So glad to have you back for more! (Read part one here.)
(Information summarized and adapted from GSAFE’s Timeline of LGBT History in the United States, with details added from further personal research.)
the queer rights movement, continued
Queer life — and Pride — as we in the U.S. know it today was launched in June 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. Police raided the NYC queer bar Stonewall Inn. Rather than scatter or passively submit to mistreatment like they had in previous raids, the queer patrons fought back for five days. It was the first time in known U.S. history that lesbians, gay men, and transgender people united in protest of harassment and discrimination. The first Pride was a march, a political demonstration, one year later.
The 1970s saw a flood of queer activism, with lesbian protests leading to more mainstream awareness, events, and tolerance, the American Psychiatric Association declaring homosexuality not a mental illness, and over 100,000 people joining the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The U.S. Civil Service Commission ceased exclusion of gay people from employment. Minneapolis, Minnesota, became the first U.S. city to legally protect transgender people from discrimination. The first out lesbian legislator, Elaine Noble, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
The movement was not without opposition. An anti-queer group was founded on the grounds that exposure to queer people would be harmful to children. Gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk and the city mayor were murdered in City Hall. Minnesota Supreme Court rules that state law of marriage limited to “opposite-sex couples” does not violate the U.S. Constitution; the U.S. Supreme Court’s support of the decision established a court precedent.
AIDS hit the queer community like a grenade in the 1980s. While the disease and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes it are not limited to queer people, the initial identification of the disease as “gay-related immune deficiency” or “GRID” and its prevalence in the gay male community led to public scorn, misinformation, unfounded fear, and rampant discrimination. The disease was often called the “gay cancer” or “gay plague.” Conservative anti-queer Christian speakers claimed that “AIDS is God’s punishment on homosexuals,” a lie that continues today.
Funding, research, and public recognition were delayed until the disease began infecting women and children. President Reagan waited until 1985, when 5,000 people had died, to acknowledge the illness. There were 100,000 reported AIDS cases in the USA by the end of 1989. (Click to read more about the history of HIV/AIDS.)
The pursuit of queer rights, and its opposition, continued battle in the 1980s and 90s. Wisconsin passed the nation’s first lesbian and gay civil rights bill. National Coming Out Day was established on October 11, 1988. The City College of San Francisco created the first gay and lesbian studies department in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled that states were constitutionally allowed to pass and enforce anti-queer sodomy laws.
The first Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) began in 1990. Anti-queer U.S. immigration laws were lifted, but HIV/AIDS restrictions remained. The world’s largest FTM (female-to-male) transgender group group was established. A woman was legally recognized as the guardian of her paralyzed and speech-impaired female lover, setting a local court precedent for queer couples. Minnesota passed the first state-wide law against anti-transgender discrimination. An intersex support network was founded.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” anti-queer military policy became law, giving fuel to the anti-queer witch hunts in the military that continue today, despite that specific policy no longer being in place. President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), denying federal benefits or cross-state recognition to same-sex married couples. A Utah school banned all “non-curricular” student clubs to prevent the meeting of a GSA.
The rape and murder of transgender youth Brandon Teena and torture and murder of gay student Matthew Shepard brought national attention to the violence queer Americans face. A transgender history book was published. The Supreme Court defended the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in Colorado’s state anti-discrimination laws. The American Counseling Association Governing Council officially opposed conversion therapy, a form of pseudo-therapy aimed at “curing” queer sexual orientations, and many health organizations joined in denouncing the approach to homosexuality as an illness or disorder.
Vermont was the first state to legally recognize same-sex civil unions. Massachusetts became the first state to fully recognize legal same-sex marriage. Following a state Supreme Court case, California became the second.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003. That same year, the first openly gay, non-celibate priest to be ordained a bishop in a major Christian denomination was elected in the New Hampshire Episcopal Church.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage licenses must be issued and these marriages recognized in all 50 states under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. The case combined six lower-court cases regarding adoption law, the recognition of same-sex surviving spouses upon death, the recognition of same-sex marriages conducted in other jurisdictions, and the refusal of same-sex marriage licenses.
so, what’s the big deal?
The history of queer rights and relationships in the U.S. is long, messy, and filled with wins and losses, ups and downs — like any history detailing 400+ years. While queer individuals, couples, and families can finally celebrate the right to marry in any state we call home, there’s still a lot more we’re fighting for — and a lot of solemn grieving to remember.
That’s what Pride is about. That’s why we carry our flags, wear our colors, and declare our “labels” with pride. We can finally marry whoever we love, wherever we live, but many states still allow discrimination that can cost us our homes, our jobs, our children, and our health. Even the rights we’ve won are always at risk, with recent federal laws now allowing transgender discrimination from both the military and healthcare providers.
Those rights we do have, and the community we join hands with in both celebration and resistance, we owe to the gays, lesbians, and transgender people who came before us. We owe the activists who were jailed, fined, and murdered for speaking out. We owe the writers who faced censorship and the lovers who were slandered. We owe the queer politicians, teachers, students, and clergy who stepped up as firsts. We owe the hundreds of thousands who died of AIDS without family, friends, or recognition in the 1980s, and the hundreds who suffered humiliation and execution in the 1600s.
Pride is about grieving our community’s losses, remembering our community’s history, and fighting to protect our community’s future, along with the celebrations we revel in.
And that Pride spirit is what touches queer weddings in a special way, too. Every queer couple in this country faces challenges, obstacles, and struggles that straight, cisgender couples will never have to think about. So that’s why this month at Bluebell Brides is dedicated to my engaged queer family. Because you, my lovely LGBTQ aunties, uncles, cousins, siblings, deserve someone who can speak into your unique wedding-planning problems, and the chance to relax and celebrate all of who you and your lover are.