Sunday, 22 October 2017

Pioneering Pink Triangles

The first truly international symbol adopted by gay rights groups was the pink triangle. The origin of the pink triangle in the Nazi persecution of gay men in the Holocaust is covered extremely well in media and print. But I’m always trying to find more about how, when and why it was adopted by the lgbt community.

It is often stated that the use of the pink triangle was pioneered by gay rights groups in Germany and, shortly afterwards, in the USA. However, they may have widely advocated it’s use but the first actual national display of the pink triangle by gay rights groups was on the other side of the world.

But how did it come to be used at all? Why did a symbol of Nazi oppression become a symbol of gay pride?

Very little, if anything, was known outside Germany of the use of the fabric triangles attached to the clothing of people interred in concentration and labour camps. People were generally aware of the yellow stars worn by Jewish internees. Those liberated from the camps were in no mood to perpetuate the memories of the hell they have lived through and little truth about what happened in the camps remained hidden, though some people considered the testimony of survivors as vitally important in recording the atrocities and revealing the true extent of the evil Nazi regime.

One of the few survivors who decided to record their experiences was Eugen Kogon (1903-1987). In his book “The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the Systems Behind Them” (originally published in German in 1946 and translated into English in 1950) Kogon wrote about the use of various triangles to denote the types of prisoner. For the first time in print the general public was made aware of the pink triangle.

Of the Holocaust survivors who wrote about their experiences in the concentration camps in the following years none of them admitted to being homosexual. Despite liberation from the camps, homosexuality was still illegal in Germany.

As the gay rights movements around the world began to spring into action at the beginning of the 1970s one gay Holocaust survivor, Heinz Heger (1917-1994), wrote “The Men With the Pink Triangle” (published in German in Hamburg in 1972). The newly-formed gay rights group, Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (HAW), were looking for a unifying symbol for their activism and the pink triangle seemed to be just right.

HAW urged all of their members and supporters to wear a pink triangle as a memorial to gay victims of the Holocaust. HAW’s claim to be the first gay rights organisation to adopt the pink triangle as a logo in October 1973, however, may not be correct, as I’ll explain later.

During the summer of 1973 several gay journals wrote about Holocaust victims and the use of the pink triangle. The UK journal “Come Together” and the San Francisco journal “Gay Sunshine” both urged their readers to wear a pink triangle in remembrance of gay Holocaust victims. However, there is no documentary or visual proof that the wearing of these triangles was anything more than individual personal choice.

And that takes us to the southern hemisphere and gay rights activists in Australia. The Sydney Gay Liberation group proposed a Gay Pride Week for 7th to 14th September 1973. Other gay groups across Australia – in Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne – were enthusiastic about this idea, having only begun to hold Gay Pride events in the previous two years and eager to produce something that would produce more publicity for gay rights. The national, co-ordinated event would help to unify their activism.

From the very start the use of the pink triangle was to be pivotal in the Gay Pride Week publicity. The image below is of an A6-sized poster designed to promote the events. Is this the first use of the pink triangle by an lgbt organisation? It doesn’t merely ask people to wear one. It is being used quite deliberately, without the need of explanation, or as an illustration of its use by the Nazis, but as a symbol for the national Gay Pride Week.
In all of the Australian cities which celebrated Gay Pride Week in September 1973 the pink triangle was highly visible on banners, flags, posters, leaflets and badges. This was a month before HAW adopted it as their logo. In Adelaide further recognition of Holocaust victims was made with the planting of 60 pink crosses on the lawn next to the war memorial. There are many images online showing the pink triangle being used during Gay Pride Week clearly in all participating cities – just Google “Gay Pride Week 1973 Australia”. If any reader out there can point me to any image online to show a definite earlier use elsewhere I will be eternally grateful.

Australia was proudly displaying the pink triangle in the manner to which many later Pride events all around the world would follow.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Game of Gay Thrones

Lists of lgbt people from history have always contained the names of kings and emperors – from the Chinese Emperor Ai to King Ludwig II of Bavaria. But thrones have always been challenged by usurpers, pretenders and the disinherited.

The gay King Edward II of England inherited his throne through at last 2 junior royal bloodlines. There were people with more senior bloodlines who could have been sovereign in his place if history had taken different turns. Even today over 2 dozen living people have more senior bloodline claims to the throne than Queen Elizabeth II, though all of them were barred from succession by various historic parliaments. Laws of succession are never set in stone. The UK last changed its succession laws in 2015.

