Scroll To Top
The Advocates

From Heather to Harvey to Matthew Shepard, Lesléa Newman Chronicles Queer History

From Heather to Harvey to Matthew Shepard, Lesléa Newman Chronicles Queer History


<p>From Heather to Harvey to Matthew Shepard, Lesléa Newman Chronicles Queer History</p>
Mary Vazquez

Mary Vazquez

This author, and one of our Advocates of the Year, has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ history for over 30 years.

Nbroverman

Lesléa Newman has the unique ability to both chronicle history and change it. The lesbian author first came to national prominence in the early 1990s after her work, Heather Has Two Mommies, became one of the most prominent children’s books to depict a family led by same-sex parents. Revolutionary then and, somewhat sadly, still, Heather changed life for millions of queer families starving for representation. Often challenged by conservative parents and school officials, Heather presaged the anti-LGBTQ+ book ban wars that still rage to this day.

But Newman has never been one to rest on laurels — in the 34 years since Heather’s release, Newman has written 85 books for kids and adults, covering subjects like Jewish and lesbian identity, AIDS, eating disorders, butch/femme relationships, and sexual abuse. The New York City-reared author also has a keen interest in queer history, with her award-winning collection of short stories, 2004’s A Letter to Harvey Milk, adapted to film and stage.

Newman used poetry to honor Matthew Shepard in 2012’s collection October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. In her recently released hardcover, Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard, Newman revisits the legacy of the murdered gay college student, celebrating his life through her pained words and Brian Britigan’s drawings, never obscuring the terrible circumstances of his death.

For Newman, delivering hope to queer families and keeping alive the legacies of community legends is more than work, it’s duty.

“In the Jewish tradition there is a concept called ‘Tikkun Olam’ which means ‘Repairing the World,’” Newman says. “Every Jew is given this assignment at birth. We are not expected to accomplish this alone, and it assumed that the work won’t be completed in our lifetime...but still, that doesn’t let us off the hook. Each of us must decide how we are going to do our part. The LGBTQ+ community is my home. It is my obligation, responsibility, and honor to do what I can to repair the world and make it a safe place for all of us. When I first came out in the early 1980s, and saw that there weren’t any books featuring out, proud, Jewish lesbians, I wrote the short story collection, A Letter to Harvey Milk, so that I, and others like me, could see ourselves in a piece of literature.”

“In the late 1980s, when a lot of lesbian couples were starting families, I wrote Heather Has Two Mommies so that kids with two moms would see themselves represented in a children’s book and feel validated and that they belong,” she adds. “I acutely felt the need to use my pen in 1998 when Matthew Shepard was murdered. His voice was silenced forever. I have the privilege of having a voice, and I feel it is my duty to use it to give voice to the voiceless. I wrote October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard in order to explore the impact of the hate crime that claimed Matt’s life. A quarter of a century later, I wrote Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard to celebrate Matt’s life and legacy, and amplify all the good work that has been done in his name. Looking ahead, I know that the current state of our beautiful and broken world will continue to compel me to keep doing the work, for in the words of my beloved and dearly departed mentor, Allen Ginsberg, ‘Well, while I’m here I’ll do the work — and what’s the work? To ease the pain of living.’”

Read about our other Advocates of the Year, including Jamie Lee Curtis, here.

Nbroverman
30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.