ON THIS QUEER DAY – MAY 2022

The Days of the Month in LGBTGQ History

By Adriaan van den Berg

Russia is in the news, so I want to tell you about something that happened to me. A Russian artist contacted me and asked me to please remove his art from one of my Instagram accounts where I post pics of great classic statues of men and homoerotic or “gay art” (the Bio says it is dedicated to such art). He said his request was motivated by the “hell we are living in presently in Russia where homosexuals are targeted by state agents, extremists and far rightists” and he said he was fearful for his safety to the extent that he had tried to have his art removed all over online. He said he lived in a provincial town “not far from Chechnya where homosexuals are hunted.”

   I was not unsympathetic with Russia complaining of feeling threatened by NATO, but I quickly lost what sympathy I had for Russia when Putin invaded Ukraine and started mercilessly carpet bombing and terrorizing the civilian population in Ukrainian cities and villages just like they had done in Chechnya before Putin had made one of his lackeys President of Chechnya, (the butcher who is responsible for the hunting of gay people in that country that the Russian artist spoke of) – yes, we have seen this before, very few people seem to realize. But the Russian artist pointed out another aspect that is deplorable about Putin’s regime: rampant homophobia – and murder of LGBTGQ activists like Yelena Grigoryeva whose name appeared on a website that offered prizes for attacking gays. Putin is making much of “Nazis in Ukraine” whereby he justifies attacking that country, but Putin’s own extremist supporters act with impunity and cruelty towards LGBTGQ people in Russia while his crony, the President of Chechnya, does the same, they are all marching very much in step with Nazism’s homophobia themselves. If the West calls for regime change in Russia, it may be for reasons unrelated to our cause, but we as LGBTGQ people should call upon the Russian people to vote for parties sympathetic to the rights of Russia’s LGBTGQ people. The Russian artists was not exaggerating. I removed his art, but I have told him I want to check in on him from time to time, to see how he was doing since I feel I might have endangered him and I now personally feel some sense of responsibility towards him. There is little I can do to help him, except one thing: sharing this story with you and asking you to support calls for change in Russia. If it doesn’t entail regime change, it should call for and exert pressure for a more humane and kindlier Putin regime which respects LGBTGQ rights in its country. I ask you to think of the Russian artist, remember that our struggle is far from over and I ask of you to remember that in some places LGBTGQ people still face terrible persecution. And our South African government will do well by our recent record of concern for human rights in this country if it raises the issues of LGBTGQ rights in Russia when in contact with government officials from that country and express our LGBTGQ people in South Africa’s concern for our equals and fellow LGBTGQ people and their treatment in Russia and Chechnya. 

   And with that, as ever, I offer you inspiration in the form of the trials and tribulations, the victories and defeats of LGBTGQ people from our history, offering you something for every day of the month of May from LGBTGQ history – and I have specifically included references to LGBTGQ-related people, events and issues in Russia. Don’t forget there is also an Interfaith Calendar with every religious feast day  and day of commemoration for all the major religions for the month of May at the end of this contribution. 

The Month of May in LGBTGQ History

May 1stToday is Worker’s Day in South Africa, an official national public holiday celebrating the role of the worker in society and the economy and the role the Communist Party, trade unions and other labour movements had played in liberating South Africa from Apartheid. We hail the LGBTGQ workers of this country and salute you for your role in our country and society’s welfare and wellbeing, for your role in our economy and for your contribution to building the future.  And on this day, Exit remembers another great LGBTGQ-oriented publication, Christopher Street, a magazine now sadly defunct but published in New York from the 1st of May 1976 till December, 1995. It was widely read, covered culture and politics and was known for serious discussion of issues in the gay community and for its satirical send-up of anti-gay criticism.   

May 2ndIn keeping with yesterday’s salute of another great LGBTGQ publication, Christopher Street which was first published in the USA on the 1st of May, 1976, we hereby salute another LGBTGQ publication that made its debut on the 2nd of May, 1994, The Metro Weekly of Washington, USA. We should be thankful for our LGBTGQ publications, they often face difficulties not experienced by other publications and they offer a very valuable service of connecting you with the larger LGBTGQ community, they conduct debate and offer information other publications don’t, they are often the voice for “invisible” LGBTGQ people namely those of us who may still be marginalised in our local communities and who suffer discrimination despite our country’s constitution and laws which protect LGBTGQ rights. But LGBTGQ publications like Exit are also your voice, the voice of the LGBTGQ community and nation at large as well as of every individual who belongs to it. Keep on supporting Exit and talk about it with your friends.

