Pierre Seel

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Pierre Seel | Youtube | 14345

Pierre Seel, then 17, of Mulhouse, France, near the border with Germany, was arrested and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for being gay under the notorious Paragraph 175.

In his book “I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror” (1995) Seel reports that prisoners were beaten, their fingernails were torn out and they were raped with broken rulers. One of his friends was escorted to a yard where he was stripped naked, a bucket was placed over his head and unfed German shepherd dogs were set on him.

After spending six months at Schirmeck-Vorbruck concentration camp, Seel was released and forced to join the German army against his will. He married. In 1982, when the bishop of Strasbourg said homosexuality was not a sickness, Seel spoke up. He wrote in his book, “After decades of silence I have made up my mind to speak, to accuse, to bear witness.”

Seel died aged 82 in 2005.


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The Marchioness

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Jonathan Phang | BBC | 14346

On the 20th August 1989 Jonathan Phang organised a birthday celebration for his friend Antonio on London’s River Thames on a Thames Pleasure Cruiser, The Marchioness. The evening turned to tragedy when a sand dredger, The Bowbelle, ploughed into the Marchioness, which sank in just 30 seconds, near Cannon Street railway bridge. There were 131 people on board when the dredger hit. Fifty-one people died, including Antonio. Of the eight friends who met that night, only two survived. One of them was Jonathan Phang. Jonathan lost almost all his friends in the accident.

The Marchioness | BBC | 14347

The Marchioness was built in 1923 and, in 1940, was one of the “little ships” of the Dunkirk emergency evacuation. After it was hit the Marchioness rolled over and quickly filled with water. At the same time it was being pushed under the water by the Bowbelle. As the Marchioness capsized, her entire superstructure became detached.

The formal investigation put the time elapsed, from the instant of collision at 1.46 a.m. to complete immersion, at close to 30 seconds. Witnesses quoted in that investigation described the Bowbelle as “hitting the Marchioness in about its centre then mounting it, pushing it under the water like a toy boat.” Of the deceased, 24 bodies were recovered from the sunken hull. The majority of the survivors had been on the upper decks at the time of the collision.

The inquests of the victims also became controversial when parts of their bodies, which had been removed to assist with their identification, were not returned in time for their funerals. Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes called for the removal of limbs to be outlawed.

In 1991, the skipper of the Bowbelle, Douglas Henderson, was tried for failing to keep a proper look-out but, after two juries were deadlocked, he was formally acquitted. A Coroner’s inquest on 7 April 1995 found the victims had been unlawfully killed.

Lord Justice Clarke was instructed to investigate and his official report blamed poor lookouts on both vessels for the collision and criticised the owners and managers of both vessels for failing to instruct and monitor their crews in proper fashion.

English law provides no compensation for fatal accidents unless financial dependence at the time of death can be proven. In most cases, the victims’ families received little more than the cost of the funeral.

There is a memorial to the victims of the Marchioness disaster in nearby Southwark Cathedral. In 2001 the Royal Humane Society made 19 bravery awards to people involved in rescues at the tragedy.


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186 Spring Street, New York

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186 Spring Street, New York | New York Observer | 14348

A red brick row house at 186 Spring Street, New York has been demolished despite being a landmark of New York’s gay history.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, the house sheltered a number of prominent gay rights activists, among them Bruce Voeller (who was a leader in the fight against AIDS), Arnie Kantrowitz and Jim Owles, who was the president of the Gay Activists Alliance, an influential organization that emerged in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots. Recently the building had been owned by Adam Horovitz, a former Beastie Boy. It has now been demolished to make way for a seven-story luxury apartment block.

The Landmarks Commission denied preservationists’ most recent plea to landmark and thereby save the building, on the corners of Spring and Thompson streets, a part of the city that is defined as much today by the vast quantities of cash flowing into its real estate as it is by its historic architecture and cobblestones.

“What they did was homophobic, and as Jim Owles was my partner for many years, not only do I consider it an act against the movement, but I take it personally,” said Allen Roskoff, the president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.

While Mr. Roskoff admitted that it never would have occurred to him to seek landmark designation for the building— “I’m not a preservation person” — he argued the commission should look for opportunities to landmark the community’s history. “I think if you had a landmarks commission that is sympathetic to the gay community, they would have supported it.”

The city’s failure to designate it, or any other building, a landmark based solely on its place in the LGBT rights struggle, is at best an oversight and at worst a slight. The landmarks commission counters that it already has preserved many important gay rights landmarks, albeit as part of a larger historic districts.

