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The Real Story Behind Gay Activism in America #LGBTPrideMonth

Harvey Milk delivering a version of his impassioned Hope Speech. Bayard Rustin advising Martin Luther King Jr. Long:distance swimmer Diana Nyad finishing her incredible swim from Cuba to Florida. The AIDS quilt. Edie Windsor's victory, which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. In this book, On The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism, author Adrian Brooks tells the history of the nation’s clash over civil rights with amazing stories about some of the most recognizable gay rights heroes and heroines.

Available to readers in time for the events and celebrations that mark LGBT Pride Month in June, Brooks’ book is truly one of a kind. Filled with first: person interviews, On The Right Side of History offers intimate and unique glimpses into the lives of some previously anonymous figures as well as legendary names from gay and other civil rights movements across the nation.

Offering something for everyone—from academic scholars to students of life—On The Right Side of History is an accessible history that explores activism from the Edwardian period into the 21st century. Simultaneously raucous and tender, Brooks’ work provides a diverse, inclusive, and in:depth look at the long:fought battle over gay rights in America.

About the author

Adrian Brooks is a regular contributor to Lambda Literary and the Huffington Post,
as a writer, performer, and activist who has been involved in political, spiritual, and social movements for over forty years. After attending the Episcopal Academy and the Friends of the World Institute in the 1960s, Brooks went on to volunteer for Dr. Martin Luther King, attend Woodstock, become active in New York’s SOHO movement, and perform with San Francisco’s “Angels of Light.” Brooks has continued his diverse legacy of good works by supporting orphans in rural India. He currently resides in San Francisco.

On The Right Side of History

By Adrian Brooks
$19.95, Trade Paper 408 Pages, 6” x 9”
ISBN: 978:1:62778:123:7 d e:ISBN:  1:62778:123:4
Publishing on June 9, 2014 

Buy Links

Barnes & Noble

Excerpt from Chapter 15: The Angels of Light: Paris Sites Under the Bourgeois Sea, by Adrian Brooks

Someone gestured urgently from the wings. “Have you seen the audience?” he cried. “Look!” Following his cue without crashing my headdress into the wall, I peeked out from a backstage peephole. For an instant, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Startled, I drew back before leaning forward again.

Something has gone horribly awry, I thought. This is way more than we bargained for! I tried to appear confident but my knees felt weak.

Herbst Auditorium was a neo-classical theater. Crystal chandeliers were suspended from a ceiling painted with cherubs and angels. Tapestries and murals adorned the walls. The upholstery was maroon velvet.

And from the orchestra pit to the top of the last row of balcony, the eleven hundred seats were packed. Packed. Despite the throng, hundreds crammed the aisles, trying to find a place to sit before the house lights blinked and dimmed. By unanimous opinion—then and later—no one had ever seen anything like it.

Naturally, the adoring gay community was out in force. But all manner of other folk were also present, people who’d never—ever—crossed the boundary from “normal, social daylight” into the subterranean zone of the sexual underground.

Further complicating the surreal situation was that no one group clearly outnumbered any others. This meant that none of the contending delegations could stake a believable claim to being an indignant majority.

Mavens in black dresses and pearls sat beside bearded drag queens in black dresses and pearls. A virtually naked bald man draped in a brightgreen sari sat next to a Marine colonel in full uniform, family in tow. Glittering cross-dressers sized up representatives from the Lions Club. Masons and Elks stared as black men in sequined dresses paraded in. Suburban station-wagon families scanned dykes in plaid shirts. Stonedout hippies offered joints to veterans of World War I, some tottering in on canes, sporting medals won at the Marne. Studs in black-leather caps and straps, their bare buns hanging out of chaps, gazed quizzically at whitehaired ladies in flowery summer dresses and sneakers. They crocheted as cowboys strutted past Korean War vets and hairy gay “bears.” Pom-poms on a Mexican sombrero bounced ever so gaily as a man giggled beside a tweedy pipe-smoking type whose wife wore sensible shoes and tortoiseshell barrettes; they huddled over the program to be sure they were in the right place as Latino queens and Chinese businessmen maneuvered for a spare seat next to stodgy museum-going types and blond androgens in satin slips (their hair braided with flowers and ribbons), beefy truck drivers, and grande dames in fur stoles, diamond brooches, and chic hats with delicate veils. Wheeled in by nurses, the aged clutched lap blankets, grinning in toothless delight, eyes bugging out of their heads. Every imaginable contingent in the Bay Area was out in full force and, by contrast, now found that they were in drag, no matter how they were actually dressed. Meanwhile, hanging overhead like a pungent shroud, there was a thick haze of marijuana smoke.

