The late gay community historian Allan Bérubé is best known for his revelatory book, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. His unexpected death in 2007 left unfinished a major research project on the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union ( MCSU ) . The MCSU eventually disbanded after a ferocious anti-Communist and anti-union campaign was historic for a number of reasons, the most prominent among them being that it was a fiercely interracial union committed to both a left politics and solidarity across race lines.
Less well-known is the fact that that racial and class solidarity also spanned across sexual lines: prominent MCSU organizers and members were openly gay and lesbian and fondly referred to as "queens." Bérubé came across this rich and complicated history while researching Coming Out Under Fire, and conducted numerous interviews with former members while also collecting whatever he could find of correspondence between and about them.
After his death, two of his closest friends, John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman, set about collecting an anthology of Bérubé's work that would showcase the variety of research he had undertaken over the course of his life. D'Emilio, professor of history and of gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes this new book, My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History, as "one of the richest collections of GLBT history available" in which "you see both a person and his evolution as a writer and thinker and interpreter of the past."
My interview with John D'Emilio is easily one of my favourites, and we talked about labour and queerness, amongst other things. You can read the entire interview here:
Photo credit: John D'Emilio