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Gay Rights Timeline / LGBT Rights Timeline in American History 


This timeline is organized in units that are typically taught in a high school U.S. History classroom and are consistent with the people and events listed in the new California History Social Science Framework (2016). It is important to note that there existed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships long before these terms became commonplace. Gay and lesbian relationships existed in ancient Rome and Greece communities and are shown in a variety of art from that time. The years when common terms began to be used are listed first followed by some of the important LGBT history events.

  • Lesbian:  1732 – The term lesbian first used by William King in his book, The Toast, published in England which meant women who loved women.
  • Homosexual: 1869 – Hungarian journalist Karl-Maria Kertheny first used the term homosexual.
  • Gay: 1955 – The term gay was used throughout Europe earlier, but this is the year most agree that gay came to mean same sex relationships between men.
  • Transgender: 1990 – The term transgender came to mean a person who identifies with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.


Founding of the Nation (1607-1789) 


1714 - Sodomy laws in place in the early colonies and in colonial militia. These laws remained in place until challenged in 1925.



Civil War and Civil Rights (1789-1877) 


1861 – Sarah Emma Edmonds changed her identity to a man named Franklin Thompson and joined the Union army. She was one of 400 documented cases of women who dressed as men as part of the war effort. She changed back to her female identity after being wounded in the war. She eventually married a man and raised three children. 


1862 – Jennie Hodgers, disguised as a man named Albert Cashier, enlisted in the Union army in Illinois and fought for three years until the end of the war. She continued living as a man after the war.


1868 – Fourteenth Amendment Ratified. Gay rights advocates cite this amendment in support of equality for future court cases.  “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”



Industrialization, Westward Expansion, Immigration and Religion (1877-1890) 


1890 - The term, lesbian, first used in a medical dictionary. 


1889 – Jane Addams, along with other women, open Hull House in Chicago that provided day care, libraries, classes and an employment bureau for women.



US  Rise as a World Power, World War 1, Harlem Renaissance and the Great Depression (1890 - 1939)


1895 – Trial of Oscar Wilde (writer and novelist) in London, England and convicted for gross indecency (relationships with other men) and served two years in jail.


1896 – Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish German physician and sexologist issued a pamphlet, Sappho and Socrates, on homosexual love (under the pseudonym Th. Ramien). 


1907 – Hirschfeld, a Jewish German physician and sexologist, testified at a trial in Germany about a gay relationship and stated, "homosexuality was part of the plan of nature and creation just like normal love."


1917-1935 – The Harlem Renaissance. Historians have stated that the renaissance was “as gay as it was black.” Some of the lesbian, gay or bisexual people of this movement included writers and poets such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Hurston; Professor Alain Locke; music critic and photographer Carl Van Vechten, and entertainers Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Gladys Bentley. 


1919 – Hirschfeld, a Jewish German physician and sexologist, established the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin, Germany. During his lifetime, he was an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights


1924 – The Society for Human Rights, the first gay rights organization, was founded by Henry Gerber in Chicago who had emigrated from Germany.  The organization ceased to exist after most of its members were arrested. 


1928 - Radclyffe Hall, an English author, published what many consider a groundbreaking lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness. This caused the topic of homosexuality to be a topic of public conversation in both the United States and England.


1933 (May 6) - Students led by Nazi Storm Troopers broke into the Institute for Sexual Science founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin and confiscated its unique library. Four days later, most of this collection of over 12,000 books and 35,000 irreplaceable pictures was destroyed along with thousands of other "degenerate" works of literature in the book burning in Berlin's city center. (Hirschfeld was out of the country at the time and lived out the rest of his life in France).  


1933 – 1945 – Nearly 100,000 German homosexuals were rounded up and placed in intern camps along with Jewish people. They were designated by a pink triangle on their clothing.



World War II (1939-1945)


1941 – Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all U.S. citizens participated in the war effort and enlistments occurred at the rate of 14,000 per day in 1942. Gay and lesbian people joined as well – men in the military living in same sex dorms, and women as part of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and in factories on the home front found themselves in same sex surroundings as well. In addition, men who fought in Europe, during their leave time, found same sex relationships more relaxed than in the U.S. 


