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Colonial Williamsburg aims to tell the 'queer history' of America's founding

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"Colonial Williamsburg was a lot queerer than we were led to believe," said a recent report in Out Magazine, "Colonial Williamsburg Is Uncovering America's Hidden Queer History," which details efforts under way at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to uncover America's hidden LGBTQ history.

The popular living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, has reportedly spent the last two years poring through archives to uncover the nation's so-called "queer history" in order to produce programming that tells the "complete" story of the time period.

The initiative was originally intended for the creation of an internal sourcebook that could be used by interpreters seeking to answer visitors' questions, the Virginia Gazette reported.

But now, with some research under its belt, the foundation claims it is nearly ready to introduce programs and re-enactments aimed at educating the public on the LGBTQ history of the colonies.

It all started in 2019 when Aubrey Moog-Ayers, an apprentice weaver at the museum who identifies as queer, was approached by a gay male couple asking what life was like for queer individuals in colonial America.

In an interview with Atlas Obscura, Moog-Ayers recalled that she didn't know what to say, but the question ignited a drive within her to search for answers. So she got together with other staff members and urged the foundation to fund research into the city's queer history. The foundation agreed, and the Colonial Williamsburg Gender and Sexual Diversity Research Committee was born.

Committee researcher Ren Tolson noted that the research has been slow and "difficult," but nonetheless rewarding. He said despite what many might believe, there are numerous examples of queer colonialists, it's just hard to locate them within the historical record.

"It's not that the information isn't there, it's that it hasn't been properly researched and a lot of other groups are overrepresented in the historic record," Tolson recently told the Gazette. "We just assumed that people had similar ideas as current day and moved on, but that's not entirely the case."

For now, all Tolson has been able to produce — for public consumption, anyways — is a story about a lesbian couple seeking to obtain a marriage license.

Unearthed documents allegedly tell the story of an affluent landowning Virginian woman who was denied a marriage license to another woman since local law only issued marriage licenses to male and female couples. Only she returned the next day dressed as a man and was granted her request.

Commenting on the discovery, Out Magazine said, "The eye-opening discovery proved LGBTQ+ folks existed at the time and, apparently, enjoyed some tolerance from the greater community."

Tolson insists that more has been discovered and that the foundation will soon begin rolling out programs, the first of which will be a dramatization of the "Ladies of Llangollen," a true story about two 18th century women whose romantic relationship garnered the attention of Queen Charlotte.

"It turns out we were always here and queer, we were just kept out of the history books," Out Magazine added.

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