Elevate Difference

The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation?

The Lesbian and Gay Movements: Assimilation or Liberation? is a history of post-Stonewall GLBTQ activism as seen through three focused battles: the AIDS crisis, the ban on gays in the military, and the conflict over gay marriage. Craig Rimmerman presents a detailed breakdown of each, assembling them into a supposed study of the differences and relative importance of assimilationist and liberationist strategies. The result of his work here is a book deeply limited as a piece of writing and as an argument, but deeply compelling as a piece of history.

In aesthetic terms, Rimmerman is not much of a writer. His sentence structure is clunky, his rigid adherence to the classic “tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them” structure almost laughable. In terms of structure and argument, his insistence on a thesis overly simplistic and overly focused—that both assimilationist and liberationist movements are needed for political progress—limits the energy and momentum of his book, and the book’s surveying take on its subjects makes many of the chapters and segments feel rushed. He fails to define terms key to making a leftist book accessible to a broader public, such as “the Christian Right,” while defining basic terms about the lesbian and gay movements that any leftist audience would understand. As such, _The Lesbian and Gay Movements _can be a frustrating book to read.

However, the facts in the book are indubitably fascinating and well-assembled. Rimmerman is a professor of political science and public policy at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and his skill as a teacher is clear in his work here. He presents shocking facts as part of a collection. He casually and gracefully introduces elements of the pre-Stonewall gay liberation (“homophile”) movements that are rarely seen in mainstream press or history. He breaks down the historical steps of each of his topics in a clear and accessible manner. A few days after reading The Lesbian and Gay Movements, I found myself using information I had gained directly from the book in a discussion with my students about Ronald Reagan, and the details of Bill Clinton’s disappointing performance with regard to gay and lesbian rights—particularly with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—were new and deeply informative.

The Lesbian and Gay Movements is not, in the end, a very good book. It is, however, a marvelous teaching tool. I’ve been privileged to use it as such already and hope that many other educators will find the same use for it. I also hope that students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges will take any opportunity available to take a class with Craig Rimmerman. His skills as a teacher shine through every part of this book.

Written by: Gemma Cooper-Novack, April 17th 2008