An Angel in Sodom: Henry Gerber and the Birth of the Gay Rights Movement (Hardcover)
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2023 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Gay Memoir/Biography
"Makes the case that we should consider Gerber not an asterisk, but a forefather of the gay-rights movement—one who would influence later generations of activists."—The Atlantic
Born in 1892 in Germany, Henry Gerber was expelled from school as a boy and lost several jobs as a young man because of his homosexual activities. He emigrated to the United States and enlisted in the army for employment. After his release, he explored Chicago’s gay subculture: cruising Bughouse Square, getting arrested for “disorderly conduct,” and falling in love. He was institutionalized for being gay, branded an “enemy alien” at the end of World War I, and given a choice: to rejoin the army or be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.
Gerber re-enlisted and was sent to Germany in 1920. In Berlin, he discovered a vibrant gay rights movement, which made him vow to advocate for the rights of gay men at home. He founded the Society for Human Rights, the first legally recognized US gay-rights organization, on December 10, 1924.
When police caught wind of it, he and two members were arrested. He lost his job, went to court three times, and went bankrupt. Released, he moved to New York, disheartened.
Later in life, he joined the DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, a gay-rights advocacy group founded by Harry Hay who had heard of Gerber’s group, leading him to found Mattachine.
An Angel in Sodom is the first and long overdue biography of the founder of the first US gay rights organization.
About the Author
Jim Elledge, award-winning author of The Boys of Fairy Town, Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy, and over twenty other titles, has won two Lambda Literary Awards. The Boys of Fairy Town was also a finalist for a Lammy, received a starred review in Booklist, and was included in ALA’s Over the Rainbow Book List. He lives in Middlesboro, Kentucky.
“Finally, a fascinating, carefully researched biography of the founder of the first US homosexual rights organization, Henry Gerber! Thanks, Jim Elledge, for documenting the life of this pioneering resister.” —Jonathan Ned Katz, author of The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams
“A thrilling work of historical recovery. The author successfully captures the life and times of a man whose story tells us so much about the forms of oppression and resistance in the half century before Stonewall and gay liberation. A vital contribution to LGBTQ history!” —John D'Emilio, author of Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood: Coming of Age in the Sixties
“This important biography of German-born Henry Gerber—arguably the first American gay rights activist—fills a critical lacuna in the queer historical record. It does so by documenting Gerber’s early activism, influenced by the thriving queer culture of Weimar Germany, as well as the inspiration Gerber provided later to members of the American homophile movement.” —Robert Beachy, author of Gay Berlin
“Jim Elledge’s An Angel in Sodom is a fascinating biography of Henry Gerber, who founded America’s first known LGBTQ rights group (The Society for Human Rights), in Chicago in 1924. For too long, Gerber has mostly been a footnote in our history; Elledge’s careful research fills in critical gaps in his bio, and in the history of queer organizing in America as a whole.” —Hugh Ryan, author of When Brooklyn Was Queer
"Elledge provides many details, and, unless some other great source of information turns up, this book is the best we have to go on. And it’s a great improvement over what was available before Elledge started his research." —Third Coast Review
"Jim Elledge, a veteran chronicler of gay Chicago, makes the case that we should consider Gerber not an asterisk, but a forefather of the gay-rights movement—one who would influence later generations of activists...a rare glimpse into a 1920s and ’30s queer world."—The Atlantic