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Gay rights movement, also called homosexual rights movement or gay liberation movement, civil rights movement that advocates equal rights for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendersodomy laws barring homosexual acts between consenting adults; and calls for an end to discrimination against gay men, lesbians, and transgender persons in employment, credit, housing, public accommodations, and other areas of life.

Gay rights movement

Poland’s anti-gay crusade: “The most aggressive homophobic campaign I have seen in my life”

As Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party continues to leverage prejudice against LGBTQ communities, those on the frontline say the impact has been devastating

Justyna Szpanowska was cycling through Warsaw in mid-August, when she heard what, at first, sounded like a coronavirus public safety announcement. As she got closer to its source, she realized it was nothing of the sort. Following the sound, she came across a truck slowly making its way down a busy road in the city center. Its back was lined with speakers playing a prerecorded message, warning passersby that gay couples commit pedophilia against babies. 

In the passenger seat was a blogger with the ultra-conservative LGBT hate group “Fundacja Pro — Prawo do Życia” (Pro Right to Life Foundation), holding a camera. 

Szpanowska, an activist with the left-wing Razem (Left Together) party, explained that around 100 people had gathered near the vehicle to express their outrage at its message. “I’m sure he was trying to provoke a reaction from the crowd for infotainment,” she said. 

Since its 2015 election victory, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party has leveraged prejudice against the LGBTQ community for political gain. In 2019’s parliamentary elections, the party’s leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski claimed his victory would prevent “homosexual marriages.” And, ahead of last month’s presidential polls, President Andrzej Dudza described so-called LGBTQ ideology as “a kind of neo-Bolshevism.”

Along with hate-mongering against queer people, the Polish government has frequently referred to “gender ideology,” an international conspiracy theory that claims Marxists are plotting to destroy white nuclear households by erasing differences between men and women. Attacking “imported” sexuality and reproductive rights while pledging allegiance to the “pro traditional family” is what historian Andrea Peto describes as “a nationalist neoconservative response to the crisis of the global neoliberal world order.” 

Authoritarians muddy the conversation. We clarify it with journalism.

The impact has been devastating. In the past year, nearly 100 local governments, representing a third of Poland’s territory, declared themselves “LGBT free zones.” A 2020 report from an academic at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń estimates that the number of queer people under the age of 25 who attempt suicide increased from 30% in 2016 to 45% in 2020. Kolodziej found that 84% of young LGBTQ people are now having suicidal thoughts. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Helena de Cleyre, a 29-year-old trans-activist who lives in Warsaw. Almost every day she hears about attacks against LGBTQ people. 

“Mostly what I am thinking about is migration,” said Cleyre. “I want to be treated like a citizen. I don’t want my neighbors and people in public to treat me like I am not a human being.”

In April 2019, the ultra-conservative LGBT group Fundacja Pro drove a car around the city of Gniezno, a Catholic stronghold in western Poland, with a banner that read, “What the LGBT lobby wants to teach kids: masturbation; consenting to sex; first sexual experiences and orgasm. Stop pedophilia.” Since then, these cars and vans have become a common sight in big cities.

“It is the most aggressive homophobic campaign I have seen in my life,” said Katarzyna Warecka, a lawyer for the LGBTQ group Tolerado, based in the predominantly liberal port city of Gdansk. Last year, she tried to sue Fundacja Pro for “spreading false and homophobic content about the alleged link between pedophilia and homosexuality.” However, the court ruled against it. Subsequently, none of the city’s schools, councils and other public institutions have spoken out against the group. 

More recently, people have started confronting Fundacja Pro’s vans directly on the street. On August 8, gender-non-binary activist Malgorzata Szutowicz was held in pre-trial detention for three weeks for slashing the tires of one such vehicle. In the protests that followed, the police arrested 48 people, including one passerby who had simply exited a nearby grocery shop and was carrying a shopping bag. 

A week after Szutowicz’s arrest, 27-year-old software developer Linus Lewandowski saw a Facebook post about a Fundacja Pro van near his Warsaw apartment. He arrived at the scene in time to try and cover up the van’s massive banner with swirls of orange-colored graffiti. The incident was filmed by Maciej Zemla, a reporter from the right-wing online TV channel Zemla made a name for himself in May 2019 by filming an LGBTQ volleyball event without permission and using the footage to give the false impression of a gay plot to bring “erotic gadgets” into primary schools. 

Lewandowski is one of the 48 arrested during the protests after Szutowicz’s detention. Since then, he has had to report to his local police station twice a week. He has been charged with being part of a plot to violently attack property. The charges are “completely bogus”, he said.

Lewandowski has first-hand experience of the worsening climate for LGBTQ communities in Poland. In August, he and his boyfriend were beaten up by two strangers, who had seen them walking hand-in-hand. Despite the bleak situation, he sees some possibility for change and plans to run for office in Poland’s parliamentary elections in three years’ time. 

While liberal politicians used to claim to be “neutral” on queer rights, last month, a group of Polish opposition MP’s came to parliament dressed in the colors of the rainbow, in order to protest the government’s rhetoric. “If the current government falls,” said Lewandowski, “we will probably get rights that we have been fighting for.”

Mariusz Dzierzawski, who founded Fundacja Pro in 2005, describes himself as a Christian “seeker of truth.” He is also known as Poland’s “most radical anti-abortionist,” even though the country already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Since 2015, the group has turned its attention to criminalizing sex education in schools, with a homophobic campaign called “Stop Pedophilia.”

On its campaign website, Fundacja Pro spreads pseudoscience and disinformation that purports to link LGBTQ people and sex education to child sex abuse.

The group bases its many claims on the research of U.S. sociologist Mark Regnerus and psychologist Paul Cameron, whose discredited work is cited by a wide variety of anti-LGBTQ groups.

Malgorzata Szutowicz is a founding member of the queer activist group Stop Bzdurom (Stop the Bullshit). Founded one year ago, its members organized dance events to block Fundacja Pro’s vans — which some activists call “homophobuses” — and information stalls on LGBTQ issues. More recently, they put rainbow flags and anarchist symbols on statues in Warsaw, enraging Poland’s conservative government.

“We are only three, four or five people at times,” Szutowicz said. “We would do our actions, post about it on social media and wait for feedback.” 

Szutowicz and her partner Lania Madej started the group after they came across a Fundacja Pro information stall, where volunteers were handing out leaflets and collecting signatures to support their “Stop Pedophilia” law. This proposed legislation demands jail sentences for anyone who teaches sex education to people under the age of 18. Fundacja Pro’s bill was co-drafted by a lobbying group named the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture — an offshoot of an international ultra-conservative Catholic network known as Tradition, Family and Property.

Authoritarians muddy the conversation. We clarify it with journalism.

In June 2019, Helena de Cleyre joined Szutowicz and Madej to protest against a Fundacja Pro stall in the city of Poznan. Upon arrival, they were stopped and questioned by police officers. 

“For many years, there have been attempts to get basic rights legally for non-straight people in Poland but this has failed,” said Cleyre. “Many people believe what the Fundacja Pro trucks say, because the local priest is saying it, the local politician is saying it and especially because you have no sex education in schools.” 

As the attacks against LGBTQ communities have increased, activists have found themselves facing a new front — the 100 local governments that have signed non-legally binding charters to declare themselves “free from LGBT ideology.” In July, the European Union announced it would no longer provide funding to six of the “LGBT-free” Polish towns. 