What we didn’t know—what no one had ever told us—was that Herbst Theater, which was under the auspices of the San Francisco Museum of Art, was also shared and claimed by the United States military, who called it Veteran’s Auditorium. Anything sponsored by the museum would also be publicized on mailings distributed to veterans of the Armed Services. In short, every local soldier of every war, going back to the Spanish- American War of 1898, had been duly notified that the Angels of Light were staging a free multi-media spectacular—“a pièce de résistance”— in a forum they considered theirs! Moreover, it was playing to a packed house, with police vans and fire engines parked outside, ready to rush in and rescue the crowd because the inside screams triggered rumors that a riot was about to break out. Hearing that the police were about to make a mass arrest, television channels dispatched news teams. Helicopters with cameras whirred overhead, but even when people explained, “it’s just an Angels of Light show,” neither the Fire Marshal nor the Chief of Police dared try to invade or interrupt for fear of triggering a panic in which people could be trampled and killed.

At our best, the Angels created shows that seemed almost conjured into existence, as if arising from Aladdin’s magical lamp. And yet it was more— much, much more. But every single component onstage and off—could be mysterious and alluring. It was like a world of Chinese boxes; the further in one went, the more spellbinding it could all become. What the people out front would see was only the dazzling and outrageous surface.

Part of the living poetry evoked existed full-blown backstage, in the wings. Between there and the audience were other layers of reality and theater magic—in a revolutionary underground subculture inside San Francisco’s radical gay liberation vanguard. These were psychic choices, too. They permitted each of us to shuck off past selves and leap full-blown into existence in an odyssey of self-discovery and self-manifestation.

Costumed dancers wandered by. Off to the side, there were giant puppets. Backstage, people were doing stretches or practicing tumbling. A few children were also there, children raised in the theater commune. To them, all this was normal, their way of life. And a few were even in the show.

Was this my life? Yes. But I hadn’t stumbled upon this by accident. Most Angels had managed to extricate ourselves from dysfunctional families to go searching for something magical, even if we hadn’t known what it was until we found others as intoxicated by dress-up and the delirious refuge of “let’s pretend.” And so we’d created a safe zone well beyond the reach of controlling elders, where we could choose magic over reality.

This was our secret society, then: a free political movement and new theatrical art. It fused Gilbert and Sullivan to the Mummer’s Parade, or Cirque du Soleil to Brecht with a dose of Antonin Artaud thrown in for good measure. In this world, “more was more.” But it was no mere avant-garde; avant-garde implies social connectedness, or possible future integration. We were Underground—part of a wholly different tribe. Yet this Beggar’s Opera had become the thrilling cultural figurehead of gay liberation culture, so far past the point of being past the point that, even in San Francisco, we set the wild pace. Andy Warhol had asked me to be his front person in 1970, but San Francisco was so much more interesting. Here, Harvey Milk worked for political change inside the system, but the Angels, who decorated our truck for his rallies and who were his artistic counterparts and friends, were co-equivalent: the electric, provocative radicals out on the cutting edge. The whole point was a gift of love to community, as well as self-expression mirrored by like-minded souls.

“We were exploding the myth of success,” said Martin Worman, a writer, playwright, actor, director, and, later, a teacher at New York University. “Of course, it was political, but no one among us verbalized it. We had no need of rhetoric. We were madcap chefs cooking up a storm. The ingredients were magic and tribal anarchy.”

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