People around the world face violence and inequality—and sometimes torture, even execution—because of who they love, how they look, or who they are. Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of our selves and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. Human Rights Watch works for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peoples‘ rights, and with activists representing a multiplicity of identities and issues. We document and expose abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide, including torture, killing and executions, arrests under unjust laws, unequal treatment, censorship, medical abuses, discrimination in health and jobs and housing, domestic violence, abuses against children, and denial of family rights and recognition. We advocate for laws and policies that will protect everyone’s dignity. We work for a world where all people can enjoy their rights fully.
In too many countries, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) means living with daily discrimination. This discrimination could be based on your sexual orientation (who you’re attracted to); gender identity (how you define yourself, irrespective of your biological sex), gender expression (how you express your gender through your clothing, hair or make-up), or sex characteristics (for example, your genitals, chromosomes, reproductive organs, or hormone levels.)
From name-calling and bullying, to being denied a job or appropriate healthcare, the range of unequal treatment faced is extensive and damaging. It can also be life-threatening.
In all too many cases, LGBTI people are harassed in the streets, beaten up and sometimes killed, simply because of who they are. A spate of violence against trans people has claimed the lives of at least 369 individuals between October 2017 and September 2018. Many intersex people around the world are forced to undergo dangerous, invasive and completely unnecessary surgeries that can cause life-long physical and psychological side effects.
Sometimes, hostility directed at LGBTI people is stoked by the very governments that should be protecting them. A state-sponsored campaign in Chechnya led to the targeting of gay men, some of whom have been abducted, tortured and even killed. In Bangladesh, LGBTI activists have been hacked to death by machete-wielding armed groups, with the police and government taking little interest in delivering justice to the families of victims. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, LGBTI people continue to live in fear of being found out, and attacked or even murdered.
Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 70 countries, and can get you a death sentence in nine countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. And even where these restrictive laws are not actually enforced, their very existence reinforces prejudice against LGBTI people, leaving them feeling like they have no protection against harassment, blackmail and violence.
Gay rights movement
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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.
LGBTQ Rights Timeline in American History
It is important to note that there existed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, communities, and relationships long before these terms became commonplace. Gay and lesbian relationships existed in ancient Rome and Greece communities and are shown in a variety of art from that time. The years when common terms began to be used are listed first followed by important LGBTQ history events:
Lesbian – 1732 – the term lesbian first used by William King in his book, The Toast, published in England which meant women who loved women.Homosexual – 1869 – Hungarian journalist Karl-Maria Kertheny first used the term homosexual. Bisexual – 1894/1967. 1872 – the pamphlet, “Psychopathia Sexualis” was translated from German and one of the first times the term bisexual is used. 1967: Sexual Freedom League formed in San Francisco in support of bisexual people. Gay – 1955 – the term gay was used throughout Europe earlier, but this is the year most agree that gay came to mean same-sex relationships between men. Transgender – 1965 – John Oliven, in his book, Sexual Hygiene and Pathology, used the term transgender to mean a person who identifies with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
The ACLU works to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer people belong everywhere and can live openly and authentically without discrimination, harassment, or violence.
The ACLU has a long history of defending the LGBTQ community. We brought our first LGBTQ rights case in 1936. What is now the Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV Project was founded in 1986 and renamed in 2021. Today, the ACLU brings more LGBTQ rights cases and advocacy initiatives than any other national organization does. In fact, the ACLU has been counsel in seven of the nine LGBTQ rights cases that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided — more than any other organization. With our reach into the courts and legislatures of every state, there is no other organization that can match our record of making progress both in the courts of law and in the court of public opinion.
The ACLU’s current priorities are to end discrimination, harassment and violence toward transgender people, to close gaps in our federal and state civil rights laws, to prevent protections against discrimination from being undermined by a license to discriminate, and to protect LGBTQ people in and from the criminal legal system.
For non-LGBTQ issues, please contact your local ACLU affiliate.
The ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project seeks to create a just society for all LGBTQ people regardless of race or income. Through litigation, lobbying, public education, and organizing, we work to build a country where our communities can live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association.
The American Gay Rights Movement
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed a law that would mandate castration for gay men and mutilation of nose cartilage for gay women. But that’s not the scary part. Here’s the scary part: Jefferson was considered a liberal. At the time, the most common penalty on the books was death.224 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court finally put an end to laws criminalizing same-sex intercourse in Lawrence v. Texas. Lawmakers at both the state and federal level continue to target lesbians and gay men with draconian legislation and hateful rhetoric. The gay rights movement is still working to change this.
Explainer: the state of LGBT rights today
Last year saw a set of victories for the LGBT community, both in the United States and Europe. The call for a more diverse and inclusive world is gaining momentum, but it is important to remember that while diversity is becoming more widespread, there is a great deal of work still to be done for LGBT rights around the world.
LGBT is the most commonly used acronym for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. This umbrella term is in fact the shorter version of a wide variety of other acronyms which are used to be more inclusive of other individuals. The list of possibilities subject to some debate. Sometimes an “I” is added to include intersex (people with the physical characteristics of both genders), and sometimes a “Q” for people who identify simply as queer. There are many other communities within LGBT such as (but not exclusively confined to) asexuals (people who are not attracted to anyone in a sexual manner or do not have a sexual orientation), pansexuals (people who are sexually attracted to all or a wide variety of gender identifications) and non-binary (people whose gender identities are not exclusively masculine or feminine) people.
The struggles of LGBT people vary dramatically around the world. While people living in the west have made massive strides in achieving equal rights, there are still many countries where gay marriage is still not recognised, and in some countries homosexual relationships are still punishable by death.
Around the world, there are 23 countries where same-sex marriage is legal. The majority of nations are in the Americas and Europe, with South Africa and New Zealand also on the list. In the UK, gay marriage is devolved to national parliaments, so is only legal in England, Wales and Scotland. In Mexico only certain jurisdictions have legalised same-sex marriage.
While same-sex marriage is a strong indicator of nations opening up to the LGBT community, it does not guarantee that those nations are “gay-friendly” in a broader sense. In the United States, for example, numerous political candidates for the 2016 presidential elections are running on a platform of removing same-sex marriage and other LGBT protections.
Europe is arguably the most “gay-friendly” continent. When asked which countries were most gay-friendly, a recent survey showed that 8 out of the top ten were in Europe.
Nevertheless, Europe as a whole still has much work to do. In May 2015, ILGA released its LGBT equality ratings. The UK and Belgium lead the continent with over 80% of full equality achieved in both countries. Much of western Europe also achieves high levels of equality, but as the map moves further east, those numbers begin to plummet.
There are many places in the world where being LGBT is not only illegal but punishable by death. The data on what is specifically happening to LGBT individuals in a given country of persecution is sometimes difficult to verify. In countries such as as Nigeria and Somalia, for example, there is evidence of the execution of LGBT people, even though homosexuality is not officially punishable by death. Regions controlled by ISIS are particularly brutal in their methods of execution towards LGBT people.
Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen all have active legislation leading to the death penalty for LGBT people.