People who have been suggested as monarchs have included gay or bisexual men. Some have also been nominated for the thrones of emerging nations. Below is a list of gay and bisexual men who have been nominated for, or have claimed thrones, in chronological order, with varying degrees of success.

1) Dmitriy I Ivanovich (d.1606), Tzar of Russia.
The most successful pretender was the man generally called The False Dmitriy I. Whether he was actually gay or bisexual is a matter of opinion. There’s no real evidence. Enemies of monarchs often use accusations such as sodomy or witchcraft to blacken the reputation of the king they want to get rid of. Dmitriy was accused of both. There are a couple of Russian nobles who are claimed as Dmitriy’s lovers, Prince Ivan Andreevich Khvorostinin (d.1623) and Petr Basmanov (d.1606). Dmitriy married a Polish noblewoman, probably to cement his already-established alliance with Poland, and it was with Polish help that he became tzar.

Dmitriy claimed to be the long-lost son and heir of Ivan the Terrible. That kind of claim works well if there’s an heir who had previously “disappeared”. When Tzar Boris Godunov heard about the pretender, Dmitriy fled to Poland where he gained the support of the Polish king. Together they attacked Russia. Boris died and Dmitriy was proclaimed tzar on 10th June 1605.

It wasn’t long before Dmitriy was challenged, especially because of his pre-western, pro-Catholic rule. Within a year Dmitriy experienced a revolt. A crowd of nobles and commoners stormed the Kremlin. Dmitriy sent Petr Basmanov to see what was happening and he was killed as soon as he left the chamber. Dmitriy jumped out the window to escape but was injured on landing and he was soon caught and killed also. Their corpses were stripped and dragged into Red Square where they remained for several days. Dmitriy’s body was then cremated and as the final insult, so the story goes, his ashes were shot out of cannon towards Poland.

2) Prince Heinrich von Hohenzollern (1726-1802), King of the USA.
We move on 181 years to the American Revolution. The circumstances surrounding the formation of the USA are well known, but what is not is the attempt to place a European prince on an American throne.

Prince Heinrich was the brother of King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia. Both were known to be partial to handsome young military officers. The only real connection Heinrich had with America was his friend Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who had left Germany under a cloud of homosexual suspicion and had transformed an unorganised colonial militia into a national military force that kicked out a world power.

It took a few years for the US to decide on a form of government. In 1786 the Founding Fathers were beginning to consider a monarchy. Baron von Steuben was probably the first to suggest inviting Prince Heinrich to be the first King of the USA. There’s no documentary evidence which specifically mentions any offer but correspondence suggests some form of discussion on US constitutional affairs took place between the two. However, the idea of an American monarchy was soon dropped.

Prince Heinrich died childless in 1802 so it’s not really possible to say if he would have been succeeded by another family member, possibly even King Friedrich II himself, or another European prince. More likely, the present presidential solution would have been chosen.

3) Prince Henry Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York (1728-1807), King of Great Britain, Ireland and France.
Just 18 months after the supposed offer of the throne of the USA came a claim to the British, Irish and French thrones. Since 1701 all Catholics were barred from succession to the throne of Great Britain and those who supported the Catholic heirs of King James II, who had abdicated, became known as Jacobites.

Prince Henry Stuart (no.68 in my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series) was the grandson and last legitimate male line heir of King James II. He was born in exile in Rome was given the title Duke of York at birth. Technically, his father, The Old Pretender, had no authority to confer this title. In 1747 Pope Benedict XIV created the Duke of York a Cardinal-Deacon, and titular Archbishop of Corinth in 1758.

Cardinal York, as he wished to be known, tried to help get support for the failed Jacobite rising of 1745 led by his older brother Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Bonnie Prince died 1788 never achieving his dream of regaining his grandfather’s throne. Even though actual physical attempts to regain the British throne were abandoned the family’s claim never was. When the Bonnie Prince was seriously ill in 1784 Cardinal York issued a statement declaring his intention to carry on claiming the throne.

By 1788 Cardinal York seems to have stopped making any attempt to seize the British throne, though he signed his will “Henry R”, Henry the king. His many Jacobite supporters always referred to him as King Henry IX. On Cardinal York’s own death the Jacobite claim to the throne officially ended though an unofficial Jacobite line of succession still exists.