In September 2019, Cleyre and some of her friends hit the road under the collective banner of the Queer Tour. Their plan was to drive to so-called LGBT-free zones, talk to local people and debunk the government’s propaganda. “It’s really difficult because you can waste so much time trying to convince just one person,” Cleyre said. “We try to say things like: ‘Hi, I am LGBT, do I look like I am destroying Poland?’ Sometimes it works.” 

On a recent weekend, Queer Tour went to the south-eastern city of Debica. After setting up their stall, police officers surrounded them and made them leave, while the town’s mayor told them their actions were “illegal.” 

Queer Tour and Stop Bzdurom send packages of stickers, comics and books to young LGBTQ people all over Poland. The stickers say things like “I am not an ideology” or show famous figures, including Jesus Christ, on a rainbow background. Since Szutowicz’s arrest, the groups’ go-to print shop is afraid to produce material for them.

“They sent us emails to say that they support what we do, but half of our designs are probably too controversial,” Szutowicz said, via Skype. 

Szutowicz is still facing multiple charges for hanging rainbow flags on Warsaw monuments and for slashing the tires of the Fundacja Pro van. 

In August, Stop Bzdurom received $80,000 in donations, which they would like to give to small collectives across Poland. But the Polish crowdfunding platform Zrzutka refuses to let the group withdraw the funds. 

I recently spoke to Szutowicz and her life partner Lu, who is non-binary, via Skype. They had just ordered pizza and were getting ready to go to a house party. 

Szutowicz explained that Stop Bzdurom has been forced to halt its activities after she and Lu were recently followed by plainclothes police officers. “Because of police investigations against us and being stalked all the time, we are not able to make any new actions right now,” Szutowicz said. 

Meanwhile, international campaigners have asked the EU to protect Poland’s LGBTQ communities. Last week, activists delivered a petition with more than 340,000 signatures demanding that the EU take action against homophobia in Poland’s “LGBT-free” zones. The petition, launched by the global equality movement All Out, urged the EU’s commissioner for equality, Helena Dallito, to denounce the discriminatory policies and pass legislation on hate crimes to protect the Polish LGBTQ community.

In a sign of increasing international concern over the treatment of LGBTQ people, 50 ambassadors to Poland earlier this week wrote an open letter calling on Warsaw to help forge “an environment of non-discrimination, tolerance and mutual acceptance.” The signatories, including ambassadors from the U.S. and Britain, urged Poland to “end discrimination, in particular on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Lu, who has recently started their own collective to hang up rainbow flags around Warsaw and throw paint over homophobic banners, was more optimistic. They read out a Facebook message sent by a stranger, who’d written to say, “Thank you…When I see the flag, I see that someone is fighting for me.”

The morning after we spoke, Szutowicz texted me to say she and Lu had been assaulted twice after the party. Later that evening, she texted me again: Lu had just been attacked. “The man had keys in his hands so Lu has bruises and swelling,” Szutowicz wrote.

“The situation is getting worse on many fronts in Poland and the problems are really important to me,” she said. “So if it gets worse, I have this stupid mindset of ‘I have to work harder because it’s not enough.’ But many of my friends and I are in a situation where you physically cannot do anything more.” 

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Josephine Huetlin is a journalist based between London and Berlin.

Poland’s anti-gay crusade: “The most aggressive homophobic campaign I have seen in my life”

History of the Anti-Gay Movement Since 1977

Read a timeline of the radical right’s thirty-year crusade against homosexuality.

Born-again singer Anita Bryant campaigns to overturn an anti-discrimination law protecting gay men and lesbians in Dade County, Fla. Inspired by her victory, Bryant founds the first national anti-gay group, Save Our Children, drawing unprecedented attention to gay issues and motivating gay groups to organize in response.

James Dobson, author of 1969 pro-spanking book Dare To Discipline, founds Focus on the Family in Arcadia, Calif. Focus will move to Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1991, become America’s wealthiest fundamentalist ministry, and spearhead the campaign against gay marriage.

Gay activist Harvey Milk, elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, is assassinated on Nov. 27 (along with Mayor George Moscone) by right-wing religious zealot Dan White, a former city supervisor who had resigned in protest after the board passed a gay-rights ordinance.

John Birch Society trainer and „family activist“ Tim LaHaye publishes The Unhappy Gays (later retitled What Everyone Should Know About Homosexuality). Calling gay people „militant, organized“ and „vile,“ LaHaye anticipates anti-gay arguments to come.

California State Sen. John Briggs floats a ballot initiative allowing local school boards to ban gay teachers. „One third of San Francisco teachers are homosexual,“ Briggs says. „I assume most of them are seducing young boys in toilets.“ The initiative is defeated, but the campaign inspires anti-gay crusaders like the Rev. Lou Sheldon, who will found the Traditional Values Coalition in 1981.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell founds the Moral Majority, a national effort to stimulate the fundamentalist vote and elect Christian Right candidates. Early fundraising appeals include a „Declaration of War“ on homosexuality.

Paul Cameron, former psychology instructor at University of Nebraska, begins publishing pseudo-scientific pamphlets „proving“ that gay people commit more serial murders, molest more children, and intentionally spread diseases. Expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 for ethics violations, Cameron will continue to produce bogus „studies“ widely cited by anti-gay groups.

Moral Majority allies in Congress propose the Family Protection Act, which would bar giving federal funds to „any organization that suggests that homosexuality can be an acceptable alternative lifestyle.“ Despite President Reagan’s endorsement, the bill is defeated.

The Council for National Policy, a highly secretive club of America’s most powerful far-right religious activists, begins meeting quarterly at undisclosed locations. Among the members will be R.J. Rushdoony, who calls for death penalty for homosexuals, and anti-gay crusaders James Dobson, Beverly and Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins and Phyllis Schlafly. George W. Bush will meet with the Council during his first campaign for president.

The U.S. Department of Defense issues a policy stating that homosexuality is „incompatible“ with military service. Almost 17,000 gay soldiers will be discharged during the 1980s, though a 1989 Defense Department study will find gay recruits „just as good or better“ than heterosexuals.

Pat Buchanan, communications director for President Ronald Reagan, calls AIDS, first identified in 1981, „nature’s revenge on gay men.“

The Coalition on Revival is founded to promote „Christian government“ in the U.S. and to agree on theological tenets — including anti-gay principles — that fundamentalists can rally around. Board members include Tim LaHaye, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, „Homosexuality makes God vomit.“

Addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Paul Cameron uses the AIDS crisis to suggest that „the extermination of homosexuals“ might become necessary. The following year, Colorado’s Summit Ministries will publish Special Report: AIDS. Co-authored by Cameron, the popular pamphlet blames gay men for the epidemic and calls for a national crackdown on homosexuals.

