John Gerassis book is among a handful of must-read titles for those wanting to understand Idaho, even as it remains controversial.
Gerassi, a left-wing journalist who called philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre a surrogate parent, died in New York on July 26. He still taught political science, and two of his current Queens College students were at his bedside.
His legacy will be the actions of his students and others who continue to fight the good fight, said Margaret Leahy, a friend for 45 years who lives in San Francisco and is executor of his estate.
Gerassis subjects included Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. The New York Times called his 1989 biography of Sartre dazzlingly original his 2009 Talking with Sartre was published by Yale University Press.
Gerassis book on Boise chronicled a purported 1955 homosexual sex-ring scare that prompted police to interview almost 1,500 people in a city that then had a population of 34,000.
The Idaho Statesman demanded that local officials Crush the Monster and called homosexuals a cancerous growth. Boise wound up in Time magazine and newspapers across the country.
In the end, 16 men were arrested, some for consensual sex. Nine were convicted on charges including lewd and lascivious conduct with children under 16 and infamous crimes against nature. One was sentenced to life. There were reports of an underworld that victimized hundreds of underage boys, but the number dwindled to four or five, some of whom were paid for sex.
He was proud of the book because it exposed a witch hunt, Leahy said. He said that people didnt realize that this was the start of things in advancing gay rights.
Retired Boise State archivist Alan Virta said Boys of Boise, published in 1966, was groundbreaking because it shed a harsh light on societys treatment of gay people in the 1950s and 60s.
By introducing these injustices into the national discussion, John Gerassi performed an invaluable service in the struggle for gay rights, Virta said.
Seth Randal, a Boisean whose 2006 documentary The Fall of 55 has been shown across the country, said he believes Gerassi got it wrong when he alleged that the prosecutions were initiated for political reasons. He also said the work was condescending; Gerassi called Boise a two-bit town.
Still, Randal said, Gerassi did history a great service by recording this story, and he helped encourage a discussion about the logic of laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Leahy said she was with Gerassi in 1967 when, as a junior professor, he helped protesting students at San Francisco State break into the administration building. Gerassi lost his job but went on to earn a doctorate at the London School of Economics. He started teaching political science at Queens College in 1978.
He lived an incredible life, Leahy said.
That life began in 1931 in Paris, as his father, Fernando, celebrated in a cafe with Sartre, artists Marc Chagall and Joan Miro, and poet Andre Breton. Only Sartre was sober enough to visit Stepha Gerassi in the hospital and see her newborn son.
Gerassi, called Tito by friends, is survived by two daughters. He was working on a biography of his father when he died. Leahy is organizing a San Francisco memorial service.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics