Tag: teens

LGBTQ History Books for Children and Teens

LGBTQ History Books for Children and Teens

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done a roundup of kids’ books on LGBTQ history and there have been many new ones in that time! Here’s a fresh list of old and new for LGBTQ History Month—including an upcoming picture book about Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera!

LGBTQ History Books for Kids

I’m focusing here on books that delve into the history of Pride and LGBTQ people more generally; ones that look solely at the experience of a Pride march or the colors of the rainbow flag can be found in my roundup of Pride Books for Kids. Also, as far as I know, all the authors below identify as White; I wish there was much more diversity of authorship among these books that chart our diverse history. (I know there are LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books by authors of color; I’m speaking just of history books here.) Publishers, you can do better than this.

An Upcoming Picture Book

Let’s start with one book I haven’t reviewed previously. Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution, by Joy Michael Ellison and Teshika Silver (Jessica Kingsley, 2020), isn’t out until November 21, but I’d be remiss not to mention it here. It tells the story of Stonewall icons and transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera by focusing on their close friendship and how they cared for their community in the face of harassment by police and others. We see them at the heart of the Stonewall Rebellion, then opening a home for homeless trans girls and continuing to fight “for the survival and rights of transgender people.”

Some of the violence during the riots has been tempered for the age group and a few historical details could be argued, but as the authors note, this is only one retelling of what happened. What comes through clearly, though—and is probably most important for this age group—is the bond between Sylvia and Marsha and the overall sense of how they worked to help those in need. A few of the narrative transitions are a little jumpy, but the thread of Sylvia and Marsha’s friendship helps hold things together.

The back matter offers additional details on the two, a glossary, discussion questions, and activities. There are a couple of errors in the two online resources listed, though: “Queer Kids Stuff” should be “Queer Kid Stuff,” and “The Family Equality Council” should be just “Family Equality.” (Also, I would have added PFLAG and Gender Spectrum as key resources, since they do a lot of work with families of trans kids.) Those are minor issues, though. This inspiring story of friendship, community, and revolution rightly gives Sylvia and Marsha their place on our kids’ bookshelves alongside the mostly White and male figures who have dominated LGBTQ picture book biographies.

Other Elementary School Books

Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution, by Rob Sanders (Random House, 2019), uses the perspective of the Stonewall Inn itself to create a simple yet compelling story that focuses on the people in the neighborhood. Jamey Christoph’s evocative illustrations capture their diversity of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. (Full review.)

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno (Random House: 2018), is an inspiring biography of Milk that stresses his friendship with Gilbert Baker, who designed the rainbow flag as a symbol of hope and inspiration. It does mention Milk’s assassination, although as gently as possible, but parents should still be prepared to address kids’ concerns there. (Full review.)

Sewing the Rainbow: A Story About Gilbert Baker (Magination Press: 2018), written by Gayle Pitman and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown, flips the perspective Sanders used, and takes us along with Baker from his childhood, through adversity, to the request by his friend Milk to create a new symbol for their community. A few rough transitions may take adult explanation, but all will be inspired by this story and how Baker regained his lost sparkle. (Full review.)

The Harvey Milk Story, written by Kari Krakow and illustrated by David Gardner (Two Lives Publishing: 2001), conveys Milk’s significance with warmth and appreciation. It is wordier and more detailed that Sanders’ book, and probably best for older elementary students. Unfortunately out of print and only available in used versions; see if you can find a cheap one or seek it in a library.

When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community, by Gayle Pitman (Magination Press: 2017), tells of the transformation that LGBTQ-rights pioneers Lyon and Martin helped bring to San Francisco and its LGBTQ community.

The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Little Bee, 2020), is the story of Albert D. J. Cashier, an immigrant, Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War, and a transgender man—though as Sanders notes, he probably wouldn’t have used that term. Terminology aside, Sanders reinforces that “His identity fit him as snug as his suspenders.” (Full review.)

Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg, written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Levi Hastings (Henry Holt, 2020), takes us from Buttigieg’s birth in Indiana to his announcement of a groundbreaking run for president. “Only time will tell” who he will become, it concludes. It’s a smart way to end a book that was finished in May 2019 and fast-tracked for publication, as Sanders confirmed with me—well before Mayor Pete won the Iowa Democratic Caucuses but shortly thereafter dropped out of the race. It may inspire young readers on their own journeys of self-discovery and service. (Full review.)

