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Wgs 150 - Gay & Lesbian Activism

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Jamie Rothenberg

WGS 150

Response Paper #1

        There have been many shifts in lesbian and gay activism that were affected by certain political movements and challenges in the LGBT community. The 1960s and 70s were often considered a new, aggressive form of activism, compared to the more conforming activism of the early 40s and 50s. These shifts in roles that stem from a generation of “Homophile” activists lead to the comparatively more accepting and outspoken activists of the 70s, and today.

        The early 1920s and 30s created small sparks of activism, especially during the Harlem Renaissance in NYC. This period of creative expression allocated meeting places for African American artists and writers. These creative and sexual outlets allowed this small, accepting and intertwined LGBT community to flourish in aspects of art, acting, music, literature, etc. Although these communities were accepting of different sexualities, it was still dangerous for anyone to truly “come out.” If an individual’s sexuality became a primary aspect of their identity, said individuals would find themselves discriminated against in housing, employment, and other aspects of life.  (Finding Out, 53).

        Previous to World War II, there was no formal policy against any LGBT member serving in the United States military. When women were called to serve in the military, the rules changed; during this time, homosexuality was still considered a disease (something that wasn’t formally changed by the World Health Organization in the UK until 1992!); psychiatrists were brought in to serve “blue discharges” against those whom they believed to be a homosexual based on looks and behaviors (Finding Out, 55). The 1950s brought about a new wave of terror for American citizens– communism, and McCarthyism. United States Joseph McCarthy attempted to rid the U.S. of suspected Communists; among the threats of communists living among us, McCarthy claimed that homosexuals were a threat to national security as well. He referred to homosexuals as “perverts”, and openly compared them to communists, for they both “infiltrated the government” and were a “threat to national security” (Finding Out, 56). Even so, this was the same time when the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder was finally being studied and led to the realization that sexuality and psychological issues were not related. Books on the topic of sexuality and identity, such as Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male(Female), which allocated for the idea of a normalization of homosexuality, were being published at the time, which sparked the interest of many average Americans.  

        The end of World War II began the start of the Homophile movement, a period of time where lesbians and gay men came to the realization that they were an oppressed minority group, due very much to the invisibility of others like them. Members of the LGBT community continued to challenge the idea that homosexuality was a sickness, instead claiming that they felt as natural as any other heterosexual person (Finding Out, 58). Homophile organizations, such as the Mattachine Society, or the Daughters of Bilitis, primary goal was to gain acceptance for gay men and lesbians by heterosexuals (Finding Out, 59). During this time, police harassed gay and lesbians who they considered were resisting traditional gender roles. These forms of harassment not only occurred on the streets and in gay bars, but inside the home as well; Landlords had the right to evict those who identified in the LGBT community for that reason alone.  The Veterans’ Benevolent Association was created in response: a New York City based organization focusing primarily on helping homosexuals who were discriminated against due to their sexuality in areas of employment and housing. Many of the organizations created during the Homophile movement worked towards assimilating homosexual and heterosexual lifestyles.

        The 1969 New York City ‘Stonewall Riots’ are often considered the beginning of a much more visible form of gay rights activism in the United States. Gay bars were commonly raided by police officers, in which bar patrons and workers were harassed and held in custody. The riots originally began when police took bar staff into custody and brought them downtown; The Stonewall Inn was a fairly popular gay bar at the time, and had a massive crowd of patrons and workers. In response to the police’s actions, the crowd began to riot out of protest (Finding Out, 72). In contrast to the previous efforts to convince heterosexuals that gays and lesbians were “normal” like them, the LGBT community openly acted out against the norms that they were placed under; they represented a very spontaneous, non-conformist, working class community.         

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