Column: Republicans keep trying to erase history
I was a senior in college when I learned a gay man helped save the world.
Even after years of history lessons about World War II, I was well into my 20s before hearing of Alan Turing, the man most credited with creating the algorithms that enabled the Allies to crack the Enigma code used by the Nazis in World War II.
LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.
Before the Turing-led discovery, German submarines were able to find and destroy Allied ships in the Atlantic, crippling efforts to get much-needed supplies to Europe. In the first three months of 1942 alone, German subs sank more than 100 ships off the coast of North America and in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
And yet, instead of Turing being celebrated at the end of the war, this mathematician was arrested for gross indecency under anti-homosexuality laws and ultimately was given a choice between prison or hormonal “chemical castration.” Publicly outed and persecuted, he died by cyanide poisoning at 41 and was all but erased from the history books.
A series of myths keep white America from owning up about race, bias and ourselves.
During the “don’t ask, don’t tell” debate of the Clinton era, I often wondered how many members of Congress knew how important a gay man working for British intelligence had been to the Allies’ success in Normandy. Perhaps they would have been less hostile to gays and lesbians in the modern military.
Britons have redeemed the memory of Alan Turing in recent decades. Today the historical record credits him as crucial to the Allies’ victory in World War II, and calls him the father of computer science.
It was Kenny Washington and the Rams that broke the league’s color barrier, a year before Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers integrated Major League Baseball.
But some Americans have picked up the eraser.
Last week, Republican legislators in Florida advanced HB 1557 — affectionately dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill — which would ban discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools, effectively erasing LGBTQ history, culture and people from the classroom.
It would appear that Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republicans want to make Turing’s little-known story a complete unknown under the guise of “protecting the children.” As if Florida schoolchildren had no sexual orientation until they were handed a cap and gown at graduation, and as if ignorance of history could turn people straight. Such a law would be ludicrous in many ways, even making it hard for teachers to talk about Pete Buttigieg, should he run for president again.
In 1850, California entered the union as a free state. But in that same decade, San Bernardino prospered with slave labor.
And yet we shouldn’t put it past DeSantis to sign this bill. Last June, as the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando approached, the governor vetoed funding for mental health programs for survivors of the attack. He also declared June 12 to be Pulse Remembrance Day to honor the 49 people who were killed that night in 2016.
Hypocrisy has been a hallmark of American government ever since the founders branded a nation full of enslaved people as the “land of the free.” DeSantis is so committed to revisionist history for political gain that he stood in front of a room of Cuban American activists and called Cuba’s communism the “original cancer” of the Western Hemisphere — you know, as opposed to colonization, genocide or the transatlantic slave trade.
Pulling out of that 20-year war was a return to the original American approach: George Washington’s doctrine of non-intervention.
Perhaps backers of the “don’t say gay” bill believe that if you stop teachers from talking about LGBTQ people, then eventually the public won’t remember events like the Pulse shooting. That’s how the race massacres in Tulsa and Wilmington were swept under the rug until the murder of George Floyd.
After all, the attempt to erase Alan Turing worked for decades, as gay people continued to be marginalized and persecuted in the U.K. even though one of their own had thwarted the Nazis and laid the foundation for modern life.
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Therein lies the danger in efforts like “don’t say gay” and the Republicans’ nationwide war on critical race theory, which examines how policies such as redlining perpetuate systemic racism.
DeSantis banned CRT from being taught in Florida’s public schools last year, not that it was part of the state curriculum in the first place. Last month he announced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop W.O.K.E.) Act, which would allow parents to sue the school district if they so much as smell a lesson plan about systemic racism coming from their child’s backpack.
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The hypocrisy grows ever more astounding. DeSantis said: “We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” as if he were somehow protecting Florida tax dollars while introducing a law that would force school districts to settle lawsuits. The governor also somehow managed to invoke the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while introducing a bill that discourages teachers from talking about his work.
We don’t have to let the governor get away with pretending to defend the truth or American values.
Whether it’s the long arc of systemic racism, or the mere existence of gay people, telling the truth about our history isn’t a political statement. Denying our history is.
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