As I suppose is befitting for a writer, I have a rather unconventional background. I grew up in the town of Jesup, GA, where my family had solid roots: the family had lived there for generations and my parents and aunt and uncle owned the local dime store. While Jesup would have been idyllic for many and I had a loving and wonderful family, I always dreamed of living in a world-class city and, being gay, felt isolated.
I attended college at Emory University, where I majored in religion while also taking many French courses. In my junior year I studied in Paris at the Sorbonne. While in Paris I became close to the prominent painter Anita de Caro and visited her weekly. Each time we met she would show me the progress she had made on a series of paintings she was creating, and we would discuss the canvas she was currently working on. As a future writer, my relationship with Anita was a very important one as it gave me confidence in my own aesthetic instincts.
I attended the University of Wisconsin, where I got an MA in South Asian Studies. However, soon after moving to Wisconsin, I had become a gay activist and spent more time on activism than I did on my studies. The reason for this was because of Anita Bryant’s success in repealing gay civil rights ordinances: I felt that all the progress the gay rights movement (as it was then called) had made was in danger of being swept away. I founded the Madison Committee for Gay Rights and cofounded The United and served as one of their spokespersons. Two friends and I started what was apparently the nation’s second gay television series, Glad To Be Gay, and, for a spin-off of that program, Nothing To Hide, I interviewed one of my favorite writers, Allen Ginsberg. Through the activism of this period, a grass roots movement was created that resulted in Wisconsin passing the first statewide gay rights law.
I moved to New York in 1985 and for several years did not have a sense of vocation, but continued my lifelong habit of reading widely. As I continued to read and to do some soul searching, I gradually came to the realization that I was meant to be a writer. I got a job at a publishing company, Chelsea House Publishers, then the nation’s premier publisher of young adult multicultural books. I proposed the creation of two new series, a lesbian and gay biography series and a lesbian and gay studies series, both of which I helped Chelsea House launch before I left the company.
I had wanted to write a biography of Allen Ginsberg for the Chelsea House biography series and talked to Allen about this. Ultimately my renewed contact with Allen led to a much more interesting project, Allen’s hiring me to edit his interviews, which was published after Allen's death as Spontaneous Mind.
Around this same time I met the noted gay editor, Michael Denneny. I had suggested Chelsea House hire Martin Duberman as the general editor for the two series I had created and had read Duberman’s Stonewall as soon as it was published. While I found Martin’s account of the riots compelling, I also found it to be brief. I also learned that Martin had not made use of a number of possible resources, and Michael Denneny liked my idea of writing an in-depth account of the Stonewall Riots. I thus started to research the Stonewall Riots shortly after I had been hired by Allen to edit his interviews.
In 1998 I received a grant from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation to research a nomination to put the site of the Stonewall Riots on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination, written by myself and three preservationists, can be seen on the Stonewall page. It resulted in the Stonewall site getting on the National Register in 1999, the first time that a site was listed because of its role in LGBT history. The following year the site was declared a National Historic Landmark, the highest recognition given by the United States government.
My compilation of Allen’s interviews, Spontaneous Mind, was published in 2001, and Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution was published in 2004. WGBH is currently making a film on the Stonewall Riots based on my book and has hired me to be the consultant for the film, which is being made for their American Experience series. The film is to air in April of the 40th anniversary year of the Stonewall uprising. The BBC has also commissioned a documentary on the Stonewall Riots, and they have retained me as the consultant for the program. The documentary, made for their BBC2 radio station, is to be broadcast on June 30, 2009.
In addition to working on these and other projects connected with the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, I am researching my next book, a biography of the pioneering gay activist Dr. Frank Kameny, who was responsible for getting the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness and who coined the phrase “Gay Is Good” before the Stonewall Riots.