Monday, October 13, 2014

Top 40 radio DJ comes out as Stephanie

I got an call this morning from James Piekos at Radio Humberside this morning asking me to have a chat on the radio about the weekend announcement by DJ Simon Hirst that he will be changing gender today and will now be known as Stephanie. The show will be available on Iplayer for the next week - My interview was at just before 10.am on 13-10-2014

If you have not heard the interview with Stephanie by Steven Nolan on Radio 5 Live,  I certainly recommend it. It is rare that someone as high profile comes out so publicly, and I was really pleased to hear just how open she has decided to be about her life experiences that have led her to this very brave decision  this weekend.

What is sad is that she felt the need to have to quit her job as a top radio presenter first and hopefully radio stations having seen the overwhelming support she has received on Twitter and Facebook this weekend will be doing their best to get her back on the radio.

However I can really understand why Stephanie felt the need to retreat to the safety of personal space before making this decision public. I remember just how much fear I felt when I did the same nearly 15 years.ago.  As a top professional speaker I knew that there was no way to come out quietly and I had seen the way the media had treated trans people in the past.

In addition to delivering Transgender Awareness Training I also coach public speaking skills which many people see as their greatest fear in life. However in my experience its not speaking that we fear - it is the humiliation or embarrassment when we get it wrong that is the real fear.  I am convinced that the greatest fear for all for humans is ridicule - humiliation, embarrassment, loss of face, making a fool of ourselves - or however you want to describe it.

This fear of ridicule is so great that people often choose to kill or attempt to kill themselves rather than suffer. Between 30% and 40% of trans people attempt suicide, especially when young, because that is easier than risking coming out. I once refused to stop for the police when I was cross dressed, because I felt it would be better to be arrested later for failing to stop than risk the humiliation of being discovered dressed as a woman.

So I will repeat the advice I gave this morning on Radio Humberside, and this is not just about coming out as trans or gay - it is about having the courage to be yourself.  Find a few people who you really trust and come out to them first - get a support structure in place and then come out.  It is far better to come out than to have to face being outed and you will be surprised at how much support you receive.

And for the people who don't or can't accept who you really are - well they are not really the friends you thought they were. I am not saying that this is going to be easy - but you will be amazed to discover that being the "real you" is a much better life than constantly hiding and living in fear of discovery.


Monday, February 10, 2014

LGBT History Month - The Buggery Act 1533


I have read a lot of the history of persecution of LGBT people and one thing seems clear. Apart from a few isolated cases or periods of persecution, same sex relationships were not just tolerated, but seem to have been largely accepted as normal until the reign of Henry VIII.

Even the Bible overall is not overtly opposed to homosexuality.  The few negative biblical references are vague at best, and in most instances the subject of fierce debate and largely a matter of interpretation.  And there are even strongly help views that some key biblical relationships such as those of David and Jonathan and Jesus and John appear to have been far more than simply male friendships. 

The persecution of homosexuality in the UK appears to have begun in 1533 when Thomas Cromwell piloted through parliament the Buggery Act which made the act of anal penetration of a man or a woman (buggery) or any intercourse with an animal (bestiality) and offense punishable by hanging.  However as you will see, there is no evidence that this act was passed because of any real social issue with homosexuality or sodomy, rather it was a political weapon in Henry VIII’s battle with the Catholic Church.


...the offenders being hereof convicted by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realm. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy .
The penalties made this one of the most severe punishments in law and more importantly it was one of the few crimes for which a priest or monk could be put to death, and this is an important when we try to understand why Henry VIII put this law in place. 

Initially this act was for one year. It was reintroduced for another year twice before becoming a permanent law in 1541. However there are only a handful of instances on record of anyone being charged under this act during the next 100 years. 

The first man executed for buggery (and the only execution in Tudor times) was Walter Hungerford, who ironically was executed in 1540 on the same day as his patron Thomas Cromwell, the architect of the act.  Like Cromwell he was charged with treason and heresy suspected of sympathising with the Pilgrimage of Grace who opposed the break with the Catholic Church. The buggery charge was added, probably to enable the state to seize his assets as he had been three times married and had three children.

Nicholas Udall, cleric and headmaster of Eton College, was charged under the Buggery Act in 1541 for sexually abusing pupils in his charge which he admitted.  However with the aid of members of Thomas Cromwell’s household, his sentence was commuted to imprisonment and he only served one year.  He did not return to Eton, however he did return to teaching in 1554 as headmaster of Westminster School.

