Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Timeline

Should religious-based objections to bestowing civil liberties and protections towards GLBT people be tolerated in a nation founded on the principles of liberty, pluralism and the separation of church and state?

This question is salient in the debate surrounding GLBT rights since most legislation proposed against GLBT citizens is predicated on religious beliefs. Interference in public policy issues by religious political groups may constitute an imposition of religious beliefs on vulnerable minority groups in violation of the first amendment and the separation of church and state.  Below are some significant milestones in GLBT history.

1789 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights granting freedom of religion


1969-Stonewall riots

This event marks the advent of the gay rights movement in America for many. Continued police harassment and humiliation of GLBT patrons of a New York city bar erupted in defiant violence and prolonged rioting.

1970- First gay Pride March

1973- Declassification of Homosexuality as a Mental Illness by the American Psychiatric Association

Source: The Question of Equality: Lesbian and Gay Politics in America Since Stonewall.  Edited by David Deitcher.  Scribner New York 1995

1977- Anita Bryant founded Save Our Children in response to the passage of legislation that prohibited job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Bryant’s crusade was effective and the legislation was repealed, creating a domino effect resulting in the revocation of recently passed anti-discrimination laws for gay people in Wichita, Kansas; Eugene, Oregon; and St. Paul, Minnesota.  Many gay people were distraught by Bryant’s campaign against them and committed suicide as a result of the public outpouring of antipathy towards them.  Anita Bryant’s organization became the protype for other Christian fundamentalist groups seeking to get involved in the political process for the purpose of depriving gay people of civil rights and protections.   Televangelist Jerry Falwell began his anti-homosexual crusade Clean Up America (that later became the Moral Majority) in the same year.


1980-  AIDS epidemic 

AIDS begins appearing in major cities and decimated much of gay community by the mid-1990s prior to the advent of more effective treatments.

source: citizen former AIDS activist, hospice worker, and resident of San Francisco during the height of the AIDS epidemic Jeanne Norris

1987 ACT UP (AIDS coalition to unleash power) founded by Larry Kramer

This group arose in response to the lack of governmental response to the AIDS epidemic and advocated a more militant response to social and political disenfranchisement.

Source: Hate Crimes: New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence by Valerie Jenness and Kendal Broad New York 1997 Walter de Gruyter, Inc.

1996 – Federal Law Defense of Marriage Act passed by President Bill Clinton

 Prohibits gay marriage by defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  This was a huge blow to the GLBT community since President Clinton had previously championed GLBT rights.

Source: All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America by Suzanna Danuta Walters.  The University of Chicago Press 2001

1998- Matthew Shepard murdered in Wyoming

Matthew Shepard was certainly not the first GLBT person to be murdered in America, but this case evoked a public outcry and catalyzed both straight and GLBT people to stand up against assaults of GLBT people.   Many people in the past who assaulted and murdered GLBT people were exonerated by claiming the gay panic defense.  John Berendt describes a case of four military men who beat a gay man to death in Savannah, Georgia who were charged with only simple battery in his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Source: Hostile Climate: Report on Anti-gay Activity 2000 People  for the American Way Foundation

2009- Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Bill Passed

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Bill was passed despite opposition to the inclusion of GLBT people in hate crime legislation by some conservatives including former President Bush and Rep. Virginia Foxx from North Carolina.  Foxx vehemently protested extending protections to GLBT people and went so far as to claim Shepard’s murder was a hoax.  The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes committed against GLBT and argues that hate crime legislation is necessary to protect those targeted for sexual or gender  identity. Hate crimes against GLBT people are characterized by excessive violence and posthumous mutilation.  



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