Sunday, 27 November 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. It is the start of the pre-Christmas season where we look forward to and prepare for Christmas itself. Shops have been doing that since August, but they observe a different kind of Christmas.

If you want to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner you’d be decorating your home from this week. In fact, the Victorians were the first to start putting up decorations this early. Generally, the Victorians didn’t do anything until after Christmas Day. The craze for history, the emergence of neo-Gothicism and the popularity of Dickens’ writings created the Christmas we know today (most alleged pagan origins were invented by the Victorians at about this time). You’d do a little more decorating each Sunday until the very last moment of Christmas Eve when you put a star on top of the Christmas tree. To put the star up before sunset on Christmas Eve is unlucky. You’ll keep the decorations up until the end of Christmas on 1st February. In parts of Wales they still do. Taking down decorations on Twelfth Night (6th Jan.) just because you think it’s unlucky to leave them up is a modern idea, younger than I am.

The traditional holiday period when parties were held was during the Twelve Days of Christmas (again, doing it before Christmas Day is traditionally unlucky).

To celebrate Christmas I’m going to present my own version of the Twelve Days of Christmas which I call the Twelve GAYS of Christmas. Between now and Twelfth Night 2012 I’ll give information on 12 lgbt people with Christmas connections.

Among the 12 Gays will be a Pratt who became a Crisp, a female king and a ghostly writer. We’ll also hear about fairy tale castles, bathroom loofahs and more than one Christmas birth.

Obviously this will be a personal list which I hope you will enjoy. One trend I noticed when compiling it is that there is an unintentional bias towards male individuals (10 out of 12 are male, and of the others one isn’t even human!). It would have been good to have a more balanced list, but I’m already looking around for a new balanced set of 12 Gays for Christmas 2012!

The first in my list of 12 Gays of Christmas will be next Sunday – the 2nd Sunday in Advent – when I’ll talk about a character who always appears in Nativity plays but not in the Biblical nativity.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Star Gayzing 3

Sagittarius

Today sees the beginning of the horoscope sign Sagittarius. Ask anyone what the constellation represents and they’ll say an archer. Some may even say it is the centaur Chiron, teacher, mentor and occasional lover of heroes. You’ll often see Sagittarius depicted in horoscopes as a centaur, but he isn’t one. Chiron the centaur is already represented in the constellation Centaurus so he doesn’t need another one.

The Sagittarius centaur actually derives from the Babylonian god Pabilsag, a half-horse, half-man, winged deity with 2 heads (one of a man, the other of a dog) firing a bow and arrow. Occasionally the Babylonians depicted the constellation as the Wildman Enkidu (mentioned last month in the entry on Scorpio), who was created to show the legendary hero King Gilgamesh the benefits of love.

The Ancient Greeks saw Sagittarius not as a centaur but as a satyr called Krotos. He was the son of Pan and was brought up with the Muses, the 9 sisters who presided over art, science and culture. Legend says it was Krotos who invented the act of applause in response to pleasure at the works of the Muses.

Krotos was the opposite of everything the Greeks thought about satyrs. He was cultured, educated and, above all, sexually restrained. The sexual appetite of satyrs was uncontrolled. Their prowess was seen as hyper-masculine and as such they were spoken of as having sex with both men and women. The satyrs were companions of Dionysios, the god of wine, who has sometimes been described as a bisexual deity embodying both male and female qualities. Indeed, Dionysios has been claimed by www.glbtq.com as the patron god of transvestites and hermaphrodites. As god of wine he was also associated with parties and, with his sexually promiscuous companions the satyrs, also of orgies.

Krotos was not like the other satyrs. As he lived his whole life with 9 women, didn’t have children, or to have any known boy-lover, we begin to wonder about his sexuality. Perhaps he was asexual.

The centre of our galaxy is situated in Sagittarius where the densest part of the Milky Way stretches across the sky. Greek mythology gives an account of its creation and name. It features the hero Herakles (=Hercules). Hercules is recorded as having more male partners and boyfriends than any of the heroes – at least 3 – as well as being the lover of Chiron the alleged Sagittarius centaur.

There are several versions of the legend. One says the goddess Hera is tricked into believing that Hercules was her own son (which he isn’t). Seeing the baby Hercules her maternal instincts take over and she suckles him. Even before he could walk Hercules shows his great strength. He clamps his mouth on Hera’s breast causing her pain. In agony she throws the child away and her milk sprays across the sky forming the Milky Way. The Greek word for milk is “gala” and from this comes the word “galaxy”, the word used for the Milky Way since the 14th century.

