For the past 100 years and beyond, the LGBT community in America have consistently faced hardships and discrimination. Likewise, despite persecution from the police, the government and intolerant citizens, they have steadily gained more rights. It’s important to look back at the several movements they have organized and the obstacles and events that the LGBT community has overcome.
LGBT rights organizations in America can be traced back to as early as 1924 when Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. Gerber’s organization produced one of the first LGBT publications, called Friendship and Freedom.
Sadly, this newsletter was short-lived and lasted for roughly two years, yet it sparked similar future movements that aimed to rid the community of persecution. The stage had been set for the LGBT community to emerge and find their voice.
Years later, another LGBT organization would start making waves in the 1950s. In 1950, theater performer Harry Hay founded the first long-lasting gay rights operation in San Francisco. Hay can be regarded as one of the most influential American activists in history, being one of the first people to draw attention to the oppression faced by minority groups in general, and also protested against anti-semitism and Jim Crow laws.
Sodomy Laws and Homosexuality as a Mental Illness
In the 1950s, CNN notes that the American Psychiatric Association diagnosed homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disorder. This was unsurprising, as homosexuality was considered an abomination by western society due to religious sanctions continuing to dominate policy and rulemaking in America.
This decision would last up to 20 years, until 1973, when the APA finally revoked this decision and no longer classified homosexuality as a mental illness. While this decision did not make up for the years of suffering that the LGBT community went through, it did help open the eyes of the average citizen as to the obstacles the community consistently had to face.
With figures like Harry Hay becoming more and more prominent, the LGBT community was rising against the various laws that persecuted them for their identities and romantic relationships. Sodomy laws, which banned sexual relations between same-sex individuals in all American states until 1962, would slowly be dismantled in more and more states.
In 1962, the state of Illinois, which was also the home to Harry Gerber, became the first state to begin decriminalizing sodomy laws. Throughout the decades, 36 other states followed suit. That said, a handful of states had kept the rules in place until 2003 when they were forced to abolish them due to the Supreme Court battle Lawrence vs Texas.
The Stonewall Riots
On June 28th, 1969, New York City’s Stonewall Inn rebellion became a monumental moment for the LGBT community. It is ingrained as being one of, if not the most, remembered events in LGBT history and sparked a broader, more dominant civil rights movement. It all started when, in 1966, the mafia purchased the Stonewall Inn and transformed it into a gay bar.
It should be noted that the mafia shouldn’t be regarded as necessarily helping the gay community thrive. They gave them a space to be themselves; however, they were often a threatening presence and took advantage of the LGBT community’s need for protection by blackmailing them. Police raids regularly occurred in the evenings, yet the bar continued to serve the LGBT community well into the night.
The rebellion started on June 28th, 1969, when a police raid of the Inn did not go as planned.
Stormé DeLarverie is generally credited as being the woman who ignited the rebellion, although it is not confirmed after being handcuffed by undercover police officers. She bravely shouted for her community to “do something” after she had been roughly escorted to a police car several times, each time fighting back.
The Stonewall uprising lasted for five days and included countless LGBT people who were fed up with discrimination, persecution, and police officers’ presence. The bar patrons refused to leave when ordered by police, and violence escalated when officers began to mishandle other people the same way they did with Stormé. Eventually, hundreds of people would become a part of this historical moment in LGBT history.
Same-Sex Marriage and Modern Day
In 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all U.S. states and states were no longer allowed to prohibit same-sex matrimony. This was due to a Supreme Court Decision deeming it unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples from marriage. Before 2015, the decision to allow same-sex marriage was up to each state.
Transgender people, in particular, continue to face consistent discrimination in the United States, and several members of right-wing political groups continue to try and oppress them. In April of 2021, over 100 legislative bills have been introduced to exclude trans presence in several ways. Some bills ban gender-affirming therapy for youth, while some ban trans men and women from participating in same-gender youth sports.
Despite everything the LGBT community has been through historically, they have paved the way for the modern-day community to thrive throughout the decades with the help of big celebrities and even small stores such as Wicked Wanda’s. That said, members of the LGBT community still face consistent persecution and targeted attacks based on their identities and sexualities. While intolerance continues to exist, the need to keep fighting does as well.