In Which I Return To Dangerous Territory About Which I Am Admittedly Ignorant

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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132 Responses

  1. Robert Cheeks says:

    As per the California law if the dude is a heterosexual are the history books instructed to inform the student? Re: Buchanan and Lincoln, I’ll go with Buchanan in that his actions were those of an American not only schooled in the Constitution but one willing to act on it as well. Lincoln was merely the tool of those nasty Eastern monied interests still active today.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Off topic, Bob, but — I’ve moved on with my audiobooked driving to Eric Foner’s THE FIERY TRIAL (on Lincoln and slavery) and it is, in fact, fascinating that there really WAS an economic component to opposition to slavery — much more so than I’d ever had a prior impression of. It’s always Garrison, etc. as the lead-up, not the Whiggish vision of America’s future, or the fear of recent immigrants/poor west-wandering Yankees that an expansion of slavery will cost them their economic prospects out west.

      Whatever Lincoln’s early views of the morality of slavery (clearly moral opposition, but it’s not clearly as strident as he later becomes), he cast himself, in Foner’s telling, as something of economic policy wonk — as if persuading people of an economic vision that left no room for slavery were the most effective means of abolishing it. Not to mention that he also thought that economic vision was essential to America’s future…

      This all deserves a little more depth in a post of its own, maybe, but I suddenly realized you and Eric Foner were in sort-of agreement on Lincoln! I had to point it out.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        I’ll look forward to your post which, I’m sure will start a firestorm. I’m not a Marxist/materialist kind of guy but I think I understand what you’re getting at and in that sense I might acknowledge some of Foner’s analysis.Report

      • Lyle in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        If you read the concern was that free whites could not compete with slaves. Thus the concern about keeping slavery out of the territories which lead to the civil war. Lincoln was firmly in the Clay camp on economics, i.e. the american system of internal improvements high protective tariffs and the like. Recall that Lincoln served in the House as a Whig.Report

  2. Jesse Ewiak says:

    In all reality, this law is more of a warning shot to block Texas-based schoolbooks that sometimes have some interesting historical issues (hey, here’s 8 pages on Ronald Reagan. By the way, we’ll mention Rosa Parks once.) from coming into California. Plus, anything that makes right-wingers heads blow up that doesn’t hurt anybody is objectively a good thing.Report

    • I followed the Texas Scoolbook Massacre very closely, Jesse. After the thunder died away—I’m obliged to say, after the left hysteria lost interest—I pored through the actual final, approved changes. What you—and America, via the NYT and Washington Monthly—mostly heard about were wack proposals from the right that were shot down. And you heard zero about what was wack about the left’s proposals.

      I’m prepared to defend the changes—at arm’s length altho not every chapter and verse. But the previous curriculum was PC bullshit, substituting feel-good sociology for actual American history. All you need to do is poke through the TEKS site for yrself.

      [I’ll repluck my harp here, as in what I harp on: I have seen almost countless stories on the controversy, not one that contains an actual analysis of the actual changes. They explicitly substituted the study of “citizens” for “people,” and I give them a civics A+ for that.]

      In fact, there are some states like Oregon that are far more insipid the other way. That you’ll never hear about either…Report

      • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

        What does Oregon have in it’s curriculum that is unusual or especially insipid? Being an Oregonian with kids that have completed or are in elementary, junior high and high school, I am fascinated to hear which part of our milquetoast curriculum is so revolutionary.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

          Do you really care, RTod. i ask because when I present contrarian evidence when called out, I get no acknowledgement. Usually the person disappears for awhile, as just happened when I presented Bill Clinton’s true record in the welfare reform timeline. It’s so seldom with the effort and trouble of responding to such call-outs that I’m like, fuck you, look it up yrself.

          But I have found you to be an honest gentleman and interlocutor, RTod, and honoring that back has been singularly rewarding. My off-the-cuff statement about Oregon comes from picking through the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s ratings of every state’s curriculum. They are called “conservative,” however they were tough on Texas [before and after the latest changes] and were quite positive on NY and California. Delaware was shit, North Carolina perhaps unsurprisingly “liberal.” Not entirely what facile red state/blue state smack would predict.

          Forgive me if I don’t dig further for you. If you can’t find the ratings yrself, I will put my nose to the grindstone for you if your interest is compelling and sincere.

          Otherwise, well, I hope you understand. My curiosity is insatiable, but I’m intrinsically lazy, esp when my efforts amount to doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful. I have given you an honest account of my own research.

          And thx for asking. Cheers.Report

          • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

            I’m still fascinated, enough to try to run down the Fordham’s rating and how it is calculated – so thanks for following up.

            I’m puzzled to how one determines what is a conservative or liberal curriculum. Does noting the rise of the Soviet Union, and the conditions that led to it, for example, get scored as Liberal (Why do we care what the fish their reasons were? They were communists!) or conservative (Those war mongers have to view every fishing thing through the Cold War). It seems a silly exercise and one ripe for partisan abuse on either end, but still fascinating so again thanks. You da man tvd.Report

            • RTod in reply to RTod says:

              FYI if you care – I look at the executive summary for Oregon, and the critique seems to be less that kids are taught liberal history than they are taught almost no history whatsoever. Which is less fun than reading about con vs. lib findings, but I must say that their conclusion 100% matches our experience. It is in fact a pretty sad and pathetic curriculum.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

                Thx for looking it up on yr own, RTod. Rewards my faith in you and warms me cockles. Sincerely, warmly.

                Yes, incoherence is the problem, left or right. I’ve studied enough history that I could write a left-leaning narrative without cheating the questions. Cheating the questions—selectivity and misproportionalizing—is the offense against honest persons like yrself and I hope myownself.

