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Historical Background of LGBTQ Rights

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 2174 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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History of LGBTQ Persecution

The LGBTQ community has been persecuted for quite some time. They were viewed as bad and mentally ill throughout history. The police, the people that keep the neighborhoods safe from crime, use to harass all LGBTQ identifying individuals. However, with time, the LGBTQ community grew more resilient and eventually stood their ground. They learned that in order for them to be recognized and not attacked was to stand together, so they created small organizations. These organizations helped LGBTQ individuals discuss matters that are important to the community.

In the 1920s

In the 1920s the first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was created but after a countless amounts of police raids they closed down after only operating for one year.

In the 1930s and 1940s

In the 1930s and the 1940s, gay rights were no longer in the spotlight. World War II was everyone’s focus. LGBTQ individuals all around the world stood quietly while they saw their community overseas get murdered. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi agenda also persecuted homosexual men in their prison camps. The Jewish people were branded with the Star of David, while gay men were branded with the pink triangle. Not only were gay men given the pink triangle, but sexual predators were also given the pink triangle.

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In the 1950s

In the 1950s, the nation’s first gay rights group, Mattachine Foundation, was founded by Harry Hay. At the time, the word homosexual was very clinical so this foundation created a term less clinical, homophile. This foundation created programs that allowed room for discussion and education. After an arrest was made of one of the founding members and was let go due to a deadlocked jury, another organization, One, Inc., was created which extended its arm to include women as well. They published the first openly gay magazine in the country. This was all still at the time where homosexuality was looked at as a mental disorder. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president of the United States, in 1956 signed an executive order that banned all gay people guilty of perversion from federal-based jobs. This ban lasted for twenty years. The United States was not okay with this, “in 1958, One, Inc. won a lawsuit against the U.S. Post Office, which in 1954 declared the magazine ‘obscene’ and refused to actually deliver it” (History.com Editors, 2017).

In the 1960s

The 1960s were the progressive years for the gay rights movement. Homosexuality was recognized and put into pop culture, and the term transgender was created. Even with such progress comes the harsh retaliation of not wanting to accept something that is different. People of the LGBTQ community were always getting harassed in bars and public places. In New York City LGBTQ individuals “could not be served alcohol in public due to liquor laws that considered the gathering of homosexuals to be ‘disorderly’” (History.com Editors, 2017). This was harsh for business owners, but this was the way of the 1960’s in New York City. They feared that the authorities would come into their business and shut them down. This type of intimidation led their employees to deny services to LGBTQ individuals, even if they suspected them to be identifying. This resulted in the members of the Mattachine Society in New York City to “staged a “sip-in”—a twist on the “sit-in” protests of the 1960s—in which they visited taverns, declared themselves gay, and waited to be turned away so they could sue” (History.com Editors, 2017). The anti-gay liquor law was later overturned because of the publicity of the events, and sympathizers supporting the cause. However, even though LGBTQ individuals could now buy liquor in public they still faced intimidation and harassment from authority figures.

Stonewall Riot

The Stonewall Riot is a milestone in LGBTQ history. It all began on June 28, 1969, when police decided to raid the Stonewall Inn for alcohol violations, as well as humiliate those that appeared as women by having them reveal gender identifying body parts. During this time there were also a lot of closeted upscale LGBTQ scene participants that did not want to disclose their identity. Police, heterosexual men, would threaten to “out” the individual if they do not pay them off. To out an individual means to disclose their sexual orientation without permission. In general, all the patrons resisted the police constantly harassing them. A very well-known figure merged from the scene, by the name of Marsha P. Johnson who stood up the harassment and constant use of intimidation to scare away the LGBTQ patrons. Sylvia Rivera also emerged from the crowd and took a more physical approach by throwing a glass bottle at the police. This led to other patrons to throw more solid coins, bottles, and other items that they can get a hold off. However, on that day things escalated even more when Storme DeLarverie, a lesbian, was assaulted by the police after telling the officer her handcuffs were too tight. This led to everyone, patrons and sympathizers, to get involve in the resistance and riot. A full on riot that was a result of police harassment. Every LGBTQ person got involved that night, anger and violence filled the streets. Anger and violence also united the front for the LGBTQ community to stand up to police brutality and their rights. As news of the fracas spread across the city, the group of angry demonstrators swelled until the police were forced to take refuge in the empty bar (Jackman and Smith, 2017). Their barricades were no match for the angry patrons that kept breaking through. Eventually, the bar was set on fire from the riot. Reinforcements came to extinguish the fire and aide the other officers that were trapped inside the bar. It was a significant win for the LGBTQ community in fighting against police misusing their power. It also did not start the gay rights movement, but it definitely unified the LGBTQ community in becoming more active in politics, in which will domino into creating gay rights organizations.