4) George Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), King of Greece
This next claim is more hypothetical than actual. In 1823 the romantic poet Lord Byron, exiled from Britain after getting his sister pregnant, amongst other scandals, joined the independence struggle of the Greeks against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Greek rebels relied on financial support from European sympathisers and Byron was welcomed to their cause. This cause, however, didn’t last long for Byron. Just a few months after arriving in Greece he died of a fever.

There is no indication during his life-time that Byron, or any Greek rebel leader, had any thought of placing him on the throne of an independent Greece. In fact it is generally assumed by historians that the Greeks would have favoured a republic. There was no real discussion of a Greek monarchy until 1832.

In the style of the Romantic Movement to which Lord Byron belonged, the invitation to the Greek throne seems to have just been posthumous speculation to heighten his contribution to Greek independence.

5) Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877-1933), King of Albania.
Even in Lord Byron had no ambition to wear a crown a later baron certainly did. BaronFranz Nopcsa, a Transylvanian dinosaur hunter, had his eyes set on the throne of another nation which had gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, Albania.

The Baron’s knowledge of Albanian history and geography was second to none. He did, however, have an arrogance about him which led his to consider Albanians to be intellectually inferior and power hungry.

In 1913 the Congress of Trieste was convened to determine the government of Albania. Several foreign princes were invited to the Congress to discuss which was most suitable to be the King of Albania. Baron Nopcsa, merely a “volunteer” at the Congress on behalf of the Austro-Hungarian interests, systematically discredited each prospective monarch one by one, often by very dubious means. At that point the baron put himself forward to the Congress as an alternative candidate. His knowledge of Albanian history and culture may have been high but his knowledge of Albanian politics was non-existent.

Nopcsa’s candidacy needed the support of the Albanian Foreign Ministry but none was given. His attempts to discredit the original candidates were soon ignored and he too became the subject of smear campaigns. That’s international politics for you.

Baron Nopcsa left the Congress of Trieste in disgust before it ended, declaring that he was going to leave politics for good. In the end Prince Wilhelm von Weid was chosen as the first modern King of Albania in 1914.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Run-up to the First March

Today is the anniversary of the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979. It was the first of a series of marches that have taken place every few years is response to US government action, or otherwise, on lgbt causes.

That first march on 14th October 1979 almost never happened. Several attempts were made to organise a march before 1979 but nothing came of them for various reasons. Harvey Milk, who had been on the last of those disbanded organising committees, took up the cause and gained support for a march in 1979 in part to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Sadly, his murder was the final spark which galvanised the lgbt community into making sure the march took place.

Several leading activists, including Frank Kameny, had thought about a national march on Washington for years but had not thought it would have had much success due to the possibility that there were not enough lgbt people willing to become open and participate. That was the concern of those early activists. Just think of those Straight Prides that have been organised in recent years that flopped spectacularly due to lack of support.

The first significant attempt to organise a march on Washington came in 19173 and originated in a student group at the Champaign-Urbana campus at the University of Illinois.

Jeff Graubart-Cervone (then known as just Jeff Graubart) was the main mover behind the organisation of the march. He had joined the US Gay Liberation Front in 1970 just a few months after it was formed in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. He formed the first Gay Liberation Front group at the University of Illinois where he was a student.

In contrast to contemporary USA where the lgbt community is more unified and connected there was no real sense of a national lgbt community in the 1970. Very few Americans were able to be open about their sexuality. States had their own individual lgbt rights issues that made their way into the national media only in a few exceptional circumstances, and only then in a negative light.

Jeff Graubart believed there were enough people who would join the march given the right amount of organisation and focus. He had, perhaps, been buoyed up by his own successes in lobbying the Champaign-Urbana city council into repealing its law against cross-dressing or the pushing through of Illinois’ first gay rights ordinances. During 1973, while still a student, he also ran for Mayor of Urbana. He didn’t win, but if he did he would have predated KathyKozachenko as the first elected openly lgbt official in the US by a year.

The National Gay Mobilisation Committee was formed at the student union in the Champaign-Urbana campus and the first official meeting took place over the Thanksgiving week of November 1973. Jeff Graubart was the co-ordinator and a set of goals were agreed upon. One goal was to establish a unified national community.

The fears over the possible poor, and potentially embarrassing, response for a march was one reason why the idea was not finalised and was gradually dropped. More significantly was that Jeff Graubart had left the university in 1974 and his organising skills were absent.

