Friday, 30 October 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 21 - A Ruin

Last time : 61) Sally Ride (1951-2012), the first American woman in space, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded a year later to 62) Stephen Sondheim (b.1930), whose first solo success was with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, whose London premiere starred 63) Frankie Howerd (1917-1992), who went on to have success with “Up Pompeii!”, based in the city where graffiti tells us 64) Auctus had sex with 65) Quintius, none of which would have survived today had it not been for 66) Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768).

66) Johann Winckelmann can be regarded as the father of modern archaeology. He wasn’t an archaeologist himself, but what he saw happening in Pompeii led to him advocating a more careful approach to digging sites and the proper recording of the finds and evidence.

The ruins of Pompeii were well-known throughout Italy and Winckelmann was keen to visit them, which he did several times. He has a keen interest in all things Classical, turned on in his youth by ancient sculptures of athletic men, a passion he had for real men as well.

Even though the Classical revival in the Renaissance was 200 years before he as born Winckelmann lived during a period when ancient Greek and Roman artefacts and architecture was being rediscovered. Through the rising popularity of the Grand Tour for young aristocrats around the Mediterranean and the discovery of works of art such as the Portland Vase then renewed fashion for all things ancient led to the Neo-Classical movement. Winckelmann was influential in defining and establishing Neo-Classicism as a separate artistic movement.

Originally Johann Winckelmann decided to become a physician. Despite studying at Jena this career path came to nothing so he turned to pursue his interest in the Classical world. He didn’t think much to the standard of education that was available and this sparked his own rise in Classical learning. To earn a living he became librarian to the Count of Dunau. There he could indulge himself in the 40,000 books, of which many were translations of the ancient Classics.

In 1754 he converted to Catholicism, probably in the hope of acquiring a wealthy Italian patron to enable him to move to Rome. He had finished writing his book “Thought on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture”, which was published in 1755. It made him famous. On the strength of this work Winckelmann found his wealthy Italian patron in the person of 67) Cardinal Alessandro Albani (1692-1779).

Cardinal Albani was a nephew of Pope Clement XI and obtained high position through blatant nepotism. Thankfully for us, this nepotism led to the appointment of 66) Johann Winckelmann and the founding proper archaeological research.

Cardinal Albani was hoping for a military career but his poor eyesight led him to art instead. By the time he died he was totally blind. He was an avid art collector and patron and employed Winckelmann as his librarian. Through Albani’s influence Winckelmann became Prefect of Antiquities to the Pope.

Not only did Winckelmann and Albani share an interest in Classical art but they also shared an interest in muscular young men. There was a rumour that they founded a secret society devoted to youth worship.

Winckelmann’s time in Italy meant he could visit ancient sites and get paid for it. He visited Pompeii several times and was appalled at the way the site was being treated. There was no proper recording of evidence. There was no systematic removal of layers to determine accurate dating. There was no care taken over the discovered artefacts. The fashion at the time was more for souvenir hunting than saving ancient artefacts.

In Winckelmann’s writings on his concerns about Pompeii archaeologists began to take more care over their work. Thanks to the fame he acquired after the publication of his 1755 book Winckelmann’s opinions were listened to. New procedures were established which have developed into the way archaeologists carry out digs today.

Europe of the 18th century was also a hot-bed of international political machinations as empires were beginning to push each other themselves to power. The great days of the Vatican’s power was over and the Catholic Church found it expedient to support one power against another.

67) Cardinal Albani was at odds with the Vatican over a particular political battle. In Rome at this time was James Stewart, “The Old Pretender”, exiled from the throne of Great Britain because of his Catholicism as a guest of the Pope. Cardinal Albani had more sympathy with the Protestant Hanoverian dynasty that inherited the British throne in 1714. The Pope had some concerns over Albani’s contact with Hanoverian supports though he remained a trusted Papal envoy and international ambassador.

Cardinal Albani took part in six papal conclaves. For two of these he was chosen to make the announcement of the elections of Popes Clement XIII (in 1758) and Clement XIV (in 1769). On both occasions he was a member of the same conclave as the son of “The Old Pretender”, 68) Cardinal Prince Henry Stewart, Duke of York (1725-1807). More often referred to as Cardinal York, Prince Henry became heir to the Pretender’s Jacobite claim to the British throne in 1788. Although Cardinal York never led a claim to the British throne he did sign his will “Henry R” indicating his belief he was the rightful king. To the Jacobite he was King Henry IX (technically, Henry VIII was Henry IX because there were two Henry IIIs).

Like many Cardinals of the time, Cardinal York had an entourage of mainly handsome young men and it is generally believed his love for several of them went beyond platonic Christian love.

The Jacobite cause (taking its name from the Latin version of James – Jacobus) was begun by Cardinal York’s grandfather, King James II, whose Catholicism led to his dethronement in 1688. Britain was a Protestant country and many Catholics had been persecuted for several centuries, ever since the English Tudor dynasty split with the Catholicism and created the Church of England. Scotland, too, was declared a Protestant nation.

The Stewart dynasty of Scotland succeeded the Tudors as sovereigns of England in 1603. The two countries were thus united under one sovereign, even though the crowns were (and still are) separate. For a while the sovereign was referred to by both titles separately, but in 1607 the Stewart king decided to create a unified name – the brand new name of Great Britain. That king was 69) King James I of Great Britain (1566-1625).

Next time we’ll see how King James is connected to one of the most famous swash-buckling novels ever written.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Xtremely Queer : Looping the World - Part 4

Sarah Outen’s mission to “loop the world” by going London2London under her own steam began its final stage on 13th May 2015. Sarah’s task on this stage was to row solo across the North Atlantic.

