Showing posts with label LGBT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LGBT. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Harvey Milk

Along with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk is one of the most iconic and influential American LGBT leaders. Politically active from 1973-1978, Milk was one of the first openly gay political leaders, and pushed for both political and community reforms in San Francisco and California.

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Harvey Milk
Milk was born May 22, 1930 to Minerva and William Milk in Woodmere, New York. Though he knew he was gay from a young age, he stayed quiet about it until adulthood. He was a popular, well liked athlete in high school, and participated in school operas.

Harvey attended New York State College for Teachers, graduating in 1951, and moving on to attend Officer Candidate School after enlisting in the US Navy. He was subsequently stationed in San Diego, serving as a diving instructor on the U.S.S. Kittiwake. He achieved the rank of junior lieutenant before his discharge in 1955.

There is some debate about the nature of Milk's discharge. Milk stated that he was dishonorably discharged after being questioned about his sexuality, but the U.S. Navy records reflect that Milk was honorably discharged. It is difficult to ascertain which party is telling the truth, as both parties have a reasonable reason to lie--Milk to give depth to his political agenda, the Navy to avoid the embarrassment of having mistreated a man who would later become an international hero. It is worth noting, however, that Milk's discharge was during the height of the Lavender Scare, which gives credence to his story.

After leaving the military Milk worked as a high school teacher for a few years before going to work as a financial analyst. Milk enjoyed a stable career in finance until 1970 when he left to become a production assistant for Broadway musicals. Milk's credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hair.


Milk in front of Castro Camera, 1973
In 1972 Harvey moved to San Francisco with his lover, and opened a camera shop in the Castro district, and area of San Francisco known for it's LGBT population and liberal politics.

Milk soon became a staple of Castro political life. His store--Castro Camera--was a gathering place for LGBT people. In 1973, shortly after moving to the Castro Milk declared his candidacy for City Supervisor, spurred on by a heavy tax on small businesses and the Watergate Scandal. Though he lost the campaign he gained recognition as a popular politician, and began to gather more political support.

Supporting small businesses as well as LGBT rights would become a focus of Milk's for the next few years. In 1974 he founded the Castro Street Fair--an event devoted to bringing commercial activity to the Castro. He worked with local businesses to revitalize the Castro Village Association, and convinced local bars to stop selling certain brands of beer during a Teamster's Strike, in exchange for the teamsters hiring more gay and lesbian drivers.

Milk ran again and lost in 1975. By this time he was the leader of the Castro gay community, fondly known as 'The Mayor of Castro Street'. His civic activities brought him to the notice of mayor George Moscone, who appointed him to the city permit's appeals board. Harvey served in this position for a few weeks before leaving to run for California State Assembly, a race he would end up losing.

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The Castro lies in the heart of San Francisco
Realizing that he needed to rely on his voter base in the Castro, Milk worked with Anne Kronenberg, and George Moscone to revise the city laws so that supervisors would be elected by the people in their specific district, rather than the city as a whole. The passing of this amendment meant that when Harvey ran for city supervisor again in 1977, he won easily.

Harvey's election was met with joy from liberals, and angry grumbles from conservatives. Once in office, Milk proved a dedication to serving all the minority groups of San Francisco, not just the LGBT community. He established free daycare services for working mothers, and had abandoned military facilities converted into low cost housing. He reformed the tax code to benefit small businesses, and worked on measures protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.

Though he was universally loved in the Castro, and generally admired across the United States, Milk received death threats almost daily. Unfortunately on November 27, 1978, Dan White--a former colleague of Harvey's--carried through on that threat, assassinating both Milk and Mayor Mascone.

Today, Milk is remembered as a legendary activist, and a great politician. Though he was only in office for a short time, he was able to pass a great deal of reforms which still benefit the people of California today.

On a wider scale, Milk is an inspiration for LGBT people around the world. His belief that homosexuals needed to come out of the closet to fight for greater rights and understanding has inspired LGBT people around the world to speak out, and follow in his example.

Sources
Harvey Milk-Activist (1930-1978)
Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk, American Politician and Activist
Harvey Milk Biography
The Official Harvey Milk Biography

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Damn, Girl-Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is the iconic LGBT activist. She's best known for playing an instrumental role Stonewall Riots, but Marsha's story extends beyond Stonewall. Throughout her lifetime, Marsha fought for the rights of African-American Transgender people, and provided food and shelter to transgender youth living on the streets.

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Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the 'P' in her name
stood for, Marsha often replied that it stood for 'Pay it
no mind'.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Marsha moved to Greenwich Village in 1966. At the time, Greenwich Village was a hotbed of activism and liberal thinking. The Village hosted a large community of LGBT people, and provided places for them to gather without fear of violence or judgement.

