Thursday, 29 March 2012

Olympic Countdown


Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

After the terrorist attack at the previous summer games the Montréal Olympics of 1976 saw a heightened level of security. In part this contributed to the financial problems the city encountered afterwards. The same concern surrounds funding of the 2012 Olympics, and only time will tell what effect it will have on London’s future economy. But the competition at the Montréal games was still top class and is, along with the Innsbruck winter games, perhaps the games that got me interested in multi-sport events. I still have the scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings I collected in 1976.

Four lgbt athletes took part in Montréal, all of whom would appear at the Gay Games. First of all is Dr. Tom Waddell, the Gay Games founder. Having competed in Mexico City in 1968, Tom became a physician, and it is in the capacity of team physician to the Saudi Arabian team that he found himself in Montréal.

Also returning to the games was Canadian diver Scott Cranham. As I mentioned last time Scott received an injury that threatened to end his career. Thankfully, a change of coach led to an improvement in fitness and even though he hadn’t fully recovered Scott made the national team for Montréal. Finishing a disappointing 14th place he did manage to achieve world 8th ranking by 1978. Hopes of a better Olympic performance ended in 1980 with the Canadian boycott of the Moscow Olympics. After that, Scott turned to coaching and is currently coach with the Canadian national diving team and, no doubt, will be seen at the London games. Outside the Olympics Scott has 4 Commonwealth Games medals and 6 Gay Games medals.

The Montréal Games saw the first identified lgbt competitor in a team sport, the captain of the home country’s volleyball team Betty Baxter (Ewa Kłobukowska was part of a relay team in 1964, which I class it as a team event rather than a team sport – Ewa also competed solo in the same sport). The volleyball team finished disappointingly in last place having lost all their matches. However, because there were only 8 teams competing the Canadians still qualified for Olympic Diplomas (awarded to all top 8 competitors or teams).

Betty Baxter was made coach of the Canadian national volleyball team in 1979. She missed out on returning to the Olympics in 1980 because the boycott and perhaps she would have been at the 1984 Olympics if it hadn’t been for the homophobia of sport officials. In 1982 media reports about Betty being a lesbian was the reason she was fired.

Undaunted, Betty went on to be co-founder of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport with fellow Olympian Marion Lay. As a competitor Betty took part in volleyball at the 1986 San Francisco Gay Games, winning a gold medal with Team Vancouver. In 1990 on home soil she won a silver at the Vancouver Gay Games, again with Team Vancouver.

A respected advocate of lgbt issues in sport and the community Betty Baxter became the first Canadian out lesbian to run for public office in 1993. At the Vancouver Centre elections Betty came 4th with 15% of the vote.

A more familiar face and name debuting at the Montréal Olympics was US diver Greg Louganis, perhaps the best diver in history.

Greg got into diving through gymnastics. His childhood was dogged by prejudice against his racial background, his interest in dance and his dyslexia. With his own struggles accepting his sexuality diving was the only outlet to express his personality. And it saved his life. After several suicide attempts Greg’s diving proved to be exceptional and he easily earned a place on the US diving team for the Montréal games. He was 16. The big surprise, perhaps not with hindsight, was Greg winning the silver medal on the 10 meter platform. After that it was to be gold all the way. Needless to say, I’ll mention him in future Olympic posts.

Despite the financial problems the city encountered because of the games, the Montréal Olympics were very successful. However, that was to change, with the next summer games being used once more for propaganda purposes.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

To Russia With Love

Writing about Brian de Breffny a few days ago, and thinking about how he reinvented himself, reminded me of the stories of early saints that I enjoyed as a child, St. George and the dragon in particular. Of course, like most of those early saints, George’s life story was mostly invented to illustrate Christian values. The lives of some saints in the later medieval period were romanticised and stories written about them were based on fact. One such story concerns a group of Russian saints called Boris, Gleb, George and Moses.

