Category Archives: History

The Shivering Beggar

The Shivering Beggar
By Robert Graves – 1895-1985

Near Clapham village, where fields began,
Saint Edward met a beggar man.
It was Christmas morning, the church bells tolled,
The old man trembled for the fierce cold.

Saint Edward cried, “It is monstrous sin
A beggar to lie in rags so thin!
An old gray-beard and the frost so keen:
I shall give him my fur-lined gaberdine.”

He stripped off his gaberdine of scarlet
And wrapped it round the aged varlet,
Who clutched at the folds with a muttered curse,
Quaking and chattering seven times worse.

Said Edward, “Sir, it would seem you freeze
Most bitter at your extremities.
Here are gloves and shoes and stockings also,
That warm upon your way you may go.”

The man took stocking and shoe and glove,
Blaspheming Christ our Saviour’s love,
Yet seemed to find but little relief,
Shaking and shivering like a leaf.

Said the saint again, “I have no great riches,
Yet take this tunic, take these breeches,
My shirt and my vest, take everything,
And give due thanks to Jesus the King.”

The saint stood naked upon the snow
Long miles from where he was lodged at Bowe,
Praying, “O God! my faith, it grows faint!
This would try the temper of any saint.

“Make clean my heart, Almighty, I pray,
And drive these sinful thoughts away.
Make clean my heart if it be Thy will,
This damned old rascal’s shivering still!”

He stooped, he touched the beggar man’s shoulder;
He asked him did the frost nip colder?
“Frost!” said the beggar, “no, stupid lad!
’Tis the palsy makes me shiver so bad.”

About the Poem

The Saint Edward referred to in this poem is Edward the Confessor (c. 1003 – 5 January 1066), one of the last Anglo-Saxon English kings. As king, Edward developed a reputation for living a simple, pious lifestyle and being generous with the poor. Some reports indicate that he longed for a monastic life and took a vow of celibacy, as he and his wife never had children. He was associated with legends including a story from towards the end of his life. Edward was riding by a church in Essex and an old man asked for alms. As the king had no money to give, he drew a large ring off his finger and gave this to the beggar. A few years later two pilgrims were travelling in the Holy Land and became stranded. They were helped by an old man, and when he knew they came from England, he told them he was St John the Evangelist and asked them to return the ring to Edward telling him that in six months he would join him in heaven. The story is one of fourteen scenes from the king’s life – real and legendary – carved on a mid-15th-century stone screen in Westminster Abbey. Also shown are his birth, his coronation, Christ appearing to Edward at Mass, and the dedication of a church, assumed to be the Abbey.

While Edward spent much of his life in exile in France, particularly Normandy, Edward’s love for the region of his childhood can be seen in one of his greatest architectural achievements, the building of Westminster Abbey. The story goes that Edward vowed that if he should return safely from exile in Normandy to his kingdom, he would make a pilgrimage to St Peter’s, Rome. But once on the throne he found it impossible to leave his subjects, and the Pope released him from his vow on condition that he should found or restore a monastery to St Peter. This led to the building of a new church in the Norman style to replace the Saxon church at Westminster. 

The king’s piety had greatly endeared him to his people, and he came to be regarded as a saint long before he was officially canonized as Saint and Confessor by Pope Alexander III in 1161. His nickname reflects the traditional image of him as unworldly and pious. Edward’s reputation for piety and charity was widespread, and he was viewed with great veneration, even being considered a patron saint of England. In 1139, the prior of Westminster Abbey traveled to Rome to ask the pope to canonize Edward, but the appeal was rejected amid political disputes. Edward was buried in Westminster Abbey, which was completed shortly before his death. His body remains there today, although the abbey is now an Anglican church.

About the Poet

On July 24, 1895, Robert Graves was born in Wimbledon, near London. His father, Alfred Perceval Graves, was a Gaelic scholar and minor Irish poet. His mother, Amalie von Ranke Graves, was a relation of Leopold von Ranke, one of the founding fathers of modern historical studies. One of ten children, Robert was greatly influenced by his mother’s puritanical beliefs and his father’s love of Celtic poetry and myth. As a young man, he was more interested in boxing and mountain climbing than studying, although poetry later sustained him through a turbulent adolescence. Graves received his early education at a series of six preparatory schools, including King’s College School in Wimbledon, Penrallt in Wales, Hillbrow School in Rugby, Rokeby School in Kingston upon Thames and Copthorne in Sussex, from which last in 1909 he won a scholarship to Charterhouse.

Robert Graves was bisexual, having intense romantic relationships with both men and women, though the word he coined for it was “pseudo-homosexual.” Graves was raised to be “prudishly innocent, as my mother had planned I should be.” His mother, Amy, forbade speaking about sex, save in a “gruesome” context, and all skin “must be covered.” At his days in Penrallt, he had “innocent crushes” on boys; one in particular was a boy named Ronny, who “climbed trees, killed pigeons with a catapult and broke all the school rules while never seeming to get caught.” At Charterhouse, an all-boys school, it was common for boys to develop “amorous but seldom erotic” relationships, which the headmaster mostly ignored. Graves described boxing with a friend, Raymond Rodakowski, as having a “a lot of sex feeling.” And although Graves admitted to loving Raymond, he would dismiss it as “more comradely than amorous.” In his fourth year at Charterhouse, Graves met “Dick” (George “Peter” Harcourt Johnstone) with whom he would develop “an even stronger relationship.” Johnstone was an object of adoration in Graves’s early poems. 

