LGBT movements in the United States

LGBT movements in the United States

LGBT movements in the United States comprise an interwoven history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender social and political movements in the United States of America, beginning in the early 20th century. They have been influential worldwide in achieving social progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual people.

Daughters of Bilitis

The Daughters of Bilitis, or DOB as it was popularly known, was founded in 1955 in San Francisco, California. It was part of what was known as the Homophile movement in the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement. It produced a model for many of the later organizations for lesbian and bisexual women.

The DOB was formed by eight lesbians, including Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin who began meeting with other female couples to create a social alternative to bars. One of the main priorities was to provide a place for women to dance together since it was illegal for women to do so in public bars. The name chosen for this work, Daughters of Bilitis, was taken from a lesbian themed song cycle by the French poet Pierre Louÿs, in which Bilitis was an isle of Lesbos alongside Sappho. It was a deliberately obscure name chosen, Lyon said, "because no one would know what it meant."Gallo, Marcia. "Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement". Carroll & Graf Publishers; 2006.] The name was intended to have no significance or reveal who and what they were to the mainstream public.

It was at first a social club and was influenced by the Mattachine Society, a gay men's group, which had been formed earlier in Los Angeles in about 1951. The DOB allied itself with the Mattachine group and also a popular gay magazine of the time, ONE, Inc., which was largely staffed and edited by members of the Mattachine Society. From this point on the DOB became more politically oriented. The activities of the DOB included hosting public forums on homosexuality, offering support to isolated, married, and mothering lesbians, and participating in research activities. The DOB collected some of the first statistics on lesbians in the United States by mailing surveys to the readers of "The Ladder" in 1958 and again in 1964, and compiling the results of what was returned.

Both Lyon and Martin were invaluable driving forces behind the DOB’s successes. Martin was the first president and Lyon became the editor of the DOB's monthly magazine, "The Ladder", launched in October 1956 and between the two of them spent most of their free time and money invested in keeping the DOB alive and healthy.

The two women had a conservative focus and did not pursue overtly political or militant material or actions while having a dominant influence in the DOB’s activities. They advised conformity to the straight mainstream, and discouraged activities which would make them objectionable to or visibly different from the straight mainstream, such as crossdressing. The organization grew quickly and by 1958 had chapters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Rhode Island, but never attracted the kind of numbers the gay male organizations did.

In the mid 1960s the focus of the DOB shifted under the leadership of Barbara Gittings, who also became the editor of "The Ladder" in 1963. Often desperate to have anyone of authority address the group, DOB facilitators often asked medical professionals, psychiatrists, and religious leaders who were considered experts in homosexuality, even if the speaker insulted lesbians. The focus of meetings began to change when, following a psychiatrist who declared homosexuals as psychopaths, Gittings heard a speech by Frank Kameny in which he declared homosexuals as normal as heterosexuals. Gittings began to address issues in "The Ladder" that reflected this more independent belief.Katz, Jonathan. "Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A." (New York: Harper, 1976) ISBN 0060912111]

Gittings remained the editor of "The Ladder" until 1966. In 1968, Barbara Grier became the editor, and was its most militant feminist. She made significant changes in the magazine, even dropping the word "lesbian" from the subheading "A Lesbian Review" to attract more feminist readers.Soares, Manueala. "The Purloined Ladder: Its Place in Lesbian History." "Journal of Homosexuality" (The Haworth Press, Inc.) Vol. 34, No. 3/4, 1998, pp. 27-49.]

Martin and Lyon became increasingly discontent with the shift from lesbian rights to women's rights. This led to the eventual demise of the group over differences in 1970, and "The Ladder" ceased publication in 1972 after financial difficulties. Despite it’s demise, the DOB was a highly important part of GLBTQ history. It had fought openly for legal reform and gay civil rights and more research into lesbian life while increasing the understanding of lesbian life inside and outside of the lesbian community.

Martin and Lyon also have the distinction of being the first gay couple to be married in an act of civil disobedience in the historic San Francisco 2004 same-sex weddings. Their marriage was voided 6 months later by the California Supreme Court.

Mattachine Society

The Mattachine Society was perhaps one of the earliest and influential American gay movement groups. Formed in Los Angeles in 1950 by a leading gay activist, along with seven other gay men, it rapidly began to influence gay society and politics. The name is in reference to the society Mattachine, a French medieval masque group that supposedly traveled broadly using entertainment to point out social injustice. The name symbolized the fact that gays were a masked people, who lived in anonymity.

The Mattachine founders attempted to use their personal experience as gay men to redefine the meaning of gay people and their culture in the United States and set goals for cultural and political liberation.

In 1951, the Society adopted a Statement of Missions and Purpose. This statement stands out today in the history of the gay liberation movement by identifying two important themes. First, it called for a grassroots movement of gay people to challenge anti-gay discrimination, and second, it recognized the importance of building a gay community.

The society also began sponsoring discussion groups in 1951, which provided Lesbian and gay men an ability to openly share feelings and experiences. For many, this was the first opportunity to do so, and such meetings where often highly emotional affairs. Attendance at these Mattachine Society meetings made dramatic increases over the next few years, and such discussion groups spread throughout the United States, even beginning to sponsor social events, write newsletters and publications, and hold fundraisers.

A group within the Mattachine Society, ONE, incorporated and produced "ONE magazine". It was independent from the Society, but its first editor and most of its editorial board were members of the society. The Los Angeles Postmaster seized and refused to mail copies of "ONE Magazine" in 1954 on grounds that it was "obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy." This action lead to prolonged court battles which had significant influence on gay and lesbian movements. In 1958, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously in One, Inc. v. Olesen that the mere discussion of homosexuality was not obscene, and the magazine continued to be published and distributed until 1972.