1945 – German Homosexuals, designated by a pink triangle on their clothing, remain interned in Nazi concentration camps after liberation by the Allied forces because Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code declared homosexual relations between males to be illegal along with acts such as underage sex abuse and bestiality.


Social Transformation and Foreign Policy Post World War II / Lavender Scare (1945-1960)

1948 – Alfred Kinsey, an American biologist and sexologist at Indiana University issues the first report, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male, was published and discussed male homosexuality (Also known as the Kinsey report). 


1950 – U.S. Congress issues the report entitled "Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government" is distributed to members of Congress after the federal government had covertly investigated employees' sexual orientation. The report states since homosexuality is a mental illness, homosexuals "constitute security risks" to the nation.  


1950 - The Mattachine Society formed in Los Angeles, California by activist Harry Hay and is one of the first sustained gay rights groups in the United States. The Society focused on social acceptance and other support for homosexuals. Various branches formed in other cities. The organization continues today with different objectives. 


1952 – Christine Jorgensen became one of the most famous transgender people when she underwent a sex change operation and went on to a successful career in show business.


1952 - The American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual lists homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance that could be treated.


1952 – U.S. Congress passed and President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Immigration Act that barred “aliens afflicted with psychopathic personality, epilepsy or mental defect.” Congress made clear that this was meant to exclude “homosexuals and sex perverts.”  


1953 - Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, was published and discussed female homosexuality. 


1953 (April 27) - Executive Order 10450 issued by President Dwight D. Eisenhower banning homosexuals from working for the federal government stating they are a security risk. This order stays in place until 1993 when President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Congress enact the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.


1955 – Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization is founded in San Francisco, California by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. They hosted private social functions, fearing police raids, threats of violence and discrimination in bars and clubs. The organization lasted until 1969.


1957 - Frank Kameny, an astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service, was released from government service because of his homosexuality, an outgrowth of Executive Order 11450. He had earned his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University and was a professor of astronomy at Georgetown University before taking a government position. Kameny appealed the decision to the Supreme Court but was rejected. 


1958 - One v. Olesen (Supreme Court Decision).  Without oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a decision stating that first amendment free speech rights protected the publishing of “One Magazine”. Up to this point in time the U.S. Postal Service had the power to open any magazine or mail they determined to be “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious.” They also had the power to keep lists of people who received such publications; and had lists of homosexual men who received the publication, “One Magazine.” The publication was a gay man’s publication associated with the Mattachine Society. 




1961 – Frank Kameny, an astronomer dismissed from government service, forms the Washington D.C. branch of the Mattachine Society (The society was originally founded in Los Angeles in 1950).


1962 - Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts between two consenting adults in private.


1966 – The Student Homophile League founded at Columbia University - the first such organization on a U.S. college campus. 


1966 – Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, San Francisco. Transgender and drag queens in San Francisco reacted to ongoing harassment by the police force. After several days, the protests stopped. One of the outgrowths was the establishment of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit (NTCU) in support of transgender people. 


1967 – The Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop opened in New York City by Craig Rodwell. The bookshop was the first of its kind in the U.S. that was devoted to gay history and gay rights. 


1969 (June 27-29) - The Stonewall Riots, New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City.  In response to an unprovoked police raid on an early Saturday morning, over 400 people, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight people protested their treatment and pushed the police away from the area. Some level of rioting continued over the next six nights, which closed the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Riots became a pivotal, defining moment for gay rights.  Key people at the riots who went on to tell their stories were: Sylvia Rivera, Martha P. Johnson, Dick Leitsch, Seymore Pine and Craig Rodwell.


1969 – Gay Liberation Front organization formed in New York following the Stonewall Riots to advocate for sexual liberation for all people.


1969 – The Gay Activist Alliance formed in New York by a group who were not satisfied with the direction of the Gay Liberation Front. Their purpose was more political and they wanted to “secure basic human rights, dignity and freedom for all gay people.”


1970 - The first gay pride marches were held in multiple cities across the United States on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, including San Francisco and Los Angeles / West Hollywood.


1971 – The “Body Politic” Magazine began publishing in Toronto, Canada. Became one of the most widely read publication regarding LGBT rights. 


1972 - The National Bisexual Liberation Group formed in New York.


1972 – The play, “Coming Out!” written by Jonathan Ned Katz, is performed for the first time in New York and provides a historical perspective of gay life from the colonial period to the present. 


