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Posts Tagged ‘Gay Literature’

I turned on the television news at exactly the wrong moment and saw Kim Davis standing on stage between (Republican presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee and her lawyer. Kim, the homophobic clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defying the supreme court and using her alleged religious beliefs as an excuse. When I saw her on television, she had just been released from jail and was basking in the moment.

In full disclosure, the sight of her almost made steam come out of my ears. I asked myself why I was so furious. I am a lesbian in my mid-fifties. I’ve been out since my early twenties. I’m no stranger to bigotry. The fact that the LGBT community incited someone like Davis to break the law and go to jail is progress. After all, she was protesting our Supreme Court victory.

I decided that I was furious because I grew up in “Pennsyltucky.” In fact, I still live in the state of Pennsylvania, though in my early twenties I “escaped” from a working class suburban neighborhood to a part of Philadelphia that is known to be LGBT friendly (but is not always).

I belong to a Unitarian Universalist Church (joining a church was a surprise even to me). My secular background is something that I wrote about in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters

This morning in church, a fifty or sixty something African American man stood up and told us that he had an argument with someone about Kim Davis: “To me, the business in Kentucky reminded me of Civil Rights.”

Now, I’ve long recognized that being white and LGBT is vastly different from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. For one thing, a white LGBT person can choose not to be out (even if that choice is often unhealthy). But the gentleman in my church had a point. And If it’s not the same thing as historic bigotry against African Americans, there are some pretty strong parallels. By the time I came home from church, I realized that some positive things actually came out of the Kim Davis debacle.

For one thing, I experienced seeing someone who may be changing his mind about LGBT rights. That is why I’m part of a diverse faith community (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Unitarian’s call it a “Beloved Community“). I get to witness people’s shifting viewpoints and, in turn, am influenced by others. Then I went online and did a quick search on Kim Davis. I found a postcard of Lea DeLaria on The Huffington Post United Kingdom.

The postcard shows Lea DeLaria (the real life lesbian actress from the prison themed Netflix series Orange Is The New Black) with text superimposed that reads: “Welcome to jail, Kim Davis. I get to be your fifth husband.”

That postcard (and the others on the same page) is definitely a positive thing that came out of the situation — positively hilarious.

The “business in Kentucky” definitely underscored the importance of the book I just read, Crooked Letter i: Coming Out In the South. The book is a collection of essays, with a Foreword by Dorothy Allison, edited by Connie Griffin.

Dorothy Allison (the Southern born lesbian feminist author of the novel, Bastard Out of Carolina) writes:

“…My mother’s hopes and dreams for me were as heavy as my stepfather’s contempt and lust. I was the one who escaped but who really escapes? …. In this new wondrous age with Supreme Court decisions affirming gay and lesbian marriages, and gender being redefined as nowhere near as rigid as it has previously been defined, I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what our lives were like at the time when I was a young woman, trying to figure out how to live my life honestly in the face of so much hatred and danger. Who are we if we cannot speak truthfully about our lives?”

The stories are filled with religion — Southern Baptist, Fundamentalist Christian, you name it. It’s not surprising or shouldn’t be — but it is. At first I was appalled at the damage done to people in the name of religion.

Logan Knight, who transitioned from female to male, writes as he returns to his home town years after he left:

“This is what I know, only because I have seen it before. There will be no yelling, no crying; no sermons. If my grandmother cannot reconcile who I am against her religion, if the musculature of my shoulders is an affront to her beliefs, she will simply forget me. She will not speak to me; she will not acknowledge my presence in her house ever again. The sun burns into my arms, and I tense with nervousness.”

While the stories by LGBT people who had to break ties with their families are poignant and heartbreaking. In the ending of Knight’s essay and in the content of other essays in this collection, I began to see another narrative. There is not only acceptance of family and friends but warmth and real love.

People — including Southerners and religious people — are a collection in individuals. They have their own beliefs.

Previously in The Huffington Post and OpEdNews.com

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Note:  This review ran this week on the international LGBT radio syndicate This Way Out. Originally, it was published on The Huffington Post.

