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Faderman puts history in its place in 'The Gay Revolution'
by Sarah Toce
2015-09-30

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Six-time Lambda Literary Award winner Lillian Faderman is breaking new ground with a historical account of the LGBT movement that encompasses almost seven decades.

In The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, Faderman takes the temperature of a civil-rights battle spanning multiple generations across many divides in an effort to unite a community that has, it seems, splintered into various silos.

"W. Dorr Legg, one of the founders in the '50s of the first national homosexual magazine [ONE], said that homosexuals had to battle the Four Horsemen of the Gay Apocalypse: the psychiatrists, the law, social prejudice and religion. We've slayed three of them," Faderman explained. "The American Psychiatric Association declared us sane in 1973 and took us out of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The Supreme Court declared our lovemaking legal by repealing all sodomy laws in 2003. Public opinion has changed so much in our favor that over 60 percent of Americans said they were in favor of same-sex marriage before DOMA was repealed on June 26, 2015. But the battle isn't over."

Insert the Kim Davis prototypes throughout the country here.

"Though some denominations of Protestantism and most of Judaism now even support same-sex marriage, the Fourth Horseman still hasn't given up the joust," Faderman said. "We see that by the dust up with the Fundamentalist marriage clerk in Kentucky [Davis] who wants to bring her prejudices to work in the name of religious freedom, and by the attempts—fortunately unsuccessful—in Indiana and Arkansas a few months ago to pass a homophobic Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

Faderman utilized the Four Horsemen mentality for conceptualizing The Gay Revolution.

"I wanted two sorts of subjects: the movers and shakers who were in the forefront of fighting for our rights, and everyday LGBTQ people who had stories to tell about how those 'Four Horsemen' affected them, or stories about their experiences as foot soldiers in the struggle," she said. "I wanted people from all generations, and I wanted a geographical spread: so I interviewed not only people from New York, California and Washington, D.C., but also people from areas such as Washington state, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, and Colorado—places where crucial things happened in the story of the struggle for civil rights."

Davis is a not-so-gentle reminder of how much work still needs to be done post-Supreme Court marriage equality victory.

"It's impossible to believe that because the Supreme Court decided that same-sex couples can get married all our struggles for LGBT rights are over," Faderman said. "We've been loudly reminded by county clerk Kim Davis's refusal to marry same-sex couples in Kentucky—and the Right's rush to depict her as a Christian martyr—that not even the marriage battles are over."

There are other battles to be won at the present time as well.

"In 1974 and '75, Bella Abzug and Ed Koch, U.S. representatives from New York, proposed to Congress an Equality Act that would give gay people federal protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations—all the protections enjoyed by other minorities," she said. "Abzug and Koch could get no traction for their bill. Forty years later, we still don't have those federal protections. As long as Congress remains in the hands of the Republicans, we're unlikely to get them. And the battle for trans rights has barely begun. Despite the passage of the 2009 federal hate-crimes bill, transgender people are, it seems, increasingly frequent victims of hate crimes. It's obvious that we still have a way to go before all LGBT people will truly be first-class American citizens."

With a myriad of historical accounts to comb through in order to even scratch the surface of the LGBT movement over the course of the past 65 years, there are bound to be a few critics.

"Of course, there have been critics who would have liked more emphasis on whatever is most important to them, less emphasis on whatever isn't; more discussion about what happened in their city, less discussion about what happened in another city," Faderman said. "As I traced almost 70 of the struggles for our rights, I tried to look at how the fights were waged by radicals and mainstreamers; the rich and the poor; white people and people of color; people on the coasts, in the South, in the Midwest; lesbians, gays, trans people and so on. I tried to make the story as inclusive as I could in one volume."

Faderman recalled one particular story of interest that she believes will appeal to a younger generation of activists.

"I want young people reading the book to understand what a long hard fight it's been to win the rights we now enjoy," she said. "I hope they'll be moved by stories such as that of Charlene Strong, a Seattle woman whose partner, Kate Fleming, drowned in a 2006 flash flood. Though they'd been together for 10 years, Charlene wasn't even allowed to go into the hospital room when Kate was dying because they had no legal or blood ties; the mortuary didn't even allow Charlene to make decisions about Kate's funeral, though it was Charlene who'd be paying the mortuary's bill. But the happy side of the story is that Charlene's powerful testimony to the Washington state legislature led eventually to the passage of Washington's domestic-partnership law, which led in 2012 to its legalization of same-sex marriage."