Unfortunately, Marsha had a difficult time finding a stable source of income or accommodations in the Village, and often lived on the streets, and had to resort to prostitution to provide for herself. It was while working on the streets where she became a member of New York's large society of drag queens, and met lifelong friend and co-legend Sylvia Rivera.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Marsha began performing in drag shows and at drag balls. She was quite popular, and went on to tour the United States and the rest of the world with the popular drag group, the Hot Peaches.

In 1969 Marsha was having a drink at the Stonewall Inn, a popular drinking spot for transwomen, butch lesbians, male sex workers, and homeless LGBT youth. The police raided the inn, and Marsha famously threw a shot glass, and shouted 'I got my civil rights!', igniting the famous riot that would last for six days.

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Marsha was asked to pose for Andy Warhol's
'Ladies and Gentlemen' series, which was a
series of pop art portraits of transgender
individuals living in New York City.
Following Stonewall, Marsha, along with Sylvia Rivera, became a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front, and started actively lobbying for trans rights. Then, as now, much of the gay rights movement was centered around securing rights for white gay men. Marsha and Sylvia were both the loudest voices calling for inclusion of transgender people in the gay community.

To this end, Marsha and Sylvia created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)¹. STAR was devoted to providing food and shelter for homeless transgender youth, especially transgender youth of color. Though STAR was chronically underfunded, Marsha created a home for people pushed to the margins of society, and acted as a mother to the people she helped. Though STAR was forced to close down in the 1970s, the legacy of STAR is being carried on by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

In 1992, Marsha's body was pulled from the Hudson river. The NYPD detectives ruled her death a suicide, but her friends and family claim that she was not suicidal. It is much more likely that she was murdered, as she was seen being harassed by men earlier in the day.

Today Marsha is seen as one of the founders of the gay rights movement. She's an icon of resistance, and her memory is frequently invoked whenever resistance is needed. There has been a renewed interest in her life in the past decade, leading to several biographies being published, and multiple documentaries.


¹Just a note, the word 'Transvestite' while now considered a slur, was the common name for transgender people at the time of STAR.


Sources
The Unsung Heroines of Stonewall: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera
Marsha P. Johnson-Activist (1945-1992)
Marsha 'Pay It No Mind' Johnson
Power to the People: Exploring Marsha P. Johnson's Queer Liberation


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Karl XII, the 'Alexander of the North' Has a Bad Decade

It's highly ironic that Karl (Often anglicized to Charles) XII¹ is referred to as the 'Alexander of the North', given that his reign saw the end of Sweden as an empire and significant global power. While Karl may have started out strong by conquering Denmark, Poland, and parts of Russia, he ultimately failed his country abroad and at home. A nickname that makes more sense is 'The Swedish Meteor'. Karl earned this nickname because of, you guessed it, his meteoric rise to power, and quick fall from grace.

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Karl on a horse
Karl was groomed to be king from a very young age. After his mother's death in 1693, Karl's father, Karl XI, took Karl with him everywhere, including him in royal progresses, meetings of the Riksdag, and other monarchical duties. Daddy Karl also saw to it that young Karl had the best tutors and religious mentors. When Karl XI died in 1697 the fifteen year old Karl was ready to assume the throne.²

When the power's abroad heard about Karl's ascension to the throne, many countries saw the Swedish Empire as ripe for the picking, especially after negotiations for a royal marriage between Karl and a Danish Princess broke down. Not wanting to waste the opportunity of a lifetime, Denmark, Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and Saxony banded together, and with promises from the Swedish nobility that they would start rebelling if a war started, this coalition started attacking Sweden from all sides.

However, young Karl was no dummy. He went on the offensive, and invaded Danish Zeeland, and at the Battle of Narva he took the Danes out of the war with one blow. It wasn't long before Karl's armies had driven the Russians and Saxons out of the Swedish provinces on the Baltic. With 3/4 of his enemies driven back, Karl turned his sights on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

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Karl not on a horse.
Many of these early achievements cannot be attributed directly to Karl. He was still young, and he didn't have a great deal of war experience. However, he was smart enough to listen to the advisers and generals left to him by his father. As time went on Karl became better at battlefield strategy, and many of his advisers died. By 1702 Karl was almost entirely in charge.

It was this year that Karl invaded Poland. Poland was a deeply divided country, and they were no match for the united Swedes. Karl overthrew the reigning monarch, Augustus II, and installed Pole Stanisław Leszczyński as king. Safe in the knowledge that Stanisław would do what he was told, Karl made Poland his base for invading Russia.

Now, Karl had been doing very well up until then. He'd been at war for the entirety of his reign, but had still managed to help with administrative decisions back at home. Had Karl decided that enough was enough, and gone back home he might have been remembered as a hero King who conquered vast swathes of territory, and subdued Sweden's enemies. However, in 1706 Karl made a fatal mistake--he invaded Russia.

