BookwormSez - How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World

The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World by Andrew Reynolds c.2019, Oxford University Press, $34.95, 354 pages

Your eyes are on 2020.

One election is past, and thoughts are on the next one: Votes equal change, and you’re ready for it. If that rings true for you, you’ll be the next in a long line of changers, as you’ll see in the new book The Children of Harvey Milk by Andrew Reynolds.

In June 1978, Harvey Milk, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors who was known as the “mayor of Castro Street,” called former Army nurse and Castro Street fixture Gilbert Baker and asked him to make something special for the upcoming Gay Freedom parade. At that time, the rainbow flag was “a rebel flag,” but Baker subsumed it into a symbol of pride.

By the end of that year, Milk was dead and rainbow flags were still “rare and exotic,” as were openly gay politicians. Just a handful of “LGB” people were in office around the world at that time; it would be years before the first openly trans individual would be elected.

Here, Reynolds tells their stories and others from around the world.

He begins with a battle in New Zealand’s Parliament that was narrowly won, followed four years later by a marriage-equality victory in Australia. He writes of two gay politicians who squared off in Great Britain, noting that when they did battle, laws against buggery were still on the books. He tells of a Dutch politician who, by mere months, preceded Milk as the world’s first openly gay man to serve in office. And he shares a story of politics in Ireland, “the first country in the world to pass gay marriage by popular referendum.”

Closer to home, Reynolds writes about Barney Frank, his “first political battle” for civil rights in Mississippi, and the “undercelebrated” woman who inspired him. Reynolds recalls the beginning of the AIDS crisis and what it was like to be active in politics then. He writes of trans politicians Sarah McBride of Delaware and Danica Roem of Virginia, and the fierce but highly ironic story of Pauli Murray, whose great-aunt’s donation that funded fellowships for poor students at the University of North Carolina helped build a university that declined entrance to Murray on the basis of race.

If you see The Children of Harvey Milk on a shelf somewhere, you may be confused by the title. No, author Andrew Reynolds isn’t referring to small humans; his title instead refers to babes in political office, worldwide, who happen to be gay.

Author Andrew Reynolds

For some readers, that could present problems: Fully half of Reynolds’ book is about politics overseas, and some of it won’t make sense unless you’ve got basic knowledge of how these other governments work. Without it, you may not fully appreciate the significance of what you’ll read – and if that makes you feel a tinge of regretful isolationism, know that, happily, Reynolds is a good teacher. Here, readers will easily learn, and what they learn is absolutely inspiring.

For political animals, this book is an easy choice. For the slightly clueless, it’s a know-your-history book that doesn’t dwell strictly domestically. For a casual reader, it may be challenging, but in the end, The Children of Harvey Milk could be the most informative book you’ll lay eyes on.

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