Sunday, 29 September 2013

Hispanic Africa

Both Spain and Portugal have had colonial links with Africa. The first major links were a result of the movement of peoples around the Mediterranean coastal regions. The Roman Empire was the first to bring the whole Mediterranean under single rule, and later the Muslim empire controlled the coastal region along north Africa. Both of these influenced Iberian history and culture, and the development of an lgbt heritage.

When the Muslims invaded Spain from north Africa they launched a golden age for the Iberian peninsula, and al-Andalus (the Muslim country which gave its name to present-day Andalusia) is regarded as one of Europe’s cultural highlights. The ease with which the Muslims entered Spain has been put down, in a small part, to the existing puritanical attitude towards sex enforced by the Visigoths of Iberia.

al-Andalus was sufficiently remote from the Islamic homeland far in the eastern Mediterranean for the Muslims to not worry too much about such similar restrictions imposed from Mecca or Baghdad. They had their own north African culture and remnants of the Roman culture which merged with Islam to produce something unique.

This amalgamation was more sexually tolerant than eastern Islam and, apart from a period when Moroccan-based Islam was imposed in the 12th century, it was celebrated in art and literature. Particularly of note are the writings of the 11th century Andalusian Muslim Ibn Hazm and the poet Ibn Quzman in the early 12th century, who both celebrated the love of boys.

There were trading ports and routes along north Africa which were used by Spanish and Portuguese merchants for centuries before what we might call “sexual tourists” began to take advantage of them. This was to prove very important when the Muslims were driven out of Iberia by 1500.

Once Iberia had become a Christian region in the 15th century its influence began to filter to the rest of the world. The Spanish conquered the Canary Islands in 1402 and concentrated their expansion on north African bases and the New World, while the Portuguese ventured into uncharted waters further south, first by colonising Madeira and the Azores and then heading south to reach the Guinea coast in the 1460s. It is unlikely that Europeans introduced homosexual activity into their central African colonies, as it is more likely that the Muslims from north Africa had got there first and brought their own practices with them. Most of the native tribes across Africa seem to have had same-sex rituals, and the Europeans introduced the more recreational same-sex activity that was demonised as sodomy by the Christian Church.

After the fall of Islamic al-Andalus some Christians found the new restrictions imposed by the Catholic monarchy too much, and those who chose Islam over Christianity and converted were called “renegades”. Many of these “renegades”, including, it is said, 400 Spanish Franciscan friars, moved to the Muslim ports along north Africa. It was also a destination for visits from Spanish writers such as Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). He spent some time in Algiers and wrote of an acquaintance who was one of the “renegades” who kept a harem of young boys purely because of the sexual freedom the city gave him.

Spain had less influence in Africa than Portugal as most of it’s empire was in the Americas. Portugal’s main influence lay in southern Africa in what is now Mozambique and Angola.

One of the contradictions seen in Portuguese colonies was that same-sex activity was accepted more so than in other European colonies in Africa. As long as “sodomy” and same-sex attractions were kept out of sight and private they were tolerated. It certainly wasn’t included in the laws codified by the Portuguese colonial powers in the 1880s, unlike it was in other European colonies.

Following independence from Portugal in 1975 Mozambique suffered a civil war. Rebuilding itself in the aftermath has been a success story in post-colonial Africa. Angola, on the other hand, also independent in 1975 and plunged into civil war, became the centre of a Cold War battle between the east and west. A Marxist government controlled Angola until democracy was eased in after 1989. However, the power of the previous ruling party remained until 2002. The present government refuses to accept homosexuality and it is illegal.

Today Mozambique retains tolerance towards the lgbt community and homosexuality is not illegal. There is an equal age of consent and anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation, but no partnership or marriage rights yet.

Hispanic influence on the lgbt community in Africa has been varied, and little of it has filtered out of the continent. The biggest influence Spain and Portugal has exercised worldwide has been through the Americas where many lgbt Hispanics (Latinos/Latinas) have shaped the world-wide lgbt community. That is the subject of my next article for Hispanic Heritage Month on 3rd October.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Body of a God - Part 3

Even though the first official bodybuilding contest organised by Eugen Sandow in 1901 was a huge success there was no immediate follow-up competition. Instead an American called Benarr Macfadden organised similar contests in the USA a few years later, leading to America as being seen as the “home” of bodybuilding. Until recent decades, however, gay bodybuilders have had to stay firmly in the closet, such was (and still is, to some extent) the paranoia among straight bodybuilders that all gay men would want to “touch” them.

It was also in America where a sub-culture of muscle admiration developed in photography which dated back to the Father of Bodybuilding himself, Eugen Sandow. Developing from this came physique magazines, making it possible for closeted men to see muscular bodies without going to the gym or to rarely-held bodybuilding contests. A niche market opened whereby magazines published specifically for gay men were promoted as ordinary physique magazines – the “beefcake” magazines. They catered for those who were attracted to a wide variety of muscular types, from massive bodybuilders to slimmer, toned athletes.

There still remained, however, a certain perceived “corrupting influence” that physique magazines in general were said to produce, especially those which showed men in poses which had nothing to do with training. Several beefcake magazines were accused of being pornographic purely on this basis. The debate came to a head in 1947 when beefcake magazine pioneer Bob Mizer was convicted of distributing “obscene material” in the mail. Ironically, these photographs and magazines are now considered important cultural items!