At the first Congressional hearings on anti-gay violence, Kathleen Sarris of Indianapolis tells of being stalked and assaulted by a „Christian soldier“ who held her at gunpoint, beat and raped her for three hours, explaining that „he was acting for God; that what he was doing to me was God’s revenge on me because I was a ‚queer‘ and getting rid of me would save children.“

Anti-gay groups cheer the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick holding that state anti-sodomy statutes are constitutional. Four years later, Justice Lewis Powell, the swing vote, will tell New York University law students, „I probably made a mistake in that one.“

Boston’s Gay Community News publishes a satire of anti-gay propaganda, beginning: „Tremble, Hetero Swine! We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lives. We will raise vast private armies … to defeat … the family unit.“ Anti-gay groups seize on the article as proof of a „secret homosexual agenda.“

After a ferocious campaign by the fundamentalist Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), Oregon voters overturn their governor’s executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in state hiring. Led by anti-gay crusader Lon Mabon, OCA claims „promiscuous sodomite activists“ have called for „the closing of all churches that oppose them and the total destruction of the family.“

U.S. Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) publishes a landmark anti-gay tome, Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America. Calling lesbians and gay men „the ultimate enemy,“ Dannemeyer accuses straight people of „surrendering to this growing army without a shot,“ and predicts gay rights will „plunge our people, and indeed the entire West, into a dark night of the soul that could last hundreds of years.“

University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney founds Promise Keepers, which holds all-male stadium revivals promoting „traditional masculinity“ throughout the 1990s. McCartney calls homosexuals „a group of people who don’t reproduce, yet want to be compared with people who do reproduce,“ and says, „Homosexuality is an abomination of Almighty God.“

Pat Robertson founds the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), run by Christian Right attorney Jay Sekulow. ACLJ will be instrumental in fighting gay marriage, calling it a cancerous „perversion“ that „directly attacks the family, which is the most vital cell in society.“

Colorado voters approve Amendment 2, overturning municipal laws protecting lesbians and gay men from discrimination. One of the organizers, Tony Marco, hones a „special rights“ argument, claiming that gay people are inordinately wealthy and politically powerful, and neither need nor deserve the rights they „demand.“

„The Gay Agenda,“ 20-minute video featuring racy scenes filmed at gay-pride marches, is released by Ty and Jeannette Beeson of the Antelope Valley Springs of Life church in Lancaster, Calif. Aired by Pat Robertson’s „The 700 Club,“ it will become one of the most widely viewed pieces of anti-gay propaganda.

At the Republican National Convention in Houston, Pat Buchanan famously declares in a prime time speech, „There is a culture war going on in our country for the soul of America.“ Cheering audience members wave signs reading „Family Rights Forever, ‚Gay‘ Rights Never.“

The battle over gay marriage is ignited when the Hawaii Supreme Court rules that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses violates „basic human rights“ guaranteed in the state constitution — unless the state legislature can show a „compelling reason“ to prevent gay marriage. Anti-gay groups begin a campaign to „defend marriage,“ with legal challenges led by ACLJ’s Jay Sekulow.

President Clinton’s proposal to lift the ban on openly gay military personnel sends anti-gay activists into action, shutting down phone lines to Congress with hundreds of thousands of calls in protest. „Honestly,“ asks D. James Kennedy in a fundraising letter for Coral Ridge Ministries, „would you want your son, daughter, or grandchild sharing a shower, foxhole, or blood with a homosexual?“

The Cobb County (Ga.) Commission passes a resolution calling homosexuality „incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes.“ Organizer Gordon Wysong declares, „We should blame them for every social problem in America.“ Cobb County will be dropped as a host for 1996 Atlanta Olympic events because of its anti-gay stance.

More than 40 fundamentalist groups, led by Focus on the Family, hold a summit in Colorado to coordinate a „special rights“ argument to oppose gay rights. This strategy is also promoted by the Traditional Values Coalition’s „Gay Rights, Special Rights,“ a 40-minute video claiming gay rights will erode the civil rights of African Americans.

The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, by fundamentalist activists Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, claims gays weren’t victimized in the Holocaust, but instead helped mastermind the extermination of Jews. Repudiated by credible historians, the book is nevertheless praised by the Family Research Council and sold by several anti-gay organizations.

The National Pro-Family Forum, dedicated to „one man-one woman“ marriage, holds its first secret meeting in a Memphis church cellar with representatives from more than 20 major anti-gay groups. Before the end of the year, forum members successfully push the Defense of Marriage Act, a symbolic measure defining marriage as between a man and a woman, through Congress.

The Southern Baptist Convention announces a boycott of Disney parks and products because the company gives insurance benefits to partners of gay workers and allows „Gay Days“ at its theme parks. „Beware of the Magic Kingdom,“ Focus on the Family advises parents. Gay Day protests become a staple of the anti-gay movement.

In Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court rules Colorado’s Amendment 2 (see 1992) unconstitutional by a 6-3 vote. The ruling puts an end to 20 years of state and local ballot initiatives aimed at stripping gays of anti-discrimination protections, leaving same-sex marriage as the main issue for anti-gay organizers.

Ellen DeGeneres‘ character on the TV sitcom „Ellen“ comes out as a lesbian, initiating protests and boycotts of sponsors led by Donald Wildmon and Jerry Falwell, who calls the actor „Ellen Degenerate.“

A coalition of fundamentalist groups led by Coral Ridge Ministries sponsors „Truth in Love,“ a million-dollar advertising campaign promoting „ex-gay ministries,“ which use discredited psychological methods to „cure“ gay people. One day before a second round of „Truth in Love“ ads is released, gay college student Matthew Shepard dies after being savagely beaten and left tied to a fence in Wyoming. The murder spurs a national debate about the connection between anti-gay rhetoric and hate crimes.

In a TV interview, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) compares gay people to alcoholics and „kleptomaniacs,“ earning praise from anti-gay activists. „Leaders willing to be set apart and stand solidly in the truth are rare in today’s permissive culture,“ says James Dobson.

Vermont Democratic Gov. Howard Dean signs a law sanctioning same-sex civil unions, entitling gay couples to marital rights and benefits. Anti-gay leader Gary Bauer calls it „an unmitigated disaster“ that is „worse than terrorism.“

„Teletubbies“ cartoon character Tinky Winky is „outed“ as gay in a „Parents‘ Alert“ in Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Journal, which asserts, „He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol.“

The U.S. Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Boy Scouts of America can continue to ban gay scoutmasters. Anti-gay activists like Robert Knight of the Family Research Council use the scouting controversy to revive anti-gay „child molester“ propaganda. After CBS morning-show host Bryant Gumbel interviews Knight, he is heard on air commenting, „What a f—— idiot.“ Anti-gay groups label CBS the „Christian Bashing System“ and lobby unsuccessfully for Gumbel’s firing.

On „The 700 Club“ two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jerry Falwell blames the tragedy on „the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle.“ Host Pat Robertson responds: „Well, I totally concur.“

The Rev. Michael Bray, a convicted abortion clinic bomber and leading advocate of murdering abortion doctors, praises Saudi Arabia for beheading three gay men on New Year’s Day. „Let us give thanks,“ Bray proclaims. „Let us welcome these tools of purification. Open the borders! Bring in some agents of cleansing.“

Alan Sears, head of the Alliance Defense Fund, co-authors The Homosexual Agenda, a book that asserts gay activists‘ ultimate goal is „silencing“ conservative Christians. Sears also accuses cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants of being gay.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules 4-3 that gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry. In the Washington Dispatch, legendary fundamentalist organizer Paul Weyrich declares marriage „The Final Frontier for Civilization as We Know It.“

The U.S. Supreme Court overturns state anti-sodomy statutes in Lawrence v. Texas, ruling that gay people are entitled to „an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.“ Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia complains that „the court has largely signed onto the so-called homosexual agenda.“

Constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage pass by wide margins in all 11 states, including Ohio and Oregon. Anti-gay groups meet in Washington, D.C., to plan for 10 more state initiatives in 2005.

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Action organizes „Mayday for Marriage“ rallies in six major cities to promote anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in 11 states. An estimated 150,000 turn out for Oct. 15 protest in Washington, D.C., where Dobson declares, „[E]verything we care about is on the line. It’s now or never.“

San Francisco officials begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in February, with a handful of other U.S. municipalities following suit. Later that month, President George W. Bush announces his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution.

