A history of gay rights in America

In June 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen walked into Orlando’s gay nightclub Pulse, and shot and killed 49 people. 53 others were wounded. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Mateen was born in New York to Afghan parents and had been on the FBI’s radar a couple of times, once for inflammatory comments then again regarding a possible connection to an American suicide bomber in Syria. Both cases were closed.

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.

LGBTQ Rights Timeline in American History

The American Gay Rights Movement: A Timeline

This timeline provides information about the gay rights movement in the United States from 1924 to the present: including the Stonewall riots; the contributions of Harvey Milk; the „Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“ policy; the first civil unions; the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York; and more.

Go to International Policies on Same-Sex Marriage for an updated list on which countries have legalized gay marriage.

The American Gay Rights Movement: A Timeline

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.

The American Gay Rights Movement

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.

Gay rights movement

Gay rights in AmericaThe arc of history

A half-century of tenacious struggle has paid off slowly, but surely

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. By Lillian Faderman. Simon and Schuster; 816 pages; $35 and £25.

OF THE quarter of a million people who massed in Washington, DC, on August 28th 1963 to hear Martin Luther King proclaim “I have a dream”, few would have noticed—much less known what to make of—the six white men who stood in the crowd with signs identifying them as members of the “Mattachine Society”. One of them surveyed the vast ocean of faces and later asked his fellows, “Why aren’t we gays having civil-rights marches too?”

With gay Americans’ astonishing strides in the past decade, it is easy to forget that just a half-century ago the very notion of gay or transgender civil rights was as strange to most Americans as black civil rights had been a century earlier. Until the early 1960s government employees were fired for being homosexual, and the American Civil Liberties Union generally sided with the government. The few “homophile” organisations took deliberately obscure names; Mattachine was supposedly a French medieval secret fraternity.

Lillian Faderman’s new book, “The Gay Revolution”, is the most comprehensive history to date of America’s gay-rights movement. The story usually begins one hot night in 1969, when the drinkers at New York City’s Stonewall Inn responded to a routine police raid with a riot, waking the consciousness of many across the country. But Ms Faderman goes far beyond Stonewall, cataloguing the wearying political and legal battles that began two decades before and continue still.

A quarter of the book covers the little known pre-Stonewall years. Homophile organisations met in private homes and sympathetic churches, but after 1963 began marching. Their plaintiveness arouses pity now: small groups in business attire, picketing government buildings with signs reading, “Love and let love”. It is easy to forget what a rare breed they were, rejecting society’s view of them as deviants, and filing anti-discrimination lawsuits when no law recognised their right to do so.

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.

Gay rights movement

The is a term referring to myriad organizations, groups, and people broadly fighting for the rights of lesbiangaybisexual, and transgendered people (LGBT). The different segments of this social movement often share related goals of social acceptance, equal rights, liberation, and feminism. Others focus on building specific LGBT communities or working towards sexual liberation in broader society. LGBT movements organized today are made up of a wide range of political activism and cultural activity, such as lobbying and street marches; social groups, support groups, and community events; magazines, films, and literature; academic research and writing; and even business activity. While most activists are peaceful, there has been violence associated with this movement, as much on the part of those opposing as those promoting the rights.

The history of getting the gay out

It is dangerous to be different, and certain kinds of difference are especially risky. Race, disability, and sexuality are among the many ways people are socially marked that can make them vulnerable. The museum recently collected materials to document gay-conversion therapy (also called „reparative therapy“)—and these objects allow curators like myself to explore how real people experience these risks. With the help of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., Garrard Conley gave us the workbook he used in 2004 at a now defunct religious gay-conversion camp in Tennessee, called „Love in Action.“ We also received materials from John Smid, who was camp director. Conley’s memoir of his time there, Boy Erased, chronicles how the camp’s conversion therapy followed the idea that being gay was an addiction that could be treated with methods similar to those for abating drug, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions. While there, Conley spiraled into depression and suicidal thoughts. Conley eventually escaped. Smid eventually left Love in Action and married a man.

