Harvard Educational Review
  1. Becoming Visible

    A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students

    Edited by Kevin Jennings

    Boston: Alyson, 1994. 296 pp. $9.95 (paper)

    Becoming Visible is a one-of-a-kind resource for teachers and students interested in gay and lesbian history. Editor Kevin Jennings, a high school history teacher who cofounded the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network in 1990, has collected a series of engaging and insightful readings, many recently published, that help to place the present-day struggles of gays and lesbians in the United States in a broad historical context. Jennings identifies two primary audiences for this reader: 1) teachers and students in high schools and colleges seeking primary and secondary materials about gay and lesbian history; and 2) general readers in search of a thoughtful introduction to gay and lesbian history.

    The thirty-nine readings in Becoming Visible address a broad range of topics in a lively and thought-provoking manner. For example, in an excerpt from his 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, John Boswell states that

    Roman society was strikingly different from the nations which eventually grew out of it in that none of its laws, strictures, or taboos regulating love or sexuality was intended to penalize gay people or their sexuality; and intolerance on this issue was rare to the point of insignificance in its great urban centers. Gay people were in a strict sense a minority, but neither they nor their contemporaries regarded their inclinations as harmful, bizarre, immoral, or threatening, and they were fully integrated into Roman life and culture at every level. (p. 47)

    Jennings, in his introduction to this reading, explains how scholarly interest in attitudes towards sexuality in classical Greece and Rome remains intense, and how Boswell's research has generated considerable controversy by identifying people as "gay" in an era and place when heterosexuality and homosexuality were not so rigidly defined as in modern times.

    Other selected readings provide similarly valuable windows on gay and lesbian history. Bret Hinsch describes how homosexuality was a common practice among several Chinese emperors in ancient Chinese society. Walter Williams discusses how the cultural traditions of some Native American tribes included the berdache, in which men assumed the role of women. Randy Shilts explains the crucial role of a gay soldier in the American Revolution: Baron Friedrich von Steuben, of Germany, who revived George Washington's Continental Army by introducing discipline throughout the militia, earning him the appellation "The Father of the American Army." Blanche Weisen Cook describes Eleanor Roosevelt's intense relationship with Lorena Hickok. Hubert Kennedy writes about how Karl Heinrich Ulrichs presaged the modern gay rights movement by publicly addressing the German Congress in 1867 in an attempt to persuade the legislators to repeal anti-gay laws. Heinz Heger, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, relates his experiences amidst the horrors of the Holocaust as a gay prisoner. Stuart Timmons gives a biographical sketch of Harry Hay, who founded the Mattachine Society in 1950, the first ongoing gay-rights organization in the United States. Martin Duberman offers a vivid account of the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 and the early origins of "Gay Pride Day." Overall, Becoming Visible includes a wealth of readings that helps broaden and deepen readers' understanding of gay and lesbian history.

    Jennings provides a succinct and informative introduction for each of the seventeen chapters in the reader. For those interested in using Becoming Visible in the classroom, Jennings also includes a set of "important terms," discussion questions, and activities for each chapter. A six-page appendix also features brief notes for teachers specifically geared to each chapter in the book.

    Jennings ultimately views Becoming Visible as "the beginning of a conversation":

    [The book] does not pretend to be "all you ever wanted to know about gay history." I am well aware that it is weighted toward the experience of White gay men; that's where the scholarship has been done. Numerous topics still need to be addressed. I hope to look back one day when many books like this have been published and smile at the shortcomings of this work. I hope it helps to begin the long-overdue process of developing the materials we teachers need to teach lesbian and gay history. As a historian, I feel the excitement of a new beginning, but I look forward to the day when books such as this will be commonplace. (p. 17)

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    Book Notes

    Open Lives, Safe Schools
    Edited by Donovan R. Walling

    Uncommon Heroes
    Edited by Phillip Sherman and Samuel Bernstein

    Free Your Mind
    By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.

    Becoming Visible
    Edited by Kevin Jennings

    Death By Denial
    By Gary Remafedi

    Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?
    By Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

    One Teacher in Ten
    By Kevin Jennings

    The Gay Teen
    Edited by Gerald Unks

    Tilting the Tower
    Edited by Linda Garber

    School's Out
    by Dan Woog

    The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader
    Edited by Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin

    Joining the Tribe
    By Linnea Due

    How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay?
    By Ann Heron and Meredith Maran; illustrated by Kris Kovick.

    Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth
    Edited by Teresa DeCrescenzo