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Americans seemingly value freedom of expression above all other constitutional freedoms. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the printed word (books, journals and newspapers) and the spoken word (news broadcasts and speeches) bear a great deal of weight with the public-hence the rather naive if not preposterous notion that a public official should never lie about his/her private sexual peccadillos. Ironically (and perhaps appropriately in a capitalist country), George Washington, the first President of the United States, never said "I can not tell a lie" as he is popularly believed to have done: that fiction was the work of Parson Weems, an itinerant Philadelphia bookseller of the early nineteenth century who fabricated the story in a Washington biography. It is probably thanks to such myths as Weems's, however, that President Clinton has been subjected to such exacting standards of morality.
There is presently great cultural dissonance in the United States, not only between far-right conservative or religious ideologues and liberal cultural relativists, but between ordinary citizens who appear otherwise relatively similar in their externals-social class, income, educational level, and religious background. One of the deceptions wrought by consumer culture is that purchases of durable goods constitute significant life choices, even more important than the content of intellectual "food" consumed. Yet the polarization of cultural, ethnic, ideological and racial subgroups has given lie to the notion of American society as a "melting pot, " and Americans are far from culturally homogenous-the ubiquity of McDonald's franchises notwithstanding. In fact, the proliferation of legislation that protects minority rights in the post Civil Rights-era has added levels of complexity to the democratic dialogue that some academics have labeled "identity politics" or "culture wars." Among these various identities, perhaps none is so controversial as homosexuality. One librarian, referring to the great social and moral liberation which began the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s, refers to homophobia as "the last socially acceptable prejudice," and indeed, it is the last bastion of legal discrimination in the United States. (2)
Examples of brief periods of toleration for homosexuals can be found in almost every culture, albeit with difficulty, but eventually, nearly all cultures have reverted to persecution of homosexuals. In nearly all western Judeo-Christian cultures, phallocentrism and patristic values predominate, for same-sex behavior between women is rarely condemned or even mentioned. Moreover, legal distinctions are drawn between the active and passive male sexual partner, with the latter suffering the more severe legal penalties and social sanctions. In modern Christian cultures, homosexuals have been exploited by the church as scapegoats during various periods to explain natural disasters or misfortunes, used as exemplars of moral decay when greater political control was desired over the community, and eventually punished to "expiate" the sins of the community. Approximately 1,000 persons were put to death during the Middle Ages for homosexual behavior. Penalties included flogging, dismemberment, castration, hanging by the membrum virile, burning at the stake or other means of execution.(3) The Church has never offered homosexuals the ceremonial absolution of original sin through holy sacraments like marriage, perhaps because homosexual identity is a relatively modern social construct. In 1810, when the French penal code eliminated homosexual conduct entirely from the repressive laws of the ancien régime, many other countries followed suit. Great Britain has decriminalized homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private since 1967, albeit with a higher age of consent than for heterosexuals.(4) At least theoretically, homosexuals in Europe have since 1981 have had recourse to the European Convention on Human Rights in Strasbourg, and several countries (notably Canada and New Zealand) have passed protective legislation for homosexuals.
In the United States, law can be modified by judicial review, and federal law is enmeshed in party politics. Only twenty-nine of the fifty states have decriminalized and revised the antique statutes inherited from British law which define homosexual acts as "crimes against nature."(5) Thus, in North Carolina and Georgia, for example, sodomy-an ambiguous word of Semitic origin sometimes used as a euphemism for "anal intercourse," and at other times for any sexual activity between members of the same sex-is a "crime against nature," although the act is rarely prosecuted if performed by members of the opposite sex. Since 1986, the Supreme Court has taken the position that homosexual acts which break state laws against "crimes against nature" are not entitled to the same privacy protections as are heterosexual acts of exactly the same kind. What is so insulting about this state of affairs is not so much the legal inequality between heterosexuals and homosexuals, which after all has ancient precedents, but the persistent assumption that any person's entire identity can be contained in the sexual acts in which they choose to engage.
