Pride Reads for the Month of June

Some community gatherings and events may have been cancelled, but you can still celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month by exploring some of these reading suggestions, all of which were handpicked by our Matchmakers team! Our highlighted read is When Brooklyn was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan, a wonderful non-fiction title that gives a delightful overview of queer history in both Brooklyn as well as the wider American culture from the 1850s until the late 1960sPlease note that for the rest of this review I will be using the word queer to refer to the wider LGBTQ community. For further elaboration, please refer to either the book itself or the author’s website.  

When Brooklyn Was Queer is unique in its approach to queer history, and it is a landmark achievement for several key reasons. First and foremost, it is a significant work because it addresses how queer people lived prior to the Stonewall Riot, which is often incorrectly cited as the “beginning” of modern queer history. Instead, Ryan deftly tackles the conception of history as not merely a linear progression of events that lead to more freedoms and civil right victories for previously oppressed groups, but more appropriately as a process of gains that may often be followed by a backlash period.

In this particular instance, the late 1800s and early 1900s were a period of relative permissiveness before many queer persons were known about by wider society, and perhaps before they were even aware of each other. Sadly, when such knowledge was obtained by wider society, there was a backlash against the queer community, which was aided and abetted by the wider eugenic movement in America at this time. By the 1940s and 50s, the queer world was greatly changed and stifled by the laws that were passed by groups that attempted to medicalize and criminalize homosexuality and gender non-conforming individuals in an attempt to prevent what many legislators and doctors saw as nothing short of white genocide. 

In addition, this book is a significant work because of how Ryan highlights the way that race and gender played a critical role in the treatment of different communities during this time, as he has gone to great lengths in his research to shine a light on communities that have been underrepresented in past histories of the queer community, including African Americans, lesbians, and transgender persons. Ryan also focuses on historical figures who have been greatly overlooked in other works, perhaps because they belonged to one of the aforementioned groups. He covers these figures in depth, breathing life into them with such detail and candor that the reader may be left feeling as if you know them intimately. Finally, this work is one of importance because of how the author details the interrelationships between these figures, hinting at a much larger queer community than historians may have previously realized. This tool is often overlooked by many authors, but Ryan deftly uses it to provide a vivid picture of queer life in the 19th and 20th century.

Taken as a whole, When Brooklyn Was Queer is a seminal work to understanding queer history – the whole of queer history – which is much lengthier and diverse than has been previously shown by many historians and writers. Author Hugh Ryan goes to great lengths to paint the community in its all its vivid rainbow colors, and to include previously overlooked groups and figuresHis greatest overall triumph is in showing how nothing in history happens in a vacuum, because our daily life is indeed informed by our legal system, by our medical “knowledge, and by our media. And as the eugenic movement slowly crept into the facets of American life in the 1920’s and 30’s, it led to the suppression of not only queer life, but also many other interrelated communities, often destroying innocent lives and leaving a legacy of oppression in its wake. 

All of these lives deserve to be remembered and celebrated, and Ryan has done a great service in providing such a compelling read to document previously overlooked aspects of queer life. Any reader coming to this work is sure to learn something new, even if you feel like you already have a solid grasp on basic queer history. This book is definitely a worthy addition to our understanding of queer history, and will also provide readers with an overall understanding of how historical progress is not a river that has always flowed forwards in America. 

If you want to order it, the physical book can be found via CLEVNET, and the audiobook can both be found on Overdrive.

Hugh Ryan also took a walking tour with NY Mag of some of these historical sites, which you can access by clicking here: When Brooklyn Was Queer: A Walking Tour with Author Hugh Ryan.

For further reading and learning, please check out the titles listed below, which were compiled by our Matchmakers group. And be sure to let us know in the comments below if we missed any of your favorite reads that represent the LGBTQ community and queer history. 

Non-Fiction Titles

  1. When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Ryan Hugh
  2. The Stonewall Reader edited by New York Public Library  
  3. We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation by Matthew Riemer  
  4. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen
  5. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman
  6. Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime by Alex Espinoza 
  7. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
  8. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman
  9. And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the Aids Epidemic by Randy Shilts
  10. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women During World War II by Alan Berube

 Memoirs and Biographies  

  1.  Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia  
  2. How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones 
  3. We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib 
  4. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
  5. Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place A Transgender Memoir by Jackson Bird
  6. Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness
  7. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More by Janet Mock
  8. Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
  9. Would You Rather: A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out by Katie Heaney
  10. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

 Fiction Titles

  1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai  
  2. Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith 
  3. Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson  
  4. The Seep by Chana Porter 
  5. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong  
  6. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado  
  7. Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs  
  8. Willa and Hesper by Amy Feltman  
  9. Find Me: A Novel by Andre Aciman  
  10.  Disobedience by Naomi Alderman  
  11. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin 
  12.  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flag 
  13.  Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston 
  14.  The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite 
  15.  Fingersmith by Sarah Waters 

 Graphic Novels  

  1.  Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe  
  2. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki 
  3. What Did You Eat Yesterday by Fumi Yoshinaga
  4. Bloom by Kevin Panetta  
  5. Wandering Son by Takako Shimura
  6. Spinning by Tillie Walden 
  7. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang  
  8. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
  9. #Hockey: Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu  
  10. A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni

 Teen Reads

  1. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  3. Bonds of Brass: Book One of the Bloodright Trilogy by Emily Skrutskie
  4. We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia
  5. Music From Another World by Robin Talley
  6. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed their Lives by Dashka Slater
  7. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  9. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  10. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  11. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
  12. The Black Flamingo by Atta Dean


  1. Paris is Burning (1991)
  2. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
  3. Milk (2008)
  4. Pariah (2011)
  5. Carol (2015)
  6. Tangerine (2015)
  7. Moonlight (2016)
  8. A Fantastic Woman (2018)
  9. Call Me By Your Name (2018)
  10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020)


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