Monday 24 July 2023

One Olympian, Multiple "Firsts"

NOTE: Research is never-ending. The information in this article is accurate on the date of publication. New information which is discovered after this date may alter or replace some of the details.

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games begin a year today with the start of the football and rugby sevens tournaments, several days before the actual opening ceremony. To celebrate, here’s the second of my three Olympic firsts in the lgbt+ community. In fact today we look at someone with multiple firsts.

This man who is not only the first identified lgbt+ competitor at the Olympics (as far as research currently reveals), but he is also the first black American and first lgbt+ Olympian to win a medal, as well as several others. His name is George Coleman Poage (1880-1962).

George Poage

One of my favourite sayings is “history is always changing”. By that I mean that our concept and understanding of what happened in the past changes when new information or new interpretations are applied to history.

When I began my Olympic research in 2010 George Poage was not a name anyone would have put on any lgbt+ list. His family only revealed he was gay in 2016, to someone who had been researching Poage’s life since the 1980s. He included the fact in a biography of Poage in 2017. That biography is available to download here. For our purposes today we’ll just concentrate on Poage’s Olympic achievements and his sexuality.

It is easy to claim that Poage was “erased from history” because he was black. He and his racial background are clearly recorded several times in the official report of the 1904 Olympics, and in many other publications produced at the time, including newspapers, and school, college and athletics club records. He is one of hundreds of Olympians who drift out of public memory all the time. Everyone probably knows who Usain Bolt is. But who remembers Carl Lewis or Allan Wells? Just because you don’t learn about something in school doesn’t mean it has been erased or covered up.

The 1904 St. Louis Olympics at which George Poage competed is notorious among we Olympic historians (I’m a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee – the IOC) as being one of the “messiest”.

The games were originally awarded to Chicago. The organisers of the 1904 St. Louis World Fair (the one featured in the Judy Garland musical “Meet Me In St. Louis”) were already planning their own international multi-sport festival that would take place at the same time. The World Fair asked Chicago to cancel their games or move them to St. Louis. This caused some conflict, and the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, stepped in and cancelled the Chicago Olympics and re-awarded them to St. Louis.

The IOC then had to decide which events organised by the St. Louis World Fair where to be considered Olympic. It wasn’t until 2021 that the list of official 1904 Olympic events was established – 117 years afterwards!!! There are still debates about other events. There’s even debates over which nations were represented. Most US athletes, George Poage included, competed under their sports club’s team name, not their nation. In 2021 ten Olympians were removed from Team USA and listed among their actual national teams. Poage competed as a member of the Milwaukee Athletics Club

So you can see why the 1904 Olympics were messy. And I haven’t even mentioned what happened in the marathon. But I digress. Let’s get back to George Poage.

First of all, let’s clear up several points. George Poage was NOT the first black Olympian (that was French rugby player Constantin Henriquez in 1900). Nor is Poage the first black medal winner (also Henriquez, who won a gold medal). George Poage WAS the first known black Olympian to compete as an American, and the first black American medallist. There are other “firsts” that can be attributed to Poage, which I’ll mention as we go along. Poage was registered to enter five events – the 60 metres, the 100 metres, the 400 metres, the 200 metre hurdles, and the 400 metre hurdles. As mentioned earlier, US athletes competed under their club name.

The track events began on 29th August 1904, and George Poage took part in the very first event, the first heat of the men’s 60 metre sprint. Unfortunately, this is one of the events which suffer from lack of full documentation. There’s no record of Poage’s finishing position or time, but he was not one of the first two finishers who progressed to the final. However, this does make George Poage the first black American to compete in a track event at the Olympics, as well as the first ever lgbt+ track athlete, two more “firsts” he holds.

Poage’s next event was the 400 metres later that day. There were no heats as there were only 12 entrants and they started on the line together like modern long-distance races. Poage spent the first half of the race behind the lead group. He quickly progressed into second place and spectators assumed he would win. On the last bend he was overtaken by several others and crossed the finish line in 6th place. Again, no time was recorded for him.