In the west, LGBT rights continue to improve. Better education, changing cultural norms and the growing evidence of the economic benefits of diversity have all contributed to a more inclusive environment for LGBT people.
Changes in legislation and LGBT portrayal in the media are important, but a change in cultural attitudes must also follow. Despite Europe’s progress, a 2012 report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that 47% of LGBT people had reported being the victims of harassment. Lesbian women in particular were targets (55%) as were people in lower income (52%) brackets.
This kind of cultural discrimination has an economic impact. One in five people reported being discriminated against in the workplace in 2012, while one in eight said that it had an impact on their seeking employment. That number soars to one in three for transgender people.
The most important lesson for progress in the west will be to remember that we are not yet finished.
In other parts of the world, however, the outlook is substantially less encouraging. In numerous countries, LGBT people have been discriminated against for political gain.
Discrimination against LGBT people is not a community issue, it is both a national and human issue. Mental health issues and suicide rates continue to be higher among LGBT persons than in other communities. In addition to the toll discrimination can take on a community, non-inclusive work environments have been shown to have a strong impact on productivity in the workplace.
In their 2014 report, The Economic Cost of Homophobia: A Case Study of India, the World Bank found that the Indian economy was losing as much as 1.7% of its GDP due to homophobia. The loss of labor force and shrunken productivity has been shown to cause a ripple effect.
Free and Equal, an initiative of the United Nations, explains that in a study of 39 countries, the marginalisation of the LGBT community was causing a substantial loss of potential economic output. In an economy the size of India’s, as much as 32 billion dollars a year are lost, resulting in a drag on growth and lower tax revenues, which in turn damages education and health funding.
Discrimination can be stopped, both through legislation and education. The European Union, for example, has set out a ten point plan for improving the understanding of LGBT issues, particularly among youth, as well as passing stronger universal diversity laws. Creating a safe and welcoming workspace is also a key factor in ensuring LGBT inclusiveness. Every year, the campaigning organisation OUTstanding presents a list of executives who are working to that end.
The state of LGBT rights, and what can be done by both the business community and governments, will be discussed at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos later his month.
Gay rights around the world: the best and worst countries for equality
Then you weigh it against a raft of anti-homosexuality legislation that is coming into force in countries across the world. In Russia, gay teenagers are being tortured and forcibly outed on the internet against a backdrop of laws that look completely out of step with the rest of Europe. In what is being described as rolling the „status of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people back to the Stalin era“, President Putin has passed a number of anti-gay laws, including legislation that punishes people and groups that distribute information considered „propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations“. The country also now has powers to arrest and detain foreign citizens believe to be gay, or „pro-gay“. It has led to the boycott of Russian vodka brands by gay bars and clubs in solidarity, started by writer and activist Dan Savage and taken up by bars in London.
In many African countries where homosexuality is already illegal, more draconian anti-gay laws are being passed and violence against LGBT people is increasing.
Is there a link between growing rights in some countries and worsening or removal of rights in others? „There are really complicated links between the two. If you look at the history of the advancement of LGBT rights in the UK, every advance is accompanied by a backlash,“ says Alistair Stewart, assistant director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based organisation that supports international LGBT rights. „To a certain extent that’s happening on a global scale now – the advances that are being made in some parts of the world encourage a backlash in other parts of the world. The struggle for even basic human rights for LGBT people – freedom of association, freedom from violence – becomes harder to achieve when the opponents can point to something like gay marriage, which isn’t even on the books for most of the countries we’re talking about and make the argument that ‚if we give these people even the most basic of human rights, next they’ll be asking to get married in our churches‘.“ Jonathan Cooper, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust, is less sure they are related: „The further persecution is already happening.“
The Human Dignity Trust challenges laws to end the persecution of LGBT people around the world. „Most countries sign up to international human rights treaties. If you take Belize as an example, it has ratified all the key UN human rights treaties and in their constitution they have a right to a private life, to equality, to dignity. And so basically to criminalise homosexuality is a violation. To bring a legal challenge against that takes a very brave individual.“ It has been supporting Caleb Orozco, the gay rights campaigner who launched a legal challenge to overturn Belize’s criminalisation laws. „We’re still waiting for the judgment. They said it would be out by the end of July but obviously it’s not coming now.“
Orozco’s case has prompted a backlash in Belize against him, and Unibam (the United Belize Advocacy Movement). A report last week from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the US civil rights organisation, highlighted the influence US hardline religious groups had in Belize and other countries. „Many of these American religious-right groups know they have lost the battle against LGBT rights in the US, and they’re now aiding and abetting anti-LGBT forces in countries where anti-gay violence is prevalent,“ said Heidi Beirich, author of the report. „These groups are pouring fuel on an exceedingly volatile fire.“
It’s the classic missionary model, says Stewart, „where money and resources and organisation are set up in the countries that they are targeting“. It’s also worth remembering which country is responsible for the legacy of persecution faced by millions of LGBT people today. There are more than 75 countries where homosexuality is still criminalised: „Forty-two of them are former British colonies so we can see where the legacy comes from,“ says Cooper. To see which countries are getting worse in terms of gay rights makes grim reading, but Stewart is cheered by the support he sees. „One of the reassuring things that has come out of the response to the Russian laws in particular is there is a growing international apprehension. One of the last great undone pieces of the civil rights movement is to address the rights of LGBT people, and there does seem to be a growing international support for change.“
LGBTQ Rights Milestones Fast Facts
(CNN)Here is a look at LGBTQ milestones in the United States. LGBTQ is an acronym meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning. The term sometimes is extended to LGBTQIA, to include intersex and asexual groups. Queer is an umbrella term for non-straight people; intersex refers to those whose sex is not clearly defined because of genetic, hormonal, or biological differences; and asexual describes those who don’t experience sexual attraction.
Why are LGBTI rights important?
Everyone should be able to feel proud of who they are and who they love. We all have the right to express ourselves freely. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which set out for the first time the rights we’re all entitled to) protects everyone’s right to express themselves freely.
Bringing an end to homophobia and transphobia will save lives. Anti-LGBTI harassment puts LGBTI identifying people at a heightened risk of physical and psychological harm. Everyone has the right to life, freedom and safety.
By embracing LGBTI people and understanding their identities, we can learn how to remove many of the limitations imposed by gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are damaging across society, defining and limiting how people are expected to live their lives. Removing them sets everyone free to achieve their full potential, without discriminatory social constraints.
LGBTI people, especially transgender and gender non-conforming people, are often at risk of economic and social exclusion. Fighting for laws that are more inclusive of people of regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity will allow them access to their rights to health, education, housing and employment
What is Amnesty doing to promote LGBTI rights?
We are committed to standing up to discrimination against LGBTI people around the world. We give recommendations to governments and other influential leaders on how to improve laws and protect people’s rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
After a global Amnesty campaign, the highest court in Taiwan ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages.
In other areas, our work has strongly influenced new laws in Denmark and Norway that allow people to have their true gender legally recognized by the government.
