the NKVD was Nikolai Yezhov (1895-1940). He was personally appointed by the dictator Stalin and immediately began making arrests on fake charges on anyone considered un-Soviet. He was responsible for authorising the arrests and executions of thousands of Russians. In 1938 his new deputy manipulated Yezhov’s downfall and resignation. In 1940 Yezhov was arrested and tortured and “confessed” to incompetence, theft and collaboration with Nazi spies. The only confession he made for which there is evidence is that of being gay. Subsequent Russian biographers follow the now-expected official view that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Russia and dismiss this specific confession. Other biographers (non-Russian) accept it.

7) THE KREMLIN – The palace of the Tsars. Moscow during the 15th to 17th centuries had a highly visible gay culture. Foreign visitors were often shocked and surprised at the openness and tolerance of gay men in their society, from peasants to princes. Vasili III, Grand Prince of Moscow (1479-1533) is a Tsar cited as being homosexual. After 20 years of a childless marriage he denounced his wife as barren and pushed her off into a convent (where she had a son by someone else!). Desperate to provide an heir Vasili remarried but could only have sex with his wife if a handsome, naked soldier was in bed with them. The situation produced a son who later succeeded Vasili as Ivan the Terrible.

8) NOVOPASSKY MONASTERY – From the final decade of the imperial Romanov dynasty one member of the family often regarded as being gay was Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (1857-1905). He was a brother of Tsar Alexander III, who appointed his Governor of Moscow in 1891. Sergei’s time in office was marked by several contradictory events. He supervised the magnificent coronation of Tsar Nikolas II, which also saw the Khodynka tragedy in which 13,000 peasants were killed in a crush for the traditional coronation hand-out of gifts. Sergei’s first major decision in office was to expel all Jews from Moscow, yet he was patron of several welfare charities. Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated by a member of the Soviet-Revolutionary Party just outside the Kremlin. His remains are now buried in the Novopassky Monastery.

9) STATE CHILDREN’S LIBRARY – In July 2013 sic lgbt activists were arrested outside this library a month after Putin’s anti-gay legislation came into force. Leading the protest was activist Aleksey Davydov (1977-2013). He unfurled a banner saying “Being Gay is Normal”. He and the other activists were arrested and detained in a police station. Davydov had previously led a protest in Red Square. Just 2 months later Davydov died of kidney failure caused by an infection.

10) VOROBYONY GORY – This popular, picturesque location was the venue of Moscow Pride 2009, held on the same day as the Eurovision Song Contest (see Olympic Park above). Moscow authorities had banned all Pride events since 2006. Activists have held Pride protests every year in defiance and have often seen violent clashes with the police. The location of the 2009 Moscow Pride was changed at the last minute to this location but police attacked and arrested many who attended.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Xtremely Queer : Climb Every Mountain

When researching my recent article on Alexander von Humboldt I was reminded of the other lgbt mountaineers and climbers I have come across in other researches. Mountaineering is no stranger to my blog as I have written about it before, notably with Cason Crane, the young gay man who completed one of the ultimate Xtreme challenges of climbing the highest mountains on each continent.

Climbing and mountaineering has had its fair share of climbers from the lgbt community. Simon Thompson, writing in his book “Unjustifiable Risk? The Story of British Climbing”, claims that there was a large number of predominantly closeted gay mountaineers in the first part of the 20th century. This may have been true but it will be difficult to judge or prove. However, there have been some high profile lgbt climbers who were active during that period and it them I wish to look at in this 2-part article. I’ll look at 6 lgbt mountaineers who started their climbing careers before World War II. In this first article we’ll look at those who began climbing before 1900.

First on the list is the man I featured last month, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Long before mountaineering had the safety equipment and appropriate gear Humboldt and his fellow scientists were climbing up mountains without such basics as breathing apparatus. His most celebrated climb was up Chimborazo in the Andes, a 21,000 feet high extinct volcano permanently capped with snow. This was like climbing Mount Everest in those days. Indeed, Everest hadn’t been discovered by western climbers at that time and Chimborazo was, to them, the highest mountain in the world. And Humboldt made the dangerous climb in the name of science. He took lots of scientific instruments with him to measure temperature and air pressure, and an instrument to measure the blueness of the sky.

