Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Firing of Amsterdam News Editor Provokes Protest

Thursday, October 20 [1983] was a cold and windy day. But despite the weather 25 to 30 demonstrators, under the watchful eyes of a handful of uniformed cops, came out to carry picket signs and shout anti-Koch and anti-Amsterdam News slogans in front of the black weekly paper's offices in Harlem to protest the firing of  executive editor John F. Davis.

The firing took place on Friday, October 14 and is believed by many, including Davis himself, to be the result of an editorial response Davis wrote to an op-ed article by Mayor Koch in the same issue of the Amsterdam News. Koch, obviously attempting to pacify the black community, listed his administration's achievements and wrote off his poor relations with the black community to personal style. "...[C]omments and ideas," wrote Koch, "will make me a better mayor." Davis, taking the mayor up on his offer, wrote in an editorial: "The Koch problem is not one of style. Mr. Koch's problem is his abiding contempt for Black people and Black life. There are no words that can erase the memories of his gross insensitivity. We need deeds, we need to see changes in behavior and attitudes."

Wilbert Tatum, the paper's board chairman who owns 30 percent of the Amsterdam (co-owners John Procope owns 35 percent and John Edmonds, a friend of Davis's, as well as the one who hired him two years ago, owns 35 percent) in a letter to Davis stated that it became necessary "to terminate your employment with the New York Amsterdam News due to the severe economic pressures we are presently undergoing."

Davis, in a written statement, pooh-poohs Tatum's economic explanation as "nonsense." He goes on to say: "The Amsterdam has had severe cash flow problems ever since my association with it. The simple truth is that Mr. Tatum wants to silence the anti-Koch voice of the Amsterdam News for personal reasons. He has in every way possible interfered in editorial matters. His attempt to provide Koch with a forum in the black community was and is an outrage to me. I do not dispute the right of Tatum and Procope to determine the editorial policy of their paper. I do, however, challenge their right to represent their actions as in the best interest of black people. Ed Koch is one of the most anti-black political figures on the political landscape in America today. It is a measure of their own contempt for black New York."

Even though Tatum in a signed editorial claimed that "management wholeheartedly supports the views expressed in the Davis editorial" and that "[o]n numerous occasions during the last year Mr. Koch's administration has been justifiably criticized," Jack Newfield of the Village Voice, one of the picketers, believes "Tatum is trying to bring the Amsterdam into the Koch office." In fact, Village Voice writer Joe Conason reported that "Tatum...denied that his outside business interests had influenced his decision" to get rid of Davis. But then in the next line Conason mentions those "outside business interests" and creates the question of whether Tatum has a conflict of interest in the termination of Davis's tenure as editor: "He is the second largest shareholder in Inner City Broadcasting, whose cable TV subsidiary holds part of a franchise to wire Queens; he is a senior vice-president of HIP, which has health insurance contracts covering city workers; and he is developing a parcel of real estate on the Lower East Side, plans for which require Board of Estimate approval." It should be pointed out that the mayor sits on the board.

Co-owner John  Procope, writes Conason, "also has a reason to placate the mayor." Despite the fact that his insurance company's contracts with the city "have been terminated because of abuses alleged by the Department of Investigation, his agency wasn't permanently barred from doing business with the city." And Procope, Conason continues, "still sits as a mayoral appointee on the Industrial and Commercial Incentives Board."

According to Jitu Weusi of the National Black United Front, one of the organizers of the protest, the circulation of the paper had increased under Davis's editorship by 58,000 copies. However, Davis does not believe "there is any real way of determining that. One of the problems of the Amsterdam News is they don't know what their circulation is. The union drivers who distribute the paper oftentimes don't return the copies that are not sold. They fill in an affidavit to indicate they got it [the paper] back from dealers. The Amsterdam News doesn't have anybody going around to spot check those affidavits to find out if those returns are accurate. They don't really know what their circulation is other than what they estimate from the drivers. But I would say that there probably was an increase up to the period of the strike."

The strike earlier this year lasted six months and was called because management wanted the employees--Newspaper Guild members--to take a cut in pay and agree to personnel layoffs. The workers felt management should also make some sacrifices. The New Alliance, a progressive newspaper, in a recent story on the Davis firing described the hiring of Davis with his "militancy and progressive outlook on domestic and international affairs" as a good arrangement "until August 1982, when Tatum, backed by a third partner, John Procope, took over the running of the [Amsterdam] News and started to wreck the carefully nurtured plans of Edmonds and Davis to make the [Amsterdam] News a successful political and financial venture."