SPLC is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization (EIN: 63-0598743)

History of the Anti-Gay Movement Since 1977

Trump administration launches global effort to end criminalization of homosexuality

BERLIN — The Trump administration is launching a global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality in dozens of nations where it’s still illegal to be gay, U.S. officials tell NBC News, a bid aimed in part at denouncing Iran over its human rights record.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-profile openly gay person in the Trump administration, is leading the effort, which kicks off Tuesday evening in Berlin. The U.S. embassy is flying in LGBT activists from across Europe for a strategy dinner to plan to push for decriminalization in places that still outlaw homosexuality — mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.

“It is concerning that, in the 21st century, some 70 countries continue to have laws that criminalize LGBTI status or conduct,” said a U.S. official involved in organizing the event.

Trump administration launches global effort to end criminalization of homosexuality

George W. Bush’s Forgotten Gay-Rights History

He defied his party by endorsing civil unions in 2004. (But that same year, he backed a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex marriage.)

George W. Bush ran for election and reelection as a compassionate conservative. Now slowly inching his way back into the public eye with an interview with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl that aired Sunday and a planned major speech on immigration Wednesday, the former president who likes to call himself „retired“ is being suddenly feted for views he’s held for years.

Maybe it’s just the hard-right turn in Republican rhetoric since Bush left office, but Bush’s historic kinder, gentler approach is suddenly being treated as a kind of GOP novelty act.

President George W. Bush cautioned against criticizing gay couples, saying in an interview on „This Week“ that you shouldn’t criticize others „until you’ve examined your own heart.“

Bush had waded into the revitalized same-sex marriage debate last week — if only barely — in a comment to a reporter in Zambia, who asked whether gay marriage conflicts with Christian values.

„I shouldn’t be taking a speck out of someone else’s eye when I have a log in my own,“ Bush said last week.

In an interview in Tanzania with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, the former president explained his comment further.

„I meant it’s very important for people not to be overly critical of someone else until you’ve examined your own heart,“ Bush told Karl.

The story went on to note that „As president, Bush opposed gay marriage, and Republicans pushed ballot measures to ban it at the state level.“

Coming out of the dark ages

Forty years ago in Britain, loving the wrong person could make you a criminal. Smiling in the park could lead to arrest and being in the wrong address book could cost you a prison sentence. Homosexuality was illegal and hundreds of thousands of men feared being picked up by zealous police wanting easy convictions, often for doing nothing more than looking a bit gay.

At 5.50am on 5 July 1967, a bill to legalise homosexuality limped through its final stages in the House of Commons. It was a battered old thing and, in many respects, shabby. It didn’t come close to equalising the legal status of heterosexuals and homosexuals (that would take another 38 years). It didn’t stop the arrests: between 1967 and 2003, 30,000 gay and bisexual men were convicted for behaviour that would not have been a crime had their partner been a woman. But it did transform the lives of men like Antony Grey, who had fought so hard for it, meaning that he and his lifelong partner no longer felt that every moment of every day they were at risk.

It is hard for us to imagine now how repressive was the atmosphere surrounding homosexuality in the 1950s. ‚It was so little spoken about, you could be well into late adolescence before you even realised it was a crime,‘ says Allan Horsfall, who campaigned for legal change in the north west, where he lived with his partner, a headmaster. ‚Some newspapers reported court cases but they talked of „gross indecency“ because they couldn’t bring themselves to mention it, so young people were lucky if they could work out what was going on.‘

Antony Grey, who later became secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS), describes having to make ‚painstaking circular tours through the dictionary‘ to articulate the feelings he’d had since he was nine. The one thing he did manage to pick up was that ‚there was a hideous aura of criminality and degeneracy and abnormality surrounding the matter‘. Grey, a middle-class boy, fearful of breaking the law, remained ’solitary, frustrated and apprehensive‘ until he met his partner at the age of 32.

Grey is now 89 and has a civil partnership with that same man (Grey’s partner has always remained anonymous and prefers to do so now). I met them at their house in north-west London, where we talked in a room overflowing with books. Grey is tall and used to look distinguished; he has had leukaemia and is gaunt now. But his memories of the period are precise. In the early days, they tell me, living together was a dangerous business. When a drunk coach driver crashed into their car outside their house in the night, ‚the first thing we had to do was make up the spare bed. We knew from experience that if you called the police and they suspected you were homosexual, they would ignore the original crime and concentrate on the homosexuality.‘

This was what happened to Alan Turing, the mathematician and Enigma codebreaker. In 1952, he reported a break-in and was subsequently convicted of gross indecency. Though he escaped prison, he was forced to undergo hormone therapy and lost his security clearance; he later committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

For all that the law was draconian, it was also unenforceable. As a result, arrests often seemed to have an arbitrary, random quality. When Allan Horsfall became a Bolton councillor in 1958, he discovered that a public lavatory used for cottaging was well known to police and magistrates, yet there hadn’t been a conviction in 30 years. On the other hand, there would be intermittent trawls through address books of suspected homosexuals, with the result that up to 20 men at a time would appear in the dock, accused of being a ‚homosexual ring‘, even though many of them might never have met many of the others.

A case of this kind, involving eight men in Bolton, spurred Horsfall to set up the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Society (later the Campaign for Homosexual Equality). He explains: ‚In this case, there was no public sex, no underage sex, no multiple sex. Yet they were all dragged to court and a 21-year-old considered to be the ringleader was sentenced to 21 months. I wrote a letter to the Bolton Evening News. They had four more letters in support and none against and the deputy editor was visited by the local police, who wanted to know if he thought this was what the people of Bolton really thought about the enforcement of this law.‘

Horsfall thought it probably was and set up his campaigning group, which would play an important role in demonstrating to politicians that reform wasn’t merely the preoccupation of a metropolitan coterie. When the objection was made, as it often was, that the powerful miners‘ groups wouldn’t stand for legalisation, Horsfall was able to point out that he ran his campaign from a house in a mining village where he lived with another man and had never had any trouble with the neighbours.

In the mid-1950s, there was an atmosphere of a witch-hunt (probably not unrelated to what was happening in America with McCarthy), with consequent opportunities for blackmail. Leo Abse, who eventually piloted the Sexual Law Reform Act through Parliament, recalls that, as a lawyer in Cardiff, his fees from criminals suddenly all started coming from the account of one man. He investigated and found he was ‚a poor vicar. The bastards were bleeding him. I sent for one of the criminals and told him if I had another cheque from this man, I’d get him sent down for 10 years. I sent for the vicar and told him to come to me if they approached him again.‘

MPs on both sides of the House began to demand action. One or two newspapers ran leaders. And then there was another high-profile case in which the police were called on one matter and ended up prosecuting another. Edward Montagu, later Lord Beaulieu, contacted the police over a stolen camera and ended up in prison for a year for gross indecency. Two of his friends, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood, got 18 months. Their trial in 1954 probably played into the decision of the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, to establish the Wolfenden Committee to consider whether a change in the law was necessary.

As Lord Kilmuir, Maxwell-Fyfe led the opposition to law reform in the Lords, so it was ironic that he started the process. Perhaps he thought, by handing over to a committee, to shelve the issue. Perhaps he assumed Wolfenden would find against, in which case, he chose a curious chairman, because Wolfenden had a gay son, Jeremy. Antony Grey told me that when Wolfenden accepted the job, he wrote to Jeremy saying it would be better if he weren’t seen around him too often in lipstick and make-up.

