Wednesday, 30 October 2013

An Olympian In All But Name

There’s only 100 days to go before the start of the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. The games have rarely been out of the lgbt media since President Putin began introducing his anti-gay legislation. Should I write about Sochi? In the end I decided no - I want to celebrate with an uplifting gay Olympic story.

Regular readers will know of my fascination for unusual angles to Olympic stories (from a gay Lord Mayor and the torch relay to a gay deaf performer suspended from wires). Some people get noticed at the Olympics while others are just glanced at and forgotten. This is the story of one who deserves a place among the Olympians but hasn’t. He was seen by millions at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in a position of huge honour. But, unless you know him, you’ll have forgotten he was even there.

His name is Wade Bennett.

To the outside world Wade seemed to be the archetypical Aussie teenager – a blond, athletic, surfer-dude-type with a passion for sport. But behind this outward image was something he kept hidden – he was gay. In sporting circles in the 1980s being gay was that last thing an Australian sportsman would admit to being in public.

Wade had been water-skiing from the age of 4 and entered his first competitive race aged 9 (he came 3rd). Before he was 20 Wade had become state champion and long-distance record holder.

In 1992 Wade moved to Sydney, even then a much more gay-friendly place. He didn’t really come out. He shared an apartment near Bondi Beach with a gay drag queen and, sort of, “drifted” out of the closet on the waves of gay life that surrounded him. It lost him some homophobic sporting friends, which hurt, but it didn’t deter him from sport because – hey – he was an Australian and sport is part of his culture.

In 1995 he entered the ¼ Mile Ski Drag Race at the Mildura 100 ski meeting. The Mildura committee had decided that ski drag races were too dangerous and this was to be their last appearance in the competition. This was also to be one of Wade’s last races because he had dreams in another sporting direction. When Sydney was awarded the 2000 Olympic Games Wade became determined to become an Olympian. As water-skiing isn’t an Olympic sport Wade chose to train as a triathlete. He hoped he would become good enough to be chosen for Team Australia in time for the Olympics.

The crowd at the Mildura 100 were excited and eager for the final drag race. Wade sped round the course reaching 110 miles (180 km) an hour and reached the finish line. As he did so he lost control and fell, hitting the water with the force of a high-speed crash into a brick wall. He was knocked unconscious as he spinned out of control.

Medics rushed to his rescue. Beyond everyone’s fears Wade was still alive but he had suffered truly horrific injuries. His pelvis was broken in 2 places, his arm was fractured and dislocated, and he had a torn artery and sciatic nerve in one leg. Medics began to unzip his wetsuit, and then saw something more serious. The impact had torn Wade’s skin across his abdomen and his internal organs were in danger of spilling out into the water. Only his wetsuit kept his body in one piece. Wade was in a coma for 17 days. Many operations lasting several hours each made sure his internal organs were back where they should be and all broken bones were reconstructed.

After months and months of therapy and many operations Ware regained the ability to walk, and straight away hoped to get back into sport. It was a long, hard, and painful challenge, but he made it back onto the water ski circuit as a disabled skier in 1996 – still breaking records.

But Wade’s hopes of a place on Team Australia at the Sydney Olympics were over. Even the Paralympics don’t have water-skiing on their schedule. However, Wade’s miraculous recovery and courage earned him a place on the Sydney 2000 Olympic torch relay. Having lost his chance to compete as an athlete Wade applied to become an Olympic volunteer.

Enter Doug Jack, a gay Olympic icon, a “veteran” choreographer of 12 Olympic ceremonies over 14 years. For the Sydney games Doug was Director of Choreography. One of his tasks was to choose the marshals who line up to guide the parade of athletes into the stadium, a role he created at the 1992 Barcelona games.

A bulky file landed on Doug’s desk. It was all about Wade and his recovery from near death. Doug was so impressed and moved by the story that he made a decision. He invited Wade to the first rehearsal of all 600 marshals and 200 others who were to carry the placards bearing the competing nations’ name, a task that most of us don’t give second thought to, but to the volunteers it’s a personal honour to represent the host city and lead a visiting nation’s team into the stadium.

After his welcome speech Doug launched into a run-down of Wade’s life, his accident, his recovery, and his dream of being an Olympian. He concluded by saying “He has trained harder for LIFE than any Olympian has trained for their sport or country. So, it is my honour to make his dream come true”. The Olympic ceremony producer’s had accepted Doug’s suggestion that Wade should be given the honour of carrying the Australia name placard at the head of the Australian athletes at both the opening and closing ceremonies. The assembled 800 volunteers gave Wade a standing ovation as he went up to be the first to receive his placard.

Wade was treated like a celebrity by the Australian athletes and officials – giving him tours of the athlete’s village and the media centre and meeting the Australian Prime Minister. To all intents and purposes the athletes considered Wade to be a member of Team Australia. Wade’s dream of walking with them at the Olympic games had come true. You can see on films of the opening ceremony his joy and pride at leading the team into the stadium.

A postscript to this story is that Wade continued to train in sport and entered 3 short-track races at the 2002 Sydney Gay Games, winning gold each time as a disabled athlete. He returned to water-skiing after 12 years in 2009, breaking the record he set in 1998. After 54 operations, and having to learn to walk again 3 times, he became Disability Services Officer with Ski Racing Australia in 2010, and is currently Publicity Officer with Ski Racing New South Wales.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Way back in February I gave a list of the people who were Scientist of the Year, an award given by the National Organisation of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP). They also give other awards for work in science and technology, and here is the complete list to date. Several of the winners have been featured in some of my articles throughout the year.

