5 LGBTQ+ history books to read all year round

Be sure to keep room on your bookshelf for all of these fabulously queer history books!


While Pride month might officially be over, it’s still important to keep your bookshelf as diverse as possible throughout the rest of 2023. If you’re eager to learn more about LGBTQ+ history, the following five books can help you brush up on your knowledge before Pride next year. 

The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Prosecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson

Set during the McCarthy era in the United States (1940s & ‘50s), this book tells the heretofore untold story of a phenomenon that author and historian, David K. Johnson, calls, “The Lavender Scare”.

Johnson suggests that, during the Cold War, the American government considered homosexuals as much a threat to national security as Communism. While the famous question of McCarthy-era politics was, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?” Johnson suggests that another question echoed through the halls of Congress was: “Information has come to the attention of the Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment do you care to make?”. 

With the aid of FBI archives, declassified government documents, and interviews with former civil servants, Johnson relates the hidden history of how the government purged homosexuals from their careers for years, leading many members of the LGBTQ+ community to end their own lives. 

The Lavender Scare dismantles the myth that America’s engagement with homosexuality didn’t begin until the 1960s in the years leading up to Stonewall. 

Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Ben Miller & Huw Lemmey

Based on their wildly successful podcast of the same name, Ben Miller and Huw Lemmey’s Bad Gays has been described as “part-revisionist history, part-historical biography”.

While plenty of LGBTQ+ history books have focused on telling the story of LGBTQ+ heroes, Bad Gays tells the story of the queer villains and baddies that have been left in the past. 

With chapters on Emperor Hadrian, gangster Ronnie Kay, and even Ireland’s own Roger Casement, Bad Gays attempts to consider the ways in which history’s baddest gays have shaped the way we think about and perform homosexuality. 

“A wry, rigorous account of centuries of gay villainy. Lemmey and Miller’s historiography sparkles with salacious details and delights in showing us that there is nothing new under the sun,” wrote Shon Faye, Author of The Transgender Issue

The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals by Richard Plant

The Pink Triangle, written by Richard Plant, a German refugee, tells the story of what life was like for LGBTQ+ people in Nazi Germany. 

The comprehensive history was compiled from diary entries, letters, interviews with Holocaust survivors and previously untranslated documents, all of which spoke to what LGBTQ+ people went through in Nazi Germany. 

Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis by Kevin Mumford

Recounting the history of Black gay men from civil rights to gay liberation, Kevin Mumford argues that the struggles Black gay men faced from the 1950s to the 1990s played a big role in shaping our current culture stigmas at the intersection of race and homosexuality. 

Using historical figures such as James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Joseph Beam as case studies, Not Straight, Not White sheds light on four decades of lost history. 

Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender by Kim Heyam

Named one of History Today’s Best Books of 2022, Before We Were Trans tells the story of people from around the world whose experience of gender has been transgressive, or existed outside of the binary. 

Transporting readers from Renaissance Venice to Edo, Japan, and back to seventeenth-century Angola, Before We Were Trans explores the ways in which historical non-binary gender expressions have evolved over the centuries, but also, more poignantly, the ways in which they have been similar to contemporary trans identities. 

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