                That the Fordham Institute’s criticism on Oregon rang true with your own experience despite yr initial skepticism adds to the respect they’ve earned from me as well for even-handedness. I signed up for their email newsletter. Hey, it’s free, and one more piece of junk in my box ain’t gonna hurt. They seem sincere.Report

  3. tom van dyke says:

    Should the villains of history be similarly earmarked as gay?

    I don’t know many of them either one way or the other, per Likko’s functional point. Heydrich? Caligula was kinda funky. Tiberius on Capri.

    Ah, Roy Cohn.

    Homosexualityness has been consigned to the “distinction without a difference” bin of public life, which I’m good with. The arts? I suppose it could be relevant. Michelangelo never did any babes as awesome as his David. Can’t remember when I found out Walt Whitman was, you know, but it was fairly early on in my education. Not much of a secret.

    Indeed, in Leaves of Grass, as the poet who contains multitudes,

    I turn the bridegroom out of bed, and stay with the bride myself;
    I tighten her all night to my thighs and lips.

    Woof. Dude could teach the heterosexers a thing or two. That’s why he was a poet, not a gay poet. Modifier unnecessary.

    I am wondering, though, what if Michelangelo had sculpted some hot babes. The end of Western Civilization, probably.Report

    • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

      “Should the villains of history be similarly earmarked as gay?” yes

      “That’s why he was a poet, not a gay poet.” Seconded, except as an example to a silly “those people only know how to be vulgar” argument… which, again, is not really an argument about Walt Whitman at all, so I am re-seconding this.

      “I am wondering, though, what if Michelangelo had sculpted some hot babes. ” I would have gone on more museum field trips as a boy.Report

    • Simon K in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Ronnie Kray is the only sure fire gay villain I can come up with. Probably doesn’t qualify for the California curriculum. Mebbe Alexander, but applying modern categories to classical figures is problematic.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to Simon K says:

        Barney Frank.

        If there is ever a Mount Rushmore for hypocrites, the face of Democratic Congressman Barney Frank -Fannie Mae’s friend in every sordid scrape (until nothing could be hidden anymore) -should be the first to go up. It was the complaisance and complicity of elected politicians like him that enabled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to achieve the power they did, to violate so utterly their own charters, to defy and slander their regulators (they set rumours afloat that one honest overseer was having “mental problems”) as long as the mortgage giants tossed funds into their political kitties, gave them ribbon cutting ceremonies for “minority housing,” and greased their re-election efforts.

        The real story of Reckless Endangerment is more a story of democracy corrupted than it is a story of financial fraud. It is a story of America’s great wounding of herself. And even now, with this book, the full account is not nearly as known as it should be; and as the authors so sadly point out, nearly every one of the principals who brought such misery and shame upon their countrymen are free, prosperous, in many cases highly honoured and “serving” still at the highest levels of political and financial power.

        “These two entities—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. “The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Simon K says:

        To me the most obvious gay villain is Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed the young men who were also his sex partners, much as straight serial killers often target prostitutes. Lust-with-loathing can be a deadly combo.

        Obviously introducing Jeffrey Dahmer into history classes without any gay heroes or plain, ordinary gay folks is going to be unbalancing, and I’m sure that many conservatives would be eager to see just such a move.Report

  4. J.L. Wall says:

    The curricular aspect also left me wondering. You’ve also got to think about this in terms of textbooks — what changes would the law (California IS a rather large state, you know; one of those where laws can affect the publisher’s choices) ultimately bring about. And — I’m admittedly no expert on the subject myself — all I could think about was adding a sub-section to the late 60s/1970s chapter on Stonewall and the beginning of the gay rights movement, maybe a paragraph and a picture next to it of Harvey Milk, and some yet-unknown affect on the way AIDS is written (but here we’re getting VERY recent — it may well be that the law has its greatest effect, though, in about 10 years, when 1980 is so terrifyingly long ago that I don’t even want to think about it.)

    But I don’t see how textbook changes, and a state law, would be able to really, truly affect the curriculum itself. In high school (and in my 8th grade history course) we finished WW2 in mid-May and covered the Cold War in the final week or two. We watched a video that covered 1965-1980, and it was assumed everyone knew that the Cold War ends with the Soviet Union’s collapse. Things at that point begin to get too recent — and too political, still — so if you’re running out of time. Which is to say — does it result in a day in the last month or so of the school year, when kids are beginning to check out mentally more than usual, devoted to gay Americans and gay rights? The history is all much more recent than I remember (and it wasn’t THAT long ago) covering with any depth, or at all, in high school.

    So I’ll repeat myself: I don’t think the real impact of the law will be, or really can be, immediate.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    I think we should get ahead of the game and establish a rule for discussing monorchism.Report

  6. Harvey Milk is a clearly historical figure. I guess they could maybe go down the rabbit hole of Ghandi’s sexuality; but, of course, he was No True American.Report

    • Here in CA, I’ve heard harvey milk is already in the curriculum. [Can’t confirm.] But Harvey Milk is a 0.1 on the scale of importance. His mayorship was unremarkable, and many other minor public figures have been assassinated as well.

      Let’s stipulate Harvey Milk anyway. Next.

      As for Gandhi, dude was wack. We allow him to be a legend, but personally he was wack, and publicly, he said the Jews should have submitted themselves to the knives of their Nazi butchers.

      Fuck. That.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

        And Gandhi had a gay lover, ’tis said by Joseph Lelyveld. A Jewish weightlifter, to boot.

        I still admire Gandhi. What Gandhi never had was a Muslim bookend, someone who could shame the Muslims into satyagraha.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to tom van dyke says:

        Milk wasn’t mayor. He ran for S.F. City/County Supervisor, and lost; ran again, lost; ran for Assembly, lost; ran for Supervisor, won; got an antidiscrimination law passed and made some headlines; got shot by Dan White after serving less than 11 months. It was the start of a promising political career and seems to me he probably would have been mayor after Moscone instead of Feinstein had Dan White not flipped out the way he did.

