Barcelona, 1977. Source: COLITA/El PAIS
The summer of 1977 was a moment of tension and transition in Spain. The first general election since the Spanish war of Succession was in the cards – but not everyone was fully satisfied with the rules. Political contestation preceded the polls. The economy was rickety and several questions hung in the air. Thousands were forced onto the streets in what would become some of the largest protests seen in that part of the world.
What better backdrop could there have been for disgruntled queer folk to add a dash of gay tenor to the rising choir of discontented voices?
In June of 1977, seven years after the first march in New York to commemorate the Stonewall riots, Spanish activists added to the growing transatlantic culture that was emerging around what had started as Friday night Greenwich Village shenanigans gone bad in 1969.
In effect, what had begun as a local series of riots over the treatment of some LGBT people in New York City was being actively transplanted transnationally – a testament of America’s growing global status as a source of cultural power far beyond its shores.
News reports of the first ‘pride march’ in Spain framed it as part of a wider celebration of ‘global gay pride day’: an interesting turn of phrase that, in retrospect, brings into question how it is that global American cultural power produced ‘globalised’ New York’s neighbourhood experience.
The question of this ‘queering of America’s soft power’ is a broad one that could easily take up a few hundred pages. However, in that first Spanish march of 1977, the effect of American soft power is seen at work through the re-appropriation of American/New York City memory, semiotics, and language, now associated with gay pride (itself a re-appropriation translated into Spanish).
The translation of American experience into the Spanish context is also seen in the adaptation of ‘pride’ to address local issues in 1977: the first marchers demanded amnesty for people convicted for homosexuality during the Franco years (even as a larger national movement for amnesty was making itself known and visible at the time). The first ‘pride’ march was also used to call for a repeal of Franco era laws that included homosexuality in a list of anti-social behaviours punishable under the law.
FAGC – the Front d’Allibrament Gai de Catalunya that lead the first march in Barcelona – styled itself in a language and ethos of the gay liberation movements that emerged out of the American experience.
Consciously or not, FAGC’s effort to combat Franco-era laws helped validate a nascent, queered form of American ‘symbolic power’. ‘Symbolic power’ here being understood as Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist framed it.
Among other things, Bourdieu saw language as rarely, if ever, innocent. All new discourse was not just about producing “signs destined to be understood and decrypted, it is also what signals richness, it is destined to be valued” in a kind of market of words and symbols with different economic and cultural value.
In Bourdieu’s thought, people who produce new language, as Spanish activists were doing, consciously or otherwise, seek to assert a new “authority to be believed and obeyed”. Bourdieu took it even as far as to say that producers of new ‘legitimate’ languages were, however unconsciously, ultimately seeking to make “symbolic profit”. In this context, the new language and symbols of pride contained the promise of future ‘profit’ for those who controlled and diffused a new discourse on LGBT rights.
The first pride march in Spain, then, presents an interesting case study in the queering of global American soft power while also giving insight into how US symbolic power has played a formative role in the emergence of effective transnational/transatlantic sociocultural movements.
Bourdieu, P. 2011Langage et pouvoir symbolique. Paris, Seuil
Lavanguardia. 1977. Cuatro mil homosexuales se manifestaron por las Ramblas.in Lavanguardia. 28 June 1977
Quinta, Alfons. 1977.‘Dia mundial del orgullo gay” in El Pais. 22 June 1977
Muscle and definition were not only beautiful to the eye but also reflected on the moral character of the person.
Respectability took on several dimensions for all men in ancient Greece. The interior life – emotions, ideas, religious positions – and their reflection through the body combined to form an elaborate understanding of honor. Shame, by extension, stemmed from the absence of complexity manifested through the body.
In tracing pride and shame this month, ancient Greece is an interesting starting point. So far, the picture that seems to be emerging is that honourability was highly masculine – both literally speaking (in body) and also in its sexism. Military power tempered with love and altruism were redeeming aspects that seem to enable people to look the other way at a possibly erotic relationship between adult men, in a society were same-sex sexuality was largely restricted to pederasty.
Pride and the muscular body in the Hellenic World add another, possible layer to this exploration of the sources of pride/shame over time.