While there is no doubt that the LGBTI movement has made significant progress, there is still work to do. Amnesty helps activists around the world by producing resources on various issues that affect LGBTI people, such as an advocacy toolkit that can be used to combat discrimination in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Body Politics series aimed at increasing awareness around the criminalization of sexuality and reproduction.
If you are talented and passionate about human rights then Amnesty International wants to hear from you.
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Gay rights prior to the 20th century
Religious admonitions against sexual relations between same-sex individuals (particularly men) long stigmatized such behaviour, but most legal codes in Europe were silent on the subject of homosexualityinvokedSharīʿah) in a wide range of contexts, and many sexual or quasi-sexual acts including same-sex intimacy were criminalized in those countries with severe penalties, including execution.
Beginning in the 16th century, lawmakers in Britain began to categorize homosexual behaviour as criminal rather than simply immoral. In the 1530s, during the reign of Henry VIII, England passed the Buggery Act, which made sexual relations between men a criminal offense punishable by death. In Britain sodomy remained a capital offense punishable by hanging until 1861. Two decades later, in 1885, Parliament passed an amendment sponsored by Henry Du Pré Labouchere, which created the offense of “gross indecency” for same-sex male sexual relations, enabling any form of sexual behaviour between men to be prosecuted (lesbian sexual relations—because they were unimaginable by male legislators—were not subject to the law). Likewise, in Germany in the early 1870s, when the country was integrating the civil codes of various disparate kingdoms, the final German penal code included Paragraph 175, which criminalized same-sex male relations with punishment including prison and a loss of civil rights.
The beginning of the gay rights movement
Before the end of the 19th century there were scarcely any “movements” for gay rights. Indeed, in his 1890s poem “Two Loves,” Lord Alfred (“Bosie”) DouglasOscar Wilde’s lover, declared “I [homosexuality] am the love that dare not speak its name.” Homosexual men and women were given voice in 1897 with the founding of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee; WhK) in Berlin. Their first activity was a petition to call for the repeal of Paragraph 175 of the Imperial Penal Code (submitted 1898, 1922, and 1925). The committee published emancipation literature, sponsored rallies, and campaigned for legal reform throughout Germany as well as in the Netherlands and Austria, and by 1922 it had developed some 25 local chapters. Its founder was Magnus Hirschfeld, who in 1919 opened the Institute for Sexual Science (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft), which anticipated by decades other scientific centres (such as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, in the United States) that specialized in sex research. He also helped sponsor the World League of Sexual Reform, which was established in 1928 at a conference in Copenhagen. Despite Paragraph 175 and the failure of the WhK to win its repeal, homosexual men and women experienced a certain amount of freedom in Germany, particularly during the Weimar period, between the end of World War I and the Nazi seizure of power. In many larger German cities, gay nightlife became tolerated, and the number of gay publications increased; indeed, according to some historians, the number of gay bars and periodicals in Berlin in the 1920s exceeded that in New York City six decades later. Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power ended this relatively liberal period. He ordered the reinvigorated enforcement of Paragraph 175, and on May 6, 1933, German student athletes raided and ransacked Hirschfeld’s archives and burned the institute’s materials in a public square.
Outside Germany, other organizations were also created. For example, in 1914 the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology was founded by Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis for both promotional and educational purposes, and in the United States in 1924 Henry Gerber, an immigrant from Germany, founded the Society for Human Rights, which was chartered by the state of Illinois.
Despite the formation of such groups, political activity by homosexuals was generally not very visible. Indeed, gays were often harassed by the police wherever they congregated. World War II and its aftermath began to change that. The war brought many young people to cities and brought visibility to the gay community. In the United States this greater visibility brought some backlash, particularly from the government and police; civil servants were often fired, the military attempted to purge its ranks of gay soldiers (a policy enacted during World War II), and police vice squads frequently raided gay bars and arrested their clientele. However, there was greater political activity as well, aimed in large measure at decriminalizing sodomy.
The gay rights movement since the mid-20th century
Beginning in the mid-20th century, an increasing number of organizations were formed. The Cultuur en Ontspannings Centrum (“Culture and Recreation Centre”), or COC, was founded in 1946 in Amsterdam. In the United States the first major male organization, founded in 1950–51 by Harry Hay in Los Angeles, was the Mattachine Societymedieval French society of masked players, the Société Mattachine, to represent the public “masking” of homosexuality), while the Daughters of Bilitis (named after the Sapphic love poems of Pierre Louÿs, Chansons de Bilitis), founded in 1955 by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in San Francisco, was a leading group for women. In addition, the United States saw the publication of a national gay periodical, One, which in 1958 won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that enabled it to mail the magazine through the postal service. In Britain a commission chaired by Sir John Wolfenden issued a groundbreaking report (see Wolfenden Report) in 1957, which recommended that private homosexual liaisons between consenting adults be removed from the domain of criminal law; a decade later the recommendation was implemented by Parliament in the Sexual Offences Act, effectively decriminalizing homosexual relations for men age 21 or older (further legislation lowered the age of consent first to 18  and then to 16 , the latter of which equalized the age of sexual consent for same-sex and opposite-sex partners).
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 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 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 CampaignNational Gay and Lesbian Task ForceACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in the United States and Stonewall and Outrage! in the United Kingdom—and dozens and dozens of similar organizations in 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 Brussels, it plays a significant role in coordinating international efforts to promote human rights and fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.
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 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. DeGrieck and Wechsler both were elected in 1972 and came out while serving on the city council; Wechsler was replaced on the council by Kathy Kozachenko, who ran openly as a lesbian, in 1974—thus becoming the first openly gay person to win office after first coming out. In 1977 American gay rights activist Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Milk was assassinated the following year. In 1983 Gerry Studds, a sitting representative from Massachusetts, became the first member of the United States Congress to announce his homosexuality. Barney Frank, also a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, also came out while serving in Congress in the 1980s; Frank 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 of Representatives (1998) and the U.S. Senate (2012). In 2009 Annise Parker was elected mayor of Houston, America’s fourth largest city, making it the largest U.S. city 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—the first openly gay politician to lead a large city. 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, 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 Sigurðardóttirprime minister of Iceland—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 include Patria Jiménez Flores in Mexico (1997), Mike Waters in South Africa (1999), and Clodovil Hernandez in Brazil (2006).
The issues that gay rights groups emphasized have varied since the 1970s by time and place, with different national organizations promoting policies specifically tailored to their country’s milieu. For example, whereas in some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, antisodomy 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 antisodomy law in v. Hardwick; 17 years later, however, in v. Texas, the Supreme Court reversed itself, effectively overturning the antisodomy law in Texas and in 12 other states.
Other issues of primary importance for the gay rights movement since the 1970s included combating the HIV/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 protection for gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals; and securing marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples (see same-sex marriage).
In 2015 Democratic Pres. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (1993), 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 to marry ( v. Hodges), and in 2020 the Court determined that firing an employee for being gay, lesbian, or transgender was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex (Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia).
Colonial Life and Founding of the Nation (1607-1770)
1607 – Founding of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America.