Boris and Gleb were princes of Kiev, the main medieval state populated by the Rus’ people. Their father Vladimir introduced Christianity into the country in 988. The princes lives are told in “The Legend of Boris and Gleb” written between 1040 and 1118.

After their father’s death in 1015 the Kievan throne was taken by Sviatopolk, Boris and Gleb’s older brother. Sviatopolk was only a town governor at the time, and Boris was governor of the royal guard and army, and very popular, making him a real rival for the throne. So to prevent a battle for succession Sviatopolk had Boris assassinated.

The murder of Boris and Gleb is historical fact, but the details are probably romanticised fiction. Boris was camped with the army when assassins entered his tent and killed him. Boris’s servant, George the Hungarian, flung himself in front of his master. Both were slaughtered. George “was loved by Boris beyond reckoning” the legend says, and Boris had a valuable gold necklace made for him. Although the relationship between Boris and George was seen in terms of a deep Christian love, it can also be seen as more than that – princes don’t give servants gold necklaces without a reason.

Gleb heard of his brother’s murder after being “summoned” to meet Sviatopolk. Warned to stay away Gleb prayed for his brother’s soul and while doing so had his throat slit by his cook (on Sviatopolk’s orders). The dead brothers became the first saints canonised by the 17-year-old Russian Orthodox Church.

George the Hungarian’s brother was also canonised. He was St. Moses the Hungarian. He was captured by Sviatopolk and sold as a slave to a Polish countess. Being quite butch and muscular Moses spent many years turning down the countess’s many unwanted sexual advances.

In the end the countess had St. Moses whipped and had his “bits” cut off. Moses escaped to a monastery where he lived for the rest of his life, preaching the evils of women and sex. His life was romanticised as much as that of his brother, and a major Russian Scholar Vasilii Rozanov (1856-1919) stated that the story of St. Moses is clearly about a gay man being punished because he didn’t want a relationship with a woman.

Whether the lives of these saints are true or not is open to question. The relationships of Boris, George and Moses have been interpreted as homosexual. Again, this is open to question without historical proof.

One glaring inconsistency remains. Boris, Gleb and Moses became saints. George the Hungarian, beloved by Boris, didn’t He was martyred with the others but the reason why he never became a saint isn’t known. Could it be that he was merely a slave? Or that his lowly status and close (and therefore intimate) relationship with St. Boris made him unsuitable for canonisation? We’ll never know.

What is certain is that at least one of the saints, St. Boris, had a close relationship with another man, and that he is counted as the first Russian saint and martyr.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Olympic Countdown


Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

Less than 12 years after hosting the 1964 Winter Olympics Innsbruck found itself doing so again after the appointed host city, Denver, withdrew because of financial problems and public opposition.

The big hero of winter sport at the time was John Curry (1949-1994). It was his balletic approach to skating that caught the public imagination.

Curry’s Olympic career actually began in 1968. He was placed on the reserve list for the British team going to the Grenoble Olympics. Four years later he made it onto the team proper in Sapporo, Japan.

It was at the 1976 Innsbruck games that John Curry became a household name worldwide. He went to into the games as British and European champion, with the added honour of being chosen as flag-bearer at the opening ceremony. As favourite to win gold Curry was confidant of victory. Then, after completing his gold medal-winning routine, barely off the ice for more than a few minutes, he was handed a German press article.

The following day the press was full of this “interview” with John Curry at which he “came out as gay”. No such interview took place. Denying it would have been pointless, so a press conference (with no press present!) was arranged by British team officials to put across Curry’s response.

What is significant about the affair is that Curry’s skating ability drowned out the more sensational aspects. His sexuality didn’t end his career. No-one had been out at the Olympics before, and Curry seriously thought of pulling out of the up-and-coming World Championships to avoid creating too much distraction. As it happened no such distraction surfaced, and Curry ended his competitive career in 1976 as British, European, World and Olympic champion.