In her new boat “Happy Socks” Sarah launched from Chatham and Cape Cod on the New England coastline. Even the names evoke images of those equally adventurous trans-Atlantic voyagers who arrived there nearly 400 years earlier. Waving Sarah off were a crowd of supporters and well-wishers. One special supporter who flew in from England was Sarah’s fiancée Lucy.

One thing that neve really struck me about this, or any other extreme expedition, was what happens (God forbid) should the worst happen and the adventurer dies in the process. Just a few weeks before setting off from Cape Cod Sarah and Lucy sat down to write Sarah’s will. It’s a sobering thought.

Sarah and Happy Socks left America on a glorious Spring morning and settled down to rowing for 3 months or more before making land in England.

Two weeks out and Sarah celebrated her 30th birthday for which she took a well-earned day’s rest and decorated her cabin with the little presents and decorations her family and friends had packed for him. She even had a ceremonial fly-past from a couple of planes from the Canadian Aerial Surveillance.

Keeping out of opposing currents was the main task, especially out of the current that would have taken her onto the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia. And many times she was phoning her fiancée to make arrangements for the wedding. Speaking of weddings – Sarah was at sea when the USA courts approved same-sex marriage. Not only were there celebrations across America but also on the Atlantic Ocean on a little boat called Happy Socks (pictured below).
copyright Sarah Outen
At this stage Happy Socks’ rudder broke off and Sarah had to make a home-made replacement until a new one could be shipped out to her remote location.

Before Sarah reached the landmark (!) of being only 1,000 away from Britain she had encounters with all kinds of weather conditions, as well as a few other visitors – sperm whales, dolphins, petrels and leatherback turtles, as well as the occasional passing ship to say hello to.

One very unwelcome visitor, however, was heading in her direction. The weather conditions began to deteriorate just after the 1,000 miles-to-go mark and Sarah spent many days cabin-bound. Added to this was the knock-on effect of Hurricane Joaquin which had been wreaking havoc in the western Atlantic behind her and was heading in her direction. Sarah was in increasing danger of being caught up in a life-threatening situation.

Early on 3rd October 2015 Sarah and her team decided to abandon the rest of the row. As Sarah has said throughout her Xtreme adventure her safety is more important than completing her loop of the world. She was less than 1,000 miles from the British coast and home, and a rescue mission was started.

Fortunately, a ship was near enough to pick her up the same day. The Canadian cargo ship The Federal Oshima was making its way west to Montréal. Sarah’s boat could not be rescued, and so Happy Socks joined her sister Gulliver in Davy Jones’ Locker.

The Federal Oshima arrived in Montréal a week later and Sarah was reunited with a much-relieved team and delighted fiancée Lucy. But the forced end to her Atlantic row didn’t mean that the London2London: Via the World expedition was over.

Sarah still wanted to make a triumphal return to Tower Bridge, London, the starting point of her four and a half year circumnavigation (yes, I’m going to call it a circumnavigation, even if, officially, it doesn’t count as one).

The finish of the official expedition Sarah organised a bike ride from Falmouth near the tip of Land’s End to the university city of Oxford. That part of the return ends today, and then she jumps back into her kayak to paddle along the Thames to Tower Bridge.

The crossing of the finish line at Tower Bridge is scheduled for Tuesday 3rd November.

After that, who knows? Another Xtreme expedition? Whatever happens next, we can be sure that her most immediate adventure will be her happiest – her marriage in Spring to her fiancée Lucy. Perhaps by then she’ll be Dame Sarah Outen.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Xtremely Queer : Looping the World - Part 3

Sarah Outen’s human-powered “loop around the world” reached the North American Pacific coastline in September 2013 and the island of Adak at the western end of the Aleutian Islands. Ahead of her was a 1,400 mile-long journey, island hopping, kayaking and hiking eastwards to the port of Homer, Alaska.

But first there were the usual health checks and debriefing, and then it was a very happy reunion way over in New York with her fiancée Lucy, who had accepted Sarah’s mid-Pacific proposal of marriage in June.

As winter approached plans for the new kayaking section were made ready for the resumption of Sarah’s expedition in Spring 2014. If you remember last time, Sarah’s row across the Pacific to Vancouver was diverted half way across and a new route northwards to Alaska.

Sarah was again joined on this new kayaking section by Justine Curgenven, her kayaking partner across the English Channel at the start of this extreme loop of the world. It was Justine’s idea to paddle along the Aleutian islands, more of a joke really, but when Sarah had to divert her Pacific row Sarah brought up the idea again.

Island-hopping sounds deceptive. The Aleutian Islands are not just a little tropical reef islands like the Florida Keys. They consist of a huge variety of sizes and distance apart stretching 1,200 miles. But Sarah and Justine were not on their own all the time. All along the island chain they met local communities, both human and animal. There were adventures and experiences on land as well as at on water: helping to check an oyster-catcher colony, a guided tour of a fish-processing factory, seeing prehistoric petrified tree stumps, and an earthquake.

After the disappointment of only seeing one bear on the whole journey from London through the bear forests of Russia to Japan, this kayaking section brought more bears into view than anyone could hope for – at a safe distance, of course.

The kayaking duo reached Homer in August 2014. Within weeks Sarah was starting her next section of her X-treme loop of the world, cycling across North America.

