Pride March 1970; Credit: LGBT Center Historical Archives and Heritage of Pride, Inc.
Forty-two years ago this week, activists launched the first Pride march to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of the prior year, when gay bar patrons had taken a stand against targeted police brutality. Pride Week (June 16 - 24, 2012) has since become a time for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to rejoice in their triumphs and remember their struggles (and maybe break out a little body glitter). This list features books that provide a window into the diverse history the LGBT community, and into some very relatable gay, lesbian, and transgender lives.
“She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders” by Jennifer Finney Boylan
From the time Jennifer Finney Boylan was a child, she struggled to reconcile her male body with her true identity. She wore girl’s clothes in secret and dreamed of being an astronaut and crash landing on an alien planet where breathing the air would turn her body into a girl’s. Finally, as an adult, Boylan transitions from male to female. Her humorous and candid account of becoming a woman -- in particular the difficulty of working through this change with her wife (who never meant to be a lesbian) -- illuminates the complicated systems of gender identity that affect us all. Boylan makes it easy to see that even those of us who are not transgender struggle in our own ways to become the people we really are inside.
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson’s young life sounds like something out of a truly twisted novel. Her fervently religious mother forbids all books except the Bible and burns her secret stash of paperbacks. She is shut in the coal cellar or locked outside all night when her mother thinks the Devil is getting the better of her. And when a teenage Winterson falls in love with a female schoolmate, the exorcisms start. That tale did end up as fiction -- Winterson drew heavily on her coming-of-age when writing her acclaimed novel "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit." The true story of her relationship with her adoptive mother in “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” is even stranger and more heartbreaking, but Winterson’s immense talent as a writer and devotion to books offers her a way out. “That is what literature offers” she writes, “ -- a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn't a hiding place. It is a finding place.”
“Major Conflict: One Gay Man's Life in the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Military” by Jeffery McGowan
For the sixteen years that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was in effect, gay, lesbian and bisexual service members lived under the constant threat of exposure. Jeffrey McGowan served in the Army during the repressive early years of DADT’s implementation, and in this book, he presents a straightforward account of the exhausting work it takes to constantly conceal his true identity as a gay man while fighting in the Persian Gulf. As the unsavory reality of living a daily lie begins to wear on his personal life and his career, McGowan fights to stay honorable. His story of fortitude and personal sacrifice is a fitting salute to all of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members who served in silence for so long.
“The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” by Randy Shilts
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States, has long been a celebrated hero of gay history. This detailed account lays bare the daily indignities that Milk and all out gay men were subject to in the 1960s and 70s. Arrests, harassment and persecution were constant. Milk displays a remarkable ability to rise above the fray. He lobbies for change local politician in San Francisco, and inspires other gay men and lesbians to hope for a day when they can be out and still be respected members of their community. In a 1978 speech Milk implores his gay brothers and sisters to change the world, just by being themselves. “I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out…That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine.” Milk’s words have proved to be not only inspirational but also prophetic.
“The Fabulous Sylvester” by Joshua Gamson
The fearless life of disco singer Sylvester shows off the sequined side of LGBT activism. From his origins in the gospel choir to his days as a psychedelic drag queen to his rise to disco stardom, Sylvester was always unashamedly himself, never compromising his identity for the convenience and comfort of others. To the very end of his short life, Sylvester stayed strong -- appearing in public to raise awareness about AIDS even as he wasted away from the disease at age 41. No matter what ugliness or discrimination he encountered, Sylvester always knew exactly who he was -- a bright, glittering star.