Back in the days when I wrote for the now defunct Queer Magazine, my first cover story was called "Founding Fathers," where I researched the gay founding fathers: Alexander Hamilton, Pierre L'Enfant, and Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben among others. Sadly, that piece was lost in a senseless flash-drive related incident. Now I use online documents
This week, David Mixner has called our attention to yet another fey founding father. It seems that there were Christopher Street queers in New York long before there was a Christopher Street!
We get a rare glimpse that gays were very much part of the making of this nation and heroes to boot. Mr. Charles Gehring has spent most of his life translating documents from the early years in New York from Dutch to English. The result has been a fascinating insight to the influence of the Dutch on our early years. One that has often been overlooked.
More after the jump.
David goes on to quote the Danny Hakim New York Times piece at its mention of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, who made incredible inroads with the Mohawk people in the early 17th Century around what was then New Amsterdam. Things didn't end well for Bogaert when he returned to the city, however.
"Mr. Gehring's translation of the journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, a barber-surgeon and a likely ancestor of Humphrey Bogart, was turned into the graphic novel "Journey Into Mohawk Country," by the artist George O'Connor. The journal chronicles van denBogaert's journey through the Mohawk Valley to Oneida, a pathbreaking trip in the winter of 1634.
Years later, van den Bogaert was made commander of Fort Orange, site of present-day Albany, but fled back into Indian country after his fellow colonists discovered he was gay. Van denBogaert was pursued by the Dutch, captured and brought back, but he escaped when a sheet of floating ice damaged the fort. He drowned in the Hudson before he got very far."
Bogaert wouldn't recognize the world we live in today. For starters, the New York and Albany of his day no longer exist. However, Bogaert would much less have to fear persecution based on his orientation. Bogaert would have cheered in 2003 when the Supreme Court decided that private adult consensual behavior could not be prosecuted in Lawrence v Texas. And his attackers could expect heavier sentences when charged with his death thanks to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act; also known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Comparing where we are now as a community with the gays of the 1600s is a little bit cheeky, of course - clearly things are far better now. We don't need to make a spreadsheet to figure that out. However, I think its very important to stay in touch with where we've come from as we continue on to where we are going. Its important to remember that we, too, are a people with a history.
And if anyone in the Central Michigan University computer lab found that flash drive five or six years ago, please drop me a line. I'd like to keep in touch with where I came from too.