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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 44
Historians need to step up to the plate
Section One
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Historians need to step up to the plate

by Mark Segal - Courtesy of the Philadelphia Gay News

Was President Lincoln a Gay man? Were President Buchanan and William King partners? Can we prove that Lesbians and Trans people fought in the Revolutionary and Civil wars? Was a Gay man the founder of the U.S. military? Why is any of this important?

A new passion has taken hold of me the last year or so and, if you've been reading these pages or those in LGBT publications across the country, you've witnessed its intensity: LGBT history, especially LGBT people in American history. It was in full bloom as part of our sixth annual National Gay History Project in October.

In the first year of the National Gay History Project, we asked Congressman Barney Frank to write an essay on Gay history. He wrote eloquently about his early years in politics and his coming out as an openly Gay member of Congress, and how difficult it was. He explained very clearly how even in the 1960s, under liberal presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson, anti-Gay legislation was still being ushered through the political system. The article showcases a man who is passionate about politics and the system that makes change. Some children grow up wanting to be doctors, lawyers, or artists. There are also those who grow up wanting to be like Barney: a part of a system that will foster change and equality. For them to know that LGBT people were a part of this system from the start and were founders of this country gives them great pride in themselves and hope for a future political career or work in government. And those are the children who will make the changes that will affect our future.

This year's National Gay History Project started out with a premise stated by a member of the far-right-wing Republican Party. The quote was, 'Our founding fathers did not have homosexuals in mind when they created this country.' The project this year proved that statement utterly false.

It was an ambitious project and our writers delivered more than what was expected of them. If you hear that quote again, tell them about Baron von Steuben. Without von Steuben, a Gay man, there would be no USA.

Benjamin Franklin was the first U.S. official to recruit a Gay man for the military; at that time, the Continental Army.

Did you know that one of the most patriotic songs, 'America the Beautiful,' was written by a lesbian, Katharine Lee Bates?

And thanks to our reporting, the official library and home of President James Buchanan is finally beginning to admit that it is possible that he was Gay. (Read about Buchanan, his partner William Rufus King and the rest at www.epgn.com, under Special Coverage).

So, we've done our work. Now it's the time for historians to step up to the plate. My personal promise: That will happen.

This year, 30 LGBT publications challenged historians to get LGBT history straight. The combined print run for this innovative historic coverage was be over 650,000 copies. The newspapers and magazines came from every major city in America and reached millions. Among those participating were leading LGBT publications in Atlanta (Gay Voice), Baltimore (Out Loud), Charlotte (Q Notes), Chicago (Windy City Times), Cleveland (Gay People's Choice), Dallas (Dallas Voice), Denver (Out Front), Detroit (Between Lines), Harrisburg (Central Voice), Houston (Montrose Star), Las Vegas (Q Vegas), Los Angeles (Frontiers In La), Miami/Ft. Lauderdale (South Florida Gay News), Milwaukee (Wisconsin Gazette), Minneapolis/St. Paul (Lavender Magazine), Nashville (Out & About), New Orleans (Ambush), Philadelphia (Philadelphia Gay News), Phoenix (Echo Magazine), Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh's Out), Orlando (Watermark), Portland (Just Out), Sacramento (Outword), Salt Lake City (Q Salt Lake), San Diego (Gay San Diego), San Francisco (Bay Area Reporter), Seattle (Seattle Gay News), Tampa (Watermark), And Washington, D.C. (Washington Blade).

Mark Segal is founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, the country's oldest LGBT newsweekly. Sometimes called the dean of the Gay press, Segal is an award-winning columnist and is fascinated by history.

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