Wednesday 27 May 2020

Extraordinary Life: A Queer Action Hero - Part 1

In the 1920s and 1930s names like Scott of the Antarctic, Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh were familiar names because of their daring deeds and adventures. Another name which was equally well-known – Richard Halliburton (1900-1939) - but few recognise his name today.
Richard Halliburton
Two specific adventures dominate Richard Halliburton’s story. The first is his swimming the Panama Canal. The other is his mysterious disappearance along with his lover in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. So much adventure was packed into just a short life that I’ve split Richard’s story into two. Today I’ll look at his 1920s adventures. In July I’ll look at his 1930s adventures.

It was 100 years ago when Richard Halliburton got the travelling bug during a break in his studies at Princeton University. He joined a cargo freighter as a crewman which took him across to England. Richard toured around for a while before returning to Princeton.

In 1921 Richard began his life of travel in earnest. To support himself he wrote travel articles for magazines, and his father also gave him a modest monthly allowance. Quite often, though, Richard’s impulse buying made funds very low.

The first adventure was to climb the Matterhorn in Switzerland. He had never climbed before but he had a travelling companion and a local guide with him. His travels then took him to France, Spain and Gibraltar, where he was arrested for taking photographs of British installations. After using his charm on the authorities he was let off with a fine of £10, which he had to borrow. His travel articles weren’t selling so Richard probably realised that he should keep an eye on his spending.

Richard made his way via Egypt (spending a night at the top of the Great Pyramid) to India. The lure of the famous Taj Mahal was strong and after hiding in the shadows as the site was cleared of visitors for the night Richard took a midnight swim in the pools in front of the famous building.

More adventures followed as he travelled eastwards. In Macao he encountered pirates, and on his 23rd birthday he climbed Mount Fujiyama in Japan solo. He arrived back in the US in March 1923.

Despite having written dozens of articles only three had been published. However, he thought of another way to earn money by going on the lecture circuit and talking about his travels. This was a great success, so successful that he didn’t have time to turn his writings into a book as he hoped.

Even though Richard pushed his body to the limit many times he suffered from a rapid heartbeat and hyperthyroidism. He checked himself into Dr. Kellogg’s Sanatorium for a while (I hope he enjoyed his corn flakes!) and the rest gave him time to finish his first book, “The Royal Road to Romance”. Before it was published in 1925 Richard was off on his next adventure - to follow the voyages of Odysseus, the hero of the ancient Greek legend.

Richard’s Odyssey began on Mount Olympus. He reached the summit to be greeted with an almighty thunderstorm that trapped him and his two climbing companions there overnight. Perhaps Zeus himself was punishing them for ignoring their guides’ warnings not to go up until the next day. After visiting Delphi and climbing Mount Parnassus Richard headed to Athens where he sneaked into the Acropolis at night after it had closed. This was followed by running the original marathon route (the last 14 miles by taxi cab in order to get to his own birthday party at his hotel).

Crossing to the site of Troy in Turkey he continued on to the Hellespont. There Richard emulated the achievement of one of his heroes, Lord Byron, by swimming across it. After various other adventures Richard arrived at the volcanic island of Stromboli a few weeks later. He couldn’t resist clambering up to the mouth of the volcano itself. (There seems to be some recurring themes in his adventures – climbing up mountains and volcanos, sneaking into heritage sites, and diving into water!)

While retracing Ulysses’ voyages Richard inserted a detour to the top of yet another volcano, Vesuvius, before attempting to swim across the Strait of Messina. Strong currents forced him to finish it in the accompanying boat. Richard also visited Taormina in Sicily, where Robert Hawthorn Kitson had his villa. Although not mentioned by name in his book of his Odyssey, “The Glorious Adventure” (published May 1927), Richard mentions meeting “all the Englishmen”. And yes, Richard climbed to the top of Etna, where he almost succumbed to the sulphur fumes. But he needed to finish his Odyssey before the end of the year, and eventually reached Ithaca, home of Odysseus, in December 1926.

By now his first book was rapidly becoming a best-seller and this helped to make his 1927 lecture tour hugely successful – and profitable. In 1928 Richard accepted an offer from “Ladies Home Journal” to write articles on Latin America and he was off on a new set of adventures.

He began by tracing the steps of Cortes who conquered Mexico. Yet another volcano, Popocatapetl was ticked of his list of climbs and then came the ominously named Well of Death at Chichen-Itza. Richard dived down the well into the water 70 feet below. Climbing out he realised people might not believe he’d done it, so the next day he got a camera and did it again.

The most famous exploit on this adventure was his swimming the whole length of the Panama Canal. He wasn’t the first to do it, but he was the first to go through all the locks, which meant he had to pay the toll, the lowest in the canal’s history, of 36 cents.

Other exploits on this American adventure included being held prisoner on Devil’s Island, and spending two weeks living as Robinson Crusoe on Tobago. All the time he was writing his articles for “Ladies Home Journal”. They were so popular that the magazine paid him a bonus.

Back home and back on the lecture circuit Richard finished his book of his latest exploits as “New Worlds to Conquer” which was published in time for Christmas 1929.

As the 1930s began the Great Crash and Great Depression hit the family finances. A bright light for Richard was his meeting with Paul Mooney, who became his life partner.

In July I’ll continue Richard Halliburton’s story and his final mysterious adventure with his partner.

Saturday 23 May 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 12) Don't Ask

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 31) Barbara Love (b.1937) competed in the US swimming trials for the 1952 Olympics, in which 32) Marjorie Larney (b.1937) competed before being involved in the anti-Vietnam War  protests in which 33) David Mixner (b.1946) took a leading role, who was later joined in another campaign by 34) Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988).

While 33) David Mixner was organising the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam 34) Leonard Matlovich was recovering from the injuries he received after stepping on a land mine in Da Nang in central Vietnam. This was during his second tour of duty as a sergeant in the US Air Force.

Leonard Matlovich is best remembered for being a pioneer in the fight for the acceptance of lgbt personnel in the US armed forces. For most of his military career he was regarded as an exemplary sergeant. He was described in 1974 by Major Donald D. Baines as “one of the most outstanding NCOs I have had the pleasure of working with during my Air Force career… Matlovich is an absolutely superior NCO in every respect and should be promoted to Master Sergeant well ahead of his contemporaries”.
The military honours of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich.
Sadly, the opposite happened. At the time Matlovich was beginning to recognise that he was homosexual. In March 1974 he read an interview in “Air Force News” with 35) Frank Kameny (1925-2011), an openly gay ex-serviceman who lost a Supreme Court case to overturn his discharge from the US Army Map Service. He had become an activist and supporter of other personnel who had been discharged.

Leonard contacted Frank who confessed that he had been hoping to find a serving openly gay military personnel with a perfect record to create a test case on the ban on lgbt people in the armed services. Matlovich’s air force record was perfect and he agreed to be that person. Matlovich wrote a letter which he handed in to his commanding officer on 6th March 1975 containing an admission of his homosexuality.

The result was an administrative discharge hearing and a formal honourable discharge. The subsequent appeals, campaign and fame of Leonard Matlovich, which included being the first openly lgbt person on the front cover of “Time” magazine, is well covered on the internet, so I needn’t go into it here. But let’s go back a step to David Mixner.

Despite being anti-war Mixner joined Bill Clinton’s campaign to become President of the USA in 1992. Mixner had experience in political campaigns and was persuaded to join Clinton’s race to the White House because he was a personal friend and because Clinton had promised to increase funds for AIDS research and to lift the ban on lgbt military personnel.

When Clinton was duly elected his policy on AIDS funding included the establishment of vaccine research, as mentioned in my immediately preceding article. His promise to end the ban on lgbt military personnel turned into “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which was effectively nothing. Mixner led several protests against what he thought was Clinton’s betrayal.