It’s a question that has been asked thousands of times over the centuries: were they lovers or not? Or, just really good friends.
The two heroes of the Trojan War are depicted in the Illiad as sharing a deep bond. Theirs was an unprecedented mythologised account of a deeply emotional adult male relationship in ancient Greece.
Over time, some authors have been keen to deflect any suggestion that they shared a sexual relationship. Others have been eager to plant a rainbow flag retrospectively to claim the love between the two men as ‘gay’.
Whether they did it or not, they help us to understand where ideas of pride and shame come from. For Achilles and Patroclus, the respectability of their relationship comes, in large part, from them being military men and the fact that their relationship is complex, emotional, and a deep form of friendship.
The absence of explicit sexual contact has gave their relationship a sense of honour.
This raises (interesting?) questions about sex between adult males and the insinuation – even back then – that it is/was a source of dishonour. De-sexualisation was/is clearly seen as a precondition for honour, and this is an intriguing assumption that undergirds our understandings of shame even today. At the time, it was only in the multi-dimensionality and poetic love of their relationship that earned their bond honour.
In effect, love was the basis of honour and pride.
In ancient Greece, shame did not consist in merely engaging in same-sex love and sexuality. It lied in being feminised. It was the fact of being made a woman that was perceived to bring dishonour. Roisman’s (2011) « Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander: The Evidence « comments on this link between feminisation and shame . He speaks about how artists preferred to depict intimacy between men without feminising either of the partners. He also explores how the rituals of same-sex intimacy – gift giving for example – were adapted to avoid suggesting that one of the partners were feminine.Younger men who were going to be free men and citizens needed to be courted and mentored without making them lose the sense of masculinity.
This provides a possibly troubling long term perspective on what exactly ‘shame’ and ‘honor’ meant (still mean?). Shame was rooted in a misogynistic take on women: The idea that any semblance of femininity in men was (is?) shameful.
Roisman J. 2011. Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander: The Evidence. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons
This blog will be peppered with scattered thoughts on the notions of pride and shame over this LGBT Pride month of June. It will explore these as they relate to same-sex love and sexuality between men:
In recent decades the gay liberation movement, which began in the US and was adapted on the other side of the Atlantic, set-off the fight to end stigma and shame associated to same-sex sexuality.
However, it may be interesting to historicise the stigma and shame that LGBT pride has committed to fight against: What exactly is pride, what is the shame and stigma that LGBT pride fights against today – and more importantly, when precisely did same-sex love and sexuality provoke shame and stigma?
Few would disagree that same sexual activity between men of different ages in the ancient Hellenic world brought little, if any, shame to the men who formed these couplings.
The shameless pederasty of the archaic Hellenic world, however, in now definitively shameful in the early 21st century and carries legal penalties to consolidate this shame. Even sexual activity between consulting adult men is still struggling to shed the shame accumulated from recent centuries.
Shame and pride about same-sex sexuality, then, are clearly fluid constructions. They have contracted and expanded, gained (and lost) different nuances over time. And, it is this conceptual elasticity that will be followed on this blog over this Pride month.
Contemporary ‘gayness’ has been (arguably) constructed through the production of cultural goods that re-present ‘gay life’ and inform gay males’ self-understanding.
‘Authenticity’ modes of embodying gay identity, litmus tests that determine what represents legitimate ‘gayness’ are arguably filtered through media, artistic, intellectual, and other cultural goods that authenticate recognisable markers of gay maleness.
The cultural construction of urban gay male identities in the North Atlantic world since the 1970s has been particularly marked by American experience, language, and symbols. This is perhaps most poignantly attested to by the ubiquity of annual gay pride marches that tend to coincide with commemorations of clashes between gay men and law enforcement agents in New York City of 1969.
Berlin, along with other cities along the shores of the North Atlantic, offers a case in the significant influence of American experience, language and symbols in the construction of gay male urban cultures – not least because the ‘Christopher Street Day (CSD) Parade)’ is a key highlight in the annual gay cultural calendar. This is quite thought provoking when placed into the city’s historical context. Berlin has important pioneering local moments in the struggle for gay liberation and the construction of gay male identities that are widely known to precede Stonewall.
The appropriation of the American experience raises questions about the place of local experience and memory in the construction of gay male culture and identity. It also (arguably) raises questions about authenticity, performance, and the commoditisation of gay male identity: How ‘authentic’ are cultural expressions of identity that are imitations and appropriations of foreign experience? Is authenticity necessary in what is clearly spectacle, staging, and performance of identity? Does the appropriation of American experience represent a mass-production and commoditisation of gay male identity?
Altmann’s 1982 book spoke of the ‘Americanization of the homosexual’ – albeit in a different sense. Yet, his phrase may be an interesting term to think through American presence and influence in contexts such as Berlin. Transnational cultural influence has clearly played an important role in fostering global solidarity and in the expansion of LGBT rights. However, to what degree does re-appropriated culture actually serve to replace or subjugate local memory and experience?
Berlin of the early 20th Century
Berlin emerged at the end of the 19th Century as home to progressive academic and popular views on homosexuality. Locals ventured to explore homosexuality as a natural variation in human sexuality as opposed to it being a pathology or a moral failing. Spaces of acceptance and visibility for homosexual men emerged in the early twentieth century: During this period, the Schönenberg district became a key site of gay urban culture and socialisation.
In 1896, ‘Der Eigene’ was launched as the city’s first ‘gay magazine’.
Furthermore, in the early 20th Century, the work of Dr Magnus Hirschfeld validated Berliner progressive attitudes and urban cultural practice. As is widely known, Hirschfield sought to study human sexuality and discuss homosexuality as part of a spectrum of various expressions of human sexuality.
The Second World War
The Second World War held particular significance for homosexual men who became targets of harsh Nazi anti-homosexual laws. In 1936, Himmler appointed a body that would seek to combat “homosexuality and abortion”. The infamous Paragraph 175 was strengthened to tighten punishments against homosexuality. Jail sentences against homosexual men became stricter and more frequent. and after the war erupted, several thousands of gay men were sent to concentration camps. Some were castrated.
The marking of homosexual men with Pink Triangles during this period subsists as an enduring symbol of this episode in local LGBT history. The symbol is is integrated into present day Berlin LGBT semiotics and can be seen alongside the American-made – and now global – gay pride flag on shops and restaurants.
Beyond the Pink Triangle
While the pink triangle is a historical symbol that is locally significant and globally recognised, American memory of ‘gay liberation’ and the attendant cultural symbols arguably dominate the local. It may be interesting to reflect on whether this represents American cultural hegemony or whether these symbols are remnants of the late twentieth century when global solidarity was a pressing need in the North Atlantic World.
As the twenty-first century brings about a revival and expansion of liberal attitudes to sexual and gender minorities, perhaps there is an opportunity to ‘de-Americanize’ the homosexual and explore and expand local symbols and memory tied to gay identity. The value in doing so may lie in the possibility of deepening our understanding of ‘authentic’ gay identity(ies), emphasising the importance of the everyday, and exploring linkages between authenticity and spectacle.
Altmann, Dennis. “The homosexualization of America, the Americanization of the homosexual.” (1982).
Author: George Katito
Richard William Cornish presents a queer (awkward and otherwise) episode among several heroic tales of perseverance, valor, ambition, and tenacity associated to the Jamestown Colony.
Richard William Cornish, master of the ship Ambrose was executed in 1624 for the ‘ crime’ of having abused his position of power to lure William Cowse into bed.
It is a bawdy incident captured in Cowse’s court testimony about Cornish’s advances in tortured detail (some deleted, ostensibly for indecency according to sensibilities of the time).
Cowse recounts how Cornish invited and then forced him into bed while changing Cornish’s bedsheets. Cornish is accused of having:
« Called to this Examinat [i.e. examinee, witness], to lay A Cleane payre of sheete into his bed, wch this Exam[inee] did, And the said Wm went into the bed, and wold have this Exam com into ye bed to him, wch this Exam refusinge to doe the said Richard Williams went owt of the bed and did cut this Exam cod peece . . ., and made this Exam unredy.. »
Walter Mather, who appears to have been discretely witnessing the event (that is, peeping or eavesdropping), attests to the event, contributing to Cornish’s ultimate condemnation.