May 3rdCanada, and on this day in 1978, the Coalition for Gay Rights in Ontario distributed the report titled Discrimination and the Gay Minority to members of the Ontario Legislature, it was a report aimed at fostering gay awareness and to bring the plight of gay people to the attention of legislators so as to garner their support for inclusion of sexual orientation and gay rights in a human rights code which already enjoyed support of Liberal leader Stuart Smith.

May 4thThe President of El Salvador issued a decree on this day in 2010 banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

May 5thTheir names might be tongue twisters, but the first gay couple in recorded history, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum’s burial chamber at the famous site of Saqqara in Egypt was discovered on this day in 1964 – they were buried together and a depiction showing them embracing and kissing was also found and has subsequently become famous. 

May 6thOn this day in 1868 in Germany, someone used the term “homosexual” for the first time: It was Karl-Maria Kertbeny who used it in his letter to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and he derived it from the Greek homos (“the same’) and the Latin root sexualis. He also coined the term “heterosexual” and both terms were used by him for classification of sexual types and he also used “homosexual” specifically to replace the terms “sodomite” and “pederast” that were used pejoratively in the German and French-speaking world at the time.

May 7thA fifteen year-old called Giovanni de Giovanni was castrated and killed on this day in 1365 for having sex with other men in the 14th century campaign against sodomy in Florence, Italy. This also is the birthday of Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893) who was born in Votinsk and whose music belongs amongst the most popular in the classical repertoire. Tchaikovsky has been the subject of much debate around his sexuality and there have been efforts to whitewash his sexuality and to portray him as heterosexual. Violinist Iosif Iosifovich Kopek (6 October 1855 – 4 January 1885) was most likely Tchaikovsky’s lover. And on the same day in 1986, a former deputy Soviet health minister told readers of a popular newspaper, Literaturnaya Gazeta that Aids was not a concern in the USSR since homosexuality and drug use were outlawed.

May 8th– Today is the birthday of someone whom I regard as a contentious character whom I personally can’t honour and whose art I have no regard for, yet who is an icon to many gay men and whose work is some of the most recognizable and celebrated of twentieth century gay art: Tom of Finland, or Touko Laaksonen, born on the 8th of May 1920 (and died on the 7th of November 1991). So let me state my beef with Tom of Finland: I don’t deny that many gay men have salivated over his drawings and found it titillating, that Tom’s work was indeed treasured by many, but my problem is that Tom was a Nazi sympathiser who may have later renounced his Nazi sympathies, but who in my eyes then proceeded to pour his fascist sympathies and Nazi affinities into his art by drawing characters dressed in leather uniforms and bondage getup reflecting and reminiscent of that of SS officers and those of the Nazis. This was never acknowledged as such and consequently Tom of Finland’s work became assimilated and came to enjoy regard within gay culture during the 1950s, 60s and 70s and is still being lauded and praised with, for example, Finland issuing stamps featuring his work. Besides the fascist overtones of his figures, I have another point of criticism regarding Tom that I’d like to raise, and I do expect and acknowledge that there are people who disagree with me on all my points of criticism, but I also think Tom’s art is essentially shit: he has no idea of human anatomy and draws these dinosaur beefcakes whose outstanding feature is, besides their bondage gear and pseudo-SS uniforms, their oversized dicks which Tom make obvious, emphasizes and exaggerates. I am convinced that a negative culture which celebrates large penis sizes is prevalent amongst us and that it suggests inferiority by men who have normal and smaller sized male members. We won’t approve of let art pass which creates a poor self-image amongst women and which might result in and promote anorexia amongst them, yet the glorification of large penises is tolerated in spite of the inferences of inferiority and probable poor self-image promoted by it amongst men with normal and smaller sized penises. I am not going to expound upon the falsehood of the myth that larger sizes of the membrum virile are something we have to be grateful for in our lovers, except to say  that I’m seemingly amongst too few people not only critical of that myth, but who recognizes its debilitating effect on normal and smaller sized men and who notes its negative impact and destructive potential. And Tom of Finland should also stand accused as a purveyor of the big dick myth with all of it’s debilitating effects.  

