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Sunday, 10 October 2010

Alexander the Great, Military Commander

b. July 20, 356 B.C.
d. June 10, 323 B.C.
There is nothing impossible to him who will try
At age 16, Alexander became a regent when his father, Philip the King of Macedon, was commanding his army in war. Alexander inherited the throne of Macedon and Greece at age 20. Beginning with no money and a small army, he conquered much of the known world and accumulated one of the world's largest treasuries. He captured the Persian empire, which stretched across Asia Minor, the Middle East, Mesopotamia, Egypt and modern-day Iran. After pushing all the way to India he finally turned back, his men tired and his empire starting to weaken.
From an early age Alexander showed great potential. He learned politics and warfare from his father; philosophy, ethics, politics, and healing from Aristotle; and the importance of an ascetic lifestyle from Leonidis. Alexander became a brilliant ruler and formidable military leader beloved by his soldiers.
Alexander and Aristotle experienced a falling out over the issue of foreigners. Like many other people at the time, Aristotle considered most foreigners barbarians. Alexander hoped to incorporate outsiders into his empire. His progressive method of appointing foreigners to army posts and encouraging native troops to marry foreigners helped create stability in his kingdom. Citizens welcomed Alexander as a liberator when he conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.
While Alexander married women and conceived children with them, Alexander also had male sex partners, including a eunuch named Bagaos. Alexander and his closest friend Hephaestion spent considerable time together. Scholars assume that their love was sexual. Although homosexuality was common in Greece, same-sex relationships occurred mostly between men and slaves or men and younger boys who were not yet citizens. Love between two males of similar age and social class was stigmatized and may have jeopardized Alexander's and Hephaestion's status had its true nature been public.
After halting his conquests and returning from the Punjab to Babylon, Alexander died at age 32. He never lost a battle, created a colossal empire, was revered by his army and controlled one of the world's largest treasuries.

“Ancient History: Alexander the Great.” The History Channel. June 29, 2007
“Historic Figures: Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).” June 29, 2007
Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great. Vintage, 2005
Fildes, Alan and Joann Fletcher. Alexander the Great: Son of the Gods. Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004

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Friday, 8 October 2010

Gay Lovers in Church History

SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.
SS Sergius & Bacchus: Gay lovers, Roman soldiers, martyrs and saints.
For St Valentine's day, a partial roll call of same sex lovers (not necessarily genital, but sertainly intimate) in the history of the Catholic Church.  There are many others. These are the ones I know:
David & Johnathan
Ruth & Naomi
Jesus &  the Beloved Disciple:  We cannot know precisely the nature of this relationship, but it was clearly a close one.
Martha & Mary - Described in the New Testament as 'sisters', but this may have been a euphemism for lesbian lovers.
Philip and Bartholomew:  Included in the Apostles, frequently named in the early liturgies of same-sex union.
Peter and Paul: Primary apostles, also frequently named in the early liturgies of same-sex union.
The Roman Centurion and his "pais" (= slave/lover).
John Finch and Thomas Baines, buried together in Christ's College Chapel, Cambridge.  17th Century.
Euodia and Syntyche of Phillippi: a missionary couple active in the early church (?), mentioned in St. Paul's letter to the Philippians (4:2-3)
Tryphaena and Tryphosa: a missionary couple active in the early church (?), mentioned in in Rom 16
Perpetua and Felicitas:
Paul and Timothy:
Tychicus and Onesimus:
Zenas and Apollos:
Polyeuct and Nearchos: third-century Roman soldiers who became saints.
Faustinos and Donatos: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th century
Posidonia, and Pancharia: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th to 5th century.
Kyriakos and Nikandros: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th to 5th century.
Ss Sergius & Bacchus: Roman Soldiers, gay lovers,  martyrs - see picture.
Gourasios and Konstantios: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th to 6th century.
Euodiana and Dorothea: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  5th century.
Martyrios, presbyter, and Demetrios, lector: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.
Eudoxios, presbyter, and of the sinner John, deacon: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.
Droseria and Eudoxia: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.
Athanasios and Chryseros: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.
Alexandra and Glukeria: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  6th century
St Patrick of Ireland:  after his escape from early slavery, Patrick worked for time as a male prostitute. A recent history of Irish homosexualilty suggests that he may have taken a male lover in later life.
Dicul and Maelodran the wright:  buried together in the church at Delgany, County Wicklow.
Ultan and Dubthach: buried together in the church at Termonfechin, County Louth, near Drogheda.
John Bloxham and John Wyndham: buried together in Merton College Chapel, Oxford.  14th Century.
King Edward II and Piers Galveston:  well known as gay lovers, their relationship as 'sworn brothers' was recognised by the church.
William Neville & John Neville:  English knights, buried together in Galata, near Constantinople 14th Century
Nicholas Molyneux and John Winters: made a compact of 'sworn brotherhood, made in the church of St Martin of Harfleur. 15th century.
John Finch and Thomas Baines buried together in Christ's College Chapel, Cambridge.  17th Century.
Fulke Greville & Sir Phillip Sidney: the joint monument Greville planned for himself and Sidney in St Paul's cathedral was never built.  But the simple intention alone indicates the natrure of the relationship, as also its recognition by the church.
Cardinal John Henry Newman and Fr. Ambrose St.John: buried together, 19th C.
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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Insight from History into Orientation

The evidence from history, anthropology and the animal kingdom seems clear - it is not "homosexuality" that is unnatural, but exclusive heterosexuality. The trouble lies in that little qualifier "exclusive": if we apply it impartially, then the corollary also holds. Exclusive homosexuality is also "unnatural" - at least in the purely statistical sense, of being rare.

