Sunday, 27 November 2011

Harvey Milk (1930-1978)

On this day, 33 years ago, Harvey Milk was assassinated by Dan White. Harvey was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US.

For more information:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Tale of Edward Hewitson

From The Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York

Edward Hewitson of Over Poppleton, near York, appeared in the court of the Dean and Chapter of York Minster in the last months of 1516. This was an office case (that is, the accused was prosecuted by the court, rather than by an individual).
The court records do not give details of his crime; however, some of the papers for his individual case survive. These, although damaged, make it clear that he was accused of repeatedly committing the ‘detestable sodomitical sin against human nature’ with other men for a period of 14 years.
The surviving records give details of the accusations made against him with notes of his responses to these statements. Although he began by denying all the charges, he did confess that he had in the past admitted committing this ‘sin’ and had performed public penance for it. This meant that he had to walk in procession around the church at Over Poppleton and the church of St Mary Bishophill in York, dressed in a sheet. This would have taken place during the weekly church service so many people would have seen him and known he was performing penance.
The accusations were backed by the accounts of witnesses, which would have been read after the accusations were made. They were encouraged to give an account of any relevant information, which was copied down. In the 14th and 15th centuries, these accounts would have been translated into Latin for presentation in court. By the 16th century when this case was heard more written accounts were being produced in English. In this case the accounts waver between the two languages, with a few words in Latin followed by some in English. These witness accounts are badly damaged, breaking up the narrative, but it is still possible to get a sense of these men’s stories.
The were five witnesses: Ralph Falowfeld, Francis Mane, Robert Hay, George Browne and Robert Carrok. There is a note that the first three witnesses appeared on 15 January and the final two on 16 January – the year is missing but must have been 1517 from other evidence.
It is not known how this case was resolved: the court book shows that it continued in the court for several months but we have no record of a sentence given.
The Church Courts could provide very little in the way of punishment and the strongest sentence which it could have passed would have been one of excommunication. This would have involved refusing Edward Hewitson the right to enter a church, and perhaps isolating him in his village so that he was not spoken to by his neighbours. If Edward repented and performed a penance these bans would have been lifted.
Edward was fortunate: from 1533 sodomy became a crime which could be tried by the secular courts and those convicted were hanged.

See also:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Alan Turing - Drama documentary on Channel 4

Whilst flipping through my copy of the Radio Times to discover what televisual treats await us next week, I discovered that Channel 4 are screening "Britain's Greatest Codebreaker" on Monday 21st November at 9.00pm.

According to the text, this drama documentary "recounts the brilliant and ultimately tragic life of one of the 20th century's great minds".

For a bit more background:

International Trans Day of Remembrance 2011 - London

 (I got this via a friend from

An event to mark International Trans Day of Remembrance 2011
Location:  The 52 Club, Basement, 52 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EB
Date: Sunday 20th November · 4:30pm - 6:30pm, followed by refreshments in 52 Club bar until 9.00pm

The International Trans Day of Remembrance is an opportunity for trans people, their friends, families and allies to come together in a safe space to reflect on those who have lost their lives through violence or suicide because they are trans. It is a time to remember, mourn and celebrate them and to tell their stories so they are not forgotten.

Commemoration through readings, poetry and music
You don’t have to bring or do anything but, as in previous years, we would very much like people to contribute and participate if they wish. If you would like to take part, please bring short stories, readings or poetry and speak to the organisers beforehand – if you prefer not to read yourself, we can find someone else to read the text for you.

The venue is accessible via lift at street level.

Johannes or Eleanor?

John Rykener, known also as Johannes Richer and Eleanor, was a 14th century transvestite prostitute working mainly in London (near Cheapside), but also active in Oxford. In 1395, he was arrested for cross-dressing and interrogated. The records have survived, the only surviving legal records from that age which mention same-sex intercourse.

During his interrogation, Rykener claimed to have had many clients including priests, monks and nuns; he said that he preferred priests because they paid better than others. He mentioned a Franciscan friar, who had given him a gold ring, a Carmelite friar and six foreigners, "of whom one gave Rykener twelve pence, one twenty pence, and one two shillings".

This link has a record of his trial - plus an image of the original record!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Fictional Obscenities

In November 2010, Dr Louise Chambers, a founder member of the LGBT History Project, gave a lecture on the regulation of 'obscenity' in relation to the banning of novels whose narratives featured same sex relations between women in the early 20th century.

A podcast of the lecture is available on the National Archives website at:

Note that the lecture features mature themes and some explicit references.

Research Day - November 2011

Yesterday was not so much a research day as a 'sort things out' day.

We spent a lot of our time discussing the content of format of the 2012 edition of our annual magazine, Past2Present.

The magazine looks promising - we think, anyway.There'll be a number of longer articles on various historical subjects, including sport-related ones, plus some short pieces on more recent events.

The magazine will be published online in time for LGBT History Month in February next year. Watch this space...

(You can download the 2011 edition of Past2Present is available for download from:

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Tu Er Shen

Tu Er Shen was originally a man called Hu Tianbao, who fell in love with a very handsome imperial inspector of Fujian Province. One day Hu Tianbao was caught peeping at the inspector through a bathroom wall, at which point he confessed his affections for the other man. The imperial inspector had Hu Tianbao sentenced to death by beating. One month after his death, Hu Tianbao is said to have appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream. He told him that, since his crime was one of love, the underworld officials had decided to correct the injustice by making him the god and safeguarder of homosexual affections. After his dream, the man built a shrine to Hu Tianbao, which became very popular in Fujian province, so much so that in late Qing times, the cult of Hu Tianbao was targeted for extermination by the Qing government.

A slang term for homosexuals in late imperial China was tuzi (rabbits), which is why Hu Tianbao is referred to as the rabbit deity, though in actual fact he has nothing to do with rabbits and (obviously) should not be confused with tuer ye, the rabbit on the moon.

Source - Wikipedia, among others