Thursday, 16 April 2015


This past month has seen the passing of two influential lgbt people, Ike Cowen and Marc Naimark. I don’t usually write tributes after someone’s death but as I had personal connections to them both I hope you won’t mind if I do so today.

Ike Cowen (1917-1915)
Harold E. Cowen was one of the pioneers of the UK’s Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). Not only was he a co-founder of the CHE but Ike, as he was always known, also co-founded the Association of Law Teachers and became its Secretary. Law was Ike’s profession. He lectured in law at Sheffield Hallam University, and it was law which brought Ike permanently to teach in Nottingham in 1969.

Ike was no stranger to Nottingham. He served in the RAF during the last year of World War II and was stationed at RAF Wymeswold about 20 miles away in Leicestershire. He gave a lecture on Air Force law at what was then the Nottingham Regional College of Technology, now part of Nottingham Trent University.

Even though he recognised his homosexuality during the war he thought it was “just a phase” and that marriage might “cure it”. He married his American wife Peggy when stationed in Egypt. They had a son but the marriage didn’t last and they separated after his move to Nottingham. When his son was 18 Ike decided to come out to him. On a night out in a pub Ike announced he had something to say. “If it’s about you being gay,” his son said, “everybody at school knows. I’ve known for ages”.

Ike became involved in the formation of the CHE through people like Nottingham journalist Ray Gosling. With his legal training Ike wrote CHE’s first constitution and became its Legal Officer. In 1975 he drafted a bill on Sexual Offences Reform for the CHE which they presented to MPs. Even though it was praised in Parliament it was not adopted.

In 2000 Ike was interviewed by Nottinghamshire Gay and Lesbian Switchboard for their millennium history project. Ike was frank about his gay life, both in and out of the RAF, and provided much information on Nottingham’s gay community in the 1960s.

Ike’s legacy remains with the CHE and is part of the history of sexual reform acts in the UK. In 2007 I helped to found Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage. One idea which came from me was to present Certificates of Recognition to people and organisations in Nottinghamshire who have played significant parts in lgbt history in the county or nation. Ike was the first name I nominated. He was too frail to attend the presentation ceremony but my colleagues presented it to him in his home.

Ike would have celebrated his 98th birthday on May 6th. He died on 19th March 2015.

Marc Naimark (d.2015)
Last weekend the world of lgbt sport lost one its most dedicated advocates. Marc’s involvement with the Federation of Gay Games began in 1998 and continued through to the end with his involvement in preparations for the 2018 Gay Games to be held in his adopted home city of Paris (Marc was originally from Michigan). Marc enthused others around the world and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

As well as his contribution to the Gay Games Marc will be remembered as a leading voice in the establishment of Pride House International. Several unofficial and small-scale volunteer groups had set up lgbt centres in Olympic host cities during the course of the games (Barcelona and Sydney), but the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics saw the creation of a formal Pride House organised by several local lgbt groups which was recognised by the Vancouver Olympic organising committee. Marc offered much support to the London 2012 Pride House.

His was one of many voices which called for a fully international response to the Russian anti-gay legislation prior to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. This became Pride House International which created many Pride Houses around the world during the course of the Sochi games. Today Pride House International is a thriving organisation and is planning to be present at most major international sporting events around the world.

My first contact with Marc was in 2012 when I compiled my first list of lgbt Olympians. He was very enthusiastic about it and asked if he could publish it on the Gay Games blog. Of course I said yes, and he encouraged me to send the list to other organisations. After that Marc became one of my few Facebook friends.

Marc also showed a keen interest in this blog and several times asked if he could put some of my articles on the Gay Games blog, especially ones which centred on the Gay Games, and I never turned down his request.

Marc’s active support in many lgbt sporting events was immense. Each one will feel his loss. Perhaps the biggest legacy he leaves me is a celebration of lgbt sport and the Gay Games.

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