In 1993, the authors of Sex in America gave three primary reasons why the LGBTQ community is hard to define and track, even by today’s standards. First, some people change their behaviors during their lifetime; second, there is “no one set of sexual desires or self-identification that uniquely defines homosexuality. Is it sexual desire for a person of the same gender, is it thinking of yourself as homosexual, or is it some combination of these behaviors that make a person a homosexual?” A third reason, they wrote, “is that homosexual behavior is not easily measured … Even though the recent struggles of gay men and lesbians to gain acceptance have had an effect…the history of persecution has a lasting effect both on what people are willing to say about their sexual behavior and on what they actually do.”
Sexologist Alfred Kinsey reported that 37 percent of the white men he interviewed had at least one sexual experience with another man; of these, 10 percent had only homosexual experience for any three-year period of their lives between the ages of sixteen and fifty-five. Four percent of those who had at least one sexual experience with another man had homosexual encounters exclusively from adolescence onward. Among women, Kinsey said 13 percent had at least one homosexual experience to orgasm. Kinsey’s number of exclusive homosexuals was 4 percent.
The authors of Sex in America found that 5.5 percent of women thought having sex with a woman was appealing, 4 percent were sexually attracted to women, and less than 2 percent had sex with a woman in the past year. About 4 percent had sex with another woman after age eighteen. For men, 6 percent were attracted to other men, 2 percent had sex with a man in the past year and a little over 5 percent said they had homosexual sex at least once after age eighteen. When asked about sexuality, 1.4 percent of women said they thought of themselves as homosexual or bisexual, and 2.8 percent of men.
A recent study of changes in American adults’ reported same-sex experiences and attitudes found that, by 2014, the number of US adults who had at least one same-sex partner since the age of 18 had increased to 8.7 percent of women and 8.2 percent of men. Those reporting having both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in 2014 had risen to 7.7 percent.
These increases were accompanied by increasing acceptance of same-sex sexuality. By 2014, 49% of American adults believed that same-sex sexual activity was ‘not wrong at all,’ up from 11% in 1973 and 13% in 1990.
The fight for dignity and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is reflected in the dedication of advocates and allies who worked to forge a more inclusive society. They spurred sweeping progress by changing hearts and minds and by demanding equal treatment -- under laws, from courts, and in politics. Despite the progress of recent years, LGBT Americans still face discrimination simply for being who they are.
During the late 1970s, after several years of advances for the cause of gay and lesbian rights, a backlash was building. Singer Anita Bryant led a successful “Save Our Children” campaign to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida. The legislatures of Arkansas and Oklahoma had banned gays and lesbians from holding teaching positions. In California, Republican State Senator John Briggs, who had ambitions to be governor, proposed a statewide ballot initiative to prevent gay and lesbian people from teaching in public schools. The so-called Briggs Initiative also permitted the firing of any educator who was determined to be “advocating, imposing, encouraging or promoting” homosexuality. Briggs’ vicious campaign to “defend your children from homosexual teachers” seemed to be heading for victory. One poll showed support for the Briggs Initiative leading 61% to 31%. Many prominent politicians in the Republican and Democratic parties were hesitant about standing up to the bigotry of Briggs and his allies.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBT Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.
On October 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was the second such demonstration in the nation’s capital and resulted in the founding of a number of LGBT organizations. The momentum continued four months after this extraordinary march as more than 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists from around the country gathered in Manassas, Virginia, about 25 miles outside Washington, DC. Recognizing that the LGBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions, they came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of that second march on Washington to mark it. From this idea, National Coming Out Day was born. Each year on October 11, National Coming Out Day continues to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly.
LGBT History Month was created in 1994 by Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher who believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history. Wilson’s idea for a National LGBT History Month was endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Education Association (NEA). October was selected because public schools are in session and existing LGBT-traditions, such as National Coming Out Day (October 11th) and the first LGBT March on Washington (October 14, 1979), occur that month.
In 1995, a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the National Education Association included LGBT History Month within a list of commemorative months. LGBT History Month is also celebrated with annual month-long observances of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, along with the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. National Coming Out Day (October 11), as well as the first “March on Washington” in 1979, are commemorated in the LGBT community during LGBT History Month.
Spirit Day is the day the LGBT community and their allies wear the color purple to show support for LGBT youth who are victims of bullying. The observance was inaugurated in response to a rash of widely publicized bullying-related suicides of gay school students in 2010. The first observance took place on October 20, 2010. The name Spirit Day comes from the purple stripe of the LGBT Rainbow Flag, whose creator Gilbert Baker defined it (purple stripe) as "representing spirit.
Although states retained the right to determine legal recognition of same-sex marriage, a June 2013 Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) found Section 3 of the Act to be unconstitutional. That is, DOMA can no longer be used to bar same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits.
The June 26, 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality in all 50 States was a historic victory for LGBT Americans, ensuring dignity for same-sex couples and greater equality across State lines. For every partnership that was not previously recognized under the law and for every American who was denied their basic civil rights, this monumental ruling instilled newfound hope, affirming the belief that all are more free when treated as equals.
Those marginalized by hierarchies of class, race, language, or immigrant status are often ignored in such settings, yet they have managed to convey their heritage through more informal means, with elders telling their children or grandchildren stories of earlier times that succeeding generations pass along as a vital family inheritance. But LGBTQ people are customarily are born into families that have little or no connection with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender life. While growing up, they have not benefited from hearing stories at home that reflect their emerging same-sex desires or their sense of a gender that differs from the one assigned to them at birth. The disturbingly high number of murders in the last few years of transgender women of color has not caused muchof a public outcry. In the first two months of 2015, transgender women of color were murdered at a rate of almost one per week.76 Out of all the documented anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2014, 80 percent were people of color and 55 percent were transgender women whereas transgender survivors of color were 6.2 times more likely to experience police violence. Transgender people were also four times more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the general population and the prevalence of HIV among transgender women was nearly fifty times higher than for other adults.78 As always, the race, class, and gender status of activists and victims determines how much or little attention will be paid to the situations of individuals, and continues to mark the value attached to particular lives.
With an epidemic of suicide among bullied LGBTQ youth, every celebration of queer history can be counted an instance of asserting the normality and acceptability of who they are. A 2004 study of Minnesota ninth and twelfth graders showed that 50 percent of those with gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientations had contemplated suicide and 37.4 percent had attempted suicide.
Paraphrasing Adrienne Rich, it is impossible to understand what heterosexuality means—both historically and individually — when people are kept ignorant of “the presence, the existence, the actuality” of those who have centered their emotional, social, commercial, and erotic lives on those of the same sex (including bisexuals). This ignorance, anxiety, and silence — the absence of whole populations — is disempowering for all who seek to better represent the past and all who want to imagine a better future.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|