Steve Stajich, Mirror Contributing Writer
It’s a little bit awkward, this idea of revising or improving history. It seems only right to revise textbooks so that they accurately reflect the genocide-for-land tragedy of the Native American people. Then somebody says, “You also have to rename the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians” and we feel that sensitivity and thoroughness have started to take over. Meanwhile, so-called “hip” people comfortably embrace the racially barbed comedy of performers like Carlos Mencia and Sarah Silverman.
Your sensibilities, my sensibilities and history. Countless hours of media, mountains of beautifully written literature and a steady sequence of feature films would lead you to logically conclude that the Holocaust was the singular and most significant event of modern man’s inhumanity to man. Unless you happen to be a survivor of Pol Pot’s regime or of the 1994 killings in Rwanda or you lived in Sarajevo in the early 90’s or you’re reading this now in Darfur.
Some of this was on my mind as I read with great interest of the state Senate’s vote last Thursday to require that the historical contributions of homosexuals in the United States be taught in California schools. The bill was authored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles), a politician our household is proud to support. The bill’s intent is to change a hostile environment for kids who are gay or lesbian by providing positive textbook examples of homosexual Americans of accomplishment.
The conservative responses were predictably swift, harsh and irrational. “Happy Mother’s Day, California” begins a statement from the Sacramento group Campaign for Children and Families. “By passing [Kuehl’s bill], Democrat politicians have declared war on mothers and fathers and their children.”
No, they haven’t. But Kuehl’s bill does frame a very interesting issue: Exactly what is the significance of sexuality in the historical cataloguing of great people?
In a television interview regarding the bill, Kuehl cited author James Baldwin as one example of a great American who was an important and skilled author, an African-American and a homosexual. Maybe Kuehl said more than the sound bite allowed, but she seemed to imply that Baldwin’s homosexuality was equally significant to his being Black during America’s tumultuous struggle for racial equality.
I can, and would, buy that argument. But where do we go from there with others? If current research brings more to light, will Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality be equal to or greater than the other aspects of his historical merit? Never mind for now that Lincoln might even have some kind of right to remain closeted, would a history textbook pulling him out recast his role in history as our first gay President?
Let’s be clear: Far from denigrating Kuehl’s intentions, I’m looking for the right path to assisting her. This world can be a hostile environment for any person whose sexuality is determined to be something other than that of the parents on 7th Heaven. But will sexuality now be one of the struts that holds up history? If you tell me that in 100 years the most important passage in any book on Bill Clinton will be one act of oral sex, then I’m going to start being despondent right now.
There’s a big movie coming soon that, as I understand it, suggests that Jesus might have had a sex life. Let’s say that he did. Do any of us want the specifics of that to be more far ranging and historically relevant than the words attributed to this man? Maybe they should be. Maybe it would remind us that, even then, the best among us made love, not war.