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Retired Fresno State professor showcases the 70-year struggle for LGBT civil rights in book

Lillian Faderman, a retired Fresno State English professor and author, released her new book “The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle,” Sept. 8, as the story of LGBT civil rights in the United States.

Federman, who began to write as a labor of love, always felt she had something to say to a broader audience: the LGBT community.

She was born in New York and moved to East Los Angeles at the age of seven.

In her first year of high school, she got all D’s and F’s because of her disinterest in school, thinking she would become an actress.

“That summer, I was going to drop out of school and then I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went through a really hard period because I was sort of lost,” said Faderman. “I was getting kind of practical, and I realized, well, ‘what are my chances of really making it in Hollywood, and what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’”

She then came across a social worker who recognized that Faderman needed some guidance and he inspired her to continue her education.

She attended University of California, Los Angeles as a freshman and transferred to University of California, Berkeley where she obtained her undergraduate degree. She later went back to UCLA to get her doctorate.

“I had teachers that I really admired who told me that even though my mother was poor – I grew up without a father – they told me that I could do good things and that I could go to college,” said Faderman.

In 1967 she joined Fresno State as a faculty member and retired after 40 years of teaching.

She started writing in the 1970s, feeling inspired by the revolutionary gay movement.

“There was an audience out there who wanted to read what I had to say and that encouraged me to keep writing,” Faderman said.

Many of her books are on two major topics: ethnic studies and LGBT history. She said both are about minority groups who for many years were really despised by society. Through her writing, she wanted to present the literary history of both groups to the rest of the world.

Her recent book, “The Gay Revolution,” explains how LGBT civil rights have made big progress over the years.

“The president of the U.S. doesn’t screwball to say gay or lesbian or LGBT in a very positive way….as a result of the Supreme Court decision last June, same-sex couples can get married, and it’s been so interesting for me to hear people say how that all happened so quickly. Well, it didn’t happen so quickly,” said Faderman.

Faderman said this has been almost a 70-year struggle for LGBT civil rights which is what she wants to showcase in her book.

According to Faderman, the history begins in the 1940s when gay people were all called homosexuals, whether they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.

“To the law, we were criminals,” Faderman said. “To the psychiatric establishment, we were crazies. To the churches, we were sinners. To the government, we were subversives because it was feared that we could be blackmailed into telling state secrets.”

She also examines the beginnings of the organized efforts of the homosexual community, who liked to call themselves homophiles because they thought the word homosexual put too much emphasis on the sexual and “their lives were about so much more than sexuality.”

She explains that in June of 1969, gay people understood that it was time to make their voices heard in a louder way than they had been doing.

The Stonewall Riots, in New York in 1969, put gay rights on the map in a way that had not been done before. Before, gay people were written about showing how they were fired from jobs and being arrested for being gay.

“Finally after the Stonewall Riots and the organizations that were formed after the Stonewall Riots, the more we were written about, the more gay people began to say, ‘Yes, I want to be part of that movement, I want to move the movement in a direction where we’re clearly demanding and getting our civil rights,’” Faderman said.

The riots brought the LGBT movement to the position where it is at today, she added.

To Faderman, TV shows such as “Will and Grace” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” are not what changed the mindsets of America.

She said that what changed that mindset was the hard work and careful organization of gay civil rights movements for almost 70 years.

Those shows would not have been possible if it had not been for an early group in 1974 called the National Gay Task Force, now known as the National LGBT Task Force, she said.

“This group went to NBC and told them, ‘This has got to stop. You have to stop with these terrible programs that show us as child molesters and murderers…’ Fortunately, NBC listened to the National Gay Task Force,” Faderman said.

Throughout her book she wants to speak to several audiences and wants the LGBT community to get a sense of its history.

“I wanted to inform the LGBT readers because I believe that if you don’t learn from history, you’re destined to repeat it, so you have to make sure that nobody tries to take your rights away from you,” Faderman said.

Faderman conducted over 150 interviews with people all over the country to tell their stories on how they have interacted with society.  She also did archival research quoting material from 20 different archives.

The book begins with the story of E.K. Johnston, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri in 1948. Johnston was arrested after a friend of his roommate was arrested.

“People were arrested after somebody who wasn’t innocent was made to name names of people in the homosexual community. Somebody named the roommate. The roommate named the professor, and the professor was arrested,” said Faderman.

Johnston’s arrest for being gay was enough for the president of the university to announce that he was fired. The governor of Missouri ordered an investigation in universities all over the state to get rid of any homosexual faculty and students.

She then moves years ahead to 2012 when Gen. Tammy Smith was promoted to brigadier general. When an officer is promoted to that rank, the stars are pinned on his or her epaulettes and usually it’s the spouse who pins the star.

“The big story was that in the ceremony to promote her – a very public ceremony – it was Gen. Tammy Smith’s spouse who pinned the star, and her spouse is a woman she had married the year before when marriage became legal where she lived,” explained Faderman.

Presenting both stories in the prologue, Faderman then asks the question: “How did we get as a country from E.K. Johnston to Gen. Tammy Smith?”

“This is essentially what ‘The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle’ is about – The progress that we’ve made from 1948 when a much-loved professor could be fired and shamed without even having done anything except for the fact that he was a homosexual,” said Faderman. “From that point to the point where an out lesbian and her spouse could be promoted to the position of brigadier general in the public eye with the blessings of the Department of Defense.”