Sunday 25 February 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 9) World of Leather

Previously: 12) Alex Myers (b.1978) was a pionering transgender student at Harvard where a professorship in lgbt studies named after 13) F. O. Matthiessen (1902-1950) was held by 14) Gayle Rubin (b.1949).

14) Gayle Rubin became the second F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality in 2013. In making the appointment Harvard acknowledged her role as a pioneer in the study of sexuality and feminism as well as in the origins of the leather community in the USA. At the time of her appointment Gayle was (and still is) Associate Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In 2015 I wrote this article about Gayle Rubin’s role in the formation of leather and sadomasochist (s/m) groups in San Francisco. In that article I didn’t really have adequate space to describe the vehement antagonism those pioneers of lesbian s/m received during that period. Gayle Rubin was one of the people specifically targeted by the Women Against Pornography (WAP) in what has been called the Feminist Sex Wars.

The growth of the feminist movement in the US in the 1970s brought out into the open the diversity of female sexual activity. From its origins as an equal rights movement one section of the feminist movement fought against what they considered as degrading and demeaning treatment of women by men in the field of entertainment. The porn industry was an obvious target for them to aim at, and they took no notice of those women inside the porn industry who opposed them.

In tandem with the anti-porn campaign was the anti-s/m campaign. As mentioned in that previous article there was a growing female s/m community in America in the 1970s who were beginning to find their united voice. Gayle Rubin and her Samois s/m group were at the forefront of the challenge to the WAP.

In 1982 Gayle also spoke at a pivotal meeting which is often credited as heralding the official start of the Feminist Sex Wars. Gayle was one of the organisers of the Conference on Sexuality held at Barnard College. As you can imagine the conference was picketed by the WAP and it began as serious debate on female sexuality and sexual practices.

Gayle’s research and involvement in the s/m leather community was integral to her contribution to the Feminist Sex Wars. Her involvement included being a co-founder of the first nation-wide female leather contest in 1987, the International Ms Leather Contest (IMsL). The first winner of that contest was also a feminist activist. Her name is 15) Judy Tallwing McCarthy (b.1945).

Judy Tallwing Mccarthy has been part of the leather community since 1959 when she was rescued off the streets by a Leather Master. From then on this free-spirited native American became a pioneer, co-founding in 1982 the first lesbian s/m group in Portland, Oregon, with her partner 16) Sashie Hyatt (d.1989). The group was called Portland Power and Trust. Judy and Sashie were leading figures in the Portland leather community, and it is something of a testament to their influence that the first three winners of the International Ms Leather contests were all members of Portland Power and Trust – Judy herself, Shan Carr in 1988, and Suzie Shepherd in 1989. It was Suzie Shepherd who took the newly-designed Leather Pride flag out into the wider leather community.

Upon winning the first IMsL contest Judy Tallwing McCarthy became a flag bearer herself for the community. From its humble origins as a one-off fundraiser the contest quickly became an all-year-round commitment for its winner and organisers. Judy already had the right credentials as an organiser with Portland Power and Trust to be able to begin a fundraising and awareness tour of the USA. This immediately raised the question of a travel fund, for there was no budget left from the first contest to support one. Sashie Hyatt campaigned hard for an adequate travel fund, and in 1988 one was established and named in her honour.

By this time, however, Sashie had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she lost her battle with the disease in March 1989. Another fund was created in her memory by her partner Judy for the support of people with life-threatening diseases.

Sashie’s activism went beyond Portland and the leather community. She was present at the Stonewall Riots in New York on 28th June 1978. Her presence was immortalised in print in a comic book series based on the television series “Quantum Leap”. Issue 9 in February 1993 was called “Up Against a Stonewall” and was dedicated to Sashie. It was written by a friend from Portland called 17) Andy Mangels (b. 1966).
In the next 80 Gays article : No Molly-coddling – in which comic books and Victorian gay porn lead us to “Muscle Molls”.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 8) A Study in Queerness

Previously : 9) Hugh Walpole’s (1717-1797) gothic mansion was inherited by 10) Anne Seymour Damer (1749-1828) who campaigned in the 1784 General Election wearing the blue and buff colours of the Whig Party, which were adopted for the uniforms of the American Revolutionary army as worn by 11) Deborah Sampson (1760-1827), the first female American soldier, whose life was novelised by her descendant 12) Alex Myers (b.1978).

