Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights

Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights

by Eric Marcus


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From the Boy Scouts and the U.S. military to marriage and adoption, the gay civil rights movement has exploded on the national stage. Eric Marcus takes us back in time to the earliest days of that struggle in a newly revised and thoroughly updated edition of Making History, originally published in 1992. Using the heartfelt stories of more than sixty people, he carries us through the compelling five-decade battle that has changed the fabric of American society.

The rich tapestry that emerges from Making Gay History includes the inspiring voices of teenagers and grandparents, journalists and housewives, from the little-known Dr. Evelyn Hooker and Morty Manford to former vice president Al Gore, Ellen DeGeneres, and Abigail Van Buren. Together, these many stories bear witness to a time of astonishing change, as gay and lesbian people have struggled against prejudice and fought for equal rights under the law.

“Rich and often moving . . . at times shocking, but often enlightening and inspiring: oral history at its most potent and rewarding.”—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060933913
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/28/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 326,490
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.12(d)

About the Author

Eric Marcus is the author of several books and coauthor of Breaking the Surface, the number one New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis.

Read an Excerpt

Part One


At the close of the nineteenth century, more than fifty years before the gay civil rights movement took root in the United States, the first organization for gay people, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, was founded in Germany. The then-radical goals of the committee included the abolition of Germany's antigay laws and the promotion of public education about homosexuality. The committee also set out to encourage gay people to take up the struggle for their rights. The rise of the Nazis brought a brutal end to the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, and for decades after, Germany's gay civil rights movement would remain dormant.

In the United States, it wasn't until 1950 that the gay rights effort really got its start, with the founding of an organization called the Mattachine Society. But the stirrings began years before, and included the Society for Human Rights, a very short-lived gay rights organization founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago in 1924, and the Veterans Benevolent Association, a gay veterans social group founded in New York City in the 1940s.

The years immediately following World War II proved to be an especially fertile time for those gay men and women who dared to imagine that something could be done to improve the challenging conditions under which many of them lived. A handful did more than just imagine. Among them was a young man named Sam From, who was a student in one of psychologist Dr. Evelyn Hooker's introductory night classes at UCLA in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. EvelynHooker

It became clear almost immediately that Sammy From was the most outstanding student in the class. He talked with me at intermission. He asked questions. There was just no doubt that he was the bright and shining star. You know, when a teacher finds a person like that, you fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

When Sammy discovered that I was taking the streetcar home after class, to save gasoline -- this was during the war -- he began driving me. Sammy had all the gasoline he wanted because he was writing million-dollar contracts between the Army Air Corps and the aircraft industry in this area. He had a high school education. His father was a junk dealer.

Our friendship developed gradually, but I had an idiotic policy then. I thought instructors should not fraternize with their students. It wasn't until he had finished my course that Sammy called me and asked if he could come over. We spent the evening talking. When he left, my husband Don turned to me and said, "Well, you told me everything else about him, why didn't you tell me he was queer?" I said, "How could you possibly tell? You're crazy!" To which Don replied, "He did everything but fly out the window."

Sammy was very eager to get to know us. He and his lover, George -- a much older man who was introduced as Sammy's cousin -- invited us to dinner, and we went. (It was a delicious dinner.) They wanted my approval so much that they were afraid to let me know they were gay.

I don't remember a time when Sammy or George said, "We're gay." They just gradually let down their hair and became very good friends of ours. They adored Don, who was very handsome, a marvelous talker. He was a sort of freelance writer in Hollywood and also worked on radio and did some painting. He liked them very much and wasn't bothered by the fact that they were gay. It wouldn't have occurred to him to be bothered by things like that because he had lived in Hollywood for a long time.

I didn't know much about homosexuality before I met Sammy, George, and their friends. As a matter of fact, when I was in college at the University of Colorado, The Well of Loneliness was circulating quietly. I remember reading it and thinking, Oh, gee. I wouldn't like to have to live my life with all that secrecy. But it has always made a lot of sense to me when gay people say, "I had to have been born this way because almost from the very beginning of my sexual consciousness I was interested in men" or "I was interested in women." I was interested in men from the time I was an adolescent, and there was never any question about that. I think that that understanding, together with the rather extraordinary cross section of society into which I was introduced by Sammy, made the difference.

In 1945, after I had known them for about a year, Sam and George invited us to join them on a Thanksgiving holiday in San Francisco. We had an absolutely marvelous time. Sammy was one of these people I described as an "if" personality. If all the restraints were off, if he didn't have to behave like a businessman or a manager, then he was funny, funny, funny! He was dramatic and campy.