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The Swedish Empire
We've discussed Karl's invasion of Russia before, so I won't go into too much detail here. But here's a brief summary: Karl invades western Russia, and reconquers the Baltic provinces that Russia had taken. The Russian soldiers scorch the earth behind them, and attack the Swedish baggage trains, leaving the Swedes without supplies. When they lost battles, the Russians withdrew further into Russia. Though Karl made it all the way to Moscow, lack of supplies forced him to turn back, and a Russian victory at Poltava forced Karl to flee to Turkey.

Turkey was a seemingly good place to seek refuge. The Turkish sultanate was friendly to the Swedes, and the Turks also had a beef with Russia. The Turks agreed to jointly attack Russia. However, though Karl requested another army from Sweden it never arrived, and efforts to attack Russia petered out.

In 1714 Karl left Istanbul for good, and headed to the Swedish provinces in Pomerania. His five years in Turkey had shifted Karl's priorities from expanding Swedish territory and punishing his enemies to merely keeping his empire intact, and making peace. Karl decided that ceding pieces of land, either for money or treaties, was the only way to go. He ceded vast swathes of Swedish territories, and lost others to various German kingdoms. In 1718 Karl was shot through the head while fighting the Norwegians. He died, leaving no children to succeed him.

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Death mask of Karl XII, also not on a horse.
Karl was a king of Sweden, who didn't actually spend all that much time in Sweden. He was deeply religious, and a highly intellectual man. He didn't drink alcohol or have affairs with women. His close relationships with his fellow soldiers have lead many historians to speculate that he may have been homosexual. Towards the end of his life he was reviled by his own people, and rumors that he was shot by one of his own men abound.

Karl is heartily disliked by most modern Swedes. Not only do they blame them for the loss of their empire, but they also blame him for the enormous amount of money and lives that his wars cost. Additionally, Karl XII has become an icon for far-right Swedish Neo-Nazi groups, which certainly doesn't boost his posthumous reputation.

¹I refer to him as 'Karl' rather than 'Charles' in this post because it makes very little sense to refer to a King of Sweden by an English name.
²Karl XI had arranged for a regency should he die before Karl XII came of age. However, due to internal fighting within the regency, the Riksdag asked Karl to assume the throne early.


Sources
Charles XII- King of Sweden
The Blazing Career and Mysterious Death of 'The Swedish Meteor'

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

3 Excellent Transgender Individuals Who Served Their Country

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The transgender pride flag
If you've been watching the news recently you're probably aware that a certain incompetent world leader has been casting aspersions on the ability of transgender people to serve in the military. Obviously I shouldn't be letting this nameless world leader get to me, but I'd reached the end of my rope. In a fit of anger over the aforementioned ignoramus' remarks, I did some digging into the history of transgender individuals in the military, only to find that transgender people have been serving in the American and other militaries from the Revolution on. Here are a few of their stories.

Albert Cashier

Born Jennie Hodgers in 1843, Cashier joined the Union Army at age 19. Born in Ireland, Cashier immigrated to Illinois, where he lived as a man, working as a shepherd for a local farmer. When the Civil War came around, Albert joined the 95th Illinois Infantry.

Now, getting into the army was significantly easier in Albert's day. There was no intense physical, or even a test for infectious diseases. According to Albert, all he had to do was show his hands and feet, and meet the height requirement. Sub-sequentially, the Union army was completely in the dark about Cashier's assigned gender.

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Albert Cashier in his Union Army uniform.
While he was never decorated, Albert Cashier was known for his bravery and daring during the war. During the Siege of Vicksburg Albert was captured by Confederacy soldiers while on a reconnaissance mission. Albert grabbed the gun of his captor, and managed to run back to Union lines. 

After the war, Albert went back to Illinois, where he took up a variety of odd jobs. He lived privately, and kept to himself. In 1910, Senator Ira Lish, Cashier's employer at the time, accidentally hit Albert with his scar. His leg broke, and when he was taken to the doctor, his secret was discovered. However, Albert persuaded the doctor and the senator to keep quiet, and the senator arranged for him to relocate to the Soldier's and Sailor's Home, where he would be looked after.

In 1914, Cashier, suffering from dementia, was sent to the state asylum. It was only then that Cashier's assigned gender became widely known. The US government tried to convict him of fraudulently collecting a veteran's pension, but his comrades defended him, stating that Albert Cashier was a brave soldier who had every right to call himself a veteran. His comrades convinced the US government to back off, but were unable to convince the state asylum to let Albert continue to live as a man. After discovering Albert's assigned gender, the state asylum relegated him to the women's quarter, and forced him to wear skirts for the first time in 50 years. Albert's mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated, and ended up breaking a hip after tripping over his long skirts one day. The hip grew infected, and Albert died soon after.

Though he was forced to dress as a woman at the end of his life, Albert Cashier was buried in his Union Army uniform, and is listed as 'Albert Cashier' on his tombstone. He received full military honors at his funeral.

