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People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History

Section V North America

Editor: Paul Halsall


Section V: North America

[Note: Although North America includes Mexico, Mexican LGBT history will be treated along with the other countries of Latin America]

Go to the following pages for other parts of People with a History

Chapter 17: Native American Societies

There are modern "Gay American Indians" whose self-definition seems pretty much the same as other gay and lesbian Americans. What is of interest in this section is the tradition in many different Native American societies of socially validated gender-divergent roles. Some groups essentially allowed children to choose their gender. A male child who chose female clothes, for instance, would be raised as a female, and would marry man. In some societies analogous roles were open to female children. The general term for these individuals is "berdache" - a colonialist French word, derived from Persian, - but which has retained its utility give the great variety of Native American terms for the practice.

Some writers have objected to what they see as the appropriation of the "berdache" by modern gay people, and by writers such as Will Roscoe (whose books are probably the most widely read on the subject). While this complaint has some justification, it could be made about any past group seen as relevant to the history of "homosexuality" but where the societal definition was in terms of gender-identity rather than sexual orientation.


  • Gary Bowen: Transgendered Native Americans [At Internet Archive, from Amboyz]
  • Wendy Susan Parker: The Berdache Spirit [at]
  • A Visit to We'wha's Grave [At Gallae Page At Aztriad]
  • Jody Greene: The Traffic In Men, review of Richard Trexler, Sex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the Conquest of the Americas [At The BOOKPRESS February, 1996]



Back to Contents

Chapter 18: The United States and Canada to c.1900

Discussions: Whole Period

Discussions: Colonial Era

  • John G. McClendon: Puritan Jurisprudence: Progress and Inconsistency [At]
    A paper examining Puritan legal innovation and use of the Bible. Briefly addresses sodomy.
  • Roger Schultz: A Celebration of Infidels: The American Enlightenment in the Revolutionary Era, Contra Mundum No. 1 Fall 1991 [PDF file]
    Contra Mundum is a conservative Calvinist magazine. This article points out the Christian framework of much of colonial society, including its sex laws.

Discussions: Ante-Bellum American [1776-1865]

Discussions: Late Nineteenth Century

Texts: Historical

  • Louis Dwight: Sodomy in Boston Prisons, 1824-1826
  • Joseph Smith: Comfort for a Gay Lover 1843
    The founder of Mormonism was not apparently anti-gay.
  • Joshua Speed: Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln:
    Speed was Lincoln's bed-mate for a number of years. Male intimacy was quite possible in the early 19th century without arising suspicions.

Texts: Literary

  • Herman Melville (1819-1891): Letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne [at]
    Melville's most important emotional relationship seems to have been with Hawthorne. In one letter he claims "your heart beat in my ribs and mine in yours, and both in God's" -an idea of friendship that goes back to Aristotle. The site has links to all Melville's works.
  • Walt Whitman (1819-1892): Leaves of Grass [At Bartleby]
    Singing of the "body electric".
  • Walt Whitman (1819-1892): Leaves of Grass [At Project Gutenberg]
  • Emily Dickinson (1830-1886): Lesbian Poems
  • Emily Dickinson: Poems, [At Bartleby]


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Chapter 19: Before Stonewall [US and Canada]

With the advent of the twentieth century the nature of LGBT history changes. As well as literature and court records, we now begin to have access to considerable oral history and recollection. Moreover the period since the late 19th century does indeed seem to have been marked by an increased interest in homosexuality by various elites - lawyers, doctors and a new arrival - "sexologists". The current job of North American LGBT history involves, for a great part, securing and writing down the oral histories before the bearers disappear.

Discussions: Entire Period

  • Pierre J. Tremblay: The Homosexuality Factor in the Youth Suicide Problem [At U. Calgary]. There is another Mirror Version at QRD [At QRD]
    An extended presentation at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Banff, Alberta, October 11-14, 1995, (c) Oct. It includes a historical overview of .gay suicide 1930-1995
  • James Sears: Stonewall South [At Sears' website]
    Brief history and timeline of Southern Lesbian and Gay history.

