Books to Celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month

By Alex Kohn, Library Information Assistant
October 27, 2021
Mulberry Street Library

October is LGBTQ+ History Month and while you may know about the AIDS epidemic and subsequent activism and the Stonewall Riots of 1969, did you know the LGBTQ+ community has a long and storied history before those events? Our history is fascinating and colorful, so given that we've been around for quite a while there's a lot of history to explore. 

Separated into books for kids, teens and adults, and within that by fiction and nonfiction, this list is a way to engage with queer history or just read some good fiction, set at various points in history, that features queer characters, themes, and identity.

Kids Nonfiction

The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders; illustrated by Steven Salerno

In this deeply moving and empowering true story, young readers will trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today's world. Award-winning author Rob Sanders's stirring text, and acclaimed illustrator Steven Salerno's evocative images, combine to tell this remarkable—and undertold—story. A story of love, hope, equality, and pride.

Meet 53 LGBTQ Heroes From Past and Present! by Arabelle Sicardi and illustrated by Sarah Tanat-Jones

Queer Heroes: Meet 53 LGBTQ Heroes From Past and Present! by Arabelle Sicardi; illustrated by Sarah Tanat-Jones

This beautiful, bold book celebrates the achievements of LGBT people through history and from around the world. It features full-color portraits of a diverse selection of 53 inspirational role models accompanied by short biographies that focus on their incredible successes, from Freddie Mercury's contribution to music to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, Illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolutionby Rob Sanders; illustrated by Jamey Christoph

In the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by police in New York City. Though the inn had been raided before, that night would be different. It would be the night when empowered members of the LGBTQ+ community—in and around the Stonewall Inn—began to protest and demand their equal rights as citizens of the United States. Movingly narrated by the Stonewall Inn itself, and featuring stirring and dynamic illustrations, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution is an essential and empowering civil rights story that every child deserves to hear.

coming out in the streets by Gayle Pitman

Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle Pitman

This book is about the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous, often violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBTQ+) community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The Riots are attributed as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ movement. The author describes American gay history leading up to the Riots, the Riots themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of people involved or witnesses, including a woman who was ten at the time. Profusely illustrated, the book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other period objects. A timely and necessary read, The Stonewall Riots helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement.

How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community by Gayle Pitman, Illustrated by Christopher Lyles

When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Communityby Gayle Pitman; illustrated by Christopher Lyles

When You Look Out the Window tells the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, one of San Francisco's most well-known and politically active lesbian couples. Describing the view from Phyllis and Del's window, this book shows how one couple's activism transformed their community—and had ripple effects throughout the world.

Kids Fiction

Cover of Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley

Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley

After Mama Lacy’s death, Fella was forced to move in with her grandmother, Mrs. Madison. The move brought Fella all sorts of comforts she wasn't used to at home, but it also meant saying goodbye to her sister Zoey (a.k.a. Zany) and her other mother, Mama Shannon. Though Mama Shannon fought hard to keep Fella, it was no use. The marriage act is still a few years away and the courts thought Fella would be better off with a blood relation. Already heartbroken, Fella soon finds herself alone in Mrs. Madison's house, grieving both the death of her mother and the loss of her entire family. Then one night, Zany shows up at Mrs. Madison’s house determined to fulfill Mama Lacy’s dying wish: to have her ashes spread over the lawn of the last place they were all happy as a family. Of course, this means stealing Mama Lacy’s ashes and driving hundreds of miles in the middle of night to Asheville, North Carolina. Their adventure takes one disastrous turn after another, but their impulsive journey helps them rediscover the bonds that truly make them sisters.

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The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

Aware of the racial tumult in the years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mei tries to remain blissfully focused on her job, her close friendship with the camp foreman's daughter, and telling stories about Paul Bunyan‚reinvented as Po Pan Yin (Auntie Po), an elderly Chinese matriarch. Anchoring herself with stories of Auntie Po, Mei navigates the difficulty and politics of lumber camp work and her growing romantic feelings for her friend Bee. The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth and immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in America.

