Important Places in the Gay-Rights Movement

Updated May 11, 2021 | Beth Rowen

From Greenwich Village to San Francisco, sites that have helped shape the gay-rights movement

The Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York. Source: WikiCommons

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Here are some of the places where milestones in the gay-rights movement occurred.


The country's earliest known gay-rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was established in Chicago in 1924 by Henry Gerber. The group published a newsletter, Friendship and Freedom, which ran for two issues. Gerber and other members of the society were arrested in 1925 following a police raid. The arrests marked the end of the Society for Human Rights.


In 1962, Illinois became the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.

San Francisco

While New York City is credited with launching the gay-rights movement, San Francisco is probably more closely associated with it and more influential in shaping it. The first lesbian-rights organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis, was established there in 1955. San Francisco is also the site of the world's first the transgender organization, the National Transsexual Counseling Unit, which was established in 1966.


One of the most prominent and well-known gay-rights activists was Harvey Milk, who ran for city supervisor on a socially liberal platform that opposed government involvement in personal sexual matters. Milk placed 10th out of 32 candidates, earning 16,900 votes, winning the Castro District and other liberal neighborhoods. Three years later, Mayor George Moscone appointed Milk to the Board of Permit Appeals, making Milk the first openly gay city commissioner in the United States. Also in 1976, Milk ran for the California State Assembly and lost by less than 4,000 votes. In 1977, Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He began his term by sponsoring a civil rights bill that outlawed sexual orientation discrimination. Mayor Moscone signed the bill into law. On November 27, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another San Francisco city supervisor.

Los Angeles

Harry Hay, considered the father of the gay-rights movement, established the Mattachine Society, the first national gay-rights organization, in Los Angeles in 1951. The group's mission was to end "discrimination, derision, prejudice and bigotry" against homosexuals and to help them gain wide cultural acceptance.


In 1984, Berkeley became the first city to offer its employees domestic-partnership benefits.


California (government and courts)

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. On November 4, California voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage called Proposition 8. By then more than 18,000 same-sex couples had married. The attorney general of California, Jerry Brown, asked the state's Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Brown said that he believed the same-sex marriages performed in California before November 4 should remain valid, and the California Supreme Court, which upheld the ban in May 2009, agreed. In Feb. 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled 2-1 that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that barring gays and lesbians from marrying violates the state constitution. The Massachusetts Chief Justice concluded that to "deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage" to gay couples was unconstitutional because it denied "the dignity and equality of all individuals" and made them "second-class citizens." Six months later, same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts. Several states followed Massachusetts' lead.


The gay-rights movement was dealt a blow in 1977 when a recently enacted civil-rights ordinance making sexual orientation discrimination illegal in Dade County was overturned in a referendum. After the ordinance was passed in Miami, Florida, Save Our Children, a campaign by a Christian fundamentalist group and headed by singer Anita Bryant, sprang into action to repeal the law. In the largest special election of any in Dade County history, 70% voted to overturn the ordinance. While the vote was considered a crushing defeat for the gay-rights movement, it emboldened activists, helped them to gain wide support, and energized the political movement. In an astute move during their campaign against repeal of the ordinance, activists equated gay rights with human rights, which garnered national prominence and support.


Chicago may have been the site of the country's first gay-rights group, but New York is widely considered the city that launched the gay-rights movement in the U.S. On June 27, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village. The patrons fought back and three days of rioting followed. On the one-year anniversary of the riots, members of the LGBT community celebrated Christopher St. Liberation Day. Included in the day's event is what is believed to be the first gay-pride parade. Since 1970, gay-pride marches and parades have been held in several cities to commemorate the Stonewall riots. Practically overnight, the Stonewall riots transformed the gay-rights movement from one limited to a small number of activists into a widespread protest for equal rights and acceptance.


At the 1980 Democratic National Convention held at New York City's Madison Square Garden, Democrats took a stance supporting gay rights, adding the following to their platform: "All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation."


Vermont passed a law in 2000 that legally recognized civil unions between gay or lesbian couples. It was the first state to do so. The law stated that these "couples would be entitled to the same benefits, privileges, and responsibilities as spouses." In April 2009, the Vermont Legislature overrode Gov. Jim Douglas's veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry, therefore legalizing same-sex marriage. It was the first state to legalize gay marriage through the legislature rather than the courts.


About 75,000 people participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington, D.C., in October 1979. It was the largest political gathering in support of LGBT rights to date. Demonstrators rallied in support of equal rights and civil-rights legislation for homosexuals. In October 1987, hundreds of thousands of people descended on Washington, calling on President Reagan to take action to stem the AIDS crisis.


In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


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