This book is a collection of historical writings about the LGBTQIA Movement. What is unique about it is that all of the writers are activists who have worked within that movement. No academic historians participated. This approach contains strengths and weaknesses. Its most favorable strength is that activists know strategies for creating and organizing movements which uninvolved historians generally do not. A historian who has not worked for social change, will usually focus upon a nation’s political office holders; examining their legislation and speeches. While that element is part of history, it is merely the end product and most visible mark of progress, thence the easiest road to travel in writing a history. Unfortunately, it creates the false impression that an altruistic notion just popped into the head of a self-interested politician; whose only real job, even in the best of democracies, is to get herself re-elected and do the bidding of those who paid for that re-election. Activists, on the other hand, know what goes into creating change. As a result, the activities of grassroots activism and behind-the-scenes organizing are ferreted-out by these writers. Published in 2015, four months before lesbians and gay men won marriage equality, The Right Side of History reveals how the movement evolved from the late-1800s to the present. The views of the activists who wrote chapters make it both a history and a primer on how to advance political rights.
Adrian Brooks, who edited this project, arranged the 31 contributions chronologically. The first 12 examine activist endeavors prior to the Stonewall Rebellion. Here the reader will begin to see some of the drawbacks of having histories written by activists unfamiliar with the process of primary evidence-gathering. Telling the whole truth is sometimes not as important as promoting the movement. Among the several chapters discussing Stonewall, none mention that the Stonewall Inn was owned by the New York Mafia. Though there are two flattering portraits of Bayard Rustin, neither mentions his later, neoconservative activism (see https://portside.org/2016-03-17/rebel-who-came-cold-tainted-career-bayard-rustin ). Such omissions, calculated to make the movement appear uncontaminated, do not advance the goal of preserving historical knowledge.
What is omitted is important. But so is what is included. There are rare histories of forgotten activists and early organizations, which the reading public would never know about without this volume. In addition, the contributors excel with later chapters involving political action in which they personally participated. Here, important events are preserved in oral histories that would otherwise have disappeared from the record. The full story of a social movement cannot be contained within one document. This iconoclastic book is an important contribution to the history of LGBTQIA success in attaining civil rights.
Brooks, Adrian. The Right Side of History. 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism. New York: Cleis Press, 2015.