As a 15-year-old in the UK, I was certainly unaware of any adverse press coverage on Curry’s sexuality. What mattered more was that he’d won an Olympic gold medal. The only change it made to Curry himself was that he didn’t wear stage make-up in the Olympic ice gala at the end of the skating competition in case people said he looked effeminate.

When he arrived back in England Curry was received like a hero. No-one cared that he was gay. That is, not until the glare of his Olympic win had faded. After moving to America to escape media intrusion Curry was diagnosed with AIDS and returned to England. He died in 1994.

John Curry’s artistic interpretations inspired the skater who stood to his left on the medal podium. Bronze medal winner, Canadian skater Toller Cranston making his 2nd Olympic appearance. Such was the appeal of the new Curry/Cranston style of artistic figure skating that the actual skating of ice figures was dropped in 1990.

Curry and Toller both turned professional in 1976. They performed successfully in ice shows and tv specials, working together in the ice ballet “The Snow Queen” in 1982. Toller Cranston is now a successful artist and painter.

I’ll not call pairs skating a “team” event as such, but if I did the Innsbruck games would have its first lgbt team competitor in Randy Gardner. With skating partner Tai Babilonia Randy was US pairs skating champion going into the Olympics and they had high medal hopes. They finished 5th, the same position they reached at the World Championships the following month. Every year until the next winter games Randy and Tai were US pairs champions, and World champions in 1978. It seemed nothing could stop them winning gold at the next winter Olympics.

We will return to Canada next time and the 1976 summer games in Montréal.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Star Gayzing - Aries


Spring arrived yesterday, and today is the first day of the star sign Aries. The constellation represents Krysomallos, the magical flying ram whose golden fleece was sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Apart from the common practice of Greek princes like Jason taking male partners during their military training there’s very little about Aries that could have lgbt connections. At least not in ancient times.

I’m going to bend my rules away from the stars a bit to tell you of a modern lgbt link to rams! In astrology Aries symbolises the power of masculinity and fertility. Even a ram’s horn is used symbolically in the form of the cornucopia – the Horn of Plenty overflowing with food. But recent studies show that rams can give vital clues into understanding sexual preference.

In 1995 sheep breeders in America wanted to know why so many of their stud rams showed no interest in ewes. Oregon State University undertook a study into the part of the brains of rams that affects sexual attraction. Research found that some rams, about 8%, had a smaller than normal group of neurons involved in mating behaviours, about the same size as that in ewes. Most of this 8% of rams preferred to mate with other rams.

Whether Krysomallos would have preferred rams to ewes is academic – being able to fly and having a golden fleece meant that there weren’t likely to be that many of the same species to mate with anyway.

Interestingly, this 8% is the percentage that is given these days to indicate the number of gay men in society. A study of AIDS victims in 1991 also revealed that gay men often had smaller groups of the same neurons compared to straight men. I don’t think there’s been any research to see if there’s any real connection between the sexual drive of gay men and rams yet. I don’t even know if that proves anything about the nature of homosexuality or not.

But what is scary is that there are people out there who will treat the research as fact and start to produce the means of reducing, or even eliminating, this 8% with hormone treatment or something. The research should not be used to create designer babies because parents fear their children will grow up homosexual. Even worse, any oppressive government could enforce a whole population to take the treatment. Thank God Hitler isn’t around any more!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Olympic Countdown

 
Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

There’s a distinct aquatic feel to this post on the 1972 Olympics – both solid and liquid. We’ll start with the Winter games in Sapporo, Japan, in February. One of the most eagerly awaited competitions was the men’s figure skating. The European and World champion, Ondrej Nepela, was hoping it would be 3rd time lucky and that he would add Olympic gold to his impressive cabinet of 11 championship wins. And he was still only 21.

Seemingly without effort Ondrej succeeded in winning his Olympic gold, and decided that this would be his last year in competition. However, he was persuaded to stay on because the 1973 World Championships were to be held in his home city of Bratislava in Czechoslovakia. Ondrej knew that he wanted to retire at the top of his game, and he finished his career in Bratislava by retaining his Czech, European and World Championships. He then toured with “Holiday on Ice” for 13 years and turned to coaching. He died of AIDS in 1989 aged 38.

