I couldn’t anticipate the release of Lillian Faderman’s latest book because I hadn’t encountered any publicity about it. That’s why, when I noticed it at the Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Library, I did a double-take. Naturally, The Gay Revolution: The Story Of The Struggle was coming home with me.
I needed to know if Faderman’s view of LGBT History paralleled my own. I also wanted to find out how to condense our difficult history into a book of less than a thousand pages. I flipped through the pages and noticed that the actual meat of the book and its epilogue were only 635 pages. The notes and index take up the remainder of the page count of 794. Can Federman convey the scope and impact of the LGBT movement to non-LGBTs and young LGBTs in 635 pages? My short answer is, yes.
Faderman’s previous writing was familiar, a friend had given me a copy of Gay L.A. It turns out that book was a good introduction to Federman’s writing. She is an esteemed lesbian history and literary scholar. Faderman has received numerous awards, including: two American Library Association Awards, six Lambda Library Awards, and many lifetime achievement awards for her scholarship.
Until very recently, the LGBT movement has been a “sidebar” to accepted history and only a semi-hidden, “underground” branch of the civil rights movement. Only with the landmark US Supreme Court decision in June to affirm marriage equality has the LGBT community come into full recognition in mainstream society. It has also come under renewed condemnation by critics of our community and retrograde religious-political figures. Many people don’t realize that the gay movement has been going on since long before the Obergefell v Hodges case.
Many decades have passed for those of us who have lived under the iron fist of homophobia in the United States, of all places. Aside from the marriage equality struggle and the string of celebrities and sports figures coming out of the closet, too many straight and LGBT people are quite ignorant about this important part of civil rights history.
Officialdom has used gay people as scapegoats for their own shortcomings for many years. Governmental and religious institutions have wielded their authority over homosexuals causing differently oriented people to hide and disown their own natures. This has resulted in much scandal and oppression. Federman focuses on this aspect of society very well in the prologue and Part 1 of The Gay Revolution. The cited individual cases are moving and heartbreaking.
After struggling to find opposite sex partners as camouflage in the 1930s, the founding fathers and mothers of the modern LGBT movement took their tentative steps towards asserting their rights in the late 1940s. In the US, Harry Hay came to the realization that Jews and blacks have organizations to promote civil rights. Why don’t homosexuals have organizations of their own? To forward the interests of what was then called the “homophile” community, Hay and a small group of fellow homosexual men founded the Mattachine Society.
In Part 2, Faderman describes the opening saga of the “revolution” in historical and human ways. The early advocates of honesty and freedom had to covertly act in order to avoid the police and officials. Homosexuality was classified as a felony in those days. Promising, talented people were often snatched out of their homes and off the streets and locked away in jails and mental institutions. This nightmare of threats and oppression was the backdrop of life for gays and lesbians throughout much of history.
In the early 1950s San Franciscans Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon paired up and began advocating for the rights of lesbian mothers. In 1951, Martin, Lyon, and six others decided to call their group of gay women, “Daughters of Bilitis”. It was a safe, conservative sounding name that could just as well be the name of a poetry society. For many years, the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis worked together in a more or less strained relationship to advocate for the rights of gay men and lesbians.
The Gay Revolution continues with its multi-part description of the American LGBT movement. Part 3 describes some events that took place before the Stonewall Riots. Part 4 goes into the uprising at the Stonewall Inn and the immediate aftermath of the rioting.
In Part 5, Faderman outlines the struggle with the psychiatric experts and the beginnings of the culture wars. Part 6 recaps the ups and downs of Anita Bryant and her imitators as they threw up roadblocks to LGBT citizens’ rights at every turn.
In Part 7, we read about the most harsh and terrible struggles that nearly wiped out the Gay Revolution, the AIDS epidemic. The disease and the upsurge of so-called “family values” arch-conservative anti-gay radicals in mainstream society.
Parts 8 and 9 describe how the LGBT community regained traction with the controversy over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regarding gays in the military services. As society found out that gays and military service are quite compatible, other issues came to light. They include housing and workplace discrimination, and hate crimes legislation.
Finally, in Part 10, the long, hard-fought struggles that eventually led to marriage equality in the United States are told. LGBTs finally achieve what everyone knows as the “ultimate expression of love and commitment.”
Each of the parts of this book could conceivably be expanded into scholarly, interesting books of their own. Faderman does a masterful job of weaving these various aspects of the history of the LGBT movement, so far, into one cogent book.
Whether you are an older gay person, a young turk LGBT, or an heterosexual ally, you should be able to glean important information from this book. I think you’ll also enjoy reading it cover to cover as I did. The Gay Revolution is a remarkable work about an important part of the US civil rights movement.
( The Gay Revolution: The Story Of The Struggle by Lillian Faderman; 794 pages; published in 2015 by Simon and Shuster; ISBN: 978-1-4516-9411-6 }