Book Review: The Right Side of History

Somebody got you started.

That’s the hard part, and often, that’s all you need: a forward-thinking person to lay the framework so you can roll with a project, adding, subtracting, shaping, refining. Some-body just needed to get you started; you can take it from there, as you’ll see in “The Right Side of History” by Adrian Brooks.

As in most years, this summer’s Pride parades were raucous events. And why not? There’s plenty to celebrate: new laws, old friends, and a sense of things being better—which can make it hard to remember that, “Such gains didn’t occur in a vacuum…” according to Brooks. This book, “a chorus of voices untamed,” is a collection of explanations.

To begin, Brooks writes of Isadora Duncan, a “free spirit” who, when ladies were expected to be proper, danced on stage with abandon, bared her breasts in public, and slept with whomever she pleased—male or female.

Hayden L. Mora writes of gay life in the early twentieth century, when clubs for “same-sex attraction” began to appear in larger cities, even though being caught in a compromising situation could result in a loss of citizenship. For Henry Gerber, the choice was a mental institution or the U.S. Army; he picked the latter and came back from World War I “determined to begin organizing gay men.”

The “father of the gay liberation movement” and founder of the Mattachine Society got his fire from another organization’s strike. A well-liked gay African-American boy, lovingly called “Pinhead” as a child, grew up to be Martin Luther King Jr.’s “right-hand man,” while a nerdy white doctor (who happened to sleep with men) changed our notions of male sexuality. Activists today fight for intersex infants, asking doctors to delay sex-assignment surgery. Conversation launched a lesbian organization, and people have stepped into activist roles because of Anita Bryant, out-of-the-closet writers, politics, personal discoveries, and a 54-ton quilt.

And that parade you marched in? If you live in San Francisco, you might like to know that the Pride parade route is exactly the same as a funeral march walked by strikers and their families in 1934.

Lately, it seems as though I’ve been seeing a plethora of books on Stonewall, as if that one event was where LGBTQI activism began. It’s not, of course, and “The Right Side of History” proves that.

Though it’s far from definitive, author Adrian Brooks collected his own work and that of several contributors to inform and inspire readers who likewise want to make change or to know where change came from. I liked browsing the short biographies here, but I noticed one quirk: some of the profiles are a bit of a reach. Yes, they are very interesting, and yes, they are about people who stood their ground, but were they LGBTQI activists? Perhaps not always.

Even so, what you’ll read here may make you want to do something. At the very least, it’ll raise your understanding of those who paved the way.


‘The Right Side of History:

100 Years of LGBTQI Activism’

By Adrian Brooks,

Foreword by Jonathan D. Katz, PhD

Cleis Press, 2015


243 pages