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The Deviant's War

The Homosexual vs. the United States of America

Eric Cervini

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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ISBN10: 0374139792
ISBN13: 9780374139797


512 Pages



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In 1957, Frank Kameny, a rising astronomer working for the U.S. Defense Department in Hawaii, received a summons to report immediately to Washington, D.C. The Pentagon had reason to believe he was a homosexual, and after a series of humiliating interviews, Kameny, like countless gay men and women before him, was promptly dismissed from his government job. Unlike many others, though, Kameny fought back.

Based on first-hand accounts, recently declassified FBI records, and forty thousand personal documents, Eric Cervini's The Deviant's War unfolds over the course of the 1960s, as the Mattachine Society of Washington, the group Kameny founded, became the first organization to protest the systematic persecution of gay federal employees. It traces the forgotten ties that bound gay rights to the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism, and trans resistance. Above all, it is a story of America (and Washington) at a cultural and sexual crossroads; of shocking, byzantine public battles with Congress; of FBI informants; murder; betrayal; sex; love; and ultimately victory.


Praise for The Deviant's War

“Eric Cervini’s work is an important contribution to making our nation’s history whole and truthful. Grounded in extensive research, it tells the history of Frank Kameny’s tenacious and courageous battle with the federal government to secure respect, dignity and equality for gays and lesbians. Kameny was a pioneer who helped carve a path to a new and better world for LGBTQ Americans and for our entire nation. The Deviant’s War is a compelling work which should be on the reading list for everyone who cares about the quest for full civil rights for all Americans.”—US Senator Tammy Baldwin

"Eric Cervini has gifted us that rarest of treasures, a guidebook for real activism. Page by page, in painstaking detail, we see our flawed and beautifully idealistic hero Frank Kameny fight for basic human rights. Equal parts inspiring and sobering, The Deviant’s War avoids empty valorizing and focuses instead on what it takes to survive in a world that wants to erase you. Should be required reading for queer people and straight allies."—Garrard Conley, author of Boy Erased

"When Frank Kameny was dismissed from his job in 1957, the army lost an astronomer and the cause of freedom gained a general. For the next fifty years, having found his real life’s work, Kameny stood on every front line of the gay rights movement. Because of him, more than anyone else, hundreds of thousands of federal employees—including soldiers—now go off each morning, without fear, to earn their livings and serve their country. The Deviant’s War thrillingly gives Kameny his due, putting this brave, sometimes impossible, iron-willed man at the center of an epic struggle for liberty."—Thomas Mallon, author of Fellow Travelers

“A detailed and engrossing look at Frank Kameny and his decades-long fight to convince the government and society that, in his words, 'Gay is Good.'”—Jim Obergefell, gay rights activist and plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges

"The Deviant’s War is a work of striking courage, exposing not only the great nemeses to homosexual freedoms but also the queer turncoats and quislings who exploited a closeted world. Frank Kameny, a central figure in American LGBT+ canon heretofore relegated to the sidelines, finally has a biography of the caliber he deserved. For this ambitious debut, Cervini is to be lauded."—Robert Fiesler, author of Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

"The Deviant’s War offers a fast-paced narrative of the early years of the gay rights movement, focusing on the pivotal role of reluctant activist Frank Kameny. Through a careful reading of the sources, Cervini provides fascinating stories and, ultimately, a fresh new interpretation of this important gay rights leader."—David K. Johnson, author of The Lavender Scare

"Before Gay Rights, there was Gay Liberation, and before that, the Homophile Movement. Eric Cervini's much needed history of this foundational political formation reveals that highly alienated individuals—whose gifts and talents were rejected because of their homosexuality—found the courage to demand change. Through direct confrontation with the state, these demeaned men and women insisted on paradigm shifts in thinking that cost them dearly. Yet they tolerated stigma, poverty and anti-social labels to literally force the country to transform. An exciting and highly readable history."—Sarah Schulman

"[Kameny's] is a fascinating story, and Cervini does it more than ample justice in this insightful, meticulously detailed book. He has clearly done a remarkable job of research, creating an absolutely indispensable, highly readable work of history that belongs in every library."—Booklist (starred review)

"Ambitious and exhaustive . . . Readers interested in the origins of the LGBTQ rights movement will be deeply informed by this meticulous account."—Publishers Weekly


Read an Excerpt



It began, as usual, in a public restroom. For ten years, Laud Humphreys of Oklahoma had been an Episcopal priest, but now he watched the silent choreography of the men. As always, the ritual of a men’s...

About the author

Eric Cervini

Eric Cervini is an award-winning historian of LGBTQ+ culture and politics. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Gates Scholar. The Deviant’s War is his first book.

Jakub Koziel

Eric Cervini

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