Wednesday 24 February 2021

Franciscan Friends

In my 2019 Advent series I wrote about the creation of the Nativity scene placed in churches around the world at Christmas. The very first one was created by one of the most famous saints in history – St. Francis of Assisi (c.1187-1226).

It is on this day in 1209 the St. Francis founded the Order of Friars Minor, more popularly known as the Franciscans. The queerness of St. Francis is only just being examined and discussed in any great detail among academics. After writing my Advent article I looked further into what research was being done and my original opinion has changed slightly.

Throughout his life St. Francis expressed a flexibility of gender labels used for himself and his beliefs. He adopted the names of Lady Poverty and Mother. The first of these came about from a divine encounter contained in his first biography written by a contemporary and acquaintance, Thomas de Celano.

The encounter occurred when St. Francis was travelling with a doctor friend to Siena. Along the road they were met by three poor women. The one thing that astonished Francis and the doctor was that the women were identical, like triplets.

The women bowed to Francis as he approached them and they said “Welcome, Lady Poverty”. Thomas de Celano writes that this greeting delighted St. Francis as he had renounced his privileged and wealthy background to pursue a life of poverty. Thomas writes that Francis was delighted to be referred to as Lady Poverty.

Francis asked his friend to give the women some money and then continued on their way, but Francis glanced back and was astonished to see that the women had disappeared. The countryside was quite flat and featureless but he could not see where the women had gone. Francis and his friend agreed that it was “a marvel of the Lord”.

Medieval writers such as Thomas de Celano often peppered biographies of saints with apocryphal, and sometimes fantastical, stories to illustrate their subject’s sanctity. This encounter doesn’t appear in Francis’s own writings, or in early biographies of him.

Modern queer academics claim the encounter as St. Francis being met by the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christian doctrine) in female form. Thomas de Celano doesn’t make this connection. Surely Francis would have mentioned something as significant as believing these women were the Holy Trinity. He said nothing. Academics have an answer for that, the usual answer when you don’t have to prove of your theory – deliberate suppression by the Church.

These three women have always been identified as the allegorical figures of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity, and were depicted frequently throughout medieval Christian art. Academics who support the Holy Trinity theory point us in the direction of one panel from an altarpiece painted in the 1400s by Stefano di Giovanni di Cossolo (known as Sassetta) from the convent of San Francesco in Sepolcro, Tuscany (below).

The panel has always been accepted as St. Francis meeting Obedience, Poverty and Chastity. Some academics claim it depicts the female Holy Trinity. There’s no evidence in the painting to indicate this. If you look closely, and it’s difficult to see on this image, as the women drift off into the sky they are holding something. These are objects that were associated with Obedience, Poverty and Chastity throughout the medieval period. Not one of those objects is associated with the Holy Trinity. It is clear who these women are and who they are not. They are NOT the Holy Trinity, and academics have invented Church suppression to justify their false interpretation to fit their claim (it reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and the equally false interpretation of St. John as a woman and the “Da Vinci Code” nonsense).

This is where my opinion has changed since my 2019 Advent article. I am not convinced by the interpretation of the painting, or other supposed evidence, presented by the academics that indicate St. Francis ever met a female Holy Trinity.

We don’t need to invent queer aspects of someone’s life story like medieval biographers did. St. Francis shows his place on the queer spectrum without it. There was his close friendship, perhaps romantic relationship, with Brother Elias de Cortona (c.1180-1253).

Unfortunately, there is so little information about Elias before he joined the Franciscan Order that researchers, once again, jump on the “suppression and Church conspiracy” bandwagon. Thomas de Celano doesn’t introduce Elias by name until late into the first of his three-volume biography of Francis, after the Franciscans had been founded. He makes it clear that Francis and Elias were very close friends, writing that they loved each other “with great affection”.

Brother Elias does appear in a couple of other biographies from his time. From them we surmise that he was born the son of a mattress-maker and became a teacher. He may also have become a notary in Bologna before joining the Franciscans.

In Thomas de Celano’s biography there’s mention of a companion of St. Francis before the first named reference to Elias. Thomas describes this friend as someone Francis “loved more than any other”, and of the “great familiarity of their mutual affection”. In fact, in exactly the same terms as he used for Brother Elias’s relationship. So, could they be the same person?