Walt Westman Award
(named after one of NOGLSTP’s founders and awarded in recognition to the recipient’s contribution and commitment to the organisation).
2004    Rochelle Diamond, Chair of NOGLSTP.
2006    Michael Parga, in recognition of his work to have the organisation incorporated.
2007    Christopher Bannochie, in recognition of his work as liaison with the American Chemical Society.
2012    Amy A. Ross, founding member of Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Scientists.

GLBT Institution/Organisation of the Year (called the National Corporate Award in 2005)
(awarded to the institution/organisation/company which has demonstrated outstanding support for NOLSTP and its objectives).
2004    The American Association for the Advancement of Science.
2005    The Raytheon Company.

GLBT Engineer of the Year
(awarded to an engineer who has made outstanding contributions in their field, and recognises sustained contributions in design, production, management or research).
2005    Lynn Conway, Prof. Emerita of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan.
2006    Peter Ventzek, manager, Advanced Products Research and Development Laboratory at Freescale; Chair of the Plasma Science and Technology Division, American Vacuum Society; member of the Freescale EQUAL employee group.
2007    Tim Gill, founder and former chair of Quark Inc., a leading developer of page lay-out software; Chairman of the Gill Foundation.
2008    Michael Steinberg, Deputy Program Manager for Air-to-Air Programs, Raytheon Missile Systems; Raytheon Engineering Fellow since 2003; co-founder, Tuscon branch of the Raytheon GLBTA Employee Resource Group; former President of Beth El Binah, a Jewish lgbt community in Dallas.
2009    Anthony J. Gingiss, Systems Engineering Integration and Test Manager, GPS Program, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems; President Emeritus, El Segundo California chapter of the Boeing Employee Association of Gays, Lesbians and Friends.
2010    Jay Keasling, Hubbard Howe Jr Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California Berkeley.
2011    William Huffman of Northrup Grumman Electronic Systems – Marine Systems; in recognition of his work on key safety elements of the Trident nuclear submarine weapons system.
2012    Charles W. Lickel, former Vice-President of Software Research, IBM; co-chair, IBM GLBT corporate diversity task force; member of the Board of Directors, Out and Equal.

Educator Award
(awarded in recognition of the recipient’s contribution to the growth of glbt students in science or technology through teaching, counselling, advocacy, role modelling or other educational role).
2006    Denice Denton, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Cruz; Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of Washington; recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, 2004.
2007    Karl Mauzey, Instructor of Computer Networking and Information Technology, Community College, San Francisco.
2008    Michael Falk, Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and of Applied Physics, University of Michigan.
2009    Virginia Uribe, counselling psychologist and retired science teacher; founder of Project 10, a support system for lgbt students in the Los Angeles Unified School District; founder of Models of Pride conference, and Models of Excellence scholarship programme.
2010    Donna Riley, Associate Professor of Engineering, Smith College.
2011    Ron Buckmire, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics, Occidental College Los Angeles; creator of the Queer Resources Directory; co-founder, Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a black lgbt civil rights organisation.
2012    Mark Pope, Professor and Chair of the Division of Counselling and Family Therapy, University of Missouri St Louis; President, American Psychological Association’s Society of the Psychological Study of LGB Issues; former President, American Counselling Association.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Nuclear Winters From Mars

Ever since the idea of a nuclear war affecting Earth’s weather was first written about in 1957 in “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons” by Samuel Glasstone many science fiction writers and film-makers have used a bleak post-nuclear world with dramatic climate change as a setting for their work. While this “nuclear winter” is still only a future scenario on earth it is based on scientific research on the present atmospheres on other planets.

While the scenario has been around for much longer, the actual term “nuclear winter” first appeared exactly 40 years ago in 1983. It was coined by Richard Turco, member of a team of scientists referred to by the initial letters of their surnames – TTAPS. Turco was the first “T”, “S” was the famous Carl Sagan, and “P” was the openly gay astrophysicist James B. Pollack.

It was images of dust storms on Mars which led directly to an understanding of the dangers of a nuclear winter on Earth and placed Pollack as a leading figure in ecological studies.

Described as “the best planetary scientist of his generation” by David Morrison, head of the space-science division of NASA Ames Research Centre, Pollack had key roles in all of NASA’s planetary missions from the Mariner 9 mission to Mars in 1971. He was involved in all the big missions, like the Viking Mars missions and the spectacularly successful Voyager missions, and many others. Images from these missions have reached iconic status.

After his arrival at Ames in 1970 Pollack was immediately put to work analysing data obtained from Ames’s observatory. To give you an idea of the importance of his work we take for granted many things he discovered – for example, Saturn’s rings are made of ice particles, and Venus is hot because of the greenhouse effect and has clouds of sulphuric acid.

But it was by analysing the data from the Mars probes that Pollack began to realise how it tied in with his studies into the effects of volcanic eruptions on Earth’s atmosphere. Pollack has seen the greenhouse effect on Venus and applied the same mathematical modelling technique onto Earth. Pollack suggested that the greenhouse atmosphere created by an asteroid impact on Earth (not itself an original theory) was the leading factor in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Working extensively on the atmosphere of Mars Pollack acquired masses of data that was crucial in the work of the TTAPS team mentioned above. The data helped to formulate a theory of the historic Martian and Venusian atmospheres which gave a model for the future atmosphere on Earth following a nuclear winter.