For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Olga Baumert (Albert Whitman), tells of Bates’ childhood during the Civil War, her dedication to study, and her work to address social injustices, as well as the trip that inspired her most famous poem. It mentions “the home she shared with Katharine Coman”; an afterward calls their relationship “a close companionship,” though as I explain in my full review, it was likely more than that.

Be Amazing: A History of Pride, by “Drag Kid” Desmond Is Amazing (Farrar Staus Giroux, 2020), is less a detailed history than a short overview of the Stonewall Riots and the first March one year later; brief biographies of Stonewall icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; and a description of the influence of Pride on Desmond’s life. A mention of President Obama’s 2009 declaration of Pride Month makes it (incorrectly) seem as if that legitimized the observance. What it lacks as a history it makes up for with dazzling illustrations from Dylan Glynn and an enthusiastic message to “Be amazing.”

Harvey Milk, Ellen DeGeneres, and RuPaul Charles from Little Bee Books (2020) with no stated author,  illustrated by Victoria Grace Elliott, each offer simple takes on these figures’ lives, though not as simple as the board book format might imply. (Full review.)

Middle Grade Books

Rainbow Revolutionaries: Fifty LGBTQ+ People Who Made History, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins, 2020), offers short but engaging profiles of LGBTQ+ people who have had an impact on the world in a variety of times and places. The format matches her book for teens, Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (see below)but the language has been tuned to a slightly younger audience. In both books, Prager writes in an informal, approachable style while also providing substantial facts about each person’s life and motivations. (Full review.)

Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle, by Robin Stevenson (Orca, 2020), is an updated edition of her 2016 Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community, which blends a history of the event with a broader look at the struggle for LGBTQ equality, along with a look at what it means to come out, what to expect at Pride events around the world, a glossary, and an explanation of gender identity. The new edition places a greater focus on activism and activists, as the need for such work has grown over the past few years.

Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, by Jerome Pohlen (Chicago Review Press, 2015), starts with Sappho, Alexander the Great, and other figures from distant history, but then focuses mostly on U.S. social and political history. A series of activities throughout the book add fun and engagement. Despite the main title, Pohlen is inclusive of the LGBT spectrum.

Stonewall: Our March Continues, by Olivia Higgins, illustrated by Tess Marie Vosevich Keller (self-published, 2019), straddles the picture book/middle grade line as it tells the tale through the eyes of young LGBT people in the 1960s seeking community in New York City. It’s an engaging approach, but the undifferentiated first-person narrative, intended to convey perspectives from different people, may be confusing. Young readers might also need adult guidance so they are not scared by the line, “My parents demand that I change or leave home forever.” (Full review.)

Young Adult Books

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World, by Sarah Prager (HarperCollins: 2017), aims for the teen audience, but adults will also learn much from her engaging profiles. Prager offers a thoughtful exploration of historical terms for what we now call “queer” identities, an overview of queerness around the world, and profiles that are both informative and entertaining.

Gayle Pitman’s The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets (Abrams, 2019) is organized around 50 representative objects from the era and the event, such as photos, matchbooks, picket signs, and more. Pitman skillfully weaves the stories behind these objects into an accessible and substantial narrative. (Full review.)

What Was Stonewall? by Nico Medina (Penguin, 2019), looks at Stonewall in the context of the broader movement for LGBTQ equality both before 1969 and after, through 2016.

The Stonewall Riots: The Fight for LGBT Rights, by Tristan Poehlmann (Essential Library, 2016) is a solid overview, but only available in a $30 library edition, which may make it a better library pick than one for home bookshelves.

Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights, by Jamie Lawson (Crocodile Books/Interlink, 2020), takes an more event-based approach to history, in contrast to Prager’s people-based one (see above), offering brief snapshots of significant moments and movements in LGBTQ history from the Victorian age to our current era. There’s a lot of fascinating information in the volume, although Lawson’s choices about what to focus on feels somewhat uneven. (Full review.)