The “Don’t Tell, Don’t Ask” policy was repealed by President Obama on 22nd December 2010. At the signing ceremony Frank Kameny was seated in the front row of the audience. As well as being a leading campaigner for the ending of the military ban Frank was also a co-founder of the Mattachine Society in 1961. The society organised protests and pickets outside US government buildings which were to inspire Craig Rodwell (mentioned here) to create the Annual Reminder, the forerunner of the modern Pride march. I’ll write more about that next month.

Even with people like Frank Kameny, Leonard Matlovich and David Mixner making advances in lgbt inclusion in the armed forces in the USA opposition still exists, particularly with the Trump administration and transgender personnel. While there may no longer be any military discharges for homosexuality it has a long history that goes all the way back to the American War of Independence.

The first recorded instance was in 1778 with the case of 36) Frederick Gotthold Enslin (c.1740- after 1778). Englin arrived in America from Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1774. In 1777 he enlisted into Col. William Malcom’s Regiment of the 3rd Pennsylvania Brigade. The regiment was stationed at Valley Forge. Also there was Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794), who turned the army into a formidable fighting force. During the following winter George Washington arrived with his army to lead the war from there.

Less than a year after enlisting Lt. Frederick Enslin was reported to Col. Malcolm by a solider who had seen him having sex with another soldier. Enslin reported the witness for slander and the case eventually went before the commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Aaron Burr.

This is the same Aaron Burr who later became Vice President of the USA under President Thomas Jefferson. He had a famous feud with another Founding Father, the bisexual Alexander Hamilton, who was also at Valley Forge as an aide to Washington (Hamilton, von Steuben and Enslin all at Valley Forge at the same time!). The Burr-Hamilton feud was finally settled in a duel in which Burr killed Hamilton.
A fairly accurate artistic impression of the camp at Valley Forge in 1777-8, taken from the “Assassin’s Creed” videogame.

The outcome of Burr’s investigation into Frederick Enslin’s slander case was not in doubt. The case was thrown out and he was found guilty of perjury and the original charge of homosexuality. A report was then handed to George Washington who agreed with the verdict and ordered Enslin to be dismissed and, literally, drummed out of the army. The soldiers of Valley Forge gathered to see Enslin marched out of the camp to the accompaniment of pipes and drums.

No-one knows what happened to Enslin after that. His final known act was to be the first soldier discharged from the US military for his homosexuality. He was actually very lucky, because had his trial taken place in his native Netherlands he would have been executed.

Over a century earlier another Dutch colonial was burnt at the stake for his homosexuality. His name was 37) Joost Schouten (c.1600-1644).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We go looking for trade in Japan, reacquaint ourselves with the Dog Shogun, and return to give thanks.

Monday 18 May 2020

Quest For A Vaccine

2020 has turned into one of those historic years. The covid-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s life, and they may never be the same in our life time. The lgbt community has some insight into the impact of a sudden appearance of a deadly virus with the effects of HIV in the 1980s. What unites both pandemics is the search for a vaccine and a possible cure. One is also helping to treat the other.

While we hope a vaccine for covid-19 will be found we turn our attention today to the search for a vaccine for HIV and AIDS, because today is World AIDS Vaccine Day, or HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.

World AIDS Vaccine Day has its origin is a speech made by President Bill Clinton on this date in 1997. He was invited to give the speech at the graduation ceremony at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Clinton’s speech wasn’t solely about the search for an AIDS vaccine. The oft-quoted line within it which launched the World AIDS Vaccine Day is: “Only a truly effective, preventative HIV vaccine can limit and eventually eliminate the threat of AIDS.” A few moments later he continued: “Today, I’m pleased to announce the National Institute of Health will establish a new AIDS vaccine research center dedicated to this crusade. And next month at the Summit of the Industrialised Nations in Denver, I will enlist other nations to join us in a worldwide effort to find a vaccine to stop one of the world’s greatest killers.”

The new vaccine research centre, based mainly in Bethesda, Maryland, was set up shortly afterwards. At the Summit of the Eight (the G7 nations and the EU) in Denver in June a communique was released promising better international co-ordination and to provide resources to accelerate vaccine research.

The history of the search for an HIV vaccine is long and full of scientific terminology that I cannot do justice to here. Instead I’ll look at a couple of research programmes. Of course, the search began long before President Clinton’s speech.

HIV is a particularly tricky virus to develop a vaccine for because there are so many strains and it evolves so quickly. The HIV DNA sequence can even change within infected human cells. Early hopes for a vaccine were frequently dashed as trials proved to be ineffective. Scientists first estimated that one would be available within 5 years, and here we are nearly 40 years later without one.

One of the earliest hopes for a vaccine came from veterinary science. In 1969 Dr. William Jarrett, Professor Veterinary Pathology at Glasgow University, discovered a virus that causes cancer in cats. He called it FeLV (feline leukemia virus).

Over in the USA in the 1980s FeLV researchers noticed that some cats exhibited wasting symptoms that were being seen in gay men who had developed a new disease. For that reason Dr. Robert Gallo of the national Cancer Institute began looking at FeLV to see if there was a link to the human cases. Gallo discovered there was a human version of the virus which he named HTLV-III (human T-lymphotropic virus-III). After further research this name was abandoned in favour of HIV. Because Dr. Jarrett had developed a FeLV vaccine Dr. Gallo believed it could lead the way in developing an HIV vaccine. Tests and trials proved unsuccessful.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) was formed in 1996, the year before President Clinton’s speech. It was set up following a meeting arranged by the Rockerfeller Foundation in 1994 in Bellagio, Italy, involved 24 of some of the leading authorities and researchers on HIV. The IAVI founder, Dr. Seth Berkley, states that vaccine research was not being funded adequately at the time. With the support of 70 organisations Berkley added his voice to President Clinton’s and was another influence on the communique from the Group of Eight Summit.

There have been many tests and trials over the years, and many different medical angles have been investigated. In 2018 I wrote about the possibility that cow cells could give scientists at IAVI a clue to finding one area of research.

Until a vaccine is developed the world must rely on prevention, treatment and drugs. Just two months ago HIV drugs began to be tested on volunteer covid-19 patients in the hope that they will ease the symptoms or even stop the virus from replicating.

With covid-19 dominating the way we love our lives at the moment lets hope that vaccines for both covid and HIV can emerge soon.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Out of His Paternal Tree: Pete Buttigieg Part 2

In March I had a look at Pete Buttigieg’s maternal ancestry. Pete’s father’s line is very different and has some unexpected ethnic origins.

Pete Buttigieg’s father was originally from Malta. His name was Dr. Joseph Anthony Buttigieg (1947-2019), and he was a Professor of English. He became a US citizen in 1979, though he was born a citizen of the British colony of Malta, and then a Maltese citizen when it gained independence. The Buttigieg family is one of the oldest of Maltese families, having an unbroken recorded male line of descent for over a thousand years.

As mentioned at the end of the article on his mother’s ancestry the name Buttigieg translates as “owner of chickens” or, but it can also be translated as “chicken on a barrel”. I mentioned a coat of arms as well last time. It’s a perfect example of a heraldic pun. Whether the original family name really was actually meant to refer to a chicken on a barrel or evolved from the similar sounding name is uncertain but it has been used by the family since medieval times. I found three variations of the coat of arms for the family, and have yet to determine with certainty which one has been inherited by Pete Buttigieg (I favour the middle one).
Among the influential members of the Buttigieg family were Anton Buttigieg (1912-1983), 2nd President of Malta, and Monsignor Michele Francesco Buttigieg (1783-1816), 1st Bishop of Gozo. Along with Pete Buttigieg they are descended from Silvestrino Buttigieg (b.c.1500).

Let’s see how far back the family can be traced. From information in the Maltese National Archives and various online genealogies I’ve found that there is a continuous father-to-son bloodline for the family that probably goes back to 850 AD.

