Clayton HowardApr 25, 2022
The Closet and the Cul-de-Sac
The Politics of Sexual Privacy in Northern California
University of Pennsylvania Press 2019
"I don't care what people do in their bedroom, but do they need to flaunt it?" This sentiment is a common refrain in American culture and politics when talking about LGBTQ rights, and as Ohio State historian Dr. Clayton Howard argues, it's a sentence with a history. In The Closet and the Cul-de-Sac: The Politics of Sexual Privacy in Northern California (University of Pennsylvania, 2019), Howard traces the history of the idea of sexual privacy back to the era immediately after World War II, when the "Straight State" began more aggressively incentivizing and policing hetero- and homosexuality respectively. Through acts such as the GI Bill, housing became a central battleground in the Bay Area for determining what normative sex looked like. Soon, churches, schools, and the steps of city hall, all became fronts in a culture war that, as Howard argues, was not quite as black-and-white as scholars sometimes make it seem. Today, legislation such as Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill have their roots in debates over laws such as California's Briggs Initiative and indeed, stretch all the way back to San Francisco's mid-20th century life as a hub for military life in the Pacific. The Closet and the Cul-de-Sac is an in-depth look at how even the most private areas of an individual's life are often in fact very public indeed.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.