Book Review: The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism

For poet, performer, and playwright Adrian Brooks, successful social movements are informed by an intersectional and inclusive approach to change. “There is an interconnectedness and an interrelated quality to social and political progress that is taken by brave people by all genders, racial backgrounds, and sexual backgrounds to embrace human liberty,” he tell us. For nearly fifty years, Brooks’ career in human rights activism has spanned multiple political, social, and spiritual movements, including his start in the late 1960s as a volunteer for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In his latest anthology, The Right Side of History, Brooks weaves poignant personal essays of his own advocacy efforts alongside nearly two dozen contributions from other well-known queer activists and historians. The result is an astounding overview of over a century of courage, determination, and grassroots mobilizing on the part of numerous individuals and organizations dedicated to gaining civil liberties for sexual and gender minorities.

This collection is absolutely indispensable for both new and continuing LGBTQI scholars alike. Readers unfamiliar with queer history will appreciate the book’s chronological approach, which presents a comprehensive timeline of events from the last 100 years: Alfred Kinsey’s ground breaking sex research, the founding of the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Billitis, the Stonewall riots, Harvey Milk’s assassination, the AIDS crisis, and the contemporary struggle for marriage equality.

Those who are more well-versed in the literature will uncover fresh perspectives in Brooks’ interviews with Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr.’s openly gay former chief strategist; Jean-Claude Baker, adopted son of Josephine Baker, the first internationally famous black bisexual female entertainer; and Judy Shepard, co-founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. John D’Emilio, Rita Mae Brown, and Max Wolf Valerio are other notable contributors while Jonathan Katz’s passionate introduction sets the tone. This title comes highly recommended. (Melissa Hergott)