Discussions: Pre WW II

Discussions: Whole Post War Period

  • John D'Emilio: Dreams Deferred: The Early American Homophile Movement, The Body Politic 48, November 1978; 50 February 1979, [At Carleton]
  • David L. Kirp: Speak, Gay Memory, The Nation 7/15/96 [At The Nation]
    Reviews of Young Man From the Provinces: A Gay Life Before Stonewall By Alan Helmes, Midlife Queer: Autobiography of a Decade, 1971-1981 By Martin Duberman, Truth Serum. By Bernard Cooper.

Discussions: 1940s

  • Christopher Isherwood: Diaries: LA in the 1940s and 1950s
    "A decade after his death, the diaries of author Christopher Isherwood paint a lush-and louche-portrait of literary high life in L.A."
  • Christopher Isherwood: On His Queerness [poem] [At Rice]

Discussions: 1950s

  • William Dubay: Homosexuality: What Kinsey Really Said [At NCF]
    Alfred Kinsey's studies of human sexual behavior revolutionized educated opinion I the 1950s. This article - favorable to Kinsey - explains what he said.
  • History of the Kinsey Institute [At Indiana]
  • Controversy over Kinsey's Research [At Indiana]
    In Fall 1995 the right wing Family Research Council began a series of attacks on Kinsey's research and the Kinsey Institute - attacks which included making films/videos and attempts to defund the institute. This page gives the Institutes response.
  • Mark Y. Herring: Review Article: Phallacies and Other Lies: Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud's Theory on American Thought and Culture, By E. Fuller Torrey (New York, Ny: Harpercollins, 1992), Contra Mundum No. 9 Fall 1993 [At Internet Archive, from Contra Mundum]
    Contra Mundum is a conservative Calvinist magazine, but not "looney". This article presents the criticisms made by conservatives of Freud, as well as Kinsey and Margaret Mead.
  • The Moral Debate on Homosexuality [At Internet Archive, from]
    This is a link to an anti-gay page. The page is useful though: first, People With a Story takes a stand in favor of openness; second, the page points to various right wing articles criticizing the work and methodology of Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker; third, the page does not point to any of the Kinsey Institute's responses. This one-sidedness is typical of the Radical Religious Right "scholarship" on homosexuality. The article by on Evelyn Hooker by Thomas Landess, (cited as former Academic Dean at the University of Dallas) is an especially good example of weak analysis - it hilariously cites the discredited Paul Campbell as an "analyst" on Hooker's work!.
  • Harry Hay Profile [At Harry]
    Founder of the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries. Already a mythic figure even before his death in 2002.
  • Biography of Del Martin [At Internet Archive, from]
    A founder of the Daughters of Bilitis
  • James T. Sears: Growing up as a Jewish Lesbian in South Florida: Queer Teen Life in the Fifties, from Cultured Youth, ed. Joe Austin (New York: NYU Press, 1997)
    A complex account of the homophobia of the period.

Discussions: 1960s

  • James L. Bauman: Cold War Sources. Reviews in American History 23.4 (1995) 734-738 [At Johns Hopkins]
    Discusses inter alia the pro-Vietnam war columnist Joeseph Alsop, who was queer.


  • The Kinsey Scale [At Kinsey Institute]
    Dr. Alfred Kinsey created a scale, graduated between heterosexuality and homosexuality to rate individuals on actual experiences and psychological reactions. It had a major effect on thought about sexuality.
  • Homosexuals in Government, 1950. A brief, but very explicit, excerpt from the U.S. Congressional Record vol 96, part 4 [81st Congress 2nd Session March 29, 1949 - April 24, 1950] [At UPenn]
  • Harry Hay: Our Own Faerie Way Crossroads 42, June 1994 [At Nathan]
    Harry Hay's recollections of the founding of the Mattachine Society, and the importance of Radical Left politics in its creators' analysis of society.

