Elements of the current crisis will ring familiar to folks of a certain age: the mysterious infection, the incompetent government response, the pernicious effects on the vulnerable, the marginalized, the isolated. The HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaged gay communities in the U.S. starting in the 1980s; only unrelenting pressure from queer activists would make the Reagan administration take notice. The first known report of AIDS was recorded in Los Angeles in 1981—just a dozen years after the 1969 uprising at New York’s Stonewall Inn, the days-long melee between queer and trans people and their police antagonists that marked a turning point in the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
In 2016 that site became a national monument. What an eventful half-century it’s been! These milestones and others are the subject of The Gay Agenda: A Modern Queer History and Handbook. Authors Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham, or Ash + Chess, as they’re known, are prolific illustrators and the proprietors of a stationery company in Richmond, Virginia. This colorful little volume starts around 1900 and offers a brisk romp through recent queer history, with a heavy dose of the arts and popular culture. Think Alison Bechdel, Paris Is Burning and—yep—“RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The authors take care, too, to restore some less well-known figures to their rightful places in the movement, such as Kathy Kozachenko, a lesbian elected to the city council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1974, three years before Harvey Milk joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
If you’re a parent, this could be something to share with your queer teen to help them understand the history they’re inheriting—or with any teen to help them be a more informed ally. But as the subtitle mentions, the last few dozen pages of The Gay Agenda form a “handbook,” offered “with the purpose of navigating your queerness or understanding someone elses’s”—so if you’re a queer kid, maybe this is a book you give your parents if they have questions about nonbinary pronouns, pansexuality or the concept of “chosen family.” Something for all; this history is America’s.