The case raises questions regarding precedent and prevalence of similar practice in subsequent years.
More importantly, it also presents questions about power, masculinity, and gender in the colony: In what ways did non-heterosexual sexual practices correspond to disparities in the distribution of power? The Cornish case exposes what seems to be a sexualized power difference.
Furthermore, it exposes the fluid nature of sexual desire and attraction, even in the 17th Century. Masculinity (as gender/sex) in this case does not necessarily imply desire for the opposite sex. In later parts of Cowse’s testimony, Cornish is reported to have proposed a more or less permanent arrangement that Cowse reportedly refuses.
The case also raises questions about the intersection between sexuality, crime and punishment. In this instance, the death sentence is deployed, in accordance with Virginia’s ‘Lawes Divine, Morall, Martiall’ (see article 1.9 of the code below):
« No man shal commit the horrible, and detestable sins of Sodomie upon pain of death; & he or she that can be lawfully convict of Adultery shall be punished with death. No man shall ravish or force any woman, maid or Indian, or other, upon pain of death, and know ye that he or shee, that shall commit fornication, and evident proofe made thereof, for their first fault shall be whipt, for their second they shall be whipt, and for their third shall be whipt three times a weeke for one month, and aske publique forgivenesse in the Assembly of the Congregation. »
Cornish’s case, thus, seems to be a potentially productive site upon which to launch a broader reflection on the personal lives of the men at Jamestown.
Similar lines of inquiry, however, have raised concerns about ‘liberals’ turning Jamestown into a gay village of sorts. Nonetheless, delving into uncomfortable questions about intimacy and desire in colonial Virginia holds the promise of delving into broader reflections about the nature of power. The challenge lies in balancing curiosity on one hand, with faithfulness to the heroism of those young men that crossed the Atlantic and changed the course of human history.
Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Trial of Richard Cornish, 1624”, Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 15 June 2008 <http://www.rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/cornish.htm>.
Tarter, Brent. “Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.
Author: George Katito
The first large-scale march by gender and sexual minorities in the Netherlands took place in 1977 in response to events that were unfolding in Dade County, Florida.
While it was not the first to take place in the Netherlands (in January of 1969, protests in the Hague sought the repeal of the Dutch ‘Article 248bis’ that imposed an unequal age of consent for homosexuals) 25 June 1977 was unprecedented in its scale. It also would become the first of yearly, national marches that conformed to the (then) nascent, globalized institution of ‘pride’ marches. (Hekma 1989, Hekma 2004)
Before Pride: Franco-German Influences on Dutch Attitudes
Thanks to a French imperialist project, the Napoleonic Code was instituted in the Netherlands in 1811. The code legalized homosexuality. Post-Napoleon, liberal laws toward homosexuality remained in place.
A century after the Napoleonic Code, ‘article 248bis’ came into force in 1911, instituting laws that undermined the liberal legal attitudes enshrined in the law. The legislative instrument set the age of consent for homosexuals at 21, while the heterosexual threshold was set at 16.
The institution of article 248bis, however, met with a progressive social and academic stance (resistance) on homosexuality influenced by Magnus Hirschfield’s Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (WhK) – the Scientific- Humanitarian Committee – in Germany.
Hirschfield and the WhK had established themselves as the first organization to seek social and legal protection for gender and sexual minorities at the dawn of the twentieth century. Hirschfield has also sought to explore, through academic methods, homosexuality not as an illness but rather an orientation among other diverse expressions of sexuality and gender. This was revolutionary for the time.
Jacob Schorer oversaw the Dutch chapter of the same organisation, the Nederlandsch Wetenschappelijk Humanitar Komitee (NWHK), that sought the same ends. After spending time in Berlin and having worked alongside Hirschfield, Schorer was part of a Dutch milieu that challenged conservative thinking on sexuality.
