Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room and William Way LGBT Community Center will co-host a virtual book discussion in the form of a conversation between author and LGBTQ+ historian Dr. Eric Cervini and Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims. They will discuss Cervini’s newly released book “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America.” 

This marks the first virtual event for Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room but certainly not the last. 

“We’re excited to host this event because with everything closed, [what’s] so important for people in our community is the ability to come together,” said Alan Chelak, manager of Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room. “While we can’t come together in the real world space right now, being able to come together online is really important.” 

William Way has partnered with Philly’s staple queer bookstore for many past literary events. 

“We’re delighted to be able to help bring this important work, the story of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, to the community,” John Anderies said in an email. Anderies serves as the director of William Way’s John. J. Wilcox Archives.   

Cervini, who holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Cambridge, is a historian of LGBTQ politics and culture, as well as an expert on 1960s gay activism. 

As the first openly gay member of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, Sims has introduced bills and resolutions in support of LGBTQ and other minority communities, including the Fairness Act, comprehensive sex education in schools and insurance coverage of HIV prevention medications. 

“I have always been inspired by Representative Sims’ leadership and voice,” Cervini said in an email. “And when I decided to organize a digital book tour, he was one of the first people I asked.”

Set in 1957 and spanning the 1960s, “The Deviant’s War” follows U.S. Defense Department astronomer Frank Kameny, his wrongful termination on the basis of his homosexuality, his case against the U.S. government and the organization he founded to retaliate against the government’s mistreatment of gay employees –– the Mattachine Society of Washington. Through archives and interviews, Cervini’s book explores “the forgotten ties that bound gay rights to the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism and trans resistance.”

While studying history at Harvard, Cervini set out to write a seminar paper on Harvey Milk but was unable to do so because he needed to travel to San Francisco to conduct his research, he told PGN. Unable to travel to the west coast, he explored other options and came across Frank Kameny’s name in his findings.  

“Here was a man considered by historians to have been the grandfather of the American gay rights movement,” Cervini said in an email. “He was the first openly gay man to go to the Supreme Court, to testify in Congress and to organize a demonstration in front of the White House. Yet there was no book about him –– and certainly no film.”

The first day Cervini rifled through Kameny’s documents in the Library of Congress, he recognized that these archives comprised “the raw material –– totaling 50,000 letters, notes, and legal records — for the untold Washington-based origin story of the American gay rights movement,” Cervini continued. “Since then, I have been obsessed with further discovering, understanding and telling that story.”

When asked why the stories that comprise “The Deviant’s War” are such vital pieces of LGBTQ history, Cervini pointed out that today’s largely joyous Pride festivities vastly differ from the political movement that gave way to the first Pride marches. 

“Before the parades, people lost their jobs, their livelihoods and even their lives to stand up for the Pride we see today,” he said.

“Especially in this time of COVID, with the parades canceled, it’s important to reconnect with the roots of our movement. The book proves that Pride originally meant fighting back. Now, we need to rebuild Pride by making it about resistance, declaring that Black Lives Matter and standing up for our trans family members.”

For more information and to register for the event, visit https://www.crowdcast.io/e/DeviantsPhilly/register