A Respectful History of Gays and Lesbians

By Amy Adams Squire Strongheart | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 18, 1995 | Go to article overview

A Respectful History of Gays and Lesbians


Amy Adams Squire Strongheart, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


UNLIKE some of his more flamboyant colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, author Neil Miller is an ordinary looking fellow, slightly built, with a noticeably receding hairline and a soft-spoken manner. He describes himself as "undemanding."

Recently, he was in St. Louis to promote his latest work, "Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History From 1869 to the Present," and even his request to visit the Gateway Arch was polite, almost unassertive. His book, too, although dealing with a potentially controversial topic - namely, outing historical figures - has a respectful tone about it.

"Out of the Past," which explores what Miller identifies as the "more than 100 years since the concept of homosexual identity . . . was first articulated," is the third work of his to chronicle lesbian and gay history and culture. His first book, "In Search of Gay America," won the 1990 American Library Association's Prize for lesbian and gay nonfiction.

Originally from Kingston, N.Y., Miller, who will turn 50 this summer, now lives in Boston. He is the former editor of the Gay Community News, a Boston-based weekly, and was a staff writer for the Boston Phoenix.

Before the scheduled lecture and book signing at Left Bank Books, Miller sat down to chat about his background and writings, and to offer a few reserved opinions on some political issues.

A.S.: Let's begin with your own coming out. How was the news that you are gay received by your own family?

N.M.: My sister's been great, and my parents have generally been very supportive. I sometimes get the feeling, though, that secretly they wish I were writing about something besides gay issues. A.S.: You mentioned that you were reared Jewish. Do you have any religious baggage about being gay?

N.M.: No, not really. The only thing, I suppose, was that ever-present injunction to get married and have kids. A.S.: Have you ever thought of marrying - a guy, I mean? You know it might actually become a legal reality.

N.M.: No. I've never really considered it. It's not really for me. I do think that same-sex marriage is definitely the premier issue of the day for gays and lesbians, now that the military thing has fizzled. Don't get me wrong, just because I've never really considered it for myself doesn't mean that I don't think it's a good thing. I think gay marriage is definitely a good thing for the people who want it.

A.S.: What about kids? Do you want children, and what do you think about the impact that gay families are having on American culture?

N.M.: I think about having children sometimes. At this point in my life, though, I'm probably too old. As for gay families - I think we have great potential for impact, but I'm not sure we've really made much of an impression on American life.

A.S.: You often talk about how the "opposition," and I guess I would define that as the Christian theocratic movement, has played a crucial role in the development of gay identity. Can you elaborate a bit on that theory of opposition creating identity?

N.M.: Sure. McCarthyism, for instance, gave rise to the first gay activist organizations in America - the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. It was the first time that the lesbian and gay community had organized against their common oppression, which in this case was the witch-hunts of Joseph McCarthy. I also think that the likes of Pat Robertson and his front man, Ralph Reed, continue to influence to a certain extent how we define ourselves and our movement. …

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