At the same time bodybuilders were beginning to turn their sport back to its origins in entertainment. The cinema industry soon pounced on bodybuilding champions and put them onto the big screen, in very little clothing. In doing so the film industry was perpetuating the belief that the more muscles a man had the more heroic and ideal he was. The visibility of these bodybuilders on the big screen also gave the sport a big boost and many bodybuilding gyms and associations were formed.

Bodybuilding was beginning to grow into an industry. More gyms and more contests were joined by commercial interests such as more magazines, sports nutrition and personal trainers – and the development and use of drugs and steroids.

But the bodybuilding world was not ready to embrace diversity. It did, however, realise the homoerotic nature of the sport and deliberately promoted a macho straight image with bodybuilders surrounded by scantily clad females, much as boxing and wrestling matches still do, not to mention many present day bodybuilding magazines.

This didn’t stop the lgbt community from embracing the culture of the body beautiful, something it was more discreet about exhibiting previously. Gyms specifically catering for the gay market began to open up across America in the late 1970s. Several gay bodybuilders were competing in mainstream contests in this decade In fact, and what is just as remarkable about the 2 gay bodybuilders who were openly gay by the 1980s is that they were also the first black bodybuilders to win the Mr. America contest – Chris Dickerson in 1970 and Jim Morris in 1973. Jim was also the first black Mr. USA, and Chris went on to become one of the greatest and most titled bodybuilders in history. Both came out in the late 1970s. The first bodybuilder to come out and make a big media event out of it was Bob Paris in 1989, another former Mr. Olympia, Mr. America and Mr. Universe.

The general fitness industry, which saw the rise of jogging and aerobics as well as bodybuilding, was something that Olympian Tom Waddell wanted gay men and women to join and show the world that gay people were not stereotypical effeminate weaklings. It is fortunate that Tom was living in San Francisco at the time as there was a large lgbt health and fitness community already established there, and with their help he created the first Gay Games in 1982. Bodybuilding was among the sports, attracting a varied group of competitors of men and women of all ages.

Bodybuilding has been on the schedules of most Gay Games and Outgames ever since and is often one of the most popular events, and the contest held at the 1994 Gay Games in New York attracted the highest number of entries to any bodybuilding contest in history, gay or straight – 265.

Today gay bodybuilders are more visible, though not, yet, in major international contests such as this weekend’s Mr. Olympia. But go to any Pride, any club, any gym, and you’ll see gay men flexing their muscles proudly. The internet is full of websites of gay and straight men showing off their muscles (though, it has to be said, more often for the sexual gratification of the viewer).

And on that note I’ll finish this mini-history. For those of us who try to keep in shape with weight-training (and fail!) let’s hope that gay bodybuilders continue to flex for our sexuality and prove that muscles and masculinity are not exclusive to heterosexuality.

Oh - and good luck to the contestants (straight, gay or closeted) of the Mr. Olympia finals on Sunday.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Professor, Priest, and Proud

In a blog concerned with history there can be no more distant events to cover than those around the time of the Big Bang. Today I’m looking at an event that occurred just afterwards and the role a gay physicist is playing in understanding it.

The debate between science and religion and the existence of God is one I’ve been avoiding deliberately throughout my year of science – so far. In the ancient world there was no debate because science and religion were the same. Philosophers used their limited knowledge of the universe to discuss the meaning and origin of life. Modern science is much the same. Scientific theories are based on what we know, we just know more than the ancients did and can explain the universe better.

There is, of course, a religious group who have adopted the word “science” in their denomination name – the Christian Scientists. Their doctrine regarding faith and science is worthy of a separate article, and their opinion of homosexuality is much like that of other denominations – some worshippers accept it, others condemn it. Christian Scientists acknowledge that there are worshippers who are lgbt, and in 1979 they formed a group called Emergence International to support lgbt Christian Scientists.

My own views on the specific debate between science and religion aren’t important at the moment, but I can mention someone who is an ordained minister and at the forefront of research into discovering the secret of “Life, the Universe, and Everything”. He is successfully combining three areas in his life which some may find puzzling. He’s a scientist, a priest, and openly gay, and his name is Michael J. Ramsey-Musolf, until recently Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many people are confused about ordained priests becoming scientists, or even vice versa. So it may confuse some people even more to learn that Michael Ramsey-Musolf’s specialist research area is the creation of matter. The Bible states that this was the action of God. Science states that this was the action of baryogensis.

Baryogensis, which deals with theoretical events shortly after the Big Bang, is thought to be the result of an imbalance of quark particles and anti-quark particles. That didn’t mean anything to me at first, so I spoke to an ex-partner who happens to be a physicist. He explained it in simple terms, so I hope I’ve grasped the basics.

Protons and neutrons are sub-atomic particles called baryons, and they make up most of the matter in the universe that we can see and feel around us. These protons and neutrons are made of even smaller particles called quarks. My friend then mentioned antimatter. I’ve heard of antimatter – it crops up in science fiction a lot, but it also occurs in physics. All matter in the universe should balance with the antimatter and, therefore, the quarks should have an equal number of anti-quarks. But that’s the problem.

Think of a quark as the simple number +1, and an anti-quark as -1. Together they cancel each other out and matter wouldn’t be created. So some baryons must have more quarks than antiquarks because matter WAS created. Without quarks, there would be no baryons, and without baryons there would be no protons or neutrons to create the matter to see and feel.

That’s the problem being investigated by physicists like Michael Ramsey-Mudolf – how do we exist? From a theological point of view he has one answer, but Michael is also interested in the scientific answer. At first Michael went through the process of deciding if science and religion were compatible, and which direction to take in life. Eventually he decided on both and studied for his PhD before entering the Episcopal Divinity School. During the whole time he had another decision to make – did his sexuality conflict with his religious beliefs? Again, he decided not.