Homosexuality in the United States is further complicated by misinformation that associates homosexuality with pedophilia, although studies show consistently that sexual abuse of minors is usually heterosexual. Also, in some localities, sex education of any kind is prohibited in the schools. To be fair, it should be admitted that logical inconsistencies in the law affect heterosexuals, too: the law in some cases places more severe penalties on infractions of sexual harassment codes in the workplace and in the classroom than it does on gross physical abuse in the private sphere of the home. The American experiment in democracy has demonstrated at several junctures in its history the futility of legislating private morality. In recent years, with the empowerment of formerly disenfranchised citizens (blacks, women, and in some states, homosexuals), revisionist history, and the politics of victimization, it is increasingly difficult to discern whose rights are at risk, or indeed to distinguish between the oppressor and the oppressed.
The modern American gay movement was founded on June 17-18, 1969 when gays and lesbians at the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village resisted arrest and rioted in protest against police harassment and brutality to which they had been subjugated for decades. The birth of "Queer Nation" served as a wake-up call to straight America that gays and lesbians would no longer tolerate the routine persecutions to which they had been subjected in the past. This event occurred during a great wave of student rebellion over other social ills, culminating in the Kent State Anti-Vietnam protest of 1972, and a general lessening of sexual and moral strictures in society.
Israel Fishman introduced necessary paperwork to form a gay caucus within ALA's SRRT in 1970. It became the first professional gay association in the world. Today, twenty-eight years later, the organization is known as the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Task Force (GLBTF, or simply, the Task Force). Within ALA, the group has never achieved more than task force status, assumedly because the task of professional liberation is still ongoing. Other groups such as the Women's Caucus are now standing committees within ALA, and others, like the Black Caucus, have split to form their own associations. The Task Force's political position within ALA gives it great flexibility, but it lacks political clout. The Task Force has conducted only one joint program with any other interest group (the Library History Round Table, in 1995), and the ALA's official stance on homosexuality has been at times ambiguous and inconsistent. For example, in 1970 when Michael McConnell lost his job at The University of Minnesota library after he and his lover, Jack Baker, unsuccessfully applied for a marriage licence, he appealed to the ALA for help, an action which ALA Council was still deliberating five years later when McConnell dropped his appeal in disgust. On the other hand, ALA did formulate a gay support resolution in 1971, and since 1974, has incorporated non-discrimination mandates into its employment policies. Since 1986, ALA has also assumed sponsorship of GLBTF's annual Gay Book Award in fiction and non-fiction categories. While ALA's gay overtures have been pacifistic, they have kept general discussion of gay library issues out of general forums, and have had the paradoxical effect of reducing GLBTF concerns to interest-group status.(9)
GLBTF programs have covered every conceivable subject matter from images of gays in film and censorship of gay materials, to being "out" about one's sexual identity in the workplace. More importantly, the GLBTF and its bibliographies of gay literature -the first and for several years the only such bibliographies available-spurred publisher awareness to the growing gay market niche. As long time GLBTF chair, lesbian activist Barbara Gittings commented, gay and lesbian activism in libraries was vital to "combating the lies in libraries," for it was in the privacy of reading that many gay people first explored their sexual identity, even if the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a "disease" or mental disorder until 1973, and even if literary conventions and publishing practices demanded that gay characters die tragically before the end of a novel.(10) In many smaller libraries, novels like The Well of Loneliness (1928), James Barr's Quatrefoil (1950) or even Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar (1948) could be obtained only by request from the librarian. Vidal claims that he began writing plays and television scripts because after his homosexual novel was published, no publisher would print his work.(11)
Only about thirty gay-authored titles were published by "mainstream" publishers between 1886 and 1969, but a large market in gay and lesbian pulp pornographic fiction operated underground through small or private press output.(12) After 1958, however, when the Supreme Court ruled that the homophile magazine ONE could be sent through the mails, gay publishing became less localized and less subversive. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled favorably in the obscenity case involving William Burroughs's sexually ambiguous The Naked Lunch, a title which had until then only been available in English through a Grove Press edition that Americans smuggled in from Paris. This case opened the way for greater liberality in pornographic and non-pornographic gay literature, film, and art.(13) GLBTF estimated the output of the lesbigay press at 1200 new titles in 1995, and even in the "Bible-belt" of the southern United States, national book-store chains now carry impressive lesbian and gay sections.
