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9 Books to Read in Honor of LGBTQ+ History Month

High school teacher Rodney Wilson created LGBTQ+ History Month in 1994 because he believed teaching queer history deserved a month’s worth of recognition. The LGBTQ+ community wasn’t taught its history in school curriculums, and those stories also weren’t widely accessible at home or in the media. Fifteen years later, October is a celebration of LGBTQ+ visibility. The brave stories told during this month gave me the courage to come out three years ago. I haven’t stopped learning ever since. If you’d like to join in commemorating queer history, check out these nine books that capture the vibrancy and resiliency of the community.

1. ‘When Brooklyn Was Queer’ – Hugh Ryan

when brooklyn was queer

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When Brooklyn Was Queer tells an unparalleled history of Brooklyn’s LGBTQ+ identity. Often overshadowed by queer Manhattan neighborhoods, Ryan seeks to undo the erasure of Brooklyn’s queer past through sharing the stories of drag kings, beloved female “friendships,” and early LGBTQ+ advocates. Ryan explores the 1850s writings of beloved poet Walt Whitman, experiences of women who worked in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII, and how it all influenced early conceptions of sexuality. There’s no doubt that New York City is filled with queer history, but that history wouldn’t be complete without stories from Brooklyn.

2. ‘Sister Outsider’ – Audre Lorde

sister outsider

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Audre Lorde was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Sister Outsider is a collection of fifteen speeches and essays. Her prose takes on class, ageism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Lorde ultimately lauds social difference as the driving force behind inciting change. Though it’s been more than twenty years since these words were first published, Lorde’s intersectional ode still rings true today.

3. ‘Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States’ – Samantha Allen

real queer america

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Before Samantha Allen became a GLAAD Award-winning journalist and married her wife, she was a Mormon missionary who took on each day in a suit-and-tie. A great deal of her life has changed in the past ten years. Her love for Red State America, however, has not. Real Queer America chronicles Allen’s cross-country Southern road trip, spanning everywhere from Utah to the Deep South. She makes a few important stops along the way, such as drag shows and political rallies, and meets people tirelessly fighting for change. Allen’s journey reveals a network of extraordinary queer people across the heartlands and unexpected shifts in culture, all aiming to create a more accepting world.

4. ‘We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation’ – Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown

we are everywhere

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We Are Everywhere employs an extensively researched narrative and more than 300 photographs to introduce queer history long before the days of Stonewall—and in ways it’s never been seen before. The book begins with the roots of queer activism in Europe during the late-nineteenth century and follows the charge to those brave folks on the front lines today. It chronicles the marches, celebrations, protests, and Pride inherent to the LGBTQ+ experience. The images are contributed from twenty archives and more than seventy photographers, providing a holistic and intersectional representation of the queer community as we’ve come to know it.

5. ‘Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality’ – Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell

love wins

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On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. I’ll never forget the beautiful sense of hope that came with that day. Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality offers a poignant account of the love and lives that went into the groundbreaking Obergefell v. Hodges case. Jim Obergefell and John Arthur fell in love in Cincinnati, Ohio twenty years ago. It was a place where queer people continually lost their jobs and were harassed by the police. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the federal government had to provide married gay couples with all privileges afforded to straight couples. Jim and John flew to Maryland to get married, but their union wasn’t recognized back home in Ohio. John was dying from ALS, and the state refused to list Jim’s name on his death certificate. When they met attorney Al Gerhardstein, the courageous lawyer saw an opportunity to advance the cause for gay rights in a way that so few had attempted before. This emotionally gripping narrative tells a story of love, loss, and remembrance. It puts the meaning behind Pride.

6. ‘Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States’ – Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, Kay Whitlock

queer injustice

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Queer (In)Justice pulls on years of legal advocacy, research, and activism to explore the many ways that queer lives have been criminalized. The authors take on queer criminal archetypes like “deceptive gender benders” and “lethal lesbians” to demonstrate how queer expression has historically been punished. Whether or not a crime was actually committed was irrelevant. From the streets to behind prison bars, the stories captured in this book emphasize that racial and gender inequalities are both perpetuated and reinforced whenever sex and gender are subjected to policing. This queer insight to our legal system speaks to the LGBTQ+ community’s remarkable power in enduring under society’s weaponized law.

7. ‘Borderlands / La Frontera’ – Gloria Anzaldúa

borderlands

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The essays and poems in Borderlands / La Frontera are based in Anzaldúa’s lived experience as an activist, a Chicana, a lesbian, and a writer. These works make us question how we perceive frontiers through exploring the meaning of a “border.” Anzaldúa contends that a border isn’t a stagnant divide between us and them or here and there. Rather, she poses it as a cultural, social, and psychic terrain that we all navigate each day. In turn, it also navigates us.

8. ‘Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature’ – Qwo-Li Driskill

queer indigenous studies

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Queer Indigenous Studies engages with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and Two-Spirit (GLBTQ2) experiences in the Indigenous Americas and the Pacific. It can be thought of as a dialogue amongst scholars and activists seeking to illuminate the history of queer Indigenous folks and lay the groundwork for continuing those conversations in modern theory and research. Driskill works with a team of contributors to reflect on current Indigenous GLBTQ2 movements and how the queer Indigenous experience is characterized by multilayered oppression. As readers, we’re brought into the discussion through critiques of colonialism and heteropatriarchy and ultimately compelled to see the importance in acting as allies beyond the bounds of the queer Indigenous community.

9. ‘Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility’ – Edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, Johanna Burton

trap door

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The essays, conversations, and investigations collected within Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility all relate to a central paradox: the heightened violence against and suppression of trans people in a time of increasing trans visibility. We laud representation as a benchmark of social progress, yet the trans community has disproportionately suffered at these signs of supposed change. The contributed works are interconnected yet unique, touching on themes like activism, performativity, and police brutality. Together, they paint the visual of the doors to recognition offered to trans people turning out to be traps. They only open when trans communities cooperate with prevailing social norms. The trapdoor is a passageway to elsewhere, and it may be the best option for our current times.

Feature image via Get Literary