On the first night we were in San Francisco, Sammy insisted that we go to Finocchio's to see the female impersonators. My eyes were wide! I'd never seen anything like that. Besides the dance routines, there were two old bags from Oakland who did a lot of female patter. It was funny, funny, funny! You absolutely believed that these female impersonators were the real thing. Then all of a sudden, they took out their breasts and bounced them up and down on the stage! The whole house just came down.

After the show, we came back to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill for a snack. I was unprepared for what came next. Sammy turned to me and said, "We have let you see us as we are, and now it is your scientific duty to make a study of people like us." Imagine that! This bright young man, somewhere in his early thirties, had obviously...

Making Gay History. Copyright © by Eric Marcus. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
RF8 More than 1 year ago
Following the lives of gay individuals puts a different perspective on the LGBT community. Making Gay History begins in the 1940’s and documents the gay rights movement all the way to the 21st century; it illuminates struggle and discrimination in a time of national ignorance. With interviews from gay rights activists this novel captures the true meaning of being an LGBT individual and provides first hand evidence of the hardships that go along with that identity. From losing jobs to being beaten and even being left to die, Making Gay History displays a huge revolutionary movement that is unfamiliar to many people today. This novel opened my eyes to the work put in by LGBT individuals and the lengthy path the gay rights movement has traveled to get to where it is today. This book shows many different views from military veterans to celebrity TV stars and how drastically their lives have been affected. This was one of the few books about history that actually captivated me and truly opened my eyes to the radical movement. Civil rights are for every human being and should be exercised as so no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Everyone is created equal. My favorite part of Making Gay History was the stories that some people had especially when their parents stood by their side through the battle. Most notable of the stories was the one of a man, “Copy” Berg, who got dishonorably discharged from the navy for his sexuality and his father, a navy chaplain and commander, stood out and openly expressed how wrong it was that such a fine young man with such a “personal sense of honor” be dishonorably discharged for “telling the truth”. This story showed the true love of a father that many (men especially) have difficulty displaying toward their gay child. My least favorite part of the book was the repetition of certain LGBT organizations and their activities. Although informative, much of the information seemed insignificant and repetitive. Overall, Making Gay History was one of the best, most enlightening, books I have ever read.
BruceStores More than 1 year ago
What is different about Mr. Marcus’ book that separates it from the vast numbers of other LGBT collectables? For one thing, Mr. Marcus allows the characters in his work to speak for themselves. The author does remarkably little editing and most of that is setting the scene for each contributor. In all, over sixty individuals speak of their contribution to LGBT history. As Mr. Marcus puts it, “I’m offering just a taste as told through the stories and recollections of more than sixty people—from high-profile leaders to the little-known and largely forgotten men and woman who contributed in ways big and small.” This was enough to let me know that much of the material would be unfamiliar terrain, rather than previously read historical scenes told in a different way. But would it hold my interest? Mr. Marcus dispelled such concern in his introduction where he wrote, "Here and there I lowered my bucket into the rich, swirling waters of the gay rights movement. And what I found was astounding, heartbreaking, thrilling and ultimately inspiring." For the most part, his analysis of his work proved correct. Making History is a fascinating book that I found difficult to put down. He begins with “The years immediately following World War II [which] proved to be an especially fertile time for those gay men and women who dared to imagine that something could be done to improve the challenging conditions under which many of them lived.” His first story is the contribution of Dr. Evelyn Hooker. A young gay man slowly worked his way into a close friendship with his teacher, Ms. Hooker. In time he was able to talk the psychologist into researching and writing what became a landmark study of gay men. The main purpose of the study was to show that gay men are normal, not sick. Then there was Lisa Ben (her name an acronym for lesbian) who published the first known newsletter for lesbians in 1947. But Mr. Marcus does not write solely about LGBT political activists. He penetrates the entertainment field, the literary field, AIDS activists, religious workers, social workers, and others. The reader ends up with a rich diversity of LGBT personalities who made their mark on sexual minority history. Some of the names include such diverse persons as: Ellen DeGeneres, Al Gore, Kay Tobin Lahusen, Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby), Randy Shilts (author of And the Band Played On), Bishop John Shelby Spong, Ray “Sylvia Lee” Rivera (cross-dresser of Stonewall fame), and many others. On the whole, I enjoyed Making Gay History and heartily recommend it to all who have a wider interest in all the manifestations of the background of the LGBT movement. Bruce Stores is author of: "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE: Its Encounter With Lesbian/Gay America" and "THE ISTHMUS: Stories of Mexico's Past, 1495 to 1995."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this very informative and well written book. He does a good job of explaining this part of our history. I like that the whole book is interviews with people of importance ftom this culture. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn apt of things they did not know about this period in our history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago