The queer community’s ongoing fight for basic rights has yielded no shortage of heroic acts and standout books, including some of my favorites (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson, and How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones). Indieland has its share of excellent memoirs on the subject, including the following editors’ picks about an “archive activist” who saved vast tranches of LGBTQ+ historical documents, a lesbian U.S. Navy veteran who describes life under “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and a Cambodian American gay man who learned how to advocate for himself and others.

In the Kirkus-starred Archive Activism, Charles Francis documents his efforts to salvage LGBTQ+ history; he recounts finding and saving queer historical documents hidden in attics, libraries, and basements across the United States. “What if the past is torched or stuffed into garbage bags and dumpsters? For LGBTQ Americans this has been the way of our world,” says Francis. The author’s passion for preserving the past led him to revive the Mattachine Society, a 1950s-era gay rights group. He also discusses his own involvement in Republican politics as an out gay man, including coaching George W. Bush and Karl Rove on reaching queer voters. “Though Francis may not be who readers first think of when they think of an activist, his account is a fascinating and illuminating addition to the history of gay liberation,” notes our reviewer.

In Hiding for My Life: Being Gay in the Navy, Karen Solt outlines building her career in the U.S. Navy while remaining closeted during “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which mandated that queer service members hide their queer identities. The starred memoir depicts the burden and anxiety of maintaining constant concealment. Solt writes, “Mine is a fear that my life could change in ways that will be horribly painful…a fear that all I have accomplished in the Navy will be stripped away and I will lose everything I have built over the last eleven and a half years of my career if I say the wrong thing.” The author also describes the tight community built among the trusted few (both LGBTQ+ and not) colleagues. “A powerful consideration of the tension between personal integrity and serving one’s country,” says our reviewer.  

Marpheen Chann describes his often lonely experience growing up as a gay Cambodian American in his recommended memoir, Moon in Full: A Modern Day Coming-of-Age Story. The author, as a young child, resided with his mother, grandmother, and sister, and sometimes his godparents. He and his sister eventually entered the foster system and lived with a middle-class evangelical family in rural Maine, where he was often the only Asian American in his school. Food was one way he could connect to his Cambodianness and to his grandmother, who would “declare the abundance of her love” by filling and refilling his plate with jasmine rice. The author “lucidly shows how he found his authentic identity as a gay man in college, and later integrated his Cambodian sense of self after meetings with his mother, biological father, grandmother, and extended family members,” says our reviewer. “An earnest and well-written account of a search for self.”

Chaya Schechner is the president of Kirkus Indie.