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Gay Rights Movement in America. Marlene Imana-Iyemura AP U.S. History Period 5. “History reveals to us that once oppressed people rise up against that oppression, there is no stopping point short of full freedom.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Love, Law and Civil Disobedience.

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gay rights movement in america

Gay Rights Movement in America

Marlene Imana-Iyemura

AP U.S. History Period 5

“History reveals to us that once oppressed people rise up against that oppression, there is no stopping point short of full freedom.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Love, Law and Civil Disobedience

fight for civil rights
Fight for Civil Rights

The 1960s was a pinnacle time for the African American fight for Civil Rights. During this decade the movement expanded to include peaceful protesting as well as violent rioting in the ghettos. Other groups of disenfranchised Americans saw the power of the African American protestors and adopted their language of freedom.

The gay and lesbian community was part of the effected group of minorities. Many states had made homosexuality illegal, and policemen often harassed the gay community. Even up until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association had classified homosexuality as a mental disease.

Seeing the success of the African American civil rights movement, homosexuals realized that “gay liberation” was a possibility.

gay rights are human rights
Gay Rights are Human Rights

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community began to fight for its rights on a large scale after the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

Today the LGBT civil rights movement continues as the battle for marriage equality and social acceptance wages on.


American society’s mixed feelings towards the gay rights movement suggests that though LGBT acceptance is popular with the younger generation (ages 18-34 and younger), total equality for the homosexual community is a long way off from becoming a reality due to social stigma and religious conservative ideals.

gay rights movement in my lifetime
Gay Rights Movement in My Lifetime

The movement for gay rights really picked up within the last five years starting with the Proposition 8 debate in California.

Proposition 8, also known as the California Marriage Protection Act, was a proposition and constitutional amendment which banned homosexual marriage. Section 7.5 was added to the California Constitution with the passing of the proposition. The section states that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

In the state’s November 2008 elections Proposition 8 passed with about 52% of Californians supporting the ban on same-sex marriage.

proposition 8 debate
Proposition 8 Debate

Conservatives and liberals debated fiercely over Proposition 8 before the November vote.

  • “Yes on 8” supporters, fueled by religious beliefs and ‘family values’, believed that allowing same-sex marriage would ultimately hurt California.
  • Common claims of the ban’s supporters included that legalized same-sex marriages would…
  • force churches to marry gay couples
  • force schools to teach gay marriage
  • open the doors for pedophilia and bestiality
proposition 8 debate1
Proposition 8 Debate
  • The “No on 8” campaign focused around marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
  • Their campaign argued that…
  • religion is separate from the government (thus religious dogma should not be a determining factor in allowing homosexual rights)
  • marriage is a right (the vote is dealing with civil rights and civil liberties)
  • marriage comes with legal and societal benefits that civil unions do not have
  • No “h8te” supporters included famous celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Stephen Spielberg.


The LGBT community rallied together after the passing of Proposition 8. Out of anger many protests erupted in the weeks and months after the historical election.

November 15, 2008 was labeled as a National Day of Protest as “No on 8, No on H8te” supporters gathered to the nation’s major cities such as New York City, NY and Los Angeles, CA.

The most active area during the protests was San Francisco, California. San Francisco has historically been a center for the LGBT community, especially with the notorious Castro district. San Francisco City Hall became “ground zero” in the battle for same-sex marriage.

In August of 2010 Californian federal judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. He wrote that “the choice of a marriage partner is sheltered by the Fourteenth Amendment”.

The Proposition 8 debate continues today with court appeals from “No on 8” supporters.

The issue of same-sex marriage is also now on the table of other states such as New York where State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell brought forth a bill which will legalize same-sex marriage if it is approved by voters.

What caused the Proposition 8 issue?

In May of 2008, the Californian Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. During the timeframe in which it was legal, about 18,000 same-sex couples tied the knot.

This brief period of legalized gay marriage spawned Proposition 8 and its supporters.

Though same-sex marriage was made illegal in November of 2008, the state still upholds marriages that were performed prior to the vote.

what caused the gay rights movement
What caused the Gay Rights Movement?

Throughout history the disenfranchised have looked to find freedom and liberation from their oppression. The Gay Civil Rights movement in America came from the basic drive for equality.