In 1913 Graves won a scholarship to continue his studies at St. John’s College, Oxford, but in August 1914 he enlisted as a junior officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He fought in the Battle of Loos and was injured in the Somme offensive in 1916. While convalescing, he published his first collection of poetry, Over the Brazier. By 1917, though still an active serviceman, Graves had published three volumes. In 1918, he spent a year in the trenches, where he was again severely wounded.

During the war, Johnstone remained a “solace” to Graves. Despite Graves’s own “pure and innocent” view of Johnstone, Graves’s cousin Gerald wrote in a letter that Johnstone was: “not at all the innocent fellow I took him for, but as bad as anyone could be”. Johnstone remained a subject for Graves’s poems despite this. Communication between them ended when Johnstone’s mother found their letters and forbade further contact with Graves. Johnstone would later be arrested for attempting to seduce a Canadian soldier, which removed Graves’s denial about Johnstone’s infidelity, causing Graves to collapse.

In January 1918, at the age of twenty-two, he married eighteen-year-old Nancy Nicholson, with whom he was to have four children. Traumatized by the war, he went to Oxford with his wife and took a position at St. John’s College. Graves’s early volumes of poetry, like those of his contemporaries, deal with natural beauty and bucolic pleasures, and with the consequences of the First World War. Over the Brazier and Fairies and Fusiliers earned Graves his reputation as an accomplished war poet. After meeting the American poet and theorist Laura Riding in 1926, Graves’s poetry underwent a significant transformation. 

In 1927, Graves and his first wife separated permanently, and in 1929 he published Goodbye to All That, an autobiography that announced his psychological accommodation with the residual horror of his war experiences. Shortly afterward, he departed to Majorca with Laura Riding. In addition to completing many books of verse while in Majorca, Graves also wrote several volumes of criticism, some in collaboration with Riding. During that period, he evolved his theory of poetry as spiritually cathartic to both the poet and the reader. Although Graves claimed that he wrote novels only to earn money, it was through these that he attained status as a major writer in 1934, with the publication of the historical novel I, Claudius, and its sequel, Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina. (During the 1970’s, the BBC adapted the novels into an internationally popular television series.)

At the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Graves and Riding fled Majorca, eventually settling in America. In 1939, Laura Riding left Graves for the writer Schuyler Jackson; one year later Graves began a relationship with Beryl Hodge that was to last until his death. 

After World War II, Graves returned to Majorca, where he lived with Hodge and continued to write. By the 1950s, Graves had won an enormous international reputation as a poet, novelist, literary scholar, and translator. In 1962, W. H. Auden went as far as to assert that Graves was England’s “greatest living poet.” From 1961 to 1966, Graves returned to England to serve as a professor of poetry at Oxford. In the 1970s his productivity fell off; and the last decade of his life was lost in silence and senility. Robert Graves died in Majorca in 1985, at the age of ninety.

The Naked Gunner

You have probably all seen this photograph by Horace Bristol form 1944. It has been widely reproduced and viewed as a symbol of bravery, loyalty, and erotic masculinity. In October 2020, the photo was included in a Sotheby’s auction of Classic Photographs. Lot 13, “HORACE BRISTOL | PBY BLISTER GUNNER, RESCUE AT RABAUL” sold for $ 27,720, well over the estimate of $ 8,000-$12,000.

PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944” is one of the most iconic photos of the Pacific War. But the identity of the “Naked Gunner,” as it is popularly known, remains a mystery to this day. The photo was taken by Horace Bristol (1908-1997), a founding photojournalist for the illustrious Life magazine. In 1941, Bristol was recruited to the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, as one of six photographers under the command of Captain Edward J. Steichen, documenting World War II in places such as South Africa and Japan. It is not known if the Bristol ever asked the soldier for his name as he captured his image. Sadly, we will never know. Bristol died in 1997, having kept a discreet silence on the bomber’s identity if, indeed, he ever knew it.

Bristol ended up being on the plane the gunner was serving on, which was used to rescue people from Japanese-held Rabaul Harbor (New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea) when this photograph was taken. In an article from a December 2002 issue of B&W Magazine he remembers: 

“…we got a call to pick up an airman who was down in the Bay. 

“The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us, they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn’t have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. 

“As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”

The fearless airman was deployed as part of a rescue campaign known as Operation Dumbo. Dumbo was the code name used by the United States Navy during the 1940s and 1950s to signify search and rescue missions, conducted in conjunction with military operations, by long-range aircraft flying over the ocean. The purpose of Dumbo missions was to rescue downed American aviators as well as seamen in distress. Dumbo aircraft were originally land-based heavy bomber aircraft converted to carry an airborne lifeboat to be dropped in the water near survivors. The name “Dumbo” came from Walt Disney’s flying elephant, the main character of the animated film Dumbo, appearing in October 1941. The campaign saved many Americans and their allies from a watery grave.