In 1994 Michael was ordained into the Episcopal church of America. The diocese in which he works, Los Angeles, is already known as a progressive church when it comes to lgbt clergy. In 2010 the diocese consecrated Mary Glasspool, an open lesbian, as a bishop.

But Michael’s work as a theoretical physicist has not been without its problems. At the University of Wisconsis-Madison he experienced continual hostility from some colleagues purely based on his sexuality. He admitted during the first session which centred on lgbt issues to be held during a major physics conference last year that there were times when he thought of leaving his post at the university. It was support from a few colleagues outside the lgbt community who convinced him to stay on, at least for the time being.

And that time being came to an end this year. This month Michael left Wisconsin-Madison to become director of the University of Massachusetts High Energy Theory Group.

Michael’s participation in that conference session, organised by the American Physical Society, was just part of his personal outreach activities. These activities have ranged from something as simple as putting the Rainbow Pride flag on the first slide of his scientific presentations to being a member of several committees. He served as Chair of the Wisconsin-Madison Faculty Senate GLBT Issues Committee and on the Office of Equality and Diversity Advisory Committee.

No doubt the debate among some scientists on the compatibility of science with religion will continue until there is nothing left to discover. Hopefully the debate on the compatibility of being openly gay in science will end a lot sooner.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Celebrate Bisexuality Day

Happy Bisexuality Day everyone. I hope all you bi people out there are celebrating your contribution to the  world in style. To get you in the mood, go to this fantastic list of famous bisexuals from the American Institute of Bisexuality.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Hispanic Europe

Where else could I start looking at the lgbt heritage of the Hispanic world than in Spain and Portugal. In this little I prefer to use the word Iberia for the area rather than Hispania, the Roman provincial name, because the latter name puts one country in the mind more than the other and both have made significant contributions around the world.

There is very little definitive references in historical records to show if there was any kind of homosexual culture or activity in pre-Roman times in Iberia, so the best place to start would be to look at the most famous Iberian in the Roman Empire – the emperor himself, Hadrian.

There is some disagreement among some historians as to Hadrian’s actual birthplace. Some say he was actually born in Rome, but the most widely held belief is that he was born in what is now Santiponce near Seville. His parents were both Iberian-born. Either way, he spent much of his childhood there.

The last decade or so has seen a resurgence of interest in Hadrian, and a big part of this has been an acknowledgement of his sexuality. Historians no longer skirt around the issue of his relationship with Antinous. Hadrian was held in such high esteem after his death that the many statues of Antinous that Hadrian erected have survived to this day. You can’t say that about the lovers of many other emperors.

When the Roman empire became Christian, Christian doctrine affected attitudes to all sexual activity and sexual roles in society. In 305 the Synod of Elvira in Granada declared that communion would be refused to all pederasts, men who had sex with boys and young teenagers, implying that pederasty was more acceptable than sodomy to which physical punishments applied. Today it’s the pederasts, or paedophiles, who are punished in Europe.

In 410 the Visigoths attacked Rome and it’s empire (in the west) finally crumbled. The Visigoths were Arian by religion, a sect of Christianity that had been condemned as heresy. Iberia and southeasten France became a Visigoth kingdom. During this era punishment for sodomy was enshrined in several laws, punishment which varied from castration to exile, or even death by fire.

I has been suggested that it was the severity of the Visigoth punishment that made it hard, too puritanical, for Iberians to handle. As a result, some historians say, Iberians were more receptive to invasion from Islamic north Africa just to rid themselves of the Visigoths. Even though the Koran of Islam prohibits homosexuality the African Muslims didn’t always enforce it. The influence of Islamic Africa on Iberia will be dealt with in more detail in my next Hispanic Heritage article.

There are another culture in Iberia before the Muslims arrived – the Jews. As in most of Europe Jews were often seen as a bad influence on society and were blamed for many atrocities that were obvious lies, like child sacrifice and ritual blood-letting. In the introduction to “Spanish Writers on Gay and Lesbian Themes” (1999) David Eisenberg writes: “Homosexuality was honoured among Andalusian Jews to a degree scarcely conceivable today…” The poetry of some influential scholar-rabbis contains many examples of male love. Perhaps, as with the Muslim empire and the Romans, it was the geographical remoteness of Iberia, on the edge of the known world, far from the regions of  Roman, Arab and Jewish cultural origin, which helped to distance the Iberians from the threat of official punishment.

The expulsion of the Jews from Iberia came at the same time as the Spanish monarchs were sending Columbus off in search of the Indies. It was also the time of the Spanish Inquisition. While there are many records of men being executed for sodomy, it should be emphasised that it was NOT the Catholic Church that was responsible, not directly. Death sentences were legislated by civil authorities not the church. The Catholic Church had the death penalty for heretics, and anyone found guilty of sodomy by the local town court could, in their eyes, be guilty of heresy also.

Several Spanish kings of the medieval period are often stated as being gay – two kings of Castille being referred to the most, Juan II (1405-1454) and his son Enrique IV (1425-1474).

Catholic influence across Iberia reinforce the Christian ideal of male brotherhood, of how close friendship between men was a higher ideal than between a  man and woman. The church adopted a rite form the Greek Orthodox church which was the same as the marriage ceremony – wedded brotherhood, you could say. Although it isn’t certain, it is likely that the marriage recorded between Pedro Diaz and Muño Vandilaz on 16th April 1061 in northern Spain was wedded brotherhood.