The Society became highly active in protesting police entrapment and oppressive tactics and policies toward gay men.

Because of the communist leanings of some of the Society's members, particularly it's primary founder, and its political actions, the society was forced to endure heavy pressure and public scrutiny during the anti-communist McCarthyism period. In a column of the Los Angeles newspaper in March 1953 in regards to the Society, it was called a "strange new pressure group" of "sexual deviants" and "security risks" who were banding together to wield "tremendous political power."

This article created a panic among society members and resulted in public meetings of gay people. These were attended by delegates representing hundreds of discussion group participants. A strong coalition of conservative delegates emerged that challenged the societies goals, even the idea that gay people were a legitimate minority group, because they thought such things would encourage hostility among the mainstream public. The Society board members disagreed, but fearing consequences of government investigation of society activities, the original founders resigned in 1953, and the organization was turned over to the conservative elements who began a restructure of it.

The former goals were revised. Rather than social change, they advocated accommodation, and rather than mobilizing gay people, they sought the support of the psychiatric profession who they believed held the key to reform. This, however, had a devastating effect as discussion group attendance declined and many local chapters folded. The national structure was dissolved in 1961, and even the New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco chapters remained active for only a few more years. The societies' influence continually decreased as any kind of political or social power after the "Los Angeles News" article.

Other organizations used the name "Mattachine" that were not formally associated with the original Mattachine Society or its national structure. For example, Chicago’s Mattachine Midwest, established in 1965 was a completely independent organization. Other organizations such as the San Francisco Society for individual Rights, Gay Liberation Front, and Gay Activists Alliance became dominant in the gay liberation movement after Mattachine declined. Because of its failure to adapt to the increasing militancy of gay men and lesbians, the Mattachine faded away after the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969.

ONE, Incorporated

ONE, Inc. was started by William Dale Jennings joined with Don Slater, Dorr Legg, Tony Reyes, and Mattachine Society founder Harry Hayes. It formed the public part of the early homophile movement, with a public office, public meetings, a telephone, and the first publication that reached the general public, "ONE Magazine".

Later, part of ONE became the Homosexual Information Center, formed by Don Slater, Billy Glover, Joe and Jane Hansen, Tony Reyes, Jim Schneider, et al. Part of ONE's archives are at USC and part at CSUN. The funding part of ONE still exists as the Institute for the Study of Human Resources, which controls the name ONE, Inc.

Websites for parts of ONE and HIC are:

[ HIC]
[ One Archives]

tudent rights movements

Although students attracted to others of the same sex had developed semi-private meeting places and informal social networks at many colleges and universities since at least the early twentieth century, the first formally recognized gay student organizations were not established until the late 1960s. But the success of these early groups, along with the inspiration provided by other college-based movements and the Stonewall riots, led to the proliferation of Gay Liberation Fronts on campuses across the country by the early 1970s.

At many colleges and universities, these organizations were male-dominated, prompting lesbians to demand greater inclusion and often to form their own groups. In the 1980s and 1990s, bisexual and transgender students likewise sought recognition, both within and separate from lesbian and gay organizations. At the same time, high school and junior high school students have begun to organize Gay-Straight Alliances, enabling even younger glbtq people to find support and better advocate for their needs.

Early student groups

The Student Homophile League was the first student gay rights organization in the United States, established at Columbia University in 1967. Its founder, Stephen Donaldson, was a former member of the New York City chapter of the Mattachine Society. He established the Student Homophile League because was forced by school administration to move out of his residence hall after complaints from roommates about living with a homosexual man. When Donaldson began meeting other GLBTQ students, he suggested they form a Mattachine-like organization on campus, and envisioned it as the first in a national coalition of student gay rights groups.

With his assistance, Student Homophile League branches were chartered at Cornell University and New York University in 1968 and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Spring of 1969. This lead to the formation of two non-affiliated groups, the Homosexuals Intransigent at the City University of New York and FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression) at the University of Minnesota in 1969, now the Queer Student Cultural Center.

These first student organizations provided support to individuals who questioned their sexuality. They passed out gay rights literature, held dances and other social events, and sponsored lectures about the gay experience. Through their efforts, the campus climate for GLBTQ people improved, and made it possible for many others to actually accept themselves and come out. Also, by gaining institutional recognition and establishing a place on campus for GLBTQ students, the groundwork was laid for the creation of GLBTQ groups at colleges and universities throughout the country. By 1971, such groups had surfaced at more than 175 educational institutions across the United States.

Gay liberation fronts

Although the pre-Stonewall student Homophile Leagues were most heavily influenced by the Mattachine Society, the Post Stonewall student organizations were more likely to be inspired and named after the more militant Gay Liberation Front or (GLF). It was formed in New York City in summer of 1969, and in Los Angeles by activist Morris Kight the same year.

GLF-like campus groups held sponsored social activities, educational programs, and provided support to individual members much like the earlier college groups. However, activists in the GLF-type groups generally were much more visible and more politically oriented than the pre-stonewall gay student groups. These new activists were often committed to radical social change, and preferred confrontational tactics such as demonstrations, sit-ins, and direct challenges to discriminatory campus policies. This new defiant philosophy and approach was influenced by other militant campus movements such as Black Power, anti-Vietnam war groups, and student free speech movements. Many GLF members were involved with other militant groups such as these, and saw gay rights as part of a larger movement to transform society; their own liberation was fundamentally tied to the liberation of all peoples.

