I had already planned to write a post recommending books for Pride month to post today before I heard the news yesterday about the shooting in Orlando.Â Unfortunately, this is even more topical now.
Mish wrote a great post recently about why LGBT representation is important from the perspective of someone from Southeast Asia. Her point is that the culture in Sri Lanka is hostile to LGBT people so learning about it from a young age can help overcome that hatred.
We have the same issue in the U.S.Â I grew up before a lot of the openness of the movement in the last 10-15 years.Â I was a teenager when AIDS became prominent.Â It was a very different time.Â I don’t remember ever learning anything about homosexuality or ever having it discussed.Â The closest thing was the sex ed teacher saying, “Don’t ever let anyone touch you there” when discussing anal sex.Â That was the whole discussion.Â I don’t remember anyone ever being taunted for being perceived to be homosexual.Â It was like it didn’t exist at all.
I was also raised as a conservative Christian.Â Again, I don’t ever remember homosexuality being discussed but I know somewhere along the way I learned that it was wrong.
I was in my early 20s before I met my first openly gay person and she had just come out.Â It was a different world and it wasn’t that long ago.
I’m not sure what led me to get this book from the library but somewhere in 1997-1998 I read:
Serving in Silence by Margarethe Cammermeyer
“The distinguished nurse, mother, war hero–and highest ranking officer to challenge the military’s anti-gay policy–speaks out about her life in the armed forces and her search for self. Colonel Cammermeyer’s dismissal from the U.S. Army has stirred debate all the way to the Presidency; now she writes of her decision to challenge official policy on homosexuality.”
This is the book that I credit for opening my mind.
Another influential book was:
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“By the time Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering these questions, Shilts weaves weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments.”
I read this after seeing the miniseries, which you can watch on HBO To Go, that tells the story of discovering HIV and the public health disaster of AIDS in the U.S.
Both of these books are old now but still so relevant.
What books would you want people who are anti-LGBT to read now?
As with many things, I believe that books can certainly shape and influence a young person’s beliefs, but for adults, it takes their own lived experience. Meeting someone who is LGBQT and really getting to know them, or finding out that someone they already know and love identifies as LGBQT is usually what it takes to change an adult’s mind.
That being said, I think Tales of the City is the first book I remember reading (in 1992) in which gay characters were valued as much as straight characters. Some books out now for YA and MG audiences include Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and George, both of which I highly recommend. The Porcupine of Truth shows something of what it is to be grow up gay in a strongly religious family and be rejected after coming out.
Great, great topic. Even those with open minds benefit from reading about cultures and lives that are different from their own.
I think reading Tales of the City was my first exposure to trans characters. I think it took me a while to even understand what it all meant. I was a naive little thing.
I definitely think that reading books about people who are different than us can help us overcome our prejudices and biases. Reading from the perspective of a character who we might not realize we would relate to can really open our eyes – getting into their heads and experiencing their thoughts and feelings can be really impactful.
Just like you, when I grew up we didn’t really think or talk about homosexuality. It wasn’t until I was a theater major in college that I realized there were a lot of people out there who are gay! (My best friend was gay and he opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t really thought about – I don’t know that I thought homosexuality was wrong; I just didn’t think much about it at all!)
I don’t have any books to recommend, but I do want to say that I too was raised religious (and still am) and thankfully my parents both taught and modeled “Jesus said love everyone, and treat them kindly too” as well as the more scriptural “love one another as I have loved you.” I don’t know if books can overcome hate, but I do know that can parents can teach that something is wrong and still teach that hate is wrong also.
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Thanks for letting me know about And the Bland Played On. I have HBO so I will be looking for it.
Reading these kinds of books early on is crucial because they do teach us empathy and help us overcome hate.
People who have HIV or AIDS have slowly become less stigmatized, but it took decades. We still need more people to read and learn about what it means to have HIV because there are many misconceptions.
It is an amazing film but very distressing to watch. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.