Friday, January 28, 2011

A Portrait of Queer America: Final Thoughts

Through this independent student research project I have been able to explore a relatively in-depth look at queer history in America. My initial goal was to gain a solid understanding of the gay civil rights movement so I could move forward with my intentions of one day being both a gay activist and working for an LGBTQ non-profit. In the future I hope to do a much more extensive look at the last ten years in queer history and will be sure to link that endeavor on this blog. This has been an extremely interesting and rewarding experience, and I know I will use this blog in the future as a reference.

Fred Carriles

ISP Outline:

  • Outline
  • 1960s
    • The Stonewall Riots
    • San Francisco and Randy Wicker
    • Dr. Franklin Kameny and Early Politics
    • East Coast Politics
  • 1970s
    • The New Left Movement
    • Feminists and Lesbians Unite
    • American Psychiatric Association
    • Assassination
  • 1980s
    • AIDS (Part I)
    • AIDS (Part II)
    • Politics and Protest
    • Sex Wars
    • Entertainment and Sports
  • 1990s
    • Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers
    • AIDS, a Straight Issue Too
    • President Clinton
    • Visibility
    • Hate Crimes
  • 2000s
    • Marriage Equality
    • Entertainment and Increased Visibility
    • Boy Scouts and the Military
  • Final Thoughts

The 21st Century: Boy Scouts and the Military

Boy Scouts
In mid-2000 the Boy Scouts of America caused controversy when U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor against former Assistant Scout Master James Dale (pictured below). In 1990 a piece had been written on James Dale since he had given a speech as co-president of Rutger's University's Lesbian/Gay Alliance. In 2000 Dale applied for a leadership position with the Boy Scouts. However, upon finding record of his work with a Lesbian/Gay Alliance Dale was not only denied the promotion but removed from the organization. The scouts kicked him out on the basis that their oaths required members to be "morally straight" and that scout laws enforce being "clean" in both word and action.

Dale sued the Boy Scouts of America arguing that it was not a private club and therefore they were violating New Jersey's anti-discrimination act. Unfortunately in a 5-4 decision the court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts. In response, many LGBTQ-friendly corporations ceased donations and financial contributions to the organization. Many groups went as far as disallowing the organizations access to public facilities. The Boy Scouts thus responded by adopting a written policy that reaffirmed their exclusion of LGBTQ individuals and atheists. 

In Barack Obama's presidential campaign he advocated the repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military, a policy which barred homosexuals from serving in the military. In Obama's first State of the Union address as president he stated: "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." Soon after this statement both Robert Gates (Defense Secretary), and Michael Mullen (Joint Chiefs Chairman) gave Obama their support. After overcoming a Republican-led filibuster, the house passed the repeal and Obama signed it into law on December 22nd, 2010.

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 143-144

The 21st Century: Entertainment and Increased Visibility

Visibility and Religion
The early years of the twenty-first century saw immense gains in visibility of gays and lesbians. Out homosexual men and women began to hold positions of importance in politics and the business world. Similarly, great figures in entertainment, such as Rosie O'Donnell, began to out themselves. Religion also saw change in the visibility of LGBTQ individuals. In 2003, openly gay Rev. Gene Robinson (pictured below) was elected, consecrated, and then placed as bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire. The Anglican Church was enraged, and soon other religious leaders and churches threatened discontinued relations with the church. Archbishop Rowan Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Church, appointed a commission to review the issue. Williams proposed that there be a two-tiered membership to the Anglican Church with gay-friendly churches playing a smaller role in worldwide religious power. This issue still divides the church.

The 2000s also saw a huge increase in queer film and television. In 2000 America introduced its British inspired Queer as Folk, a show that explored the lives and sexuality of a group of gay friends. The show was a hit and continued until its final episode in 2005. Television also brought attention to lesbian culture with the show The L World, a television drama about a several lesbian friends. In 2003 HBO aired its queer-themed film Angels in America and LGBTQ-interest television networks such as Here! and LOGO were formed. Another successful television show was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality show in which five gay men helped straight men in fashion, decorating, and cooking. Though the show was well received by heterosexual audiences, the gay community was torn by its depiction of stereotypical queer roles. 

In 2005 film Brokeback Mountain was released, a movie that would become one of the most influential queer-themed films in American history. Brokeback Mountain depicted the relationship between two sexually curious men who struggled with accepting their sexuality. The film opened up discussion on homosexuality and was the first time in which the American public acknowledged that homosexuality did not entail the stereotypical roles formed in the late 80s. 

