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LGBT rights
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History · Groups · Activists
Same-sex relationships
Opposition · Persecution

LGBT social movements is a collective term for a number of movements that share related goals of social acceptance of homosexuality and/or transgenderism.[How to reference and link to summary or text] LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and their movements include the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement, Gay Liberation, lesbian feminism, the queer movement and transgender activism. A commonly stated goal is social equality for LGBT people; some currents within these movements have also focused on building LGBT communities, or worked towards liberation for the broader society from sexual oppression. LGBT movements today are made up of a wide range of political activism and cultural activity, such as lobbying and street marches; social groups, support groups and community events; magazines, films and literature; academic research and writing; and even business activity.

Opposition and internal tensions

LGBT movements are opposed by a variety of individuals and organizations. As with other social movements, there is also conflict within and between LGBT movements, especially about strategies for change and debates over exactly who comprises the constituency that these movements represent — for instance, to what extent do lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered people, intersexed people and others share common interests and a need to work together?[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Social change

Significant social, legal and political gains have been made by LGBT communities, especially in the Western world since the 1960s. Homosexual sex is no longer illegal in much of the world, although several countries still impose the death penalty for such acts. Some countries have anti-discrimination legislation in place, and in recent years, a few states have begun to recognise same sex relationships. Many prominent medical authorities no longer treat homosexuality as a mental illness [citation needed], although transsexuality is still viewed as such. Opponents of gay rights (such as NARTH), however, say that these mainstream institutions have succumbed to political pressure rather than relying on a rational examination of the facts. An example that is often cited is the controversy over the removal of homosexuality from the DSM. In 1973, homosexuality was removed and replaced with "Sexual Orientation Disturbance" in the DSM-II; this was changed to "Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality" in the DSM-III and was removed entirely from the DSM-IV.


Although there is a wide range of opinions within the various LGBT movements, most agree that all people deserve equal rights, equal respect and parity in law, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and that prejudice (homophobia, biphobia and transphobia) is dangerous, not just to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, but to all members of society. It is also commonly argued that sexual orientation and gender identity are innate and cannot be consciously changed, and attempts to alter sexual orientation are generally opposed in principle.


Before 1860

In eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, same-sex sexual behaviour and cross-dressing were widely considered to be socially unacceptable, and were serious crimes under sodomy and sumptuary laws. Any organized community or social life was underground and secret. Social reformer Jeremy Bentham wrote the first known argument for homosexual law reform in England around 1785, at a time when the legal penalty for "buggery" was death by hanging.[1] However, he feared reprisal, and his powerful essay was not published until 1978. The emerging currents of secular humanist thought which had inspired Bentham also informed the French Revolution, and when the newly-formed National Constituent Assembly began drafting the policies and laws of the new republic in 1790, groups of militant 'sodomite-citizens' in Paris petitioned the Assemblée nationale, the governing body of the French Revolution, for freedom and recognition.[2] In 1791 France became the first nation to decriminalise homosexuality, probably thanks in part to the homosexual Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès who was one of the authors of the Napoleonic code.

In 1833, an anonymous English-language writer wrote a poetic defence of Captain Nicholas Nicholls, who had been sentenced to death in London for sodomy:

Whence spring these inclinations, rank and strong?
And harming no one, wherefore call them wrong?[3]

Three years later in Switzerland, Heinrich Hoessli published the first volume of Eros: Die Mannerliebe der Griechen ("Eros: The Male-love of the Greeks"), another defence of same-sex love.[4]

1860 - 1944

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

Modern historians usually look to German activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs as the pioneer of the LGBT rights movement. Ulrichs came out publicly and began publishing books about same-sex love and gender variance in the 1860s, a few years before the term "homosexual" was first published in 1869. Ulrichs' Uranians were people with a range of gender expressions and same-sex desires; he considered himself "a female psyche in a male body".

From the 1870s, social reformers in other countries had began to take up the Uranian cause, but their identites were kept secret for fear of reprisal. A secret British society called the "Order of Chaeronea" campaigned for the legalisation of homosexuality, and counted playwright Oscar Wilde among its members in the last decades of the 19th century.[5] In the 1890s, English socialist poet Edward Carpenter and Scottish anarchist John Henry Mackay wrote in defense of same-sex love and androgyny; Carpenter and British homosexual rights advocate John Addington Symonds contributed to the development of Havelock Ellis's groundbreaking book Sexual Inversion, which called for tolerance towards "inverts" and was suppressed when first published in England.

Magnus Hirschfeld was a prominent German physician, sexologist, and gay rights advocate.

In Europe and America, a broader movement of "free love" was also emerging from the 1860s among first-wave feminists and radicals of the libertarian Left. They critiqued Victorian sexual morality and the traditional institutions of family and marriage that were seen to enslave women. Some advocates of free love in the early 20th century also spoke in defence of same-sex love and challenged repressive legislation, such as the Russian anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman.

In 1898, German doctor and writer Magnus Hirschfeld formed the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee to campaign publicly against the notorious law "Paragraph 175", which made sex between men illegal. Adolf Brand later broke away from the group, disagreeing with Hirschfeld's medical view of the "intermediate sex", seeing male-male sex as merely an aspect of manly virility and male social bonding. Brand was the first to use "outing" as a political strategy, claming that German Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow engaged in homosexual activity.

