A group of SCA folk in An Tir, led by Ariel de Courtenay and Master Eduardo Francesco Maria Lucrezia, are petitioning their Crown and the Board of Directors to allow same-sex couples to enter Crown Tournaments as contender and consort.
On Saturday evening, September 7, at September Crown Tourney in An Tir, Their Royal Majesties Tiernan and Miranda graciously received a presentation in their “Crown Contenders” court from petitioners specifically barred from entry. Maestro Eduardo Lucrezia and Mistress Ariel de Courtenay, along with their partners and a group of about thirty supporters, begged audience to request permission for same-sex couples to enter crown lists in future tournaments. Making the delegation welcome in their court, Their Majesties received the letter arguing for the rule change request, and agreed to pass it on to their successors and to the Board of Directors of the Society who hold the power to change corpora. Addressing the populace, Maestro Eduardo briefly described the contents of the letter as asking that “all entrants may fight for their true inspirations in Crown, whatever the gender of that inspiration.”
In An Tir, as in all the kingdoms of the Known World, entrants in the Crown Lists must fight for an inspiration of the opposite gender (if at least in persona). Members of the delegation that came before the An Tir Crowns made the case that this rule unfairly limits access for a specific group to the most important tourney in the realm and, along with rules around Baronial qualifications, deprives the SCA of the leadership and service of a significant minority of members. The inclusion of questions about same-sex couples in leadership on the current SCA census indicates that the issue is already being seriously considered by the current board of directors (http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SCA2010Census).
Movements like the one in An Tir, where a Facebook community titled “Inspirational Equality in the SCA” garnered over 150 members in its first 48 hours, show that the issue is very much a going concern among ordinary members of the populace. The An Tir group hopes to add to the same-sex leadership discussion by creating a forum in support of changing the same-sex couples ban for Crown Tournaments. “Change happens when pressure comes from many directions at once,” Mistress Ariel told Queen Miranda, as she thanked Her for allowing the audience.
The delegation who presented the letter sees themselves not as a protest group, but as a force working within the Medieval bonds of fealty and the policies of the modern SCA, giving voice to the need for a change for which they believe the time has come. As peers and members of the society for over two decades, both Eduardo and Ariel view this endeavor as a labor of love, and hope that such movements as theirs will move the SCA toward being a Dream for all—“the Middle Ages not as they were, but as they should have been.”
The An Tir group has provisionally adopted a badge depicting two gold curule chairs side by side on a purple field. The gold chairs are a Roman symbol indicating power or authority, and the purple field symbolizes royal purple for royal access. The organizers of Inspirational Equality have called on supporters to wear arm bands and rosettes purpure to indicate support for same gender inspirations until such time as the Crown Tourney entry rule is amended. The hundred arm bands they brought to the crown event were gone by Saturday evening. The Latin motto above, “O, in futurum gradum faciat praeteritus antequam praesentem” (Oh, to have the past step into the future before the present) is the slogan of the An Tir advocacy group. It symbolizes their hope that the SCA can be a cultural leader rather than a reactive force on this important issue.
The letter of the text presented to Their Royal Majesties An Tir and circulated on the Inspirational Equality facebook page appears below. The An Tir group welcomes comment from all comers (for, against and undecided) on their facebook community (“Inspirational Equality in the SCA”) and hopes that the movement will quickly spread beyond the bounds of their kingdom.
The petition reads as follows:
We, the signatories to this missive, beg the feudal right of Royal audience. We request that Your Most August Majesties, Tiernan Rex and Miranda Regina, may submit to your successors and to Corpora this our petition regarding permission for all entrants in Crown Tourney to fight for those who inspire them, whether their inspirations be of the same or opposite gender.
The same rule mandating a presentation of heterosexuality for couples entering Crown is a long-standing tradition which evokes strong reactions and deeply rooted emotion. Though change is always a process, we submit that as an organization, there is in our practice the tradition of engaging thoughtfully and selectively with history as we determine which aspects to promote and which to exclude as relics of a more rigid and brutal time. We therefore propose that in these Current Middle Ages, the same-sex ban in Crown Tournament is one of the traditions best left behind as we strive to create a vision of the Middle Ages “as they should have been and not as they were.”
We submit that allowing same-gendered inspirations in Crown is an idea whose time has come—it is not only a matter of justice and integrity, it goes to the very heart of the honor of our Society. You, the current members of the Board of Directors, have the privilege of governing the SCA at a pivotal moment. The question before us can wait no longer. We ask the board—on the question of same-sex inspirations in Crown, how will the SCA stand?