However, the New Alliance's praise of Davis was non-existent during the strike when, says Davis, "they wrote vicious columns against me. Totally without a shred of fact as though somehow I was the owner of the paper, [as if] I was doing the negotiations. I didn't have a thing to do with the negotiations. I crossed the picket line and went to work because I have a job. For me to go on strike meant for me to resign my job."

Davis, who is 43 years old and a graduate of the New School for Social Research and Rutgers Law, calls Tatum's "plea of poverty...[a] plea of mismanagement." For example, says Davis, "They voted John Procope's $25,000 severance pay. Whoever heard of paying an owner $25,000 in severance pay?" (There was a chuckle in his voice.)

The Voice's Newfield called Davis's editorial writing "the most eloquent and inspiring and insightful writing in the city" which, in the words of Jitu Weusi, "gave a sense of pride and direction to the Amsterdam News" despite the fact that as executive editor he earned an annual salary of $25,000, a tiny sum compared to what other editors in the city earn.

According to one source, whose statement was later confirmed by Davis , he does not intend to return to the Amsterdam News even if the boycott and petitioning are successful in getting him reinstated. He does not wish to continue in journalism and is considering job offers outside of the field.

"A newspaper," writes Earl Caldwell, in the New York Daily News, "when at its best, is a powerful vehicle. When it is independent and with leadership that is not afraid, it can lead people." John Davis was providing that leadership in his editorials. Unfortunately for the paper and the black community his forum was snatched away from him because, says black labor leader John Butler, president of the Hospital Workers Union, Local 420, "he don't bow to Mayor Koch, he don't dance with Mayor Koch, he tell it the way it is."

This article was originally published in the Guardian newspaper (New York) in 1983.

Note: John Davis, a black gay man, wrote an editorial in the Amsterdam News supporting the passage of a gay rights bill by the City Council.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Something In The Milk Ain't Clean

To The Editor [of the New York Native]:

In Vera Hill's letter published in Issue 102 of the Native [ regarding "Celebrating Ourselves,"* a black gay supplement I guest edited in 1984]  she states that this newspaper is guilty of changing everything she wrote in her article for the black gay and lesbian supplement without obtaining her consent. As the editor of the supplement, I want to set the record straight. Anyone who carefully reads the edited manuscript against the published piece will clearly see that about 90 percent of what Hill wrote remained intact. And that whatever changes or omissions were made were done for clarity and conciseness. Any mention of Dennis Serrette [African American] and Nancy Ross [white] as running mates in the presidential election was omitted because I felt that Hill was trying to propagate the [radical left-wing] New Alliance Party's endorsement of that ticket.

The supplement's reason for being was to deal with as many different aspects of black gay and lesbian life , from as many different voices as we had space for. Although I did not object to political views being expressed, I did not want anyone using the limited amount of space we had as a political campaign tool. I would have been derelict in my duties as the editor if I were to allow that to happen in this section. In the National Alliance, NAP's newspaper, it was reported (by Jackie Salit, the paper's executive editor) that I told Hill that Patrick Merla, the Native's editor, had ordered the cuts. I never made any such statement.

I should point out that during the whole editing process, I never dealt with Hill directly but through a NAP go-between, Tammy Weinstein. So it is an example of false reporting on the part of the National Alliance to say that Hill accepted some revisions I offered. I never really knew what she thought because Weinstein was the one who kept calling me. When I asked where Hill was so I could get direct feedback, Weinstein would say that Hill was too busy organizing in the street to review the manuscript over the phone. Hill's piece was the only one I edited without the direct input of the writer.

In any future supplement, I will insist on working with the one who is the writer of a piece, not a stand-in. This rule will be applied without exception.

Hill, in her letter, tells Native readers that Serrette and Ross are "progressive, pro-gay candidates," and that Serrette was the only presidential candidate to take part in the gay pride march this year. To them I say, Bravo! But to say, as Hill does that the omission of Serrette's name from her copy is an attack on Serrette and "all Blacks and gays--who are on the front lines targeted for extermination by the right wing" is not only hyperbole but also paranoia. Whatever Dennis Serrette is, he is certainly not the straight black Messiah of black gay men and lesbians. And Hill and her ilk should stop trying to present him in that role.

