Did Washington Hate Gays; Fighting to Take Homosexual History out of the Closet

By Wingert, Pat; Waldman, Steven | Newsweek, October 16, 1995 | Go to article overview

Did Washington Hate Gays; Fighting to Take Homosexual History out of the Closet


Wingert, Pat, Waldman, Steven, Newsweek


Today, class, we will discuss whether Abraham Lincoln's homosexuality affected his attitude toward General McClellan.

SUCH AN OPENER WOULD SURELY GET the attention of your typical bleary-eyed adolescent. And the possibility of such a sentence ever being uttered has certainly gotten the attention of Beverly LeHaye, the conservative head of Concerned Women of America. She fears this kind of talk may become common if gay-rights advocates succeed in their drive to celebrate a Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual History Month in high schools every October. The idea was recently endorsed by the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, prompting LeHaye to write the 600,000 members of her group: "We must act to ensure [that] the innocence and purity of children we love are not destroyed ... The full power of the NEA is being used to force our children and schools to celebrate' homosexuality."

Gays are trying to match the success other groups have had in raising awareness about overlooked parts of the American past. Black History Month has focused attention on African-Americans. But in the current conservative climate, gays are learning that their new quest won't be easy. Although LeHaye's fund-raising appeal conjures images of school libraries stocked with gay magazines like Honcho and Planet Homo, in fact not a single school district in the nation has accepted the history-month idea or a proposed gay curriculum. Even the NEA has gotten skittish after hundreds of teachers threatened to quit when the resolution passed in July.

The curriculum does not suggest discussing the mechanics of homosexuality. Advocates would be happy if schools just acknowledged the homosexuality of figures like Julius Caesar and Michelangelo. "We've sanitized history too much," says Rodney Wilson, the gay high-school teacher from suburban St. Louis who came up with the history-month idea last year. Since he began the crusade, Wilson's group, has received 10,000 requests for information.

Advocates also want to detail the long history of homosexual persecution. They say students should be taught that in 1777 Thomas Jefferson attempted--unsuccessfully--to liberalize Virginia's sodomy laws by reducing the penalty from death to castration; that George Washington kicked a soldier out of the Continental Army for being gay; and that, in 1953, Eisenhower required government employees to swear they weren't communist -- or gay. …

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