The solo cycle from Homer to Anchorage brought more personal fears for Sarah. Encounters with bears, tropical storms, earthquakes and huge waves are all taken in her stride. But heights, that’s one thing Sarah really fears. The mountain roads in Alaska have some alarming drops on the edge and Sarah battled against her fears to reach Anchorage in mid-September.

Crossing into Canada Sarah spent a couple of days accompanying another long-distance cyclist, Iohan Gueroguiev, who was making the journey north to south. Meeting local communities Sarah would be troubled by the stories of native Canadians as they recalled the forced separation of native families by the authorities.

In November Sarah was joined by her fiancée Lucy in Calgary for the next part of the cycle. Lucy hadn’t attempted anything like a long-distance cycle before so it was a learning experience all the way. This was also the coldest part of the whole trans-America ride (what a baptism of “fire” that must have been for Lucy), with blizzards holding them up, and lakes frozen solid. Even the beer they saved to celebrate their last night on the road together froze before they could drink it!
Sarah (in foreground) and Lucy in the middle of their cycle ride. Photo copyright
After spending two months, Christmas and New Year together, it was back home to Rutland, England, for Lucy. For Sarah it was onwards to Chicago. Cycling through the tail end o winter and into Spring the weather gradually improved. Through Pennsylvania the weather was so good that Sarah pushed harder to reach New York, not that there was anything wrong with Pennsylvania, but Sarah new refers to the state as Pennhillvania because of the hills.

Sarah reached New York in March 2014 and a reunion with friends and support team members before setting off a few days later on the final cycle ride of the whole London2London expedition through New England to the early colonial settlement that is now the city of Chatham in Massachusetts, which she reached in early April 2014.

Three quarters of the loop around the world by her own strength alone, and the home stretch was in sight. Her new boat “Happy Socks” was ready. Sarah was ready. And in a couple of days we’ll be ready to look at the completion of this Xtreme expedition.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Xtremely Queer : Looping the World - Part 2

Part 2 of Sarah Outen’s London2London Xtreme expedition to loop the world by human power sees disappointment and excitement in the Pacific Ocean.

Sarah arrived on the Pacific coast of Russia in late 2011 and the journey from there, down the coast of Japan and across to North America, would be on the water.

With her kayaking partner Justine Curgenven, Sarah starting paddling down from the north of Sakhalin Island towards Japan. Even though the long journey so far had been filled with excitement Sarah was disappointed about one thing. Through the whole of her journey since entering Russia she was ever cautious of cycling through the country and coming face to face with a bear. The only evidence of bears she actually came across were paw prints in the ground. To her excitement and delight she and Justine encountered a bear on the very last day out of Russian territory on Sakhalin. The bear was on the shore and oblivious to the kayakers, and they paddled as close as they dared to get a good view of the creature.

Sarah wrote “To have a small window into the world of such a beautiful and formidable creature was wonderful and as I paddled quietly away I felt like the luckiest person on the planet!”

A thousand miles of paddling finally brought Sarah and Justine to the Japanese port of Choshi. By now it was approaching winter and Sarah had spent most of the year in the saddle or on the water. She remained in Japan and spent her time preparing, physically and mentally, for the next, most gruelling, leg.

During her stay in Japan Sarah volunteered for the Ishinomaki earthquake relief team. An earthquake and tsunami had struck the coast of Japan in March 2011, just a few weeks before she set off from London. Sarah recalls the experience as being one of the most profound things she has ever done.

By the beginning of May 2012 Sarah was set for her solo Pacific row. It would be the most arduous section of her mission to loop the world. The start was delayed by 2 weeks due to bad weather conditions in the Pacific.

In bright sunshine Sarah finally set off in her boat “Gulliver” on 13th May 2012. She rowed continuously for 18 hours in order to reach the Kuroshio current, a current which would help to carry her across the north Pacific. Unfortunately, many strong winds pushed her back towards Japan several times. At one point her boat capsized before she had strapped herself into her cabin and she was “shaken but not stirred”, she wrote on her blog.

There were many good days of rowing where the weather was favourable. It also enabled her to see all those magnificent sea creatures that very few people get to see – dolphins, whales, and even squid and sharks.

All was going well and Sarah was happy with the progress. On 6th June 2012, 500 nautical miles out from Japan the tropical storm Mawar began to edge towards her. Sarah hoped that it would pass nearby and not disrupt her too much. But the waves rose and the winds blew and Gulliver capsized several times. There was no other choice for Sarah but to call for an emergency rescue.

An expedition like this always has a dedicated support team ready to leap into action and in no time Sarah’s land-based team had a Japanese coast guard rescue team on its way. Sarah was rescued safely and taken back to Japan, but poor Gulliver, her trusty boat, could not be saved and was abandoned (it’s still bobbing about somewhere on the Pacific).

Sarah was dehydrated and bruised and spent time in hospital before flying back to Rutland in England to recuperate properly and assess the situation with her team, not to mention catch up with family and friends.

She was determined to continue with her expedition but she was now without a boat. Fortunately the builder of Gulliver had another, virtually identical boat which she could have. The loop around the world was back on, and a relaunch was planned for Spring 2013.

Eleven months after the dramatic rescue Sarah was back in Choshi, Japan, in her new called “Happy Socks” (after the colourful socks her mother knitted for her) for her second attempt to be the first women to row across the Pacific Ocean.

The row began on 27th April 2013. Again, adverse weather conditions caused a rethink in August half way across. The progress was slow and it looked like it would take much longer than the 6 months planned to reach Vancouver, Canada. A new plan was devised. Sarah would divert north towards the Aleutian Islands of southern Alaska. From there she would kayak from one island to the next as far as the coastal port of Homer.

