From Stonewall to today: 51 years of modern LGBTQ+ history
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the New York Police Department unwittingly helped start the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. At the time, clubs with gay or lesbian patrons weren't allowed to serve alcohol, but the Stonewall Inn still served booze to their customers, which gave police cause to raid the bar. The clientele pushed back and 13 people were arrested. LGBTQ+ people and allies protested for days. Among those in the crowd was transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, who later founded Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that provided resources for transgender youth.
After the events at Stonewall—which the NYPD apologized for in 2019—more and more people pushed for LGBTQ+ equality. Activists organized the first LGBTQ+ marches in the United States and around the world, giving rise to annual pride parades. In 1973, the American Psychological Association no longer considered being gay or lesbian a mental illness, and in 1974, the first openly lesbian politicians were elected. Currently, openly gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer candidates occupy political office, including in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Abroad, Iceland and Ireland both have openly gay prime ministers.
There is still more to be done, but in the past 51 years, the government has passed laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage. More than two dozen countries have passed legislation giving marriage rights to everyone, most recently in Taiwan and Austria.
In the military, it took decades for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to win the right to enlist. And it wasn't until 2011 that LGBTQ+ troops could openly serve in the United States armed forces. While the Obama administration repealed the ban on transgender troops in 2016, President Donald Trump effectively reinstated the ban in 2019.
To find out more about LGBTQ+ history, Stacker combed through news reports and used data from the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to compile 50 years of LGBTQ+ progress. Read on to see the evolution of this movement in recent history.
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1969: Stonewall Riots
Anger erupted after New York City police arrested 13 people during a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a bar and safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. Advocates protested for days, even though police took action—even turning fire hoses onto the crowd. Many say the event catalyzed the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.
1970: Gay Liberation Front (GLF) forms
The events of Stonewall led to the creation of the GLF, a group that organized the “Christopher Street Liberation Day” in New York—now considered the first pride parade. It started with only a few hundred people, but the time the group reached Central Park, thousands were marching for LGBTQ+ equality.
1972: Sweden allows people to legally change gender
In 1972, Sweden became the first country to give people the right to legally change their gender on identifying documents. However, people needed to be over 18, unmarried, and sterilized; the country didn't remove the mandatory sterilization law until 2013. In some U.S. states, people still need to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to legally change their gender.
1972: U.K. has first pride parade
The United Kingdom held the country's first LGBTQ+ pride parade on July 1, 1972. Britain's GLF organized the event, and about 700 people showed up to march. Their slogan was simple: “Gay is Good.”
1973: Lambda Legal forms
The Lambda Legal organization formed to offer legal support for LGBTQ+ equality. But first, they had to represent themselves to fight for the right to exist in New York. In the 70s, the group fought for LGBTQ+ rights on the college and national level. In 1983, they were successful in the first HIV/AIDS discrimination case in the U.S.
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1973: Homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental illness
Until the early 70s, physicians could diagnose someone in a same-sex relationship as mentally ill. But in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-II.
1974: First openly lesbian officials elected
Kathy Kozachenko and Elaine Noble became the nation's first openly lesbian or gay elected officials in 1974. Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council in Michigan, while Noble held a position in the Massachusetts General Assembly.
1977: First openly gay man elected
Harvey Milk made history when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay male politician elected in a major city. Before he was assassinated a year later, Milk helped pass city ordinances to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.
1978: The rainbow flag is created
In 1978, Milk's friend Gilbert Baker brought his 30-by-60-foot rainbow flag to an LGBTQ+ rights rally in San Francisco. Afterward, it became an enduring symbol of pride for the LGBTQ+ community. According to the Washington Post, Baker sometimes referred to himself as “the Betsy Ross of gay liberation.” He died in 2017 at the age of 65.
1979: First national LGBTQ+ march
Thousands of people marched for equality in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. They gathered together to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, including within the federal government.
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