LGBT History (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered)


LGBT Studies is a very active publishing field, and not just in history.  My list reflects my own expertise and my academic focus:  U.S. only, and heavier on LGBT history as a whole and lesbian history specifically than on gay history. 

Some notes about terminology:  ”homosexual”” and “heterosexual” are not the preferred terms today, although they were in the earliest histories.  “Homosexual” was dropped as a result of the “instant cure” of gays and lesbians in the 1970s (when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official listing of mental illnesses), but you may need to try both sets of terms to conduct an effective search of the literature.   “Gay” is sometimes used inclusively, although for many LGBT feminists (both women and men). “Gay” is gender-specific (meaning men), not gender-neutral. 

Gender analysis is a crucial component of the history of lesbian and gay peoples’ lives, as indicated by the term “gender inversion” in the psychiatric stigmatization. In other words, acting effeminate was once the standard in psychiatry indicating the extent to which a boy or man was gay, and that idea remains part of the common stereotype.  Therefore, an author’s use of  “universal male” terms like “gay” or “homosexual” to mean both gays and lesbians can sometimes, but not always, indicate that the author has not considered the issues of gender – and this does happen despite how obvious an issue it is.  Many of today’s LGBT younger folk, including younger historians and a few older ones, have claimed “queer” as their inclusive term of choice, although perhaps most older LGBT folk, and some younger folk too, cringe at it.  I use it only with people that I know have so identified and who use the term to identify themselves;  I would not call anyone “queer” if I were straight. 





D'Emilio, John, Lost Prophet : The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin examines how gender, race, sexual orientation, religious perspective, and social class came together in the life of the most important and most forgotten organizer in the Civil Rights movement, the man who organized the event and the crowd that inspired King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  The March on Washington would not have happened without Bayard Rustin.


D'Emilio, John  and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America is a broad overview of sexuality itself, making the point that humans are remarkably creative.  It examines how cultural change in the U.S. has shaped our understanding of sexuality over time.


Faderman, Lillian.  Surpassing the Love of Men : Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present is the classic overview of lesbian history by one of the field’s eminent scholars.  You might also try Faderman’s own autobiography, Naked in the Promised Land: A Memoir Read the “more product details at" – it’s a stunning story.  Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America goes into greater depth in a narrower time period, and does more with issues of race and class than Surpassing did.


Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky  and Madeline D. Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community is the classic community study of working-class lesbians (in Buffalo, NY) that raised a number of issues for other scholars to explore. 


 Marcus, Eric.  Making Gay History:  The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights.  NY:  Perennial, 2002.




Out of the Past: 400 Years of of Lesbian and Gay History in America (Jeffrey Dupre, dir., Unapix, 1998). This documentary interweaves the story of a young woman in Utah who started a Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school (1996) (and found herself the target of a statewide anti-gay campaign) with stories of the struggles and organizing strategies of gay and lesbian people in the US (most notably the work of Barbara Giddings who led the campaign that resulted in the “instant cure” I mentioned above).  I use this in classes every semester.  Students can identify with the young woman at the center of the story who comes to see her own connection to a much larger past that she had not known existed before. Available from for $14.98 new.



Websites:  Includes several historical timelines that outline significant events in gay and lesbian history in the U.S. (click “Out of the Past”) and archived discussions about the content of the website (the forums are now closed, but the discussions still available – click on “In the Present).   Includes a section for students and a section for  educators (including an educators’ forum as well as a search facility for student organizations by state), as well as a “library.”  The website also includes the “2003 National School Climate Survey Sheds New Light on the Experiences of LGBT Students in America’s Schools” – look on the left side of the home page for the link.  This is a “hub” website (links to lots of other stuff) for higher education, and on much more than just LGBT issues.  K-12 educators will find plenty here that’s of use to you too.  Another local resource, especially to Pride events in LAX.  Website includes additional links.  And, of course, my department’s website, with a quick link to my email address.



Revised 08/25/2008  


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