The United States is in a period of great change and thoughtful reflection. With the rash of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered) teen suicides in the news and many policies calling into question the civil and human rights of LGBT people, it is important to understand how and why we have come to this point in American history. Maybe you want to learn about the history of civil rights in the United States? Perhaps you are trying to come to terms with your own sexual orientation or someone you know has recently come out to you. We have many books, magazines, and journals available in the library to assist you in your search.
Many people know of the tragic circumstances surrounding the life of Matthew Shepard who was brutally murdered because he was gay but if you don’t, check out “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, And a World Transformed.” This book was written by Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard, who spoke at Bryant University in the fall of 2009, and is a moving tribute to the memory of her son.
A wonderful chronicle of gay and lesbian men and women is a work entitled “Brave Journeys: Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage” by David Mixner and Dennis Bailey. This collection details these peoples’ journeys towards self acceptance and their battles against bigotry and discrimination.
The Gay Liberation Movement extends far beyond the fight for marriage rights and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The modern Gay Liberation Movement went full throttle after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 but gay men and women were fighting for equality in the United States as far back as the 1940’s. An early gay pioneer named Harry Hay founded an organization called the Mattachine Society and forever changed the lives of closeted LGBT people in the post-war era. If you are interested in the early struggles for civil rights of LGBT people in the United States then check out “Pre-gay LA: A Social History of the Movement for Gay Rights” by C. Todd West.
In addition to sociological and historical studies of the gay movement we also have literature and poetry chronicling the LGBT experience.
Walt Whitman who is considered one of the United States’ preeminent poets has become a champion for many LGBT voices. During his time many learned individuals sought him out because of the seemingly gay positive verse in his masterpiece “Leaves of Grass.” There have always been LGBT people throughout human history but at the time of Whitman the social and sexual identity we have come to know as gay did not exist as we know it today. Without an identity to claim as their own many gay and lesbian people conformed to the norms of society and lived closeted lives. Pioneers in the gay movement were moved by Whitman’s positive affirmations of sexual relationships both heterosexual and homosexual. If you want to read a wonderful book on Whitman and his followers then check out “Worshipping Walt: the Whitman Disciples.” If you want to read Walt Whitman’s dirge of universal peace and the culmination of transcendental thought then check out “Leaves of Grass.” The great gay beat poet Allen Ginsberg who himself was profoundly influenced by Whitman can also be found in our library. Check out his “Collected Poems.”
We also have a collection of lesbian focused literature. “Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein” is a wonderful collection compiling some of Stein’s most influential works. We also have a great collection entitled “The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall” edited by Terry Castle. This volume contains literature written by or about lesbians by such writers as Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, and Elizabeth Bishop. Virginia Woolf who was arguably one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century wrote of her independence as a woman in one of her masterpieces that gave voice to the early feminist and lesbian movements entitled “A Room of One’s Own.”
LGBT people have contributed much to society in the arts, culture, politics, and spirituality. As our culture evolves and becomes more acclimated to the idea of LGBT families and different ways of viewing sexuality and gender it will be important to approach these issues with an open mind and an open heart. Educating yourself and reading about great Americans who were Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered in our library can show you there have been many individuals in the history of the United States who were and are LGBT identified who have made this country a better place because of their unique experiences and ways of seeing the world.