The death penalty for sodomy introduced by civic authorities persisted through to the 20th century. Very few medieval lgbt Iberians are readily identifiable, at least few who were not executed. Literature was the only outlet for poets and writers who may have been homosexual, and there is a continuity of homoerotic and sexual literature through all of Iberian history. Some homophile centres developed in Toledo and Seville, for instance, and those men who wanted sex with other men could always travel into Spanish North Africa.

In 1822 the death penalty in Spain was removed. With the spread of ideas across Europe during that century the influence of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee helped pave the way for the Independent Teaching Institute in Spain, which opened its Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid in 1915. Famous lgbt residents included Federico García Lorca.

The Second Republic in Spain, created in 1931, saw an explosion of lgbt writings and activity. This liberalisation was halted when General Franco came to power after the Spanish Civil War. Homosexuality was made illegal and vigorously enforced with thousands of gay men being imprisoned. Likewise, in Portugal homosexuality became illegal under the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar.

This didn’t stop the development of an underground lgbt culture in places now virtually synonymous with gay Sapin – Sitges, Ibiza and Barcelona. After Salazar’s and Franco’s deaths in the 1960s and 1970s their laws against homosexuality were repealed and a new wave of liberalism grew across Iberia. It is surprising how quickly this liberalisation took hold in these very Catholic countries. Perhaps the biggest leaps for lgbt rights was the legislation of same-sex marriages in 2005 (Spain) and 2010 (Portugal), and transgender rights to register their preferred gender in 2006 (Spain) and 2010 (Portugal).

From the days of the Roman Empire to today Spain and Portugal have had an underlying acceptance of homosexuality that was greater than most of Europe, even through eras of persecution from various regimes who tried to stamp it out. The present lgbt community across Iberia has a vibrancy and, indeed, the passion, which characterises Iberian culture itself.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Shining a Light on Gravity

One of my most favourite tv programmes of ALL time is James Burke’s “Connection” series. One episode entitled “Drop The Apple” ended with Einstein’s theory that gravity can bend light waves. James Burke explained the experiment which proved it. Even though he mentioned no names, he was describing the work of Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944).

Between the two World Wars Arthur Eddington was as well-known to the British public as people like Patrick Moore and Carl Sagan have been in recent years. Eddington was an effective communicator and broadcast on radio often. If modern technology was around in his heyday I wouldn’t be surprised if had his own twitter account.

One thing Eddington never talked about was his sexuality. A BBC drama called “Einstein and Eddington”, made in 2008, included references to Eddington’s sexuality based on rumours which the writer of the programme deliberately enhanced for dramatic effect. While these rumours may never be proved they have persisted and don’t contradict what we do know about his personal life. As one reader of Professor Peter Coles’ blog commented last week, men in Eddington’s position at a university was required to be a bachelor. That doesn’t make him gay, of course, but there was no reason for not to him have a romantic relationship with a woman without marrying her either at university or afterwards. There’s no evidence that he did so. So, Sir Arthur Eddington is on my “probably asexual” list until we know for sure, which may never happen.

Back to Einstein and gravity. Einstein said that the Sun’s gravity could bend the light coming from the stars beyond it. There was one way to prove it – during a total eclipse. So Arthur was packed off to Principe, an island off the west African coast, with some camera equipment to record the total eclipse over the island on 29th May 1919.

The very simplified illustrations below show how the proof was found. On the left is a representation of some representative stars at a time of year before the Sun moved into it. On the right is a representation of the same stars in May 1919 when the total eclipse took place.

Arthur took photos of the eclipse, and then compared them with photos of the same stars he took earlier in the year. Look at the arrows on my illustrations. They represent the position of one star. Arthur discovered that this star had “moved”. In the weird way that science works, the star apparently moves AWAY from the Sun because, remember, the light is bent around the Sun like a boomerang. I’ve exaggerated the effect to make it clearer, and I hope you can tell the star has moved in relation to it’s nearest neighbouring star. The other stars would also have been affected, though in different degrees. It proved that the light from that star had bent, proving Einstein’s theory. In the words of James Burke at the end of his episode: “… because of which it’s Einstein’s universe now, not Newton’s any more. So, you can ‘Drop the Apple’.”

Another of Einstein’s gravitational theories has yet to be proved. He suggested that exploding stars and colliding galaxies create gravity ripples through space. These gravitational waves, having travelled billions of miles, would be so small by the time they reach Earth that it would be virtually impossible to detect them. It’s like someone shouting in your ear – from 1,000 miles away! The sound waves would be so small as to be unnoticeable.

A physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been working on ways to detect gravitational waves since 1991. Pakistani-born Nergis Mavalvala was encouraged by her parents to study and be mechanically skilled. For a Muslim country this was forward thinking on their behalf, though her mother objected to Nergis getting grease stains on her clothes.

Nergis’s chemistry teacher at school in Pakistan encouraged her interest in experimentation and this started her on a career of developing scientific equipment. Nergis is not just an academic, she is a hands-on, practical scientist.

Working on the detection of gravitational waves Nergis used her thesis to suggest how a laser interferometer, using precisely positioned mirrors, could detect the smallest of wave. However, the mirrors would have to be so far apart that even thermal energy at the atomic level would swamp the wave signal from space.

It was at this time that Nergis found love. She hadn’t experienced any real romantic attachment until she met her present girlfriend. They are still together and have a 5-year-old child.

