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VIEWS: Uncovering America's gay history
by Mark Segal
2011-10-05

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This week's Philadelphia Gay News ( PGN ) , along with 30 newspapers across the country, will begin to celebrate October's as Gay History Month.

This is the largest gay history project of any type, anywhere ever: Our combined print run alone is over 650,000. The 30 newspapers and magazines are in every major city in the United States and, with our web traffic, the numbers are staggering. Our newspaper has been involved with this project since the beginning and, each year, I sometimes feel that the community doesn't really care. But all of a sudden this year, there is enthusiasm like I've never seen before. And that is borne out with those numbers. And with what the writers discovered. We clearly make the case that historians have hidden—closeted—the LGBT community's contributions to building and preserving this country.

This year, there are no living celebrities involved with the project. In past years, we've had exclusive interviews with Sir Elton John, Congressman Barney Frank, tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Billy Jean King, along with a guy by the name of Barack Obama.

This year's theme is "We are America," how the LGBT community and its allies founded a nation. That's the U.S.A. we're talking about. And can bet Rick Perry a three-dollar bill that, after reading this series, you'll never allow a conservative to say "Our Founding Fathers did not have gay people in mind when they formed this country." The Founding Fathers very much knew of—even recruited—those who pushed the boundaries of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Here are some humorous examples from the series—all true.

You'll discover, starting next week, Benjamin Franklin was the first U.S. military recruiter who enlisted a gay man into the Revolutionary Army.

George Washington in all probability was the first American to offer domestic-partner rights. He gave housing to a known homosexual couple when housing was a premium at Valley Forge. And when faced with a homosexual scandal at Valley Forge, he took the least harmful course of action and embarrassed the officer accused of sodomy rather than giving him the death sentence as Thomas Jefferson demanded.

How about the African-American gay man who lead a troop of black men in the Revolution?

Or the women who dressed as men to enlist in the Colonial Army? After the war, when they could have taken off the drag, some chose to live out their lives as men.

Do you know the lesbian who wrote one of the country's most patriotic songs, "America the Beautiful?"

You'll also read about the ongoing debate of whether President Lincoln preferred men over women. Many historians have clearly held a biased view of Lincoln, dismissing habits that suggest his true orientation.

And we showcase another gay president—and his partner.

And then there's the gay man wrote the drill book and maneuvers that brought order to a rag tag Revolutionary Army and led us to victory.

This project has been a labor of love and our writers from across the country deserve our gratitude. So, all through October, read PGN's salute to our community's history and take pride that your community was among those who founded and kept this country together.

Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com .


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