The older generation of readers might relate more to Frank Kameny's story of struggle.

"Frank Kameny was a Harvard Ph.D. who was thrown out of his government job in the 1950s when it was discovered that he'd been arrested as a homosexual in a police sting," Faderman recalled. "His firing made him one of the first militant activists. In1965, at a time when most gay people lived deep in the closet, Kameny organized homosexual pickets in front of the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. He helped scores of other homosexuals fight their dismissal from government jobs. He was the one who encouraged Leonard Matlovich to be the first 'avowed homosexual' to fight his military discharge—and they enjoyed an unprecedented win against the Department of Defense."

Approximately 75 pages of The Gay Revolution were left on the cutting room floor.

"I'd written a lot about LGBT people in sports—stories of figures like Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Michael Sam and Jason Collins. I cut all of that," she said. "I'd also traced in a lot more detail stories of the way the media has changed: for instance I'd written about Ellen DeGeneres' struggle in 1997 to keep working after she came out as a lesbian on her sitcom Ellen. And I also cut a whole section that focused on the most homophobic churches and included stories such as Sister Jeannine Gramick's challenge to the Catholic Church through her New Ways Ministry that serves LGBT people. I was afraid a book that was approaching a thousand pages would get few readers. But I hope to publish a lot of that material in articles."

One topic that could not be cut for the first edition involved the HIV/AIDS crisis.

"The AIDS epidemic was the greatest tragedy in LGBT history," Faderman said. "But, ironically, it also led to important things for the community. It brought a lot of people out of the closet. Some were involuntarily outed by the signs of the disease; but many others made the decision that in the face of such calamity the closet was a stupid place to be. They came out to help fight for more government funding to search for a cure. They came out to be at the side of friends who were dying. They came out in expressions of brotherhood and sisterhood with the ill."

The epidemic also united a community that had previously been divided.

"In the 1970s, lesbian feminism had fostered a serious split between lesbians and gay men, whom lesbians considered to be no less chauvinistic than straight men," she remembered. "But as the women saw how appalling the epidemic was, they put aside their old animosities: they created food banks for people with AIDS; they sat at the side of the sick and dying; they joined groups such as ACT UP or AIDS Project Los Angeles, fighting alongside gay men or raising money to help in the fight. It don't think any of us in the LGBT community, sick or well, was unaffected by the horrors of the epidemic. The struggle to control the disease was ultimately victorious; and I think it helped us realize we could work together and fight together and win."

Politically speaking, the best candidate for the 2016 will not be in the red party.

"No Republican candidate has dared to make an unequivocal statement of support for us," Faderman said. "All the Democratic candidates are on our side. So if you care about the LGBT fight for equality, I think party choice is a no-brainer. I also think it's time America had a woman in the Oval Office; and I absolutely trust Hillary to do the right thing by us—to fight on our side and to win."

When President Barack Obama exits the Oval Office, his legacy will include a host of LGBT accomplishments.

"President Obama helped us accomplish vital goals," she said. "In 2009, he signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It was the first federal law that offered protection not only to gay people, but to trans people as well. That same year, as soon as he got into office, he also urged the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and though it took another three years, LGBT people can now serve openly in the military. But I think he'll be remembered most for having 'evolved' on the issue of same-sex marriage and coming out in support of it. His Presidential statement made a big difference in changing the minds of the preponderance of the American public in favor not only of same-sex marriage but of lesbian and gay rights in general."

One of the most common misconceptions about the overall arc of the LGBT movement involves the timeline.

"I've heard so often statements like, 'Look how quickly society changed its mind about LGBT rights,' but it took seven decades of intense struggle," Faderman explained. "That's hardly quick."

Faderman and her wife, Phyllis Irwin, reside in San Diego. They have one son, Avrom Irwin Faderman, who is 40 years old, and a grandson named Nilakash Irwin Roy-Faderman.

Learn more about Lillian Faderman and The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle at www.lillianfaderman.net .

See related article at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/BOOK-REVIEW-The-Gay-Revolution-The-Story-of-the-Struggle/52975.html .


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