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LGBTQ Rights Movement

These resources document the modern American LGBTQ rights movement in the twentieth century.


A sample of key topics across the LGBTQ rights movement:

Homophile Movement, 1950-1959
  • Mattachine Society
  • ONE Inc./ONE Magazine
  • Daughter's of Bilitis/The Ladder
  • Lavender Scare
  • Stouman v. Reilly
  • ONE, Inc. v. Oleson
  • Beat writers
  • "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual"
Homophile Movement, 1960-1969
  • Janus Society/Dewey's sit-in
  • Washington Mattachine Society/Protests of 1965
  • New York Mattachine Society/Sip-in
  • Annual Reminder Protests
  • Council on Religion and the Homosexual/New Year's Eve crackdown
  • Vanguard/Compton's Cafeteria riots
  • P.R.I.D.E./Black Cat riots
  • Scott v. Macy
  • Norton v. Macy
  • Student Homophile League, Columbia University
  • Metropolitan Community Church
Gay Liberation, 1969-1980
  • Stonewall Riots
  • Gay Liberation Front/Gay Activists Alliance
  • Gay pride parades
  • Political power/White House meeting
  • APA's DSM removal of homosexuality as a illness
  • Community service centers
  • Gay press
  • Lesbian feminism
  • Identity politics
  • Transgender activism
  • Anita Bryant backlash
  • Harvey Milk assassination
  • March on Washington
AIDS Crisis, 1981-1993
  • GRID
  • Government inaction
  • Community support groups
  • Rock Hudson/Ryan White 
  • LaRouche Initiative
  • March on Washington
  • NAMES Project quilt
  • ACT UP
  • LGBT benefits and families
  • Bowers v. Hardwick
  • Bisexual activism
LGBTQ Rights Movement, 1993-
  • Hate crimes/Matthew Shepard
  • Bullying/Student groups
  • Military service/Don't Ask, Don't Tell
  • Marriage equality/Defense of Marriage Act
  • Romer v. Evans
  • Lawrence v. Texas
  • Transgender activism


A sample of key people across the LGBTQ rights movement:

Homophile Movement, 1950-1969
  • Christine Jorgensen
  • ​James Baldwin
  • José Julio Sarria
  • Harry Hay
  • Frank Kameny
  • Dr. Harry Benjamin
  • Bayard Rustin
  • Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon
  • Reed Erickson
  • Barbara Gittings
Gay Liberation, 1969-1980
  • Audre Lorde
  • Troy Perry
  • Elaine Noble
  • Melvin Boozer
  • Jeanne Córdova
  • Ivy Bottini
  • Sylvia Rivera
  • Steve Endean
  • Jack Baker and Mike McConnell
  • Harvey Milk
AIDS Crisis, 1981-1993
  • Larry Kramer
  • Roberta Achtenberg
  • Virginia Apuzzo
  • Urvashi Vaid
  • Marlon Riggs
  • Lou Sullivan​


A sample of key texts across the LGBTQ rights movement:

Harry Hay:  Mattachine Society statement of purpose and membership pledge (1951)

Formed in Los Angeles in 1951, the Mattachine Society was one of the earliest LGBT organizations in the U.S. The aim was to have discussion groups and grow a cohesive identity and minority consciousness. 

While there are undoubtedly individual homosexuals who number many of their own people among their friends, thousands of homosexuals live out their lives bewildered, unhappy, alone, --isolated from their own kind and unable to adjust to the dominant culture. Even those who may have many homosexual friends are still cut off from the deep satisfactions man’s gregarious nature can achieve only when he is consciously part of a larger unified whole. A major purpose of the Mattachine Society is to provide a consensus of principle around which all of our people can rally and from which they can derive a feeling of belonging.  

Carl Wittman: A Gay Manifesto (1969-1970) 

Wittman’s commitment to social justice, honed during his work with Students for a Democratic Society, led to a radical vision for gay liberation coupled with a more general sexual liberation agenda for all. 

Conclusion: An Outline of Imperatives for Gay Liberation 

  1. Free ourselves: come out everywhere; initiate self defense and political activity; initiate counter community institutions. 

  1. Turn other gay people on: talk all the time; understand; forgive, accept. 

  1. Free the homosexual in everyone… be gentle, and keep talking and acting free. 

  1. We’ve been playing an act for a long time, so we’re consummate actors. Now we can begin to be, and it’ll be a good show! 

Radicalesbians: The Woman-Identified Woman (1970) 

Second-wave feminism was initially hostile to lesbians. At the Second Congress to Unite Women, a group calling itself Radicalesbians distributed a flyer demanding a discussion of lesbianism in the women’s movement. 

It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other which is at the heart of the women’s liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution. Together we must find, reinforce and validate our authentic selves. As we do this, we confirm in each other that struggling incipient sense of pride and strength, the divisive barriers begin to melt, we feel this growing solidarity with our sisters. We see ourselves as prime, find our centers inside of ourselves. We find receding the sense of alienation, of being cut off, of being behind a locked window, of being unable to get out what we know is inside. We feel a realness, feel at last we are coinciding with ourselves. With that real self, with that consciousness, we begin a revolution to end the imposition of all coercive identifications, and to achieve maximum autonomy in human expression. 

National Organization of Woman (NOW) resolution (1971)

Less than one year after the purge of lesbian members from NOW, this formal resolution won approval at the NOW national convention and brought lesbians and lesbian issues permanently into the feminist movement. 

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That NOW recognizes the double oppression of women who are lesbians, and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That a woman's right to her own person includes the right to define and express her own sexuality and to choose her own lifestyle, and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That NOW acknowledge the oppression of lesbians as a legitimate concern of feminism. 