This is not unlikely. Francis and Elias lived a century before the patriarchal homophobia of the Church began to dominate, and intimate same-sex friendships were not unknown. When St. Francis renounced his wealth and possessions he also renounced his family and friends – except, perhaps, Elias de Cortona.

There’s still so much we don’t know about their relationship. Sadly, Elias’s absence from written records may have more to do with the Franciscans objecting to the way he ran the Order after Francis’s death than any deliberate suppression of his same-sex relationship with him.

At the end of the day what can we say about St. Francis of Assisi? He had a close, probably physical, relationship with a companion in the days before he founded the Franciscan Order, who may have been Brother Elias de Cortona for whom he adopted the title of Mother. He believed that the figure of Poverty had affirmed his life as a poor friar and adopted the name Lady Poverty for himself. There’s no evidence that met a female Holy Trinity. There is a very queer aspect to St. Francis’s life and it helps to reveal more about the use of gender and sexuality labels in the medieval period. We are only just starting to understand the medieval world.

Friday 19 February 2021

Star-Gayzing: The Drag Queen's Crown

Most of the myths and legends concerning the origins of the constellations come from ancient Greece. The majority of those I’ve covered on this blog have been Greek. Today we look at yet another one.

Some of the most famous and popular Greek gods and heroes – Zeus, Apollo, Herakles/Hercules, etc. – have several constellations associated with them. One of the others, whose name doesn’t often spring to mind immediately when asked to name the Greek gods, is Dionysos. He was the god of wine, vegetation, fertility, pleasure, mischief, parties – and drag queens.

I’ve mentioned Dionysos twice before in relation to the stars. First was his association with Virgo, in particular with the star Vindematrix. This name means “grape gatherer” and its rise in the sky signalled the start of the grape harvest. The other constellation with Dionysos connections is Taurus, or more specifically the group of stars within it called the Pleiades. These stars were named after the seven daughters of Atlas who, as I mentioned in the article about them, seem to have been the patron deities of drag queens. Briefly, without going through it all again, ancient astrologers believed that the Pleiades influenced the worshippers of Dionysos, turning them into what the ancient writer Manilius described as someone remarkably similar to a modern day drag queen. In mythology the Pleiades raised Dionysos and disguised him as a girl to protect him from the wrath of Hera, the ever-jealous wife of Dionysos’s father Zeus.

So, what about that drag queen’s crown, you may be asking? Well, the constellation of Corona Borealis is said to represent a crown given by Dionysos to one of his lovers. Not one of his male lovers but a female one called Princess Ariadne of Crete. This princess may be familiar to you from the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. In the main variation of the myth, the most familiar one, Theseus and Ariadne got married after the Minotaur was defeated and they returned to Athens, Theseus’ home. Apparently, the marriage wasn’t a very good one and legends vary on who left who (or is it who left whom? I’m never sure about my grammar). Whichever partner it was who deserted the other first, Ariadne ended up being courted by Dionysos who had always wanted to get her into bed with her. Again, the myths vary here. The crown was either given by Dionysos as a symbol of his love before they got married, or a gift to Ariadne on their wedding day.

There’s yet another version of the myth. Theseus had not entered the labyrinth to confront the Minotaur when Dionysos gave the crown to Ariadne. It shone so brightly that she gave it to Theseus for him to see his way in and out of the labyrinth. The most familiar version has Theseus following a thread which Ariadne was holding. On Theseus’ emergence from the labyrinth Ariadne threw the crown into the sky and it became the constellation.

Whichever version was told in ancient Greece the end result was always the same – the crown ended up as Corona Borealis.

While I’m on the subject of Dionysos there’s an old fable that was recounted by the famous story-teller Aesop over two and a half thousand years ago. In it Dionysos has a significant influence on the creation of gay men and lesbians.

The god given the responsibility of creating mankind was Prometheus. He used clay to form the original bodies, making hundreds of thousands of them, men and women. This took him many days. For some reason they were all created without sexual organs, and Aesop doesn’t tell us why. When Prometheus had finished he began to form the male and female sexual organs separately. Again this took many days. He began to attach the sex organs to the pre-formed people. This also took many more days and Prometheus was getting more tired by the minute.

At that moment Dionysos arrived to ask Prometheus out for a drink. Prometheus was reluctant at first because he had this job to finish, but Dionysos keep nagging him to leave the job till later. He needed a rest and a drink would refresh him. Prometheus relented and off the two gods went.

