Diversity is the bedrock on which the richness of life rests. We have jazz, blues, rock, loosely termed “classical” music in every age for the past thousand years and music that is specific to virtually every ethnic culture, because we human beings have vivid imaginations and a myriad ways of expressing ourselves. We have a wealth of forms and styles in dress and virtually every form of art for that reason. We are free to pursue a variety of interests, and today our menu of choices is expanding because of the tremendous wealth of information we have at our fingertips through modern means of communication. We can witness two world champion events on the same day, in vivid color and in the comfort of our homes, simply by turning on our television; and then push a button and be transported undersea for a vivid survey of its scenery and wildlife. With the flick of a few switches, we can hear music that was once reserved for the ears of kings and their courts and then flick a few more switches and hear a reproduction of sound from a modern jazz club. Because of this richness, the vast majority of people in the developed world are richer than the richest and most powerful king in the first several thousands of years of our history.
In evolutionary history, diversity began with natural selection, which created a rich variety of life forms, and blossomed when living organisms began to reproduce sexually. Sexual reproduction ensured that each organism would be not only unique, but also identifiably so.
Yet sometimes, in our quest to reduce life to terms we can comprehend, we humans have tried to squelch diversity. Because of our particular nature as a social species, we developed a natural inclination to prefer conformity. Conformity has its place but sometimes people are inclined to suppress our differences solely for the sake of personal comfort. This has led to an unfortunate tendency toward unthinking suppression of dissent and unfamiliar lifestyles.
Perhaps nothing is more strongly disapproved in national life — especially the national life of a wealthy and successful people — than dissent. Yet in every field, dissent is indispensable to progress. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson did not write that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” but we might conclude that he believed it from some of his other remarks, quoted above. In a classic work of intellectual history, Thomas Kuhn observed that scientific progress usually results from crisis and turmoil in established fields of science, begins as dissenting scientists (usually young ones) challenge established theories, proceeds through a period of bitter rejection by the “establishment” and ends with the emergence of new theories replacing the old. [Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962).] We see the same process in virtually every field of human endeavor, and yet time after time otherwise intelligent people fight furiously to preserve established methods that have fallen into crisis. The struggle against this has been a long one and the battles have been intense. For that reason, our narrative on this subject is rich.
Currently in the United States at least, the rights of gays, lesbians, the bisexual and the transgendered (GLBT) are being suppressed and denied. However, the mere fact that there is a public struggle over the issue represents progress. Our Humanist ethic proposes a simple test for morality and ethics: what does not do harm, as far as the mind can reasonably foresee, is not wrong. It is for that reason that we stand firmly at the side of our sisters and brothers in the GLBT community in their struggle for equal treatment and equal rights.
The reader may react with puzzlement or disfavor to the juxtaposition of dissent and GLBT rights. I see them as illustrating the same point and invite the reader to consider the idea.
- David Carter, Stonewall:The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution (St. Martin's Press, 2004).
- Martin Duberman, Stonewall (Dutton, 1993).
- Henry Abelove, The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, andPolitic (Routledge, 1993).
- Eric Marcus, Making Gay History: The Half Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights (Harper Paperbacks, 2002).
- Chris Bull, Come Out Fighting: A Century of Essential Writing on Gay & Lesbian Liberation (Nation Books, 2001).
- Larry P. Gross and James D. Woods,The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics (Columbia University Press, 1999).
- Roger Streitmatter, Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America (Diane Pub. Co., 1995).
- Mark Thompson and Randy Shilts, Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement (St. Martin's Press, 1994).
- Edward Alwood, Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media (Columbia University Press,1996).
- David Shneer and Caryn Aviv, American Queer, Now and Then (Paradigm Publishers, 2006).
- Edmund White, City Boy: My Life in New York during the 1960s and '70s (Bloomsbury USA, 2009).
- Linda Hirshman, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2012): “tracing the history of gay rights from the early 20th century to the present.”
- Bruce Bawer, A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society (Simon & Schuster, 1993).
- Dale Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas: How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012): “Texas justice has rarely been kind to homosexuals.”
- Hugh Ryan, When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History (St. Martin’s Press, 2019): “ . . . a few years ago, he set up an amateur museum of local queer history in his Bushwick loft — he prefers the term ‘queer’ for its chronological sweep and denotation of gender and sexual nonconformity — and noticed that queers in Brooklyn today know little about their antecedents.”
- Jan Morris, Conundrum: From James to Jan – an extraordinary personal narrative of transsexualism (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974) “ . . . I used to understand every word he wrote while I was a woman and he was a man, now that we are both women he mystifies me.”
- Eric Cervini, The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020): “. . . for almost a decade before Stonewall, (Franklin) Kameny boldly challenged the reigning orthodoxy that homosexuality was a mental illness and led an audacious campaign against the federal government’s ban on employing gay workers.”
- Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, The Freezer Door (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents, 2020): “In a Gentrifying Seattle, a Queer Activist Works to Blur Borders”.
- Elon Green, Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York (Celadon, 2021): “These Gay Men Frequented Manhattan Piano Bars. So Did Their Killer.”
- Sarah Schulman, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 (Straus, Farrar & Giroux, 2021): “Nearly every Monday night from 1987 to 1992, hundreds of people met on West 13th Street in New York City to plan and execute the fight of their lives.”
Religious opinion has long been a dividing line, with tragic consequences.
