Washington Post

In the District, Walking With Pride

'Out in D.C.' Tours Explore
Events That Shaped Gay History

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 1998; Page A09

George Nunes used to give standard tours of the nation's capital, but he decided something was missing from the traditional stories about American history. Since June, he has been leading people on weekend tours that emphasize the city's gay community and its historic impact.

"Being a gay man, I knew that there was a lot of that history that was just not known," said Nunes, who draws on historians and academics for his two-hour "Out in D.C." walking tours. "It has been quite successful because people are interested in what the gay contribution has been to our history."

Nunes, 41, started his gay history tours in June to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Gay Pride Week. More than 100 people turned out for the first tour, which was free. Now that he charges $25 a person, he said he usually gets 10 to 20 people per group. The tours are conducted in coordination with Lammas Women's Bookstore, a gay-oriented Dupont Circle bookstore.

Washington is one of the few cities in the world where tours featuring gay history are available, Nunes said. A licensed District tour guide, he has been affiliated with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kennedy Center and has worked for the U.S. Capitol Guide Service.

Nunes discusses events of major importance to the gay community, including the first anti-sodomy laws enacted in 1609 in Virginia and the first execution of a gay man in 1624, which he said was the first sanctioned killing for same-sex orientation in the country. He credits Thomas Jefferson with making the first efforts to decriminalize sodomy.

"At that time, we went from being killed to being castrated," Nunes said. "It was a pretty big step."

Nunes' tours, which run from Lafayette Square to Dupont Circle, explore events and profile major figures who may -- or may not -- have figured in this country's gay history.

Yesterday, eight people braved the heat for Nunes' next-to-last tour of the summer. At the tour's first stop -- the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in Lafayette Square -- Nunes said the figure of Alexander Hamilton looks like he is holding hands with his close friend, John Laurens. Nunes then read letters they exchanged that indicated a very close relationship.

"We can't say whether they were gay or bisexual, but that was a time when men could express passion to each other," said Nunes, citing passages in the Revolutionary War-era letters in which the men declared their love for one another.

The tour is not about presenting racy facts or trying to label famous historic figures as homosexual, Nunes said. He lets the groups make up their own minds based on the presentation of historic documents.

"I think he's really filling in a gap in history," said Cece Lammers, 38, a lesbian from Mitchellville. "People want to hear about things they can relate to. Most people on a general tour probably couldn't care less about any of this. We want to learn about our history."

"I expect that a lot of people would not be interested and indeed would be offended by a history like this," said a man who did not want to be identified. "It is useful in pointing out that much of this has been ignored."