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The Time Swedes Called in Gay to Work

Protestors blocking the stairs of the National Board of Health and Welfare in 1979. Image Credit: Courtesy RFSL

Psychiatry has not always been kind to people whose sexuality veers from the societal norm. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness in many countries as late as the mid-20th century—if it was not classified as an outright crime. Even Sweden, that Scandinavian bastion of openness and equality, identified being gay as a disorder as late as 1979. 

That year, a group of Swedes took advantage of the legal framework that made being gay an illness and called in sick to work, claiming their homosexuality as the reason. One woman, from the southern province of Smålandeven, managed to get Social Security benefits for calling in gay. 

Calling in gay was part of a larger protest from the RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights. Sweden decriminalized homosexuality in 1944, but according to the National Board of Health and Welfare, which develops health standards, it was still a disease. As a bit of context, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would no longer consider homosexuality a mental disorder in 1973, though it continued to use “sexual orientation disturbance” to categorize individuals who felt distressed by their sexual orientation (among other odd disorders).

Fed up with the lack of traction it was gaining through traditional letter and phone campaigns, RFSL planned to occupy the National Board building as a demonstration against pathologizing gayness. On August 29, during the middle of Stockholm’s “Homosexual Liberation Week” (later Stockholm Pride), RFSL protesters gathered to block the stairs of the National Board building, chanting and waving banners. Barbro Westerholm, the newly installed director general of the National Board, eventually came and sat with the protestors, and became amenable to their cause. In late October of 1979, the National Board declassified homosexuality as a disease, making Sweden the first European country to do so. 

Needless to say, not all countries have caught up. It wasn’t until 2014 that a World Health Organization panel concluded that there is no scientific basis for mental disorders specific to gay people, and the American Psychiatric Association’s treatment of transgender people remains controversial. 

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Art
Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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History
New Documentary Reveals the Surprising Place the Queen's Crown Jewels Were Hidden During WWII
Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images
Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Today, the Queen of the United Kingdom's Crown Jewels are safeguarded in the Tower of London’s Jewel House, under the watch of armed guards. But during World War II, select gems from the priceless collection were stored in a biscuit tin and buried on Windsor Castle’s grounds, according to Business Insider.

The unorthodox hiding place was recently revealed in a new BBC documentary, The Coronation, which looks back on Queen Elizabeth II’s rise to the throne in 1953. British news commentator Alastair Bruce, who interviews the Queen in the hour-long special, says he stumbled across the story while perusing once-confidential letters between royal librarian Sir Owen Morshead and Queen Mary, the mother of King George VI and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth.

Fearing that the Nazis would seize the royal jewels, George VI ordered the treasure-filled tin to be buried underneath a secret emergency castle exit. The jewels—including the Black Prince's Ruby and St. Edward's Sapphire, both taken from the Imperial State Crown—were accessible only through a trapdoor.

The freshly tilled earth was a chalky white. To avoid notice from the German Luftwaffe, tarps were used to conceal the dug-up grounds at night. The Nazis weren’t the only ones left in the dark: Princess Elizabeth, then 14 years old, had no idea where the gems were buried, although she did know they’d been hidden at Windsor.

This story—along with other musings on royalty from Queen Elizabeth—is shared in The Coronation, which airs on the Smithsonian Channel on January 14.

[h/t Business Insider]

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