With a moving preface by Jeanne Manford, the founder of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and an introduction by executive editor Phillip Sherman, Uncommon Heroes launches into over one hundred one-page inspirational portraits of gay and lesbian people, complete with captivating black-and-white photographs of each individual. Both Manford and Sherman talk about the inspiration they draw from these courageous stories. Manford reflects on the first time she joined her son Monty on a march for civil rights, and her resulting commitment to PFLAG. Sherman discusses his own coming out process and notes that knowledge of accomplished gays and lesbians would have helped him and his family. He muses, "I didn't want to be gay [as a youth] because I thought it meant I would never be able to accomplish the things I dreamed about: building a business, going into politics, or having a home one day with someone I love" (p. ii).
Uncommon Heroes is a collaborative effort to make visible the accomplishments of gays and lesbians and transform public perceptions of the gay and lesbian community. Over seventy writers, journalists, filmmakers, and photographers contributed stories and photographs. The individuals profiled in this book are as diverse as those who collaborated in bringing the book to publication.
There's John McNeill, the ex-priest and psychotherapist who founded Dignity, a fellowship of lesbian, bisexual, and gay Roman Catholics; Elizabeth Birch, a corporate attorney who helped Apple Corporation shape a policy to extend benefits to employees' domestic partners; Cleve Jones, an activist whose 1987 memorial in cloth to a friend who died of AIDS grew into the Names Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt honoring all those who have died of AIDS; Audre Lorde, a poet and philosopher whose five decades of writing challenge racism, sexism, and homophobia; Congressman Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of the U.S. Congress; and youth activist Lyn Duff, who, at age seventeen, published 24-7: Notes from the Inside for teens who are or have been in psychiatric institutions — some of whom, like Lyn, were forced into treatment to "cure" them of their lesbianism.
This book is an important resource for adolescents and adults who may want to learn about gay and lesbian people or who may be seeking positive role models for themselves. This very readable and visually arresting volume is the type of book that captures people's attention and invites them to discover the richness and magnitude of the gay and lesbian community. Many of the names in this volume are well known — Greg Louganis, Rita Mae Brown, Harvey Milk, k.d. lang, Martina Navratilova, and Elton John, for example, are all national or even international heroes, role models, or persons of some renown in their fields. But Uncommon Heroes includes the stories of less well-known gays and lesbians as well. It is these "ordinary" heroes' accomplishments that most caught my attention. Rob Sandoval and Bill Martin, after twelve years of partnership, adopted a son, Harrison, and in so doing challenge and redefine our common notions of parents and parenting. Jared Nall's protest of President Clinton's position on gays in the military would lead to his spending his senior year in high school as an outcast and his long-term commitment to gay and lesbian activism. Ayofemi Folayan, an African American lesbian with disabilities, reflects that "growing up lesbian in a family full of Pentecostal ministers was like being an Eskimo who landed in the middle of the Sahara desert" (p. 40). The stories are both humorous and inspiring. The few short paragraphs about each individual make evident the courage, dignity, and commitment of each of these extraordinary men and women.
As Jeanne Manford acknowledges in the preface, "This book is important for two reasons: gay and lesbian people desperately need to come face-to-face with gay and lesbian people who positively represent a diverse and proud community that is so poorly understood; and the rest of us need to eliminate our own ignorance and prejudice" (p. i).
Uncommon Heroes merits the attention of anyone interested in the lesbian and gay community and lives of action.