Sign of the Times


The Gay Revolution

By: Lillian Faderman

Lillian Faderman was born on July 18, 1940. Her books on mostly lesbian but also LGBT history as a whole have earned critical reception. Lilian Faderman discovered she was lesbian in her teen years after moving to Los Angeles.

A Struggling Minority: The LGBT Rights Movement

By: Jason Nyeango

During the 1950s, a new minority group, gays and lesbians, began to make their voice heard in a push for rights. Overtime, their efforts along with others have caused a radical change in society’s views of them. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman describes the “long fought battles, tragic losses, and hard won triumphs” of gays and lesbians in their campaign to fix society’s view of them and earn the rights due to all American people.1

After World War II, a new minority was needed to be the target of America’s prejudices. The Jews had been liberated through the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement had not yet taken stride. America turned its attention toward gays and lesbians for the next target. Despite his respectable standings and ideologies, “Dr. Simon had his idiosyncrasies and biases.”2 The doctor had given several bigoted speeches about gays and lesbians in 1947, shaping the American view of them as lawbreakers and mentally ill. In 1948, Dr. Arthur Lewis Miller, an influential counterpart to Dr. Simon, helped pass the Miller Act, which lead to the development of tactics to hunt and root out this minority. In California, police began going undercover at bars in large amounts to help root out and arrest homosexuals. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, a commission simply formed due to homosexuals, forcibly closed bars where gays and lesbians were convicted. Government witch hunts took place in the 1950s. Enemies of Joseph McCarthy and suspected gays and lesbians were forced out of government positions and even normal everyday jobs. People fired on suspect of being gay or lesbian found it near impossible to hired again. The military began its purge of lesbians and gays after its numbers severely declined with the end of World War II. In Florida, a special commission formally called the Florida Legislative Investigations Committee targeted schools. The continuing downward spiral of homosexual rights, however, began to break way into their first movements.

Mattachine and the Daughters of Bilitis were among the first gay and lesbian activist groups. Formed in the mid 1950s, they started a new path on the road to gay and lesbian rights. Former NYPD officer Dorr Legg served a key role in the reversal of the anti-gay stigma. “Dorr Legg had once remarked that homosexuals had four deadly enemies. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, he called them: the Social, the Scientific, the Religious, and the Legal.”3 One, a gay magazine, would be the first to joust with these horseman by winning victories against “the Social.” When the post office began refusing to distribute the magazine, its company appealed to courts. After failing repeatedly in lower courts, the case made its way to the Supreme Court which reversed the decision stating that having homosexuality as the magazine’s main topic did not make the magazine obscene or indecent.4 While the decision was not truly pro-gay or lesbian, it was the first major victory in the path to gay rights in the social spectrum. Evelyn Hooker, a heterosexual psychologist, jousted against the horseman of science bringing about the gay rights movements’ second victory. Hooker brought the results of three principal psychiatric tests of thirty gay and thirty straight men to three prominent psychologists and asked them to distinguish the sexuality of each man based on the test results. After embarrassing failed attempts of distinguishing the men, each one was convinced that homosexuality was not a diagnostic condition. The Council on Religion and the Homosexual was the first major victory in the religion department. It was among the first religious organizations to support gay and lesbian rights. Though the first steps toward gay and lesbian rights were being made, little improved for homosexuals. As police raids continued, tensions also rose. The first riot broke out during a police raid in Stonewall. While being dragged into a squad car, a butch lesbian yelled, “Why don’t you guys do something?” sparking the first Stonewall riots.5 These riots themselves began a new wave in the gays rights movements and lead to the development of many new activist organizations. The GAA, or Gay Activists Alliance, was one of these new groups which started a new tactic in a more radical push for rights. Zapping, a technique where gays offered influential people handshakes then refused to let go of their hand until they promised change, became a prominent tactic of the Gay Activists Alliance. Deeming most conservatives a lost cause, the GAA began to use zapping to pressure liberals into supporting the gay and lesbian rights movement. The gay and lesbian rights movements began gaining traction. In 1976, the National Gay Task Force had the first delegates speak out for lesbian and gay rights at the Democratic Convention. The American Psychiatric Association changed its views on homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1970s and Margaret Constanza (though she acknowledged there was little she could do) was the first person to invite gay and lesbian leaders to the White House. The gay rights movement finally began to look like it was heading in the right direction, but every movement had its bumps.

