Professor E. K. Johnston, acting dean of the School of Journalism, in an auditorium of the University of Missouri, stands on stage and gives out awards at the end of the term to students at the school and congratulates each of them as they are honored. He then gets in his car and drives to the Police Station where he tells them who he is. They arrest him, charge him with sodomy and lock him up. He is fired from his position at the university. The president of the university, the superintendent of the state highway patrol, the governor, editors of local newspapers, all weigh in on the scandalous charges made against him. Eventually, he pleads guilty—the evidence against him is overwhelming—and is sentenced to five years of supervised parole. He is ordered to cease any homosexual activity for the rest of his life. His life is ruined.
On August 10, 2012, Col. Tammy Smith is engaged in her promotion ceremony. She is being promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General. Part of the ceremony is when the new general’s old rank is taken off her uniform and her new rank pinned on, in this case, a star on each epaulet. As is usual, a family member or a spouse does the pinning. What is unusual in General Smith’s case is that her father pinned one star and her spouse—whose name is Tracy Hepner—pinned the other. Hepner is a woman. General Smith is fine with that, and the Army is fine with that too.
These two stories introduce Lillian Faderman’s new book, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015 (available in print and digital editions). Her book is a very large LGBTQ history of the period between the time in 1947 when Professor Johnston was disgraced and sent from the University of Missouri campus on charges of sodomy and Colonel Smith’s promotion ceremony to Brigadier General in 2012, to the applause of the entire military establishment and her wife.
Faderman’s book was published September 8, 2015, and is more than 800 pages long. It is also compulsively readable. I bought it, went immediately to the pages on Stonewall, and before I could put it down, I had read all the way through the seventies and the eighties to the discovery of protease inhibitors, a total of 520 pages. The next time I picked up this book, I read the concluding several hundred pages, which brought this majestic story all the way up to Obergefell v. Hodges, and June 26, 2015. Then I went back and read the beginning. I told my husband, C, just now, that I have to finish this posting tonight, because every time I go back to the book to look for a quote or a date or name, I end up getting drawn back into the story of the last seventy years, and, as likely as not, weeping.
How did we get here? Vice-President Biden said on announcing his support of marriage equality that it was Will and Grace who introduced gay people to America. Lillian Faderman says Biden skipped over or forgot the “long war that gay rights organizations had been waging on multiple fronts—including a battle with the networks that began in 1974, when the National Gay Task Force Media Committee made its anger known to ABC executives about the episode of Marcus Welby, M.D., that equated homosexuality with pederasty” (p. 1085). This book makes clear how many “long wars” have been fought by all the different people and organizations over decades to bring us to where we are now. In 1969 a certain kind of fighting was appropriate in the streets around Sheridan Square, the fighters in jeans and t-shirts, and in 1979 something else entirely was appropriate, the fighters in suits with drinks in their hands and checkbooks in their pockets, and in 1989 when the fights were going on all over town—on the Hotline phones, in the streets around Harvard Medical School, in the hospitals, in the Congress, in every bar I went into where they were giving out free condoms and safe sex literature. Lillian Faderman’s book brings it all to us. And like many good books, its most valuable pages may be the indexes and two hundred pages of notes, leading us to Faderman’s sources if we want more or more detail. This book is a reference to keep on your shelf. Who were Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon? The Mattachine Society? The right name for the sodomy case before the Supreme Court in 2003? The lawyers for each side in the case against DOMA? John Lawrence? Tyrone Garner?
Yesterday was National Coming Out Day. It was Harvey Milk who told us all to come out, come out, and if Harvey Milk was the only person you heard, you might think that the only thing you had to do was come out and then all of the future would be yours. But if you’ve come out, you know that coming out is only one of the things that are required of you. There is fighting to keep what you’ve gained, for one thing, and then there’s having to fight for the things you weren’t given when you came out, for another. Lillian Faderman says that fighting back is also required—lots of different kinds of fighting back—and she proves it, through 800 pages of her wonderful history. A pleasure to read.