Critical race theory spread through our institutions by educating the educators. Each teacher then goes on to influence countless students. Unfortunately, certain historic sites and museums are replicating this strategy. James Madison’s home of Montpelier helped develop a divisive “anti-racist” curriculum and trained Virginia teachers to implement it. Noelle Trent from the National Civil Rights Museum has encouraged museums to circumvent state laws by establishing partnerships “with teachers to continue teaching students critical race theory through field trips and guest speakers.” Now, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is offering a workshop on teaching queer history.
Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum—an entire town depicting America in the years prior to the Revolution. Williamsburg is an appropriate location for this historical freezeframe. It was one of Virginia’s first capitals and saw the beginnings and end of the American Revolution.
The Stamp Act brought with it the stirrings of resistance, and it was in Williamsburg that Patrick Henry, a firebrand, delivered his famous Caesar-Brutus speech against those “taxations without representation.” Momentum built through several Virginia Conventions in which patriots debated separating from Great Britain. And George Washington amassed his troops in Williamsburg in advance of that final Battle of Yorktown.
Colonial Williamsburg has much to offer that is inspirational for Americans, and several of the tours and performances are historically driven and substantive. Unfortunately, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation seems to be moving toward de-emphasizing Williamsburg’s unique history and including activist programming.
In 2019, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation established a Gender and Sexual Diversity Research Committee, and in June and October (pride month and LGBTQ+ history month, respectively), LGBTQ+ content has been included through performances and other programming at Colonial Williamsburg. As recently as April, such content was advertised on the special events website.
For example, the Jug Broke Theatre Company put on a play, “Ladies of Llangollen,” about a romance between two Irish women who seemingly had no connection with Colonial Williamsburg.
And in a blog post titled, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” (now removed from the Colonial Williamsburg website), the authors contended that LGBTQ+ depictions are important because, “if a person is not dead until their name is spoken for the last time, then this is a revival. Acting as a resurrection for one forgotten. One that was deliberately silenced and buried. One that was desecrated and censored in an act of purposeful soul murder.”
In the upcoming weeks, Colonial Williamsburg is partnering with the New-York Historical Society to host a teacher chat on “Queer History and Methodologies” and a workshop on “Best Practices for Teaching Queer History.” These programs are sponsored by the Bob and Marion Wilson Teacher Institute of Colonial Williamsburg, which provides “instructional resources, teacher professional development opportunities, and scholarships.”
The state of New York incentivizes teachers to participate in such workshops because they will receive Continuing Teacher and Leader Education credit for doing so. New York requires teachers with professional teaching certificates to earn credits throughout their careers, and the state, through the New-York Historical Society, has approved “Best Practices for Teaching Queer Theory.” The course is open to educators of all levels, from preschool to college instructors, for credit.
In the description for the queer history chat, Colonial Williamsburg notes that, “LGBTQIA+ stories have existed throughout American history but are often left overlooked or untold. To correct this erasure, many queer individuals have become activists, fighting for increased visibility and rights for the LGBTQIA+ community.”
People with same-sex attraction have always existed. But that is not what queer theory is really about, and its modern concepts would have been alien to people of the 18th century. Queer theorists seek to destabilize categories of what is “normal,” such as the idea that the sexes—male and female—are immutable, and they believe that such outdated (as they see it) conceptions of “normality” should be subordinated to a person’s “internal sense of gender.”
“Queer theory and politics necessarily celebrate transgression in the form of visible difference from norms,” explains Jay Stewart, the CEO of a U.K. transgender advocacy group. Queer theory calls “for a working together to overthrow ‘mainstream’ thinking and articulate ‘alternative’ lifestyles.”
Queer theory is related to gender ideology. Whereas gender ideologues replace sex with “gender identity” and “sex assigned at birth,” queer theorists reduce both gender and sex to mere social constructs. Its origins are traceable to the French philosopher Michele Foucault, who argued that children could give sexual consent and petitioned the French parliament to decriminalize sexual relations between adults and minors.
It is particularly disturbing that even pre-school teachers are eligible to learn from Colonial Williamsburg how to teach queer history. The description reads that participants will “examine understandings of gender in early American history and learn strategies for integrating gender-diverse narratives into content you teach already.”
Colonial Williamsburg does not provide additional details on what that instruction entails, but presumably, teachers would need to explain to children as young as four that sex is “assigned” and gender is a subjective state of mind. This is inherently suggestive, calling on teachers to introduce to impressionable young children the concept that they could be “born in the wrong body.” Some studies suggest that these sorts of things set children on a trajectory that can precipitate more extreme interventions later on, such as social and physical “transitioning” to appear as the opposite sex.
By sponsoring such workshops, Colonial Williamsburg is undermining its core mission and allure. How are parents to trust the programming of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation when Colonial Williamsburg conducts teacher trainings that circumvent parents, introducing their children to extreme ideologies?
There are fewer and fewer places where families can gather to learn the American story, and Williamsburg is fortunate enough to have been a stage for America’s beginnings. If the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation relinquishes that pride of place, it will be exchanging its singular stewardship to become just another fallen historic site.
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