No-one had ever climbed higher. Standing near the peak he surveyed the scene below and around him. From that moment he realised all of nature was connected, and it started his research into the many natural disciplines that alerted him to climate change. The modern world has much to thank for Alexander von Humboldt’s climb up Chimborazo in 1802.

Now, here’s a queer climbing connection you’d never have guessed. It’s someone who made a contribution to the improvement of mountaineering equipment, the “Great Beast” himself, the “Wickedest Man in the World”, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Crowley was a keen climber from an early age. In 1893 he became friends with Oscar Eckenstein (1859-1921), a half-German, half-English mountaineer. Such was their friendship that Crowley dedicated one of his books to Oscar, through there’s no reason to suspect that the Great Beast initiated him into his poly-sexual occult practices. In fact it seems that it was Oscar who initiated Crowley into extreme mountaineering and included Crowley on the expedition to be the first mountaineers to climb K2 in the Himalayas in 1902. The climb was abandoned after sickness hit team members. Another concern was inadequate equipment.

Crowley was to help Oscar to develop new, better, climbing equipment. In particular, Oscar came up with the modern crampon, without which many mountaineers have little grip on the ice sheets. At first the crampon was seen with some suspicion but once they caught on mountaineering was changed forever. Crowley’s main claim to fame may be more a claim to infamy, but he also contributed to the saving of lives.

Oscar Echenstein married but had no children. Perhaps he is one of those hidden homosexuals that Simon Thompson wrote about. Who knows? What we do know is that he knew most of the major British climbers of his life-time, including our next gay mountaineer, Geoffrey Winthrop Young (1876-1958).

Oscar Echenstien contributed to Geoffrey Winthrop Young’s mountaineering manual “Mountain Craft” (1920). They had climbed in north Wales together and in the Alps. Young wrote several other significant books on mountaineering, including an autobiography in which he hints that his motivation for climbing was to overcome his homosexual urges.

Young may well have become a Himalayan mountaineer had an injury received while serving with an ambulance unit during World War I not led to the amputation of one leg. He did, however, continue climbing in the Alps and become President of the Alpine Club.

That’s where we leave it for now. In part 2 which will appear in June I look at 3 more lgbt mountaineers who started climbing in the first part of the 20th century. We’ll return to the Himalayas, go Down Under, and remember a tortured soul.

Sunday 16 April 2017

A Queer Achievement For Easter

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

The reason I’ve chosen to write about Sir Roger Casement (1964-1916) this Easter weekend is because he was such a prominent figure of the 1916 Easter Rising. His trial for treason has gone down as one of the most sensational of the 20th century. What is also particularly appropriate for the present Easter weekend is that his family coat of arms was originally granted on 17th April in 1826 (for the record, Easter Sunday in 1826 was March 26th).

Coats of arms are full of symbolism. They indicate the significant events or ideals that are important to the original grantee. These may be forgotten over the succeeding generations. Take, for instance, the arms of Sir Elton John. We know the symbolism behind his arms, but his adopted children (who add a small symbol to denote adoption) will pass them on to their own descendants who may never know what the symbolism means had it not been for people like myself who wrote it down.

The same can be said of Sir Roger Casement’s arms (above). Very little of the symbolism in his coat of arms applies to his life and career. Yet it gives perfect hints to the life and career of his ancestral cousin who was granted the arms on 17th April 1826. His name was Maj-.Gen. Sir William Casement (1778-1844). So, to explain Sir Roger Casement’s coat of arms we need to look at the life of Sir William.

On look at various elements on the shield we can see a military theme – the lion, the sword, the tower and the battlements. All are common elements for a military man like Sir William. We can also deduce where he saw his military service. The elephants give it away. Sir William served with the 23rd Bengal Native Infantry. He later became Military Secretary to the Governor General of India, and a member of the Supreme Council of India. To represent the latter his crest contains what is called a mural crown, a crown made of masonry, which is a common heraldic symbol of a political or municipal connection.

