Book Review: Gay America: The Struggle for Equality
Alsenas, Linas. Gay America: The Struggle for Equality. Amulet Books. 2008.
A history of GLBT Americans and the history of the Equal Rights movement in America. Broken up into easily manageable time periods and rich in photographs and text excerpts from contemporary publications of the times.
From the murder of Freda Ward in 1893 by her teenage girlfriend to same-sex marriage legalization in Massachusetts, this offering chronicles the ups, downs, victories and woes of gays and lesbians in the United States without sounding too much like a textbook. The stories unfold in brief, just-the-facts snapshots that are easy to follow, yet Alsenas’s language is sophisticated enough to be authoritative. All of the usual topics are covered, including Stonewall, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Alfred Kinsey, James Baldwin and AIDS. Less well-known events and ideas, such as the formation of the Mattachine Society, a group formed by three gay Communist Party supporters in the late 1940s, also come to light. Black-and-white or full-color photos that accompany the text add to the overall appeal and readability of the book. What results is a well-written, topical and eye-catching work that simultaneously fulfills the need for assignments and literary nonfiction pleasure-reading forays. Middle- and high-school students should walk away feeling informed; many will be inspired to explore the LGBT universe even further.
From School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-This eminently readable work highlights the history of gays and lesbians in the U.S. Beginning with the Victorian period and following with five more chapters covering the 20th and 21st centuries through 2006, Alsenas prefaces each historically accurate section with a true story told from a personalized (or fictionalized) point of view, such as the notorious 1892 Memphis murder of Freda Ward by her lover, Alice Mitchell. This technique, combined with abundant archival photos and the author’s accessible writing style, makes the pages fly by almost as if reading a long, compelling story. Of course, this book only touches on salient points of LGBT history, but for young teens who are interested in learning about queer scholarship, it is an excellent place to begin. A good index, excellent notes, and a selected bibliography of resources, into which the author encourages readers to “dig deeper,” only increase the usefulness of Gay America. (Betty S. Evans, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield)
In his foreword, Alsenas writes that his history of gay America in the twentieth century and beyond is meant to open the burgeoning field of gay historical inquiry to teens who “arguably need access to it the most.” It is not meant to be a comprehensive history of gay scholarship but rather an entertaining narrative that can be used as a jumping-off point for further research. In both of those aims, this volume succeeds brilliantly. Each chapter begins with a short story, “from a personalized point of view,” based on historical events and people but told in the author’s words. The first from 1892 tells of Alice Mitchell who, making good on a pact with her lover Freda Ward, killed Ward when their families would not let them be together. The last takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2004 as gay couples celebrate their freedom to marry. The sections that follow these stories cover roughly twenty-year periods each. The people, movements, and large events of these eras are examined in short, one- to four-paragraph essays. Gay organizations and their origins and aims-Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis through Stonewall to Act Up, PFLAG, and the Human Rights Campaign among others-are presented, mentioning people from Ma Rainey to Harvey Milk and Ellen DeGeneres. There is no discussion on the origins of same-sex attractions, whether scientific or sociological. The volume is attractive, and the endnotes are well documented. There is frank discussion of sexual practices but never more than is necessary to explain the events. (Timothy Capehart)
– Source for choosing this book: Recommendation from Friends
– Grades 7-10
– Related Book: Corinna, Heather. S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College. Three Rivers Press. 2007
– Both books deal with sexuality and sex. One is history and the other is contemporary issues.