Now, we all know what sort of relaxation Dionysos was keen on – a good party with lots of alcohol. So Dionysos took Prometheus away and they had a jolly good night out filled with wine and nectar.

Eventually Prometheus decided it was time he got back to work. He staggered home in a drunken stupor and sat down. What was he doing, he probably thought? Oh yes, putting the genitals on the rest of those human figures he had made. Picking up the genitals, one by one he began attaching them to the figures.

It was only when he had finished that he realised he had mixed up that last lot of genitals. On all of the figures he had worked on since coming home from his night out with Dionysos he had put the wrong genitals on the wrong gender. The men had female genitals and the women had male genitals.

This is how Aesop explained the creation of men and women who display characteristics of the opposite gender – effeminate men and butch women. Effeminate men were female forms with male genitals, and butch women were male forms with female genitals. It was Aesop’s way of explaining gay men and lesbians.

So, if you’re ever asked if homosexuality is “nature or nurture” you can say neither. It’s the result of a drunken night out with a drag queen!

Sunday 14 February 2021

Love is Love

I hope everyone is feeling some love today. The covid pandemic has made many of us realise just how much people mean to us – families, partners, friends. Even though today’s St. Valentine’s Day is, as I’ve said before, is the wrong saint on the wrong day I think we need it anyway. There’s no better way to spread the love around than to look at one of the most famous images of love that has inspired many copies. It’s the image contained in the US postage stamp shown above – “Love” by gay artist Robert Indiana (1928-2018).

Despite using the word “love” this work has generated regret, dispute and anger. Let’s start at the beginning.

This iconic work began with two people in love. In the 1950s Robert Indiana met Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015), an abstract artist who was a member of the Ghost Army that I wrote about last November. The two artists fell in love. Ellsworth became a sort of mentor to Robert, and Ellsworth’s Minimalist style was a great influence on Robert and the creation of “Love”.

The romantic relationship began to break down at the start of the 1960s, mainly over disagreements over Robert’s use of lettering in his work which Ellsworth said had no place in art. Of the two it was Robert who felt the separation the most.

In 1964 Robert came up with a work which was a direct ancestor of his famous “Love”. In that year he met the fashion designer Larry Aldrich at one of Andy Warhol’s parties. Robert had heard that Larry was going to display his private art collection in public. The display was to be housed in an old grocery store in Ridgefield, Connecticut, which had more recently been used as a Christian Science church. The church had moved out and the building was now vacant. Robert indiana, who had ben raised as a Christian Scientist, suggested to Larry that he include a new work by Robert inspired by his church experience. Christian Science churches are generally quite plain and Robert remembered one church just had the motto “God is love” painted on a wall. Robert’s new work for Larry reversed the motto to read “Love is God”, the words placed in a circle at the centre of a square that was standing on one corner.

During 1965 the Museum of Modern Art in New York approached Robert to design a Christmas card for them. What he produced was the iconic image of “Love” which has become the most popular card the museum ever produced. Robert produced several different colour variations for the Museum and the familiar red letters with blue and green background is the one they chose. Robert then went on to produce series of paintings and other works using his colour variations for an exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York.

In 1969 Robert created the first sculpture of “Love”. This was in metal and was a direct copy of the red lettering in the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas card. The sculpture was displayed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Since then several more sculptures have been made and are situated in various cities (and in various translations of the word “love”) all around the world. Wikipedia has a list of them here. Perhaps there’s one near you and you didn’t know.

In 1973 “Love” was used as the basis for a postage stamp by the US Postal Service, the stamp that is shown above.

Although “Love” has become an iconic work Robert Indiana expressed some regret at having created it. In 2014 he was interviewed by National Public Radio in the USA in which he said: “It was a marvellous idea, but it was also a terrible mistake. It became too popular.” In fact, it became so popular that it is said to have become the most appropriated and plagiarised work of American art. This is because of the uncertain copyright laws that were in place at the time “Love” was created.

More strict copyright laws came into force in the USA in 1978 which would have given Robert Indiana full ownership rights to “Love” had they been in force in 1964. And copyright law and ownership disputes over Robert Indiana’s work is an issue which is still effecting “Love” to this day.

