Friday, February 12, 2016

George Washington: The Gay Friendly Father of Our Country

As a former Bilerico Project contributor, I am thrilled that the blog has been resuscitated through its acquisition by LGBTQ Nation.  Better yet, Bil Browning, the blog founder is now back in charge.  One of the goals of Bilerico was to provide unique, original pieces that addressed relevant issues  from an LGBT perspective and countered some of the propaganda of the enemies of LGBT equality and civil rights.  Keeping with this tradition, Bilerico has a piece that looks at the falsity of the right wing history revisionists who claim that America was founded as a "Christian nation" and that the Founding Fathers were conservative Christians. The truth, naturally, is the exact opposite.  The piece in particular looks at George Washington's gay friendly attitude and policies during the Revolutionary War (which this blog has noted in the past).   Here are lengthy excerpts from a piece that looks at the true nature of the Founder's view of religion.  Here are excerpts:

Tea Party leaders have taken a revisionist view of early American history, insisting that the Founding Fathers were not revolutionaries and radicals, but arch-conservatives. Among the Republican presidential contenders for 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann both contended the men who built America (with slaves who were, according to Bachmann, deeply grateful to be slaves) were red-staters before there were even states.

Delving into the Founding Father’s own papers indicates something altogether different. Some of the Founding Fathers leaned right, but the majority were anti-monarchists, Freemasons and atheists who held what modern historical language would term a secularist and globalist view. In some cases — like George Washington’s — this included a strongly gay-friendly attitude.

Among the Founding Fathers there were definitive class biases. Most of these men, like Washington (1732-99) and Thomas Jefferson, were wealthy land- and slave-owners who led aristocratic lifestyles and were elitist toward the “lower” classes. (Washington noted in a letter, for example, that those not of the upper classes were to be “treated civilly” but to be kept “at a proper distance, for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you sink in authority.”) Socialists these men were not. Yet some of their personal ethics and standards would reveal that they were more open to what would be considered a “modern,” 21st-century perspective on life, love and sexuality than might be presumed in the stodgy, post-Puritan 18th-century colonies. 
This was particularly true of Washington, whose stance on homosexuality, which at the time was punishable by imprisonment, castration and even death throughout the colonies, was noticeably — even dramatically — relaxed in comparison to many of his cohorts. His personal correspondence and diaries bear this out.

As his letters (over 17,000 have been collected at the University of Virginia) and diaries affirm, Washington was above all a pragmatist. 

Washington’s views on democracy, liberty and the codified “pursuit of happiness” that current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cited specifically in his ruling in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overturned federal sodomy laws, were straightforward. Washington’s letters, diaries, military papers and conversations with friends and colleagues of his era were all succinct: He believed in freedom with discipline; he was left-leaning, but no anarchist. He looked the other way on matters that may have otherwise raised eyebrows when it was the pragmatic thing to do, as he would throughout his tenure as both military leader and leader of the nation.

One of these issues was homosexuality in the military. . . . . Washington’s stance on homosexuality, which evolved well before his views on slavery as has been chronicled by historians and military documents (Washington’s own and others) from Valley Forge.

Part of Washington’s genius as a strategist was his ability to rally troops — literally. All the documentation from the era states without equivocation that Washington inspired tremendous loyalty in all levels of his military. By all accounts, a man’s man, Washington was superb at all kinds of sport. Considered the best horseman of his time — Jefferson wrote extensively about Washington’s prowess — and one of the strongest men any of his compatriots had ever met, his feats of strength were regularly recorded.

Washington’s letters state that he was less than thrilled with marital life (“not much fire between the sheets”) and preferred the company of men — particularly the young Alexander Hamilton, who he made his personal secretary — to that of women, as his letters attest. His concern for his male colleagues clearly extended to their personal lives. This was especially true of Hamilton, who he brought with him to Valley Forge, giving Hamilton a cabin to share with his then-lover, John Laurens, to whom Hamilton had written passionate love letters which are still extant.

Letters of Washington’s make clear that while he cared deeply for Martha and her children, there was no passion between them. Nor are there records of Washington’s dalliances with other women, as there are with Thomas Jefferson, for example, who was a womanizer with both colonial and slave women.

