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American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Teaching and Learning LGBTQ+ History of the United States

"Men holding Christopher Street Liberation Day banner," 1970. Diana Davies, via the New York Public Library

On June 28, 1970, LGBTQ+ activists in New York organized Christopher Street Liberation Day, commemorating the resistance of queer and trans people after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn a year earlier. For the past fifty years, LGBTQ+ people have continued this tradition. At Pride parades and other activities, they have gathered to make their presence visible, to protest injustices and express demands for political and legal change, to revel in a sense of community, and to challenge forces that have sought to ignore, silence, or oppress them. This year, Pride Month is tempered by a wave of local and state attempts -- many successful -- to roll back hard-won gains that affect the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and those who love them. Numerous states have proposed or passed “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, amounting to government-sanctioned acts of censorship in K-12 public schools in order to deny LGBTQ+ people’s historical agency and contributions. In a recent letter opposing these bills, the Organization of American Historians noted that their impact could be devastating not only for LGBTQ+ youth who are stereotyped and stigmatized in school; the bills also amount to historical erasure with potentially harmful consequences for American democracy. These efforts coincide with current moves to suppress the teaching of the history of slavery and racism and attacks on voting rights that compound the threat posed to Americans’ understanding of the past and their future civic and political participation.

Not only do we think LGBTQ+ history should be taught, we don’t think it should be relegated to June only! Fortunately, numerous educators, filmmakers, museums, archives and libraries, and historians have worked diligently to preserve LGBTQ+ history and encourage its presentation, both within classrooms and other venues. We have assembled a selective list of resources for educators, students, and others looking for sources for teaching and learning about a variety of topics related to LGBTQ+ experiences in the past.

Our upcoming podcast series, Making Queer History Public, features interviews with the people behind some of these efforts. Listen to a preview here, or on Apple, Spotify, Google, or Sticher.

Table of Contents

Primary Sources by Time Period

Eighteenth Century
Nineteenth Century
Early Twentieth Century
World War Two and the Lavender Scare
LGBTQ+ Rights as Civil Rights
The 1980s and 1990s

Collections Across Time Periods

Teaching Activities and Classroom Resources

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Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens
During the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton was a lieutenant colonel and George Washington's Aide-de-camp. He served with fellow soldier John Laurens directly alongside Washington. In 1779, two years into the war, Hamilton and Laurens parted ways when Laurens headed south to recruit enslaved people to fight for the Continental Army. These letters, written by Hamilton during the time he and Laurens were separated, reveal the deep emotional bonds they shared. Alexander Hamilton became one of the country’s Founding Fathers who helped to promote the Constitution and in 1789 he was appointed the first secretary of the treasury.  From: Social History for Every Classroom

Deborah Sampson Testifies About Her Service
During the Revolutionary War, Deborah Samson and an unknown number of women dressed as men in order to fight. Using the alias “Robert Shurtleff,” Sampson served with the 4th Massachusetts Regiment for two years before being injured and honorably discharged. After the war, she resumed her identity as Deborah Sampson. In 1792, the government of Massachusetts awarded her a pension for her service. This document, part of her application for a pension from the federal government, details her experience in the army. Even as early as the late 1700s, the army was an avenue that women used to challenge traditional gender roles. From: Social History for Every Classroom

 

Nineteenth Century 

"See How the Girls Get Undressed," Stereoscope, n.d., via The Library Company of Philadelphia

Walt Whitman Writes about a Soldier's Love
Walt Whitman was one of America’s most influential poets in the 19th century, as well as an essayist and journalist. Whitman served as a nurse during the Civil War, where he developed close relationships with several of the men he tended. During this time, he frequently wrote about the curative power of “adhesiveness,” or deep love between men, which he considered a vital part of caring for the wounded and the sick. These excerpts are from his Civil War reporting and were published in the New York Times, one of several newspapers he wrote for during the war.  From: Social History for Every Classroom

Military Portrait of Albert Cashier

Military Portrait of Albert Cashier
Albert Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. Historians have found evidence that hundreds of soldiers, including Cashier, were born female and enlisted as men during the Civil War. This portrait was taken during the course of his service. Unlike many women who cross-dressed in order to fight, Cashier continued to live as a man even after the war had ended. In 1914, when it was discovered that Cashier had been assigned female at birth, an investigation was launched to determine whether he was entitled to a veteran’s pension. Several of his former associates testified to the Pension Bureau and confirmed his identity and his service, and he was allowed to continue receiving his pension until his death. From: Social History for Every Classroom