So if there is no evidence of a serious social or political issue with buggery before this act and few people charged after it was enacted, it begs the question WHY was it enacted in the first place?

The clue to that is in the date.  In 1533 Henry VIII had a problem. For a number of years Henry had been trying to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled on the grounds that she had consummated her previous marriage to Henry’s older brother Arthur before he died.  Catherine denied this and partly because her nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was able to exert considerable influence on the Pope, all Henry’s petitions had failed.   

Catherine had been barred from court and Henry had secretly married Anne Boleyn who was now pregnant with his child although in the eyes of the Catholic Church, Henry was still married to Catherine.  If the child was born out of wedlock it would be barred from succession. The solution was to separate the Church of England from Rome with Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church. Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth in September 1533.

So what did the Buggery Act have to do with this? 

The separation from Rome was not unopposed and Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell was tasked with bringing about the Reformation and Dissolution of the Monasteries .  He set about introducing a ruthless programme of legislation to establish Henry’s supremacy over the Pope in religious matters. The primary opposition to this came from the monasteries.  In all the Catholic Church was very powerful, owning around a third of Britain. Furthermore clerics were almost immune from prosecution. 

Two hundred years previously Philip V of France had used sodomy laws in France to torture and execute the Knights Templar and confiscate all their assets.  With Cromwell’s programme of legislation including the Buggery Act, Henry was able suppress opposition from those who did not accept him as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.  The Buggery Act in particular gave him power to execute any cleric who confessed to buggery and to seize their assets.  There are no official records of the use of the Buggery Act against clerics, but there is evidence that Cromwell investigated religious orders and found evidence of sexual impropriety which would have provided sufficient grounds to “extract confessions”.  Many monks were executed at this time.  

So it will not be of any surprise to discover that in 1553 when Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon ascended to the throne she immediately repealed the Buggery Act and began the process of crushing the protestant church,  gaining the popular title of Bloody Mary in the process.  However despite numerous attempts she failed to produce an heir to the throne and on her death in 1558 Elizabeth 1 became queen.
The daughter of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth had been raised a protestant.  She set about re-establishing the Church of England as separate from the Church of Rome and in 1563 reinstated the Buggery Act which then remained in force until 1828 when it was replaced by the Offenses Against the Person Act but the crime of buggery or sodomy remained a capital offense until the passing of the Offenses Against the Person Act 1861.  It be another hundred years before homosexuality was partially decriminalised  

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century however the number of prosecutions substantially increased and lesser offenses of attempted buggery were introduced with severe penalties including imprisonment and time in the pillory which I will explore in separate article.

The Buggery Act 1533 was not just significant in the UK. This period marked the start of the British Legal System as we know it and that legal system was the foundation for future legal systems in all the commonwealth counties in Africa, Asia Australia and North America. So to a large extent we have Henry VIII to blame for persecution of LGBT people throughout the world. 


Thursday, February 06, 2014

Russian Homophobia - Far worse than we imagined

As a slight deviation from my LGBT History Month Project I had to write about the situation in Russia today.

Last night I watched the Channel 4 documentary Hunted.  I say watched - I actually had to switch off eventually because I found the programme too disturbing. The programme is available on catch up on 4OD but be warned this is a very disturbing documentary as you will see from this short trailer.


   
If you have not heard about Hunted, it shows how, as a result of Russia's anti gay laws, gangs of vigilantes are now hunting gay men and subjecting them to humiliation, beatings and torture sometimes resulting severe injury or death. The police provide little or no protection to LGBT people and often add to the harassment. 
The vigilante group shown in the programme is a chapter of 'Occupy Paedophilia' who claim to be targeting paedophiles, yet all their targets are gay men.  Their strategy, called "a safari", is to connect online in gay chat room and dating sites and encourage a gay man to meet them at an apartment.  There the group waits to trap them. torture and humiliate them, and post a video of the event on the internet to "destroy their lives". This is exactly what happened in the documentary and I have to wonder what might have happened to the victim if the incident were not being filmed by journalists. 

Why would they let a journalist film them?  Simple - they have no fear of any repercussions for their acts. They do not try to hide their identities and vigilantes routinely get off even violent attacks with a caution. And it is easy to see why.  Most Russian citizens interviewed think that what they are doing is good and openly a tiny proportion admit to even knowing someone who is gay.  