May 14, 1928 issue of German lesbian periodical Die Freundin (Girlfriend).

The 1901 book Sind es Frauen? Roman über das dritte Geschlecht (Are These Women? Novel about the Third Sex) by Aimée Duc was as much a political treatise as a novel, criticising pathological theories of homosexuality and gender inversion in women.[6] Anna Rüling, delivering a public speech in 1904 at the request of Hirschfeld, became the first female Uranian activist. Rüling, who also saw "men, women, and homosexuals" as three distinct genders, called for an alliance between the women's and sexual reform movements, but this speech is her only known contribution to the cause. Women only began to join the previously male-dominated sexual reform movement around 1910 when the German government tried to expand Paragraph 175 to outlaw sex between women. Heterosexual feminist leader Helene Stöcker became a prominent figure in the movement.

Hirschfeld, whose life was dedicated to social progress for homosexual and transgender people, formed the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexology) in 1919. The institute conducted an enormous amount of research, saw thousands of transgender and homosexual clients at consultations, and championed a broad range of sexual reforms including sex education, contraception and women's rights. However, the gains made in Germany would soon be drastically reversed with the rise of Nazism, and the institute and its library were destoyed in 1933. The Swiss journal Der Kreis was the only part of the movement to continue through the Nazi era.

In the United States, several secret or semi-secret groups were formed explicitly to advance the rights of homosexuals as early as the turn of the twentieth century, but little is known about them[7]. A better documented group is Henry Gerber’s Society for Human Rights formed in Chicago in 1924), which was quickly suppressed.[8]

Cover of U.S. lesbian publication 'The Ladder' from October 1957. The motif of masks and unmasking was prevalent in the homophile era, prefiguring the political strategy of coming out and giving the Mattachine Society its name.

1945 - 1968

Main article: Homophile

Immediately following World War II, a number of homosexual rights groups came into being or were revived across the Western world, in Britain, France, Germany, Holland, the Scandinavian countries and the United States. These groups usually preferred the term homophile to "homosexual", emphasising love over sex. The homophile movement began in the late 1940s with groups in the Netherlands and Denmark, and continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s with groups in Sweden, Norway, the United States, France, Britiain and elsewhere. ONE, Inc., the first public homosexual organization in the U.S,[9] was bankrolled by the wealthy transsexual man Reed Erickson. A U.S. transgender-rights journal, Transvestia: The Journal of the American Society for Equality in Dress, also published two issues in 1952.

The homophile movement lobbied within established political systems for social acceptability; radicals of the 1970s would later disparage the homophile groups for being assimilationist. Any demonstrations were orderly and polite [10]. By 1969, there were dozens of homophile organizations and publications in the U.S,[11] and a national organization had been formed, but they were largely ignored by the media. A 1965 gay march held in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, according to some historians, marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Meanwhile in San Francisco in 1966, transgender street prostitutes in the poor neighborhood of Tenderloin rioted against police harassment at a popular all-night restaurant, Compton's Cafeteria.

1969 - 1974

Main article: Gay Liberation

This 1970 poster from New York shows the spirit of pride, openness and celebration. Gay Liberation's links with the counterculture are also evident.

The new social movements of the sixties, such as the Black Power and anti-Vietnam war movements in the U.S, the May 1968 insurrection in France, and Women's Liberation throughout the Western world, inspired some LGBT activists to become militant,[12] and the Gay Liberation Movement emerged towards the end of the decade. The English-speaking world marks the birth of the new radicalism at the Stonewall riots of 1969, when a group of transgender, lesbian and gay male patrons at a bar in New York resisted a police raid.[13]

Immediately after Stonewall, such groups as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists' Alliance (GAA) were formed. Their use of the word "gay" represented a new unapologetic defiance — as an antonym for "straight" ('respectable sexual behaviour'), it encompassed a range of non-normative sexualities and gender expressions, such as transgender street prostitutes, and sought ultimately to free the bisexual potential in everyone, rendering obsolete the categories of homosexual and heterosexual.[14][15] According to Gay Lib writer Toby Marotta, "their Gay political outlooks were not homophile but liberationist."[16] "Out, loud and proud", they engaged in colorful street theater[17]. The GLF’s ‘A Gay Manifesto’ set out the aims for the fledgling gay liberation movement, and influential intellectual Paul Goodman published “The Politics of Being Queer” (1969). Chapters of the GLF were established across the US and in other parts of the Western world. The Front Homosexuel d'Action Révolutionnaire was formed in 1971 by lesbians who split from the Mouvement Homophile de France in 1971. One of the values of the movement was gay pride. Organized by an early GLF leader Brenda Howard, the Stonewall riots were commemorated by annual marches that became known as Pride parades.