Lesbian feminist groups

Despite the fact that most of these early groups stated themselves to support women’s liberation, many of the gay student groups were dominated by men. In fact, activities were more aimed at the needs of gay men, even to the point of exclusion to the needs of lesbians and bisexual women. This extended to frequently directing attention to campus harassment of gay men while ignoring the concerns and needs of gay women. Gay women were frequently turned off by the focus on male cruising at many of these events, and as a result, lesbians and bisexual women on some campuses began to hold their own dances and social activities.

As gay began to increasingly refer only to gay men in the 1970s, many lesbians sought to have the names of gay student organizations changed to include them explicitly, or formed their own groups. They saw a need to organize around their oppression as women as well as lesbians, since they knew they could never have an equal voice in groups where men held the political power.

Gay Liberation Front

When the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City in June 1969, an unprecedented riot broke out among the patrons. Throughout the weekend, gay men and lesbians came to the Stonewall to protest the police and their abusive tactics.

This event served as a catalyst for the emergence of a new breed of gay militant activists quite unlike the more conventional organizations of the past two decades, and became known as gay liberation. Within weeks of the Stonewall event, gay and lesbian activists organized the Gay Liberation Front, using much of what had been built upon by the earlier groups. The GLF saw itself as revolutionary, and wished to effect a complete transformation of society. It hoped to dismantle social institutions such as heterosexual marriage and the traditional family unit. It also opposed, often forcefully, consumer culture, militarism, racism, and sexism.

Although the Stonewall raid was a catalyst for gay activism, a similar raid at the Los Angeles bar called "The Black Cat" in the Silverlake neighborhood, preceded the Stonewall riot by 18 months.

The GLF’s statement of purpose clearly stated: "We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature." GLF groups rapidly spread throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Members did not limit activism to gay causes. In late 1960s and early 1970s, many homosexuals joined protests with other radical groups such as the Black Panthers, women’s liberationists and anti-war activists. Lesbians brought the principles of radical feminism on the emerging new philosophy, and GLF activists argued that the institution of heterosexual families necessitated the oppression of homosexuals, allowing them to define their gayness as a form of political resistance. GLF activist Martha Shelley wrote, "We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex role structure and nuclear family structure."

GLF was shaped in part by the Students for a Democratic Society, a radical student organization of the times. Allen Young, a former SDS activist, was key in framing GLF’s principles. He asserted that "Gay is good for all of us" and "the artificial categories of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ have been laid on us by a sexist society, as gays, we demand an end to the gender programming which starts when we are born, the family, is the primary means by which this restricted sexuality is created and enforced, Our understanding of sexism is premised on the idea that in a few society everyone will be gay."

Though the GLF effectively ceased to exist in 1972, unable to successfully negotiate the differences among its members, its activists remained committed to working on political issues and the issue of homosexuality itself.

The legacy of GLF

Despite the GLF's short life span, and differences from more passive homophile groups such as Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, it transformed the coming out process. It took an experience previously reserved for a small group of friends to a strategic political tool, encouraging gay men and lesbians to take pride in their homosexuality and disclose it publicly. The GLF helped bring about gay and lesbian politics that are still ongoing today.

Even though many activists became disenchanted with the organization, their determination to carry forth the spirit of gay liberation through new groups such as the Gay Activists Alliance and the Radicalesbians proved invaluable in the continuing fight for GLBTQ rights.

GLF's legacy informed gay and lesbian activism throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s when groups such as ACT UP and Queer Nation formed to fight AIDS and homophobia. Many of the leaders of these two groups had been either active in or heavily influenced by the ideas first promoted by GLF.

Queer Nation

Queer Nation arrived on the scene in the summer of 1990, when militant AIDS activists at New York's Gay Pride parade passed out to the assembled crowd an inflammatory manifesto, printed on both sides of a single newspaper-sized piece of newsprint, bearing the titles I Hate Straights! and Queers Read This! Within days, in response to the brash, "in-your-face" tone of the broadside, Queer Nation chapters had sprung up in San Francisco and other major cities.

Described by activist scholars Allan Bérubé and Jeffrey Escoffier as the first "retro-future/postmodern" activist group to address gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender concerns, the short-lived organization made a lasting impact on sexual identity politics in the United States. To a significant degree, the relative frequency and acceptability of glbtq representation in mass culture in the 1990s and early twenty-first century can be dated to the emergence of Queer Nation.

Queer Nation had no formal structure or leadership and relied on large, raucous, community-wide meetings to set the agendas and plan the actions of its numerous cleverly named committees and sub-groups (such as LABIA: Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action, and SHOP: Suburban Homosexual Outreach Project). Queer Nation's style drew on the urgency felt in the AIDS activist community about the mounting epidemic and the paucity of meaningful governmental response, and was inspired largely by the attention-grabbing direct-action tactics of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

Rather than launching long-term campaigns to create social change, Queer Nation favored short-term, highly visible, media-oriented actions, such as same-sex kiss-ins at shopping malls. Their political philosophy was succinctly summed up in the now-cliched slogan, "We're Here. We're Queer. Get Used to It."

A signal accomplishment of the group was to reclaim a set of positive associations for an old epithet, " queer," and to assert that queer people had a right to take up cultural spacendash right here, right nowndash with no apologies and no arguments.

Just as importantly, "queer" became an important concept both socially and intellectually, helping to broaden what had been primarily a gay and lesbian social movement into one that was more inclusive of bisexual and transgender people. Rather than denote a particular genre of sexual identity, "queer" came to represent any number of positions arrayed in opposition to oppressive social and cultural norms and policies related to sexuality and gender. The lived political necessity of understanding the nexus of gender and sexuality in this broadening social movement in turn helped launch the field of "queer studies" in higher education.