For several years the Morgan Art Foundation and America Image Art have been battling to secure or remove all copyright on “Love” and Robert’s other works. The Morgan Art Foundation registered “Love” as one of their copyright trademarks, claiming that Robert Indiana made an agreement with them giving them the copyright and exclusive reproduction rights to all of his work made between 1960 and 2004. America Image Art, on the other hand, claim that Robert stated several times publicly that he didn’t want his art to be copyrighted, and that “Love”, as well as work produced with them was in the public domain and always had been. The legal battle between them is ongoing.

But let’s end with an argument. You remember I said earlier that Robert Indiana produced colour variations of “Love”? Well, one of these variations was a 12-piece screen-printed version made in a limited edition in 1966 called “The Book of Love”. The colour variations include yellow lettering and a black and white version. Each “Love” is accompanied by a poem. In December last year one copy of “The Book of Love” series went up for auction at Bonham’s in London. It sold for £92,750.

Of course, no-one can put a price on real love, and I hope you all receive some priceless love today.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

The 2 Billion Dollar Funeral

Could this have been the most expensive funeral in history? I haven’t looked closely at all the funerals of all the heads of world powers (i.e. Russian tsars, Egyptian pharaohs, etc.) but I suspect their costs would reach into the millions. The funeral we look at today cost billions, and it’s the funeral of Alexander the Great’s male lover/companion, Hephaestion.

Some historians doubt there was a sexual relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion. They both grew up in societies where same-sex activity was a part of their youth and it is certain they both would have participated willingly in it. But we’ll leave that debate for another time. There is no doubt that their friendship was strong enough for Alexander the Great to organise a funeral for Hephaestion that was more spectacular than his own father’s, which was spectacular enough. As the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote in his 1st century BC: “He showed such zeal about the funeral that it not only surpassed all those previously celebrated on earth but also left no possibility for anything greater in later years”.

There’s one slight problem with Diodorus’ statement. He wrote it two centuries after Hephaestion’s funeral took place. He was copying earlier, now lost, sources. The earliest known account is by a contemporary of Alexander’s called Cleitarchus. However, Cleitarchus was a bit of a sensationalist and historians believe most of the events his included in his biography of Alexander were over-embellished. Having said that, there’s nothing to indicate that Cleitarchus was making it up.

Depending on which ancient historian you read a total of between 10,000 and 12,000 talents were spent on the funeral. Estimates put this as equivalent today of between 2 and 3 billion US dollars. Not all of this came out of Alexander’s own “pocket”. He sent messengers to every city in his conquered territories of Persia requesting them to send as much money as they could to help give Hephaestion the send-off he thought he deserved. The cities seemed to have had no problem with this and responded enthusiastically and generously.

At the same time Alexander ordered that all sacred fires should be put out in Persia until after the funeral. This was a custom when a Persian king died, which gives another indication of Alexander’s feelings for Hephaestion.

Now that the financing had been arranged Alexander began panning the funeral itself. As Diodorus wrote (in the quote given above) he threw himself into the arrangements with zeal. A couple of years ago I mentioned that the ancient Greeks often celebrated someone’s death with funeral games – athletics and sport. The funeral games in honour of Hephaestion were held in Ecbatana, the city in which he died in October 324 BC. During this time a huge funeral procession was being gathered and Hephaestion’s body was being prepared and embalmed. When the games were over the funeral procession made its way to Babylon City.

The huge procession arrived, perhaps around what our modern calendar would call New Year. The funeral pyre on which Hephaestion’s body would be burned was still under construction. It was massive. Alexander had chosen an architect called Stasicrates (sometimes called Cheirocrates and Dinocrates) to design and build the pyre. Stasicrates was well-known for laying out the plan of Alexandria in Egypt, reconstructing the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (turning it into one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and he even planned to carve a huge statue of Alexander the Great into the side of Mount Athos until Alexander himself objected. So, you can see what sort of funeral pyre Stasicrates was likely to come up with, and he didn’t disappoint.

Stasicrates’ plans were so big that he needed to knock down about a kilometre of the city walls to make enough room for it and the surrounding “spectator” area. The pyre itself was a square structure, each side being about 180 meters (590 feet) in length. On top of that were five more square structures, one on top of the other like a ziggurat, a stepped pyramid. When complete the structure was said to have been 58 meters (193 feet) tall.

