LGBT literature has been around for decades, and it is no longer hidden in a secluded dark corner of the library or local bookshop. Today, it is well and truly in the mainstream.
In the UK during the 90’s, we began to see a shift in attitudes with the emergence of gay characters in film and television. The screen adaptation of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing and the popular UK series Queer as Folk, which was later remade in the US, are just two critically acclaimed examples of the time. Of course, nowadays it’s not uncommon to find gay characters on our screens.
Before this time however, an abundance of literature which explored homosexuality existed. Authors, such as Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin and Allen Ginsberg all wrote novels with homosexual themes.
Gay Literature in Schools
A question that has been debated for years is should gay literature be taught in schools?
Arguments for and against are often fought on grounds of religion, tradition, and family values. But whatever your standpoint, adolescence is a time when young people are often struggling to form their identities and discover their sexuality. Could schools make it easier by offering literature that explores all walks of life? We only have to glance at platforms such as YouTube to find out that homosexuality is already widely discussed and accepted among young people.
Could the problem be with teachers and parents? Many young people see LGBT lives around them in their day to day and have access to a lot of information. This was not the case some years ago. Consequently, it could then be difficult for older generations to talk openly and answer questions around this topic.
Furthermore, the section 28 bill in the UK came into force in the late 80’s, banning the promotion of homosexuality in the classroom for almost 20 years. Even though the government has since apologized and the bill amended, for many the struggle still continues.
In spite of this, accessibility to LGBT literature is now relatively easy. With a greater reach, it perhaps plays an even more important role today for learning, understanding and acceptance.
Top 10 LGBT Themed Books
To celebrate LGBT literature and to mark the 50 year anniversary of the decriminalized of homosexuality in the UK, we give you our picks of LGBT books. From classic novels to modern young adult fiction, here are 10 of the best.
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room is one of the greatest LGBT novels of all time. Baldwin’s classic portrays homosexuality and bisexuality with a heavy focus on shame and social alienation. David, an American man living in Paris, meets an Italian bartender Giovanni. He faces a decision of choosing between his American fiancée and his boyfriend.
“Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.”
– James Baldwin.
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
This book portrays the day in the life of a middle-aged English professor who is struggling to cope with the death of his partner Jim. He has various encounters throughout the day which help brighten up his world. The book was later adapted into a film by Tom Forde starring Colin Firth.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
First published in 1890, this book was branded immoral at the time. The book explores aestheticism and focuses on beauty and youth. Dorian, a young innocent man turns superficial and self-obsessed as he discovers the powers of his exceptional beauty. He remains physically unchanged by his immoral lifestyle but his portrait shows the reality.
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
– Oscar Wilde.
Something About Summer – Jay Bell
The ‘Something Like… ‘ series is a collection of books that each tell the story from a different character’s perspective. The first book in the series, Something Like Summer, focuses on the relationship between high school students, Ben and Tim. Told from the perspective of Ben, the story spans 10 years and explores coming of age, family and societal pressures. The success of the series later led to a movie adaptation of the first book.
A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
This semi-autobiographical novel is the first of 3 books exploring coming of age and homosexuality in 1950’s America. Struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and with family difficulties, the boy takes solace in art and literature.
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Set in the deep south of America, Cecile, a poor black girl endures rape, domestic violence and the loss of her children. The novel treats the relationship between Cecile and Shug beautifully. The film version stars Oprah Winfrey and Whoppi Goldberg.
“Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes, and fill up my heart.”
– Oprah Winfrey.
The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
Set in London during the 80’s, this novel is in 3 parts and explores the life of Nick, a young gay middle-class man, and the tense relationship he has with the political Fedden family. Exploring themes of hypocrisy, privilege, class and homosexuality, this book has the perfect backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain. Hollinghurst manages to capture this era brilliantly and the novel was a poignant winner of the Booker Prize in 2004.
Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Walters
With a pervasive lesbian theme, this novel tells the story of a young working class woman called Nan who becomes besotted with Kitty, a male impersonator, and follows her to London. Exploring sexuality and sexual identity between two women, this acclaimed novel was a popular UK TV series and also adapted for the stage.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
This coming of age young adult book follows Simon Spider, a closeted teenager who falls in love with a guy he’s been emailing. An entertaining read that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. The message of the book is clear. Why do gay people have to come out of the closet?
“Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you are straight, gay, bi or whatever. I’m just saying.”
– Becky Albertalli.
Maurice – E.M. Forster
Written in the early 20th century, Maurice was only published after Forster’s death in 1971. It is one of the first novels to deal so openly with male homosexuality. Set in Edwardian times, the novel depicts the life of Maurice Hill from the age of 14, through to his education at Cambridge University and finally, to his father’s firm. Maurice is following the life that he is supposed to. But difficulties arise because he is gay. Hugh Grant later starred as Maurice in the film adaptation.
“You confuse what’s important with what’s impressive.”
– E.M. Forster.
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