Starting in the 1850’s, a look at legal, cultural, and social discrimination against the LGBTQ community and the successful efforts to secure legal civil rights.
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Most states had strict laws against same-sex actions with penalties including banishment, castration, imprisonment, and death. Same-sex action was often considered “abominable” or “unmentionable,” similar to bestiality and incest.
The US government passed the Comstock Act which prohibited sending “obscene” materials through the mail, including books or magazines that featured same-sex attraction and practices.
An author using the pseudonym Claude Hartland published The Story of a Life, the first known American book about being gay.
Sara Josephine Baker, a physician and pioneering public health expert, became the Director of the Bureau of Child Hygiene in the New York City Health Department.
The US government banned immigrants with “abnormal” sexual instincts from entering the US.
LGBTQ subcultures and institutions such as bars and clubs started to flourish in urban areas.
Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago, the first American gay rights organization. Its publication, Friendship and Freedom, was also the country’s first gay newsletter.
The City of New York shut down The Captive, a Broadway play, because of a gay theme, subsequently passing a law that criminalized any play depicting “sexual perversion.”
Molly Dewson was appointed head of the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Division.
As Prohibition ended, many cities enacted laws banning bars from serving alcohol to LGBTQ persons. Homosexuals were thus deemed to be “disorderly.”
The established medical community considered homosexuality a disease that could be cured. “Treatments” included lobotomies, electroshock therapy and castration.
Encouraged by the Catholic Church, Hollywood adopted the Hays Code to instill “morality” in the motion picture industry. One of its indirect effects was the prohibition of representations of homosexuality, save for villainous gay characters.
The US military prohibited gays from serving in all branches of the service.
Edythe D. Eyde (Lisa Ben) began publishing Vice Versa.
The US State Department fired and refused to hire anyone who practiced same-sex behavior.
Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior of the Human Male, empirically establishing that same-sex behavior was more widespread than previously believed.
Harry Hay, Dale Jennings and others founded the Mattachine Society, a groundbreaking gay rights group, in Los Angeles.
Bob Mizer published Physique Pictorial, a pioneering gay beefcake magazine.
Christine Jorgensen became the first widely known transgender woman to have sex reassignment surgery.
The American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order banning employment for homosexuals anywhere in the United States government because they were guilty of “sexual perversion.”
The homophile organization ONE, Inc. started to publish ONE Magazine.
Led by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Senate conducted hearings on the personal lives of Americans suspected of being gay in an effort to remove communists and homosexuals from government employment.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin formed the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian rights organization.
Police in Boise, Idaho, conducted massive raids, questioning 1,500 individuals about their same-sex behavior. Many men were given sentences that ranged from probation to life imprisonment.
The first issue of Mattachine Review, a homophile periodical, was published.
The first issue of The Ladder, a lesbian magazine, was published by the Daughters of Bilitis.
Contrary to dominant beliefs in the medical profession, Dr. Evelyn Hooker told the American Psychological Association that no connection exists between homosexuality and mental abnormality.
The Supreme Court allows One to publish articles about homosexuality in the landmark decision One, Inc. v. Olesen.
The Hays Commission soften its prohibition against the mention of homosexuality in films as long as it was with “care, discretion and restraint.”
Patrons objected to police harassment at Cooper Do-nuts in Los Angeles.
As gay bars flourished, the City of New York renewed their effort to close them.
José Sarria became first openly gay candidate to seek public office in his unsuccessful run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Illinois became the first state to repeal its sodomy law, decriminalizing homosexual contact between consenting adults.
The US Supreme Court upheld the right of gay male magazines to be sent through the US mail in the decision Manual Enterprises v. Day.
The East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) was founded in Philadelphia.
Under the direction of the Florida Legislature, the Johns Committee published Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, also known as the Purple Pamphlet. This booklet asserted that homosexual behavior was widespread Florida’s public education and colleges and that gays were attempting to molest and corrupt male youths.
In front of the US Army Building in NYC, activists demonstrated in the first gay rights protest in the country. The cause of their protest was the military’s discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
American Civil Liberties Union called for the end of criminalizing homosexual conduct.
Frank Kameny, Jack Nichols, Lilli Vincenz and Barbara Gittings picketed the White House to protest discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
In the tenderloin district of San Francisco, transgender women and drag queens fought back against police harassment in what is now known as the Compton Cafeteria Riot.
Three members of the Mattachine Society ordered alcoholic beverages at Julius, a bar in NYC, intentionally violating the rules against serving alcohol to homosexuals. Shortly thereafter, the anti-gay prohibition was lifted.
A local gay newspaper, renamed The Advocate two years later, began publication.
Craig Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in NYC, the first gay bookstore in the US.
Homosexual Behavior Among Males, a scientific study by clinical psychologist Wainwright Churchill, concluded that homosexuality is part of human behavior.
The Metropolitan Community Church, the first church group geared towards LGBTQ people, began in Los Angeles.
Marsha P. Johnson and other patrons objected to police raid at the Stonewall Inn in NYC, leading to several days of civil unrest.
National Organization for Women accepted lesbians.
Christopher Street Liberation Day, the first gay pride march, took place in NYC.
Television networks aired programs, and national magazines ran stories about the gay liberation movement.
The Unitarian Universalist Church openly accepted gay clergy.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a political collective offering housing and support to homeless LGBT youth and sex workers.
Frank Kameny became the first openly gay candidate for US Congress.
