by Emily A. Roldan
This post is inspired by a Tumblr post that floated around the Internet regarding Leonardo de Vinci’s status as a gay or bisexual man. The post asks: Why were we not taught this in school? I’ve had conversations with some people about it, and for the most part the response has been: Does it matter?
LGBTQ+ erasure is a big deal. According to the CDC, LGBTQ+ teens are twice as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. It’s naive to say that problems like homophobia, LGBTQ+ dating violence, and suicides would all be solved by better representation, I know, but surely it would help. I say this all the time, so forgive me if I sound like a broken record: When people see people like them who are successful and happy, it reaffirms that they too can reach their goals. My youngest sister was so excited after seeing Big Hero Six because she saw a blonde, Hispanic, female scientist. This was the first time she’d seen a woman in fiction who looked like her, shared her background, and was interested in STEM like her.
Do you think gay kids who experience homophobia and a lack of support know that one of the heroes of the American Revolution, the man widely considered to be the father of the American Military, Friedrich Wilhelm von Stuben, was widely considered gay? Or that George Washington was surprisingly tolerant of gay relationships at Valley Forge? Or that Alexander Hamilton, founding father and star of the hit musical Hamilton, may have had a gay lover? (Reading these articles where it states Aaron Burr is the one who pressured George Washington into court martials for gay soldiers then reading about Alexander Hamilton’s potentially bi relationship adds a whole new dimension to their rivalry. Where was this song in Hamilton?)
Even today, people are told they are unnatural because they love who they love. They still have to fight for the basic rights that heterosexual couples take for granted. They aren’t taught in school that some of the people who made this nation were like them. They aren’t taught that some of the most influential artists in history – Leonardo da Vinci, Frida Kahlo, Michelangelo, and more – were LGBTQ+, or rumored to be. I could make an entire blog post listing influential people throughout history who were either openly LGBTQ+ or rumored to be (and I still might).
Representation is so very important, and that extends to our history text books. Who people love is a huge part of who they are/were. Would The Picture of Dorian Grey have been written if Oscar Wilde were a straight man? We don’t know, because he was not a straight man, and The Picture of Dorian Grey was written.
It may not be considered appropriate to some to tackle these topics when students are young, but high school students are taught about genocides, war, and famine; they can handle the knowledge that Alexander the Great had male lovers.
Emily A. Roldan
Emily Roldan is a Colombian American bisexual blogger and activist at The Comic Book Femme Fatale, a website that looks at comic books, nerd culture, science fiction, and television through an intersectional feminist slant. She is passionate about representation of women, race, and sexual orientation in comic books, science fiction, and media. She can be found on panels at conventions in the Gulf Coast region and on her Twitter, Facebook page, and website. You can read all of Emily’s posts here.
This post was originally published on Comic Book Femme Fatale on January 28, 2016. The piece has been edited for this site.