May 9th On this day in 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to publicly support the freedom of LGBTGQ couples to marry, doing so in an ABC interview.

May 10thThe day of book burnings in Germany, this day in 1933. Anything that was antifascist, critical of Nazism and contrary to its ideology was burned. And it included literature by LGBTG authors as well as books or publications sympathetic or descriptive of gay, lesbian and bisexual behaviour. Amongst the piles of books burned was the collection of the pioneering Institute of Sex Research. 

May 11thEgypt – where fifty two men were arrested on this day in 2001 when police raided a floating gay nightclub called The Queen Boat on the Nile in Cairo. Fifty of them were charged with “habitual debauchery” and “obscene behaviour” and two were charged with “contempt of religion.” All pleaded innocent. They were vilified in the press who printed their names and addresses and labelled them as enemies of the state. 

May 12th Tragedy due to the conduct of the Nazis seems never-ending. On this day in 1937 Heinz Neddermeyer, the first great lover of author Christopher Isherwood, was expelled from Luxembourg where he had fled after the couple had to vacate Berlin where they had been living together until the Nazis rose to power. Neddermeyer was then arrested by the Gestapo the day after his expulsion and sentenced to three and a half years forced labour and military service. He survived the labour imposed on him and was freed under the condition that he married, which he then did with a woman called Gerda with whom he had a son. 

May 13thAmistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City, the much loved book of gay and other colourful characters set in San Francisco during the 1970s and 80s for which he has been called the “Dickens of San Francisco” was born on this day in 1944. 

May 14thThe third of three LGBTGQ people who committed suicide, Blake Brockington, died on this day in 1996. Brockington was an American transman who had been the first openly transgender homecoming king in North Carolina and had become an activist while studying music education as his major and wanted to become a band director and a composer. He died after being struck by several vehicles on an interstate highway and his death was considered a suicide.  

May 15thGreenland’s first LGBTGQ parade took place and 2% of the population attended on this day in 2010. 

May 16th1981 and Canada’s first lesbian pride parade took place on this day and Hong Kong’s first Gay Pride Parade took place on this day in 2005. 

May 17thToday is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. And on this day, May the 17th in 1606, Tsar Pseudo-Demitrius I who was Czar of Russia from June the 10th 1605, was killed by a mob that stormed the Kremlin and who displayed his mutilated body alongside that of his lover Petr Basmanov. And still in Russia only in modern times, a rainbow flash mob formed in St. Petersburg becoming the largest pro-LGBTGQ demonstration in Russia until then, on this day in 2009. It was attended by 250 people none of whom were arrested.  

May 18thBelgium’s parliament voted in favour of allowing same-sex couples to adopt children on this day in 2006.

May 19thOscar Wilde was released from prison on this day in 1897 after serving a sentence for being convicted of sodomy. He would leave England shortly after and spend the remainder of his days in self-imposed exile in France and Italy.

May 20thUkraine’s first Pride march is cancelled on this day in 2012 after over 500 Neo-Nazi nationalists attack and injured marchers in front of police who did not intervene. 

May 21stSouth Africa, back in 1969! And on the notorious Immorality Amendment Act of 1969 and it’s Section 20A was introduced on this 21st day of May in 1969: Section 20A was the so-called “men at a party” clause which criminalized sexual acts committed by men at social gatherings qualifying as “parties” with a “party” defined as any gathering at which more than two individuals are present. But the Amendment also raised the age of consent for homosexual acts from 16 to 19 years of age – even though “sodomy” and so-called “unnatural acts” were already criminalized. The ranks of the National party who instigated this legislation included a number of alleged homosexuals much like the Nazi party also did.  

May 22ndToday is the birthday of Russian actress Alla Nazimova (May 22nd 1879 till July 13 1945). Nazimova emigrated to the USA where she became known for her open relationships with a number of women (quite a list) and for allegedly hosting extravagant parties in her mansion located just of Sunset Boulevard. Nazimova was said to have been quite an influential figure during the heyday of Hollywood during the era of the silent film. She is credited for introducing the term a “sewing circle” as a code for lesbian actresses. Nazimova is also known for her film productions of Salomé and Camille.   