Also at the Sapporo games was future champion John Curry of the UK. I’ll be saying more about him in a few weeks. There as well was Canadian skater Toller Cranston. Whether they had much contact off-ice isn’t known, but by the 1973 World Championships Ondrej and Toller were having a short affair.

Like Ronnie Robertson before them, these skaters kept their sexuality secret, but at the next Winter Olympics one of them found himself at the centre of media attention which threatened to ruin his performance.

Moving on to the summer games held in Munich that year we think immediately of the murder of the Israeli athletes. But it is also the year that Mark Spitz broke all records by winning 7 gold medals in the pool. The only identified lgbt athletes in Munich also competed in the pool – Mark Chatfield and Peter Prijdekker in swimming, and Scott Cranham in diving.

American Mark Chatfield didn’t win any medals in Munich, but he did win an Olympic Diploma for 4th position, set an Olympic trials record in the 100m breaststroke, and was the reigning Pan American Games champion. Mark’s life out of the pool couldn’t have been more of a contrast. Always musically minded he earned a reputation as a talented cellist, composer and singer, being composer in residence at St. Cyril of Jerusalem church in Los Angeles. In 1993 he co-founded Musica Angelica, a chamber orchestra on whose recordings he performed. Mark continued to swim in US Masters competitions winning many medals, and in 1994 he won 6 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze at the Gay Games in New York. He died aged 45 in 1998 of lymphoma.

In the same Munich Olympic pool was Peter Prijdekker of the Netherlands. He was actually brought up in South Africa, but because that country’s apartheid laws banned them from the Olympics (the IOC imposing its own version of keeping politics out of sport – they still admitted countries that didn’t allow female athletes) Peter returned to the Netherlands in order to qualify. After competing in the Olympics Peter moved to the UK (“following a man” according to all accounts) and has lived here ever since. He never gave up swimming and joined London’s Out to Swim team, with whom he has competed at 5 Gay Games winning 18 gold medals.

A different pool sport – diving – brings our first lgbt diver to the Olympics, an event brought to the fore of lgbt sport in more recent years by Greg Louganis and Matthew Mitcham. Canadian-born Scott Cranham lived in the USA during his childhood. At the age of 14 he won the 3m springboard title in the 1969 US Diving Championships. Moving back to Canada he earned a place on the national diving team in 1972. He didn’t perform well, but he improved enough to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand in 1974. An ankle injury sustained in a parachute jump then threatened to put him out of competition for good. I’ll tell you if he made it back to the Olympics in ten days time.

My next Olympic Countdown will be on 24th March with 125 days to go and will include the great lgbt Olympian John Curry.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Extraordinary Lives -Brian de Breffny

With 12½% Irish blood in my veins I thought I’d celebrate St. David’s Day by looking at an extraordinary Irish life. Actually, I think “astonishing life” would be more accurate because I’m astonished he managed to get away with it! His name is Brian, Baron de Breffny of Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Brian de Breffny was born in 1931. Throughout his life he formed strong friendships with influential men and women, among the first being the composer Sir William Walton. Walton became a kind of mentor and helped Brian to forge connections throughout Europe. These included politicians, royals and Hollywood legends.

Promiscuously bisexual Brian married twice, first to an Indian princess, secondly to a widowed Finn. With his second wife Brian moved to Ireland having by now become Baron and Baroness de Breffny, an ancient title descending from the Celtic O’Rourke royal family. At the stately Castletown Cox the de Breffnys entertained the glamour and royal sets of the world.

As a keen historian Brian de Breffny wrote extensively on Irish heritage and genealogy. He was co-editor of “The Irish Ancestor” for which he wrote many articles (including new research he undertook into the ancestry of Oscar Wilde). Another passion was art and he filled his home with paintings and statues, and was a generous patron of the arts in general. In 1984 he founded “The Irish Arts Review”.