1619 – Approximately 20 Africans sold into slavery in Jamestown, Virginia.
1620 – Colonial Plymouth established with Puritan norms. Mayflower contract signed by the men in the group “…for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith…” Established gender norms that determined the nuclear family unit was the basis for all other institutions such as government or church. Men held leadership positions, while women’s purpose was submissive and to “please your husband and make him happy.”
1624 – Richard Cornish of the Virginia Colony is tried and hanged for sodomy.
1630 – Massachusetts Bay Colony was established believing they had made a “covenant with God to build an ideal Christian community.”
1631 – Massachusetts Bay General Court, in accordance with Puritan religious and moral beliefs, declared that the following were considered sex crimes and were punishable by whipping, banishment or execution: fornication, adultery, rape, and sodomy.
1637, 1638 – Trials of Anne Hutchinson in the Massachusetts colony for holding religious meetings in her home since she was not allowed to hold these types of meetings in the male-dominated churches. She was banned from the community.
1649 – Sarah White Norman and Mary Vincent Hammon are charged with “lewd behavior” in Plymouth, Massachusetts, believed to be the first conviction for lesbian behavior in the new world.
1687 – New England Primer published and used in colonial schools (90 pages). Some consider this as the first school-based textbook. Content included letters and words, as well as religious-based prayers and instruction such as, “God created man, male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”
1691 – Virginia passes the first anti-miscegenation law, forbidding marriage between whites and blacks or whites and Native Americans (overturned in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia).
1714 – Sodomy laws in place in the early colonies and in the colonial militia. These laws remained in place until challenged in 1925.
American Revolution, Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution (1770-1787)
1775 – Population of enslaved people in the colonies is nearly 500,000.
1778 – Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin of the Continental Army becomes the first documented service member to be dismissed from the U.S. military for homosexuality. Read more at U.S. History Naval Institute Blog / Timeline of Military Gay History.
1779 – Thomas Jefferson proposes Virginia law to make sodomy punishable by mutilation rather than death. It was rejected by the Virginia legislature
Civil War and Civil Rights (1850-1870)
1857-1861 – James Buchanan elected president. A lifelong bachelor, Buchanan had a long-term relationship with William Rufus King, who served as vice president under Franklin Pierce. The two men lived together from 1840-1853 until King’s death. Some historians suggest Buchanan, by today’s terms, was gay.
1861 – Sarah Emma Edmonds changed her identity to a man named Franklin Thompson and joined the Union army. She was one of 400 documented cases of women who dressed as men as part of the war effort. She changed back to her female identity after being wounded in the war. She eventually married a man and raised three children.
1862 – Jennie Hodgers, disguised as a man named Albert Cashier, enlisted in the Union army in Illinois and fought for three years until the end of the war. She continued living as a man after the war.
1861 – 1865 – Civil War. Read more at U.S. History Naval Institute Blog / Timeline of Military Gay History
1868 – Fourteenth Amendment Ratified. This is the most cited amendment in Supreme Court civil rights cases and has been the basis for landmark civil rights cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges. Gay rights advocates cite this amendment in support of equality for future court cases.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
1868 – Two-Spirit, We’wha, a Zuni Native American, meets with President Grover Cleveland.
Industrialization, Westward Expansion, Immigration and Religion (1870-1890)
1870 – Nearly 500,000 Americans had crossed the continental U.S. to the western territories since 1840. Just 10% of these travelers were women.
1879 – Death of Charley Parkhurst, well-known stagecoach driver in Central California who was born a woman, but lived as a man. Buried in Watsonville, Ca.
1886 – Henry James writes the book, The Bostonians, about a long term relationship between two women and the term “Boston Marriages” develops to describe two women living together, independent of financial support from a man.
1889 – Jane Addams, along with other women, open Hull House in Chicago that provided daycare, libraries, classes and an employment bureau for women.
1890 – The term, Lesbian, first used in a medical dictionary.
1890 – Hull House, founded by Jane Addams and other women opens in Chicago, IL with funding from her partner, Mary Rozet Smith.
1890 – Birth of Alan Hart who pioneered the use of the X-Ray for tuberculosis diagnosis and one of the first transgender men in history.
U.S. Rise as a World Power, World War 1, Harlem Renaissance and the Great Depression (1890 – 1939)
1892 – The pamphlet, “Psychopathia Sexualis” is translated from German and one of the first times the term bisexual is used. Written by Richard van Kraft-Ebbing. Translated by Charles Gilbert Chaddock.
1896 – Plessy v. Ferguson (Supreme Court Decision)By a vote of 7-1 declares racial segregation legal and is not an infringement on the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
1898 – U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (Supreme Court Decision)By a vote of 6-2 declares that people born in the U.S. are citizens of the U.S. even if parents are citizens of another country based on the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
1895 – Trial of Oscar Wilde (writer and novelist) in London, England and convicted for gross indecency (relationships with other men) and served two years in jail.
1896 – Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish German physician and sexologist issued a pamphlet, Sappho and Socrates, on homosexual love (under the pseudonym Th. Ramien).
1907 – Gertrude Stein meets Alice B. Toklas, sparking a legendary romance. In Paris, the two women set up a salon that connects many great writers and artists, including gays. Stein publicly declares her love for Toklas in print in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, published in 1933.
1907 – Hirschfeld, a Jewish German physician and sexologist, testified at a trial in Germany about a gay relationship and stated, “homosexuality was part of the plan of nature and creation just like normal love.”
1914 – 1918 – World War I
Read more at U.S. History Naval Institute Blog / Timeline of Military Gay History
1917-1935 – The Harlem Renaissance. Historians have stated that the renaissance was “as gay as it was black.” Some of the lesbian, gay or bisexual people of this movement included writers and poets such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Hurston; Professor Alain Locke; music critic and photographer Carl Van Vechten, and entertainers Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Gladys Bentley.
1919 – Hirschfeld, a Jewish German physician and sexologist, established the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin, Germany. During his lifetime, he was an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights
1924 – The Society for Human Rights, the first gay rights organization, was founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago who had emigrated from Germany. The organization ceased to exist after most of its members were arrested.
1928 – Radclyffe Hall, an English author, published what many consider a groundbreaking lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness. This caused the topic of homosexuality to be a topic of public conversation in both the United States and England.
World War II (1930-1945)
1933 (May 6) – In Germany, students led by Nazi Storm Troopers broke into the Institute for Sexual Science founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin and confiscated its unique library. Four days later, most of this collection of over 12,000 books and 35,000 irreplaceable pictures were destroyed along with thousands of other “degenerate” works of literature in the book burning in Berlin’s city center. (Hirschfeld was out of the country at the time and lived out the rest of his life in France).
1933 – 1945 – Nearly 100,000 German homosexual men were rounded up and placed in concentration camps along with Jewish people. They were designated by a pink triangle on their clothing.
1941 – Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all U.S. citizens participated in the war effort and enlistments occurred at the rate of 14,000 per day in 1942. Gay and lesbian people joined as well – men in the military living in same-sex dorms, and women as part of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and in factories on the home front found themselves in same-sex surroundings as well. In addition, men who fought in Europe, during their leave time, found same-sex relationships more relaxed than in the U.S.
1944-1945 – As the war came to an end, U.S., British and Soviet forces liberated people held in Nazi concentration camps in Germany.
1945 – German Homosexual men, designated by a pink triangle on their clothing, were the last group to be released from the Nazi concentration camps after liberation by the Allied forces because Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code stated that homosexual relations between males to be illegal.
Social Transformation and Foreign Policy Post WW2 / Lavender Scare (1945-1960)
1948 – Alfred Kinsey, an American biologist and sexologist at Indiana University issues the first report, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male, was published and discussed male homosexuality (Also known as the Kinsey report).
1950 – U.S. Congress issues the report entitled “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government” is distributed to members of Congress after the federal government had covertly investigated employees’ sexual orientation. The report states that since homosexuality is a mental illness, homosexuals “constitute security risks” to the nation.
1950 – The Mattachine Society formed in Los Angeles, California by activist Harry Hay and is one of the first sustained gay rights groups in the United States. The Society focused on social acceptance and other support for homosexuals. Various branches formed in other cities. The organization continues today with different objectives.
1952 – Christine Jorgensen became one of the most famous transgender people when she underwent a sex change operation and went on to a successful career in show business.
1952 – The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual lists homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance that could be treated.
1952 – U.S. Congress passed and President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Immigration Act that barred “aliens afflicted with a psychopathic personality, epilepsy or mental defect.” Congress made clear that this was meant to exclude “homosexuals and sex perverts.”
1953 – Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, was published and discussed female homosexuality.
1953 (April 27) – Executive Order 10450 issued by President Dwight D. Eisenhower banning homosexuals from working for the federal government stating they are a security risk. This order stays in place until 1993 when President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Congress enact the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
Read more at U.S. History Naval Institute Blog / Timeline of Military Gay History
1954 – Hernandez v. Texas (Supreme Court Decision)Unanimous decision declared that Mexican-Americans and other nationalities had equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Up to this time, non-White people were systematically excluded from serving on court juries.
1954 – Brown v. Board of Education (Supreme Court Decision)Unanimous decision that determined that separate was not equal in schools and violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Overturned previous decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that had declared that separate was equal.
1955 – Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization is founded in San Francisco, California by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. They hosted private social functions, fearing police raids, threats of violence and discrimination in bars and clubs. The organization lasted until 1969.
1957 – Frank Kameny, an astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service, was released from government service because of his homosexuality, an outgrowth of Executive Order 10450. He had earned his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University and was a professor of astronomy at Georgetown University before taking a government position. Kameny appealed the decision to the Supreme Court but was rejected.
1958 – One v. Olesen (Supreme Court Decision)Without oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a decision stating that first amendment free speech rights protected the publishing of “One Magazine”. Up to this point in time the U.S. Postal Service had the power to open any magazine or mail they determined to be “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious.” They also had the power to keep lists of people who received such publications; and had lists of homosexual men who received the publication, “One Magazine.” The publication was a gay man’s publication associated with the Mattachine Society.
Civil Rights, Space Race, Vietnam and Protests (1960-1975)
1961 – Frank Kameny, an astronomer dismissed from government service, forms the Washington D.C. branch of the Mattachine Society (The society was originally founded in Los Angeles in 1950).
1962 – Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts between two consenting adults in private.
1963 – Bayard Rustin, an associate of Martin Luther King, and a gay African American man helped organize the March on Washington that culminated with King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
1966 – Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, San Francisco. Transgender and drag queens in San Francisco reacted to ongoing harassment by the police force. After several days, the protests stopped. One of the outgrowths was the establishment of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit (NTCU) in support of transgender people.
1967 – The Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop opened in New York City by Craig Rodwell. The bookshop was the first of its kind in the U.S. that was devoted to gay history and gay rights.
1967 – Loving v. Virginia (Supreme Court Decision)Unanimous decision overturned state laws that prohibited inter-racial marriage or miscegenation laws. Agreed that anti-miscegenation laws violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. First miscegenation law was passed in 1691.
1969 (June 27-29) – The Stonewall Riots, New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City. In response to an unprovoked police raid on an early Saturday morning, over 400 people, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight people protested their treatment and pushed the police away from the area. Some level of rioting continued over the next six nights, which closed the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Riots became a pivotal, defining moment for gay rights. Key people at the riots who went on to tell their stories were: Sylvia Rivera, Martha P. Johnson, Dick Leitsch, Seymore Pine and Craig Rodwell.
1969 – Gay Liberation Front organization formed in New York following the Stonewall Riots to advocate for sexual liberation for all people.
1969 – The Gay Activist Alliance formed in New York by a group who were not satisfied with the direction of the Gay Liberation Front. Their purpose was more political and they wanted to “secure basic human rights, dignity and freedom for all gay people.”
1970 – The first gay pride marches were held in multiple cities across the United States on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, including San Francisco and Los Angeles / West Hollywood.
1971 – The “Body Politic” Magazine began publishing in Toronto, Canada. Became one of the most widely read publication regarding LGBT rights.
1972 – The National Bisexual Liberation Group formed in New York.
1972 – The play, “Coming Out!” written by Jonathan Ned Katz, is performed for the first time in New York and provides a historical perspective of gay life from the colonial period to the present.
1973 – Roe v. Wade (Supreme Court Decision) By a vote of 7-2 determined that women have a right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and choice regarding abortion.
1973 – The American Psychiatric Association, after considerable advocacy by Frank Kameny and members of the Mattachine Society, changed the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. It was not until 1987 that homosexuality was completely removed from the APA list of mental disorders. The APA found that “the latest and best scientific evidence shows that sexual orientation and expressions of gender identity occur naturally…and that in short, there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation, be it heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise, is a freewill choice.”
1974 – Elaine Noble becomes the first openly gay person to be elected as a state legislator; she served in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives for two terms.
The Conservative Resurgence (1975-2000)
1977 – Anita Bryant, former American singer and Miss America Pageant winner formed a group called “Save Our Children” to protest against a Dade County, Florida ordinance preventing discrimination against homosexuals. Her campaign was successful and the law was repealed. Gay and lesbian activists and organizations, including Harvey Milk, condemned the action and in response, boycotted Florida Citrus Commission products, for which Bryant was a spokesperson. In 1980, Bryant was fired as the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission and in 1998, a new gay and lesbian rights ordinance was passed. This was one of the first times the LGBT community realized the political power they possessed.
1978 – The Briggs Initiative, a statewide proposition in California, was defeated by 58% of the voters. The initiative would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools.
1975 – The Bisexual Forum founded in New York City and the Gay American Indians Organization founded in San Francisco.
1976 – The book, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A., is written by Jonathan Ned Katz based on his play of 1972. This was the first book that documented gay history in the U.S.