When 12) Alex Myers was growing up in New England he often heard stories of his family heritage. One story told every year when the family visited his maternal grandmother on their annual “pilgrimage” to see re-enactments of the Battle of Lexington was that of 11) Deborah Sampson. It became something of a family tradition.

Even though some of the details may have been elaborated over the years Alex’s grandmother gave him a life-long interest in his ancestor. Even at school Alex couldn’t understand why Deborah’s story wasn’t better known. It is now, nearly 30 years later, when such gender-variant stories are coming out of the history books and into general public awareness. Alex Myers himself played a part in this awareness with the media publicity which went with his novelised version of Deborah Sampson’s life in his 2004 book “Revolutionary”.

The story of his ancestor resonates with Alex’s own life. He too is a pioneer. He describes his childhood as a typical rural New England childhood, climbing trees, wearing jeans and playing with the boys of the neighbourhood. A typical childhood for a boy, but Alex wasn’t a boy. He was born female and was called Alice.

Growing into a teenager Alex realised that he should be a boy, and when he went back to his school, the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, after the summer break he had decided on his future life and became the first transgender student in his school’s history.

Alex later returned to Phillips Exeter as a teacher after he had transitioned, graduated from Harvard, and got married to the girl he first met as a 17-year-old who had just come out as transgender.

At Harvard Alex was again a pioneer, the first openly transgender student in its history. He was immediately welcomed. In an interview last year he said “They looked through their housing and asked ‘what’s appropriate housing for a transgender student? Where will they feel safe?’”

Harvard University now has a thriving lgbt association, the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus, founded in 1984. Since Alex’s time there Harvard has seen another transgender pioneer. In 2015 Harvard student Schuyler Bailar became the first transgender swimmer to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus became a pioneering organisation itself in 2009 when they raised $1.5 million to create the USA’s first endowed professorship in lgbt studies. Other US universities had programmes and courses in lgbt studies from 1986 but none funded specifically for the purpose. The process of creating this professorship began in 2003 when Harvard’s Women’s Studies became Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Members of the Caucus began to campaign for the lgbt professorship.

In 2009 the campaign successfully reached its fundraising target. It enabled Harvard to invite an eminent academic in any aspect of lgbt, gender or sexuality studies to teach at the university for a year. The academic would have the title the F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality.

Who was 13) F. O. Matthiessen (1902-1950)? He was an eminent American literary critic who, like 4) Count Albrecht von Bernsdorff, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Matthiessen’s connection to Harvard began in 1926 after returning from the UK. He earned a PhD in 1927 and then went to Yale for two years before returning to Harvard as a literature professor.

Matthiessen specialised in American literature from the mid-19th century. This was a time when some of the great American authors were writing their best works. Authors such as Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman were studied by Matthiessen, leading him to describe the period as the “American Renaissance”, a term which has now become universally recognised.

During Matthiessen’s time at Harvard he was in a relationship with a painter called Russell Cheney. They lived together for over 20 years and their relationship was an open secret. Cheney died in 1945 and Matthiessen bore the grief for as long as he could. Five year later he would fall to his death from the 12th floor of a hotel in an apparent suicide. Matthiessen’s previous mental health problems may also have contributed, including a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1938.

It was for both his academic record and his sexuality that Harvard named the lgbt professorship after him. The first appointment was made in 2012 to Dr. Henry Abelove, a member of the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus. It is the second appointment that will lead us to the leather and sado-masochist community.

In 2013 the second F. O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship went to a woman who was a pioneer in the study of the American leather s/m community and women’s sexuality. She was also a co-founder of the International Ms Leather contest. Her name is 14) Dr. Gayle Rubin (b.1949).

Next time : The World of Leather, in which we take a journey from Harvard via Stonewall to the world of comic books.