Then I read an article in Pink News today  headlined  "Russian deputy Prime Minister: Gay athletes should ‘leave the kids alone’  The official line in Russia clearly is that all gay people are paedophiles. Russian President Vladamir Putin had made a similar comment a few weeks ago in arguing that gay athletes at the winter Olympics will be safe.  If I was a gay Olympic athlete, after watching last nights programme, I would be very concerned for my safety.
There is very clear evidence from research connecting homophobia with suppressed homosexuality. Religious organisations have for centuries been at the forefront of anti gay propaganda whilst refusing to address the huge issues of priests sexually abusing young boys.  The Russian Orthodox priest interviewed on Hunted was alarming in his views and I for one would not want to see children anywhere near him.

I know from conversations with counselors dealing with sexual abuse issues that most paedophiles are heterosexual men, often step parents or other members of their victim's family. Most homophobic men on Hunted last night seemed to want to engage in ritual abuse of their victims which, as we saw, often had an uncomfortably sexual slant.

If the Russian leadership continues to promote the view that all gay men are paedophiles it is hardly surprising that the people in Russia are becoming increasingly homophobic. The same messages are being promoted in Africa often heavily supported by American homophobic church missionaries. 
What is happening in Russia is not just a Russian problem. The recent debates in the Common and Lords around the Equal Marriage Bill highlighted that these extreme views still exist especially within religious organisations who managed to negotiate an opt out from the provisions of the Act. The Church of England is prevented by law from officiating in a same sex marriage, even if a particular vicar wanted to perform the ceremony.  
I think that it is time to get serious about exposing this hypocrisy and increasingly bring to public attention the abusive nature of these extreme religious and political fanatics. They seem to be targeting the gay community to hide the fact that often it is they themselves who are the worst paedophiles because they hide behind the cover or high profile respectability - just as Jimmy Saville  managed to do for decades.

Update
I have just come across this short video that shows graphically the kind of problems that are happening to gay people in Russia and wanted to share with you - it is disturbing but shows how fascist propaganda can move people. 88 % of Russians apparently support the change in law and it seems that this is because they have been convinced that Gay people can make their children gay with propaganda.  

  


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Homocaust – Nazi Persecution of LGBT People

Following on from my post yesterday, it seems that not all of Magnus Hirschfeld’s records were destroyed. The Nazi obsession with purity of the Aryan race fueled a obsession with the eradication of homosexuality. The fact that Hirschfeld was both a Jew and gay made him and his Institute for Sexual Science a prime target.

Before the rise of the Nazis, LGBT life in German was thriving and Berlin in particular was probably the most liberal city in Europe with a growing number of support organisations, bars, cafes, publications and cultural events taking place.

Paragraph 175 of the German Penal code, which criminalised homosexual acts, was being less rigorously applied and the lobbying work of Hirschfeld’s Scientific Humanitarian Committee was successfully gaining support in government for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. 



All those gains were abruptly halted when Hitler became chancellor.  On May 6th 1933 the Institute for Sexual Science was looted and closed.  Paragraph 175 was toughened and courts were encouraged to apply severe penalties.

Over the course of the next 12 years thousands of LGBT people fled from Germany including Hirschfeld himself. More than 100,000 gay men and trans women were arrested for the crime of homosexuality.  At least 50,000 received jail sentences, many in severe conditions. And estimated 15,000 were sent to concentration camps where they were required to wear a pink triangle to mark them as homosexual. 



There they were subjected to extensive medical experimentation and many were castrated or drugged and subjected to electric shock treatments ina search for a cure for homosexuality. Gay men were seen as disposable subjects for wide ranging medical experiments. In one camp SS troops used the pink triangle worn on their shirts as a target for shooting practice.

Near the end of the war, Hitler’s need for troops was so great that many of the surviving gay men were released into the army where they were mostly sent to the Russian front in Siberia.  There the conditions were very difficult and survival rates were even lower than in the prison and concentration camps.

In 1945 when liberation came, less than 4000 gay men and trans women had survived, but there was to be no reprieve. Homosexuality was illegal in both the UK and USA and the Allies and the new West German state made no efforts to change the Nazi anti-gay laws which remained on the statute books until 1968.  Many of the gay survivors were re-imprisoned to complete their sentences, they were shunned by families for shaming them, and were never acknowledged as victims of the holocaust so neither they nor their families were entitled to the compensation other victims were granted. 



