It wasn’t until 1993 that the notion of same-sex marriage was taken seriously by the courts, when a ruling from the Hawaii Supreme Court in Baehr v. Lewin suggested for the first time that refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry might be unconstitutional. The reaction to Hawaii’s ruling, rather than build momentum to allow SSM, instead resulted in a backlash in congress, who pushed through the Defence of Marriage Act, specifically prohibiting the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages. Continue reading →
For hundreds of years when being queer was criminal in western society, the public face of queerfolk was the most visible members of the community, those who were unable to hide by passing as heterosexual and consequently, those most often brought before the law. Trans* individuals, cross-dressers, and those who eschewed the gender binary were obvious, easy targets. When the political climate became unbearably repressive, and the civil rights movement to emancipate other minorities took off, one of the first acts of the community was to change the image of queerness in the public consciousness. Continue reading →
The original Pride flag was flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on 25th June, 1978. It had been designed by Gilbert Baker, an artist and designer who made silk banners for gay rights and anti-war protest marches. The flag was inspired in part by Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” (Garland had died a few days before the Stonewall uprising), and originally contained eight colours, each with a different meaning, the idea for which came from the Flag of Races used during the 1960s civil rights marches, which consisted of five horizontal stripes in red, black, brown, yellow, and white.
Thirty volunteers hand stitched and dyed the first two flags for the Freedom Day parade. Continue reading →
Through the 1960s as homophile organisations started to form in defence of queerfolk, the community which was only just forming began to fracture. Societies like the Mattachine wanted to present an assimilationist approach to queer emancipation, representing the white, middle class, straight-passing men who politicians and lawmakers would relate to and find most sympathetic. It wasn’t these men, however, that were being targeted by the police and rounded up by the dozen, but the butch women, effeminate queens, cross-dressers, and trans*folk who were the most visible and obvious targets for prosecution, and the easiest to turn into folk devils and scapegoats. It’s no surprise it was those members who first fought back and put queer emancipation on the political agenda. Continue reading →
The hundred-year period leading up to 1970 was a hugely significant one for queerfolk. From a series of small, disparate socio-sexual communities with no real sense of wider identity or framework for understanding their orientation, to an established subculture with a naming convention, identity, and political presence. In response to a repressive legal atmosphere in the UK and USA, “homophile organisations” such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis were formed with the aim of politically liberating queerfolk. While other rallys and marches had been organised in the past, it was the uprising following the botched raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York which really provided the catalyst for the modern Pride movement. Continue reading →
The Mattachine Society was founded in LA in 1950 by Harry Hay and a number of his friends. Hay conceived of an “international…fraternal order” to serve as “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority”. He had tried to form a similar political activist group in 1948 in support of a Progressive presidential candidate, but it never got off the ground. Over the following two years, Hay worked hard on the model of a queer emancipation group which could be politically engaged on a public stage.
Originally meeting under the banner Society of Fools, the name Mattachine Society — which references anti-monarchy Medieval French societies of masked men who used anonymity in order to be critical of the establishment — was adopted a year later.
Originally the Mattachine’s organisation was modelled after the American Communist Party: different levels of membership required increased commitment and involvement, and information was closely guarded from lower level members. The founders were anonymous, and the society existed as a collection of independent cells. Continue reading →
Queer bars have existed for centuries, and have been raided by the police for just as long. The Stonewall Inn was no different.
After the Second World War and well into the Cold War, American law enforcement, led by the FBI, deliberately targeted homosexuals for prosecution. In a three-year period from 1947-50, 17000 federal job applications were denied, 4380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 dismissed from government jobs because of suspicions about their sexuality. It was the period known as the Lavender Scare, and plenty of other institutions soon took part. The US Postal Service recorded addresses where “homosexual material” was delivered; local state ordinances were passed to close down gay bars and outlaw cross-dressing, and city police forces did regular “sweeps” to rid the streets of anyone perceived to be homosexual; colleges expelled professors whose teaching was too liberal; and anybody caught in a compromising situation was publicly humiliated in the press and usually jailed or sent to a mental institution.
With the shift in understanding of human sexuality from acts to identities, the concept of behaving in a certain way outside the bedroom because of what happens inside began to take hold. Sexologists, busy looking for a “cause” of variant sexualities, began to study every aspect of their patients’ lives looking for common ground, although the debate about nature/nurture and whether or not conforming to stereotypical behaviour is a cause or effect of sexual orientation is still going on today. Initially, nobody had any idea what might make a person queer: the idea was still so new there was no received wisdom to fall back on. Early questionnaires used by sexologists and psychotherapists to try to understand their clients’ orientation show just how different the theories were. Some blamed overbearing mothers and/or absent fathers; others thought the reverse was true. The number of male and female friends a patient had, the amount of sport they played, and what they ate and where they worked were all considered important, but nobody was sure exactly how.