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 146-148
Implications of Brokeback Mountain --

The 21st Century: Marriage Equality

As America entered a new century the LGBTQ community had taken on a new goal: marriage quality. The 1993 Hawaii case had alerted lesbians and gay men to the importance of being legally recognized, and still bitter from the failed promises of Bill Clinton gay activists began to take the battle to the courtroom. In December of 1999 Supreme Court case Baker v. Vermont ruled that same-sex couples are "entitled under Chaper I, Article 7, of the Vermon Constitution to obtain the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples." Though the court did not require Vermont to marry homosexual couples, it was implied that a similar licensing process as marriage could be issued. The law went into effect on July 1st, 2000 and Vermont became the first state to grant civil union status with the same benefits and rights of marriage.

In 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court  ruled that there was not yet a constitutionally adequate reason for the denial of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Massachusetts would have six months to rewrite marriage laws to account for this. However, conservatives began work on an amendment to the Constitution which would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.  In 2004 San Francisco, California began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The first to be married were gay actvists and co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin (pictured below) followed by 80 other gay and lesbian couples.

On February 24th, 2004, President Bush decided to be a huge party-pooper and announce support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Thanks a lot, Bush. 

Thankfully on May 17th Massachusetts began to grant marriages licenses to same-sex couples, however by the end of the year voters in 13 states had voted to ban same-sex marriage: Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentuckyh, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah. By 2005 Oregon's Supreme Court had nullified nearly 3,000 marriage licenses granted to homosexual couples, and California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed an almost successful bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Over the next few years the same general pattern would follow; most states would debate and inevitably ban same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community became distraught with the fickle nature of state government and the rights for same-sex couples to marry. It seemed that for every step made towards marriage equality, several more states would ban gay marriage. 

In the 2008 California elections Proposition 8 was put up for a vote. Proposition 8, also known as the California Marriage Protection Act, added a new provision to the California Constitution which stated that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." By restricting the rights of same-sex couples to be married, the proposition overturned former California Supreme Court rulings that granted gay couples the right to marry. Proponents of the amendment argued that LGBTQ individuals did not have the right to change the institution of the timeless tradition of marriage. Proposition 8 passed and the LGBTQ community reeled. In the following years across the nation LGBTQ activists protested and fought against Proposition 8. Unfortunately in Strauss v. Horton Proposition 8 was upheld but allowed existing same-sex marriages to stand. However, in 2010 Prop. 8 was overturned in Perry v. Schwarzenegger and put on hold pending appeal.

Currently the federal government of the United states does not recognize same-sex marriages and is legally unable to do so by the Defense of Marriage Act. Across the country gay marriage is legal in only five states, one district, and one Indian tribe. 

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay Rights and Gay Marriage --
History of Gay Marriage --
Timeline of Same-Sex Marriage in the US --

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 90s: Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes
Unfortunately the 90s ended with a collection of hate crimes that would shake the LGBTQ community. On October 7th, 1998 a twenty-one year old gay student Matthew Shepard (pictured below) met two guys at a gay lounge and asked them for a ride back to campus. The two men drove Shepard out to a field, robbed him, severely beat him, tied him to a fence with his own shoelaces, and left him to die. Shepard was discovered eighteen hours later by a bicyclist and was pronounced dead on October 12th. During the trial the defendants claimed that they had temporarily gone insane because Shepard had made sexual advances on them. Both men received life sentences.

At Matthew Phelps funeral anti-gay protestor Rev. Fred Phelps and his family (all members of the Westboro Baptist Church in  Topeka, Kansas) raised signs that stated "Matthew Shepard Rots in Hell" and "God Hates Fags." In reaction President Clinton attempted to add sexual orientation as a protected characteristic to federal hate crime legislation as well as a similar move in the Wyoming state legislature. Both of his attempts failed. 

On July 5, 1999 Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Winchell had been attacked by a fellow Army Airbone Division soldier at Fort Campbell, Kentucky because he was suspected of being gay. Winchell's death brought much publicity and criticism of th e"Don't Ask, Don' Tell" policy. On New Year's Eve, 1993 transgender youth Brandon Teena was raped and then murdered. While these events are horrifying moments in LGBTQ history, they did spark a number of films, plays, books, songs, and discussion on homophobia and equality that would raise awareness. LGBTQ individuals and allies would use these moments to make the message clear: they would not stand for homophobia.

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 138-140

The 90s: Visibility

In 1995 a group of twenty students wanted to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. The groups intentions was to be a safe space for LGBTQ students. The school board fought against the GSA's creation insisting it would constitute endorsement of homosexuality, and they asked the state attorney general whether they could ban the club. Luckily they did not have the right to band the club. The Federal Equal Access Act from 1984 ensured that if one noncurricular can meet, any noncurricular club can meet. Unfortunately this did not end the battle. The media jumped on the school and the oldest of the students, Kelli Peterson (pictured below) became the spokesperson of the group. Some students started talks of starting an antigay club, then the school board decided to band all extracurricular clubs. 