The idea of a national march remained in the dreams of activists until 1978 when a series of anti-gay and homophobic incidents had spread across the USA which were influencing the laws of various states. The lgbt community in Minnesota took up the reins from Illinois and a new Committee for the March of Washington was formed. It contacted other groups and activists from around the country to create a national emphasis. Sadly, too many personal prejudices and snobbery created friction among the committee members and, again, before any plans were finalised the committee fell apart.

But the idea of a march was not abandoned by one of the activists who was invited onto the committee. He was Harvey Milk of San Francisco. His declared intention was to go ahead with the march and set a date for Independence Day 1978. Within a month of declaring his intention he was assassinated.

The shock of Milk’s death galvanised the San Francisco community who had, after all, were instrumental in getting him elected to public office. They took up the cause and organised a national conference in Philadelphia in February 1979. This conference had more important things to do than in-fighting, especially after Harvey Milk’s murderer was given a disgustingly light sentence. The 300-strong conference voted to change the date of Milk’s proposed march from Independence Day to October. Too many other distractions would be taking place on 4th July and their march may not get the attention it deserved, and no politicians would be in Washington at the time of the public holiday.

And that is how the first National March on Washington DC for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place on 14th October 1979. Fears of a poor turn-out seemed to have been laid to rest. More than 100,000 people marched that day, and for those of us outside the US this march, and not the Stonewall Riots, is the event which was pivotal in the fight for lgbt rights in America and the world.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Chain Males : Part 4 - Europe

We turn to continental Europe for the latest in mini-series on lgbt mayors. I have identified 28 male gay or bisexual mayors so far. Below is the list and below that is a map their distribution.

There have also been 3 female mayors which I listed in the first of these mayoral articles. Also not included are 7 gay male mayors who have served as Deputy Mayor. Mayors in the UK will be dealt with in December.

Once again the methods by which the mayors were appointed varies. Some are directly elected, some are appointed, but all are voted on to their respective authorities by public vote.

BELGIUM
Elio de Rupo – Mayor of Mons since 2001.
 
DENMARK
Klaus Bondam – Mayor of Technical and Environment, 2006-9, and Employment since 2010, Copenhagen.
Søren Pepe Poulsen – Mayor of Viborg 2010-14.
 
FRANCE
Luc Carvounas – Mayor of Alfortville since 2012.
Bertrand Delanoë – Mayor of Paris 2001-14.
André Labarrére – Mayor of Pau 1971-2006.
 
GERMANY
Michael Adam – Mayor of Bodenmais 2008-11.
Michael Ebling – Mayor of Mainz since 2012.
Sven Gerich – Mayor of Wiesbaden since 2013.
Thomas Kufen – Lord Mayor of Essen since 2015.
Ole von Beust – First Mayor of Hamburg 2001-10.
Klaus Wowereit – Governing Mayor of Berlin 2001-14.
 
IRELAND
Cian O’Callaghan – Mayor of Fingal County 2012-14.
Fintan Warfield – Mayor of South Dublin County 2014-5.
 
ITALY
Rosario Crocetta – Mayor of Gela 2003-9.
 
LUXEMBOURG
Xavier Bettel – Mayor of Luxembourg City 2011-13.
 
MALTA
Karl Gouder – Mayor of St. Julian’s since 2015.
 
NETHERLANDS
Jan Franssen – Mayor of Zwolle 1994-2000.
Onno Hoes – Mayor of Maastricht 2010-15.
Ger Koopmans – Acting Mayor of Stein 2013.
Sjoerd Potters – Mayor of De Bilt since April 2017.
Roland van Benthem – Mayor of Eemnes since 2005.
 
NORWAY
Erling Lae – Governing Mayor of Oslo 2000-9.
 
POLAND
Robert Biedron – Mayor of Słupsk since 2014.
 
SPAIN
Francisco Maroto – Mayor of Campillo de Ranas since 2003.
Javier Maroto – Mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz 2011-15.
Jerónimo Saavedra – Mayor of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, 2007-11.
Santi Vila – Mayor of Figueres 2007-11.

Several of these male mayors have gone on to hold higher office, occasionally the highest elected office in their nation. Two have become Prime Ministers (Elio di Rupo and Xavier Betel). In addition two have become president of their provincial governments (Rosario Crocetta and Jerónimo Saavedra). Virtually all of them have become members of their national parliaments at some time.