Saturday 17 February 2018

The Boy From Bratislava

In my previous article on lgbt Winter Olympic statistics I mentioned the youngest ever lgbt Olympian, Ondrej Nepela (1951-1989) who competed at the 1964 Innsbruck games the week after his 13th birthday. With the current Olympics still in progress I thought it would be good to look closer at Ondrej, a record-breaker in several other ways, not least being the only lgbt figure skater after whom an international championship is named.

Let’s start with his life story. There’s no way I can produce a better biographical portrait than the one written by Ryan Stevens of Skate Guard. His blog is the best place to go for the historical aspect of figure skating. His article “The Boy From Bratislava: The Ondrej Nepela Story”, whose title I've borrowed for today, is here.

The legacy Ondrej left behind is not as prominent as I believe it should be, especially within the lgbt community who are more interested in what the community does today rather than what the community achieved in the past.

The main legacy Ondrej left is his achievement as a record holder, not only as an lgbt skater but as a Czech national sporting hero. He inspired his nation and probably many later Czech and Slovak athletes. In 1986 he began coaching the West German skater Claudia Leistner. Claudia was the German ladies singles figure skating champion and had competed at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics finishing 9th. Ondrej only coached her for a short time before illness prevented him from continuing. His legacy in that respect is smaller than the likes of Brian Orser, who continues to coach Olympic champions.

So, how good was Ondrej Nepela compared to the other Olympic male singles figure skating champions? Up to 1st February 2018 there have been 20 of them. For the purpose of this comparison I’ve divided them into two groups. The first group consists of all champions with Olympic, World and national medals. The second group consists of all the Olympic champions and their European Championship performances.

Here’s the comparison table for the first group, listed in chronological order.
We can see that very few skaters have been Olympic champion more than once, and that Ondrej Nepela ranks equal 4th with 16 others. Taking silver and bronze medals into the count Ondrej moves down to equal 6th. These positions could possibly change after the completion of the 2018 men’s singles final which is taking place as I write.

If we add the World Championship and Olympic gold medals together Ondrej is in equal 7th place with one of the most famous skaters of more recent years, Evgeni Plushenko. Each have accumulated 4 gold medals. Adding further titles won at national championships Ondrej rises to 5th place with an accumulated 12 gold medals. Taking all gold, silver and bronze medals together Ondrej rises yet again in the medal table to 3rd place, though 6th place Dick Button won more golds.

Including the 20 Olympic champions there have also been a total of 45 skaters who have become World Champion. Ondrej’s 3 World titles put him a little lower in the rankings at equal 9th place with several others, including, again, Evgeni Plushenko.

From this we see that Ondrej Nepela was always in the top ten most successful figure skaters of all time, achieving greater success than the likes of John Curry, Scott Hamilton and Evan Lysacek. But there’s the added element of the European titles which we haven’t yet included. This is where the comparison between the skaters is slightly misleading, because several Olympic champions didn’t qualify for the European Championships. Here’s the Olympic and European comparison table, listed in order of European titles.
Again, of the Olympic champions Ondrej Nepela appears 4th on the European table. But how does he fare compared to the complete list of men’s singles figure skating European champions, including the non-Olympians? Including 2017 there have been 45 European champions. Ondrej was champion 5 times, the first time at the age of 18. He shares equal 5th position with the Frenchman Alain Giletti. The current reigning European champion, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, has won it 6 times.

No matter how you compare the figures Ondrej Nepela always appears up with the most famous and successful skaters in history. So why is he often forgotten by the general public? He is by no means the only skater who disappeared into the history books. Perhaps it was his nationality and the years during which he competed that could have been factors.

The old Communist and Soviet countries of eastern Europe were not keen on letting their athletes claim all their glory. They competed for the honour of their nation. As soon as former Communist state Slovakia achieved independence in 1992 it wasted no time in setting up a brand new international figure skating championship called the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, now called the Ondrej Nepela Trophy. This is a testament to the level of esteem Ondrej had in that country long after his death. In fact, at the end of the last millennium when many nations were voting on who were their greatest national heroes of the 20th century, Ondrej Nepela topped the Greatest Slovak Athlete list. Slovakia was ready to recognise its sporting heroes and so was the rest of the old Soviet empire. Athletes could compete for their own honour, and not for that of their government. Except, apparently, Russia. The recent state-controlled doping of its athletes is a direct result of the old Soviet machine.

