In June 1969 patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar (Stonewall Inn), angry at police surveillance of their gathering places, responded to a police raid by throwing beer bottles. In the ensuing riots, which lasted three nights, large gay crowds battled police. Before Stonewall, stigma and fear of exposure kept most lesbians and gay men in the closet. Afterwards, “gay power” signs appeared and a mass movement for equality slowly gained momentum, as groups sprang up in large cities.
The lesbian and gay rights movement emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s as a result of the example of the civil rights movement and the nascent women's liberation movement, the sexual mores of the 1960s counterculture, groundwork laid by the homophile movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and the growth of a gay subculture, among other reasons. Then and now, members of the lesbian and gay community include those who believe they are just like everyone else except for their sexual orientation and those who believe that the words “gay” and “lesbian” name distinct identities incorporating more than sexual behavior.
Queer Nation, founded in New York in 1990 to protest a TV commentator's homophobic diatribes, spread rapidly to many other cities. Known for playful and satirical actions and its slogan “We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It,” Queer Nation reflected the frustration men felt at the slow pace of reform, the tenacity of homophobic attitudes, and media resistance to balanced coverage of lesbian and gay issues.
Paradoxically, as more gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in the United States become visible and benefit from legal reforms, crimes against them, at least recorded crimes, have increased. An analysis of 14 years of FBI statistics on hate crimes by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that gay people were far more likely to be attacked than members of other minority groups. The campaign “It Gets Better,” aiming to reassure bullied young gay teens, shows video messages from a variety of well‐known U.S. spokespeople.
Two Supreme Court decisions June 26, 2013 made history for the U.S. gay rights movement. The Court dismissed a challenge to California's same‐sex marriage law (which had been blocked by a referendum, Proposition 8) and ruled unconstitutional a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The majority stated that DOMA deprives gay citizens of the equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. While this decision applies only to states and the District of Columbia that allow same‐sex marriage (30 as of fall 2014), the extension of federal benefits to lesbian and gay citizens of those states is a major victory, especially Social Security spousal benefits.
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