When we speak glibly of the acronym LGBT, we tend to think of the first two, and (sometimes) of the "G" - and overlook almost entirely the "B". This is odd, as the evidence, from human societies across history and from Kinsey's research, is that most people fit naturally along a scale of bisexuality, with relatively few people "naturally" places at either extreme. Yet in the modern (Western) world, the assumption too commonly is the reverse- that either we are "straight", or we are gay or lesbian.  Why should this be? The interpretation I that has been making sense to me, is that the medicalisation of "homosexuality" in the twentieth century led those who are are primarily heterosexual, developing a positive aversion to admitting (let alone expressing) any degree of same sex attraction at all. In reaction and as self- defence, those who are primarily "homosexual" then began to embrace the evidence, from science and from personal experience, that their same-sex attraction is inborn, not a mere lifestyle choice - and in embracing this, embrace also a gay "identity". Yet in earlier centuries, most people would have been puzzled by the very idea of a fixed, exclusive sexual "orientation".

This is a theme I have been wanting to explore and write about for some time, but do not yet have sufficient knowledge to present a reliable exposition. The following passage, which I came across in a review of the play "Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party ", provides a useful description of the historical facts - if not yet the historical explanation for the anomaly:

American culture has always had deep divisions regarding any open display of sexuality. For many right-wingers, the concept of gay equality sticks in the craw because it means admitting that gay people have a right to exist openly. Christians and Jews can find Biblical arguments against homosexuality, but they can't find any in the Constitution. A historical disparity is involved: Homosexual practices, found throughout nature, have probably been part of human life since it first evolved, but homosexuality, as we understand it, has existed for barely more than a century. Oscar Wilde, a married man with two children, who saw his attraction to younger men in part as continuing an ancient Platonic tradition of ideal love, probably did not think of himself as a homosexual—not, at least, until after his imprisonment. He may never even have heard the word, which only came into use in later decades. (And "gay," in Wilde's time, merely meant "loose" or "promiscuous.")

Homosexual identity, often viewed today as a central and absolute character trait, was seen through most of history as a quirk affecting very few. Men—like Lincoln and Joshua Speed—embraced each other, and slept together for warmth; men took sexual advantage of slaves they owned, boys they mentored, servants they employed; prisoners, soldiers, and sailors, apart from women, engaged in clandestine mutual pleasuring. But most of them assumed that, when conditions altered, they would engage with women and presumably produce children. Few, no matter which role they played in the act, would have assumed an exclusively homosexual preference; a great many might have been startled to know that people who thought themselves exclusively homosexual even existed.

Today life's different. Gay is an identity, and a highly politicized, assertive one at that—an inevitable reaction to the millennia during which homosexual acts were stigmatized, outlawed, and persecuted, often violently. Every concern that gays might confront, from coming out to one's parents to becoming parents, has taken on an absolutist mentality, apparently subscribed to by both its adherents and those who wish they would disappear. The secondary cultural traits through which gays in the clandestine era once signaled their shared interest have become a kind of instant public shorthand. Quarterbacks who enjoy showtunes are instantly suspect; 10-year-olds with a gift for classical music conceal their interest for fear of being bullied at school. Future generations may come to regard our time's extreme emphasis on sexual identity as nearly equal in absurdity to the frantic hostility and repugnance that kept same-sex attraction clandestine in preceding centuries.

- Full review at Village Voice

Saturday, 28 August 2010

In Celebration: Rev Jane Spahr, "Lesbyterian"

With the widespread press attention to the gay and lesbian bishops in the Episcopalian church, the ECLA decision last year to recognize openly gay and lesbian clergy in committed and faithful relationships, and this summer's decision (not yet ratified) by the Presbyterian Church of the USA to do the same, it is too easy to overlook the fact that gay and lesbian clergy have been around for a long time - right from the start of ordained ministry. Of the earliest years, I have written before, but I am now finding numerous reports of openly gay or lesbian clergy in modern times, going back a lot further than I had recognised. (The earliest clear example I have found so far is of Rev. Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, who was ordained a Quaker minister in 1869.) The problem is not that there were not gay or lesbian clergy, but getting them recognised. Recognition, however, is important, and achieving it has been a major problem, with many courageous men and women making stands, suffering persecution, and securing a series of breakthroughs along the way.

In the Presbyterian Church, one of these pioneers has been Rev Jane Spahr, who was in the news this week for her appearance in a church court for conducting same sex marriages in California in 2008, during the few months when they were fully legal in California law- but not sanctioned by the church's own regulations. I will come back to the weddings, and the trial, later. First, I want to go back a little further.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Rev Jimmy Creech, Methodist minister and gay activist

A Methodist Churchman who was dismissed from service after conducting a formal blessing for a union of two men in Chapel Hill.
In April of 1999, Creech celebrated the holy union of two men in Chapel Hill. Charges were brought against him and a church trial was held in Grand Island, Nebraska, on November 17, 1999. In August of 1998, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church ruled that the statement prohibiting "homosexual unions" was church law in spite of its location in the Social Principles. Consequently, the jury in this second trial declared Creech guilty of "disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church" and withdrew his credentials of ordination.
Since the summer of 1998, Creech has been travelling around the country to preach in churches and to speak on college and university campuses, as well as to various community and national Gay Rights organizations. Currently, he is writing a book about his experiences of the Church's struggle to welcome and accept lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. ,He is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Soulforce, Inc., an interreligious movement using the principles of nonviolent resistance, taught and practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to confront the spiritual violence perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by religious institutions.
(Read the full bio at LGBT Religious Archives)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark. transsexual nun

The world’s first transsexual nun also deserves a mention in military history. She served twice, once as a man and once as a woman, before being honourably discharged (for the second time).

