Tuesday 1 October 2019

Another 20 Queer Facts

Happy LGBT History Month to my US friends. Here are 20 more queer facts to make the month more interesting and to show that lgbt history is more than politics, activism and Stonewall, and that ALL lgbt history should be acknowledged.

1) The classic 1952 film version of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest” was directed by Anthony Asquith (1902-1968), a closeted gay man whose father, Herbert Asquith, was the Home Secretary who had signed Oscar Wilde’s arrest warrant.

2) The oldest urban settlement in Europe, Lepenski Vir in Serbia, was proved to be 8,000 years old by the Serbian archaeologist Dragoslav Srejovic (1931-1996). He was one of the few academics in Communist Yugoslavia who was not persecuted or imprisoned for being openly gay.

3) Russia, like most western cultures, has slang names for gay men and lesbians. They are “goluboi” (meaning sky blue) for gay men and “rozovyi” (meaning pink) for lesbians. The origin of these slang names is unclear but may have been influenced by the traditional blue and pink gender colours.

4) The only reason Nicolas Copernicus published his theory of a Sun-centred solar system in 1543 (which wasn’t even a new idea) was because his protégé Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514-1574) had been pestering him to do so for several years. Copernicus himself wasn’t that interested in publishing it. Rheticus went on to become a professor and publish books on trigonometry. He was found guilty of sexual assault on the son of an influential merchant he was tutoring.

5) Openly gay actor Rupert Everett (b.1959) is one of the few lgbt actors who have played two of their own ancestors. In “To Kill A King” (2003) he played his ancestor King Charles I of Great Britain (1600-1649). The following year he played King Charles’ son King Charles II (1630-1685), in “Stage Beauty”.

6) A forerunner of the modern annual Pride march began in the 13th century – and is still held to this day. At the Shrine of the Madonna of Montevergine in Italy a parade takes place on 2nd February every year. Many members of the local lgbt community take part because in 1256 a gay couple were miraculously rescued from death by the Madonna of Montevergine. I’ll write more about this in December and next February.

7) The city of El Alto in Bolivia holds the record of being the city at the highest altitude to hold an annual Pride celebration. El Alto is 4,150 metres above sea level. The next 3 highest Prides are also in Bolivia – in Potosi, Oruro and La Paz.

8) Retrospectively, the Sydney 2000 Olympics have been the most gender diverse so far. There were 67 lgbt athletes at the games identified by October 2019. They include many gay, lesbian and bisexual athletes, 3 female-to-male transgender athletes, 1 intersex athlete, and 1 athlete with androgen insensitivity syndrome.

9) There are features on the planet Mars that are named after the lgbt scientists Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and James Pollack.

10) The first use of the swastika as a symbol of Aryan supremacy was by openly gay occultist and writer Alfred Schuler (1865-1923). He adopted this ancient symbol to represent racist ideology by 1904. Adolf Hitler attended one of Schuler’s lecture in the 1920s and was later adopted it for use by the Nazis.

11) Britannia, the female personification of Britain, was introduced by the gay Roman emperor Hadrian who wanted to create symbolic human personifications for each of his provinces across the empire.

12) Queer software engineer Emma Harulea Iwas broke the world record for the longest calculation of pi (if you remember your school maths) to 31 trillion digits. Of course she didn’t do it on her own. She used Google cloud (she works for Google) to perform the calculation which took 21 days to complete. The record was announced on 14th March 2019 (Pi Day).

13) It is generally believed that the first appearance in print of the word “gay” to mean homosexuality was in a poem by Gertrude Stein called “Miss Farr and Miss Sheene”. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, doubts this. The poem was written in 1910 but wasn’t published until 1922. The two Misses of the title were parodies of a real lesbian couple, artists Ethel Mars and Maud Hunt Squire.

14) In November 2017 Palm Springs in California (population of about 49,000) was the first municipality in the USA (probably also the world) to elect a 100% openly lgbt council. Despite this campaign groups criticised the council for being all white. The town of Wilton Manors, Florida, elected an all-lgbt council a year later.

15) Openly gay Richard Quest, the British-born reporter for CNN, was a passenger on Singapore Airlines Airbus A359-900ULR when it broke the record as the world’s longest non-stop flight on 11th October 2018. The plane took 19 hours to fly from New York to Singapore.

16) The first religious commemoration of the birth of Christ (what became Christmas Day in the 11th century) was held by north African Christian sects called Gnostics in the 2nd century. The Roman Christian regarded them as heretics and didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. One of those Gnostic sects, the Carpocratians, believed that mankind perpetuated the sin of Adam and Eve with each generation. To eliminate that sin they practiced non-procreative sex - homosexuality. So Christmas really is a gay!

17) The Greek philosopher Parmenides was the first person to suggest the Earth was a sphere. Scientists didn’t believe him (they said the Earth was curved, not round). After Parmenides died his theory was championed by his protégé and lover Zeno. Scientists still didn’t believe it.

18) The first lgbt Oscar was won at the very first Oscar ceremony in 1928. Hollywood legend Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) won the award of Best Female Actor in a Leading Role for three films – “Seventh Heaven”, “Street Angel” and “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”. It wasn’t unusual to be nominated for more than one film in those early days. Janet Gaynor is believed to have been bisexual, and two of her three marriages are regarded as “lavender marriages” in which one or both spouses was married to disguise their sexuality from the press and the public.

19) Canadian doctor Robert Obara (b.1986) won the Mr. Gay Ireland title while studying at Trinity College, Dublin, in November 2012. In August 2013 he was voted Mr. Gay Europe. On 14th February 2014, St. Valentine’s Day, the Norwegian post office produced a special commemorative stamp featuring Robert that was sent out from the headquarters of the Mr. Gay Europe organisation in Oslo on that date. It is, therefore, one of the rarest postage stamps in history.

20) The lesbian motoring pioneer Baroness Hélène van Zuylen (1863-1947) was the first woman to compete in, and complete, an international motor race. In 1898 she entered the 1,431 km Paris-Amsterdam-Paris Trail.

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