Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gay America : Struggle for Equality


Gay America : Struggle for Equality, by Linas Alsenas, published in 2008 by Amulet Books, New York

What a great book! I have to thank Ginny and for putting it on THE MAZIARKA LIST, since I might never have known about it otherwise.

Written for high-school-aged teens, Gay America is a brief history of gay rights movements in the U.S. It touches lightly on the colonial period through the 19th century, then concentrates mostly on the 20th. Changes in public attitudes, scientific understanding, and politics are described, the Roaring Twenties, social changes wrought by WWII, the Cold War, the Stonewall Riots of 1969, civil rights movements of the 1970s, anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant, gays in the military, the AIDS crisis, the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, and much more. The final chapter covers the early 21st century, including the Supreme Court's reversal of sodomy laws, gay marriage and domestic partnership, gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, etc. It manages at least to mention, and point to other sources with more detail on, a number of important historical figures who have faded from public awareness, such as Emma Goldman, an anarchist, feminist, birth-control advocate, gay rights advocate (and straight herself), active in the early 1900s!

Heavily illustrated and with double-spaced text, the book is easy for young adults to read without seeming childish. The material is too dense for younger children to plough through, and presumes that the reader has an understanding of human sexuality. In general the book might be too technical for children younger than about 14. It is Frank and honest in its discussion of sexuality, but is not at all lurid.
Images of nudity or genitalia: none
Images of sexual activity: none
Descriptions of sexual acts: none
Strong language or "dirty" words: none
A relatively recent publication, few libraries have it yet. In my opinion, more should carry it. My online search shows it in at least 16 school and public libraries in Wisconsin, and hundreds across the US. The copy in my hand is an interlibrary lone from the Little Rock public library, and it has the YA/Young Adult sticker on its spine. Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble both give the reading level/age range as "Young Adult". A Kirkus review on Google Books includes the following statement:
What results is a well-written, topical and eye-catching work that simultaneously fulfills the need for assignments and literary nonfiction pleasure-reading forays. Middle- and high-school students should walk away feeling informed;
For an anti-gay crusader like Ginny Maziarka, Gay America is the kind of book that is the most frightening -- and therefore most objectionable -- of all. For one thing, it is not all obscene, so it cannot easily be suppressed. On top of that, it dares not merely to suggest, but actually to demonstrate, that gays and lesbians have a real history in these United States, have contributed to that history, and are human beings with full citizenship. It is not in the least bit kind to homophobes, and demonstrates how the sweep of 20th century changes in science and law have completely undermined archaic worldviews such as Ms. M's.

6 comments:

  1. I am developing quite a list of books to read from the "Maziarka files," and your column. I re-read "The Perks of being a Wallflower" after I heard about the objection, and liked it as much the second time as I did the first. I am now reading, "Hear Me Out" and will buy, "Gay America" for myself and my kids. Add these to the list of books my teenager has suggested and I won't be reading adult fiction for quite a while.

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  2. I've been tempted to read "Perks" also, just because it seems to have a special place in Ginny's book of wrath. I might read "Girl Goddess # 9" next, just because I found the author's writing so enjoyable in "Baby Be-Bop." If nothing else comes out of this dust-up, at least some fine books are getting attention.

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  3. This is DEFINITLY on my birthday list :)! Looks neat! Two of my favourite subjects merged together: History and gay rights.

    I read her list, the whole situation is sad but Boy Meets Boy? Really? It's completely G-rated. and it's a great story. I feel bad for kids who don't get to read it because of things like this.

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  4. Readers should also check out the works of Chris Crutcher. I don't think any of his titles were on the M hit list, but his works are amoung the most frequently challenged books of the last decade or so. His books are phenomenal...."Whale Talk" is among my favorites.

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