It could be argued that the nuclear winter theory contributed to the anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s and 1980s and led directly to nuclear disarmament by the super-powers – both sides feared a nuclear winter more than they feared each other. No-one was really convinced by the possibility of a real nuclear winter before the TTAPS team published their research in December 1983. Like little green Martians, a nuclear winter was a fictional scenario. If anyone doubts the usefulness of spending billions of pound/dollars on interplanetary missions they only need to think what would have happened if a nuclear winter had remained a science fiction scenario.

Pollack was recognised as a great scientist from very early on. His mentor at Harvard, Carl Sagan, spotted his talents immediately and they remained close friends, working together on many research papers.

The scientific community showered Pollack with honours and awards, most of which mean little to laymen like myself outside scientific academia. Yet they were the Oscars and Emmys of his world and very few reached higher in respect than James B. Pollack.

In the early 1990s Pollack developed a rare type of spine cancer called chordoma. He continued to work for as long as he could, helping to plan more missions to Saturn, Mars and Venus. His death in 1994 was a great loss to astronomy, climatology and society. Within months of his death he had the honour of having an asteroid named after him and, more appropriately, a crater on Mars. Who knows, perhaps one day a manned mission to Mars will be able to land in that crater thanks to Pollack’s own data from the 1970s.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Queer Climatic Legacy

It’s been a good year for lgbt adventurers. In June Cason Crane became the first openly gay man to climb all seven of the world’s highest continental mountains; in September Diana Nyad completed the 110 miles swim from Cuba to Florida; and Sarah Outen in on the last legs of her solo round-the-world challenge.

One thing all of these modern-day adventurers have in common is the weather. None of them could have taken place without accurate weather forecasts to help them plan ahead. But several hundred years ago there were no weather forecasts to help those adventurers and explorers who were venturing into the wildernesses, deserts, oceans and mountains of the world in search of knowledge.

One of these early adventurers laid down the foundations of the modern science of meteorology from evidence he collected during a 5-year-long expedition in the Americas. That man was Alexander, Baron von Humboldt (1769-1859). His influence on exploration and the natural sciences cannot be over-estimated, yet it is often over-looked. While he deserves a full “Extraordinary Lives” article today I look at his weather connections and queer legacy.

One area where Humboldt does receive due recognition is in his pioneering climate research. It was Humboldt who measured temperatures at all altitudes to produce the first accurate isothermal maps – maps with lines connecting areas of the same mean temperature that look much like the isobars we see on television weather maps today.

What made Humboldt’s work so significant is that it helped to explain how the geography of mountains, coasts and continents affected these temperatures, and how they flowed around the globe as it rotated. He compared the air to the oceans. Each had currents which flowed in specific directions, and were the mechanisms by which monsoons, hurricanes and heat-waves are created.

Humboldt’s work also covered just about every other scientific area available to him – anthropology, astronomy, botany, cartography, ecology, history, geography, geology and physiology. They were all connected as far as Humboldt was concerned. He spent many years travelling around the world collecting and recording data from high mountains, dense jungles and deep oceans. In his old age he wrote the multi-volume “Kosmos” which put all his knowledge of the whole of the natural world into one work.

Because of his many travels and discoveries Humboldt became a man after whom dozens of places and species were named, even in the 21st century with an asteroid being named after him. Many schools, colleges and universities bear his name, and perhaps none are more appropriate for discussion on his sexuality than Humboldt State University (HSU) in California.

In 2003 HSU held a party to announce the creation of a course in Multicultural Queer Studies. There was a deliberate and knowing significance to this. HSU was by no means the first to offer courses in queer studies, but it was the first to combine it with other subjects in a manner that echoes Alexander von Humboldt’s own opinion of the inter-connectedness of the sciences. The course combines ethnic, women’s and queer studies in a course which aims to study and analyse the inequalities that connect them all.

One of the course’s early lecturers was a leading lgbt activist and HIV educator called Eric Rofes (1954-2006). He was Associate Professor of Education at HSU and an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality. He had written several books on gender studies and after his death the HSU student organisation created the Eric Rofes Multicultural Queer Resource Centre.

The poster which announced the inaugural party for HSU’s course sported the words I gave at the start of my article of Isaac Newton a couple of days ago – “queer” refers not only to homosexual or bisexual men and women but also includes straight people whose sexuality falls outside social norms of behaviour.

So what about Humboldt himself? As with Newton and others the establishing of sexuality or sexual preference may never be resolved under our modern perceptions of them. Some of Humboldt’s contemporaries and acquaintances have told of his frequenting Berlin’s “gay” subculture. Like Newton, Humboldt was a life-long bachelor with a couple of female relationships in youth and middle age. And, like Newton, the years in between were characterised by close relationships with men.

Humboldt’s probable first male partner was Wilhelm Wegener who was at university with him. Even though Humboldt destroyed his private letters others survived, including one to a later companion, Reinhard von Haeften, for whom he even cancelled a trip across Germany – “It would have meant seeing you 6 days later, and such a loss cannot be made up by anything in the whole world. Other people may have no understanding of this. I know that I live only through you, my good precious Reinhard, and that I can only be happy in your presence.”

Even though we may never know the true sexuality of either Newton or Humboldt we can be sure, at least, that Humboldt’s legacy extends from the world of climatology and science and into queer studies.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Chasing Rainbows

Today I start a week-long mini-series on 3 lgbt scientists who worked on meteorology and climatology.

