Graduate Student, American Studies, Trinity College
When English colonizers arrived to the shores of what is now New England, many sought freedom to practice Puritan Christianity, away from the influences of the English crown and the Anglican Church. As a result, the laws they wrote reflected their religious and ideological beliefs. Their laws regarding gender and sexuality were especially enduring. These laws marginalized individuals for hundreds of years and continue to influence society today.
D1: Potential Compelling Question
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- Why is it important to examine multiple perspectives when researching U.S. history?
- How did Puritan beliefs influence colonial laws regarding gender and sexuality?
- How does ideology shape and influence the laws and culture of a place?
D2: TOOL KIT
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY
Read the following definition of perspective:
Perspective: (noun) a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
Students will discuss or write responses to the following:
- Why do you think it is important to examine different perspectives when examining history?
- Think about people’s identity markers (e.g. race, gender, religion, etc.) How do you think people’s identities influence their relationship with history?
Explore this digital timeline of Connecticut’s LGBTQ+ history. Closely examine the events from 1600-1757.
After you’ve reviewed the timeline, discuss or write responses to the following questions:
- According to the authors of the timeline, how did some Native American nations approach gender and sexuality?
- Describe what happened in New London, 1757.
- Do you think Stephen Gorton’s profession is significant to the story?
Examine the laws banning homosexuality in the Connecticut Colony and New Haven Colony. Answer the exploration questions below:
- What are the meanings of these laws? Explain the laws in your own words.
- Examine the language used in the two laws. Are there similarities in the words or phrases used?
- What is the source of the language used in these laws?
- Who suffered as a result of these laws?
- What were the intentions of Puritan colonists in creating these laws?
- How might these laws have influenced the attitudes and actions of the Connecticut and New Haven colonists?
- Do you think these laws are fair? Why or why not?
- What are the qualities of a fair or “just” law?
- What questions do you have?
Read the text from a 1653 case in the New Haven court involving six “youths.” Answer the exploration questions below:
- According to the text, how was the investigation carried out?
- Based on this text, what were the consequences of the New Haven colony law?
- Can you make any guess about why the young men were not executed as the law of the time demanded?
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
- In 3-5 paragraphs, explain what you think life was like for an LGBTQ+ person living in colonial Connecticut. How do you think Puritan ideology influenced people’s views about sexuality and gender? You must at least partly defend your claims using historical information from the sources. You may also bring in more recent information as appropriate.
- Students will write a short work of historical fiction (2-4 pages) describing the experience of an LGBTQ+ person living in colonial Connecticut. You must use at least one of the sources provided in your short story. You may also bring in other primary and secondary sources as appropriate.
The length of these assignments can vary. Teachers should use their best judgment to differentiate.
Read and analyze this article about the life of Reverend Stephen Gorton using the National Endowment for the Humanities Secondary Source Analysis Worksheet to organize your thoughts. You will use your secondary source analysis to construct a short essay or work of historical fiction.
Place to GO
Things To DO
If your school does not have an LGBTQ+ organization club, consider forming one. Allyship and visibility is essential to promoting human rights and protecting LGBTQ+ youth from bullying and discrimination. How to Start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), ACLU.
If you want to investigate LGBTQ+ history even further, check with your local historical society or library. LGBTQ+ historical research is challenging, especially the further back into history you go. Here is a guide to help you with your research: How to Look for Records Of: Sexuality and Gender Identity History.
Note: While this source provided specifically grapples with UK-based history, the article is useful to help you identify and search for key terms pertaining to LGBTQ+ history.
Watch a video:
- “The Homophobic Origins of U.S. Law,” PBS. (11:37)
- “Two- Spirit People,” Frameline. (22:51)
It is important to note that there is limited evidence of two-spirit tradition in Connecticut.
Listen to a podcast:
Websites to VISIT
Historic Timeline of Connecticut’s LGBTQ Community (1600-present), Connecticut Historical Society
History Day LGBTQ+ Topics, Connecticut State Library
LGBTQ History in the United States, Elon University
Articles to READ
Pagett, Donald. “Colonial Williamsburg is Uncovering America’s Hidden Queer History.” Out Traveler, August 11, 2021.
Chevat Richie, Michael Bronski. “Queer History: The Gender-Free Revolutionary of 1776.” Yes Magazine, June 30, 2019.
“Two-Spirit People of the First Nations.” Rainbow Resource Center
- “What’s a Puritan, and Why Didn’t They Stay in Massachusetts?” by Walter Woodward.
- “The Importance of Being Puritan: Church and State in Colonial Connecticut” by Nancy Finlay.