A Look at Queer History that Changed the World

Out in Print

“Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall”
by James Polchin
©2019, Counterpoint Press
$26.00
256 pages

“The Stonewall Riots”
edited by Marc Stein
©2019, New York University Press
$35.00
341 pages

“The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets”
by Gayle E. Pitman
©2019, Abrams Books for Young Readers
$17.99
208 pages

“Out in Time”
by Perry N. Halkitis
©2019, Oxford University Press
$34.95
288 pages

“When Brooklyn Was Queer”
by Hugh Ryan
©2019, St. Martin’s Press
$29.99
308 pages

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Fifty years ago, it was a busy summer.

Nationally, everyone was glued to their TVs to watch men walk on the moon. Woodstock called to every hippie here, there and abroad. Charles Manson terrified Californians. And gay and lesbian folks watched closely as a little bar in Greenwich Village became a flash-point for rights.

If you are over age 55, you might have memories of the Stonewall Riots; vivid ones that may’ve become gauzy; or sketchy ones, perhaps, from the viewpoint of a child. If you’re under age 55, the Stonewall Riots are undoubtedly just a story to you, and there’s a lot for you to learn. To mark the anniversary of this event that altered so many lives, look for these new books…

Beginning in the years before the Stonewall Riots, “Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall” by James Polchin takes a look at the crimes committed against gay men, long before equality and rights were a notion, let alone even being on the table.

Murder, of course, lines the pages of this book but you’ll also read stories of harassment, assault, and minor crimes that were embellished so that they could be charged as more serious. Polchin also looks at how criminal acts committed by and aimed at LGBTQ people came under controversy when attention was paid to one minority group’s safety, and not to that of another group. This, the embedded presence of many (in)famous criminals, and other stories lightly linked to Stonewall make it a unique and interesting book.

Because memories fade, opinions differ, and people die, “The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History,” edited by Marc Stein is a valuable resource to have. Here, Stein collected photographs, court transcripts, notes, newspaper excerpts and transcripts of documents that prove an intimate timeline for the years 1965 through 1973. His focus was on four major cities but he also includes documents that originated elsewhere; works of fiction also show up in this book. While it’s primarily about gay men, lesbians and “transvestites” are inside its pages, as well.

Says Stein, “there is always more to the story…” and this books displays it.

Here’s another book on Stonewall. To anybody else, that tchotchke would be worthless. To you, though, it oozes with memories, and that’s why you keep it: because it represents special people, remarkable times or things you hold in your heart. One glance, and you instantly recall something you want to remember, so in “Stonewall Riots” by Gayle E. Pitman, take a look at 50 objects that represent LGBTQ history. While this is a book for children ages 10 and up, this book is also for anyone under the age of 55. You wouldn’t remember the riots first-hand, so reading “The Stonewall Riots” is absolutely worthwhile.

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She begins with a basic history of Greenwich Village in New York City and the Jefferson Livery Stable, which housed horses long before it became Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn, and then just the Stonewall Inn. Back then, being gay or lesbian meant almost certain persecution. In the 1960s resistance began to bubble up within the African-American community, anti-war protesters and LGBTQ individuals. Small uprisings had been staged on behalf of LGBTQ people in California, while in New York, LGBTQ individuals were getting pretty tired of police harassment, Mafia shake-downs and raids on their hangouts.

And on June 28, 1969, their simmering anger boiled over… and the world changed for the LGBTQ community.

And it’s normal to want to compare the way things were in 1969 to the way things are now. In “Out in Time,” Perry N. Halkitis does exactly that with three generations of gay men to show that, while there are differences in social attitudes, health, legalities and politics, there are also striking similarities in challenges and in gains. Done with mini-interviews woven through narrative to hold together the words of everyday people, this is an easy book to step into, with short chapters and browse-able segments.

Another book from an historical viewpoint but not specifically about Stonewall has the reader harkening back to the days of “queer” Brooklyn. In “When Brooklyn Was Queer” by Hugh Ryan, everything and nothing is familiar.

From the starting point of a poet and a wharf full of sailors, readers glide smoothly to wood-floor dancehalls; sweeping near audacious lesbian actors, scandal rags, legal fights, burly-Q stages, then to the Jazz Age and beyond. Each spot is covered, sprinkled with asides, personal anecdotes from author Ryan, and modern references to create connections, then gently folded into the next subject.

While this is a history of Brooklyn, specifically, and New York, in general, we’re taken to other cities and cultures to see how worldwide changes impacted Brooklyn’s residents. And unlike many books, this one doesn’t ignore anyone in the LGBTQ initialism; all are mentioned here and given due diligence. For readers searching for a fun, fascinating, all-encompassing history, “When Brooklyn Was Queer” is a nice change.

Readers should note that these books are historically-based and may be on the scholarly side, eye-opening and quite entertaining. If you have keen memories of the summer of 1969, what’s here may pull you back 50 years. If you’re too young to remember what happened then, these books on the Stonewall Riots and more will keep you busy all summer.

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