Book Review: The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman


Author: Lillian Faderman
Title: The Gay Revolution: The Story Of The Struggle
Narrator: Donna Postel
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc, 2015
Summary/Review:

This book provides a historical overview of the gay rights movement in the United States from the post-World War II era to the present.  This sprawling account covers numerous groups, individuals, movements, protests, and legal cases that changed the status for LGBTQ people.  If one thing is clear, there is no one “great person” who lead the struggle, but it was a multi-generational effort of groups of people who stood up for equality.

The book starts in the 1950s when gays & lesbians were not only in danger of arrests, beatings, robbery, and sexual assault at the hands of the local police “Morals Squad,” but a “Lavender Scare” saw the exposure and firing of numerous gay & lesbian people working for the US government.  This occurred at the same time as the more famous “Red Scare,” but may have had an even more widespread and devastating effect.  In 1950, the Mattachine Society organized in Los Angeles as the first activist group to advocate for the rights of gay American citizens, with chapters in other cities established soon afterward.  The Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian civil rights group, was founded in San Francisco in 1956.  Early activism focused on court cases to defend gay people from losing employment, with some success.

The Stonewall Uprising of 1969 was a turning point, where the patrons of the Greenwich Village gay bar – inspired by the Civil Rights and anti-war movements – decided to stand their ground against a police raid.  The multi-day riots kicked off a decade of mass movement protests and pride parades.  The 1970s also saw gay activists take on the American Psychiatric Association to stop having homosexuality classified as a mental disorder.  Communities began to include gays and lesbians in their antidiscrimination codes, which prompted a backlash from conservative Christians.  Most famously, entertainer Anita Bryant lead an anti-gay movement in Florida.  Faderman credits Bryant as an accidental advocate for gay civil rights by bringing attention to their discrimination.

The 1980s is defined by the AIDS crisis and the deaths that devastated a generation of gay people. Faderman notes that AIDS had the effect of strengthening gay rights activism, with the shadow of death making previous infighting seem irrelevant, and prompting people to be greater radicalism. ACT UP, founded in New York in 1987, staged direct action events at government buildings, the New York Stock Exchanged, and churches to bring attention to the lack of action to treat people with AIDS and seek a cure.  (Oddly enough, I had a run in with an angry conservative woman in the early 90s who said that gay men spit out communion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I’d always thought to be bigoted hyperbole, but it turns out it actually happened, although it makes more sense in the context of the protest).

I found the final chapters of the book that cover the 1990s and 2000s less interesting than the rest of the book, perhaps because it covered events that I remember living through.  The focus here shifts from activist people and groups, to government action and becomes more a litany of court cases and presidential campaigns that affected gay civil rights, than the work of the people behind it.  Still, this book is overall a good resource to get the big picture of struggle for LGBTQ equality.

Rating: ****

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