Mandatory gay history?
Gay observers seem delighted. I am not so sure. In New York State we have several such mandates. One requires the teaching of the Potato Famine in Ireland. This is a worthy subject, though the connection with New York State is indirect. Another law requires that the putative origin of the US Constitutional system in the Iroquois Confederation be taught. I have looked into the matter, and there is no convincing evidence for the claim. The American Founders were concerned in the first instance with Greece and Rome, and secondarily with such European Republics as Venice and the Swiss cantons. In the Iroquois claim, teachers are required to teach something that never happened. That is not history, but fiction.
The teaching of gay and lesbian history poses a number of problems. To be sure, that advance of scholarship has yielded a great deal of information. Some of it I helped bring into being with my editorship of the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality.
From the culture wars of the 1970s, though, I remember many problems. Gay activists who favored alliances with other oppressed groups, women, blacks, third-world peoples, wanted gay issues contextualized in that fashion. Gay history should be taught in the light of the “resistance” that righteous victims must always be shown to exemplify. More doctrinaire leftists thought that revolution was the answer, and history should be framed to show anticipations of that development. Feminists thought that gay issues were part of sexism and patriarchy. That was the only perspective that mattered. Hedonists, I suppose, believed that gay history should be taught as a perpetual party.
Numerous historical personalities have been identified by one scholar or another as gay or lesbian, with little or no proof. Recently, following C.A. Tripp’s book, it has become an article of faith in some quarters that Abraham Lincoln was gay. As far as I know, no mainstream Lincoln scholar accepts this claim. Will the teaching of the "Gabe" legend be imposed?
In my view the answer is to teach human history, as comprehensively as possible. In recent decades the discipline of history has tended to be swallowed up with the mush known as “social studies.” A return to real history is what is needed, not a proliferation of particularist mandates serving to advance the process of Balkanizing the country.