Brian, Baron de Breffny, died in 1989.

But what is so extraordinary about his life, you may ask? To which I reply …

… it was all a con.

He wasn’t Irish. He wasn’t called de Breffny. And he didn’t have a real title. What he did have was charm.

Brian de Breffny was actually born Brian Michael Lees, the son of a London taxi driver. His mother’s family did have Irish blood, but not the Breffny’s. With his father’s secondary career as a bookmaker Brian had more money than the typical working-class Londoner, and with it he began to create a new identity and background for himself.

The first advantageous marriage to an Indian princess gave him more income from the marriage settlement while giving her a way out of India.

What led Brian to adopt the title of Baron de Breffny was his relationship with Hon. Guy Strutt, who taught Brian everything he needed to know to pass in aristocratic circles. It was like a real-life gay version of “My Fair Lady” – but without the songs! It was Strutt who may also have suggested he take a title. The Breffny title had been extinct since the 1930s so Brian saw no reason why he shouldn’t use it, mainly because there was nobody left in the real Breffny family to challenge him or complain about it. There’s nothing to stop you giving yourself a title in a republic like Ireland because they don’t officially recognise them: in places like the UK you have to prove you’re entitled to a title.

Having reinvented himself in Ireland Brian lived the life of a millionaire. Some of his friends, even his wives, knew his real background, but his charm opened door after door and he eagerly went through all of them. It was only after his death in 1989 that his real identity and background was revealed.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Putting the Record Straight on - Leviticus

This little mini-series of posts aims to give an alternative viewpoint on people or ideas that have been suggested as being part of the lgbt community. Today I present my personal interpretation on a controversial subject.

Way back in the 1980s I spent a few years as a Methodist lay preacher. At the time there was a big fuss about gay clergy, and not being “out” at the time I felt too uncomfortable to continue.

More times than I care to remember I’ve heard people trot out those tired old verses from the Book of Leviticus :-
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination”.
(Leviticus 18:22, King James Version);
“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death”.
(Leviticus 20:13, King James Version)

If you heard these words coming from a Christian you’d suppose they’d be speaking with some authority on the subject – but they’re not. Using selective quotations doesn’t prove you are right.

Leviticus was written 3,000 years ago and is essentially a “holiness code”. The name Leviticus means “book for the Levites – the junior priests”. It lists many things Hebrew priests can and cannot do. They can’t work on Sundays, have tattoos, eat pork or prawns, read horoscopes, play with a pig’s skin (at last, a reason to ban football!), or “lie with mankind, as with womankind.” Leviticus was primarily intended for Hebrew priests which, as a Christian, I’m not, so they don’t apply to me. As St. Paul explained to the early Christians in Greece the old Hebrew laws of Leviticus (whether for priests or anyone else) have been replaced by Christ’s laws.

The Bible has been translated and transcribed many times, and each time the scribe has reflected his/her own times and attitudes. And if they didn’t have their own word for what was written they’d replaced it with one they did have, usually one which may have had a different meaning. In the case of the quotations about the word “abomination”, the word doesn’t even appear in the original Hebrew texts.

Briefly, the word as it appears in Hebrew is (in Latin script) “to’ebah”. It doesn’t mean abomination, it has several meanings which include “idolatrous” and “unclean”. Fortunately, some modern translations of the Old Testament have gone back to the original texts and chosen different words for “to’ebah” – usually “distasteful”, which doesn’t sound as bad as “abomination”.

Anyway, Leviticus 20.13 doesn’t even say “lie with mankind, as with womankind…” It says “You shall not sleep the sleep of a woman with a man” – even Jewish historians haven’t worked out what that means, so its wrong to place any meaning on it today.

Leviticus was written after the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt led my Moses. They had camped at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. All was well for a while, but then the Jews began joining pagans in worshipping idols. Leviticus was an attempt to give some responsibility to the priests to keep the Jews in order and within God’s laws. To do this the priests needed to have their own rules and laws describing how they should behave, and that is what Leviticus is all about.

