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100 years of LGBTQI activism.
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Somebody got you started. That’s the hard part, and oftentimes, that’s all you need: a forward-thinking person to lay the groundwork so you can roll with a project—adding, subtracting, shaping, refining. Somebody just needed to get you started; you can take it from there, as you’ll see in The Right Side of History by Adrian Brooks.
Like most years, this summer’s Pride parade was a raucous event. And why not? There’s plenty to celebrate: new laws, old friends, and a sense of better. But that can make it hard to remember that “such gains didn’t occur in a vacuum,” says Brooks. This book, “a chorus of voices untamed,” is a collection of explanation.
To begin, Brooks writes of Isadora Duncan, a “free spirit” who, when ladies were expected to be proper, danced onstage with abandon, bared her breasts in public, and slept with whomever she pleased—male or female.
Hayden L. Mora writes of gay life in the early 20th century, when clubs for “same-sex attraction” began to appear in larger cities, though being caught in a compromising situation then could result in a loss of citizenship. For Henry Gerber, the choice was a mental institution or the U.S. Army; he picked the latter and came back from World War I “determined to begin organizing gay men.”
The “father of the gay liberation movement” and founder of the Mattachine Society got his fire from another organization’s strike. A well-liked gay African-American boy, lovingly called “Pinhead” as a child, grew up to be Martin Luther King Jr.’s “right-hand man,” while a nerdy white doctor (who happened to sleep with men) changed our notions of male sexuality. Activists today fight for intersex infants, asking doctors to delay sex-assignment surgery. Conversation launched a lesbian organization, and people have stepped into activist roles because of antigay crusader Anita Bryant, out-of-the-closet writers, politics, personal discoveries, and a 54-ton quilt.
And that Pride parade you marched in? If you live in San Francisco, you might like to know that your Pride parade route is exactly the same one used for a funeral march walked by strikers and their families in 1934.
Lately, it seems as though I’ve been seeing a plethora of books on the 1969 Stonewall riot, as if that one event is where LGBTQI activism began. It’s not, of course, and The Right Side of History reminds us of that.
Though it’s far from definitive, author Adrian Brooks collected his own work and that of several contributors to inform and inspire readers who likewise want to be agents of change—or at least to know where change came from. I liked browsing the short biographies here, but I noticed one quirk: some of the profiles seemed to be a reach. Yes, they were very interesting, and yes, they were about people who stood their ground, but were they LGBTQI activists? Perhaps not always.
Even so, what you’ll read here may make you want to do something. At the very least, it’ll give you a better understanding of those who paved the way. And if that’s information you need, then find The Right Side of History…and just start it.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.