Use of the term "queer" was never universally embraced by all segments of the constituencies that the concept of "queerness" could potentially represent; indeed, the term often evoked intense hostility. Queer Nation chapters were rife with dissension over issues of race, gender, and class, and they ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own internal contradictions--"queer," after all, means "diversity," whereas "nation" implies "sameness."

Still, in spite of its shortcomings, the shift in perceptions and tactics marked by the emergence of Queer Nation is an important foundation of the current notion of an inclusive gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

Identity politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group (often relying on shared experiences of oppression). Groups who engage in identity politics include not only those organized around sexual and gender identities, but also around such identities as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and disability.These groups engage in such activities as community organizing and consciousness-raising, as well as participating in political and social movements.

The most important and revolutionary element of identity politics is the demand that oppressed groups be recognized not in spite of their differences but specifically because of their differences. Identity politics was an important, and perhaps necessary, precursor to the current emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity in American society.

Proponents of identity politics argue that those who do not share the identity and the life experiences that it brings to members of an oppressed group cannot understand what it means to live life as a person with that identity. That is, people who do not share a particular group identity cannot understand the specific terms of oppression and thus cannot find adequate solutions to the problems that members of the group face.

Thus, advocates of identity politics believe in self-determination on the part of oppressed groups. They argue, for example, that glbtq people should determine the curriculum in queer studies departments, be responsible for developing social services programs aimed at queer communities, and be represented politically in all debates about laws and policies pertaining to queer people.Identity politics assumes that the shared identity and experiences of glbtq people is a rational basis for political action, notwithstanding the different (and sometimes competing) interests of individual members of the queer communities. Basic to this assumption is the idea that glbtq people constitute a legitimate political constituency deserving of equal rights and representation.Identity politics has been important in the development of inclusive queer movements, since it insists on the necessity of incorporating the perspectives of the diverse glbtq constituencies in order to serve the varied needs of a notably fragmented community.

Identity politics has sometimes been criticized as naïve, fragmenting, essentialist, and reductionist. Some critics question whether sexual identity itself is a stable element of an individual's personality and have questioned whether it makes sense to base a political movement on so nebulous a concept. Social critic bell hooks, for example, argues that identity is too narrow a basis for politics.

More practically, several political theorists have pointed out that glbtq people are anything but united, rent as they are by multiple and often competing identities based on race, class, gender, and ethnicity.

Traditional liberals have sometimes opposed identity politics in the belief that paying attention to difference merely highlights its salience in interactions. They promote the idea that queer people are "just like everyone else" and should therefore base their politics on factors other than their sexual or gender identities. They seem to believe that ignoring difference will do away with discrimination.

Those engaged in identity politics, however, believe that discrimination can only be overcome by drawing attention to the oppressed difference.

Glbtq people have themselves often criticized identity politics, particularly on the grounds that individuals possess multifaceted identities and thus involvement in politics based on a single identity does not suffice.

Those with multiple oppressed identities have sometimes responded by forming new, more specific identity politics groups, as, for example, lesbians of color. This fragmentation counters the original point of identity politics, which is to encourage recognition of the vast numbers of people who share identities that are outside the mainstream.

However, these communities can also provide support and consciousness-raising to those who become involved in them. Moreover, they can also function to educate other communities, as when lesbians of color demand acceptance and equality within their racial communities, even as they assert their identities as lesbians.

Identity politics is a controversial concept, subject to a range of critiques. However, as long as glbtq people are stigmatized and discriminated against on the basis of their sexual and gender identities, identity politics are likely to be seen as an appropriate response.

Since the late nineteenth century, people whom we would now call transgendered have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they have suffered as a result of their difference from the way most people understand their own gender.

Early activism

Much of the early history of this struggle is intertwined with the history of the homosexual emancipation movement in Europe, a situation caused by nineteenth-century conceptions of homosexuality that conflated gender variance and same-sex erotic attraction. The identity category "Urning," for example--defined as "a feminine soul enclosed in a male body" by pioneering homosexual emancipationist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who proposed changes in the Prussian legal code to decriminalize homosexual activity between males--is an ancestor of both modern gay and transgender identities.

Likewise, the politically active sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld's understanding of homosexuals as "sexual intermediaries" who fall somewhere on a spectrum between pure heterosexual masculinity and pure heterosexual femininity also undergirds early transgender political sensibilities.Hirschfeld, who in 1897 founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first political organization in the world that aimed to better the treatment of sexual minorities, was a pioneering advocate of transgender rights. He employed transgender people on the staff of his Institute for Sexology in Berlin, which played a pivotal role in promoting endocrinologic and surgical services for transgender people trying to change the gendered appearance of their bodies. The first modern "sex-change" surgeries were carried out in collaboration with Hirschfeld and his medical staff in the early 1930s. Hirschfeld also worked with Berlin's police department to curtail the arrest of cross-dressed individuals on suspicion of prostitution, until the rise of Nazism forced him to flee Germany.

In the United States, what little information scholars have been able to recover about the political sensibilities of transgender people in the early twentieth century indicates an acute awareness of their vulnerability to arrest, discrimination against them in housing and employment opportunities, and their difficulties in creating "bureaucratically coherent" legal identities due to a change of gender status. They generally experienced a sense of social isolation, and often expressed a desire to create a wider network of associations with other transgender people.


