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social sciences

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GLBTQ Organizing

Displaced but undefeated, Boston's glbtq citizens began organizing. 1969 saw the foundation of the Homophile Union of Boston and a chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. The Gay Community News, a weekly newspaper for the national gay and lesbian community, was launched in 1973 and continued publication until 1999. The more radical paper, Fag Rag, flourished in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bostonians sent Elaine Noble to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974, making her the first openly lesbian member of that body. When redistricting would have pitted her against fellow incumbent Barney Frank in 1978, she chose not to stand for re-election. Frank retained the seat and eventually went on to the United States House of Representatives, where he has been a prominent voice for glbtq rights.

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In 1978, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) was founded. It has since become one of the nation's leading legal rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.

Since at least the early 1980s, when glbtq religious activist, diversity consultant, and writer Brian McNaught held the position, the Mayors of Boston have appointed liaisons to the gay and lesbian community.

Although Massachusetts has a reputation as a liberal bastion, the passage of a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation required a long and arduous battle. It took some seventeen years--often punctuated by obstructionist parliamentary tactics, heated debate, and public protest--before the bill became law in 1989.

Despite the anti-discrimination legislation a controversy erupted in 1992, when the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council attempted to ban the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston from the city's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Temporary injunctions allowed participation in the 1992 and 1993 parades, but in 1994 the sponsoring veterans' group elected to cancel the event for the sole purpose of preventing glbtq people from being part of the celebration of their Irish heritage. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in 1995 that the veterans had a First Amendment right to determine who could participate in the parade.

In 1994, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review (since 1999, known as The Gay & Lesbian Review / Worldwide) began publication. An attempt to fill a void in glbtq culture, the Review, edited by Richard Schneider, Jr., has become the most literate and intellectual of glbtq journals.

Although Massachusetts's sodomy law had not been enforced against consenting adults in private for many years, efforts to repeal the statute in the legislature were repeatedly stalled by a conservative House Speaker. In 2002, the statute was finally voided by a unanimous Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

Same-Sex Marriage

In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, adjudicating a lawsuit filed by seven same-sex couples seeking the right to marry, ruled in Goodridge v. Dep't of Public Health that "a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law."

The decision was bitterly attacked by conservatives, who called for a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. That measure may be on the ballot in November 2006.

Nevertheless, the weddings began on May 17, 2004, the first taking place in the Boston suburb of Cambridge just minutes after midnight. All seven couples who had shared in the long legal struggle now share May 17 as their anniversary date.

The day was one of celebrations across Massachusetts as hundreds of couples were married in city halls, churches, synagogues, parks, and in one case on their Christmas tree farm. Although small groups of right-wing opponents staged protests in Boston, the mood remained festive, with rainbow flags flying and the Boston Gay Men's Chorus serenading newlyweds.

Sexual Abuse by Priests

During the decade of the 1990s Boston was among the American archdioceses rocked by scandals of sexual abuse by priests. Victims included girls and women, but many were boys. For many years the archdiocese, under the leadership of Bernard Cardinal Law, merely transferred abusive clergymen from one parish to another instead of taking steps to halt their conduct. Catholics and others were outraged when the cover-up was exposed.

More than 500 victims filed lawsuits, which, it is estimated, may cost the diocese over a hundred million dollars.

Law resigned under pressure in December 2002, but Pope John Paul II quickly called him to Rome and installed him as archpriest of one of the city's main basilicas, St. Mary Major. In that capacity Law officiated at one of the Masses during the period of mourning for the pontiff in April 2005. All but one of the seven cardinals from United States dioceses absented themselves from the service.

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