It was then that she entered religious life as an Episcopal nun.

From Matt & Andrej Koymasky:

Born in Pontiac, Michigan, Clark was christened Michael by his parents. But he soon realized nature had made a horrid mistake.
"From the time I was 3, I felt that I was different from other boys. I felt more comfortable in the company of girls. I tried to talk and act like a girl instead of a boy. I believed I was one of them - even though I knew I had a male anatomy. When I started going to elementary school, the other boys called me a sissy because I walked without 'macho' stride and carried my schoolbooks like a girl."
When he reached junior high school, Michael tried to talk to his parents about his mental torment. It didn't work. After finishing high school in 1957, Clark went on active duty with the Naval Reserve. Two years later he entered the regular Navy. Within a few months he took my greatest step to show everyone he was 'normal.' and got marreied. The marriage was very painful for both because he couldn't satisfy her needs and desires. It was further complicated by the fact that they had a son.
During this disastrous marriage he threw himself into Navy career, serving in Hawaii and Vietnam as an instructor in anti-submarine warfare, scuba diving and sea survival. In 1972, after 11 frustrating years together, Clark and his wife divorced. He hasn't seen his son since. After the divorce he married again. He was still desparately trying to be 'normal'.
"My new wife was a girl that I really intensely loved as a person. I still lover her today. We liked the same things - hiking, concerts. But she needed more from me than I could give. And she started having a guilt trip over our situation, thinking she was at fault. Finally I said to myself: 'My God, I'm reining this beautiful woman's life by keeping my secret from her.' So I broke down and told her I was a transsexual - a woman trapped in a man's body. Instead of making me feel ashamed, she talked about what we had to do."
She convinced Clark to tell his parents. Incredibly, they understood - a vast relief for him because he'd feared rejection. Then, with the encouragement of his wife and parents, Clark underwent psychological evaluation. It showed he realy was a woman inside. When the Navy found out about the evaluation, Clark was discharged. He had been an enlisted sailor in the U.S. Navy for 17 years, and rose to Chief Petty Officer. The discharge, though honorable, left him "angry and bitter" because he'd often been commended for outstanding service, he said. 
Clark underwent hormone therapy, and then, in June of 1975, had a sex change operation - emerging as Joanna Michelle Clark. Joanna divorced her wife moved in with her parents in San Jaun Capistrano, California, and began a new life as a clerk-typist. But in August of 1975 a Reserve recuiter visited her office and urged her to enlist again. She revealed to him that she was a transsexual, but he said he didn't think it would be a problem. And is wasn't. She was accepted, becoming a supplys clerk as a Sargent First Class in the WACs.... but 18 months later she was booted out of the Army Reserve. 
Ms. Clark fought the charges and discharge. The case was eventually settled out of court with a stipulation that the details of the settlement not be discussed. However, she received an honorable discharge, with credit for time served in the Reserve. The Army had capitualated on its charges... however, Ms. Clark had won a battle but lost the war. It remains unlawful for transsexuals to enlist in the services to this day, inspite of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
As Joanna Clark she lobbied successfully in 1977 for a law that allowed replacement birth certificates in the state of California. She later wrote Legal Aspects of Transsexualism, an important early document on the subject, still referenced twenty years later. She founded the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee, serving as chair for several years, seemingly tirelessly working to improve the legal status of TS persons. Joanna served with Jude Patton as a TS advisor with a Gender Identity Clinic during the early '80s. 
She decided to become a nun; the world's first transsexual Episcopal nun, founder and sole member of the Community of St. Elizabeth, a nonprofit religious organization. She took her vows at St. Clement's by the Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente in 1988. She transferred to the Order of St. Michael in 1997. 
In 1990, as Sister Mary Elizabeth, she founded and continues to operate the largest AIDS and HIV online information BBS and website - ÆGiS (AIDS Education Global Information System;, a definitive and comprehensive web-based reference for HIV/AIDS-related information, to meet the need for access to up-to-date HIV/AIDS information by people in isolated areas.
"Of all the things I've done in my life, military-wise, or working with children, I don't think I've had anything in my life that I've had more passion for. I really can't put it into words. When you see letters from people and you know that you're helping them, that's what it's all about."

Monday, 16 August 2010

'Abdur al-Rahman Khan (1844 - 1901), the "Father" of Afghanistan

'Abdur al-Rahman Khan was born in Kabul. After the death of Amir Shir Ali Khan, 'Abdur al-Rahman Khan, who was living in Samarqand at the time, returned to Afghanistan and after a fierce and long-drawn struggle for power waged by his father and his uncle, A'zam Khan, against his cousin Shir 'Ali, the successor of Dost Mohammad Khan, took the Afghan throne in 1880.
The British finally withdrew from Kandahar in April 1881, and the second Anglo-Afghan war ended soon after his arrival on the scene. The British recognized him as the Amir of Afghanistan, and later brokered various agreements with him. The boundaries of modern Afghanistan were drawn by the British and the Russians. The Durand Line of 1893 divided zones of responsibility for the maintenance of law and order between British India and the kingdom of Afghanistan; it was never intended as an international boundary. Afghanistan, therefore, although never dominated by a European imperial government, became a buffer between tsarist Russia and British India.
(Read more at  Matt & Andrej Koymasky , in their "Living Room- Biographies of LGBT People".)

Matt & Andrej do not provide sources, or details of his alleged homosexuality. It is clear though that any homosexuality was not exclusive, as he was succeeded by his eldest son:
at his death, his designated successor and eldest son, Habibollah Khan, succeeded to the throne without the usual fratricidal fighting.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Nzinga (1583-1663), Female King of the Mbundu.