        As to Ghandi, Christopher Hitchens’ recent review of a Gandhi biography provides an interesting gloss on some of Gandhi’s correspondence and ideas viz. Hitler and other kinds of diplomacy. Hitch, of course, loves to disapotheosize figures like that so why not take down Gandhi, too?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Hitchens is a misanthropic creep. It is a goddamn miracle that man has not pulled his humeral great tubercle out of joint from patting himself on the back so vigorously, or broken his wrist from an excess of fapping. I am so sick of that man.Report

      • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

        “His mayorship was unremarkable, and many other minor public figures have been assassinated as well.”

        He was an openly gay man that was voted into executive office in one of the country’s largest metropolitan cities at a time you couldn’t have an out of the closet character on TV. I don’t recall anyone asking where was Rosa Parks trying to bus to that was so unique and earth-shattering.

        As far as Ghandi is concerned, he was a the leader of monumental and historical change. The problem is not so much that we should not be teaching about Ghandi, but that we should not teach history as a selection of angelic but tough heroes of villains. If you do, then as soon as people get old enough to find out Jefferson owned slaves they need his legacy to be buried.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

          RTod, I stipulated Harvey Milk, if kids are to study gay history. Gandhi’s sexual proclivities remain speculative and are irrelevant anyway. Next.

          Roy Cohn’s homosexuality helped bring down McCarthy. You know the story, yes? The Army-McCarthy hearings were not McCarthy vs. the Army as much as the Army vs. Roy Cohn.

          On this historical scale, Harvey Milk doesn’t even tickle the meter.

          I’m still back on Michelangelo sculpting some truly bodacious babes. This blog triggers some very important questions, which is why I like it so much.Report

          • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

            I agree. I think that in this instance what Burst suggested at one point in necessary: that the history lessons will have to be about the movement and not about historical celebrities. Gays were so hidden (or in some cases their orientation was politely overlooked at the time) for so long that parsing out who was, who wasn’t, what has their impact been seems like a pointless headache waiting to happen. (And yet I somehow predict that this will be a huge chunk of what is done.)Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Michelangelo wrote his best poetry for his wife, married late in life. un uomo in una donna, he called Vittoria, a man in a woman[‘s body].

            Un uomo in una donna, anzi uno dio
            per la sua bocca parla,
            ond’io per ascoltarla
            son fatto tal, che ma’ più sarò mio.
            I’ credo ben, po’ ch’io
            a me da lei fu’ tolto,
            fuor di me stesso aver di me pietate;
            sì sopra ‘l van desio
            mi sprona il suo bel volto,
            ch’i’ veggio morte in ogni altra beltate.
            O donna che passate
            per acqua e foco l’alme a’ lieti giorni,
            deh, fate c’a me stesso più non torni.


            • RTod in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Blaise, you are the only guy I know that would quote untranslated Italian poetry and an example of beautiful language and assume everyone would be able to know what it meant.

              It’s a pretty awesome trait.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                It’s also a compliment he’s giving us. We should beam.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to RTod says:

                I should translate that, but it sorta fails in English. I’ll give it my best shot.

                Man in a woman, godlike are you
                Lo, your(her) mouth speaks
                compelling me to may listen unto it.
                Thus am I, yet more I’ll be mine.
                She yanks my own petty thoughts,
                out of me, pulls them away,
                Have pity on me as you drag me;
                beyond all mere desire
                your beautiful face spurs me on,
                Till I see death in any other beauty.
                Or the woman who passed
                beyond water and fire to endless bliss of days,
                Ah, do not dare to come back as myself.Report

            • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Michelangelo wrote his best poetry for his wife, married late in life. un uomo in una donna, he called Vittoria, a man in a woman[‘s body]

              Now you get the Sarah Palin thing, BlaiseP. Can fieldskin a moose and what a body! Not only couldn’t you kick her out of bed, you wouldn’t want to.

              I don’t want her for my president, but hell yes I’d elect her my governor of a small state, just out of general principles, esp since her competitors were all hacks anyway. Such bodaciousness must be rewarded.

              Michele Bachmann, too. Mother of five, a lawyer, not quite as well put together but smarter than Sarah. I don’t want her for more than my congressman, but again, her opponent’s probably some lame pale asswipe anyway. Girl’s got game.

              I mean, c’mon.

              “I can bring home the bacon,
              Fry it up in the pan,
              And never let you forget you’re a man . . . “

              I’m a feminist, dude. I even smoke Virginia Slims, just out of respect. These aren’t just Some Guy’s wife. They got 21st century game.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, Tom. I have no problem with women running the planet. Like as not, they’d do as well as any man. There would be no wars. But it would get pretty damned interesting every 28 days or so.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Here is the joke that I would have gone for:

                “Diplomatic talks have broken down between America and Germany. However, Todd Palin and Joachim Sauer will be going bowling.”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                We may always count on you to give us the proper Treppenwitz, Jaybird.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Dude, I’m drunk. That’s at least worth 3 minutes.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, I’ve reached the bottom of the growler and contemplating a bit of Herbal Refreshment. C is watching her Ghostie Shows on SyFy and working off a bag of Dutch Crunches and reading Dark of the Gods. Her elderly cat is having a field day at my expense, purring loudly on my shoulder, gripping me with her claws and kneading me like a lump of dough. Hence the extra “may” in the third line of my translation.