As you, the Dedicated Members of the Board of Directors consider this issue, we submit that the same-sex ban can be challenged on several points:
- First of all, the same-sex ban cannot be justified on “period precedent” grounds without a degree of hypocrisy. SCA custom already ignores many other repressive period practices for very good reason. To name just a few, we allow women to fight as a matter of course, we totally exclude religion from official SCA policy, and tournament entry does not discriminate on the basis of race or disability. (Consider: the idea that being female means having no legal or property rights, or that a disability or being Black is a mark of the devil are utterly foreign to us, though totally accepted in most Medieval cultures). Banning one modern cultural practice (same-sex inspirations) but not others (discrimination against women, non-whites, and disabled folks) is inconsistent and cannot be honorably justified. Even the way we select our rulers (single combat) is a dramatic departure from period practice which emphasized lineage, God-given right, or military conquest. For that reason, opposite-sex inspirations have no more or less period justification than same-sex ones—period precedent simply does not support either. For all these reasons, holding on to an anti-gay value when so many other social norms of the SCA reflect shifts in values which have occurred in the last four centuries can only be made sense of as an artifact of modern prejudice. In the spirit of the Virtues of Justice and Good Faith, we call upon the SCA to be a leader rather than a reactive force in our culture. We ask the board—will the SCA hold true to our values and step up as a cultural leader?
- Second, the same-sex-ban rule is unfair and therefore contrary to the requirements of Chivalry and Fealty, not to mention modern law. Unfairly banning one group of entrants on grounds inconsistent with the entry rules for other members corrupts the Honor of our society. Furthermore, such inconsistency represents a failure to meet the requirements of the SCA's Duty to its members within the context of both Medieval and modern values. Same sex partners can champion the person they love in any tournament except Crown, but must watch from the sidelines for the most important contest in the realm. This denies access for a specific group which seems arbitrary and frustrating, but more than that, it is clearly discrimination. As such, the SCA is in direct violation of modern law in the state of Washington. Corpora clearly states that in cases where SCA violates modern law, modern law must take precedent, and in the state of Washington, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal. For that reason alone, the SCA must change its policy, (at least in states with non-discrimination clauses). More than conflicting with modern law, however, the same-sex ban can be challenged from within a society context. Those of us who are Peers of the Realm submit that we may call upon the Feudal Duty of our Liege Lord and Lady, the King and Queen of An Tir, to protect and promote our right to enter Crown inspired by the person we choose without hindrance. Also as Peers of the Realm, it is our bound duty to promote the rights of our vassals to do the same. We ask the board—will the SCA follow the mandates of both our own governing documents and our Medieval ideals of feudal protection to reject the discriminatory ban?
- Third, current attempts to address the issue of same sex couples entering Crown fall short, despite the clearly good intentions of those who suggest them. It has been suggested that gay couples could enter kingdom lists or serve at the baronial level if they are legally married or have legal domestic partnership. This is an inadequate solution. Unmarried couples or couples who are no more than friends enter crown or serve at the baronial level all the time, therefore, requiring marriage for gays is an obvious double standard, even more so because this legal status is currently unavailable in the majority of U.S. states. Another frequent suggestion is the persona argument: that Corpora only specifies that members of a couple must adopt opposite sex personas. While some people may choose to do this for their own reasons, requiring it of all same sex couples also represents a double standard—we do not, as a routine SCA-wide practice, dictate persona. For example, Corpora does not mandate that if an Elizabethan with a Norse inspiration wants to enter Crown, one of them must change their persona. There is no other example in the SCA where a certain persona is required for office or participation. No other women are required to pretend to be men in order to enter Crown or do any of the other activities of the society; no other men are required to pretend to be women. Most specifically, women who win crown are not required to pretend to be men while they fight or rule and their King-consort is not required to pretend to be a woman. The fact that such an arrangement seems patently ridiculous shows clearly that the same-sex ban is clearly not about the gender of the ruler but about prejudice against same-sex couples. We ask the board—will the SCA take a stand against prejudice?
- Fourth, we suggest that some concerns with same sex entry greatly exaggerate negative possibilities and paint same-sex couples as inferior to opposite-sex couples in ways that do not hold together. For example, it has been suggested that a ruler of each gender is needed to inspire the kingdom—this is merely an extension of limiting gender stereotypes. Such an argument assumes that members of each gender inspire in certain gender-specific ways—for example, that it takes a woman to promote the arts (clearly, not all queens are involved in the arts while many kings are). It goes without saying that any woman accomplished enough to win crown will be a martial inspiration par excellence. Another concern voiced is that two straight men may join forces to “game the system” and double their odds of winning. We submit that first, if two men are willing to take on the stigma of presenting as a same sex couple, it will likely be a profound learning experience for all involved, and second, if the Chivalry are truly worried that such an attempt represents cheating, there are routes of social pressure already built into the system to address such dishonesty. Arguing that same-sex entry should be banned for this reason is like creating a rule that anyone suspected of being a rhino should be systematically banned from entry—how could so subjective a rule possibly be enforced in a fair way? Banning same sex entry for fear of a slim possibility of cheating causes harm to a large number of people in the dubious cause of preventing abuse by a handful—it is simply not worth it. We ask the board—will the SCA promote the needs of the many over the fears of the few?
