The Right Side of History:
100 Years of LGBTQI Activism
edited by Adrian Brooks
Published by Cleis Press
Published June 9, 2015
Nonfiction (edited volume)
264 pgs. • find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Billy Glover
October 20, 2015.
I have heard some historians claim that there has been an active and ongoing effort for LGBT civil rights for a 100 years. I have found no evidence of such continuation. A biography of a few famous people who are (often retrospective) dubbed “gay” is no proof of a movement or that they were openly working for change. Private parties and drag balls do not a movement make.
For this book to claim there has been 100 years of LGBT activism is nonsense. The book of course makes this declaration in its very title, though in truth this is not a very good “history” of the origins of the movement for homosexual rights, which started in 1950 with the Mattachine Society. Mattachine is briefly mentioned, with a few names dropped, and then the “history” is taken over by the p-c effort to make it seem as though the Daughters of Bilitis was the most important aspect of the early homophile movement.
The most outrageous example of this is when the DOB is given credit for the topic of homosexuality being a major political issue in the mayor’s race in San Francisco when Russell Wolden ran a dirty campaign against Mayor George Christopher. This was actually made an issue by one of Wolden’s henchman getting the not-too-smart people at the Mattachine Convention in Denver, in 1959, to express their gratitude to Mayor Christopher for having been, in effect, gay-friendly. The nonsense backfired and garnered more support for Christopher while helping to promote San Francisco’s Mattachine far more than it did the DOB.
I know because I was there.
Most LGBT historians know the history of the Black Cat bar in San Francisco—and later the one in Los Angeles. If Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon deserve credit for having worked to make San Francisco gay-friendly, why is it not right to give credit to others, such as the “new” Mattachine Society of Hal Call, Don Lucas, et al.? (Again: I was there.)
I am not sure where the one writer got the quote by Dale Jennings—most only know of him through ONE magazine which is never credited as a source. Aren’t academics and journalists supposed to acknowledge their sources? And it is queer that the same writer finds it worth mentioning several journalists who have been honored by The Association of LGBT Journalist yet ignores Don Slater, who was among the first of that group’s honorees.
It is not important that the writer makes the usual error—saying that ONE Magazine was published by Mattachine. But such sloppy “history” shows up in several places, and I wonder if the reason is incompetence or an unethical deliberate attempt to do what the writer says others have done—revised history.
But the result is distorting history. The truth is, ONE was the only publication for homosexuals for several years and the most successful overall, yet much of this book’s attention is given to the Mattachine Review and The Ladder.
The concluding part of the book makes great effort to give credit to later publications, at a time when there were and are many publications available. It is interesting as well that a writer would say how important bookstores are—at a time when all have died.
I have my own history in the movement, and it is primarily based in Los Angeles, where our history started. While many historians say ONE was not in the mainstream of the movement, the fact is that most of the people covered in this book, and their views were also not in the mainstream of the movement. (Barney Frank indirectly makes this point in his article, by the way.)
The obvious point to be made, which will be clear to the intelligent people if they read this version of history, is that the title may have some meaning to the writers/contributors since many people say we are on the “right” side of history—so far as seeking our equal rights. But the book is not a “right” political book—it is the left side of history. People seeking a balanced history of how and why our movement has been so successful will not find the answers in this book.
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