1973 – The American Psychological Society, after considerable advocacy by Frank Kameny and members of the Mattachine Society, changed the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. It was not until 1987 that homosexuality was completely removed from the APA list of mental disorders. 


1974 - Elaine Noble becomes the first openly gay person to be elected as a state legislator; she served in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives for two terms.




1975 - The Bisexual Forum founded in New York City and the Gay American Indians

Organization founded in San Francisco.


1976 – The book, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. is written by Jonathan Ned Katz based on his play of 1972. This was the first book that documented gay history in the U.S. 


1977 - Harvey Milk elected county supervisor in San Francisco and becomes the third “out” elected public official in the United States. Quebec, Canada passed laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in both private and public sectors.


1978 (June 25) - In San Francisco, the Rainbow Flag is first flown during the Gay Freedom Parade; the flag becomes a symbol of gay and lesbian pride.


1978 (Nov. 27) - San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is assassinated along with Mayor Greg Moscone. Supervisor Dan White is convicted of voluntary manslaughter and is sentenced to seven years in prison. 


1979 - Over 100,000 people participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Chapters of the national organization of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are founded across the United States.


1981 (June 5) – The U.S. Center for Disease Control reported the first cases of a rare lung disease, which would be named AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) the following year. There were a total of 583, 298 U.S. men women and children who would die from AIDS through 2007. 


1983 – San Francisco AIDS Foundation co-founded by Cleve Jones, Marcus Conant, Frank Jacobson and Richard Keller. 


1985 – The AIDS quilt concept was conceived and implemented by Cleve Jones, an LGBT activist in San Francisco. 


1986 – Bowers v. Hardwick (Supreme Court Decision). Ruled by a vote of 5-4 that a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults was legal.  


1987 – The organization, ACT UP formed in New York. The purpose of ACT UP was to impact the lives of people living with AIDS, to advocate for legislation, medical research and treatment, and to bring an end to the disease. The organization is still active today.  


1993 – The U.S. Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” that allowed gay and lesbian people to serve in the military. They would not be asked their sexual orientation during enlistment screening. 


1998 - Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyo. and left to die because he was gay. He died from his wounds several days later. This was one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in America and resulted in a federal law passed 10 years later in 2009 called the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act”, a federal law against bias crimes directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.


2003 - Lawrence v. Kansas (Supreme Court Decision). Ruled by a vote of 6-3 that a Kansas law forbidding gay or lesbian sex was unconstitutional declaring the importance of constitutional liberty and privacy. Also over ruled the decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) stating that the court had made the wrong decision. 


2008 (November) – Proposition 8 passes with a 52% yes vote in California declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman.


2010 – The U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” so that gay and lesbian people could serve openly in the military. One person present at the signing ceremony in the White House was Frank Kameny who had be released from military service in 1958 because of discriminatory policies against gay and lesbian people.


2013 - Hollingsworth v. Perry / California Proposition 8 (Supreme Court Decision).

Proponents of Proposition 8 in California appealed a lower court decision that ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court would not hear the case, which meant that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and gay and lesbian people could be married in California.


2013 - U.S. v. Windsor / Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (Supreme Court Decision). 

The Court ruled 5-4 that defining marriage as just between a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. This decision was rendered the same day as the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry. 


2015 - Obergefell v. Hodges (Supreme Court Decision).

The Court voted 5-4 that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This decision mandated that states must allow same-sex couples to legally marry. 


California Specific Laws / Timeline


2015 – California Healthy Youth Act (AB 329, Weber)

Updated the state’s sexual health and HIV prevention curriculum to provide instruction that is more up-to-date, comprehensive and inclusive of LGBT people and their families; includes understanding of AIDS and HIV and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. This legislation ensures that all students have access to medically accurate and unbiased sexual health education.

(Web: http://www.eqca.org/governor-brown-signs-lgbt-inclusive-sex-ed-bill/


2015 - Help Teacher Combat Bullying and Support LGBT Youth (AB 827, O'Donnell)

Gives teachers tools and resources to support LGBT students and create safer school environments. 

“The Legislature therefore encourages school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to provide information on existing school site and community resources as required by subdivision (d) of Section 234.1 of the Education Code as part of a more comprehensive effort to educate school staff on the support of LGBTQ pupils.” 