Having had the disappointment of having no choice but to abandon her previous trans-pacific row Sarah reached an all-time high during this part of her expedition. On 1st July 2013, still alone in her little boat “Happy Socks” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, she proposed to her girlfriend, Lucy, via satellite phone. Lucy said YES! There were more than “Happy Socks” on the Pacific that day!

Four months after Lucy waved Sarah off from Choshi in Japan, Sarah reached the remote Adak Island in the Aleutians to finish the last leg and begin the next in her loop around the world.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Xtremely Queer : Looping the World - Part 1

We return to my new series on members of the lgbt community who push themselves to the extreme.

Already in the Guinness Book of Records as the first woman and youngest person to row solo across the Indian Ocean you’d think Sarah Outen (b.1985) would want to spend the rest of her life on the international speaker’s circuit. But not so. Less than two years later Sarah embarked on an extremely ambitious expedition to bike, row and kayak around the world under her own power.

The expedition was called London2London: Via the World and was more accurately an expedition to encircle the northern hemisphere (to class as an official circumnavigation Sarah had to cross the Equator or Poles at least once, which she didn’t). The expedition was divided into four sections. The map below shows the route I’m going to take each section one by one and write about each one over the next week.

The media, especially the local media here in her home region, followed Sarah’s progress around the world – all the highs and all the lows. Everyone was looking forward to seeing her complete her mission. I say “was” because, as you may have heard on the news, just a few short weeks ago Sarah was forced to abandon her expedition on the final stretch home. I’ll write more about that later in the week.

Far from being an April Fool, Sarah Outen set off on her extreme expedition on 1st April 2011 from London’s iconic Tower Bridge. The first leg was by kayak, and as she set off along the Thames and paddled towards the North Sea she was cheered on by family, friends and supporters.

Sarah reached France three days later and mounted her bike, the trusty steed “Hercules” for the longest leg of the expedition, the cycle through Europe to Japan, a total of 11,000 miles. From Calais Sarah pedalled through ten countries to the Pacific. From the familiar scenery of Europe Sarah entered the more bleak landscapes of the southern Russian wilderness and way across into the Gobi desert. For several days in Russia she was given a police escort “to keep you safe”, as Sarah recalled on her blog for The Independent. She had no such escort through the unpredictable traffic of China.

Through Kazahkstan there was very little but wilderness on her route. No proper roads. These old trade routes have changed little in the hundreds of years they’ve been used. On this part of the journey Sarah even received a marriage proposal! That’s not the only one to occur on the expedition, and if you don’t know that story already I’ll not spoil the surprise later in the week!

There are always unexpected encounters factored into large expeditions like this. The original plan for Sarah’s loop of the world was for Sarah to return to Tower Bridge by Autumn 2013. As we’ll see, some delays were major and held up the journey longer than expected.

The first unexpected encounter occurred in China. Sarah had reached Urumqi, capital city of the Xangiang Uyghur region in western China, a major centre of the old Silk Road. There she met a young man called Gao who was so enthusiastic about joining her that he persuaded Sarah to let him cycle with her to Beijing. Even though Sarah was keen to keep to the schedule she agreed and their joint journey was one of the highlights of the first leg of London2London. Gao hadn’t actually cycled more than 7 miles or so before so the 35-day long, 2,485 mile ride was certainly a positive experience for them both.

Once the Beijing section was complete Sarah was back to her expedition and headed eastward to Russia’s Pacific coastline. There she met up with her kayaking partner and film-maker Justine Curgenven who has accompanied her on her English Channel crossing.

And there we leave Sarah for now. Tomorrow we’ll follow her next water-bound leg of her loop around the world, and the most gruelling – a solo row across the Pacific Ocean.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Olympic Alphabet : C is for ...


One of the most interesting statistics in the lgbt sporting community is the high proportion of lgbt Olympic champions compared to others. But then they have a better chance of becoming champion because of their lower numbers. Over the course of the modern Olympics each of them has had 219 chances of winning one gold medal, whereas non-lgbt athletes are scrambling with 17 others to win it.

When I say “champions” I’m referring to events rather than individuals. There may be up to 15 gold medals awarded to a soccer team but official records only count them as one. I won't include any Paralympians in the statistics as I'll feature them another time.

Using the most recent reliable figures for the total number of modern Olympians (records for the first modern Olympics are incomplete) we see an estimated 128,420 summer and winter athletes officially listed, including the lgbt Olympians. With 7,475 gold medal events verified by the IOC this means 5.8% of athletes (lgbt excluded) have become Olympic champion.

Moving to the lgbt athletes my current list (as of 1st October 2015) has reached 213, of whom 51 are Olympic champions. Converting this into gold medal events (combining medallists into single team events, eg. hockey, football) we have 34. This gives a percentage of 15.9 of lgbt Olympians becoming champions, just under 3 times higher than non-lgbt athletes. I don’t want to claim this is any indication that lgbt athletes are better than any other because, as I said earlier, there’s fewer of them chasing the medals. But it does indicate that lgbt athletes are just as capable of being successful in sport.

So who are the most successful lgbt Olympic champions? It should be remembered that most of them were not openly lgbt when they competed. The statistics below will, of course change over time as new Olympic take place and more athletes come out.

The first lgbt champion was Mildred “Babe” Didrikson (1911-1956), later Mrs. Zaharias, (USA athletics) at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. She started the ball rolling in fine style by actually winning 2 gold medals, thereby also becoming the first of the 19 lgbt multi-champions and the first to win more than 1 medal in 1 Olympics.