I hope you don’t think I’ve been preaching. It’s a complicated issue that still affects millions of people on both sides of the debate. I’m a Christian and a historian and I’m gay. There’s nothing in the Bible to say I can’t be all 3 despite what evangelicals and anti-Christians say. As a historian I’ve used the Bible as a historical reference source just as I would with any other.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Flower Power - Narcissus

After my last Flower Power subject, the daffodil, it seems natural to follow it with the narcissus. The daffodil’s botanical name is Narcissus pseudonarcissus and it is just one of 14 different narcissus species.

You probably know that Narcissus is a slang name for a young man who fusses over his appearance as if in love with himself. This use has been around for centuries. I’m sure we all know a young gay man just like it (not one that’s been around for centuries, but one who fusses over his appearance – but then, who knows)!

The story of its origin goes back to the famous legend which has been told and retold many times. But the full story of Narcissus includes a gay angle which is often overlooked in favour of the famous Echo episode. Here’s my version.

Narcissus was the son of Cephissus, a river god, and a nymph called Leiriope. After his birth Leiriope went to a prophet to ask what kind of future the boy would have. The prophet was Tiresias, a remarkable human who was punished by Hera by being turned into a woman for 7 years. After been married and had children, Tiresias was turned back into a man. He’s a perfect candidate for his own blog post. Tiresias told Leiriope that Narcissus would have a long life, but his doom would come if he ever saw his own reflection. Startled by this Leiriope removed all mirrors and reflective surfaces from the home. Narcissus grew up without ever knowing what he looked like.

As it happened Narcissus grew up to be drop-dead gorgeous, and everyone told him so. Soon he had all the men and women drooling over him, especially one young lad called Ameinias. No matter how much he pleaded he couldn’t persuade Narcissus to become his lover. In the end Narcissus sent a dagger to Ameinias as a gift. Ameinias took this as a sign to keep out the Narcissus’s life and for him to kill himself, so he stabbed himself.

Then we come to the more famous episode of Narcissus and the nymph Echo. She earned the anger of Hera by distracting her whenever her husband Zeus sneaked off for a bit of extra-marital activity. So Hera, sick of Echo’s distracting chattering, ordered that Echo would never speak her own words again but only repeat words spoken to her instead.

One day Echo saw Narcissus in a woody glade and fell madly in love with him. She flung herself at him. Startles at first, Narcissus asked her who she was, but all he got from her were echoes of his own words. Very unsettled by this Narcissus pulled away and ran off with Echo in hot pursuit. She lost track of him in the winding canyons and in his sadness wasted away to nothing, leaving only her voice to repeat the words of others.

As for Narcissus, well he was glad to escape but needed to cool down from all the running, so he stopped by a pool to refresh himself. Looking into the still water he saw a face he’d never seen before. He was instantly attracted to it, but when he reached out to touch it the face disappeared into ripples. He didn’t realise it was his own reflection, having never seen it before.

Unable to look away from his reflection, as the prophet said at his birth, his fate was sealed. Transfixed by his own beauty Narcissus was unable to eat or drink. Being half-god, half-nymph, he couldn’t die like a mortal, and, like Echo, wasted away to nothing. In place of his body a bed of new flowers grew. Mountain nymphs named the flower after him.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Olympic Countdown

 
Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.


At the Winter Olympics in Grenoble in 1968 17-year-old Ondrej Nepela returned to improve on his 22nd placing at the 1964 games. He had won bronze in the European Figure Skating Championships but couldn’t reach higher than 8th in Grenoble. Perhaps he would do better at his next Olympics.

Returning to the summer games, held that year in Mexico City, was Canadian swimmer Marion Lay. Even though she was the Commonwealth Games and Canadian 100m freestyle champion, Marion just missed out on medal by coming 4th in the Olympic final. Even though she missed out on medal Marion did receive an Olympic Diploma that is awarded to all top 8 finalists in al events However, she did win a bronze with the 4x100m freestyle relay team.