Allan Horsfall believes homosexuality was tacked on very late in the day to the business of a committee that had already been set up to look into the legal status of prostitution. (Certainly, its remit covered both; its findings were popularly referred to as the Vice report.) That would make sense of the choice of chairman, although it is also possible that, given the secretive atmosphere of the time, Maxwell-Fyfe didn’t know Wolfenden had a son who wore make-up.

The Wolfenden Committee sat for three years and recommended that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be illegal. Setting the tone for the discussion about law reform that would follow, it made no attempt to argue that homosexuality wasn’t immoral, only that the law was impractical. The age of consent should, in the committee’s view, be set at 21 (it was 16 for heterosexuals). The weedy reasoning behind this was that young men left the control of their parents for university or national service. In fact, it seems to have reflected a general prejudice that homosexuals were even more simple-minded than girls.

I met Leo Abse at his beautiful house overlooking the Thames at Kew where, he says, he is kept alive by his young wife Ania. He is 90 now and deaf, but mentally acute and still writing books. We talked in his first-floor drawing room as swans floated by outside. For all its shortcomings, the Wolfenden report is usually regarded as the key turning point in the fight for legalisation, the moment at which a government-appointed body said unequivocally that the law should change.

Abse insisted that its importance has been exaggerated. ‚People talk sloppily about Wolfenden, which was not by any means a key turning-point. A myth has grown up: the myth of pre-Wolfenden and after. It was only a staging post. When I arrived in the Commons after Wolfenden, the vote against it was overwhelming. Ten years of struggle came after.‘

It’s true that an awful lot of lobbying remained to be done. The HLRS got off the ground in 1958, following a letter to the Times signed by 30 of the great and the good, including former Prime Minister Clement Attlee, philosophers AJ Ayer and Isaiah Berlin, poets C Day Lewis and Stephen Spender, playwright JB Priestley and various bishops. (From our perspective of the early 21st century, when the churches seem so afraid of homosexuality, it’s interesting that in this period they consistently and visibly backed reform.)

Antony Grey became secretary in 1962, using the pen name he used for any letters he had published (his real name is Anthony Edward Gartside Wright): ‚My father was dying. I didn’t tell my parents I was gay until I was nearly 30 and they thought it was some foul disease. They were never comfortable with it.‘

A long campaign ensued of talks to the WI and Rotary Clubs, university debates, public meetings and letter-writing. The meagre amount that the HLRS could afford to pay Grey was supplemented by means of a Saturday sub-editing job on The Observer, offered him by David Astor, then the paper’s owner and editor, who was a supporter of reform.

The campaigning work was exhausting and often thankless and the opposition a mixture of vituperative and mad. Grey once caused consternation at a Rotary dinner when asked what homosexuals were really like, by answering, ‚rather like a Rotary Club‘. An opponent in a Cambridge University debate, Dame Peggy Shepherd, asked him over a nightcap at their hotel, ‚Tell me, why are you so concerned about these unfortunate people?‘

Various stabs were made at bringing the matter before Parliament, but the first really promising development came with a bill in the Lords in July 1965. It was sponsored by Lord Arran, an unlikely reformer: known to his friends as Boofy, he kept a pet badger. Grey recalls going for tea with him, with the creature in his lap. He had inherited the title because his older brother, who was gay, had committed suicide.

‚He wasn’t the sort of person you’d think would do it,‘ Grey says. ‚But he was invaluable. He was related to everyone and was always saying things like, „I’ll have a word with Cousin Salisbury about that.“ He was a bit mad – he referred to the bill as William – and he became an alcoholic while he was doing it. He more or less had to be dried out afterwards.‘

For the opposition, Lord Kilmuir warned against licensing the ‚buggers‘ clubs‘ which he claimed were operating behind innocent-looking doors all over London. But Arran, supported by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, won his third reading by 96 votes to 31.

In the Sixties, the Lords led the way, quite unlike the situation in 2000, when the age of consent was finally equalised after the government invoked the rarely used Parliament Act to overrule a House of Lords that had thrown it out three times. Like the churches, the Lords has become more conservative about homosexuality over the years. The Catholic Archbishops of Westminster and Birmingham argued for exemptions in the 2007 Equality Act which would have allowed homosexuals to be turned away from soup kitchens and hospices.

Arran’s bill ran out of parliamentary time, but its success meant the pressure was now on for the Commons. A Conservative MP, Humphrey Berkeley, tried to sponsor a bill in the lower house. He was gay and in many ways, the lobby, certainly Grey, would have preferred him. ‚He was a nice person and not as quirky as Leo,‘ Grey says now. ‚Both Arran and Abse thought that having got so far, they needed to make concessions, placate the implacable. It seemed to me that most people weren’t worried about the details.‘

Abse takes a different view. ‚The House didn’t like Humphrey Berkeley. He was gay and everyone knew. He was an enfant terrible who never grew up. I don’t think he could have got it through.‘ Berkeley ran out of parliamentary time and then lost his seat at the 1966 general election. Back in the new Parliament, Abse gave notice in the July that he intended to move a 10-Minute Rule bill. By his own account, he was not the man the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins (who wanted reform, fought for it in cabinet, guaranteed parliamentary time and assiduously sat through all the debates) would have chosen to pilot it through. ‚We had a reconciliation before he died, but when Roy Jenkins talked to me in those days, he used to shut his eyes, as though he wanted to blot me out.‘

Abse believes Jenkins would have preferred Michael Foot, for two reasons. First, he says, Jenkins wanted ‚to bog down Michael‘, whom he saw as a potential rival in any leadership contest; and second, he ‚thought I was too dangerous a character. I was too colourful‘. He points to a shield on the wall, given to him by the Clothing Federation for being the best-dressed MP in Parliament. ‚I used to dress up. My wife – my first wife – used to dress me up. By God, they needed some colour in Parliament! It wasn’t only my narcissism. It was a part of opening up society. But I think Jenkins found it somewhat… he didn’t feel comfortable.‘

Abse’s story is that he and Foot, who were and are great friends, outmanoeuvred the Home Secretary. Foot didn’t want the job. ‚He hadn’t specially involved himself in the homo issue‘ (even allowing for the fact that he is 90, Abse’s language seems a bit odd here), and when he realised what was involved, politely backed off. Jenkins did then give his support, Abse acknowledges, ‚although on the way there were a couple of occasions when he lost his nerve and I didn’t‘.

Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell points out: ‚The tone of the parliamentary debate alternated between vicious homophobia on one side and patronising, apologetic tolerance on the other.‘ The Earl of Dudley’s contribution in the Lords sums up the level of the opposition’s argument: ‚I cannot stand homosexuals. They are the most disgusting people in the world. I loathe them. Prison is much too good a place for them.‘

But, as Tatchell suggests, the tone of the supporters is, from this distance, hardly less cringe-inducing. No one mentioned equality or love. The consistent position was that homosexuals were pitiful and in need of Christian compassion. Abse argues now that much of this was tactical. ‚The thrust of all the arguments we put to get it was, „Look, these people, these gays, poor gays, they can’t have a wife, they can’t have children, it’s a terrible life. You are happy family men. You’ve got everything. Have some charity.“ Nobody knew better than I what bloody nonsense that was.

‚My inspiration was ideology. It’s a dirty word these days, but I was and am an ideologue. I am a Freudian. And I had been taught by Freud that men and women are bisexual. People should come to terms with their bisexuality, not repudiate it and become homophobic. You knew you were doing more than releasing thousands of people from criminality,‘ he explains. ‚It was the start of opening up society to be more caring and sensitive. One was battling for all men and women to have a greater freedom.‘

Commentators have argued over whether Abse was sufficiently ambitious with the substance of the bill, but there is no doubt that he was an adept tactician. He kept the mining MPs away from all the votes, ‚calling in my debts‘. He used his friendship with the chief whip, John Silkin, to ensure there was enough time and he drew the opposition’s sting by gingering up a row over whether the law should apply to merchant seamen.