                Still, I like your joke better than mine. It has been deposited in jokes.txt for future usage.Report

              • Dexter in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Mr.BP, In twenty-five words or less, could you give a definition of “an irony of history? If possible in English, or at the very least Spanish?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                In German? That would be Treppenwitz.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to RTod says:

          Milk was a city supervisor, one of (I think) 11, elected from a district with a fair number of gays. He’d be a pretty obscure figure if he hadn’t been killed.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Even obscurererer if his killer hadn’t gotten off on the “Twinkie Defense”. (Yes, this was *THAT* case.)Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              Probably so.

              Though the really big consequence of the murders [1] was that Dianne Feinstein , who was ready to retire from politics because she’d never get beyond city supervisor, succeeded to the mayoralty, and the rest is history.

              1. Yes, plural. Dan White also shot the mayor of San Francisco, though I’d bet no one who isn’t a local here will remember his name.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Does Burt count as a local? ‘Cause he mentioned it upthread.

                And as far as Milk goes, it’s pretty likely that he’d have made it well past city supervisor had he lived.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Alan Scott says:

                Alan, I am a resident of Los Angeles County, too far north to be affected by Carmageddon today, and have been a Californian for three quarters of my life.Report

          • Simon K in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            County supervisor, actually. SF is a city and county. If you look at who he was in government with, that generation of supervisors went on to have quite serious state and federal power. Good chance he would have done too, or made some chaos trying. He did fairly shake things up in the time he did have even before he got elected.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to RTod says:

          1. He was a municipal councillor.

          2. His explicit homosexuality was not a complete novelty in 1977, even among working politicians. There was a state legislator in Massachusetts and another in Minnesota written up in Time some years earlier.

          3. Off the top of my head, I can recall this…

  7. BlaiseP says:

    LGBT figures abound throughout history. I’m not sure I’d make heroes of them, though. Rather than try to reduce the contributions of individual Americans to the curriculum, I’d take it back a step, to history and a bit of anthropology, pointing out how differently cultures have approached sexuality. Native American culture had the concept of berdache, widely understood throughout North America. The kiddoes might be surprised to learn the warrior caste of most cultures has a strong homosexual element within it, e.g. the samurai of Japan and the Spartan warriors, who needed male cues to first approach women on their wedding night.

    Last thing anyone needs these days is Moah Heroes. We don’t do the historical legacy any favors by making ordinary people into heroes. We put these people on a pedestal, only to remove their humanity. The greatness of Rosa Parks was her willingness to be the person who got arrested.Report

  8. Kolohe says:

    “If asked to name a particularly notable gay war hero, I would point you to Alan Turing, but he was British.”

    There are allegations that von Steuben was a homosexual (for similar reasons as Buchannan – never marrying but having close personal relationships with men of the sort that would be considered odd today)Report

    • RTod in reply to Kolohe says:

      This is an interesting conflict I never feel like I can get my hands around with my stuck in the 21st century life.

      Were those historical and fictional characters (from Doyle, Kipling, etc.) really gay because they have a bond with men that they don’t seem to have with women, or were the social sex or gender (your choice, I am so not getting into that argument here) norms just a whole lot different back then? Each way seems potentially plausible.Report

  9. Brandon Berg says:

    There’s Peter Thiel, but considering the type of people who are likely to be making the cuts, I don’t think that even being gay will be sufficient to atone for the sin of being an out-and-proud libertarian.Report

  10. BSK says:

    Several people here have asked whether we will explicitly note the heterosexuality of heterosexual heroes. We already do. Mention Mary Todd Lincoln and you affirm President Lincoln’s heterosexuality. Mention President Jefferson’s affairs with Sally Hemmings and you are mentioning his heterosexuality.

    Now, do we need giant blinking lights saying, “GAY! GAY! GAY!” whenever someone who is gay is mentioned? No. That would destroy the point.

    What I think the most interesting thing to talk with students about would revolve around this question: “We’ve been studying American History for X months. To this point, we’ve ready about only Y (probably 0) gay men and women. Why do you think this is?” I think that’d open up a fascinating conversation surrounding the acceptance of homosexuality. How many of our founding fathers were closeted gays? How many military leaders repressed their homosexuality because of social pressure? Is the prevalence of homosexuality generally static within a population or were there simply not a lot of gays back then? Were there out gays who were potential leaders who were barred from positions of leadership because of their sexuality?

    You could ask the same or similar questions about people of color, women, and other marginalized groups. Why weren’t there any “founding mothers” or black founding fathers?Report

    • Pierre Corneille in reply to BSK says:

      I really like your suggestions, BSK. I would also point out, at least for higher grade levels, that the notion of what and who counted as what we would today call “gay” changed over time. Certain relationships, in certain sub-cultures, were at least tacitly accepted and approved of.

      Also, and along the lines of what BlaiseP wrote in one of his comments above, at least a few historians have written studies that explore some of the gender relations at pre-Stonewall periods in U.S. history, such as Chauncey’s “Gay New York” and Susan Johnson’s “Roaring Camp.” I have certain problems with these manuscripts, but they at least open a way to study gay historyReport

  11. Mike Schilling says:

    As far as I know, the stories about Hoover’s transvestitism all stem from one unreliable witness. Hoover did, however, have a long-time male companion who became his sole heir.Report

  12. Jason Kuznicki says:

    Some others: Andy Warhol, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allan Ginsberg, Ram Dass.

    Before the twentieth century, identifying gay people at all is usually very difficult, but it seems absurd in each of these more recent cases not to mention something that they were to varying degrees open about, and that is not in any case a matter of serious historical dispute.Report

    • BSK in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      A question entirely not intended to be snarky:

      If the conversation isn’t specifically and explicitly about gay contributors, would/should any of those folks come up in a typical history curriculum? I’m still unclear as to whether what is being advocated for/instituted is something akin to a “Black History Month” for LGBTQ folks or simply noting the sexual orientation of any gay historical figures.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to BSK says:

        I’m share your views, BSK. The bad thing about such “contributionist” history is that we get a lot of almost preachy little facts (so-and-so was the first black/gay/latino person to do x; so-and-so was black/gay/latino and invented the first Y…..and therefore we shouldn’t discriminate against them) that really do little to help our understanding.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Moreover, all this business of Minorities induces a certain queasiness in educated people. I remember my grandfather talking about the problem, this must have been in the late 60s, and he’d been running Carver Bible Institute since the 40s. This is how he sorted things out, mind you, he was a terribly religious man.

