National Coming Out Day: Important Moments in Queer History

Encompassing a number of historically important days, this October is set to remind both the LGBT and wider communities of the important roles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have taken in creating the social, legal, and political worlds we live in today. This National Coming Out Day 2017 marks both the 29th anniversary of the day’s observance and the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which called for President Ronald Reagan to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Check out important moments in queer history with these selected UC Press titles.


After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images
By Avram Finkelstein, available this November, pre-order now

After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists.”—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death.” The graphic and the slogan still resonate today, often used—and misused—to brand the entire movement. Cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, Avram Finkelstein tells the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic were created. In writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process, Finkelstein reveals a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history, told twenty-five years later, and offers a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art.

Has the Gay Movement Failed?
By Martin Duberman, forthcoming June 2018

“Martin Duberman gets to the heart of what has gone wrong with the LGBT movement and why it has not fought for—or has even impeded—a comprehensive vision of freedom for everyone. Has the Gay Movement Failed? is his most challenging, provocative, and visionary book to date. An imperative read for anyone interested in a truly liberated queer future.”—Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States

The past fifty years have marked significant shifts in attitude toward and acceptance of LGBTQ people in the United States and the West. Yet the extent of this progress, argues Martin Duberman, has been more broad and conservative than deep and transformative. One of the most renowned historians of the American left and LGBTQ movement, as well as a pioneering social justice activist, Duberman reviews the fifty years since Stonewall with an immediacy and rigor that informs and energizes. He relives the early gay movement’s progressive vision for society as a whole and puts the Left on notice as having continuously failed to embrace the queer potential for social transformation. He acknowledges successes as some of the most discriminatory policies that plagued earlier generations were eliminated but highlights the costs as radical goals were sidelined for more normative inclusion. Illuminating the fault lines both within and beyond the movements of the past and today, this critical book is also hopeful: Duberman urges us to learn from this history to fight for a truly inclusive and expansive society.

Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability
By Jack Halberstam, e-book available now

“This lively and smart book by Jack Halberstam offers a new way of approaching the politics of ‘naming, claiming, speech, silence, and protest.’ This is the treatise on the asterisks for which we have been waiting; it cracks open a future, resisting transphobia and ushering in a new horizon for anybody struggling with the norms they oppose and the forms of life they desire and deserve to live.”—Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

In the last decade, public discussions of transgender issues have increased exponentially. However, with this increased visibility has come not just power, but regulation, both in favor of and against trans people. What was once regarded as an unusual or even unfortunate disorder has become an accepted articulation of gendered embodiment as well as a new site for political activism and political recognition. What happened in the last few decades to prompt such an extensive rethinking of our understanding of gendered embodiment? How did a stigmatized identity become so central to U.S. and European articulations of self? And how have people responded to the new definitions and understanding of sex and the gendered body? In Trans*, Jack Halberstam explores these recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and explores the possibilities of a nongendered, gender-optional, or gender-queer future.

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left
By Emily K. Hobson

“Hobson succeeds in painting a rich portrait of a vibrant gay and lesbian left that flourished in the Bay Area in the 1970s and 1980s and saw itself as connected to the international left… the book has certainly made me rethink the way I write and teach LGBT history and has added some very necessary complications to that standard narrative.”—Daily Kos

LGBT activism is often imagined as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. Lavender and Red recounts a far different story: a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as intertwined with solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. This politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall, propelling a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. The gay and lesbian left found its center in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism converged. Across the 1970s, its activists embraced socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.

The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination
By Sarah Schulman

“The book that’s inspired me more than any other this year… a razor-sharp memoir of New York in the heyday of the AIDS crisis.”—Jason King, Slate

“Schulman is brilliant at conveying how devastating and surreal it was to live during the AIDS crisis… [the book is] teeming with ideas, necessary commentary, refreshing connections and examination of the status quo.”Lambda Literary

In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.

An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings
By Harvey Milk, Edited by Jason Edward Black &Charles E. Morris

“An extremely important, timely, and significant book. Full of inspiration and hope, this book is highly relevant to anyone interested in activism, politics, and social change.” —Gust A. Yep, Professor of Communication Studies, San Francisco State University

Harvey Milk was one of the first openly and politically gay public officials in the United States, and his remarkable activism put him at the very heart of a pivotal civil rights movement reshaping America in the 1970s. An Archive of Hope is Milk in his own words, bringing together in one volume a substantial collection of his speeches, columns, editorials, political campaign materials, open letters, and press releases, culled from public archives, newspapers, and personal collections.

 


What’s Left of Pride?

