Steel Closets

Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers

By Anne Balay

192 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 halftones, appends., bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2723-6
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-1401-4
    Published: April 2014
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4428-6
    Published: April 2014

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Awards & distinctions

2015 Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award, Lambda Literary

2014 Sara A. Whaley Prize, National Women's Studies Association

A 2015 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Even as substantial legal and social victories are being celebrated within the gay rights movement, much of working-class America still exists outside the current narratives of gay liberation. In Steel Closets, Anne Balay draws on oral history interviews with forty gay, lesbian, and transgender steelworkers, mostly living in northwestern Indiana, to give voice to this previously silent and invisible population. She presents powerful stories of the intersections of work, class, gender, and sexual identity in the dangerous industrial setting of the steel mill. The voices and stories captured by Balay--by turns alarming, heroic, funny, and devastating--challenge contemporary understandings of what it means to be queer and shed light on the incredible homophobia and violence faced by many: nearly all of Balay's narrators remain closeted at work, and many have experienced harassment, violence, or rape.

Through the powerful voices of queer steelworkers themselves, Steel Closets provides rich insight into an understudied part of the LGBT population, contributing to a growing body of scholarship that aims to reveal and analyze a broader range of gay life in America.

About the Author

Anne Balay is winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Award. She is an Independent Scholar living in Saint Louis and is the author of Semi Queer.
For more information about Anne Balay, visit the Author Page.


"Their stories challenge our convenient stereotypes of what it means to be queer and how that has changed through time."--Chicago Sun Times

"[A] well-wrought contribution to LGBT studies."--Library Journal

“An eye-opening read; you won’t forget these interviews.”--Lavender

"Balay’s life-changing book is a compelling 192-page study exploring how sexuality and gender overlap in the sprawling steel mills of Northwest Indiana. . . . Groundbreaking."--Chicago Post-Tribune

“[This] original, insightful, well-written, and concise story of class, gender, sexuality, and sometimes race is at turns harrowing and exciting. . . . Highly recommended.”--Choice

“Anne Balay has produced an astonishing work of ethnography. As a testament to the sheer magnitude of suffering, resourcefulness, and perseverance of our queer sisters and brothers in steel, she has written a labor of love.”--Women’s Review of Books

Multimedia & Links

Read: In this guest blog post, Balay shares a conversation she had with union steelworkers that highlights some of the work yet to be done to ensure a safe and open work environment for gay, lesbian, and transgender steelworkers. Read "Queer Steelworkers and Labor Unions."

Read: In a guest blog post, Balay discusses the practical difficulties marriage inequality creates for LGBT steelworkers and their partners. "The Consequences of Marriage Inequality."

Read: In another guest blog post, Balay explores how many (but certainly not all) in the U.S. GLBT community are experiencing new freedoms. As the Sochi Olympics have demonstrated, however, a corresponding restriction in rights is underway in Russia. Read "As GLBT Freedoms Expand, Who Benefits–and Who Doesn’t."