One scientist is most associated with the rainbow – or, more accurately, the spectrum – and that is Sir Isaac Newton. I place him in this mini-series because the spectrum and the rainbow are created in the same manner – by the splitting of light rays.

When it comes to listing historical lgbt people more often than not we are attempting to put modern labels onto people who were alive before such labels were invented. Were all Ancient Greek soldiers gay because they were expected to have regular sex and relationships with younger men? Did homosexuality exist before it was given that name? You could also ask if gravity existed before Newton gave it a name? Yes it did, we just understood it differently.

It may help to think of historical sexual orientation by using a phrase I encountered recently in reference to a scientist I’ll deal with in 3 days time, Alexander von Humboldt – “Queer refers not only to bisexual or homosexual men and women – it also includes straight people whose sexuality nevertheless falls outside social norms of behaviour”. In this respect I place Isaac Newton on my “queer” list.

In his own lifetime Newton was considered a bit eccentric because he was so engrossed in his work, was a private man at heart, and was noted for his criticism of other scientists than for his praise.

Before he went to Cambridge University Newton may have had a girlfriend, Catherine Storer, but nothing written by either of them survives so we’ll never know the exact nature of the relationship. Much later in life, it is said, Newton proposed marriage to Lady Norris, who obviously turned him down because Newton remained a bachelor all his life.

In between these two female love interests Newton had two male interests which have made historians and biographers question the nature of his friendship with them both.

In 1663 Newton began to share rooms at Cambridge with John Wickens. They lived together for 20 years. In that time they became very close (hardly surprising). Young John assisted Newton in his early experiments, including those into the colours of the rainbow, though whether John understood what Newton was doing is another question. Whether they were actually lovers will never be known, but, as was common practice right up to the 20th century, it is known that they slept together (by “slept together” I mean “slept together”).

The academic curriculum at universities at that time was based on the Classics, and all young undergraduates would have been taught about the Ancient Greeks and their same-sex practices. It is possible that many students would have secretly followed the practice themselves in imitation of the great civilisation and wouldn’t have considered it immoral or sodomy. With this in mind it makes it likely that Isaac Newton could have had sexual relations with John Wickens, a possibility rather than a probability. They may have enjoyed a non-sexual love. In the end their relationship ended when John left Cambridge to become a country vicar.

We move onto more substantial evidence of a relationship with the arrival on the scene in 1689 of a young Swiss mathematician called Nicolas Fatio de Duillier.

Fatio was as much a fan of alchemy and mysticism as Newton, probably more so, so they had more than a shared interest in maths. But it was Newton’s gravitational theories that helped to create the biggest pull (pardon the pun). Fatio was well established in England before he met Newton. The nature of their relationship raised eyebrows and people began to think of Fatio as a bad influence, calling him “a person of no value”, “a mere debauchee”, and “Newton’s ape”.

Newton was certainly flattered by Fatio’s attention and gave him money and gifts, and an offer of accommodation. Letters between them reveal a mutual attraction which hints at something more than their mentor/pupil relationship, going beyond the accepted norms of the time. No letters written to women, by either of them, survive which contain such affection – “… the reasons I should not marry will probably last as long as my life”, wrote Fatio to Newton knowingly.

Fatio’s career took him around Europe though it was not to help with his reputation. Having joined a fanatic French religious sect he was condemned with them as cheats and false prophets and placed in the stocks. The whole affair took Fatio away from regular contact with Newton and contributed to Newton’s breakdown.

They never lost touch completely. Fatio sided with Newton against Leibnitz over the debate about who created calculus. After Newton’s death he helped Newton’s nephew to design the monument in Westminster Abbey familiar to all “Da Vinci Code” fans.

We’ll never know for sure what romantic feelings Sir Isaac Newton felt towards his fellow men – or women. To use an analogy with his work, it would be like chasing rainbows. Whether or not we can truly call Newton gay, there is little doubt that his strong emotional attachments to men more than to women places him on my queer list.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Star Gayzing: Out of This World 2

Today I begin a mini-series on the names of asteroids, a topic I first covered in January. Fortunately, there’s an inexhaustible supply of asteroids which are yet to be named, and several thousand of them get named each year. Here are some asteroids named after lgbt people. Some of the people have featured in previous blog articles.

Before listing them here’s a quick explanation on how asteroids get named. The earliest asteroids, as was the convention of the time, were named after mythological figures and gods. New asteroids are given an official serial number (in brackets below) once their orbits are calculated. The discoverer usually chooses the name. The International Astronomical Union now imposes rules which are applied to all new names, which are then made official when published in the Minor Planets Centre bulletins. Early asteroid names were published in other scientific papers and journals.

I’ve listed the asteroids in order of discovery, giving their name and number. This first batch were discovered before I was born. I’ve quoted from the official citations from the Minor Planets Centre bulletins where appropriate, and added further remarks.

(54) Alexandra           Discovered 10 Sept. 1858. Allegedly named after the German naturalist Alexander, Baron von Humboldt (1769-1859). It’s possible it was named in 1859 to mark Humboldt’s death, but I can’t understand why a female name was chosen. An asteroid discovered in 1973 is also named after him - Humboldt (4877).

(433) Eros      Discovered 13 Aug. 1898. Named after the Greek god of love, including gay love. Statues of Eros were often placed in gyms. Greek soldiers trained and made offerings and prayers to him in the hope of being a good fighter and good lover to young men. This belongs to a large group of asteroids which cross Earth’s orbit and may one day hit us.

