Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Resources in LGBTQ History in the United States: 1900 to 2019 (November 2019): LGBTQ History 1900 to 1945

by Lisa N. Johnston

LGBTQ History 1900 to 1945

For readers who want a more in-depth study of events and time periods, the titles in these sections will prove particularly useful. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 by Columbia University historian George Chauncey is a landmark work of scholarship. Through evidence from interviews, diaries, and emphemera, Chauncey has changed the belief that prior to 1945, gay men lived in the shadows. His research on the malleability of male sexuality in pre-war New York is groundbreaking. The book is not merely a history, it is a sociological study. It is no exaggeration to state that Chauncey’s book set the standard for research on LGBTQ History. The Harlem Renaissance was also a “renaissance” for queer members of that New York community known for its influential arts scene. A.B. Christa Schwarz’s Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance is described by Choice reviewer L.J. Parascandula as essential and controversial. Schwarz offers evidence of the sexuality of four major figures in American literature. This work should be paired with Jeffrey Stewart’s The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, the recipient of the 2018 National Book Award for Non-fiction. Locke, the “dean” of the Harlem Renaissance, was a closeted gay man, an identity that proves essential to his work. One of the few biographies included in this essay, this work provides insights into the writers and the culture of place and time. There is finally an LGBTQ history of New York that is not Manhattan-centric. Just in time for the fiftieth Anniversary of Stonewall, When Brooklyn Was Queer, by Hugh Ryan, begins in the 1850s and features the lives of figures from the arts including Walt Whitman and W. H. Auden. Emily Skidmore’s research on transgender men, True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the 20th Century, is an in-depth examination of sixteen trans men living, marrying, and working in rural American between 1876 and 1936. This book is a significant contribution to LGBTQ studies.

There are excellent resources that investigate early LGBTQ history in major US cities other than New York. Julio Capó’s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940 reveals how central the city’s queerness was to trade, tourism, and design.

Chicago was the birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement in the US. Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago before Stonewall begins the story of the Second City in 1670. The author, St. Sukie de la Croix, writes an account of the first official LGBTQ organization in the United States. The homophile movement in the United States began when Henry Gerber, an immigrant to Chicago from Germany, served in Germany during WW I. He was inspired by the research and writings of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, author of the 1914 study The Homosexuality of Men and Women. This work was translated into English for the first time by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash in 2000, and is still relevant more than a century after its first editions were available. Henry Gerber founded the homophile organization The Society for Human Rights in 1924 and ran it out of his home when he was granted a charter from the state of Illinois. Due to the intervention of the Chicago police, the Society for Human Rights lasted only six months. The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century, by Jim Elldge, spans the 100 years between 1840 and 1940. Using diaries and other primary resources it is both a queer and an urban history.

James Polchin’s Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice before Stonewall combines history with reports of crimes against gay men when these men were thought of as criminals, when in fact they were the victims. He recounts reports from popular media and engages the reader to consider the words left out of the newspapers. The footnotes are a suberb list of primary resources.

The history of the rights of LGBTQ service members is as relevant today as it was in 2011 when President Barack Obama joined leaders from all of the military branches to sign the document that would allow LGBTQ people to serve openly; striking down “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” This right is in danger. In April 2019, the Trump administration issued a ban on transgender troops serving in any branch of the military. The essential Coming Out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II by historian Alan Berube was published to great acclaim in 1990. The University of North Carolina Press released a 2010 edition adding new material. It should be added to the curriculum of military history courses focusing on the US during WW II. Berube used military records, oral histories, letters, and diaries to capture a social history of the relationship between LGBTQ people and the government.

Works Cited