Silvestrino Buttigieg’s great-grandfather, Ansaldinu Buttigieg (b.1390), is listed as a Nobile, a title similar to the feudal lords of the manor in medieval England. Owners of these titles held great influence in the government of the Malta for several generations.

The Buttigieg’s title of Nobile was first held by Ansaldinu’s great-great-great-grandfather Antonio bin Buttigieg. You may have noticed a slight change to the surname, the “bin”, which indicates that Antonio belonged to a Muslim family. From unverified information this brings an intriguing element into Pete Buttigieg’s ancestry, because this Antonio is said to have been the son of a prince of the Muslim Kalbid dynasty.

The Kalbids were an Arab family who settled in the Maghreb, the region in North Africa between present day Morocco and Egypt. Arabs from the Maghreb captured Malta and Sicily from the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century, and al-Hasan al-Kalbi, the founder of the Kalbid dynasty and Pete Buttigieg’s direct male ancestor, because the Emir of Sicily and Malta in 947. The throne of Sicily-Malta separated in 1053 and the last Emir of Malta, Jafar III, Pete Buttigieg’s ancestral cousin, was deposed in 1240.

The Buttigiegs descend from the junior Kalbid line down to Prince Muhammad Kalbid, Hakim (i.e. governor) of Catania. Between 1000 and 1150 different lines of Pete’s ancestral Kalbid cousins were Kings of Badajoz, Majorca and Segura, and Emirs of Messina, Agrigento and Castrogiovanni.

The Kalbids were deposed by Norman invaders from Italy, led by Roger I de Hauteville (c.1031-1101), Count of Sicily. Malta thus became a part of the county of Sicily. Many Muslim family were permitted to remain and some converted to Christianity, including some of the Kalbid princes.

Pete Buttigieg’s father is also descended from the Hauteville dynasty. The bloodline goes down into the royal family of Aragon who were subsequent conquerors of Malta and Sicily. Princess Leonor de Aragona-Sicilie (c.1346-after 1369) was the daughter of Prince Giovanni, Duke of Athens and Regent of Sicily-Malta (son of King Federigo II of Sicily). Through her Pete Buttigieg acquires the bloodline from Roger de Hauteville.

Eventually this Hauteville and Aragon bloodline merged with the Kalbid bloodline in 1664 with the marriage of Giuseppe Buttigieg and the Aragon descendant Domenica Galea.

Five generations later another Giuseppe Buttigieg married Maria Micalief, a member of one of the many other influential Maltese families in Pete’s ancestry. If we follow Maria’s line back a few generations we find several lines of descent from a Spanish soldier who arrived in Malta called Jofre Albano de Borja. If that name sounds familiar it’s because his brother was great-grandfather to the notorious Italian Borgias and Pope Alexander VI.

The Maltese Borjas changed their name to Borg, and one of Pete’s distant cousins from this family was George Borg Olivier (1911-1980), who was twice Prime Minister of Malta. With Malta being a small nation it is not surprising that a very high proportion of people on the Maltese islands are interrelated or are distant cousins, more so than in the USA where there are millions of people. So, its also no surprise to learn that as well and George Borg Olivier and Anton Buttigieg (both above-mentioned) Pete Buttigieg is related by blood to most of the Presidents, Prime Ministers and medieval rulers of Malta.

Saturday 9 May 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 11) Olympic Dreams

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 28) Dorothy Allison (b.1949) has won two Lambda Literary Awards, created by 29) L. Page Deacon Maccubbin, owner of the Oscar Wilde Book Shop in which 30) Ellen Broidy (b.1946) worked at around the time she was an organiser of the first New York Pride march and a member of the Radicalesbians, as was 31) Barbara Love (b.1937).

31) Barbara Love was also one of the early members of the National Organisation for Women (NOW). She was one of the campaigners for the acceptance and inclusion of lesbians and lesbian rights within NOW, which had initially been opposed by the organisation’s president. While some lesbians chose to leave NOW and form separate groups Barbara remained within the organisation.