          The Bible in Galatians 3:8 says There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. This is the only sane viewpoint possible: put aside the in Christ Jesus part if you will, we are all human beings and any other classification scheme is a legacy of discrimination. It was a problem in the early Church and remained a nearly-permanent problem thereafter into present times.

          There were two schools of thought on black emancipation. George Washington Carver appealed to blacks, urging them to join American society on the basis of achievement. But Marcus Garvey appealed to blacks, urging them to do as every other ethnic group had done in America, form up committees of advancement, building up capital and strengthening black culture, never forgetting they were fundamentally African.

          It was then the middle sixties. My grandfather understood, but did not approve of Marcus Garvey and saw in him the roots of Malcolm X. My grandfather predicted Malcolm X would fail, as Garvey had failed. Garvey had contact with the Ku Klux Klan and had even spoken before them, saying the Klan was at least honest in its racism and the rest of white society was a bunch of damned hypocrites.

          The Klan burned two crosses, one in front of my grandfather’s home, the other in front of his Bible Institute. They tried to shut him down from the early 40s right through to the 70s. My grandfather chose the name Carver for George Washington Carver, believing black Americans would be better served to advance through education and the civil rights process than any other avenue.

          Well, Carver and MLK’s vision of a colorblind America is dead and buried. America is at best color neutral. Worse, the victims of prejudice at its worst still hold to to the old stereotypes, no longer stereotyped in law but self-identifying with the ancient strictures of hatred and oppression.

          The struggle for LGBT rights was vastly better informed. Their battle has been far more sensibly waged than the struggle for racial equality. The battle will be won, as my grandfather said, when there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, when the distinctions have lapsed into irrelevance.Report

          • Art Deco in reply to BlaiseP says:

            The Klan burned two crosses, one in front of my grandfather’s home, the other in front of his Bible Institute. They tried to shut him down from the early 40s right through to the 70s.

            The 2d incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was by 1942 moribund and, in fact, formally dissolved in 1944. (All of which makes Robert Byrd’s organizing in West Virginia look all the more eccentric). The third incarnation of the Klan consisted of a multiplicity of Klanlets which had a membership boom after 1953 and then went into rapid decline after 1966. The FBI estimated their total membership in 1975 at 2,200.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Art Deco says:

              Cross burnings, bombings and lynchings went on well into the 1980s. I am not sure what to say about the KKK’s state of health through the years: the Aryan Nation thrives and prospers in our prison system and on the street.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I should probably amend that to Aryan Brotherhood.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There has not been a lynching in the United States since 1959. There were precious few after 1946.

                (The term ‘lynching’ is occasionally misapplied to political killings (Michael Schwerner et al) and to unusual common crimes (Emmett Till)).

                If you are concerned about the Aryan Brotherhood, stick their members in solitary confinement.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Art Deco says:

                Precious few, you say. I am so very glad to be informed, by you, that prejudice against people of color has at long last come to an end and we don’t have to worry about white violence against, well, anybody. Hoo-fucking-ray!Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Booker T. Washington crystallizes yr point more fully, I think.

            I always found it interesting that Booker T was tommed by WEB, who was in turn tommed by Marcus Garvey. MLK was tommed by Malcolm X, whose followers threw eggs at MLK. It’s the nature of these things.


            • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Just as Boehner is being tommed by Eric Cantor.Report

              • Stop making shit up.

                Asked by The Hill if he could envision not supporting a debt deal Boehner struck with Obama, Cantor smiled and said no.

                “I think we are on the same page,” he went on. “I know you all love to write the soap opera here. And it is just that — it is something that I think belittles the real question here, and that is the difference between the sides and that is between the fact that Barack Obama wants to raise taxes and Republicans don’t.

                “The Speaker and I are united in saying we don’t want to raise taxes on the American people.”

                Boehner’s office has denied that there is any daylight between the two men, and for his part, the Speaker on Monday said tax hikes “were never on the table” in his negotiations with the president.

                “There were no tax increases ever on the table,” he said. “There was never any agreement to allow tax rates to go up.”Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Let me amend what I said:

                Just as Boehner has been successfully tommed by Eric Cantor.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

              I don’t have much perspective, beyond the usual stuff in the press, into how LGBT strategists are thinking these days. One thing’s for sure, they’re not following the examples of the historical black and Hispanic leadership.

              A closer parallel might be drawn between the LGBT community and the Jewish struggle for civil rights. America’s long history discrimination against Jews is sorta forgotten these days, but it was there. The Jewish thinkers simply didn’t make so much of a fuss about it, thrived in their own world, often creating superior social and educational systems to the WASP equivalents, then abandoning them as they moved into the mainstream. The Catskills are dying, the Borscht Belt a quaint anachronism, the old hotels now become ruins. But once they were the height of Jewish society, where the kikes could have a decent vacation without the goyim giving them a lot of grief.