Nzinga is renowned in Black history for her courageous part in resistance to the Portuguese colonial power in what is now Angola.

Her father had been the "ngola" or ruler (from which the Portuguese took the name for their colonial territory), and was followed in that position by Nzinga's brother, Ngola Mbande. As a child, Nzinga had been greatly favoured by her father, who gave her the opportunity to watch him closely as he governed, and even went with him to war. Later, she was sent by her brother as envoy to the Poruguese governor at a peace conference,  in Luanda in 1622, aiming to have the Portuguese withdraw a fortress they had built on Mbundu land, return some of her brother's subjects who had been captured, and to put an end to the marauding raids by bands of Portuguese.

She was able to secure a peace treaty - which the Portuguese failed to keep. Her brother then committed suicide, leaving his son Kaza as heir, with Nzinga acting as regent.Instead, she had him killed, and assumed the throne herself. As ruler, she continued to resist the Portuguese in numerous battles, personally leading her army in war, and forming alliances with both the neighbouring African peoples of Kongo in the African interior, and with the Dutch on the coast. She maintained this resistance for over thirty years, until well into her sixties, before finally signing a peace treaty in 1657.

The queer interest in Nzinga rests in her assuming the throne of her people, which traditionally could only be held by men. As she had occupied a position absolutely restricted to men, so she was necessarily regarded as male.  As a man, and as king, it then became important that s/he acquire a harem of wives. As Nzinga was biologically female, her wives then needed to be biologically male, who dressed as women and took female gender roles. 

In the African context, her story is not as extraordinary as it may sound. Ethnographic reports from all regions of the continent have shown that gender roles were traditionally less closely identified with biological sex than in the West, so that wealthy women who could afford it, could and sometimes did acquire wives, and take on the roles of "husband" - while some wealthy men included the occasional male among their "wives".

Gay Popes: Julius III (r.1550 to 1555)

b. 10 September 1487
d. 23 March 1555

When I wrote about Paul II earlier, I referred to Julius III - then realised I have never given you more than a snippet on this flagrant lover of boys including one in particular, a street urchin whom Julius appointed as Cardinal at the grand old age of 17.
In his early career in the Church Julius established a reputation as an effective and trustworthy diplomat, and was elected to the Papacy as a compromise candidate when the Papal Conclave found itself deadlocked between the rival French and German factions. As Pope he lost, or failed to show, any of the qualities which had distinguished his previous career, devoting himself instead to a life of personal pleasure and indolence. His lasting fame, or notoriety, rests rather on his relationship with the 17 year old boy whom he raised to the position of Cardinal-Nephew, and, it was said at the time, with whom he shared his bed.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Epaminondas: Military Hero, Democrat, Cultured Statesman. Gay.

Epaminondas lived before the Christian era, outside the Jewish tradition, and has no claim whatsoever to be treated as a “saints in any literal sense. However, taking the term much more loosely, including those we might consider as role models, he clearly fits the bill. If that doesn’t suit you, think of him as included in the “others” of my title.

Together with his lover Pelopidas, Epaminondas was one of the celebrated “Sacred Band of Thebes”, a military company of 150 pairs of lovers. That’s right, an army band where it was compulsory to be gay – and partnered. We usually think of the Spartans as the most military of the Greek cities, and with good reason. While Athens (and some other cities following them) valued democracy, philosophy and intellectual life generally, young Spartans were educated for one thing only – war. After Sparta had convincingly beaten Athens and her allies in the Peloponnesian War, the victors extinguished democracy in the vanquished cities, and placed their allies in command as local despots.

In the case of Thebes, they met strong resistance from the defenders of democracy, in the form of the band of male lovers. Founded initially by Georgidas, on the principle that men never fight more bravely than when fighting to protect and support their loved ones alongside them, the founding proposition was soon confirmed. In their first engagement with the Spartan enemy, victors in the recent Peloponnesian war, the new company of Theban lovers overcame a Spartan army of two to three times their number, and were able to reinstate democracy in their city.

Epaminondaswas initially somewhat hidden in the shadow of his friend Pelopidas, who succeeded Georgidas as leader just a year after the band was founded. Together, they won many famous victories. Later, overshadowing his friend, he found the more enduring fame, and for many notable qualities beyond his illustrious military career.

After assisting in the re-establishment of democracy in Thebes, he developed a career as an orator and statesman as well as a soldier. Although he was instrumental in defeating Sparta in establishing Thebes as the dominant geek power, he refused to use this power to to subject other cities to Theban domination and pillage, so that he was known as a military liberator, not a conqueror. Many scholars have described him as Greece’s greatest warrior-statesman. Diodorus Siculus wrote that he excelled all the others in valour and military shrewdness – but also in “eloquence of speech, elevation of mind, contempt of lucre, and fairness…”.
The Romans also admired him, although less enthusiastic about his cultural achievements. Cornelius Nepos included him in his Book o Great Commanders, but found it necessary to excuse his reputation as a musician and dancer on the grounds that the Greeks had a fondness for these pursuits. He “praises without reservation Epaminondas’ intellectual and athletic prowess, and finds he meets roman standards of temperance, prudence and seriousness….. and was such a lover of truth that he never lied, even in jest.” .

He died in 362, in a battle which once again defeated the Spartans, but also ended Epaminondas’ own life.
This could be my kind of guy – accomplished, virtuous, a democrat and liberator – and good-looking. Except that he lived about two millennia too soon, he could easily be seen as a great Renaissance man. My only objection? Surely he’s just too good to be true. Yet this is the picture that comes down to us from the ancients.

And to think that men of this calibre are not permitted to serve openly in the US army.

