Sierra Club staff members Jameka Hodnett, Anthony Torres, and Dawna Knapp put together a Queer and Trans Liberation Timeline for Pride 2016.
The LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual) movement has a fascinating and storied history. This timeline is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to illustrate the resiliency and persistence of the LGBTQ community to fight injustice and advocate for basic human rights and dignity.
The Sierra Club is proud to have signed on to a letter in 2016 urging President Barack Obama to designate the Stonewall Inn as a National Monument. The 2016 tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando - as well as the tragedy at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans 43 years ago, and the riots at the Stonewall Inn 47 years ago - prove that hate cannot quell a surging movement, but solidifies its resolve.
"Gay Americans are so creative. Our ancestors managed to turn a riot into a movement of love. They managed to turn the epidemic of Aids into one of the most powerful political forces the United States has ever produced. In this moment, let us not become nationalistic, or prejudiced, or vengeful. Let us not perpetuate the American cycle of violence. Let us interrupt this nightmare as the creative, loving, justice-seeking American queers that we are, who know well how to look death in the eye and still imagine a new, better living world.
Let us remember, in the spirit of Stonewall, and of the pride celebrations every June since, that this tragedy, devastating and heartbreaking and frightening as it is, could also be gay Americans’ moment to find the best in ourselves." - Stephen W. Thrasher, Writer for The Guardian
Queer and trans history is inherently global, despite a persistent narrative that correlates the rise of LGBTQ identity with the dawn of the West. Globalized oppression of queerness, however, became institutional and widespread with the arrival of European empires. The legacy of homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny from the United States to Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa is traced to the legalized and cultural genocide of queer identities by white settlers.
“Colonialism set the foundation for all other ‘isms.”
- Krysta Williams, Outreach Coordinator for Native Youth Sexual Health Network
20,000+ years ago - Two-Spirit people (representing various interpretations of gender and sexuality) emerge to prevalence and leadership among indigenous peoples across the Americas, especially in the Great Lakes, Plains, and California regions.
1672 - The Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros (The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros) depicts scenes of Walatta Petros witnessing nuns being lustful with each other and having an intimate relationship with another woman. This scene shows that desire between members of the same sex is not a recent Western import to Ethiopia but existed in Ethiopia before the twentieth century.
1858 - Timor Leste legalises homosexuality.
Mid 1800s - Frances E.W. Harper, a Black lesbian and bisexual writer, chaired the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, and spoke all over the country with the American Anti-Slavery Society. She published her first book of poetry at age 20 and her first novel at 67. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women in 1894 and published so many articles that she became known as the “mother of African-American journalism.”
1867 - Karl Heinrich Ulrichs spoke out about gay rights and issues in Germany, producing what could be the first recorded publications on gay rights in modern history. He argued fiercely and repeatedly that homosexuality is not aberrant nor a crime.
1880 - Japan decriminalizes homosexual acts, having only made them illegal during the early years of the Western-influence Meiji Restoration.
1895 - In Brazil, Adolfo Caminha publishes his novel Bom-Crioulo (The Black Man and the Cabin Boy) with homosexuality at its center and a Black man as the story’s hero.
1897 - The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was founded in Berlin by Magnus Hirschfeld, to campaign for social recognition of gay, bisexual and transgender men and women, and against their legal persecution. The primary aim of the Committee was to abolish a German law prohibiting male sexual relationships.
Early 1900s - The earliest traces of Lubanca, a secret language of resistance among Istanbul’s queer population, are found in the then-Ottoman Empire.
1917 - During the October Revolution in Russia, Bolshevik leaders reportedly say that “homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships are treated exactly the same by the law.”
1924 - The Society for Human Rights was founded in Chicago by Henry Gerber. In its brief existence before being shut down by the Chicago police, it produced two installments of the newsletter, Friendship and Freedom, to advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians.
1945 - Upon the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces, many interned for homosexuality are not freed, but required to serve out the full term of their sentences.
1945 - American men and women returning from World War II formed the Veterans Benevolent Association, in response to gay service members receiving a less-than-honorable discharge and providing legal advice to gay service members who were facing injustice.
1950 - In the midst of America’s most conservative decade, Harry Hay and Frank Kameny formed the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first large gay liberation organizations. A splinter of the Mattachine Society, ONE, Inc., was granted a victory in a landmark First Amendment ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958 that allowed the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their magazine, which was declared obscene by the FBI.
1955 - The first American organization to provide social space and advocacy for lesbians was the Daughters of Bilitis. Formed in San Francisco, the Daughters of Bilitis produced The Ladder, a controversial newsletter urging at first assimilation and conformity, later promoting visibility and political pressure.