The municipalities and councils to which these gay mayors belong range from national capitals to rural villages. We can go from one extreme to the other. The largest is Berlin with a population of almost 3.5 million. The smallest is a municipality which has made the most significant contribution to lgbt rights by its entire population.

The small municipality of Campillo de Ranas, 78 miles north of Madrid, consists of 8 tiny villages with a total population of less than 300. In 2003 Francisco Maroto was elected mayor. In one of those quirks of history it is because Francisco was the right man in the right place at the right time that he is still in office today.

In 2005 Spain legalised same-sex marriage. There hadn’t been a marriage of any kind in Campillo de Rana for 35 years. Francisco was aware that there were many Spanish mayors, all of whom can conduct marriages, were not enthusiastic about conducting same-sex weddings. Mayor Francisco took the deliberate decision to promote his village as a venue for gay weddings.

Heterosexual weddings were also welcomed, and themed ceremonies became very popular. Within 3 years Mayor Francisco had conducted over 100 weddings of which 32 were same-sex couples. In 2008 he even celebrated his wedding to Quique Fernandez in the village.

Once the reputation of Campillo de Ranas spread across Spain more visitors and tourists arrive and the local economy boomed, based on the income from weddings. The village church roof was repaired, and the old village school was reopened after 30 years. More importantly, for the younger generations, mobile phone coverage arrived in the village.

The wider community recognises the achievements made in his community by Francisco Maroto. At this year’s World Pride in Madrid he was lauded as a national pioneer of same-sex weddings. Because of his success in Campillo de Ranas other Spanish villages and towns welcomed more same-sex couples.

In my final Chain Males article in December we’ll look at male gay mayors in the UK, including the two gay men who were the only mayors in the entire history of their town council.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Out of Her Tree : An American Legal Eagle

This week sees the start of the judicial year. In the UK it was celebrated with a service at Westminster Abbey attended by many judges and lawyers. This year is special because, for the first time in history, England has a woman as the most senior judge in the country, Lady Hale. The mark the start of the judicial year I’ve looked into the ancestry of the most senior out lgbt female lawyer in the USA, Eleanor D. Acheson.

Eleanor D. Acheson was an Assistant Attorney General of the USA. The Attorney General is the head of the Department of Justice and the chief lawyer of the US government. Within the department the Attorney General has a number of smaller departments which are all headed by an Assistant. Eleanor Acheson was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Policy Development by President Clinton in 1993 and served until 2001.

Both sides of Eleanor’s family contain lawyers and legislators. We’ll start with her paternal line. Her father is David Acheson (b.1921) who was a lawyer and US Attorney for the District of Columbia in the 1960s. His father was the more famous Dean Acheson (1893-1971) who was US Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. The legal profession is not known in the Acheson family further back. Dean Acheson was the son of an Episcopalian Bishop of Connecticut, but the bishop’s wife Alice had legal roots. Alice’s father was Louis Crandall Stanley (1855-1945) who was a lawyer with the Grand Trunk Railway System based in Detroit for 40 years.

Mrs. Alice Stanley Acheson (Dean’s wife) herself exhibited another family talent, painting. This she inherited from both parents. Her own mother Jane was another accomplished artist who exhibited at several prestigious galleries. Alice’s grandfather, John Mix Stanley (1814-1872) is one of America’s leading painters of Native American life in the “Wild West”.

There’s conflicting evidence on the ancestry of the Stanley family. There are several families John Mix Stanley could be descended from. All of them are of pioneer colonial stock. What is definite, however, is that DNA analysis of descendants of the aristocratic, royal-descended, Stanley family in the UK and descendants of the pioneering American Stanleys do not show that they share the same roots.

The situation regarding the ancestry of Eleanor’s great-grandmother, the above-mentioned Jane (née Mahon) (1863-1940) is different. Her surname clearly suggests Irish roots, and indeed that is where her ancestors came from. We can trace Jane’s mother’s family, the Le Stranges, through County Roscommon to Norfolk in England, where there is a direct bloodline to King Edward III. Also through the Le Strange family Eleanor Acheson is descended from Adam Loftus (1533-1605), Archbishop of Dublin, and ancestor she shares with Oscar Wilde.

Moving on to Eleanor’s maternal ancestry we see a lot of politicians and statesmen. Since American independence Eleanor’s ancestors have served in an almost unbroken line as Governors, Senators and Congressmen. Many of Eleanor’s cousins through this side of her family still hold political office.