As stated earlier in the presentation, the 1960s played host to a variety of rebellious minority groups. The LGBT community had gotten fed up with police brutality and national contempt for homosexuals, and thus the movement for equality began.

impact on american culture
Impact on American Culture

The gay rights movement is having a lasting effect on American pop culture.

The mainstream music industry has welcomed LBGT artists with open arms. Singer Lady Gaga, notorious for her eccentric style and her self a bisexual woman, is a friend to the gay community. One of her latest songs, entitled Born This Way has become an anthem for LGBT teens.

Movies and television programs have also taken to the gay community. Fox’s show Glee features an openly gay character named Kurt Hummel played by Chris Colfer. The show has had episodes dedicated to Kurt’s personal plight of being a gay teenager in high school. Glee brings attention to LGBT bullying as well as the issue of “coming out”.


Mainstream media’s acceptance of the LGBT community has brought bigotry into the national spotlight.

In late 2010 a wave of gay teen suicides struck the United States.

Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death. He committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another student, Molly Wei, allegedly recorded Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man. Ravi and Wei broadcasted the recording on the Internet thus prompting Clementi to take his own life.

In Tehachapi, California 13-year-old Seth Walsh attempted suicide by hanging himself from a tree in his backyard. His attempt left him unconscious and on life support for more than a week before his death. According to his grandmother, Judy Walsh, Seth suffered from homophobic bullying both in person and online.


the impact of support
The Impact of Support

The violent hate crimes and suicides that rocked the LGBT community in recent years prompted a wide reaching support and outreach effort.

In the aftermath of 2010’s gay teen suicide epidemic, LGBT and straight ally celebrities took to the Internet to voice their support for youth struggling with bullying. In a series of “It Gets Better” videos, celebrities and politicians such as Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama utilized the Internet to reach out to LGBT youth and bullied teens in general.

The “It Gets Better Project” still goes strong today as average Americans add their own support videos to the project’s website and YouTube.

making history
Making History

The Gay Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t be anywhere without the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

On June 28, 1969 police raided the Stonewall Bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. The Stonewall was a gathering place for the LGBT community. Years of police harassment and social condemnation changed something in the minds of LGBT men and women that night. Rather than going along with the raid and bowing out to the police, the patrons of the bar fought back. Five days of rioting followed the initial incident at the Stonewall and thus the “gay liberation” movement took off.

homophobia in america
Homophobia in America

During the 1950s the American public was captured by consumerism. Product advertisements glorified the American family unit and the conformity of women to the role of suburban homemaker.

Homosexuality frightened parents of the 1950s and 60s because they wanted their children to grow up, get married, have children, and join American suburbia.

“Do you want your son enticed into the world of homosexuals, or your daughter lured into lesbianism? Do you want them to lose all chance of a normal, happy, married life?”

- Stonewall Uprising

homophobia in america1
Homophobia in America

Gays and lesbians were demonized in American culture. They were viewed as sinful or mentally disordered. Popular belief during the 1960s was that people could “catch” homosexuality like it was a disease.

Due to homophobia, LGBT men and women were forced to stay in the “closet” and keep their sexuality a secret. Under McCarthyism homosexuality was seen as “national weakness” and attacks on gays and lesbians ensued.

“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.” – The Homosexual (1967), CBS Reports

“Sure enough, the following day, when Jimmy finished playing ball, well, the man was there waiting. … What Jimmy didn’t know is that Ralph was sick. … A sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual.” – Boys Beware (1961), Public Service Announcement

“The 1960s were dark ages for lesbians and gay men all over America. The overwhelming number of medical authorities said that homosexuality was a mental defect, maybe even a form of psychopathy.”

- William Eskridge, Professor of Law, Stonewall Uprising


While mainstream American culture has opened its arms to the LGBT community, the fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans still don’t support homosexuality.

This problem can be traced back to the early years of the Gay Liberation movement.

Due to centuries of religious dogma as well as the social stigma of being LGBT, gay civil rights are far from becoming a wide reality. As it is today marriage equality is only in a few states in America, the first being Massachusetts. It is key to note that Massachusetts only legalized same-sex marriage in May of 2004 – a mere seven years ago.

