What do Henry Gerber, Christine Jorgensen, and Barney Frank all have in common? The answer is that all three of them play roles in the LGBT history books in the U.S.
You’re probably aware of Harvey Milk being elected in San Francisco. Ellen DeGeneres coming out as a lesbian. Barack Obama legalizing gay marriage in 2015. But, there’s so much more to LGBT history in America.
LGBTQ+ rights have come a long way over the years, but what are some of the most important events in LGBT history? Keep reading to find out, and keep an eye out for names that you might not recognize.
What’s the Significance?
All of the events and moments mentioned here are part of the overall LGBT history in America. Some are steps forward, while others are steps back, but they have all been part of the decades-long struggle which still goes on today.
From the earliest gay rights organizations almost 100 years ago, to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the previous decade, a whole lot has happened.
LGBTQ History Timeline
This is a summary of the past 100 years of LGBT history in America. Of course, it didn’t begin in the 1920s. LGBTQ+ people go back to the beginning of human life as we know it.
In this list, we explore the most important contemporary events and milestones in U.S. LGBTQ+ history.
Henry Gerber founds The Society for Human Rights in Chicago. It’s the first recorded gay rights organization in the US. The group doesn’t last long, however, being promptly shut down.
Alfred Kinsey publishes the report Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. In contrast to the thoughts of many at the time, he argued that over one-third of men had been involved in homosexual activities at least once, and that homosexuality was not exclusive to gay men.
26 years after Gerber founded The Society for Human Rights, The Mattachine Society was formed by Harry Hays. It became the first gay rights organization in America to last, staying together for about a decade before splintering off.
Transgender woman Christine Jorgensen is the first in America to talk publicly about hormone replacement therapy and gender confirmation surgery. She was perhaps the first trans person with a significant media presence.
Executive Order 10450 is signed by President Dwight Eisenhower, thereby prohibiting homosexuals from working for the federal government, alongside neurotics and alcoholics.
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon form the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), probably the first American lesbian rights organization, in San Francisco. At the time, lesbian bars were illegal and raids and police harassment were commonplace.
The Supreme Court rules in favor of One: The Homosexual Magazine. The US Postal Service and the FBI declared the LGBT magazine to be obscene material, but the Supreme Court cited the First Amendment rights of the publication. This was the first instance of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the LGBTQ community.
Illinois is the first state to effectively decriminalize homosexuality, as it repeals its sodomy laws.
The first American gay rights protest takes place in New York City. It concerns discrimination in the US military.
The Stonewall riots. Police officers tried to raid the Stonewall Inn gay bar in the early hours of June 28. Having been set up two years earlier, it had often been a target of police, and this came to a head here. Police clashed with young activists in a riot which lasted for three days, and left a lasting legacy on the LGBTQ movement in the US.
To mark the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, the country’s first gay pride parade took place in New York City, as thousands of LGBTQ+ individuals took to the streets.
Homosexuality is removed from the American Psychiatric Associations list of mental illnesses, after the board vote on it. They also urge an end to discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
Singer Anita Bryant repeals a gay rights ordinance in Florida as part of her ‘Save Our Children’ campaign. Meanwhile, Harvey Milk becomes just the third openly gay elected public official in the US after winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Discrimination because of sexual orientation is made illegal in Wisconsin, the first US state to do so.
Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches is published. Perhaps the most important work from the intersectional feminist, she explores her experiences as being an LGBTQ+ woman of color.
Barney Frank comes out as gay, becoming just the second openly gay member of Congress. He’s the first to voluntarily come out, however.
The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The law prohibited openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, but also banned the harassment of closeted individuals.
Ellen DeGeneres comes out as gay on the cover of Time magazine. Her character on the TV show ‘Ellen’ also comes out as gay the same year, inviting a shift in public opinion around homosexuality.
Tammy Baldwin was elected to Congress. She became the first openly lesbian candidate to be elected after her victory against Josephine Musser in Wisconsin.
Activist Phill Wilson founded what is now called the Black AIDS Institute, which focused on gay black men after Wilson’s partner Chris Brownlie died from HIV-related complications in 1989.
Vermont grants same-sex couples the right to enter into civil partnerships, becoming the first state to do so and paving the eventual way for same-sex marriages.
President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for the two men who were murdered for being gay and black respectively. The new legislation meant that crimes motivated by gender identity, sexual orientation and disability would be categorized as hate crimes.
The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is repealed in the US Senate, meaning that gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military.
The Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage to be legal across all 50 states.
New York City announces that it will erect a monument dedicated to influential LGBTQ+ activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
LGBTQ+ Rights Today
The LGBT history timeline is still growing and evolving, and there’s sure to be more to add in the future.
What other events should we add to this list? Share them in the comments below.