Like a lot of sportspeople Marion became a media commentator after retiring, working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation until 1973. She kept her sporting connections going, founding WomenSport International and the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport, among other organisations. Marion also became a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and served as Chair of the Vancouver 2010 Bid and as a director of the Vancouver 2010 Organising Committee. It was probably of mutual benefit to both Vancouver and Marion that her partner, Jenny Ballen, was head of Vancouver’s civil administration at the time.

One sport which might surprise you to learn has a lot of lgbt competitors at the summer Olympics is equestrianism. The first of these is Mason Phelps jr. of the USA. Actually, he didn’t compete. He was chosen as a reserve member for the 3-Day event team who went on to win silver. In 1972 Mason became a trainer and equestrian event manager. He founded Phelps Media Group in 2001, which has been involved in media coverage of Olympic equestrianism.

There’s no doubt that the most significant lgbt presence at the 1968 Olympics was US army doctor Tom Waddell. Tom was to become more well-known as the founder of the Gay Games. But that’s for later in the year when I celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first Gay Games.

Even though he ranked 5th in the world in the decathlon before Mexico Tom only managed 6th at the games, earning him an Olympic Diploma. His Olympic career could easily have ended in Mexico. Perhaps the most memorable image to come out the Mexico games is that of American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos making the Black Power salute on the medal podium. The IOC regarded this as a political act and banned them from future Olympics. Tom Waddell was one of hundreds of athletes who came out in support of Smith and Carlos, and Waddell was threatened with being sent home and court-martialled. In the end no action was taken and he left the army a few months later.

With his medical qualifications from the army Tom began to combine his love of sport with being a physician, championing a healthy gay lifestyle that was to become a challenge in the difficult years that were to hit the gay community. His work as a physician led to his return to the Olympics in 1976.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Star-Gayzing - A Mad March Hare

If it hadn’t been for the popularity of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” most people wouldn’t have known the significance of a March Hare. With most people living in towns and cities very few people would ever see one.

The hare gets its mad reputation from its behaviour at this time of year. Male hares competing for mates are often seen “boxing” each other and behaving in an excitable manner as if struck by madness.

If you know your constellations well you might be able to find Lepus, the constellation of the hare. Here's a star map. Find Orion’s belt, and directly underneath (below Orion’s trousers!) there’s a small group of stars that make up Lepus.

In mythology this constellation has several origins. Some say it is part of the Orion sky-story, with Lepus the hare being chased by one of Orion’s dogs, Canis Major. Another legend says that someone took a pregnant hare to the island of Leros. Hares soon became a favourite food and people began breeding them. Before long the island was overrun by a plague of hares and the islanders decided to get rid of them all. They chose a small group of stars to signify a hare to serve as a reminder that too much of a good thing isn’t very good after all. I prefer the hunting legend myself.

In Ancient Greek symbolism the hare represented lust and desire. As such it became a common animal seen on pottery showing lovers. Most often it is shown as a gift from a man to a young male partner. Sometimes the hare is shown being carried by Eros. Now, if you’ve been following this blog a while you’ll know that I’ve mentioned Eros several times as being the god of sexual desire between men, and of his importance to the training of athletes and soldiers. Shown here is one such depiction of Eros carrying a gift hare from about 500 BC.

Finally, on a seasonal note, in Celtic mythology the hare was a symbol of Eostre, the goddess of dawn, rebirth and the New year. Her name has come down to us as the word Easter, and her hare has been transformed into the fluffy Easter bunny.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Out of Their Trees

Mark and Sydney

Today Sydney is holding its annual Mardi Gras parade. It you’re there I hope you have a great time. Wish I could join you. Actually, my friend Mark probably did last year.