May 23rdIn 1920, Harvard University, the top Ivy league university in the USA, established a committee to investigate homosexuality on campus – a tribunal that became known as the “Secret Court” which came to light again in 2002 when a researcher from the school’s undergraduate newspaper came across a box of documents labelled “Secret Court” in the university archives. The Secret Court had apparently interviewed many people and only after much vacillating were five hundred documents on the Court released by Harvard which the undergraduate paper eventually released an article about in 2002.

May 24thIn keeping with our focus on Russia’s LGBTGQ history and community this month, our next entry related to that country concerns an unusual admission from the USSR on this day in 1974 of the country’s repression of gays and lesbians when American news services reported that film director Sergei Paradzhanov (b. January 9 1924 till 20 July 1990) had been sentenced to six years hard labour for crimes including “partial homosexuality” and “incitement to suicide.” He was convicted of homosexual acts in 1948 with an MGB officer named Nikolai Mikava in Tbilisi and was sentenced to five years in prison but was released under amnesty after three months. Apparently up to a thousand persons were arrested for homosexually-related offences every year in the former USSR.  

May 25thOscar Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years hard labour  in prison on this day in 1895 in the UK.

May 26thThe Kenyan government confirmed imprisonment of LGBTG people for 5 to 14 years on this day in 2019. Ronni Sanlo, in This Day in LGBTQ History notes that “Nearly every country in Africa is vehemently anti-gay, some with calls for penalty of death. The exception is South Africa which has full inclusion of LGBTG people.” (You can find Sanlo’s books on LGBTGQ history on her website).

May 27th Russia again: On this day in 1993 President Boris Yeltsin published a decree decriminalizing consensual adult sodomy in Russia. However, on this day in 2006 the first attempted Moscow pride event was thwarted by Neo-Nazis and Orthodox protesters which assaulted attendees and marchers. The event was also banned every subsequent year since. 

May 28thIn 1990 on this day the Estonian Academy of Sciences History Institute sponsored the first international conference on homosexuality and other sexual minorities to be held in the USSR. 

May 29thLesbian singer Melissa Ethridge has her birthday today (she was born o, the 29th of May 1961) and made her mainstream breakthrough with her recording Yes I Am.

May 30thOur kind of cop: Mike Hannon, an American policeman and civil rights activist who was straight addressed a crowd assembled for a “gay-in” on the challenges of being gay in a homophobic society on this day in 1968. He supported those who protested around sexual minority rights in American streets at the time. Hannon thus broke with the police’s notoriously anti-gay tradition. He died at the age of 77 in 2014.

May 31stNepal added a third gender option to its national census on this day in 2011 – a category inclusive of nearly all trans people, including those with a gender different from that assigned to them at birth and people who don’t feel their male and female gender assignment represents their true social, sexual and gender role identities. 

   And that was the Month of May for 2022 in LGBTGQ history. We stand with our equals in Russia and Ukraine – solidarity with LGBTGQ people in both those countries and all over the world. 

Interfaith Calendar for May 2022

May 1st The Sacred Boar Hunt – Faith of Antinous the Gay God – Hadrian and Antinous hunts a boar and offer some of it to their deities.

Beltane: Pagan and Wiccan Religions – A fire festival celebrating the coming of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere and fertility of the upcoming year.

May 3rd Eid al Fitr: Islam Holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

May 8th Birthday of Buddha: Buddhism – Celebration of the Buddha’s birthday.

May 15th Antinous in Jerusalem – Antinoan, the Faith of the Gay God Antinous – Antinous visits Jerusalem in the retinue of his lover the Emperor Hadrian. 

May 16th Vesak: Theravada Buddhism – Most important of the faith’s commemorative festivals signifying the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. 

May 21st Hadrian Returns to Rome: Antinoan, Faith of the Gay God Antinous – Hadrian the bereaved lover of Antinous returns to Rome after losing Antinous to death upon his drowning in the Nile in 130AD.

May 24th Declaration of the Bab: Baha’i Faith – The day marking the prediction that the Bab is the Messenger of God. 

May 26th Ascension Day: Christian – The 40th day after Easter when Jesus ascended to Heaven.

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