In the United States, responses to gay, homosexual, queer, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and gender non-conforming identities have fluctuated from „Yes!“ and „Who cares?“ to legal sanctions, medical treatment, violence, and murder. When and why being LGBTQ+ became something that needed „fixing“ has a checkered history. In the late 1800s attempts intensified to prevent, cure, or punish erotic and sexual desires that were not female-male. Non-conforming behavior underwent a dramatic shift as the word „homosexuality“ (coined in 1869)—a counter to heterosexuality—became popular. The main objections to non-binary orientations were based in physiology and psychology, religion, and beliefs about morality and politics.

When non-conforming identities were considered a medical disease, psychiatrists used medical treatments, such as electroconvulsive shock, lobotomy, drugs, and psychoanalysis to cure or prevent „deviancy.“ Psychologists in the 1960s and 1970s described being LGBTQ+ as an attachment disorder—that people were attached to inappropriate erotic or sexual desires. They believed that using aversions (such as electrical shock stimuli) could modify behavior and lead to heterosexuality and „cure.“ It did not work.

Homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder until 1973, when it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It returned to later editions under other names, downgraded to maladjustment. After science got out of the bedroom, the law removed itself as well in 2003 with the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision that invalidated sodomy laws. For the last 20 years or so, conversion therapy has been discredited scientifically and is no longer medically approved as effective or appropriate.

Just as religious conviction and faith are part of some addiction programs, religious beliefs about sexuality and gender form the only remaining justifications for „gay conversion.“ Religion justifies conversion, frames the therapy, and is called upon as strength for an individual’s „cure.“ Although outlawed in several states, religion-based seminars, camps, and individual sessions continue. Attempts to „save“ a person through reforming or curing a desire deemed sinful often have damaging effects. For example, bullying of and discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth contribute to high rates of suicide, addiction, and depression.

LGBTQ History Month: Early pioneers of the gay rights movement

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin — This couple founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S., in San Francisco in 1955.

Frank Kameny — One of the earliest gay rights activists, Kameny is known today for protesting after being fired from a U.S. government job for being gay. He led an „Annual Reminder“ picket protest for gay rights in Philadelphia until 1969. He was active in the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., and he and Barbara Gittings were active in persuading the American Psychiatric Association to delist homosexuality as mental disorder in 1973.

Ernestine Eckstein — Eckstein was active in the Daughters of Bilitis in New York City. She attended „Annual Reminder“ picket protests and was frequently one of the only women — and the only black woman — present at early LGBTQ rights protests. She was an early activist in the black feminist movement of the 1970s, and the organization Black Women Organized for Action.

Michael McConnell and Jack Baker — This couple was one of the first to push for the right to marry. In 1970, they applied for a marriage license in Minnesota, where existing laws did not forbid same-sex marriage. The right of same-sex couples to wed was recognized as constitutional by a 2015 decision of the Supreme Court.

Dick Leitsch — Leitsch was president the Mattachine Society, one of the first „homophile“ organizations in the U.S. He led „sip-in“ protests in New York City to protest the city’s ban on serving gay men.

Barbara Gittings — Gittings founded the New York chapter of Daughters of Bilitis in 1958. She and Frank Kameny worked together to delist homosexuality as a mental disorder, which the American Psychiatric Association approved in 1973.

Martha Shelley — One of the first members of the Gay Liberation Front, Shelley is one of the best-known lesbian activists in America. A writer and poet, she was also active in Lesbian activist group Lavender Menace. The name „Shelley“ was an alias taken to avoid being identified in FBI surveillance of the Daughters of Bilitis.

Rita Mae Brown — A lesbian activist and feminist active starting in the 1970s, Brown was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, Lavender Menace, and joined a lesbian commune in Washington, D.C., called „Furies Collective,“ whose founding documents stated: „Sexism is the root of all other oppressions, and Lesbian and woman oppression will not end by smashing capitalism, racism, and imperialism. Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy.“

Rev. Troy Perry — Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles in 1968. Perry’s church is one of the first to specifically minister to LGBTQ people, and he was present at the first Pride march in Los Angeles that took place on June 28, 1970.