The Ondrej Nepela Trophy has been held every year since 1993 in his home town of Bratislava (except for one year when it was held elsewhere). At first the event mainly attracted Czech and Slovak skaters, but as the years have progressed more nations have competed and the Trophy has grown into one of the most prestigious international titles. Among its skaters are my local ice dancers Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland who trained here in Nottingham before moving to Michigan. They have been national GB champions and are Team GB’s only figure skaters in PyeongChang. Several Ondrej Nepela Trophy champions are also competing in PyeongChang.

With the Ondrej Nepela Trophy, the Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava, and many commemorative items that have honoured his achievements the legacy of the lgbt community’s most successful figure skater and its youngest Olympic competitor will surely last for a few year to come.

As a treat, here is a rare video of Ondrej Nepela at the age of 12. It’s in Czech, so I can’t tell you what they’re saying, but just think that within a few months of this being filmed Ondrej would be competing at the Olympic Games.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 7) Blue and Buff on Parade

Previously: 8) Montagu Summers (1880-1948) was a historian of gothic novels, the first of which was written by 9) Horace Walpole (1717-1797) who left his gothic mansion to his former ward 10) Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1795).

Like Horace Walpole 10) Anne Seymour Damer was a member of the British aristocracy. Her father was a member of the influential Seymour family and her mother was one of the equally influential Scottish Bruces. Through her aristocratic connections she was able to meet both Lord Nelson and Napoleon (not at the same time).

During her parents’ frequent trips abroad in her childhood Anne was put under the guardianship of 9) Horace Walpole, who encouraged her interest in becoming a sculptor. She was trained by several leading sculptors. Her personal and family connections meant that she had no shortage of models for her work, which included King George III.

In 1767 Anne married Hon. John Damer. The marriage wasn’t a particularly happy one. They had no children and were divorced after seven years. After John committed suicide in 1776 leaving considerable debts Anne turned to her sculpting to supplement her income. Throughout her marriage Anne took to wearing men’s clothing and showed great affection towards women. Her behaviour produced criticism, and an anonymous pamphlet was published in about 1770 entitled “A Sapphist Epistle from Jack Cavendish to the Honourable and Most Beautiful Mrs. D.” “Sapphist” is a reference to the poet Sappho (featured in my original “80 Gays” series}. In 1789 Horace Walpole introduced Anne to Mary Berry, a famous author. The two women lived together later in their lives.

Anne Seymour Damer was also a well-known figure during the 1784 General Election, but not for her sculpture. The election was fought between the Tory Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (probably gay) and Whig Party leader Charles James Fox. Anne campaigned for Fox. Campaigning in the 18th century included anything from bribery (with money or beer) to something more “personal”. Anne, with several other renowned aristocratic “beauties”, canvassed Fox’s constituency offering to shake hands with voters. Some voters, and this was long before women were allowed to vote, wanted more than a handshake. Soon they asking for a kiss from the “beauties”, which Anne and the “beauties” gave. It is said that this was the reason Fox regained his seat in parliament, but Pitt was re-elected as Prime Minister.

Just like modern campaigns 18th century political parties had their own colours. During their campaigning Anne Seymour Damer and the “beauties” wore blue and buff, the Whig Party colours. Because the Whigs supported American independence the Revolutionary army adopted blue and buff for their uniforms. Many revolutionary leaders had their portraits painted wearing this uniform, including George Washington. The colours were later adopted in flag of some US states, most noticeably in that of Delaware.
Another person who wore blue and buff uniform is prominently featured on the flag of Plympton, Massachusetts.

In 1783 a soldier wearing the blue and buff uniform was treated for a fever. The doctor found out this soldier had a secret. This soldier was a woman, 11) Deborah Sampson (1760-1827). The doctor kept her secret while she recovered and then she returned to her regiment. Still living as a male Deborah received an honourable discharge when her regiment was disbanded.

Deborah was born in Plympton, Massachusetts, hence her inclusion on the town’s new flag in 2003. After her father died when she was 5 years old Deborah became a farm servant, growing up doing both women’s and men’s work on the farm. She then became a school teacher.