Next month we learn about more satyrs and the Pan-sexual Capricorn, and how it is connected to the gaps in Saturn’s rings.

Monday, 21 November 2011

LGBT History Month pre-launch

Tonight at The Oval cricket ground in London the 2012 LGBT History Month will be pre-launched. The theme, as you might have guessed from the venue, is sport.

During 2012 I will be bringing you a special Olympic countdown with the most complete history of lgbt participation in the Olympics – ever! And, as far as I am aware, I will be the first to list all 120 known lgbt Olympians, including one closeted athlete whose identity I couldn’t possibly reveal without his/her permission!

2012 will also be the 30th anniversary of the first Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982. The Gay Games is the biggest multi-sport festival in the world. Over the past 2 years I have been compiling a comprehensive list of Gay Games medallists. The Federation of Gay Games has records of recent games, but not so complete records of the first two in 1982 and 1986. With the help of various biographies, blogs, news reports and research I have come up with a list of over 9,000 individuals who have won medals.

Here’s a taster of the facts, figures and trivia that makes the Gay Games a major part of the worldwide lgbt community.
Notable Medal Winners
Athletics           George Takei, “Star Trek” and “Heroes” actor
Swimming        Rhona Cameron, comedian
Basketball        Esera Tuaolo, American footballer
Basketball        Glenn Burke, baseball player
Athletics           Chuck Palanhuik, author of “Fight Club”
Tennis              James Hormel, US Ambassador to the Netherlands
Ice skating       Joel Mangs, aka gay porn actor Brad Patton
Bodybuilding   Greg Groves, aka gay porn actor Matthew Rush

Olympians at the Gay Games
Tom Waddell, Gay Games founder
Susan McGreivy
Bruce Hayes
Scott Cranham
Mark Chatfield
Peter Prijdekker
Daniel Veatch
Geert Blanchart

Comparison numbers

One concern at the forefront of the work of LGBT History Month will be to raise awareness of homophobia in sport. Even as we welcome elite sportspeople coming out we also question the attitudes of those in sport who criticise them. Nowhere is that bigotry more visible than in football. Two top international footballers came out in 2011, and 6 top footballers said they have no place in football. Nottingham has a notorious reputation as having the most homophobic, racist, abusive, bigot the sport has ever produced – manager Brian Clough – put on a pedestal and worshipped as a hero.

Recently, the head of FIFA himself, Sepp Blatter, opened his mouth without thinking first and revealed his racist thinking. He alleges to supports the campaign to rid football of homophobia, but hasn’t actually done anything about it.

My friend and guest blogger Narvel Annable has these words to say on those like Blatter who haven’t dragged themselves out of the 19th century:

The recent controversy over racism in football, hinged on the significance of a handshake. This put me in mind of a parallel incident when I was approached by two Mormons.  They assured me that I was loved by God but my homosexuality was unnatural and unacceptable. I counted with the fact that my sexuality and the host body were one and the same. We came as a package. We could not be separated. Several minutes of heated negotiations ended, as always in these cases, in stalemate.

One of them suggested that we should agree to disagree and offered me his hand. I refused. I explained that accepting such a gesture would condone centuries of ignorance and bigotry. I argued against being a party to religious prejudice. A handshake would not deal with the root cause of the problem which is called homophobia. When the Mormons renounce and apologise for their medieval beliefs and cruel conduct, at that point, I will gladly shake a Mormon hand. 

Homophobes and racists should look to the example of Sepp Blatter who gave a fulsome and gracious apology when made aware of his hurtful comments.

Narvel Annable

Thursday, 17 November 2011

From the Goons to Schindler

In the past few months I have been transported back to my childhood by listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra. Each weeknight when I get home from work I tune in to hear classic BBC radio comedy series from the 1950s and 60s like “The Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. I am too young to remember them, but I remember the reruns in the 1970s. “Hancock’s Half Hour” gave Kenneth Williams one of his earliest starring roles, but it is another individual who connects the two series – Wally Stott.

Music was an integral part of radio comedy in those days, with catchy theme tunes and at least one musical interlude in each programme. Wally Stott was responsible for the music for both “The Goon Show” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. It was an instantly distinctive name which I always remembered.

In 1972 the BBC reunited the cast of “The Goon Show” for “The Last Goon Show Of All”. All the surviving members were present, but not Wally Stott. I assumed, wrongly, that he had died. As it happened Wally was invited to return but he turned it down because of personal reasons which weren’t revealed to many of those at the time. These reasons became evident when Wally Stott re-emerged onto the music scene shortly afterwards as Angela Morley.