Combahee River Collective: A Black Feminist Statement (1977)

In the fervor of various rights movements, the Massachusetts-based Combahee Collective articulated the black feminist lesbian perspective. This was an entirely new viewpoint and had to be created, a member said, “from scratch.”  

We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in Black women's lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression. 

Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as Black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.

People with AIDS: The Denver Principles (1983)

The Denver Principles were created at the founding meeting of the National Association of People with AIDS. The principles set the foundation of the respect and dignity people with AIDS should be regarded and treated.  

We condemn attempts to label us as “victims,” which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally “patients,” which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are “people with AIDS.” 

We recommend that all people 

  1. Support us in our struggle against those who would fire us from our jobs, evict us from our homes, refuse to touch us, separate us from our loved ones, our community, or our peers, since there is no evidence that AIDS can be spread by casual social contact. 

  1. Do not scapegoat people with AIDS, blame us for the epidemic, or generalize about our lifestyles. 

Larry Kramer: 1,112 and Counting (1983) 

In 1983, the new epidemic AIDS had generated a largely tepid response within the gay community. Author and playwright Kramer, who had already helped found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, here uses analysis and rhetoric to mobilize his community to political action in the pages of the New York Native. 

I am angry and frustrated almost beyond the bound my skin and bones and body and brain can encompass. My sleep is tormented by nightmares and visions of lost friends, and my days are flooded by the tears of funerals and memorial services and seeing my sick friends. How many of us must die before all of us living fight back? 

I know that unless I fight with every ounce of my energy I will hate myself. I hope, I pray, I implore you to feel the same. 

James S. Tinney: Why A Black Gay Church? (1986) 

Minister, journalist, speechwriter, and professor, Tinney’s passion for Black Pentecostalism and for political mobilization led to this article, which focuses on bridging gay liberation and worship. 

White gay churches have, within the past 10 years or more, come into existence under circumstances related to the oppression of sexual identity that parallel the circumstances related to oppression of Black identity. Unfortunately, however, many Black lesbians and gays find the same racial oppressiveness in these white gay churches that Blacks generally experience in predominantly white churches of whatever label. 

Black gay churches should be supported because, on the one hand, they represent the pluralism that America and American Christianity are supposed to represent; and on the other hand, they represent the same desire for freedom, access, encouragement, understanding, and recognition that Blacks find impossible in most white churches, and that white gays find impossible in most “straight” churches. 

Sandy Stone: The Empire Strikes Back: A Postranssexual Manifesto (1988) 

First presented at "Other Voices, Other Worlds: Questioning Gender and Ethnicity," Santa Cruz, CA. A new and emboldened transgender movement emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This essay participated in the redefinition of the movement and the beginning of transgender scholarship. 

The essence of transsexualism is the act of passing… I could not ask a transsexual for anything more inconceivable than to forgo passing, to be consciously "read", to read oneself aloud--and by this troubling and productive reading, to begin to write oneself into the discourses by which one has been written--in effect, then, to become a [look out-- dare I say it again?] postranssexual.  Still, transsexuals know that silence can be an extremely high price to pay for acceptance.  I want to speak directly to the brothers and sisters who may read/"read" this and say:  I ask all of us to use the strength which brought us through the effort of restructuring identity, and which has also helped us to live in silence and denial, for a re-visioning of our lives.  I know you feel that most of the work is behind you and that the price of invisibility is not great.  But, although individual change is the foundation of all things, it is not the end of all things.  Perhaps it's time to begin laying the groundwork for the next transformation. 

Supreme Court Rulings

A sample of key United States Supreme Court cases across the LGBTQ rights movement:

ONE, Inc. v. Olesen (1958) 

This case was the first Supreme Court decision in favor of LGBT rights. Los Angeles Postmaster Olesen seized mailings of the early gay and lesbian movement’s ONE Magazine on the basis that it promoted homosexuality and thus was inherently obscene.  The Supreme Court reversed the lower court decisions and cleared the way for the circulation of LGBT publications.   

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) 

This case reversed a federal district court’s finding that an anti-sodomy statute violated a homosexual's fundamental right to privacy. Hardwick, arrested for alleged consensual sex with a man in his bedroom, was prosecuted for the crime of sodomy. Until this decision was reversed seventeen years later, it would allow for the continuing denial of a broad range of civil rights for LGBT people.   

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) 

This case affirmed that the prohibition in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against gender discrimination extended to discrimination based on gender-role stereotypes. Employee Ann Hopkins was rejected for promotion because she did not behave in a “feminine” manner. In finding for her, the court concluded that the Civil Rights Act barred not just discrimination based on the biological differences between women and men, but also discrimination based on a person’s failure to conform to socially-constructed gender expectations.  

Romer v. Evans (1996) 

This case overturned Colorado’s state constitutional Amendment 2, passed by voters, which prohibited any city, town, or county in the state from any action designed to protect gay and lesbian people. The court ruled that the amendment violated the rights of gay and lesbian citizens to participate in society and politics. Besides becoming a legal standing to challenge government discrimination, it checked the power of voters or legislators to deny equal rights to LGBT people. 

Lawrence v. Texas (2003) 

This case reversed the court’s finding in 1986’s Bowers v. Hardwick by invalidating a Texas sodomy law. The court found that "the liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons." The decision would have a broad impact on the fight for LGBT civil rights, including on the denial of same-sex marriage, deportation of LGBT people, ban of LGBT people from military service, and removal of children from LGBT parents 

United States v. Windsor (2013) 

This case ruled that one section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional and that the federal government could not discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections. The court held that the act was “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” 

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