Book Review: The Right Side of History

Between The Covers | November 2015

By Terri Schlichenmeyer, November 2015 Issue.

Somebody got you started. That’s the hard part and, oftentimes, that’s all you need: a forward-thinking person to lay the framework so you can roll with a project, adding, subtracting, shaping and refining.


The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism by Adrian Brooks, foreword by Jonathan D. Katz, Ph.D. Cleis Press, 2015 | $18.95.

Somebody just needed to get you started and you can take it from there, as you’ll see in The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism by Adrian Brooks (pictured).

Like most years, this summers’ Pride Parade was a raucous event. And why not? There’s plenty to celebrate: new laws, old friends and a sense of “better,” which can make it hard to remember that “Such gains didn’t occur in a vacuum…” as Brooks says. This book, “a chorus of voices untamed,” is a collection of explanation.

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, though being caught in a compromising situation then could result in a loss of citizenship.

For Henry Gerber, the choice was a mental institution or U.S. Army; he picked the latter and came back from World War I, “determined to begin organizing gay men …”

BOOK_Right-Side-of-History_AUTHORThe “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 activism 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 lived in San Francisco, you might like to know that Pride Parade routes are 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 is where LGBTQI activism began. It’s not, of course, and The Right Side of History proves that.

Though it’s far from definitive, 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 enjoyed browsing the short biographies here, but I noticed one quirk: some of the profiles seemed to be a reach. Yes, they were very interesting, and yes, they were 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 give you understanding for those who paved the way. And, if that’s information you need, then find The Right Side of History… and just start it.