Angela had felt uncomfortable with her sexuality during her first marriage. It was during her second marriage that she determined to do something about it. With the loving support of her second wife Angela underwent surgery in 1972.

Angela continued to compose and conduct. She moved into the film industry and was nominated for an Oscar twice – for “The Little Prince”, 1974, and “The Slipper and the Rose”, 1976 (one of my all-time favourite sound-tracks). Her experiences in the film music industry in America seemed less transphobic than that in the UK and it persuaded Angela to move there. In the following years she was crossing the Atlantic composing film scores in Hollywood and conducting the BBC Radio Orchestra in the UK.

In the 1980s Angela composed and arranged music for many famous tv shows (many of them camp classics in the lgbt community) such as “Dynasty”, “Dallas”, “Cagney and Lacey” and “Wonder Woman”. Success followed, with 3 Emmy awards and a further 6 nominations for her tv work.

It’s a pity that Angela wasn’t more well-known outside the music industry. I regard her as one of the best musical talents in the film and tv industries (she also helped to create the musical signatures of “Star Wars, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “ET”, and “Schindler’s List” with John Williams), and she should have got more public recognition. In different circumstances I’m sure she would have been awarded and OBE at least.

Angela Morley died on 14 January 2009 at the age of 84.

As we approach the International Transgender Day of Remembrance this coming Sunday I hope more people will come to appreciate Angela Morley’s long and distinguished contribution to radio, tv and film music.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Murder on My Doorstep

During this week in 1999 I became caught up in one of the biggest stories in Nottingham that year – the murder of Grenville Carter.

First, for those unfamiliar with Nottingham I need to show you the vicinity of the crime on this map.


1)      My then home, No. 10 Canning Terrace.
2)      The entrance into the cemetery.
3)      The home of Grenville Carter.
4)      The location of the bin bags.

The first indication I had that something was going on was when I set off to do my morning shopping before going to work. I always took the shortcut through the cemetery. But one morning the gates were locked. It wasn’t long before I found out why.

In November 1999 Simon Charles, a 39-year-old bisexual drifter, walked into a police station and confessed to the murder of 55-year-old Grenville Carter. The reason the cemetery was closed was because Charles had dumped the body there. What is really spine-tingling is that I had walked past it several times on my shortcut to Tesco.

Grenville Carter lived just a few doors away. He was gay, lived alone, kept himself to himself, and had a kind heart. One afternoon in October 1999 he befriended Simon Charles who he had seen sleeping rough in the cemetery. He invited him to stay with him until he got his own place. This act of kindness led to his death.

Carter had patience. Charles had none. Almost as soon as moving in Charles started arguing and hitting Carter. It seems everything Carter did annoyed him. Just 2 months later Charles snapped and strangled Carter with an electric flex. But that was only the beginning.

Charles stuffed Carter’s body into a wardrobe and pinned an “RIP” note on the door while he thought of what to do with the body. Remembering how the gay serial killer Dennis Nilsen disposed of his victims by cutting them up, Charles took a stanley knife and hacksaw and cut Carter’s body into 12 parts before bagging them up in black bin bags and dumping them in the cemetery. There’s only one way he could have done that – by carrying the bags past my front door and through the arched entrance to the cemetery. I cringe every time I think about it.

For 2 weeks the body parts laid there, behind old headstones or buried in the undergrowth. And I do remember seeing a bin bag tucked behind a headstone as I walked past.

Charles took photos of his activities, and even thought about reassembling the body into a work of sculpture. Then, as the rest of the country stopped in silence for 2 minutes at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 1999 – 12 years ago today - Simon Charles walked into a police station and confessed. The next day the police closed the cemetery. For several days I could see them walking around from my bathroom window. They came to my house to ask if I had seen anything. Fortunately I hadn’t – it would have freaked me out if I suddenly realised what I’d seen.

At his trial it emerged that Charles had served 10 years in jail for attempted murder in Manchester in 1980. He was found guilty of the murder of Grenville Carter and given a life sentence.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Flowers of Remembrance

When I was little, in addition to Bonfire Night last week, I looked forward to this time of year and what we called Poppy Day. The family would sit down and watch the annual Royal Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance on tv. My Mum and Dad would make little wooden crosses with poppies on them and we’d go to the village cemetery and place them on the graves of our family members who served in the World Wars. My own generation still carries on this tradition.

