The LGBTQ history of the United States of America is vast and varied, full of struggle and triumph. In light of the New Year, we thought we’d put together a list of notable moments in American LGBTQ history to capture a snapshot of just how far we as a community have come.
This list has been curated from an article by CNN, and is an abridged version. To see the full list of national LGBTQ moments, visit the article.
Did you know that there is a detailed interactive timeline of Memphis LGBTQ history, including pictures and articles written by LGBTQ activists from the Mid-South, on the OUTMemphis website? Click here to check out the timeline.
- 1924 – The Society for Human Rights is founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago. It is the first documented gay rights organization.
- April 1952 – The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual lists homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance.
- July 1961 – Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalize homosexuality by repealing their sodomy laws.
- June 28, 1969 – Police raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Protests and demonstrations begin, and it later becomes known as the impetus for the gay civil rights movement in the United States.
- 1973 – Lambda Legal becomes the first legal organization established to fight for the equal rights of gays and lesbians. Lambda also becomes their own first client after being denied non-profit status; the New York Supreme Court eventually rules that Lambda Legal can exist as a non-profit.
- December 15, 1973 – By a vote of 5,854 to 3,810, the American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in the DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
- 1976 – After undergoing gender reassignment surgery in 1975, ophthalmologist and professional tennis player Renee Richards is banned from competing in the women’s US Open because of a “women-born-women” rule. Richards challenges the decision and in 1977, the New York Supreme Court rules in her favor.
- 1978 – Inspired by Harvey Milk to develop a symbol of pride and hope for the LGBT community, Gilbert Baker designs and stitches together the first rainbow flag.
- March 2, 1982 – Wisconsin becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- September 21, 1996 – President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” This comes just three years after Clinton instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, prohibiting LGBTQ military members from living authentically.
- April 30, 1997 – DeGeneres’ character, Ellen Morgan, on her self-titled TV series “Ellen,” becomes the first leading character to come out on a prime time network television show.
- October 6-7, 1998 – Matthew Shepard is tied to a fence and beaten near Laramie, Wyoming. He is eventually found by a cyclist, who initially mistakes him for a scarecrow. He later dies due to his injuries sustained in the beating.
- June 2003 – The US Supreme Court strikes down the “homosexual conduct” law, which decriminalizes same-sex sexual conduct, with their opinion in Lawrence v. Texas. The decision also reverses Bowers v. Hardwick, a 1986 US Supreme Court ruling that upheld Georgia’s sodomy law.
- May 17, 2004 – The first legal same-sex marriage in the United States takes place in Massachusetts.
- September 20, 2011 – “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, ending a ban on gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
- April 28, 2015 – The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the question of the freedom to marry in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. On June 26 the Supreme Court rules that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. The 5-4 ruling had Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority. Each of the four conservative justices writes their own dissent.
- June 30, 2016 – Secretary of Defense Carter announces that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on transgender people serving openly in the US military.
- June 27, 2017 – District of Columbia residents can now choose a gender-neutral option of their driver’s license. DC residents become the first people in the United States to be able to choose X as their gender marker instead of male or female on driver’s licenses and identification cards. Similar policies exist in Canada, India, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal.
- November 7, 2017 – Virginia voters elect the state’s first openly transgender candidate to the Virginia House of Delegates. Danica Roem unseats incumbent delegate Bob Marshall, who had been elected thirteen times over 26 years. Roem becomes the first openly transgender candidate elected to a state legislature in American history.
- February 26, 2018 – The Pentagon confirms that the first transgender person has signed a contract to join the US military.
This is just a series of snapshots of our history. It doesn’t touch on the lived experiences of our siblings across the world and throughout time. It does, however, show the struggles that our forebears fought to get us where we are today. While we have come a tremendous way towards equality, we still have much to do.
Would you like to join OUTMemphis in showing the world and the Mid-South that We Are Here?
Only by knowing where we’ve been can we know where we are headed.