Shaping History

Gay people have been loathed, tortured, and executed by their governments. Iran, for example, regularly hangs gays—including teenagers. Gay teenagers take their lives at four times the rate of their peers. LGBT youth are not inherently more prone to suicide. It’s a reaction to stress put on them by society.

Many contentious school board meetings contribute to gay teenage isolation. The Katy ISD (Texas) removed ten books with gay characters from their libraries. Book banning is happening all over Texas and is almost always about race or sexuality. But historians know homosexuals have largely determined the course of history. 

Socrates was a pioneer of Western thought some 2,500 years ago. His student was Plato, who was gay and one of the giants of philosophy. Plato taught Aristotle, whom historians regard as one of the most intelligent people in history. The king of Macedonia asked Aristotle to tutor his son Alexander. Through Aristotle, Alexander developed a deep love of Greek learning.  

Upon his father’s death, Alexander became the king and commanding general at 17. He was a military genius and conquered the known world, reaching into India. Alexander died of a fever in 323 BCE at the age of 32.

Alexander built libraries in several places to spread Greek learning. A famous one was in Alexandria, Egypt, where Greek achievements became known to the Arabs. The Arabs preserved and expanded scholarship. Thanks to the Arabs, there were enormous advances in all fields of learning. Stars bear Arabic names, and algebra is an Arabic word. We use Arabic numerals and their decimal system. Many Arab scholars were fluent in Greek and translated and preserved Greek literature. They knew how to make paper and could share manuscripts. Alexander, who was gay, was the vital link in this. He forged history with an indelible stamp.

The fall of the Greco-Roman civilization extinguished Greek learning in Europe, bringing on the Dark Ages. In 1095, Pope Urban II ordered a crusade to take the Holy Lands from the Infidel Arabs. The Holy Crusades lasted 200 years before the Arabs drove the Christians back to Europe. But Europeans had learned many things, such as Arabic numerals and decimals, astronomy, mathematics, and much else. They learned about spices that improved drab European food. The search for a better route to the Far East spice trade motivated Columbus to set sail. He didn’t know America was between Europe and the Far East. All this was because the Europeans discovered the Greek learning that Alexander the Great had left with the Arabs.

By the early 1300s, the recovery of Greek learning began an artistic and scientific awakening that historians call the Renaissance, or “rebirth.” The Renaissance lasted until the early 1600s and included such people as Leonardo da Vinci, who was gay and one of the great geniuses of history. Every year, more than six million people see his Mona Lisa. Michelangelo was gay and renowned for his sculptures and painting of The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, seen by five million tourists each year. 

Francis Bacon, also gay, pioneered the scientific method at the end of the Renaissance and is known as the father of modern science. 

George Washington was the commander of the Continental Army. They were undisciplined, dirty, and disorganized. Benjamin Franklin was the ambassador to France, where he met Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a former Prussian military officer. Benjamin Franklin was impressed by von Steuben, so George Washington put von Steuben in charge of training the Continental Army. 

Von Steuben taught soldiers the basics of Prussian military drills, tactics, and discipline. He ordered the construction of outhouses so soldiers could relieve themselves without creating a mess. He wrote Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, which is still the basis of U.S. Army manuals. 

Von Steuben cleaned up widespread administrative waste and graft, saving needed supplies and funds. His method was to train a model company of soldiers who, in turn, trained other companies, setting up a geometric progression. Von Steuben could not speak English, but he could speak French. Washington’s aide-de-camp was Alexander Hamilton, who could also speak French and acted as interpreter. Von Steuben’s work led to success on the battlefield. General Washington recommended that Congress commission Friedrich von Steuben to the rank of Major General. America could hardly have won the Revolution without von Steuben. He was gay. 

Jumping ahead to World War II, Germany had developed an “Enigma” code that seemed unbreakable. A young British mathematician led a group that broke the Enigma Code. His name was Alan Turing. 

The U.S. sent convoys to Britain loaded with supplies. But the U-boats’ torpedoes were sinking so many of the ships that Churchill’s analysts warned him Britain would soon be starving. Churchill said, “The only thing that ever frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” Alan Turing personally broke the code used between German command and the U-boats. That information allowed the American convoys to avoid the U-boats and cross the Atlantic safely. 

Germany’s Army, Air Force, and Navy transmitted thousands of coded messages daily, including Hitler’s orders. Thanks to Turing, this information ended up in Allied hands, sometimes within 15 minutes of its transmission. 

The BBC said, “Turing stands alongside Churchill and Eisenhower in the Allied victory over Hitler. There should be a statue of him in London among Britain’s other leading war heroes.” During the war, Dwight Eisenhower sent a letter to the group that Alan Turing headed. He wrote, “The intelligence emanated from you before and during this campaign has been of priceless value to me. It has saved thousands of British and American lives.” 

Historians estimate that Turing and his group shortened the war in Europe by two to four years. Each year of the war resulted in seven million deaths. Without Turing, another 14 to 21 million people would have died.

Alan Turing was the father of modern computer science. While still in college, at age 23, he wrote a scientific paper that was second in importance only to Albert Einstein’s paper on general relativity. If you have a computer, your thanks go to Alan Turing.

Turing was gay. That was illegal in Britain at the time, and the government prosecuted him. He was convicted and given a choice between prison and probation. He chose probation, but it required him to undergo hormonal treatment, known as chemical castration. His body became feminized, and he grew breast tissue. Turing lost his security clearance which barred him from further work in intelligence. He committed suicide at the age of 41.

In 2013, Alan Turing received a posthumous royal pardon. Justice Minister Chris Grayling had requested it. He said, “Turing deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.” The Justice Minister said Turing’s sentence was unjust and discriminatory under a law Britain had since repealed.

People such as Plato, Alexander the Great, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sir Francis Bacon, Baron von Steuben, and Alan Turing shaped history to make us what we are today. But there have been countless other notable gay people in literature, science, music, TV news journalists, and even government. Pete Buttigieg is the gay Secretary of Transportation. Not only is Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre a lesbian, but she is also black. She invites double discrimination.

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Fred Mittag
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