FOR GOOD: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in
America" by Dudley Clendinen & Adam Nagourney
Note: a version of this
book review appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
of this auspicious tome place the birth of the modern
gay rights movement in June, 1969, the time of riots at
the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City. Earlier actions
are attributed to a "tiny network of people . . .
essentially silent, unseen and inert." At Stonewall,
"for the first time, the usual acquiescence turned
into violent resistance [and] the lives of millions of
gay men and lesbians began to change." That narrowing
of gay defiance and at times a seemingly arbitrary choice
of what is of historical import mar this impressive book.
of the frontlines will recoil at the authors' assertion
that the years before Stonewall were "years of unchallenged
police raids." Historian Jim Kemper's "Becoming
a People, a 4000-Year Gay and Lesbian Chronology,"
an imposing record published by the National Gay Archives,
describes many such actions before Stonewall. A 1967 raid
on the Black Cat Bar in San Francisco created disruptions
that spread into Los Angeles, where over 200 gay men protested.
In early 1969, the beating of a gay man led to a battle
before heavily armed Los Angeles police. Both events are
relegated to an "inert" time by the authors,
who assert that it took "six months for the spark
of Stonewall to reach Los Angeles."
is not inconceivable that emphasis on the Stonewall rebellion
comes, in part, because it occurred in New York and was
given its present importance by East Coast activists.
among hundreds of interviews cited, no voice is heard
from those who set the night on fire on that Stonewall
night, only from those who emerged in caucuses and meetings.
gossip recurs as history. Three pages are donated to the
account by a "cute" young man (for whom sex
"had been a bowl of candies") about how he got
Tennessee Williams--"infamously alcoholic and unreliable"--to
sign a letter in support of individual rights; the young
man had once "batted his eyelashes" at the great
playwright, although he "didn't want to have to go
to bed" with him.
Angeles Millionaire Sheldon Andelson's reason for hiding
his AIDS, the authors conjecture, was that the knowledge
would wreck his image of power because "AIDS was
primarily contracted by being the receptive figure in
anal intercourse, a passive sexual role." Implicitly
judging sexual roles, the authors leap to illogic. Is
the receptive figure infected by another receptive figure?
of heroic men and women emerge deservedly and sharply
out of this account, but the authors dismiss more exotic
but equally valiant players, like the publishers of "physique"
magazines whose court cases paved the way for gay rights.
"Faggots," a fine novel by admirable advocate
and canny performer Larry Kramer is given singular significance,
while insurrectionary pioneers like William Burroughs
and James Purdy are ignored.
its shortcomings, this book is a monumental trove of essential
information ungathered until now.
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Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.