Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Bells Are Ringing

It’s a historical day for England and Wales. Today the first legal same-sex wedding ceremonies take place following the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act coming into force on March 13th.

My original idea to celebrate the occasion was to chronicle the history of same-sex marriage, but that information is already easily available online. What is missing is a list of names of the actual first same-sex couples to be legally married in each country. There are instances in history where same-sex couples were married, where one of the couple had assumed the identity of a gender opposite to his/her own, as in the two cases I mentioned three weeks ago in my Remembrance article. For this article I will deal only with the laws which specifically legalise same-sex marriage.

Even though the Netherlands was the first country to introduce same-sex marriage by law on 1st April 2001, they weren’t the first to legally perform them. That honour goes to Canada.

On 14 January 2001 two same-sex couples were married in the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto. The Ontario government refused to recognise the marriages as legal. The couples took their cases to court, and it took 2 years for Ontario to accept that the marriages were legal after a court ruled that denying them the right to marry was a violation of their rights, and that the marriages of the two couples – Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Elaine and Anne Vantour – should be recognised as being legal from the moment they took place, even though Ontario didn’t when Dutch same-sex marriage became legal a few months afterwards.

The new English law permits couples who married in countries where same-sex marriage is already legal became married in the eyes of English law from March 13th. This means it’s impossible to name the UK’s first same-sex married couple because hundreds of them became legal on that day. I suppose that honour could go to the first ever British citizen to marry his/her partner abroad. However, according to teh BBC live coverage of the event just after midnight, the UK's frst gay wedding was between Peter McGraith and David Cabreza.

Here is my list of the first same-sex married couples. This isn’t as comprehensive as I’d like as some information is contradictory and I need to dig around a bit to positively identify the first couples. The dates given are the dates when same-sex marriage came into effect in that country and the date on which the named couples were married. I have yet to verify the first couples married in Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Iceland and Brazil.

The Netherlands      1 April 2001
Four couples were married simultaneously in Amsterdam City Hall. They were :
Ton Jansen and Louis Rogmans,
Helene Faasen and Anne Marie Thus,
Peter Wittebrood-Lemke and Frank Wittebrood,
and another male couple.
Belgium          1 June 2003
Marion Huitbrecht and Christel Verswyvelen.
USA (Massachusetts)           17 May 2004
Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriages. Not all US states recognise them.
            Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish
Spain              3 July 2005
Emilio Mendendez and Carlos Baturin German.
South Africa               30 November 2006
Vernon Gibbs and Tony Halls
(Vernon, a British citizen, becomes one of the many couples whose foreign marriage became legal in the UK on 13th March).
Portugal         5 June 2010
Teresa Paixao and Helena Pires.
Argentina       22 July 2010
Alex Freyre and Jose  Maria Di Bello.
Denmark        15 June 2012
(First church wedding) Steen Andersen and Stig Elling.
France            18 May 2013
Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau.
Uruguay         5 August 2013
A special licence was issued to a male couple, one of whom was terminally ill, who wished to remain anonymous. The first named couple are :
Rubén López and Mario Bonilla.
New Zealand  19 August 2013
In a joint ceremony :
Rachel Briscoe and Jess Ivess
Richard Rawstrom and Richard Andrew.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Extraordinary Lives : From Orange Country to Orange County

Among the many extraordinary lives of lgbt musicians is that of Frieda Belinfante. Frieda was born in the Netherlands in 1904 into a musical family. Her father, who was Jewish, made a name for himself in Amsterdam as a piano teacher , concert pianist and founding director of an association of Dutch music teachers. Frieda was one of 5 children and the most musically talented of them all. Her father taught her the piano but also encouraged Frieda to take up the cello.

The family were very academically minded from an early age. So much so that Frieda recalled in a 1994 interview that at the school where she and her siblings attended there was often a Belinfante at the top of the class.

As a result of the Russian Revolution Frieda became friends with a fellow music student who had escaped with her family from what is now Belarus when the Communists took over. The girl was engaged to a top Soviet minister and couldn’t get papers from the Dutch government to allow her to travel back to marry him. Frieda, still only a teenager, forged a passport for her and helped to smuggle her out of Holland. This was just a foretaste of Frieda’s other major talent which was used equally effectively during World War II.

Frieda’s musical career took off when ahs was 17 when she performed at the Royal concert hall in Amsterdam. Several years later the manager invited her to form a small chamber orchestra and she acted as its musical director and conductor, the first regular female conductor of an orchestra in Europe. Frieda was also conductor with several other orchestras and on Dutch radio. She won a conducting prize against 12 men in 1939.

On the outbreak of World War II Frieda decided not to join the Nazi Kulturkrammer, the culture institute, as she would have had no control over what her orchestra did. The orchestra was disbanded and Frieda joined the Dutch Resistance movement.

Recognising her skill at forging documents Frieda began forging many passports and papers for Jews who were helped to escape from Nazi-occupied Holland. She also realised that official documents had copies in the registry in Amsterdam. If the forged papers were discovered it would mean widespread checks by the Nazis and the Jewish escapees would be discovered. So Frieda persuaded her Resistance group to blow up the registry.

