Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics
by Timothy Stewart-Winter
Pennsylvania. 320 pages, $24.95
In 1924, a Chicago postal clerk, Henry Gerber, founded the Society for Human Rights, one of the nation’s first gay rights organizations. Predictably, it was swiftly shut down. In the early 1950s, a Chicago nurse, Shirley Willer, created a sanctuary network for LGBT people. “We took in young women and sometimes young men who had been thrown out of their homes.” In 1964, the City Council debated banning James Baldwin’s novel Another Country from a city-funded college course, exposing “how central sexuality was to the volatile politics of race, class, and education.” Thus do we learn that, in addition to being “hog butcher for the world,” jazz hub, and hotspot for Prohibition battles, Chicago has a fascinating history of LGBT culture and struggle, which Timothy Stewart-Winter has enjoyably presented in this book. The approach is egalitarian, including the role of lesbians, with an emphasis on blacks’ and queers’ “shared focus on police brutality.” As Chicago inched towards inclusivity, “politicians, especially black and white liberals, increasingly saw political advantage in backing gay rights.” Did someone mention queer clout? The book offers a blueprint for enacting change that paid off in one major U.S. city.