In 1781 Deborah decided to enlist in the Revolutionary army. Disguising herself as a man she joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment and fought in several battles as Private Robert Shurtliff. In her first battle she was hit by two musket balls in her thigh. She begged her comrades to leave her to die but they took her to hospital. Deborah was also treated for a head wound but she left the hospital before the musket balls could be removed so that her gender would not be revealed. With her penknife she removed one of the balls herself. The other was too deep inside the thigh to reach.

There’s no conclusive evidence to indicate Deborah’s sexuality. I follow the thoughts of two modern historians. Both suggest that there was some element of queerness. Both refer to an autobiography of Deborah which she co-wrote with Herman Mann and published in 1797. This is now regarded as a highly elaborated account of her life.

Among the events described in the book are several romantic episodes Deborah had with women whilst living as a male soldier. Deborah may have exaggerated these romances but one of the modern historians, Keith Stern, believes that she showed undisguised attraction towards women who wanted to be with her. Whether any of these relationships was sexual we’ll never know. As far as can be determined she was only ever in one relationship with a man. After she left the army Deborah married Benjamin Gannett and had three children.

There can be no greater proof of a person’s legacy than to be represented on a flag, but even more so to have a law named after you nearly 200 years after you have died. In 2017 US Congress introduced a bill called the Deborah Sampson Act. If passed it will create a pilot programme of support for female US veterans who suffer from financial or health problems. Deborah herself campaigned hard for the right to claim her own army pension which was withdrawn after it was revealed she was a woman.

The second modern historian is also cautious to put a definitive label on Deborah Sampson’s sexuality. He agrees with Stern that she found the attention of women pleasing, if only to be happy to pass so convincingly as a man. This second historian wrote a novel based on Deborah’s life. She was a character he had first heard about as a child and wanted his novel to be as historically accurate as possible. After all, he has a personal connection to the pioneering first female American soldier because he was a pioneer himself – he was the first openly transgender student at Harvard University. But more than that, Deborah Sampson was one of his ancestors. His name is 12) Alex Myers (b.1978).

Next time: The Study of Queerness, in which Harvard University leads us to the World of Leather.

Friday 9 February 2018

The Winter Games Begin

With the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games only hours away this is the best time to present the latest update of my lgbt Olympian list. I have now identified over 300 lgbt Olympians, as well as over 100 additional names who took part in Olympic qualification tournaments and trials. The full list of Olympians will appear after the games have finished to include all the 2018 results.

Today I present the Winter Olympian list. Being shorter than the Summer list means that I can also list the lgbt athletes who competed in the trials. Research is always on-going and by no means does this list contain all the names of athletes who competed.

Perhaps I should give some information on the Olympic trials and qualification events. These can be divided into several groups. I gave a brief explanation of trials and qualifiers in 2016 but I’ll just say a little more about them today.

First are the Olympic qualification tournaments. These are often annual championships in which athletes compete to qualify their nation for the Olympics. Some team sports have a limited number of nations that can compete in the Olympics. Otherwise we could be waiting for years while 200+ nations compete in, for example, the Olympic soccer tournament. Tournaments like the World Cup and continental tournaments have regularly served as qualifiers, the top two or three teams going on to the Olympics. Several specific Olympic qualifying tournaments have also been organised for some sports.

Second, there are the athlete’s qualification trials. On the whole these consist of national championships, such as the US National Figure Skating Championships. Often a previous Olympic qualifying tournament is held to determine the maximum number of athletes one nation can send. The national championships determine which of the top national skaters will be selected for the Olympic team.

National championships in something like figure skating have several categories, usually called Novice, Junior, and Senior. It is usual for athletes from only the Senior category to be selected for national Olympic teams, though it’s not out of the question for a Junior athlete to be considered. Ondrej Nepela was only 12 years old when he was selected for the Czech figure skating team, and only just 13 when he competed at his first Olympics in 1964. And let’s not forget Tom Daley, who was a Junior category diver when selected for Beijing in 2008 even when he had competed in the GB Senior championships.

