LGBT+ people, though erased, have been around forever. Many famous authors, artists, politicians and poets were queer. Familiar names might be the openly bisexual Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron, but also Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. Historians dispute that there might also have been various LGBT members of royalty like King James I or Richard Lionheart- Yes, the one from Robin Hood.
But moving on from mere rumour, it’s time to explain the start of the modern LGBT+ movement. We don’t know for sure how accepted LGBT people were in different societies at different times, but we know that the modern fight for LGBT rights started with the Stonewall riots in 1969. World War II had triggered a larger understanding and visibility for LGBT people, who often met in the army, where the previously isolated men and women were, probably for the first time, tolerated. The community was also, unfortunately brought into the spotlight by the murder of various LGBT persons in concentrations camps. Nevertheless, this knowledge of the existence of LGBT people triggered a larger community forming, especially in New York, soon to be the location of the Stonewall riots.
Gay bars and pubs had been known to the police for a long time, and were frequently raided and the customers arrested for indecency or publicly outed, with severe social consequences. But it was at Stonewall Inn in June 1969, shortly after the death of LGBT icon Judy Garland, that the patrons fought back in a turning point for LGBT history and rights. This was also the start of June as “Pride Month”- which is still celebrated today.
It’s wrong to say that Stonewall started the LGBT movement- we have several examples before, like Russia’s October Revolution in 1917 in which Bolshevik leaders declared “homo- and heterosexual relationships to be treated equal before the law” or the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, founded in 1919 by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, which signified the start of many countries decriminalizing homosexuality. Unfortunately the institute and most of its research was burned and destroyed by Nazis just a little later.
The Stonewall riots triggered a new era of visibility and resistance from the LGBT community as well as accelerated an equal rights movement strongly influenced by our unsung heroes- trans women of colour. Almost 10 years later, during which many milestone victories were achieved, a new problem emerged that would devastate and decimate the LGBT community, but also bring about further understanding: The AIDS crisis.
AIDS, short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is sexually transmitted and targets our autoimmune centre, making the human body more susceptible to illness. In the beginning, AIDS was identified as GRID- Gay Related Immune Deficiency. As we know today, AIDS has nothing to do with being gay; it was simply a lack of education about sexually transmitted diseases that made gay men more susceptible to it. Many would forgo protection, having no idea of the danger they were putting themselves in, all because in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis, protection was used exclusively to prevent pregnancy.
Not knowing how the disease spread, and frightened by the rate at which especially young, gay men died- as many as 41,0000 in a year- people were afraid it would spread by toilet seats, holding hands or even being in the same room as an infected person. Nurses would refuse to bring meals to patients, and parents refuse to visit their dying children on their deathbed. The name of this disease at the time as well as the social group within which it was first and foremost identified- LGBT males- drove this fear to a wave of stigma towards the LGBT community. It was this stigma and this crisis that drew the LGBT community closer together and turned the survivors towards a civil rights movement. Tragic though it is, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was a turning point for the LGBT community, the experienced discrimination bringing people together in their fight for equal rights. As research continued, scientists not only discovered how it was transmitted, lessening fears, but also that almost half of the affected were heterosexual- changing the name from GRID to AIDS and thus trying to reduce the stigma and hate towards gay people.
Nowadays the fight for equal rights has picked up momentum. Not only has homosexuality been decriminalized almost worldwide, we have many countries that have passed equal marriage laws, allowing everyone to marry who they love. Nevertheless, the fight isn’t over. Many LGBT people still face hatred and stigma, the suicide rate among LGBT teens is still significantly higher than that of non-LGBT teens, and many countries still stubbornly refuse to give LGBT people the protection they deserve.
There are also many problems within the LGBT community itself that have to be tackled- racism, sexism, bi- and transphobia often colour the LGBT movement in different ways, and to be a movement for equal rights, the LGBT community must improve upon itself and pay attention to intersectionality- meaning that they fight for all LGBT people, regardless of sex, race, religion or social status.
There are also many countries in which being LGBT is still dangerous. A recent example is the prosecution of the LGBT community, especially gay men, in the Russian Chechnya. In a truly horrific “gay purge”, LGBT people were hunted down, tortured and killed as recently as 2017. The fight for equal rights and safety is far from over- which is why your support and your fighting spirit is absolutely necessary.
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