In 1998 a lawsuit was filed by the East High Gay/Straight Alliance (with help from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU, among other groups) in an attempt to fight back against the school board's prejudice decision. The Alliance won the case in 2001, however the school had already backed down on its ban on extracurricular clubs and had accepted the school's GSA in 2000.

During the 90s LGBTQ visibility increased dramatically. Several celebrities and athletes decided to announce their homosexuality including Steve Kmetko, Clive Barker, Yves Saint Laurent, k. d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, George Michael, Rudy Galindo, Martina Navratilova, Billy Bean, and Greg Louganis (among others). In entertainment depictions of AIDS became sympathetic towards both the victims of the disease and gay men in general. On Broadway both Angels in America and Rent became huge hits which tackled the reality of AIDS. In 1994 Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia. Movies such as The Birdcage (1996), In and Out (1997), and My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) all depicted comical depictions of gay men that while admittedly stereotypical did increase visibility. 

Television became much more receptive to homosexuality as well. In 1997 Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom Ellen. The media had a frenzy over Ellen coming out of the closet and her high-profile relationship with actress Anne Heche. Another popular sitcom dealing with homosexuality, Will & Grace, premiered in 1998 and quickly became one of the most popular shows on television. The queer visibility was frightening to some. In 1999 Rev. Jerry Falwell warned that the purple Teletubby Tinky Winky was gay and therefore "damaging to the moral lives of children." Fortunately, no one cared. 

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Kelli Peterson --
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 136-140

The 90s: President Clinton

Bill Clinton
In 1993 the gay community was ecstatic when Clinton became President. Unlike the last two presidents, Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton promised to get rid of the military's prohibition of homosexuals and increase AIDS funding. During the election he had received 75% of the gay vote and $3 million in contributions from the homosexual community.

After being elected gays and lesbians celebrated by leading the Third Lesbian and Gay March (pictured below) on Washington, one which brought over a million participants to our nation's capital. President Clinton quickly appointed almost a hundred lesbians and gay men to his administration. Clinton soon formed the White House Office of National AIDS Policy followed by the creation of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. In 1995 Bill Clinton issued an executive order that sexual orientation could not be used against a person to deny someone security clearances. In 1996 Congress passed a bill that would force the discharge of HIV-positive servicemen from the armed forces, however the Clinton administration organized a repeal. 

Unfortunately Bill was not able to deliver on all of his promises. The first was Clinton's failure in allowing gays to be part of the military. This topic had been one of the oldest policies fought against by homophile groups, and Clinton had promised change. However, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn gathered support in Congress to make the military's ban an actual law, thus stopping the president from changing the regulations. Clinton was eventually pushed into making a compromise known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue." This policy meant that homosexual members of the armed forces could serve in the military as long as they kept it a secret, and did not have sex. Also, the military was not supposed to search/pursue these gays but if any evidence to suggest one is gay is produced, a commanding officer can investigate to his heart's content. Since 1993 12,500 servicemen have been discharged because of this policy.

Bringing it to the Courts
In 1993 the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that the stat needed to show a "compelling state interest" in denying homosexuals the right to marriage. Marriage was extremely important to gay couples as its legal status involved Medicare participation, eligibility for first-time home buyer assistance programs, special rules for international adoption, a variety of veterans benefits, immigration sponsorship qualifications for a partner, as well as numerous tax credits. Unfortunately in 1996 the right-wing revolted and Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denied the recognition of any union between two people who were not male and female, and noted that no state had to accept any other state's definition of marriage. President Clinton was the one to sign this into law. Hawaii continued the case, but in 1996 the judge ruled against it.  The Hawaii legislature passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage-- in 1998 voters approved the amendment. Shortly after a similar occurrence happened in Alaska, but it also failed.

One positive aspect of this was the realization of gays and lesbians that their fight for equality needed to brought into the courts. In 1983 Sharon Kowalski had been paralyzed and speech-impaired from a car accident. Kowalski's legal guardianship was awarded to her parents, however, Karen Thompson, Kowalski's lover, was kept away despite Kowalski's typing out messages of protest. Thompson went to court and finally won guardianship in 1991. The case reminded gays and lesbians thats they were legally very vulnerable. In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment which prohibited anti-discrimination laws throughout the state from including sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination. This was a beacon of hope to gays and lesbians as it was one of the first times the Supreme Court had worked in interest of the LGBTQ community.

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gays in the Military --,8599,1958246,00.html
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 133-136
Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies -- Meem, Gibson, Alexander, pg. 101, 102, 163