Homosexual Discrimination and LGBT Rights
Before the 20th century, there was rarely anybody to speak out against homosexual discrimination and LGBT rights. The whole subject was taboo and could be punished by law for even being suspected of taking part in any ‘homosexual activity’ in many places. We, as a society and country, have been through a lot since then, and many people and groups have spoken out to get to where we are in the current day, and we still push further into rights for the LGBT community, even today. I’ll be talking about that growth as a country that’s brought us to this point, starting at the beginning.
The LGBT rights movement wasn’t so much a movement at first, but more of a slow crawl. It actually started in Berlin in 1897, with the founding of the Scientific-Humanitarian committee. They called for the removal of Paragraph 175 of the Imperial Penal Code, which outlawed ‘fornication’ between 2 men or 2 women. The founder of this Committee, Magnus Hirschfeld, would help in sponsoring the World League of Sexual Reform in 1928, trying to give LGBT people all over the world a voice.
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Someone in his committee, Henry Gerber, immigrated to the US and would found the Society for Human Rights in 1924. Though even through these efforts, gay individuals still had little to no voice in the political scene. In the US, gay rallies were often harassed by police wherever they happened to be grouped. Yet, through all of this, the gay community flourished in the time of the 20s, especially in urban centers and during the Harlem Renaissance.
The LGBT community would receive little to no recognition until after World War II, where gay men and women would meet as soldiers or workers while enlisted. And while the war went on, they were tolerated while enlisted, but the few who were caught by Germany were sent to concentration camps. Germany’s treatment of gay men and women opened many people’s eyes to a new community, one that was vulnerable to Germany’s prying hands. The treatment of gays in the Holocaust and Joseph McCarthy’s investigation of gay men and women holding government jobs ignited the press, and they, as well as gay federal employees, made the first official call to action for LGBT movement in the US.
During the 1950’s, many new organizations and groups started to slowly show themselves in the US. For example, the Mattachine Society in 1950, a group who showed gay men as an oppressed minority, One Inc., in 1952, made to support and rally behind LGBT men and women on the west coast, and Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, the first lesbian support group in the US. These groups would hold public speeches and write in books and articles, anything to make their voices heard.
In 1953, Evelyn Hooker, a lesbian woman who had her doctorate in psychology, won a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health so that she could study gay and lesbian men and women. She ended up writing a paper that would lead to homosexuality being taken off of a list containing mental illnesses, bringing a first crucial step to gay and lesbian rights in 1973. Though, gays could still be horribly discriminated against, and could even face jail or forced time in a psychiatric ward.
The turning point in LGBT movements was in 1969, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against the police raids in a local, secretly gay bar. This event was spread far with press coverage, and brought more light to the treatment of LGBT treatment in the US. The event is still commemorated in some pride parades.
In the 1970s, lesbians would break off from their gay counterpart, inspired by the rising feminist movements in the US. Festivals were held for lesbians only, as well as many book readings, music concerts, and general gatherings. These were endorsed by the National Organization of Women, a known group to all of America at the time. The 70s also saw a migration of many LGBT people to California, where Harvey Milk, an openly gay man, was elected to the city’s Board of Supervisors. Sadly, we would be killed in 1978, by a man named Dan White.
However, he wasn’t convicted with third-degree murder, but with voluntary manslaughter and a decreased sentence. His lawyer argued that his mental state had depleted, signing to his recent junk food spree. This ended up being known as the “Twinkie Defense”. All of this ended in the White Night Riots, which were huge protests that led to be ended in tear gassing the protesting crowds. Rogue cops took to their own way of serving justice after the riots, assaulting patrons of gay bars and yelling anti-gay slurs, which would in turn cause more riots.
However, the rogue cops were punished and sent to jail, ending the riots. But the riots caused a lasting impact as again, press covered and spread the news of the harassment. In California, this led to many boards allowing and fully accepting gay members, as to not have these riots happen again. The first gay rights march would be held in 1979, only a year after
In the 80s, communities kept rising up, like Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) sprung up and continued to support gay movements. They began pushing for social and political reform for gay rights, wanting to promote fair rights and to fight the discrimination against LGBT citizens. The International Lesbian and Gay Association would be founded in England, rallying behind the citizens of many countries to push for the fair treatment of gays and lesbians.
It was around this time that the Democratic Party would support the social movements, and added a nondiscrimination clause to its platform, getting support from the LGBT community in the US. In turn, this increased the confidence of many, and a day was made, encouraging LGBT people to come out.
This came to be known as National Coming Out Day, which is on October 11th. With more people coming out of the closet, Gerry Studds, the first man to openly admit his sexuality in Congress, inspired workers on a federal level. In the 90s, a new policy was put in place, called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, which allowed lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to serve in the military, as long as they didn’t openly tell anyone their orientation.
In 2003, the case of Lawrence v. Texas hit the Supreme Court. Lawrence had been fined in Texas, for ‘deviant sexual activity’, after police recieved a report of domestic violence with a gun called by a homophobic neighbor, and the police busted in to see Lawrence having sex with his gay partner.
Each court in Texas ruled that the fine was constitutional, but The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund took Lawrence’s case even further, advancing it to the Supreme Court, saying that it went against the Fourteenth Amendment. Once the ruling was finished, Lawrence won the case, 5 to 3. In turn, this voided a previous case that let these discriminating laws continue in other states, which meant that these states had to rid themselves of the laws.
In 2009, President Barack Obama was elected, and was a known advocate of the LGBT community. The same year, he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation to the official federal hate crimes law. He rid the military of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and gave veterans who were discharged because of it compensation. In 2015, the case of Obergefell v. Hodges was brought to the Supreme Court. This was a culmination of homosexual couples who were suing their states for the bans on same sex marriage. The Court agreed on the side of the couples, saying that it violated due process and equal protection of the fourteenth amendment, therefore legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.