Yet Another Gay/Queer “History” Book Perpetuates Old Myths
by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.
Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
The new A Queer History of the United States (Beacon Press) is one of the most boring books I’ve ever tried to read. It’s written in a professorial style guaranteed to put an insomniac to sleep.
Who is the author? In an “Author’s Note,” Michael Bronski identifies himself as a “college professor,” among assorted other identities.
But, in a back fly-leaf that covers the hard-cover book, he’s identified only as a “senior lecturer” at Dartmouth College. Professionally, it’s a big jump to go from a lecturer to a full professor.
Apparently he’s written a bunch of other books, and I wonder if they are also boring?
This book raises serious questions of academic integrity. Critical parts of Gay history are patently false, and the author must know this. With a tear sheet of this commentary, Dartmouth College will be asked to investigate whether their principles of academic integrity have been violated by this book.
On page one there is a red flag about the rest of the book. In line one, Bronski asks “If you were to ask the average American when Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender history started in this nation … ” (italics added).
Who is this so-called “average American?” What is their demographic? Students in high school are marked off for making a reference to this unidentified “average American.” Now a “professor” is using it?
It’s almost devoid of personal quotes, which can liven up an otherwise totally boring story.
Admittedly a massive amount of research went into this book, but much more was needed to make this a credible history.
The author takes the reader back to the later fifteenth century when “the United States as a political entity will not exist for another 270 years,” as he admits. Indeed, he contends the word “homosexual” didn’t come into being for 350 years.
In this 242-page book that follows the timeline of traditional American history, Bronski perpetuates the well-established myth that Gay Liberation began with the June 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
Had he read the new, sometimes intimate book by Gale Whittington, Beyond Normal (available online at http://www.booklocker.com/books/5090.html), Bronski would know that Gay Lib was launched on the streets of San Francisco two months before Stonewall, in April 1969, by the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF), co-founded by Whittington and this author.
Whittington’s book was a finalist for the 23rd annual Lambda Literary Awards, so it would be hard for Bronski to claim that he never heard of it. The CHF is ignored in Bronski’s new book, raising serious challenges to its veracity and academic integrity.
One of the CHF members was Carl Whitman, who wrote a “Gay Manifesto,” as most of the New Left did in the late 1960’s. But while ignoring the CHF, he raises the importance of Carl’s writing to “the defining document of the new movement.”
The author also completely ignores the strong, published support for Gay Liberation by the nation’s most militant organization at the time, the Black Panther Party.
Whenever I write about a book, I like to say something nice about it. It’s good that Bronski includes the word “queer” in his title, continuing the community’s long struggle to redefine that word as something involving pride, without the stereotypical, denigrative meaning used by bullies in high schools and elsewhere.
Even his account of the Gay Liberation Front is inaccurate. The phrase came out of the popular San Francisco Bay Area underground newspaper, the Berkeley Barb. The author completely ignores the fundamental role of the Barb in Gay history.
Bronski seems to follow the typical line of the Gay (or “LGBT”) Establishment common today. His book sometimes reads like a photocopy of many previously published “Gay history” books out there, faithfully reproducing their mistakes.
It’s particularly disappointing to find a new book that is so inaccurate on important details. Unfortunately, many young people are going to read this thinking it’s comprehensive and accurate.
No on both points!