From the pre-independence era one ancestor of note was Hon. David Owen (1732-1812), Chief Justice and Lt-Governor of Rhode Island. The US National Archives contains a letter written by Owen to George Washington confirming that Rhode Island has ratified the US Constitution and Washington’s reply.

Eleanor Acheson’s colonial settler ancestry connects to my own life. Eleanor’s maternal great-grandmother, Mrs. Anne Bailey James Smith (1866-1933) was descended from the Ripley family. Joshua Ripley (1658-1739) married Hannah Bradford (1662-1738), the grand-daughter of the Mayflower Pilgrim William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony. A large number of Mayflower passengers came from the area where I was born and raised.

There were two main groups of Puritan worshippers who became Pilgrims – the Scrooby group and the Gainsborough group. The Gainsborough group worshipped in secret at the home of a local aristocrat. This building now known as Gainsborough Old Hall and I worked there for ten years. The Old Hall is currently preparing for the big 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing in 1620. A leading preacher of the Gainsborough group was Rev. John Robinson. He helped to organise the Mayflower voyage but was unable to join it, and he died in Holland in 1625. John Robinson’s son Isaac is a direct ancestor of Eleanor Acheson. Gainsborough commemorates this gentleman in the town’s United Reformed Church (pictured below) which is known as the John Robinson Church, another building I know well.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

French Enlightenment?

Between 25th September and 6th October 1791 a seemingly momentous event happened – a new Penal Code was introduced into France which included the first apparent decriminalisation of homosexuality and sodomy.

Don’t get too excited about that. The Penal Code also apparently decriminalised bestiality and incest. In practice what actually happened was that these and homosexuality were removed from criminal “offense against nature” laws and were transferred to civil law under the non-specific “violations of public decency”.

Sodomy wasn’t even debated when the Penal Code was being formulated and it seems an oversight on behalf of the French Revolutionary government who introduced it. As a result sodomy, homosexuality and male same-sex activity wasn’t even mentioned in the Code. The only sexual offences mentioned were rape, sexual assault, child molestation, prostitution and adultery. That meant that it implied all other sexual activity was not illegal.

Even though homosexuality was not an offence possessing, displaying or distributing homosexual literature and art was. Unlike heterosexual art and literature the homosexual equivalent was classed as pornography and included in the “violations of public decency”. Also, even though the age of consent for sex was 11 years in France at the time any homosexual activity involving a child under 21, even in private, was classed as child molestation and, likewise, a “violation of public decency”.

As a result the number of prosecutions against homosexual men did not decrease as you would expect under decriminalisation, but, as happened in England and Wales when homosexuality was partially decriminalised 50 years ago this year, more gay men were charged with offences than previously.

How did the Penal Code of 1791 come into being in the first place?
Throughout the 18th century there was a lot of philosophical debate on just about everything that the world took for granted - religion, science, morality, politics. It was the time of the Enlightenment. The old way of things was on its way out and new ideas were on their way in.

In France the distrust of the church and monarchy was a breeding ground for new Enlightenment thinking. Eventually both church and state were replaced after the French Revolution. The National Constituent Assembly, which was formed to produce new laws for the republic, led to many French philosophers to push for reform. Even though these same philosophers found the idea of homosexuality utterly repugnant they advocated that it was a natural act and should not be punishable by death.

The general feeling of the French Republic founders was that everything under the old monarchy should be replaced with something which reflected the new age. Just how much direct influence the philosophers had on their decisions is a question of debate.

With the criminal laws everything that reeked of “phoney offences, created by superstition, feudalism, the tax system and despotism” was to be replaced. By superstition and despotism they meant the Church and monarchy. Most of the sexual offences that were previously regarded as criminal were re-classed as civil offences.

The absence of any reference to sodomy, incest or bestiality in the Penal Code inferred that they were thus decriminalised. This is why France has often been regarded as the first European country to legalise homosexuality. But the Penal Code 1791 was about reforming criminal offences, not civil ones, which were handled by local authorities. It didn’t mean that homosexuality was tolerated or could not be discriminated against.

As I mentioned earlier homosexuals were still being charged with offences which heterosexuals could enjoy unhindered. During the next few years and into the Napoleonic era the laws were more strictly enforced and the names of many men suspected of being homosexual were listed by the police until the 1980s.

Whether France can indeed claim its place as the first country to legalise homosexuality or not is a matter of personal opinion. What we can say for sure is that France turned sodomy from a criminal offence with the death penalty into a civil offence that was enforced under the wide-ranging “violation of public decency”. In effect turning it back to what sodomy was before the death penalty was introduced.

The Enlightenment contributed a major part in the change of attitude towards homosexuality across the whole of Europe. The Enlightenment began the moral debate on homosexuality. The influence of its philosophers effected the way the new emerging nations formulated their laws, including that of the USA. Unfortunately, the debate on the criminality of otherwise of homosexuality is still very much a contentious subject in many of those nations. Will it take a New Enlightenment for homosexuality to be given universal equal status as heterosexuality?

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Crystal Count

One of my oldest hobbies is geology. My parents often told me that I would be found digging holes in the garden almost as soon as I could walk. Since then I’ve collected rocks and minerals as often as I can, either by collection on site or by purchase.

One of my purchased specimens is a small piece of uvarovite (pictured above). It’s a mineral composed of small green crystals which were formed millions of years ago under great heat and pressure. Uvarovite belongs to the garnet group. You may be familiar with garnets and their deep red colour. Uvarovite is green because it contains chromium.

The first specimen of uvarovite was discovered in 1832 in the Ural Mountains by a Swiss scientist called Germain Henri Hess. At the time he was living in St. Petersburg and was a member of the prestigious Academy of Sciences there. Rather than name the new mineral after himself he chose to name it after the then President of the Academy, Sergei Semionovich Uvarov (1786-1885).

portrait of Sergei Uvarov by Orest Kiprensky, 1815.
Sergei Uvarov, who was created a Count in 1846 by Tzar Alexander III, was also a prominent statesman and scholar who had first made his name known internationally as an archaeologist. He became friends with many other scientists of the period, including Alexander von Humboldt.
But Uvarov also had his critics, the most notable and most public of whom was the Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. I get the impression that Pushkin didn’t like Uvarov. He called him a “great villain” in his diaries. What didn’t help was when Uvarov appointed his widely-regarded lover Prince Mikhael Dondukov-Korsakov as Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences in 1835. With it went the appointment of Rector of St. Petersburg University.

Prince Mikhael (1794-1869) was not a scientist and Pushkin had an even lower opinion of him, but he wasn’t alone. The prince was generally described as unintelligent and ignorant. Everyone in their social circles knew he and Uvarov had been lovers and they were sure that this was the only reason the prince got his appointments.

Pushkin was also very angry at the couple because Prince Mikhael, whom he called Prince Dunduk, was a government censor and was instructed by Sergei Uvarov to censor Pushkin’s work. Not merely content with insulting the prince in his diary Pushkin wrote a little verse which expressed in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t the prince’s brain that got him the post at the Academy of Sciences but another part of his anatomy. In translation the verse goes like this :

“In the Academy of Sciences, look,
There sits Prince Dunduk.
It’s said he doesn’t deserve
To plan such an honoured role,
How does he have the nerve?
Because of his big ass-hole.”

Prince Mikhael’s reputation has never really improved in over 180 years, but his lover Sergei Uvarov has fared better. He remained as President of the Academy for 37 years until his death. However, his influence is felt more strongly in the field of state education.

Even though there was some semblance of the acceptance of homosexuality in all levels of society the same could not be said of education. In 1832, the same year that Hess discovered the mineral uvarovite, Sergei Uvarov was a Minister of Education as well as Academy President. He came up with a policy that was to influence Russian society for decades. Uvarov said that education should be centred on three things – the value of the Russian Orthodox Church, the rule of the tzarist government, and the national character of Russia. This became known as the “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality” policy.

Unfortunately, Uvarov believed that education should not be available to the non-noble classes. Universities came under direct government control and all literature influenced by western ideas were censored, hence Pushkin’s anger at him and “Prince Donduk”.

Perhaps because of Uvarov’s restrictive educational policy Russia wasn’t able to identify and nurture the scientific talents that may have been present in its lower social ranks. Perhaps that helped Germany to fill the void, because Germany’s more inclusive education system produced many of the great scientists, particularly in the field of chemistry, of the 19th century. But Count Sergei Uvarov did leave a legacy in the founding of the Russian Archaeological Society and the Russian State Historical Museum by his son Count Aleksey Uvarov who became one of the greatest historians of his age and was surely inspired by his father.