Each side of the pyre was richly decorated in statues and sculptures made from wood and clay. Most of these were painted and gilded so that the whole thing shone and gleamed in the daylight. All around the ground floor were carved 240 life-size ships’ prows with statues of archers and armed men on the decks.

On the level above torches about 8 meters (26 feet) tall were attached to the walls, with golden wreaths around their handles, snakes coiled around the base of each one, and huge eagles with outstretched wings hovering over them.

On the next level up were carved animals representing a wild hunt.

On the next level was a scene representing a legendary battle between the centaurs and a tribe called the Lapiths. All of which was covered in gold.

The penultimate level also had gold statues – bulls alternating with lions.

Around the top level were arms and armour of the Greek and Persian armies.

Right on top were statues of sirens. These were hollow to allow the attendants who sang the funerary laments to stand inside. No doubt there were ladders running up through the whole structure for them to get up and down before the whole thing was set on fire.

None of the ancient sources say that the pyre was actually lit, and several modern historians, including the eminent ancient historian Robin Lane-Fox, doubt the funeral ever took place as planned. However, back in 1904 the archaeologist Robert Koldeway uncovered areas of burnt ground among the ruins of Babylon. This, he theorised, might have been the site of the pyre and that the funeral took place as intended.

After the pyre had been extinguished Hephaestion’s remains were placed in a magnificent tomb. The mystery is where? No-one is sure, but we do know that Alexander the Great had little time to continue to mourn for his lover as he himself died a couple of months after the pyre was built. Some archaeologists have suggested that Hephaestion’s tomb is in Greece.

The image at the top shows an artist’s impression of what Hephaestion’s funeral pyre might have looked like. It was painted around 1900 by F. Buracz and Franz Jeffe. Even though it was a temporary structure it would have been a magnificent sight, situated on the banks of the River Euphrates in the shadow of the famous Wonder, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (though some historians doubt the Gardens existed in the form most popularly imagined).

In an age long before inner-city skyscrapers any structure towering as high as Hephaestion’s pyre would have struck awe into the Babylonians, It could easily be called the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World.

Friday 5 February 2021

Slave or Lover? Or Both?

As attitudes within society have changed over the centuries, one thing has changed little. The Bible has been (and still is) used many times to justify terrible actions, abuse and opinions, most of them perpetrated by those who want to impose their political powers by force, or by bigots who want to justify their opinions.

There are several verses and stories in the Bible which have been interpreted as affirmations and condemnations of homosexuality. One story in the Old Testament became so engrained in Christian history that it became the origin of a word occasionally still used today (sodomy) – the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. One story which has been used in modern times as evidence that Jesus Christ affirmed same-sex relationships appears in two books of the New Testament, in Matthew chapter 8 and Luke chapter 7.

The two versions of the story are almost identical and indicate an older common origin, referred to as source “Q” by Biblical scholars. No-one is sure what that origin may be, how old it is, or if it still exists but they tend to agree that Matthew’s account is likely to have been written closest in time to source Q, while Luke’s account has been slightly embellished.

Here is the short version of the story. Shortly after giving the Sermon on the Mount Jesus and his followers went into the town of Capernaum. Jesus had already gained a reputation as a healer of the sick and a Roman centurion in the town approached Jesus and asked him if he could heal his sick “favoured slave” (I’ll explain this term later). Jesus said he would and said he’d go with the centurion to his home. The centurion said he wasn’t worthy to have Jesus in his home and requested that his slave be cured from afar. Jesus admired the faith of the centurion and said the slave would be cured by the time the centurion got home, and indeed he was.

So, what’s the meaning of “favoured slave” and what words do the ancient texts use? The term has often been included in lgbt Christian literature as “beloved slave” which gives us a clue. In the early Greek versions of the story in the Matthew and Luke gospels two words “pais” and “doulos” appear when describing the slave.

“Doulos”, means someone who was born a slave. The other word, “pais”, has many meanings, including slave or servant, but it can also mean boy or child (boy or girl). The common Greek tradition of pederasty (men with young boy lovers) with which Christ and the gospel writers were familiar but no practice also uses the word “pais” to mean a boy lover. Throughout the rest of the New Testament “pais” is used in all its different meanings, so which meaning was originally intended for the centurion’s pais?

