Michael Bronski

American writer and academic

Michael Bronski (born May 12, 1949) is an academic and writer, who has won numerous awards for LGBTQ activism and scholarship, including the prestigious Publishing Triangle's Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. Bronski is a Professor of Practice in Media and Activism at Harvard University.


  • Anything that liberates is not without risk.
    • forward to Global Gay: How Gay Culture Is Changing the World by Frédéric Martel ‏ (2013)
  • The second decade of the twenty-first century—just 150 years after Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Karl-Maria Kurtbeny, early LGBT rights theorists, ignited the idea of same-sex freedom in 1868—we find ourselves in a heady, global maelstrom of unimaginable liberation and continued stark oppression.
    • forward to Global Gay: How Gay Culture Is Changing the World by Frédéric Martel ‏ (2013)
  • Shame...is a first rate form of social control. Shame is what keeps us in line, what prevents us from discovering not so much who we are, but what we might become.
    • forward to Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality by Patrick Moore (2004)
  • in many ways my personal life (which I wrote about a lot) was really a public life. This may not be the case for many, even most people, but for me my private and public life became one. People can say what they thought – and did – but what I was doing, felt perfectly natural to me.
  • many LGBTQ people did create art (writing, painting etc) that was recognized if their sexual identity was not well known. And sometimes even if they were more open, they were recognized because they were seen as exotic, or ‘different,’ or unusual (outside the norm) but not threatening. There are ways that some types of people can get around the strictures of the power structures. It is very easy to say that all minority groups are oppressed by the dominant power structure – but the reality is that groups are oppressed in different ways. Often one of the ways that they are oppressed is that the dominant culture lets one or two members of that group become noted: “She is a great woman artist” or “He is a very talented black actor.” And by singling out individuals, it makes them stand apart from their group and therefore retains the stigma for the entire group
  • The old saying that “history is written by the winners” is – to some degree – true for a great deal of traditional, written history. Only recently – maybe the past 100 years – have traditional historians been willing to look at the histories of minoritized groups and begin including them in mainstream narratives. But this is only focusing on traditional, mainstream histories – there are a number of ways that minoritized groups wrote, recorded, maintained, and saved their own histories. Often this was through alternative means – private correspondence, diaries, folk lore, songs, oral histories, visual cultures, theatre – and often dismissed by academic and traditional historians. The problem with how we conceptualise history is that it is prone to wanting to tell one story (usually the dominant one). The reality is that history – at its core – is multiple stories from multiple points of view. It is not a series of snapshots but many films, all shown at the same time. I do not think that history has a “responsibility” – that is very abstract – but that each and everyone one of us share the responsibility to not only insist on telling our own stories, but on encouraging everyone to tell theirs.
  • There are many times that these representations – novels, songs, films, graphic novels, tv shows – make us laugh or cry because we recognize parts of ourselves in them. That’s great. But we shouldn’t think that these representations actually represent us. Rather can’t. We are all much too complicated to be represented in this way. But nevertheless the longing to see our lives represented is powerful – and we need it. It is great to feel connected to a community because of popular culture – we just have to realise that almost any artefact of popular culture that – by its nature becomes popular – is never the whole truth of people’s lives. It is a consumer item – and that’s fine.; just don’t compare it to the authenticity of human experience, to understand the uniqueness of an individual life.
  • Books that get banned – historically and now in many, many states in the U.S. – are banned not because they are immoral (under accepted and promoted religious ideologies) but because they challenge a current orthodoxy. Often this orthodoxy is about sexuality, gender and sometimes race. But this is only part of what causes this – for the most part what we call “art” (good or bad art) is a product of the imagination. The nature of the imagination is to, well “imagine” – to think outside of the frames of the real, the material world, what is possible, what is considered acceptable. So this is the reason why “art” gets challenged most often by censorship --- it is, or can be, by its nature, a challenge to the status quo to what we are expected to accept as “normal".
  • At its best “art” is subversive and can change the world. Thus, making it not only a viable threat, but a dangerous one.
  • In our culture, all diseases and afflictions and disabilities are stigmatised. Those associated with sexual activity are even more so. Because since the 1980s, HIV was associated with gay male sexuality – even though heterosexual could easily be infected – the stigma was even stronger. In the 1980s and 1990s people with HIV faced discrimination on a number of levels; medical care, housing, job security, in the media, in social services, social rejection and isolation and much more. Some of this was countered by new anti-discrimination laws fought for by gay legal and grass roots activists, but much social stigma still remains. The implications of this – then and now – are huge. The stigma associated with HIV created a huge divide between the healthy and the sick (which translated into the moral and the immoral.) It also created a culture in which all gay men were thought to be – or presumed to be – HIV positive, thus stigmatising male homosexuality even more. There were laws passed – and still on the books – which criminalised HIV positive people engaging in sexual activity with non-HIV positive people. To a degree this is true of all diseases – think of how uncomfortable people may be around someone with a skin disease or who are disabled. But because HIV was so linked to male homosexuality the stigma was not only worse, but took myriad forms in different public and private venues.
  • Humans are taught to think in dualities – left/ right, good/ evil, sacred/ profane, sin/ grace, clean/ dirty – the American Dream necessitates the creation of an American Nightmare. Who gets to be in the Dream v/s who is forced into the Nightmare is dependent on many factors: race, gender, class, income, physique, standards of beauty, sexual identity. In the past 40 years some queer people -- those who fit into standards of certain acceptability – were allowed into the Dream; but not all. Many LGBTQ people (those who were in the Dream) saw this as progress. But it is not progress until there is no more divide between the Dream and the Nightmare. There is an old Gay Liberation slogan which is “we don’t want a piece of the pie – the pie is poisoned.” So is the dichotomy between this Dream and the Nightmare.
  • I have no “vision” as a professor. I think the best I can do is give my students interesting, provocative material they cannot find on their own and make them think – think deeply – about it. In many ways I learn more from my students than I think they learn from me. Education has to be a two-way street of knowledge and information and thoughts should be freely flowing, both ways. Of course I know more “facts and “statistics” etc. than my students but I do not necessarily know better what they mean or how to think about them in complicated ways. An “educated society” is a society that just spends more time thinking and trying to understand itself: its impulses, its desires, its fears, and its dreams. That is what I hope happens in my classroom!
  • what we wanted to do was a Queer History, which would be rather a history of a sensibility rather than a history of what certain people did or didn't do. I think that a Queer sensibility would be a sensibility that would be from the outside. So whereas LGBT people may have lived to a large degree on the outside--although not always since many of these people were in fact not openly gay at the time--what the book does is that it looks at American History from the point of view of an outsider.
  • Since the 1960s, there have been movements to include those people who have been "left out" of American history. So we see Women's History, African-American history, Latino history, Native American history. And certainly when we think about Gay and Lesbian or GLBT history, that's the same impulse--to bring Gay and Lesbian people back into American history. When I began writing the book, it struck me that the more research I did, that while this project was well-intentioned, it was rather unnecessary. That in fact gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, African-American people, Latino people, women have always been in American history. So the very process of separating people out in order to put them back in seemed to me to be shortsighted. So the purpose of the book as I began writing it became clearer and clearer--it was simply to identify and find the LGBT people that are in American history already. The more I did this, what I discovered was that there were so many people, so many events, people's lives, people's personalities were so intertwined with what we think of as American history that there was no separation at all.
  • I think that when we look at the larger picture, the queerness, the sexuality, the really complicated sexual relationships, are integral to these people's desire to change the world and make it better.