The Conservative Turn: Paragraph 175 goes Dutch
The Nazi invasion during the Second World War resulted in the introduction of Paragraph 175 that made homosexual acts criminal in the Netherlands. As such, this effectively halted Hirschfield and Schorer’s earlier work. In Germany the WhK’s work was effectively destroyed, with several pages of research being burnt by the regime. As is widely known, homosexuals were sent off to concentration camps during the period.
Post World War II Netherlands and Dade County, Florida
The end of the war witnessed the emergence of new organizations fighting for expanded rights for gender and sexual minorities. The sexual revolution of the 1960s further liberalized attitudes toward formerly transgressive expressions of sexuality. By 1973, article 248bis had been repealed, and the view that homosexuality was a form of mental illness had become antiquated in the Netherlands.
Local struggles to transform attitudes, science and laws related to sexuality reflected developments elsewhere in Western Europe at the time. However, in 1977, Dutch gender and sexual minorities sought to weigh in on policy discourse taking place beyond the North Sea and the Atlantic- in Dade County, Florida.
At the time, the now infamous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign, led by Anita Bryant was seeking to overturn an ordinance that ended discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. The ordinance was subsequently successfully overturned in a widely-supported special election.
One of the cornerstones of Bryant’s argument was that the ordinance would have ultimately endangered children who would now be subject to homosexual propaganda. Furthermore, Bryant’s campaign contended that sexual minorities would now turn to recruiting young children to become as they are, given their inability to reproduce as same sex couples.
Bryant’s movement inspired mass responses in the Netherlands and was the chief motivation for its first large scale march among gender and sexual minorities in June of 1977. This would subsequently evolve into the now institutionalized, annual marches that one finds in cities across the world. In 1979, it was adapted to local tastes as ‘Roze Zaterdag’ (Pink Saturday), generally held during the last week of June or the first of July, evidently timed to coincide with Stonewall commemorations at the time
Local, American policy discourse turned into a matter of significance in a vastly different context that had already made progress toward the liberalization of attitudes related to gender and sexual minorities. In this regard, the Dutch example is an interesting case in the motivations for social mobilization. The local policy rewards were limited for the Dutch, yet, solidarity seemed to be an adequately strong motivation for the first mass, national ‘homo-demonstration’ (‘homodemonstratie’) to take place in 1977. The Dutch example, and others, also raises interesting questions about the contemporary relevance of gay pride marches given their emergence as reactions to policy discourses of a particular moment.
Hekma, Gert. “Homoseksualiteit in Nederland van 1730 tot de moderne tijd.” (2004).
Hekma, Gert, Kraakman, Dorelies, Lieshout, Maurice van, Radersma, Jo (red.), Goed verkeerd. Een geschiedenis van homoseksuel mannen en lesbische vrouwen in Nederland. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1989.
Author: George Katito
Notions of liberty and ‘liberation’ are topical once again in the wake of tragic events in Paris. At the core of the debate is the particular notion of liberty of expression and the difficulties of defining and protecting ‘liberty’.
As in the past, ‘liberation’ is currently being brought into tension with fundamentalist religion. And it is in this tension that awkward questions arise: What place does religious sentiment have in a secular republic seeking to assert liberty? At what point does ‘liberty of expression’ become illegitimate and bastardly? Does the freedom of expression afford one the liberty to offend? How worthwhile is it to defend ‘liberty’?
The late 1960s and 1970s offer a potentially instructive moment to reflect upon current events. Indeed, this widely-explored period was an interesting point in time where aggressive calls for the liberation of minds and bodies became central, often being played out before an offended audience.
Along the shores of the Atlantic, various groups including the then much-loathed homosexuals demanded liberty in a spurt of radicalism and tumult.
Among the several countries in the North Atlantic where ‘liberation movements became visible at the time was Spain that hosted a network of radical homosexual groups seeking to break down medical and legal practices that approached homosexuality as criminal and pathological.
The Franco dictatorship that fell in the mid 1970s had consolidated homophobic attitudes. Indeed, under Franco’s Spain, homosexuals were assigned to particularly brutal treatment, even by the period’s standards: they were sent to concentration camps and subjected to humiliating medical centers in addition to the default universal stigmatization of the time (Marlin 2014).