(Source: The material above condenses a passage from “Homosexuality & Civilization” by Louis Crompton, which makes an excellent and stimulating introduction to the history of homosexuality.)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Modern (Un)famous Gay Men

At Queer Sighted, Andrew Belonsky has a list of 10 (un) famous "gays you should known" - but probably don't.

The odd one in the list is Peter Tchaikovsky - neither unknown, nor exactly perceived as hetero.

Still, the others are worth a look. They are:

Herbert Huncke, 1915-1996: New York vagabond, friend of the literary "beat" generation.

Claude McKay, 1889-1948:Described as the "dark horse of the Harlem Renaissance"

Ethyl Eichelberger, 1945- 1990: New York drag artist.

Patrick Angus, 1953-1992: New York painter

Roger Casement, 1864-1916: Irish diplomat and nationalist, executed by the British for "treason" - and so remembered by the Irish as a patriot.

Mangus Enckell, 1870-1925: Artist

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893:

Pierre Seel, 1923-2005: French survivor of the Nazi Gay Holocaust

F. Holland Day, 1864-1933: Pioneer photographer of male nudes

The Global Growth of Marriage Equality

I wish I had thought of doing it this way! I have often reported on the global growth in gay marriage, and looked for ways to present it in a simple graphic. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight has found the simple key - convert the jurisdictions, whether countries, provinces or cities, to the populations living under them, and treat all of Europe as a single entity.

This is the colourful chart that resulted:


That's 250 million people who now live in locations where legal recognition for gay marriage has been agreed. (More are on the way. Finland this week was just the latest to declare an intention to change the law.) Please note the rather prominent band of yellow - South Africa. I have only two quibbles with this. Nate refers to the "slow" growth to equality. But going from roughly one million at the start of 2007 to two and a half million now, I would describe as rapid. I would also stress that this applies to full marriage only: it would be interesting to see a similar chart which included civil unions.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes - but we can't. This is not because they don't exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan's use of the phrase, "Papal Sodomites".  In medieval terms, a "sodomite" was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern "homosexual". It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) "popery", which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of "sodomy" were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Gay Pride, Warsaw- In the 16 th Century!

Most Pride celebrations are local, for a specific city or town. In Europe, things are a little different. Every year, one city is selected for a continental celebration, drawing in visitors from right across the continent for Euro Pride. A few years ago, it was London's turn. Today, Warsaw hosts Europride. This has attracted the attention of activists who are conscious of modern Poland's reputation as a bastion of homophobia, one of the few European countries where gay marriage is constitutionally prohibited, and where some major political parties campaign on gay-bashing.  UK government minister Chris Bryant, the most senior openly gay man in the new coalition,  has gone to Warsaw to join the parade, in the hope that Euro Pride in Warsaw will contribute to an erosion of the hostile political culture.

At least one gay Pole objects to this image. Writing a "A Postcard From Gay Poland", ?ukasz Palucki exposes an extraordinary amount of what for most of us is hidden gay history, showing how Poland was for centuries a bastion of gay tolerance.

Reports like this need to be taken seriously. Far too much for what passes for political or religious discourse on sexuality is based on a highly edited, selective view based on a heterosexist bias. We need to recover and disseminate our lesbian and gay history, in the state and in the church.

Here are some extracts :

There is a State called Poland in the middle of Europe.  For unclear reasons to me, Poland is described as a part of Eastern Europe.  This qualification is more mental than geographical because Poles are being perceived as homophobes.

This stereotype strengthens Poles’ image as fanatic Catholics whose intolerance results from conservatism and is deeply rooted in the state’s long history.  There is nothing more false than that!  There are only a few countries in the world where the history of social tolerance is of such great importance, as in Poland.

I’m going to tell you the story you certainly don’t know.  This is a history of a State that was a safe refuge for many types of ‘unaccepted’ minorities, where homosexuality was never a crime, where several rulers were homosexual, and catholic priests gave church weddings to same-sex couples.

Sigmund Column: Symbol of Warsaw - and a Gay Memorial

Some people quote a wrong date, 1932, as the date of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Poland.  This mistake comes from a lack of knowledge.  In this year, the ‘Makarewicz’ Penal Code was actually established – and it  didn’t include a penalty for homosexual acts.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Modern History: Out in the Forces, UK

Over the last year or so there have been many notable anniversaries of landmarks on the way to LGBT equality: 40 since since Stonewall (June last year), 40 years since the first gay liberation march (June this year); 20 years since the first civil unions in Denmark (last year),10 years for those in Vermont (June this year), 5 years for the first full marriages in Massachusetts. Here's one that passed me by - possibly because it's more difficult to pin it down to a specific date in th year, possibly because it will have been missed by the American media that so dominate our news cycle.

2010 marks ten years of openly gay and lesbian members serving in the British armed forces.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Robin Hood: Gay in the Greenwood?