In reading two memoirs by members of the LGBT community, I was reminded of our similarities and differences. In full disclosure, I have to admit being a fan of the show “Orange is The New Black” — the popular Netflix series. I was delighted when I found out about the memoir Out of Orange by Cleary Wolters (2015; HarperOne). Cleary is the real life lesbian counterpart to the character Alex Vause on the series. Finally, I thought. The book details Cleary’s involvement in the high stakes world of international drug smuggling (very unusual for a lesbian) and her unfolding romance with Piper Kerman (whose experience the Netflix series is based on).

In prose that is brilliant (at times breathtaking), Cleary also offers us a story of regret and redemption. At one point when in jail and thinking about her future, Cleary reflects:

“I could see myself coming back, getting back to work in software. I might be close to forty-seven by then, but I would still have some good years left in me. My whole life wasn’t wasted. Maybe I could even write a book about the whole ordeal and save someone foolish from making my mistakes.”

Wolters father, who she was close to, died while she was in prison. She writes unflinchingly about her ordeals in the violent and overcrowded prison system. But ultimately she takes responsibility for her own mistakes and in the Epilogue apologizes to “generations of nameless families troubled by addiction.” Drug trafficking is not a victimless crime.

I was drawn to Bettyville (2015; Viking), a memoir by George Hodgman because it is a story of a gay man who returns to his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for his mother when she is in her nineties. The writing is witticism taken to new heights. It’s not hard to see where Hodgman gets his own quirky sense of humor:

“I hear Betty’s voice from the hall: ‘Who turned up the air-conditioning so high? He’s trying to freeze me out.’

And here she is, all ninety years of her, curlers in disarray, chuckling a bit to herself for no reason, peeking into our guest room where I have been mostly not sleeping. It is the last place in America with shag carpet. In it, I have discovered what I believe to be a toenail from high school.”

Hodgman puts his life on hold when he finds his mother doing things like trying to put her sock on over her shoe:

“I am doing my best here. I will make it back to New York, but frankly, to spend some time in Paris, Missouri, is to come to question the city, where it is normal to work 24/7, tapping away on your BlackBerry for someone who will fire you in an instant, but crazy to pause to help some you love when they are falling.”

In the process of caring for his mother, this middle aged man, who is an only child, re-examines his childhood and adolescence filled with secrets and self hate as he came of age in small town America with zero role models for being gay. He examines his own young adulthood, including his relationship with his father. He also reflects on surviving the AIDS epidemic in the years when it swept through the gay community.

When I finished these two very different memoirs, I found it interesting that they both ended up in the same place with adult children taking care of elderly parents. As members of the LGBT community, we are different and but we are also are the same as anyone else. We often have elderly parents and we often take care of them. I chronicled my own journey in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012). We often have pets and they often are important topics in our writings and conversations. We don’t fight for “special rights” but demand human rights.

To hear this review on This Way Out, click here.

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June is LGBT Pride Month. President Obama sanctioned it in 2011 — “I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.” Before that, President Bill Clinton declared June as Pride Month in the year 2000. Between those years, of course, there was silence from the U.S. president (George Bush) who opposed gay rights.

Pride Month originally came from the anniversary of The Stonewall rebellion. The Stonewall Inn is a bar in the village in NY (that the Pride march goes by) that was routinely raided by police. In 1969, the bar was routinely raided (in those days patrons of gay bars were routinely rounded up and put in paddy wagons), and this time the members of the gay community (including butch lesbians and drag queens) fought back. The LGBT movement began. In 1952 until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. Two of the symbols of Pride — the pink triangle (for gay men) and the black triangle (for lesbians) — were reclaimed from the camps of Nazi Germany where homosexuals, along with gypsies, mentally and physically disabled persons and, of course, Jews were persecuted.

To say that Gay Pride came out of a repressive era is an understatement. There are, sadly, those who think that there is no need for Pride — that it is a celebration of flamboyance and difference. Exactly. That’s what I love about Pride. It celebrates who we are. As someone who has always been secure in myself and welcoming of difference — I’d like to think that I would be supportive of Gay Pride even if I wasn’t part of the party.

