The Gay Rights Movement

By Iman Kagimu


The Gay Rights Movement, started early in 1924 with Henry Gerber. Gerber was a German immigrant, who founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. It was the first gay rights organization in the US. His members published a few issues of their newsletter, “Friendship and Freedom”. It became the first gay interest newsletter in the US. However, the group disbanded in the following year due to raids and hostility from law enforcement. Gerber’s home in Chicago was recently named a National Historic Landmark. In 1950, Harry Hay created the Mattachine Foundation a gay rights group based in Los Angeles. They created the term “homophile” and wanted to improve the lives of gay men through discussion groups and actvities. The foundation turned into the Mattachine Society which had chapters across the country and the Mattachine Review was published. Although, these organizations were starting up and addressing gay rights, many were not fond of the idea including the government. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association listed that homosexuality was a form of mental disorder. The next year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order which people guilty of “sexual perversion” meaning gay people from federal jobs.


The movement saw more progress starting from the 60’s when Illinois became the first state to give up it’s anti-sodomy laws and in California a tv stattion aired the first document on homosexuality, The Rejected. However, other states weren’t too friendly. In New York City, gay men and women could not be served alchohol in public as liquor laws stated that gatherings of homosexuals were “disorderely”. Bartenders would deny drinks or kick out people they thought were gay or sometimes serve them but then force them to sit away from the other customers. In 1966, members in the Mattachine Society in New York City staged a “sip-in”. They went to taverns, stated that they were gay, and then waited to be turned away, allowing them the ability to. Soon afterwards, the anti-gay liquor laws were reversed due to bad publicity on the bars and restaurants.


The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969. The Stonewall Inn was a gay club in Greenwich Village, it was an open space for all including drag queens and the homeless. On June 28, 1969 the New York City Police raided the club and the patrons were not happy. The police arrested people who violated the state’s gender appropriate clothing statue, so female officers had to check the sex of cross-dressing memebrs of the club. The patrons were angry and started throwing anything they could find at the police and were eventually arrested. There were protests and riots soon afterwards with hundreds of the people that the police and those arrested barricaded themselves in the bar. The mob tried to set the bar on fire, but the fire department was able to clear the flames. On the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, community members marched through the streets to commemorate the event, it was the first gay pride parade in the US. Many open members of the community began to hold public office, such as Kathy Kozachenko who won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council in 1974.


The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969, in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn.


When President Bill Clinton was elected, he fulfilled his promise and passed the “ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, it allowed gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexuality a secret. Although, it seemed like a good policy many advocates believed that it did nothing to stop people from being discharged from the military due to their sexuality. He also signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), where the government was not allowed to grant federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples in 1996. In 2011, when President Obama was elected he repealed the military policy as 12,000 officers were discharged because they wanted to express their sexuality and not hide in the shadows. In the 90’s multiple states and cities such as DC, San Francisco and California passed laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to register as domestic partners. While in other states like Hawaii banned same-sex marriage in 1998. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage and the first legal same sex marriage occured on May 17, 2004.


Jim Obergefell sued because he could not put his name on his late husband’s death certificate, it was argued that the laws violated the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, making it legal across the US on June 2015, in the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges.


The Gay Rights Movement as the Civil Rights Movement saw multiple setbacks, however, the people continued to fight and kept hope that lawmakers and citizens would realize that equality needs to be given to all, no matter race, sex, or gender.



Sources Cited:

https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/history-of-gay-rights

https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/the-stonewall-riots

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