Mark Weston, athlete

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Mark Weston | Life Magazine | 14261

In April and May 1935, transgender British athletic champion Mary Edith Louise Weston, transitioned from female to male at Charing Cross Hospital, becoming Mark Edward Louis Weston (pictured).

The date for her operations is taken from an interview in the London Times which was published on 20 August 1936 and available through Google. By the time of the interview, Mark Weston had married Alberta Bray.

“I am recognised by the medical and the law as a man and am now married,” Mark told the newspaper. The Hospital gave him a certificate saying “Mr Mark Weston, who was always brought up as a female, is male and should continue life as such.”

As Miss Weston he first became interested in athletics in 1924.

The information in The Times interview contradicts information given on other websites.

After the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Avery Brundage, the president of the United States Olympic Committee, requested that a system be established to examine female athletes.

In a Time magazine article about hermaphrodites, Brundage felt the need to clarify “sex ambiguities” after observing the performance of Czechoslovak runner and jumper Zdenka Koubkova and English shotputter and javelin thrower Mary Edith Louise Weston.

Mark Weston | Public Domain | 14262

Mary Edith Louise Weston/Mark Weston of Great Britain was the best shot putter from 1924 to 1930, and the best javelin thrower in 1927. He became a physiotherapist, had three children, and died in Plymouth in 1978.

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Lyons Corner House

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The Lyons Corner House, Coventry Street, London | The Old Farts Cook Book | 14263

In 1910 “London homosexuals began to gather openly in public places such as pubs, coffee houses and tea shops for the first time. Waitresses ensured that a section of Lyons Corner House in Piccadilly Circus was reserved for homosexuals.”

The Corner Houses first appeared in London in 1909 when Lyons opened the first on the corner of Piccadilly and Coventry Street (now the Trocadero, pictured). It employed about 400 staff. As well as different restaurants on each floor, and live music from an orchestra at times during the day, there was also originally a Food Hall where many products from the kitchens could be bought.

Customers enjoying Afternoon Tea at Coventry Street Lyons House | 1942 | Wikipedia | 14264

Some Corner Houses were like shopping centres with hair dressing salons, telephone booths, theatre booking agencies and food delivery services.

The tradition of, even though homosexuality was illegal, allowing homosexuals to use the premises, was not confined to Lyons Corner House on Piccadilly. My own parents met and courted during World War II. Due to petrol rationing they could not often venture out for a night to a nearby city, and most weeks went to a local dance at the local Town Hall. All the local gays and lesbians congregated in one corner of the Hall, and many became friends with the heterosexual patrons.

Piccadilly has long been linked with the gay world, and as a place where people might, er, meet; as early as 1700 the slang term among Londoners for venereal disease was “the Piccadilly cramp”. Your Activist suspects that gay people have been meeting each other on Piccadilly since much earlier than 1910!

The Dabbler notes that “John Bull magazine fulminated in 1925, allegedly appalled by ‘a well-known teashop and public house in Coventry Street where painted and scented boys congregate every day without molestation of any kind . . .sitting with their vanity bags and their high-heeled shoes, calling themselves by endearing names.”


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Melbourne University’s incomplete gay history

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May Day, Melbourne, 1976 | John Ellis Collection, Melbourne University | 14265

Laura Soderlind reviewed Melbourne University’s gay history for The Age with historian Graham Willett.

“A history of the gay community on campus is always going to be partial and incomplete,” Dr Willett said. “In the 1960s and 70s, the role of the University as a pace-setter and critical interrogator of society became more and more central. In the Law School there were a number of academics who were significant players in the decriminalisation of homosexuality (in Australia).”

Until 1980 it was illegal for men to have sex with each other or even to proposition each other for sex in Victoria. “While homosexuality was illegal, it meant people had to be quiet about what they were doing. The culture of homosexuality wasn’t recorded publically, beyond criminal charges or in tabloid newspapers. The media loved the word “gay”. It was very short. It fit nicely into headlines. So it took off very, very fast (and) replaced the word “camp”.”

In the 1970’s Union House provided venues for rowdy and passionate debates about whether homosexuality should be illegal. Students and staff were often divided in stance, however the University provided a forum for conversation and challenge of the ideas that posed as orthodoxy in society at large. There were several buildings and locations on campus that housed, in various shades of subtlety, sex between men.

“Universities are essentially extended communities. They have shops and parks and places to hang out beyond just lecture theatres. Given the opportunity for men to meet each other and to have sex, inevitably beats emerged at the University. These were known through word of mouth.” Such hotspots could be found in the basement of Union House, the Baillieu Library and elsewhere on campus.

