In the nineteen-fifties, the State Department went through something like a purge, systematically seeking out and firing gay employees, who, given the times, had been living closeted lives. Linda Hirshman, writing about the episode in her new book “Victory: the Triumphant Gay Revolution,” quotes the former head of State Department security: “The only thing I regret, was within minutes and sometimes maybe a week, they would commit suicide. One guy he barely left my office and … boom–right on the corner of Twenty-first and Virginia.”
The gay-rights movement in the United States has made great progress since then, and recently the pace of change has been breathtakingly fast. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, multiple federal-court decisions have struck down anti-gay laws as unconstitutional, and President Obama has announced that he supports same-sex marriage–all in the past eighteen months. This Sunday, we celebrate the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in New York. It might seem as if full equality for gay and lesbian Americans were now a foregone conclusion.
This is the theory at the heart of “Victory”–not that we have already achieved victory, but that it is at hand. What’s clear from the book is that that success did not happen overnight, but rather, like any political progress, was the result of a lot of hard work, individual effort, and much sacrifice over a lengthy period.