The gay rights movement since the mid-20th century
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The gay rights movement was beginning to win victories for legal reform, particularly in western Europe, but perhaps the single defining event of gay activism occurred in the United States.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, was raided by the police.
Nearly 400 people joined a riot that lasted 45 minutes and resumed on succeeding nights.
“Stonewall” came to be commemorated annually in June with Gay Pride celebrations, not only in U.S. cities but also in several other countries (Gay Pride is also held at other times of the year in some countries).
In the United States, gay activists won support from the Democratic Party in 1980, when the party added to its platform nondiscrimination clause a plank including sexual orientation.
This support, along with campaigns by gay activists urging gay men and women to “come out of the closet” (indeed, in the late 1980s, National Coming Out Day was established,
and it is now celebrated on October 11 in most countries), encouraged gay men and women to enter the political arena as candidates.
The first openly gay government officials in the United States were Jerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both DeGrieck and Wechsler were elected in 1972 and came out while serving on the city council.
In 1974 Wechsler was replaced on the council by Kathy Kozachenko, who, having run openly as a lesbian, thus became the first openly gay person to win office after coming out.
In 1977 gay rights activist Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; he was assassinated the following year. In 1983 Gerry Studds
a sitting U.S. representative from Massachusetts, became the first member of Congress to announce his homosexuality. Barney Frank, another member of the U.S
The issues emphasized by gay rights groups have varied since the 1970s by time and place; different national organizations have promoted policies specifically tailored to their country’s milieu.
For example, whereas in some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, sodomy statutes never existed or were struck down relatively early,
in other countries the situation was more complex. In the United States, with its strong federal tradition, the battle for the repeal of sodomy laws initially was fought at the state level.
In 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s sodomy law in Bowers v. Hardwick; 17 years later, however,
in Lawrence v. Texas, the Court reversed itself, effectively overturning sodomy laws in Texas and 12 other states.
Other issues of primary importance for the gay rights movement since the 1970s included combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic
and promoting disease prevention and funding for research; lobbying government for nondiscriminatory policies in employment, housing, and other aspects of civil society;
ending the ban on military service for gay and lesbian individuals; expanding hate crimes legislation to include protections for gays,
including transgender individuals; and securing marriage rights for same-sex couples
In 2010 Democratic Pres. Barack Obama signed legislation that repealed the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask
In the 1970s and ’80s, gay political organizations proliferated, particularly in the United States and Europe, and spread to other parts of the globe, though their relative size, strength, and success—and toleration by authorities—varied significantly.
Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power)
in the United States and Stonewall and Outrage! in the United Kingdom—and several dozen similar organizations in continental Europe and elsewhere
—began agitating for legal and social reforms. In addition, the transnational International Lesbian and Gay Association was founded in Coventry, England, in 1978.
Now headquartered in Geneva and renamed the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World)
, it plays a significant role in coordinating international efforts to promote human rights and fight discrimination against LGBTQ and intersex persons.
House of Representatives from Massachusetts, also came out while serving in Congress in the 1980s.
He was a powerful member of that body and within the Democratic Party into the 21st century.
Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin, became the first openly gay politician to be elected to both the U.S. House (1998) and the U.S. Senate (2012).
In 2009 Annise Parker was elected mayor of Houston, which made the fourth largest city in the U.S. the largest up to that time to elect an openly gay politician as mayor.
Outside the United States, openly gay politicians also scored successes.
In Canada in 1998 Glen Murray became the mayor of Winnipeg, Manitoba, which made him the first openly gay politician to lead a large city in that country.
Large cities in Europe also were fertile grounds for success for openly gay politicians; for example, Bertrand Delanoë
in Paris and Klaus Wowereit in Berlin were both elected mayor in 2001.
At the local and national levels, the number of openly gay politicians increased dramatically during the 1990s and 2000s,
and in 2009 Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became prime minister of Iceland, which made her the world’s first openly gay head of government.
She was followed by Elio Di Rupo, who became prime minister of Belgium in 2011
. In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, openly gay politicians have had only limited success in winning office;
notable elections to national legislatures included Patria Jiménez Flores in Mexico (1997), Mike Waters in South Africa (1999), and Clodovil Hernandes in Brazil (2006).
Don’t Tell” policy (1993–2011), which had permitted gay and lesbian individuals to serve in the military if they did not disclose their sexual orientation
or engage in homosexual activity; the repeal effectively ended the ban on homosexuals in the military. In 2013 the Supreme Court recognized the right of same-sex couples tomarry (Obergefell v. Hodges), and in 2020 the Court determined that firing an employee for being homosexual
or transgender was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia).