Walt Whitman never publicly addressed his sexual orientation in his poems, essays or lectures. He lived from 1819 to 1892, a time when “gay” meant little more than “happy.”
Biographical materials, however, note he was involved for decades with a man named Peter Doyle. And in works like the "Calamus" poems in his "Leaves of Grass" collection, Whitman discusses romantic and sexual relationships between men.
As California looks to implement the country’s first LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, state education officials and textbook publishers are grappling with how to refer to figures like Whitman, who were believed to have been gay, bisexual or transgender but never came out: Should we label them as such?
While advocates have argued for the importance of highlighting the historical contributions of LGBTQ people, others have objected to imposing contemporary terms on people who lived long before they were introduced.