Author Eric Marcus Gives a Glimpse into Gay History

Photo credit/ Yaasmeen Piper Eric Marcus is the author of multiple books including “Making Gay History,” and the host of “Making Gay History podcast

By Destiny Ramos

Contributing Writer

Eric Marcus, creator and host of the podcast “Making Gay History,” visited East Stroudsburg University on April 4th to share excerpts from his archive as a part of Global Week.

“Making Gay History” shares the oral history of the LGBTQ fight for equality. 

While working on his book of the same title, Marcus recorded over a hundred interviews with prominent figures in gay history. Expecting to never use his archive again, he turned it over to the New York public library under the condition that it be digitized.

Several years later, while working with two women to create an LGBTQ inclusive class curriculum, he decided that he would use the recordings to create his podcast. 

Marcus shared eight excerpts in total. The first story he shared was that of Edythe Eyde, a singer and creator of the first known lesbian publication, Vice Versa, which was published from 1947 until 1948.

Eyde went by the pseudonym Lisa Ben, as being gay could have resulted in her losing her job or family. 

“The stories that are told in the Making Gay History podcast and in my book are small stories and big stories. Lisa’s story is, in some ways, one of the biggest because she wrote that first magazine,” Marcus said, “A lot of the stories are small stories and that’s the story of Wendell Sayers.” 

Wendell Sayers was the first black attorney to work for the attorney general in Colorado. In 1920, he was sent to the Mayo Clinic by his father to be diagnosed as a homosexual.

After being diagnosed, Sayers worried about how his father would react. He wondered whether he would be accepted or kicked out. Much to Marcus’s surprise, Wendell Sayers’s father was willing to accept his son’s sexuality and told his partners home to avoid public condemnation. 

One of the more well-known people Marcus introduced was Sylvia Rivera.

Nearly 50 years ago, Rivera participated in what would become one of the most important moments in gay history.

On June 28th, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn. The raid did not go as planned and instead sparked a three-day long demonstration.

Rivera shared her experience with Marcus. 

“To be there was so beautiful. It was so exciting,” said Rivera. “The cops just panicked. Inspector Pine really panicked, plus he had no backup. He did not expect any of the retaliation that the gay community gave him at that point.”

Joyce Hunter was told by that if she married and had children, she would no longer be a lesbian. Hunter was the victim of gay bashing and was badly beaten.

While attending occupational therapy, she was given the opportunity to get an education. She eventually earned her PhD and went on to co-found the Harvey Milk High School in New York.

Marcus also shared the story of Perry Watkins, a gay man who was drafted into the military at the height of the Vietnam war.

Unwilling to hide the fact that he was gay, Watkins was dishonorably discharged from the military after serving for 15 years. He decided to fight back and eventually became the first gay person to be reinstated into the military.

Marcus told the story of prominent straight ally, Dear Abby.

In the 1960s, Dear Abby began getting letters from people who are gay and parents of gay kids.

At a time when gay people were not taken seriously and their complaints were not being heard, Dear Abby listened to and advised gay people on a national level.

She believed that everyone has the right to be who they are, regardless of their sexuality.

Dear Abby used humor in her approach to gay liberation, as did Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen.

Gittings and Lahusen joined the gay rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s respectively.

The two got involved with the American Library Association.

To bring attention to their booth, which provided a list of LGBTQ-friendly books, they offered an opportunity for people to hug and kiss a person of the same sex.

“We decided to bypass books and show gay love live. So we called it ‘Hug a Homosexual’” they told Marcus “Let me tell you, the aisles were jammed, but no one came into the booth. So we hugged and kissed each other. It was shown on the 6:00 news. It put us on the map.”

The final story Marcus told was of Vito Russo, who he credits for inspiring him to work on his book Making Gay History. Vito Russo got involved with the gay rights movement several months after the Stonewall Uprising.

Russo wrote a book, The Celluloid Closet, which described how gay people were portrayed in film.

He also went on to co-found GLAAD and Act Up.

“I like to think that Vito passed the ball to me with that book,” said Marcus.

“I like to think that with this podcast, through Vito’s words, through the words of the people I’ve introduced you to today that I get to pass the ball to you and that you’ll be inspired by of the short stories we’ve heard.”

Eric Marcus shared 8 stories with students, but he has recorded over 100 interviews. He’s told the stories in his book Making Gay History and continues to tell them through his podcast.

Through Marcus’s podcast, the stories have reached approximately 1.7 million listeners worldwide. The fourth season of “Making Gay History” will begin in October and will primarily be focused on the time between World War II and the eve of the Stonewall uprising.

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