What To Read: “A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall"

“The Stonewall Riots,” edited by Marc Stein

Fifty years ago, it was a busy summer. Nationally, everyone was glued to their TVs to watch men walk on the moon. Woodstock called to every hippie here, there, and abroad. Charles Manson terrified Californians. And gay and lesbian folks watched closely as a little bar in Greenwich Village became a flash-point for rights. 

If you are over age 55, you might have memories of the Stonewall Riots; vivid ones that may’ve become gauzy; or sketchy ones, perhaps, from the viewpoint of a child. If you’re under age 55, the Stonewall Riots are undoubtedly just a story to you and there’s a lot for you to learn. To mark the anniversary of this event that altered so many lives, look for these new books…

Beginning in the years before the Stonewall Riots, “Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall” by James Polchintakes a look at the crimes committed against gay men, long before equality and rights were a notion, let alone even being on the table. 

Murder, of course, lines the pages of this book but you’ll also read stories of harassment, assault, and minor crimes that were embellished so that they could be charged as more serious. Polchin also looks at how criminal acts committed by and aimed at LGBT people came under controversy when attention was paid to one minority group’s safety, and not to that of another group. This, the embedded presence of many (in)famous criminals, and other stories lightly linked to Stonewall make it a unique and interesting book.

Because memories fade, opinions differ, and people die, “The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History,” edited by Marc Stein is a valuable resource to have. Here, Stein collected photographs, court transcripts, notes, newspaper excerpts, and transcripts of documents that prove an intimate timeline for the years 1965 through 1973. His focus was on four major cities but he also includes documents that originated elsewhere; works of fiction also show up in this book. While it’s primarily about gay men, lesbians and “transvestites” are inside its pages, as well.

Says Stein, “there is always more to the story…” and this books displays it.

And it’s normal to want to compare the way things were in 1969 to the way things are now. In “Out in Time,” Perry N. Halkitisdoes exactly that with three generations of gay men to show that, while there are differences in social attitudes, health, legalities, and politics, there are also striking similarities in challenges and in gains. Done with mini-interviews woven through narrative to hold together the words of everyday people, this is an easy book to step into, with short chapters and browse-able segments. 

Readers should note that these books are historically-based and may be on the scholarly side, eye-opening, and quite entertaining. If you have keen memories of the summer of ’69, what’s here may pull you back fifty years. If you’re too young to remember what happened then, these books on the Stonewall Riots will keep you busy all summer.

“Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall” by James Polchin

c.2019, Counterpoint Press                    $26.00 / $38.95 Canada                  256 pages

“The Stonewall Riots,” edited by Marc Stein

c.2019, New York University Press         $35.00 / higher in Canada              341 pages

“Out in Time” by Perry N. Halkitis

c.2019, Oxford University Press              $34.95 / $38.50 Canada                288 pages

 


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