The best books on LGBTQ history

Lillian Faderman Author Of The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle
By Lillian Faderman

Who am I?

I came out as gay in the 1950s. I was a literary teenager, starved for the history of those who came before me. As I learned, there were no such books. As a Ph.D. candidate in the 1960s, I thought about writing a dissertation on a gay subject; but “homosexuality” was still “the love that dare not speak its name.” However, the 1970s saw a “gay revolution”; and finally, as an academic in those new times, I was able to write and publish about what had so long been forbidden. My first book, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, was followed by a half-dozen other books on LGBTQ history.


I wrote...

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle

By Lillian Faderman,

Book cover of The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle

What is my book about?

The Gay Revolution traces the history of LGBTQ America from the mid-twentieth century to today. How did we go from being criminals, crazies, sinners, and subversives to having the right to marry and to serve openly in the military? What accounts for the remarkable progress from the days when a person suspected of homosexuality could be fired from a job or booted out of college to the present when a “homophobe” is almost as much a social pariah as a racist? How did we become (almost) first-class American citizens, and what remains to be done?  

The books I picked & why

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The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams

By Jonathan Ned Katz,

Book cover of The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams

Why this book?

Katz has done yeoman’s work in reconstructing the little-known story of Chawa Zloczewer, an immigrant who came to America in 1912, reinvented herself as Eve Adams, and lived the bohemian life of an anarchist and a lesbian. In the years after World War I, Adams was the proprietor of lesbian tearooms and literary salons in Chicago and Greenwich Village. Her radical politics, lesbian life, and publication in 1925 of a book she titled Lesbian Love led to her unrelenting persecution by the young J. Edgar Hoover (then head of the forerunner to the FBI). She was deported in 1927 and died in Auschwitz in 1943. A fascinating piece of lesbian history.   


The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

By David K. Johnson,

Book cover of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

Why this book?

 Johnson was among the first historians to demonstrate that the McCarthy-era witch hunts of gay and lesbian federal employees were as virulent and obsessive as the witch hunts of suspected communists. The merciless persecution of government workers suspected of being homosexual led to tragedies of ruined lives and suicides. But, as Johnson shows, it also helped politicize the victims, making them aware of themselves as a gay and lesbian community that must fight for civil rights.


The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America

By Eric Cervini,

Book cover of The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America

Why this book?

Cervini’s biography of Frank Kameny shows that gay militancy began years before the iconic riots at the Stonewall Inn. In 1965, Kameny led pickets for gay civil rights in front of the White House and the State Department. He was soon teaching people who lost their jobs because they were “homosexual” how to fight and win in the courts. Understanding that as long as homosexuals were considered sick, gay people would never be granted civil rights, Kameny organized the first protests against the American Psychiatric Association that led to the declassification of “homosexuality” as a mental disorder. Cervini situates Frank Kameny in his rightful place as the father of America’s first militant gay movement. 


Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community

By Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, Madeline D. Davis,

Book cover of Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community

Why this book?

First published in 1993, Kennedy and Davis focus on working-class women who were part of the butch-femme lesbian bar culture in Buffalo, New York from the 1930s to the 1960s. Through 45 oral histories, Kennedy and Davis allow their subjects—Black, white, and Native American—to speak poignantly for themselves. They help the authors argue that far from emulating traditional heterosexual relationships (which had been an accusation often hurled at butch-femme couples), these women were pioneers of resistance; and that far from living lonely lives (drowning in a “well of loneliness”) they formed a vibrant community.  


Female Husbands

By Jen Manion,

Book cover of Female Husbands

Why this book?

Manion traces the history—from the colonial era to the early twentieth century—of people assigned female at birth who lived their lives as men. As the author shows, American and British history has been replete with such individuals, long before “transgender” became a term. If found out, they risked public humiliation, whippings, and imprisonment. Manion sets their lives in the context of their times, recreating their compelling stories through court records and newspaper accounts.  


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