Retired labor lawyer and professor Hirshman (Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, 2006, etc.) celebrates the triumph of the gay-rights movement.
Drawing on previous histories and more than 100 interviews, the author shows how the movement has been successful over the years in countering bigoted notions of the “four horsemen of the gay apocalypse—Crazy, Sinful, Criminal, [and] Disloyal.” Hirshman is most engaged in her discussions of court cases and their attendant legal issues, and on occasion she offers perceptive comparisons between the gay-rights movement and other, concurrent movements for equality. Often, however, the author draws on previous texts while adding few new insights, giving the book a warmed-over feeling. She relies too heavily on George Chauncey’s exhaustive Gay New York (1994) as a source for her chapter on the early urban gay experience, and her relatively brief take on the 1969 Stonewall riots makes excessive use of David Carter’s Stonewall (2004). As Hirshman makes clear, there have been great strides for the gay-rights movement, particularly in the last few decades, with major U.S. Supreme Court victories and the legalization of same-sex marriage in several states. But it seems strangely naive, even myopic, for the author to claim the movement “triumphant” when so many antigay laws at the state and federal level remain, and so much open homophobia persists in much of the country. (Even one of Hirshman’s interview subjects asked her, “Do you really think you ought to call it Victory?”) While many readers will admire her enthusiasm, a pronouncement of ultimate victory seems premature at best.
An ambitious but overly optimistic history.