20 Historic Moments in the Fight for LGBTQ Rights

As we celebrate this year’s Pride Month throughout the country, many of us are focused on the current issues that face the LGBTQ community, and what we can do moving forward to fix them. And while it’s hugely important to keep moving forward, it’s also important to look back, and see how far we’ve come. So, before you head out to the next Pride parade, take a look at some of the most major moments in our country’s history that have strongly propelled the LGBTQ rights movement forward.

World War I veteran Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. The group was the first gay rights group in America, and its newsletter, “Friendship and Freedom,” was the United States’ first recorded gay rights publication.

After the U.S. Post Office refused to deliver America’s first widely distributed pro-gay publication, ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court — and the court ruled in favor of gay rights for the first time, making it a major landmark case in LGBTQ history.

During a time when most bars refused to serve gay people, the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first gay rights organizations, staged a “Sip-In,” during which activists entered a New York City bar, announced they were gay, ordered drinks, and waited to be served.

In the early morning hours on June 28, 1969, police performed a raid of the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar — and the customers and their supporters took a stand. The event turned into a violent protest and led to a days-long series of riots. Those “Stonewall riots” are largely considered the start of the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the United States.

After years of studies, analysis, and changing cultural attitudes, the American Psychiatric Association’s board of directors removed a move that was upheld with a vote by the association’s membership.

After spending six years on Capitol Hill, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), voluntarily came out as gay, making him the second openly gay member of congress, and the first to come out voluntarily, in the country’s history.

Vermont became the first state in the country to give same-sex couples the right to enter into civil unions — legal partnerships which would grant those couples the same rights and benefits as those in legal marriages.

President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The act was named for two men who were murdered in hate crimes — Matthew Shepard because he was gay, and James Byrd, Jr. because he was black. The new law expanded previous hate crime legislation to officially categorize crimes motivated by actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability as hate crimes.

President Obama officially revoked the anti-gay, discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevented openly gay Americans from serving in the U.S. armed forces.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which became a law in 1996, declared that marriages between gay or lesbian couples were not recognized by the federal government, meaning those couples could not receive legal benefits — like Social Security and health insurance — that straight married couples could. But in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled DOMA to be unconstitutional, which meant same-sex couples married in their own states could receive those federal benefits.

For the first time in U.S. history, the words “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender,” were used in the president’s State of the Union address, when President Obama mentioned that, as Americans, we “respect human dignity” and condemn the persecution of minority groups.

After the tragic suicide of a transgender teenager who was subjected to Christian conversion therapy, President Obama publicly called for an end to the dangerous practice meant to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identities.

Though “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, sexual orientation was still not a protected class (unlike race, religion, sex, age, and national origin) under the Military Equal Opportunity Policy — until June of 2015, when the U.S. Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, announced that it would officially be added to the anti-discrimination policy.

The Supreme Court finally and officially declared same-sex marriage a Constitutional right nationwide, meaning all states must allow Americans to get married, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

In July of 2015, the U.S. Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, announced that the military would lift a ban that prevents transgender Americans from serving in the country’s armed forces. This rule went into effect, but now-President Donald Trump rescinded this right, again banning transgender people from the military as of April, 2019.

Senators Jeff Merkley, Tammy Baldwin, and Cory Booker, as well as Representative David Cicilline formerly introduced The Equality Act, which would make LGBTQ individuals a protected class and grant them basic legal protections in areas of life including education, housing, employment, credit, and more.

The Obama administration announced that they are preparing to designate New York’s Stonewall Inn, the site of those historic riots in 1969, the first-ever national monument dedicated to gay rights.

In the midst of anti-transgender movements throughout the country, President Obama and his administration issued a directive to all public schools that transgender students should be allowed to use the restrooms that reflect their gender identity. Again, President Trump has reversed these gains, enacting and proposing numerous anti-trans policies.

More than 150 LGBTQ candidates were elected into office in the 2018 midterm elections, putting a historic number of queer or transgender politicians in positions of power. These wins happened “from the U.S. Congress to governors’ mansions to state legislatures and city councils,“ Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Institute and Victory Fund, told NBC News.

Just ahead of Pride 2019, New York City announcedMarsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, activists who played critical roles in both the Stonewall riots and the NYC queer scene in general. The two started Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) in 1970, an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness. The monument will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, according to the New York Times.

