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Lillian Faderman: The mother of LGBT history

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Lillian Faderman

Lillian Faderman: The mother of LGBT history

Dr. Lillian Faderman is considered the mother of LGBT history, having written a number of books that many scholars and academicians regard as important sources of information on LGBT history.

This year, she became the historian-in-residence for the Lambda Archives of San Diego. This is a new program of the Lambda Archives and Dr. Faderman is the first to grace this position.

That’s how important a person Faderman is as Lambda will only invite the big guns in the field of LGBTQ history every two years.

Lillian Faderman: The baby who survived

Faderman wouldn’t have been born if her mother decided to push through with her abortion. It was a close call since her mother, Mary, had already aborted Faderman’s two other siblings upon the urging of Faderman’s father.

This hopeful history of Faderman became the “driving force”, as she put it, in her character.

Leaving Faderman’s father and her life as a garment worker in Lower Manhattan, Mary ran away to Los Angeles with baby Lillian and her sister Rae.

In her teenage years, Faderman was a model and it was during this time she realized she was a lesbian when she discovered the lesbian underground bars in LA.

She tried heterosexuality after she graduated from high school by marrying a gay man but the marriage failed after less than a year.

Lillian Faderman and lesbian history

At age 76, Faderman wrote a total of ten books. She won awards and acclaims starting with Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present in 1981.

She wrote the book, about lesbian couples, with a passion and the thought that this was a subject she wanted to read.

Another important work is Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, which documented being a lesbian in the 20th century.

Her recent book, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, which came out in 2015, is about the upheavals of being a lesbian.

“The 1950s were probably the worst time to be a lesbian in the US,” Faderman said during an interview.

Faderman herself was a working class lesbian during this period and had experienced harassment from the police first hand.

The three books were named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times when they came out.

She also received awards from Lambda Archives, American Library Association, and ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.

“Dr. Faderman has inspired my own work as a steward of our community’s stories and I am thrilled to work with her to further the mission of collecting, preserving, and teaching LGBTQ history,” described Jen LaBarbera, Head Archivist for Lambda Archives.

Lillian Faderman: The historian speaks

Faderman, who is currently a professor emerita of California State University in Fresno, lives with her partner of 45 years, Phyllis Irwin. They both have a son, who is now 35.

Looking at where we are now, and the progress the lesbians made, Faderman says so much has changed in 30 years.

Still, it’s not enough. “The bar is always raised. Expectations get higher and higher,” she said. “I’m a product not only of the 1950s but also of the present, and I want more.”

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