The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism
by Adrian Brooks
foreword by Jonathan D. Katz, PhD
c.2015, Cleis Press; $18.95; 243 pages
Somebody got you started.
That’s the hard part and, oftentimes, that’s all you need: a forward-thinking person to lay the framework 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 summers’ Pride Parade was a raucous event. And why not? There’s plenty to celebrate: new laws, old friends, and a sense of better—which can make it hard to remember that “Such gains didn’t occur in a vacuum…” says Brookes. This book, “a chorus of voices untamed,” is a collection of explanation.
To begin, Brookes writes of Isadora Duncan, a “free spirit” who, when ladies were expected to be proper, danced on-stage 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 twentieth 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 mental institution or 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 activism roles because of Anita Bryant, out-of-the-closet writers, politics, personal discoveries, and a 54-ton quilt.
And that parade you marched in? If you lived in San Francisco, you might like to know that the Pride Parade route is exactly the same as 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 Stonewall, as if that one event is where LGBTQI activism began. It’s not, of course, and The Right Side of History proves 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 make change or 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 understanding for those who paved the way. And if that’s information you need, then find The Right Side of History…and just start it.