Related: 8 Rainbow Recipes You MUST Try to Celebrate Pride

Gay Rights in america

Timeline Of Gay Rights In America“The Battle of Spanish Fork“

1960’sSince homosexuals often compare themselves with other minority groups like the Jews or the African Americans, they were very inspired by the African American Civil Rights Movement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His ideas, concepts, and demands for equal protection were adopted by the gay community, and especially King’s success is the key element for the sudden rise of the Gay Rights Movement only several years later.

1973 The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its official list of mental Milk runs for city supervisor in San Francisco. He runs on a socially liberal platform and opposes government involvement in personal sexual matters. Milk comes in 10th out of 32 candidates, earning 16,900 votes, winning the Castro District and other liberal neighborhoods. He receives a lot of media attention for his passionate speeches, brave political stance, and media skills.

1969 The Stonewall riots transform the gay rights movement from one limited to a small number of activists into a widespread protest for equal rights and acceptance. Patrons of a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn, fight back during a police raid on June 27, sparking three days of riots.

1924The Society for Human Rights in Chicago becomes the country’s earliest known gay rights organization.

1993 The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is instituted for the U.S. military, permitting gays to serve in the military but banning homosexual activity. President Clinton’s original intention to revoke the prohibition against gays in the military was met with stiff opposition; this compromise, which has led to the discharge of thousands of men and women in the armed forces, was the April 25, an estimated 800,000 to one million people participate in the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Several events such as art and history exhibits, public service outings and workshops are held throughout Washington, DC leading up the event. Jesse Jackson, RuPaul, Martina Navratilova, and Eartha Kitt are among the speakers and performers at a rally after the march. The march is a response to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, Amendment 2 in Colorado, as well as rising hate crimes and ongoing discrimination against the LGBT community.

1997One teacher, Wendy Weaver, who filed a lawsuit last fall against the Nebo School District, said that Spanish Fork High School officials violated her rights with an order preventing her from talking with students or staff members about her sexual orientation, even outside of his ruling, the judge, Bruce Jenkins of Federal District Court, agreed that Ms. Weaver’s rights of free speech, equal protection and due process had been violated. He ordered the school district to offer Weaver the coaching position and to lift the order. Judge Jenkins also awarded Ms. Weaver the $1,500 she was seeking in damages.

TodayThe fight between each states decision to make same sex marriages legal is still happening. Many states have passed the law alowing same sex marriages. Many Gay hate crimes remain today. People are not willing to tolerate others. Gays are still not treated equal in the work place, home, or in the military.


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.

Stonewall Riots

The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents .. more

7 Surprising Facts About the Stonewall Riots and the Fight for LGBTQ Rights

The movement for LGBTQ rights in the United States dates at least as far back as the 1920s, when the first documented gay rights organization was founded. Since then, various groups have advocated for LGBTQ rights and the movement accelerated in the wake of the Stonewall Riots of .. more

How Activists Plotted the First Gay Pride Parades

Everything changed at 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, when the New York city police barged into the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall was operating without a liquor license at 51-53 Christopher Street in Manhattan. The N.Y. State Liquor Authority did not give out licenses to .. more

What Happened at the Stonewall Riots? A Timeline of the 1969 Uprising

On a hot summer night in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village that served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian and transgender community. At the time, homosexual acts remained illegal in every state except Illinois, and bars .. more

Stonewall Riots Apology: NYPD Commissioner Says 1969 Police Raids Were ‚Wrong‘

Police crowded the Stonewall Inn, beating the bar’s patrons with nightsticks and brandishing their guns. In 1969, it was common practice for police officers in New York and other cities to harass owners and patrons of bars that they suspected of providing safe harbor for gay .. more

Gay Marriage

In the landmark 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, making gay marriage legal throughout America. The ruling was a culmination of decades of struggles, setbacks and victories along the road .. more

How the Mob Helped Establish NYC’s Gay Bar Scene

It was an unlikely partnership. But between New York’s LGBT community in the 1960s being forced to live on the outskirts of society and the Mafia’s disregard for the law, the two made a profitable, if uneasy, match. As the gay community blossomed in New York City in the 1960s, .. more

The Supreme Court Rulings That Have Shaped Gay Rights in America

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) was established in 1789, but it didn’t rule on a case that directly influenced gay rights until nearly 170 years later. Since then, the highest federal court in the country has weighed-in on about a dozen other LGBTQ rights–related .. more

The world mourns

Following the shooting the world showed support for Orlando and its victims, mass vigils taking place from Hong Kong to Paris. „I am Orlando,“ said one message in Los Angeles. Speculation that Mateen himself had been gay could not be proven.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis

The battle for gay rights in America has been raging since the mid-twentieth century and is clearly nowhere near over.

