As Downs shows, gay people found one another in the Metropolitan Community Church, a nationwide gay religious group; in the pages of the Body Politic, a newspaper that encouraged its readers to think of their sexuality as a political identity; at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore, the hub of gay literary life in New York City; and at theaters putting on Gay American History, a play that brought to the surface the enduring problem of gay oppression.
These and many other achievements would be largely forgotten after the arrival in the early 1980s of HIV/AIDS, which allowed critics to claim that sex was the defining feature of gay liberation. This reductive narrative set back the cause of gay rights and has shaped the identities of gay people for decades.
Jim Downs is Gilder Lehrman NEH professor of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. The author of the critically acclaimed Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction, he has also written for Time, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications.
Morris Ardoin is author of Stone Motel: Memoirs of a Cajun Boy (2020, University Press of Mississippi). A communications practitioner, his work has appeared in regional, national, and international media. He divides his time between New York City and Cornwallville, New York, where he does most of his writing. His blog, Parenthetically Speaking, can be found at www.morrisardoin.com. Twitter: @morrisardoin