The PBY Catalina (a waterbomber) for which the naked man was a gunner, was an amphibious aircraft, recognized and celebrated by American aviators and flight crews for its vast range and endurance. According to the PBY Naval Air Museum, Washington website, the ‘versatile’ aircraft was capable of dropping “torpedoes, depth charges and bombs” while providing defense for their crews from “multiple high-caliber machine guns.” The airborne fleet, designed by Isaac Machlin Laddon and manufactured by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, was used all over the world, but particularly in coastal areas, to “patrol for enemy fleets and perform rescues.”

You can see more of Bristol’s photographs if you go to

Happy Labor Day

Labor Day, in the United States and Canada, is a holiday that falls on the first Monday in September and honors workers and recognizes their contributions to society. In the United States, Peter J. McGuire, a union leader who had founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 1881, is generally given credit for the idea of Labor Day. In 1882 he suggested to the Central Labor Union of New York that there be a celebration honoring American workers. On September 5 some 10,000 workers, under the sponsorship of the Knights of Labor, held a parade in New York City. There was no particular significance to the date, and McGuire said that it was chosen because it fell roughly halfway between the Fourth of July holiday and Thanksgiving. In 1884 the Knights of Labor adopted a resolution that the first Monday in September be considered Labor Day.

The idea quickly spread, and by the following year Labor Day celebrations were being held in a number of states. Oregon became the first state, in 1887, to grant legal status to the holiday (although the state initially celebrated it on the first Saturday in June). That same year Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey established the holiday on the first Monday in September, and other states soon followed. In 1894 the Pullman strike in Illinois, as well as a series of unemployed workers’ riots on May Day in Cleveland, Ohio, prompted U.S. Pres. Grover Cleveland to propose a bill that would make Labor Day a national public holiday. The bill, which was crafted in part to deflect attention from May Day (an unofficial observance rooted in socialist movements), was signed into law in June of that year.

Over the years, particularly as the influence of unions waned, the significance of Labor Day in the United States changed. For many people it became an end-of-summer celebration and a long weekend for family get-togethers. At the same time, it has continued to be celebrated with parades and speeches, as well as political rallies, and the day is sometimes the official kickoff date for national political campaigns.

In Canada the first parades of workers were held in 1872 in Ottawa and Toronto, and later in that year the law making labour unions illegal was repealed. McGuire was invited to speak at the celebration in 1882. In 1894 Parliament officially recognized the holiday in Canada.

Most other countries honor workers on May Day (May 1). The day was a major holiday in communist countries, and it continues to be important where left-wing political parties and labor movements wield influence.

Amazing Grace

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O Lord God.

—1 Chronicles 17:16-17

It’s been quite a while since I used a hymn as my Sunday devotional. During my high school and college years, I was the song leader at the small country church I grew up attending. Half the people at that church were like family to me, and the other half were my family. The song leader I grew up with became unable to lead the singing, so he asked me if I would it. I had taken piano lessons when I was younger, so I had a little musical ability, i.e. I could almost carry a tune. I was never a very good song leader, and I only knew about two dozen or so songs well enough to be able to lead the congregation in singing.

If you don’t know, I was raised in the church of Christ (by the way, it is customary to not capitalize “church” in the name of the denomination, though churches of Christ do not believe they are a denomination nor Protestant, but a restoration of the original church). The churches of Christ have no musical instruments, though some of the more liberal ones today do. The churches of Christ believe that if it is not in the bible, then it should not be part of the religious service. So, the inspiration for a capella singing comes from Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Being a song leader in a church of Christ is not the easiest task. There are no musical instruments to carry the tune. It is completely up to the song leader to do so. All I can say is, that I tried my best. I was never very good at it, and quite honestly, even after doing it for years, I was never comfortable at it. When I went away to graduate school, they found someone else to take over. I was so relieved.

I had a few favorite song: “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder,” “Send the Light,” “Shall We Gather at the River?,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and a few others. “Amazing Grace” was always a favorite of mine. The service always began with two songs sung while seated before the main prayer. Then, we would stand for the third song just before the preacher got up to give his sermon, and I often sang “Amazing Grace” for this song. After the sermon, we would sing the invitational, a call for those who wanted to join the church and be baptized. After the invitational, we served communion. Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is served every Sunday in the church of Christ. After communion, we sang the closing song, my favorite being “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” and “Unclouded Day.” The latter begins with “O they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,” and as long as I could get out the “O” in the right key, this one always went smoothly because someone else would pick it up and keep it going in tune.

Amazing Grace
By John Newton

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
’tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

“Amazing Grace” is one of the best-loved and most often sung hymns in North America. It expresses John Newton’s personal experience of conversion from sin as an act of God’s grace. At the end of his life, Newton (1725-1807) said, “There are two things I’ll never forget: that I was a great sinner, and that Jesus Christ is a greater Savior!” This hymn is Newton’s spiritual autobiography, but the truth it affirms—that we are saved by grace alone—is one that all Christians may confess with joy and gratitude. I, however, believe that it takes faith and good works. James 2:26 says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Now, back to Newton’s story.

Newton was born into a Christian home, but his godly mother died when he was seven, and he joined his father at sea when he was eleven. His licentious and tumultuous sailing life included a flogging for attempted desertion from the Royal Navy and captivity by a slave trader in West Africa. After his escape, he himself became the captain of a slave ship. Several factors contributed to Newton’s conversion: a near-drowning in 1748, the piety of his friend Mary Catlett (whom he married in 1750), and his reading of Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ

In 1754 he gave up the slave trade and, in association with William Wilberforce, eventually became an ardent abolitionist. After becoming a tide-surveyor (customs inspector) in Liverpool, England, Newton came under the influence of George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley and began to study for the ministry. He was ordained in the Church of England and served in Olney (1764-1780) and St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807). His legacy to the Christian church includes his hymns as well as his collaboration with William Cowper in publishing Olney Hymns (1779), to which Newton contributed 280 hymns, including “Amazing Grace.”

Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns. “Amazing Grace” was published in six stanzas with the heading “1 Chronicles 17:16-17, Faith’s review and expectation.” After being published, the hymn settled into relative obscurity in England.

In the United States, “Amazing Grace” became a popular song used by Baptist and Methodist preachers as part of their evangelizing, especially in the South, during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than twenty melodies. In 1835, American composer William Walker set it to the tune known as “New Britain” in a shape note format; this is the version most frequently sung today.

With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.


Two hundred forty-six years ago, the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, adopted the Declaration of Independence declaring the independence of the thirteen American colonies from Great Britain. With the Declaration, these new states took a collective first step in forming the United States of America. The declaration was signed by fifty-six of America’s Founding Fathers, congressional representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Declaration began with these now-famous words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Our unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” have come under siege from a far-right, conservative minority led by former president Donald Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Representative Kevin McCarthy along with governors in red states such as Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Brian Kemp of Georgia, among others. These men and many who follow them are doing their best to take away the rights of women, LGBTQ+ Americans, and voters around the nation. They are being supported by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Roberts). SCOTUS has been emboldened by their majority to begin curbing the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights themselves: freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. They are eroding the rights of due process to push their own warped agenda. Many of these politicians claim to be doing the will of the Founding Fathers, yet they ignore our unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I asked a friend last week if she had any plans for the Fourth of July, and she said, “I don’t feel like celebrating this country right now.” She has a point. A small number of religious zealots don’t believe in religious freedom, but they believe they can cram their fanaticism down the throats of all Americans. Teachers in Florida aren’t allowed to say gay in the classroom (an oversimplification of the “Don’t Say Gay Law” but as the law came into effect a few days ago, that’s exactly what is happening). Furthermore, anytime conservatives don’t like a news story, they yell, “FAKE NEWS!” and try to suppress the truth, or they just spread their own lies distorting the truth to fit their political agenda. They claim that an insurrectionist attack on the US Capitol was a peaceful assembly while throwing tear gas on people peacefully protesting injustices around the country. The Marshal of the Supreme Court just called for a prohibition on protests in Maryland where many of the Supreme Court justices live. Yet, at the same time, they fight against even the most sensible gun laws in a misguided interpretation of the Second Amendment.

I will remember the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, but I won’t be celebrating this country today. We are moving far away from the ideals of the Founding Fathers and moving closer to a time of fear and hatred. I hope that over the next four years leading up to the semiquincentennial (also called Sestercentennial or Quarter Millennial, a.k.a. the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence) that we can get this country back on the right track and secure our unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

D-Day—June 6, 1944

Today is the anniversary of D-Day when British, Canadian and US soldiers – 160,000 of them – landed on the beaches of Normandy in treacherous weather, initiating the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi Germany. While D-Day is not a specific LGBT-related event, there were undoubtedly many hundreds of young gay soldiers killed on those beaches. 160,000 landed, 9,000 killed or wounded. Today we remember them with gratitude.

June is Pride Month and festivals and parades are happening across the world in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride. But Pride didn’t start as a parade, it started as a protest with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and many historians believe that the roots of these LGBT activists can be found in the World War II experiences of gays men and lesbians in the American military.

Despite the threat of persecution, gay and lesbian service members thrived during World War II. As with most young soldiers, many had never left their homes before and the war provided them an opportunity to find community, camaraderie, and, in some cases, first loves. These new friendships gave gay and lesbian GIs refuge from the hostility that surrounded them and allowed for a distinct sub-culture to develop within the military. Service members on every warfront enjoyed drag show entertainment; an entire gay lexicon was developed from the writings of Dorothy Parker; and eventually an underground queer newspaper emerged. The “Myrtle Beach Bitch” or “Myrtle Beach Belle” covertly shared news and stories between bases and units.

Gay male culture flourished in many ways in the military during the Second World War. Homosocial environments and the intimacy caused by life in combat made many in the military practice “don’t ask don’t tell” before it was even the official military stance. Drag shows were quite popular during the war, like “G.I. Carmen,” an all-GI musical stage show produced by the 253rdInfantry Regiment, 63rdDivision of the U.S. Army as a morale booster for Allied troops. There were also queer social networks of gay men.

Thousands of gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women served in the armed forces during World War II. The massive manpower needed during the war created an ambiguous place for gay men and lesbians in military service. And gay men and women, like most groups of Americans, wanted to serve their country. You can read more about LGBTQ+ service members in Allan Bérubé’s book Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II.

If anyone is interested, the International Spy Museum is hosting a virtual talk by Samuel Clowes Huneke, author of States of Liberation: Gay Men between Dictatorship and Democracy in Cold War Germany. He will focus on how both Eastern and Western intelligence agencies sought to recruit gay men because they believed that they were naturally more conspiratorial and would thus make better agents. Huneke explores previously untapped German archives to capture this surprising story of espionage and emancipation with its colorful cast of Cold War characters.