On September 3, 2015, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was thrown in jail on a contempt of court charge for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Kentucky. She claims the Supreme Court ruling conflicts with her Christian faith.

Five days later, U.S. District Judge David Bunning lifted the contempt order against Davis, saying he was satisfied that her deputies are fulfilling their obligation to grant licenses in her absence. Bunning warned, however, that there will be trouble if Davis tries to interfere with the issuance of those licenses in any way.

Kim Davis

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is set to be released September 8, 2015, just before she was to receive jailhouse visits from presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz.

Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her as a result.

Supreme Court says „I do“

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriages. This decision marked a long fought victory for the LGBT community that included many milestones of disappointment and tragedy on the road to equal rights.

Kinsey Report

In 1948, Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, an American biologist and sex researcher, published a book of his findings, called „Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.“ The „Kinsey Report,“ as it came to be known, concluded that sexuality exists on a scale and that homosexual behavior is not limited to those who identify as homosexuals.

Rather, Kinsey’s research found that 37 percent of all males enjoy homosexual relations at one point or another in their lives. These findings shocked the psychologists and psychiatrists of the time, who long considered homosexuality a sociopathic personality disorder.

Cold War Investigation

At the beginning of the Cold War, the U.S. government conducted a secret investigation into the sexual orientation of its employees.

On December 15, 1950, the findings of that investigation were then circulated to all members of Congress in the form of a Senate Report, entitled „Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government.“

The report stated that, „those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons,“ and as such, „constitute security risks“ to the nation. Accordingly, thousands of gay men and women were dismissed from their positions within the U.S. government and military over the next few years, in what would become known as „the lavender scare.“

Daughters of Bilitis

On September 21, 1955, the Daughters of Bilitis formed in San Francisco, as America’s first lesbian rights organization.

Its purpose is to host social events and push for social change through education. Chapters quickly spring up in other cities across the country as well.

This photo shows 1960s newsletters from the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis.

Evelyn Hooker

On August 30, 1956, Evelyn Hooker presents at the American Psychological Association Convention in Chicago.

She conducted Rorschach and other psychological tests and groups of both homosexual and heterosexual men, and concluded that they do not differ significantly enough to consider homosexuality a clinical entity.

Her paper, „The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual,“ is groundbreaking and helps to explode the notion that homosexuality is a mental illness.

Stonewall Riots

Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, police attempted to raid a Greenwich Village gay bar, called the Stonewall Inn.

The gay youth inside, however, were sick of police raiding their bars in attempt to rid local neighborhoods of „sexual deviants.“ So, they fought back.

Thousands of protestors clashed with police officers in the streets outside Stonewall for three days. The riots are credited with reigniting the modern gay rights movement in America, and the Stonewall Inn was granted landmark status in June 2015.

Stonewall Riots

On June 28, 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, thousands of members of the LGBT community took to the streets of Manhattan and marched all the way to Central Park.

This „Christopher Street Liberation Day“ is now considered America’s first gay pride parade.

UpStairs Lounge arson attack

On June 24, 1973, the Upstairs Lounge — a gay bar on the second floor of a building in the French Quarter of New Orleans — was intentionally set on fire, and 32 people perished inside.

Most of the victims were found near the windows in the background, attempting to escape the blaze. This arson incident remains the deadliest attack on the LGBT community in United States history. And no one was ever charged with the crime.

Here, the charred remains of the Upstairs Lounge are seen on June 25, 1973, the day after the attack.

One, Inc. v. Olesen

In January 1958, the Supreme Court took up the historic case, One, Inc. v. Olesen; a suit, which was filed after the U.S. Postal Service and the FBI declared the contents of „One: The Homosexual Magazine,“ obscene.