- James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001), on “Christianity’s original sin”
- Barbara B. Diefendorf, The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2008).
- Barbara O’Sullivan, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre at Paris, 1572 (digital).
- Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (VSD, 2012).
Documentary and Educational Films
Documentaries about gay and lesbian people and issues:
- The Times of Harvey Milk
- Paragraph 175, aboutNazi persecution of homosexuals
- 8: The Mormon Proposition: Equality for Some, about the Mormon church's attempt to deny equal rights to homosexuals
- Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community
- Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, first-hand accounts of twenty-six people
- Valentino: The Last Emperor, about the fashion designer and his life with his partner
- Coming Out: Voices of Gay and Lesbian Teens and Their Families
- One Nation, Under God, about efforts to "cure" homosexual men
- The Celluloid Closet, about Hollywood's treatment of gays and lesbians
Documentaries about people on the outside of society:
- – The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, about the , who were accused of crimes they may not have committed
Film and Stage
Dramatizations about gay and lesbian life:
- La Cage Aux Folles
- When Night Is Falling
- Torch Song Trilogy
- The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love
- All Over Me
- And the Band Played On
- Carol: Two women fall in love with each other in the 1950s, then struggle to overcome social bigotry.
- (The Taste of Others/It Takes All Kinds): a romantic comedy about seeing things from a new perspective
- One Potato, Two Potato: about miscegenation in 1964
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1836 opera, Les Huguenots, is a fictionalized account of the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of August 24, 1572, in Paris. It begins with an orchestral version of Bach’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” a theme made chilling by the tragic story that is to unfold.
- Kernis, Double Concerto for Violin and Guitar brings together two widely different solo voices. 1: Fast and Jazzy; 2: Adagio Molto; 3. Presto, sempre ritmico
- Zyman, Quintet for Winds, Strings, and Piano; Concerto for Piano and Chamber Ensemble: in these two works, the composer brings together numerous instruments with remarkably different soundscapes.
- Britten, Turn of the Screw: adapted from Henry James’ novel, this is a story about the fear of otherness. Here are links to performances conducted by Britten, Ono and Harding.
- Britten, who was gay, wrote many songs for his life partner, tenor Peter Pears. They performed many of the works together, with Britten on piano. This 1971 recording is magnificent; here they are performing Schubert’s Winterreise.
- Respighi, songs, as performed by Ian Bostridge and by Veronika Kincses, who “covers much of the same repertoire but with a lush voice that makes her disc a polar-opposite experience to Bostridge’s.” [David Patrick Stearns, Gramophone magazine, November 2021 issue, p. 73.]
- Anthony Braxton, “4 (Ensemble) Compositions, 1992” album, including Compositions 100, 164, 96 and 163
- Marion Brown, untitled album: a saxophone with a strong opinion on everything
- Yael Acher Modiano, “Humanity is an ocean – Flute Soundscapes”
- VWCR, “Noise of Our Time”: Vandermark, Wooley and Courvoisier each contributed three compositions to this nine-track album. The result is a fascinating blend of ideas, styles and moods.
- Valerie Martin, The Ghost of Mary Celeste: A Novel (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2014) employing “multiple voices, styles and points of view, even interpolated genres . . .”
- Gengorah Tagame, My Brother’s Husband, Volume 2 (Pantheon, 2018), “ . . . a sweet fictional tale that scrutinizes Japan’s widespread cultural taboo against gay marriage.”
- Christopher Castellani, Leading Men: A Novel (Viking, 2019), “His first achievement in ‘Leading Men’ is to create a world, one inhabited largely by young, charming gay men, that seems to be comprised almost entirely of late nights and last cigarettes and picnics on good blankets and linen suits with the trousers rolled to the knees. This writer’s scenes glitter, and they have a strong sexual pulse.”
- Shannon Pufahl, On Swift Horses: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2019): “It’s a book about the midcentury American West, gambling and queer love; but it doesn’t follow the plow of stories from any of these territories. Pufahl’s voice is strikingly solid, timeworn but not nostalgic, as she unravels a cinematic story that avoids genre clichés or sentimentality.”
- Brandon Taylor, Real Life: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2020): “. . . a novel that probes — painstakingly, with the same microscopic precision its protagonist uses in the lab — the ways that an anxious queer black brain is mutated by the legacies of growing up in a society (in Wallace’s case, rural Alabama) where the body that houses it is not welcome.”
- Pajtim Statovci, Bolla: A Novel (Pantheon, 2021): a young man has a homosexual affair in Kosovo, at great risk.
- Akwaeke Ezemi, The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel (Riverhead, 2020): “The reader understands that Vivek’s long hair and lipstick are clues to something Kavita doesn’t have words to discuss. Neither does her husband, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, whose fellow church members attempt a 'deliverance' to flog the 'demon' out of Vivek.”
- Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets: A Novel (Putnam, 2021): “The central story . . . is anchored by Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved boys on the Halifax plantation, also known as Empty. In each other, Isaiah and Samuel find a love that brings peace to the hearts of the many enslaved people on the plantation, until they are betrayed by a fellow enslaved man . . .”
- Robbie Couch, The Sky Blues (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021): “Sky Baker may be openly gay, but in his small, insular town, making sure he was invisible has always been easier than being himself. Determined not to let anything ruin his senior year, Sky decides to make a splash at his high school’s annual beach bum party by asking his crush, Ali, to prom . . .”