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Milestones in Gay History in America

Great strides taken in the fight for rights

  • Kay Tobin Lahusen/NYPL

    1958: Establishing Roots

    En español | Barbara Gittings founds the first East Coast chapter of Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian rights organization, in New York.

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  • Kay Tobin Lahusen/NYPL

    1965: Early Demonstrations

    The first picketing for gay rights occurs in Washington, D.C., and in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4.

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  • Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

    1966: Sipping In Freedom

    The Mattachine Society stages a "sip-in" at Julius Bar in New York City challenging a New York State Liquor Authority regulation prohibiting the serving of alcohol to gays. 

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  • Kay Tobin Lahusen/NYPL

    1966: A Movement Unites

    The National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations is established. It later becomes NACHO, or the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations.

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  • The New York Times/Redux

    1969: Stonewall Raid & Riots

    At the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village, customers at the popular gay bar stand up to police who raid the spot on June 28. New York laws prohibited homosexuality in public, and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down. Riots ensue, prompting gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people across the nation to organize to fight for their rights.

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  • Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

    1970: First Gay Pride Day

    The first Gay Liberation Day march is held in New York City. The first Gay Freedom Day march is held in Los Angeles. The first "gay-in" is held in San Francisco.

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  • Kay Tobin Lahusen/NYPL

    1971: Breaking More Barriers

    The U.S. Libertarian Party calls for the repeal of all victimless crime laws, including the anti-sodomy laws. Dr. Frank Kameny becomes the first openly gay candidate for the U.S. Congress. The University of Michigan establishes the first collegiate LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) programs office, first known as the "Gay Advocate's Office."

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  • Bill Eppridge/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    1972: Dems Speak Out

    Jim Fister and Madeline D. Davis are the first gay and lesbian delegates to the Democratic convention in Miami Beach, Fla., and Sen. George McGovern gives the first speech advocating the inclusion of a gay-rights plank in the Democratic platform.

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  • Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

    1973: What's 'Normal' Sexuality?

    The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). The National Gay Task Force, later renamed the "National Gay and Lesbian Task Force," is founded.

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  • Kay Tobin Lahusen/NYPL

    1975: Gays' Bully Pulpit

    The Advocate, established eight years earlier (and the oldest gay periodical in continuous publication in the United States), reaches 50,000 in circulation and is recognized in the Wall Street Journal as a "notable new magazine." AT&T becomes the first corporation to announce a non-discrimination policy toward gays. The U.S. Civil Service Commission announces it will no longer exclude homosexuals from government employment. 

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  • Corbis

    1977: Milk Elected Supervisor

    Harvey Milk is elected city-county supervisor in San Francisco, becoming the third openly gay American elected to public office.

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  • Everett Collection

    1977: Dismayed in Dade

    Dade County, Fla., enacts a Human Rights Ordinance, which is repealed later in the year after a drive led by orange-juice pitchwoman and former Miss America runner-up Anita Bryant. 

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  • Getty Images

    1978: Turbulent Times

    San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White. Milk becomes a gay martyr. The rainbow flag becomes a popular symbol of homosexual pride. SAGE, standing for "Senior Action in a Gay Environment" (now the acronym means "Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders"), starts nationally. Robert Grant founds the Christian Voice to take his anti-gay-rights crusade nationwide in the United States.

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  • Corbis

    1979: Rainbow Rally

    The first national gay-rights march on Washington, D.C., is held and draws at least 100,000 participants.   

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  • Equal Rights Campaign

    1980: The Equal Sign

    The Human Rights Campaign Fund is founded by Steve Endean, an advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (also known as "LGBT") equality.   

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  • AP

    1983: Outed By Scandal

    Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) reveals he is gay, becoming the first openly gay member of Congress.   

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  • William E. Sauro/The New York Times/Redux

    1983: Disease Strikes

    AIDS is described as a "gay plague" by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Researchers discover the virus, human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, that causes AIDS.  

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  • AP

    1985: Hollywood Awakens

    A spokesperson for actor Rock Hudson acknowledges that the star has AIDS, bringing the disease to the media forefront.

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  • Getty Images

    1986: Some More Equal

    In Bowers v. Hardwick, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Georgia law forbidding oral or anal sex. The ruling states that the constitutional right to privacy does not extend to homosexual relations —but does not state whether the law could be enforced against heterosexuals.

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  • Catherine McGann/Getty Images

    1987: High-Voltage Activism

    ACT UP, the "AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power," is founded in New York City after a galvanizing speech by Larry Kramer. The group's tactics rejuvenate lesbian and gay activism. Seventeen protesters are arrested at ACT UP's first demonstration. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) comes out.

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  • Alamy

    1991: Blood-Red Ribbons

    The red ribbon is first used as a symbol of the campaign against HIV/AIDS. 

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  • Everett Collection

    1992: AIDS On Stage

    Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," plays in Los Angeles before going on to Broadway and winning the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

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    1993: Showing Up

    The third Lesbian and Gay March on Washington draws more than 1 million participants.

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  • Getty Images

    1993: A Legislative Snafu

    Sen. Sam Nunn's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for the U.S. military becomes law. The law includes the determination that "persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" pose an "unacceptable risk" for inclusion in the military.

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  • AFP/Getty Images

    1996: Benefits Denied

    President Bill Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, which would deny spousal benefits to same-sex couples should gay marriage ever become legal.

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  • Getty Images

    1998: Defining Hate Crimes

    Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, is tortured just outside Laramie, Wyo., and would later die. The crime ushers in a movement to protect gays and lesbians under federal hate crime law. In 2007, Congress would pass such a bill, but President George W. Bush would veto it. In 2009, Congress would again pass such a bill and President Barack Obama would sign it.

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  • Geoff Hansen/Getty Images

    2000: Opening a Window

    Vermont becomes the first state to legalize civil unions but still defines marriage as heterosexual. Today, same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia; 41 states prohibit it.

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  • AP

    2003: Privacy Rights

    The Supreme Court rules in Lawrence v. Texas that laws prohibiting sodomy are unconstitutional. 

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  • AP

    2004: Domestic Partnership OK'd

    Massachusetts legalizes same-sex marriage, while 11 other U.S. states use public referenda to ban the practice. Domestic partnerships are legalized in New Jersey.

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  • Gary Kazanjian/AP

    2008: Contradiction In California

    On May 15, the California State Supreme Court rules it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples equal marriage rights, making it the second state to legalize same-sex marriage. In November, Proposition 8 passes eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry. Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Connecticut, the third state to legalize gay marriage.  

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  • Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

    2009: Coming Full Circle

    In the 1950s, Frank Kameny was fired from his civil-service job for being gay. On June 17, 2009, President Barack Obama invited him to the White House for a signing ceremony of a presidential memorandum barring discrimination in federal benefits. Applauding from left to right are Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

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  • AP

    2010: Change In Military

    On Dec. 21, President Barack Obama signs legislation that repeals the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, ending the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the armed forces, which officially began in 1993. 

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  • Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    2012: Presidential Support

    After years of saying his views were "evolving," Barack Obama becomes the first U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage. 

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  • Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    2012: Court Challenges Continue

    Several high-profile same-sex marriage cases move toward the U.S. Supreme Court, including the one to overturn California's Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex unions. Momentum builds even more when a federal appeals judge rules that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

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