George Poage’s next event was two days later, the 400 metres hurdles. Again, there were no heats, as this time there were only four entries, all American. This is the race in which Poage won his first Olympic medal, a bronze. Being the first black American Olympian, this also made him the first black American Olympic medal winner. He also became the fist black athlete of any nation to win an individual Olympic medal (Constantin Henriquez won a team gold). All of this as the first lgbt+ Olympian in each case. That’s two more “firsts”.

The next day Poage competed in the 200 metres hurdles, wining his second bronze medal (out of a field of 5 entries). Even though there is no recorded time, it is recorded that just 2 metres (6 feet) separated the first three, with the last two athletes well behind them.

Poage was listed as an entry in the 100 metres on 3rd September, but is listed as a non-starter. This was a common occurrence in these early days of competitive athletics.

As mentioned before, no-one knew about George Poage’s sexuality until his nephew, Rev. Lawrence Jenkins, told Poage’s biographer of the fact in 2016. At the time Poage was being celebrated as an outstanding athlete in La Crosse, Illinois, where he had lived and taught. A statue was unveiled in his memory. Actually, it’s four statues, showing Poage in the various stages of a race – starting position, setting off, running the race, and crossing the finishing line. Rev. Jenkins and other family members were present at the unveiling.

There’s very little that can be said for definite about Poage’s sexuality other than he was gay. He left no personal testimony, and there’s no inference of sexual behaviour with another man. The only incidence of any sexual nature at all came in 1914 when he was teaching at Sumner High School, though it was not of a homosexual nature. Some students had falsely accused Poage and two other teachers of inappropriate relationships with young female students. An investigation cleared all three. Even though the other teachers were reinstated, despite criticism from the local press, Poage had decided to resign and move away.

So, the only evidence we have to go on is the word of his family. But does it matter if there’s no evidence of a gay relationship? George Poage was a trailblazer no matter what his sexuality. Whatever obstacles he encountered because of his race, and there were not as many as other black Americans at the time received, he reached the level of an elite athlete. He was lauded in his own lifetime, disappeared from public memory, and is returning slowly to take his place in the record books.

Monday 10 July 2023

Star Gay-zing: Queer Asteroid Update

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but been a lot of reports about a newly discovered asteroid that is following us around in Earth’s orbit, like a couple of other “quasi-moons” we have. Perhaps it’s only me that has noticed because I’m interested in them.

But it made me think that it is about time I did an update on the asteroids that have been named after members of the lgbt+ community. So, here it is.

Each asteroid is preceded by its official number and name, its date of discovery, the date when the name was published, a quote from the official citation, and finally other notes of queer interest I can add.

2223 Sarpedon

Discovered 3 October 1977. Published 1 August 1991.

“One of the leaders of the Lycians, Sarpedon was killed by Patroclus in the Trojan War. At the command of Zeus, his body was seized by Apollo and returned to Lycia.”

Sarpedon was the lover of Prince Atymnius of Ethiopia, the son of King Cephus and Queen Cassiopeia. Patroclus, Zeus and Apollo are also lgbt+, and have asteroids named after them.

3200 Phaeton

Discovered 11 October 1983. Published 2 July 1985.

“This object associated with the Geminid meteor stream has the smallest known perihelion distance for a body in a short-period orbit and is named for the son of Helios, who operated the solar chariot for a day, lost control of it and almost set fire to the Earth.”

The god Zeus shot Phaeton out of the sky with a thunderbolt and he fell into the River Po. Phaeton’s lover, Cycnus, mourned his death and was turned into a swan by Apollo. You can read the full story here.

7091 Maryfields

Discovered 1 May 1992. Published 8 Nov 2019.

“Stagecoach Mary Fields (c.1832-1914) was an African-American folk hero and trailblazer. She was a mail carrier in Montana in her 60's, braving harsh weather but never missing a day. Loved by her community, her birthday was a local holiday. She refused to be limited by social norms or laws.”

I wrote about her “Extraordinary Life” several years ago, here.

26883 Marcelproust

Discovered 12 August 1994. Published 28 July 2021.

“Marcel Proust (1871–1922) was a French novelist and essayist, widely considered to be one of the most influential author of the 20th century. His monumental novel ‘Á la recherche du temps perdu’ was published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927, the last three volumes being edited by his brother, Robert.”

