You know what’s funny about current conversations about LGBT rights? It’s actually tied into the fabric of America.
While bathroom debates and politicians fighting for queer rights are very much in vogue, one thing to keep in mind is where this came from: America being founded by Puritans, by Christians seeking a new venue for them to be conservative in peace.
We all know this, taught this in early education, but we frequently forget that America was born sucking a pacifier of insane bullshit. This all comes to mind after doing some digging around LGBT rights as it relates to colonial America. In reading stories like Walter L. William’s discussion of Native American two-spirits and Johann Hari’s mapping of our homosexual history, you see that—Yes.—LGBT persons have always been present and the laws of America have always, always, always worked to shut us out.
Again: this is all obvious—but its something we don’t stop to really, truly, absolutely think about. For context on this, pre-European America embraced queerness as many Native Americans respected LGBT persons.
Rather than emphasising the homosexuality of these persons, however, many Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today, tend to see a person’s basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus, they are honoured for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female.
But when the Europeans arrived? The view soured due to conservative influences. Williams points out in the story that eventually Native Americans turned on LGBT persons as a result of Christianity influencing their societies.
Stepping back, that initial anti-queer ‘tude was imported from Christian Europe and was immediately curbed. Hari explains.
The Europeans looked on in revulsion, like Jerry Falwell in a powdered wig. In the 1775 diary of Pedro Font, a Franciscan on a trip to what is now California, he warns that “the sin of sodomy prevails more among [the Miami] than in any other nation” and concludes with a cluck: “There will be much to do when the Holy Faith and the Christian religion are established among them.”
There was a lot to do and it was done with extreme violence. These practices were stamped out by force, which Bronski notes “provided a template for how mainstream European culture would treat LGBT people throughout much of US history”.
The Europeans who arrived in North America had a ferociously fierce sense of how gender and sexuality should be expressed. They had fled Britain because they felt it had become a syphilitic brothel. Although homosexuality was illegal in Elizabethan England, the culture allowed it to be represented and discussed. Christopher Marlow could even go around semi-publicly saying: “St John the Baptist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom, that he used him as the sinners of Sodom.”
The Puritans came to America to shun all this, and to build instead a pure theocratic homeland. As the research of historian Jonathan Ned Katz shows, they meant it: many people were executed for sodomy.
So, yes, today doesn’t seem so bright for us because it never was. It’s a bit alarming and terrifying that America has deep ties with homo hating.While we may scoff at sodomy laws still existing, a place like North Carolina has historical roots in oppression. Why are we surprised by this? It was one of the Thirteen Colonies.
I’ve always been a lover of America, a hyper patriot, a son of Yankee Doodle—but shit feels more complicated now when you look at the evidence: America was founded on some self-righteous, Godly, queer hating shit that just isn’t cool. Yes, we’re making lots of headway but this is not the gay oasis I was promised and it probably never will be because it was founded on barring our rights. Perhaps it’s a bit fatalistic but relocating to that “syphilitic brothel” in Europe never seemed more appealing than it does now.