Gay Rights Movement
Lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals as a demographic group remained largely silent and unseen in American culture until after the Second World War. Prior to the World Wars, many gay and lesbian Americans hid their sexual orientation out of fear and shame. Gay men who lived in urban centers often formed close social networks with other gay men yet remained a part of a hidden subculture. During the 1940s and 1950s, LGBT Americans enjoyed many freedoms that they had not previously been afforded; their presence was increasingly "tolerated" though not widely accepted. Discrimination against LGBT individuals started to grow in the mid-1950s: LGBT men and women were fired from their jobs or dismissed from the military because of their sexual orientation. Society as a whole grew less tolerant of homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s. The homosexual “lifestyle” was portrayed as a threat to American security and police began to harass gay and lesbian individuals by raiding their bars and nightclubs. The Stonewall riots in 1969 were a polarizing event for the LGBT community and marked a major turning point in the gay rights movement. Inspired by the women's movement and the civil rights movement, LGBT Americans began to mobilize politically on a grassroots level. The LGBT community has gained much wider acceptance in American culture since the 1970s, but the struggle continues. Today, LGBT Americans are waging political battles in many areas, addressing same-sex marriage or civil unions, equal employment practices, and the right to live without fear of harassment or violence. The gay rights movement has been stymied by those who view the homosexual lifestyle as morally wrong. The gay rights movement has been termed the predominant civil rights movement of the twenty-first century.
Keywords AIDS Activism; Civil Marriage; Civil Unions; Daughters of Billitis; Domestic Partner Benefits; Gay Marriage; Gay sub-culture; GLBT; LGBT; Mattachine Society; Same-Sex Marriage; Stonewall Riots
The Gay Rights Movement
The social movement led by and on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is both dynamic and active. This essay will discuss several current issues that are currently debated within and between the gay rights movement and its opponents, including same-sex marriage and equal access to protection in the workforce. The growth of the gay rights movement will be discussed, hereafter, along with some of the significant milestones that precipitated the rise of the movement.
The Rise of Gay Culture
Late in the nineteenth century, urban centers in the United States began to grow as rural populations migrated to cities for work opportunities. Within these cities, LGBT men and women found that, for the first time, they could remain anonymous while forming social networks with other LGBT individuals. As early as the 1920s and 1930s, an urban gay subculture began to emerge, though it remained largely hidden because of social hostility and shame.
World War II initiated a cultural shift for many gay and lesbian Americans. A large number left their families to serve in the sex-segregated military or to join the ranks of workers flooding the cities in search of wartime employment. Though homosexuality was not condoned in the military and some homosexual soldiers were dishonorably discharged, many gay and lesbian individuals who served in the military went undetected or were simply ignored. As a result, they were able to make life-long friendships (Bullough, 2002).
After the war, many of these former servicemen and Women—who had, for the first time, met other LGBT individuals through the service—decided to remain in metro areas such as San Francisco and New York City. Cities were generally welcoming to the emerging LGBT community, and social networks expanded that were quite active throughout the 1940s ("Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement," 1991).
Though LGBT communities thrived in many large cities, gay and lesbian individuals still faced discrimination and prejudice. As Vern Bullough (2002) explained, "they were victims of what others said about them," and what was said only served to perpetuate stereotypes and fear. Homosexuality was denounced by:
• The medical profession as pathological,
• Religious groups as immoral and sinful,
• The courts and law as criminal, and
• Mainstream society as perverse (Bullough, 2002).
During the 1950s, LGBT individuals were routinely fired from government jobs and many were forced to leave the military. In 1953, President Dwight D Eisenhower issued an executive order banning gay men and lesbian women from all federal jobs. State and local governments and some private corporations followed suit, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began surveillance of known and suspected homosexual Americans. Federal policy in turn influenced local law enforcement and police began regularly raiding gay bars and arresting their patrons. Entrapment was common. Those arrested simply hoped that they would be fined and that their arrests would escape public notice (Bullough, 2002). Eventually, fed up with the harassment and growing intolerance, some gay and lesbian activists began to organize politically. At first the groups were small in size and political influence, but growing numbers of LGBT individuals began to take a stand for their rights ("Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement," 1991).
One of the first gay organizations was the Mattachine Society, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1948 by Henry Hay and Chuck Rowland. Initially secret, the group eventually went public, marking the start of "gay activism" (Bullough, 2002). A parallel lesbian organization, the Daughters of Billitis, was founded in San Francisco around the same time, and it later merged with the Mattachine Society.
The formation of small, but public gay and lesbian political groups represented the first steps toward creating a grassroots civil rights movement for LGBT Americans. By the 1960s, many LGBT individuals were becoming increasingly willing to act out against the discrimination that they were experiencing. The social changes happening in 1960s, in particular the civil rights movement, inspired them to begin demanding change through what was initially called the homophile movement ("Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement," 1991). This movement gave gay and lesbian Americans much more visibility as a social group.
The numbers of LGBT Americans who were willing to openly protest discrimination remained quite small through the 1960s: the numbers were probably only in the thousands ("Milestones in the Gay Rights Movement," 1991). Though the civil rights and women's movements had made major gains with the Civil Rights Act and other antidiscrimination legislation,...
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