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Attitudes have shifted on LGBTQ issues

by by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt

Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" is one of a few shows that has trans characters, and stars trans actress Laverne Cox. Photo: Courtesy Netflix
Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" is one of a few shows that has trans characters, and stars trans actress Laverne Cox. Photo: Courtesy Netflix  

The LGBTQ movement for equality dates back to the years after World War II - when contemporary homophobia also really began. Homosexuality was medicalized and pathologized; electroshock therapy and other treatments promised to "cure" it. During the McCarthy era, fears about sexual deviance often intertwined with anti-communism.

At the same time, gay consciousness was starting to arise. In the 1950s and early 1960s, pioneering organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis held the first official gay protests. On June 27, 1969, the night gay icon Judy Garland died at age 67, a handful of police officers raided the Stonewall Bar in New York's Greenwich Village. They had done so countless times before, but this night was different. The crowd fought back, rioted, and barricaded the cops inside the bar.

Stonewall was a catalyst. Within months, organizations like the Gay Activists Alliance emerged, demanding equal rights for gays and lesbians. Gay liberation joined the ranks of women's liberation, the civil rights movement, and the antiwar movement.

Attitudes shifted after the trauma of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom in 1998; in 1998, "Will and Grace" featured a gay leading man; "Brokeback Mountain," about two closeted gay cowboys, was an Oscar contender and winner in 2005. By 2015, transgender characters populated TV series like "Transparent" and "Orange Is The New Black."

In 1996, the movement won its first U.S. Supreme Court victory, as the justices threw out a Colorado ban against LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws. Seven years later, Texas sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional. It would take nearly 20 years for same-sex marriage to become a constitutional right, but the logic of that decision was implicit in the earlier ones: if gay people are people, when gay people get married, it's marriage. And that is a fundamental right.

None of this was as inevitable as it may seem in retrospect. Governments can change laws, but society progresses because of people. Today, the vast majority of Americans under the age of 30 support full legal and social equality for LGBTQ people.

The above essay is reproduced with permission from "The Good Fight: America's Ongoing Struggle for Justice," created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt (Sterling Books). © 2017 Against All Odds Productions. All Rights Reserved. The book was made possible by the Anti-Defamation League through a generous grant from Eric and Linda Horodos. "The Good Fight" captures the sporadically violent, often triumphant, always risky struggles of Americans who have experienced hatred, oppression, or bigotry because of their gender, skin color, country of origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or beliefs over the past 100 years. Fought in the streets, the courthouse, and the corridors of Congress, it is a story that has unfolded across America, illustrated here through more than 180 memorable photographs, nearly 60 embedded videos, over a dozen compelling essays plus examples of music and lyrics that rallied America's resistance to injustice. For those who wish to eradicate bigotry and intolerance in America, "The Good Fight" is a call to action. It shows us how much we as a nation have accomplished; it also reminds us of the fragility of our success and how quickly this hard-fought progress can slip away if we do not remain vigilant.


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