(588) Achilles             Discovered 22 Feb. 1906. Named after the Greek hero of the Trojan War. It is acknowledged that he and fellow hero Patroclus were lovers. This was the first asteroid discovered in one of Jupiter’s Lagrange points. There are now over 5,000 similar asteroids, all named after characters from the Trojan War, hence they are collectively called Trojan asteroids.

(617) Patroclus          Discovered 17 Oct. 1906. Named after the Greek hero of the Trojan War. It is acknowledged that he and fellow hero Achilles were lovers. This was the first Trojan asteroid discovered in the Lagrange point behind Jupiter. Patroclus is actually a double asteroid – two asteroids of roughly the same size orbiting each other. The second one is named after Patroclus’s father.
(911) Agamemnon       Discovered 19 Mar. 1919. Named after the King of Argos and leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. Before the war he had a young boy lover called Argynnus. The boy drowned accidentally and Agamemnon built a shrine in his memory.

(1036) Ganymed        Discovered 23 Oct. 1924. Named after the Greek youth Ganymede, kidnapped by the god Zeus to be his lover and cup-bearer. To avoid confusion with Jupiter’s moon also named after the youth the final “e” was dropped. This is the largest asteroid which crosses Earth’s orbit.

(1862) Apollo             Discovered 24 Apr. 1932. Named after the Greek god of light, prophecy, healing, music and sport. He had many male, as well as female, lovers, the most famous being Hyakinthos. This asteroid was “lost” and not rediscovered until 1973. It was the first asteroid discovered to cross the Earth’s orbit and may one day crash into it.

(7042) Carver             Discovered 24 Mar. 1933. Name published 27 Sept 1996. “Named in memory of George Washington Carver (1860-1943), credited by many as the first black American scientist. Born into slavery, he was largely self-educated, but he earned a master’s degree in science in 1896 and devoted the remainder of his life to agricultural research... His scientific stature earned him election to the Royal Society in 1916, but Carver was also an outstanding teacher, artist and humanitarian…”


Asteroids that are not named after lgbt people but have lgbt links.

(1208) Troilus                        Discovered 31 Dec. 1931. Named after the legendary Prince of Troy. During the Trojan War the Greek hero Achilles (above) fell in love with this Trojan enemy. Troilus rejected the sexual advances and Achilles killed him (accidentally). None of the legends say if Troilus was ever interested in men.

So far one group of people seem to be missing from the world of asteroids – lgbt asteroid hunters and discovers. I’m sure there are some out there and that they’ve discovered lots of asteroids, but none of them are “out” enough for me to mention with certainty. Who knows? Perhaps next time I can.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hispanic Asia/Oceania

The Asia and Oceania continents have been affected by Hispanic culture to a lesser degree than on others yet it has still shaped the modern lgbt community and identity, most noticeably in the Philippines.

First of all, a quick look at the areas where the Spanish and Portuguese empires reached across the continent, many of which were small settlements not easily shown on the map above.

The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas established that new territories discovered to the west of a line of longitude down the Atlantic were Spanish, and new lands to the east were Portuguese (except for Brazil, which I explained last time). Therefore, there was only one direction the Portuguese could go.

The quest for trade routes to the Indies was the main reason for Columbus going across the Atlantic in the first place. So it’s ironic that the Portuguese, going the long way round Africa, got there first. They were also the first to establish a European settlement in India, and followed this up by taking control of vital sea routes out of the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean. Several more settlements were made in India and into south east Asia. They didn’t expand their empire into large colonies as Spain had done in the Americas. The native Indian kingdoms were very strong and powerful. The spice trade ensured that the Portuguese were the first to profit from the traffic in luxury goods.

The Spanish pursued it’s westward quest for the Indies and voyaged across the Pacific from Mexico to establish a colony in the Philippines (named after their king) in 1565.

When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Asia and Oceania they encountered more of the gender and sexual variations that they had discovered in Africa and the Americas. When the Europeans arrived they considered all sexual “deviation” as un-Christian, and rather than try to understand it they tried to suppress it.

In both Asia and Oceania there were societies which contained men who dressed and behaved as women, are treated as women, and who identified with the female gender. Each nation has it’s own name for these men, though they are often referred to today by the collective name of Third Gender. Most of these societies had no problem accepting the sexual and gender differences. These Third Genders had sex, and were often married to, heterosexual men. The heterosexual husbands never thought of themselves as anything but straight and may have had female wives as well.

The European colonists, as has been seen on other continents, were unsuccessful in eliminating same-sex activity and desire among indigenous cultures, and often their own beliefs influenced attitudes among the indigenous people. An example of this can be seen in the Third Gender community in the Philippines.

The Philippines was home to a thriving Third Gender community. They were often shamans or ceremonial/ritual participants who, as such, were held in high regard and respect in their communities. They had many different terms, but the Spanish called them “bakla”, a derogatory term originating from the name of a species of bamboo.

Even though the Philippine tradition of the bakla continued, the Christian morality of sodomy began to become associated with them. Over time the bakla stopped being respected and accepted and began to acquire the demonised and persecuted status as the sodomites of Europe. Even the bakla themselves began to loose their pride in being who they were and how they lived.

In the 21st century the bakla and other Third Gender communities across Asia and the Pacific have started to regain much of their pre-colonial status in their societies. Where once no distinction was made, Third Genders are keen to differentiate themselves from the European concept of a gay man and homosexuality. In nations in Asia and Oceania there is much anti-gay legislation, yet the traditional Third Gender culture is generally accepted (though often, still, with overtones of European prejudice).