Colleagues Testify in Support of Albert Cashier
Albert Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. Historians have found evidence that hundreds of soldiers, including Cashier, were born female and enlisted as men during the Civil War. Unlike many women who cross-dressed in order to fight, Cashier continued to live as a man even after the war had ended. In 1914, when it was discovered that Cashier had been assigned female at birth, an investigation was launched to determine whether he was entitled to a veteran’s pension. Several of his former associates testified to the Pension Bureau and confirmed his identity and his service, and he was allowed to continue receiving his pension until his death. This document contains testimony from his deposition.  From: Social History for Every Classroom

An Immigrant Tells His Story in 1882
The reasons immigrants had for leaving their homelands and coming to America were as diverse as the backgrounds of the immigrants themselves. Although most immigrants came to the United States for economic reasons some sought a new home because of persecution based on their politics, religious beliefs, or their sexual orientation. In this 1882 letter sent to medical writer and sexologist Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a thirty-eight-year-old German-born merchant explained how a homosexual arrest in his homeland forced him to emigrate to the United States. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

 

Early Twentieth Century 

“Masculine Women, Feminine Men,” Sheet Music Cover, 1926, via Queer Music Heritage

Murray Hall of Tammany Hall
Most people have a clear stereotype of the urban political boss of the early 20th century, and in many ways Murray Hall, a leader of New York City’s notorious “Tammany Hall,” was its embodiment. Hall was known as a poker-playing, cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking, “man about town.” But in one significant way, Hall departed from the stereotype: she was actually a woman (by the name of Mary Anderson) who “passed” as a man for more than a quarter century. These 1901 newspaper articles shared the news of her deception after her death and give a sense of how the public interpreted such acts of “passing.” From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web 

Chicago Vice Crusaders Confront Sexual “Perversion” in the Theater
From the Civil War through the 1920s, there were numerous clubs, saloons, and dance halls in American cities known for transvestism (men or women dressing as the opposite sex), for male prostitution, or as places that catered to a “gay crowd”—meaning men and women interested in a less conventional evening’s entertainment. At the same time,  psychologists, physicians, and social reformers who were trying to establish “norms” for human behavior increasingly treated such gathering places as a danger. This 1911 report from a Chicago vice commission on “The Social Evil in Chicago” combined disapproval, fascination, and paranoia, suggesting that “sex perverts” were a small minority but that their “secret language” pervaded ordinary entertainment. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web 

A Psychiatrist Warns Against Allowing LGBTQ+ People to Serve
In 1917, the U.S. military implemented the Articles of War, which detailed the rules and regulations of the military. Article 93 associated homosexuality with serious crimes such as manslaughter and burglary. The military’s decision to bar LGBTQ+ service members was supported by testimony from a growing group of psychologists who viewed LGBTQ+ people as having an impairment or disorder that made them unfit to serve in the military. This document, written by Dr. Albert Abrams, was published in a medical journal in order to argue for the exclusion of LGBTQ+ service members. From: Social History for Every Classroom

Lament for “The Lost Pardner”
“The West,” wrote John D’Emilio and Estelle Freedman in their history of sexuality, “provided extensive opportunities for male-male intimacy. Some men were drawn to the frontier because of their attractions to men.” Badger Clark was born in 1883 and grew up in Deadwood, South Dakota. His 1919 poem about “The Lost Pardner” suggests a continuing—but largely forgotten—gay presence in the American West of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web 

Havelock Ellis Describes Gay Life in the American City
In the 1920s, in part because of prohibition and the emergence of speakeasies, homosexuality became even more open. At the same time, psychologists, physicians, and social reformers were attempting to study, classify, categorize, and label human sexual behavior. In this excerpt from his 1915 book, British physician and psychologist Havelock Ellis, a pioneer in the emerging field of human sexuality, mapped out for his readers the culture of “sexual inversion” in American cities, reflecting how practices that had long been common, or at least tolerated, were suddenly viewed as problematic. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

 

World War Two and the Lavender Scare 

"Two women in military uniforms," 1939, by Lorraine Hurdle, courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society via The Internet Archive

“True towel tales . . . as told to us by a soldier.”
World War II had a long-lasting impact on LGBTQ+ Americans. Far from home, many gay men and lesbian women felt less social pressure to conform to heterosexual social norms, and the need for manpower made the military somewhat more tolerant of homosexual men and women in its ranks (although it still purged many gay and lesbian soldiers). Many who first expressed their sexual orientation during the war later became pioneers in the gay and lesbian rights movement. This towel advertisement was one of a series published during 1943–44 that used homoerotic imagery inspired by purported testimony from G.I.s overseas. The ads, which are sexually ambiguous, suggest how the same-sex environment in the military afforded young men, both gay and straight, with opportunities for sexual self-discovery.  From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

Pat Bond Describes the Military Purge of LGBTQ+ Service Members
Pat Bond was a member of the Women’s Army Corps (a WAC) during World War II. As a lesbian, she risked a “blue discharge” from the army if she was discovered. Blue discharges were highly stigmatized penalties for alleged dishonorable behavior and were given in disproportionate numbers to gays, lesbians, and African Americans. Receiving a blue discharge made it impossible for individuals to claim veterans’ benefits, and made it difficult for many to readjust to civilian life. After World War II, the U.S. military increased efforts to identify and discharge gay and lesbian service members, which Bond just managed to avoid. From: Social History for Every Classroom

"Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty"
Christine Jorgensen, born George W. Jorgensen Jr., was an army clerical worker during World War II. After the war, she underwent sex reassignment surgery in Denmark. Jorgensen became well-known for this experience, and numerous media outlets published stories about her transition. This article, published in the New York Daily News, emphasized her military background with the title, “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” After returning to the United States, Jorgensen made a living as a celebrity, actress, and entertainer. She stated publicly that she was very happy with her decision to undergo the surgery, and was an advocate for transgender rights throughout her life. From: Social History for Every Classroom

Portrait of Christine Jorgensen

Portrait of Christine Jorgensen
Christine Jorgensen, born George W. Jorgensen Jr., was an army clerical worker during World War II. After the war, she underwent sex reassignment surgery in Denmark. Jorgensen became well-known after numerous media outlets published stories about her transition. After returning to the United States, she made a living as a celebrity, actress, and entertainer. This headshot of Jorgensen was taken in 1954, two years after she began her medical transition. She stated publicly that she was very happy with her decision to undergo the surgeries, and was an advocate for transgender rights throughout her life. From: Social History for Every Classroom

Look Magazine's Guide to the Unmarried Man
In the Cold War period of the 1950s and early 1960s, an era in which married life was often idealized as essential for personal happiness and success, non-conformance became a social problem in need of study and explanation. Psychologists, sociologists, and commentators in the popular press conducted research and published findings that sought to account for the relatively large numbers of men and women who remained unmarried despite societal pressures to wed. In this article, Look magazine writer Eleanor Harris addressed the topic of bachelorhood by presenting testimonies of selected men on the reasons they remained unmarried and conclusions of authorities regarding these explanations.  From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

 

LGBTQ+ Rights as Civil Rights 

Mural in Dallas Commemorating the Stonewall Uprising, with Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, 2019, via Brian Kenny

Bayard Rustin Describes the Fellowship of Reconciliation
Bayard Rustin was a gay civil rights activist who was particularly passionate about racial equality. He helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which Martin Luther King Jr. was a president, and which influenced the civil rights movement. As a Quaker, he was also committed to pacifism. In 1944, he was arrested and sent to prison for refusing to join the U.S. army, violating the Selective Service Act. At the time, Rustin worked for The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an interracial civil rights organization. In this article, Rustin critiqued the role that violence played in society and discussed how pacifism and racial justice intersect. From: Social History for Every Classroom

Advocates Call for an End to Anti-Gay Employment Discrimination
Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex, but did not address discrimination based on sexual orientation. With the advent of the gay liberation movement in 1969, grassroots and national groups began a decades-long fight for legal protection for gay men and lesbians in the workplace, educational institutions, and housing. In the following testimony to a House subcommittee in 1994, five advocates for federal legislation presented arguments and personal accounts to demonstrate the need to establish, in the words of one of the witnesses, “the equal right to work in the U.S.”  From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

Shelley Ettinger Describes the Lesbian Community of the 1970s
The 1970’s witnessed the growth of assertive and visible gay and lesbian alternative cultures. In this oral history interview, Shelley Ettinger recalled being a college student at the University of Michigan and a union activist within the city bus company, when she participated in an active, assertive lesbian culture during the mid-1970’s. Although gay men and lesbians still faced harassment and discrimination, they were no longer afraid to express their identities or to speak out against bias and discrimination.  From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

James Justen Describes Fighting Chrysler for Domestic Partner Benefits
After 30 years as an autoworker in Wisconsin, James Justen became active in the struggle for equal rights and benefits for gay and lesbian employees. In this excerpt of an oral history interview Justen discusses his fight to win health benefits for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian workers. Although Justen, unlike many gay auto workers, did not face serious harassment while on the job, he found the struggle for equal health benefits an uphill battle. Chrysler denied his claim for equal rights, but Justen hoped to challenge their policy by encouraging other workers to challenge the unequal treatment. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

