Queer people in the United States are victims of hate crimes at a rate of two times more than Muslim or black people, four times that of Jews, and 14 times that of Latinos.[footnoteRef:1] The Lgbtq+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, plus) community in America has been a people group that has fought for basic human rights to this day. Looking backwards on the triumphs and tragedies that this people group has reached and overcome, the most American expression of hardship, determination, and pride has been exemplified.
In the early 1950’s, during one of the most conservative time periods in the century, anti-communism was at the center of politician’s and people’s focus. But during this time one of the most calamitous and grievous homophobic policies was enacted by the United States Government, known as the “Lavender Scare”. This policy sought out and destroyed “suspected” queer people within the government; this policy made it illegal for queer people to work inside the government. “We have information that you are a homosexual. What do you have to say in your defense?” This was what was asked of employees of the government when they were on trial. This tragedy ravaged families and lives across the nation. But from the tragedy that befell this community they gained a new sense of determination to come into the light as a community.
As the entrance into the new decade came around there was a steady uprising of the queer community. In mid-1969 after a police raid on a well-known gay/lesbian bar resulted in unfair and discriminatory incarcerations, the queer community began to rise up. The raid of the Stonewall Inn lead to protests know as the Stonewall Riots. Many historians and people in the queer community look back on these riots as the first pride parade in history.[footnoteRef:4] The Stonewall Inn stands tall today as a proud queer bar and historical monument for the queer community. The amount of perseverance, conscientiousness, and tenacity portrayed and put forth by queer protesters and activist shows how American overcoming tragedy with triumph is.
Policies that target and seek to annihilate minority groups are not something that is new to this Nation. Lgbtq+ people have been told that a predisposition of who they love or identify as is a sin and something they can choose to change. Harmful rhetoric like this has only been enforced by government policies such as “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT). In 1993, Bill Clinton passed a law known as DADT, this was a law that banned openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the United States Military and also tried to prohibit harassment of closeted individuals (individuals who are not open about their sexuality or gender orientation). This policy denied hundreds of thousands from serving their country to the full extent of their ability. Somehow a person’s sexual orientation was going to prohibited them from being just as good, or even better, of a soldier as the man, woman, or person standing next to them.
Three years after “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was enacted, Bill Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage act”. Stating that marriage is “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife”. Basic human rights were taken away from a peaceful minority group all because our heteronormative culture was fearful of difference and change. State and Church were supposed to be separated, but these words from the Holy Bible were used as bullets, “Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it (is) abomination.”, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood upon them.” This argument is what prohibited a man from marrying the man he loved, or two women from being legal guardians of their child and is responsible for the thousands of Lgbtq+ youth that commit suicide each year.
Tragedy has consumed this community and somehow beauty and life have flourished. Life has poured into every crevice and found ways to inspire people to take a stand and make their voices be heard. Tragedy never crumpled hope. And hope is what led the fight for human rights. In August of 2010 Proposition 8, a law making same-sex marriage illegal, was found to be unlawful, September 2011 DADT was repealed, May 2012 Obama became the first president to publicly support queer people and months later the democratic party joined him, in November 2012 the first openly gay person was elected to US Senate, in June 2015 same-sex marriage was declared legal in all 50 states, and in June 2016 the Stonewall Inn became a national monument.[footnoteRef:11] Tragedy is still everywhere, we mourn for more than 20,000 people still in conversion therapy.[footnoteRef:12] We mourn for people in our community who have lost partners to AIDS, murder, and suicide. We mourn, but we also celebrate the lives of those people and the lives of the people around us. We protest and because of that we flourish.