Gay America: Struggle for Equality, by Linus Alsenas (Amulet: 2008), is explicitly limited to gay men and lesbians and a little dated now, but worthwhile within those limits, covering politics, culture, relations between the lesbian and gay rights movement and other civil rights movements, entertainment, the evolution of gay and lesbian identities, and more.


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Newfest 2020 Preview: Trans Teens, Jewish Funerals, and So Much More

Newfest 2020 Preview: Trans Teens, Jewish Funerals, and So Much

As the pandemic approaches its one-year mark, the film industry continues to adjust to this new world. Release dates have been pushed, drive-ins have made a moderate return, and film festivals have gone online. While I would do just about anything to sit in a movie theatre again — except risk pandemic safety — that last change isn’t all bad. Film festivals going online means that more people can watch a wider variety of lesser known films!

I was lucky enough to be on the screening committee for Newfest, New York’s largest LGBTQ+ film festival, this year and I am so excited about the final program. And if you live in the US you can watch the films! Even if you’re not in New York!

It’s a big slate with 120 films, panels, and virtual events from tomorrow, October 16th through October 27th. To help you choose what to check out, here are my top ten recommendations.


Bonus #1 – Shorts: Dream a Little Dream

I haven’t seen all of the shorts that are being screened and haven’t even seen all the shorts in this program BUT I did want to mention it, because it has two of my favorite shorts I watched. Maxwell Nalevansky’s Jazzberry and Xanthe Dobbie’s Elagabalus are both electrifying shots of queer creativity and they should not be missed.

Bonus #2 – No Hard Feelings (dir. Faraz Shariat)

This list doesn’t include films only about queer men, but this movie is very good and you should watch it!!

Bonus #3 – All Trans Brokeback Mountain Screenplay Table Read (prod. Gaby Dunn)

Conflict of interest: I am in this! But even if I wasn’t in this I’d still recommend it, because who wouldn’t want to watch Brian Michael Smith, Leo Sheng, Alexandra Grey, Jen Richards, and a bunch of other trans actors (yes, myself included) perform an all-trans version of Brokeback Mountain?? I mean, come on.


10. Ahead of the Curve (dir. Jen Rainin)

Since you’re here on Autostraddle dot com, there’s a good chance you’re someone who cares about the past and future of lesbian media. This documentary about Franco Stevens and the founding of Curve magazine (originally Deneuve) is a fascinating look at the last 30 years of lesbian media, representation, and culture. The film works as both an essential historical record and an exploration of where we are today — and where we might be tomorrow.

9. Rūrangi (dir. Max Currie)

Trans person returns to their small town post-transition has become something of a trope, but what elevates this New Zealand film is its sharp trans and queer perspective. Before activist Caz returns home, we get to see him in his community surrounded by a wide variety of other trans people. And once he arrives, conflict with his dad is accompanied by support from his queer woman friend from childhood and the rekindling of a past romance. This isn’t a fish out of water story centering the reactions of cishet people. This is Caz’s story and the story of the queer and trans people of various genders who fill his life with meaning.

8. Kelet (dir. Susani Mahadura)

This hour-long documentary about Kelet, a Somali trans woman living in Finland, is a gorgeous portrait of the Helsinki ballroom scene and this one captivating individual. The quiet moments between Kelet and her friend Lola are as arresting as the ball scenes and the film ends up being a testament to chosen family and the struggle to own your culture and yourself. There’s a sharp difference between Kelet’s experiences modeling in normative spaces and her intracommunity performances and Mahadura’s camera emphasizes these differences. Kelet is searching for where she belongs and it’s a pleasure to witness a part of that journey.

7. Shiva Baby (dir. Emma Seligman)

This is officially a comedy, but with its horror movie score, claustrophobic cinematography, and premise of running into your sugar daddy and your ex-girlfriend at a shiva, I think it’s safe to say this is the scariest movie of the festival. Rachel Sennott stars as Danielle, a 20-something on the precipice of college graduation who has no idea what to do with her life — career-wise or otherwise. Seligman does such an excellent job capturing a specific type of Jewish culture and the simmering anxiety it induces. The cast — that includes Dianna Agron! — is excellent, especially Sennott who excels equally in moments where she’s living a nightmare and in moments where she is the nightmare. It’s probably good that I had to watch this at home because I spent the whole movie shouting NO at the screen.

