Feedback: Better Gay History, Please

Published:June 7, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Edward Strickler of Albemarle County would like the encyclopedia to do a better job of writing about gays and lesbians in Virginia history. Here is what he told us:

I am researching some issues of sexuality—and particularly homosexuality—in Virginia history.

I, and others I am sure, are disappointed that the Encyclopedia has so little.

Issues of sexuality and gender and various social forces driven by issues of sexuality and gender would be a thread of importance and broad interest in the encyclopedia.  Certainly, there is scholarship to support a thread on sexuality and gender and relevant social forces driven by sexuality and gender (e.g. family life, marriage, roles of women in society, women’s emancipation, suffrage, etc).

And, even the most fundamental  issues about homosexuality in Virginia history seem to be missing:  e.g. Richard Cornish, likely the first execution in the colonies—in 1624—because of allegations of homosexuality (see Jonathan Katz,  Gay American History, 1976); collateral constructions of prejudice—using race and sexuality—as means of social control in Virginia (see the work of Pippa Holloway regarding early 20th century Virginia);  there is a small mention of anti-gay prejudice in the context of Falwell and Moral Majority; but no mention of resurgent prejudice and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities in contemporary Virginia (of which there are many citations); the history, impact, and response to HIV/AIDS in Virginia which had, and continues to have, a powerful storyline about sexuality and homosexuality; etc.

Since, certainly, the Encyclopedia  is continuing to build both depth and comprehensiveness, what plans may you have to correct these deficits and omissions? Collaborations with UVA’s Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, and similar programs around Virginia, would be among good resources to help build depth and comprehensiveness.

Thanks to Mr. Strickler for the feedback. Our entry on Richard Cornish, written by our partners at the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, will go up this morning. And you can already see in our indentured servants entry and, in related primary sources like this one, “An act for punishment of ffornication and seaverall other sins and offences” (1696), how sex, social control, and race often intersected.

Still, we can do better.

IMAGE: No image for this post, although this one is weirdly compelling, don’t you think?