"When Robin Hood was about 20 years old;
he happen'd to meet Little John; 
A jolly brisk blade right fit for the trade,
for he was a lusty young man."
The Times of 11 July 1999 reported on research suggesting that Robin Hood, who livd with his band of merrie men in their forest ghetto, may have been gay.  Maid Marion, the hetero love interest was a fiction added later to the earlier accounts. Robin’s genuine true love was Little John.  Surprised?
New studies of the medieval texts that first recorded his deeds suggest that the robber with a heart of gold was actually a gay outlaw who had been exiled from "straight" society. Little John, not Maid Marian, was his true love.
The revelation flies in the face of Kevin Costner's portrayal of the outlaw in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves", and suggests that the title of Mel Brooks's film "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" may have been closer to the mark.
The reassessment is based on studies of the 14th-century ballads of Robin Hood, the earliest known accounts of his deeds, which detail his relationships with his "merrie men", especially Little John and Will Scarlet.
Stephen Knight, professor of English literature at Cardiff University, said the ballads, the first and most authoritative accounts of Hood's deeds, had clear homoerotic overtones.
He said: "Robin Hood and his men are all very male and live exclusively without women. The ballads could not say outright that he was gay because of the prevailing moral climate, but they do contain a great deal of erotic imagery. The green wood itself is a symbol of virility and the references to arrows, quivers and swords make it clear, too."
The ballads were written in Chaucerian English, made more complex by a strong dialect. One translation includes the verse: "When Robin Hood was about 20 years old; he happen'd to meet Little John; A jolly brisk blade right fit for the trade, for he was a lusty young man."
The ballads also show that Maid Marian - usually depicted as Hood's true love - never existed.
Knight believes she was added by 16th-century authors who wanted to make their works more respectable to heterosexual readers. He will present his research to fellow academics in a paper called "The Forest Queen" at a three-day conference in Nottingham organised by the University of Glamorgan this week.
The conference will include trips to places where Robin Hood and Little John are said to have lived together.
In modern times Hood has been depicted as a minor aristocrat who becomes an outlaw after his lands were confiscated in the 1190s by King John. He fights against the unjust king and his lackeys, famously stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
He is finally rehabilitated when Richard Lionheart, the rightful king, returns from the Crusades and makes Hood the first Earl of Huntingdon, a title that still exists.
The ballads, however, suggest a different story. They indicate that the real Hood almost certainly came from yeoman or peasant stock, that he roamed Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire in the late 13th or 14th century and that his popularity came not from giving away money but from his ability to flout authority.
One of the earliest works, "Robin Hood and the Monk", written anonymously in about 1450, describes the intimate friendship between the outlaw and Little John. It depicts them having a row over money that Knight describes as "almost domestic".
It is resolved only when Little John rescues his leader from their enemies. Similar themes are explored in "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne" - again Hood and Little John fall out but are reunited.
Some historians believe that Hood was a genuine character,but that ballads have been embellished with the exploits of other outlaw gangs, among many of which homosexuality would also have been common.
Barry Dobson, professor of medieval history at the University of Cambridge, agrees with Knight that the relationship between Hood and John in the ballads is "ambiguous".
He said the 13th century had seen increasing oppression of gays: "In the 12th century homosexuality was accepted, but in the 13th the church became much less tolerant and such people were driven underground."
Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the gay rights group Outrage!, which became notorious for exposing prominent people who had not declared their homosexuality, said the outing of Hood was long overdue.
"His lifestyle alone was enough to provoke speculation," he said. "It's about time school history lessons acknowledged the contribution of famous homosexuals."
But the idea that the tales of Robin Hood should be given a gay twist horrifies those used to seeing him as being "straight as an arrow".
Mary Chamberlain, secretary of the Robin Hood Society, accused the academics of trying to make their name at the expense of England's best-loved folk hero. She said: "Robin remains a highly regarded figure the world over and children like to play at being Robin Hood. These claims could do a lot of damage."
Hood's alleged descendants may also be dismayed. The Huntingdons' pride in their ancestry led to the current earl and hisfather both being given "Robin Hood" as their middle names.
This weekend, however, the current earl, William Edward Robin Hood Hastings Bass, swiftly distanced himself from the "gay" outlaw, claiming that they were not related after all.
He said: "It's a nice myth that Robin Hood was the first Earl of Huntingdon, but there is no historical evidence that he really was linked to my family."


Had it not been for the violent uprising at the Stonewall Inn back in 1969, New York would be a completely different place. Gay culture would be completely underground. Homosexuals would be arrested as criminals. Chelsea would have a lot fewer gyms.
But everything changed that June 28 when cops raided the Christopher Street bar and the fed-up patrons fought back, launching the modern gay-rights movement. The riots are chronicled in the new documentary “Stonewall Uprising,” opening Wednesday.
For those raised on Culture Club videos and “Will & Grace,” it’s hard to imagine how underground the gay scene was back in the ’60s — even in freewheelin’ New York.
The new documentary “Stonewall Uprising
The new documentary “Stonewall Uprising" opens Wednesday.
“A bar could be closed for serving a known homosexual,” says Danny Garvin, who participated in the riots and appears in the film. “I was in a bar called Julius’ one night having a beer, and I was standing, resting my elbows on the bar and just looking. The bartender tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Could you please turn around and face the bar. Otherwise, we could be closed for soliciting.’ You had to be cautious.”
Because serving homosexuals was illegal, almost all gay bars were run by the Mafia, including the Stonewall, which was controlled by the Genovese crime family.
Speaking of criminal, at the time, dressing in drag was also forbidden. The law stated that men were required to wear at least three articles of masculine clothing.
“You could get away with [male] underwear and an undershirt, but after that, it was a problem,” says Martin Boyce, who used to dress in drag and also participated in the riots. He also appears in “Stonewall Uprising.”
Back in the ’60s, the city didn’t offer many places for gay men to congregate, and one of the centers of the underground gay scene was a group of tractor-trailers parked at the end of Christopher Street. They were empty and left unlocked at night, and dozens of men would pack into them to have sex.
“I was across the street one time, and the police came by and banged on the truck with their sticks,” Boyce says. “And I hate to say it, but it looked like roaches were coming out.”
The police would also frequently raid gay bars, often confiscating the liquor and forcing revelers to line up and show ID. Anyone who didn’t have it could be arrested.
It was during one of these routine raids on the Stonewall that violence erupted. Shortly after busting the bar, cops were forced to barricade themselves inside as hundreds of angry protesters gathered on outside Christopher Street, throwing pennies, bricks and trash. One angry drag queen uprooted a parking meter and began bashing in the door, while another doused the door with lighter fluid and set it on fire.
“You could see the eyes of the police through a hole in the door, and there was a heightened sense of alarm,” Boyce says. “At first they were smiling, but they weren’t smiling when the door caught on fire.”
Police eventually called in reinforcements. As cops tried to clear the streets, Boyce and a group of other drag queens locked arms and formed an impromptu kick line, singing, “We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We wear our dungarees/ Above our nelly knees!”
“We had to do something to them,” Boyce says of the police. “Finally, it was our turn to just do something.”
The unrest continued for four more nights. No one involved knew it at the time, but the incident had changed things in the gay community forever.
“That week in the street, there were a number of people who cheered me,” Boyce recalls. “I remember one day a sanitation worker said, ‘All right! ’Bout time you guys did something!’ I was shocked.”
A year later, in 1970, a pride parade was organized to commemorate Stonewall. It’s now an annual event, with this year’s march scheduled for June 27.
As for the Stonewall bar, it’s still there — only it occupies half of its former space. According to Boyce, it’s not all that popular anymore.
“It’s like going to see the Paris that you read about in the ’30s. It’s kind of dull,” he says. “It doesn’t have a reason anymore. It just has a memory.”