The red poppy had been used in this way since 1918 when Moina Michael of the US YWCA wore a red poppy at the YWCA Overseas War Secretaries’ Conference in November that year. When the Royal British Legion was formed 90 years ago this year the red poppy was adopted by them also.

The poppy has always had an association with death and sleep. The opium poppy in particular having special significance due to its various drug derivatives. The opium-based morphine is named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. In lgbt culture the cult film “The Wizard of Oz” has the 4 lead characters succumbing to the sleep-inducing properties of a red poppy field.

It can be argued that symbolism of remembrance with the poppy only began in 1918. Other plants have remembrance associated with them, most notably rosemary.

There was no definitive list of flowers and their symbolic meaning until 1727 when Aubrey de la Mottraye published an account of his travels in Turkey where the “language of flowers” was well established. This language became popular in Victorian England through the letters of another Turkey traveller – Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

Born into the Pierrepont family of Nottingham Lady Mary formed a relationship in her young years with Ann Wortley. Through Ann’s brother Edward many letters expressing undying love were exchanged between the two girls. Mary was heart-broken when Anne died at the age of 21. Mary’s father then planned to marry her off to an Irish aristocrat called Clotworthy Skeffington, but wisely Mary did her best to avoid this by eloping with Ann’s brother Edward.

Edward Wortley became Ambassador to Turkey in 1717 and Lady Mary travelled with him and wrote about her experiences, including hearing about the language of flowers. Her published letters made her famous and her ideas became popular among the upper classes of society. By the Victorian period there was a huge “dictionary” of flower meanings.

Over the years the language has changed and adapted to fit the times. The symbol of the red poppy is a good example. From its original meaning of sleep and death it is now almost entirely associated with remembrance.

Going through some of the many lists of flowers and their meanings that are around today here is a short list of other Flowers of Remembrance.

bellflower
China aster
forget-me-not
myrtle
pink carnation
rosemary
syringa
tea rose
white periwinkle
yellow ginnia

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Guest blogger

As we approach November 11th, spare a thought for Rose Robertson who died last August, age 94. She was a secret agent in Nazi-occupied France, a member of the Special Operations Executive suffering trauma and had great difficulty talking about her wartime experiences.

However, she did reveal an incident which occurred in 1941. Billeted with two young male French Resistance agents, Rose entered their room and discovered them in an embrace. She knew nothing of homosexuality, was curious and horrified to hear of family prejudice and rejection. Their story affected her deeply. She was shocked that ignorant parents could be so heartless to their gay children.

In the years after the war, Rose set out to learn more about people like me. She met distressed gay teens damaged by self-hate from religious groups chanting biblical passages with a homophobic interpretation. She met parents – like Mr and Mrs Annable – who were variously distraught, angry, guilty, ashamed and hostile towards their children’s ‘perversion’.

In 1965 she formed the Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays – FFLAG – which seeks to mediate between parents and kids in an effort to find understanding, acceptance and reconciliation.

Rose was an effective campaigner, an enlightened heterosexual with a conscience impressing people who had been wary of supporting teenagers of same-sex attraction. Gradually, police, local authorities, irate mums and dads began to trust this reassuring middle-aged figure with her family orientated approach.

It all comes too late for Narvel. My parents are dead. To the best of my knowledge, I have one sister living in the USA. We have not spoken since 1963. Could Rose have made a difference?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Banging All Night

I come from a large family. One of the highlights of the year was always Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night. We had a large garden and orchard, and my Dad and Grandad would build a huge bonfire on the old potato patch and make a “Guy”. On Bonfire Night aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family would gather and we’d have an amazingly good time, with dozens of traditions fireworks and lots of jacket potatoes and soup. I don’t remember many times when there were less than 15 of us. Happy Days.

The reason for Bonfire Night is, of course, the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up king and parliament on 5th November 1605. Bonfires were often lit at this time of year. Going back to the Stone Age animals were slaughtered for their meat so that they didn’t have to be fed through the winter. The stripped carcasses – the bones – were burnt on hugs fires. That is where the word bonfire comes from – bone fires.

The king Guy Fawkes wanted to blow to bits was James I of Great Britain. The reasons were the old familiar ones of religion and politics. Catholics and Protestants alike had been killing each other for over 50 years. First one group then the other came to power. King James was raised as a Protestant, even though his mother Mary, Queen of Scots was Catholic.

When James arrived in England to take up the throne he inherited from Elizabeth I, his reputation came with him. James had several close relationships with men during his life and pamphlets were printed in London which proclaimed “Elizabeth was king, now James is queen”. It is said that when he travelled around the country some crowds would shout “God bless Queen James”.