Citing the First Amendment, it was the first time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay rights.

Harvey Milk

In January 1974, Kathy Kozachenko is elected to the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council, becoming the first openly gay American ever elected to public office.

Then, on November 8, 1977, Harvey Milk, seen here, wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Before his assassination in 1978, Milk used his political position to fight discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the workplace.

March on Washington – 1987

On October 11, 1987, after six years of federal inaction with regards to the rapidly worsening AIDS crisis, 50,000 gay rights activists marched on Washington to demand that President Reagan address the epidemic.

In this photo, terminally ill AIDS victims are pushed in wheelchairs as they participate in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Matthew Shepard

On October 7, 1998, a gay college student, named Matthew Shepard, was tortured and murdered near Laramie, Wyoming because of his sexual orientation.

In response, thousands of people converged outside the U.S. Capitol, demanding some sort of political action to help stop hate crimes and draw attention to victims of anti-gay violence.

Here, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) gestures to the crowd as he walks to a podium at the U.S. Capitol to give a speech in Matthew Shepard’s honor, a week after the young man’s death.

Gay marriage – Massachusetts

On May 18, 2004, Massachusetts becomes the first state to legalize gay marriage, after its state Supreme Judicial Court concludes that marriage is a constitutional right.

Here, a crowd applauds a gay couple as they emerge from City Hall after applying for a marriage license in the early hours of May 17, 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cambridge City Hall opened its doors before midnight that night to become the first city in Massachusetts to issue licenses for same sex marriages.

LGBT Presidential Forum

On August 9, 2007, the Human Rights Campaign teamed up with the Logo cable channel to host the first ever American presidential forum, focusing specifically on LGBT issues.

All of that year’s presidential candidates were invited to participate, but only the six Democratic candidates did.

Here, New York Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) fields questions at the Visible Vote ’08 Presidential Forum in Los Angeles, California. From left are: panelists Jonathan Capehart, Joe Solmonese, Melissa Ethridge, and moderator Margaret Carlson.

Prop. 8

On November 4, 2008, California voters approve Proposition 8 on their ballots, rendering gay marriage illegal in California and sparking protests across the country.

Thousands of gay marriage supporters carry signs during a rally against the passing of Prop. 8 in San Francisco, November 15, 2008.


The passing of Prop. 8 in California sparks the creation of the NOH8 Campaign, a charitable organization and form of photographic silent protest, in which celebrities and gay rights supporters take pictures with duct tape over their mouths to symbolize gay rights ‚being silenced.‘

Here, actress Emmy Rossum attends a march following the California Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold Proposition 8 in West Hollywood, California, May 26, 2009.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act

President Obama applauds the sisters of James Byrd, Jr. and the parents of Matthew Shepard, during a reception in the East Room of the White House, October 28, 2009 on the day Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The expands the existing 1969 U.S. Federal Hate Crime Law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

In 1998, when Matthew Shepard was a college student in Wyoming, he was murdered for being gay. Byrd, an African American man, was dragged behind a pickup truck to his death in Texas that same year.

U.S. Senate repeals DADT

Activists listen during a „Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“ rally, held by the Service members Legal Defense Network, on Capitol Hill, before the vote on the National Defense Authorization Bill on December 18, 2010.

The U.S. Senate voted 65-31 to pass a National Defense Authorization Bill, which includes the repeal of „Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.“ In doing so, gay Americans can now serve openly in the U.S. military.

New York Pride

A number of states followed Massachusetts‘ example, including New York on June 24, 2011.

Here, people wave flags during the 2011 NYC LGBT Pride March on the streets of Manhattan, just days after New York state legislators approved the bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

Supreme Court says „I do“

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry; a historic victory in the fight for gay rights.

Specifically, the Justices concluded that the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages.

Gay rights supporters celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, after the historic ruling.


At 8:39 a.m. on June 26, 2015, in response to the Supreme Court upholding gay marriage, President Obama tweeted:

„This ruling is a victory for friends, families, and organizers who fought tirelessly for years for marriage equality. #LoveWins“

An avatar depicting the White House in rainbow colors then appeared on the White House’s Twitter feed.

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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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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.