Queer History: Nonfiction Books about LGBTQ+ Movements and Identities

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month! The acronym LGBTQ+ encompasses gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities, and the addition of the plus symbol represents the fact that there continue to be many more specific identities recognized by the queer community. As some of the informational books on this list explain in more detail, Pride Month became an event that commemorates queer activism after the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969 when LGBTQ+ people fought back against a police raid of a gay bar in New York City called the Stonewall Inn. For decades now, huge celebrations and Pride parades during the month of June celebrate diversity in gender expression and sexuality. Despite the remarkable progress in improving LGBTQ+ rights since the Stonewall uprising, queer rights are again in jeopardy, including significant nationwide efforts to ban books by LGBTQ+ authors. See the resources at the end of this post to learn about the American Library Association’s reports on censorship and the Freedom to Read Foundation’s effort to stop book banning and protect intellectual freedom.

Caldwell, S. A.
Illustrated by: Season of Victory
Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement. 2022 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
The LGBTQ+ community is so much more than rainbow flags and the month of June. In this dynamic book, young readers will learn about groundbreaking events, including historic pushes for equality and the legalization of same-sex marriages across the world. Taking a global view, this book dives into the phenomenal history of queer icons from ancient times to the present and describes the lives of Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde, and more. Including several current personal essays from inspiring young LGBTQ+ people, this book encourages readers to celebrate their identity and the identities of the people around them. Don’t just learn about LGBTQ+ history, take pride in it!
S.306.7602 C1279pr

Gottlieb, Iris
Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression. 2022 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
This title is an exploration of how we express and understand the complexities of gender today. Thoroughly researched and fully illustrated, this book demystifies an intensely personal, yet universal, facet of humanity. Illustrating a different concept on each set of pages, queer author and artist Iris Gottlieb touches on history, science, sociology, and her own experience. This book is an essential tool for understanding and participating in a necessary cultural conversation, bringing clarity and reassurance to the confusing process of navigating one’s identity. Regardless of specific identity labels, this book is a must-read for intelligent, curious, and considerate people who care about how society talks about gender and sexuality in the 21st century. Although not published exclusively for a youth audience, this book is relevant to and accessible for middle and high school students.
HQ23 .G68 2022 [SSHEL Stacks]

Grimm, Gavin and Kyle Lukoff
Illustrated by: J. Yang
If You’re a Kid Like Gavin. 2022 (Picture Book).
This celebratory and empowering story from young trans activist Gavin Grimm and author Kyle Lukoff follows the true story of how a young boy stood up for himself and made history along the way. When you’re a kid like Gavin Grimm, you know yourself better than anyone else. Gavin knew that he was a boy, even if others saw him as a girl. So when his school took away his right to use the boy’s restroom, Gavin knew he had a big decision to make, because there are always more choices than the ones others give you. Gavin chose to correct others when they got his pronouns wrong. He asked to be respected and stood up for himself. Gavin proved that his school had violated his constitutional rights and the Supreme Court upheld his case, bringing about a historic win for trans rights. There are many kids out there, some just like Gavin Grimm, and they might be any young reader to whom you hand this book.
Q. S.306.768 G8826if

Lawson, Jamie
Illustrated by: Eve Lloyd Knight
Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights. 2020 (Middle Grade Anthology).
This is a beautifully illustrated book featuring vignettes about moments in history that became important steps toward progress in the long fight for queer rights. On June 28, 1969, around one o’clock in the morning, New York City Police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village, New York. What happened that night would come to be a defining moment in the LGBTQ+ rights movement and for queer people everywhere. From the impassioned speeches of bold activists Karl Ulrichs and Audre Lorde to the birth of Pride and queer pop culture, this book charts the powerful moments of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and celebrates the courageous individuals who stood up and demanded recognition.
S.306.766 L445ra

Pitman, Gayle E.
The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets. 2019 (Middle Grade Nonfiction).
This book chronicles the historical accounts of the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The riots are now known as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Pitman’s text describes American queer history leading up to the riots, the events themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of participants and witnesses, including a woman who was ten years old at the time. Richly illustrated, this book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other archival objects. A timely and valuable read, this informational account helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.
S.306.76 G683st

