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.

 


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.


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.

 


The Artist Behind the Iconic Silence = Death Image

This fall, UC Press will publish After Silence: A History of AIDS Through Its Images, written by acclaimed artist and activist Avram Finkelstein, who was one of the creators of the major protest posters and graphics deployed during the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s.

Finkelstein was a part of every major radical queer activist group, including Gran Fury, ACT UP, and the Silence = Death collective, which produced one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize the AIDS activist movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with those same words “Silence=Death.”

The graphic and the slogan still resonate widely today and are often used — and misused — to brand the entire movement, appearing in a variety of ubiquitous manifestations. Finkelstein previously addressed the issue of authorship and ownership on the New York Public Library’s blog, saying that once a political poster reaches the public sphere, “it belongs to those who respond to its call. So while I had a hand in producing Silence=Death, I would argue that it was the AIDS activist community that actually created it, a community in search of its voice, one that went on to find it through the activation of its own social spaces.”

In the following video, Finkelstein also discusses the design decisions that were made to create the famous image, and the weight of the meaning of “silence,” eloquently stating that: “Institutionally, silence is about control. Personally, silence is about complicity.”

 

With After Silence, Finkelstein exposes us to a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history through his writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process while also providing a toolkit for how art and activism can save lives.

After Silence is available this November. Pre-order your copy today.


National Coming Out Day – Recommended Reading

On Oct. 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. On the first anniversary of this march, National Coming Out Day was first observed. 28 years later, we continue to celebrate this day, recognizing the many Americans who choose to come out as members of the LGBTQ community, be it today or any other day.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, and in solidarity with those who still cannot live openly with their sexual and gender identities, we’ve gathered a few recent and upcoming LGBTQ-related titles. By sharing their stories, we hope to spread awareness of the issues the community faces, and to advance the ongoing journey towards equality.


Must-read articles for LGBTQ History Month

In celebration of LGBTQ History Month this October, enjoy free access to articles from Feminist Media Histories, a journal that examines the role gender has played in media technologies across a range of historical periods and global contexts. These must-read articles will be freely available throughout the month of October.


"Poster for Club de femmes (1936)." (From article)
Poster for Club de femmes (1936). (From article)

Proto-Queer Media Criticism: “Cinema Ramblings” from an RKO Secretary
Candace Moore
(Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 2014)

Lisa Ben’s “Cinema Ramblings” in the 1940s underground publication Vice Versa mark some of the first media reviews to focus on homosexual themes, representations, and subtexts from a self-proclaimed lesbian perspective. While still largely unknown, the critical lenses and stylistic methods she employed set a precedent for the kind of radical queer media criticism that reviewers engage in today.

Mod Pop Methods: This Year’s Girl
Quinlan Miller
(Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 2014)

This article reconstructs queer popular culture as a way of exploring media production studies as a trans history project. Miller argues that queer and trans insights into gender are indispensable to feminist media studies. The article looks at The Ugliest Girl in Town series (ABC, 1968–69), a satire amplifying a purported real-life fad in flat chests, short haircuts, and mod wigs, to restore texture to the everyday landscape of popular entertainment.

"Figure 5. FIGURE 5 11, 3, 5, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine' in Home Movie." (From article)
“11, 3, 5, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine” in Home Movie (1972). (From article)

Lesbian Feminist Cinema’s Archive and Moonforce Media’s National Women’s Film Circuit
Roxanne Samer
(Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 2015)

This essay offers a microhistory of the feminist film distributor Moonforce Media. Between 1975 and 1980, Moonforce Media built the National Women’s Film Circuit, a lesbian feminist distribution system that circulated preconstituted packages of multigeneric feminist films through as wide a nontheatrical feminist U.S. market as possible.

“Feeling-Images”: Montage, Body, and Historical Memory in Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses
Alessandra Chiarini
(Vol. 2, No. 3, Summer 2016)

This essay investigates the ways in which Barbara Hammer’s film Nitrate Kisses (1992) traces stories about homosexuality throughout the twentieth century. Inspired both by the concept of “vertical cinema,” as theorized by Maya Deren, and by the historical-philosophical reflections of Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin, Hammer realizes a montage process in Nitrate Kisses that resurrects a forgotten historical memory through the juxtaposition of archival materials and original images. It is a memory that is reappropriated through the film as an experiential, tactile, and emotional moment.


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