Book review: The Gay Revolution: the Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman

Faderman Gay RevolutionFaderman, Lillian. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015. Hardcover. 794p. $35.00. ISBN: 978-1-4516-9411-6.

With publication of The Gay Revolution, one of our foremost historians, Lillian Faderman, has added an important new book to her roster of books on queer history. The list includes Surpassing the Love of Men, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America—a History, and Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America.

This book focuses not on the representation of queer people in our land over the centuries, but on the growth of what is recognized as the “Gay Revolution.” And this story begins not with the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 but in the early Twentieth Century. Faderman sets the stage with an examination of early medical views toward homosexuals and the laws and policies directed toward them across the country.

Faderman focuses on several main areas, starting with the growth of early gay organizations, their goals, tactics, and evolution. She presents the work of Harry Hay, Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society, and includes the Daughters of Bilitis and Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon and Barbara Gittings, along with many other early activists. She follows the long and complicated story of the gay experience in the US military during and after World War II and into the era of Matlovich, Cammermeyer, and Choi, then tracks the more recent history of Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Faderman documents the early fights against police harassment in bars and cafes, street actions and the “zaps” which were so successful in getting gay issues into the media. She balances the description of “gay liberation” with gay participation in mainstream politics, including early elections of gays to public office, and tells an in-depth story of Harvey Milk’s time in San Francisco. She provides a full account of Anita Bryant and the terrifying backlash against the gay community in that era (which has a troubling parallel in current events). The impact of AIDS on the transformation of the gay community forms a key part of the book as well as the effect of thousands of gays coming out and reconnecting with their families. She wraps up the book with the struggle for Gay Marriage rights and the repeal of DOMA.

This well-researched book is filled with details that flesh out the stories many of us already know to some degree. Through extensive interviews Faderman provides the inside narrative of how groups fought, made decisions, how our many of the “leaders” came back again and again over the years.

This book should be in every library, as should most of Lillian Faderman’s works.

Morgan Gwenwald
Head of Special Collections
Sojourner Truth Library
SUNY New Paltz

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