(http://www.eqca.org/ab-827-help-teachers-combat-bullying-and-support-lgbt-youth/; http://lbpost.com/lgbt/2000007256-ab-827; )


2014 – LGBT Cultural Competency for Health Care Providers (AB 496, Gordon)

This law clarified that existing cultural competency training for health care providers should include discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. Also redefines the term “cultural and linguistic competency” to mean understanding and applying the roles that culture, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression play in diagnosis, treatment, and clinical care. 

(Web: http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=8584587


2013 – School Success and Opportunity Act  (AB1266, Ammiano). 

This law affirmed that transgender youth have the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in schools across the state.  It restated existing California and federal law making sure students could fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity. 


The new law added to a national movement to end discriminatory practices and ensure transgender youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other students. Massachusetts and Colorado have statewide policies in line with AB 1266, and the Colorado and Maine state human rights commissions have held that state law requires schools to respect students’ gender identity. 

(Web: http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/3544


2011 – Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Act (SB 48, Leno, 2011)

This law required schools to provide general instruction and textbooks that include information on the contributions of "Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and other ethnic and cultural groups" particularly in the area of social sciences. The act also added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities, instruction and instructional materials.

(Web: http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=6451639


2011 – Seth’s Law – (AB 9, Ammiano)  

Seth Walsh was an ordinary 13-year old middle school boy in Tehachapi, California. In 2010, he hanged himself from a tree. Investigations into his death indicated he was bullied over a long period of time because he was gay. 

This law, named after Seth Walsh, requires School Districts to:

  • Adopt a strong anti-bullying policy that specifically spells out prohibited bases for bullying, including sexual orientation and gender identity/gender expression.
  • Adopt a specific process for receiving and investigating complaints of bullying, including a requirement that school personnel intervene if they witness bullying.
  • Publicize the anti-bullying policy and complaint process, including posting the policy in all schools and offices.
  • Post on the district website materials to support victims of bullying.

(Web: http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=6586657


2007 – California Safe Place to Learn Act (AB 394, Levine)

This law specified the State’s responsibilities to keep schools safe and fight bias and harassment in schools by requiring that the State Education Department, as part of its annual monitoring and review of LEAs, assess whether they have complied with existing anti-discrimination and harassment laws and have corresponding policies in place. 

(Web: http://www.eqca.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=4026609&ct=5195377


2007 – The Student Civil Rights Act (SB 777,  Kuehl)

This law protects students from harassment and bullying in public schools by making sure teachers and school administrators fully understand their responsibilities to protect youth. The State of California must afford all persons in public schools equal rights and opportunities regardless of their gender identity. 

(Web: http://www.eqca.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=4026609&ct=5197703


2003 – California Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Law (SB 71, Kuehl) 

This act required that all materials and instruction be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and objective. In grades 7-12, classes must cover the safety and effectiveness of all FDA-approved methods for preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, including the use of condoms and other contraceptives (removed “abstinence only” instruction). Teachers must be properly trained in the subject. In addition, this act:

  • Required that instruction and materials shall teach respect for committed relationships as well as marriage. It removed all reference to “abstinence until marriage” to reflect that, if today's laws remain the same, not all students will have the right to marry their chosen life partner. 
  • Stated that sex education instruction and materials may not teach or promote religious doctrine or reflect or promote bias against any person on the basis of any category protected by the state’s school nondiscrimination policy, Education Code Section 220, which includes actual or perceived gender and sexual orientation.
  • Changed the language to make it more inclusive. For example, now, in grades 7-12, sexual health education must teach the value of abstinence from sexual intercourse in preventing pregnancy and the value of abstinence from sexual activity in preventing sexually transmitted diseases. 
  • Required that all instruction and material be appropriate for use with students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and students with disabilities.

(Web: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/se/preveducationltr.asp ;  http://www.gsanetwork.org/resources/legal-resources/sb-71-fact-sheet-california


2000 – California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act (AB 537, Kuehl)

This law prohibits discrimination in California public schools on the same grounds used to define hate crimes under California law regarding discrimination and harassment. This legislation added two new forms of discrimination in law including actual or perceived sexual orientation and actual or perceived gender identity. 
(https://gsanetwork.org/resources/legal-resources/ab-537-fact-sheet-california ) 


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