The first lgbt Winter Olympic champion was Slovakian figure skater Ondrej Nepala (1951-1989) in Sapporo in 1972. One other connection between “Babe” and Ondrej is that they were both voted the best athletes of the 20th century – “Babe” Didrikson was voted the Best Female Athlete by the Associated Press in 1999, and Ondrej was voted the Best Slovak Athlete by his home nation in 2000.

The lgbt Olympian with the most gold medals are Ian Thorpe (Australia, swimming) with 5, and Ireen Würst (Netherlands, speed skating), Greg Louganis (USA, diving) and Jayna Hefford (Canada, ice hockey) winning 4 each. Jayna also holds the record for winning the most gold medals in consecutive games, 1 each in 4 games.

The most gold medals won in a single Olympics is by Ian Thorpe who won 3 in his home games in Sydney 2000. He was also the youngest lgbt champion, winning all of these a month before his 18th birthday (his most recent birthday was yesterday – belated Many Happy Returns, Ian!) (The oldest lgbt champion has been Carl Hester, GB, equestrianism, who was 45 when he won a gold medal at London 2012). Sydney 2000 holds another record – the most lgbt champions in one games, an impressive 9 individuals winning 10 gold medal events (Ian won 3 events). Two lgbt athletes were in the winning handball team, Denmark – Camilla Andersen and Lotte Klaerskou. As far as I have ascertained, Camilla is the earliest openly lgbt Olympic champion at the time of the competition.

The first openly lgbt champion can be said to be John Curry (GB, figure skating). Even though outed after he finished competing yet before the closing ceremony of the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics (he accepted the common knowledge of his sexuality but never discussed it, he was openly gay within his social circle) he was still the reigning Olympic champion at the time of the next games of Lake Placid in 1980 even though he didn’t compete in them.

Those are the modern Olympic champions. What about the Ancient Olympic champions? We have to remember that our concept of homosexuality didn’t exit all those hundreds of years ago. I’ve written many times of the commonly accepted practice of male athletes having younger male sex partners. The relationship between them was both physical and emotional. In that respect we can say all of the ancient Olympians are the same as those homosexual relationships today.

From the lists of ancient champions I’ve selected several which indicate more modern relationships which seem to have gone beyond the norm and drift into our modern concept of a “gay” relationship.

Perhaps the earliest of “gay” Ancient Olympic champion was Diocles of Corinth in 728 BC. At that time there was only one Olympic event, the stadion race, a race around the stadium track. Diocles was the younger partner, termed the eromenos in these relationships, to a Corinthian aristocrat in the city of Thebes called Philolaus. Diocles decided to go and live with Philioaus in Thebes for the rest of his life and they were buried in tombs which face each other. It was unusual for men not to marry by the time they were 30, and there is no record of either having a wife, so perhaps their relationship was like our modern gay ones.

By the time Hagesidamus competed in the 76th Olympics of 476 BC other sports had been added to the stadion. One of these was the pankration, a round combination of wrestling and boxing. Hagesidamus came from southern Italy and became the youth pankration champion. He was the eromenos of his trainer Ilas. The poet Pindar writes of their loving relationship in one of his many Olympian odes.

Finally, one champion I’ve mentioned a couple of times over the years is Pantarkes of Elis, winner of the boys wrestling match in 436 BC. He was the young protégé and eromenos of Phidias, the architectural co-ordinatotr of the Acropolis in Athens and the sculptor of the statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, at Olympic itself. Perhaps Phidias carved the inscription on Zeus’s finer which translates as “Pantarkes is gorgeous” during games in which he won his champion’s wreath.

There are many hundreds of other names champions from the ancient Olympics. I won’t go into more of them today. Next time we look at the letter D and at two lgbt athletes who are particularly significant in the heritage of lgbt Olympians.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 20 - A Forum

Last Time : 58) Martina Navratilova (b.1956) competed in a Battle of the Sexes tennis match against Bobby Riggs who most famously played against 59) Billie Jean King (b.1943), who coached 60) Tam O’Shaughnessy (b.1952), the life partner of the first American woman in space, 61) Sally Ride (1951-2012).
61) Sally Ride’s space career began as a result of a newspaper ad which called for applicants to the space programme. Sally had a PhD in physics from Stamford University and was accepted by NASA in 1978. She worked on some of the early space shuttle missions as a command centre capsule communication. She also helped to develop the shuttle’s robot arm, a device she was to use herself on her own missions into space.

In 1983 Sally became the first American woman in space as a member of the Challenger shuttle crew. I gave a little biography of Sally in one of my astronomy pieces where more information is given.

In 2013 Sally Ride was posthumously awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the highest award the USA can give to civilians and was established 50 years previously be President Kennedy. Sally’s partner 60) Tam O’Shaughnessy received the award from President Obama. Tam’s old tennis coach, 59) Billie Jean King, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom herself in 2009.

The next member of the lgbt community to receive the Medal after Sally Ride was 62) Stephen Sondheim (b.1930), who received it in 2014. Sondheim is responsible for writing some of the most iconic musicals of our time, beginning with his collaboration with Leonard Bernstein on “West Side Story”.

For me, though, my favourite Sondheim musical has to be “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, which I mentioned back in May. “Forum”, as it is often called, was the first musical Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics for. It’s a classic farce based on those written by the ancient Roman writer Plautus. As such I believe that it works best when the characters are played by actors steeped in variety, vaudeville or music hall. It’s also a very popular musical among amateur companies.

