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Queer Ideas and Queer Action: Pride on the Tide of Progress

By Michael Bronski

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As we move into LGBTQ Pride month we are being met with a deluge of public discussions, events, breaking news stories, and potentially groundbreaking legal decisions that impact not only the queer community but American social and political life. The Supreme Court is poised, by the end of the month, to make a major decision. Not on the fate, but the expansion of marriage equality. Caitlyn Jenner’s blossoming appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair moves the public discussion of transgender lives forward in major and surprising ways. The Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision set a new bench mark for legal definitions of “religious exemptions” and the constantly contested interplay between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom in America. 

A decade ago, executive editor at Beacon Press Gayatri Patnaik asked me to edit Queer Ideas and Queer Action, two new series for Beacon Press. We were acutely aware that while smart books on LGBTQ issues are always needed, the news cycle of these issues, not to mention the rapid advances that the movement has been making, could easily render today’s vital topics less important, or even passé and obsolete tomorrow. The challenge was to identify contemporary, critical social and political issues, and find people to write about them in ways that would transcend the political moment and shape and form the conversation for years to come. Looking back, I believe we have done that and more. 

The first and most recent volumes we published are Nancy D. Pollikof’s Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law and Martha M. Ertman’s Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families. Although very different in their approaches, and even in some of their primary assumptions, these two books broaden our basic questions and assumptions about not just same-sex marriage, but the institution itself. As SCOTUS is about to make a major decision on marriage equality, it is important to remember that marriage alone does not solve all problems. Pollikof argues that while (straight and gay) marriage performer very specific legal tasks, it actually has many legal limitations, as well as not being suited to all couples. We need to find and use a variety of means to give all families the legal protections they need. Ertman makes a strong case that while marriage does a lot, the intricacies of relationships require far more nuance, including informal deals and contacts, to really work.  

Carlos A. Ball’s From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits That Have Changed Our Nation takes a step back and reminds us that as important as winning legal rights in the courtroom is—he covers issues of marriage, sex, harassment, and discrimination—all of these cases emerged from the lives and needs of actual people. Like Pollikof and Ertman, Ball’s book insists that we place the needs and lives of real people at the center of politics. 

Sexuality and religion are at the heart of Jay Michaelson’s God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality. Michaelson contends that there is nothing in western religious traditions that prohibits homosexual desire or actions, and his arguments forcefully cast all of the “religious exemptions” laws that are now being enacted in a new light. Personal beliefs are, well, personal, but religious belief is always informed by tradition and interpretation. Michaelson’s persuasive arguments here really move discussions about religion forward, as well as its role in public life. 

Caitlyn Jenner is the trans-star of the moment, and generating enormous discussion (mostly about Caitlyn Jenner) and, in numerous ways, trans issues have come to the forefront of the LGBTQ movement and American life. All too often, discussions of these issues are narrow, often forced into this space by hurtful conservative rhetoric, but Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal by J. Jack Halberstam deftly unpacks cultural and political ideas about gender and sex in the light of contemporary (Gaga) feminism and all of the alternatives we are now currently creating and the many more that are possible. It would be interesting to know what Caitlyn Jenner, Republican and cover model, would think about this book. 

After a spring and summer of deep social unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore and many other places across the United States, questions of racial and gender injustice—and the brutal reality of policing and systemic economic injustice—are constantly in the news. Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, Kay Whitlock confronts head-on the systemic problems that are foundational to the oppression of LGBT people in America, but their analysis can easily be used more deeply and widely to look at the country’s criminal legal system. 

All of these issues, in various ways, are dealt with in the three titles in the Queer Action series: Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods by Michael Shelton; Out Law: What LGBT Youth Should Know about Their Legal Rights by Lisa Keen; Come Out and Win: Organizing Yourself, Your Community, and Your World by Sue Hyde. Ideas are great, and very much needed, but the world—and our lives—are changed by action. These three books are how-to guides for LGBT politics, and negotiating the world. 


About the Author

image from www.beacon.orgMichael Bronski has been involved in gay liberation as a political organizer, writer, and editor for more than four decades. The author of several award-winning books, including A Queer History of the United States, he most recently coauthored “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People. Bronski is Professor of the Practice in Activism and Media in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.