Out in Central Pennsylvania by William Burton with Barry Loveland

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Out in Central Pennsylvania
The History of an LGBTQ Community
by William Burton, with Barry Loveland
Pennsylvania State University Press, 280 pp., paperback $24.95

LGBTQ history is preserved in many ways: personal storytelling, community and academic archives, organization blogs, institutional memory, journalism, and books. Many of the books written on LGBTQ history have focused on major American cities — New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles — which have been sites of important political organizing. Rarely have historians and writers explored the rich chronicles of LGBTQ lives and stories outside of these urban centers.

This is beginning to happen now. Out in Central Pennsylvania is a suburb example of popular scholarship that explores and documents the lives, communities, activism and histories of people who reside in one of the most engaged and energized areas of America with a rich, abundant LGBTQ history that is as amazing and historically significant as that of any large city.

Out in Central Pennsylvania draws on a wide range of primary sources, cultural artifacts, oral histories and organizational archives. Taken in their totality, they form a vivid tapestry of a community — or rather multiple communities defined by geography and identity — that has a singularity of its own while being a microcosm of the momentous historical changes across the United States.

One of the joys of this book is the depth of research and detail Burton and Loveland have assembled: matchbooks for 1950s gay bars, ads for discotheques, snapshots of LGBTQ religious community meetings, images of protest marches, materials from LGBTQ college groups, portraits from HIV/AIDS organizations. The authors bring these artifacts together in a cohesive, sweeping, and emotionally sustained narrative that balances historical change with the drama of individual lives. Out in Central Pennsylvania has a well-crafted mix of local national, electoral and grassroots politics that provides a firm historical grounding. All of this is carefully augmented and brought together in a clear narrative, punctuated and enlivened by anecdotes, interviews and personal stories. Out in Central Pennsylvania is not only moving and illuminating, but historically significant. LGBTQ life in the United States is everywhere and documenting it here is both necessary as well as vitally important.

Michael Bronski
Harvard University