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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

LGBTQ Activism

Sign from Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade

The 20th century saw a wave of organized activism to secure civil rights and freedoms for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. LGBTQ individuals had long been subject to public hostility and legal prosecution, and were widely denied protection against discrimination in employment, housing, military service, and private and public services. In the years after World War II, activists across the nation formed organizations, including the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, to campaign for civil rights for gay men and lesbians. Early movement leaders included Frank Kameny, who spent decades fighting against the federal government’s anti-LGBTQ employment policies, and Lilli Vincenz, who published newsletters and columns, picketed the White House, and made films that documented key moments in the movement.

In June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The bar’s patrons, including transgender and gender non-conforming people, lesbians, and gay men, fought back, sparking several days of protests. A year later, to mark the anniversary of the uprising, thousands of people took to the streets for the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, which is widely regarded as the first Pride celebration.

In the ensuing decades, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people organized and fought on many fronts for equality and civil rights, including rights to employment, military service, and marriage. The HIV/AIDS epidemic that began in the 1980s hit LGBTQ communities hard, and LGBTQ people played central roles in shaping public-health advocacy campaigns that accelerated research and access to new treatments. The tools that activists have used in these struggles have changed over the decades as new technologies have emerged. Also, organizations have changed as they have been challenged to recognize their past blind spots and acknowledge individuals and communities who they themselves have excluded.