Keith Boykin graduated from Harvard Law School in 1992 and soon became involved in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Upon Clinton’s election, Boykin was asked to work for the administration assisting with media relations. The early 1990’s were an important period for the American gay and lesbian community: In 1993, President Clinton held the first meeting between an American president and national gay and lesbian leaders, a meeting that Boykin helped organize. The Clinton administration also confronted the controversial issue of whether to permit gay people in the military. Boykin participated in these events and had the opportunity to meet a wide cross section of gay and lesbian leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens. One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America is the result of this period of intense activity; Boykin became frustrated by media and administration misunderstandings of gay issues and decided to leave the Clinton administration to “tell the stories of the people the media neglected.”
The book begins with Boykin telling his own story. He recounts coming out to his family, both nuclear and extended, in St. Louis, Missouri. The intense pressures and difficulties Boykin experienced in this process lend passion to the telling of his own tale, as well as his recounting of the lives of others. At the age of twenty-five, he chooses his first book on homosexuality in a Harvard Square bookstore, and he plucks up the courage the next day to call his mother and tell her he is gay. Her reaction mirrors that of many mothers of gay sons, as she asks, “Have you tried dating women? How long have you known this? Is it something I did?”
Following his first chapter, “In Search of Home,” Boykin expands his focus beyond himself to discuss the experience of other African American gay men and lesbians. This discussion is based on interviews he conducted for the book. When gay people marched in Washington in 1993, they were consciously retracing the nation-transforming March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963. Both marches sought to rid the nation of oppression; both marches re-proclaimed that the United States was the land of freedom. However, for many African American leaders, ministers, and ordinary members of the community, the conflation of the sacred history of the struggle for African American equality with the struggle of a group whose agenda appeared to be sexual license was unthinkable. Boykin sails into this controversy with a cool head and...
(The entire section is 1031 words.)