1977 – Harvey Milk elected county supervisor in San Francisco and becomes the third “out” elected public official in the United States. Quebec, Canada passed laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in both the private and public sectors.
1978 (June 25) – In San Francisco, the Rainbow Flag is first flown during the Gay Freedom Parade; the flag becomes a symbol of gay and lesbian pride.
1978 (Nov. 27) – San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone. Supervisor Dan White is convicted of voluntary manslaughter and is sentenced to seven years in prison.
1979 – National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Over 100,000 people gathered in support of gay and lesbian rights.
1979 – Chapters of the national organization of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are founded across the United States.
1981 (June 5) – AIDS Epidemic begins. The U.S. Center for Disease Control reported the first cases of a rare lung disease, which would be named AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) the following year. There were a total of 583, 298 U.S. men women and children who would die from AIDS through 2007.
1983 – San Francisco AIDS Foundation co-founded by Cleve Jones, Marcus Conant, Frank Jacobson and Richard Keller.
1983 – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Watkins v. United States Army. The New York Times published an article in 1991 detailing Perry Watkins’ settlement with the U.S. Army following his win in the courts.
1985 – Rock Hudson dies. He was a leading actor in many movies in the 1950s and 1960s. He died of complications related to AIDS. After his death, it was revealed that he was gay and had several male relationships.
1985 – The AIDS Quilt concept was conceived and implemented by Cleve Jones, an LGBT activist in San Francisco.
1986 – Bowers v. Hardwick (Supreme Court Decision)By a vote of 5-4 that a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults was legal and that there were no constitutional protections for acts of sodomy. (Was overruled in 2003: See Lawrence v. Texas).
1987 – The organization, ACT UP formed in New York. The purpose of ACT UP was to impact the lives of people living with AIDS, to advocate for legislation, medical research and treatment, and to bring an end to the disease. The organization is still active today.
1988 (Dec. 1) – The World Health Organization (WHO) declared December 1 as the first World AIDS Day.
1993 – The U.S. Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” that allowed gay and lesbian people to serve in the military. They would not be asked their sexual orientation during enlistment screening.
1994 – Greg Louganis, four-time Olympic gold medalist and considered one of the greatest divers in history, publicly came out as gay as part of the Gay Games in New York City. He subsequently wrote a book entitled Breaking the Surface that was published in 1996. In it he revealed his Olympic experiences, coming out journey, and that he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988.
1997 – Ellen DeGeneres, a comedian, TV actor and television host was one of the first popular entertainers who publicly came out as a lesbian during an interview on the Oprah Winfrey show and then became the first openly gay character on the TV show, “Ellen.” She was then highlighted on the cover of Time Magazine and other news organizations.
1998 – Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyo. and left to die because he was gay. He died from his wounds several days later. This was one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in America and resulted in a federal law passed 10 years later in 2009 called the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act”, a federal law against bias crimes directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.
The 21st Century Transformation (2000-Present)
2003 – Lawrence v. Texas (Supreme Court Decision)Ruled by a vote of 6-3 that a Kansas law criminalizing gay or lesbian sex was unconstitutional declaring the importance of constitutional liberty and privacy consistent with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Also overturned the court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) stating that the court had made the wrong decision.
2008 (November) – Proposition 8 passes with a 52% yes vote in California declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman.
2010 – The U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” so that gay and lesbian people could serve openly in the military. One person present at the signing ceremony in the White House was Frank Kameny who had been released from military service in 1958 because of discriminatory policies against gay and lesbian more at U.S. History Naval Institute Blog / Timeline of Military Gay History
2013 – Hollingsworth v. Perry / California Proposition 8 (Supreme Court Decision)By a vote of 5-4 agreed that the Supreme Court could not overrule the decision of the California Supreme Court and that the petitioners were not legally able to file this claim. In addition, it ruled that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit the state of California from defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Proponents of Proposition 8 in California appealed a lower court decision that ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court would not hear the case, which meant that Proposition 8 was held unconstitutional and that same-sex couples could legally be married in California.
2013 – U.S. v. Windsor / Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act – DOMA (Supreme Court Decision)By a vote of 5-4 ruled that defining marriage as just between a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment guarantee of equal protection. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 and stated that marriage or legal unions are between one man and one woman. This decision ruled the congressional law as unconstitutional and that states have the authority to define marital relationships. This decision was rendered the same day as the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry.
2015 – Obergefell v. Hodges (Supreme Court Decision)The Court voted 5-4 that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This decision mandated that states must allow same-sex couples to legally marry.
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A short history of LGBT rights in the UK this is vos layout title– >
The Buggery Act of 1533, passed by Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII, is the first time in law that male homosexuality was targeted for persecution in the UK. Completely outlawing sodomy in Britain – and by extension what would become the entire British Empire – convictions were punishable by death.
1951: First National Gay Rights Organization is Founded
During the 1950s, it would have been dangerous and illegal to register any kind of pro-gay organization. The founders of the first major gay rights groups had to protect themselves by using code.
The small group of gay men who created the Mattachine Society in 1951 drew on the Italian tradition of street comedy in which the jester-truthteller characters, the mattacini, revealed the flaws of pompous characters representing societal norms.
And the small group of lesbian couples who created the Daughters of Bilitis found their inspiration in an obscure 1874 poem, „The Song of Bilitis,“ which invented the character of Bilitis as a companion for Sappho.
Both groups essentially served a social function; they didn’t, and couldn’t, do much activism.
1961: Illinois Sodomy Law is Repealed
Founded in 1923, the American Law Institute has long been one of the most influential legal organizations in the country. In the late 1950s, it issued an opinion that stunned many: That victimless crime laws, such as laws banning sexual intercourse between consenting adults, should be abolished. Illinois agreed in 1961. Connecticut followed suit in 1969. But most states ignored the recommendation, and continued to classify consensual gay sex as a felony on par with sexual assault–sometimes with prison sentences of up to 20 years.
1969: The Stonewall Riots
1969 is often regarded as the year that the gay rights movement took off, and for good reason. Before 1969, there was a real disconnect between political progress, which was most often made by straight allies, and lesbian and gay organizing, which was most often swept under the rug.
When the NYPD raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village and started arresting employees and drag performers, they got more than they bargained for–a crowd of some 2,000 lesbian, gay, and transgender supporters of the bar took on the police, forcing them into the club. Three days of riots ensued.
A year later, LGBT activists in several major cities, including New York, held a parade to commemorate the revolt. Pride parades have been held in June ever since.
1973: American Psychiatric Association Defends Homosexuality
The early days of psychiatry were both blessed and haunted by the legacy of Sigmund Freud, who created the field as we know it today but sometimes had an unhealthy obsession with normalcy. One of the pathologies Freud identified was that of the „invert“–one who is sexually attracted to members of his or her own gender. For most of the twentieth century, the tradition of psychiatry more or less followed suit.
But in 1973, members of the American Psychiatric Association began to realize that homophobia was the real social problem. They announced that they would be removing homosexuality from the next printing of the DSM-II, and spoke out in favor of anti-discrimination laws that would protect lesbian and gay Americans.