The 1920s ushered in a new era of social acceptance of minorities and homosexuals, at least in heavily urbanized areas. This was reflected in many of the films (see Pre-Code) of the decade that openly made references to homosexuality. Even popular songs poked fun at the new social acceptance of homosexuality. One of these songs had the title "Masculine Women, Feminine Men." [The song was written by Edgar Leslie (words) and James V. Monaco (music) and featured in Hugh J. Ward's Musical Comedy "Lady Be Good."] It was released in 1926 and recorded by numerous artists of the day and included the following lyrics: [Artists who recorded this song include: 1. Frank Harris (Irving Kaufman), (Columbia 569D,1/29/26) 2. Bill Meyerl & Gwen Farrar (UK, 1926) 3. Joy Boys (UK, 1926) 4. Harry Reser's Six Jumping Jacks (UK, 2/13/26) 5. Hotel Savoy Opheans (HMV 5027, UK, 1927, aka Savoy Havana Band) 6. Merrit Brunies & His Friar's InnOrchestra on Okeh 40593, 3/2/26]

Masculine women, Feminine menWhich is the rooster, which is the hen?It's hard to tell 'em apart today! And, say!Sister is busy learning to shave,Brother just loves his permanent wave,It's hard to tell 'em apart today! Hey, hey!Girls were girls and boys were boys when I was a tot,Now we don't know who is who, or even what's what!Knickers and trousers, baggy and wide,Nobody knows who's walking inside,Those masculine women and feminine men! [A full reproduction of the original sheet music with the complete lyrics (including the amusing cover sheet) can be found at: ]

Homosexuals received a level of acceptance that was not seen again until the 1960s. Until the early 1930s, gay clubs were openly operated, commonly known as "pansy clubs". The relative liberalism of the decade is demonstrated by the fact that the actor William Haines, regularly named in newspapers and magazines as the number-one male box-office draw, openly lived in a gay relationship with his lover, Jimmy Shields. [Mann, William J., "Wisecracker : the life and times of William Haines, Hollywood's first openly gay star. " New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Viking, 1998: 2-6.] Other popular gay actors/actresses of the decade included Alla Nazimova and Ramon Novarro. [Mann, William J., "Wisecracker : the life and times of William Haines, Hollywood's first openly gay star. " New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Viking, 1998: 12-13, 80-83.] In 1927, Mae West wrote a play about homosexuality called "The Drag", and alluded to the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. It was a box-office success. West regarded talking about sex as a basic human rights issue, and was also an early advocate of gay rights. With the return of conservatism in the 1930s, the public grew intolerant of homosexuality, and gay actors were forced to choose between retiring or agreeing to hide their sexuality.

Mid-twentieth century advocacy

Transgender advocacy efforts did not begin to gain momentum, however, until the 1950s, in the wake of the unprecedented publicity given to Christine Jorgensen, whose 1952 "sex-change" operation made her an international celebrity and brought transgender issues to widespread attention.

A central yet virtually unknown figure in the history of transgender community formation was Louise Lawrence, a male-to-female transgender person who began living fulltime as a woman in San Francisco in the 1940s. Lawrence developed a widespread correspondence network with transgender people throughout Europe and the United States by the 1950s, and worked closely with Alfred Kinsey to bring the needs of transgender people to the attention of social scientists and sex reformers.

Lawrence was also a mentor to Virginia Prince, who, later in the 1950s and early 1960s, founded the first peer support and advocacy groups for male cross-dressers in the United States.

In 1952, using Lawrence's correspondence network as its initial subscription list, Prince and a handful of other transgender people in Southern California launched "Transvestia: The Journal of the American Society for Equality in Dress". Though it lasted only two issues, this publication marks the beginning of the transgender rights movement in the United States.

In 1960, Prince launched another publication, also called "Transvestia", that became a long-lasting and influential venue for disseminating information about transgender concerns. In 1962, she founded the Hose and Heels Club, which soon changed its name to Phi Pi Epsilon, a name designed to evoke Greek-letter sororities and to play on the initials FPE, the acronym for Prince's philosophy of "Full Personality Expression". Prince believed that the binary gender system harmed both men and women by alienating them from their full human potential, and she considered cross-dressing to be one means of redressing this perceived social ill.

Support organizations for male cross-dressers proliferated in the 1970s and 1980s, but most traced their roots to various schisms and offshoots of Prince's pioneering organizations of the early 1960s.

Militancy in 1960s San Francisco

Militant transsexual politics first erupted in San Francisco in 1966, when transgender street prostitutes in that city's impoverished Tenderloin neighborhood rioted against police harassment at a popular all-night restaurant, Gene Compton's Cafeteria.

In the wake of that riot, San Francisco activists worked with Harry Benjamin (the nation's leading medical expert on transsexuality), the Erickson Educational Foundation (established by a wealthy female-to-male transsexual, Reed Erickson, who funded the development of a new model of medical service provision for transsexuals in the 1960s and 1970s), activist ministers at the progressive Glide Memorial Methodist Church, and a variety of city bureaucrats to establish a remarkable network of services and support for transsexuals, including city-funded health clinics that provided hormones and federally-funded work training programs that helped prostitutes learn job skills to get off the streets.

Transgender activism

Transsexuals in San Francisco formed C.O.G. (Conversion Our Goal) in 1967, which, after a series of internal schisms, became theTranssexual Counseling Unit, which was located in office space rented by the War on Poverty. When funding from the War on Poverty programs ceased volunteers Jan Maxwell and Suzan Cooke sought greater funding from Reed Erickson's Foundation. The Erickson Educational Foundation grant funded a store front office located in San Francisco's Tenderloin on Turk St. There the Transsexual Counseling Service, with the assistance of the EEF as well as Lee Brewster's Queen Magazine expanded their services beyond the Bay Area by corresponding with transsexuals across the nation. To reflect this the TCS became the "National transsexual Counseling Unit. Reed Erickson was responsible for funding these programs and others which became the early transsexual movement through his foundation the Erickson Educational Foundation.

