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THE DEVIANT'S WAR by Eric Cervini


The Homosexual vs. the United States of America

by Eric Cervini

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-374-13979-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An account of the decadeslong struggle for civil rights for gay people, a story that begins at the height of the Cold War.

“After World War II,” writes historian Cervini, “homosexual arrests…occurred at the rate of one every ten minutes….In sum, one million citizens found themselves persecuted by the American state for sexual deviation.” One was Franklin Edward Kameny, a budding astronomer pressed into Army service in 1943, who, come peacetime, fell in love with another man. Arrested for “lewd conduct,” he was dismissed from his civilian post with the Army Map Service in 1957. It took him years to find regular employment, time in which he advocated for gay civil rights, speaking before audiences as a member of the Mattachine Society. None other than J. Edgar Hoover took a personal role in suppressing Kameny, among many others; meanwhile, Kameny organized demonstrations against the State Department, which, according to Secretary Dean Rusk, did not “employ homosexuals knowingly, and…if we discover homosexuals in our department, we discharge them.” It would take many years—in fact, into the presidency of Barack Obama—before some of the goals Kameny advocated for were reached. Cervini is wide-ranging in his coverage of such topics as the medical classification of homosexuality as deviance and the government’s justification for not hiring gay workers for fear that they would be security risks. In the latter case, just before World War I, a gay Austro-Hungarian officer sold military secrets to the Russians, and when CIA Director Allen Dulles went to work at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, he found “everyone still whispering about the homosexual spy who had lost the First World War for the empire.” While insightful on such big-picture issues, the author also focuses on individuals who made their identities known in order to protest such misguided policies.

A solid contribution to LGBTQ history—and that of civil rights generally.

(23 b/w illustrations)