Current Implications for the LGBTQ Community

A lot has changed since the Stonewall Riot, as far as life and politics. The Stonewall Riot was based on police harassment, which has decreased due to the legality and Acts that are now in place to protect the United States’ LGBTQ population. So much has changed for the LGTQ community from when the Stonewall Riot took place. In the past ten years, we had one of the first LGBTQ historical sites in the United States of America be named, Acts that acknowledge the mistreatment of LGBTQ individuals, and same sex marriage was legalized a long with receiving federal benefits.

Today, the Stonewall Inn, the very place where the riots occurred has become a historical monument. Every June the Gay Pride Parade kicks off at the Stonewall Inn in memory of all of those that fought courageously against authorities. They said enough is enough, and to leave my people alone. Many LGBTQ individuals were violated and humiliated during those police raidings at the Stonewall Inn and every other gay bar left during that time. Now they commemorate their efforts by making New York City a rainbow and to paint the neighborhood with color everywhere. However, the LGBTQ community are still subjected to cruelty by religious groups that have signs that basically condemn them.

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There are still other forms of assault on LGBTQ individuals still going on in the United States, but they created some Acts that aim to reduce such attacks, such as Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. While President Obama was in office, he signed a law that makes it a federal crime to assault someone based on their sexual orientation. “The expanded federal hate crimes law, hailed by supporters as the first major federal gay rights legislation. The hate crimes measure was named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in 1998, and James Byrd Jr, an African-American man dragged to death in Texas the same year” (“Obama Signs,” 2009). Not only was this a huge milestone for the LGBTQ community to have this type of protection, but for the United States of America to acknowledge that this is actually happening and taking steps to prevent it. However, with the current presidency there is much to worry about due to the stance with the LGBTQ population, especially with a very anti-LGBTQ vice president.

Last but certainly not least, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. In the Unites States v. Windsor case, the supreme court had a 5-4 vote that removed DOMA as it was against the fifth amendment. “‘Because of today’s Supreme Court ruling, the federal government can no longer discriminate against the marriages of gay and lesbian Americans. Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA, and those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married as I did, but with the same federal benefits, protections and dignity as everyone else’, Windsor said” (Mears, 2013). This was the biggest win for the LGBTQ community thus far. This was huge step not only for the United States of America, but the world. Looking back at the time where it was illegal to be who you are as a LGBTQ identifying person to now being free to represent and free to marry is truly amazing and inspirational. Now it’s the time for American’s come together and accept people for who they are, that will be the largest milestone for all people not just LGBTQ identifying.

Social Work Responses

Social workers did not get involved after the Stonewall Riot. Most of the organizations that came out of the event or even prior to the event were all led by lesbian women and gay men being activist for their community. The Stonewall did not start the movement for gay rights, but it led to groups being formed such as, Human Rights Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Gay Liberation Front, and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) (History.com Editors, 2017). They created these groups to represent them as a community and to provide support to one another. For those who struggled to accept and understand their sexual attractions, the availability of supportive resources in mainstream society remained scarce, given that many members of the medical and mental health establishments still adhered to the premise that homosexuality was a mental illness (“Gays to Try,” 1971). They became the only resource for LGBTQ identifying individuals during this time who were able to express their own feelings and daily hardships. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) did not get involved until 1976 where they finally created a Task Force on Gay Issues, but were not an authorized committee until 1979, ten years after the Stonewall Riot. All of these organizations, including the NASW Task Force, were built to fight and defend LGBTQ rights as well as fight oppression and social injustices. According to Berger (1977), high incidence and prevalence of homosexuality and the difficulties engendered by homosexual behavior in a predominantly heterosexual society, social workers have devoted little attention to this phenomenon. (p.280). This article was published a year after the NASW created the Task Force on Gay Issues, there was little involvement with the situation besides the LGBTQ activist standing up for their own rights and supporting each other.


  • Berger, M. R. (1977). An Advocate Model for Intervention with Homosexuals. Social Work. (22) 4. Pages 280 – 283.
  • Gays to Try Experimental Therapy Plan. (1971). The Advocate, (66), 2.
  • History.com Editors. (2017, June 28). Gay Rights. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/history-og-gay-rights
  • Jackman, J. & Smith, L. (2018). What were the Stonewall Riots? The story of the historic demonstrations on their 49th anniversary. Pink News. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/06/28/what-were-the-stonewall-riots-the-story-of-the-historic-demonstrations-on-their-49th-anniversary/
  • Mears, B. (2013). Supreme Court strikes down federal provision on same-sex marriage benefits. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/26/politics/scotus-same-sex-doma/index.html
  • Obama signs hate crimes bill into law. (2009, October 28) Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/10/28/hate.crimes/


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