Undaunted by the technical challenges Nergis and the team developing interferometers are continuing to produce more stable and sensitive equipment to find those gravity waves from far-flung exploding stars first theorised by Einstein a century ago.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Hispanic Heritage Month

Today the USA begins a month-long celebration of it’s Hispanic heritage. This is an ideal opportunity for me to celebrate with them and look at the rich heritage the Hispanic lgbt community has made around the world.

I feel quite attached to things Spanish. I love the history and culture of the country (shame about the food!) and I’ve dated a couple of Spanish guys. When I’m not cheering for the UK, Canada or Ireland I’m cheering for Spain. Why? Because I’ve got a lot of Spanish ancestry. Admittedly it goes back to medieval times and King Edward III of England. Through him I descend from the royal dynasties (both Christian and Muslim) of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre, and I know that at least one inch of the miles of DNA in my body in inherited from El Cid. But then, I’m sure you have as well, you just haven’t found out.

The size of the Spanish Empire manes that Hispanic culture has spread to every continent on the planet, even to the Argentine and Chilean claims in Antarctica. It seems unreasonable not to celebrate without, as the same time, ignoring the other side of the coin – persecution of native cultures, slavery, invasion. All of these have influenced modern Hispanic countries and the lgbt communities.

The National Hispanic Heritage Month in the USA originates way back in the 1960s as a weak-long celebration. President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a calendar-month in length in 1988, making this it’s 25th anniversary.

The reason why 15th September was chosen to begin the celebration is because it is the date in 1821 when several central American countries declared independence from Spain – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Other Hispanic countries became independent in the following week. The heritage month last until a few days after the anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas on 12th October 1492.

Over the course of this heritage month I’ll take each continent in turn and look at its lgbt heritage and cultural development. I’ll take them in a kind of chronological order according to expansion, beginning with Europe, then Africa, the Americas, and finally Asia-Oceania.

Before that I want to bring in this year’s overall science theme. There are many lgbt scientists of Hispanic heritage. Here are just three.

When considering those of Hispanic heritage in the lgbt community the best place to start is with Juana Maria Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In her 2003 book “Queer Latinidad” Juana pointed out that it is impossible to take gender out of Hispanic culture because it’s very language is heavily gender based. As a means of unifying, or perhaps eliminating, the gender differentiation of the male Latino and female Latina identities Juana adopted the “@” symbol to produce a new word – Latin@ - to describe the whole Hispanic community.

Juana is one of the world’s leading experts on the Latin@ community in the lgbt world, though much of her work comes from research in her native California. The remarkable aspect of this is that Juana had no academic aspirations after school. It was only after a chance meeting with an old teacher in a gay bar that her interest in going into higher education and university was sparked.

One Hispanic scientist making another splash in the world, quite literally in his case, is Luis Eduardo Bahamon. Originally from Colombia Luis has both Hispanic and native Colombian blood. He is, perhaps, better known in the sporting lgbt community for his achievements in swimming and diving than for his work as a clinical cytogeneticist with Kaiser Permanente in California. Cytogenetics is the branch of genetics which deals with chromosomes and health conditions, such as hereditary diseases and DNA research.

Luis was a keen diver from childhood. He won his first medal, a bronze, at the age of 16 in high school in Colombia. Since then he has competed for his adopted country of the USA in both diving and swimming. Currently Luis is a member of West Hollywood Aquatics and is an adviser to International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics on diving issues. He competes regularly in US Masters competitions and lgbt events such as the Gay Games and Outgames. His most recent diving medals have been 2 silvers at the Gay Games in Cologne in 2010.

And last, but not least, a quick mention of Dr. Diana Eva Azcarate. She is a research scientist at the Institutio Argentino de Radioastronomia in Berazategui near Buenos Aries. Diana is one of just a handful of transgender scientists, and is a campaigner for transgender rights in Argentina.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Body of a God - Part 2

My second look at the way the muscular male body has been used as an icon for the perfect body image and homoerotic fantasy starts in the Renaissance.

During the early centuries of Christianity naked images that were common place in Ancient Greece and Rome came to be seen as “corrupting”. Nudity took people’s minds off spiritual thoughts and on to carnal ones. The idea of a perfect healthy body was secondary to having a healthy mind. Medieval Christian art deliberately avoided full nudity, nudity being seen as indicative of “heathen savages” outside Christian Europe.

The beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century saw the rediscovery of Greek art and culture, and the male nude became fashionable again. Taking their cue from Greek statues artists began to produce works in the ancient style. The most famous of these is Michelangelo’s “David”. And this obsession with the body also saw the beginnings of modern science. It is often stated that modern scientific methods were pioneered by people like Sir Francis Bacon or Sir Isaac Newton. But in the century before them pioneers such as Leonardo da Vinci were studying closely the workings of the human body in the name of art (against Christian doctrine at the time) long before doctors were allowed to do it in the name of science.

The Renaissance continued the Greek idea that the more muscular the body the more heroic or god-like the man. Figures such as Zeus or Hercules were always depicted as bigger and more butch than anyone else. Gradually the Church began to accept male nudity in art, mainly because the men depicted were non-Christian (e.g. Jewish, from the Old Testament, such as David or Sampson) or mythical figures. And that’s why, in recent decades, being big and muscular was seen as indicating you were a “real man”.

The Baroque period saw an explosion of male nudes in art, by now all writhing and posing in sensual postures. Artists such as Caravaggio were also encouraged by wealthy patrons, many of whom were semi-closeted gays or bisexuals, to produce such art.

As for musclemen in real life, there was little to see until the 18th century. People only saw such bodies when the travelling fairs came to town with their strongmen. But these men were popular because of their feats of strength rather than the size of their muscles, and more often than not they were just beefy and stocky rather than muscular.