Gay Pride flag, symbol of the LGBT rights movement

1975 - 1986

From the anarchistic Gay Liberation Movement of the early 1970s arose a more conservative and institutionalized "Gay Rights Movement", which portayed gays and lesbians as a minority group and used the language of civil rights — in many respects continuing the work of the homophile period.[18] This also represented a shift away from transgender issues, and butch bar dykes and flamboyant street queens came to be seen as negative stereotypes of lesbians and gays. Veteran activists such as Sylvia Rivera and Beth Elliot were sidelined or expelled because they were transsexual. During this period, the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) was formed (1978), and it continues to campaign for lesbian and gay human rights with the United Nations and individual national governments.

Lesbian feminism, which was most influential from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, encouraged women to direct their energies toward other women rather than men, and advocated lesbianism as the logical result of feminism.[19] As with Gay Liberation, this understanding of the lesbian potential in all women was at odds with the minority-rights framework of the Gay Rights movement. Many women of the Gay Liberation movement felt frustated at the domination of the movement by men and formed separate organisations; some who felt gender differences between men and women could not be resolved developed "lesbian separatism", influenced by writings such as Jill Johnston's 1973 book "Lesbian Nation". Disagreements between different political philosophies were, at times, extremely heated, and became known as the lesbian sex wars,[20] clashing in particular over views on sadomasochism and transsexuality. The term "gay" came to be more strongly associated with homosexual males.

1987 - present

Some historians consider that a new era of the gay rights movement began in the 1980s with the advent of AIDS, which decimated the leadership and shifted the focus for many.[21] This era saw a resurgence of militancy with direct action groups like ACT UP (formed in 1987), and its offshoots Queer Nation (1990) and the Lesbian Avengers (1992). Some younger activists, seeing "gay and lesbian" as increasingly normative and politically conservative, began using the word queer as a defiant statement of all sexual minorities and gender variant people — just as the earlier liberationists had done with the word "gay". Less confrontational terms that attempt to reunite the interests of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transpeople also became prominent, including various acronyms like LGBT, LGBTQ, and LGBTI. As of 2006, these acronyms have become commonplace descriptors used by organisations that once described themselves as "gay rights" groups.

In the 1990s, organisations began to spring up in non-western countries, such as Progay Philippines, which was founded in 1993 and organised the first Gay Pride march in Asia on June 26, 1994. In many countries, LGBT organizations remain illegal (as of 2006) and transgender and homosexual activists face extreme opposition from the state.

The 1990s also saw a rapid expansion of transgender rights movements across the globe. Hijra activists campaigned for recognition as a third sex in India and Travesti groups began to organise against police brutality across Latin America, while activists in the United States formed militant groups such as Transexual Menace. An important text was Leslie Feinberg's, "Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come", published in 1992. 1993 is considered to mark the beginning of a new movement of intersexuals, with the founding of the Intersex Society of North America by Cheryl Chase.

See also


  • Age of consent
  • Gay rights opposition
  • Homophobia
  • Homosexual agenda
  • Homosexuality laws of the world
  • LGBT movements in the United States
  • List of gay-rights organizations
  • List of LGBT rights activists
  • Pro-gay slogans and symbols
  • Queer nationalism
  • Special rights
  • Timeline of LGBT history



  1. Bentham, Jeremy, Offences Against One's Self, c1785 (full text online).
  2. Blasius, Mark and Phelan, Shane (eds.), 1997. "We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian Politics", New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415908590
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.
  5. McKenna, Neil (2003), "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde: An Intimate Biography". (London: Century) ISBN 0712669868
  6. Breger, Claudia. 2005. Feminine Masculinities: Scientific and Literary Representations of "Female Inversion" at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Journal of the History of Sexuality 14.1/2 (2005) 76-106
  7. Norton 2005
  8. Bullough 2005
  9. Percy & Glover 2005
  10. Matzner 2004
  11. Percy 2005
  12. Matzner, Andrew, “Stonewall Riots”, glbtq: An Enclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer Culture, Claude J. Summers, ed. 2004. Accessed on December 30, 2005.
  13. Bullough, Vern, “When did the Gay Right Movement Begin?”, April 18, 2005. Accessed on December 30, 2005.
  14. Altman, D. (1971). Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation. New York: Outerbridge & Dienstfrey.
  15. Adam, B. D. (1987). The rise of a gay and lesbian movement. Boston: Twayne Publishers.
  16. Marotta, Toby, The Politics of Homosexuality, Boston, p. 68
  17. Gallagher & Bull 1996
  18. Epstein, S. (1999). Gay and lesbian movements in the United States: Dilemmas of identity, diversity, and political strategy. in B. D. Adam, J. Duyvendak, & A. Krouwel (Eds.), "The global emergence of gay and lesbian politics" (pp. 30-90). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  19. Rich, A. (1980). Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Signs, 5, 631-660.
  20. Lesbian Sex Wars article by Elise Chenier from GLBTQ encyclopedia.
  21. Percy, William A. & William Edward Glover, “Before Stonewall by Glover & Percy”, November 5, 2005. Accessed on December 30, 2005.

External links

Further reading

bg:Гей-права de:Lesben- und Schwulenbewegung es:Movimiento gay et:Geiliikumine hu:LMBT törvények pt:Direitos dos homossexuais pelo mundo ru:Права сексуальных меньшинств sv:Gayrörelse zh:同性恋权利

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