The Gestapo retaliated by arresting and executing suspected Resistance members and Frieda and other members went into hiding. Frieda dressed and lived as a man in public for several months before the Gestapo traced her. Other Resistance members helped her to escape to Switzerland. When the war ended she was repatriated, but finding that members of the Resistance didn’t get recognition for their action, or even ignored, Frieda decided to emigrate to the USA.

Frieda became a cello tutor at the University of California San Francisco in 1949 and she also played in a Hollywood studio orchestra. With some of her colleagues she formed The Vine Street Players in 1953. This evolved into the Orange County Philharmonic Society with Frieda as its conductor, the world’s first permanent female conductor of a full orchestra.

Frieda was a trail blazer for the musical arts, and her feisty personality made her a popular figure. However, to further the success of the Orange County Philharmonic orchestra meant that Frieda, as a woman, wasn’t though of as significant in stature as a male conductor. The orchestra board cancelled her contract. Frieda believed that her sexuality was also a factor in this decision.

Undeterred Frieda joined the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society and remained with them for over 20 years.

In 1987 Frieda’s contribution to the musical culture in Orange County was recognised with Frieda Belinfante Day. She appeared in several documentaries about the Holocaust, and gave an extensive interview for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994.

Frieda Belinfante died in her sleep at the age of 90 in 1995. Through her life she displayed extraordinary courage in the face of Nazi domination. Being both half-Jewish and a lesbian she would have been targeted from the day the Nazis invaded. With her artistic talent for forging documents she decided to remain in the Netherlands. Before and after the war Frieda’s musical talents were displayed both in playing cello and in being a pioneer female conductor and artistic director.

Monday, 24 March 2014

2013 - More Lives Remembered

Last New Year’s Eve I listed some of the lgbt people who had died during 2013. There wasn’t space to list all of them, and I’ve been made aware of several others since then. So here, on what was traditionally New Year’s Eve before modern times, is a continuation of those in the lgbt community who died during 2013.

28th Jan.          Dan Massey, sexual freedom advocate and lgbt activist, aged 70.
23rd Mar.          Christopher Robson, founder, Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.
25th May          Herman Emminck, Dutch singer and broadcaster, aged 86.
10th Jun.          Chrisie Edkins, transgender campaigner and singer, aged 33.
14th Jun.          Dr. John Morin, sexologist and author, aged 67.
13th Aug.         Damon Intrabartolo, film composer (“Fantastic Four”, “Superman Returns”), aged 39.
21st Sept.        Sean Morrin, lgbt and human rights activist, aged 48.
22nd Sept.       Gloria Johnson, women’s and lgbt activist, aged 76.
29th Sept.        Rick Salinas, early AIDS activist, aged 82.
30th Sept.        Dr. Daniella Kaufman, pioneer author on trans issues, aged 53.
8th Oct.            Philip Chevron, guitarist with The Pogues, aged 56.
12th Oct.          Elmer Lokkins, US army veteran, same-sex marriage campaigner, aged 93.
2nd Nov            Betsy Smittle, country singer, aged 60.
3rd Nov.            Ronald Rebholz, Emeritus Professor, Stanford University, aged 81.
21st Nov.          Conrad Susa, composer. Aged 78.
14th Dec.         Marvin Burrows, same-sex marriage campaigner, aged 77.
22nd Dec.        Christopher Lee, film-maker, founder of Tranny Fest.
26th Dec.         Otis Charles, Episcopal Bishop of Utah (1971-93), aged 87.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Medal Quest - Ladies First, and Second, and Third

Things are starting to hot up in Australia as athletes from around the world are making final preparations to attend the 3rd Asia-Pacific Outgames in Darwin in 50 days time. To celebrate Women’s History Month here is a selection of female medal winners from the previous Asia-Pacific games.

Among the athletes from the Asia Pacific region who have made a mark internationally is Kate Rowe from Sydney, Australia. Kate also illustrates the importance of sport over rivalry with the Gay Games as for a long time she has been involved with several committees of the Federation of Gay Games and competed at both Outgames and Gay Games.

Kate Rowe reminds me of what I could have achieved it I had the same determination. We both took up exercise seriously at the age of 32. I gave up in 2005 for personal reasons, but Kate has already won several marathons and cycling races. Kate’s passion for sport almost came to a halt when she hit a duck while cycling through a park and came off her bike. The accident damaged her hip and she needed hip replacement surgery.

After surgery in 2010 Kate jumped back into the saddle to begin training for more competitions, including several international triathlon and Ironman contests. And Kate is at an age when others are beginning to think about slowing down! At the Asia-Pacific Outgames Kate won a gold medal in the 5 km run.

Unlike the Olympics coaches and trainers don’t often, if ever, get the chance to compete as well. Events like international Masters competitions, the Outgames and Gay Games give them the opportunity to compete.  A popular competition at lgbt sports events is dance. One dance coach and teacher who has won many medals at the Outgames and Gay Games is Zoe Balfour. Originally from Wales Zoe teaches dance in San Francisco and has coached several same-sex couples to medals wins also. With her dance partner Citibria Phillips Zoe won the Women’s North America Ballroom Championships 5 years in a row.

Like the Gay Games, the Outgames has always been an inclusive event. It could be argued that more non-lgbt athletes compete at the Outgames than the Gay Games. One straight swimmer, Kirsten Cameron, jumped at the chance to compete at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Outgames in New Zealand in 2011 and broke 3 world records and won 6 gold medals in one week. Kirsten didn’t start swimming competitively until 2003 and had represented New Zealand since 2006. It was the competition which attracted her to the Outgames, not the sexuality of her rival swimmers and, like many other straight athletes, found varying degrees of reaction from friends and colleagues to her participation.

Finally, and with a topical twist, there’s Jills Angus Burney and Deborah Hamby. Jills won a triathlon gold and Deborah won several swimming and diving medals at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Outgames. Eleven months ago New Zealand passed a law legalising same-sex marriage, one of the hottest topics around the world. Both Jills and Deborah appeared at a select committee when the bill was running through parliament, speaking n favour of the bill. On 17th April 2013 they watched parliament vote 77 to 44 in favour and Jills and Deborah announced their engagement (more about same-sex marriages around the world next week). Jills, a barrister by profession, is also a world record holder, but not in sport. In 1988 she set a world record by shearing 541 lambs in 9 hours! The record stood until 2007.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

It's Not Over Until ...

… the fat lady sings, so the saying goes, which would be unfair on today’s selection of female lgbt singers. The “fat lady” saying refers to the old stereotypical big Valkyrie of an opera soprano belting out the finale at full volume – a stereotype no doubt originating in Wagnerian opera.

The term “diva” is often applied to singers in a wide range of musical genres though the true diva belongs to classical opera. Opera has long had a queer appeal, especially during the early years when male singer called castrati became big stars of the opera world. Being castrated in the name of their art seems a bit extreme to us today, but in the days when few (if any) female opera singers existed the castrati would take female romantic roles.

No pre-mid-20th-century diva has been positively identified as lesbian or bisexual. Patricia Juliana Smith in her entry “Diva” on mentions several opera singers whose sexuality has been speculated upon. She agrees with leading lesbian literary scholar Terry Castle that these divas had a large female fan base (“lesbian diva worship”, Terry calls it).

One of the singers mentioned by Patricia Juliana Smith in her article is the Swedish-American diva Olive Fremstad (1871-1951). Olive made her name in strong Wagnerian roles, naturally attracting many feminist and lesbian fans. Her sexuality is one of constant debate, not helped by a fictionalised account of her “relationship” with her secretary Mary Watkins Cushing. They lived together for many years, and Marcia Davenport’s novel about them, “Of Lena Geyer”, confuses the issue by making them a couple. Olive married and divorced twice and never had children, which also fuels the speculation about her sexuality.

In modern times there are still few openly lesbian opera singers. One of the top opera divas of our time, Patricia Racette, came out in 2002 and found that there were some fellow opera singers and “fans” who weren’t too happy. Echoes of some experiences found in sport, perhaps? And Patricia is half of an operatic couple. Her partner Beth Clayton is also an opera singer.

A couple of years before Patricia Racette came out Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet and Brigitte Fassbaender were the only openly lesbian singers on the international opera circuit. Jeanne-Michelle, like Patricia, can’t tell if she had lost out on a role because of her sexuality, but “I’ve had suspicions”, she said in an interview in The Advocate.

If being openly lesbian is open to discrimination in opera, then how does it feel to be openly lesbian and blind?

In the past couple of years Laurie Rubin has been making a name for herself in several ways. Firstly as an openly lesbian opera singer. Secondly as a blind lesbian opera singer. And thirdly as an lgbt campaigner. Laurie has never been “in” the closet, perhaps a reflection on the new generation of singers and changing attitudes in opera. Problems have arisen, however, when her partner Jenny, who accompanies Laurie to many concerts and events, is thought of as her “assistant”. Putting people right on the relationship is just part of Laurie’s effort to raise awareness of the lgbt community in opera.

In 2008 an amendment to California’s constitution known as Proposition * was passed. This amendment originated in opposition to proposed changes in same-sex marriages and, similar to the UK’s Section 28 and Russia’s current anti-gay propaganda laws, placed a lot of emphasis on protecting children to justify it. Laurie and Jenny organised a special concert of music by lgbt composers to raise funds for the campaign opposed to Proposition 8.

In a similar note to this, at last year’s Last Night of the Proms, the (heterosexual) star soloist of the night, Joyce DiDonato, dedicated her performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to the lgbt community in Russia in support of their rights in the face of Putin’s laws.

Back to Laurie Rubin for the “final act” in this operatic article. Part of her concert featured excerpts from an modern opera “Patience and Sarah” by Paula M. Kimper and Wende Persons. Based on a novel of the same name by Isabel Miller, “Patience and Sarah” is often described as the world’s first lesbian opera. The plot involves a common theme of two lovers from different backgrounds wishing for a new life together elsewhere despite opposition from their families. The complete opera was premiered in 1998 at the Lincoln Centre Festival.