In the 19th century there developed a new culture of fitness which resulted in many gyms being established. In these gyms young men developed well-toned and supple bodies which performed as gymnasts and acrobats, but it was not quite bodybuilding.

Out of the fairground circuit and acrobat’s gym came a man who revolutionised muscle development and became the Father of Bodybuilding, a German-born strongman, Eugen Sandow (1867-1925). Sandow moved away from lifting weights to improve his strength and towards weight training to improve muscle mass and definition. In this he was well-known in his early days, and even appeared naked (in silhouette behind a screen) at private “showings”.

The perfect “body of a god” was once again seen as an ideal achievement. Sandow emerged onto the muscleman scene just as weightlifting was being recognised as a sport (it was a sport in the first modern Olympics in 1896 – Team GB’s first Olympic champion was a weightlifter).

“The Great Sandow”, as he was billed, wowed audiences in America in 1893. Building on his popularity and the craze for bodybuilding (the word entered the language at about the same time) Sandow began publishing a magazine and advertised the first bodybuilding contest to be held in the Royal Albert Hall in London on 14th September 1901 (the anniversary is tomorrow). The judges included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the winner was William L. Murray – winner of the Nottinghamshire county heat! From that point bodybuilding became a competitive sport.

David L. Chapman, a bodybuilding historian, wrote a biography of Sandow in 1984. In it he pointed out that, even though he was married and a father, Sandow had a strong personal and working relationship with a young protégé called Martinus Sieveking. Chapman wondered if the relationship was more than platonic. Sandow was an inveterate womaniser, playing on women’s attraction to his physique. Yet he left his wife and went to live with Martinus. Chapman suggests Sandow was bisexual at the very least. Chapman’s authority and respect within the bodybuilding world is enough to persuade me.

Sandow’s influence is still seen today. His “qualities to look for” – muscle development, balance, symmetry, condition and tone – are still the main objectives. Many competitions have been created since his time, the most prestigious being Mr. Olympia (named after a brand of beer, incidentally, not the site of the ancient Olympics). William L. Murray was presented with a statuette of Sandow as his prize in 1901, and a copy of that statuette has been awarded to Mr. Olympia winners since 1977.

And that’s the story up to the birth of bodybuilding. It looks like I need to carry the story into another article. This works well, actually, because I can bring the story up to date on 26th September, when this year’s Mr. Olympia finals takes place.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Out of Their Tree - Mark Bingham

In remembrance of today's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks I want to return to an individual I mentioned in a previous “Out of Their Trees” article on Clare Balding, Mark Bingham. In that article I mentioned that both he and Clare descend from 2 families of the same name who were among the earliest Dutch settlers in New York, the Hooglandts, later Hoagland and Hoglan. It is this family, that of Mark Bingham’s mother, that has been the subject of my research.

Alice Ann Hoglan descends directly from the Hoaglandts who emigrated from Holland in the 17th century and settled in New York, then called New Amsterdam. He branch of the family moved to Iowa in the 19th century.

Mark Bingham has a lot of other Dutch settler ancestry through his mother. Through 2 lines of descent one ancestor was Rev. Everardus Bogardus (his Latinised name, a hangover from Catholic practice), a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church.

The minister was born Everart Bogaert in Utrecht and travelled to New Amsterdam in 1633. One incident recalled on his Wikipedia page tells how the colonial governor wanted to build a new church inside the colony’s fort to protect it from local native American attacks, but he couldn’t afford it. However, when everyone was celebrating the marriage of Rev. Bogardus’s daughter he took advantage of their inebriated state and began a subscription list. Everyone tried to out-do each other in the amount they promised they’d give for the new church and, of course, when they’d all sobered up the following morning began to regret it. The subscription was a legal document and they had to pay up!

Rev. Bogardus was a constant critic of the governor, and the manner of their deaths reveals the colonists’ own feelings. In 1647 both the governor and the minister were sailing back to Europe (incidentally, on the same ship that had brought the new governor, Petrus Stuyvesant, to the colony – he’s an ancestor of gay singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright). The ship’s captain mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and the ship ran aground and sank. Only 21 of the 107 passengers survived. Unfortunately, Rev. Bogardus and the old governor didn’t. In “The Story of Manhattan” by Charles Hemstreet (published 1901) it says : “The people of New Amsterdam mourned for their minister, but there was little sorrow felt for the Governor …”

 Rev. Bogardus’s surname may remind you of the Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart. His name also comes from a Dutch settler family called Bogaert, who are probably not related to Everardus. However, Rev. Bogardus is ancestor of Henry Fonda and his acting dynasty.

 The minister’s wife, Anneke Jans, was at one time thought to have been a grand-daughter of Willem I, Prince of Orange, of the ruling dynasty in the Netherlands, by his mistress Marie Webber. Quite often these “facts” still appear on amateur genealogical websites, despite the fact that they have long been disproved. Anneke’s relationship to Willem I was disproved in 1925.

One of the “Holy Grails” of genealogy for a lot of researchers, amateur and professional, is to find a royal ancestor. By finding one there is likely to be an ancestry that can be traced back hundreds of years. That’s what happened in my case, as I’ve often mentioned on this blog. But I think we must be careful and check the records rather than rely on something someone puts of their own family history site.

Having said that, I’m always looking for people’s royal ancestry. So, now that I’ve discounted Mark Bingham’s Dutch royal line, I’ll look at his English royal line. Through the Warriners family of Monson, Massachusetts, Mark has 2 lines of descent from King Henry I (1070-1135). Other royal ancestors which various internet sites claim for Mark have been easily disproved as rumour.

