In Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution, former labor lawyer and current political columnist Linda Hirshman traces the surprising and inspiring arc of this civil rights struggle.
How did you come to write about the history of gay liberation?
I’ve worked in, and written about, social movements all my life, and this is the most—some would say only—successful progressive social movement of the last 40 years. It’s a great American story. I’ve been following it since hearing Harvard professor Michael Sandel lecture in 1988 about the use of moral language for political ends. My previous book, Get to Work, on contemporary feminism, has a section, “Everything I Know About Politics I Learned from the Gay Revolution,” comparing the failure of value-free “choice feminism” to the increasingly successful, value-driven gay movement. After the 2008 election sort of put an end to interesting feminist politics, and I was looking for another movement to write about, it seemed natural.
What kinds of surprises did you encounter in your research?
The spirit of cooperation with straight allies and within the community was political jet fuel. If the gay revolution proves anything, it proves that Hobbes’s assumption that men, alone, live lives “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” was wrong.
Who were some of your favorite interviewees?
I twice interviewed Frank Kameny, who died this year. He was, as Andrew Sullivan says, the Martin Luther King of the movement. The first time I met him, he had just received the Theodore Roosevelt award and the apology from the U.S. government for firing him for homosexuality 50 years before. He was positively crowing. Arthur Evans, a philosopher and the genius behind the 1970s Gay Activists Alliance (who has since died), was still gorgeously handsome in his late 60s, perfectly charming, and completely conscious of what he and his ragtag band of political geniuses had done. “Tell our story, Linda,” he charged me. I felt the burden keenly.
What unconventional historical documents did you find?
A flood of diaries from long ago has been published and made available since the revolution really took off. And the letters from Frank Kameny’s mother in the Library of Congress, asking why he didn’t visit more often. Never mind that he was fired for sodomy; she wanted him to dress better and visit more often. He later told me she rode in all the Pride Parades.
What future projects are in the works?
I actually have a novel in a drawer, a political dystopia, a modern Uncle Tom’s Cabin.