Yet the progress made by homosexuals in certain (mainly urban) areas of the country, the visibility of gay characters in TV situation comedies, in film, and in Olympic sports, the involvement of many new sectors of society in gay issues since the AIDS crisis erupted in the early 1980s, and the increased representation of openly gay people in Congress, government, the corporate sector, and in Hollywood, are all deceptively shallow indicators of mainstream acceptance, and this dichotomy has become visible recently in United States librarianship.
Librarianship as a profession presents peculiar problems to the gay situation because of gender dynamics within the field. Like nursing, social work, elementary school teaching and other "feminized" professions with which it is identified, in the United States, librarianship since 1890 has been 78 to 90 per cent female.(14) Added to the pressures felt by heterosexual male librarians to conform to a corporate, "masculine" stereotype, gay librarians and their employers often feel compelled to closet gay issues and gay identity in the workplace.(15) Over 86 percent of a national sample of male ALA members identified the prevailing male librarian stereotype as gay, and other male librarians feel that large numbers of male librarians actually are gay. This study does not support the claim that most male librarians are gay, and in fact the sample approximated the proportion of gay men in the society at large, roughly 8 to 12 per cent.(16) The corollary assumption that a large number of lesbians occupy the field has never been raised, much less tested, witness to the fact that women are discounted in librarianship, even as a suspect minority.
While the ALA Code of Ethics would seem to require strict neutrality of professional conduct with respect to discrimination against clients and client information requests, evidence suggests that many public libraries fail to collect gay titles or pertinent information about AIDS.(17) Librarians have backed down in recent years from defending controversial gay titles to public library and school boards in order to save their jobs. The profession's general denial about the importance of gay issues surfaced in a rather ugly way in 1992 when some ALA members attacked the national journal American Libraries for publishing a cover photo of gays and lesbians marching on the Gay Day Parade in San Francisco-a practice that gay and lesbian libraries have exercised regularly since 1970, since annual conferences usually coincide with National Gay Pride Day in July. Only some of the arguments used to criticize the photograph during the following months were religious, but even those whose attacks that were professional in nature were couched in the misused myth of librarian "neutrality" borrowed from reference interview literature -a false argument in any case, since the existence of the ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table negates any claim to neutrality.(18) Somewhat disingenuously, these writers ignored the postmodernist view that neutrality itself represents a definite point of view. Professional neutrality also had been used as an argument in the Civil Rights era to deny service to blacks in the Jim Crow South, until ALA prohibited segregated meetings in 1964.
As for the place of lesbian and gay literature in the library, it goes without saying that the works of lesbian and gay writers occupy a central place in the canon of many cultures (hence in the library), although as late as 1984 extremists like supporters of North Carolina's Senator Jesse Helms unsuccessfully tried to purge the works of Plato, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Andre Gide from the library at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and called for the dismissal of suspected lesbian and gay faculty members in the university system.
The current edge of the gay/lesbian controversy centers on youth.(19) The most challenged children/young adult titles in recent years have all concerned gay or lesbian themes: an adolescent lesbian crush (Annie on My Mind, 1982) and children of gay parents (Daddy's Roommate, 1990; Heather Has Two Mommies, 1989) indicating not only the volatility of the subject of homosexuality in environments where minors and their parents predominate, but the refusal of a vocal minority of U.S. citizens to allow promulgation of positive gay images. While the national association's Office of Intellectual Freedom has regularly reported these cases in a timely manner to the membership, the association's hands are tied except as an amicus curiae, since the organization will lose its tax-exempt status as a party to any case.