In the 1970’s the University held gay liberation dances, which provided a rare opportunity for gay individuals and same-sex couples to show affection and dance together without fear. “That’s not to say there weren’t issues. In the lead-up to one of the dances, a group of engineering students harassed the gay students, and the dance was called off.”


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New comic celebrates Stonewall

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A new comic book is being planned to illustrate the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. The team producing the book are appealing for funding to complete the project.

Writer Michael Troy said:

“As time goes on, we’re in danger of losing this important touchstone of our cultural history. In an age where gay rights and marriage equality are still such hot buttons, it’s more important now more than ever, to remember the efforts of those who fought for gay rights.”

Updated 9 November 2015. Unfortunately the photographic resource is no longer available.


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Church of Scotland says yes to gay priests

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Church of Scotland emblem | Dundee Presbytery | 14267

On 20 May 2013 the General assembly of the Church of Scotland voted to allow congregations to admit openly gay ministers under certain circumstances. Their decision was seen as a radical departure from more than 450 years of orthodoxy set in train by the protestant reformer John Knox.

Scott Rennie | Uncredited photographer/Sun | 14268

The vote ends the four-year controversy which split the church after an openly gay minister Scott Rennie was selected to lead Queen’s Cross parish in Aberdeen in 2009. It led to six Ministers and two congregations leaving the Church.

In 2011 the general assembly voted to allow gay ministers already in post to remain in place, so long as they were in openly-declared civil partnerships or celibate, and had been ordained before 2009.

The general assembly was addressed by the Rev Elizabeth Spence, a lesbian minister from Ibrox in Glasgow.

“For me, there is nothing bigger than whether I’m accepted in this church or not, because I am a gay woman,” she said, adding: “It’s now time; it’s time to decide, so those of who are in this limbo can get under the wire.”


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Boldly not going

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The original Star Trek cast | Desilu | 14269

Wired’s Devon Maloney looks back at ‘Star Trek’ and tries to fathom out why openly gay characters were absent in a series which otherwise looked forward to an age of full equality.

“The invisibility of gay characters isn’t neutral; it’s negative, and represents a glaring double standard. After all, many a heterosexual romance has played out on the Star Trek screen, often involving notorious ladies’ men like Kirk and The Next Generation‘s Commander William Riker. The omission of a simple homosexual storyline, regardless of how many interspecies or interracial or almost-homosexual romances have been featured, is still very much a point of concern. We are, after all, still living in the 21st century, not the 24th, and it would still be significant to see an LGBT officer serving on the bridge today, much as it was to see a black woman in the ’60s when civil rights battles were being waged.”

The first Star Trek series was made for television in the era before Stonewall, and the networks would not have wanted to put off sponsors, advertisers, and overseas sales, now would they.


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James Pratt and John Smith

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A hanging outside Newgate Prison, early 19th century | Unknown Artist | Wikipedia/Public domain | 14270

In 1835, Charles Dickens visited Newgate prison and met two prisoners, James Pratt and John Smith. He wrote about them in his 1836 article, “A Visit to Newgate”, writes Sir David Bell of Reading University.

The nature of their offences “rendered it necessary to separate them” and the prison guard remarked to Dickens “their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world. The two short ones”, the turnkey whispered, “were dead men”.

What Pratt and Smith had done, they had done in private, yet they were reported to the authorities by a neighbour.

James Pratt and John Smith were the last men to be hanged in Britain for buggery.

Newgate Prison was at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey in London and was in use from 1188 to 1902.


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Remembering John Wolfenden

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John Wolfenden | BBC | 14271

Sir David Bell writes for Pink News about the legacy of John Wolfenden, who chaired the Committee which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, in 1957 (but we had to wait another ten years before it happened.)

“In 1954, Wolfenden was asked to chair a Home Office committee to look at two issues; homosexuality and prostitution. Why he was chosen and agreed to chair the committee, Wolfenden himself professed not to understand. Subsequent reports have suggested that his son was gay and that may have been a factor.”

… “In his memoirs, published in 1976, he stated that the vast majority of the population in the 1950s simply did not know that homosexuality existed, and that many others found the idea to be shocking and distasteful. And perhaps the Home Office itself wasn’t immune from such sentiment. At the Committee’s first meeting in 1954, Wolfenden was greeted by the doorkeeper with the words, “Vice, sir? Room 101”.”

“After receiving evidence in a further 61 meetings spanning three years, the most radical recommendation of the committee’s report proposed “quite simply, that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private be no longer a criminal offence”. The report argued that private morality was a private affair and that it did not, therefore, concern the criminal legal system.

Wolfenden was quite unprepared for the storm that was to follow. “

That’s putting it mildly!

Thankyou to Sir David Bell for a good article.

The Wolfenden Report – Command no. 247, I know it by heart – made a number of recommendations. The vast majority of them remained just that, recommendations, for many years, and some of them still are. Wolfenden recommended, for example, the equalisation of the age of consent between straight and gay people, in 1957. That did not happen until 1999.


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When Dorothy did the De Montfort

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Your Activist was still a school boy in the early 1960s, probably the year 1964, when Judy Garland was booked to appear at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

The first Your Activist knew of this was to pick up the evening paper, the Leicester Mercury, which had an editorial style column called “Mr Leicester” (probably written by the Duty Editor of the day). This evening, Mr. Leicester was in top form. The City Council-run De Montfort Hall had booked Judy Garland for a concert later in the year. The tickets, which were usually in the range of ten to fifteen shillings, would be more than two whole pounds! Mr Leicester considered Judy Garland to be a has-been who nobody would want to see in the age of Beatlemania. The whole thing was going to lose a lot of money for the rate payers and would be a disaster.

The De Montfort Hall is a beautiful theatre, fit for a diva and certainly for a gay icon. In 1964 Judy Garland was already a gay icon. Two pounds ten shillings! That was a lot of money. But luckily a quick check of my money box revealed that I had enough left over from my last birthday and the previous Christmas. I went back downstairs, found the advertisement for the De Montfort Hall, and made a note of the phone number.

The following morning, at break (around 10.45 am), I sneaked out of school to use the telephone box just outside the school main gates. It was one of the old Press Button A – Press Button B type boxes. There was no subscriber trunk dialling, I don’t even remember a dial, you had to press a button and when the operator replied, ask the operator for the number you required, and they would try to connect you.

I got through to the De Montfort Hall. The tickets had only been on sale that morning and there was only one left. The kind gentleman on the other end of the phone said he would put it in an envelope for me, so that I could go into Leicester on the bus on Saturday morning and pick up (and pay for) my ticket.

The next evening, Mr Leicester was in full flow again. How lucky Leicester was to have such a clever marketing team at the City Council! The concert featuring Judy Garland had sold out in a single morning! The event would make a profit for the City Council and the rate payers. We were so fortunate to have such a first class facility!

Your Activist should point out that in 1964 we were still illegal and largely hidden from view. What had happened was simple. Leicester has a railway station which is on the rail line running from Birmingham in the West Midlands to Norwich and Cambridge in East Anglia. Gay pubs the length of the line had spotted the advertisement in their evening paper, put parties together, and phoned up the following morning to book the tickets! But the Leicester Mercury would not have known.

The evening of the concert came, after some weeks. The Hall was packed to overflowing. Almost the entire audience wore red shirts, the traditional colour for gay men going to the theatre (so those on stage would know where the gays were in the audience). The first half of the concert featured an orchestra and singer, and was very politely received, but everyone had really come to see Judy Garland – but knowing her many problems, nobody really believed that she would actually appear.

The audience resumed their seats after the interval, the orchestra struck up – then Judy Garland walked on stage. After a few seconds of stunned silence the audience leapt to their feet and there was a sheer torrent of cheering and noise. The cheering and applause went on for more than a minute and Judy could not begin her set because of the noise. Then she signalled to the house manager to turn the auditorium lights up so she could see the audience. Eventually the noise subsided and the audience sat down. You could have heard a pin drop. Then she just said, quietly, “Hello girls,” and set the whole audience off again.

Since the days of Judy Garland, gay icons have come and gone. There are theories that the Stonewall Riot in New York – which was led by members of a well known American drag troupe – was sparked off because the police actually decided to raid the bar so close to Judy Garland’s funeral. These are the dates: Judy Garland died on June 22nd 1969 in Chelsea, London, Judy’s body was flown to the states and her funeral, after 20,000 people lined up for hours at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan to pay their respects, was held on June 27th 1969, and the Stonewall raid took place on June 28 1969.

Updated 18 November 2014: Photos no longer available


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Bruce Bellas

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Bruce of Los Angeles | Date not known | Public domain| 14272

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Bruce Bellas | Unknown photographer | 14273

Bruce Bellas was born in 1909 and died in 1974. He is better known as the photographer Bruce of Los Angeles, whose photographs of cowboys and rodeo competitors were very popular in “body” and “bodybuilding” magazines of the 1950s to 1970s. Bellas began his photography career in 1947, and many of his most famous images were taken in the period from 1947 to 1955. His work is thought to have influenced other photographers, notably Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts.

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