Banned from California

-Jim Foshee-

Persecution, Redemption, Liberation ... and the Gay Civil Rights Movement


The life of Jim Foshee

This is an amazing book about a gay-rights pioneer you’ve never heard of—but you should have heard of him. In the early 1950s he chooses to live his young life as an openly gay individual.

Banned from California is the true, captivating biography of Jim Foshee. Born in 1939, 15-year-old Jim flees his home in Idaho for California and goes on to witness and experience the front lines of the emerging gay civil rights movement. The teenage runaway finds himself in 1950s Los Angeles in the underground world of homosexuals and early queer culture. When he returns home to Idaho, authorities lock him up in a mental institution, then he defiantly runs away again back to California.

 Jim spends most of his early life institutionalized:

  • placed in an orphanage as a toddler;
  • sentenced to juvenile detention in a state reform school as a youngster for running away so much;
  • committed to a mental hospital during his teenage years for diagnosed "sexual deviation and sociopathic personality;"
  • imprisoned in the early 1960s in the Texas state penitentiary system at age 23 where he toiled on a prison chain gang as an effeminate gay man.

This remarkable biography brings the life of a mid-20th Century gay person into vivid detail, painting a detailed portrait of an era when homosexuality was illegal in the USA.

Jim just wants to break away and live a simple gay life. Experience Jim Foshee's bold, free spirit as he bravely hitchhikes across states in the 1950s and 1960s, living on the edge. Throughout Jim’s amazing adventures and misadventures, he finds himself among kind-hearted strangers, kindred souls and drag queens, as well as con artists, liars, good cops and bad cops.

Be ready for a unique and personal true journey you won't soon forget. Jim's vivid remembrances portray times now passed — times of McCarthyism, government hunts for homosexuals and routine firings; but also times of the beats, hippies and liberation protests. Jim becomes a gay activist of distinction, a prolific researcher of gay history and finally a respected researcher for academia and corporations.

This is an incredibly open and honest connection with an early gay culture that gets far too little exposure on such an intimate and personal level. Provocative and compelling, Banned from California is inspiring and edifying, handsomely assembled with many vintage photographs and meticulous annotations.

Jim’s story is an adventure of a lifetime, but one that came with many struggles and enlightenments. Walk in Jim’s shoes and experience this exciting part of LGBTQ history as seen through the eyes of this gay American.

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This biography is an intimate portrait of gay life in the 1950s and beyond into a new millennium. It takes readers on a unique and personal journey through a part of American history experienced by Jim Foshee.

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In this lively and moving biography, a vital contribution to the history of LGBTQ life and activism in 20th century America, veteran reporter and broadcaster Steele memorializes the life of Jim Foshee, who first fled Idaho for California at age 15 in 1954 and went on to witness and experience the front lines of the nascent gay liberation movement. … Foshee’s life fascinates, and his tales crackle on the page. … This lively biography of a gay activist and historian captures an extraordinary life and a century of change.

~ Publishers Weekly, Booklife “Editor’s Pick” for Outstanding Quality


I was like, “Oh well, here I’m going to read about some guy—I don’t know who he is—some gay guy.” And you know what? I was captivated from the very beginning! It was really great! This kid had the gumption to go hitchhiking across states and get into all of these adventures—how brave was he as a kid! He kept coming and going because every time he would go back home, they’d lock him up in a mental hospital, so he’d run away and go to California again. This kid did crazy stuff, I’m not kidding you. Amazing story!

   ~ Lisa Pedersen, co-host of Out of Whack podcast

A compelling look at an eventful life. … Foshee’s own words are the core of this book, with quotes from interviews making up much of the text. They’re linked by former journalist Steele’s own narration of the events of Foshee’s life, which adds a sense of structure and effectively places the events in historical and cultural context. … Steele’s excellent organization of his biography adds further insight, bringing the midcentury life of an American gay man into vivid relief and painting a detailed picture of an era when homosexuality was illegal in many parts of the country. … Steele does an excellent job of presenting the story of an activist and making it clear why his story matters.

   Kirkus Reviews (starred review) for Exceptional Merit

The book arrived on a Saturday, and I just sat down, and like bam! I was 50 pages in and was like, “Oh, I don’t want to stop.” And then I was reading it in bed, and I read it the next day, and I literally read it over three days. It is a fascinating story. I absolutely enjoyed reading it cover to cover. The book is an incredible read! ...

