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ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

On New Year's Eve 1965, for example, when San Francisco police raided a fundraiser for the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, a newly organized group opposed to police harassment of gay bars, the ACLU came to the defense of those arrested (including young lawyer Herb Donaldson, who was later to become the first openly gay man appointed to a judgeship in California).

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the gay liberation movement emerged, the ACLU became increasingly involved in helping to protect the civil liberties of homosexuals. For example, it challenged state laws, city ordinances, and liquor board regulations that prohibited bars from serving homosexual patrons or for performers to impersonate a person of the opposite sex. During this period, the ACLU also contested state sodomy laws, federal security regulations that discriminated against homosexuals, and the firing of federal employees on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation.

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In the 1970s, the ACLU also defended teachers who had been fired, as in Gaylord v. Tacoma (1973); and sued to force recognition of student groups at universities, as in Mississippi Gay Alliance v. Mississippi State University (1977). Also in the 1970s, the ACLU began to litigate on behalf of gay and lesbian parents who had been denied custody or visitation rights, as in Voeller v. Voeller (1976), and it even filed the first lawsuits challenging the policy against homosexuals serving in the U. S. military (Schlegel v. U. S., 1970) and the laws that denied marriage equality (Baker v. Nelson, 1972).

It also encouraged gay men who were entrapped in cruising areas to contest their arrests rather than meekly plead guilty to charges of solicitation or lewd conduct.

Many--indeed most--of the suits filed on behalf of gay and lesbian rights in the 1960s and 1970s were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, they were significant in that they announced that glbtq people and their allies were increasingly willing to stand up for their rights. Moreover, the suits helped to transform the glbtq movement from a struggle for sexual freedom into a struggle for equal rights under the law.

The 1980s and Bowers v. Hardwick

In the 1980s, despite a spectacular setback, the ACLU achieved a number of significant breakthroughs in protecting the rights of glbtq individuals and of those living with HIV and AIDS.

The decade began with a significant victory that invalidated New York's sodomy law (People v. Onofre, 1980) and included several crucially important victories that protected AIDS patients from discrimination. For example, in 1987 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that disability discrimination laws apply to contagious diseases, including AIDS (Schoolboard v. Arline), a principle further clarified when other federal courts ruled the following year that people with AIDS are protected from discrimination by federal law (Chalk v. District Court; Doe v. Centinella Hospital).

During the decade, the U. S. Supreme Court, on a 4-4 vote, upheld an appellate court ruling striking down an Oklahoma law that allowed the firing of teachers who expressed support for gay rights (NGLTF v. Oklahoma, 1984). The ACLU also scored a victory in 1987 when a court required Georgetown University to recognize a student group despite its status as a Roman Catholic institution (Gay Rights Coalition v. Georgetown University, 1987) since it received municipal benefits.

Still, these victories were overshadowed by the stunning loss in 1986 when the U. S. Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick upheld, on a 5-4 vote, Georgia's sodomy law, ruling that nothing in the Constitution extends a right to homosexuals to engage in consensual sexual acts even in the privacy of their homes.

The ruling in Bowers was a stinging blow to the aspirations of gay men and lesbians to equality under the law at a time when they felt beleaguered not only by the AIDS epidemic but also by the hatred regularly espoused by members of the resurgent New Right.

The bitter disappointment and anger that the decision engendered in glbtq people, however, fueled a new wave of activism, and moved the battle for equality under the law from the U. S. Supreme Court to state legislatures and courts, a battleground that the ACLU with its affiliates in every state was well-positioned to lead.

Gay Rights Project

It was at this time that the ACLU, with support from philanthropist and law professor James C. Hormel and legal scholar Arthur Leonard among others, formed its Gay Rights Project (later renamed LGBT & AIDS Project). The creation of the Project was to underline the significance of glbtq issues to the ACLU's mission and to bring together experts in constitutional law and civil rights to coordinate a strategy to secure equality and fairness in sexual orientation, gender identity, and AIDS law.

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