In reading two memoirs by members of the LGBT community, I was reminded of our similarities and differences. In full disclosure, I have to admit being a fan of the show “Orange is The New Black” — the popular Netflix series. I was delighted when I found out about the memoir Out of Orange by Cleary Wolters (2015; HarperOne). Cleary is the real life lesbian counterpart to the character Alex Vause on the series. Finally, I thought. The book details Cleary’s involvement in the high stakes world of international drug smuggling (very unusual for a lesbian) and her unfolding romance with Piper Kerman (whose experience the Netflix series is based on).

In prose that is brilliant (at times breathtaking), Cleary also offers us a story of regret and redemption. At one point when in jail and thinking about her future, Cleary reflects:

“I could see myself coming back, getting back to work in software. I might be close to forty-seven by then, but I would still have some good years left in me. My whole life wasn’t wasted. Maybe I could even write a book about the whole ordeal and save someone foolish from making my mistakes.”

Wolters father, who she was close to, died while she was in prison. She writes unflinchingly about her ordeals in the violent and overcrowded prison system. But ultimately she takes responsibility for her own mistakes and in the Epilogue apologizes to “generations of nameless families troubled by addiction.” Drug trafficking is not a victimless crime.

I was drawn to Bettyville (2015; Viking), a memoir by George Hodgman because it is a story of a gay man who returns to his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for his mother when she is in her nineties. The writing is witticism taken to new heights. It’s not hard to see where Hodgman gets his own quirky sense of humor:

“I hear Betty’s voice from the hall: ‘Who turned up the air-conditioning so high? He’s trying to freeze me out.’

And here she is, all ninety years of her, curlers in disarray, chuckling a bit to herself for no reason, peeking into our guest room where I have been mostly not sleeping. It is the last place in America with shag carpet. In it, I have discovered what I believe to be a toenail from high school.”

Hodgman puts his life on hold when he finds his mother doing things like trying to put her sock on over her shoe:

“I am doing my best here. I will make it back to New York, but frankly, to spend some time in Paris, Missouri, is to come to question the city, where it is normal to work 24/7, tapping away on your BlackBerry for someone who will fire you in an instant, but crazy to pause to help some you love when they are falling.”

In the process of caring for his mother, this middle aged man, who is an only child, re-examines his childhood and adolescence filled with secrets and self hate as he came of age in small town America with zero role models for being gay. He examines his own young adulthood, including his relationship with his father. He also reflects on surviving the AIDS epidemic in the years when it swept through the gay community.

When I finished these two very different memoirs, I found it interesting that they both ended up in the same place with adult children taking care of elderly parents. As members of the LGBT community, we are different and but we are also are the same as anyone else. We often have elderly parents and we often take care of them. I chronicled my own journey in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012). We often have pets and they often are important topics in our writings and conversations. We don’t fight for “special rights” but demand human rights.

Happy Pride!

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Lately, I’ve been warming up to religion. Like many in the LGBT community, I had managed to avoid the whole thing. I haven’t so much run from it. Thank God, I was raised by a Bible-burning, atheist mother — something that I wrote about in my book Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters.

But I kept religion at a distance. Then I started going to a nearby Unitarian Universalist church. It started with a crisis, of course, like many religious conversions. I was laid off from a high-stress job. But it was more than that. I was a mess — physically and spiritually. I felt like I looked: fried. An old friend who was a yoga instructor suggested that my partner and I take her yoga class at the UU church where she is the music director. When my partner began drumming there some Sundays, I went with her. I liked it so much that I became a member and then joined the lay ministers.

