Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Honest Abe? Or gay Abe?

Everyone knows the story of Abe Lincoln, right?

It's the mother of all "try, try again" mantras.

Practically every political spot he ran for, he lost the first time, but he persevered, living in a log cabin that he built with his own two hands until four score and seven years later he won the Civil War, thereby freeing the slaves, after which he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theatre and died April 15, 1865 - the darkest day in American history to that point, and the reason we pay taxes on that day.

But there's one point that many folks may not be familiar with.

Now, I'm not quite sure how we got to talking about this, but it came up the other night in the newsroom right here at the Union-Sun & Journal.

We were talking about log cabins. That lead to a comment about Log Cabin Republicans. I quipped that the Log Cabin Republicans were aptly named since the founder of the party was gay.

"What are you talking about, Scott," one of my colleagues shot out, half sounding like they wanted an answer and half sounding like they just wanted me to shut up.

"Abe Lincoln. He was gay," I said, calmly.

"Says who?" asked my unnamed colleague, gruffly.

"I don't know," I said. "I learned it in college. He had a gay lover when he was younger. The whole Mary Todd thing - a facade."

Well, that was it. I might as well have told my co-worker that HE was gay, judging by his reaction.

He wanted proof.

Well, I must admit, I don't have diagrams or photos or eyewitness testimony. I do, however, have some second hand information and a man who says he has the diary of honest Abe's lover.

Add that in with Abe's charm, social conscience, and fashion sense and it seems plain as day to me.

The year was 1837. Lincoln, then 28, was admitted to the Illinois Bar on March 1, and he moved to Springfield on April 15 (there's that date again), becoming a law partner of John T. Stuart and living with Joshua Speed, with whom he shared a bed - literally.

You see, when Lincoln arrived in town, he hadn't enough money to buy bedding at the general store, but Speed, the 23-year-old merchant behind the counter took pity on honest Abe and invited him into his own bed, free of charge, which happened to be just upstairs.

For the next four years the two men shared that bed along with their most private fears and desires.

The previous three paragraphs are fact. Indisputable. Any historical worth his or her salt will say, "Yup, that's the God's honest truth."

One man, however, says that he has some documentation of what happened in that bed for those four years.

Both men eventually married and had children; they remained close until they had a falling-out in 1855 over the issue of slavery.

But that didn't change their feeling for each other, says Larry Kramer.

"There's no question in my mind he was a gay man and a totally gay man," says Kramer, gay activist and founder of ACT-UP. "It wasn't just a period, but something that went on his whole life."

Kramer claims to have the proof, a diary written by Joshua Speed, as well as a stash of letters in which Speed writes explicitly about his love affair with Lincoln. The secret pages, which were discovered hidden beneath the floorboards of the old store where the two men lived, now are said to reside in a private collection in Davenport, Iowa.

Unfortunately for the world, Kramer won't let the world see them.

Mark Mead, spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans in Washington, says he is entirely familiar with Kramer's claims, but he dismisses them outright.

"It's completely irrelevant to me and I would think that a lot of our membership don't care," Mead told me by phone Monday morning.

Asked of the possibility, he said, "Since he's deceased, we'll never know."

The group has been around in one form or another for about 25 years, but just became the "Log Cabin Republicans" about a decade ago.

The "Log Cabin" notation is in reference to Lincoln, but officially, it's in reference to his ideals, not his sexuality, the group says.


Here's what I don't get though: What's the big deal? I mean, when I brought this up Friday night at the US&J, it started a debate more intense than the "pop or soda" one that we're always having.

I'm told that 10 percent of all people are gay - statistically speaking.

That means that Lincoln was likely one of the four gay president's we've had so far.

So what?

He's been dead now for 137 years. Does his sexuality really make a difference in how we see the man? I just can't see how or why it would.

I mean, he still won the war - still freed slaves - still persevered. Plain and simple, he's still Abe Lincoln.

Lastly, I was surprised how few people that I've talked to between Friday night and now knew that Lincoln was gay.

I thought we were more informed than this.

You do all know that Jesus was black, right?