Frank Kameny

In 1957—twelve years before the Stonewall Riots energized the LGBT community—Harvard-educated Frank Kameny was dismissed from his
position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army’s Army Map Service in Washington, D.C.  The reason? He was gay. That was all the reason the Army had or needed in 1957. Kameny, though, wasn’t the typical gay man of that age; instead of quietly shuffling off to some new career and a life deeper in the closet, Kameny undertook “a Herculean struggle with the American establishment” that would “spearhead a new period of militancy in the
gay rights movement of the early 1960s”. Kameny formally appealed his firing by the U.S. Civil Service
Commission and, although his appeal was unsuccessful, the proceeding was notable as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation pursued in a U.S. court. In the early 1960’s, Kameny organized public protests, founded what is regarded as one of America’s first gay rights organizations (The Mattachine Society-Washington) and sought an end to anti-LGBT laws as early as 1963. He is considered one of the most significant figures in American LGBT history. Fifty-two years after being unjustifiably fired, in 2009,  Kameny was at President Obama’s side when the executive order granting benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees was signed. That same year, Mr. Kameny received a formal apology from the U.S. government for his firing. In a full-circle twist, it was delivered by no less than John Berry, the openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management. Mr. Kameny lived to see the end of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. As a tribute to his tenacity and persistence and his undying demand for equality and dignity, Kameny is known as the Founding Father of the Pride Movement.

Pauline Phillips

Best known by her pen name, Abigail VanBuren–and even better by the advice column Abigail VanBuren wrote, “Dear Abby”–Phillips, as VanBuren, was one of the first national figures to openly and vocally support LGBT people. Answering readers’ letters about gay issues and identity with empathy and understanding, her belief that gay was good and that people needed to live and let live would result in thousands of letters threatening her or preaching anti-gay rhetoric. In many newspapers, the legendary, long-running “Dear Abby” advice column was the first place the word “homosexual” or “gay” appeared in their pages. Often threatened with her column’s cancellation over such subject matter, “Dear Abby”‘s popularity–to many, it was the must-read column–insulated VanBuren’s column from punishment for her continuing support. With her column growing to become the world’s most widely-syndicated column, VanBuren’s sensitive handling of regular requests for advice or insight from people asking how to handle being gay or showing acceptance for a gay relative or friend, set an positive tone in a turbulent time. Phillips wrote the “Dear Abby” column from 1956 until the early 2000’s. (Her daughter took over writing duties at that time.) Phillips passed away in 2013.

Recommended LGBT+ Books (Non-Fiction)

The Queen’s English: The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases, Chloe O. Davis (Clarkson/Potter Publishers, 2021)

Landmark reference guide to the LGBTQIA+ community’s contributions to the English language—an intersectional, inclusive, playfully illustrated glossary featuring more than 800 terms and fabulous phrases created by and for queer culture.

The LGBTQ+ History Book, Various Contributors (DK Big Ideas/Penguin Random House, 2023)

Exploring and explaining the most important ideas and events in LGBTQ+ history and culture, this book showcases the breadth of the LGBTQ+ experience. This diverse, global account explores the most important moments, movements, and phenomena, from the first known lesbian love poetry of Sappho to Kinsey’s modern sexuality studies, and features biographies of key figures from Anne Lister to Audre Lorde.

The LGBTQ+ History Book celebrates the victories and untold triumphs of LGBTQ+ people throughout history, such as the Stonewall Riots and first gender affirmation surgeries, as well as commemorating moments of tragedy and persecution, from the Renaissance Italian “Night Police” to the 20th century “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. The book also includes major cultural cornerstones – the secret language of polari, Black and Latine ballroom culture, and the many flags of the community – and the history of LGBTQ+ spaces, from 18th-century “molly houses” to modern “gaybourhoods”. 

Fabulosa!: The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language, Paul Baker (Reaktion Books, 2020)

Polari is a language that was used chiefly by gay men in the first half of the twentieth century. It offered its speakers a degree of public camouflage and a means of identification. Its colorful roots are varied—from Cant to Lingua Franca to dancers’ slang—and in the mid-1960s it was thrust into the limelight by the characters Julian and Sandy, voiced by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, on the BBC radio show Round the Horne (“Oh hello Mr Horne, how bona to vada your dolly old eek!”). Paul Baker recounts the story of Polari with skill, humor, and tenderness. He traces its historical origins and describes its linguistic nuts and bolts, explores the ways and the environments in which it was spoken, explains the reasons for its decline, and tells of its unlikely reemergence in the twenty-first century.  With a cast of drag queens and sailors, Dilly boys and macho clones, Fabulosa! is an essential document of recent history—a fascinating and fantastically readable account of this funny, filthy, and ingenious language.

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