To me joining a church was a major leap of faith. I was concerned how many I have known over the years, would take the news. Some were surprised. I overheard someone who we had known for many years saying, “Janet joined a church?” A close friend asked abruptly, “What gives, Janet? A church?” I told her that it was about community, and she could understand that. It’s also about diversity — including sexual orientation, age, gender and race as well as religious, or lack of, background. Fortunately, many of my friends calmed down when they heard it was a UU church the place where people sing Holly Near songs and Sweet Honey in the Rock on Sunday mornings. Becoming a UU has broadened my horizons. For one thing, I found out that many have been damaged by early religious experiences — even many who were not LGBT. This gave me pause.

I understood intellectually, of course, but it took me a while to really “get” that LGBTQ teens were killing themselves because they thought that they were going to hell. My secular intellectual background translated hell into mythology (starting with Greek mythological creation stories ) and literature (I’ve always loved the Divine Comedy). These teens, however, were told they were going to hell by their communities. And hell was real to them. They were told that their lives with not worth living.

Traditional Christianity is not my path. But there is hope. Rev. Al Sharpton writing on The Huffington Post addressed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was signed by Governor Mike Pence last week, by stating that “My religious conviction compels me to fight for civil rights and social justice; I don’t divide the two. Each and every one of us must speak out against this egregious Indiana law.”

When I read Gay Conversations With God: Straight Talk On Fanatics, Fags and the God Who Loves Us All by James Alexander Langteaux from Findhorn Press, I had a little snicker. The author was a senior producer and host of the Christian 700 club. He writes that invariably after an “ex-gay” show (where men who had been through so-called reparative, conversion and ex-gay therapy all of which is condemned by the American Psychiatric Association), the “cured” men would hit on him. His response was that it sounded fun, but what would their lesbian wives and their 17 children think. My snicker at this hypocrisy stayed with me as a kind of joy that arose every time I heard anything about the 700 club. I came to think that maybe God (feel free to substitute any other word that works for you, Divine, Great Spirit and definitely She as well as He) wants me to feel that joy. The sad part of the author’s experience is that he was struggling with his own sexuality at the time and the ex-gay overtures only made him depressed. But he also talks about his faith in terms of “pure love:”

“Perfect love casts out all fear. And on that final day as you stand in the presence of that perfect love, the last thing you will feel… is queer.”

The book is written glibly but leaves no doubt that the author has been through it — as a result of being gay and Christian.

In The Peace Seeker (Peace Seeker Press) author Susan E. Gilmore goes deeper in relating her struggles between her sexuality and her strong faith in the Baptist religion in which she was raised which instilled her with “an unwavering confidence that the Bible was the infallible word of God and that every word was correct and could be relied on for spiritual truth and everyday wisdom.” The Peace Keeper talks about her observation from a young age of the church’s position that the role of women “was to be submissive to men.” The author is bright, intelligent and driven — qualities that any organization (including her church) should develop and put to use. Instead, she was thrown out of Bible college for having an “inappropriate” sexual and romantic relationship with another female student. Ultimately, she is accepted by another Bible college and goes abroad to do missionary work.

Since her entire life is based in her religion, the author partners with other Christian women. This is during the late ’70s and early ’80s and there was a lesbian community in existence. At one point when she comes home and becomes involved with another partner, the two of them attend a church together, but stay in the closet. What follows is a harrowing tale of the couple being broken up by the church members and elders. Susan left that church, but at no point does she consider changing her religion or leaving it entirely. Her faith was that strong.

Susan finds love again with another Christian woman, and together they find a church that embraces them because one of the pastors’ mind and heart had been opened because he had a gay brother who had been treated badly by the church. This man checked in with the two women, encouraged them to come out, and accepted them as a couple. It would be nice if this part of the story ended there. However, this pastor’s acceptance created considerable division among the congregation. The church leadership, however, encouraged them to stay. Susan generously describes the situation: “Some church members fully accept us; others remain on the path to understanding.”

Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists edited by Susan A. Gore and Keith Kron was, as I anticipated, a breath of fresh air. The writers in this collection share their experiences of being amazed at being around straight allies who are genuinely not homophobic. Social justice is a strong component of Unitarian Universalism and LGBT rights are important among them.

