In a New Century
Essays on Queer History, Politics, and Community Life
Publication Year: 2014
A pioneering scholar of gay history, John D’Emilio reflects in this wide-ranging collection of essays upon the social, cultural, and political changes provoked by LGBT activism. He offers provocative questions and historical analyses: What can we learn from a life-long activist like Bayard Rustin, who questioned the wisdom of “identity politics”? Was Richard Nixon a “gay liberationist”? How can knowing local stories—like those of Chicago in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—help build stronger communities and enrich traditions of activism? Might the focus on achieving actually be evidence of growing conservatism in LGBT communities?
In a New Century provides a dynamic, thoughtful, and important resource for identifying changes that have occurred in the United States since 1960, taking stock of the work that still needs to be done, and issuing an urgent call to action for getting there.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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Introduction: Writing History, Making Change
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Fifteen years separate these two newspaper articles. Half a generation. The articles remind me of how much I have to be thankful for. The change that I have experienced in this short stretch of years staggers me. At the time I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1983, at age...
Part I: Strategizing Change
1. The State of Our Movements: Some Reflections
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I started in the grassroots wing of the movement; there was no other wing, really, in the early 1970s. I became an activist by meeting in a living room with other gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, deciding to take action, and giving ourselves a name. I remember when the National Gay Task Force...
2. Beyond Queer Nationalism: Changing Strategies for Changing Times
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I make my living studying and teaching history. I do it because I love history. I can’t stop myself from thinking like a historian. What I mean by this is that I find myself frequently drawing comparisons in my head between past and present, between then and now. I think about the passage...
3. The Gay Movement and the Left
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The Jesuits trained me well. My high school speech and debate coach taught me how to speak in complete paragraphs and to construct what he described as a “seamless” argument. Many years later, a close friend and fellow historian used the same word in reference to my historical writing...
4. Listening to Rustin: Lessons from an Agitator for Justice
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In so many ways, there could not be a more appropriate time to reflect on Bayard Rustin’s life than in this centennial year of his birth. In an era when terrorism is a national preoccupation and the United States has been at war for a decade, when the Occupy Movement has called our attention to...
Part II: Doing History
5. Why I Write
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One can never predict what a simple invitation to give a talk can provoke. Thinking about this panel and the theme of the conference has made me realize how lucky I am and how blessed I have been. I have had a solid quarter century of writing of things that I care about passionately and that...
6. Putting Sex into History and History into Sex
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Virtually all of my work has concerned either social movements or sexuality. Often it has been located at the place where those two topics intersect. I am interested in how the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the excluded, by acting together, make change and intentionally become a force in the world. I try to understand sexuality not as something private, not as something...
7. History,Social Movements, and Community Organizing
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This is a good time to be studying the history of social movements and community organizing. The 2008 election brought to the White House a man who proudly affirms his experience as a community organizer. Many of the faces at the inauguration of President Obama recalled the last great...
8. If I Knew Then: Doing Oral History
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Oral histories have played an important part in my work since I started doing history. Between 1976 and 1980, for what became Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, I interviewed about forty men and women who had been active in the pre- Stonewall homophile movement. Then, in the...
9. Finding History, Creating Community
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I taught my first college history course more than thirty years ago. Occasionally I have had a real lemon of a class where nothing seemed to go right and I would wake up in the morning with dread in my stomach. Occasionally I have thought, “If I ever have to give another lecture on the origins of the...
10. The Power of Community History
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The obituary of Allan Bérubé that appeared in the New York Times began with a reference to his MacArthur Fellowship and then moved on to Coming Out under Fire, his groundbreaking history of gay men and lesbians during World War II. Such obvious attention to these two markers as the signal...
Part III: Local Stories
11. Who Wears the Pants?
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Many of my students joke about the Gender Police. Of course, they’re not talking about an actual division of the Chicago Police Department or any other law enforcement agency. Instead, they’re referring to all those arbiters of behavior who force people into the straitjacket of appropriate male and...
12. The Lavender Scare in Chicago
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If you’ve ever taken a US history course, you’re bound to have spent some classes on the Cold War and McCarthyism. It was a paranoid time. Having just defeated fascist powers in Europe and Asia, US leaders grew fearful of an imagined Communist threat. The very phrase “Cold War” suggested...