The original production starred Zero Mostel in the lead role of Pseudolus the slave. It wasn’t long before the UK saw the first production of “Forum” a year after its Broadway debut. The London lead (suggested by Sir John Gielgud) was a well-known entertainer and comedian of the 1950s whose star status was beginning to wane. “Forum” was to give his an incredible boost to his career and helped to create one of the most popular characters in UK television comedy. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

Stephen Sondheim himself came to the UK to see this man in action in a traditional British pantomime. In a way “Forum” is very much like a pantomime, with Pseudolus speaking directly to the audience as panto characters do. Sondheim knew straight away that he had found the London Pseudolus – 63) Frankie Howerd (1917-1992).

63) Frankie Howerd began his entertainment career in war-time troop shows and found fame in the BBC radio series “Variety Bandbox” from 1946. His distinctive stand-up comedy delivery made him a household name. The 1960s saw a new type of comedy emerging which didn’t suit Frankie’s style. But his career was saved by going on holiday. Not by Frankie going on holiday, but a BBC executive.

The executive was on holiday in Italy, and he was suddenly inspired to create a new comedy series with Frankie Howerd in the lead. The international success of “Forum” made Ancient Roman comedy fashionable. A visit to some ancient ruins provided both the title and the location for the new comedy – “Up Pompeii”.

All the stock characters of “Forum” were transferred to Pompeii in one of the most famous and bawdy BBC comedies ever produced. Not surprisingly, a lot of the actors who appeared in the London and 1966 film productions of “Forum” appeared at least once in the 14 episodes that were produced in 1969 and 1970. “Up Pompeii” is now synonymous with 63) Frankie Howerd and it invigorated his career as well as spawn several television and movie spin-offs.

Its only in the past few years that people have come to realise that the bawdiness of “Up Pompeii” and “Forum” is based on fact. In Pompeii there is a lot of ancient graffiti of a sexual nature, a lot of it homosexual in nature.

There are many names of men who either say they had sex with another man on that spot, or that they know of someone else who had. 64) Auctus and 65) Quintius, for example, are immortalised in a graffito saying (in translation, of course) “Auctus shagged Quintius here”. We don’t know anything else about these men, but the fact that we know anything at all is because they were rescued from looting or destruction by the writings of an art historian called 66) Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768).

The way Pompeii takes us from the birth of modern archaeology to the court of “Queen” James I of Great Britain is told next time.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

How "Coming Out Day" Began

Rather than give a list of those lgbt people who have come out or made their sexuality public knowledge since National Coming Out Day last year I thought I’d write about the creation and creators of day itself.

Like a lot of lgbt celebrations National Coming Out Day didn’t emerge full-formed out of nowhere. If there are any people and organisations which can be regarded as the parents of the event they are Dr. Robert Eichberg of The Advocate Experience and Joan O’Leary of the National Gay Rights Advocates. If there was a midwife it would be the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Jean O’Leary (1948-2005) was a leading feminist activist of the 1970s. In 1977 she organised the first meeting of lgbt community leaders at the White House as was an active Democrat campaigner. At the start of the 1980s several law firms were established which, for the first time, catered specifically for lgbt clients and their rights. Jean head the National Gay Rights Advocates (NGRA).

During the 1980s many of these law firms, including NGRA, were involved in cases resulting from gay men who were refused insurance after they were diagnosed with HIV. The AIDS crisis also sparked activists into organising the Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

While Jean O’Leary was campaigning for lgbt rights on the national stage Rob Eichberg was advocating something more personal.

Dr. Robert Eichberg (1945-1995) was a psychologist by profession. He had been counselling black and ethnic patients since the 1970s and realised that many of the psychological issues and pressures that affected them were basically the same as in other communities. Having come out in 1970 he knew how issues around being a closeted gay man affected well-being. He produced a self-assurance and self-acceptance programme which could assist gay men in their private lives. He formed a group in Los Angeles for gay men struggling with their sexual identity. From this group came an action committee which lobbied the LA city council to introduce a gay rights resolution.

The success of this lobbying caught the attention of David Goodstein, the owner of the lgbt publication The Advocate. He invited Eichberg to set up a couple of full-weekend seminars concentrating on self-awareness in gay men. It was a huge success and the two men created The Advocate Experience which expanded the programme to include addiction issues and coming out.

Eichberg developed the programme further as Experience (now called Experience With Power). Self-acceptance was very much at the centre of coming out, and it was important in the lgbt community in the successful support of the Second March on Washington.

Many gay men with HIV had not disclosed their status due to fear of the repercussions and discrimination that they had heard had happened to others. The end to discrimination against anyone believed to have HIV or AIDS was one of the main demands of the March on Washington. Indeed, the March, held on 11th October 1987, was led by a group of people with AIDS.

But the idea of a National Coming Out Day had not yet been born. The concept was there but it needed a final push from the “midwife”, the March on Washington, which came four months later at a meeting of over 100 March participants and supporters who gathered in Manassas, Virginia. At that meeting the National Coming Out Day was suggested by Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. Jean offered the offices of the NGFA in West Hollywood as an administrative base for the new event.

The date chosen as the first National Coming Out Day was the first anniversary of the March on Washington on 11th October 1988. Below is the early logo used by the NGRA. The campaign had many high-profile and influential supporters. One of these was the American artist Keith Haring. In the summer of 1988 he produced the logo which now symbolises the celebration of coming out (at the head of this article). Activist Sean Strub persuaded Keith to donate the image to National Coming Out Day and it has been used ever since.