It is clear that the bigotry left in America has hindered the process of procuring gay rights. It will be many decades, possibly centuries, for the LGBT community to reach the same level of equality that the rest of America already has.

  • In what ways does the fight for marriage equality relate back to the Stonewall Riots?
  • How is the Gay Liberation Movement similar to the African American Civil Rights movement?
  • Gays and lesbians have been fighting for their rights now just as the African American community fought for their rights in the early and mid 1900s.
  • Both gays and African Americans faced extreme hatred from a majority of Americans. Just like religion was used to defend slavery, Christianity to this day is used to condemn homosexuality as immoral and unnatural.
  • Marriage equality is a civil right and the Stonewall Riots were the beginning of the organized movement for “gay liberation”
  • Like the Stonewall Riots, the Prop 8 debate caused a new wave of gay rights supporters.
    • Just like in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots, Prop 8 spurred youth response and support.
  • What does it mean for an LGBT person to be “closeted”?
  • What was the impact of the Stonewall Riots? When did they occur?

Despite many homosexuals gaining success in the arts and fashion worlds in the 1960s, they had to be “in the closet” for their safety. To be “closeted” is to be secretive about one’s sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians had to be closeted because mainstream society condemned homosexuality. LGBT people ran the risk of getting attacked or institutionalized so they couldn’t be open about their true selves.

The Stonewall Bar raid occurred on June 28, 1969. For the five days following, LGBT people rioted in New York. The riots kicked off the movement for gay civil rights because it marked the tipping point of the oppressed homosexual community. Today the riots are remembered during pride marches across the nation.

works cited
Works Cited

Alexander, Bryan. “The Bullying of Seth Walsh: Requiem for a Small-Town Boy.” Time Magazine. N.p., 2 Oct. 2010. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌time/‌nation/‌article/‌0,8599,2023083,00.html>.

California. “Section 7.5.” California Constitution . N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌.const/‌.article_1>.

Dolan, Maura, and Carol J. Williams. “Ban on Gay Marriage Overturned.” The Los Angeles Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌2010/‌aug/‌05/‌local/‌la-me-gay-marriage-california-20100805>.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty: An American History. 2nd ed. N.p.: Matrix Publishing Services, 2008. Print.

Harris, Dan. “Proposition 8: Gay Marriage on California’s Ballot.” ABC News. N.p., 29 Oct. 2008. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌Politics/‌5050/‌proposition-gay-marriage-californias-ballot/‌story?id=6137237>.

works cited1
Works Cited

Hubbard, Jeremy. “Fifth Gay Teen Suicide in Three Weeks Sparks Debate .” ABC News. N.p., 6 Oct. 2010. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌US/‌gay-teen-suicide-sparks-debate/‌story?id=11788128 >.

Marquez, Laura. “Day of Protests for Gay Rights .” ABC News. N.p., 15 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌US/‌story?id=6262989&page=1>.

Peters, Jeremy W. “Why the Gay Rights Movement Has No National Leader.” The New York Times 20 June 2009: n. pag. The New York Times. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌2009/‌06/‌21/‌weekinreview/‌21peters.html >.

Steinhauser, Paul. “CNN poll: Generations disagree on same-sex marriage.” CNN. N.p., 4 May 2009. Web. 17 May 2011. <‌2009/‌US/‌05/‌04/‌samesex.marriage.poll/‌index.html>.

“Stonewall Uprising .” American Experience . PBS. 25 Apr. 2011. KTEH American Experience . Web. Transcript. 17 May 2011. <‌wgbh/‌americanexperience/‌features/‌transcript/‌stonewall-transcript/>.

primary sources
Primary Sources
  • American Experience documentary Stonewall Uprising
  • The Bullying of Seth Walsh: Requiem for a Small-Town Boy

The American Experience is a great primary source because it had interviews from people who experience the riots. The documentary included pictures, video, and audio of different programs shown in the 1960s about homosexuality. It captured the seriousness of the time and the event.

The Time Magazine article about the suicide of Seth Walsh was key to my understanding of homophobia in America.Theincluded statements by his family membersbrought faces to the issue of LGBT hate and persecution.