Transgender activism and gay liberation

By the later 1960s, some strands of transgender activism were closely linked to gay liberation. Most famously, transgender "street queens" played an instrumental role in sparking the riots at New York's Stonewall Inn in 1969, which are often considered a turning point in LGBT political activism. Sylvia Rivera, a transgender veteran of the Stonewall Riots, was an early member of the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance in New York. Along with her sister-in-arms Marsha P. (for "Pay It No Mind") Johnson, Rivera founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) in 1970. That same year, New York gay drag activist Lee Brewster and heterosexual transvestite Bunny Eisenhower founded the Queens Liberation Front, and Brewster began publishing "Queens", one of the more political transgender publications of the 1970s.

New York transsexual activist Judy Bowen organized two other short-lived groups, TAT (Transsexuals and Transvestites) in 1970, and Transsexuals Anonymous in 1971, but neither had lasting influence. Far more significant was Mario Martino's creation of the Labyrinth Foundation Counseling Service in the late 1960s in New York, the first transgender community-based organization that specifically addressed the needs of female-to-male transsexuals.

On the West Coast, militant transgender activism found its leading figure in the person of Angela Douglas, a contentious yet effective advocate of transgender rights. Douglas had been active in GLF-Los Angeles in 1969 and wrote extensively about sexual liberation issues for Southern California's counter-cultural press. In 1970 she founded TAO (Transsexual/Transvestite Action Organization), which published the Moonshadow and "Mirage" newsletters. Douglas moved TAO to Miami in 1972, where it came to include several Puerto Rican and Cuban members, and soon grew into the first truly international transgender community organization.

Another influential West Coast figure was Beth Elliot, one of the first politically active transsexual lesbians, who at one point served as vice-president of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the lesbian homophile organization, and edited the chapter's newsletter, "Sisters". Elliot became a flashpoint for the issue of MTF (male-to-female) transsexual inclusion in the women's community when, after a divisive public debate, she was ejected from the West Coast Women's Conference in 1973.

The 1970s

The 1970s were a difficult decade for transgender activism. These years were marked by slow, incremental gains as well as demoralizing setbacks from the first flushes of success in the late 1960s. In the early 1970s in Philadelphia, the Radical Queens Collective forged effective political links with gay liberation and lesbian feminist activism. In Southern California, activists such as Jude Patton and Joanna Clark spearheaded competent social, psychological, and medical support services for transgender people.

Across the country, it was becoming easier for transgender people to change the gender designations on state-issued identification documents and to find professional and affordable health care. In 1975, the city of Minneapolis became the first governmental entity in the United States to pass trans-inclusive civil rights protection legislation.

On the other hand, most gay, lesbian, feminist, and other progressive activists distanced themselves from transgender issues. Largely as a result of the emergence of new political ideologies of gender, transgender peoplendash particularly transsexualsndash came to be seen as dangerously reactionary in their cultural politics, as people who had a false consciousness of gender oppression and who sought to mutilate their bodies rather than liberate their minds.

Anti-transsexual discourses

Feminist ethicist Janice G. Raymond caused particular harm with her paranoiac Transsexual Empire, which was published in 1979 but drew on anti-transsexual discourses that had been developing at the grassroots level for nearly a decade. Almost incredibly, Raymond argued--and many of her readers believed--that transsexuals were the mindless agents of a nefarious patriarchal conspiracy bent on the destruction of women.

Raymond characterized female-to-male transsexuals as traitors to their sex and to the cause of feminism, and male-to-female transsexuals as rapists engaged in an unwanted penetration of women's space. She suggested that transsexuals be "morally mandated out of existence." As a result of such views, transgender activists in the 1970s and 1980s tended to wage their struggles for equality and human rights in isolation rather than in alliance with other progressive political movements.

The 1980s and the emergence of the FTM community

In 1980, transgender phenomena were officially classified by the American Psychiatric Association as psychopathology, "gender identity disorder." When the AIDS epidemic became visible in 1981, transgender people--especially transgender people of color involved in street prostitution and injection drug subcultures--were among the hardest hit. One of the few bright spots in transgender activism in the 1980s was the emergence of an organized FTM(female-to-male) transgender community, which took shape nearly two decades later than a comparable degree of organization among the male-to-female transgender movement.

Transgender activism

Lou Sullivan, a gay-identified, HIV-positive San Francisco-based FTM activist, played a leading part in this effort. In 1986, inspired by the leadership of FTM pioneers such as Mario Martino, Steve Dain, Rupert Raj, and Jude Patton, he founded the FTM support group that grew into FTM International, the leading advocacy group for female-to-male individuals, and began publishing "The FTM Newsletter".

Sullivan was an important community-based historian of transgenderism and also played an instrumental role in persuading medical and psychotherapeutic professionals to provide services to transgender individuals like himself who identified as gay or lesbian in their preferred social genders. In the years since Sullivan's untimely death in 1991, his successor Jamison Green has emerged as the most vocal and influential FTM activist in the United States.

The effects of AIDS activism

The AIDS crisis provoked a profound reorientation of sexual identity politics in the later 1980s and early 1990s that ultimately worked to the advantage of transgender activism. AIDS activism required alliances between different social groups affected by the epidemic, such as gay men, hemophiliacs, Haitians, and injection-drug users. An effective response to the epidemic meant addressing systemic social problems such as poverty and racism that transcended narrow sexual identity politics. In the context of this public health crisis, transgender issues once again began to resonate within broader struggles for justice and equality. Leslie Feinberg's influential pamphlet, "Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come", published in 1992, heralded a new era in transgender politics.

