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social sciences

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Gay Rights Movement, U. S.  
 
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One of the most famous attacks on gay and lesbian rights occurred in Florida in 1977 when conservative Christian Anita Bryant spearheaded the Save Our Children campaign, arguing that the pro-gay ordinance passed in Dade County should be overturned because homosexuals represented a danger to young people by seeking to "recruit" them to the ranks of the gay.

While her efforts were successful, resulting in the law's repeal, a movement the next year to pass the anti-gay Proposition 6 (the Briggs Amendment) in California was not, thanks in part to the efforts of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who debated the proposition's sponsor across the state, puncturing Briggs's fear-mongering with common sense and humor.

Sponsor Message.

In 1978, gay rights laws were rescinded in three other states. And when Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered in San Francisco that November, activists responded first with outrage and then with even more conviction that action on the national level was needed.

One response to the gathering clouds of anti-gay forces was the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, held on October 14, 1979, the first of four national marches so far. Another was the founding of the Human Rights Campaign Fund in 1980, a political action committee that grew into the country's largest national glbtq rights group.

The HRC(F)--the "Fund" was later dropped--worked to elect pro-gay candidates and support pro-gay legislation, adding to the political strategies already developed by the National Gay Task Force and the Gay Rights National Lobby. Activist Steve Endean headed both HRC(F) and GRNL for a few years, in fact, and became probably the most consistent advocate for a national gay and lesbian rights bill.

In the following decades, the national groups alternately cooperated and competed with one another, sometimes in unfortunate "family" battles for members, funds, and recognition.

The 1980s

As the 1980s opened, there were both fear and renewed energy among movement workers, a pattern that defines the decade in many ways. In that election year, though it resulted in the election of New Right darling Ronald Reagan as President of the United States, the Democratic Party platform included "sexual orientation" in its anti-discrimination plank and openly gay African American Mel Boozer spoke at the Democrats' national convention as the vice-presidential nominee of the party's gay and lesbian caucus.

Then halfway through 1981 national media began reporting on pneumonia and cancer in gay men, and the template was set for the condition later called AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) to be associated with sexual practices.

Gay and lesbian rights intersected with the AIDS crisis in a number of ways, and stimulated important conversations and methods. The main issues confronting lesbian and gay communities were the portrayal of AIDS as a "gay plague" and government inaction--which seemed to be cause and effect due to continuing homophobia. To some degree the energies directed at legal reform were now channeled into responding to the emergency, especially providing basic services for the ill and "safe sex" information and protecting the rights of those affected.

A debate erupted over closing the gay bathhouses that had been so important in creating communities and a symbol to many not only of hard won sexual freedom, but of the very right to exist as homosexuals. In the end, the houses were closed but a division lingered between gay men who supported the baths and those who agreed with closing them.

The Gay Men's Health Crisis was founded in 1982 and the People with AIDS Coalition was well underway by 1985, the year Rock Hudson died of AIDS and gave the disease a well-known face. Treatments for HIV still proceeded slowly and were expensive when attainable at all, causing Larry Kramer and others to found the direct action group ACT UP in 1987.

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