Guy Fawkes was one of many Catholics who thought James had gone too far in constricting catholic practice. Fawkes was recruited by a group of Catholic gentry to help get rid of the whole of parliament. They would have been replaced by a Catholic government and ruler. Had it succeeded “Queen” James’s little daughter Elizabeth would have become the first Queen Elizabeth II (technically, though, she’d actually have been Elizabeth III).

Celebrations of the discovery and defeat of the Gunpowder Plot started almost immediately. Even as the plotters were being executed for treason the government passed the Observance of 5th November Act 1605.

People began celebrating with bonfires and fireworks, and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, in 1606, turning him into a popular folk villain. Ever since then people have been burning effigies of other villains on Bonfire Night in response to various national and world events – Hitler, Mrs. Thatcher, Sadam Hussain, Osama bin Laden, the Pope, even Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Perhaps somewhere in the UK there’s a group of lgbt people gathering to celebrate Bonfire Night by burning an effigy of a modern homophobic villain.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Out of Their Trees 3

Will Young (b.1979) – Part 1

Having watched every UK episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” I find it remarkable that 2 of England’s most popular gay entertainers, Stephen Fry and Julian Clary, have Germanic ancestry. But my own research has uncovered another gay entertainer with Germanic blood – singer Will Young.

Last night Will Young performed here in Nottingham on his latest national tour. His ancestry is one of the most varied and fascinating that I have researched. It could easily fill 2 episodes of “WDYTUR?” It’ll be difficult to squash it all into one blog entry so I’ll split it into 2. I’ll begin with his German roots.

Way back in the mid-18th century an impoverished German aristocrat, Friedrich von Geyer, emigrated to Boston, New England. There he met and married a colonist, Susannah Ingraham. She is descended from several early settler families of America going back to about 1630.

Charlotte von Geyer, Friedrich’s daughter, married Joseph Marryat in Boston in 1789. Joseph’s father Thomas was a real eccentric. After following his own father into the Presbyterian ministry in Sussex Thomas suddenly dropped his congregation and family for the life of a travelling doctor, going around Europe, America and Ireland. His eccentric treatments included giving paper boiled in milk to dysentery patients.

Dr. Marryat’s son Joseph was an English merchant who had business interests in New York and the Caribbean. As a colonial agent he was also responsible for the supply of African slaves to plantation owners. It is probably no surprise to learn that Joseph Marryat actively petitioned against the abolition of slavery.

The Marryats settled in England after the Norman Conquest but never lost their connection with France. In the 16th century they fought with the French Protestant Huguenots against the Catholic French monarchy. They escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 by hiding in the English ambassador’s home. In 1590 they fought in the Battle of Ivry which defeated the Catholic faction. For their part in this victory the Marryats were granted an addition to their coat of arms of a French fleur-de-lys.

In 1790 Joseph Marryat’s son Charles married Caroline Short, a lady of solid West Country ancestry. The Short family had lived in Devon for several hundred years, but Caroline’s mother’s family have lived in Cornwall for considerably many more. Among her most ancient ancestors were the Polwhele family. They had been in Cornwall since Saxon times.

John Polwhele was MP in 1640, and through his wife Anne Will Young is descended from King Edward III. It also gives Will a descent from a Catholic Cardinal. Henry Beaufort (grandson of Edward III) was appointed Bishop of Lincoln in 1398, Winchester in 1405, and cardinal in 1426. His illegitimate daughter married Sir Edward Stradling and it’s from this couple that Will Young inherits his English royal blood and a direct line to that well-known “queen” of England, Edward II.

Another religious link appears in the Short family - Caroline’s brother was the first Anglican Bishop of Adelaide. But that’s not the only Aussie connection, because Augusta, the daughter of Caroline and her husband Charles Marryat, lifted the family status up a notch in 1848 by marrying Sir Henry Young who in the following year became a colonial governor, first of South Australia, then of Tasmania (his father was Sir Aretas Young, Governor of Prince Edward Island, Canada). Their standing in the colony is reflected in the fact that Port Augusta in South Australia was named after Will Young’s ancestor Lady Augusta (Marryat) Young. Will Young is Sir Henry’s great-great-great-grandson.

