Good writing. A gripping story filled with drama and suspense. Colorful characters who come alive on the page. All these elements, which we usually associate with novels, come together to make this history of the gay rights movement in America a fascinating, as well as enlightening, book.
During the 1950s and 1960s, gay rights activists such as Frank Kameny, Phyllis Lyon, and Del Martin established the fundamental principles of the movement that homosexuals were normal and had a right to express their love and enjoy civil liberties. Out for Good begins with the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City. It was after Stonewall, claim authors Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, that gay and lesbian activists adopted the more radical tactics that actually brought about significant change. The book ends in 1992, when presidential candidate Bill Clinton spoke out for gay and lesbian rights at a gay fund raiser.
Meticulous and exhaustive research is what transforms Out for Good from a historical account into a human narrative. In addition to pouring through archival and library collections, New York Times journalists Clendinen and Nagourney conducted almost 700 interviews with 330 people. As a result, they are able to present key characters such as Martha Shelley, one of the dominant personalities in the Gay Liberation Front; Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church; and Gay Activist Alliance member Ron Gold.
Clendenin and Nagourney admit up front that their history isn't comprehensive or encyclopedic. Rather, they claim, their almost 700-page book provides a definitive look at a unique civil rights movement, unique because it is shaped, as no other movement has been, by sex and the AIDS plague.
It's easy to take things for granted. A well-told history such as this one reminds us, whether we are young or old, heterosexual or homosexual, that whatever rights and acceptance gays and lesbians now enjoy were hard-won by courageous men and women who stood up for themselves and, in many cases, became heroes to their cause.
Connie Miller is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing.