The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America” by Eric Cervini— The Secret History of the Fight for Gay Rights

Cervini, Eric, “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America”,  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020.

The Secret History of the Fight for Gay Rights

Amos Lassen

You will have to wait until June, 2020 to read Eric Cervini’s “The Deviant’s War’ but take my word for it, you will be glad to get a copy of this very important book.
In 1957, Frank Kameny was a rising astronomer who worked for the U.S. Defense Department in Hawaii. He was summoned to report immediately to Washington, D.C. to learn that the Pentagon had reason to believe he was a homosexual, and after several humiliating interviews, Kamen, like so many other gay men and women before him was promptly dismissed from his government job. Unlike so many others, Kameny fought back.

Eric Cervini’s gives us the story of what followed. Kameny became an early champion of gay liberation and he fought for the right to serve his country in the wake of Joseph McCarthy’s Lavender Scare. Cervini lets us Kameny as he explores the underground gay scenes of Boston and Washington, D.C., where he planned his arguments against the U.S. Government’s classification of gay men and women as “sexual perverts.” It was at this point in history that staying in the closet was the default yet Kameny exposed the hypocrisies of the American establishment, bringing to the fore a broader revolution in sexual morals. As he did this, he invented what today is known as Gay Pride.

Cervini’s research is stunningly amazing. He bases his book on firsthand account that were recently declassified in FBI records, and forty thousand personal documents. The story takes place over the course of the 1960s, as the Mattachine Society of Washington, the group Kameny founded, became the first organization to protest the systematic persecution of gay federal employees. We see the forgotten ties that existed between the gay community and  the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism, and trans resistance.  While this is the story of gay liberation, it is also the story of this country as she sat at a cultural and sexual crossroads; of shocking public battles with Congress; of FBI informants; murder; betrayal; sex; love; and finally victory.

Kameny’s battle with the federal government to secure respect, dignity and equality for gays and lesbians was tenacious and courageous. He was a pioneer who helped open a path to a new and better world for LGBTQ Americans and for America.   Kameny’s firing opened the door for the gay community to use their cause for freedom. For the fifty years following that event, Kameny was found on the front lines and on every front line of the gay rights movement. He is responsible for government employees being able to live without the fear of being discovered and losing their jobs because of their sexuality. They could not earn their livings and serve their country. Kameny’s name is known to many but I doubt many know all that is included here.

We do not always remember that before there was a struggle for gay rights, there was the battle for Gay Liberation and even before that there was the Homophile Movement, a “foundational political formation reveals that highly alienated individuals―whose gifts and talents were rejected because of their homosexuality―found the courage to demand change”. They did so through direct confrontation with the state and it cost them. They tolerated stigma, poverty and anti-social labels and they forced the country to change and transform.

Not only is the book about that struggle; it is also a guidebook for activism. Frank Kameny’s legacy is the fight for human rights and we see here how he did what he did. He left behind a model for the rest of us. Here is what it means to live and survive in a world that doesn’t want gay people.

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