Thanks to California's newly-enacted "Gay History" law, William Rufus Devane King will finally receive the comprehensive classroom attention that previous generations of educators had so cruelly denied.
This thoroughly obscure Dixie politician left behind no major accomplishments or stirring speeches, but he represents precisely the sort of forgotten figure the Golden State legislation means to emphasize in retelling the story of America for an enlightened new generation: many experts believe that King might well qualify as the nation’s first gay vice president.
In signing the bill last week, Governor Jerry Brown denounced "discrimination in education” and insisted “history should be honest.” According to the governor, the legislation now "ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books...It represents an important step forward for our state."
The new law requires that public school textbooks and curricula, beginning with kindergarten, should feature "the accomplishments of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans."
Vice President King, who served as a Congressman from North Carolina and Senator from Alabama prior to his election to the nation's second highest office in 1852, may have qualified in two of the new protected categories: as both a "gay" and "transgendered American."
The life-long bachelor shared rooms in Washington for fifteen years with a fellow bachelor Senator (and future bachelor President), James Buchanan of Pennsylvania. Political enemies of the two men whispered about their intimate friendship and Tennessee Congressman Aaron Venable Brown openly referred to the two comrades as "Buchanan and his wife." President Andrew Jackson teasingly described King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy," apparently alluding to the Senator's odd habit of visiting glittering Washington parties dressed as a woman. As if these details weren't revealing enough, there's also the fact that the nieces of the two men collaborated in burning their correspondence to one another after they both died, conceivably to conceal the embarrassing ardor of their mutual devotion.
Now, California students will finally get a chance to focus on this crucially important history, as mandated by the state legislature.
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