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Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of American Sexual Politics

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On October 14, 1998, five thousand people gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to mourn the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who had been murdered in Wyoming eight days earlier. Politicians and celebrities addressed the crowd and the televised national audience to share their grief with the country. Never before had a gay citizen's murder elicited such On October 14, 1998, five thousand people gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to mourn the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who had been murdered in Wyoming eight days earlier. Politicians and celebrities addressed the crowd and the televised national audience to share their grief with the country. Never before had a gay citizen's murder elicited such widespread outrage or concern from straight Americans. In Dying to Be Normal, Brett Krutzsch argues that gay activists memorialized people like Shepard as part of a political strategy to present gays as similar to the country's dominant class of white, straight Christians. Through an examination of publicly mourned gay deaths, Krutzsch counters the common perception that LGBT politics and religion have been oppositional and reveals how gay activists used religion to bolster the argument that gays are essentially the same as straights, and therefore deserving of equal rights. Krutzsch's analysis turns to the memorialization of Shepard, Harvey Milk, Tyler Clementi, Brandon Teena, and F. C. Martinez, to campaigns like the It Gets Better Project, and national tragedies like the Pulse nightclub shooting to illustrate how activists used prominent deaths to win acceptance, influence political debates over LGBT rights, and encourage assimilation. Throughout, Krutzsch shows how, in the fight for greater social inclusion, activists relied on Christian values and rhetoric to portray gays as upstanding Americans. As Krutzsch demonstrates, gay activists regularly reinforced a white Protestant vision of acceptable American citizenship that often excluded people of color, gender-variant individuals, non-Christians, and those who did not adhere to Protestant Christianity's sexual standards. The first book to detail how martyrdom has influenced national debates over LGBT rights, Dying to Be Normal establishes how religion has shaped gay assimilation in the United States and the mainstreaming of particular gays as "normal" Americans.


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On October 14, 1998, five thousand people gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to mourn the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who had been murdered in Wyoming eight days earlier. Politicians and celebrities addressed the crowd and the televised national audience to share their grief with the country. Never before had a gay citizen's murder elicited such On October 14, 1998, five thousand people gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to mourn the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who had been murdered in Wyoming eight days earlier. Politicians and celebrities addressed the crowd and the televised national audience to share their grief with the country. Never before had a gay citizen's murder elicited such widespread outrage or concern from straight Americans. In Dying to Be Normal, Brett Krutzsch argues that gay activists memorialized people like Shepard as part of a political strategy to present gays as similar to the country's dominant class of white, straight Christians. Through an examination of publicly mourned gay deaths, Krutzsch counters the common perception that LGBT politics and religion have been oppositional and reveals how gay activists used religion to bolster the argument that gays are essentially the same as straights, and therefore deserving of equal rights. Krutzsch's analysis turns to the memorialization of Shepard, Harvey Milk, Tyler Clementi, Brandon Teena, and F. C. Martinez, to campaigns like the It Gets Better Project, and national tragedies like the Pulse nightclub shooting to illustrate how activists used prominent deaths to win acceptance, influence political debates over LGBT rights, and encourage assimilation. Throughout, Krutzsch shows how, in the fight for greater social inclusion, activists relied on Christian values and rhetoric to portray gays as upstanding Americans. As Krutzsch demonstrates, gay activists regularly reinforced a white Protestant vision of acceptable American citizenship that often excluded people of color, gender-variant individuals, non-Christians, and those who did not adhere to Protestant Christianity's sexual standards. The first book to detail how martyrdom has influenced national debates over LGBT rights, Dying to Be Normal establishes how religion has shaped gay assimilation in the United States and the mainstreaming of particular gays as "normal" Americans.

41 review for Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of American Sexual Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Based on the author's doctoral dissertation, this is perhaps an unsurprisingly dry book. The basic premise is interesting and the research seems solid, but it is ultimately an academic monograph, with all the limitations this entails: not exactly mesmerizing writing; scholarly, theoretical concerns that limit its potential practical/sociopolitical impact; and a rather narrow focus. Still, for scholars of LGBT history, this should be an interesting study. Based on the author's doctoral dissertation, this is perhaps an unsurprisingly dry book. The basic premise is interesting and the research seems solid, but it is ultimately an academic monograph, with all the limitations this entails: not exactly mesmerizing writing; scholarly, theoretical concerns that limit its potential practical/sociopolitical impact; and a rather narrow focus. Still, for scholars of LGBT history, this should be an interesting study.

  2. 4 out of 5

    RACHEL

    Krustzsch uses the lens of Christian words and symbols used to transform the conversation around sexuality in the US providing an interesting window for readers to view the transformation. My copy was a gift through Goodreads First Reads.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Very well researched and written. The last line is “Normal isn’t freedom,” and that’s a memorable way to sum up this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Favor

  5. 4 out of 5

    Faith 09

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lupe

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    Anthony Petro

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    Jodi

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fabiola Rivera (Amrit Sukhmani Kaur)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  11. 5 out of 5

    maxine heintz

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex Stroshine

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Aedyn River

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

  15. 5 out of 5

    emilee

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    Frederick Rotzien

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    Fleet Sparrow

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    Deborah Gerhart

  19. 5 out of 5

    Micielle

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    Charissa Rate

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    Ginger Frizzell

  22. 5 out of 5

    Adam Michael Seligman

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    Margo

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    Lydia Wallace

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dannon Hewitt

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim Ellis

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    Juanita

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    Brittany Welker

  29. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Lee

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    Raymond Stone

  32. 4 out of 5

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  37. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  38. 5 out of 5

    Ann Ellis

  39. 5 out of 5

    Britt

  40. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Hall

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jan

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