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LGBTQ History Month: 17 must-read books about queer history

From “Real Queer America” to “Sister Outsider,” these bestsellers and iconic classics cover everything from equality and representation to homophobia.
"When We Rise: My Life in the Movement" by Cleve Jones; "The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America" by Eric Cervini; "How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS" by David France
"When We Rise: My Life in the Movement" by Cleve Jones; "The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America" by Eric Cervini; "How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS" by David FranceAmazon

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In honor of LGBTQ History Month, celebrated every October, here are books that aim to shed light on and clarify significant historical moments that informed and shaped the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights movement.

1. "The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle" by Lillian Faderman

A thorough introduction to the history of the gay and lesbian civil rights movements, this book chronicles the early struggles of LGBTQ individuals from the 1950s to present day using a compilation of enlightening interviews with politicians, military officials and members of the community.

2. "And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic" by Randy Shilts

A blend of investigative reporting and vivid storytelling, this account follows the rise of the AIDs epidemic using the narratives of doctors who were on the front lines of the outbreak, politicians and scientists who ignored it, and the real people who were affected by government's negligence.

3. "Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality" by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell

“Love Wins” details the the personal moments and conversations between the team of legal professionals, activists and individuals who successfully showed the world that everyone deserves the right to marry who they love while simultaneously honoring a dying man’s last wish.

4. "How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS" by David France

Inspired by the 2012 documentary by the same name, “How to Survive a Plague” recreates how a handful of shunned activists and AIDs-infected individuals researched AIDs and possible cures in a desperate attempt to save their own and their loved ones’ lives.

5. "When We Rise: My Life in the Movement" by Cleve Jones

This semi-autobiographical account follows Cleve Jones as he explores his identity as a gay man in the 1950s, discovers a community and a cause through his mentor, Harvey Milk, and copes with the ravaging effects of the AIDS epidemic.

6. "Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches" by Audre Lorde

A celebration of intersectionality, black lesbian poet and feminist Audre Lorde analyzes the presence of ageism, sexism, racism, classism and homophobia in her own life through a collection of lyrical essays and speeches.

7. "The Men with the Pink Triangle" by Heinz Heger (Used)

In lurid detail, Heinz Hager unfolds the true story of Josef Kohout — a man who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for being gay — and effectively reminds the world of the torture gay individuals suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

8. "The Lavender Scare" by David E. Johnson

With the help of declassified documents and interview with military officials, David Johnson argues that Senator Joseph McCarthy was just as guilty of promoting anti-Communism paranoia as he was inspiring policies that considered homosexuality a threat to national security.

9. "The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies" by Vito Russo

Published in 1987, Russo’s analysis of the portrayal of homosexuality in film has laid the foundation for the how we evaluate LGBTQ representation in film today and has supported the argument that representation matters.

10. "Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman" by Leslie Feinberg

In this account, Leslie Feinberg scours history to reveal possibly gender-nonconforming and transgender individuals that traditional historical accounts have often ignored or misrepresented.

11. "This Day in June" by Gayle E. Pitman and Kristyna Litten

Take your child on a whimsical adventure to a pride parade in this colorful children’s book, which also includes creative ways to introduce your child to LGBTQ history and other topics about gender and sexual orientation.

12. "Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution" by Susan Stryker

From the transsexual and transvestite communities during the post-World War II era to trans radicalism and social change in the '60s and '70s and the gender issues that took hold in the '90s and '00s, “Transgender History” details the most significant events, people and developments for trans communities in the U.S.

13. "Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity" by C. Riley Snorton

In “Black of Both Sides,” C. Riley Snorton details the intersection of black and trans identities from the mid-19th century to today, and in doing so, highlights the lives of integral black trans figures like Lucy Hicks Anderson and James McHarris, who have often been overlooked.

14. "Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability" by Robert McRuer

McRuer draws on queer and disability studies in “Crip Theory” to present a more nuanced view of LGBTQ people with disabilities and examine how certain bodies are deemed normal versus abject by society.

15. "Real Queer America: LGBT Stories From Red States" by Samantha Allen

In “Real Queer America,” Allen, a transgender reporter, looks at the unique challenges, triumphs and narratives of LGBTQ people living in the U.S.’s most conservative counties.

16. "The Stonewall Reader" by Edmund White (foreword) and The New York Public Library (edited)

This anthology — a collection of essays and articles from The New York Public Library’s archives — was released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and chronicles the fight that sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

17. "The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America" by Eric Cervini

While many believe the fight for LGBTQ rights began at New York City’s Stonewall Inn during the summer of 1969, it actually began with a grassroots “homophile” movement that has been largely overlooked. In “The Deviant’s War,” the firstLGBTQ+ history book to make the New York Times Best Sellers list in more than 25 years, historian Eric Cervini debunks that common misconception. Cervini documents the work of Frank Kameny and other gay activists during the late 1950s and ‘60s, illuminating their role in laying the groundwork that would lead to the Stonewall uprising.

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