Texts: Literary


Back to Contents

Chapter 20: Stonewall and All That




Back to Contents

Chapter 21: Stonewall to Today [US and Canada]

Discussions: Entire Post Stonewall Period

Discussions: 1970s

  • Biron: ADVOCATE: Capitalist Manifesto, GAY SUNSHINE (San Francisco, Spring.1976) [At]
    A gay liberationist critique of The Advocate, the biggest and longest lasting American gay publication.
  • Ann Ferguson: "Patriarchy, Sexual Identity, and the Sexual Revolution" in Signs. (1981) 7:1, 158-172. [At WISE]
  • Gregory Rosamita: Harvey Milk: The Forgotten Populist [At]
    An essay on the murdered San Francisco politician's Milk's politics.
  • Ron Williams: I Remember Harvey [At]

Discussions: 1980s

  • Rodney Jackson, THE 80'S IN REVIEW, from The Washington Blade 12/29/89 [AT GLINN]
  • Pat Califia: The Obscene, Disgusting, and Vile Meese Commission Report, 1986 [At eserver]
  • Michael Swift The Gay Revolutionary, from Gay Community News, Feb. 15-21, 1987
    This text, printed in the Congressional Record is cited, apparently verbatim, by the religious right as evidence of the "Gay Agenda". But when they cite it they always omit, as does the CR, the vital preface, which sets the context for the piece. In other words, every other version of this found on the net is part of the radical right's great lie about gay people. (see the "Modern Homophobia" Section below for more on this).

Discussions: 1990s

  • Mariana Romo-Carmona: Civic Duty in the Age of Space Probes Crossroads 42, June 1994 [At Nathan]
    Examines the complexities of the lesbian and gay population's desire for acceptance into the mainstream.
  • Elizabeth Stroud: Our Cultural Supernova Crossroads 42, June 1994 [At Nathan]
    The conflict between radicalizing and mainstreaming in LGBT organizing.
  • Marcy Rein: Bi-Bi Love, Bi-Bi Politics Crossroads 42, June 1994 [At Nathan]
    Thoughts on Stonewall 25
  • Howard Wallace: An Injury To One Crossroads 42, June 1994 [At Nathan]
    On the need for workers of all colors to move to the forefront of LGBT politics. See also the AFL-CIO on Stonewall in Crossroads 42, June 1994 [At Nathan] - passed unanimously October 6, 1993 at the 20th Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO
  • B.W. Cook: October Barry Goldwater [At Internet Archive, from]
    On Conservative icon Barry Goldwater's endorsement of gay rights in the 1990s.
  • Freya Johnson: Holy Homosexuality Batman!: Camp and Corporate Capitalism in Batman Forever [At eserver]
  • Steven Wishnia: Gay Rights & Weed, High Times, October 1996 [At High Times]

Regional/Local Development

Organizational Development

The development of a huge array of diverse LGBT organizations - student, religious, social, cultural, political - is of prime importance in understanding the creation and strengthening of the LGBT movement since 1969. This has hardly been touched on as an area of research. Often the groups are not long lived, or not spectacular, nor even very radical. But their continued proliferation and creation of social and communal threads is impressive. Many of them have taken to documenting their own history on the web - sometimes via time lines, other times via narratives.

Cultural Tropes

  • Handkerchief Code Page [At]
    A complete guide to the handkerchief codes used by a few gay men in the late seventies.
  • Bear History Project
    An archive that seeks to study and document the "bear" movement.
  • Patricia Leonardi: Review: Last Call at Maud's, Cineaste 20:1 (Wntr, 1993):46 [At UCB]
    On the closing of a famed San Francisco Lesbian Bar
  • Wigstock
  • Calvin Klein Ads Archive
    The use of the male body in public advertising became a major cultural trope in 1980s, with the Calvin Klein company in the lead. This site collects images of CK models, models who came to define a certain ideal of male beauty.


  • American Psychiatric Association: Policy Statements on Lesbian and Gay Issues [At APA]
    APA statements over the years on LGBT issues.
  • Legal Age of Consent Around the World [At]
  • Rocky O'Donovan: ECCE HOMO: Ruminations on a Theology of My Queer Body [At Internet Archive, from Geocities]
    How the Mormon church dealt with a gay boy in the late 1970s.
  • Stephen Donaldson: Testimony at Massachusetts Legislative Hearing of 5/23/94 [At].
    On the issue and history of prison rape.
  • Patrick J. Buchanan: Speech Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas, 1992 [At]
    Virulently homophobic [among other things] speech which helped Bill Clinton win in 1992.
  • Bowers v. Hardwick June 30, 1996 [At QRD]
    The US Supreme Court decision which upheld the legality of US states' sodomy laws.
  • Romer Vs. Evans May 20, 1996 [At UMKC]
    The extremely important US Supreme Court decision, by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which overturned the anti-gay Colorado 'Amendment 2'. This decision, which incidentally sees the formal use of "gay" and "lesbian" by the highest levels of the US government, finally established the legal foundation for prohibition of anti-gay bias. It specifically accepts that gays and lesbians are a social group worthy of protection.
  • QRD Legal Page
    For other legal decision texts, and commentary, see this regularly updated page at QRD.