Militant groups such as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and Queer Nation crafted a highly visible, playfully ironic, angry style of media-oriented, direct-action politics that proved congenial to a new generation of transgender activists. The first transgender activist group to embrace the new queerqueer politics was Transgender Nation, founded in 1992 as an offshoot of Queer Nation's San Francisco chapter.

Transgender Nation

Transgender Nation noisily dragged transgender issues to the forefront of San Francisco's queer community, and at the local level successfully integrated transgender concerns with the political agendas of lesbian, gay, and bisexual activists to forge a truly inclusive glbtq community. Transgender Nation organized a media-grabbing protest at the 1993 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association to call attention to the official pathologization of transgender phenomena.Transgender Nation paved the way for subsequent similar groups such as Transexual Menace and It's Time America that went on to play a larger role in the national political arena.

Anti-transgender hate crimes

Transsexual Menace, founded by Riki Wilchins in 1994, the year that Transgender Nation folded, tapped into and provided an outlet for the outrage many transgender people experienced in the brutal murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender youth, and two of his friends in a farmhouse in rural Nebraska on December 31, 1993. The murders, depicted in Kimberly Peirce's Academy Award-winning feature film "Boys Don't Cry" (2000), called dramatic attention to the serious, on-going problem of anti-transgender violence and hate crimes.

The website Remembering Our Dead, compiled by activist Gwen Smith and hosted by the Gender Education Association, honors the memory of the transgender murder victims--roughly one person a month. The Remembering Our Dead project spawned the National Day of Remembrance, an annual event begun in 1999, which is now observed in dozens of cities around the world.


Riki Wilchins, whom "Time" magazine selected in 2001 as one of its "100 Civic Innovators for the 21st Century," went on to found GenderPAC (Gender Public Advocacy Coalition), the largest national organization in the United States devoted to ending discrimination against gender diversity. GenderPAC fulfills a vital need for advocacy, both within the transgender community and outside it, on gender-related issues. Rather than focusing on single-identity-based advocacy, GenderPAC recognizes and promotes understanding of the commonality among all types of oppression, including racism, sexism, classism, and ageism.

GenderPAC, which has sponsored an annual lobbying day in Washington, D.C., since the late 1990s, is but the most visible of many transgender political groups to emerge over the last decade.More than 30 cities, and a handful of states, have now passed transgender civil rights legislation. While the transgender movement still faces many significant challenges and obstacles to gaining full equality, the wave of activism that began in the early 1990s has not yet peaked.


Through its myriad programsndash such as GenderYOUTH, Workplace Fairness, Violence Prevention, and Public Education initiativesndash GenderPAC works to dispel myths about gender stereotypes.The GenderYOUTH program, for example, strives to empower young activists so that they can create GenderROOTS college campus chapters themselves, and go on to educate others about school violence.Via its Workplace Fairness project, GenderPAC helps to educate elected officials about gender issues, change public attitudes, and support lawsuits that may expand legal rights for people who have suffered discrimination on the basis of gender.

In terms of violence prevention, GenderPAC collaborates with a Capitol Hill-based coalition of bipartisan organizations to further public education and media awareness about gender-based violent crimes. It emphasizes to members of Congress the need for passage of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (that is, the Hate Crimes Act).

Further, as part of its public education efforts, the organization has held an annual National Conference on Gender in Washington, D. C. since 2001. The conference is a gathering of over 1,000 activists throughout the country and from numerous colleges, who work together for three days on issues of gender policy, education, and strategy.

Recent accomplishments

GenderPAC's recent accomplishments include convincing several large corporations to add gender protection clauses to their Equal Employment Opportunity policies. It has also secured commitments from several Congressmembers not to discriminate in their offices on the basis of gender.In addition, the organization filed an amicus brief in the wrongful-death suit initiated by JoAnn Brandon, whose transgendered son Brandon was the victim of a hate-crime murder. It has also helped to publicize the gender-based murders of Willie Houston, Fred Martinez, and Gwen Araujo, among others.

Criticism from members of the transgender community

GenderPAC has drawn criticism from some members of the transgender community for its broad-based definition of oppression on the basis of gender. In early 2001, several transgender activists drafted an open "letter of concern" to GenderPAC, expressing their consternation over the organization's perceived mainstreaming and disconnection from the trans community. This alleged disconnection stems from GenderPAC's refusal to employ identity politics and its failure to focus on specifically transgender issues.

Wilchins has publicly responded to these complaints, arguing that a broad spectrum of peoplendash including, but not limited to those who identify as transgenderndash benefit from gender-rights activism.

For instance, GenderPAC has helped to publicize the case of a butch lesbian who does not identify as transgender but who was harassed at her workplace, and eventually fired, for looking "too masculine." Another case for which GenderPAC recently advocated involves a biological woman who was terminated from her job for not wearing makeup or a feminine hairstyle.

Wilchins sees these cases as relevant to GenderPAC's mission, because her group's efforts are a "post identity form of organizing" that emphasizes true diversity, and focuses on commonalities rather than differences.

LGBT rights and the Supreme Court

While the United States Supreme Court has been reluctant to issue rulings outside of the heterosexual mainstream on gay rights issues, it has made some important decisions in this area. It is important to understand that the Supreme Court only agrees to hear a few cases each term, and that by not hearing a case, the lower court's ruling stands.

* 1956 - Supreme Court rules that a homosexual publication is not automatically obscene and thus protected by the First Amendment.

