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.