Prager, Sarah
Illustrated by: Cheryl Thuesday
Kind Like Marsha: Learning from LGBTQ+ Leaders. 2022 (Picture Book).
This nonfiction picture book celebrates 14 amazing and inspirational LGBTQ+ change makers and forward thinkers throughout history. Figures like Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, and Audre Lorde are accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci, Frida Kahlo, and more in this striking collection of mini biographies. With a focus on a positive personality attribute of each of the historical figures, such as boldness, intelligence, and creativity, etc., readers will be encouraged to be brave like the Ugandan activist fighting for LGBTQ+ rights against all odds and to be kind like Marsha P. Johnson who took care of her trans community on the New York City streets. Thuesday’s colorful illustrations incorporate visual symbols that relate to each subject and bring queer history to light.
S.306.76 P8842ki

Sanders, Rob
Illustrated by: Steven Salerno
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. 2018 (Picture Book).
In this deeply moving picture book about a true story, young readers will learn about the life of the rainbow Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its role in today’s world. Beginning with a brief profile of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay lawmaker in the United States, the text highlights the origins of the pride flag as a new symbol of pride in the diversity of queer identities. Sanders’s stirring text and Salerno’s evocative images combine to tell a remarkable story of love, hope, equality, and pride. This book is the perfect primer for young readers about the origins of a key symbol of the contemporary queer rights movement.
Q. SB. M6449s

Sanders, Rob
Illustrated by: Jamey Christoph
Stitch by Stitch: Cleve Jones and the AIDS Memorial Quilt. 2021 (Picture Book).
Like the blanket that his great-grandmother made for him as a boy, and the friends he found in San Francisco as a young man, and the idea for a monument sewn of fabric and thread, Cleve Jones’ extraordinary life seemed to have been stitched together piece by piece. Mentored by Harvey Milk, Jones first found the inspiration for what became the AIDS Memorial Quilt during a candlelight memorial for Milk in 1985. Together with friends, Cleve created the first panels for the quilt in 1987. The AIDS Memorial Quilt grew to be one of the largest ever public arts projects and helped grow awareness of HIV and AIDS. Jones’ shining achievement, the quilt is an iconic symbol of hope and remembrance. Since its creation, the quilt has toured around the world and been seen by millions. This evocative biography is a tender tribute to Jones’ life of advocacy and the positive effects of a community working towards a common goal.
Q. S.362.1969792 Sa565st

Schrefer, Eliot
Illustrated by: Jules Zuckerberg
Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality. 2022 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
This groundbreaking illustrated nonfiction title is a well-researched and teen-friendly exploration of the range of queer behaviors observed in animals. A quiet revolution has been underway in recent years, with study after study revealing substantial same-sex sexual behavior in animals: from albatrosses to bonobos to clownfish to doodlebugs. In clear and witty prose (aided by humorous comics from Zuckerberg) Schrefer uses science, history, anthropology, and sociology to communicate the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal world. Interviews with researchers in the field offer further insights for readers and aspiring scientists. Queer behavior in animals is as diverse, complex, and as natural as it is in our own species.
S.591.562 Sch71qu

Wind, Lee
No Way, They Were Gay? Hidden Lives and Secret Loves. 2021 (Young Adult Nonfiction).
History sounds really official, like it’s all fact, but that’s not necessarily true. History was crafted by the people who recorded it. Sometimes, those historians were biased against, didn’t notice, or couldn’t even imagine people different from themselves. As such, history has often left out the stories of LGBTQ+ people: men who loved men, women who loved women, people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender binaries. Historians have even obscured the lives and loves of some of the world’s most famous people, from William Shakespeare and Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Cary Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt. This well-documented book is a fascinating journey through primary sources, including poetry, memoir, news clippings, and images of ancient artwork, to explore the hidden queer lives and loves of two dozen historical figures.
Available online

References / Resources

American Library Association’s Banned & Challenged Books Page
This landing page on the ALA’s website features important information about book challenges in the United States, such as lists of the most challenged books, statistics, and advice for reporting censorship and finding support.

Freedom to Read Foundation
The Freedom to Read Foundation is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association. The foundation focuses on educational outreach and legal actions that support the first amendment and uphold libraries’ rights to collect materials and individuals’ rights to access information.

National Coalition Against Censorship – Action Kit
NCAC has compiled a helpful Book Censorship Action Kit to help kids, parents, teachers, and librarians defend every child’s right to read. The 23-page document is free to use, and includes clear language about what censorship is, our first amendment rights, the common objections to books, and advocacy tips.