Gay rights have only become mainstream in relatively recent history, but the fight for recognizing LGBTQIA+ freedom as human rights is rooted far into the past. Every time the LGBTQIA+ community took a step forward, they were shoved two steps back. It happens today, and it’s an unfortunate trend that we have seen throughout the history of the movement. Paradoxically, it is these very obstacles that have consistently made the community come up swinging and stronger every time.
1924: The Society for Human Rights in Chicago is founded
Established by WWI veteran Henry Gerber, this organization’s newsletter “Friendship and Freedom” was the country’s first recorded publication that featured pro-gay sentiments. Note the word “freedom”. Even back then, allies recognized gay rights as more than sexual liberation, but as human rights.
The 1950s: The Beat Generation questions the status quo
This group of youths celebrated Zen Buddhism, drug use, jazz, and most notably, free love. It was a dress rehearsal for the counter culture movement of the 1960s, centered mainly in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Greenwich Village, NY. Some of the best art and literature came from this movement, such as novels like On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl”.
1952: Christine Jorgensen is the first American to publicly come out as transgender
Ex-G.I. and entertainer Christine Jorgensen became the first American to unapologetically flaunt her sexual transition. Throughout her life, people have given her mixed reactions, but the media swarmed her as an anomaly. She was even named Woman of the Year by the Scandanavian Society of Greater New York in 1953. Jorgensen wrote an autobiography before the movie The Christine Jorgensen Story was released in 1970. Before she died in 1989, Jorgensen traveled the country and lectured at universities about gender, sexuality, and embracing your identity.
If you want to learn more about Christine Jorgensen, we’ve written an article about her.
January 1958: ONE: The Homosexual Magazine wins in the Supreme Court
60 years ago today, in 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of ONE, Inc. in the ONE, Inc. v Olesen case. This landmark victory was the 1st to address free speech rights in conjunction w/ homosexuality.
Image: ONE Magazine Feb. 1958 issue, pg. 16. #ONEArchives @USCLibraries pic.twitter.com/N5WEBClTxb
— ONE Archives (@ONEarchives) January 13, 2018
Only four years after Alan Turing was chemically castrated by the British government for the “crime” of homosexuality, the Supreme Court made a major step toward gay rights. ONE: The Homosexual Magazine was America’s first widespread gay publication, but the U.S. Post nearly ended that when they refused to deliver it—until the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the magazine after ONE sued the government in One, Inc v. Olesen.
April 21, 1966: The Mattachine Society stages a “Sip-In”
The Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group, went to bars in Manhattan where gays were notoriously refused service. Members of the group saddled up to bars, announced that they were gay, and demanded to be served like everyone else.
June 28, 1969: The Stonewall Riots spark the gay rights revolution
“Honey, I don’t care if I never have nothing ever’ till the day I die. All I want is my freedom.” – Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who was known for throwing the first brick in the 1969 Stonewall riots. Remember her! artwork by me. #HappyPrideMonth 🏳️🌈💕 pic.twitter.com/fOWjw6Okdr
— Arthur (Commission OPEN) (@ArthShahverdyan) June 1, 2021
After police stormed the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, a match was lit to the boiling tension within the gay community. For days, people rioted in the streets, clashed with police, and chanted the iconic slogan, “Say it loud, gay is proud!” It was trans people of color who fought that day, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and countless others whose bravery we should never forget.
June 27, 1970: The first gay pride parade is held
In time for the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, people took to the streets of New York not to riot, but to parade their gay pride. This was the first of traditions we celebrate during Pride Month today.
1973: Homosexuality is no longer a mental disorder
— Pulse Orlando (@pulseorlando) June 1, 2021
The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from a list of known mental illnesses called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, representing the tentative beginning of mainstream acceptance of gay rights.
October 12, 1998: Matthew Shepard becomes a victim of an anti-gay hate crime
21-year-old Matthew Shepard died of wounds inflicted on October 7 after he was brutally attacked and left for dead outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Although not the first (nor the last) victim of an anti-gay hate crime, Shepard’s death will foreshadow laws to come.
2000: Vermont embraces gay marriage
Say what you want about Vermont, but we consistently lead the nation as one of the first states in gay marriage, government-passed marijuana legalization, and now major gun reform. Other states, take note on how it’s done. #Vermont #GunControl #I❤️VT https://t.co/Z9vNgssXvZ
— Matthew Postler, DO, MS (@Matt_Postler) March 31, 2018
Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, sparking the movement for same-sex marriage to be legalized nationwide.
2013: The Supreme Court grants rights to same-sex couples
Before this ruling, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevented same-sex couples from accessing benefits enjoyed by straight couples, such as Social Security and health insurance. The Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional and therefore invalid. At this point, gay rights have entered the realm of legal authority, coming ever closer to the civil rights debate.
2015: President Obama condemns conversion therapy
•Over HALF of victims of conversion therapy were u18 when they first attempted to change their sexual orientation
•Main reasons were religion and internalised homophobia
— Ban Conversion Therapy NI (@BanConversionNI) May 20, 2021
17-year-old Leelah Alcorn committed suicide after enduring forced conversion therapy for being transgender. This sparked the movement for “Leelah’s law”, which would make conversion therapy illegal. Conversion therapy was condemned by Obama, who called for an end to the practice.
June 26, 2015: Same-sex marriage is declared a Constitutional right
The phrase “Love Wins” became the anthem of the ever-growing gay rights movement after the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right. This brought an end to the debate as to whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal throughout the country.
With a history of jailing or court-martialing openly gay soldiers, the military took a step toward gay equality when U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that members of the transgender community would no longer be prohibited from serving in the army.
2016: The Stonewall Inn becomes a monument
President Obama declared the Stonewall Inn a national monument in honor of the Stonewall Riots and their impact on the gay rights revolution.
June 12, 2016: 49 people are killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) June 3, 2021
The momentum of the gay rights movement was blackened with tragedy when Omar Mateen open-fired on the crowd. Throughout the early hours of the morning, Mateen took hostages before engaging with police and S.W.A.T before being shot himself. In the end, 49 people were killed and 53 more were injured in the deadliest mass shooting since in recent history. Through the devastation, gay rights once again had the whole country talking and recognizing the dangers of discrimination.
2019: President Donald Trump bans transgenders from serving in the military
Despite promising to protect the transgender community during his campaign, Trump rescinded Obama’s law that repealed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military and allowed transgender people to enlist. In 2021, the Biden Administration repealed the Trump policy.
2021: Arkansas bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors
In April, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender affirmation healthcare services to minors, making it a felony for providers to treat patients with hormones and gender-reversing surgical procedures. Many groups in the LGBTQIA+ community viewed the step as a major step backward in the fight for equality.
Anything worth having is never easy, and although gay rights are widely recognized as basic, civil rights, human rights in fact, the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face hurdles throughout their rise to the mainstream conversation.
Unfortunately, many important steps were conceived from tragedies (like most movements for equality). However, it is these constant struggles that spark change, growth, and progress. And considering their historic determination, the community can only go forward from here.
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