13. Pulp Madness
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Of all the topics I cover in my gay studies classes, a candidate for favorite is the lesbian pulp novel. In the 1950s and 1960s, publishers released them by the hundreds. The name stems from the low- grade paper stock on which they were printed, but “pulp” came to symbolize something else as well...
14. Valerie Taylor: A Woman for All Generations
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It’s hard not to think generationally. Groups of people come of age at a particular historical moment, and it marks them forever, creating a bond. I grew up in an environment where everyone spoke of “the immigrant generation.” We all knew what it meant: the old folks were different from...
15. In the News
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These days, we take for granted the newsworthiness of LGBT topics. Gender identity gets left out of the latest draft of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and the ensuing battle for transgender inclusion becomes a mainstream news story. Same- sex marriage, don’t- ask-don’t-tell...
16. Gay Power!
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“Mattachine” is not exactly a household word. To the degree that the name has come down to us, it most often registers as “Oh, yeah, those are the people who tried to do something in the years before the Stonewall riots started the real gay liberation movement.” The name itself has the ring of...
17. Risky Business
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In 1963, as a high- school sophomore, I saw my first Broadway play. Afterward, strolling through Manhattan’s theater district with my friends, I also saw my first homosexuals: three young men, thin as toothpicks, with long, teased hair, their fingers fluttering, mascara, rouge, and powder on their...
18. Let’s Dance!
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“If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.” At some point in the 1970s, it seemed like every third person I knew had a poster emblazoned with these words. Attributed to the early twentieth- century anarchist, Emma Goldman, the sentiments captured the exuberance of some of that...
19. Writing for Freedom
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If I think back on the steps that brought me to embrace being gay, I see that they follow a path littered with books. First was Advise and Consent, a wildly popular novel from the late 1950s that I read before starting high school. The main character, a senator who had a gay affair while in the...
20. Dade County, USA
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It’s a winter evening in 1977, and I’m clad only in a towel. I’m prowling the corridors of the Everard Baths in New York. The Everard is not one of those new bathhouses in tune with the spirit of gay liberation. It has no amenities. There are no pleasant lounges for sitting around and socializing...
21. Every Kick Is a Boost
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As the campaign to repeal Dade County’s gay rights law headed into its final weeks, Chicago unexpectedly faced its own Save Our Children campaign. In mid- May, the Tribune began a four- part, front- page series on child pornography. The headlines seemed designed to agitate readers...
Part IV: History’s Lessons
22. Remembering Bayard Rustin
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In her 2004 presidential address to the Organization of American Historians, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall described history, the stories about the past that we remember, as “always a form of forgetting.” Scrutinizing what she called the “dominant narrative” of the civil rights movement— a triumphal...
23. The 1979 March on Washington: Its Place in History
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How we all seem to love anniversaries! Think about the masses of folks who show up each year for Pride Marches in June, for St. Patrick’s Day parades, for Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Anniversaries provide moments for civic reflection. In May 2004, newspapers were filled with stories...
24. Some Lessons from Lawrence
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Any right- thinking person ought to be thrilled by Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared unconstitutional state laws criminalizing sodomy. In June 2003 the highest court of a nation that claims to have been conceived in liberty and sees itself as the birthplace of...
25. Rethinking Queer History: Or, “Richard Nixon, Gay Liberationist”?
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On Friday night of the last weekend in June 1969, police from Manhattan’s Sixth Precinct set out to raid the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. There were issues with the Stonewall. It served liquor without an appropriate state license. It had ties to organized...
26. The Campaign for Marriage Equality: A Dissenting View
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May 1993. The Hawaii State Supreme Court instructed one of its trial judges to reconsider a case involving same- sex marriage. Calling marriage “a basic civil right,” the justices suggested that the prohibition against issuing licenses to same- sex couples violated state constitutional bans against...
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Although in one sense these essays grow out of decades of research, writing, teaching, and social justice activism, they are also very much rooted in the experience and relationships of the past decade, during which I have lived in Chicago and taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2014