The month of February is a month of many markers. Mostly obviously there is the schmaltz fest that is Valentine’s Day, aka “The Day When the World Rose Economy Doubles”, and February is also notable for very few people knowing how long it is going to be this year…
It is however, also, one of those ‘history’ months. There is an argument, that history months dedicated to one group serve only to differentiate them from general history. Morgan Freeman is well known for his dislike of Black History Month, arguing that the history of black people in America is American History. It’s an argument we have definite sympathy for, but what is also true is that history is subject to political editing. The social mores of any age dictate to some extent what makes it into the books, and the tales of those that do not reflect the powers that be political, religious or otherwise can get shoved under a carpet. So while the mighty Mr Freeman’s argument is right, the history of one group is everyone’s history, this post is going to highlight some individuals relevant to February’s History month. UK LGBT History month. For those not familiar with the acronym it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans/sexual/gender. In many ways not necessarily a group immediately associated with warfare and power…but don’t let the shorthand comedy gay man fool you. Redecorating, restyling and declaring “oh darling” a lot was not the interest of these people…
Appropriately today also marks the anniversary of Edward II’s son, Edward III (imaginative namers aren’t they, the royals) being crowned king. After his father was killed. Popular history, gossip from tour guides at Nottingham Castle, and schoolboy amusement tell us that poor old Edward II was murdered with a hot poker up the bum. However, there seems to be little evidence for his wife Isabella, and her lover Roger Mortimer, having taken this option. Indeed some historians have even speculated that he was not murdered, but in fact ran into hiding. The popular bum tale is perhaps a reflection of the general opinion, and prurient amusement at Edward’s probable homosexuality or bisexuality. His father Edward I certainly sought to separate him from Piers Gaveston. Whilst his wife Isabella had issues with his relationship with Hugh Despenser the younger, a man whom chronicler Jean Foissart described as a sodomite. The relationship with Gaveston though is, at least partly, responsible for his war with the Barons. Percieving Gaveston to be a threat to any potential power that they themselves might gain. Gaveston himself was captured by the Barons, and despite the best attempts of Edward to save Piers the Barons seemingly took some delight in killing Gaveston. Since they both stabbed and beheaded him.
The barons attempted to respond similarly when the king gave a title to his new favourite Hugh Despenser, however, this backfired on them considerably. Not only did the Earl of Lancaster lose his head (the moral here folks is don’t behead the boyfriend of a man who can have you beheaded), but the barons generally lost most of their rights; with Edward II gaining a significant amount of power, and parliament and prelates losing theirs.
Edward II, and the death of Piers Gaveston
Antinoüs and Hadrian
He built a wall, and his wandered around with some elephants. One of those two things is generally what most people would think of when Roman Emperor Hadrian is mentioned. He was however regarded as one of the Five Good Emperors (which says much for the rest of them) for many reasons. Not only was he a patron of the arts, a man who made beards trendy, and parliamentary innovator, but he was a significant military administrator. Though conflicts were few in his reign, he managed to cause a revolt in Judaea by banning circumcision, and rededicating temples. Three years of fighting and 580,000 dead Jews saw a Roman victory. And even once the siege had fallen Hadran made the opposition wait for six days before they were allowed to bury their dead. Hadrian was apparently also a dab hand at one to one combat, having dedicated a whole town to a bear he killed, and Egyptian records telling of he and his beloved Antinoüs killing a lion. In October of 130 Antinoüs drowned in the Nile, possibly an accident, but equally possibly that he had sacrificed himself. However he came to die, Hadrian was devestated. His grief and weeping is well recorded and he set about commemorating his love with coins, statues and obelisks.
Hadrian and Antinoüs
Alexander the Great, Hephaestion and the Sacred Band of Thebes
Alexander is well known as one of the greatest generals of all time. Inspiring to countless military leaders, of both humans and small plastic men, Alexander’s victories are well known. And unusually his relationship with Hephaestion has not been whitewashed as often as in the case of others. What is less well known about is the Thebean troop The Scared Band of Thebes, which despite their feintly amusing name, should not be confused with a dance troop. This troop of 300 men comprised exclusively of couples. The theory being that the way to make a man fight really viciously is to put the man he loves in danger. Which as a theory worked fairly well. Until they met Alexander and his dad Philip II of Macedon in the Battle of Chaeronea, in which they all stood their ground. And then died on their ground. Though their memory lives on in the Caledonian Thebans Rugby Football Club, a gay ruby team based in Edinburgh.
Alexander and Hephaestion
Jutta Rüdiger and Ernst Roehm
More recently, and though not fully confirmed, one of the most anti-homosexual organisations Germany’s National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazi-ism had amongst its leadership several rumoured gay people. Ernst Roehm, the founder of National Socialism was, according to several contemporaries, as chronicled by Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, a well known member of Germany’s gay movement. Weimar Germany, as well documented by Christopher Isherwood, was probably one of the better places to be in Europe if you were young, gay and single. The first openly gay political figure, Karl Ulrichs, was German and his coming out in the late nineteenth century set the scene for a gay friendly atmosphere. However, his feminised model of homosexuality was not well accepted in the parts of the gay community who saw themselves as the ultimate manly men. From this latter community came Roehm, and the Sturmabteilung (SA) troop model. Strong, manly and beautiful was their model.
Years after Roehm had been replaced by Hitler, and the population was obliged to join the party at some level, came Dr Rüdiger and the League of German Girls. The Bund Deutscher Mädel was the girls’ own version of that creepiest of organisations, the Hitler youth (watch Cabaret if you can’t imagine how creepy). Filled with athletic blonde German maidens, the BDM, taught them how to work the land, how to be good wives, how to promote the joys of Nazi-ism, and how to shoot. In self defence of course. Psychologist Jutta Rüdiger took over the BDM after the previous incumbent married. The rules of this single girls’ organisation were that they should vacate positions preferably upon marriage, but most definately upon breeding. There was apparently little risk of Dr Rüdiger similarly abandoning her post as she lived life long with Hedy Böhmer.
Jutta Rüdiger (source André Huesken on wikipedia)
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
One of the most controversial policies in recent American history is the military policy that existed from the Second World War (bar a brief respite during the Vietnam War when so many soldiers were being hospitalised or killed that the government temporarily allowed gay people to hold guns too) , of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Though many countries have repealed anti-homosexuality rules regarding the armed forces, the bizarre American ruling on this has been one of the most talked about. The law did not explicitly ban gay personnel from serving if they did not reveal their sexual orientation. However, once the military had “credible evidence” that the person had been partaking in homosexual acts then they would have to discharge them.
An information leaflet from the US Army
Several victims of the policy have since been reinstated to the military, such as Iraq war veteran Dan Choi, have joined government thanks to their activism against the policy (Margarethe Cammermeyer), or are in the process of suing the government such as staff-sergeant Richard Collins. However, more sobering is the case of Private Barry Winchell. The 21 year old soldier was dating a transgender dancer, which was met with an unfriendly response from many of his barrack mates, one in particular took against Winchell’s taste in dating quite severely and beat him to death with a baseball bat.
Private First Class Barry Winchell
So whilst history months can in some ways as be divisive as the great Mr Freeman suggests, they’re also a useful way to remind us that all kinds of people people have contributed to history, to the development of nations and to all sides of wars.