A Queer History of the United States (2011)

  • My earliest involvement in the gay community was in the gay liberation movement of the early 1970s. We had very strong opinions then. I have come to realize that in life and politics, there is always more to take into consideration. If there is one clear, unambiguous argument here, it is that the LGBT history of America is, and has always been, U.S. history. (Author's Note)
  • Full citizenship was, and to a large degree still is, predicated on keeping 'unacceptable' behavior private. This complicated relationship between the public and private is at the heart of LGBT history and life today.
  • It is impossible to understand American history—including the position of LGBT people—without acknowledging the overwhelming, debilitating effect that slavery has had on this country


  • the contributions of people whom we may now identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are integral and central to how we conceptualize our national history. Without the work of social activists, thinkers, writers, and artists such as We'Wha, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, [[Martha "Calamity" Jane Cannary Burke, Edith Guerrier, Countee Cullen, Ethel Waters, Bayard Rustin, Roy Cohn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cherrie Moraga, and Lily Tomlin, we would not have the country that we have today. Women and men who experienced and expressed sexual desires for their own sex and those who did not conform to conventional gender expectations have always been present, in both the everyday and the imaginative life of our country. They have profoundly helped shape it, and it is inconceivable, and ahistorical, to conceptualize our traditions and history without them.
  • History is an ongoing process through which we understand and define ourselves and our lives.
  • Today we routinely use LGBT, a fairly recent, and accepted, amalgamation of identities, each of which has a specific history that often had little to do with the others.
  • language is both an entryway and a dead end.
  • Whatever sexuality means today and did not mean before, the word, like others before it, has always attempted to describe something we know is not reducible to a word, an identity, or even a set of behaviors.
  • Interpretations are best made with the long view in mind.
  • entertainment in its broadest sense-popular ballads, vaudeville, films, sculptures, plays, paintings, pornography, pulp novels-has not only been a primary mode of expression of LGBT identity, but one of the most effective means of social change. Ironically, the enormous political power of these forms was often understood by the people who wanted to ban them, not by the people who were simply enjoying them.
  • Pedagogy, like history, will never be able to contain all of America-a great country, an evil country, a place of tremendous generosity and welcome as well as pronounced disdain for foreigners and outsiders. America is not one thing or another. America is queer.


  • A Queer History of the United States stops at 1990, but LGBT communities have seen enormous changes since then. By the late 1980s, the rise of the so-called "Gaybe Boom" was beginning, as increasing numbers of children were born into two-parent same-sex households. Lesléa Newman's children's book Heather Has Two Mommies-which became a target in the culture wars of the 1990s-was emblematic of this sea change in the community.
  • in America, equality under the law is a complicated affair. Certainly it is true that while laws are for everyone, they are often enforced mainly against the disenfranchised.
  • Youth sexuality has often been, like homosexuality, unspeakable in our culture. This has been America's dirty little secret: teens and children think about sex. Some have sexual desires for members of their own gender. Young people coming out earlier, and often finding support in their homes and schools, is a major political advancement. For over a century, charges of "molestation," "corruption of a minor," and "recruitment” have been used-explicitly by J. Edgar Hoover, Anita Bryant, and others, and implicitly by many who are opposed to same-sex marriage-to demonize lesbians and gay men and deny them full citizenship. There may always be bias against LGBT people, but the charges of molestation will eventually fade as more youth come out.
  • LGBT people are simply Americans-no less and no more. The idea of America has existed, in some form, for five hundred years. LGBT people, despite enormous struggles to be accepted and to be given equality, have made America what it is today-that great, fascinating, complicated, sometimes horrible, sometimes wonderful place that it was in the beginning.
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