by Richard Labonte
“From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits That Have Changed Our Nation,” by Carlos A. Ball. Beacon Press, 288 pages, $27.95 hardcover.
From Stonewall to ACT UP to pro-marriage rallies, queer activists have taken to the streets to fight for rights, says law professor Ball. But this riveting book’s focus is on the parallel track of courtroom battles. The author blends lucid legal analysis, poignant portraits of the defendants and astute profiles of the attorneys involved in five cases. From 1989, “Braschi v. Stahl” first granted a same-sex relationship family status in a case involving a gay man’s right to remain in his rent-protected Manhattan apartment after his partner’s AIDS death; from 1993, “Baehr v. Lewin” first addressed the issue of gay marriage in a landmark Hawaii lawsuit; from 1996, “Nabozny v. Podlesny” forced a rural Wisconsin school to acknowledge horrific harassment of a gay teenager; also from 1996, “Romer v. Evans” refuted a Colorado state amendment that would have made it illegal to protect gays against discrimination; and from 2003, “Lawrence v. Texas” ruled that government cannot criminalize private, consensual gay sex. Dry legalisms come alive in this brisk account of gay rights litigation.
“Date with a Sheesha,” by Anthony Bidulka. Insomniac Press, 262 pages, $16.95 paper.
With six previous Russell Quant novels to his credit, mystery writer Bidulka has honed his formula to enticing perfection. His sleuth – who hails from the Canadian Prairie town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – is muddling through life as a private detective, a little bit bored and a little bit worried about cash flow, until hometown mayhem eventually sends him out into the world. Previous books have seen our sleuth in France, New York, the Canadian Arctic, Africa, Hawaii and aboard a cruise ship. The exotic setting this time is the Middle East, where Quant has been sent by a distraught family to find out who murdered their son, there to buy antique carpets for a museum exhibit back in Saskatoon. Half the pleasure of Bidulka’s novels comes from his atmospheric accounts of foreign lands. Equally satisfying – a trait shared by any good ongoing mystery series – is how Quant’s personal life, including a colorful mother and quirky friends, has evolved, particularly the sometimes wrenching ups and downs of the sleuth’s romantic entanglements.
“City of Strangers,” by Diana Rivers. Bella Books, 168 pages, $14.95 paper.
Tales of women-only tribes set in a utopian world have long been a staple of feminist and lesbian fiction. What distinguishes this one – in addition to smooth writing and a fast-paced plot – is that peace isn’t the only path, utopia comes with quarrels, and not every man is a villain. The story centers on 19-year-old Solene, taken captive by brutal Peltron to be the bride of his brother, the more sweet-tempered Torvin, back in the city of Hernorium. Her eventual escape leads to Peltron’s vow to annihilate the women’s idyllic village and to make slaves of them all. But the men are humiliated by a violent defense they hadn’t expected, and Peltron’s cocky, snotty son, Ramule becomes ransom for other women enslaved in the city. Rivers, author of the six-novel “Hadra” series, adds emotional heft to the muscular tale by crafting complex women characters who don’t always get along, and by mixing into the story a couple of sympathetic men, including, in a nice touch, young Ramule.
“Space Cadet: The Tempering Way,” by Patrick Fillion, illustrated by Bob Grey. Class Comics, 24 pages, $7.99 paper.
Fillion, founder of Class Comics, is a younger-generation queer erotic artist who crafts hyper-sexualized images in the tradition of Tom of Finland, the Hun, Etienne, Belasco and other venerable masters of muscle-and-cum imagery. There are more than 20 comics in his catalog, among them Fillion’s own “Camil-Cat” and “Boytoon” series, Douglas Arder’s “Tug Harder” series, Johnny Murdoc’s “Cruise Control” series, and French artist Logan’s bear-oriented “Porky” series. This new comic features brawny Byron, aka Space Cadet, who has come to the land of Ordovica to do battle with vile Baron von Phallus on behalf of the oppressed – among them sexy satyrs, flirty fairies, and seductive centaurs. All the men’s muscles are massive and their eye-catching endowments are almost always engorged, certainly fuel for readers’ fantasies. But Fillion fleshes out physiques with an engaging storyline that, frequent sexual encounters aside, rounds out the fantastical setting and gives the assorted characters texture. By comic’s end, savior Space Cadet has instead been captured, and is fated to become the sexual plaything of the nasty Baron’s lusty warriors … but the story is to be continued.
It is unclear, at the beginning of the 21st century, whether the LGBT rights movement will ultimately prevail in achieving its most important goals. It is clear, however, that the nation, at the very least, is grappling with the place of LGBT people in society. This is a monumental shift from 30 years ago, when the country hardly took notice of their existence, much less struggled in meaningful ways with their claims to equal citizenship. LGBT rights cases, and the lawyers who litigate them, have played a crucial role in making this happen.
-from “From the Closet to the Courtroom,” by Carlos A. Ball
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: He’s never stated that he’s queer, but flamboyant 25-year-old figure skater Johnny Weir may tell all in a forthcoming – but not yet titled – book, scheduled for January 2011 publication from Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint. It’s billed as more of an essay collection than a memoir, with Weir musing about skating, fashion and pop culture. But he’ll be writing about himself as well, says Gallery Books editor Jennifer Bergstrom, and the prose “will be all things Johnny – vivacious, stylish and honest”… TWO CANADIAN BOOKS TO CONSIDER: Random House Canada has published “Walt Whitman’s Secret,” by George Fetherling, a novel based on the poet’s life – and the secret isn’t that Whitman was gay, which is assumed quite matter-of-factly by the narrator, but instead concerns U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. And Dundern Press has reissued the late Scott Symons’ “Combat Journal for Place d’Armes,” a novel that shocked the Canadian literary establishment when it was published in 1967: at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the nation, the book featured a gay protagonist cavorting with male hustlers in Montreal, a coming-out experience couched inside a critical examination of Canadian – and particularly French-Canadian – culture. Publication coincided with Symons’ decision to leave his wife and young son in Toronto for a male teenage lover, with whom he fled to Mexico, and which only added to the novel’s infamy. Times change, however – the “Literary Review of Canada” recently named it one of the 100 most important works of Canadian literature.