Hill in our half hour telephone conversation called the Native a newspaper that was "fascist" and "right-wing." If that's the case, why bother to submit the article to such a paper, and, more importantly, why accept the enemy's money? Don't Hill and her colleagues at NAP worry that a "fascist right-wing" paper's money will contaminate  their "politically correct" organization?

I certainly have no argument with them about wanting campaign coverage of Serrette, but why, if I may be so bold to ask, did NAP not kick up a storm long before now?And why are they describing an editorial disagreement as "a fight that is currently underway in the gay community"? A "fight" that most of the gay community may not even want to participate in. Who are the combatants supposed to be anyway? And another thing, why is NAP so "eager"--that's their word--in their open letter to other gay papers to bring this "fight" to their attention? To quote Hill from her Native article, "Something in the milk ain't clean."

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

The New York Native published this letter in 1984.

*The essay contributors included Joseph Beam, Craig Harris, and David Frechette. The poetry centerfold included Melvin Dixon, Essex Hemphill, and Salih Michael Fisher.

I give credit to Melvin Dixon for suggesting that I call the supplement "Celebrating Ourselves."

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Dearth Of Black Gay Books

Voice of the People
New York Daily News
450 West 33rd Street
New York, NY 10001

December 13, 2000

Dear Editor:

In Paul D. Colford's recent article on the burgeoning African-American book market, one editor at Doubleday was quoted as saying "there's probably room for still more imprints." I would agree, particularly as it pertains to those in the black community who are either gay or lesbian. As the editor of an anthology of essays by black gay men, which was published last year, I can attest to the dearth of books in this category.

The publishing industry may finally be coming to the realization that black folks buy and read books but there is still an ignorance of the need for books, fiction and nonfiction, that reflect the diversity of black gay men, many of whom are well-educated and have disposable incomes.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

The above letter-to-the-editor was not published.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gays Demonstrate Against Falwell Speech

Demonstrators both inside and outside Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan protested on December 10 [1984] a speech scheduled to be delivered by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a member of the religious right wing, who views homosexuality as "a perversion." Falwell left the building undercover about an hour and a half after he was unable to complete his speech which had an 8 pm starting time.

The protest, sponsored by the People's Anti-War Mobilization, and supported by various gay and lesbian groups, among them Black and White Men Together, Lesbian Activists at Barnard College, and the National Coalition of Black Gays drew a crowd of more than 300 who carried signs and chanted slogans condemning Falwell's homophobia. One sign read "SAY NO TO REAGAN AND THE RIGHT WING." Another said "KEEP NEW YORK CLEAN, DRIVE OUT FALWELL."

Andy Humm of the Coalition of Gay and Lesbian Rights, estimated  that about two-thirds of those entering Town Hall were protesters. "Jerry Falwell is a clown, a puppet," said Humm, addressing those surrounding a makeshift platform. "The next time he comes to New York, he'll be ignored."

As the crowd chanted slogans like "Falwell and the Klan go hand in hand" from police barricades, protesters, who were mostly white, were being forcibly ejected by police from the auditorium. Some had to be dragged to the sidewalk. As each ejected person came out, they were cheered on by their supporters. The mood of the crowd was festive. Even the cops seemed to be enjoying themselves throughout the event. Protest songs were performed by a singer and a guitarist over a loudspeaker to bolster the spirits of the demonstrators as they stood out in the cold night air.

An interpreter for the deaf stood nearby as each guest speaker came to the mike.Those who spoke included the Reverend Renee McCoy, pastor of the Harlem Metropolitan Church, which has a gay and lesbian congregation and city councilwoman Ruth Messinger. McCoy told her listeners that the God she serves is "a God who sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins and not [for] our sexuality." She also pointed out that "to stand against Jerry Falwell is not to stand against God but to stand with God."

Messinger vowed that "we will see to it that [Falwell] does not intercede in his efforts to deny people their sexual preference."

This article was originally published in the Gay Community News (Boston) on December 22,1984.

Prejudice And Pride In Manhattan

In celebration of June as "Lesbian and Gay Pride and History Month," a series of events has been scheduled at various locations on the West Side of Manhattan.

Chief among them is a wonderfully mounted exhibit of photographs and memorabilia called "Prejudice and Pride: The New York City Lesbian and Gay Community, World War II--Present" that runs until June 30 [1988] at the Tweed Gallery*, 52 Chambers Street, behind City Hall.