Personal View Of History: 'Stonewall Did That For Me'

In 1969, Michael Levine was at a popular gay bar in New York City when the police raided it. But instead of running away, the patrons stood up for themselves, in what became known as the Stonewall riots. For Levine, it changed his life — and the world.

Levine, 67, recently told the story of that night to his friend Matt Merlin, 34, at a StoryCorps booth.
It was a Friday night, and Levine was out on a date. "And I was at the bar getting drinks for both of us. We had just finished dancing," he says. "The music was blaring. It was a combination of beer and cigarettes and cologne.
"Suddenly, as I'm handing money to the bartender, a deafening silence occurred," says Levine. "The lights went up, the music went off, and you could hear a pin drop, literally."
His boyfriend rushed over to him and said it was time to go — the vice squad had come to raid the club. In those days, the vice squad routinely raided and emptied gay bars. Patrons usually left quietly, frightened at being identified publicly.
"We walked out onto Christopher Street," Levine says, "and there are what look like 100 police cars facing the entrance and crowds of people looking at us."
Levine recalls police officers telling all the patrons to go home. But, he says, "the drag queens, they're the ones who said to the police, 'We're not leaving.' And they formed a chorus line outside, in front of the bar. And they stood there, dancing in the street. They were all Puerto Rican drag queens and Irish cops. It was a funny, funny confrontation."
Every time the police succeeded in dispersing the group, the drag queens would regroup, and starting dancing their way back toward the Stonewall.
"When we came back on Saturday night, we stood there on the street and held hands and kissed — something we would never have done three days earlier," says Levine. "I stood there with chills. I got a chill seeing guys on the street holding hands and kissing."
And then Levine started getting calls from relatives — his brother, cousins, an aunt. All of them wanted to be sure he was OK. "We're just calling to find out if you're OK," he recalls them saying. "We know you go to places like this. We want to make sure you're all right."
The calls came, says Levine, despite the fact that he'd never told any of them that he was gay. "It was like I was wearing a sign on my back," he says. "They knew. We never discussed it. I never once had to say to anyone in my family, 'I'm gay.' "
"How did you feel about yourself between the beginning of Stonewall and after Stonewall?" Merlin asks. "Did you feel that you were a different person?"
"No, I didn't feel that I was a different person," Levine answers. "I was the same me: I was a homosexual person, coming from an old-fashioned Jewish neighborhood, living in Greenwich Village on my own.
"I felt the same. I felt comfortable. But I felt the world, now, is more comfortable with me. And Stonewall did that for me."
(From NPR)

Monday, 31 May 2010

Modern Gay Mayors

Ian Campbell, an openly gay man, has just become Britain's youngest mayor. In their report of his achievement, Edge Miami offers some useful background information on the rise of gay mayors in other cities around the world (but with a distinct US bias):
Openly gay and lesbian political leaders have become more commonplace in recent years. The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, came out in 1998--but that didn’t stop him from being elected to the office of mayor in 2001. That same year, Klaus Wowereit, the openly gay mayor of Berlin, assumed office. 
Last fall, Annise Parker made headlines as the first openly lesbian mayor of Houston, Texas. Parker joined the ranks of openly gay American mayors, including Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, Mark Kleinschmidt of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and David Cicilline, the openly gay mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. 
Cambridge, Massachusetts, was an early leader in having a gay mayor, with the 1993 election of Kenneth Reeves, who went on to serve three terms. Earlier this month, Joe Mosca also joined those ranks upon being elected mayor of Sierra Madre, California; in March, openly gay Craig Lowe won the mayor’s office in Gainesville, Florida, despite repeated anti-gay leafleting campaigns that targeted him with various homophobic smears.
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Thursday, 20 May 2010

Gay Popes: Julius II (r. 1503-13)

