The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities



As the Winter Olympics in Sochi approach, countries around the world have expressed concerns over Russian legislation outlawing LGBTQ “propaganda.” The Obama administration called the law offensive, and the president pointedly chose several openly gay athletes for the US Olympic delegation. But recent Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage have highlighted our own internal debate on sexuality and its expression in the public sphere. So in this episode, we explore the often hidden stories of sexuality in American history.

We ask how and why Americans have distinguished between “normal” and “deviant” sexual behavior, and look at changes in those distinctions through the centuries. How have those categories been policed — and challenged? When and why did Americans begin to think of homosexuality and heterosexuality as distinct identities? And how do historians reconstruct histories that were often purposely kept secret? From colonial courts to 19th Century “intimate friendships,” to a federal government crackdown on gay and lesbian life in the mid-20th Century, we explore the many ways that Americans have understood – and broken – the sexual status quo.

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