There have been a handful of books and academic articles which have examined and offered interpretations of this story. One of the earliest and perhaps the best of these appeared in “The Entimos Pais of Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10” by Donald Mader, first published in 1987 and available to read online here.

It is Luke’s gospel which refers to the centurion’s “favoured slave” or “entimos doulos”. As with “pais” the word “entimos” has several meanings. It can mean honourable, respected, valuable or precious. Slaves were not generally thought of as being worthy of respect or honour, so did Luke translate the word “pais” wrongly? Did he use it to mean a slave when the original source Q uses it to mean a servant, an employee? Luke’s account seems to imply that the centurion thought of his slave as something more than just that. It implies a more personal relationship.

A lot of Biblical, historical and gender studies academics are of the opinion that the centurion’s “pais” was indeed his lover. As a result many lgbt Christian churches and organisations have accepted it as fact. The truth is we’ll never know. The original source “Q” is long lost so any more definitive clues are lost with it.

However, the crucial point about this story, in both gospels, is that it is about the faith of the centurion not his sexuality. There is a danger that this can be ignored in favour of the minor theme of the centurion having a boy lover (assuming that is what source “Q” is supposed to indicate).

The current trend towards using the centurion’s story as evidence to support the idea that Jesus Christ approved of same-sex relationships is not really valid, in my opinion (I studied Bible history during my studies to be a Methodist lay preacher in the 1980s, so I have a little background in Biblical scholarship). Jesus supported all sections of society, including criminals, murderers, slave owners, people with leprosy and diseases, outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, those who opposed his teachings, and anyone who had an opinion that modern society would consider offensive. He treated “sinners” (as society at the time would call them) in exactly the same way as he treated his followers. The centurion came to Jesus for help and Jesus gave it. To Jesus the fact that a man had a boy lover would have been irrelevant. If Biblical text involving Christ’s actions are to be taken as evidence of approval or not, then we lgbt Christians should not support divorce or same-sex marriage – Jesus expressed strong opinions against both. Just to be clear, I suppose same-sex marriage (even if I don’t have the privilege of having anyone who to marry!) but it has nothing to do with what Christianity is about (I’ll stop there before I start preaching!).

The centurion and his boy lover presents a very thought-provoking story which has had historians puzzling over its vague meaning for decades. It’s easy to put an interpretation influenced by contemporary thought on stories like this, and this is not the only one in the Bible.

Monday 1 February 2021

More Queer Facts for LGBT History Month

Here are 20 more queer facts, trivia and information about the lgbt community to celebrate the start of LGBT History Month UK. I’ve written articles about most of these subjects, so please feel free to look them up using the search box.

1) The false belief that the Great Wall of China can be seen from space was popularised by a gay adventurer and travel writer called Richard Halliburton (1900-1939). In his 1930 book “Richard Halliburton’s Second Book of Marvels” he wrote “Astronomers say that the Great Wall in the only man-made thing on our planet visible to the human eye from the Moon”. The claim was first made in an obscure book in 1904, but because of Halliburton’s popularity his remark became well-known. No-one knows who first made the claim.

2) Swardspeak is the slang language used by gay men in the Philippines and their lgbt allies.

3) The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games saw three British lgbt athletes win gold medals – Nicola Adams, Carl Hester and Lee Pearson. Together with all the other gold medallists they were commemorated individually on postage stamps. The Royal Mail also commemorated them by painting a post pox in the athlete’s home town gold. Visiting all the gold boxes has become something of a “sport” in itself.

4) Emperor Jing (188 BC-144 BC) of the Han Dynasty of China, one of several emperors to have had male favourites as lovers, is the earliest known tea drinker. The oldest surviving tea leaves were found in his tomb in 1984.

5) The world’s longest-running annual lgbt parade/procession is the “Ascent of the Femininielli”, created by the Catholic Church in 1256 in the village of Ospedaleto D’Alpinolo near Naples. Italy. It is included in their centuries-old annual religious celebration of the end of Christmas on February 2nd and commemorates the miraculous survival of a gay couple who were left naked on a mountain to freeze to death. The femininielli are the traditional third gender community in central Italy and have been significant participants of the procession since the 16th century at least. The lgbt community in the Naples region also celebrates with special events and parties. If it wasn’t for the covid pandemic it would have been taking place tomorrow.