1980: Democratic National Convention Supports Gay Rights
During the 1970s, four issues galvanized the Religious Right: Abortion, birth control, homosexuality, and pornography. Or if you want to look at it another way, one issue galvanized the Religious Right: Sex.
Leaders of the Religious Right were squarely behind Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. Democratic leaders had everything to gain and little to lose by supporting gay rights, so they inserted a new plank in the party platform: „All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation.“ Three years later, Gary Hart became the first major-party presidential candidate to address an LGBT organization. Other candidates of both parties have followed suit.
1984: City of Berkeley Adopts First Same-Sex Domestic Partnerships Ordinance
A key component of equal rights is the recognition of households and relationships. This lack of recognition tends to affect same-sex couples most during the times in their lives when they already face the greatest levels of stress–in times of illness, where hospital visitation is often denied, and in times of bereavement, where inheritance between partners is often unrecognized.
In recognition of this, The Village Voice became the first business to offer domestic partnership benefits in 1982. In 1984, the City of Berkeley became the first U.S. government body to do so–offering lesbian and gay city and school district employees the same partnership benefits that heterosexual couples take for granted.
1993: Hawaii Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Support of Same-Sex Marriage
In Baehr v. Lewin (1993), three same-sex couples challenged the State of Hawaii’s heterosexual-only marriage won. The Hawaii Supreme Court declared that, barring a „compelling state interest,“ the State of Hawaii could not bar same-sex couples from marrying without violating its own equal protection statutes. The Hawaii state legislature soon amended the constitution to overrule the Court.
So began the national debate over same-sex marriage–and the pandering efforts of many state legislatures to ban it. Even President Clinton got in on the act, signing the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 to prevent any future hypothetical same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits.
1998: President Bill Clinton Signs Executive Order 13087
Although President Clinton is often best remembered in the LGBT activism community for his support of a ban on lesbians and gay men in the military and his decision to sign the Defense of Marriage Act, he also had a positive contribution to offer. In May 1998, while he was in the midst of the sex scandal that would consume his presidency, Clinton authored Executive Order 13087–banning the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in employment.
2003: U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down All Remaining Sodomy Laws
Despite the considerable progress that had been made on gay rights issues by 2003, gay sex was still illegal in 14 states. Such laws, though seldom enforced, served what George W. Bush called a „symbolic“ function–a reminder that the government does not approve of sex between two members of the same gender.
In Texas, officers responding to a nosy neighbor’s complaint interrupted two men having sex in their own apartment and promptly arrested them for sodomy. The Lawrence v. Texas case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which struck down Texas‘ sodomy law. For the first time in U.S. history, celibacy was no longer the implicit legal standard for lesbians and gay men–and homosexuality itself ceased to be an indictable offense.
From death by hanging to the era of marriage equality
Fifty years ago, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 came into effect. The act, which decriminalised homosexual sex acts between consenting men over the age of 21, opened the door to a slew of legal and social changes which would transform the way British society viewed same-sex relationships over the next 50 years.
Here are some of the key dates in the history of gay rights in the UK:
1533: The Buggery Act, the first ever law to specifically outlaw anal sex, was signed into English law. The text of the act described „buggery“ as a „detestable and abominable Vice“, punishable by death whether committed with „mankind or beast“.
Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford, was the first person to be executed under the Buggery Act in 1540, although Historic England claims the charges were most likely „politically motivated“, given that Hungerford was also accused of treason and witchcraft.
1835: James Pratt and John Smith became the last men in Britain to be executed for homosexual acts. The two labourers had met a third man in a tavern and gone to his rented room, where the landlord claimed to have caught them engaged in „buggery“. They were hanged at Newgate prison, London.
Buggery ceased to be a capital crime in 1861, when the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 downgraded the punishment to life imprisonment in England and Wales. Scotland followed suit in 1889.
1885: The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 came into law. The act’s main purpose was to protect girls from sexual exploitation by raising the age of consent to 16, but another provision in the act criminalised „gross indecency“, which in practice extended existing laws against „buggery“ to criminalise all sex acts between men.
1895: Author Oscar Wilde’s ill-advised attempt to sue the father of his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, for publicly accusing him of being a „sodomite“ resulted in the writer himself being put on trial.
Wilde was convicted of „gross indecency“ with Douglas under the 1885 Act, and sentenced to two years‘ hard labour – the maximum sentence allowed by the law.
Physically ruined by the harsh prison regimen and impoverished by legal fees, Wilde died in 1900, three years after his release.
1955: Peter Wildeblood, a journalist convicted of buggery and sentenced to 18 months in Wormwood Scrubs, published Against the Law, a book detailing his persecution at the hands of the law, which helped to normalise the taboo subject of same-sex relations. The same year Wildeblood was the only openly gay man to testify before Lord Wolfenden’s inquiry, which would ultimately recommend the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
1957: The Wolfenden committee published its report, based on three years of testimony from police, psychiatrists and gay men themselves.
All but one of the committee’s 15 members, drawn from the world of politics, law, medicine and academia, agreed that homosexual acts between consenting men over the age of legal majority – 21 at the time – should not be a matter for the law.
1967: The Sexual Offences Act 1967 stipulated that private sex acts between consenting men over the age of 21 would no longer be a criminal offence in England and Wales, although Scotland did not follow suit until 1980 and Northern Ireland until 1982.
Despite cross-party support for the Act, MPs were hardly lining up to accept homosexuality as a legitimate orientation. „Even those supporting decriminalisation called homosexuality ‚a disability‘ and ‚a great weight of shame‘,“ says the Huffington Post.
1972: By the early 1970s, „gay rights organisations were springing up locally and nationally,“ says the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive. In 1972, upwards of 2,000 gay men and women marched in London’s first Pride parade.
1988: Then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 banning state schools from teaching or promoting the „acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship“.
The notorious „Section 28“ caused widespread outrage and as the catalyst for a massive surge in gay activism, including the formation of LGBT rights group Stonewall UK. Section 28 was repealed in Scottish law in 2000, and from English, Welsh and Northern Irish law in 2003.
2004: The Civil Partnership Act allowed same-sex couples to enter into same-sex unions with the same rights as married couples.
2014: The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which recognised same sex marriages, entered into law in England and Wales. Several gay couples were wed at the stroke of midnight on 29 March 2014, when the law officially came into effect.
Scotland legalised gay marriage in December 2014. Gay marriage remains illegal in Northern Ireland.
Where are LGBT rights improving?
Parts of Latin America remain the standard for equality for LGBT rights. Argentina’s Gender Identity Law 2012 allowed the change of gender on birth certificates for transgender people. It also legalised same-sex marriage in 2010, giving same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples, including the right to adopt children. Uruguay and Mexico City also allow equal marriage and adoption, and last weekColombia recognised its first legal same-sex civil union (not „marriage“).
In Asia, LGBT groups are making progess, if slowly. Last year, Vietnam saw its first gay pride rally and this year’s event will launch a campaign for equality in employment. On Tuesday, it was reported that the country’s ministry of justice has backed plans to legalise gay marriage, after the ministry of health came out for marriage equality in April.