This exhibit, which is sure to fill its spectators, particularly if they're gay or lesbian, with pride and awe, and at times fear and anger, is divided into 16 categories, ranging from the black-and-white photos of "Circles of Friends" ("Gay Beach at Riis Park, 1955" from the Frank Thompson collection, is one of them) to the glass-enclosed examples of "Homophobia" (newspaper headlines, handwritten hate letters, and weapons used to assault gay men, such as an assortment of knives.)

Two years in the making, and co-sponsored by four gay organizations, under the auspices of the mayor's office, "Prejudice and Pride" shows us a community emerging from the shadows of invisibility; refusing to be persecuted anymore, and announcing, with head held high, that "We are everywhere."

Although the curator, Allen Ellensweig, in the exhibit brochure, freely admits that the show can "make no claim to all-inclusiveness," I still wish there had been more representation of gays and lesbians of color, helping to destroy the myth that homosexuality is a "white disease," a notion quite prevalent in the black community.

Aside from this shortcoming, I see "Prejudice and Pride" as playing an important role in emphasizing the necessity of documenting and preserving gay history.

"If the world defines you," says the black lesbian poet Audre Lorde, in an interview in American Poetry Review (March/April 1980), "it will define you to your disadvantage. So either I'm going to be defined by myself or not at all."

*Note: The Tweed Courthouse, where the Tweed Gallery was located, now houses the city's Department of Education.

This article was originally published in the West Side Spirit (June 20, 1988).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Damned If You Do

Arts & Leisure
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
August 10, 1994

To the Editor:

Judging by Rodney H. Clurman's angry response (July 31 [1994]) to the outing of his cousin, the composer Aaron Copland, it's no wonder Copland never discussed his homosexuality with him.

It's attitudes like his that have reinforced the view that homosexuality is an unsavory subject and caused generations of gays and lesbians, inside and outside the arts, to retreat further into the closet.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

The above letter-to-the-editor was published in the Arts & Leisure section of the Sunday New York Times on August 21, 1994.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Victoria Mix": Queer Cinema Comes To Harlem

For five days in November [1996], Harlem became not just a place filmmakers like Spike Lee come to when they have a movie to shoot. This time the world-famous community was the site of a film festival called "Victoria Mix" that showcased dozens of "queer African Diasporic film and video" in the elegant Victoria 5 Theatre on 125th Street, down the street from the Apollo Theatre.

The uptown screenings were part of the 10th New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival, which had two other Manhattan venues screening different groups of films. (The film festival proudly claims to have "premiered more works by queer filmmakers of color than any other film festival in the world.") And for the first time, Harlem was the site of a gay and lesbian film festival, an historic event that Shari Frilot, the festival director, was "very excited about." Frilot, who is of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage, is  a filmmaker herself.

"Victoria Mix" consisted of more than 50 films and videos by both well-known and lesser-known filmmakers and was divided into eight programs" "Fire!" (the first evening of film, which was hosted by Gay Men of African Descent); "Harlem Stories"; "Let's Talk About Sex"; "The House That Identity Built"; "Oh Yes It's Ladies Night"; "Taboo Subjects"; "City Lore"; and "Family Drama."

On the night of the "Fire!" screenings, which like the other three programs I attended drew a small audience, there was the smell of smoke in the theatre;that seemed to emphasize the theme of the program. (There had been a fire next door a few hours earlier.) The program took its name from the 1926 Harlem Renaissance magazine co-edited by Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, in commemoration of "the same creative intensity" that has been passed down and continues to thrive within the current generation.

Of the 15 films I saw, the most noteworthy were: British filmmaker Isaac Julien's beautifully photographed, although at times didactic, feature-length study of race, sex,and class bias called The Passion of Remembrance (1985), Black Nations/Queer Nations? (1995), Shari Frilot's documentary of the March 1995 conference, One Moment in Time (1992), Felix Rodriquez's short film about an Hispanic drag queen's decision to have a sex change operation to please a straight? lover, and Remembering Wei Yi-fang, Remembering Myself: An Autobiography (1995), Yvonne Welbon's documentary about her six-year sojourn in Taiwan.

Frilot, who had three of her films in the festival, told me that she had "every intention of not making it our last year" at the Victoria 5 Theatre. In fact, she plans to do non-"Mix" business there as well.

This article was submitted to the New York Amsterdam News on November 18, 1996 and to Whazzup! magazine (Oakland, California) on December 31, 1996. Neither publication ran it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Murder At The Ballet

Dead On Your Feet by Grant Michaels (St. Martin's Press, 256 pp.)

Who knifed Max Harkey, the director of the Boston City Ballet? That's the question hairstylist/amateur sleuth Stan Kraychik must answer in Grant Michaels's mystery, Dead On Your Feet. And the killer could be one of six suspects, including his lover, Rafik, the company's choreographer. Each has a motive, and an alibi. (Of the six, five "at some point had been a contender for Max Harkey's love.")

For Stan, finding the killer is as difficult as getting Rafik to let him see a rehearsal of the new ballet. Stan's primary goal is to clear Rafik's name from the list of suspects. Each attempt draws Stan deeper into the morass. And face to face with an old assortment of characters who include Marshall Zander, the foul-smelling benefactor with the hots for Stan and Sharleen McChannel, a psychic, who, while having her tresses blow dried, brings the salon to a standstill when she receives a revelation about Stan--"Very soon you will take a long trip."

The prediction comes true. Stan's investigation takes him all over Boston--and London, in search of Max's missing diary, which may help Stan identify the murderer.

Throughout his investigation, professional as well as romantic jealousies among the suspects come to the surface. Stan discovers that Max Harkey was not above manipulating the rivals for his heart. Also,Stan believes Rafik is having a fling with co-suspect, Toni di Natale, the female musical conductor. Both deny there is anything going on between them.

I found Dead On Your Feet not a very engrossing read. Michaels is clearly no John Grisham. The book is strictly for laughs, at the expense of giving the reader a real page-turning mystery. Even the chapter titles tip you off that Dead On Your Feet is not to be taken seriously("Singing in the Rain," "She Could Have Danced All Night," "Change Partners and Dance"). When the killer's identity is revealed, it doesn't really matter, even when the killer is pursuing Stan several stories above Boston clutching a stiletto. The killer is presented as a buffoon "with the same demented grin that King Kong used on Fay Wray."

 I much prefer the more masculine demeanor of Joseph Hansen's gay insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter or Robert B.Parker's Boston sleuth Spenser. Stan Kraychik is too campy, too swishy, and too whiny to be an authentic detective hero, who can pry loose information from even the most recalcitrant suspect. When one of the suspects says to Stan, "I don't know why I'm telling you this," my response was: "Me neither."

Ballet lovers may get some pleasure from Dead On Your Feet because it offers a behind-the-scenes look at the ballet world, but I doubt many hardcore mystery fans will.

This article was originally published in the Lambda Book Report (November/December 1993). It was reprinted in Savage Male magazine (San Francisco) in February 1994.

Sexual Outlaws In Paris

Neons by Denis Belloc (Translated from the French by William Rodarmor)
(David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc., 103 pp., hardcover)

Far from being a depressing, sordid fictional account of the underside of gay life in 1960s Paris, Neons, by French novelist Denis Belloc, is a profane, often humorous novella, written in the first person present ("I go upstairs to the sixth-floor tenant's place with her, she cleans for him once a week.").

Reading very much like a diary, Neons has as its protagonist a wayward young man named Denis (the book appears to be autobiographical) who spends as much time as possible haunting the tearooms (public toilets) of Paris in search of quick, anonymous sexual encounters.

The johns, male hustlers, and transvestites who populate his world are very much like him: products of dysfunctional backgrounds; seekers of sex as a palliative, as a void-filler.

This fast-moving novel takes the reader on a hectic journey that follows Denis from the loss of his father in a fatal boxing match to the prison where he serves an eight-month sentence for a motorcycle theft to the streets of Paris where he works as a male hustler to a love affair with a Greek insurance salesman who takes him to Greece to meet his family.

Although Denis acts tough and streetwise, his naivete shows through. When Zits, a pimple-faced ex-prisonmate, suggests they team up to rob drunk johns, Denis asks, "What's a john?" and"What's a trick?" Zits's impatient response is, "Shit, are you dense, or what? John, trick, they're the same thing! It's a queer who pays to fuck."

Belloc's writing style is so spare, so cinematic, I could visualize the book as it might look on a movie screen, including English subtitles. In fact, I kept seeing the late Anne Ramsey, who played Danny DeVito's mother in Throw Mama From the Train, as the mother of Roger, a guy Denis meets on the street and moves in with. When she sees Denis the next morning, she screams, "Who's this guy, where'd he come from? You've been getting buggered all night long, right next to your mother."