The motto “Dum spiro spero” translates as “While I breath, I hope”.

As is customary Sir William’s new coat of arms was granted to himself and extended for use by the appropriate male descendants of his paternal grandfather. The star you see on the lion’s chest probably indicates Sir William was not the eldest son, as it is a common mark to indicate a younger son, which he was.

The tiger in the crest is a “red herring”. It wasn’t part of Sir William’s 1826 coat of arms. He had a lion just like the one on the shield. In 1860 Sir William’s cousin, Thomas Casement of County Antrim (the senior heir to the afore-mentioned paternal grandfather), was given a confirmation from the Ulster Office of Arms of Sir William’s arms with several alterations. Perhaps in recognition of William’s military service Thomas chose a Bengal tiger for his crest. One other alteration was the background to the elephants. Sir William divided his background into red on the left half and blue on the right. Thomas adopted a complete red background.

This confirmation of arms was given to Thomas Casement and his branch of the family is the one inherited by Sir Roger Casement. To distinguish his full coat of arms from the other male members of his family who also inherited these arms Sir Roger was entitled to display the badges of his honours below the shield. In 1905 he received the CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George). Behind the shield he would have shown the circlet of the order bearing the order's motto, "Auspicium  Melioris Aevi", which translates as "Token of a Better Age". Honours given in the Order of St. Michael and St. George are specifically awarded for services to British foreign interests or diplomatic relations. Sir Roger received his CMG for services in respect of the report which revealed human rights issues in Belgian Congo. The badge of the order is shown below the shield on the right-hand side.

To its left is the badge of a Knight Bachelor, which Roger received in 1911 for part in revealing the atrocities inflicted on native Peruvian tribes. Also, as a knight, he could show his helmet with the visor open.

We know what happened subsequently. For his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916 Sir Roger Casement was arrested and put on trial for treason. He was found guilty and executed. All of his honours, his knighthood and CMG were annulled as if they had never been given. They would have been removed from his coat of arms.

Even though Sir Roger has never been pardoned and his honours have not been restored posthumously I feel it is right to show the full achievement he would have been entitled to use before his conviction. When his remains were repatriated to Ireland in 1965 he was referred to in the UK government records as “Sir Roger Casement”. To some extent this gives us the authority to restore his honours.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

License To Spy

Ssh! Keep it top secret. Today is Spy Wednesday. This is one of the many vanishing days of the religious calendar. It wasn’t named after the modern secret service but after the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter, specifically the day when Judas Iscariot chose to become a spy for the Pharisees. Very few Christian churches do anything special for Spy Wednesday any more, assuming they know it exists.

However, let’s celebrate Spy Wednesday in our own way and look at one of the most famous spies in fiction and the many queer angles that hide behind an outwardly very macho heterosexual man.

The name of that famous spy is Bond, James Bond. The character’s many female conquests, the masculinity of the actors who have played Bond, and the very heterosexual life of Bond’s creator Ian Fleming hide quite a few lgbt connections.

We’ll start where Bond started, in the novels.

James Bond may never have been created at all if it hadn’t been for a gay South African writer called William Plomer (1903-1973). Plomer’s 1926 novel “Turbott Wolfe” inspired the 18-year-old Ian Fleming to write a fan letter to him. They became friends, and in later years Plomer suggested that Fleming’s career in military intelligence would be a good source of material for thriller novels. In 1952 Fleming had finally written one and gave it to Plomer to read and get his opinion. That modest novel was called “Casino Royale”. Plomer himself was thrilled and fought hard to get his own publishers to publish it. They weren’t keen on thrillers, particularly one by an onknown author, but Plomer’s insistence proved fruitful as this first Bond novel became an instant best seller.