Cover of Goldie Lance by Hope Larson

Goldie Vance, Vol 1  written by Hope Larson; illustrated by Brittney Williams; colors by Sarah Stern; letters by Jim Campbell

Move over Nancy, Harriet, and Veronica. There's a new sleuth on the block! Sixteen-year-old Marigold "Goldie" Vance lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place. Her mom, who divorced her dad years ago, works as a live mermaid at a club downtown. Goldie has an insatiable curiosity, which explains her dream to one day become the hotel's in-house detective. When Charles, the current detective, encounters a case he can't crack, he agrees to mentor Goldie in exchange for her help solving the mystery.

Cover of My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari

My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari

Twelve-year-old June Farrell spends the summer at her Vermont home getting used to the woman her mother is planning to marry and practicing her pie-baking skills, as she hopes to win the blue ribbon at the fair.

Cover of The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

Amedeo Kaplan seems just like any other new kid who has moved into the town of St. Malo, Florida, a navy town where new faces are the norm. But Amedeo has a secret, a dream: More than anything in the world, he wants to discover something—a place, a process, even a fossil—some treasure that no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would also like to discover a true friend to share these things with. William Wilcox seems like an unlikely candidate for friendship: an aloof boy who is all edges and who owns silence the way other people own words. When Amedeo and William find themselves working together on a house sale for Amedeo's eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender, Amedeo has an inkling that both his wishes may come true. For Mrs. Zender's mansion is crammed with memorabilia of her long life, and there is a story to go with every piece. Soon the boys find themselves caught up in one particular story—a story that links a sketch, a young boy's life, an old man's reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. It's a story that will take them to the edge of what they know about heroism and the mystery of the human heart.

Young Adult Nonfiction

Cover of A Queer History of the United States for Young People by Richie Chevat

A Queer History of the United States for Young Peopleby Michael Bronski, adapted by Richie Chevat

Queer history didn't start with Stonewall. This book explores how LGBTQ people have always been a part of our national identity, contributing to the country and culture for over 400 years. It is crucial for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth to know their history. But this history is not easy to find since it's rarely taught in schools or commemorated in other ways. A Queer History of the United States for Young People corrects this and demonstrates that LGBTQ people have long been vital to shaping our understanding of what America is today. Through engrossing narratives, letters, drawings, poems, and more, the book encourages young readers, of all identities, to feel pride at the accomplishments of the LGBTQ people who came before them and to use history as a guide to the future.

23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager

Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals' and you've never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn't make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.
 

The True Story of Glenn Burke by Andrew Maraniss

Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke by Andrew Maraniss

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn's sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQ+ community would resonate for years to come. In Singled Out,  Andrew Maraniss tells the story of a little-known but monumentally important sports pioneer, Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the World Series, and his joy in living free at a time of gay liberation, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausman

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausman 

That’s the Stonewall.
The Stonewall Inn.
Pay attention.
History walks through that door.

In 1969 being gay in the United States was a criminal offense. It meant living a closeted life or surviving on the fringes of society. People went to jail, lost jobs, and were disowned by their families for being gay. Most doctors considered homosexuality a mental illness. There were few safe havens. The Stonewall Inn, a Mafia-run, filthy, overpriced bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, was one of them. Police raids on gay bars happened regularly in this era. But one hot June night, when cops pounded on the door of the Stonewall, almost nothing went as planned. Tensions were high. The crowd refused to go away. Anger and frustration boiled over.

The raid became a riot.

The riot became a catalyst.

The catalyst triggered an explosive demand for gay rights.

The Fight Against AIDS in America by Ann Bausman

Viral: The Fight Against AIDS in America by Ann Bausman

Thirty-five years ago, it was a modern-day, mysterious plague. Its earliest victims were mostly gay men, some of the most marginalized people in the country; at its peak in America, it killed tens of thousands of people. The losses were staggering, the science frightening, and the government's inaction unforgivable. The AIDS Crisis fundamentally changed the fabric of the United States. Viral presents the history of the AIDS crisis through the lens of the brave victims and activists who demanded action and literally fought for their lives. This compassionate but unflinching text explores everything from the disease's origins and how it spread to the activism it inspired and how the world confronts HIV and AIDS today.
 