“Patience and Sarah” has been performed several times since 1998, and because of it’s lesbian theme may have introduced many new fans to opera from the lgbt community who had never thought of going to an opera before in their life.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Star Gayzing : Out Of This World - Part 5

Here is my next list of asteroids named after members of the lgbt community. These asteroids were all discovered between 1986 and 1989. Again, quotes from the official citations are given within quotation marks.
Isaac Newton (8000)             Discovered 5 Sept. 1986. Name published 11 Feb. 1998. “Named for Isaac Newton (1643-1727), hailed by some as the greatest universal genius of all time. Newton formulated the laws of motion, with the specific application to gravitation, and is known for his 1687 publication of the ‘Principia Mathematica’.”
Cyrano (3582)            Discovered 2 Oct. 1986. Name published 1 Sept. 1993.Named for the whimsical French poet and soldier Cyrano de Bergerac (1619—1655), who in some of his comedies made brisk use of fanciful ways of spaceflight.”
Poseidon (4341)        Discovered 19 May 1987. Name published 2 Jan. 1991. “In Greek mythology, Poseidon, a brother of Zeus, was lord of the sea and of earthquakes ... He ruled all that lived in the sea and gathered clouds and raised storms. Poseidon was the constant enemy of Troy during the Trojan War.” Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon has male lovers, most notably Pelops.
Aristoteles (6123)      Discovered 19 Sept. 1987. Name published 15 Feb. 1995. “Named for Aristotle (384—322 BC), one of the most significant Greek philosophers ... He was the first, and possibly the greatest, theoretician of the mechanism of thought and deduction, being at the same time well aware of the importance of what happens in the real world and in nature…”
Pan (4450)                  Discovered 25 Sept. 1987. Name published 30 Jan. 1991. “Originally a shepherd god of Arcady, Pan developed into a hunter, fisherman and warrior ... He has been represented in art as a horned half-man, half goat.” Pan is also the name of a moon of Saturn, as is his male lover Daphnis.
Loke (4862)                Discovered 30 Sept. 1987. Name published 1 Sept. 1993. “Named after the strangest character in Norse mythology. Loke is one of the giants, but he lives among the Aesir in Asgaard. He is the symbol of falseness and intrigue—at the same time the enemy and the cunning helper of the gods...” Loke, also called Loki, appear in many myths as transgendered and once, in the form of a white mare, gave birth to a foal.
Warhol (6701)            Discovered 14 Jan. 1988. Name published 23 Nov. 1999. “The American painter and film-maker Andy Warhol (Andrew Warhola, 1928-1987) was a leader of the Pop Art movement. In the 1960s he attracted attention with exhibition of prints of startlingly ordinary images. Warhol worked also on experimental underground films”.
Rimbaud (4635)         Discovered 21 Jan. 1988. Name published 25 Aug 1991. “Named in memory of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his death. At the age of 17 he was already known for his ‘Dormeur du Val’ and ‘Le Bateau ivre’ … In 1872 he travelled with Paul Verlaine to England and Belgium ... After ‘Les Illuminations’, written at the age of 19 and issued by Verlaine only in 1886, nothing remains of the work of this great poet. As a precursor of symbolism Rimbaud enormously influenced Verlaine and the following generation...”
Mallory (6824)            Discovered 8 Sept. 1988. Name published 23 Nov 1999. “George Herbert Leigh Mallory (1886—1924) was a British mountain climber whose 1924 expedition to conquer Everest culminated in a bold and possibly successful drive with Irvine toward the summit. Just 75 years later Mallory’s body was recovered 600 meters below the summit after what had been a precipitous fall.”
Zeus (5731)    Discovered 4 Nov. 1988. Name Published 14 May 1995. “Originally Zeus was the god of the sky and of atmospheric phenomena, of winds, clouds, rain and thunder. Later Zeus, father of gods … became the supreme god of the Greeks, the protector of laws and morals and the dispenser of good and evil.”
Saint-Saens (5210)               Discovered 7 Mar. 1989. Name published 14 July 1992. “Named in memory of the French composer Charles Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), whose extensive musical creations ranged from church music to neo-classicism. Among his best known works are the symphonic poem ‘La danse macabre’ … and his third organ symphony.”
Nietzsche (7014)       Discovered 3 Apr. 1989. Name published 22 Feb. 1997. “Named in memory of the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), renowned for his criticisms on religion, philosophy and morality… ‘The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music’ (1872), remains a classic in the history of aesthetics. His best-known work is ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ (1883-1885)…”
Minos (6239)              Discovered 31 Aug. 1989. Name published 12 July 1995. “… As king of Crete, he distinguished himself by the wisdom of his laws, which remained in force for nearly 1000 years, and by his sense of justice and moderation … These earned Minos, after his death, promotion to the dignity of judge of the Underworld.” Minos is said to have been the first man to practice pederasty – sex with boys.
Asteroids that are not named after lgbt people but have lgbt links.
Kaye (6546)    Discovered 24 Feb. 1987. Name published 20 June 1997. “Named in memory of Danny Kaye (1913-1987, born David Daniel Kominski), actor and comedian on stage and screen. Kaye’s trademark screen role was the mild mannered bumbler who triumphs in the end, as in ‘The Court Jester’ (1956)...” Lots of rumour and speculation surrounds Danny Kaye’s sexuality.
So far one group of people seem to be missing from the world of asteroids – lgbt asteroid hunters and discovers. I’m sure there are some out there and that they’ve discovered lots of asteroids, but none of them are “out” enough for me to mention with certainty. Who knows? Perhaps next time I can.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Medal Quest : Figuring It Out On The Ice

Following up on my article last month about the ice hockey medal winners at the Gay Games this article deals with figure skating, one of the most popular events, both in terms of participation and spectators. Names of Gay Games figure skaters are more easily available than ice hockey players, so there’s hundreds from which it’ll be hard to select medallists to mention. I’ll give a brief history of figure skating at the Gay Games and include as many medallists as space permits.