One of the writers is Drew Johnston who identifies as “a queer bi/trans Unitarian Universalist.” Drew relates the experience of transitioning while being a UU minister. Drew attended a potluck dinner and took questions from the congregation. One person asked about gendered pronouns. “Did I prefer male or female …. Then I heard myself finally answer the question. I said I like it when people at least alternate. I said, ‘Then I feel seen.'”

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It’s been a cold winter. Very cold. One of the things that I’m doing to keep warm is to take an imaginary LGBT cruise in my head — through books — to exotic lands.

The first stop was the land of queer history, which I entered by reading Katie Gilmartin’s mystery Blackmail my Love from Cleis Press. This who-dunnit traces a lesbian narrator, Josie, tracking down her gay brother’s disappearance in 1951 in San Francisco. The book begins with Josie donning her brother’s clothes, exploring gender as she interviews people who knew her brother. One person she talks to is a deeply closeted, gay, school teacher. At that time, gay school teachers had to keep their sexuality under wraps at all costs or lose their jobs. One of the chief misconceptions was that “homosexual” was synonymous with being a child molester. The thought of being thusly accused is at the heart of this gay teacher’s internalized homophobia. He watches himself scrupulously — his every movement. The story of intrigue also leads us through the underworld of gay bars. This page-turner of a mystery is rooted in historic fact and is a reminder of how LGBT people survived before gay liberation.

My next stop was sunny Thailand in Ladyboy and the Volunteer by Susanne Aspley (Peace Core Writers). I learned a little bit about the Peace Corps but far more about the culture of Thailand where sixty percent of foreign men entering the country participate in the sex industry. I also learned about “ladyboys”, who are male to female transgendered women, who in many ways are accepted in their culture. Many of the ladyboys participate in the sex industry to send money home to their families. In my favorite passage in the book, the straight but not narrow female narrator asks her ladyboy friends what their clients do when they find out. One replies:

When I do tell them, they get more excited, because they have never been with a ladyboy. Susan, all men are a little gay. Homo in some way. They just don’t admit it. When they travel to Thailand, no one knows them here, so they do things they would not do back home. Experiment.

When I picked up Love Together, Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen, I thought I would be reading about an experience vastly different than mine. But what I found was that as a lesbian in a long-term relationship (thirty years now and counting), I have a lot in common with these guys. The author interviews many couples by the length of time they have been together, starting with ten to twenty years and ending (in Section Six) with couples together sixty to seventy years. Overall, I enjoyed reading the commonalities between all the couples. Many talked about making each other laugh and gave commonsense advice such as being kind to your lover.

I loved reading the words of the men who had been together many decades — maybe because they had much wisdom to offer or because they made me feel young again (possibly both). In particular, I enjoyed reading the words of John McNeill described as “one of the true giants of the gay and lesbian community.” McNeill is a former priest and in 1976, penned the groundbreaking book The Church and the Homosexual. He’s been with his partner Charlie for almost fifty years. In the interview, he says:

Spiritually, I take very seriously that statement in the scripture that God is love. Any if anyone loves, they know God. I have always believed that this includes a gay love relationship, which is a genuine human love and therefore contains the Divine. It’s another way of knowing God. That certainly has been the fundamental belief system for me in my relationship with Charlie for the last forty-seven years.

The temperatures were dropping, but I was a little warmer when I came back from my cruise.

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I was elated with the recent victory for same-sex marriage. The dominoes are falling — even if we still have a fight ahead of us. I was delighted to read, in Michelangelo Signorile’s post on the right’s new strategy, that one of the crusaders against gay marriage is “furious and stunned.” It is a complex issue — states rights vs. federal law and Signorile’s warning that “we had better pay attention” is an apt one.

I am a new convert to the cause of same-sex marriage. I have been a lesbian for most of my life and a second generation feminist. When I was young, I never dreamed of being married. When I came out (in the early 1980s), I was hugely relieved that I had dodged the matrimonial bullet.

It was only after turning 50, that I began to see the light. I was so hugely relieved — yes, relieved — when marriage became legal in the state in which I live, that I stopped to think about the fact of having lived under layers of oppression my entire life.