Washington’s passion was reserved for his work and for the men with whom he served closely, notably Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette. When Hamilton was a young soldier – later to be made Secretary of the Treasury by Washington and then president himself – he was engaged in relationships with other men, as love letters he sent during the Revolutionary War prove.
Historians assert that passionate same-sex friendships were normative in the 18th century. At the same time, however, sodomy and open homosexuality were punishable by imprisonment, castration and even death, both in and out of the military.

Washington was a gay-friendly pragmatist who put the importance of the revolutionary struggle above the concerns of civilian life.

While some have tried to make the case for Washington being gay predicated on his special friendships, there’s nothing in his papers that could be considered proof the way his growing queasiness about slave-owning was proven by his will. Nevertheless, Washington was certainly gay-friendly.

The most succinct evidence for this was Washington’s clear “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy when it came to same-sex coupling among his regiments at Valley Forge.

Renowned gay historian Randy Shilts makes the case for Washington’s ever-pragmatic as well as compassionate approach to same-sex relationships in “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. military.”

Shilts details how Washington merely signed the order for discharge of a soldier caught in flagrante with another soldier, and suggests that if Lt. Col. Aaron Burr had not forced the issue, the soldier might have remained at Valley Forge instead of being the first documented case of a discharge for homosexuality in the Continental Army on March 15, 1778 at Valley Forge. . . . The soldier just walked away. What makes this so stunning and an irrefutable proof of Washington’s leniency on homosexuality in the military is the context.

That Washington looked the other way with same-sex couples is most obvious in his dealings with Maj. Gen. Frederich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian military genius he enlisted to help him strategize at Valley Forge. Von Steuben arrived at the encampment two weeks before Enslin’s discharge and arrived with his young French assistant, Pierre Etienne Duponceau, who was presumed to be his lover, in tow, making Enslin’s subsequent discharge ironic and reinforcing the theory that it was Burr, not Washington, who compelled the action.

Von Steuben is perhaps the best-known gay man in American military history. Although his sexual orientation is rarely mentioned and has been excised from standard history books, his role in winning the Revolutionary War was incomparable and second only to Washington’s own. . . .
He authored the “Revolutionary War Drill Manual” which was used through the War of 1812 and his other maneuvers were used for more than 150 years.

Von Steuben also came to Valley Forge as a known homosexual: It was Benjamin Franklin who provided the letters of recommendation to Washington, but Franklin was aware that von Steuben had been implicated in relationships with boys and young men and had been expelled from the court of Frederick the Great for homosexual behavior and was on the verge of being prosecuted when he left Germany for France.

Von Steuben’s relationship with Washington was close and there were no conflicts with Washington over von Steuben’s sleeping arrangements at Valley Forge with his young Frenchman, Duponceau. What’s more, because von Steuben’s English was limited, but his French was perfect, Washington assigned his own secretary and one of his aides-de-camp to von Steuben.

Who were the men? Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton and Lt. Col. John Laurens, who shared a cabin at Valley Forge at Washington’s bequest. And as noted historian Jonathan Katz details, Hamilton and Laurens were lovers.

It’s not revisionist to assert that Washington’s pattern of ignoring same-sex relationships at Valley Forge was both indicative of his pragmatic nature (without von Steuben, Hamilton, Lafayette and others, America might still be a colony of the British) and of his seeming lack of concern over homosexuality.

Washington obviously considered morale in what was inarguably the most horrific battle station in U.S. military history, the winter at Valley Forge, needed to be upheld. Allowing men their one solace — each other — made sense from a general’s point of view. The less miserable the soldiers, the better they would fight. If keeping each other warm in the bone-crushing cold and abject misery (2,500 soldiers died at Valley Forge from starvation, disease and exposure) made life somewhat more bearable, then Washington had no issue with ignoring homosexuality in his ranks.

Washington didn’t just look the other way but specifically sought to help these gay soldiers as well as that passing woman, Sampson. This is irrefutable proof — in Washington’s own records and that of others — that the Father of Our Country was gay-friendly toward his key military personnel at the most pivotal point in American history. Washington didn’t think morale suffered with gay soldiers serving under him or even, in the case of von Steuben and Hamilton, being his key strategists. Rather, he saw these men for their value to him and to the nation — a fact that should be added to every American history textbook. 
The take away is this: when you hear Christofascist proclaiming that America was founded as a "Christian nation" and/or that the Founding Fathers were "conservative" it is essential to understanding that they are lying. The one constant with the "godly folk" is that NO ONE lies more often and less apology that the "godly Christian" crowd.  If their lips are moving, the safest assumption is that they are lying.

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