When the organisers of the 1994 New York Gay Games were approached by Laura Moore with the suggestion of including figure skating they raised their collective eyebrows. “Why?”, was their response, “These are summer games”. But Laura, co-founder of the International Gay Figure Skating Union (IGFSU), persisted and was “rewarded” by being appointed competition organiser.

This was the first ever same-sex figure skating championship, and the US Figure Skating Association sanctioned the event by waiving regulations prohibiting same-sex couples to allow the participation of professional skaters, who would be banned from future competitions if they competed in a non-sanctioned contest. It also allowed professional judges to officiate.

Medallists included a handful of past and future professional champions – Ed van Campen, Matthew Hall, Stéphane Vachon and Charles Sinek. These last 2 had never met before the contest. When Stéphane’s pairs partner became ill 15 minutes before due on the ice Charles quickly stepped forward as substitute. They won a gold medal. Only afterwards did Stéphane find out that Charles was straight. Charles is the first Gay Games champion to go on to compete in the Olympic Games (Salt Lake City 2002).

Pairs champions also included Laura Moore with Linda Carney. Charlotte Avery and Sabra Williams later starred in a fictionalised film version of their gold medal win in the 1995 UK film “Thin Ice”. Jean Pierre Martin and Martin Hird were featured extensively in media at the time. A few months after winning their gold they performed at an AIDS charity gala with many top international and Olympic champions – only Martin and Hird received a standing ovation. Doug Mattis, a former US National Junior champion, came out at the New York games and gave 2 exhibition routines.

The success of the skating competition in New York ensured it’s inclusion in future Gay Games. However, there were problems with sanctioning in Amsterdam in 1998. The organising committee needed sanctioning from the International Skating Union. The day before competition was due to start skaters were informed that sanctioning hadn’t been received and that no competition could be held. To say the skaters were disappointed is an understatement. However, the skaters went ahead with a “public practice”. As it turned out this “practice” figure skating session, held as part of what even the IOC’s International Society of Olympic Historians admit is still the world’s biggest ever international sporting event, was a highlight of the Amsterdam games.

National skating champions who missed out on medals include Thomas Hopman, Angelo D’Agostino (1998 Calgary Olympic reserve), Frank D’Agostino, Ed van Campen and Ryan Hunka. And it’s a great loss to the medal table not to have been able to include a drag queen skating with a frying pan!

Following the disappointment of 1998 steps were taken to ensure sanctioning was received for the future. Disappointed 1998 skater, Bradley Erickson, was instrumental in obtaining membership of the Ice Skating Institute for the IGFSU. He was rewarded with 2 golds and 1 silver in the Sydney 2002 Gay Games.

How many gay men watching Joel Mangs during his 2 gold-medal-winning routines in Sydney thought “He looks like someone I’ve seen in gay porn”? And they’d be right! Joel Mangs is also Brad Patton, one of gay porn’s top stars. Joel went on to appear in the Dutch version of “Dancing on Ice” as the professional partner to a celebrity.

The skating competition expanded massively for the 2006 Chicago Gay Games with almost double the number of medals available. For the first time there was a rival for the attentions of skaters in the form of the 1st World Outgames in Montréal held a few weeks later. The Outgames also had figure skating on its schedule and a lot of skaters competed in both, several winning medals at each (including Joel Mangs). Professional figure skating champions were called upon by both events as Ambassadors – Olympian Brian Orser for the Outgames, and US champion Rudi Galindo for the Gay Games.

Another Olympic connection in Chicago came with gold medallist Franklyn Singley. He had made history as half of the first African-American figure skating pairs team. In 2002 he was assistant choreographer at the Salt Lake City Olympic ceremonies (at the opening he played a coyote, in the closing he skated with Gloria Estefan). Franklyn continues to support the Gay Games and skated at a special gala in Cleveland a month ago to promote this year’s Gay Games in that city.

When the Gay Games returned to Europe in 2010 to Cologne medallists came from a wider international base. Perhaps the most significant medal winner is one prominent at the moment in the fight for lgbt rights in Russia – Konstantin Yablotskiy. He is co-president of the Russia LGBT Sports Federation. As well as campaigning against the anti-gay laws introduced by President Putin, the Federation arranged the Open Games, an lgbt mini-Gay Games held between the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics. Even though most of the events has to be rearranged at the last minute the games went ahead defiantly and proudly in the face of possible arrests.

And that seems an appropriate place to finish. I’d love to have written more today – but that would leave less for future articles!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Remembrance : Three Centuries of Heroes

The role that women had in wartime can often be overlooked. It was just as vital to the war effort and keeping the country going as that of any soldier. As such there are fewer accounts of women’s experiences, during the First World War in particular, that survive. Accounts of lgbt women even less so.

With this in mind I want to bring forward some lgbt women who fought for their country and whose lives during times of conflict are just as worthy of remembrance as that of any male soldier. I’ve selected 4 lesbian war heroes to represent this under-researched group.

Ulrika Stålhammar (1688-1733)
Ulrika was born into a military family, as both her father and grandfather served in the Swedish army. As a child Ulrika pursued masculine activities, so enlisting in the Kalmar Regiment in 1713 under the male persona of Willem Edstedt was just a natural progression. Posing as a man would have put Ulrika under threat of death if discovered, but she successfully served her country for 13 years.