Elisabeth de Bourbon, the commission’s spokeswoman, pointed to the Stonewall Inn as a good example of gay rights history being preserved.

“The primary goal of designation is to protect the bricks and mortar that embody the cultural significance. For us designation is not an honorific, it’s a regulatory mechanism that allows the city to protect its historic resources.”

In rejecting 186 Spring, the commission asserts that the real monument to the Gay Activist Alliance has already been preserved and that 186 Spring Street’s role in the movement was peripheral rather than central. In its letter outlining its reasons for rejecting the house’s application for landmark status, the commission notes that its research indicated that Jim Owles and Arnie Kantrowitz lived in the house for only about a year in the early 1970s, when the Gay Activist Alliance was headquarted in The Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street (which is located within the Soho Cast Iron Historic District, and thus protected).

Although Bruce Voeller lived in the home for a decade, the commission contests that his role in the movement’s history is not influential enough to warrant landmarking his onetime house:

“A review of histories suggests that Dr. Voeller was a later and more of a ‘transitional figure’… between the radical post-Stonewall period and a more mainstream professional activism.”

New York city has yet to landmark a building because of its role in gay and lesbian history. The commission also rejected an application to landmark the Pyramid Club at 101 Avenue A, which played a central role in 1980s drag culture, although the building will be included in the soon-to-be created East Village Historic District, giving it a protected status.

“I think the recognition is important,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “I think it’s important for the commission to say this is an important part of our city’s history, this is an important part of our city’s culture.”

The LGBT community has not, however, taken up the cause as vigorously as the preservationists. Andy Humm, a journalis and activist said that while the demolition of 186 Spring Street is a shame, the gay community has been focused on bigger, more important battles than protecting historic sites. “You can give us some of the blame in the community I suppose,” he said. “Have we been focused on this? I don’t think we have. But look, we’re a movement that has been more about the future… and frankly, we have this huge homeless LGBT community that doesn’t even have basic housing.”


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Was Irish hero Michael Collins gay?

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Michael Collins | Public domain | 14349

Historic Irish republican leader Michael Collins may have been gay, claims Irish Senator and gay rights activist David Norris, who ran unsuccesfully for election to be the president of the Republic of Ireland, in his autobiography ‘A Kick Against the Pricks’.

Mr Collins took part in the Easter Rising before going on to lead the IRA during the War of Independence, and was murdered by a republican rival in 1922 during the Irish civil war that followed its independence.

Mr Norris writes in his autobiography ‘A Kick Against the Pricks’ about an incident where he claims he spoke to an elderly man once who said he had been “one of Mr Collins’ principal boyfriends”.

It is also widely believed that Easter Rising leader Patrick Pearse and gun-runner Roger Casement were both gay. Mr Casement’s diaries were surrounded by controversy for many years.

Mr Norris also claimed that certain republican circles were very uncomfortable about the allegations.

“If Michael Collins was gay or bisexual – so what? Who cares? It shouldn’t matter as it is just a neutral fact. It certainly isn’t a slur, and the vast majority of the Irish people no longer regard it as such.”

A Sinn Fein spokesman dismissed the claim that republicans would be uncomfortable with any key figures being gay.

“Speculating on what was some historical person’s sexuality is the stuff of the tabloid media,”

said a spokesman.

Betterworld Books | 14350

Mr Norris helped set up the Irish Gay Rights Movement in 1974 and also took a case to Europe to overturn the criminalisation of homosexual acts in 1988.


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Remembering Matthew

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Matthew Shepard | Digital Journal | 14351

Matthew Shepard died on October 12, 1998, five days after being brutally attacked in one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history. Matthew’s death changed the way people viewed and talked about LGBT people, and eventually led to the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law against bias-motivated crimes targeting LGBT people, among others.

Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, who has since become a staunch advocate for the lives of LGBT people, wrote about what she learned in the days following her son’s death:

We learned about the LGBT community and its long struggle for acceptance and equality. We learned how easily LGBT people could be fired from their jobs just for being themselves, how they couldn’t serve their country openly, couldn’t marry, couldn’t adopt kids in some states. And most of all, we learned about the fear so many otherwise good people had in their hearts about their gay neighbors, coworkers and family members.

She went on to say that her family “decided to try to make a difference in his name.” The Matthew Shepard Foundation was created to stand up for the LGBT community in Matthew’s memory.

In October 2014 The Guardian published claims that the murder of Shepard was related to drugs and was not a gay hate crime.

Updated 26 October 2014


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