“A Queer History of the United States for Young People,” written in 2019, is adapted from a more academic book written in 2011. Looking at both books, I found this one, written for young people, much more appealing. This book is easy to read, interesting and informative. The book contains 33 biographical stories of individuals who have had a significant impact on the LGBTQ community and society as a whole.
At least some of the information in this book should be taught in our schools but rarely is. The figures covered are unfamiliar to most of us, yet they made a significant contribution to U.S. history. The biographies are put in a context of the times and presented in a chronological order.
The first chapter concerns the culture of the Native Americans at the time before Europeans arrived. Many native tribes were more open and accepting of differences in both gender roles and sexuality. Those who differed from any norm were often considered superior to the general population and were consulted on life’s questions.
The Puritans were very strict, and one reason they left Europe was the sinful ways of the Elizabethan culture. Thomas Morton arrived in this land in the early 1600s and decided to create a community that accepted everyone including those persecuted by the Puritans and Pilgrims. He created the town of Merrymount, just a few miles from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They wanted to live peacefully, not trying to change the Puritan society. The community lasted only a few years. Morton was arrested, sent back to England and Merrymount was destroyed by the Puritans. Morton wrote a book about his Utopian vision, “The New English Canaan,” describing a place for more personal, sexual, racial and economic freedom and equality visions.
Jemima Wilkinson, born in 1752, became Publick Universal Friend, claiming to be neither male nor female. Friend preached universal friendship, was against slavery and alcohol, and believed in total abstinence from sex. Friend attracted followers and established the colony of Jerusalem in central New York State and developed a friendship with the Native Americans.
This was important because Friend brought a regional discussion about gender roles not being fixed.
This history book has stories of gender roles in the military in the Revolutionary War, World War I and World War II when women dressed and passed as men to be able to fight. After the wars, when it was discovered that female soldiers had been fighting, there was a mixed reaction. Some women were honored for their service and others were disgraced and punished.
Several of the bios are of artistic performers and heroes of their time without their sexuality or gender being known. This includes Emily Dickinson, Julia Ward Howe, Walt Whitman and Jane Adams.
William Julian Dalton, born in the late 1800s, was probably the most famous cross-dresser in America and became a successful actor in both the American and London Theater. Due to his fame, there was new thinking about gender. Unfortunately by 1930, he began to be persecuted for cross-dressing as new laws were passed in some states.
Bayard Rustin, a highly regarded and honored person, kept his homosexuality hidden until late in his activist life. His work for racial justice was admired by most of America.
The 1970s brought strong contrasting views of sexuality as shown in the chapter about popular singers, Sylvester and Anita Bryant. Each had dedicated followers.
This book documents activists in the LGBTQ up to today and concludes with a chapter on the possible future for young people.
There is also a helpful glossary and resource list.
This reading keeps your attention as the bios represent a wide variety of individuals and circumstances.
Anne Cowan is a Manhattan resident and a retired physical therapist.