              Though I might be conflating here, to the point of stupidity, it seems to me the LGBT community is doing pretty much the same. They have the equivalent of the B’nai Brith to run down genuine enemies, but they’re not making a big scene about how they’re going to win some big struggle, though that’s exactly what they intended to do, and did.Report

    • Pay dirt — a new name for me! I’ll go look in to Ram Dass today.Report

  13. Jacob Wilson says:

    There are plenty of American writers who are commonly taught already but whose sexuality isn’t usually brought up: Herman Melville, Henry James, Langston Hughes, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and such. For that matter, every grade (at least in Maryland) is taught Shakespeare, but students never learn that he wrote loads of love sonnets to man. Only Wilde and Whitman are taught as specifically gay authors.Report

  14. James Vonder Haar says:

    Quick question- why isn’t Stonewall appropriate for Elementary school kids? My memory is hazy, but I’m pretty sure we were taught about some of the more violent episodes of the Civil Rights movement back when I was in elementary school.

    I doubt that the curriculum will be speculating about the sexual proclivities of deceased politicians, simply because there’s insufficient evidence for any of them. To the extent that they do focus on the orientation of famous figures, it will be (or should be) largely ancillary to their historical contributions. One thing I think you’re missing is the importance of role models and the combating of stereotypes. Replacing the limp-wristed weak-willed stereotype of gays and lesbians in favor of historical figures who got shit done should have a positive effect on gay and lesbian students, as well as decrease the intolerance they suffer at the hands of their classmates.

    So I suspect that this will look very similar to stuff like black history month. Highlight the history of the rights movement, concentrate on a few notable figures from the minority, and move on. he rationale for the former is simply that the gay rights movement is an important part of history and the present that history classes shouldn’t be without; the latter is largely for the above reasons of proffering role models.Report

    • I was thinking about a) what a gay bar is and what the authorities thought it was, and b) there was violence on both sides. It’s not quite as morally clear as Rosa Parks wanting to sit in the first available seat because she was tired and then getting hassled for it. Ambiguity is certainly part of the culture, but older kids can deal with ambiguity better than younger ones.Report

      • BSK in reply to Burt Likko says:


        I’m a member of the camp that Rosa Parks’ actions were far more deliberate than that. I think many actions of the civil rights movement were far more planned. I don’t think that takes anything away from it (personally, I think it adds to it), but I thought I’d throw that in.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

        If I am not mistaken, Rosa Parks was the secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP and her act was a contrivance.Report

        • RTod in reply to Art Deco says:

          I’m confused. Why does that make it less morally clear that she should have to give up her seat to a white man?Report

          • Art Deco in reply to RTod says:

            Not my point.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Art Deco says:

              What did you imply with Contrivance? A bit gnomic, that comment. Please expand.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to BlaiseP says:

                She was an official of a local political organization and her protest was a planned component of a political campaign. She was not Jane Average minding her own business. She did not have a bad temper, which made her more suitable for that sort of protest than some others.


              • BlaiseP in reply to Art Deco says:

                But what makes this into a Contrivance? That’s what you’re not explaining. MLK and the civil rights leadership were following the example set by Gandhi, to the letter, and yes, Rosa Parks fully expected to be arrested, as Gandhi and his followers had been arrested. They wanted to make a court case out of Rosa Parks, but more importantly, they needed a cause célèbre.

                Rosa Parks knew from the minute she climbed onto that bus that she would be arrested. How many of us would be willing to engage in civil disobedience to further the cause of the rights of man? I do not get the Warm Fuzzies from your naysaying and caviling about lynchings and ordinary people.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “[W]hat makes this into a Contrivance?”

                One man’s Standing Up For The Rights Of Oppressed Persons Everywhere is another man’s Trolling For Flames.Report

              • kenB in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Jeez, this is a touchy place. Isn’t Art Deco just saying the same thing BSK said, in response to Burt’s “Rosa Parks wanting to sit in the first available seat because she was tired and then getting hassled for it”?Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to kenB says:

                Wiki quotes an NPR interview:

                “I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long.”


              • Robert Cheeks in reply to kenB says:

                full point to TVD!Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to kenB says:

                To Google and clarity, RC. In later life, Rosa Parks asked JC Watts to remain in Congress on the GOP side, to have a horse on both sides. This put her up with Frederick Douglass in my eyes. Courage is a high virtue; wisdom is the highest and rarest of all.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to kenB says:

                Jackie Robinson was a Republican, and for the same reason.Report

              • Elias Isquith in reply to kenB says:

                Rosa Parks is on the same side as FD in your eyes not for her actions but for her bi-partisanship?

                EDIT: Mike, you probably already know this, but here’s Jackie on the Goldwater RNC: Goldwater is often thought of as one of the key intellectual founders of the modern GOP, of course.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to kenB says:

                Robinson’s man in ’64 was Rockefeller, not LBJ, and one of the reasons was that he didn’t want to see civil rights become a partisan issue. Goldwater and the Southern Strategy were the coffin nails for that.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to kenB says:

                After interviewing both, Jackie Robinson endorsed Nixon over JFK in 1960, for his greater commitment to civil rights. You could look it up, Elias.

                Goldwater, a different story, a different tragedy. He stood on “state’s’ rights” as a constitutional principle, although the man himself was not nearly racist. Now “states’ rights” and federalism are demagogically linked to race.

                But Nixon ’68 didn’t run on Goldwater’s ideology. It was George Corley Wallace who ran on a “Southern Strategy.” He won 5 states and 46 electoral votes, the last 3rd party candidate to ever win a state.

                It really is worth looking up. I had to look it all up on my own, as I was unsatisfied with the prevailing narrative and “common knowledge.”Report

              • Elias Isquith in reply to kenB says:

                I don’t know what I wrote that caused you to believe that I didn’t already know all of that, but I did. I’d venture to say that just because George Wallace ran as a race-baiting white supremacist doesn’t mean that Nixon did not covertly and partially do the same. There’s long been more than enough room for one racist in American politics. And as to whether or not Barry G had hate in his heart — who cares? By most accounts, Wallace himself was not much of a personal racist. When it comes to this issue, the end-result of their policy proscriptions, however, would have been the same.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to kenB says:

                And I believe Ron Paul when he says that he’s not a racist and didn’t write all that crap that would up in his newsletter. But whoever wrote it knew damned well that their audience would lap it up.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to kenB says:

                I’d venture to say that just because George Wallace ran as a race-baiting white supremacist doesn’t mean that Nixon did not covertly and partially do the same.