Texts: Literary

With the rise of the modern LGBT movement literature by and about LGBT's has flourished as never before. Gay bookstores now carry thousands of titles. But at the same time literature has become less central to analyzing historical issues, since so much other data is available. The texts below are ones texts [and links to reviews] which have had an especially important effect on the development of LGB culture.

  • James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
    David Van Leer: " The Fire Last Time: Review Essay on James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming", The New Republic February 13, 1995
  • Rita May Brown: Rubyfruit Jungle
  • William Burroughs: Naked Lunch, Queer
  • Allen Ginsberg: The Poetry of Allen Ginsberg [At Poem Hunter]
    includes full texts of HOWL and other poems.
  • Andrew Hollaran: Dancer from the Dance
  • Larry Kramer: Faggots, The Normal Heart [play]
  • Tony Kushner: Angels in America
    Peter Dully: Counting The Bastards: The Problem of Origins in "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes", a paper to be presented at the (DIS)PLACING NATIONALISM CONFERENCE, UC Irvine, 18 May 1996 [At Internet Archive, from]
  • David Leavitt:
    Mun-Hou Lo: David Leavitt and the Etiological Maternal Body, Modern Fiction Studies 41:3-4 [At]
  • Armistead Maupin: Tales of the City series
  • John Rechy: City of the Night
  • a href="">Adrienne Rich Poems [At American Poems]
  • Martin Shaw: Bent [play]
  • Edmund White:
    • Edmund White: A Farewell Symphony, Chapter 1, [At New York Times Books Page--you will need to sign -or a free account to view the article]. See also Review by Christopher Benfey.
    • Edmund White: Collected Reviews of His Works [At New York Times Books Page]
    • Owen Keehnen: States of Desire: Living, Loving and Writing with Edmund White, Outlines Chicago January 1996 [At Outlines]


Back to Contents

Chapter 22: AIDS and History


  • Joshua Oppenheimer: " Movements, Markets, and the Mainstream: AIDS politics, queer politics, and the gay and lesbian commercial scenes", paper at Acting on Aids: Activism Conference, ICA London, March 1996 [At ICA]
  • Sarah Schulman Fiction and Action in the Age of Aids, Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review 4:2 (Spring 1997) [At Internet Archive, from Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review]
  • Thomas L. Long: AIDS and American Apocalypticism: Discourse, Performance, and the Cultural Production of Meaning in New York City, 1981-1996 [Dissertation] [At Long's Homepage]
  • The Armed Forces and AIDS [At]
  • Gabriel Rotello: Creating a New Gay Culture: Balancing Fidelity & Freedom, The Nation, 04/21/97 [At We are Family]
    Rotello opposes sexual liberation in favor of a better "ecology". Summarizes the political parts of his book Sexual Ecology.
  • Martin Duberman: Epidemic Arguments, The Nation 05/05/97 [At The Nation]
    Review of Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, By Gabriel Rotello.
    Duberman is respectful of Rotello, whose argument he summarizes, but he also points to Rotello's conflation of historical data.
  • Jeanne Bergman: Saving Sex, The Nation 06/24/96 [At The Nation] Review of Fatal Advice: How Safe-Sex Education Went Wrong. By Cindy Patton.
  • Gabriel Rotello: The Twilight of AIDS? The Nation 12/23/96 [At The Nation]
    "New AIDS drugs and approaches offer hope -- but only for some, and only in part." One get the impression that no news could be good for Rotello.