There’s nothing during a Novice or Junior championship to indicate an athlete didn’t intend to compete in future Senior events and try for Olympic selection, only hindsight. This is why I have included all the known Novice and Junior competitors, even if they never competed again.

Third, where there is no national championship, such as ski jumping, or tennis where you can get two nationalities on the same doubles team Olympic selection is determined by world rankings. Again, a nation may have a few players in the top ranks, but Olympic selection restricts the number of players one nation can send. Hence you can get a tennis player, to carry on with that example, who ranks top in his/her nation but in the 30s in world ranking can be selected for the Olympics while two or three players in the top 20 from a different nation don’t because they already have their quota of Olympic players selected from the top 10.

Occasionally there are exceptional cases where selection onto Olympic teams is not as expected.

For the list I have grouped qualifying events, tournaments, rankings and trials together under the all-inclusive word “trials”.

I hope that wasn’t too confusing. It confuses me sometimes.

Here is the lgbt Winter Olympian list.

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

Even though this Winter Olympic list is shorter than the Summer list there are still some significant records, including the youngest ever lgbt Olympian and the top female medal winner. The latter is mentioned below, but the former, the youngest lgbt Olympian, was Ondrej Nepela who, as mentioned above, competed at his first Olympics just after his 13th birthday.

Here are some more records. Athletes are not necessarily out at the time they competed unless otherwise stated). Since completing the list on 1st February another male athlete has come out – Jorik Hendrickx (Belgium, figure skating). Even though he does not appear on the list I include him in the statistics below.

First lgbt Olympian
Male: 1956 Ronnie Robertson (USA, figure skating)
Female: 1992 Edel Høiseth (Norway, speed skating)

First lgbt medal winners
Male: 1956 Ronnie Robertson (USA, figure skating)
Female: 1998 Nancy Drolet (Canada, ice hockey)

First lgbt Olympic champion
Male: 1972 Ondrej Nepela (Czechoslovakia, figure skating)
Female: 2002 Caroline Ouelette (Canada, ice hockey)

First out Olympian
Male (before the opening ceremony): 2018 Adam Rippon (USA, figure skating); Eric Radford (Canada, pairs figure skating); Gus Kenworthy (USA, freestyle skiing); Jorik Hendrickx (Belgium, figure skating).
Male (before the closing ceremony): 1976 John Curry (GB, figure skating); John was outed during the Olympic Games.
Female: 1992 Edel Høiseth (Norway, speed skating).

Winter Games with the most lgbt Olympians
2006 Turin and 2010 Vancouver, both with 21 lgbt athletes.

Most medals won by one lgbt Winter Olympian
Male: Brian Orser (Canada, figure skating) 2 silver.
Female: Ireen Wüst (Netherlands, speed skating) 4 gold, 3 silver, I bronze; Ireen is top of the all-time Summer and Winter female medal table.

Sport with the most lgbt athletes
Male: figure skating (30)
Female: ice hockey (12)

Lgbt athletes competing at the most Winter games
Jayna Hefford (Canada, ice hockey) and Edel Hoiseth (Norway, speed skating), both at 5 games each.

Top nations
24 – USA.
23 – Canada.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Suffrage Centenary

Last year I wrote a series of articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England. This year sees another momentous anniversary in the fight for equality. It’s the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which received royal assent on this day in 1918. It gave women the right to vote in UK general elections for the first time.

Other countries had given some women the vote before 1918 (e.g. Sweden in 1718 and New Zealand colony in 1893), but I’ll concentrate today on my home nation. What the Representation of the People Act provided wasn’t a universal right. It was restricted to women over the age of 30 who were property owners (or her husbands were), graduates voting in one of the university constituencies, or listed on the Local Government Register (or her husband was). The right to vote was extended to all women in 1928.

The first general election at which women could vote was later in the year in 14th December. By this time another Act had been passed giving women the right to stand for election. The first woman to be elected was at that 1918 general election. She was Constance, Countess Markiewicz, the sister of Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926). Both were prominent suffragettes and Irish nationalists.