Faith Robinson Describes Harassment in Her Job with a Telephone Company
In the 1970s, working class women began to enter non-traditional jobs in trades and craft unions, and lesbians found a larger community in which to express their sexuality. In both cases, women faced resistance and sometimes violence as they charted new gender territory. In this interview, Faith Robinson, discusses what it was like to break the gender barrier in the predominantly male telephone technician field. Here she recalls a time when anti-gay talk escalated to violence on the job site. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

Cal Noyce Describes Merging Union, Gay, and Lesbian Organizing
An officer of the Communications Workers of America Local 7704 in Salt Lake City and an out gay man, Cal Noyce began to raise issues of gay, lesbian, and bisexual equity within the union during the early 1990’s. In this interview Noyce remembers what it meant to form an organization of gay trade unionists in Utah, as well as the national gay, lesbian, and bisexual group Pride at Work, part of a larger push to link the gay rights movement to the labor movement. From: History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

CLAGS Collection
This collection  documents the history and development of the Center for LGBTQ Studies, a CUNY Graduate Center research center  that has played a leading role in the establishment and legitimization of queer studies. The collection includes posters and videos from CLAGS events, internal documents and correspondences, most from the 1990s. Highlights include lectures by Judith Butler and Susan Stryker, a keynote speech given by Martin Duberman, a letter to Audre Lorde, minutes from the forming of CLAGS board of directors, and newsletters.  From: the CUNY Digital History Archive

Stonewall and Its Impact on the Gay Liberation Movement
This set of primary sources explores events preceding and surrounding the 1969 Stonewall Inn protests and their impact on the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s. The sources demonstrate the continuing influence of Stonewall on America’s LGBTQ community, the civil rights movement, and American politics in general. An accompanying teaching guide provides questions for reflection and discussion. From: The Digital Public Library of America

 

The 1980s and 1990s 

"National Day of Silence" Pamplet, 1997, courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society via Calisphere

Social Service Organizations Advocate an Improved Federal Response to AIDS
In 1983, Congress held hearings regarding the federal government’s response to the AIDS crisis. In this testimony, three representatives of social service organizations sharply criticized the Reagan administration’s limited response to the AIDS crisis, advocated increased federal funding, and warned that AIDS was a societal “time bomb” likely to have grave consequences beyond the gay community. 

“How Many Thousands?” Bruce Priebe on AIDS Activism 
When AIDS struck the gay community during the early 1980’s, many who had not previously consider themselves activists, like Bruce Priebe, became politically active. In this excerpt of an oral history interview Priebe, a nurse, described the motivations for his own activism and.the burst of community health activism in response to the AIDS epidemic.

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Collections Across Time Periods

Military History and the LGBTQ+ Community
Part of ASHP’s project, Social History for Every Classroom, this collection contains annotated primary sources and teaching resources documenting changing military policy and LGBTQ+ experiences. The set spans from the 18th century to the imposition of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the 1990s.

GLBT Historical Society
This San Francisco-based archive has produced numerous primary source sets grouped by themes. The expansive variety of themes includes, for example, Lesbians and the Military; Drag; Asian American Voices and Activism; Dikes on Bikes; Policing and Resistance; Harvey Milk; and many more that focus on specific events, individuals or identity groups. 

"The Man-Monster; Peter Sewally, alias Mary Jones,” 1836. 

Outhistory
An online archive that features an expansive collection of primary sources, short essays, visual images, mini-exhibits and other items covering a scope of American history. The site is curated by pioneering historian Jonathan Ned Katz, working with colleagues and students. In addition to providing an amazing range of materials, including a collections on Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, Peter Sewally/Mary Jones, a Black transgender person in New York City, in 1836, and oral history interviews focusing on Philadelphia lesbian and gay history from the 1940s to the 1970s. OutHistory also welcomes users to contribute to the site.

LGBTQ at NYPL
The NY Public Library has built an extensive collection of materials related to LGBTQ+ history, life, and culture. Blog posts highlight important items in the collection from divisions across the library systems: everything from Young Adult reading lists, announcements of public events, hundreds of photographs taken by Diane Davies in NYC in the 1960s and 1970s, the ACT UP oral history project, and more. These represent a sampling of the library’s impressive LGBTQ Initiative, which also includes academic and popular literature, rare books, magazines, historic newspapers, and major archives.There are at least 100,000 volumes and over 300 archival collections—containing hundreds of thousands of letters, manuscripts, photographs, posters, and other items—as well as numerous audio/visual materials of LGBTQ-related materials.

Making Gay History
Historian Eric Marcus has produced an extensive and compelling podcast series, featuring interviews he conducted with LGBTQ+ activists and other important figures. Each episode includes audio and an accompanying essay with links to additional resources. The series’ 9th season, focused on the AIDS crisis, will be released this summer.

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Teaching Activities and Classroom Resources

Members of the Native LGBT and Two-Spirit community march in the Albuquerque Pride Parade, June 2017. Andi Murphy, via Native America Calling

Hidden Voices: LGBTQ+ Stories in United States History
In 2020, the NY City Department of Education’s dept of social studies produced this wonderful curriculum resource. It contains profiles of individual LGBTQ+ figures and interpretive essays meant to allow teachers to integrate and explore inclusive learning experiences that validate the diverse perspectives and contributions of underrepresented individuals and groups in the LGBTQ+ community. A set of lesson plans suitable for k-12 classrooms will be available later this summer. 

Understanding LGBTQ+ Identity: A Tool Kit for Educators
NYC’s public media company, WNET, has produced a wealth of resources for middle and high school educators wanting to incorporate LGBTQ+ content into classes and to effectively address issues affecting their LGBTQ+ students. The site includes short videos and classroom resources, many designed to accompany the profiles featured in the NYC Dept. of Education’s Hidden Voices guide. In addition, WNET provides professional development materials to help teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and other educators better understand and respond to the complex and diverse issues faced by LGBTQ students.

National Park Service’s LGBTQ Heritage
This site is a portal with links to a number of separate resources focused on LGBTQ historic sites. A tab with educator resources links to History Unerased, GLSEN, and other (non-NPS) resources. The site also features one specific lesson/activity - focused on the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in NYC in 1969. The Park Service’s 2016 LGBTQ Heritage Theme Study offers a comprehensive survey of scholarship and approaches to an inclusive understanding of places and spaces associated with LGBTQ+ people and communities in the U.S. 

LGBTQ Lesson Plans from the ONE Archives
The ONE Archives Foundation has partnered with the UCLA History-Geography Project to host Professional Learning Symposiums and provide LGBTQ history lesson plans for educators at no cost. The lesson plans comply with California’s FAIR Education Act, which requires California K–12 schools to integrate fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful representations of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities into their social studies and history classes.

GLSEN
A research and advocacy organization, GLSEN focuses on lessening bullying and improving the experiences of LGBTQ+ students in schools. Its website includes resources for educators, information about policies and programs, news stories, and suggestions for taking action. Its biennial National School Climate Survey assesses the resources that schools provide for LGBTQ+ students and the continuing challenges students face. In addition, an array of resources about supporting Trans youth and discussing trans and nonbinary gender identities in schools can be found at ADL.

LGBTQ History Project
This suite of resources was developed by  the University of California Berkeley’s History-Social Science Project, after passage of California’s FAIR Act (which prescribes the inclusion of persons with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people in the history of California and the US). The site includes several lesson plans for teaching LGBTQ+ history in U.S. and world history courses (Grades 4-12), and links to supplemental pedagogical materials.

People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* History
This Fordham University site explores through links to hundreds of primary and secondary documents the history of homosexuals and “transgendered people” from classical antiquity to the present day. Arranged into 11 sections—each with their own table of contents—the site treats a wide range of themes, regions, and time periods and includes poems, literature, essays, historical scholarship,links to interviews with prominent scholars, reviews of recent books, discussions of queer theory, with background essays and a very thorough bibliography.

Schomburg Center’s #Syllabus Collection
There have been several efforts to combat anti-trans violence and legislation through collective organizing and resource and information sharing. Some of the resource lists produced as a part of these efforts are archived in the Schomburg Center’s #Syllabus web archive collection. The collection includes many relevant crowd-sourced syllabi such as #TransJusticeSyllabus, Sociologists for Trans Justice, #BlackTransLivesMatter: Actions and Resources for Solidarity, #PulseOrlandoSyllabus and Anti-Trans Bills Teach In—Public Syllabus

Scores of other digital archives host an array of primary source materials for teaching and research, including Digital Transgender Archive, NYC Trans Oral History Project, Lesbian Herstory Archives, NYC’s LGBTQ Community Center, Duke University library’s Documents from the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Stonewall Oral History Project, and many more.