 Mark’s Warriner ancestors emigrated to Massachusetts from Lincolnshire in 1638. My great-great-grandmother was a Warriner from the Lincolnshire border, so perhaps it is the same family. I haven’t found a link yet.

I’ll end with listing some of the famous lgbt relatives who share his ancestry from the time of the 17th century colonial settlements from Europe : Clare Balding, Cole Porter, W. H. Auden and Herman Melville.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Heritage Spotlight - LGBT Museums in the UK

It is my dream to open a permanent lgbt museum. This weekend Britain holds the annual Heritage Open Days, when many museums, galleries and tourist sites open free of charge, and otherwise private historical houses and sites open their doors specially for this weekend. Today I put a spotlight on something that doesn’t exist, the thing I dream about – an lgbt museum in the UK.

There have been, and still are, lots of lgbt exhibitions but nothing permanent. There are also lots of local lgbt history projects, including the one I co-founded (Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage). Several other lgbt history projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund have expressed desires for a permanent museum in their own areas, but nothing has emerged.

In the US there are several lgbt museums, including some of specialist interest like the Leather Museum. Some lgbt people have museums dedicated to them alone, both here and around the world (e.g. Andy Warhol), and many memorials (e.g. London’s Blue Plaques, lgbt Holocaust memorials), and plenty of archives and collections, but no actual museum.

There have been major advances in the recognition of items in museums and collections of lgbt interest, especially since the introduction of LGBT History Month in the UK. Museums have compiled guides especially for the month in question. They are this guide to the special Egyptology collection at the small Petrie Museum. The British Museum has also produced a guide. I went down in June when the guide was reissued for London Pride weekend, but I had to ask for a copy at the desk rather than pick one up where all the other guides were on display. The reason, perhaps, was because of pressure and protests by Christian Voice that they were promoting sodomy to school children. Christian Voice had demonstrated outside the museum when they previewed LGBT History Month in 2010.

Activists and academics have been calling for a museum for years. The activist Peter Tatchell made an appeal in The Guardian newspaper in 2004. He first thought about a museum way back in the early 1970s when he campaigned with the Gay Liberation Front. In those days most activists were more interested in the present and the future, and in politics and campaigning, than the past. What research had been done in lgbt history was “hidden away” in universities (in the days before things could be put online) and any artefacts were generally in private collections, many of which were probably discarded or split up on the owners’ deaths.

In the words of Peter Tatchell from 2004, “Queers were people without any sense of a collective past”. Fortunately, he and some fellow history buffs looked for information in every museum, library and archive they had access to. From their research emerged many stories, and also recollections of gay victims of the Holocaust which, Tatchell pointed out, was when they adopted the Pink Triangle as an emblem by German gay rights groups.

And yet, with all the researching, discovering and rescuing of our heritage, no-one was prepared to commit themselves (or their money) to a museum. Even at the turn of the century Tatchell couldn’t find anyone ready to back a museum in London. He even proposed a site – the old Bow Street Police Station where Oscar Wilde was locked up after his arrest in 1895.

Perhaps the UK is more attuned to general museums and collections than specialised ones. Most specialised museums are created on specific sites associated with themes. Military museums are often on old military sites, museums to famous people are at their homes. That could be the problem in the UK – lgbt heritage doesn’t have a single national site to focus on.

The call for established museums to make more of the items of lgbt interest and make them more visible is the focus of the work of people like Professor Richard Sandell of the University of Leicester. For the past few years he has been speaking at conferences on just this subject, and travels the world looking at other museums to see how this can be done and encouraged.

In 2011 Prof. Sandell told a conference in Brighton that not enough was being done to acknowledge the lgbt community in UK collections, despite the fact that the law requires museums to actively acknowledge and display diversity in the community. The success of many lgbt exhibitions held around the UK in recent years clearly shows there is public interest. In the economic climate of recent years museums were, perhaps, not keen to spend money.

Two years later, and the “excuse” of expense is still putting people off. In January a very successful exhibition opened at the Leicester LGBT Centre. Because of it’s success the Centre renewed calls for a permanent museum to be located in the city. The Project Officer, Denis Bradley, recognises that the economic climate is still a stumbling block, but he is hopeful.

An alternative to a one-site museum could be a touring pop-up museum. This concept is growing in popularity. Many city centres have unused shop and business premises which they hire out on a short-time basis to artists, businesses or charities. A pop-up museum is working well in the US. Could this be the most effective solution in the UK? It’s something which needs more discussion or, even better, action.

In the meantime I hope that many more temporary exhibitions continue to be produced. Even now I am planning my next annual display at Nottinghamshire County Hall in February, and looking at the possibility of a producing a pop-up exhibition in the city centre.

I’ll end with these optimistic comments made to me by Professor Sandell: “It seems to me like an exciting – and critical – time for lgbt communities keen to have their lives, art and culture represented in the public sphere. There have been more lgbt themed exhibitions in the last 10 years than in the previous 50. But these are often temporary and more needs to be done to represent sexual and gender diversity as we move forward.”

Friday, 6 September 2013

Out of Their Trees Special

I had already written and planned another family history article for September 11th when I came across this article from the Lithuania Tribune and thought it was much too special to wait. It’s about the Lithuanian ancestry of Harvey Milk.

I congratulate Clare Dimyon on her fantastic work, and hope that more will be discovered. Milk’s ancestors must surely have stories waiting to be discovered about the problems of being Jewish in Eastern Europe.

