Last night it was announced that this year's winner of the Lambda Literary Award in the LGBT Nonfiction category was Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas by Dale Carpenter (W.W. Norton). I don’t normally recommend nonfiction books here (though I don’t know why, since I read a lot of them), but I’m making an exception today for a special reason: I was honored to serve on the jury for the Lambda in the LGBT Nonfiction category, and this book really is incredible. Flagrant Conduct is the fascinating, detailed history of Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down Texas’ sodomy law. Dale Carpenter, Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, tells the story of this important case like a mystery, carefully assembling all the evidence, detailing the personalities behind the case, and finally delving into what actually happened at the Supreme Court.
What I personally really appreciated about Flagrant Conduct was the fact that Carpenter showed how all kinds of people were involved in this case. All too often, “LGBT” history focuses only on the contributions of gay men — and white gay men, to boot. But in Flagrant Conduct Carpenter takes pains to note the incredibly important contributions of women and people of color to the case.
In addition, Flagrant Conduct was eminently readable, even if you don’t know much about the law. I was basically obsessed with it while I was reading it, and I don't read too much legal history. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the course of civil rights in the United States.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding something that is just as historic, if not more, than Lawrence v. Texas: the fate of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, addressing same-sex marriage. If you’re interested in how the Supreme Court works and how attorneys work behind the scenes, you should read Flagrant Conduct, even without the link to LGBT civil rights. But given current events, this book is particularly timely.
Congratulations to Dale Carpenter for winning the Lambda, and be sure to check out the other nonfiction finalists, too! They were all excellent books.