Throughout history, homosexuality has been largely ignored or purposefully repressed. Psychologists like Sigmund Freud or Alfred Kinsey studied sexuality, but their efforts hardly changed the minds of people in the world. The Gay Rights Movement as a whole has had the help of many leaders and political figures, as well as different protests involving different aspects of the issue, like discrimination laws, sex laws, and marriage laws. Each of these aspects of the Gay Rights Movement took a lot of time to achieve success, each facing backlash by counter-organizations that saw Gay Rights as a threat to safety of Americans, mostly children.
In 1924, the Society for Human Rights in Chicago was the first organization to be formed and is often cited as America’s first gay rights organization. It wasn’t until 1955 that Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society, the first national gay rights organization. Harry Hay is credited by gay men, specifically, to being the founder or leader of the gay rights movement in America. That same year, the Daughters of Bilitis was founded in San Francisco as the first lesbian organization. Their mission was to help women feel comfortable about their sexuality and ultimately fix society’s perspective about lesbianism and subsequently fix government issues that prevented gay women from being themselves. They published a newsletter known as The Ladder to help inform as many women as possible about the issues at hand. Around this time period, most states had anti-sodomy laws. Sodomy at the time was defined as any type of sex that was not penile-vaginal intercourse, knowing that gay and queer people generally only had sex through other variations other than p-in-v. These laws targeted gay people, making their sexuality and their love criminalized. Illinois was the first U.S. state to decriminalize sodomy in 1962, but it was not a federal law until 2003 after the supreme court case of Lawrence v. Texas.
1969 was the year of the Stonewall riots, where police were targeting a gay hub in NYC continuously and raided the famous club to arrest patrons for seemingly harmless crimes, but the patrons became angry this time and fought back with violence. Sylvia Rivera, a trans woman, was one of the key people credited for pursuing this riot. From the Stonewall riots came the Gay Liberation Front which would become a prominent organization in fighting for legal rights for gays, lesbians, and trans people thanks to the Mattachine Society.
In 1978, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the U.S. was assassinated by a former coworker. Following this heartbreaking moment in history, 1979 saw the largest gay rights gathering to-date when around 75,000 people attended a march on Washington demanding federal laws to help gay men and women in this country gain anti-discrimination rights. Democrats at the DNC first took on gay rights as a part of their political platform in the 1980 presidential election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Reagan became the president of that election, and went on to become an enemy of gay men in the 1980’s when he continually ignored the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Many different protests and movements came out of the Gay Rights Movement but some of the most successful protests and acts of perseverance came from scary and disturbing times in American history. the 1980’s was an especially shameful time period when there was a clear epidemic among gay men, homeless people, immigrants, and drug addicts when AIDS became known. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis was founded in early 1982 in response to the mysterious death of many gay men in New York City. Two U.S. representatives proposed legislation that would fund the research and medical assistance for the AIDS crisis that year but was never passed. Over the course of the next few years it was disputed on the congressional level. Congressional committees and subcommittees began holding hearings of the issues following the request of many gay rights groups in the country, and a growing sense of solidarity among every day Americans who were not gay. It wasn’t until infants and blood-transfusion recipients began showing signs of AIDS that the federal government began to take the issue seriously.
The 1979 March on Washington for gay rights was one of the most incredible moments in gay history because it signified that many people stood in solidarity with gay men and women and knew that change had to be done. The Stonewall riots, although violent, changed the way we saw the issues. It solidified the intensity and unfairness of the criminalization of gayness. Violent protests always help non-violent protests gain credibility.
For the most part, the Gay Rights Movement was successful in achieving its goals. In America, at least, we have anti-discrimination laws in work places, we have privacy protections, we have federal gay marriage which was achieved in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, and we have effective medicine in combating AIDS and HIV. Even though all of this is true, there is still an everlasting stigma in some parts of the country that signify that there is still much to be done. Social movements, in general, are always bound to happen. There are people who are naturally ambitious and are always looking to fight for justice.
The world would be a sad, judgmental place without the work of people like Sylvia Rivera and groups like the Mattachine Society or the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Perhaps there would be no anti-discrimination laws, no federal gay marriage. Of course, all of these groups and protests are extremely important. Less than a century ago, being gay or having sex with someone of the same gender was a punishable offense, and today most people don’t think twice about it. Protests, even if you are not actively involved in them, raise awareness and produce great discussions about the issues at hand. Talking about issues and actively doing something about them always leads to change. Violent protests are not always a bad thing, especially if justified or if they bring credibility to peaceful protests. Protests are always important. No social movement would ever occur if people did not protest.
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