Badpuppy Gay Today

Tuesday, 27 May, 1997

THE GAY MILITANTS

By Donn Teal

Book Review by Jack Nichols



 

The Gay Militants: How Gay Liberation Began in America, 1969-1971
by Donn Teal
Introduction by Jonathan Katz
St. Martin's Press, 368 pages
$13.95 ISBN 0-312-11279-3

THE VERY FIRST HISTORY OF THE STONEWALL ERA

When historian Donn Teal's monumental work, The Gay Militants, was first published a quarter century ago, the Stonewall Era was in full swing, though the revolution Teal chronicled hadn't yet gained noticeable mention in mainstream media. Few, except for readers of the fledging gay press, knew Teal's book existed.

Thane Hampten's rave review of The Gay Militants had appeared (GAY, May 24, 1971) and it was noted then that major activist-players of the times accepted Teal's accounts of their exploits without rancor. Teal was not only a pioneering journalist himself (he'd written pre-Stonewall critiques of negative gay stereotyping in emerging gay film, theatre, and literature in The New York Times) but he was a frontline participant in many of the exciting events he recorded. His contemporaries marvelled at his confident command of multitudinous sources, his fair and inspirational treatment of the many and varied activist personalities, as well as his amazing grasp of newly defined issues, including those affecting minorities within mainstream gay culture. Nor is Teal's history confined to America's East Coast. Time and again he roams the continent, the pages of his book celebrating historic West Coast and Mid-West accomplishments with equal enthusiasm.

A well-publicized book published in hardback (1993) and by a Johnny-Come-Very-Lately professor, attempted to recapture those tumultuous uprisings (1969-71) that led to later gay liberation victories. But this professor's tome, unfortunately, is clearly marked by his tendency to putter, compiled too late, strewn with inaccuracies, marred by a dubious agenda, malicious gossip, and, worst of all, by a shameless foray into crass revisionism. Yes, Martin Duberman's slant gives undue credit to New York's Gay Liberation Front, a group which, though it appeared first as an unstructured organization, fell rapidly apart due to formidable internal squabbling. The Gay Militants properly records how Manhattan's Gay Activists Alliance then inherited the East Coast energies vouchsafed by the Stonewall rebellion, uniting disparate segments of the city's gay and lesbian communities as never before, and channeling their activities with manifest effects.

 

The re-publication by St. Martin's Press of The Gay Militants (twenty-four years out of print) therefore represents the triumph of on-the-spot reportage over revisionist hearsay. As it goes to press, America's gay and lesbian communities can hail the reclamation of our genuine history now made secure, being recorded by a narrator without unworthy axes to grind. Donn Teal, applauded enthusiastically at the 25th anniversary reunion of New York's Gay Activists Alliance, was recognized in earlier years for having a rare quality, a prerequisite humility which kept him from intruding on the vast array of those facts and materials he so carefully presented.

Teal majored in history at Florida State University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. As a Phi Kappa Phi Sparks Memorial Fellow (1955-56) he earned his M.A. in Far Eastern history at the University of Pennsylvania and taught both history and sociology at Ohio's Rio Grande College. At the time The Gay Militants was first published, he was on the editorial staff of Alfred A. Knopf, publishers. Presently he is completing a finely-crafted screen play recounting the pain of a youth's self-discovery in those repressive years pre-dating the Stonewall period.

In 1971, veteran reviewer Thane Hampten said of Teal's book that it is much more than an invaluable reference work, but that it is, in fact The Gay Book of Genesis. Even so, Hampten pointed out, not all of Teal's accomplishment is simply a cataloging of names, events, and places. "He gallantly steps aside, in chapter 9, to allow lesbians to write on women's liberation," and includes full reprints of the defining documents of the era. "There is a beautiful reconstruction of the scathing and scorching invasion of the Second Behavioral Modification Conference," wrote Hampten, "which is worth the price of the book itself; if your faith in gay strength ever needs reaffirmation, digest this passage and fly high."

For readers who seek accuracy, comprehensive coverage, an obvious fairness, as well as that sheer inspirational power which rises magnificently from the midst of a heady time unequaled in gay and lesbian history, The Gay Militants is, without doubt, the foremost such work, and has been made, thanks to a major publisher, available.

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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