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Homosexual School of History

John Simkin

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Apparently there is a group of gay historians who are claiming that several notable figures from the past are gay. This is an attempt to restate homosexual achievement. People named so far include George Washington, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, Eleanor Roosevelt, James Garfield and James Buchanan.

This week sees the publication of Clarence Tripp’s The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Tripp argues that he has discovered evidence that Lincoln was gay. This includes a relationship with Joshua Speed, a neighbour with whom he shared a bed for four years. He also claims that letters written by Lincoln to Speed suggest a sexual relationship between the two men.

Apparently, Lincoln shared a bed with David Derickson, the captain of his bodyguard. Tripp has discovered evidence that there was much gossip about Lincoln sleeping with Derickson.

Another historian, David Donald, who has also written a biography of Lincoln, argues that Tripp has failed to understand 19th century society. It was not uncommon for men to share beds and use the type of language found in Lincoln’s letters.

Does it matter if someone like Lincoln was bi-sexual (his wife gave birth to four children)? Or does it help us understand him better?

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It is a double-edged sword. On the one hand there is a kind of "tabloid" history in rooting out the secrets of powerful historical figures. It as if what they did in private were more imporatand than their public role.....On the other hand it does make prejudiced old homophobes look pretty stupid if they find themselves condemning people they look up to as heroes.

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  • 10 months later...

There is clearly a lot of prejudice against homosexuals. Supporters of Liam Fox for the leadership of the Conservative Party complained over the weekend that the campaign managers of David Davies were putting around stories that their candidate was gay. As a result they arranged for photographs to be taken of Fox and his fiancé together. Michael Portillo had similar problems when he tried to become leader of the Tory Party. Edward Heath also suffered from a smear campaign that he was gay when he was leader of the party. As a result he was eventually replaced by a "real man" (Margaret Thatcher).

It recently emerged that one of the reasons that Tony Blair emerged as favourite to takeover as leader of the Labour Party was because Peter Mandelson spread stories that Gordon Brown was gay. It was argued that if Brown became leader his sexuality would become an issue during the next general election campaign. Therefore, it was argued, a clearly heterosexual Tony Blair was a better bet. Brown of course is now a married man and father of a child.

Publishing stories about the sexuality of political leaders is not a new tactic. Those of the left tried it against Hitler in Germany. However, Hitler was able to take control of the media and this campaign was ineffective. This strategy was resurrected by the British secret service during the Second World War.

One of the most interesting uses of this tactic in history concerns Joseph McCarthy. In 1950 McCarthy began claiming that communists and homosexuals had been infiltrating the government. One of those accused of homosexuality was Adlai Stevenson. In fact, he was one of the most successful ladies men in the history of Washington. (John F. Kennedy once asked Stevenson’s personal assistant the secret of his success. He replied that he liked talking to women as well as having sex with them. Kennedy replied that was going too far and he was going to continue using his own strategy for getting women into bed.)

For some time opponents of McCarthy had been accumulating evidence concerning his homosexual activities. Several members of his staff, including Roy Cohn and David Schine, were also suspected of having a sexual relationship. Although well-known by political journalists, the first article about it did not appear until Hank Greenspun published an article in the Las Vagas Sun in 25th October, 1952. Greenspun wrote that: "It is common talk among homosexuals in Milwaukee who rendezvous in the White Horse Inn that Senator Joe McCarthy has often engaged in homosexual activities."

McCarthy considered a libel suit against Greenspun but decided against it when he was told by his lawyers that if the case went ahead he would have to take the witness stand and answer questions about his sexuality. In an attempt to stop the rumours circulating, McCarthy married his secretary, Jeannie Kerr. Later the couple adopted a five-week old girl from the New York Foundling Home. This story in itself did not bring him down but it did not help the cause.

How far away are we to the situation where the leader of one of the main political parties can admit to being gay?

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It is interesting that there has been little media interest in the gay Tories in David Cameron's team. One of his closest advisers is the openly gay Tory candidate for Hove Nicholas Boles and I believe that another key player Michael Gove is also gay. As for George Osbourne, he may not be gay but goodness me he is camp.

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