In 1971 Barbara and her partner Sydney Abbott (another lesbian feminist activist) wrote the ground-breaking book “Sappho Was a Right-On Woman”, one of the first positive non-fiction insights into lesbianism and feminism. Several decades later Barbara wrote the equally influential book “Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975”.

As well as feminism Barbara has championed another cause in the lgbt communities – families. In 1970 Barbara, who had come out to her parents a couple of years previously, was accompanied on the first Christopher Street Freedom Day march (the first New York Pride) by her mother Lois. In the 1972 march another activist, Morty Manford, marched with his mother, as mentioned in this article. Between them the Loves and Manfords formed Parents of Gays, an organisation which evolved into PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which has taken part in hundreds of Prides around the world.

Outside activism Barbara Love’s real passion is swimming. She began when she was 3 and went on to compete in school and state championships, winning many of them. At the age of 15 Barbara qualified for the 1952 US Olympic swimming trials in Indianapolis. She competed in the 100 metres and 400 metres freestyle events. She didn’t make it into the finals, but it qualifies her to be included in my lgbt Olympian trials file. Barbara entered the trials again in 1956 in the same events, again not making the finals.

Barbara has never stopped competitive swimming and has won many national masters titles, and around a dozen Gay Games and Outgames medals.

The 1952 swimming trials were held for the Olympic Games in Helsinki. Only one lgbt athlete is currently known to have made it to those games, 32) Marjorie Larney (b.1937).

Marjorie, like Barbara, was a teenager in 1952, and was (and still is, as far as I can tell) the youngest javelin thrower to compete at the Olympics.

One of my favourite stories from the Olympics involves Marjorie and her time in Helsinki. It begins with her visit to a sports shop in the city where she spotted a really classy javelin. The elderly shop owner encouraged her to handle it. Marjorie had been trained in the Finnish style of throwing (no, I didn’t know there was more than one way either) and the shop owner seemed pleased that this was the way Marjorie went through the throwing movements. The javelin was expensive, but the shop owner saw Marjorie’s disappointment in not being able to afford it, so he crossed out the price and let her buy it half-price.

Olympic rules stated that she couldn’t use that javelin in the competition, but Marjorie was uplifted by something that happened during the cold, rain-soaked opening ceremony. As the athletes stood in the stadium to watch the lighting of the cauldron Marjorie suddenly shrieked and stared in disbelief. The person lighting the cauldron was the elderly shop owner. He was a Finnish sporting hero, Hannes Kohlemainen, double Olympic distance running champion from 1912.

Marjorie Larney was also a feminist activist in the 1970s. She was a member of Rif-Raf Radical Writers and founded Acacia Books. But there’s also another field of activism where Marjorie made her voice heard in the 1970s – the anti-Vietnam War campaign.

One of the biggest demonstrations was the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam held across the USA. One of the people who organised the Moratorium was a gay political campaigner and anti-war activist called 33) David Mixner (b.1946).

Mixner’s involvement in the Moratorium came though his friend Sam Brown who, in turn, had been contacted by the Moratorium’s proposer, Jerome Grossman. Joined by several of Mixner’s colleagues from a political campaign of a couple of years previously the team organised the Moratorium that took place on 15th October 1969. Millions of Americans joined the demonstration, stopping work and joining marches and peaceful protests in many cities.

Later in the 1970s David became involved in a prominent campaign in California. In 1977 Proposition 6 was an initiative to make it illegal to teach homosexuality in schools or employ lgbt teachers. Harvey Milk was a member of the “No on 6” campaign and his election to the San Francisco city council helped to defeat it. Sadly, as is widely known, Harvey Milk was assassinated three weeks after Proposition 6 was defeated.

Among the other “No on 6” campaigners was someone who was also leading his own personal campaign. His name was 34) Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: We don’t ask, and find out that lgbt US armed service personnel, both male and female, have been victimised because of their sexuality for several centuries.