Yet, radical and liberationist ideas took root in Spain as they had elsewhere on the continent and beyond the Atlantic. The Movimiento Español de Liberación Homosexual (MELH) emerged in 1971, drawing inspiration from the Communist Worker’s Group and other similar groups at home and abroad. The Frente Homosexual de Acción Revolucionaria (FHAR) also emerged and sought to undermine hostile Franquista positions toward homosexuality. The very presence of such resistance signaled a remarkable assertion of liberty.
In decades immediately prior to the 1970s, oppressive, homophobic legal and medical frameworks had taken root. These effectively overrode the decriminalization of homosexual acts that had been enshrined in the Napoleonic Code framework adopted in Spain as far back as 1822 (Altmann 2006). ‘Laws against vagrancy’ adopted just prior to Franco’s rise were aggressively enforced to criminalize homosexuality along with other subsequent stringent laws that framed homosexuals as security threats, criminal, and pathological.
Nonetheless, as elsewhere, radical calls for liberty did not survive beyond the 1970s. By 1978, radical homosexual groups in Spain had declined significantly in vigor and lost much of their support.Radical groups for gay liberation took the route of almost all other similar movements along the Atlantic. The burning desire for liberty dissipated.
This (arguably) raises, in light of current events in France, an interesting question about the trajectory of calls for liberty and liberation.On January the 11th,2015 millions marched across Paris in an act of defiance, to assert liberty of expression and to proclaim liberation from fear. Yet, if the 1970s, a moment of a consuming appetite for liberation that engulfed Madrid as much as it did London and San Francisco shows anything, it is that radical protest has a short life span.
(As an interesting but not entirely irrelevant aside, it bears mentioning that the slain staff of Charlie Hebdo were products of May 1968 . Prior to the terror attack, however, their brand of radical challenge was rapidly disappearing.)
In post-Franco Spain (after 1975), the once radical, offensive gay liberation movement evolved (as it did elsewhere) into a more inclusive, ‘sensible’, alliance that worked less against the grain.Spain would became one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage and still remains one of the more open societies to sexual minorities. This transition from radical gay liberation to inclusive and integration-minded activism, however, has never fully assuaged offense from the religious establishment.
The Spanish case of gay liberation provides food for thought in many (perhaps slightly contradictory) respects. Firstly, radical and offensive assertions of liberty are very difficult to maintain in the long term. Boredom sets in and provocation grows old and tedious. Secondly, fundamentalist readings of religion thrive on offense and cannot be assuaged by capitulating to their demands. Moderation and avoiding confrontation does not necessarily defeat the permanent sense of offense among religious extremists.
These thoughts lead to a third: Seeing that one can neither avoid offense in the quest for liberty nor sustain provocative, radical liberationist protest in the long term, it could well be that challenging the status quo is a worthwhile endeavor, while its lasts.
Altmann, Werner. “” Vicio repugnante en lo social, aberración en lo sexual, perversión en lo psicológico y defecto en lo endocrino”. Un ensayo bibliográfico sobre la homosexualidad y los homosexuales bajo la dictadura franquista.” Iberoamericana (2001-) (2006): 193-210.
Marín, Lucas Jurado. Identidad. Represión hacia los homosexuales en el franquismo. Editorial La Calle, 2014.
It is a dark day in France and much of Paris is in a state of high alert. There is a visible military and army presence.
More so, circumstances demand reflection on the key issues at stake, among them citizenship, religion, and the French republican values – liberté, égalité, fraternité. These are values that were spread, and exchanged in that transatlantic age of revolution and democracy.
Charlie Hebdo represents, even in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy, a defense of these values in the 21st Century.
Charlie Hebdo also, more crucially, provides a canvass upon which radical voices and transgressive thoughts can be articulated. It represents, for individuals and groups seeking visibility, a refreshing dash of queer in a world of fear-filled conformism.
The lives lost in Paris have sparked an outpouring of grief (which may turn to outrage) across the continent, the Atlantic, and beyond.
The hope is that the determination to challenge received wisdom embodied by Charlie Hebdo will only be strengthened by yesterday’s cowardly act of terror.