A national campaign of support ensured the first observance was a huge success, with 21 US states being involved. Two years later National Coming Out Day was being celebrated in at least one location in every state.

In 1990, shortly after the demise of the NGRA, the headquarters was moved to Santa Fe and official tax-exempt status was achieved. It merged with the Human Rights Campaign Fund in 1993, who greatly expanded the activities and resources of the project.

Today National Coming Out Day is celebrated today in many other countries around the world. Here in the UK we will be celebrating it tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


Today is the UK’s National Poetry Day. To celebrate I’m going to look at a trio of black lgbt poets.

One of the most famous black poets is Langston Hughes (1902-1967). A leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s Langston has become an icon of black American literature. He began writing during his high school years in Ohio and later moved to Harlem, New York.

He was a prolific writer, producing work in most literary genres right up to the time of his death. His works concentrated on black American identity and issues of racism and economic struggles. The issue of gay men in black society is just as important even if he never mentioned it. Black American society could not accept that there were gay black men in their community, so many, like Langston Hughes, hid it from the wider community. Among his friends of the Harlem Renaissance, of whom there were many openly lgbt black members, Langston’s sexuality was known and kept private.
There have been few Poet Laureate who have been lgbt and black. Only one has also been female, and that is Audre Lorde (1934-1992), who was officially appointed 3rd Poet Laureate of New York State in 1991.

Audre began writing poetry before she was a teenager. Like Langston Hughes she wrote about black identity in society. She also introduced discussion of lgbt identity into her work. She wasn’t the first poet to do this but, added to her activism and advocacy of discussion between the various identities, Audre believed a better society would develop.

In 1968 Audre entered the world of academia when she accepted the position of lecturer in creative writing at City College, New York, and at the Herbert H. Lehman College. She later became Associate Professor of English at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Through these positions she was able to inspire and influence later writers.

Following her death the Audre Lorde Project was created to work with black community groups and non-violent activism for lgbt African-Americans in New York.

More recent black lgbt poets have embraced performance as part of their work. One of the most well-known of these from the Washington DC area was Essex Hemphill (1957-1995).

Essex was at the fore-front of what has been called the second Harlem Renaissance that began to emerge. The work of gay black poets came to the attention of the wider public in 1986 with the publication of “In the Life”, edited by Joseph Bean. Essex Hemphill contributed to this anthology and edited the follow-up volume “Brother to Brother: New Writings of Black Gay Men” in 1971.

But Essex is also remembered for his performance and readings of his own poems. A charismatic figure, Essex drew audiences to places as varied at small coffee houses to bit theatres and gained an international reputation.

Writing poetry became a means of refuge from his poor childhood. By retreating from this hardship he empowered himself. His poetry readings, often accompanied by his performance partner Wayson James, gave a confidence he never had as a youngster coping with his sexuality in a homophobic society.

It’s sad that Essex’s life coincided with the rise of the AIDS crisis. In some ways the crisis overshadowed everything else in the lgbt community. Essex himself died of AIDS-related causes at the height of his career. In recent years Essex Hemphill has been recognised as one of the greatest gay black poets of the post-Stonewall era. Most of his work, out of print for many years, is being prepared for re-publication and the profile of Essex Hemphill will, hopefully, resume itself in the world of black gay poetry as is did at his death.

However you celebrate National Poetry Day search out more works by today’s Poet-Trio and discover for yourself how their work is still very much poetry of our time.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Seven Deadly Gay Sins : Going Blue with Lust

If there’s one sin which people admit to enjoying more than any other then surely it must be sex! But for sex to be included on a list of sins there has to be some concept of which kind of sex is considered acceptable and which kind isn’t. Every religion and secular philosophy have laws and regulations on sex, and quite often they contradict the others. In pre-Victorian times there was no problem in the UK with having sex with girls as young as 12 because that was the age of consent. Times, attitudes and morals have changed and today this would be classed as child abuse and paedophilia.

And then there’s pornography. Porn and sexual material has been referred to as being “blue” for many decades. Historians have often debated why. Some claim it originates in places like the Windmill Theatre where nude female models were bathed in blue light. Others claim it originates in the English censorship of theatre administered by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office where material deemed not suitable for performance was crossed out of the script with a blue pencil.

None of the historians bother looking further back. They know that red means anger and green means envy, not realising that blue for sex originates in the same Medieval cultural belief in western Europe. So, LUST, the excess of sex, is entered on my Seven Deadly Gay Sins flag.

So, what can we talk about today concerning the Deadly Sin of Lust in the lgbt community? Don’t get too excited because I’m not going into gay porn!

We should never assume that all lgbt heritage is about “good” people. One of the most constant downsides of the lgbt community is the presence of those who practice the form of lust currently considered the worst of them all – paedophilia.

There was a time when the general public thought all gay men were paedophiles (some still do). This opinion was brought into the open in my home city of Nottingham in August 1977.

The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) held their annual conference in Nottingham. This was the same conference at which the inspiration for the play “Bent” was premiered.

One of the guest speakers at one of the workshops was a Dutch MP called Dr. Edward Brongersma (1911-1998). As a member of the Dutch Senate he was instrumental in bringing the homosexual age of consent down to 16 in line with heterosexual sex (he had been imprisoned in 1950 after being convicted of having sex with a 17-year-old). What he is best known for, however, is his research into gay paedophilia. He was considered a world authority on the subject. So when it was revealed he would be attending the CHE conference in Nottingham there was a public outcry.