1960s - Angela Davis emerges as a leading feminist voice for the counterculture activist movement. She worked with the Communist, Black Panther, and new abolitionist movement against the prison-industrial complex. She openly identified as a lesbian by 1997.
1960s - Audre Lorde, a Caribbean-American and civil rights activist, becomes known as a prolific poet, queer and trans theorist, and leading activist in the racial justice, feminist, and anti-war movements. She authored Sister Outsider and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name; much of her work lives on in the Audre Lorde Project based in New York City.
1961 - José Sarria becomes the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States when he runs for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
1966 - Like the Cooper’s Donuts riot in Los Angeles seven years prior, the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco was a violent response to police crackdowns of gay and transgender activities, resulting in the National Transsexual Counseling Unit. During a time when cross-dressing and sexual conduct between males was illegal, these incidents highlighted the severity of existing inequality.
1969 - The riots at the Stonewall Inn were a turning point in LGBTQ history. The culmination of many police crackdowns, the riots were led by trans people of color and lasted six days. This sparked a national debate and demonstrated how nothing is given, it is demanded and taken. The Stonewall Inn was designated a National Monument in 2016 by President Barack Obama.
1977 - San Francisco elected its first openly gay Supervisor, Harvey Milk, who was shot and killed the following year by former Supervisor Dan White. Harvey Milk is admired for his vocal yet eloquent pleas to the LGBTQ community to live out in the open, as well as his success in defeating Proposition 6 in California, which would have allowed discrimination against gay teachers and public employees.
Late 1970s - Women and girls in the dōjinshi (fan fiction) markets of Japan started to produce sexualized parodies of popular shōnen (boy's) anime and manga stories in which the male characters were recast as gay lovers.
1981 - The AIDS crisis changed the structure of LGBTQ community, introducing a daunting threat as reports of death rose alarmingly. The epidemic ultimately touched an estimated 2.5 million people globally in this decade, and rallied awareness to LGBTQ issues.
1987 - The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power is founded in the U.S. in response to the government’s slow and duplicit response in dealing with the AIDS crisis. ACT UP stages its first major demonstration, seventeen protesters are arrested.
1987 - In New York City, a group of activists including Brenda Howard found the New York Area Bisexual Network (NYABN).
1991 - The red ribbon is first used as a symbol of the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
1991 - Sherry Harris was elected to the City Council in Seattle, Washington, making her the first openly lesbian and Black elected official.
1992 - Althea Garrison was elected as the first transgender state legislator in America, and served one term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives
1994 - President Bill Clinton authorizes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a controversial military policy that purported to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, actually failed, resulting in at least one violent death of a service member, Pfc. Barry Winchell in 1999. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011.
1999 - The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman who is a graphic designer, columnist, and activist, to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts.
2003 - Sodomy prohibition laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Lawrence v. Texas decision is considered a breakthrough, ending a decades-long legal struggle for equal rights protection, privacy and liberty. The struggle continues.
2005 - Publication of the first human rights report on the situation of intersex people, by the Human Rights Commission of the City and County of San Francisco.
2009 - The International Transgender Day of Visibility was founded by Michigan-based transgender activist Rachel Crandall as a reaction to the lack of LGBT holidays celebrating transgender people.
2009 - Congress passes Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, “which basically expands existing hate-crime protections to outlaw attacks based on sexual orientation or gender, in addition to race, color, religion or national origin.”
2015 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled State same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
“So yes, marriage equality erases an odious and invidious distinction among straight and us not-straight citizens for which I’m truly glad and which I celebrate. And it’ll make lots of people’s lives better. But it also leaves unexamined the reason sex seems to give you benefits and recognition — and why it orders the world and civilization. Marriage equality activists could have pursued a different agenda — challenging the need for sexual scrutiny by the state, and the constellation of benefits that belong to marriage — but they didn’t. Instead of dreaming up new forms of governance, they asked to be ruled by the ones that already exist.”
The movement for LGBTQ rights is not over, indeed it is stronger than ever. The Sierra Club stands with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in solidarity in the journey to achieve equal rights, because “no one is free when others are oppressed”.
“Violence manifests in various ways: the absence of our narratives when we walk into public spaces is violence. Institutions built off genocide and slavery (that continue to perpetuate systemic violence) need to be interrupted to build decolonial space.”
- Mitra Fakhrashrafi, Student at University of Toronto
This site is updated with the latest information about Oakland.
An interesting article by Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm about how the UAW is adapting to the realities of our 21st century economy. Thanks to Paul Rauber for passing this along.
This is an opportunity take part in a two day training provided by the UAW and the California Labor Federation in Oakland, CA on August 20th and 21st. See attached PDF for more info.