Here's a quick historical tidbit in honor of the many patriotic songs played this weekend: Katherine Lee Bates, author of "America the Beautiful," lived for 25 years with fellow Wellesley College professor Katherine Coman, in what is commonly called a "Boston marriage." (I find it eternally funny that the term has existed since the late 19th century, and in 2004 Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.)
It may be ahistorical to call Bates a lesbian in a modern sense; we don't have evidence of any sexual relationship between the two women. One only need read "Yellow Clover," the volume of poetry Bates wrote upon Coman's death, however, to know that their bond went beyond mere friendship. In the poem, If You Could Come, Bates says:
My love, my love, if you could come once more From your high place, I would not question you for heavenly lore, But, silent, take the comfort of your face.
I would not ask you if those golden spheres
In love rejoice,
If only our stained star hath sin and tears,
But fill my famished hearing with your voice.
One touch of you were worth a thousand
My wound is numb
Through toil-pressed day, but all night long
In aching dreams, and still you cannot come.
That's good enough for me to claim her as a spiritual lesbian foremother, whether or not she was one by today's standards (if we can even claim to have such standards). Something to think about as the marching bands go by and the radio stations continue to blast us with ardent American refrains.
(On a side note, students and alumnae at Wellesley College still sing "American the Beautiful" at various traditional college events, but always change "brotherhood" to "sisterhood" in the last line. Honoring our foremothers is all well and good, but changing times may call for a few updates.)