Julius 11 (1443-1513) positioned himself for high office during the reign of his uncle Sixtus IV. A lover of art, he patronized both Michelangelo and Raphael, and in 1506 he laid the foundation stone for the magnificent church of New St. Peters. However, Julius' military conquests caused friction with the king of France and the German emperor. At their behest a council met in Pisa in 151 1 to consider his deposition. Arraigned as "this sodomite, covered with shameful ulcers, who has infected the church with his corruption," Julius nonetheless managed to prevail by calling his own council, which was still in session when he died in May 1513.
 Rumors that Pope Julius II (Giuliano Della Rovere, 1443-1513) was involved in numerous homosexual liaisons are reported both in Protestant polemical tracts and in official reports submitted by ambassadors from friendly Catholic powers. Although the Protestant sources must be regarded as inherently biased, the frequency of these accounts suggests that they may be accurate. Julius's enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo's homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.
Appointed Cardinal in 1471 by his uncle, Sixtus IV, Della Rovere revealed great diplomatic skill in his negotiations with various European powers. As Pope, Julius acted as a very effective general for the papal armies, and, by 1508, he recaptured the Italian region of Romagna for the Papal States. Through his patronage of various artistic projects, Julius hoped that Catholic Rome would regain and even surpass the splendor of the city at the height of the Roman Empire.
As part of his renovation of the fabric of the city, Julius ordered in 1506 that the Early Christian Basilica of Saint Peter's be demolished and replaced by a new structure, designed by Donato Bramante (1444-1516), who was the first Renaissance architect to create structures with the sense of weight and strong physical presence of ancient Roman monuments. Bramante's Tempietto (1502, Rome) had been the first Renaissance structure to employ ancient architectural orders in a correct fashion. For Saint Peter's, Bramante envisioned an immense centralized structure with a Greek cross plan. Among the elements based on ancient prototypes was the saucer dome, inspired by the Pantheon, Rome (118-25).
When he undertook the construction of the New Saint Peter's, Julius resolved that his tomb would be placed directly underneath the central dome. Michelangelo (1475-1564) envisioned a monumental funerary structure with three stories, decorated with forty-seven life-size statues. Constant changes in plans, required first by Julius and subsequently by his heirs as well as by successive popes who did not want his monument to detract from theirs, were among the many factors that inhibited the realization of the original plans. However, Michelangelo had begun by 1513 the heroic, muscular figure of Moses, which was incorporated into the truncated version of the monument assembled in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, in 1545. Of uncertain meaning, sensuous nude figures, the Rebellious Captive and Dying Captive (1513-19, both Louvre, Paris), also were created for the tomb.

By the end of 1506, Julius compelled Michelangelo to undertake the Sistine Ceiling, even though the artist did not believe that he had sufficient talent to complete this project. Over the next two years, the final program for the ceiling was developed through often heated negotiations between the Pope and the artist. The nine narrative scenes down the center of the ceiling narrate the history of creation, the fall of the human race through original sin, and the establishment of a Covenant between God and the Chosen People, led by Noah. These panels are displayed in a fictive stone framework, which seems to have the weight of Bramante's actual structures. The figures became increasingly large in size, heroic in musculature, and dynamic in movement as work progressed from the chronologically later scenes of Noah toward the initial stages of Creation. Located approximately in the middle of the ceiling, the Creation of Adam visualizes a balance between human potential and divine power.
The program also includes enthroned figures of sibyls and prophets to the sides of the narrative panels. Sensual nude male figures are seated at the corners of the five smaller narrative panels. The meaning of these nudes is uncertain, but their homoerotic qualities cannot be denied. Insignia of the Pope's family, including oak leaves and acorns, are displayed throughout the ceiling.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

Del Martin 
b. May 5, 1921
d. August 27, 2008
Phyllis Lyon 
b. November 10, 1924

"Two extraordinary people ... that have spent the greater part of a half century ... fighting for their right to live the way so many of us, frankly, take for granted."
 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon founded the first lesbian organization in the United States and have fought for more than 50 years for the rights of lesbians and gays. On June 16, 2008, Martin and Lyon became the first gay couple to be legally married in California.

Martin and Lyon both earned degrees in journalism. While working as journalists in Seattle, the two became romantically involved. The couple relocated to San Francisco and moved in together on Valentine’s Day 1953.

In 1955, finding it hard to develop a social network in San Francisco, Martin, Lyon and a small group of women founded the first lesbian organization, called the Daughters of Bilitis. The name was inspired by Pierre Louys’s “Songs of Bilitis,” a collection of poems celebrating lesbian sexuality.

Though it was intended to be a secret society, Martin and Lyon wanted to make the Daughters of Bilitis more visible. The group began publishing a monthly magazine, called The Ladder, which was the first-ever lesbian publication. As editors of the magazine, they capitalized the word “lesbian” every time it appeared.

In 1964, while fighting to change California sex laws criminalizing homosexuals, the couple joined religious and gay community leaders to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). This organization was at the forefront of the movement to gain religious support on gay rights issues. Both women served on the founding CRH board of directors.

In 2004, when gay marriage was offered in San Francisco, Martin and Lyon were the first to wed. A California appellate court ruling subsequently invalidated their marriage. Then in May 2008, a California Supreme Court decision provided same-sex couples the right to marry. On June 16, 2008, they were the first same-sex couple married in California. The wedding was officiated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Martin and Lyon have published two books together, “Lesbian/Woman” (1972) and “Lesbian Love and Liberation” (1973). On their 50th anniversary, the documentary “No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon” premiered. In 2005, the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association inducted Martin and Lyon into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame for their pioneering work on The Ladder. In 2007, they received the 2007 Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Pioneer Award.

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon.” (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network).

Kornblum, Janet. “Gay Activists Blaze Trail for half century.”  USA Today. March 4, 2004

Streitmatter, Rodger.  “Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin.”  National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association: LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame.  June 5, 2008

Gordon, Rachel. “Lesbian Pioneer Activists See Wish Fulfilled.” San Francisco Chronicle. June 16, 2008

Marshall, Carolyn. “Dozens of Gay Couples Marry in San Francisco Ceremonies.” The New York Times. February 13, 2004

McKinley, Jesse. “Same-Sex Marriages Begin in California.” The New York Times. June 17, 2008

Lesbian love and liberation (The Yes book of sex) (1973)
Battered Wives (1976)

Other Resources

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