                Except that Nixon did not, covertly or overtly. Read The Selling of the President, 1968. It was meant as an expose of Mr. Nixon’s ad men. There isn’t any serious dirt in there on racial questions. Of course, you could look at the ads themselves:


          • BSK in reply to RTod says:


            Personally, I am more impressed by Parks’s actions if they were deliberate. I think that our current history (for lack of a better word) white washes much of the Civil Rights movement. We hear about Rosa Parks as a tired old lady, read MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech and think of him as a cuddly teddy bear, and bash mean ol’ Malcolm X. We don’t want to hear the anger that drove much of the movement. We don’t want to know about the nuance behind these characters. We want simple sound bites and tidy packages and fairy tales. This isn’t unique to the CRM, but plays an interesting role in the stories we now tell. One that I think is ultimately intended to denigrate the movement, however subtly. To paint Parks in this way is to make her unthinking; she wasn’t a brave, fiercely intelligent, subversive revolutionary… she was an old lady with sore feet. Dr. King wasn’t a constant victim of abuse who channeled his anger into action… he was a preacher who wanted everyone to play together.Report

            • Elias Isquith in reply to BSK says:

              I agree with much of what you say although I’m not sure King was, in fact, a constant victim of abuse. He lived a rather privileged middle class life, for a person of his race at his time, and to a significant degree it’s what allowed him to approach the CRM, when he chose to do so, with more placidity and calm than, say, Malcolm Little/X who in fact did live a life more indicative of the typical A.A. experience. From what I know of King’s story, he became especially motivated to participate in the CRM when he discovered that contrary to what his upbringing and education had led him to expect, white people *did* often see him as just another…Report

              • BSK in reply to Elias Isquith says:


                I am far from an expert on King, so am happy to admit I’m wrong. What I have read does support that he was sheltered from much of the abuse that many others felt; yet he still faced it in many ways. And my understanding/belief is that the “discovery” you mentioned at the end of your post was as much a function of his general outlook and optimism as it was on his lack of experiences with racism. Now, how much one begets the other we’ll never know.

                Regardless, I think the bigger issue, which we agree on, is one we too often ignore. I’d love to hear more from others better versed in the CRM than I expand on it.Report

  15. Jon Rowe says:

    “The most prominent transgendered person I can think of, just off the top of my head, is Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski and I don’t really know (or much care, it’s her business and not mine) whether “transgender” or “transvestite” is more appropriate.”

    I’ve got two names for two FAR more important transexuals: Wendy Carlos and Deirdre Mccloskey.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      A portrait of McCloskey is not going to improve the image of transexuals, unless it is a Soviet-style production.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to Art Deco says:

        Deirdre McCloskey is cool. Why the slime?Report

        • Art Deco in reply to tom van dyke says:

          You might start by asking his quondam wife, his children and his sister.Report

          • Jon Rowe in reply to Art Deco says:

            I was referring to DM’s accomplishments in the fields of economics and writing. Everyone has personal demons. Though the way I hear the story the ex-wife and sister got DM committed to try and prevent the sex reassignment surgery. Who is the Soviet style victim here?Report

            • Art Deco in reply to Jon Rowe says:

              Not him.

              Paul McHugh persuaded Johns Hopkins Hospital to stop performing these surgeries when he was chief of psychiatry there. There was a reason for that, summarized by Dr. McHugh thus: “we do not give liposuction to anorectics”.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Art Deco says:

                Paul McHugh @ Johns Hopkins is a separate, although perhaps valid issue. But not a viable one, things being what they are.Report

              • James Vonder Haar in reply to Art Deco says:

                I’m sure your crank pyschiatrics are more reliable than the mainstream of psychological thought.

                I have no idea how you paint a family that used the coercive power of the psychological establishment to prevent one of the most brilliant economic minds of our time from getting the treatment she needed (nothing so much marks you as an asshole in these conversations, by the way, than the refusal to use the proper pronoun) as the victim, but I suppose the concept of someone transitioning genders really is that odious to you.Report

              • The choice of pronoun begs the question either way. As for the appeal to authority here, that a consensus of medical professionals is the last word on truth, and closes the book on questions like these, I demur.

                Paul McHugh is an interesting fellow, with credentials as strong as any of his peers or critics, and he demurs as well.


                Mr. Vonder Haar is free to disagree with Paul McHugh if he likes, but he cannot impeach the witness with sheer numbers, the “mainstream of psychological thought.” McHugh himself has an excellent record of puncturing fads like “multiple personality” and “recovered memory.”

                “When he came in [to Johns Hopkins, 1975], things were a shambles in psychiatry,” recalls Sol Snyder. While staffed with some brilliant doctors, the faculty was divided so staunchly into theoretical camps that operating cohesive research and educational programs proved impossible. When it came to patient care, doctors tended to greet each new case as another in a succession of one-of-a-kind anomalies.

                “That’s the kind of thing that happens in psychiatry,” McHugh complains. “They were bouncing around and seeing every case as being unique and a new challenge. I wanted to show them that, no, there are things that are common to cases, and then there are things that are individual to cases. It’s just like in medicine: Everybody that has a heart attack has some of the same things going on, but of course at the same time they come from different backgrounds and have different bodies.”