Recently, I read two books — Redeeming The Dream by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson and All I love and Know, a novel by Judith Frank — that put this into perspective.

Redeeming the Dream, The Case for Marriage Equality (Viking, 2014) tells the reader how two establishment lawyers, one liberal, one conservative, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson decided to work together to defeat Proposition Eight, a history making case that ended up at the Supreme Court of the United States along with Edith Windsor’s landmark case against DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act).

The book (complete with photographs) is a good primer on the history of LGBT rights as well as a compelling read about the behind the scenes context of this historic legal battle.

A central argument to the belief systems of the authors and the case was that the illegality of same sex marriage is related to bullying, hate crimes, and all other forms of discrimination that LGBT people face.

Another central argument is that everyone has a right to marry. The authors cite Loving vs. Virginia (the landmark case decided by the Supreme Court in 1967 which struck down laws against interracial marriage) as a legal precedent:

Loving had confirmed that marriage was a fundamental right, and that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from infringing on an individual’s right to marry without a sound basis.

 The central argument from the opposition was that marriage is for the purpose of procreation. After winning the case against Proposition Eight at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the proponents of Proposition Eight appealed and the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

When faced with the refutation of the procreation rationale, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan asked about the constitutionality of denying the right to marry to heterosexuals over the age of fifty five.

Justice Kagan interrupted to say, “No, really, because if the couple — I can assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of fifty-five, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

All I Love And Know, a novel by Judith Frank (HarperCollins, 2014) explores the lives of a gay male couple who unexpectedly become parents when one of character’s brother, who lived in Israel with his wife, was killed along with his wife by a suicide bomber. The brother and his wife had previously made arrangements for the gay brother and his partner to become the guardians of their two children, an infant boy, and a little girl with a developing and edgy personality.

In addition to dealing with their own tragic loss, the two men are suddenly faced with the reality of becoming parents. The novel is multi-layered, the writing is illuminating and compelling (and takes up the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the issue of gay marriage doesn’t come up until late in the story. However, the two gay men continually face the issue of homophobia. The (non-Jewish) partner of the man whose brother was killed does his best to become a good parent (and is, in fact, a natural) — but a rift develops between them based, in part, on the discounting of their relationship.

It is a novel about many things but mostly it is about family — including the legal ties that bind a family.

The novel is set in Israel and Northampton, Massachusetts, at the same time that Massachusetts is the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

At the risk of revealing too much I will say that the little girl with the very big personality is thrilled that these two men can get married.

And that is what it is all about.

 

first published in The Huffington Post

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As a white lesbian, I am equally dismayed about the not guilty verdict rendered in the case of Trayvon Martin and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act as I am elated about the recent Supreme Court ruling repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and striking down Proposition Eight.

These issues are by no means black and white. The LGBT movement cuts across every race, ethnicity, nationality and class division. That is what the rainbow flag represents. It is a reminder that we are all connected. In the recent Supreme Court rulings alone, this country has taken a huge step forward and a huge step back.

I am happy for my friends who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal that they can receive full federal benefits, am hopeful for myself and my partner that we can be part of the change and that it happens in our lifetimes. In thinking about the legalization of gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act and the not guilty verdict rendered in the murder case of Trayvon Martin in the state of Florida, I cannot help but agree with my retired postal worker partner that states rights is contradictory. “We’re not the divided states of America,” she pointed. “We’re supposed to be United.”

Look at the interracial marriage which was still illegal in sixteen states when the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virgina — ruled in favor of Loving, overriding the laws of the states.

Unfortunately, it is safe to assume that had the U.S. Supreme Court, has not reached its verdict in 1967 — that many states would have kept their laws against interracial marriage for as long as they could.

My thinking about the connections between Civil Rights and LGBT rights was deepened further when I read the recently published novel The Sin Warriors by Julian E. Farris (Lethe Press, 2012). The novel is based on the actual events, in 1956, in the state of Florida when, as is written in the afterword of the novel …

read the entire blog post in The Huffington Post

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