One of the central Bond characters is M, the head of MI6. Just like Bond himself this character is said to have been based on several real people. The man often put forward as the prime influence is the very real head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield (1915-1981). Sir Maurice was anything but Establishment. He was a working-class farmer’s boy from Derbyshire who still went to the local pub even when he reached the top of the secret service ladder. He joined British Intelligence before World War II broke out, and by the age of 31 had received the MBE. His great-nephew, who recently wrote a biography of Sir Maurice, says he would never have come out publicly, it wasn’t his style. He was happy as he was.
The James Bond books became very popular very quickly and went through several editions in the first years of their publication. Most of the first editions had covers by a gay illustrator called Richard Chopping (1917-2008). Starting with “From Russia With Love” (above left) in 1957 Richard provided covers for the first editions of 9 Bond novels, as well as the 1981 first edition of the first post-Fleming novels “License Renewed” by John Gardner (above right). Richard corresponded regularly with Ian Fleming on aspects of his books covers.
Once the books became popular it was natural that they be turned into films. The first of these was “Dr. No” in 1962. I wonder if the film would have become such an international success if Ian Fleming’s own choice of actor to play the eponymous doctor had actually been cast. Fleming wanted his friend, the famous openly gay playwright, songwriter and actor Sir Noël Coward to play the role. Perhaps fortunately Noël replied to his friend’s suggestion with the words “No! No! No!” For me the film will now be remembered as “Dr. No! No! No!” Somehow I can’t picture Sir Noël as a Bond villain, and he may have upstaged the then unknown newcomer Sean Connery to such an extent that Connery would have been forgotten.

Following “Dr. No”s success it was just a short time before it was parodied. You may think that the 1967 film “Casino Royale” was the first James Bond parody, but it wasn’t. Less than a year after “Dr No”s release “Carry On Spying” went into production. With Dr. Crow substituted for Dr. No, and Charles Bind substituted for James Bond (the Bond film producers threatened legal action if the character was named James Bind) “Carry On Spying” was a homage to many film noir and spy films but was centred around a Bond theme, complete with exotic locations (all filmed at Pinewood Studios), a super villain and gadgets.

The campest of gay comedy actors were chosen to play the British spies, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey. The role of Dr. Crow went to Judith Furse, another great character actor who built a career by playing “battleaxes”. Her lesbianism was known within the film industry but not publicly revealed by colleagues until after her death.

“Carry On Spying” was released just after the second Bond film “From Russia With Love”, and the film poster below shows its obvious inspiration.
A myriad of other lgbt actors have appeared in the Bond films. These include Charles Gray as Blofeld, but let’s jump right up to date with the Daniel Craig films and the tech genius Q, played by openly gay actor Ben Whishaw. Whishaw has his own link to espionage and British Intelligence. His grandfather Jean Stellmacher was enlisted to spy for the intelligence service in World War II.

Following “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love” was “Goldfinger” in 1964. The screenplay was co-written by gay writer Paul Dehn (1912-1976). Among his other screenplays was “Murder on the Orient Express”. The next lgbt writer for a Bond film was John Logan (b.1961). He wrote “Skyfall” and “Spectre” for Daniel Craig’s Bond and is currently working on the next. It was Logan who wrote sexually ambiguous dialogue between Bond and the villain.

Perhaps the most recognisable running theme throughout all the Bond films has been the Bond theme tune and title songs. Lionel Bart (1930-1999) is the first lgbt songwriter to contribute to a Bond theme, “From Russia With Love” (again!). The first singer-songwriter to perform a Bond theme was k d lang (b.1961). k d lang? I don't remember that, you might think, but yes, she was invited to write the theme for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Films often have several themes written for them and, unfortunately, k d lang’s song “Surrender” lost out to Sheryl Crow. However, k d lang and “Surrender” feature as the film’s closing theme.

Off the Bond themes, all of them achieving high positions in music charts, none won an Oscar until 2012. The theme song for “Spectre”, “Writing’s On The Wall”, was co-written by the openly gay singer Sam Smith. His acceptance speech at the Oscar ceremony, where he claimed to be the first openly gay Oscar winner, goes down as one of the most embarrassing moments in his career.

There are many other lgbt connections in the James Bond universe, both on screen and behind it, which would keep us here all day. For now I hope I’ve shown that James Bond, despite being a macho heterosexual legend, has some very gay contributors behind him.

[Expanded 24 May 2017. Revised 27 March 2018. More connections will appear in late 2018 as part of my "Around the World in Another 80 Gays" series in which I connect Bond to the election of the King of Poland and the 1984 Olympic Games opening ceremony]

Sunday 9 April 2017

Campaigning Out Of His Tree : Harry Hay

One of the pioneers of the gay rights movement in the USA was Harry Hay (1912-2002). In 1950 he co-founded the Mattachine Society, one of America’s first gay rights groups. He actually suggested the unusual name of the group himself after studying music history and came across a form of medieval French entertainment called “sermon joyeux”, a satirical and often bawdy version of the Christian mystery plays. Harry equated the performers of these plays, whose identities were usually disguised and hidden, to the secret lives of gay Americans. One of the groups who performed sermon joyeux was called the Mattachine.

The medieval sermon joyeux performers were campaigners. They were criticising the Catholic Church by parodying and making fun of the aspects of faith they believed were either irrelevant or oppressive. As such the Catholic Church authorities tried to ban them. It is obvious why Harry Hay adopted the name for his own campaigning organisation.

Campaigning wasn’t in Harry Hay’s immediate ancestry. He had started as a budding actor, hence his interest in historic performers like the Mattachine. But he could easily have become a mining engineer like his father and maternal grandfather. Henry Hay (1870-1938), Harry’s father, was an engineer for Cecil Rhodes’ diamond mining company in South Africa where he married the daughter of an American gold mining engineer. Both of Harry’s parents were of Scottish ancestry.

The father of Harry’s maternal grandmother was Maj.-Gen. James Allen Hardie (1823-1876). In the same class as Hardie at the military academy was someone who became a trusted friend, the future US President Ulysses S. Grant. Hardie served in the American Civil War as acting adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac in the Union Army. Central to that war was the question of black slaves. Hardie wrote that while he condemned slavery on moral grounds he admitted its legality. However, he fought for the Union cause and got to know another president, Abraham Lincoln, on first-name terms. Like all Americans he fought for the rights of immigrant slaves - but not for the Native American tribes.

Maj.-Gen. Hardie’s grandfather was an immigrant from Aberdeen, Scotland. He settled in New York and in 1789 married Ellen Bogardus. Ellen’s ancestors are among the most important and influential Dutch colonial families. She traces her family back to Everardus Bogardus (1607-1647), a Dutch pastor in south Manhattan who was the second husband of Anneke Jans (1605-1663).

Norwegian-born Anneke arrived in the New Netherlands colony, as it was then, went from a poor and illiterate teenage immigrant to become twice widowed and owner of 62 acres of land in Manhattan. That land, fought over by generations of her descendants for 200 years, is now worth billions of dollars.

Anneke Jans and Everardus Bogardus were the parents of Cornelis Bogardus (1640-c.1666), Harry Hay’s direct ancestor. Cornelis married another influential colonial ancestor, one of four sisters whose significance in the family trees of so many millions of Americans was only proved in 2013.

These four sisters were the daughters of Rev. James Duncanson, the Presbyterian minister of Alloa, Scotland, and Helen Livingston. A renowned American genealogist proved in 2013 that Helen was a direct descendant of King Robert III Stewart of the Scots (d.1406). So, though the Bogardus family Harry Hay has royal blood.

If we jump back to Maj.-Gen. James Hardie and look at his wife’s ancestry we find more Dutch colonial ancestry. Hardie’s wife Margaret was a grand-daughter of Johannes Cornelius Cuyler (1766-1828). He, in turn, was a great-grandson of Hendrick van Rennselaer (1667-1740).

We meet Anneke Jans again here, because Hendrick married on of Anneke’s grand-daughters by her Norwegian first husband. The Rennselaer family were among the leading figures of the Dutch West India Company which they co-founded. Most of the family became civic leaders and married into other influential Dutch colonial families. This brought them into direct contact with the above-mentioned Duncanson sisters who married into the very same families. The name Rennselaer still appears around New York state, such is the importance of this family in its history.