Protests were held outside the hotel where the workshop he was scheduled to attend was to be held. The hotel, fearful of losing business and of threats to the property, cancelled the booking. The workshop was moved to another venue (just across the road from my flat) and went ahead with Dr. Brongersma as the main guest. At the end of the workshop he was given a standing ovation.

Attitudes in the UK towards paedophilia at the time were, more often than not, not discussed openly. Today there is more discussion about paedophilia and its moral place in society. Child abuse in particular is a highly visible and almost constant topic in the media.

The lgbt community must be able to distinguish between paedophilia/child abuse and acceptable sexual practices in modern society. There have been several articles in the lgbt media this year about one man who has been hailed as a hero against Christian homophobia, when in fact he was a serial child rapist and abuser. Is he the sort of “hero” we want?

The man was brought to the fore last year when plans were announced of Pope Francis’s visit to Uganda to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonisation of the Ugandan Martyrs. The visit never actually went ahead but the lgbt media voiced their opposition all the same. The reason was because the Ugandan Martyrs were all young Christian men and boys who were executed by their king, Mwanga II, after they rejected his sexual advances. The visit was distorted into the Pope appearing to honour Christians who rejected homosexuality. Which was the greater sin – rejection of rape, or murder?

I gave a brief history of their martyrdom several years ago. The whole point about the killings is not that the Christian boys were being homophobic but that they were killed purely because they rejected the forced sexual abuse of a paedophile and child rapist who thought he had the right to rape who he pleased.

There was nothing good about King Mwanga’s sexual activities. The Ugandan Martyrs weren’t even gay. He used his power to abuse anyone he wished – gay, straight, male, female. This was part of his culture and the Christian missionaries realised (even if modern lgbt journalists don’t) that the human rights of Ugandans were being violated. Forget the religion. Would an atheist organisation have supported this violation? The fact that the boys were converted Christians is irrelevant. For the first time in their lives someone had arrived and said they had the right to say “No” to abuse.

For too many decades gay men have been portrayed as predatory paedophiles like King Mwanga. It’s the reason who so many people still oppose the idea of two gay men having children. I weep when members of the lgbt community start using their own religious prejudices to condone the rape of innocent boys. If I was murdered by a serial rapist because I said “No” I hope I’d be remembered as a hero not the villain.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Heritage Spotlight : Scraps of History

Have you ever kept a scrapbook? I have. I’ve still got over a dozen of them I put together when I was a teenager. I’ll be showing you two of them next year which I made 40 years ago. Unknown to me at the time these scrapbooks have become an invaluable record of the time I compiled them, something that can’t be reproduced in the digital age.

More often than not scrapbooks are thrown away. No-one thinks of them as significant to our cultural heritage. They’re often thought of as just sentimental, nostalgic items of no importance to anyone but their owners. But sometimes scrapbooks are saved by those enthusiastic enough to keep adding to them year after year after year.

One scrapbook compiler has become one of the most important chroniclers of black American heritage, without even having any academic background in history, and we’ll have a look at his life and work today at the start of the UK’s Black History Month. His name was L. S. Alexander Gumby (1885-1961).

Unlike my own scrapbooks, which I never imagined would still be around 40 years later, Alexander Gumby had the deliberate intention of making a permanent, ever-growing, and long-lasting record. His scrapbooks were also more than just a hobby and a collection of clippings, photos and ephemera that he found interesting. They became his life. In today’s digital age he would surely have had a major presence in the blogosphere and web universe.

Gumby began his first scrapbook in 1901 when he was 16, about the same age I was when I started. The subject of his first scrapbook was the recent assassination of President McKinley, but soon his desire came to centre on a record of the lives of African-American people and their contributions to American culture.

By 1904 he had left his native Maryland and had moved to Harlem, New York. Arriving at a very significant time in black American history, the early stages of the Harlem Renaissance, Gumby found himself moving in the same circles as great Harlem figures like Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Josephine Baker.

Through the patronage of a stockbroker called Charles W. Newman Gumby was able to expand his scrapbook collection and house it in a studio in Harlem which soon became known as “Gumby’s Bookstore”. This became an important gathering place for members of the Harlem Renaissance and also the lgbt community (Gumby was gay), and all of them helped to expand the scrapbook collection by donating photographs, clippings and autographs. There Gumby hosted talks and meetings, displayed his scrapbooks, and his flamboyant personality made his something of a must-meet for visiting black Americans. He earned the nickname “The Great God Gumby”.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 was a huge blow to Gumby’s stockbroker patron, and Gumby’s Bookshop closed down. Everything was sold, except the precious scrapbooks which were stored in a friend’s house.

Gumby continued to compile scrapbooks. Every aspect of black culture and heritage was collected, from slavery to sport (he compiled 7 scrapbooks on black boxers alone).

In 1950 he donated his entire collection to Columbia University. They employed him to help organise and catalogue the scrapbooks, which are now called the Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana.

Gumby never stopped collecting, right up to his death in 1961. In total he left 300 scrapbooks of vital contemporary records of black Africa and historical documents dating back to 1850. They leave a chronicle of black life that lives more than any book. We can immerse ourselves in parts of those scrapbooks online at “Unwritten History: Alexander Gumby’s African America”.

Perhaps we should all start our own scrapbooks. They would include all the things that can’t be put on Twitter or Facebook, or whatever technological version of the world you choose to live in.

For me, I stopped doing scrapbooks over 20 years ago, but I still collect various personal ephemera which are stored in boxes and envelopes. Is it time for a revival in the lost art of scrapbooking? Thanks to Alexander Gumby we have something to inspire us.