This is the second asteroid named after the gay author, the first being 4474 Proust (listed here). Although the official citation of 4474 Proust specifically identifies the astrophysicist Dominique Proust as the individual after whom this asteroid is named, it states that it also honours Marcel Proust.

27400 Mikewong

Discovered 11 Mar 2000. Published 11 June 2021.

“Mike Wong (b.1971) is a planetary scientist at the University of California at Berkeley who studies giant planets in the Solar System. He is part of the team that discovered a moon around asteroid 624 Hektor, and he studied a 2009 impact on Jupiter while monitoring of the atmosphere with adaptive optics.”

His work on 624 Hektor with his colleague Frank Marchis, a fellow openly gay astrophysicist, is told here.

38083 Rhadamanthus

Discovered 17 April 1999. Published 24 July 2002.

“Rhadamanthus was a son of Zeus and Europa. Because of his just and upright life, after death he was appointed a judge of the dead and the ruler of Elysium, a blissfully beautiful area of the Underworld where those favoured by the gods spent their life after death.”

The Greek writer Athenaeus (170 AD-223 AD) wrote that Rhadamanthus was the lover of Talos (a human, not the giant bronze statue that came to life, as depicted in the film “Jason and the Argonauts”).

85030 Admetos

Discovered 24 September 1960. Published 28 October 2004.

“Admetus (Admetos), from Greek mythology. The King of Pherae was saved by Apollo from his fated death when his wife Alcestis offers to die in his place, father of Eumelos, the best charioteer in the Greek army during the Trojan War.”

One of Apollo’s many male lovers.

343158 Marsyas

Discovered 29 Apiil 2009. Published 14 May 2021.

“Marsyas, a Phrygian Satyr dared oppose Apollo in a musical duel. Marsyas lost when he could not play his flute upside-down. For his hubris he was tied to a tree, flayed, his blood turned into a stream. Marsyas is so named for its unusual retrograde orbit, that which opposes the motion of most solar system objects.”

Marsyas was the teacher and lover of the boy Olympos of Mysia, as stated by the philosopher Philostratus. After Marsyas was flayed alive Apollo gave his body to Olympos for burial.

442721 Kerouac

Discovered 18 October 2009. Published 23 May 2022.

“Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, known as Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was an American writer and poet. His novels, including ‘On the Road’ and ‘The Subterraneans’, established a new writing style of spontaneous prose. Kerouac is considered a pioneer of the 1950s and 1960s Beat Generation.”

45595 Inman

Discovered 6 February 2000. Published 6 February 2023.

“Frederick John Inman (1934–2007) was an English actor best known for playing Mr. Humphries in the British comedy ‘Are You Being Served?’ (1972–1985), who went on to star in the Australian version of the same sitcom. In 1976 he was named both BBC TV Personality of the Year and ‘TV Times’ readers' Funniest Man on Television.”

John Inman was hugely popular. His mincing character Mr. Humphries gave the UK one of its most enduring catchphrases, “I’m free!” He was also one of the greatest pantomime dames in British theatre.

475080 Jarry

Discovered 26 October 2006. Published 20 December 2021.

“Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) was a French poet, novelist, writer and playwright. His play ‘Ubu Roi’ is often cited as a forerunner of Dada and the Surrealist movement of the 1920s. He also coined the term and philosophical concept of ‘pataphysics’, the science of imaginary solutions, which involves the destruction by the absurd of reason and language.”

Although Jarry is known to have had gay encounters in his younger years he didn’t seem to have had any romantic relationships with anyone, male or female, after that. Many of his works included gay characters and themes.


98 Ianthe

Discovered 18 April 1868. Published before 1903.

“Named for the young girl who became betrothed to Iphis, a Cretan girl who was changed by Isis into a man.”

In the pseudo-science of astrology, Ianthe is the influence behind dissatisfaction with one’s gender role, or with gender identity problems.

52965 Laurencebentz

Discovered 15 October 1998. Published 29 March 2023.

“Laurence Bentz (b.1958) is a French medical doctor, specializing in Public Health & Education Sciences. She contributed to tackling the HIV-AIDS epidemic at its onset, through clinical work, epidemiology, and research to enhance patient adherence to complex treatments. She also developed interventions to support the empowerment of chronically-ill people.