Telling Our Stories: Books, History, Media, and Money

One of my favorite reads from 2015 is Kerry Eleveld's fabulous book Don't Tell Me to Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama's Presidency. Readable, interesting, surprising, and compelling, Don't Tell Me to Wait is an extraordinary first draft of the history of the Obama administration in relationship to LGBT communities.
Many readers will find the stories that Eleveld recounts familiar. Many of us have been watching the Obama administration closely through both queer and mainstream media. Multiple watershed developments for the LGBT community occurred during the years Eleveld covers in Don't Tell Me to Wait: repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; recognition of same-sex marriage; new executive directives; and engagements with various departments in ways that advance LGBT equality. These events make for an action-packed narrative. Even though readers know now parts of how the stories end, savvy readers will find lots of gems in this book--things forgotten, incidents unearthed, new insights gleaned. The overall result is an extraordinary summative account of recent history narrated with Eleveld's thoughtful and perceptive prose.

Let me state it plainly: Eleveld is a community treasure. As a community journalist, her work at the Advocate is storied and provides the basis of this book. This book, and Eleveld's work overall, is in the same vein as legendary books by journalist Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On and Conduct Unbecoming. I wish there were ten more journalists like Eleveld reporting important stories in LGBT communities and writing books about historic developments.

I commend Eleveld's Don't Tell Me to Wait to you; buy it, read it, enjoy it. One of my disappointments this award season is that Don't Tell Me to Wait did not receive more recognition, particularly by LGBT literary awards. It is a terrible oversight. Don't Tell Me to Wait is excellent; it begs close attention from LGBT readers. Eleveld as an important author, deserving accolades in the community. Don't Tell Me to Wait is Eleveld's first book. I hope that the lack of recognition does not discourage her from engaging in future book-length projects.

While recognition of the book and of Eleveld are important, equally important is understanding the broader ecosystem of Eleveld and Don't Tell Me to Wait. This book exists as a vital early draft of the history of Obama's presidency in relationship to the LGBT community because the Advocate invested resources in supporting Eleveld's reporting and because Basic Books published this compelling book. These are crucial financial investments in LGBT journalism and LGBT stories. Moreover, these capital investments are too often overlooked within our communities. They are investments that often are not recouped. Hopefully, the Advocate and Basic will recover the majority of their investments through advertising and sales, but they may not. Often this work of telling LGBT stories is not profitable, yet it is vitally important to all of us. We need community institutions--media outlets and publishers--invested in supporting the writers who tell our stories to the world. Eleveld's Don't Tell Me to Wait is an excellent example of why we need media investments in our communities.

As everyone knows, the media world, including LGBT print and online media, is changing. Fewer resources are dedicated to human labor to report important stories. Fewer long-form stories are being told as print media disappears in favor of online media. Without support for writers like Eleveld and for books like Don't Tell Me to Wait, our stories will not find their way into the world. We can ensure that our stories are told and heard, however, but supporting writers like Eleveld, books like Don't Tell Me to Wait, and encouraging new and existing media institutions to invest in LGBTQ stories. We can read our way into a liberated future.