There are other non-Dutch colonists in Harry Hay’s ancestry. Most significant of these are the Cocks, Townsend and Coles families of Oyster Bay, Long Island, all emigrating from England in the mid 1600s.

Harry Hay’s ancestry illustrates once again the wide variety of nationalities many thousands of white Americans possess in their ancestries. Many colonists escaped their home countries because of political or religious persecution and hoped the New World would be a paradise where all persecution would vanish and they could live in the “land of the free”, a myth that Americans still believe. Unfortunately, centuries later, as Harry Hay was to campaign against, discrimination and persecution is still with us.

Thursday 6 April 2017

Plaid at the Palace

Well, it’s Tartan Day in America again and I’m celebrating British tartan by looking at three men from the lgbt community who have proudly sported tartan as they received honours from the Queen. All three have worn plaid in public on many other occasions and can be called Champions of Tartan.

From left to right these champions are Alexander McQueen CBE, Alan Cumming OBE and John Barrowman MBE, all pictured below in the Buckingham Palace courtyard after receiving their honours.
First we have Alexander McQueen (1970-2010) who was made a CBE – Companion of the Order of the British Empire (one step below a knighthood) in 2003 for services to the fashion industry. With a name like McQueen you’d expect a fashion designer to make use of the family tartan and Alexander did so prominently.

The McQueen tartan tartan is a striking red design. It can easily be confused with the more famous Royal Stewart tartan worn in the above photo by John Barrowman. In fact, like a lot of things we often perceive to have been around for centuries the tartan is quite modern. A lot of the co-called “ancient” clan tartans, like the read McQueen tartan, actually originated in a book published in 1842 called “Vestiarius Scoticum”. While claiming to reproduce clan tartans found in a manuscript dated 1577 it was later proved to be pure fiction. However, the tartan designs, including the Royal Stewart, were actually adopted by the families the book claimed were theirs! Since the publication of “Vestiarius Scoticum” clan tartans have become a vibrant and living part of Scottish heritage, not to mention fashion. Which brings me back to Alexander McQueen.

McQueen used tartan in many of his collections, not only his own but others. I’ll concentrate on his use of the McQueen tartan today. Alexander was proud of his Scottish heritage and used it as inspiration in his designs. In his autumn 1995 collection called “Highland Rape”, named in reference to the forced eviction of Highland families in the Clearances of the 19th century, Alexander created 19th-century-style bodice shapes and silhouettes in which the McQueen tartan was often the only colour fabric, with its vivid red signifying the bloodshed of the displaced Scots peasantry.

Alexander returned to history again in his autumn 2006 collection called “Widows of Culloden”. The famous Battle of Culloden in 1746 was one of the last doomed attempts of the Jacobites to regain the throne of Great Britain. Alexander’s designs in this collection were more military in essence. Again the clan tartan was dominant in many designs.

In the latter part of his illustrious career Alexander McQueen was seen at fashion shows, parties and galas wearing his own designed highland dress as seen at his Buckingham Palace investiture.

Alan Cumming was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 2009 for “services to film, theatre and the arts and to activism for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community”. At the investiture he wore a full outfit in the Cumming Hunting Weathered tartan.

This might be the right moment to explain some of the terms, such as “hunting” and “weathered” which you might see in tartan names. A hunting tartan is just what it sounds like. It’s a tartan you might go hunting in. The difference between a hunting tartan and a regular tartan is that the colours are tinted towards more brown and green colours, or colours you find in the forest. The tartan stripes and basic pattern remains the same and recognisable as the clan tartan. A weathered tartan is also the same pattern but the colours are more muted as if the tartan has been out in all weathers and has faded. A hunting weathered tartan combines the two.

As with most weathered tartans the Cumming Hunting Weathered design is much more visually appropriate as a complete kilted suit than the standard Cumming tartan, as the suit Alan is wearing shows. Imagine the assault on the eyes is Alexander McQueen had worn a full kilted suit in his own tartan.