You can register for the talk by going to the following link: Berlin Stories: Gay Espionage in Cold War Germany.

Monday, June 6, 2022

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM ET

Samuel Clowes Huneke is a historian of modern Europe, with a focus on the social and political history of twentieth-century Germany. He is broadly interested in how everyday life intersects with and shapes the relationships between citizens and states. His research foci include the history of gender and sexuality, legal history, and the history of dictatorship and democracy. Dr. Huneke received a B.A. summa cum laude in German and Mathematics from Amherst College, an M.Sc. with Distinction in Applicable Mathematics from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in History from Stanford University. 

I will be attending, and it looks/sounds very interesting. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s rather handsome.)

Memorial Day 🏳️‍🌈🇺🇸

For many of us, Memorial Day weekend is about cookouts, sales, watching fireworks, fellowshipping with family and friends. However, this weekend is supposed to be about honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives serving in one of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. As a military historian and working at a military college, I am very much aware of the sacrifices made every day by military personnel. Historically, LGBTQ+ soldiers have sacrificed even more. For most of the history of the U.S. military, LGBTQ+ soldiers had to be closeted because being “out” wasn’t acceptable. Being outed could have cost them their military career. Many LGBTQ+ soldiers kept their mouths shut and their business to themselves to protect themselves from harm and protect the nation.

In 1982, the U.S. military enacted a policy explicitly banning gay men and lesbians from their ranks. Before that, however, same-sex relations were criminalized and cause for discharge. And in the early 1940s, it was classified as a mental illness, disqualifying gay men and lesbians from service. In 1993, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (DADT) went into effect, allowing closeted LGBTQ+ soldiers to serve in the military. Under the policy, service members would not be asked about their sexual orientation but would be discharged for disclosing it.

Many LGBTQ+ soldiers were outed as gay or lesbian by fellow soldiers and not allowed to serve. Some soldiers were killed by their fellow comrades while on active duty. If you saw the 2003 film Soldier’s Girl, you are aware of U.S. Army infantry soldier PFC Barry Winchell who was murdered on July 6, 1999, by a fellow soldier for dating a transgender woman, Calpernia Addams. The murder became a point of reference in the ongoing DADT debate. Eighteen years after DADT was enacted, Congress repealed the policy, allowing openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to serve in the military.

Another barrier was lifted in 2013 when spousal and family benefits were extended to same-sex married partners in the military. After ending temporarily in 2016, the ban on transgender individuals was again rescinded in 2021, allowing transgender individuals to enlist and serve in the armed forces. It’s been a long journey, but LGBTQ+ soldiers have always been part of the American military. In an era before gay marriage or open pride, military men fell in love, formed passionate friendships, and had same-sex encounters. Due to social and official discrimination, most of the stories of these LGBTQ+ soldiers have gone untold. One famous example was Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian military man hired by George Washington to whip the Continental Army into shape during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War. He was known for his bravery and the discipline and grit he brought to the American troops. Historians also believe he was gay—and served as an openly gay man in the military when sex between men was punished as a crime.

So, if you have never considered the LGBTQ+ service members who lost their lives to serve a country that didn’t respect them, you should. We shouldn’t take our freedom for granted. It comes with a price tag, and we all need to remember this. As we celebrate another Memorial Day weekend, please note this isn’t just another time to party. Today is a day set aside to remember those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may live and be free, fight against discrimination, and love who we want. These brave, unsung heroes sacrificed the truth of themselves. Let us never forget them.

Be safe, be conscious, be proud, and remember our fallen LGBTQ+ service members who died in times when being “out” wasn’t allowed. Thankfully, things seemed to have changed drastically in the U.S. military. LGBTQ+ service members are able to serve openly and without harassment. While acceptance of LGBTQ+ service members is a relatively new development in the military’s long history, the Department of Defense is committed to maintaining a strong force that reflects the nation’s diversity.

Civil Rights in Jeopardy

A major news story broke Monday night. It is not something I would usually talk about on my blog, but the seriousness of the issue is frightening to me for many reasons. The online news media site, Politico, obtained what it calls a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would strike down Roe v. Wade. For those of you who may not be in the United States or may not know what the 1973 Supreme Court case is about, Roe v. Wadewas a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. What Politico released is only a draft. The final opinion has not been released, and votes and language can change before opinions are formally released. The opinion in this case is not expected to be published until late June. However, Republicans have been pushing to pack the Court with conservative justices who want to overturn Roe v. Wade for many years, and they finally succeeded under the twice-impeached, previous loser president.

Prior to the Senate confirmation of the very conservative and young Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts had served as a swing vote and attempted to balance the Court between liberal and conservative justices. If this draft is accurate, Roberts voted against overturning Roe v. Wade. Overturning it would be unprecedented (as far as I am aware) in that it would be the first Supreme Court case to overturn a major precedent that granted rights. Most, if not all, overturned decisions have been done so to correct cases where the Supreme Court took away rights, such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Brownended racial segregation in schools and overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) in which the Court had ruled that racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution if the facilities for each race were equal in quality, a doctrine that came to be known as “separate but equal.” Other examples exist, but this is by far the most famous. However, with some recent decisions by the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education is slowly being chipped away. The same is happening regarding the constitutionality of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But I am going down a rabbit hole. The fact is, the Supreme Court for the past seven decades has expanded rights of individuals not taken them away. This is beginning to change under the new make-up of the Court. Overturning Roe v. Wade may be the most dramatic of what may become a series of setbacks for civil rights.

