Reading Philip Gambone’s new book of profiles, Travels in a Gay Nation: Portraits of LGBTQ Americans, is like watching a really good, really gay Barbara Walters Most Fascinating People special. Gambone delivers his subjects’ backstories, where they are now, a sense of what makes them tick, and sometimes, just like Walters, he gets tears.
“Oh, I cried with lots of people and laughed too,” says Gambone, who traveled the country for two years, conducting scores of interviews with a wide array of gay and lesbian luminaries, from famous entertainers (Kate Clinton, George Takei), authors (David Sedaris), politicians (Tammy Baldwin) and to less well-known trailblazers like partnered Vermont gardeners Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, who have what’s been called one of the best gardens in North America. “I want people to have access to stories about gay people that they might not get in the mainstream media,” he says.
“One of the teariest moments was with Unitarian minister Kim Crawford Harvie,” says the Boston-based writer. “She was a minister in Provincetown at the height of the AIDS crisis. And talking with Hillary Goodridge, the lead plaintiff in the Massachusetts marriage equality case, brought tears to my eyes too, happy ones, especially when she described the day in 2003 that she, her wife, Julie, and their daughter learned that the court had ruled in their favor.”
Though Gambone’s writing is vivid, compassionate, and concise, what really comes across in Travels is how easy he is to talk to. He even got Congressman Barney Frank to open up about the hustler scandal that rocked his career in 1989. “Barney was very, very candid and one of the fastest talkers I interviewed,” Gambone says with a laugh. “I was enormously impressed with how open and articulate all my subjects were. These are people who had really thought about their lives. They share a fearlessness and a sense of not having to apologize to anybody for who they are or what they believe in.”