Alan Cumming’s frequent wearing of tartan led to his being invited to become Grand marshal of the Tartan Day Parade in New York city in 2009. North America makes more of Tartan Day than the British (except the Scots of course). The annual parade through New York has been taking place since 1999 and, like all themed parades, is jam-packed with tartan of all shades. Other Grand Marshal over the years have included Sean Connery and three Presiding Officers (Speakers) of the Scottish Parliament.

Finally we come to John Barrowman, MBE (Member of Order of the British Empire). He was awarded the honour in 2014 in recognition for his contributions to light entertainment and charity. He, too, has taken to wearing tartan in a big way. The tartan he is wearing in the photo taken after his investiture is the Royal Stewart. Technically, and historically, only members of the royal family are allowed to wear this tartan, though recent decades have seen a more relaxed attitude to who wears which tartan.

It has been difficult to discover which tartan belongs to the Barrowman family, so I’ll just write about the ones John actually wears. In an interview he has said he owns four kilts in different tartans. One striking blue-based tartan suit belongs to his mother’s clan, the Andersons. John Barrowman has been photographed wearing this suit several times (below right) and illustrates my opinion that a full tartan suit is such a striking tartan has a huge visual impact.

One final tartan suit worn by John Barrowman is one which was seen by millions of people in 2014 at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (below left). This was a tartan designed specially for the opening ceremony. Next year on Tartan Day we’ll look at other special tartans worn by lgbt athletes at the Commonwealth Games to celebrate the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games of 2018.
The reason why I chose these particular men today is because of their common membership of the Order of the British Empire. This chivalric order celebrates its centenary in June when I’ll be writing about some of the many lgbt recipients of this popular award.

Monday 3 April 2017

Before Milk There Was Michigan

When quizzes are held for LGBT History Month or other celebrations one of the most frequent questions asked is “Who was the first openly lgbt elected to public office in the USA?” Most people would probably reply “Harvey Milk”, and they’d be wrong.

The first known openly lgbt person elected to public office in the USA did so on 2nd April 1974, three years before Harvey Milk was elected. Her name was Kathy Kozachenko and she was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council in Michigan.

Even then, Kathy was not the first openly lgbt elected representative in office because serving on Ann Arbor council before her were two other openly lgbt councillors who had come out in office in 1972, Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck. They had both won seats in the election on this very day in 1972. It seems appropriate considering all three were elected to the same council this week in 1972 and 1974 that we look at them together and the background to their pioneering status in lgbt heritage.

Michigan might not strike you as a pioneering state in gay rights but in the early 1970s it provided several “firsts” which preceded any rights achieved by California or New York, states with large, open lgbt communities.

Several factors led to these “firsts”. In 1971 the national voting age was brought down from 21 to 18. This enabled many hundreds of thousands of students to vote. At the time there was also a very active student activist movement taking place across the USA. The student protests against American participation in the Vietnam War and the growing lgbt rights campaigns that emerged after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 played their part in giving students more political muscle.

Several left-wing and radical political groups in Michigan combined with the Human Rights Party (the HRP, founded in 1970). Their aims were to call for an end to selective military service and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the withdrawal of all US military from foreign soil, the closure of all state prisons, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and prostitution, and the provision of health care based on ability to pay. These aims appealed to many students and disillusioned voters. The HRP used a populist, youthful approach to publicity by using rock concerts and by spreading the word through underground media.

A hint at what was to come occurred in the municipal council of East Lansing, also in Michigan. On 7th March 1972 they had voted to ban all discrimination against applicants for council jobs on the grounds of the “race, colour, creed, national origin, sex or homosexuality”. This was the first anti-discrimination act in the USA that specifically referred to homosexuality.

Just four weeks later on 3rd April 1972 the Ann Arbor elections took place. The HRP put forward candidates for all of the 5 wards on Ann Arbor city council – Jerry DeGrieck (1st ward), Nancy Wechsler (2nd ward), Genie Plamondon (3rd ward), David Black (4th ward) and Nancy Romer Burghardt (5th ward). The 2nd ward was a predominantly student ward, being the home of the University of Michigan and the HRP were confident of good support there. East Lansing also had a large student voting base being the home of Michigan’s other university, the Michigan State University.
The Ann Arbor election did indeed see victory for Nancy Wechsler in the 2nd ward. Also elected was Jerry DeGrieck in the 1st ward. With no party having an overall majority they held the balance of power. At that time neither had come to terms with their sexuality and it was serving on the council which was a catalyst for their coming out.