I have a family connection with Sydney. My uncle, Group Capt. J. I. Cromarty, OBE, was commanding officer at RAAF No.3 Command Support Hospital in Richmond near Sydney 40 years ago. My friend has even more significant family connections with Sydney through his ancestry. I am also related to the people mentioned below, but not as closely as Mark. As he was preparing to move to Australia in 2010 I put together a little file of genealogical connections he had with Sydney, and these included links to some of the first settlers and last colonial governor.

Let’s start with the city itself. Sydney is named after Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (1733-1800), who was Home Secretary of England during the early settlement of Australia. Lord Sydney’s ancestors already had colonial links, with his great-grandfather being Governor of Jamaica. Through this governor, Lord Sydney’s ancestry goes back to Leicestershire and Sir Robert de Moton of Peckleton. Sir Robert’s grand-daughter married into the Beresford family of Derbyshire, and her Beresford descendants were important among the First Fleet settlers.

John Beresford (1753-1821) and his wife sailed with the First Fleet bound for Botany Bay, arriving in January 1788 to found the first European colony there. John Beresford had 5 children and his descendants still live in Australia. John Beresford and my friend Mark both descend from Sir Robert de Moton’s grand-daughter. The family gave its name to the Beresford Hotel in Sydney. Until about 2008 it was a popular lgbt venue but was bought by a local “pub baron” and lost its lgbt appeal.

Australia became independent in 1901. The last colonial Governor of New South Wales and Sydney was another relative of Mark. He was the 7th Earl Beauchamp, yet another descendant of Sir Robert de Moton. Beauchamp had recognised his sexuality by his 20s but it conflicted with his strict Christian morals. He married and had 7 children, including a gay son, Hugh.

Beauchamp was just as surprised as anyone when he got the job of Governor of New South Wales in 1899 at the age of 25. He loved his time in Sydney, especially when recruiting handsome young footmen for Government House. When he got back to England his brother-in-law threatened to “out” him and bring scandal on the family and the government in which he served (Beauchamp was leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords).

Despite the highest of political connections Beauchamp was forced to leave his family and England and eventually made his way back to Sydney. One of his favourites places to visit was the Latin Café, well-known for its “toilet encounters”. But above all he loved the beaches and the half-naked life-savers, which he compared to Greek gods.

I felt very jealous of Mark when he left for Sydney. Like Lord Beauchamp I’m sure he found many pleasing sights on Bondi beach.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Flower Power - daffodil

Because today is St. David’s Day I thought I’d look at the national flower of Wales – the daffodil. Officially the national flower of Wales is the leek but in 1911 it was thought the daffodil was less vulgar and looked better alongside the English rose and the Scottish thistle. Also it was a flower seen in large numbers at this time of year.

There is much in common with the daffodil and my previous Flower Power subject the pansy. Both were slang names that were often used on east-coast America during the 1920s and 30s. Both were originally used to describe a man’s fashion style. Young men dressed in bright and bold colours were called pansies, and daffodil (as far back as Tudor times in the form of “daffy-down-dilly”) was a term used well into the 19th century for a extravagantly-dressed dandy.

Along with pansy, daffodil was used in America more than in the UK during the early 20th century, especially in the New York entertainment world. It could be that the young chorus boys of the Broadway theatres were being called daffodils, or daffydills, before it spread to other walks of life. The word even appears in one of the most famous songs of that era, “Lullaby of Broadway”.

Written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, “Lullaby of Broadway” was featured in the 1935 Busby Berkeley film “The Gold Diggers of 1935” and won the Oscar for Best Song. You may know the song – I can hear the tripping little tune in my head right now! One verse goes :
“The rumble of the subway trains,
The rattle of the taxis.
The daffydils who entertain
At Angelo’s and Maxi’s.”
Just who or were Angelo and Maxi doesn’t really matter – they’re fictional. But Dubin and Warren had been around Broadway long enough to have worked with many gay young “daffydils”.

The botanical name for the daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Narcissus was the name of the youth in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection (I know some gay men who have done the same!) And that’s a story for next Flower Power.