                As an administrator, McHugh took his department back to the basics, getting out on the patient units to talk to residents and staff about standard diagnostic procedures and treatment decisions, and focusing clinical and research efforts on specialties—including addictions and eating disorders (McHugh himself has done important work on the biological mechanisms behind satiety)—suited to his philosophies and his faculty’s strengths. Then, in 1983, he and Slavney outlined the Hopkins approach in The Perspectives of Psychiatry, a work that seeks to systematically apply the best work of behaviorists, psychotherapists, social scientists and other specialists long viewed as at odds with each other.

                A master of the pointed one-liner, McHugh over the years introduced a series of them into the departmental repertoire. First and foremost was: “What do we know and how do we know it?” It’s a question designed to keep psychiatrists away from flights of theoretical fancy and teach residents to keep their feet on solid scientific ground. “Teaching psychiatry is often like practicing psychotherapy,” McHugh says. “You have to drive ideas out of people’s heads first, before you go on to fill them with others.”

                I don’t invoke McHugh as an argument from authority, but as evidence that there are creditable professionals who stand in opposition to the suppositions and assertions of “the mainstream of psychological thought.” And may such rebels and dissidents be always with us, regardless of the time or issue.Report

              • James Vonder Haar in reply to tom van dyke says:

                The choice of pronoun does not invoke the question once more. Whether or not one believes that gender reassignment surgery is wise, or even whether one believes that it truly changes one’s underlying sex, it’s rude and hubristic to linguistically overwrite someone’s understanding of themselves with your own supposedly superior understanding.

                In short, cis people get their preferred mode of address when interacting with others. If you don’t want to be privileged prick, you’ll grant the same courtesy to trans people.

                As for Paul McHugh, if we are going to rest an argument on his bona fides, I don’t think it bodes well for that argument.

                In 2007 [McHugh] was ordered by Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison to stop making public statements about physician George Tiller’s work. McHugh disapproved of Tiller’s work providing abortion services. Tiller was later murdered by a fanatic who was influenced by public statements made about Tiller.

                McHugh is also known for his work defending Catholic priests against sex abuse charges. He was a founder and board member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and he was named to a lay panel assembled by the Roman Catholic Church in 2002 to look into sexual abuse by priests, which led to protests from victims’ rights groups.

                “McHugh, after all, is the man whose report to the court in one case stated that a defendant’s harassing phone calls were not obscene — including the call that detailed a fantasy of a 4-year-old sex slave locked in a dog cage and fed human waste. At least eight men have been convicted of sexually abusing Maryland children while under treatment at the “sex disorders” clinic McHugh runs at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine — abuse the doctors did not report, citing client confidentiality. When Maryland law was changed to require that doctors report child molestation, the clinic fought it and advised patients on how to get around the law.


              • Yes, going ad hom on McHugh was the predictable next step. And yes, he still has bona fides in his field regardless of the ready-made attacks that are just a google away. They are irrelevant to the question at hand.

                However, I quite agree with you on civility, and am willing to play along with the fiction—new convention, if you will—that Dierdre McCloskey is a “she.” Sort of like in Coming to America how Eddie Murphy’s old Jewish guy defends calling him Muhammad Ali instead of Cassius Clay.

                Everything needn’t be grist for the mill. And as you noticed—I’m sure you did—I defended McCloskey as an interesting thinker. The other stuff is really unimportant in the context of the post.

                And I don’t even know whether McHugh is right. What I do know is that he is routinely shouted down and ad hommed, and this is what offends me.Report

              • He did not need any sort of treatment, at least not of the sort he received.

                I do not know that it matters to the question at hand if indeed Donald McCloskey was one of ‘the most brilliant economic minds of our time’. He was an extensively published economic historian, less eminent than some others.Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to Art Deco says:

            You might start by asking his quondam wife, his children and his sister

            I think there’s a necessary distinction to be drawn between having principles and ideas, and judging and condemning.Report

  16. Isn’t the whole point of the gar rights (and other rights movements) to upset the prevailing conception of what’s “normal”? If we single these people out in our history texts and label them as “gay” we succumb to a softer yet no less pernicious form of discrimination. We otherize them instead of broadening society’s conception of what is a “normal” (or even acceptable) lifestyle.

    I can’t really know how Allen Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman etc. all formed their self-identities, but I’m guessing they thought of themselves as writers first and gay second (or third or fourth). That is to say, I’m almost sure that teaching gay historical figures as gay historical figures and not just historical figures would be a grave injustice to their legacies.

    There are two forms of discrimination in our society: the hard discrimination of the right (manifest in amendments to “defend marriage” from evil gays who want to convert your children) and the soft discrimination of the left (manifest in things like “Diversity Day” ostensibly to celebrate diversity but really intended to assuage white guilt). California’s initiative seems like a variant of the latter.Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      Mostly agree, Christopher. However, it almost seems like this identification of important historical figures as gay might be necessary to raise the awareness among those otherwise inclined to think of gay people as only what they do in their bedrooms that they are first and foremost human beings like everybody else, prone to the success and failures and strengths and weaknesses we all have. I realize that it sounds like I’m saying you have to identify them so that the label will no longer matter, but, well…maybe that’s what I’m saying.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      This was pretty much my thought, as well. Are we really going back on thirty years of saying “everyone’s the same and sexual orientation is irrelevant”? Are we really saying that being gay is an important thing that everyone ought to know about?Report

      • mark boggs in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Again, I think part of the identification is to show that gay people are like straight people in every single way save one. They do courageous things, they do weak things, i.e. they’re human. Hopefully we arrive at a point where it should matter little whether Tchaikovsky was gay or not – he was a hell of a composer. End of story.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to mark boggs says:

          “I think part of the identification is to show that gay people are like straight people in every single way save one.”

          But, again, why is it important to emphasize that “save one”? Shouldn’t we be emphasizing that they aren’t different at all? Shouldn’t saying “he likes dudes” be something like saying “he likes big butts”?Report