I am not going to debate the rights and wrongs of abortions, but I am going to give a little history lesson on abortions for those who think that abortions have always been illegal in America. (Here, I am speaking of the Americas, including colonial times, not just the United States.) In colonial America, abortion was dealt with in a manner according to English common law. Abortion was typically only frowned upon if anyone even thought of it at all. If abortion was penalized, it occurred after “quickening,”—when a woman felt fetal movement—because it suggested that the fetus had manifested into its separate being. Quickening could vary from woman to woman, and sometimes went as late as four months. And, it was only penalized when it was typically seen as a cover-up for improper sexual relations. Also, abortions were much more common than believed and usually performed by midwives, not doctors. (Midwives were always much safer than doctors for pregnant women.) 

States did not begin to draft abortion legislation until the first half of the 19th century; by 1880, every state had an abortion statute. These abortion statutes were not passed because of a belief that the fetus was a living being. Children were not seen as fully humans until they reached adulthood. Most of these early abortion statutes were designed to protect women from medical quacks far from the established centers of American medicine—Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, for example. These early statutes (for the most part) punished only the provider of the abortion, not the woman, and either did not apply to physicians or did not apply if the abortion was necessary to preserve the life of the woman. 

Not until late 19th century did Americans—writers, journalists, preachers, and physicians—began to describe abortion with moral absolutism that had never existed before. In the late 19th century, targeting abortions and abortion providers—like midwives and “irregulars”—occurred within the context of the professionalization of the medical field. Doctors attempted to legitimize themselves as professional medical men, and they did so at others’ expense largely because women knew having your baby delivered by a midwife was much safer. (Midwives sterilized their hands and equipment, whereas male doctors, and nearly all doctors were male, did not believe in sterilization and did not understand germ theory.) In claiming that pregnancy and childbirth were not natural events, where women and midwives could maintain authority, they argued that pregnancy and childbirth were medical conditions requiring physician intervention. 

Abortions were dangerous in the early 20th century, but by the 1920s and 1930s, sterilization of equipment, specialization, and, later, antibiotics, all worked together to decrease mortality. But the laws and the changed view of the morality of abortions had made getting an abortion from anyone, even doctors, illegal. By the 1970s, illegal back-alley abortions were again very dangerous affairs, so when the case of Roe v. Wade came before the courts in 1973, some states were already moving toward allowing abortions so they could be legally and safely obtained.

That was a lot to read, and I hope you are still with me. I mention all this because of a flaw in Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. The conservative justice attached to his draft a 31-page appendix listing laws passed to criminalize abortion during that period. Alito claims “an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment…from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.” This is just not true. It is not until the 19th century, 300 years after the first English settlement establishing common law in the Americas, that abortions started to become illegal, and only then to protect a women’s health. Abortions are much safer now, which makes citing those laws illegitimate.

What worries me is if the Supreme Court begins overturning precedents that established rights for certain groups of people, especially those despised by Republicans, what is going to be next? Alito’s draft misleadingly argues that rights protected by the Constitution but not explicitly mentioned in it—so-called unenumerated rights—must be strongly rooted in U.S. history and tradition. That form of analysis seems at odds with several of the Court’s recent decisions, including many of its rulings backing gay rights. Liberal justices seem likely to take issue with Alito’s assertion in the draft opinion that overturning Roe would not jeopardize other rights the courts have grounded in privacy such as the right to contraception, to engage in private consensual sexual activity, and to marry someone of the same sex.

Alito explicitly denies that the Court will overturn any other precedents when he says in the opinion, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” However, how can we believe him? Conservatives in the United States have increasingly made lying a part of their everyday life. Just look at the claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. The only voter fraud that has been found was committed by Republicans and did not change the outcome of the election to re-elect their twice-impeached loser candidate. They also have consistently denied there was an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, aimed at stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency. Therefore, I cannot feel safe that Obergefell v. Hodges which granted the right for same-sex couples to marry or Lawrence v. Texas which struck down sodomy laws in the U.S. are not next on the Supreme Court’s chopping block.

I fear with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and the fascist leanings of the current Republican Party which remains loyal to a lying, idiotic, twice-impeached, orange menace, we are looking at even darker days in the future of the United States and the world. Conservative backlash is not limited to the United States. Authoritarianism is on the rise, and it is not being kept in check by democratic institutions. I encourage all Americans, and people who read this blog in other parts of the world, to back liberal candidates who believe in fundamental human rights and decency. If the Democratic majority in Congress is lost, we are looking at a minimum of two years of intense gridlock; if Republicans win in 2024, we are looking at a wholesale rollback on human rights. Democrats not only need to retain a majority in Congress, but need to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. We must fight, and we must vote for candidates who will protect our rights. If we don’t, we are surely doomed to lose many of our civil rights as U.S. citizens. Backlash against LGBTQ+ rights are already infiltrating even liberal and LGBTQ+-friendly states like Vermont. In the last few weeks, a trans woman was murdered in a hate crime in Vermont, someone vandalized the offices of the Pride Center of Vermont, and a pride flag was stolen from a flagpole at Northern Vermont University in Lyndon, Vermont. Since I moved to Vermont, I have rarely faced any type of hate or discrimination, but hate is on the rise everywhere.