James Barry

Probably born Margaret Ann Bukeley, James Barry was one of the first surgeons to perform a Cesarean section where both the mother and the child lived. He insisted on hospital reform, prison reform, and certifying all medical practitioners. I'd say he was the surgeon version of Florence Nightingale, except the pair absolutely despised each other, and the comparison would undoubtedly infuriate both of them.

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A contemporary painting of Barry.
Not much is known about Barry's early life. It is likely that he was born to a pair of Irish immigrants. His mother was sister to the original James Barry--a famed Irish painter, and they lived with Barry until his death in 1806. In 1806 with the help of the money left to him by his uncle, and help from his powerful friend, David Stuart Erskine, the Duke of Buchanan, Barry was able to enter medical school at Edinburgh University under the assumed name of his dead uncle.


Despite the fact that everyone thought he was too young to be a doctor, Barry joined the army as a surgeon in 1813. In 1816 (or 1817), Barry was sent to Cape Town, South Africa, where he would really start to make his mark.

Appalled at the conditions, James insisted on finding a way to bring clean water into the city. He insisted on hospital cleanliness for both white and black patients, pushed for prisoners to be treated humanely, and insisted that the families of both soldiers and prisoners be treated better. He drew the ire of the local medical establishment when he insisted that every doctor and nurse pass a medical examination. His reforms led to the Cape Town hospitals being some of the safest in the British Empire, as well as him being promoted to the medical equivalent of a Brigadier General.

Barry in 1862
Barry was widely unpopular, and it wasn't just because of his strict perfectionism when it came to medicine. He also had a notoriously short temper, and was insubordinate to his superiors. He challenged multiple people to a duel because they called him short, and during the Crimean War he publicly berated Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, for her attire. However, Barry was able to get away with this because he was a brilliant surgeon and hospital administrator.

He left Cape Town after being accused of a scandalous affair with Lord Charles Sommerset. From South Africa Barry went to the West Indies, then to Canada, not returning to England until 1859. He died in 1865, and, despite his request that he be buried in his clothing, and body not be washed the woman who prepared him for burial found out that James Barry had not been born a man.

James Barry is often counted among the great women doctors of history, despite the fact that Barry referred to himself as a man, and made no indication that he was female from the time he entered medical school. Barry exclusively referred to himself as male, and there is no evidence suggesting that he wasn't.

Roberta Cowell

Roberta, born Robert, Cowell is most noted for being the first transgender person to undergo the sex change surgery from male to female, but in addition to that she was a pilot in WWII, flying Spitfire and Tiger Moth airplanes.

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Roberta Cowell
Unlike Albert and James, Roberta's military service was undertaken while she still presented as the gender she was assigned at birth. Cowell expressed the sentiment that she did not develop her feeling and coming to terms as being transgender until after the war.

From an early age, Roberta showed an interest in planes and cars. She attended London University, earning a degree in engineering. In 1941 Roberta joined the Royal Air Force, despite the fact that she often got motion sickness when flying. Roberta flew several different missions into occupied Norway and France. In 1944 her plane was shot down, and she was captured by the Germans. She spent the last five months of the war as a prisoner.

After the war, Roberta returned home to her wife and children. She built up a semi-successful business, and was an avid road racer. However, she began to feel depressed and purposeless. After seeing psychologists for three years, Robert decided to leave her family, and transition from male to female.

 In Summation

This is, obviously, in no way a complete list of amazing transgender people who have served in their country's military, there are many, many more. It is important to remember these people's contributions, and to remember that transgender people have contributed militarily to their countries just the same as cisgender people have. History is important, because it gives us the ability to make connections with and better understand the present. I hope that you'll keep Cashier, Barry, and Cowell's stories in mind, and stand up for them and the hundreds of thousands like them next time your transphobic uncle comes around for dinner, and take a moment to educate your friends and family about the excellent contributions trans people have made to their countries.

Sources
Albert Cashier's Secret
Jennie Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier
Jennie Hodgers
Remembering Albert Cashiers, Illinois' Civil War Hero, and Transgender Trailblazer
Albert D. J. Cashier: Woman Warrior, Insane Civil War Veteran, or Transman?
The Extraordinary Secret Life of Dr. James Barry
Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Secret Transgender Victorian Surgeon Feted by Historic England Society
Dr. James Barry and the Specter of Trans and Queer History
A Note on Dr. James Barry
The True Story Behind Britain's First Transgender Woman
Forgotten Women: The Life and Death of Roberta Cowell
'It's easier to change a body than change a mind': The Extraordinary Life and Lonely Death of Roberta Cowell
The Incredible Story of the Spitfire Pilot Who Became a Woman, And Fell In Love With The Female Student Who Became a Man (title is misleading, but the article contains good information about Roberta.)
Sex Change Spitfire Ace