At 22 years old he was imprisoned. There is so much detail in those sections of the book of what prison life was like and working on a chain gang in Texas in 1960. And it’s remarkable that he even lived to get out and tell the story.

   ~ Daren Stehle, host of Think Queerly podcast

A fascinating biography. Readers have a clear image of a boy, defiant and flawed, innocent and rebellious, a complicated protagonist reminiscent of Holden Caufield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. … A vivid story of the modern gay civil rights movement with court cases and uprisings long before the well-known Stonewall riots, providing readers more depth into this history.

   ~ Nicholas Villanueva, Ph.D., Out Front Magazine

It’s a fabulous book about a gay-rights pioneer you’ve never heard of—but you should have heard of him. He chose to live his life as an openly gay man starting in the early 1950s when there were virtually no openly gay people. Jim spent most of the first part of his life in institutions from an orphanage when he was a toddler, to being in juvenile detention, to then being put in the state mental hospital where he spent years of his adolescence. Then he goes to prison in his early twenties in the State of Texas as an out effeminate gay man, as a queen let’s say. It’s a terrific book, and I highly recommend it!

   ~ Adam Sank, host of The Adam Sank Show podcast

This is the enlightening biographical tale of Jim Foshee, a 15-year-old runaway whose stories of “persecution, redemption and the gay civil rights movement” use the culture and history of homosexuality in America as a backdrop for his many travels. There are also many anecdotes of people Foshee met and places he traveled to—drag queens, hustlers, good cops and bad cops pass through his life. The book also chronicles his contributions to the gay community.

   ~ Lynn Childs, Seattle Gay News

Incredible! This story is amazing because you get a character, you get a person that could be me or you or you that’s listening right now, and you kind of get to walk in his shoes and navigate life the way that he does with all of this adversity and all of these challenges surrounding him; and it’s insane. It’s really, really, really fascinating!

   ~ Marko & Tony Critellis, co-hosts of Relationsh!t podcast

Witness from the persecution—how one gay soul lived to tell. Jim Foshee (pronounced fo-SHAY) survived considerable abuse and oppression as a gay man—including being literally tortured by his sadistic stepfather, and having to do hard labor in a Texas prison—to become a gay archivist and activist of distinction. … Banned is handsomely assembled, has many vintage black-and-white pictures of locales and individuals and is written with economy and clarity. Not surprisingly, and though easy and comfortable to read, it is meticulously annotated. Banned from California is inspiring and edifying.

   ~ Lawrence D. Mass, M.D., in, cofounder of Gay Men's Health Crisis and the first to write about AIDS for the press

Jim Foshee was an intrepid community-based researcher of LGBT history who, long before historic newspapers and books were digitized, read through them page by dusty page, and sent me amazing discoveries, enriching my own work to recover an unknown past. I’m delighted that Jim’s own fascinating, poignant history is now honored in this wonderful biography.

   ~ Jonathan Ned Katz, author of Gay American HistoryGay/Lesbian Almanac and Love Stories

This compelling story recounts the life of a gay man born in the late 1930s. He is defiant and resilient, flawed and complicated. This touching narrative left me feeling that I belong to a lineage of older, passed, LGBT individuals who lived in the complex, troubled, gay humanity of the 1940s, 1950s and beyond—embedded with burden yet conquered through perseverance.

   ~ Dr. Ramon Silvestre, GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco

Very smooth and comfortable read. A fascinating adventure tale of a life with twists at every turn. Provocative and compelling. What an incredibly open and honest connection with a culture that gets far too little exposure on such an intimate and personal level. Jim’s story is an adventure of a lifetime, but one that came with many struggles and enlightenments.

   ~ Charles Pearson, eBay Reviews


About the Author

Robert C. Steele served as a reporter and producer at various radio and television stations in Colorado and Arizona. He was a broadcaster at the Italian National Broadcasting Company (RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana) in Naples, Italy. While on active duty in the U.S. military he was a reporter for Armed Forces Radio and Television along the coast of Vietnam, the Asian Western Pacific and Vicenza, Italy. He was a volunteer and activist in the early gay liberation movement with the Gay Coalition of Denver and with two weekly gay radio shows in Colorado. Later, as a federal government public affairs officer, he served as a government spokesperson and managed media relations with reporters who worked for media outlets from across the USA and around the world.