Gay Rights Movement Running head: GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT


Gay Rights Movement Connie A. McLaren University of Phoenix

Gay Rights Movement The Gay and Lesbian lifestyle is not something new. This hidden and forbidden way of life has been around for centuries. Due to, sometimes harsh, laws and the way society views the gay lifestyle, the people of this community became accustomed to hiding their way of life. So much so, that they sometimes created groups or society’s as an undercover way for gay men and women to congregate. The gay and lesbian community has been fighting for equality and social rights for a very long time. The acceptance of the gay lifestyle has come a long way, but the people of the gay community still have an extremely long road ahead of them with respect to equality in society. One has to wonder if the gay community will ever feel equal or accepted. The Gay Rights Movement is a civil-rights movement which supports equal rights for homosexuals, transsexuals and bisexuals. People in support of gay rights are seeking to do away with laws which restrain homosexual acts where consenting adults are involved; laws such as sodomy laws. These supporters feel homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals are discriminated against, is ways such as “employment, credit, lending, housing, marriage, adoption, public accommodations and other areas of life (Britannica, n.d., p. 1).” The first known group to publicly seek equality dates back to 1897, in Berlin and was founded by Magnus Hirschfeld. There were “25 local chapters in Europe by 1922 (Britannica, p. 1).” However, this group did not survive World War II, as they were suppressed by the Nazis. (Britannica) “The first U.S. support group, the Mattachine Society, was founded in Los Angeles c. 1950; the Daughters of Bilitis, for lesbians, was founded in San Francisco in 1955 (Britannica, p. 1).” These groups were formed during a time when gay men or women were fearful of admitting their lifestyles in private, going public was a big step. The Mattachine Society was formed “to fight

antihomosexual attacks and to press for a wider public acceptance of their lifestyle (Davidson, 2002, p. 902).” Barbara Gittings, founder of the Daughters of Bilitis, was obviously a gay rights activist. Gittings founded this organization at a time when gay men or women did not dare be seen in public. The organization was created in the late 1950s. Research shows that one can be hard pressed to find any lesbian existence in our genealogy. Lesbians or gay men lived undercover, fearful of being found out. However, there were some brave men and women who took the risk and because of these few brave souls one can learn much about the gay culture in the United States. Barbara Gittings and Mable Hampton are two of the brave women whom dared to pursue rights as lesbians. Mable Hampton was not only a lesbian pioneer surviving World War II and the 1950s, Mable was also a black woman; making survival even more difficult. Not only was it dangerous being a gay person during the 1950s it was also illegal, making protecting oneself even more imperative. During the 1960s life for gay and lesbians began to slowly improve. Illinois was the first state to “decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults in private (infoplease, 2007, p. 1)” in 1962. In 1969 the Stonewall riots took place. On a night in June, 1969 police performed a raid on a gay bar. Raiding gay bars was something that was done routinely. The patrons of the establishment would sometimes catch wind of a raid and would begin dancing with members of the opposite sex and be on their best behavior. On this night, June 27, 1969, the patrons decided enough was enough and decided to fight back. Years later there is still a debate over what started the riot, was it a lesbian “dressed in man’s clothing who resisted arrest, or a male drag queen who stopped in the doorway between the officers and posed defiantly, rallying the crowd (Wright, 1999, p. 1)?” The riots continued at various levels of severity for five days, and were so named

because of a “chorus line of mocking queens (Wright, p. 1)” whom formed a line dancing and singing as they faced the police head on. In the days following the riots discussions amongst the gay communities took place. These discussions included forming organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front. Stonewall is now a term amongst the gay community symbolizing the stand taken to fight for equality and rights in the social community. During the 1970s and 1980s the gay communities continued to fight for rights and achieved some notable milestones. In 1973 “The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders (infoplease, 2007, p. 1).” During the earlier years men or women whom were found out as being gay were sometimes committed to mental hospitals, as the medical field viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In the early 1980s Wisconsin became the first state to make discrimination against sexual orientation illegal. Thou these may seem small strides, they were strides all the same. Each hurdle crossed for the gay and lesbian community was reason for celebration and a feeling of accomplishment. The gay and lesbian community still had many obstacles to overcome. In 1993, the U.S. military began the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, supported by President Clinton. The policy permitted gay and lesbians to serve legally in the military; however, homosexual activity was banned. Prior to this policy if a military member was found out, they were discharged. The implementation of this policy did not set easily with military members and there was much debate and scuttlebutt surrounding the policy. During the current decade, the Gay Rights Movement has celebrated many accomplishments. Some of these accomplishments include ‘Civil Unions being legal in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey; same sex marriages are legal in Massachusetts, New York now states that same sex marriages performed in other states must be recognized by

employers in New York, and the House of Representatives has passed a law giving equal rights to gays, bisexuals and lesbians in the workplace.’ (infoplease) In May 2004, Massachusetts began allowing same sex marriages. On May 17, 2004, the first day same sex marriages were allowed there were 1,600 same sex marriages performed during the first month alone. From May 2004 to May 2005 there were over 6,000 gay and lesbian couples married. “Lesbian couples outnumbered gay men heading to the altar 65% to 35% (Belge, 2005, p. 1).” Based on these statistics one can see gay and lesbian couples are just as serious about their relationships as heterosexual couples. In Provincetown, MA there were 24 man/woman marriages compared to 841 same sex marriages, performed during 2004-2005. (Belge) There has been much debate surrounding same sex relationships for hundreds of years. Only the people truly associated with or living in the gay lifestyle know the struggles, fears, confusion and hopelessness these people feel. The gay lifestyle is not an easy lifestyle even today. Granted, acceptance has made tremendous strides over the past decades, but gays and lesbians are still not permitted to truly live and enjoy all aspects of the American dream as heterosexual couples do. Showing signs of affection in public for a gay couple is still frowned upon. Some same sex couples will refrain so as not to be mocked or ridiculed; others simply do not care and will try to live as normally as possible. One cannot be sure if the controversy surrounding gay rights will ever become less prevalent, or if gays and lesbians will eventually enjoy the same equal rights as heterosexuals. People are torn between what they feel is right socially, morally and religiously, just as homosexuals are torn between what they feel internally and what society says they should or should not feel. Who is to say what is morally right or wrong? One can only guess how the future decades will evolve, with regard to the Gay Rights Movement.

References Belge, K. (2005). Gay Marriages in Massachusetts: One year Later, May 2005. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from Britannica (n.d.). Gay Rights Movement. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from Davidson, (2002). The Vietnam Era (1963-1975). In Nation of Nations (pp. 880-908). : The McGraw-Hill Companies. Head, T. (n.d.). The American Gay Rights Movement. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from infoplease (2007). The American Gay Rights Movement: A Timeline. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from Wright, L. (1999). The Stonewall Riots - 1969. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from

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