Moms For Liberty Event at Museum of American Revolution is a Betrayal of Historians and DemocracyRoundup
tags: moral panics, LGBTQ history, education history, Moms for Liberty
Jen Manion is a professor of History & Sexuality and Women’s & Gender Studies at Amherst College and the author of Female Husbands: A Trans History (2020) and Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (2015).
I have spent over 20 years as a historian bringing the stories of ordinary people living during the Revolutionary era to light. That’s why I was appalled to learn that the Museum of the American Revolution is hosting the far right, anti-LGBTQ, anti-government group Moms for Liberty on June 29. We who study the past know the truth and can see this for the pernicious stunt that it is.
Moms for Liberty lobbies for book bans and aims to dictate how history is taught, stripping it of any mention of slavery, racism, and LGBTQ people. The group got its start fighting mask-mandates and the teaching of critical race theory. It spreads anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, falsely labels LGBTQ people as “groomers,” and led Florida’s hateful campaign against LGBTQ teachers. It openly harasses transgender and nonbinary young people and their families, advocating new laws and policies to restrict their lives and freedoms.
The group claims an affinity with America’s founding, yet they have failed this test in historical symbolism. Revolutionary Philadelphia was at the forefront of scientific inquiry, education, publishing, medicine, and government — all things that Moms for Liberty lobbies against.
Moms for Liberty is fighting to strip LGBTQ people of our place in the nation’s past — and by extension, the nation’s present and future. It doesn’t want you to know that we have played a part in every era of American history. People in early America experienced same-sex love and relationships, expressed themselves through drag, and changed their gender identity. Newspapers provide a crucial source for evidence of this often-hidden aspect of the past.
Newspaper articles about the growing tension between the North American colonies and the British Crown were reported alongside dramatic stories of “female husbands” — people assigned the female sex at birth who lived as men and married women. In May 1766, London’s Public Advertiser printed the notice from Lord Chamberlain’s office about the movement of “a quantity of ammunition, and Part of the Troops destined for North America,” on the very same page that it also noted the death of “the famous Sarah Paul, who went thro’ a Variety of Adventures in Men’s Clothes, which made a great Eclat about seven Years ago, when she married another young Woman, and was distinguished by the Appellation of the Female Husband.” While living as a man, they went by the name Samuel Bundy.
North American papers embraced these accounts as well. The Pennsylvania Gazette, printed by Ben Franklin in the Franklin Court Printing Office, reported on Charles Hamilton, who was detained in Chester, Pa. in July 1752 while en route to Philadelphia under suspicion “that the Doctor was a women’ in mens clothes.” Since there was no explicit law against cross-dressing, authorities reported they would only keep Hamilton in prison “till we see whether any Body appears against her, if not she will be discharged.”