People with a History/CLGH Book Review:
Charles R. Middleton:
Review of Healey and Mason, eds.. Stonewall 25: The Making of the Lesbian and Gay
Community in Britain
Charles R. Middleton, Bowling Green State University
Review of Emma Healey and Angela Mason (eds.). Stonewall 25: The Making of the
Lesbian and Gay Community in Britain. London: Virago Press, 1994.
In Anglo-American history it has long been a truism that there has been a
cross-fertilization of ideas, institutions, political and social ideals and problems, and
many other aspects of civilization which have sustained the development of both countries.
Why should homosexual rights and the lesbian/gay movement be exempt? Sometimes this
interdependency begins on the east side of the Atlantic and proceeds west; sometimes on
the west, proceeding east. Not infrequently it bounces back and forth, energizing each
participant group. Such is the case of the post-Stonewall experience for gay people on
both sides of the Atlantic.
This book seeks to provide an initial survey, told through first-hand accounts, of the
experiences of lesbian and gay male individuals and communities in Britain since that day
in 1969 on which the modem movement for equality for our rights is commonly deemed to have
begun. The contributors to this volume are people with experience on the front lines of
that struggle. They come from all walks of life and they are as diverse as the larger
community for which they speak. Some write more elegantly than others; some have a broader
perspective on events than those in which they personally participated. All bring
commitment and a sense of accomplishment to their story. All know that there is much more
to be done and that vigilance and perseverance are essential for enduring success.
There are three roughly equal sections to the collective tale presented here. The first
deals with the creation of a unity out of many individual experiences. These twelve
contributors, including Sir Ian McKellen and Chris Smith, M.P., remind us that even while
we are unique in so many ways, our experiences unite us. In many ways, however, the most
interesting accounts are those of people such as Deb Forster, a driving instructor, and
Ralph Wilde, a self-described "young activist", whose stories make the point of
this section that we are, indeed, everywhere.
The second part of the volume explores the development of an autonomous political
movement based upon this unity. What does it mean to be part of a community? And how does
that community develop and maintain its own identity while simultaneously seeking allies
in the broader struggle for equality The importance of pursuing both strategies was made
clear with the passage of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibited
local governments from taking actions which "promote homosexuality" or seemed to
endorse pretended family relationships." Sound familiar? The thoughtful
analysis by Michael Mason on this and related issues, along with other contributions to
this section, especially that by Emma Healey on "Getting Active: Lesbians Leave the
Well of Loneliness," have done much to advance our understanding of the events from a
broader perspective than the personal.
In the third and final part attention turns to cultural and lifestyle issues. In some
ways this is the most scholarly section. Individual pieces, on topics which include
literature, theater, publishing, history, and cinema, remind us that lesbian and gay
contributions to the culture of Britain in our times has been profound. It has also been
extensive. Andy Medhurst in "One Queen and his Screen: Lesbian and Gay
Television" is as funny a piece of writing as one will find anywhere. He is also
insightful and imaginative in his interpretation of the importance of the medium to
gay/lesbian visibility. Other contributors to this section have also produced essays which
will be very useful reading in undergraduate courses on contemporary Britain.
Of course, edited anthologies, even the best of them, are always of mixed quality. This
collection is no exception. On balance, however, readers will find this book, especially
if they know little to nothing of the British lesbian and gay experience over the past
quarter of a century, to be a worthwhile introduction to the lives and times of those who
© The Committee for Lesbian and Gay History [CLGH] is an affiliated organization of the American Historical Association devoted to
promoting the study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* history, and the interaction of
scholars working in the field.
Twice a year CLGH publishes a Newsletter which contains extensive reviews of recent books in LGBT studies. This document contains a
review from the CLGH Newsletter. Primary citations should be to
the Newsletter [and to this site if you wish].
This text is part of People
with a History. People with a History is a www site
presenting history relevant to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people, through
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© Paul Halsall, November 1998