That concludes my brief mini-series for Hispanic Heritage Month. In my articles it has been seen how the Iberian colonists have spread to all continents taking their European Christian ideas of same-sex activity with them. They have tried to suppress the many diverse same-sex roles and identities they encountered, which managed to survive through imperial rule. My articles have also shown that, even though the western concept of homosexuality prevails around the world, indigenous same-sex identities are reclaiming their special place alongside their national Hispanic heritage.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Coming Out in the World

Today it’s the turn of the UK to celebrate National Coming Out Day, and here is my list of notable non-Americans who have come out in the past year.

First of al a couple of omissions from yesterday.

25 July             Sarah Hoffman, soccer player
9 Oct.              Abby Wambach, soccer player and Olympic gold medallist (married to Sarah Hoffman, above)

Here is the Rest of the World list

1 Mar.              Richard Wilson, actor
3 Mar.              Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St. Andrews (on admission of abuse)
12 Mar.            Christopher Maloney, “X-Factor” contestant
5 Apr.               Daniela Mercury, Brazilian singer
7 May               Amina Fonua, Tongan Olympic swimmer
3 June             Sebastián Ligarde, Mexican soap star
4 June             Liz Barker, Baroness Barker, Liberal Democrat life peer
12 June           Dominik Koll, Austrian Olympic swimmer
30 June           Daniel Kawczynski, UK Conservative MP
6 July               Michelle Hardwick, British soap actor
2 Aug.              Sarah Outen, round-the-world adventurer
3 Aug.              Ben Wishaw, actor (Q in “Skyfall”)
14 Aug.            Anton Krasovsky, presenter on Russian television
22 Aug.            Belle Brockhoff, Australian snowboarder
28 Aug.            Casey Dellacque, Australian Olympic tennis player
31 Aug.            Anastasia Bucsis, Canadian Olympic speed skater
2 Sept.             Kate Walsh and Helen Richardson, British Olympic hockey players
13 Sept.           Masha Best, Chair of the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights

Before I leave the subject of coming out I’d like to comment on the subject. I came out twice. The first time was to family, friends and work colleagues. This is how the majority of us come out, and that’s how the majority continue to live. They are out to the people who matter in their lives, however many or few that may be. Rather than say they are out “privately” I prefer to say they are out “personally”.

But then I came out again, this time “publicly” by presenting myself to the rest of the world as a gay man and lgbt historian by founding the Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage project, and creating guided tours of lgbt Nottingham.

Earlier this month I wrote about Professor Peter Coles. In that article I commented that there were very few out physicists. Professor Coles read my article and said that, on the contrary, he knew of many. I suspect everyone can list many friends, colleagues and acquaintances who are openly lgbt, but how many of them are out publicly and have stated they are to the rest of the world? There’s a difference between those who are out personally and those who are out publicly. Many of the people on both of my lists have said they were out personally before coming out publicly.

For me, by coming out publicly I accept that I will be labelled – that’s how society works. I accept that I am no longer a tour guide and historian who is gay, but am a gay tour guide and historian. I am comfortable with, and feel empowered by, my choice.

But that’s me. It really makes no real difference if you prefer to be out personally or out publicly. It’s about what makes YOU comfortable. Whichever way people choose, it must be THEIR choice and not that of others (disregarding cases when abuse or legal action brings it to light).

Celebrate being out in whatever way that makes you feel empowered.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Coming Out in the USA

To celebrate National Coming Out Day I’ve compiled 2 lists of notable people who have come out publicly since last year. The UK and the USA celebrate this day separately – the USA today and the UK tomorrow. As it happens, the list is quite long so it gives me the opportunity to split it into 2. Today’s list comprises those Americans who have come out, and tomorrow’s list will feature those from the rest of the world.

This list gives the date when the person officially came out publicly.

3 Jan.              Ke$ha, singer-songwriter
6 Jan.              Matt Dallas, actor
27 Apr.             Tuc Watkins, actor (widely regarded as being gay before he came out)
30 Apr.             Jason Collins,  the first out male basketball player still competing
8 May               Kevin Grayson, soccer player
3 June             Charice Pempengco, singer and “Glee” star
5 June             Kristin Beck, former US Navy Seal and Purple Heart recipient
12 June           Jenny Owen Youngs, folk musician and singer
27 June           Greg Rikaart, actor (“The Young and the Restless”)
27 June           Sharmee Zoll-Norman, basketball player
2 Aug.              Raven-Symoné, singer, former child actor (“The Cosby Show”)
7 Aug.              Troye Sivan, actor (young Wolverine, “X-Men Origins”)
7 Aug.              Ron Snyder, leader of Young Democrats in America
14 Aug.            Darren Young, wrestler
20 Aug.            Lucas Cruickshank, Nickelodeon actor
16 Aug.            Jennifer Pritzker, billionaire heir
20 Aug.            Wentworth Miller, actor and screenwriter
29 Aug.            Bobby Stygert, Broadway actor-singer
30 Aug.            Meleana Shim, soap actor
20 Sept.           Heath Adam Ackley, theology professor (fired from his post)
27 Sept.           Michelle Rodriguez, actor

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Simeon Solomon Appeal Update

Today is the 173rd anniversary of the birth of Simeon Solomon. Earlier this year I publicised the appeal being made by Frank Vigon to raise money to erect a headstone on Simeon’s grave.

