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Oxford University Press


The importance of offering a lesbian and gay American history course was initially impressed upon me in 1986. A newly minted Ph.D., I was teaching my very first class: a U.S. history survey at San Francisco State University (sfsu). The course required each student to review a book of his or her choice on any topic in U.S. history. One student chose John D’Emilio’s Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970 from my list of suggested titles and wrote a thoughtful, enthusiastic review.1 At the bottom of the review was a handwritten note: “Thanks for recommending this book. As a gay man, I didn’t know I had a history.” Didn’t know he had a history?! My fellow historians will share my sense of dismay and my determination to remedy this unthinkable state of affairs. I have always included the history of gay men and lesbians in my various classes, not as a sop to “political correctness” and not because it is an amusing/interesting “add on” to “real” history, but because it is a vital component of a more complete understanding of American political, economic, social, legal, military, and religious history. For example, my courses that focus on the twentieth century include the significant role that the campaign against homosexuals played in McCarthy-era persecutions; in “U.S. Historical Geography” (which examines the role physical geography has played in the development of the United States), we study how and why the coastal cities of New York and San Francisco emerged as major centers of homophile populations; in women’s history courses we examine the controversy and contributions lesbians brought to various feminist movements.


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of American History following peer review. The version of record Unger, N. (2007). Teaching"‘Straight" Gay and Lesbian History. Journal of American History, 93, 1192-99. is available online at:



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