Young Adult Fiction

Cover of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever. Now laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. But it's not a life Jane wants. When families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy... and the restless dead are the least of her problems.

Cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can't remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Cover of The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros

Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania. But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows. Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.

Cover of The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath

The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath 

It is 1904 and the partially deaf Asta Hedstrom is engaged to Nils, but she does not want to marry him: she would rather spend her time with her best friend Gunnar Fuglestad and his secret boyfriend, Erlend, who belongs to the wealthiest family on their Norwegian island; so when Nils gravely injures Gunnar, she shuns her marriage and moves in with Gunnar and Erlend in a secluded cabin above town--and the three misfits set out to win the annual Christmas sleigh race, and prove to that they belong together, in spite of the villages prejudices.

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Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

An Iranian youth who hides his sexual orientation from his family, an openly gay photographer and an aspiring fashion designer with an HIV-positive uncle fall in love and find their voices as activists during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City.

 

 

Adult Nonfiction

A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identityby C. Riley Snorton

The story of Christine Jorgensen, America’s first prominent transsexual, famously narrated trans embodiment in the postwar era. Her celebrity, however, has obscured other mid-century trans narratives—ones lived by African Americans such as Lucy Hicks Anderson and James McHarris. Their erasure from trans history masks the profound ways race has figured prominently in the construction and representation of transgender subjects. In Black on Both Sides, C. Riley Snorton identifies multiple intersections between blackness and transness from the mid-nineteenth century to present-day anti-black and anti-trans legislation and violence.

A Same Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves

Charity and Sylvia: A Same Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves

Conventional wisdom holds that same-sex marriage is a purely modern innovation, a concept born of an overtly modern lifestyle that was unheard of in nineteenth century America. But same-sex marriage is hardly new. Born in 1777, Charity Bryant was raised in Massachusetts. A brilliant and strong-willed woman with a clear attraction for her own sex, Charity found herself banished from her family home at age twenty. She spent the next decade of her life traveling throughout Massachusetts, working as a teacher, making intimate female friends, and becoming the subject of gossip wherever she lived. At age twenty-nine, still defiantly single, Charity visited friends in Weybridge, Vermont. There she met a pious and studious young woman named Sylvia Drake. The two soon became so inseparable that Charity decided to rent rooms in Weybridge. In 1809, they moved into their own home together, and over the years, came to be recognized, essentially, as a married couple. Charity and Sylvia is the intimate history of their extraordinary forty-four year union and a significant contribution to our limited knowledge of LGBTQ history in early America.

The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France

How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France

In this descriptive narrative for general readers and others, AIDS journalist David France interweaves his own life story and friendships as he chronicles the growth, impact, and legacy of activist groups such as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group) as they fought for more funding for AIDS research and lower prices for treatment drugs. France introduces the personalities and ideals of key activists who reacted to the losses in the gay community by lobbying, protesting, fighting against pharmaceutical companies, and creating buyers’ clubs for treatment drugs. 

protest, power, and pride in the history of queer liberation by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown

We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown

Through the lenses of protest, power, and pride, We Are Everywhere is an essential and empowering introduction to the history of the fight for queer liberation. Combining exhaustively researched narrative with meticulously curated photographs, the book traces queer activism from its roots in late-nineteenth-century Europe—long before the pivotal Stonewall Riots of 1969—to the gender warriors leading the charge today. Featuring more than 300 images from more than seventy photographers and twenty archives, this inclusive and intersectional book enables us to truly see queer history unlike anything before, with glimpses of activism in the decades preceding and following Stonewall, family life, marches, protests, celebrations, mourning, and Pride. By challenging many of the assumptions that dominate mainstream LGBTQ+ history, We Are Everywhere shows readers how they can—and must—honor the queer past in order to shape our liberated future.