This summer I went down to London on a couple of day trips with my brother. Unfortunately we had so much to so that I was unable to visit Simeon’s grave. I have plans to visit London next year, so it’ll be high on the list of things to do.

Frank Vigon gave an update of the appeal in the latest edition of the Re-Raphaelite Society newsletter. By August he had raised £1,850. As well as myself and many individual members of the lgbt, art and Jewish communities, Frank has received support from a wide variety of groups – the Oscar Wilde Society, the Mass Gallery, Ben Uri, and the Pre-Raphaelite Society itself..

Once a headstone has been placed the life of Simeon Solomon could well drift back into memories so some people have suggested to Frank that there should be some sort of living legacy established in his memory. One idea suggested has been a scholarship or grant to an art student. The money would be available to a student of any race, creed or sexual preference. But I would like to suggest that it should also extend to the art itself in an exploration and expression of race, creed or sexual preference (either individually or in combination).

Frank also gives talks on Simeon around the UK, such as this one last June.

If you want to know more about Simeon Solomon, Frank Vigon’s appeal, or make a donation go to

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Over the Rainbow

The first of this month’s meteorological articles deals with the weather phenomenon that the lgbt community has adopted as its emblem – the rainbow.

Many civilisations have specific gods and deities attributed to the rainbow. The Norse and Greeks thought of the rainbow as an actual mystical structure linking this world with the next as well. Even in those ancient times there was no consensus across cultures on which colours were contained in the rainbow or how many there were. Homer, the Greek poet, believed the rainbow had only one colour – purple. Aristotle, however, contradicts himself. In “De Sensu” he writes of the rainbow as having 7 colours, while in his “Meteorologica” he wrote of only 3 – red, green and purple/blue.

Both 3 and 7 were equally believed in the Middle Ages to be the number of colours. The 3-colour rainbow can be seen as a means of representing the Holy Trinity and was popular in Christian iconography, helped by it’s place in the story of Noah and the Flood. The 7-colour rainbow was favoured by alchemists and mystics, and this may be the reason why Sir Isaac Newton named 7 colours in his spectrum (Newton was interested in alchemy). Other authorities have put other numbers on the colours throughout the medieval period and across the globe.

The rainbow became linked to the lgbt community through 2 separate routes.

The first of these came with the iconic song from “The Wizard of Oz”. There is such a lot of meteorological  symbolism in the film, from the initial hurricane over Kansas to the climactic hot-air balloon ride, that it seems strange to think that the song “Over the Rainbow” was almost NOT in the film. The producers claimed it slowed the story down. But that’s a story for another time.

The song, the film, and its star Judy Garland who played the character of Dorothy, quickly became accepted by the growing lgbt community in the 1960s, and the term “a friend of Dorothy” has now entered the dictionaries to signify a gay man. A different origin has been suggested for the phrase, however. It is also possible that “being a friend of Dorothy” referred to being among the many gay friends and acquaintances of the American humorist Dorothy Parker.

The rainbow, on the other hand, may indeed have become a gay emblem solely through the song “Over the Rainbow”. With it’s cultural identity as a sign of hope it is easy to believe how early gay rights activists could see it as symbolic of hope for the future.

The second route by which the rainbow became a gay emblem is through the Rainbow Pride flag. I wrote an article on this flag on June 1st last year, but I’ll say more about it here.

Gilbert Baker, the creator of the original Rainbow Pride flag, had no intention of designing something that would become a worldwide emblem. The flag was created specifically for one event, San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day parade on 25th June 1978. It is only a series of unforeseen events that took it out of the city.

The murder of Harvey Milk the following November brought thousands of gay men and women onto the streets of San Francisco in protest and anger. Harvey was a key figure at the Freedom Day Parade and memories of that event were still vibrant in the minds of the lgbt community. Associating the rainbow flag with Harvey Milk was the turning point in it’s history and symbolism.

San Franciscans then took the flag across the USA in protests and freedom marches, and very soon it was seen flying in New York, Chicago and other cites across America that had large gay rights movements.

It was Harvey Milk who had suggested to Gilbert Baker that a distinctive emblem would be welcome to celebrate the Freedom Day parade. Harvey didn’t suspect that Gilbert would come up with a flag rather than a logo. It isn’t possible to say for sure if a traditional logo would have had the same impact in the wake of Harvey’s murder as the flag did. Would that logo have become a world-wide emblem? I believe not, but it has inspired so many thousands of lgbt logos for several decades.

I sometimes think that the lgbt community has come such a long way and developed it’s own diversity since the 1970s that a new flag should be created to reflect the progress we have made. But then I think of the persecutions and homophobia that still exists around the world, and I’m reminded of the simple yet powerful concept that combines the 2 rainbow flag roots/routes.

The centuries-old rainbow symbolism and the “Over the Rainbow” lyrics brings the message of hope and a better life. This joins the flag of identity, protest, activism and gay rights to produce an emblem of universal significance and a powerful presence that should be used for as long as there are lgbt rights to fight for.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hispanic America

The Americas constitute the biggest concentration of Hispanic heritage of any continent, including Europe, due, of course, to the empire-building of Spain and Portugal from the moment Columbus returned from his voyages.

I won’t mention every Hispanic nation in the Americas because there’s too many of them. As with other European colonists the Spanish and Portuguese imposed their own sexual morals on their conquered territories which suppressed any indigenous sexual conventions that were different. Throughout the Americas there were examples of same-sex activity among men which the Europeans didn’t understand. From the Great Lakes down to Patagonia indigenous cultures practised same-sex under various circumstances, the most common being a show of power and dominance, either militarily or politically.

