Friday 20 January 2017

Out of Their Presidential Trees

I don’t think there has ever been such a big controversy over lgbt rights during a US Presidential election than there was last year. The final election results also saw a reduced number of elected lgbt legislators. Whatever political party takes office in the White House and how much support they do or do not show to the lgbt community one fact remains. The White House has seen its fair share of lgbt residents and members of presidential families.

To celebrate today’s Presidential Inauguration Day (regardless of who is to be inaugurated) let’s have a look at some queer presidential relatives.

Many lgbt people are related to US Presidents. More than half of them are descended from King Edward I of England so the many thousands of lgbt people who also descend from him, including myself, can claim to be “family”. For the purposes of today’s article I’ll restrict myself to actual Presidents and their descendants or near kin. They can be divided into the four groups as given below.

There has never been any conclusive proof that any US President was gay. Some suspicions and circumstantial evidence exists for two of them.

President James Buchanan (1791-1868)
Buchanan was elected in 1857. The current belief among many historians is that his romantic partner was William Rufus DeVane King (1786-1853) who was been US President pro tempore twice. Both men were bachelors (the only men to serve full terms as bachelors in their respective offices). Surviving letters by Buchanan express deep emotional feelings towards King. The debate on his sexuality continues, even at his Pennsylvania mansion where staff are advised to only give personal opinions rather than claim they have the authoritative answers.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
The sexuality of Buchanan’s presidential successor, Abraham Lincoln, is so hotly debated that the topic even has its own Wikipedia page, so I suggest you go there for a more complete discussion. Speaking personally I am undecided on the issue though open-minded. There’s little to prove that his behaviour, particularly the bed-sharing between men that was common and had no sexual connotation in his lifetime, was an indication one way or the other. I include Lincoln in this list purely because of the continuing debate. I can, however, be more open to the possibility that Lincoln was bisexual.

Rose Cleveland (1846-1918)
During President Cleveland’s first year in office (1885-6) he was unmarried. For a First Lady he chose his youngest unmarried sister Rose. She had previously acted as First lady of New York State when her brother was governor. Rose’s last act as First Lady of America was to oversee her presidential brother’s wedding in 1886. In 1890 she met a wealthy widow named Mrs. Evangeline Simpson. After a while, during which time very erotic letters were exchanged between them, they moved into a house together. Mrs. Simpson went on to marry a bishop nearly twice her own age, but after the bishop’s death she and Rose Cleveland got back together and moved to Italy in 1910 where they died. They are buried side by side.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt holds a unique place in the history of First Ladies. She is the one and only woman who belonged to a presidential family before becoming a presidential First Lady. I wrote briefly about Eleanor and the Roosevelts a couple of years ago and gave some indication of her romantic involvement with Lorena Hickok, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Joseph Alsop (1910-1989)
Joseph, the son of Eleanor Roosevelt’s cousin, has close family links to 3 US Presidents. The family tree below shows you which ones they are.

Joseph Alsop was a journalist and because of his family connections became known as a top insider into US political reporting. Even though he married he was a closeted gay man who was the victim of blackmail by the KGB.

Doris Fielding Reid (1895-1973)
Even though the first US President George Washington never left any descendants his siblings did and Doris Fielding Reid is one of 2 lgbt descendants of his sister Mrs. Betty Washington Lewis. Betty’s great-grand-daughter married Andrew Reid and they were the ancestors of both Doris Fielding Reid and John Arthur Holmes (below). Doris was an author who wrote about her partner in “Edith Hamilton: An Intimate Portrait”.

Gavin Arthur (1902-1972)
Gavin was the grandson of Chester Arthur, the 21st US President. Like Eleanor Roosevelt I’ve written about Gavin before.

Cyrus Cassells (b.1957)
Poet Cyrus Cassells is a descendant of President Thomas Jefferson. Two years ago I gave a genealogical account of him in my “Out of Their Trees” series. Since that article was written it has been proven through DNA testing that Cyrus’s ancestor Frances Woodson was the grand-daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sarah Hemmings.

John Arthur Holmes III (b.1984)
Next week is the first anniversary of the first known same-sex marriage of a Presidential descendant. John Holmes married Hugh Eastwood last January. Like Doris Fielding Reid John is descended from Betty Washington Lewis. It was the announcement of their marriage which prompted an invitation to John and Hugh to be guests of honour at the National LGBT 50th anniversary celebrations in Philadelphia in July 2016.

I’m sure there are other lgbt descendants of Presidential families. It is an area which I would be interested in researching more fully if I had the time.

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