One of the biggest bumps on the road to equal gay and lesbian rights was famous singer Anita Bryant. Florida was one of the biggest failures of the gay and lesbian rights movement. Chosen as a good place to further their agenda due to its liberal nature, gays expected an easy win. Anita Bryant, while seemingly not powerful enough in the Dale County, voted to outlaw homosexuality and managed to rally the Florida people to her cause. Overwhelmed by the anti-gay wave caused by Anita Bryant, many activist groups began to despair. However, ironically, this anti-gay wave was exactly what the gay rights movement needed to push ahead. Separated and disorganized before, organizations and people of different opinions joined together finally ready to fight the press. Despite the seemingly upward trend once more, the movement again hit a bump this time against AIDs. The AIDs epidemic in the gay community only served to ostracize gays and lesbians further. “Far Right conservatives did not waste the shock value” and began rallying for a repeal of the gains gays and lesbian made in their path toward civil rights.6 Reagan, eager to stay on the good side with religious people avoided all forms of homosexual endorsements including attempts to save their lives.7 AIDs easily may have been the end of the lesbian and gay rights movement. Scores of dying young men left the community fearful and gays afraid for their lives. Despite many attempts at support groups, no one could curb its devastating effect. Homosexuals were now the lepers of the community. While it took millions of worldwide deaths and the decimation of gay America for AIDs to be controlled, it did have some positive effects however. The massive outing of gays and lesbians caused by the clear signs of the disease forced people to acknowledge that their children, siblings, friends, and even idols were gay.8 The severity of the crisis created a stronger sense of unity in the gay and lesbian community and those who survived the crisis were ready to resume the battle for their rights and win.

The late 80s to the present were a tumultuous time in the movement especially with the massive defeat with Bill Clinton. One of the key aspects of the gay and lesbian rights movement was the humanization of gay people. The lesbian and gay community began looking for relatable or impeccable people to show the public that homosexuals were people just like them. Parents like Jeanne Manford began showing their support for the movement by creating organizations and showing the public that the gays and lesbians they despised were also someone’s children. In the military and in the house, lesbians and gays began taking the fight for rights to court. Another place they looked to for support was the presidency. Bill Clinton’s election was considered a major victory in the gay and lesbian rights movement at the start of his presidency. However, his naiveté in reversing anti-gay and lesbian laws set him up for a humiliating defeat against the military. This along with other problems forced him to put lesbian and gay rights on the back burner, though he did not give up the fight. Lesbians and gays continued to be hunted and rooted out of the military, but they began fighting back and pressing charges. Unable to appease the military, Bill Clinton compromised with a new policy: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Sadly, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” did little for gays and lesbians in the military. In fact, in some ways it gave the military more fuel to get rid of them. The future of lesbians and gays in the military grew dimmer when George W. Bush was elected. However, late president Barack Obama shed a new hopeful light on the issue when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was finally repealed in 2010. The repeal of sodomy law legislation was another important step in the journey toward equality. In Baker v. Wade, Judge Buckneyer declared that sodomy laws had no promotion of interests of the state.9 His decision was however overturned in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2003, the US Supreme Court reversed their earlier decision on sodomy laws. Justice Antonin Scalia sarcastically demanded, “what justification could there possibly be for denying homosexuals the benefits of marriage.”10 The truth was there was little in the way of the gay and lesbian rights movement. America’s first laws protecting gays and lesbians were coming to fruition. Tragic hate crimes of two transgender women, Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena, helped push the inclusion of transgenders as well as gays and lesbians in an anti-hate crime bill passed in 2007. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission helped bring about equality for gays and lesbians in the workplace. In 2012, Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act was overturned, opening a path to marriage laws. Across the country, states began legalizing marriage for homosexuals. Even now, Obama’s LGBT support pushes our country toward a more equal direction for them.

Lillian Faderman’s goal of writing a book recounting the struggles of LGBT rights movements can be summed up with the quote: “We started with nothing, and look what we have wrought!”11 Due to its controversial nature even in the current age, only a scant group of people know about the movement’s endeavors. As a new generation grows, Faderman wants people to understand the struggles and efforts it took lesbians and gays to get as far as they have now.