Eva Gore-Booth is one of the many lesbian and bisexual women who were prominent in the suffragette movement. Unfortunately, as with the lives of so many gay men in the same period, absolute proof of a woman’s sexual relationship with another woman is difficult to establish. However, there are diaries and biographies of many of the suffragettes which provide clues. To quote Hilary McCollum, a writer, playwright and lesbian historian, “As somebody who was very active in the second wave of feminist [in the 1970s], it was full of lesbians. Why on earth would the first wave of feminism have been so much different?”

To the general British public, even a century afterwards, the names of very few suffragettes are remembered. People may know about the Pankhurst family but no other. They may know of the woman who was fatally wounded in a famous incident at the Derby races, but not her name (Emily Wilding Davison, see below).

The Pankhursts were the leading figures in the movement. There was the widowed Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her three daughters Sylvia, Christabel and Adela. In 1910 Mrs. Pankhurst met (the future Dame) Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), who became quite smitten by her. A close friendship developed and it is known that they shared a bed at times (I want to avoid using the phrase “slept with” because of its modern sexual connotation – people often shared beds with people of the same gender with no sexual intent). Even though we are sure Ethel Smyth was lesbian there’s nothing to suggest Mrs. Pankhurst was. However, the bisexual writer Virginia Woolf believed they were lovers, and Hilary McCollum says Mrs. Pankhurst was “likely” to have been a lesbian. I’m yet to be convinced.

As for Mrs. Pankhurst’s daughters there’s more evidence that one of them, (again, the future Dame) Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958), had relationships with several women. She was one of the most active and militant of suffragettes. She was also very anti-working class, believing that the suffrage movement should not be used to support any other cause effecting working class women. Yet her strongest relationship was with a working class woman called Annie Kenney (1879-1953).

Christabel and Annie were arrested and impriosned after disrupting a political meeting in 1905. They unfurled a banner bearing the words “Votes for Women” and heckled the speakers, who included Winston Churchill. Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst said that “it was the beginning of a campaign the like of which was never known in England”. Christabel was one of the first women to stand for parliament in the 1918 general election. She was defeated by the Labour Party candidate by only 775 votes.

A leading source of information regarding the close or sexual relationships of the suffragettes come from the diaries of Mary Blathwayt (1879-1961). Those diaries, which Mary wrote between 1908 and 1913, was studied by Prof. Martin Pugh of Liverpool John Moores University for a biography of the Pankhurst family. He suggested that Mary Blathwayt was Emmeline Pankhurst’s sexual partner before Annie Kenney. Mary Blathwayt had the support of her parents. They opened their stately home to any suffragette who needed accommodation. Though this soon stopped when some suffragettes assaulted the Prime Minister.

Another lesbian suffragette whose family disapproved of her belief was Mary Sophia Allen (1878-1964). In 1908 she left home after an argument over women’s suffrage and joined the Pankhursts. Mary Sophia was an active protestor and was imprisoned several times. She became more famous as being one of the founders of the women’s police force with her partner Margaret Damer Dawson.

Apart from the Pankhursts the suffragette British people may have known about is the woman killed by throwing herself in front of the king’s horse at the Derbys races in 1913. She was Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913). Again, Hilary McCollum says that any positive evidence of her sexuality is circumstantial and impossible to prove. Emily had a very close relationship with Mary Leigh (1885-?). Mary Leigh is credited with being the first to use an act of vandalism as a form of protest following the police brutality she witnessed at a suffragette gathering in Parliament Square. She went straight to 10 Downing Street and threw stones through the windows. In 1909 she and Emily Wilding Davison were arrested for disrupting a political meeting.

Hilary McCollum regards Emily’s and Mary’s relationship as almost certainly lesbian. Mary visited Emily at her deathbed. She also kept the suffragette flag which Emily had carried with her on that fateful day in 1913, and brought it with her every year when she visited Emily’s grave.

There are many more suffragettes whom Hilary McCollum and Prof. Martin Pugh list as lesbian, likely lesbian or lesbian-like. They include Lilian Lenton (1891-1972), Olive Bartels (1889-1978), and Grace Roe (1885-1979). Many of these and other suffragettes have been commemorated in recent years with plaques and statues, and several have received honours from the Crown for their contribution to female suffrage, including Christabel Pankhurst who was made a Dame in 1936.