Linda Hirshman’s “Victory: The
Triumphant Gay Revolution” is harder-headed than its giddy
Most Americans over 40 have experienced the forward march
of gay rights as the product of a gradual change in the social
air. Hirshman, a retired professor and labor lawyer with a Ph.D.
in philosophy, is more interested in the movement’s legislative
and judicial ups and downs, and she’s got an opinion about every
one of them.
She flays the obvious villains (Lewis Powell, Sam Nunn) and
a few surprising ones (Tom Hayden). She goes after some of the
heroes, too, for making strategic decisions she considers inept.
Nor does she get misty about the otherwise courageous men
who laid the foundations of the movement in the frightening days
before Stonewall but were tone-deaf to feminism and, in some
cases, just plain didn’t like women.
Her style is breezy (sometimes gratingly so), but her
research is very solid; most of her best material comes from the
more than 100 interviews she conducted. Her analysis of what
makes social movements succeed is always thoughtful and
Hirshman, who is straight, doesn’t insult the reader by
“defending” homosexuality or making an argument for equal
rights; the day for that kind of pleading, her approach implies,
is over. Anyway, she doesn’t have time.
She’s writing for a general audience, not an academic one,
and she refuses to plod, covering a century of struggle in less
than 350 pages of text. The result is always entertaining and
As a lawyer, Hirshman is especially lucid on the Supreme
Court — more lucid, sometimes, than the court itself. In the
notorious 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick, it upheld Georgia’s right to
criminalize sodomy, dismissing gay claims to equal protection as
The decision had the paradoxical but predictable effect of
electrifying a movement dispirited at that point by thousands of
AIDS deaths and the Reagan Administration’s indifference to
them. A year
This article originally appeared on: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-05/how-gay-americans-went-from-criminals-to-brides-grooms.html