* 1967 - Supreme Court rules that Congress may exclude immigrations on the grounds that they are a homosexual. Congress amends its laws in 1990.

* 1972 - Supreme Court rules that a Minnesota law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman is constitutional.

* 1976 - Supreme Court refuses to hear and this affirms a lower courts ruling that a Virginia state sodomy law is constitutional. (see Doe v. Commonwealth’s Attorney).

* 1983 - Supreme Court refusals to hear, and thus affirms a Oklahoma Appeals Court ruling that an Oklahoma law that gave the public school broad authority to fire homosexual teachers was too broad and thus unconstitutional.

* 1986 - In Bowers v. Hardwick the Supreme Court rules that sodomy laws are constitutional. The court overturns this ruling in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas.

* 1996 - In Romer v. Evans the high court overturns a state constitutional amendment prohibiting elected lawmakers in Colorado from including LGB people in their civil rights laws.

* 1998 - The Supreme Court rules that federal sexual harassment laws do include same-sex sexual harassment.

* 2001 - The Supreme Court rules that the Boy Scouts of America does not have to follow state anti-discrimination laws when it comes to sexual orientation.

* 2003 - Lawrence vs. Texas repeals state sodomy laws that were used to prosecute homosexuals for having sex in the privacy of their homes.cite court |litigants = Lawrence v. Texas |vol = 539 |reporter = U.S |opinion = |pinpoint = |court = U.S. Supreme Court|date=2003 |url=]

American political parties, interest groups and LGBT rights

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party ignored the issue of gay rights until the 1970s, when the left-wing of the Democratic Party started to show interest in the cause, and gay right concerns were incorporated into every national Democratic Party platform since 1980. The national Republican Party platform has formally opposed gay rights issues since 1992.

The National Stonewall Democratic Federation is the official LGBT organization for the Democratic Party, while the Log Cabin Republicans is the organization for LGB (but no T) citizens that want to moderate the Republican Party social polices. In terms of minor political parties, the Outright Libertarians is the official LGBT organization for the Libertarian Party, and is among the groups that follow the Libertarian perspectives on gay rights. The Green Party LGBT members are represented by the Lavender Green Caucus. The Socialist Party USA has a Queer Commission to focus on LGBT rights issues [] .

In terms of interest groups, the Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT organization in the United States, and endorses federal candidates. While it is technically bi-partisan and has endorsed some Republican Party, its overall pro-choice, center-left philosophy tends to favor the Democratic Party candidates. The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce is a progressive LGBT organization that focuses on local, state and federal issues, while the Independent Gay Forum and the Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty both subscribe to conservative or libertarian principles.

American law and LGBT rights

As a federal republic, absent of many federal laws or court decisions, LGBT rights often are dealt with at the local or state level. Thus the rights of LGBT people in one state may be very different from the rights of LGBT people in another state.

* Criminal Law - Homosexual relations between consenting adults in private is not a crime, per Lawrence v. Texas. The age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals should be the same, but each state decides what that age shall be. This does not apply to military law, where sodomy is still a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

* Civil rights - Sexual orientation is not a protected class under Federal civil rights law, but it is protected for federal civilian employees and in federal security clearance issues. Some states and cities have chosen to include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class in antidiscrimination laws. They are not required to do so, but the United States Supreme Court implied in Romer v. Evans that a state may not prohibit gay people from using the democratic process to get such protections enacted. Some private employers have chosen to adopt a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, but may not be enforceable in a court of law.

* Hate crimes - Federal hate crime law does not include sexual orientation, but it is included in some state laws.

* Same-sex couples: Federal law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. See also Same sex marriage in the United States. Likewise some states specifically ban gay people from adopting or having custody of children, while other states do not.

* Freedom of Speech - Homosexuality per se is not as obscene, and thus protected under the First Amendment. However, states can reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of speech. Pornography is protected, when it is not obscene, but it is based on local community standards.

* Education - Public schools and universities generally have to recognize an LGBT student organization, if they recognize other social or political organization, but high school students may be required to get parental consent. Harassment of LGBT students may or may not be prohibited depending on state or city law. Sex education classes often are required to teach abstinence until marriage to receive government funding.

* Armed Forces - Since 1994, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has the been the official policy in the American armed forces. Servicemen or women discovered to be homosexual or bisexual are separated from the armed forces under an administrative discharge. Sodomy is still a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and gay servicemen and women can be given an administrative discharge and/or sentenced to prison.


Further reading

*Bullough, Vern L. [ "Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context."] Harrington Park Press, 2002.
*cite book |last=Cante |first=Richard C. |title=Gay Men and the Forms of Contemporary US Culture |publisher=Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0 7546 7230 1 |year=March 2008 |location=London
*Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) [ "Encyclopedia of Homosexuality."] New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990
*Johansson, Warren & Percy, William A. [ "Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence."] Harrington Park Press, 1994.
*Shilts, Randy. "The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk." New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982. ISBN 0-312-01900-9
*Thompson, Mark, editor. "Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement." New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. ISBN 0-312-09536-8
*Timmons, Stuart. "The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement." Boston: Alyson Publications, 1990.

See also

* LGBT social movements
* LGBT rights in the United States
* Libertarian perspectives on gay rights
* Socialism and LGBT rights
* Gay Blue Jeans Day
* The Society for Human Rights

External links

* [ On Important Pre-Stonewall Activists]
* [ Queer Commission of the Socialist Party USA]
* [ LGBT Political Investment Caucus]
* [ Revolting Queers 2007]

* Note: "Some of this article has been used with permission of Susan Stryker from [] and has been released under the GFDL."

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