Imagine being one of the first people to try and push against gender stereotypes and preconstructed ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman. Imagine the amount of strength it takes to put yourself in front of the firing squad that is composed of religion, press, lost friends and family, political platforms, police brutality, rape, homicide, and homelessness. Transgender or gender queer people in America are the biggest minority group to ever exist. Gender queer people are at the highest risk of sexual assault anywhere, have the highest rate of hate crimes committed against them, and have the most targeted systemic bias and transphobic practices committed against them. The term transgender came into use around 1990; a self-identified heterosexual cross-dresser named Virginia Prince is given a vast majority of credit with opening the flood gates for the trans community in the United States and a monumental figure that embodies overcoming tragedy and determination to fight for what is right and just.After all this time, after all the work put in by the transgender community, after all the progress that is thought to be made, innocent people are still being murdered. Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, Viccky Gutierrez, Celine Walker, Tonya Harvey, Zakaria Fry, Phylicia Mitchell, Amia Tyrae Berryman, Sasha Wall, Karla Patricia Flores-Pavon, Nino Fortson, Gigi Pierce, Roxana Hernandez, Antash’a English, Diamond Stephens, Cathalina Christina James, Kiesha Wells.[footnoteRef:14] These 16 names all belong to someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s partner, someone’s parent. And someone got the dreaded phone call that this person they loved was shot, beaten, choked, abducted, stabbed, and/or burned.[footnoteRef:15] Death in the queer community has never been something new. You cannot walk into a designated queer nightclub without thinking that someone could walk through the front doors and open fire on you. The strength and courage that the queer community exudes, transgender or gender queer people especially, is one of the reasons that after all these years, after all these deaths, people continue to show up to Pride Parades and make sure their voices are heard.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), and closer to home, AIDS has most commonly affected queer men who engage in sexual activity. In June 1981 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that previously healthy men had contracted pneumonia and died. Looking back today more than a million Americans have died or have this virus. [footnoteRef:16] Not only has AIDS ravished the gay community but it also drove a divide within the community. Mark Harrington, a gay man who lived in San Francisco and New York during the peak of the AIDS epidemic, “And I felt like women were not as part of our community and I couldn’t tell if that was because of New York had always been like that, or was AIDS dividing up those groups?” Harrington was involved in a community that was actively fighting for allocated research on AIDS, known as ACT UP. In a specific interview he did in 2003, Harrington was reflecting on the difficulties within the Lgbtq+ community due to the horrific outbreak of AIDS among men. Not only was there division within the country because of AIDS, there was division within the queer community. The solidarity that gay men, in particular, faced could have shut this movement down. It could have forced them into a corner, barricaded them into a closet and left them there to die. Instead, the gay community stood up and forced their way into the light. “I felt very protected and part of a group” A sense of community is what flowed through the veins of these men who were faced with unimaginable terrors, and although AIDS is still a horrific tragedy within the United States, the gay community has persisted.“HIV by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You.”
I am a queer woman in the United States. I am white and due to preconceived stereotypes, I “appear” heterosexual; I recognize my privilege, and personally I am thankful. But, I keep my hair long. I don’t hold hands with girls in public. The only rainbow item I wear in public is a small bracelet. I try to hold my tongue when I hear homophobic remarks. These are my rules to live by so hopefully I do not get stabbed to death or raped due to my sexual orientation. I am a 17-year-old child. I have been told to die, told I am going to hell, told I do not deserve to breathe, called a faggot. My grandparents can’t make eye contact with me, my president jokes about hanging me.[footnoteRef:18] My best friend cannot come out due to the possibility of becoming homeless if her parents disown her. I look at the world and my community through eyes of fear and hope. I would never change who I am. Nor, would I change the journey the queer community has gone through. Tragedy and triumph come hand in hand; you cannot go through life with only triumph, because without enduring tragedy there is no goal to strive for. The Lgbtq+ community has fought battles so they can have jobs, buy houses, adopt children, not be tortured through conversion therapy, and be seen as human beings. When I think of an American story of tragedy and triumph the queer community has fought more battles than humanly possible and still keeps fighting to strive for a world where they are treated equally. This article written by the Human Rights Campaign is a quick summary about different Lgbtq+ activists groups evolved and fought for equality throughout American history. The article starts off by talking about the famous Stonewall Riot that is viewed by many as the “beginning” of the Lgbtq+ movement. Hate crimes were also at an all time high and the “Lavender Scare” also took place at this time. The “Lavender Scare” was a time where any government official who was suspected of being queer was fired because they were viewed as susceptible to Soviet blackmail. This article gives a broad and simplistic summary of major early queer movements in America.
I plan on using this website to create a baseline of information. I will go into more depth of the Stonewall Riots, and the effects of harmful government policies throughout history. This website will strengthen my paper because it adds information that is not too daunting or overwhelming to a reader who is glancing over my paper.
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