  • None as yet


Back to Contents

Chapter 23: ACT UP

ACT UP, which began in New York in Spring1987 is important as part of AIDS history, lesbian and gay history, and the history of medicine. For the first time the "victims: of a disease, met with condescension and disdain by governmental and medical establishment successfully organized a political and investigative revolution. In the process ACT UP spun off chapters of its original NY parent all around the globe, a whole series of radical practical help organizations, and revitalized the radicalism of lesbian and gay politics [even as, annoyingly, its largely lesbian and gay members complained each time the NY Times referred to ACT UP as a "gay organization"].

ACT UP achieved its goals [and it did achieve many of them] through spectacular street theater and much hard backroom work. It was quite common in the late eighties to see members slogging away at research in the New York Public Library on a whole array of subjects. It is not often realized that ACT UP's press releases contained as much work as its graphics. Sometimes its tactics shocked: but the shock of ACT UP gave it real power. It got a voice at the table; it reduced health insurance costs; it made needle exchange a viable policy; it transformed the way drugs were assessed. In then end, ACT UP did save lives, even as thousands, including hundreds of its own members, died

The history of ACT UP is only now being written: its archives are with the NY Public Library and will be open for research. There will be debates about who was important, and what, if anything, went wrong. But it will be a shame if the sheer courage and bravery of its members is ever overlooked. For all the toughness, for all the beatings its members received from the police, no ACT UP member resorted to violence. But more, in the 1980's, an age when college kids around the United States asserted that their highest goal was "to join a financial planning corporation", ACT UP members demonstrated again and again that there is meaning in human lives.




Back to Contents

Chapter 24: The Queer Moment



  • Queers Read This/I Hate Straights June 1990, [At QRD].
    Distributed by "Anonymous Queers" at the 1990 LG Pride March in New York. It was distributed from the ACT UP float, by ACT UP members acting without "floor" support, but soon came to be associated with "Queer" politics.
  • Queer Nation Seattle Disbands: February 1995, Press Release [At QRD]


Back to Contents

Chapter 25: North America: Current Politics and Strategies


  • Henry Louis Gates: Blacklash?, The New Yorker [Date?] [At CMU]
    Examines the interconnections and differences between Black and Lesbian/Gay/Bi movements.
  • Where The Military's Antipathy to Homosexuals Comes From, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 31, 1993 [At]
  • GAO Report on Homosexuals in the Military
  • American Civil Liberties Union Briefing Paper Number 18: LESBIAN AND GAY RIGHTS, [At Internet Archive, from]

Texts: LGB History

  • Archive of Current Press Reports on LGBT Issues [At Brent Payton's website]
    Archive of full-text press reports on current lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* issues: gays in the military; lesbian and gay marriage; legislation. Mostly US, but some international coverage.

Texts: Modern Homophobia

  • Pope John Paul II's war on gays and lesbians. [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
  • Jeff Vos: The Homosexual Threat, 1995 [Full text][At Internet Archive] Classic homophobic Mein Kampf (although this text is overtly anti-semitic, asserting that Jews are more neurotic than other groups, etc.).
  • William Donahue: Gays, Giuliani, and Catholics. [At Internet Archive, from Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook]
    article from CRISIS magazine in which the head of the Catholic League - he has an office next to Cardinal O'Connor - gives his bigoted opinions about the annual NYC Lesbian and Gay Rights March.
  • Pastor Peter Daniels: Death Penalty for Homosexuals [At Internet Archive, from Logoplex]
    A Christian pastor calls for homosexuals to be killed.


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Special Themes 4: Anti-Gay: Gay Criticism of Gay Culture

There has been a persistant willingness by gay writers to criticise aspects of gay culture, and of lesbian writers to criticise lesbian culture.

Some of the criticism is probably justified, but elements of sheer intellectual and class-based snobbery towards the lumpen-schwulen play an important part.

In general these writers live in comparatively safe urban gay environments (London, New York, San Francisco. West Hollywood), have come to terms with their homosexuality long ago, and feel free to offer critiques. Their targets usually (repeatedly in fact), include gay activists, gay commercial culture, gay entertainment, Pride events and so forth. Despite protestations to the contrary, they tend to obliterate the very real struggles still going on for most gays and lesbians (violence, discrimination, religious intolerance), and ignore the benefits of a commercial culture. Above all they create tendentious constructions of gay culture in order to attack.

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This page 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.. People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* History is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project.

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.

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]