Letter to Governor's Island Staff

I sent the following letter to the National Parks Service Staff at Governor's Island National Monument. The ranger giving the tour seemed relatively inseperienced and unpolished, so it may have been an isolated incident, but I hope that the management sets clear guidelines about the tour content. I will update you on any responses I get. If you take the tour of the island, please let me know (grvsmth at panix.com) how Cornbury is portrayed and whether they have changed the content.

August 21, 2004

Governors Island National Monument
10 South Street - Battery Maritime Building Slip 7
New York, NY 10004-1900

Dear Sir or Madam:

On July 31 I visited Governor's Island with my wife and son. We enjoyed almost all of our trip, and were pleasantly surprised at the offer of a free tour from the park rangers. On the whole the information provided on the tour was interesting, and we enjoyed the opportunity to visit the various historic buildings.

I was disappointed by one aspect of the tour: the description of Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, the governor after whom the island is named. The park ranger who gave the 11:21AM tour described Cornbury as an unpopular governor, and gave several reasons: that Cornbury misappropriated funds and disregarded the wishes of the colonists, and that he was a cross-dresser. The history of Cornbury's term as governor is disputed, but it is possible that he was, in fact, unpopular because he cross-dressed. What upset me was that the ranger seemed to agree with the colonists that a man who cross-dresses is not fit to govern a colony, and he assumed that the visitors would feel the same way.

I am a cross-dresser, and I am aware that people feel uncomfortable around us. I understand if people sometimes find us amusing. I know that there is a lot of discrimination against cross-dressers, and I have no trouble believing that New Yorkers disliked a cross-dressing governor three hundred years ago. But cross-dressing, in public or in private, is simply not a crime on the level with misappropriation of funds, religious oppression and autocratic rule, and it is not a disqualification for public office.

Please do your best to ensure that presentations at the park do not encourage prejudice. And please remind your staff that people from all walks of life visit the park, and that some statements can be hurtful.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Angus B. Grieve-Smith