- Fifth, we would argue that if the SCA truly wants to exclude the influence of religion, it must recognize that anti-gay sentiment comes directly out of late medieval Christian teachings. The SCA rejects the teachings of specific religious movements for good reason. As Christianity gained in political power in the late Middle Ages, it not only championed homophobia, it also dictated an erosion of women's rights and personhood, the vilification of third world peoples as heathens and savages (animals), and xenophobia as religious justification for wars of conquest. The SCA has already accepted gender and racial equality in contradiction of historical precedent. How are gay rights different except in modern perception (which has already shifted significantly)? Most of the anti-gay sentiments of the middle ages did not emerge until the 14th century and at that point developed straight out of repressive moves by the Christian hegemony to consolidate their power and control. Up until then, there were open and formal gay bonding ceremonies taking place for both genders across Europe (Boswell, J. 1994, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Vintage Books, New York). If we say we take the influence of religion out of the SCA, it is the only honorable course to acknowledge that anti-gay prejudice is a religious value and exclude it as well. It is commonly said that peers are not made, they are recognized. In this case, we do not ask the board to create a shift in the values of the SCA, but to simply recognize a value which already exists. We ask the board—will the SCA reject the influence of regressive religious ideas and affirm a value of inclusivity which already exists?
- Finally, the same-sex ban excludes same-sex couples from the opportunity to engage in the Service of leadership at the highest levels. We appeal to the values of Loyalty, Dedication and Service to the SCA represented so well by you who serve at the highest levels and have the power to change this rule. Keeping in place a barrier against public visibility and service by gay members is not only discrimination pure and simple, it deprives the SCA of the energy and involvement of a whole sector of the populace. A highly visible anti-gay rule for the highest tournament in the land sends a subtle but clear message of exclusion and silencing that permeates the whole society. For an organization which prides itself on inclusivity and for providing a home and a vision of community for those who may not feel at home elsewhere, this one exclusion feels glaringly out of place. We ask the board—will the SCA to take a stand against the systematic exclusion of a class of its members so that all may contribute to the vision of the Dream?
We, the undersigned, realize that culture does not change overnight and that the change we request may be a long and gradual process. We want to work in a constructive and collaborative way within the decision making processes of the SCA. At this time, and as an experiment to better understand the impact of such a change to Crown Tourney entry rules, we wish to begin this process by simply petitioning the Crown of An Tir and the Board of the Society to grant permission for same sex couples to enter one tournament in one kingdom—the May Crown Tournament in the Kingdom of An Tir in A.S. XLV (2011 in the modern reckoning). We ask the board and the as-yet-to-be-named Crowns of An Tir—will you grant our petition for a trial of same-sex Crown entry in May?
Together as dedicated members of the kingdom of An Tir, peers and populace together, we beg you, members of the Board, please take the route of Honor, Duty, and Integrity to create fair and consistent access for entering Crown for all couples. Please act to reject discrimination so as to uphold the Medieval Virtues which inspire us, the Fealty which protects us, and the modern law which binds us. Please recognize and reject the limitations of outdated gender stereotypes. Please recognize and exclude the influence of religion on SCA policy. Please welcome the service of all kinds of couples in SCA leadership.
Members of the board, we ask that you join with the many members of the society who desire access to crown for all couples to work toward gradual, consensus-based, and sustainable policy change which reflects the needs of the membership and the larger culture of which we are a part. In sign and seal of our support for this change, we who champion same-sex inspirations in crown shall wear arm bands and rosettes purpure—Royal purple to signify royal access—until such time as the rights of all couples are Honored in access to the highest tournament in the land.
We end as we began this missive: You the board here find yourselves at a watershed moment in creating the future history of our Current Middle Ages. We ask you—will you take a stand to support the right of same-sex partners to fight and to serve the society to which we are all devoted? Will you change the same-sex ban?
Ariel de Courtenay, OL
Eduardo Francesco Maria Lucrezia, OL, OP
O, in futurum gradum faciat praeteritus antequam praesentem (Oh, to have the past step into the future before the present)