For a bit, it looked as though this arcane dispute might scupper the bill, but then Abse produced a compromise which, though patently absurd (merchant seamen could have homosexual sex with passengers and foreign seamen, but not each other) wrong-footed his opponents at a crucial moment. Right at the end, in the report stage, he managed to keep the required 100-plus supporters in the chamber all night so as to call for closure on the various amendments. On the last of these, he had 101 people there, which was all he needed but which, he says, ’shows how precarious the bill was, and it’s why I get so damned annoyed when people say Wolfenden was a watershed. We got that bill through on one vote.‘

Perhaps Abse is so anti-Wolfenden because his bill has been accused of being even more tentative than that report a decade earlier. Certainly, for those who had been lobbying, the act was a disappointment in several respects, not least in its confirmation of Wolfenden’s age of consent. ‚Of course, 21 was absurdly high,‘ Abse acknowledges now, ‚but I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting it through under that.‘ This does not seem to be his entire thinking though because he also says: ‚Adolescence is a difficult time and many young men go through a homosexual phase. Great care is needed in that you don’t corroborate them in their fixation.‘

To make matters worse, the maximum penalty for any man over 21 committing acts of ‚gross indecency‘ (which included masturbation and oral sex) with a 16- to 21-year-old was increased from two years to five years. Same-sex relations were also legal only in private, which was interpreted, as Tatchell says, as being ‚behind locked doors and windows and with no other person present on the premises‘.

While sex may have been legal, most of the things that might lead to it were still classified as ‚procuring‘ and ’soliciting‘. ‚It remained unlawful for two consenting adult men to chat up each other in any non-private location,‘ Tatchell says. ‚It was illegal for two men even to exchange phone numbers in a public place or to attempt to contact each other with a view to having sex.‘ Thus the 1967 law established the risible anomaly that to arrange to do something legal was itself illegal.

We shouldn’t think this provision was quietly ignored either. In 1989, during the Conservative campaign for family values, more than 2,000 men were prosecuted for gross indecency, as many as during the 1950s and nearly three times the numbers in the mid-Sixties.

So, is Abse right that he got as much as he could in the circumstances? Antony Grey thinks certainly not; Allan Horsfall is more equivocal. It is hard to judge at this distance, although the experience of recent years suggests there is a lot to be said for moving swiftly to consolidate positions gained, as Stonewall has done in sweeping on from Section 28 to civil partnership to protections for sexual orientation legislation. Stonewall’s chief executive, Ben Summerskill, acknowledges that in recent years, MPs with trade union backgrounds like John Prescott or Alan Johnson have been prepared to assert that equality means equality, which simply wasn’t the case in the 1960s. Other Labour ministers of the recent past have been susceptible to arguments about their legacy, where Harold Wilson’s government was mainly preoccupied with economic troubles and international crises.

Abse was disappointed in a different way by the aftermath of his Sexual Offences Act. ‚Those of us putting the bill through thought that, by ending criminality, we’d get the gays to integrate. But I was disconcerted and frightened at first because they were coming out and turning themselves into a self-created ghetto.‘ Abse’s views of integration sound rather more like wholesale capitulation to majority behaviour. But, in any case, he is wrong. Horsfall says: ‚Nobody in the circles I moved in realised things had changed. It was 1970 before the Gay Liberation Front appeared and we were well into the Seventies before the Labour Party campaign for gay rights.‘

Abse is disappointed that ‚the gays‘ weren’t more grateful. ‚On my 90th birthday, I had lots of telegrams. I never had one word of thanks from any gay activist or lobby. When I’ve shown any reservations about the gays, they haven’t forgotten. The ghetto suggests they are not at ease. They’ve got to have a gay world. Perhaps it was presumptuous to think they would integrate and become part of society. They use the excuse of external pressure and discrimination, but really it’s not good enough.‘

He is, unfortunately, taking a partial view. The single thing that more than any other has ’normalised‘ gay relationships has been civil partnerships. They could only have come about through lobbying, not by bien pensant intellectuals as before 1967, but by gay people themselves. And while it seems inconceivable now that we could ever go backwards, it is worth remembering the discrimination Abse dismisses was unchecked only recently.

Summerskill points out that recent events in Russia when gay activists, including Tatchell, were beaten up, possibly by plainclothes police, ‚were not unthinkable in Britain 20 years ago‘. Those archbishops arguing for the exclusion of homosexuals from hospices in 2007 offered a glimpse of a grimy homophobia that still sits mouldering on the underbelly of some British institutions.

The 1967 act was terribly flawed, but the world changed overnight for those like Antony Grey and Allan Horsfall who lived with their partners. The law also emboldened them and others to campaign for the right for those partnerships to have the same standing in law as any other marriage and for other rights to be themselves and have the same freedoms as everyone else. Mealy-mouthed, half-hearted, embarrassed by itself as it was, the act made possible the equality that has since been so painstakingly fought for.

Sexual Offences Act in England and Wales decriminalises homosexual acts between two men over 21 years and in private. Scotland legalises it in 1980; Northern Ireland in 1982.

First ever gay march in London, finishing with a rally in Trafalgar Square.

Tom Robinson releases ‚Glad to be Gay‘, which reaches No 18 in the singles chart.

First ever gay television series Gay Life commissioned by LWT.

UK’s first HIV/Aids charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust launched.

Labour Party candidate Peter Tatchell defeated in Bermondsey by-election after anti-gay campaign by tabloid press and local Liberals.

Chris Smith, the UK’s first openly gay MP, comes out while in office.

Section 28, preventing the ‚promotion‘ of homosexuality, introduced as part of the Local Government Act on 24 May.

London hosts the first international Europride festival with a crowd of 100,000.

Age of consent lowered to 18 from 21, despite unsuccessful campaign to lower it to 16, the consensual age for heterosexuals.

Waheed Alli, one of the world’s few openly gay Muslims, becomes the youngest and first openly gay life peer in Parliament.

Government lifts ban on lesbian and gay men in the armed forces.

The following correction was printed in the Observer’s For the record column, Sunday July 1 2007. The article above referred to Allan Horsfall as ‚a former Bolton councillor‘. Although in 1963 he was a resident of Bolton when he set up what became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, he wasn’t a councillor there. He was, however, a councillor in Nelson, Lancashire in the late 1950s.

Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.

Elton John and his longtime boyfriend, David Furnish, entered a civil partnership on Dec. 21, 2005, in England under a law the country had just enacted granting recognition to same-sex couples. The congratulations poured in as the two men appeared at a joyous ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, amid a crush of paparazzi. Donald J. Trump, who had known the couple for years, took to his blog to express his excitement.

“I know both of them, and they get along wonderfully. It’s a marriage that’s going to work,” Mr. Trump wrote, adding: “I’m very happy for them. If two people dig each other, they dig each other.”

Mr. Trump is now the leading candidate for president in the Republican primary, which has traditionally been dominated by hopefuls eager to show how deeply conservative they are on social issues like gay rights and marriage.

But Mr. Trump is far more accepting of sexual minorities than his party’s leaders have been. On Thursday, he startled some Republicans by saying on NBC’s “Today” show that he opposed a recently passed North Carolina law that prohibits people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to the gender they were born with, striking down a Charlotte ordinance.

