By: Betsy Kuhn
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: January 2011
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: February 2012
It was a night for camaraderie and fun. The jukebox was wailing, "the dance floors were jumping, and the patrons jammed the booths." It mattered little that the place was a dive, the drinks were watered down, and the Mafia looked down on them. The Stonewall Inn was a place where people could gather together without judgment, without people breathing down their necks claiming they were perverts or worse.
Little did they know that something ominous was in the air that night. It was June 27, 1969 and Deputy Inspector Seymour Mine of Manhattan's First Division of Public Morals was finalizing his plan to shut down that gay dump forever. Little did he know that they would finally fight back. An inkling of what was to come began with Craig Rodwell's infuriated shout, "Gay Power!" The Stonewall riots began.
Stonewall, although riotous, was actually a leap forward for the GLTBQ population. Historically homosexuality had always been around, but had been deemed everything from a crime, to a sin, or later a mental illness. The term 'homosexual' was first coined by Austrian Karl Maria Kertbeny as he called "for repeal of Prussia's laws against homosexuality" after a friend committed suicide. Many individuals and writers spoke out against discrimination, but most felt it wise to "remain in the closet." In early American history the punishment for homosexual activity was "punishable by death."
This book swirls though the decades of American history looking at the evolution of the rights of gays and lesbians. In the twenties many flocked to New York City to socialize and revel in the culture of their own while battling the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. In the 1930s little had changed as discrimination remained, but "people had written a smattering of books and plays" and studies. In the 1940s a larger community, brought together by war, became known to one another even though they had to remain silent as "the military treated homosexual sex as a crime." This amazing book peers into the decades of oppression and progress from the start of our country up until the "modern LGBTQ movement."
Portraits of individuals who were instrumental in the movement were stunning and, at times, quite poignant. For example, when Kuhn wrote about the fear and anger the patrons of the Stonewall Inn felt when they were being raided it actually brought tears to my eyes. The book is generously illustrated with period photographs, a map of lower Manhattan, and an archival illustration of some Puritans. This is one title in the series, "Civil Rights Struggles around the World," for the young adult reader and a Junior Library Guild Selection. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a timeline (1641 to 2010), some brief biographical portraits, source notes, and additional recommended book, film, and website resources to explore.
Quill says: This powerful overview of the gay rights movement was extremely well-written and researched.