Author Ann Bausum draws readers in with suspenseful storytelling.
Ann Bausum’s new book, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, was written for young adults. But it should be required reading for all, especially 20-somethings who believe that gay rights started with marriage equality. It’s also a useful primer for gen-Xers like myself, who lived through much of the post-Stonewall melee: pride parades, the AIDS crisis and protest movements like ACT UP.
Bausum’s book takes readers through all of this essential history, beginning with the Stonewall riots.
Bausum, who lives in Janesville, has made a career of writing histories of the disenfranchised: In Marching to the Mountaintop, for instance, she wrote about how the fight for civil rights and labor rights ultimately led to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Bausum says the 2010 death of Tyler Clementi — an 18-year-old gay Rutgers University freshman pushed to suicide by cyber-bullying — compelled her to write a book about gay rights. “It’s high time for young people to know that members of the LGBTQ community have fought heroically for equal rights, too,” says Bausum.
Bausum’s writes her account of Stonewall in a clear, direct style. It is filled with gripping, scenes that describe how a small raid turned into a full-scale riot, inciting lesbians and gays to fight back for the first time and resist arrest.
The book recounts in page-turning detail the events of June 28, 1969, when a group of gays and lesbians gathered at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. The place was a grungy West Village bar owned by the Mafia, and it was common practice for the police to shake the place down.
Some of this history is well-known, but perhaps not to young readers. In the late ’60s, sexual practices such as sodomy were illegal. Gays and lesbians lived closeted, fearful lives, although a handful had begun organizing for rights. Bausum uncovers fascinating details, including that some cities and states at the time had laws requiring that bar patrons wear “gender-appropriate” clothing.
As Bausum recounts in a final, nail-biting scene, police did not expect resistance when they burst into the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night. Local residents taunted the New York City police officers, who barricaded themselves inside the bar. Rioters threw homemade firebombs, igniting the bar. Still, not one shot was fired.
Stonewall is packed with eyewitness accounts, and Bausum relates them seamlessly, drawing readers in with suspense and good storytelling. Toward the end of the book, she quotes activist Virginia Apuzzo, who connects gay rights history to present-day Pride parades: “You see people standing on the side of the road watching, and then someone takes that first step off the curb to join the marchers, that’s Stonewall all over again.”
Readers can’t help but be moved, swept up in the scope and achievements of this history. Bausum’s book helps us remember gay pride is about more than the right to marry.
The author will be reading from and signing her book on May 7 at 6 p.m. at A Room of One’s Own bookstore.
Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
By Ann Bausum, Viking Books for Young Readers