Transgender people should “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate,” Mr. Trump said, putting him at odds with a majority of Republicans in North Carolina.

Precinct gay bar starts GoFundMe campaign to avoid closing

A drag queen portraying Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” entertains an audience member during a performance at Precinct in January 2020. Photo: Precinct.

Precinct is the latest queer space to ask for help via crowdsourcing to help it dig itself out of debt that has accumulated almost a year due to being forced to close during COVID-19.

Husbands Brian McIntire and Thor Stephens opened Precinct in 2015, a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case that same-sex couples had the right to marry.

‚You can count on us‘: German footballers join campaign to support gay colleagues

Over 800 footballers have signed up to a campaign by a German football magazine aimed at offering support to LGBTQ players. But World Cup winner Philipp Lahm still has doubts about the level of acceptance in the game.

Hundreds of footballers in Germany have signed up to a campaign by football culture magazine „11Freunde“ („11 Friends“) to offer their support for LGBTQ colleagues and take a stand against homophobia.

The magazine’s latest issue, which comes out this week, has several different covers featuring different footballers holding signs reading: „Ihr könnt auf uns zählen!“ („You can count on us!“)

Among the cover’s stars are Bundesliga players Max Kruse and Christopher Trimmel of Union Berlin, as well as Dedryck Boyata and Niklas Stark of Hertha Berlin. Sebastian Ohlsson of second-division side St. Pauli and German international goalkeeper Almuth Schult are also included. 

In total, over 800 players from both the men’s and women’s games have signed up to the campaign that organizers say isn’t about forcing anybody to come out — but rather focused on offering support and creating a more understanding environment.

„Even in 2021, there is still no openly homosexual player in professional men’s football,“ read a statement shared by Germany and Wolfsburg captain Alexandra Popp, and Borussia Dortmund Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, among others. 

„The fear of being attacked or excluded or of endangering one’s career as a professional football is evidently still so big that gay footballers still believe they have to hide their sexuality.“

„We want to support, encourage and, if necessary, defend you against attacks, because you would be doing the right thing, and we are on your side.“ 

Anti-gay campaign drives out Russian teacher in Krasnoyarsk

„Another school purge of an LGBT teacher,“ Timur Bulatov wrote on Russia’s version of Facebook, called vKontakte. He professes to be fighting decadence because he is a pious Muslim.

He sent a dossier on music teacher Maria Shestopalova to her school bosses in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

Ms Shestopalova, 21, told the BBC she had been summoned by the heads of Krasnoyarsk Further Education Centre No 4 immediately after Mr Bulatov’s denunciation of her.

„Without understanding the situation properly the director rang me on Monday evening and said, very unpleasantly, that she was expecting me in her office at 9:00am on Tuesday, and advised me to tender my resignation,“ she said via vKontakte.

She said they spent six hours questioning her and applying pressure by citing the reputation of the school, the other teachers and her parents.

„Evidently they had no desire to establish who was right and who was wrong. Having decided that this solution would be easier for them they pressurised me, to make me quit.“

Brutal videos fuel Russian anti-gay campaign

It is a relaxed atmosphere. And from the smiles and open displays of affection here, you may think that being gay in Russia is not a problem.

But the club’s co-owner, Andrei Tanichev, tells a different story.

„There’s more aggression and it’s becoming more dangerous on the streets,“ Andrei tells me.

„Many gay people have changed how they dress, they’ve removed earrings, changed their hairstyles, to avoid having problems. Even back in the USSR, where homosexuality was a criminal offence, gays were treated better than they are now in Russia. Ordinary people see us as criminals. They hate us.“

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The gay rights movement in the United States has seen huge progress in the last century, and especially the last two decades. Laws prohibiting homosexual activity have been struck down; lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are now allowed to serve openly in the military (transgender individuals were allowed to serve openly from 2016 until March 2018, when a new ban was put in place). And same-sex couples can now legally get married and adopt children in all 50 states. But it has been a long and bumpy road for gay rights proponents, who are still advocating for employment, housing and transgender rights.

The Early Gay Rights Movement

In 1924, Henry Gerber, a German immigrant, founded in Chicago the Society for Human Rights, the first documented gay rights organization in the United States. During his U.S. Army service in World War I, Gerber was inspired to create his organization by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, a “homosexual emancipation” group in Germany.

Gerber’s small group published a few issues of its newsletter “Friendship and Freedom,” the country’s first gay-interest newsletter. Police raids caused the group to disband in 1925—but 90 years later, the U.S. government designated Gerber’s Chicago house a National Historic Landmark.

The Pink Triangle

The gay rights movement stagnated for the next few decades, though LGBT individuals around the world did come into the spotlight a few times.

For example, English poet and author Radclyffe Hall stirred up controversy in 1928 when she published her lesbian-themed novel, The Well of Loneliness. And during World War II, the Nazis held homosexual men in concentration camps, branding them with the infamous pink triangle badge, which was also given to sexual predators.

Additionally, in 1948, in his book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred Kinsey proposed that male sexual orientation lies on a continuum between exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual.

READ MORE: What Is the Meaning of the Pink Triangle?

The Homophile Years

In 1950, Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Foundation, one of the nation’s first gay rights group. The Los Angeles organization coined the term “homophile,” which was considered less clinical and focused on sexual activity than “homosexual.”

Though it started off small, the foundation, which sought to improve the lives of gay men through discussion groups and related activities, expanded after founding member Dale Jennings was arrested in 1952 for solicitation and then later set free due to a deadlocked jury.

At the end of the year, Jennings formed another organization called One, Inc., which welcomed women and published ONE, the country’s first pro-gay magazine. Jennings was ousted from One, Inc. in 1953 in part for being a communist—he and Harry Hay were also kicked out of the Mattachine Foundation for their communism—but the magazine continued.

In 1958, One, Inc. won a lawsuit against the U.S. Post Office, which in 1954 declared the magazine “obscene” and refused to deliver it.

The Mattachine Society

Mattachine Foundation members restructured the organization to form the Mattachine Society, which had local chapters in other parts of the country and in 1955 began publishing the country’s second gay publication, The Mattachine Review. That same year, four lesbian couples in San Francisco founded an organization called the Daughters of Bilitis, which soon began publishing a newsletter called The Ladder, the first lesbian publication of any kind.

These early years of the movement also faced some notable setbacks: the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a form of mental disorder in 1952.

The following year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order that banned gay people—or, more specifically, people guilty of “sexual perversion”—from federal jobs. This ban would remain in effect for some 20 years.

Gay Rights in the 1960s

The gay rights movement saw some early progress In the 1960s. In 1961, Illinois became the first state to do away with its anti-sodomy laws, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality, and a local TV station in California aired the first documentary about homosexuality, called The Rejected.

In 1965, Dr. John Oliven, in his book Sexual Hygiene and Pathology, coined the term “transgender” to describe someone who was born in the body of the incorrect sex.

But more than 10 years earlier, transgendered individuals entered the American consciousness when George William Jorgensen, Jr., underwent sex-reassignment surgery in Denmark to become Christine Jorgensen.

Despite this progress, LGBT individuals lived in a kind of urban subculture and were routinely subjected to harassment and persecution, such as in bars and restaurants. In fact, gay men and women in New York City could not be served alcohol in public due to liquor laws that considered the gathering of homosexuals to be “disorderly.”

In fear of being shut down by authorities, bartenders would deny drinks to patrons suspected of being gay or kick them out altogether; others would serve them drinks but force them to sit facing away from other customers to prevent them from socializing.

