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About IHSPIJSP Credits

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 lived it.


© 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 primary sources, secondary discussions, and images..

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, November 1998