'Immigrant, homosexual, all-around badass': America, meet one of your military heroes.

Hey! Here's a thing many Americans don't — but should — know:

All illustrations by Levi Hastings and Josh Trujillo. Comic published in full on The Nib.

That's right! A gay dude played a pivotal role in America's independence.  

Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben — known in the history books as Baron von Steuben — was one of America's most prominent and influential military officials during its war for independence. He was also gay.


"Every kid grows up looking for role models," says Levi Hastings, who created the comic images in this article alongside fellow artist Josh Trujillo. (The comic is published in full on The Nib.) "Queer people have changed the world since the beginning of time and there is no excuse to hide that fact."

Von Steuben, originally from Prussia, made a name for himself fighting in Europe's Seven Years' War. After the conflict, however, his queerness got him kicked out of Germany, where homosexuality had been criminalized. (I guess it didn't matter how much of a badass he was on the battlefield — a guy who likes guys was just a no-go.)

Benjamin Franklin wasn't hung up on von Steuben's taste for the fellas, though.

Franklin, an American, was in Paris searching out bright and promising military talent to help the embattled rebels defeat the British. (And by "embattled," I mean struggling hardcore — seriously, the Americans were in dire shape.)

Even though Franklin was aware of von Steuben's controversial past, he also knew von Steuben's military know-how could be vital in helping the Continental Army pull off an upset. So he wrote to George Washington, pushing the nation's future first president to consider von Steuben's accomplishments.

And voila! Washington liked what he learned, so Von Steuben cruised stateside to join the revolution.

Von Steuben quickly became a critical leader who helped the Americans turn a corner in the war.

He was a fierce fighter and drill master, sure. But von Steuben's genius was most visible in how he kept military camps up and running, and its men in tip-top shape. He streamlined basic protocols — like how to set up camp and ensure the area remains clean and disease-free — which played a crucial role in saving resources and keeping men alive.

He was a (literal) life-saver. And his leadership is why some historians have dubbed him "the father of the American military."

Also, he barely spoke any English! (Shoutout to those handy translators in America's earliest, most vulnerable years.)

Artwork  full on The Nib.

Von Steuben's ideas on camp operations and personnel management eventually made it to print in the "Blue Book" — a set of standards adopted by the U.S. Army. Incredibly, many of its same ideas are still used today.

After the Revolutionary War, von Steuben lived out his final days on a nice property in Valley Forge given to him by a grateful Washington.  

There, I imagine he napped his afternoons away and enjoyed the company of his ... um ... "sons."

Yes, von Steuben — who never married or had biological children — officially adopted Gen. (and future U.S. Sen.) William North, as well as Capt. Benjamin Walker, with whom he had an "extraordinarily intense emotional relationship." Laws — and certainly our understanding of LGBTQ relationships — were a bit different back then.

By now you may be thinking, "OK, so one of our military leaders was gay. Who cares?"

But von Steuben's identity as a queer man — which, in many ways, has been brushed over or erased entirely — really does matter.

"For every Von Stueben, there are a thousand other queer people we forget about," Hastings says. We often don't realize it, but LGBTQ people helped shape history throughout the ages in ways both big and small. "There's so much work to do, but I hope our comics help expand our understanding of history."

"Especially now, we have to celebrate the achievements of queer figures," Trujillo adds. "There are those that will purposefully overlook us, or try to forget that we exist at all. It's vital everyone recognizes that we're here, we have always been here, and we always will be here."

Captivated by von Steuben's story? Same. You can check out the whole comic that tells the story of his role in the Revolutionary War over at The Nib. You can also watch von Steuben's story — told in hilariously drunken fashion — on Comedy Central's "Drunk History" below:

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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