In 1966, members of the Mattachine Society in New York City staged a “sip-in”—a twist on the “sit-in” protests of the 1960s—in which they visited taverns, declared themselves gay, and waited to be turned away so they could sue. They were denied service at the Greenwich Village tavern Julius, resulting in much publicity and the quick reversal of the anti-gay liquor laws.

The Stonewall Inn

A few years later, in 1969, a now-famous event catalyzed the gay rights movement: The Stonewall Riots.

The clandestine gay club Stonewall Inn was an institution in Greenwich Village because it was large, cheap, allowed dancing and welcomed drag queens and homeless youths.

But in the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn. Fed up with years of police harassment, patrons and neighborhood residents began throwing objects at police as they loaded the arrested into police vans. The scene eventually exploded into a full-blown riot, with subsequent protests that lasted for five more days.

Christopher Street Liberation Day

Shortly after the Stonewall uprising, members of the Mattachine Society split off to form the Gay Liberation Front, a radical group that launched public demonstrations, protests, and confrontations with political officials.

Similar groups followed, including the Gay Activists Alliance, Radicalesbians, and Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries.

In 1970, at the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, New York City community members marched through local streets in commemoration of the event. Named the Christopher Street Liberation Day, the march is now considered the country’s first gay pride parade. Activists also turned the once-disreputable Pink Triangle into a symbol of gay pride.

Gay Political Victories

The increased visibility and activism of LGBT individuals in the 1970s helped the movement make progress on multiple fronts. In 1977, for instance, the New York Supreme Court ruled that transgender woman Renée Richards could play at the United States Open tennis tournament as a woman.

Additionally, several openly LGBT individuals secured public office positions: Kathy Kozachenko won a seat to the Ann Harbor, Michigan, City Council in 1974, becoming the first out American to be elected to public office.

Harvey Milk, who campaigned on a pro-gay rights platform, became the San Francisco city supervisor in 1978, becoming the first openly gay man elected to a political office in California.

Milk asked Gilbert Baker, an artist and gay rights activist, to create an emblem that represents the movement and would be seen as a symbol of pride. Baker designed and stitched together the first rainbow flag, which he unveiled at a pride parade in 1978.

The following year, in 1979, more than 100,000 people took part in the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Outbreak of AIDS

The outbreak of AIDS in the United States dominated the struggle for gay rights in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report about five previously healthy homosexual men becoming infected with a rare type of pneumonia.

By 1984, researchers had identified the cause of AIDS—the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV—and the Food and Drug Administration licensed the first commercial blood test for HIV in 1985. Two years later, the first antiretroviral medication for HIV, azidothymidine (AZT), became available.

Gay rights proponents held the second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987. The occasion marked the first national coverage of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), an advocacy group seeking to improve the lives of AIDS victims.

The World Health Organization in 1988 declared December 1 to be World AIDS Day. By the end of the decade, there were at least 100,000 reported cases of AIDS in the United States.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Retired Sgt. Tom Swann wears a “lift the ban” armband to protest the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy against gays in the military. At center is Navy Capt. Mike Rankin. All were part of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Veterans of America.

In 1992, Bill Clinton, during his campaign to become president, promised he would lift the ban against gays in the military. But after failing to garner enough support for such an open policy, President Clinton in 1993 passed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, which allowed gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexuality a secret.

Gay rights advocates decried the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, as it did little to stop people from being discharged on the grounds of their sexuality.

In 2011, President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to repeal DADT; by that time, more than 12,000 officers had been discharged from the military under DADT for refusing to hide their sexuality. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was officially repealed on September 20, 2011.

Gay Marriage and Beyond

In 1992, the District of Columbia passed a law that allowed gay and lesbian couples to register as domestic partners, granting them some of the rights of marriage (the city of San Francisco passed a similar ordinance three years prior and California would later extend those rights to the entire state in 1999).

In 1993, the highest court in Hawaii ruled that a ban on gay marriage may go against the state’s constitution. State voters disagreed, however, and in 1998 passed a law banning same-sex marriage.

Federal lawmakers also disagreed, and Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Clinton signed into law in 1996. The law prevented the government from granting federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage certificates from other states.

Though marriage rights backtracked, gay rights advocates scored other victories. In 1994, a new anti-hate-crime law allowed judges to impose harsher sentences if a crime was motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation.

The Matthew Shepard Act

Matthew Shepard, who was brutally killed in a hate crime in 1998.

In 2003, gay rights proponents had another bit of happy news: the U.S. Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, struck down the state’s anti-sodomy law. The landmark ruling effectively decriminalized homosexual relations nationwide.

And in 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law a new hate crime act. Commonly known as the Matthew Shepard Act, the new law extended the reach of the 1994 hate crime law.

The act was a response to the 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. The murder was thought to be driven by Shepard’s perceived homosexuality.

In 2011, President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to repeal DADT; by that time, more than 12,000 officers had been discharged from the military under DADT for refusing to hide their sexuality.

A couple of years later, the Supreme Court ruled against Section 3 of DOMA, which allowed the government to deny federal benefits to married same-sex couples. DOMA soon become powerless, when in 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, making gay marriage legal throughout the country.

Transgender Rights

One day after that landmark 2015 ruling, the Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban against openly gay leaders and employees. And in 2017, it reversed a century-old ban against transgender boys, finally catching up with the Girl Scouts of the USA, which had long been inclusive of LGBT leaders and children (the organization had accepted its first transgender Girl Scout in 2011).

In 2016, the U.S. military lifted its ban on transgender people serving openly, a month after Eric Fanning became secretary of the Army and the first openly gay secretary of a U.S. military branch. In March 2018, President Donald Trump announced a new transgender policy for the military that again banned most transgendered people from military service. On January 25, 2021—his sixth day in office—President Biden signed an executive order overturning this ban. 

Though LGBT Americans now have same-sex marriage rights and numerous other rights that seemed farfetched 100 years ago, the work of advocates is not over.

Universal workplace anti-discrimination laws for LGBT Americans is still lacking. Gay rights proponents must also content with an increasing number of “religious liberty” state laws, which allow business to deny service to LGBT individuals due to religious beliefs, as well as “bathroom laws” that prevent transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their sex at birth.

Gay Marriage Legalized 

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage, and the first legal same-sex marriage was performed on May 17, 2004—a day when seventy-seven other couples across the state also tied the knot.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer wed in Ontario, Canada in 2007. The State of New York recognized the residents’ marriage, but the federal government did not. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her estate to Windsor; since the couple’s marriage was not federally recognized, Windsor didn’t quality for tax exemption as a surviving spouse. Windsor sued the government in late 2010 in United States v. Windsor. Months later, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Barack Obama administration would no longer defend DOMA.

In 2012, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DOMA violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments for the case. The court ruled in favor of Windsor.

Gay marriage was finally ruled legal by the Supreme Court in June 2015. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the plaintiffs—led by Jim Obergefell, who sued because he was unable to put his name on his late husband’s death certificate—argued that the laws violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with Justices Ruth Bader GinsburgStephen BreyerSonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in favor of same-sex marriage rights, ultimately making gay marriage legal across the nation on June 2015. The ruling read, in part:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”


How WWI Sparked the Gay Rights Movement: Smithsonian.

First gay rights group in the US (1924): Chicago Tribune.

Chicago’s Henry Gerber House Designated a National Historic Landmark: U.S. Department of the Interior.

Harry Hay, Early Proponent of Gay Rights, Dies at 90: The New York Times.

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