By Emily K. Hobson, author of Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left

Commemorations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer resistance have not always held up the banner of “Pride.” Before the early 1990s, anniversaries of the Stonewall Riots were typically marked as rallies for “liberation” or as “Lesbian and Gay FreedomDay.” These earlier events were both celebrations and acts of protest — “marches” rather than “parades,” with advertisements nowhere to be seen.

When gay liberation emerged in the late 1960s, it sought to redefine sexuality through revolution, and vice versa. Gay liberationists and lesbian feminists claimed common cause with the anti-war movement and Black Power, and they insisted that straight radicals recognize sexual freedom as central to a just society. Across the 1970s and 1980s, a vibrant gay and lesbian left forged anti-capitalist, anti-militarist, and anti-imperialist sexual politics, demanding self-determination and organizing solidarity. Gay and lesbian leftists defended the radical underground, mobilized against the New Right, advanced anti-racism in queer communities, and helped build the Central America movement, among many other causes.

The gay and lesbian left holds strong echoes in current queer radicalism. Yet this politics met a downturn in the early 1990s, when many longtime activists died of AIDS and neoliberal agendas cohered. The language of “Pride” ascended, reflecting broader shifts in LGBTQ politics away from radical transformation and towards inclusion in the existing economy and state.

“Pride” aligned with these shifts because it expresses satisfaction with the present, rather than demands for change. Its closest analogues are patriotism and family — pride in one’s country, pride in one’s children. Like those analogues, LGBTQ “Pride” too often makes sameness and respectability the conditions for acceptance. It risks sending the message: be proud of who you are, as long as you make us proud. The language of Pride helps obscure the complexity of LGBTQ history by privileging heroism over critique. It celebrates gay military veterans but ignores queer opposition to militarism; reclaims figures such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson but brushes aside opposition to the presence of police. Small wonder that some queer radicals today mobilize Gay Shame, a network that calls out corporate sponsorship of Pride events and that seeks to prevent gentrification from hiding behind “inclusive values.”

We need joy, pleasure, and humor; we need rage, solidarity, and resistance. Do we need pride? The history of the gay and lesbian left calls on us to reconsider the sentiments we attach to our queer pasts and futures as well as our present. What happens after liberation? How will we live when we get free? This June, let’s use queer radical history to reimagine a future in which we don’t have to settle for less.


Emily K. Hobson is the author of Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left. She serves as Assistant Professor of History and of Gender, Race, and Identity at the University of Nevada, Reno.

 


Remaking Home Through Solidarity

by Emily K. Hobson

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Denver. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Home/Not Home: Centering American Studies Where We Are.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and November 20th.

In the weeks and months to come, will we grant Muslim, immigrant, and trans people sanctuary in our neighborhoods and universities? Will we connect the dots between war-making, the suppression of dissent, and cutbacks to human needs? Where will we find models for fighting back? One source for lessons lies in the gay and lesbian left, which made liberation its theory and solidarity its practice.

Across the 1970s and 1980s, gay and lesbian leftists acted as accomplices to struggles against US militarism, imperialism, and the New Right. They transformed their self-interest into mutual interest by tying their sexual freedom to the freedom of others. Through their activism, they transformed “home” in both practical and ideological terms.

Gay and lesbian leftists formed collective households, destabilizing the nuclear family and the gendered division of household labor. They sheltered fugitives in the radical underground, linking opposition to state repression to defense against rape and gender violence. And by the 1980s, they made the Central America movement a defining pole of lesbian and gay activism—linking domestic and foreign politics, “home” with “not home.”

Lesbian and gay radicals opposed US intervention in Central America and joined a united front against the Reagan administration. They especially supported the Nicaraguan Revolution, investing hope in a new model of socialism with numerous women leaders. Chicana/o, Latina/o, and other people of color gained prominence in Central American solidarity work, challenging whiteness in lesbian and gay communities. As the AIDS crisis hit, activists drew on the tactics of anti-intervention to take civil disobedience and demand “Money for AIDS, not war.”

On November 9, 2016, we woke up to a crisis that calls us to movement building. Already we are hearing demands to respect the process—to cooperate with a racist, xenophobic, misogynist demagogue, his administration, and the violent reaction he has mobilized. Trump’s incoherence draws in opportunists willing to sacrifice others as soon as their narrowest interests are met. Facing this, we must practice committed and persistent solidarity. The gay and lesbian left offers a model for what is sure to be a long fight.

Emily K. Hobson is Assistant Professor of History and of Gender, Race, and Identity at the University of Nevada, Reno. Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left is available now.

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