6. Forgotten Roads (dir. Nicol Ruiz Benavides)

This movie has EVERYTHING. A 70-something lesbian rediscovering her sexuality. Another 70-something lesbian who is married to a man but moonlights as a queer lounge singer. Gays, against all odds, learning how to drive. UFOs. Yes. UFOs. Benavides’ debut film is emotionally accessible and artistically esoteric and that combination makes for an incredible viewing experience. I have seen a lot of lesbian movies in my time and it’s always special when something not only surprises me with its quality but actually just surprises me?? There has truly never been a movie like this one. UFOs!!

5. Your Mother’s Comfort (dir. Adam Golub)

This documentary about Brazilian trans activist Indianara Siqueira is more than just a portrait of a person. Through Siquiera, Golub’s film captures all that she cares about and represents. The film shows the power of sex worker-led community action and mutual aid. It shows the impossibility and the necessity of marginalized people fighting for our lives. And, specifically, it shows the tumultuous recent years of Brazilian politics and the impact of Siqueira and Casa Nem, the house she runs for trans youth. There are so many moments of joy, so many moments of pain. Witnessing Siqueira’s persistence — and her doubts — is a gift right now especially. When I say this film is inspiring I don’t mean that in a surface level hopeful documentary sort of way. I mean it gets under your skin, buries itself deep within, and helps you to keep going another day. If you’re feeling lost in the weeks leading up to the US election, let this film be your comfort.

4. Welcome to the USA (dir. Assel Aushakimova)

This is the first Kazakh lesbian film I’ve seen and it’s always such a treat to get a window into a new country’s lesbian culture and cinema — especially when the film is this good. The title eludes not to the film’s setting, but to protagonist Aliya’s future destination. She has won the green card lottery and is beginning to say goodbye to a home she resents. Saltanat Nauruz is wonderful as Aliya. This is a subtle film and it’s effective largely because of her performance. The whole film feels culturally and personally specific even as it explores issues many queer people face such as obligation vs. desire. This isn’t a plot-heavy film, but what’s on screen lingers long after it ends.

3. BloodSisters: Leather, Dykes, and Sadomasochism (dir. Michelle Handelman)

Autostraddle is co-presenting this 25th anniversary screening of Michelle Handelman’s seminal documentary which means with the code AUTOSTRADDLE20 you get $2 off! So that should make the already enticing prospect of watching this documentary all the more enticing. This portrait of the San Francisco leather scene is graphic and tender. It’s a snapshot of a subculture in a specific time as well as a larger statement about BDSM and BDSM among dykes. It’s so exciting that this film is being rediscovered and will be available for you all to watch!

2. Tahara (dir. Olivia Peace)

There have been a lot of queer coming-of-age movies about a girl in love with her “straight” best friend, but few capture the depth of that experience like Tahara. With the backdrop of a classmate’s suicide and a deliciously awful object of desire, this movie becomes less about the angst of a teenager and more about the search for meaning in a meaningless world. Jess Zeidman’s script is hilarious and specific and director Olivia Peace makes bold choice after bold choice each more effective than the last. The film has a claustrophobic Instagram square aspect ratio, heightened animated sequences, and other sharp formal risks that all work to deepen the story. Cinematographer Tehillah De Castro’s work is phenomenal in moments both bold and subtle. Madeline Grey DeFreece carries the film with a grounded and charming performance and Rachel Sennott is once again a hilarious Jewish nightmare. This is a teen comedy, but it’s a teen comedy about grief, manipulation, and autonomy. It gave me a whiff of horrifying nostalgia before settling into something deeper, something more present. I think this is a really remarkable film!

1. TIE: Alice Júnior (dir. Gil Baroni)/Always Amber (dir. Hannah Reinikainen, Lia Hietala)

This is a tie because I love both of these films so deeply and because they’re both phenomenal coming-of-age portraits of trans teenagers entrenched in social media.