The conquerors saw no variation in the reason for same-sex activity. They saw it all as immoral and anti-Christian. To the indigenous cultures same-sex activity was not seen as immoral but helped to reinforce the masculinity and power of their leaders. This was not unknown in European cultures around the Mediterranean where the conquerors originated but the Christian morality dominated the Spanish and Portuguese fanaticism to convert the New World from paganism, as they saw it.

Fortunately, the American civilisations were strong enough to retain parts of their culture despite Christian suppression. This can be seen today in the lgbt culture. The colonial term “berdache” came to be used for native men who practised same-sex or exhibited feminine characteristics. It was a name used extensively well into the 20th century. It is not a popular term today as it was used to describe many different sexual practices and genders and each American culture now prefers their own self-chosen terms (e.g. the Native Americans use the term Two Spirit).

The Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century extended to the Americas. In Europe it was the civil authorities, not the church, who executed men for “sodomy”. In the Americas the indigenous people also escaped Catholic punishment due to the belief that they were “incapable of reason” and not intelligent enough to know they had been doing something “wrong”. The priests converted these “perverted sodomites” and told them they would receive their punishment after death. European colonists, however, were still executed by the civil authorities. Despite this persecution same-sex activity by European colonists continued in secret, and in Brazil and Mexico City there are records of extended communities of colonial homosexuals who survived through the Inquisition.

Throughout the imperial centuries the indigenous people mingled and interbred with descendants of the conquerors. Today is it very difficult to find true full-blood indigenous Americans in the major population centres in many Hispanic countries.

Even as the modern concept of an lgbt community has developed there developed also issues of racial identity. Across the USA the Hispanic community was treated with almost as much prejudice as the black or Native Americas communities. Yet all three have developed their own lgbt culture and identity and use a wide range of names to describe themselves (e.g. latino/a, chicana/o, which are also used outside the lgbt community).

The early gay rights movement in the USA during the 1950s and 60s contained several Hispanics who were influential in its development. These included José Sarria who died earlier this year. He was a San Francisco drag performer who was the first openly gay man to run for public office. José is as much a pioneer of modern drag entertainment as he was for the battle to allow open lgbt people to run for office.

The Hispanic heritage in the lgbt community in the Americas continues to be a major feature, with more Hispanic lgbt organisations than on any continent (that’s north and south America combined) outside the Iberian peninsula itself. Today there are many more lgbt Hispanic-Americans known around the world than any other on the continent. People from the past like Manuel Puig (Argentina, 1932-1990, author of “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) or the artist Frida Kahlo (Mexico, 1907-1954) join names of the present like Ricki Martin and Gigi Fernandez and José Sarria in bringing Hispanic lgbt heritage to the fore. The combination of a racial and lgbt heritage looks like a becoming a legacy for the future which we all can welcome.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Ology of the Month - Out of the Clouds

Even after this year’s gorgeous summer weather, autumn still has to be my favourite time of year. I love all the colours of the leaves and the feel of autumn. It’s the season of the Nottingham Goose Fair, Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes Night and bonfires.

The change in the seasons gives me the inspiration for this month’s Ology – climatology. With it I’ll include meteorology and climate change, in fact anything to do with the weather.
But first, if you’re wondering what the photo is all about I’ll explain. This is the cover of a popular UK gay magazine. The gorgeous young man on the cover is, believe it or not, one the UK’s best known BBC television weather forecasters, Tomasz Schafenacker. No, he’s not gay (not that he’s admitting) and his appearance on the cover of “Attitude” magazine’s “Active” health supplement in January 2010 cause quite a stir in the British press and the BBC, even though he had pre-warned his employers, the Government’s Meteorological Office, about it. Whether this contributed to Tomasz being removed from tv forecasting later that year isn’t clear, but the press pointed out how inappropriately accident-prone he seemed to be. Tomasz once accidentally used the word “shite” instead of “site”, he called the Hebrides “nowheresville”, and gave the one finger gesture to a colleague on air believing the camera was turned off. So appearing topless on the cover and inside a gay magazine without informing the BBC can’t have helped. But I’m happy to report that the weather forecast has been butched up once again this summer with Tomasz’s return to the screens.

Back to the Ology of the Month. Meteorology is a very appropriate subject for the lgbt community to study because of that meteorological marvel we have taken as our emblem – the rainbow. A couple of articles this month will centre on rainbows, including a look at the most famous scientist to study them, Sir Isaac Newton.

The most notable use of the rainbow in lgbt culture is, of course, the Rainbow Pride flag. I wrote an article about the flag in June last year when I charted it’s origin and development. This month I’ll look at the rainbow itself and how it became an emblem in the lgbt community through several different routes.

Also this month I’ll be concluding my mini-series for Hispanic Heritage Month which began in the middle of September. I’ll also be listing notable people who have come out in the past year on National Coming Out Day.

There will be a bit of a gap between the first two Ology articles and the next because there’s a few articles that are associated with specific dates early in the month. As well as National Coming Out Day another date-related article will be an update (on the anniversary of his birth) on the progress to provide a fitting headstone for Simeon Solomon’s grave. This month’s full moon will also see the first of a new Star Gayzing mini-series.

Returning to the Ology later in the month I’ll look at the subject of climate change and the work of a gay astronomer, and the work of other climatologists and meteorologists.