Toward the end of Neons, Denis, who earlier exhibits artistic talent, shows up on the doorstep of Mademoiselle Chameron to study art under her tutelage in a studio he describes as "a total mess, with easels everywhere and on the wall, plaster busts and Mademoiselle's canvases." Denis later breaks up with the Greek and moves to"[a] little studio in a little street near a train station." The novel leaves the reader uncertain about Denis's future or his immediate plans. Has he decided to give up the tearooms and start life anew as an artist?

Although Neons covers the same terrain (the inhabitants of a gay subculture) as "Just Boys" by James T. Farrell and "Transit House" by Mark Ameen (both stories have been anthologized), it's not brutally violent as the former nor solely preoccupied with tearoom sex as the latter. In the middle ground, Belloc has constructed a memorable addition to the gay sexual outlaw tradition.

This article was originally published in NYQ magazine (February 9, 1992).

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Film Producer's Change Of Mind

Entertainment Weekly
1675 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
August 10, 1994

Dear Editor:

Could the real reason Forrest Gump producer Steve Starkey took out the scene involving Gump and Martin Luther King ("News & Notes, EW #233, July 29) be that he feared a negative reaction from the African-American community over the computer-manipulated image of King in a Hollywood film?

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

The above letter was sent but not published.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Subway Is Not For Joyriders

The Voice of the People
New York Daily News
220 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
May 17, 1993

Dear Editor:

I wonder what those who see Keron Thomas as a hero would have said if the A train the 16-year-old train buff commandeered had derailed, killing or injuring a friend or relative who might have been aboard.

To let Thomas off the hook would send a message to like-minded youth that it's all right to joyride a subway train packed with passengers. Thomas should be made to complete several hours of community service as a way to underscore to him the seriousness of his acts.

And those at the Transit Authority should hang their heads in shame for allowing lax security to exist in the subway system. What if this had been a real-life Taking of Pelham One Two Three? Especially weeks after the World Trade Center bombing.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

The above letter was sent but not published.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Outing Gay Traitors To A Nation Within A Nation

Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence by Warren Johansson and William A. Percy (The Haworth Press, 312 + pp).

In the opening chapter of Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, authors Warren Johansson and William A. Percy begin by saying that outing "may become the great debate of the 1990's." That's arguable. However, the issue is worthy of a book-length discussion.

And in Outing, Johansson and Percy, scholars both, give the subject a thorough examination, from its use in antiquity to modern times. At one time, state the scholars, "heterosexuals...outed homosexuals to destroy us. Now we are seizing the initiative to help our cause--our [queer] nation."

Both authors, one of whom is a member of Queer Nation and ACT-UP, believe that those, especially the prominent, who are traitors to this nation within a nation, who "benefit from the movement that they scorn" while the activists risk all, should be outed.

Unfortunately, Outing mostly presents a one-sided argument. If the other side had been given more attention, the book would be of more value to its readers, many of whom may still be undecided on the issue.

Although Outing is often redundant and too pedantic, there is much in it that the average reader might find of interest, especially the historical information. Some of the sections I found particularly interesting were the ones about the homophile movement in Germany in the late 19th century and in the United States after WWII, the witch hunt for homosexuals in the government spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the outing of millionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes and Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams.

After reading Outing, I am still not certain that outing "the admirable, successful ones" is the best way to achieve role models for the gay community. How much of a role model can anyone be if he or she has to be dragged from the closet kicking and screaming?

I favor letting people decide for themselves when it is right for them to come out. The only possible use of outing I can see is when it becomes necessary to unmask closeted gays in powerful positions, who, like a Roy Cohn, work against the gay community. I am also not certain that outing hundreds of thousands of our best and brightest will automatically convert "the pariah status of the community...into a prestigious one."  It is elitist and outright insulting to rank and file gays to believe that if they are a mailman or corner grocer, they are less of a role model than a rock star or an athlete. These are the very people who can "disprove the demeaning stereotypes," such as a belief that gay men are only hairdressers, fashion designers, and interior decorators. It is the individuals whose careers Johansson and Percy see as "wholly undistinguished" who are the ones straight people encounter everyday who will help "end the absurd pretense of universal heterosexuality."

Despite my quarrel with the authors's position and presentation, Outing should be a welcome addition to any gay home library. Its particular parts are greater than the book as a whole.

This article was originally published in the Lambda Book Report (May/June 1994).