To explain all the reasons I love Alice Júnior would be to spoil one of its sweetest surprises. But what I will say is that occasionally I watch a movie or a TV show that changes what I dare to expect from trans media and this is one of those films. We simply do not get trans media this inventive and charming and queer and FUN. This is a trans girl coming-of-age romcom that doesn’t shy away from the realities — or the specificities — of being trans, but still manages to have the humor and charm of any cis fave. Anne Celestino Mota is incredible as Alice, a character who would fit right in with the rebel girls of the best late 90s/early 00s romcoms. She’s so funny and real and it’s such a thrill to see what a talented trans actor can do when given actual good writing. Every choice big and small is done so right and I’m used to it being done so wrong and I just love this movie so much I want to SCREAM. This is what we deserve! This is what we could have! This is what we DO have! FINALLY.

Always Amber is about a genderqueer teenager named Amber, but this isn’t a straight forward documentary about a trans teen. Reinikainen and Hietala follow Amber’s lead, telling the story through videos Amber records themself and focusing on what Amber cares about most. Because, yes, Amber is trans, but they’re also a teenager and what matters to them most is their friend drama with another trans teen named Sebastian or their romance with another trans teen named Olivera. Unsurprisingly, this group of trans teens have more interesting and complex things to say about gender than the vast majority of discussions we usually get to see in media. This documentary is about a person and it’s about a generation and it’s about a future that is yet to exist. It’s a political declaration that all people regardless of age should get to determine how they present and how they’re addressed and who they are. Amber gets to experience an adolescence most of us were denied. It’s a delight to spend time with them in their world. But in showing this near-fantasy it reveals an even greater one. Amber actually deserves more. Amber deserves a world where they don’t have to fight for themself or their community — where it’s just inevitable.

Movies can reflect our world. They can also imagine a better one. Alice Júnior does both. Always Amber does both. Two special films and the standouts of this year’s Newfest.


Join us and NewFest for the virtual screening of Bloodsisters: Leather, Dykes, and Sadomasochism, director Michelle Handelman’s enduring 1995 film that documents the queer outlaws of the San Francisco leather scene. Get a Festival Pass or tickets with a $2 discount at newfest.org/festival with the discount code AUTOSTRADDLE20. The New York LGBTQ Film Festival runs October 16-27 and features 120+ new films and events on demand. See you there!

Police name suspect in 2002 murder of trans teens

Stephanie Thomas Ukea Davis trans murder Washington DC

Michelle Davis, mother of Ukea Davis (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty)

Police in Washington DC have finally admitted that the killings of two Black trans teenagers almost 20 years ago were “clearly a hate crime”.

Ukea Davis, 18, and Stephanie Thomas, 19, were found dead in a car in 2002. Both had been shot at least 10 times.

Now, almost two decades on, police in Washington DC have finally found a suspect in the case – but he died three years ago in a fatal shooting, the Washington Post reports.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham admitted that the murder of the two best friends was “clearly a hate crime” and said suspect Michael Dupree Price had been with the women on the night they were killed.

Police identify suspect in 2002 murder of two trans women in Washington DC – but he was killed three years ago.

Police tracked down two new witnesses in the cold case who told them that Price killed the women when he discovered that they were trans.

But police were too late to bring Price to justice. He was shot dead in May 2017, aged 36.

Authorities began investigating the case again earlier this year when Detective Danny Whalen found a letter that referenced a person who allegedly had information about the killings.

The letter was discovered in an old file, but had never been followed up on.

He’s been deceased since 2017, but what was he doing since 2002? Why wasn’t he brought to justice?

Investigators subsequently tracked down two new witnesses, who each told Whalen that Price “essentially told him what he did”.

“I think it’s a situation of how a fresh set of eyes looking at an old case can be valuable,” Newsham said.

“For the families that are involved, the only thing we can really give to them is finding out who is responsible for their loved one’s death.”

The families are still waiting for closure.

Queen Washington, the mother of Stephanie Thomas, disputed the idea that the women’s killer attacked them when he discovered that they were trans, and claimed everyone in their locality knew about their gender identity.

She said her daughter came out as trans when she was 12 or 13 and had experienced extensive bullying in their neighbourhood.

Washington believes strongly that her daughter was killed as an act of hate.

Meanwhile, Michelle Davis, Ukea’s mother, said: “I just want to know, who was this person? Was there another person?

“He’s been deceased since 2017, but what was he doing since 2002? Why wasn’t he brought to justice?”

Davis and Thomas met four years before their murder and went on to become best friends. They later rented an apartment together.

Their deaths shocked the local community, but little headway was made by investigators for many years.