The growth of gay and lesbian publishing has also been an important factor in the support for gay and lesbian collections. Several larger universities have established or are in the process of establishing gay and lesbian studies programs, notably at The University of Los Angeles, where the One, Inc./ International Gay and Lesbian Archives collection is housed, and at Cornell University, which houses the Mariposa Collection on Human Sexuality. Also notable are public library collections like the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center Collection of the San Francisco Public Library, and grass roots archives and collections like the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City and the Gebner-Hart Library in Chicago. GLBTF members have formed a listserv, Gay-Libn, which disseminates news items of interest to subscribers. From queries to this list, a collection of writings from gay, lesbian, and bisexual librarians and their supporters has recently been compiled, and a volume of essays on gay library history was published last month with multidisciplinary contributions from several countries.(22) A listserv of gay scholars, consisting of over 700 subscribers, is maintained by veteran gay activist Louie Crew at Rutgers University. Moreover, gay characters and topics are regular features on prime-time television. Yet lesbigay collections in small and medium sized public libraries are underrepresentative, if they exist at all, no doubt due to the conservatism of many county and municipal governments, financial retrenchment, and the lack of sustained research and focus on gay issues in librarianship.
The GLBTF's energies in the past have been directed at advocacy, publicity, self-entertainment, and client needs, but little research. Research studies germane to lesbigay client needs and lesbigay librarianship are virtually nil.(23) The lesbigay research void in librarianship is more understandable in certain information environments than others. Special librarians have little incentive to produce such studies unless they bear directly upon the parent organization's research and development priorities, case law, or health issues. In competitive corporate settings, special librarians also operate under constraints of confidentiality; freedom of access to information applies only to authorized employees. In other words, studies dealing solely with professional library issues are not appropriate in such an environment, because the librarian's role is essentially supportive, and often, economically unstable. Academic library research usually is managerial or technical in nature, perhaps because the role of the librarian essentially supports or supplements the central teaching and research functions of full-time faculty and has no apparent importance in and of itself to many faculty observers. In public libraries, and other types of libraries as well, social issues have been obscured for the time being by technology and the Internet, which does provide, it is true, an alternate environment in which to address lesbian and gay information needs, if censorship of the Internet in public libraries can be held at bay. Even though the discussion of homosexuality has become banal in mainstream media, it is not likely to surface in the literature of the school media specialist or children's librarians, except in urban centers where experimentation with large and diverse populations is encouraged. Nor are gay activists likely to step forward in the schools, because the threat to their jobs is quite real, and the conditions for fostering research of any kind are practically nil. In North Carolina, school media specialists are hesitant to carry information about AIDS in school media centers because the disease has become wrongly associated with homosexuality, and their jobs are politicized. A 1993 survey found that 52 percent of Americans were against teaching about lesbian or gay orientation in schools. A South Carolina study reported that eight out of ten prospective teachers and two-thirds of school counselors had negative feelings about homosexuality, lesbians, and gay men in spite of the fact that lesbigay teens are two to three times as likely to commit suicide. Moreover, 26 percent of lesbigay teenagers are forced to leave home over complications resulting from their homosexuality.(24)
The only environment that presents a logical nexus for research studies is library schools, yet a national survey of library school graduates in 1995 found that nearly half of them had not received any information about lesbigay issues in their library education programs.(25) It is also obvious that tenure-track library education faculty feel constrained not to become associated with lesbigay research before receiving tenure, and that library schools are anxious for their graduates to do research in more high-prestige specialties like information science, software applications, or refinements to, and applications of, theory from other fields. Similarly, doctoral students are warned not to become labeled as lesbigay researchers, as it may impair their chances in the job market.