At that time Sweden was at war with Russia, Denmark and Poland in what is called the Great Northern War. By 1713 Russia had grained the upper hand. The Swedish king fought back and invaded Norway in 1718. Ulrika is sure to have fought in this campaign.

In 1716 Ulrika fell in love with a maid called Maria Löhman and they married. Maria, reportedly a rape victim, was content on a marriage without sex, also believing her “husband” Ulrika/Willem was impotent. Even after Ulrika revealed her true sex Maria stayed with her, stating years later that she fell more in love with her after the revelation.

Ulrika’s gender was discovered and she was convicted of posing as a man. She appealed for leniency from the king of Sweden, citing her war record, and she was successful in having her death sentenced repealed.

Jenny Hodgers (1843-1915)
Jenny arrived in the USA from Ireland as a child with her parents, perhaps escaping the Potato Famine that was decimating the Irish population. She was dressed as a boy by her stepfather in order to find him work and provide an income. Jenny continued to wear men’s clothing for the majority of her life.

In 1862 Jenny enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry on the Union side of the American Civil War. She adopted the name of Albert Cashier. She proved to be a particularly brave soldier. Once, after being captured at the Siege of Vicksburg she escaped by grabbing the gun from her guard and ran back to safety behind Union lines, being chased most of the way there. On another occasion she climbed a tree with sniper bullets whizzing around her to fasten her regimental flag to a branch after the Confederates had shot it from the flag pole.

Jenny served her full term in the army and her colleagues never suspected her true identity. When they did, many years later when Jenny was accused of fraud for claiming an army pension, they all rallied to testify to her bravery and she was allowed to keep her pension.

Henny Schermann (1912-1942)
During the Holocaust many lesbians were persecuted as well as gay men. While they weren’t labelled separately in concentration and labour camps the Nazis arrested thousands of lesbians. Most of them were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Many were labelled prostitutes or anti-social (because they refused to provide baby Nazis to further the cause) and were forced to wear the Black Triangle of anti-social prisoners, an emblem later used extensively in the post-war lesbian community.

One intern was a Jewish lesbian called Henny Schermann. A Nazi decree of 1938 demanded that all Jewish women add “Sara” to their name on all official papers. Henny refused. In 1940 Henny was arrested as a “licentious lesbian” and sent to Ravensbruck. Two years later she was sent to Bernburg psychiatric hospital where she was gassed.

Donna Johnson (1983-2012)
In the 21st century gay and lesbian couples in the military are more visible and acceptable. Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson was living openly with her partner Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice. Both were enlisted in the North Carolina National Guard. Donna was attached to the 514th Military Police Company serving in Afghanistan when, on 1st October 2012 Donna, while on foot patrol in the market area of the town of Khost with 2 other army colleagues and a translator, a motorcycle suicide bomber drove straight into them, and the explosion killed all of them and 12 others.

Donna and Tracy were legally married in Washington DC in 2011. The American Military Partner Association believe they are the first same-sex married couple to have suffered the loss of one partner since the repeal of the Don’t Tell Don’t Ask regulation were repealed.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

International Paralympic Women

To celebrate today’s International Women’s Day and the start of the Paralympic Games here’s a look at the lgbt Paralympians. The only known male Paralympian is Lee Pearson, the UK equestrian rider. I’m sure he won’t mind if I concentrate on the female athletes today.

There are 7 in all, but there’s one athlete I’ll only list and not give details. This athlete is Kathleen Rose Winter, and I wrote an article about her achievements last year. I’ll deal with the remaining 6 athletes in order of their first Paralympic appearance.

Kathleen Rose Winter (1956-2008)
USA     athletics, fencing, powerlifting
1992 Barcelona           (athletics)
1996 Atlanta                (fencing)
2000 Sydney               (powerlifting)

Jen Armbruster
USA                 goalball
1992 Barcelona
1996 Atlanta                bronze
2000 Sydney
2004 Athens                silver
2008 Beijing                gold
2012 London
Jen has competed in more Paralympics than any other lgbt athlete. An inflamed optic nerve caused her to lose her sight by the age of 17 when she competed in her first Paralympics. She got involved in goalball at the suggestion of someone from the Colorado School of the Deaf and Blind. Jen’s first medal was a bronze in Atlanta 1996. At the Sydney games in 2000 she was joined on the team by Asya Miller, whom she married in 2007. In 2004 they won the silver medal, and at the Beijing Paralympics of 2008 Jen, now team captain, also carried her national flag at the opening ceremony. The team went on to win gold. Jen returned as team captain at the London games but failed to pass the preliminary round.

Hope Lewellen
USA                 sitting volleyball and wheelchair tennis
1996 Atlanta                silver (tennis)
2000 Sydney
2004 Athens                bronze (volleyball)
2008 Beijing                silver (volleyball)
Hope lost a leg in 1989 when she was an aircraft mechanic – a 767 rolled over both legs. She took up wheelchair tennis and entered her first Paralympic Games in 1996 in both the singles and doubles tournaments. She didn’t make it to the singles quarter-finals but with Nancy Olson won silver in the doubles. In Sydney 2000 Hope failed to reach the quarter-finals in either. She still coaches in wheelchair tennis, but her last 2 Paralympic appearances have been on the US sitting volleyball team in 2004 and 2008, winning a bronze medal both times. Hope was a supporter of the Chicago bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and in 2012 she founded Challenge Boxing NFP, which coaches people with disabilities in boxing.

