“Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities” by Jerome Pohlen— A Comprehensive History… For Kids

gay and lesbian history

Pohlen, Jerome. “Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities”, (For Kids series), Chicago Review Press, 2015.

A Comprehensive History

Amos Lassen

I am always a bit worried that the younger LGBT community is unaware of our history and the struggles and the heartache we went through to get to where we are these. Just as I have respected and honored those who came before us, I hope that the same will be true for future generations. I have much about our past history but there were some facts I never did see. This book gave me what I had missed. Some of the interesting tidbits to be found here include:

“Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? These are just some of the things that our community has done in the past and in some cases have gone unheralded.

However there is something much more important here and that to some it might seem that  the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality is a recent development when it fact it is the final act in a struggle that started more than a century ago. The history is told here through personal stories and firsthand accounts of the movement’s key events such as the “Lavender Scare” of the 50s, the Stonewall Inn uprising, and the AIDS crisis. Youngsters will learn about civil rights advocates like “Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization; Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who turned the Daughters of Bilitis from a lesbian social club into a powerhouse for LGBT freedom; Christine Jorgensen, the nation’s first famous transgender; and Harvey Milk, the first out candidate to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors”.

We also read of the historic contributions of famous LGBT individuals, from General von Steuben and Alan Turing to Jane Addams and Bayard Rustin, among others. We have the latest information about the landmark Supreme Court decision-making marriage equality the law of the land. Included also are twenty-one activities that enliven the history and demonstrate the spirited ways the LGBT community has pushed for positive social change.

 The book looks at everything from Sappho, the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Lavender Menace to Dan Savage, Gladys Bentley, and Ellen DeGeneres and this is a very comprehensive history. We get a multifaceted perspective, emphasizing gay and lesbian figures’ places in history. We gain an understanding of the scope of LGBTQ erasure that has occurred from the way Jerome Pohlen discusses how in Emily Dickinson’s love poems the words were changed. Pohlen discusses two transgender individuals of color who were present at Stonewall (both were teens at the time), Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and he emphasizes that while the Stonewall Riots were an important turning point in American history, they were not the only time that the queer community has stood up for its rights.

The text is upbeat, conversational, and often humorous in tone. We also get biographical sidebars, and interactive activities. I know that the title is “for kids” but one thing I will never forget being told is one is never too old to learn. I am reminded of when I lived in Israel and saw all these speaking Hebrew as I was learning the language. We can hope that the same will be true for our community—that the kids know it better than those who lived through it.

Physically this is a gorgeous book with thick glossy pages that hold-up to frequent referrals during family discussions about gay and lesbian history.

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