After nearly 100 years since the creation of the first LGBTQ+ human rights organization, the community has grown substantially. The journey and the mission are not over, as many people who identify by a different sexuality face harassment and violence everyday.
Nevertheless, the community has been on a path of creating a safer environment for all people, no matter how they identify sexually. The results have proven that over time, with patience and perseverance, people can make a change.
History of Gay Rights
Gays experienced discrimination throughout US history. In 1924, German immigrant Henry Gerber moved to Chicago and founded the Society for Human Rights, the first documented gay rights organization in the United States. Gerber started a newsletter which was the first document gay-interset newsletter called Friendship and Freedom. Police raids caused the newsletter to close a year after its creation.
The gay rights movement had little progression after that, until in 1961, when Illinois became the first state to do away with its anti-sodomy laws, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality. Then, Dr. John Oliven’s 1965 book “Sexual Hygiene and Pathology,” coined the term “transgender” to describe someone who was born in the body of the incorrect sex.
Even though New York City was the stage of the first gay rights rally, many members of the LGBT community were still under attack and subject to harassment from bars and restaurants, which would decline them service because they were homosexual. This led Mattachine Society members to stage a sip-in in 1966. The purpose of this sip-in protest was to go to the tavern, announce they were gay, and wait until they were denied service so they would sue. They were denied service at the Greenwich Village tavern Julius, resulting in much publicity and the quick reversal of anti-gay liquor laws.
Pride Month has a long history of protests and uprisings to gain the freedom of being gay, starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Stonewall Riots were a turning point for the LGBTQ community as the customers in the Greenwich Village stood up to homophobic cops when they raided and arrested people at the Stonewall Inn. They pelted the police, forcing homophobic cops to retreat, and aggressive street confrontations continued over the next few nights. The first rally was called Christopher Street Liberation Day and was a follow-up to those riots.
The Christopher Street Liberation Day was organized by representatives from groups like The Mattachine Society, Gay Activists Alliance, and the Gay Liberation Front. In New York City on June 28, 1970, the protest attracted a lot of people and featured many signs and banners showing support for Gay Pride, the Stonewall Riots, and proper medical care, protection, and other matters which the LGBTQ community felt deprived of in their community.
Organizers in New York included Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who protested against unjust treatment and advocated for legal reform even before Stonewall. Once Pride events were established in major cities, they became opportunities to register queer people to vote; for groups like ACT UP to demand action on HIV; and to pressure politicians to express their support for the community by marching.
As awareness began to spread, more activities and events began planning throughout June. In 1999 then-President Bill Clinton officially declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, setting aside the 30-day period as a time to recognize the LGBTQ community’s achievements and support the community.
The symbol for the LGBTQ community is the rainbow-colored flag. The flag was created in 1978 by San Francisco activist Gilbert Baker and first appeared at that year’s San Francisco Gay Freedom Day celebration.
According to Baker, the rainbow inspired him because it represented all the genders and races and stands for “the rainbow of humanity.” Each of the six colors of the rainbow flag represents a different aspect of the LGBTQ movement, including life, healing, sunlight, nature, serenity, and spirit. To some, the rainbow flag signifies power, rebellion, and hope.
The Pride Flag stayed the same until 2017 when Philadelphia added a black and brown stripe to their flag to symbolically represent LGBTQ people of color who have often felt marginalized from their community. Today, many organizations have adopted that flag, also adding the colors of the transgender pride flag — baby blue and light pink — to represent that community as well.
Over the years, human rights activists have made strides for the LGBTQ+ community to be respected and protected just like every other minority community in America.
Former President Barack Obama played a role in helping the community, by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, repealing DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), and the non-support of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).
Another achievement the LGBTQ+ community gained was the Boys Scouts lifting their ban on transgender boys not being allowed to join. The military also lifted its ban on the openly transgender not being able to serve in the military and the legalization of gay and lesbian marriages.