Asya Miller
USA                 discus and goalball
2000 Sydney               bronze (discus)
2004 Athens                silver (goalball)
2008 Beijing                gold (goalball)
2012 London
Asya has competed in several different sports – powerlifting, karate, and her 2 Paralympic sports, goalball and discus. She has a genetic condition called Stargardt’s Disease which causes progressive loss of vision. Asya began her competitive career in athletics and in her first Paralympics won bronze in the discus. In Sydney she also competed in goalball and was more successful with this in later games, winning silver in 2004 and gold in 2008. Asya was also on the US goalball team that became Para Pan-American champions in 2011, at which she was her national flag carrier at the opening ceremony. She also competes internationally in her other sports, becoming World Powerlifting Champion 3 times, and javelin champion at the Para Pan-American Games. In 2007 Asya married fellow US goalball team captain Jen Armbruster.

Danielle Peers
Canada           wheelchair basketball
2004 Athens                bronze
Danielle was captain of her college basketball team. After being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy she continued to play and earned a place on the national wheelchair basketball team. Her only Paralympic appearance saw her lose in the semi-final to USA (who had fellow Paralympic debutante Stephanie Wheeler on their team), who went on to win gold. Danielle retired in 2008 but not before being on the gold-medal-winning Edmonton Inferno team that won the Canadian Women’s National Championships 5 times, and on the Canadian team that won the 2006 World Championships. Danielle is a National Ambassador for Muscular Dystrophy Canada. She carried the Olympic torch in the Vancouver 2010 relay.

Stephanie Wheeler
USA                 wheelchair basketball
2004 Athens                gold
2008 Beijing                gold
A car accident at the age of 6 left Stephanie paralysed from the waist down. It was someone in the waiting room of her doctor’s surgery who suggested she have a go at wheelchair basketball. Stephanie was 12 and she threw herself into the sport, gaining a place on the regional team. She went on to win 3 national championships with the Illinois State team. She made the national team in 2001 who won silver in the 2002 World Championships and gold in the Para Pan-American games of 2007. In both of Stephanie’s Paralympic appearances she has won gold, and topped off her competitive career in 2010 by winning gold at the World Championships. In 2011 she coached the US Under-25 women’s team to a gold medal.

Claire Harvey
GB      sitting volleyball
2012 London
Claire was an active athlete before a motor accident in 2008 paralysed one leg and impaired her sight. She had played on several rugby teams and found that sitting volleyball filled the void in her sporting life. Within 2 years she had made the national sitting volleyball team and made the London 2012 home team. Unfortunately, GB came last. Claire also acted as an official Ambassador for London’s Pride House, and was a supporter of the London bid to host the 2018 Gay Games. She is also operations manager for the British Deaf Women’s Football. Team.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Out Of Their Tree - Peggy Seeger

The death of Pete Seeger in January at the age of 93 came at a poignant time. Last year, when I was planning my musical theme for 2014 I began to write up my research on the ancestry of Pete’s sister Peggy for this blog.

One of the important links I was writing about, which had been known to genealogist for some time, was the Seeger’s Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry. Pete Seeger was well-known as a folksinger and writer of some iconic songs (“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had A Hammer”, etc.) and equally well-known as a campaigner for social issues. I’d like to think that Peter would have had huge respect for his Mayflower ancestors who were driven out of their country because of intolerance to their way of life.

Peggy Seeger is just one of several other musical members of the dynasty. A singer and musician in her own right she met British folksinger Ewan McColl in 1957 and they later married. Ewan wrote the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” about Peggy. Peggy met Irene Scott in 1964, bringing another musical talent into the family circle. Ewan died in 1989, and Peggy and Irene found themselves moving into a closer relationship. They became Civil Partners in December 2006.

There’s no mystery as to where the musical talent in the Seegers came from. Peggy’s and Pete’s father was renowned musicologist, composer, professor and enthusiast for American folk music, Dr. Charles Louis Seeger (1886-1979). He was a pioneer in the study of ethnomusicology. His second wife, Peggy’s mother, Pete’s stepmother, was the equally talented Ruth Crawford Seeger, consider by some to be the most significant female composer in America during the 20th century.

There was little discernable musical talent in Peggy’s grandfathers. One was an international shipping merchant and the other was a Methodist minister. The concern for social issues seems more evident. Charles and Ruth Seeger combined both. There were on the left side of politics, and Ruth in particular was keen to have their music accepted by “ordinary folk” as Ruth would consider them.
We’ll go back to the Mayflower and work our way forwards. Peggy Seeger is descended from at least 6 Mayflower Pilgrims through her ancestor Lydia Cooke (see diagram). Lydia’s grandfather was Francis Cooke (c.1583-1663), who was from the village of Blyth which isn’t far from my home village.

Questions arose in 2006 concerning Francis Cooke’s place of origin. American genealogist Charles Edward Banks suggested Cooke was born in Kent and not Blyth, as has been traditionally believed. However, I have ancestors in Blyth from around the same time as Francis’s birth and like to think that I may be related to him.

