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.

 


Marketing a Queer San Francisco

adapted from Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 by Nan Alamilla Boyd


Each year at the end of June, San Francisco fills with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) tourists. The Castro Theater in San Francisco’s gay neighborhood screens a week-long lesbian-gay-themed film festival, the city flies multicolored gay pride flags from poles stretching the length of Market Street, and crowds of up to half a million gather for the annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade on the last Sunday in June.

June is a lucrative month for gay-owned businesses. Gay bars, restaurants, and hotels fill to capacity, and stores catering to gay tourists do a brisk trade in pride rings, necklaces, and T-shirts. While gay tourism is good for gay businesses, the revenue generated from gay tourism reaches beyond the GLBT community. Of the 4.2 million hotel guests who made San Francisco a destination in 1999, 4.6 percent dined in the Castro district at least once, bringing almost $10 million in revenue to the city in restaurant business alone.

As was the case in the postwar years, the ability of the GLBT community to draw tourist dollars to the city affects its strength in relation to city politics. In the 1940s and 1950s, San Francisco’s tourist economy gave gay bars a foothold in San Francisco’s North Beach district. Currently, as gay tourism draws millions of dollars to San Francisco each year, gay, lesbian, and transgender community representatives from San Francisco serve both elected and appointed positions within municipal, state, and federal government offices.

Today, large corporations with familiar brand names are eager to capitalize on gay dollars and gay spending power. While this phenomenon— niche marketing to gay and lesbian shoppers—promises to open up new modes of visibility (and presumed social acceptance), the large-scale and corporate commercialization of queer culture threatens to transfer the control of representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from the hands of activists and community members to large corporations.

Along with homophile movement activism, the culture of gay, lesbian, and transgender bars and nightclubs contributed significantly to the form and function of a resistant queer social movement. In fact, in its prideful assertion of difference, bar culture transmitted the progressive idea of minority rights (or rights based in the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause) to the larger lesbian and gay movement for social change. Initially, gay and lesbian bar owners resisted prohibitions against serving a homosexual clientele simply to protect their livelihood— the quintessentially American “right to make a buck.”

However, as the harassment of gay and lesbian bars continued, bar owners shifted their strategy. Leaning on the Bill of Rights, lawyers representing the interests of bar owners, bartenders, and patrons argued that homosexuals should not be denied access to public accommodation. In this way, bar-based communities asserted their fundamental right to association and assembly. Because these arguments resonated with other minority-based civil rights campaigns, most notably the African American Civil Rights Movement, legal challenges to the harassment of gay and lesbian bars were successful in securing limited civil rights for queers.

In its fundamental differences from mainstream society, gay and lesbian culture was strong. It was the strength of difference and the historic projection of a unique sexual culture that enabled— and continues to enable—queer life in San Francisco to forcefully assert gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights.


Nan Alamilla Boyd is Professor of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University. She is the author of Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 and co-editor of Bodies of Evidence, the Practice of Queer Oral History (Oxford, 2012).


A Queer History Reading List

#PrideMonth is upon us, and while we are out celebrating we must not forget the past and what has brought us to this important moment in queer history. Jump into the past, ranging from gay L.A. to the AIDS years in New York City, with these selected titles.

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

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. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.

 

Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons

The exhortation to “Go West!” has always sparked the American imagination. But for gays, lesbians, and transgendered people, the City of Angels provided a special home and gave rise to one of the most influential gay cultures in the world. Drawing on rare archives and photographs as well as more than three hundred interviews, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons chart L.A.’s unique gay history, from the first missionary encounters with Native American cross-gendered “two spirits” to cross-dressing frontier women in search of their fortunes; from the bohemian freedom of early Hollywood to the explosion of gay life during World War II to the underground radicalism set off by the 1950s blacklist; and from the 1960s gay liberation movement to the creation of gay marketing in the 1990s.

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 by Nan Alamilla Boyd

Wide-Open Town traces the history of gay men and lesbians in San Francisco from the turn of the century, when queer bars emerged in San Francisco’s tourist districts, to 1965, when a raid on a drag ball changed the course of queer history. Bringing to life the striking personalities and vibrant milieu that fueled this era, Nan Alamilla Boyd examines the culture that developed around the bar scene and homophile activism.