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social sciences

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Gay Rights Movement, U. S.  
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ACT UP staged dramatic demonstrations at such places as the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control, and New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. By 1990, thanks to movement activists (now reclaiming the term queer), more Americans were aware of discrimination against homosexuals, especially in health care and partnership rights, including some of the 1000+ rights enjoyed by legally married couples, such as health insurance and health care decisions, inheritance rights, and adoption of children, for example.

While AIDS was a primary focus for the movements in the 1980s other causes continued. Media portrayals, for example, had long been a concern, and in 1985 the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was formed in New York City and became a national organization nine years later.

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In 1986 the gay rights movement suffered one of its biggest setbacks when the U. S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia's law in its Bowers v. Hardwick decision, dealing a bitter blow to those who thought that legal reform might come quickly. The bitterly divided Court not only found that the Constitution afforded no right to consensual homosexual activity in the privacy of one's bedroom, but dismissed arguments to the contrary as "facetious," as it freely quoted the Bible to deny equal protection under the law to homosexuals.

The Bowers decision, combined with the AIDS crisis, led to the second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, held October 11, 1987. The lack of media coverage that day in turn helped create National Coming Out Day, first observed October 11, 1988, as a reminder of both the march and the importance of coming out as a political act.

The 1980s concluded with some significant developments: an insistence on the visibility of bisexuals, trans people, and nonwhite people within the movement and corresponding groups founded to address their interests; an increase in lawsuits challenging the U. S. military's policy of excluding homosexuals from service; and a turn to state legislatures and courts in an attempt to repeal sodomy laws, which functioned less as a serious threat to send homosexuals to prison than it did to heighten the stigma against homosexuality. The sodomy laws were regularly invoked to argue against equal rights for homosexuals in areas ranging from child custody cases to job discrimination.

The 1990s

The elections of 1992 continued the typical mixed results for glbtq rights. Voters in Oregon rejected an anti-gay measure (and did so again in 1994, as did Idaho's voters), but in Colorado anti-gay Amendment 2, which proposed to strip homosexuals from any right to protection from discrimination, passed.

Effective organizing on the state level and the hard work of thousands of unsung glbtq rights workers were responsible for the advances; and Colorado activists successfully brought Amendment 2 to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1996. In Romer v. Evans, the Court declared Amendment 2 unconstitutional because it served no legitimate purpose and was designed simply to rob homosexuals of equal protection under the law. This was the first ruling by the Court that recognized lesbians and gay men as worthy of equal protection under the law.

Also in 1992 Bill Clinton was elected President. He was the first candidate so openly to court queer voters. Consequently, enormous expectations arose in the glbtq community as 1993 began in a celebratory mood.

By fall of 1993, however, the gay rights movement had endured one of its most public setbacks and national leaders were pointing fingers at themselves and each other. That September, Congress passed the measure known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass" ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DADT) as a compromise between lifting the ban on homosexuals in the armed services (as Clinton had promised) and continuing the policy of automatic dismissal of gay and lesbian soldiers.

The expulsion of homosexuals (as they were still called by the Department of Defense) had been an issue since World War II, and was challenged repeatedly in the 1970s and 1980s. Gay and lesbian veterans had been among the first to organize for their rights after World War II, and a new group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) arose amid the DADT debates and continues its advocacy work today.

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