Francis Cooke was living in Holland when the Separatists that later formed the Pilgrims arrived to escape religious persecution in England. Francis joined some of these Pilgrims on their Mayflower voyage with his son John, leaving his wife Hester and younger children to join a later voyage. Francis became one of those members of society who didn’t seek great public office or power and worked in his own small way in good works for the new colony.

Francis’s son Jacob married Damaris, daughter of two more Mayflower passengers, Stephen Hopkins and his wife Elizabeth. Stephen may have been the only one of the Mayflower who had already been in the Americas. He is probably the same Stephen Hopkins who was shipwrecked on Bermuda en route to Jamestown colony. The Mayflower Hopkins became assistant to the governors of Plymouth colony.

A son of Jacob and Damaris Cooke was named Francis after his Mayflower grandfather. In 1687 he married Elizabeth Latham, also a grandchild of a Mayflower Pilgrim, Mary Chilton, who was on the Mayflower with her parents James and Susannah. Mary Chilton is said to have been the first European woman to set foot on American soil.

Elizabeth Latham’s parents, however, can not be said to have been typical members of the young Puritan colony. In 1655 Robert Latham was found guilty of beating and mistreating a servant who died from his injuries. Robert’s wife Susannah didn’t face prosecution. Perhaps her own family background put most people off testifying against her. Susannah was a member of the powerful Winslow dynasty. Her father was John Winslow (husband of Mary Chilton, above), a brother of Edward Winslow, Governor of Plymouth Colony three times. The Winslows were one of the very few wealthy Pilgrim families, with estates in Worcestershire and a royal descent from King Edward III (1312-1377), which Peggy Seeger has inherited (the royal descent, not the estates!).

Elizabeth Latham’s grand-daughter was the Lydia Cooke mentioned above. Lydia married Ebenezer Adams (1744-1820) and is ancestor of Peggy Seeger’s grandmother Elsey Simmons Adams, the mother of Dr. Charles Louis Seeger.

I’d love to cover the ancestry of Peggy Seeger’s mother, but I think this article is running long. Perhaps another time.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Grrrl Power

With March being International Women’s History Month I’d like to concentrate for the next few weeks on the contribution to music made by lgbt women. The profession of composer has traditionally been associated with men, but there are a few female composers who are equally of significance. I’ll be covering this subject a bit more fully later in the month.

To begin it seems obvious that the best place to start is with a movement formed by and for women which has influenced, and still continues to influence, modern music – the Riot Grrrl movement.

The global Women’s Lib movement of the 1970s gave awareness of the place women wanted to have in society. There wasn’t the same prominent fight for awareness and equality in culture – music, art, theatre. Music in particular portrayed female singers as either operatic divas or girls-next-door. Even though some women made a name in the rock and early punk movement they were basically following the female stereotype that wasn’t perceived as a threat to the male-dominated rock/punk industry.

In the early 1990s in the USA some more political and protest messages began to effect the feminist cultural world. This was the basis of the riot grrrl movement, which included direct activism and political involvement within art and media. The name of the movement came from the title of a fanzine created by Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman, Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail in 1991. “We’re not anti-boy, we’re pro-girl”, Molly once said.

The original movement was deliberately an underground one. The last thing riot grrrls wanted was to have the male-dominated commercial rock industry dictating to them how their music should be presented or marketed. Because of this a new vibrant and creative culture developed as more women found their talents in art, music and writing became the major elements in the riot grrrl movement around the world. Several independent record labels were created by some of the riot grrrl pioneers (see below). Eventually, some male record producers with personal connections to members of the movement also began producing their music and their audience grew.

The movement spread quickly, but like all things that involve increasing numbers of people differences began to emerge – not the riot grrrl message, but the way in which it was presented and the way the movement interacted with mainstream media. It didn’t help when the media began to take an interest in other so-called “girl power” groups such as the Spice Girls who perpetuated the old sexual stereotypes of what a girl singer should be. This stereotype continues today in the sexually-overt antics of many young female singers in their videos.

The riot grrrls had a strong beginning and created much positive debate in sexual politics though it’s time came and went in a short time. New styles and movements developed out of it in a natural evolution that means that the legacy of the early riot grrrl members is still felt today, and many of them are still active.

It would be negligent of me not to mention that the riot grrrl movement was not exclusive to lesbian, bi or other female lgbt artists. It did attract many of these to its ranks and many of them form an unofficial subculture of the riot grrrl/queercore cross-over artist (I’ll write about queercore later in the year).

To end this article here’s just a few names of artists who helped to make the riot grrrl movement one which influences music today and will for a good many years to come. All of these names are contained in two online lists. These are the Afterellen list of “The 50 Most Important Queer Women in Music” published in 2010, and Lesbian Life’s list of “The Top 30 Lesbian/Bisexual Musicians” (date unknown).

Common to both lists are Donna Dresch, Carrie Brownstein and Kaia Wilson. Donna was one of the pioneers of riot grrrl/queercore music forming the band Team Dresch. One member of the band, Kaia, went on to form another influential band, The Butchies (watch out for a future reference to Kaia in my Medal Quest series). Donna and Kaia both formed their own record labels which released albums from other pioneer bands as well as their own, such as Sleater-Kinney of which Carrie was a member.