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Book Review: Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities by Jerome Pohlen

GL HistoryPublisher’s description:

Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who cracked Germany’s Enigma code and shortened World War II? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, that’s who.

Given today’s news, it would be easy to get the impression that the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality is a recent development, but it is only the final act in a struggle that started more than a century ago. The history is told through personal stories and firsthand accounts of the movement’s key events, like the 1950s “Lavender Scare,” the Stonewall Inn uprising, and the AIDS crisis. Kids will learn about civil rights mavericks, like Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization; Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who turned the Daughters of Bilitis from a lesbian social club into a powerhouse for LGBT freedom; Christine Jorgensen, the nation’s first famous transgender; and Harvey Milk, the first out candidate to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Also chronicled are the historic contributions of famous LGBT individuals, from General von Steuben and Alan Turing to Jane Addams and Bayard Rustin, among others. This up-to-date history includes the landmark Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land. Twenty-one activities enliven the history and demonstrate the spirited ways the LGBT community has pushed for positive social change.

Kids can: write a free verse poem like Walt Whitman; learn “The Madison” line dance; remember a loved one with a quilt panel; perform a monologue from The Laramie Project; make up a song parody; and much more.


Amanda thoughts:

Need a crash course in LGBT history? This book has got you covered. A very brief look at pre-1900s history starts us off, looking at historical figures, laws, and persecution through the ages. In depth sections look at Walt Whitman, transgender people and people who “passed” as another gender, and early gay activists, among others. The author covers Emma Goldman’s 1915 lecture, the first public lecture on homosexuality in America, the beginning of the Progressive Era, and life in Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s Paris. He moves on to addressing the Harlem Renaissance, the first “sex reassignment” surgery (Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe), and LGBT people in the movies, military, and artistic fields.


While some chapters cover a lot of ground and speak broadly of attitudes or events, some go in to much more detail, such as the coverage of the Lavender Scare, which coincided with the Cold War’s Red Scare, and purged gays and lesbians from federal jobs. As we move through history, we learn about clubs, societies, magazines, and movements. The 1960s brings increased activism as well as many riots, many of which are explained in detail. The 1970s included parades, the Gay Liberation Front and other activist groups, and led up to challenges in same-sex marriage bans and saw the formation of support groups such as PFLAG. The author addresses changes in psychiatric communities regarding the attitudes toward and diagnoses of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Many things are done very well in this book, like the examination of the intersections of the women’s movement and the lesbian movement in the 1970s; Pohlen looks at the many subgroups and the rifts that sprung up, especially the divide between the lesbian and transgender communities. He goes on to look at Anita Bryant’s campaigns to repeal any gay rights and to put bans in place, the idea of “recruitment” and the “gay agenda,” and at the life and death of Harvey Milk. The 1980s brings a focus on AIDS and details the many horrific ways it wasn’t taken seriously or given enough political attention or funding for research. The 80s included marches, the NAMES Quilt, and a focus on helping LGBT youth. From the 1990s on, we learn about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, international developments, progress in AIDS treatments, gay-straight alliances, DOMA, Matthew Shepard, hate crimes, civil unions, civil rights, marriage equality, and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better movement. Resources and end notes are appended.


I’d recommend this for ages 12 and up, despite it saying “kids” in the title. It’s a thorough and nuanced look at LGBT history. The conversational tone keeps things moving along nicely even as we read fairly dense chapters about history and politics. The 21 activities include things like writing a poem, making a flag, and inventing a secret language. They all relate loosely to events described in the text, but don’t necessarily enhance the book. Overall, a fantastic resource that should be on the shelves of every school and public library. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781613730829

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 10/01/2015

Series: For Kids Series




  1. I purchased this book for my library and I placed it in our Tween section. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will now. I had a patron (who is a parent of toddlers) come up to me after a children’s program. I thought she was going to thank me and tell me how much fun her kids had had in the program, but I was wrong. She had seen this book on the new books shelf on her way out the door and she wanted to come tell me that it was inappropriate to have this type of book in the children’s department. I explained to her that it was written for the upper elementary age group and that it is about historical people and events. She was not having it; it was inappropriate, she didn’t want her kids to see it, and she wanted me to know she wanted me to take it out of the children’s area. I thanked her for her input, told her I would look again at the recommended grade level, and she went on her way. I’m sure I could have handled this better and given her a form to complete (which I’m absolutely certain she would not have taken one look at the book to fill out the form) but I was so taken aback. I’ve had complaints on my materials before, but this one bothered me. What do you say when a patron is a broken record? Nothing I said seemed to make any difference, it wasn’t appropriate. Do you ask patrons what they find inappropriate, simply give them the complaint form and move on?

  2. Faye- Something similar happened recently at the library I work at… I’m curious what ended up happening at yours?

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