It was not until 2002 that the German Government apologised for the crimes of the Nazis against LGBT People and erected a memorial in 2008. In the past decade have these victims have begun to be properly recognised.  You can find more information about the shameful way Gay and Trans people were treated by both the Nazis and the Allies at the HOMOCAUST site where I read this
In the 1945 Nuremberg war crime trials that followed the liberation no mention was ever made of crimes against homosexuals. No SS official was ever tried for specific atrocities against pink triangle prisoners. Many of the known SS Doctors, who had performed operations on homosexuals, were never brought to account for their actions. One of the most notorious SS doctors was Carl Peter Vaernet who performed numerous experiments on pink triangle inmates at the Buchenwald and Neuengamme camps. He was never tried for his crimes and escaped to South America where he died a free man in 1965.

Today the Pink Triangle, originally intended as a badge of shame has been reclaimed as an international symbol of Gay Pride and the Gay Rights Movement, a movement that owes a great deal to a Gay Jewish doctor, Magnus Hirschfeld.

January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day – this year 2014 being the 69th anniversary of the liberation and this year Tel Aviv joins Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney and San Francisco in publicly recognising Gay victims of the holocaust.




Monday, February 03, 2014

Magnus Hirschfeld - The First Pioneer of LGBT Rights


The importance of the work of Magnus Hirschfeld is only just coming into general public awareness, mostly because his work was ruthlessly silenced by the rise of the Nazi's in Germany in the 1930's. The more I look at his life, the more impressed I become with this brave and influential man.   

Born on 14th May 1868 to a prominent Jewish family in the German coastal town of Kolberg, now Kolobrzeg Poland, Hirschfeld studied medicine at various universities in Germany before travelling in the USA. In 1896 he moved to Berlin to study sex and sexuality and became an active and prominent Gay Rights campaigner.

He was an openly gay man and active member of Berlin’s gay community where he was known as “Aunt Magnesia.”  Homosexuality had been illegal in German since the 1871 under paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code and this had led to gay men leading double lives to keep their sexuality secret.  Inspired by the death of a gay patient who was unable to cope with this double life, Hirschfeld wrote his first publication in 1896, a pamphlet entitled Sappho and Socrates, on homosexual love arguing that homosexuality was a natural variation of human sexuality and should be decriminalised. 


The following year, on his 31st birthday, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, WhK) with the primary aims of lobbying for the repeal of paragraph 175 and campaigning for social recognition of all LGBT men and women (although not then called LGBT). This was the world’s first Gay Rights campaigning organisation.

According to the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation, “Between 1899 and 1923, Hirschfeld and his staff compiled a 20,000-page anthology. The “Yearbooks For Sexual Intermediaries” were intended to show that between the “full man” and the “full woman” there are an infinite number of gradations and combinations. Hermaphrodites, transvestites, homosexuals are the necessary natural link between the two poles of man and woman. The homosexual is a kind of “third sex”. He founded the “Institute for Sexual Research” in 1919 in order to provide a solid framework for this research.    

That same year, Hirschfeld appeared in a 50 minute silent film about Homosexuality, – the first ever film to openly address the topic. The film “Different from the Others” was banned in 1920 and most copies were destroyed by Nazis in the 1930’s so only fragments remain but enough to understand just how ground breaking the film was.  In the short clip below Hirschfeld plays himself as a sexologist consulted by a gay client. 





Hirschfeld first came to my attention because of his work with Transsexualism which led to me featuring him in my Transgender Awareness Training Workshops. It was he who first coined the term Transvestite in 1910, and later Transsexual, although this latter term was not popular until the 1950's. Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science (Institut füer Sexualwissenschaft) was the world’s first gender identity clinic and his staff performed the first known transsexual surgeries, the most famous of whom was Danish born Einer Wegener who became Lili Elbe. You can find more about this in the article on my Gender Network site.

Unfortunately in the early 1930s the political climate in Germany was dramatically changing with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, and Magnus Hirschfeld and his Institute for Sexual Science was becoming a primary target.  Hirschfeld activities as a gay rights campaigner had made him vulnerable to homophobic behaviour of the far right and he was violently attacked a number of times.  Hitler himself had described Hirschfeld as “the most dangerous Jew in Germany”  


When in May 1933 Police, German students and Hitler Youth began burning un German books, it was Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science that was the first target on 6th May, 4 days before the main book burning event on 10th May.  The image here, which is well known, is believed to be the burning of Hirschfeld’s Library and research, and in the middle of the fire the bust of Hirschfeld himself.

Hirschfeld himself was no longer in Germany at this time.  He had left in 1931 on a global speaking tour and never returned to Germany, He did return to Europe in 1932 and eventually settled in exile in France, first in Paris and later the Nice where he died on his 67th birthday on May 14th 1935 of a heart attack.


I will be writing later this month about both Lili Elbe and The Nazi persecution of LGBT people so don't forget to share this post with your friends and sign up to receive the posts in your email - see the sign up box at the top of the right hand column.  You can easily cancel your registration at anytime. 


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Share My Passion for LGBT History


Well here we are once again at the start of LGBT History Month and this year I plan to write a blog post for every day of the month following my introduction to the topic at the beginning of January.  

 I will also be updating my web site at GenderNetwork.com with mostly extended articles on LGBT History and I am inviting everyone to come and join in



http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/



The objectives of this project are: 

To Share My Passion for LGBT History 

Anyone who has attended my Transgender Awareness Workshops will know that I like to include some history in the workshops. Some of that history is recorded in the history books, especially the more recent history – but some we have to really search for. Because LGBT people have been so persecuted in the past, the writers of history have often written us out of it, or have played down the role of LGBT people.  Sometimes the history books have even lied to conceal the truth.

Some of what I write about will be controversial – for example:      

  • Why did Henry VIII make buggery a capital offence?  Very few people seem to have been hanged for the offence in the sixteenth century or seventeenth centuries but the Buggery Act of 1533 was passed just before the start of the dissolution of the monasteries.  Was there a connection?   
  • 120 of William Shakespeare’s sonnets were dedicated to a Mr W H.  Who was this mysterious man? There are many theories about Shakespeare being gay but sonnet number 20 suggests that this may have been a man who dressed and looked like a woman.  Was Shakespeare in love with a trans woman?
  • In the Bible, Deuteronomy Chapter 22 verse 5 says “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the LORD thy God”.  Yet when this was written men and women largely wore the same clothes anyway.  In 1611 however, James I encouraged the bishops to preach against the evils of women dressing as men. Was this verse translated to support a then current political position favoured by James I. who was to authorise the version of the Bible still used today?
These are just a few of the issues I will be addressing this month.  Please feel free to comment on posts. I will be happy to publish opposing views provided they maintain my general policy of treating everyone with dignity and respect.

To Build a Library of LGBT History Stories

History is not just about official stories from the history books. History is a living process.  Do you remember what life was like for LGBT people in the past?  I remember attending the first Ziggy Stardust Concert at the Finsbury Park Rainbow theatre on 19th August 1973.  Even Elton John thought David bowie had “blown it” that night. Few music stars were out and many thought that the public would desert them if they did come out.  I just wish I had had the courage that night to come out myself – but that would take another 25 years. However I never forgot the night and I have written an article about it to encourage anyone reading my blog or web site to add your stories. Lets create a living history of LGBT people.  Tell us about –

  • Your coming out story
  • Early Gay Pride events you have helped to organise
  • Support Organisations or Gay venues you remember or helped to create
  • Discrimination, Harassment or Victimisation you have experienced. 
  • Stories about LGBT personalities 
  • Anything else that helps to create a living LGBT History 
To contribute to Raising Awareness of LGBT Issues

I deliver Transgender Awareness Training and general Sex, Gender and Equality Training because I believe that this is the only way to bring about equality. It does not matter how many laws we change, unless we can change people’s attitudes, LGBT people will continue to be discriminated against; will continue to be victims of hate crime; will continue to self harm and attempt suicide at a rate that is over 70 time higher than the nation average. 


Teaching children about the role of LGBT people in history is an important way to tackle prejudice at an early age.  LGBT History, like Women’s History and Black History, is an essential elements of a well rounded education.


To Encourage You To Participate In LGBT History Month


What can you do to participate in LGBT History Month?  Well lots really.


First – enter your email address and subscribe to this blog at the top of the column on the right.  You can cancel your subscription whenever you like but in the meantime you will be able to read 28 fascinating articles and hopefully will have a different perspective on all LGBT people by the time we reach March


Secondly you can sponsor or participate in a host of LGBT History Month Projects,  Visit the LGBT History Month web site to find out what is happening near you. 


Thirdly, please contribute your LGBT History stories to my web site 

Finally if you are running any LGBT History Month or Equality events this month or in the future, Why now consider inviting me Rikki Arundel, to speak at your events or to run a Transgender Awareness Training Workshop.



Share this Post