The author, Lillian Faderman, expresses pro-gay and lesbian biases throughout the book. Belonging to a minority as described in the book along with experiencing many of the events in the book influenced her view and thoughts. A Jewish Latvian immigrant raised by her single mother, Faderman experienced a great degree of the struggles of her people. Her mother developed severe mental illness due to guilt caused by her family dying during the Holocaust, leaving a “profound influence on her daughter’s childhood.”12 Faderman studied at the University of California Berkeley and later University of California Los Angeles for her education. The Gay Revolution: the Story of the Struggle was published in 2015. In recent years from 2015, the gay and lesbian rights movement made major progress with the legalization of gay marriage on a national scale and equal rights acts. People had begun to develop views of gays and lesbians that no longer shed them in negative lights and have overall been more accepting. However, few know of the efforts it took for society to accept gays and lesbians.

In his review of The Gay Revolution: the Story of the Struggle, John D’Emilio provides insights and thoughts. “Compelling as Faderman’s narrative style is, and as revelatory as the book’s content will be for almost all readers, it left me dissatisfied in important ways.”13 D’Emilio points out Faderman’s focus on the cities of New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. The Midwest was almost completely absent from the book despite it sporting another key city, Chicago. He states how the book’s individual based stories left little room for readers to understand how political movements begin from the fringes of society until reaching the spotlight. D’Emilio uses the analogy that it was like reading a black history book with no mention of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Faderman missed key events and groups like the Metropolitan Community Church, the decline of police brutality in the 1970s, and the coming out of Ellen Degeneres. The lack of inclusion of these topics has lead Faderman to describe some cases as either miracles or fate. Despite its flaws, John D’Emilio admits the book is a compelling read of a lesser known part of US history and definitely worth the time it takes to read it.

The book also caught the attention of the meritable New York Times. Many of the complaints such as the book’s blind spots toward some parts of the movement’s history are similar to the ones mentioned by D’Emilio. However, the article’s writer, Kenji Yoshino, also takes some new directions when describing the positives. Yoshino notes her devotion to equally documenting both the women and men of the gay and lesbian rights movement. However, he attributes her equal documentation to her general inclusiveness referring to her use of Evelyn Hooker, Jeanne Manford, and Peter Matlovich who opened the path to major breakthroughs. Most of all, Yoshino praises her ability to illuminate and liven all the subjects she writes about. Yoshino ends his review with a beautiful simile: “To read her [Faderman] is like viewing the AIDS quilt, which overwhelms the reader with the care take in each of its numberless panels.”14

The Gay Revolution’s description of “the amazing evolution in image and status of gays and lesbians” amounts to an engaging read.15 While its individual-focused narrative style makes the book itself much more engaging, it often makes it hard to keep track of the movement as a whole in broad terms. What the book importantly brings to light is how the movement for gay and lesbian rights is just like any other struggle in history whether it be the Civil Rights movement or women’s suffrage. The selection of pictures in the middle of the book helps the reader imagine and understand the iconic events and people throughout the book. One problem with the book was the lack of clear chronology in the chapters which sometimes lead to minor confusion and hindered understanding of the events. Overall, the book was a very worthwhile read for those interested in the subject.

The end of the Cold War and rise of fears of terrorism helped keep the conservative feelings of the country alive, but were never directly mentioned. Changes caused by these two events indirectly hindered the progress of the gay and lesbian rights movements, but did not stop it. For the most part, gays in the 90s were angered because “billions of dollars would be spent on war instead of on finding a cure for AIDS.”16 If anything, the end of the Cold War allowed a deeper focus on domestic issues allowing the voices of the movement to be heard. The effects of digital technology on America in the 1990s are not addressed in this book.

The LGBT rights movement has overcome a plethora of challenges which have been detailed in Faderman’s The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. Some strides still need “to be done before they will truly be first class citizens”, but the fight continues and rages on, stronger than ever.17

[1] Faderman, Lillian. The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. xvii
[2] Faderman, Lillian. 3
[3] Faderman, Lillian. 93
[4] Faderman, Lillian. 97
[5] Faderman, Lillian. 174
[6] Faderman, Lillian. 416
[7] Faderman, Lillian. 440
[8] Faderman, Lillian. 452
[9] Faderman, Lillian. 542
[10] Faderman, Lillian 551
[11] Faderman, Lillian. 635
[12] “Lillian Faderman.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 May 2017. Web. 27 May 2017.
[13] D’Emilio, John. “Review: ‘The Gay Revolution’ by Lillian Faderman.” Chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, 03 Sept. 2015. Web. 23 May 2017.
[14] Yoshino, Kenji. “’The Gay Revolution,’ by Lillian Faderman.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Oct. 2015. Web. 27 May 2017.
[15] Faderman, Lillian. xvii
[16] Faderman, Lillian. 435
[17] Faderman, Lillian.