Books about Queer Activism
By Carly Bennett, Becca Binnie, Emily Myhill and Rhys Wright
Happy Pride everybody! We’re celebrating The Publishing Post’s annual Pride issue by sharing some of our favourite books that feature resilience and activism of the LGBTQIA+ community, the perfect reminder that Pride began as a protest and activism will always remain at the heart of queer politics.
The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Garden
Nancy Garden will always be an icon in the world of queer young adult literature after releasing the first ever sapphic YA novel, Annie on My Mind, back in 1982. While Annie on My Mind is her best-known work, she published plenty of other stories of queer love and resilience, sharing queer joy on the page long before LGBTQIA+ YA was something that could be found in bookshops around the world. The Year They Burned the Books is perhaps her most political work, charting a year in the life of the editor of a high school newspaper who finds herself at the centre of a political storm when she speaks out against a local group’s attempt to ban sex education and queer literature from local school libraries while navigating her own sexuality and coming out in the process.
While we are so lucky to see so many diverse queer releases every week, there is something to be said for revisiting LGBTQIA+ books that were published when even having queer characters in print was unheard of. Nancy Garden paved the way for so many LGBTQIA+ authors today, and the recently reprinted The Year They Burned the Books is a fantastic way to remember the activism at the heart of Pride.
How to Survive a Plague by David France
After creating and directing the ground-breaking documentary How to Survive a Plague, David France tells the story of the HIV life-or-death struggle and activism in novel form. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS looks at the exploration of scientific research which developed medicines that turned the tides of the tragic HIV epidemic. These drugs meant that HIV turned from a fatal infection to a manageable disease, however, public officials, religious leaders and wider society turned a blind eye.
This book talks in an honest and heartbreakingly human manner, exploring the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) alongside the simmering underground drug market. Conveying the many streams of activism that individuals bravely undertook France describes how reform was hard won.
The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye
The Transgender Issue is a landmark work within transgender non-fiction, arguing seamlessly, and with clear and indisputable logic, against the marginalisation of transgender people. Through her comprehensive, multi-layered analysis of many areas of British culture, Faye covers the vast span of trans lives throughout the UK and beyond: from the young, to the old, those within different family dynamics, the intersectionality of trans identity and other marginalised experiences, exploring their working lives, as well as trans experiences within housing, the penal system, and healthcare. Faye not only explains how trans liberation will benefit the transgender community, but she also puts forward an enlightening argument for the positive impact liberation would have on everyone.
Written in an extremely accessible way, it is an all-encompassing, compassionate, and necessary book debunking the harmful misinformation spread throughout the British media: this really should be required reading for the whole nation! Calling out for justice, it is impossible to read this book and not feel recharged; furious; and ready to share the powerful message as far as possible. If you only have time for one non-fiction read this Pride Month, make sure it is The Transgender Issue: its pages both enlighten and anger, and the clear message throughout will stay with you for years to come.
The Women’s House of Detention by Hugh Ryan
Just down the street from the Stonewall Inn stood the Women’s House of Detention, a prison that housed countless queer women and trans men throughout its forty-five-year history. The “House of D” was the site of endless injustices by the penal system as well as now-forgotten protests and riots, including demonstrations for gay rights in solidarity with the Stonewall riots happening within eyeshot of the prison in 1969. Now all that remains is a fence and a plaque, and the experiences of the queer women and trans men imprisoned there have largely been left out of accounts of the gay liberation movement.
Hugh Ryan’s meticulous study of the prison covers the people interned there, the history and culture of lesbians and trans men in pre-Stonewall New York, the systematic abuses of basic human rights in the prison, and the laws that allowed them to happen.
Ryan’s non-fiction book is an attempt to bring the experiences of these forgotten people to public attention. It’s a revelatory window into overlooked histories of the penal system, where homophobia, transphobia, sexism and racism all intersect.
Jamie by L. D. Lapinski
Jamie is a fun and touching middle-grade novel about fighting to make a place for yourself in a world that would prefer to pretend you didn’t exist. When non-binary Jamie is suddenly faced with the prospect of choosing between an all-girls and an all-boys high school, their frustrations, both present and future, are thrown into focus, and they enlist the help of their friends to raise awareness of the issues they face.
What starts as a simple request to fly a flag turns into something more as Jamie realises that their issues don’t just stem from people not understanding, but not wanting to listen. So, Jamie and their friends get louder. From impromptu demonstrations to organised community events, the book celebrates different kinds of protest, ways to get attention, unite communities and create change, serving as an important reminder of the origin - and purpose - of Pride.
At a difficult time for trans youth especially, Jamie perfectly captures the mood of Pride; anger and joy, protest and celebration coexist in an overwhelmingly hopeful story about how sometimes asking nicely for change isn't enough, but with friends and allies and community anyone can be loud enough to make a difference.