The history of the gay rights movement goes as far back as the late 19th century. More accurately, the quest by gays to search out others like themselves and foster a feeling of identity has been around since then. It is an innovative movement that seeks to change existing norms and gain acceptance within our culture. By 1915, one gay person said that the gay world was a “community, distinctly organized” (Milestones 1991), but kept mostly out of view because of social hostility. According to the Milestones article, after World War II, around 1940, many cities saw their first gay bars open as many homosexuals began to start a networking system. However, their newfound visibility only backfired on them, as in the 1950’s president Eisenhower banned gays from holding federal jobs and many state institutions did the same. The lead taken by the federal government encouraged local police forces to harass gay citizens. “Vice officers regularly raided gay bars, sometimes arresting dozens of men and women on a single night” (Milestones). In spite of the adversity, out of the 1950s also came the first organized groups of gays, including leaders. The movement was small at first, but grew exponentially in short periods of time. Spurred on by the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the “homophile” (Milestones) movement took on more visibility, picketing government agencies and discriminatory policies. By 1969, around 50 gay organizations existed in the United States. The most crucial moment in blowing the gay rights movement wide open was on the evening of July 27, 1969, when a group of police raided a gay bar in New York City. This act prompted three days of rioting in the area called the Stonewall Riots, including the appearance of numerous gay power signs. Almost overnight, a massive movement had begun, with participants enthusiastically joining in.
“By 1973, there were almost eight hundred gay and lesbian organizations in the United States; by 1990, the number was several thousand. By 1970, 5,000 gay men and lesbians marched in New York City to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; in October 1987, over 600,000 marched in Washington, to demand equality” (Milestones)
Over the next two decades, half the states decriminalized homosexual behavior, and police harassment grew less frequent and obvious to the public. Also in 1975, it became legal for gays to hold federal jobs. However all this headway also made room for more opposition. In 1977, Anita Bryant was so successful at obtaining a repeal of a recent gay ordinance in her home state of Florida that by 1980, a league of anti gay clubs had come together to make a force, led in part by Jesse Helms. The AIDS scare that began in the eighties did not help the gay image either, but more citizens joined their ranks in order to combat the oppression and fund a search for the cure, so in the end it actually made the movement stronger. According to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (2000), by 1999, the anti-sodomy laws of 32 states had been repealed, and in 1996 Vermont granted its gay citizens the right to same sex marriages. Gay rights has come a long way as a social movement, and though it still has a long way to go, it makes a good topic to analyze the process of the social movement.
The establishment that the social movement fights against in this case is the predisposed beliefs of American people, and a way of life that has been unchanged for a long time. There are of course establishments with anti-gay agendas, but the real challenge for the gays in finding acceptance has always been convincing people that they are human too. The standard belief that most Americans have had throughout history is that being gay is not only immoral, but also not normal, and sac religious (Olinger). Many people believe that being gay is a disease and should be treated, while others believe it is just sin, and that they should be punished. There is no one establishment in this situation, but only a large group of American citizens who do not understand the issue they are being faced with.
However, the goal of the gay rights movement is very clear. They want equality, much in the same way that African Americans and women have wanted it in the past. Many gays rights organizations have applied for the legality of same sex marriages in all fifty states. Also, their fight is about protection from laws that once held them down. They want to be protected by the police, not harassed by them. In the end, the ideology of the gay rights movement is much like that of any civil rights movement. They believe that they are equal and deserve to be treated as such, regardless of sexual orientation.
The agitators in the gay rights movement oppose the current system laterally, in that they want to completely change the existing value system. Leaders in the gay rights movement have issued several tactics in which they wish to gain acceptance in the general public, to be seen as “normal. (Olinger)” One thing that they do is try and deemphasize actual “gay behavior” in public, and try and get others to see them as normal people first, not gay, which would automatically separate them. This is known as the “plain folks” tactic. This is important because for people to listen to a persuasive message, they must feel as if they can relate to the message, and they cannot do that if cannot relate to the person relaying that message. Another tactic used is a sort of name-calling. Gay rights activists refer to those who oppose them as “homophobes,” a term which implies an irrational fear of some sort, or ignorance. This in turn makes opponents of gay rights irrational, and therefore their opinions do not merit attention.”The truth or relative value of arguments is thereby completely sidestepped, and the issue becomes one of emotion: the winner is the one who makes the most noise” (Olinger). A third strategy used by activists is “liking.” Gay rights activists consistently use well known gay celebrities to deliver a message in hopes that their popularity will lead to a more wide spread acceptance of the message. Take, for example, Ellen Degeneres, on her TV show Ellen. Many of her shows discussed her sexual orientation in hopes that talking about it openly, as well as using her as the source of the message would bring the public to greater awareness. Also, artists like Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls play concerts for Gay Rights Activism yearly.
One strategy used by the Establishment is the authority approach, using the Bible as the main authority on the way we live our lives. They maintain that the Bible states that it is a sin to be gay and that God does not condone it, so therefore neither should we. Another tactic employed by the establishment is “name calling.” By referring to homosexuals as “fags” or “miscreants” or “sinners,” people join the two terms until they are thought of as one. The negative connotation these words carry is designed to turn people off from gay culture. A third practice that the establishment employs is the theory of consistency. The beliefs we carry throughout our lives are in large part handed down to us from our parents and theirs, and our beliefs will in large part be transferred to our children. The only thing we’ve ever known is the belief that homosexuality is wrong, so therefore it must be correct. To change would require too large a leap from our original anchor points or beliefs, so we assume that it is not correct, and continue believing the way we did before.
The Gay Rights Movement has brought the idea and acceptance of homosexuals in American Culture a very long way in the last thirty years or so. However, those who accept homosexuality or those who encourage it are still the minority in comparison, and so, there is a long way to go still before homosexuality is considered completely normal and gays are treated just like everyone else. The great uprising of people has already come and gone, and now the movement is in the maintenance stage, where it does not get much media attention anymore. That could be the best way to go for the Movement though, as their goal all along has been to blend in and be treated like everyone else. How better to do that than to not draw attention to one’s self.