With all of this said, I must admit, I also find it disturbing that this draft opinion was leaked to the press. I’m glad it was, but I still find it disturbing. The Supreme Court remains one of Washington’s most secretive institutions, priding itself on protecting the confidentiality of its internal deliberations. It is one of the hallmarks of the Supreme Court which allows for deliberation of cases before the Court to happen without intense media scrutiny. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was fond of saying, “At the Supreme Court, those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.”  

And a final word that I couldn’t have said better myself to anyone who wants to make one of the stupid, hateful, and misleading arguments made by Republicans:

LGBTQ+ History in Colonial Latin America

Back in graduate school, I took a seminar on Latin American History. My research project for that class was sexuality in colonial Latin America. It has a fascinating history. I remember that I read, Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil which I found infinitely fascinating.  So, when I saw that Dr. Cervini’s Queer History 101 this week was about “Sexuality and the Colonization of the Americas,” I was eager to read it and share it with you.

From Dr. Eric Cervini’s Queer History 101

Even in 2022, we are still seeing an alarming rate of LGBTQ+ content being unjustly censored. In China, an episode of Friends was edited so Ross’s ex-wife wouldn’t be gay. In Hungary, a recent law has banned queer content in schools or kids’ television. And right here in the U.S., dozens of state legislatures have attacked teachers’ ability to teach queer and trans history. But how far back does this phenomenon of censoring queerness go?

Zeb Tortorici, an Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures at NYU, understands the reality and nuances of this suppression more than most. Tortorici’s body of research focuses on the origins, archiving, and censorship of the queer “obscene” in New Spain, which included Mexico and Central America.

“I was directed toward the obscene,” Tortorici told me, “through my first book, Sins Against Nature: Sex and Archives in Colonial New Spain, which is about the archiving of sodomy.” It was during this research of colonial, same-sex criminal case records that Tortorici noticed the repeat occurrence of the Spanish word obsceno, or obscene. But it struck him as odd. “The word ‘obscene’ in the cases that I looked at,” explained Tortorici, “was particularly grafted upon desires that were less legible than something like sodomy.” So what were these “less legible” offenses?

First, Tortorici pointed me to the 1776 case of Manuel de Arroyo from Pachuca, Mexico. “Arroyo asserted that consuming human semen from another man is not a sin,” he told me. “The assertion of this heretical thought is what Inquisitors referred to as ‘obscene.’” Curiously, the act of oral sex wasn’t the obscene offense, but holding the belief was obscene.

Tortorici also cited a second example, the 1803 case of Juana Aguilar from Guatemala. “They were a so-called hermafrodita, or a hermaphrodite. Their body is described as ‘obscene’ in some records, including medical reports published in the colonial Guatemalan Gazette.” Again, the alleged act of Aguilar being a hermaphrodite wasn’t necessarily obscene, but the description of their body was obscene.

“Obscenity is produced in conjunction with other forms of alterity,” explained Totorici. “It’s not simply something that refers to explicit sexuality or sexual desire in the wrong place or in the public sphere.” For Arroyo and Aguilar, moralistic and cultural opinions were “grafted” onto them in a means that further marginalized them as individuals. The Inquisition’s concept of the “obscene” wasn’t solely about being queer; it was a commentary on diversity and how difference itself was anathema to colonial culture. Thus, being different became criminal.

“Sodomy itself was policed in colonial Spanish, Portuguese American, and Spanish Pacific landscapes,” noted Tortorici, “but women and men were judged and denounced very differently for the crime.” Regardless of the type of court–criminal, secular, ecclesiastical, or inquisitorial–colonial Spanish America, despite an effort to standardize punishments for sodomy, allowed gender biases to influence legal consequences. And, in Tortorici’s research, the proof is in how records were kept.

“I spent from 2003 to 2018 in the archives looking for as many cases dealing with the sins against nature as I could, and I was struck by the fact that almost no cases of female sodomy appeared.” Indeed, Tortorici found only one unambiguous criminal case from 1732: it was about Josepha de Garfias, a woman from Mexico City who was punished for the crime of sodomy. But as far as details goes, that’s it!

“All we have is a one-paragraph summary of Josepha’s criminal case, which basically says that she was convicted of the crime of sodomy with other women,” said Tortorici. Apart from that, all evidence was burned and no record of punishment was kept. A leniency toward a female, same-sex crime all but proves, as Tortorici puts it, “the topic of sodomy was not the the axis of the case itself.”

So, as Tortorici asked me, “What is queer? And what does it mean to think about queerness centuries before the term was ever invented?” As Tortorici suggested, “Maybe what makes something queer is in the ways that it is trying to rupture or challenge identitarian claims and politics.” Queer history, in other words, may be much more expansive than you’d think!

For more of Tortorici’s fascinating work, check out:

A few more suggested readings:

About Eric Cervini

Dr. Eric Cervini is an award-winning historian of LGBTQ+ politics. His first book, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America (a fascinating read)was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It also won the Publishing Triangle’s Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction, the NYT Editors’ Choice, and the “Best Read of 2020” at the Queerties. 