Just four months after being elected Jerry and Nancy helped Ann Arbor to pass an ordinance giving sexual preference a protected status within the whole community, not just within the council. This was the first city in the USA to do so. Despite this Jerry and Nancy found there was some resistance to actually enforce the ordnance. Following a homophobic incident at a local restaurant they decided to come out publicly together, thus becoming the first elected public officers to do so in the USA.

Jerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler laid the foundations for the HRP’s decision to persuade one of their candidates in the 1974 Ann Arbor election, Kathy Kozachenko, to campaign as an openly lesbian candidate.

Jerry and Nancy did not stand for re-election so Kathy would be the sole lgbt candidate. The HRP was also conscious that the Democrat group on the city council was moving closer to their own policies, and with the HRP itself starting to diminish as student members left the university and move away the decision to field an openly lesbian candidate was a deliberate appeal to the still large student community to keep an lgbt presence on the council.

The election took place on 2nd April 1974. Kathy was standing for the 2nd ward seat that was to be vacated by Nancy Wechsler. In her speech on election night Kathy proclaimed that she was the first openly gay person in the USA to run for elected public office.

The following day the Michigan Daily newspaper ran a banner headline heralding Kathy’s success in the election. History had been made.

Here in 2017 we still live in an age in which much of lgbt history is hidden, even by parts the lgbt community itself. Larger, more vocal, lgbt communities such as those in San Francisco and New York have proclaimed their own historic places in our heritage, but in the process have drowned out the voices that came before them. On this 45th anniversary of the election of Jerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler we should look deeper into the facts we assume are right to discover the extraordinary stories that have been forgotten.

Sunday 2 April 2017

Tribute to Gilbert Baker

It is with a very sad heart that I add my tribute to the many others that have been made following the announcement of the death of Gilbert Baker (pictured above)  last Thursday night at the age of 65. His may not be a name which is immediately recognisable but he has he has left a legacy to the world that surpasses that of any other lgbt campaigner.

Gilbert was at the very heart of the gay rights movements in the 1970s and I wrote about the history of the Rainbow Pride flag which he created here.

It cannot be stated often enough that in creating the original rainbow flag Gilbert Baker is responsible for the producing the ONLY international flag used by one community in EVERY SINGLE NATION ON EARTH. There is no country on Earth that has not recognised its symbolism. In a very few nations it is even recognised by law. There has also no country where it has not been waved. Think about this for a second. Think of the city, town, village or place where you live. What other community group has adopted a flag that is also used by the same group on the opposite side of the globe. From the North Pole to the South Pole, and all around the Equator to the top of Mount Everest the rainbow flag has been produced as a symbol of the solidarity and determination of the lgbt community to be treated without prejudice and anger.

Gilbert’s flag has made it into the records books several times. At the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1994 and at the 25th anniversary of the rainbow flag itself in Florida it became the longest flag in the world.

The colours and stripes have inspired hundreds of thousands of other flags as well as logos and designs for everything from Pride events to underwear, and from charity organisations to dog toys.

The rainbow has become synonymous with the lgbt community. Before that there was only the Pink Triangle that was a legacy of the Nazi persecution. What Gilbert Baker gave to the world is a symbol of joy, pride and promise.

Thank you Gilbert Baker for giving my community a unifying identity. Below are some photos of the flag from the last 39 years.

Gilbert Baker unfurling the very first Rainbow Pride flag
on 25th June 1978.
The first official appearance of the flag outside
San Francisco at the March on Washington for
Gay Rights on 14th October 1979

The longest flag in the world - 15th June 2003
Near the summit of Mount Everest - Cason Crane with the flag
he took to the top of the world on 20th May 2013.
One of the many occasion the Rainbow Pride flag has been
flown from Nottingham Council House (not always
upside down as it was on this occasion).