East Lansing, Ann Arbor and San Francisco adopted gay rights ordinances, protecting gay and lesbian employees against discrimination.
Madeline Davis and Jim Foster, two openly gay delegates, spoke at the Democratic National Convention, urging the political party to endorse a gay rights agenda.
Hawaii legalized homosexuality.
The American Psychiatric Association de-pathologized homosexuality by removing it from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Computer scientist and electrical engineer Lynn Conway, a transgender woman, was recruited by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where she invented hugely influential computer chip design methods
Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly lesbian or gay candidate to be elected to a public office and served on the Ann Arbor City Council for two years.
Allan Spear, state senator from Minnesota, announced he was gay, becoming the first male legislator to come out.
Leonard Matlovich openly discussed his discharge from the US Air Force for being a homosexual. In so doing, he became the first gay service member to combat the military’s ban on gays by purposefully coming out.
US Civil Service ended its ban on employment of gay men and lesbians.
US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan gave a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. She was the first African American and the first woman to deliver this speech—and she was also, in private, a lesbian.
In response to efforts to lessen civil rights restrictions on the lesbian and gay community, Christian singer Anita Bryant established the anti-gay organization Save Our Children.
Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay person to service in public office in California.
Jonathan Ned Katz published Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A, the first book to document LGBTQ history in America.
Harvey Milk was murdered by fellow city supervisor Dan White.
The Gay Men’s Chorus formed in San Francisco, becoming the world’s first openly gay chorus.
More than 100,000 people attended the First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
Founded by Harry Hay and Don Kilhefner, the Radical Faeries, a countercultural gay spiritual and political movement, held its first gathering.
The Democratic National Committee adopted a gay and lesbian rights plank.
The Human Rights Campaign Fund was established as a political action committee in the fight for lesbian and gay civil rights.
David McReynolds was the first openly gay candidate for president atop the ticket of the Socialist Party USA.
Fundamentalist Christians, dubbed the “Moral Majority,” organized to convince governments to repeal rights given to homosexuals.
The Gay Games, a sports event for LGBT athletes modeled after the Olympics, was launched in San Francisco.
Larry Kramer and other activists formed the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in response to the developing AIDS crisis.
Gerry Studds became the first US Congressman to come out publicly as gay.
Sally Ride became the first American woman as well as the youngest American astronaut to travel to space.
Boston Mayor Kevin H. White became the first mayor to appoint a full-time liaison to the LGBTQ community, Brian McNaught, who in turn created the first municipal task force dedicated toward educating the public about AIDS.
The US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law in the landmark decision Bowers v. Hardwick.
Activists in NYC founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) to fight the government’s inaction regarding the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The first Gay-Straight Alliance, a student-led LGBTQ high school group, formed at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts.
Chicago banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.
US Senators Jesse Helms and Alphonse D’Amato successfully shut down art exhibitions and banned funding from the National Endowment for the Arts based on sexual content.
US Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, criminalizing violence against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.
Queer Nation, a radical LGBT activist group, was founded in NYC, leading to other chapters across the country.
San Francisco approved an ordinance that recognized same-sex domestic partnerships, affording legal protections to unmarried gay and lesbian couples.
Colorado banned rights for gay people with the approval of Amendment 2, a ballot initiative that disallowed the state from passing antidiscrimination protections for gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.
One million individuals join the third March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation—one of the largest protests in American history.
With the adoption of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the US Congress allowed gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve in the US Military—as long as they did not disclose their sexual orientation.
With President Clinton’s support, US Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing states to ban marriages between same-sex individuals.
President Bill Clinton named the first liaison to the lesbian and gay community and put an end to a ban on security clearance for lesbian and gay workers in the federal government.
Hawaii permitted same-sex couples to have reciprocal beneficiary relations, affording them similar domestic partnership rights as straight couples.
New Jersey allowed same-sex couples the right to adopt children.
Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten and subsequently died of severe head injuries. His murder led to hate crime legislation at the state and federal level.
Tammy Baldwin became the first open lesbian to be elected to the US Congress.
The Stonewall Inn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
California eliminated all anti-gay laws in the state and created domestic partnerships.
US Supreme Court eliminated anti-sodomy laws in fourteen states in their landmark decision Lawrence v. Texas.
Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
After her election to Hawaii’s Board of Education, Kim Coco Iwamoto became the first transgender woman to hold a state-level office.
California passed Proposition 8, an anti-gay state constitutional amendment stipulating that marriage was only valid between a man and a woman.
President Barack Obama passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, declaring that federal hate-crime law must apply to crimes stemming from a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexuality, and disability.
California repealed Proposition 8, upholding same-sex marriages.
US Congress repealed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, enabling gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to serve openly.
The US Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional in their landmark decision United States v. Windsor.
President Barack Obama overturned all federal hiring restrictions on LGBTQ individuals.
US Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples could get married in all fifty states in their landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges.
A gunman opened fire in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 53 more.
President Donald Trump banned transgender people from serving in the US Military.
Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, became the first openly gay man to win a Democratic state primary (Iowa) in his presidential run.
US Supreme Court prohibited all employment discrimination against LGBTQ people in Bostock v. Clayton County.
President Biden overturned the ban on transgender individuals from serving in the US military
Marking the 10th anniversary of the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs announced that all (estimated 100,000) military personnel who were discharged due to their sexual orientation or HIV status would have their benefits reinstated.