Cervini graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and was a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, where he received his PhD. As an authority on 1960s gay activism, Cervini serves on the Board of Advisors of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of gay American history. His award-winning digital exhibitions have been featured in Harvard’s Rudenstine Gallery, and he has presented his research to audiences across America and the United Kingdom.

He lives in Los Angeles with his drag queen boyfriend and their dog, Moo Bear.

Here’s a bonus picture of Dr. Cervini, just because…

I think more people would enjoy history if their professors looked like Dr. Cervini. I have such a crush on this man.


When I came out in graduate school, I remember a professor came up to me and said, “Congratulations, I hear you’re a fruit.” I was horrified, and it was incredibly inappropriate. I do not think he meant it as a derogatory comment, but I was still offended. It’s a bit ironic, because this professor was Canadian, and he abhorred being called a Canuck. I’m not sure if Canuck was or is seen as offensive by Canadians, but he certainly was sensitive about it. Why he wasn’t sensitive about a slur like “fruit” I’ll never know. He was a bit of an insensitive jerk, and we did not miss him when he failed to file for an extension of his green card and was sent back to Canada to straighten it out. He never did come back.

Much like the words queen and queer, “fruit” is a slur that has been hurled against gay men for decades. Over time, gay men have begun to reclaim the “fruit” in the same way that “queen” and “queer” have become an innocuous part of our lexicon, and today use it as a term of endearment rather than a derogatory comment on one’s effeminacy and attraction towards other men. This goes to the question of how did “fruit” become a slur for a gay man? What does “fruity” mean for the LGBTQ+ community? What does it mean to be “fruity?” And where did this comparison come from in the first place? Interestingly, the term may have originated from the gay community itself.

Language experts believe that the insult “fruit” has roots in the British cant, or secret language, Polari as a slang word. The slang was born out of the West and East Ends of London in the 19th century (but could date back as far as the 16th century) and was used by social outcasts and outsiders. Polari (from Italian parlare ‘to talk’) was used by some actors, circus and fairground showmen, professional wrestlers, merchant navy sailors, criminals, sex workers, and the gay subculture. This group also included costermongers, street vendors who sold fruit and vegetables in British towns. Costermongers were looked down upon for their brash behavior, love of gambling, and unusual slang. Like many secret languages, Polari emerged as a way for these outsiders to “protect their identities or actions.” Pretty soon, Britain’s gay community adopted this code, transforming it into a “vehicle for campery, bitchiness, filthy jokes, and innuendo.” The word “fruit” was just one of many slang words gay men would throw at each other to poke fun at their effeminacy. The evolution of this slang was perhaps not unlike that of the American gay lingo that can be traced back to the drag and ballroom culture of the 1980s, where “reading” was, as RuPaul says, fundamental.

But why fruit? The common assumption goes that, like women, fruits are soft and tender. Mayukh Sen, a writer who began writing about food “by accident” when he began working at the blog Food52. His first piece to get significant attention was about fruitcake, titled “How—and Why—Did Fruitcake Become a Slur?”. He wrote that, “As someone who’s queer and Bengal, I grew up eating fruitcake and really treasuring it. I sit in between these two meanings of the word and explored that whole idea in detail, where I metabolized all of that personal writing very early on in my food writing career.” As Sen explains, “A fruit, susceptible to the whims of nature, tends to grow tender and soft. For a man to embody these very traits, a sensitivity to the elements that is typically coded female, goes against the imaginings of masculinity our culture worships.”

Sen goes on to say that, when the slur made its way to the US in the 20th century, it became tied to fruitcake – the sticky and much-maligned treat. The phrase “nutty as a fruitcake” was reserved for people who had lost their marbles, had gone off their rocker, or, simply put, were crazy. At the time, homosexuality was considered deviant – a mental illness to be corrected through lobotomies, electroshock treatment, and chemical castration. Thus, fruits became fruitcakes, and the psychiatric institutions where these horrific procedures occurred were called “fruitcake factories.” Over time, the words “fruit” and “fruitcake” became less of an inside joke in the gay community and more of a weapon that straight people could use to remind gay people of their otherness. For some older gay men who lived through this era, the term “fruit” is as hurtful and offensive as the term “faggot.” Perhaps even worse.

Can we reclaim a slur such as “fruit” like many have for “queer” and “queen?” According to linguistics professor Sally McConnell Ginet, sometimes distance is essential to reclaiming a slur. The young activists in the 1980s who shouted “we’re here, we’re queer” in AIDS rallies were distant enough from the word that, perhaps, they barely had any experiences with it. The same goes for the word “fruity” today. Navigating the world as a gay person is leaps and bounds different than it was all those decades ago. And while homophobia and transphobia most definitely still exist around the world – and even in our own backyards – there are people, places, and moments that serve as solid reminders that LGBTQ+ people do deserve and have a place in this world.

So, when someone calls you “fruity,” what does it mean? It’s like most things, all about context. If they’re a friend, then perhaps it’s a light jab, perhaps a celebration of gayness, perhaps a little bit of both. If they’re not an ally, then it’s a word that they think should hurt you, but at the end of the day, all it does is say, “you’re sensitive, you’re effeminate.” And really, what’s so wrong with that? We should embrace who we are, not what others expect us to be, which is a lesson it took me a long time to realize and one that I sometimes still struggle with.