In Singapore the Pink Dot pride rally attracted 21,000 people at the end of June – its biggest number since it started four years ago. „It’s a strong signal that Singapore is not as conservative as some think,“ Paerin Choa, a rally spokesman, told Reuters. Just hours before attending the rally, Vincent Wijeysingha became Singapore’s first openly gay politician when he officially came out. The country bans gay sex, though this is rarely enforced, but in April a gay couple, Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, attempted to get the law removed. Their case was dismissed, but they are appealing with the help of Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general.
The Human Dignity Trust filed a suit at the European court of human rights against Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, the only place in Europe where homosexuality is still illegal, and looks likely to win.
In a letter sent to the Kaleidoscope Trust, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago expressed her wish to repeal the laws that ban homosexuality. The prime minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, has voiced similar wishes. In June, Javed Jaghai was the lastest activist to launch legal proceedings to challenge the anti-sodomy laws (however, violence against gay people is increasing, and 17-year-old Dwayne Jones was stabbed to death last week at a party according to local media reports).
In Malawi, the president Joyce Banda announced in 2012 that laws criminalising homosexuality would be repealed – she has since distanced herself from that, although there has been a moratorium and there have been no prosecutions. „So it’s not just the global north where things are moving forward. In some parts of the world where you’d least expect them, things are getting better,“ says Stewart.
The number of countries legalising same-sex marriage continues to grow, with Denmark, Brazil, France and New Zealand just some that joined more progressive countries that had legalised it earlier. Last month in the US, where Barack Obama publicly supports equal marriage and it is legal in several states, the supreme court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (which prevented the federal government from recognising marriages between gay couples) as unconstitutional. And of course England and Wales now has the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.
Where are LGBT rights worsening?
In Iran, a place where homosexuality is punishable by death and you thought LGBT rights couldn’t really get worse, this year the country’s official who works on human rights described homosexuality as „an illness that should be cured“. Of course, gay rights are no better in many other Middle Eastern countries. The ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) provides a comprehensive look at state-sponsored homophobia in a 2013 report.
Two weeks ago, Eric Ohena Lembembe, was found at home in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. He had been tortured – his neck and feet broken, his body burned with an iron – and murdered. As the executive director of Camfaids, Lembembe was one of Cameroon’s most prominent and outspoken LGBT rights activists and openly gay – an astonishing act of bravery in a country where homosexuality is punishable with prison and violence against LGBT people is common and almost never investigated. Amnesty International’s 2013 report on global human rights stated even people who supported LGBT rights were being harrassed, particularly equality lawyers Alice Nkom and Michel Togue who had both received calls and text messages threatening to kill them and their children if they did not stop defending gay people who had been arrested. In June this year, Togue’s office was broken into and files and computers stolen. In March 2012, a workshop held to educate young people about LGBT issues was shut down.
Last week, two men were given prison sentences under the country’s anti-gay laws; in 2011, another man, Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé, was sentenced to three years in prison for sending a text message to another man. Men who are perceived to be gay are arrested, somtimes only on the basis of someone’s suspicions, and some are forced to undergo rectal examinations and tortured into confessing. „They have such an active prosecution system,“ says Cooper. „Although prosecutions do occur in other jurisdictions, you don’t have that kind of active prosecution policy that you have in Cameroon.“
After the death of Lembembe, gay-rights groups said they couldn’t continue their work unless they are given protection by international donors who fund the fight against HIV/Aids. „We have all decided to stop our work in the field because our security is at risk,“ said Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroun. „We have no protection from the police and we feel that our lives are at risk.“
Sharing a border with Cameroon, Nigeria’s anti-gay laws are becoming ever more draconian. It recently passed a bill outlawing same-sex marriage, punishable with a 14-year prison term. „Nobody in the country is seriously asking for gay marriage,“ says Stewart from the Kaleidoscope Trust. „There is no reason to legislate against it, when homosexual sex is already illegal. It also has more concerning provisions that ban the formation of groups that support LGBT rights and a series of provisions that if you know a homosexual but don’t turn them in, you are aiding and abetting. That isn’t on the statute books yet but it seems likely that it will pass in some form.“
Politicians in Uganda are attempting to pass a similar bill, at one point seeking to punish homosexual relationships with the death penalty; people found guilty of being gay will now face life imprisonment, and anybody – parents, teachers, doctors – who suspects someone in their care is gay will be punished if they do not report them.
Last week, President Mugabe told a rally of Zanu PF supporters that Zimbabwe would never accept homosexuality, and that gay people were „worse than pigs, goats and birds“. There are 38 African countries where homosexuality is illegal.
In Russia, gay rights are moving further away from other European countries. In an extreme version of Britain’s section 28, a new law will punish anybody disseminating „propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors expressed in distribution of information … aimed at the formation … of … misperceptions of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations“. It has also failed to comply with the 2010 judgment at the European court of human rights that requires it to allow gay pride events. Violence against LGBT people is rising. In May, there was a brutal murder of a man who had revealed to „friends“ he was gay. Official numbers of homophobic attacks are low, but LGBT activists say this is because attacks are not often reported, and when they are police rarely label them as such, but one poll last year of nearly 900 people by the Russian LGBT Network found more than 15% had experienced physical violence between November 2011 and August 2012.
Last week, the Pink News reported neo-Nazi groups in Russia has been luring gay teenagers to meetings, where they are forced to come out in videos that are then posted on social media sites. It reported that one victim, 19-year-old Alex Bulygin, killed himself after his sexuality was revealed.
Russia’s renewed attacks on homosexuality may be spreading beyond its borders – there are moves in Ukraine to adopt its own ban on „gay propaganda“ and in May the parliament dropped a bill that would have outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after a protest by anti-gay activists.
This article was amended on 31 July 2013. A reference to the timing of a Belize judgment was removed.
We call on Japan’s government to introduce and enact legislation to protect LGBT people from discrimination before the Olympics. It’s time for an Equality Act – and the countdown starts now.
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How are people tackling this discrimination?
LGBTI advocates have overcome enormous challenges and risks to their own personal safety to call out abuses of the human rights of LGBTI people, and force changes to laws that discriminate against them. From the introduction of the concept of Pride and global recognition days like the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (also known as IDAHOTB), LGBTI people are forging alliances and promoting pride in who they are worldwide. The collective efforts of activist organisations around the world has paid real dividends. Today, at least 43 countries recognise homophobic crimes as a type of hate crime. And as of May 2019, 27 countries have made same-sex marriage legal.
What does sexual orientation mean?
A person’s sexual orientation refers to who they are attracted to and form relationships with. Everyone’s sexual orientation is personal and it’s up to them to decide how – and if – they want to define it, and for some people this changes over time.
Sexual orientations include lesbian (women who are attracted to women), gay (usually men who are attracted to other men, bisexual (attracted to men and women), pansexual (attracted to individuals, regardless of gender), asexual (not sexually attracted to anyone).