6) Female same-sex couples in England and Wales are more likely to divorce than male couples. According to the Office of National Statistics there were 822 same-sex divorces in 2019 and 589 of them (72%) were of female couples. In 2018 the percentage was higher - there were 428 same-sex divorces, of which 321 were female. Female couples are also more likely to divorce at a younger age than male couples.

7) The official imperial name of the teenage queer Roman emperor Elegabalus (c.203-222) was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. The name Elegabalus derives from his hereditary position as High Priest of the Syrian sun god El-Gabal (hence the Greek form Heliogabalus, named after the Greek sun god Helios). His birth-name was Varius Avitus Bassianus.

8) The first modern drag queen was a former slave called William Dorsey Swann (b.c.1858). There were many cross-dressing entertainers before the 20th century but Swann was the first to style himself “Queen of Drag”. He ran a male brothel and organised drag balls in Maryland, USA, for which (along with white men who also organised such events) he was prosecuted.

9) The French-Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) was Master of the King’s Music to King Louis XIV before his homosexual past caught up with him and he was dismissed. During his term of office Lully helped to found modern opera, ballet and the military marching band. In fact, we wouldn’t have any them today without his input.

10) Madge coll was an 18th century slang name for a homosexual. It comes from the slang term for a woman (madge) and a man (coll). It finds more modern equivalents is slang terms such a lady-boy and omi-palone. In the 1780s madge colls were known to congregate along Birdcage Walk, just off Buckingham Palace. The term went out of use by the 1870s.

11) The first European settler in the American colonies to be executed for sodomy was William Plaine (c.1595-1646) in New Haven colony. He was also married and had one child, a daughter called Hannah. Through her William Plaine is the ancestor of Vincent Price, Jodie Foster, George W. Bush, Christopher Reeve, and thousands of others.

12) Gaetan Dugas (1953-1984) is often wrongly referred to as the Patient Zero of AIDS. He was actually called Case 057, meaning there were 56 known cases before him. The misunderstanding comes from his description as Patient O in a study in 1982, which actually means “Patient Outside Southern California”.

13) British gay artist Pascal Anson (b.1973) designed the special livery painted onto British Airways planes in 2012 to celebrate the London Olympics and Paralympics. He had previously competed with London’s lgbt swimming club, Out to Swim, at the Gay Games and EuroGames. Members of Out to Swim took part in the London 2012 opening ceremony (during the Industrial Revolution sequence).

14) Greeks myths tell of Nerites, the beautiful son of the sea god Nereus. Nerites became the lover of Poseidon, the chief sea god, accompanying him on his chariot as he rode over the seas and oceans. One myth tells how Nerites bragged that Poseidon’s chariot was faster than the chariot of Helios, the sun god. In response Helios turned Nerites into a slow-moving sea snail. Nerites thus became the god of sea snails and sea shells.

15) The first lgbt micronation (an area which declares unilateral independence but is not recognised by any national government) was the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands. It was established in 2004 off the coast of Queensland, Australia, by Dale Parker Anderson (b.1965) in response to the Australian government’s refusal to recognise same-sex marriages legally conducted overseas. The kingdom ceased to exist when Australia legalised same-sex marriage in 2017. There are several other lgbt micronations in existence today.

16) While 21st century Russia is notoriously homophobic, in the 13th to 16th centuries punishment for same-sex activity was relatively lenient compared to the death penalty imposed in other parts of Europe at the time. In Russia the punishment was a period of Christian penance.

17) The coat of arms inherited by openly gay Olympic swimmer Mark Chatfield (1953-1998) is one of the few created before the 20th century that includes the colour purple.

18) One of the biggest mysteries in the lgbt community is the disappearance of Aeryn Gillern, a.k.a Aaron Michael Jackson (b.1973). He was Mr Gay Austria in 2005 and 2006, representing that nation in the Mr. Gay Europe contests both years. On 29th October 2007 he was seen running naked from a sauna in Vienna. He has not been seen since, and his disappearance and fate is an unsolved mystery.

19) Jacques Cabaret in Boston, Massachusetts (where Boston’s first ever Pride march began) is said to be haunted by the ghost of Sylvia Sidney, Boston’s most famous drag queen. His real name was Sidney Sushman (1930-1998).

20) In Egyptian mythology the annual floods which gave Egypt its fertile Nile banks is created and governed by a blue-skinned intersex god called Hapi.