Will’s grandmother Mrs. Patricia Young has real ale in her blood (not literally, of course). Her mother was a member of the Brakspear brewing family. It may be a name familiar to some (I was raised as a teetotal Rechabite, so wouldn’t have a clue). But perhaps the surname rings another bell. I’ve already mentioned a Presbyterian minister, a Catholic cardinal and an Anglican archbishop in Will’s family. Through the Brakspear’s Will may even be related to Nicholas Brakespear who, as Adrian IV, was the only Englishman to become Pope in 1154.

We’ve seen Will’s colonial ancestry in Australia and New England. Through the Brakspears he also has colonial ancestry in India through the marriage in Delhi in 1805 of Dr. Henry Young (a different Young family) to Elizabeth Oliver. Their daughter Ann was born in Calcutta and the family returned to England shortly afterwards. Through the Olivers Will Young is descended from most of the great Scottish dynasties – Hamilton, Douglas, Drummond, Campbell, and the Royal Stewarts themselves. Will’s most recent royal ancestor is King James IV Stewart of Scotland (1473-1513). This gives Will a line of Celtic ancestors way back into the Dark Ages.

I mentioned above that John Polwhele’s wife Ann was descended from King Edward III. What I didn’t mention was the name of her family, an old family going back to the Norman Conquest – the Baskervilles.

I’ll continue the search for Will Young’s ancestry on his next birthday, 20th January 2012, when we’ll discover his family links to the Hound of the Baskervilles, the gay origins of Robin Hood, and even Old King Cole!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Hallow Day Holiday

Yesterday was Hallowe’en. As I mentioned it is an old festival centred around the old New Year. Spirits of the dead were said to roam the earth and skies, but they were not evil spirits or zombies that people are keen to drag into the celebrations. Christianity latched onto the idea and said “if this is the day spirits of the dead roam, then that must mean Christian dead do too.” From this they came up with the idea of All Saints (or All Hallows) Day on 1st November, when Christians remember the saints and martyrs of the early Church. November 2nd is All Souls Day when the rest of the Christian dead are remembered.

Most festivals of remembrance of the dead take place at this time of year. But its wrong to think that they all originate in the same ancient pagan rite. After all, Armistice Day is 11th November, well within the time limit when such festivals were celebrated, so is that too an ancient pagan festival? In many centuries from now it might be believed to be so if its true origins are forgotten like other ancient festivals.

Over the centuries Christians began to believe that spirits of the dead who went to heaven stayed there and only evil spirits and demons roamed on Hallowe’en and began to “demonise” the whole festival. Around the world today, though, there are many festivals which don’t have a dark shadow over the celebrations. Think about Japan. They have shrines to their ancestors.

In the 21st century more people are trying to discover their own ancestors, not because they want to worship them but because they want to find out more about their family. It is the best way to reveal the hidden stories of people who would otherwise be consigned to history’s recycle bin. After all, why should only the armed forces or victims of tragedy be remembered and no-one else? Do you need to be famous before anyone notices you?

That’s one reason for the research I and other lgbt historians do. We search for those people in the past who have contributed to our history but who are in danger of being lost forever. That’s what all historians do, family historians in particular.

My gay friends know of my love for genealogy. I’ve researched the ancestries of some of them. There’s lots of amazing stories to be found. Take the ancestors of a friend who ran a gay men’s social group I go to. His great-grandparents were bigamists, another ancestor owned a pub with a secret passageway going to the local church so bell-ringers could slip down there during services, and another ended up in the workhouse because he was put out of work by textile machinery invented by his own grandfather.

One surprise I got once was when I researched the ancestry of my last partner, Mark, with whom I worked at Nottingham Castle a few years ago. I knew I was descended from King Edward II, who visited Nottingham Castle quite a lot and made his boyfriend, Piers Gaveston, Constable of the castle. Research into my partner revealed he was descended from Piers Gaveston. Fate, I thought, must have brought us together in the very place our ancestors lived. Unfortunately, I’m also descended from Roger Mortimer who murdered Edward II, and from the Earl of Warwick who murdered Piers Gaveston. So fate cancelled itself out! Pity. It would have been a perfect marketing ploy for the castle – two descendants of Edward II and Piers Gaveston “reunited” in the 20th century (actually, we were partners AFTER we both left the castle, but it’s a cool idea).

Every now and again the government says they want to create a new Bank Holiday, usually mentioning October as a possible month. I suggest we have a “People’s Bank Holiday” on the last weekend in October or first in November to celebrate all those who have lived before us, whether we’re related to them or not. With Hallowe’en on one side and Remembrance Sunday on the other I think it’s the perfect time to regain the original idea behind the festival and celebrate the lives of our ancestors.