As the article suggests it is also a reason for the lgbt community in Lithuania to have a stronger sense of belonging to the worldwide lgbt community.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Keeper of Einstein's Blackboard

Einstein’s Blackboard – it sounds like something out of Warehouse 13, a physical object imbued with supernatural powers, the paranormal source, perhaps, of Einstein’s genius, to be protected from the outside world by a think glass screen. Actually, it is. Protected behind a thick glass screen, I mean, not the paranormal bit.

The blackboard in question reverses this idea of a supernatural object giving Einstein special powers. It is a blackboard that has acquired priceless and somehow magical status because it was used by Einstein himself. Even his chalk is protected behind glass.

There are several blackboard’s used by Einstein in the UK. The one I have in mind is located at the University of Nottingham. It was used by Einstein in a public lecture he gave there on 6th June 1930. He had been planning a visit to Nottingham at the invitation of a friend of his who was Reader in Atomic Physics at Nottingham. Illness prevented Einstein from making his first planned visit in 1928, but 2 years later he was staying with Prof. Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (included in another article this month, and portrayed by David Tennant recently in a BBC film) at Cambridge when he decided to visit Nottingham.

Stopping off at Woolsthorpe Manor, the home of Sir Isaac Newton (more of whom next month), Einstein arrived in Nottingham to give his lecture. On a blackboard – just an ordinary blackboard – Einstein wrote an outline of his lecture. Written in German and signed by the great man himself, here is a representation of it’s content in English.
The visit was a national event, not just of local importance, and was filmed by British Movietone News to be shown in cinema’s across the country the next day.

Apart from Einstein’s visit to Prof. Eddington in Cambridge and to Newton’s home, the biggest lgbt link to the blackboard comes in the person of the Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham, who is the official Keeper of Einstein’s Blackboard. Between 1999 and 2007 both positions was held by Peter Coles. Professor Coles is one of the few out gay astrophysicists in the UK.

Peter was appointed professor at Nottingham, his first professorship, in 1998 and took up his position on New Year’s Day 1999. A native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northern England, Peter spent several years at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London immediately prior to this. He had also studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge before moving down to Brighton on the south coast and the University of Sussex.

It was in Brighton in 1989 that Peter encountered his worst case of homophobia. As a gay teenager in Newcastle he was accustomed to the northern “school of hard knocks” (as I am) and developed a “think skin” as he admits on his blog. It was when he left a Brighton club, alone, in the early hours of the morning that he was attacked by a group of yobs for no other reason that he had left a gay club. Peter was beaten unconscious. Fortunately his injuries weren’t life-threatening and he was helped home by some Good Samaritans. It was an experience he could never forget and influenced his attitude to homophobia.

Brighton is often seen as the southern capital of gay culture in the UK (Manchester being the northern capital), even as long ago as 1989. In fact, it was Brighton Pride in 1994 that was the first in the UK to be headed by the Rainbow Pride flag.

Peter graduated from Brighton with a D.Phil., and completed a subsequent postdoctoral research fellowship about a year later and moved to London and Queen Mary and Westfield College.

Working at Nottingham Peter found an environment comfortable with his sexuality. He founded the university’s astronomical society, which still exists, and delighted in showing off Einstein’s Blackboard to the media, including popular science broadcaster Adam Hart-Davis in his BBC Radio 4 series “The Eureka Years”.

However, once he left Nottingham a former colleague and fellow professor made a comment on Peter’s blog which Peter found homophobic – the use of the word “faggot” in relation to “dead wood” in academia in the UK. An investigation held by the University of Nottingham found that the comment was “isolated” and took no action. It was months before they even bothered telling Peter of their decision.

But that’s all in the past, and Peter is back in Brighton as Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics and Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. He is also Fellow and council member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Let's Get Physical

From physicians to physicists. I return to more “hardcore” science this month with a queer look at physics. But first, apologies for posting this a day late – I had a busy weekend and needed to catch up on other things.

It’s difficult not to picture Albert Einstein when the word “physics” is mentioned. Fortunately, there are several lgbt physicists with connections to Einstein to cover, including his friend who proved his theory that gravity bends light, and another who was Keeper of Einstein’s Blackboard.

The subject of physics is not one I readily understand, so if there are unintentional scientific errors in any of my articles this month let me apologise now.

There are quite a few out lgbt physicists around the world. Whether it’s nuclear physics, astrophysics or theoretical physics, I hope to mention a few of them. I can do no better in this introduction than give a timely reminder of an organisation I mentioned at the beginning of the year, NOGLSTP – the National Organisation of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. This American organisation provides the best information on lgbt physicists and scientists on the web.

There is also a handful of astrophysicists on this regularly updated list of lgbt astronomers I also mentioned in January. Of particular note for this month is this other list of out lgbt physicists.

These three lists are all from the USA. The doesn’t seem to any similar lists in the UK or elsewhere in the world. Many universities and scientific institutes have lgbt employer and alumni groups but no readily available list.

This is going to be another mixed month. September also includes the UK’s Heritage Open Days weekend, the anniversary of 9/11, and Bisexuality Day, and I’ll be writing something for each of them. From September 15th we also see the start of the US Hispanic Heritage Month. The Spanish had a world empire which rivalled that of the British. Even though the celebration of primarily based in and around US Hispanic culture it gives the world a chance to reflect and celebrate it’s influence in other countries. For my own little celebration I’ll be doing a continental tour round the world in my articles, taking the 5 traditional continental areas in turn and looking at the influence of, and by, the lgbt community in each area.