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Resources in LGBTQ History in the United States: 1900 to 2019 (November 2019): General Works

by Lisa N. Johnston

General Works

An invaluable work for teachers in secondary education as well as professors in higher education, particularly those integrating LGBTQ history into courses for the first time, is the 2015 Lambda Award–winning and Choice Outstanding Academic Title Understanding and Teaching Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History. Essays by historians and teachers highlight events and provide lists of resources that can be integrated into the curriculum. For students and faculty who are seeking a beginning point to 500 years of US history, there are many general works available. Historian Jonathan Katz published the classic Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. in 1976. This work is an essential starting point for any reader new to LGBTQ history. A second edition was published in 1992. Katz continues to update his research on his website OutHistory, collaborating with other scholars and bringing LGBTQ history to a wider audience. Its bibliographies of both primary and secondary sources are invaluable.  Katz was awarded the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force’s Book Award in 1975 as editor for a collection of primary sources published in the US and Europe, which includes documents from the early homophile movement, memoirs, pulp novels, and reprints of significant primary source journals such as The Ladder, a publication for and by lesbians. The Arno Press series “Homosexuality: Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History, and Literature” is composed of fifty-six titles. According to the author’s attempts at locating a complete collection in one location using WorldCat, the collection is most easily searched by title or author as the cataloguing is inconsistent. There is a bibliography of the works in the series following the Works Cited list. Harvard University Professor Michael Bronski’s 2011 Stonewall Book Award—winning A Queer History of the United States argues that queer history is US history, and that it cannot and does not exist separately. His goal is to compile and analyze 500 years of queer contributions and, more importantly, “attempt to ‘queer’ how we think about American history.”

Historian Lillian Faderman has contributed such significant research and writing to this topic, particularly her work on the history of women’s relationships, both romantic and platonic, that she is deserving of her own bibliographic essay. Her most recent book, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, begins just prior to the 1948 publication of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and it concludes with a passage in the epilogue written about June 26, 2015, the date marriage equality became law. This compulsively readable volume uses primary sources to illustrate events, and can easily be used as a reference book. Faderman’s definitive work on lesbians in the US, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, is an engaging study of “romantic friendships” and sexual relationships that is equally essential.

The two-part documentary film Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community includes the periods before and after 1969. Part one, Before Stonewall, employs oral history, historic films, and photographs to chronicle the years 1920 to 1969. Part two, After Stonewall, documents the organization of the Gay Liberation Front, which immediately followed Stonewall, concluding the 1990s with coverage of ACT-UP and its impact on the LGBTQ community and activism.

The Transgender Rights Movement has made incredible strides toward civil rights since their “Stonewall,” the 1966 riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco. The 2005 documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria was directed by Victor Silverman and queer studies professor and activist Susan Stryker. It is essential viewing for the study of transgender history and a worthy companion to the Stonewall documentary.  In 2017, Stryker authored a significantly updated edition of her 2008 Transgender History. The Choice Outstanding Academic Title Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution presents 100 years of the history and culture of transgender Americans. A highlight is her thoughtful discussions that illuminate the divisions between the transgender and gay/lesbian rights movements. Stryker uses text boxes to highlight and clarify topics such as drag balls, which have gained new interest thanks to television dramas such as Pose. In order to learn the origins of these current television hits, Director Jennie Livingston’s 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning is essential. C. Riley Snorton’s Lambda and John Boswell History Association 2018 award-winner Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity is an essential addition to the history of transgender people. Spanning the nineteenth Century to the present, it illuminates the history and experience of the intersectionality in the lives of transgender people of color. The Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) was established with the mission to preserve the history of transgender people and, most importantly, to make these rare primary sources accessible. It is hosted by The College of the Holy Cross. As of 2019, there are fifty member institutions. The archive features journals and ephemera, and can be browsed via subject or an interactive world map.

For researchers working in the legal history of sexuality, the detailed Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861–2003, by attorney William N. Eskridge, Jr. and John A. Garver, Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law, argues that social change facilitates legal change. Eskridge traces this history at both the state and federal level.

There are plentiful online and print reference resources. Those most recently published and of high quality for researchers new to the discipline include the 2018 print or ebook The Routledge History of Queer America. It is divided into three sections: “Times,” Spaces and Places,” and “Themes.” A 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title, LGBTQ Events, is an update of the first edition published in 2007. International in scope, the new edition reflects the rapid changes in rights legislation. There are invaluable bibliographies and see also references. The free online reference work The GLBTQ Encyclopedia Project is a valuable source for quick searches—though updates ended in 2015 due to financial issues