Cover of When Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan

When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan

A groundbreaking exploration of the LGBTQ history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the queer women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond. Not only has Brooklyn always lived in the shadow of queer Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Harlem, but there has also been a systematic erasure of its queer history—a great forgetting. Hugh Ryan is here to unearth that history for the first time. In intimate, evocative, moving prose he discusses in new light the fundamental questions of what history is, who tells it, and how we can only make sense of ourselves through its retelling; and shows how the formation of the Brooklyn we know today is inextricably linked to the stories of the incredible people who created its diverse neighborhoods and cultures.

Adult Fiction

Cover of Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Greenville County, South Carolina, is a wild, lush place that is home to the Boatwright family—a tight-knit clan of rough-hewn, hard-drinking men who shoot up each other’s trucks, and indomitable women who get married young and age too quickly. At the heart of this story is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a bastard child who observes the world around her with a mercilessly keen perspective. When her stepfather Daddy Glen, “cold as death, mean as a snake,” becomes increasingly more vicious toward her, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that tests the loyalty of her mother, Anney—and leads to a final, harrowing encounter from which there can be no turning back. 

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The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

Two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation find refuge in each other while transforming a quiet shed into a haven for their fellow slaves, before an enslaved preacher declares their bond sinful. The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.

Cover of Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault

Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India and a new cosmopolitan model for western civilization.In Alexander's childhood, his defiant character was molded into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son's loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion, on whom he depended for he rest of his life, taught him trust, whilst Aristotle's tutoring provoked his mind and Homer's Iliad fueled his aspirations. He killed his first man in battle at the age of twelve and became the commander of Macedon's cavalry at eighteen - by the time his father was murdered and he acceded to the throne, Alexander's skills had grown to match his fiery ambition

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The Book of Salt by Monique Truong 

The Book of Salt serves up a wholly original take on Paris in the 1930s through the eyes of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Viewing his famous mesdames and their entourage from the kitchen of their rue de Fleurus home, Binh observes their domestic entanglements while seeking his own place in the world. In a mesmerizing tale of yearning and betrayal, Monique Truong explores Paris from the salons of its artists to the dark nightlife of its outsiders and exiles. She takes us back to Binh's youthful servitude in Saigon under colonial rule, to his life as a galley hand at sea, to his brief, fateful encounters in Paris with Paul Robeson and the young Ho Chi Minh.

Cover Maurice by E.M. Forster

Maurice by E.M. Forster

Maurice Hall is a young man who grows up confident in his privileged status and well aware of his role in society. Modest and generally conformist, he nevertheless finds himself increasingly attracted to his own sex. Through Clive, whom he encounters at Cambridge, and through Alec, the gamekeeper on Clive's country estate, Maurice gradually experiences a profound emotional and sexual awakening. A tale of passion, bravery and defiance, this intensely personal novel was completed in 1914 but remained unpublished until after Forster's death in 1970. Compellingly honest and beautifully written, it offers a powerful condemnation of the repressive attitudes of British society, and is at once a moving love story and an intimate tale of one man's erotic and political self-discovery.

Cover of Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue collar town in the 1950’s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgender person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence.

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Jam on the Vine by LaShonda K. Barnett 

Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother's white employer. Living in the poor, segregated quarter of Little Tunis, Ivoe immerses herself in printed matter as an escape from her dour surroundings. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return over-qualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown's racially-biased employers. Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam! On the Vine. In the throes of the Red Summer—the 1919 outbreak of lynchings and race riots across the Midwest—Ivoe risks her freedom, and her life, to call attention to the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.

Cover of The Price of Salt (or Carol) by Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt (or Carol)by Patricia Highsmith

Based on a true story plucked from Highsmith's own life, The Price of Salt tells the riveting drama of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose routine is forever shattered by a gorgeous epiphany—the appearance of Carol Aird, a customer who comes in to buy her daughter a Christmas toy. Therese begins to gravitate toward the alluring suburban housewife, who is trapped in a marriage as stultifying as Therese's job. They fall in love and set out across the United States, ensnared by society's confines and the imminent disapproval of others, yet propelled by their infatuation.

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.