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social sciences

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New Right  

The emergence of a political "New Right" in the United States during the last two decades of the twentieth century has been of particular importance to glbtq people because of its record of open hostility to glbtq rights. Reacting to the political and social gains of the gay and lesbian movement--as well as the feminist, Black, and other minority rights movements--the neoconservatives of the late 1970s and after especially opposed abortion rights and what they came to call "the gay agenda."

The New Right, as opposed to previous conservative movements, combined evangelical Christian views of morality with a political agenda. Typical of the New Right are the Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and the Reverend Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, organizations founded to channel a specific moral and social vision into politics, primarily through the Republican party. In "The Goals of the Moral Majority" (1980), for example, Jerry Falwell stated, "We must stand against the Equal Rights Amendment, the feminist revolution, and the homosexual revolution."

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Calling for a return to "family values," New Right activists sought, sometimes successfully (as in Anita Bryant's 1977 "Save Our Children" campaign), to stop or rescind ordinances protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination, and perpetuated harmful stereotypes of glbtq people as inherently criminal, sick, and dangerous to children.

The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 was consequence as much as cause of the New Right. Its influence would only increase during the Reagan (1981-1989) and George Bush administrations (1989-1993).

With the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, news that the initial victims were gay men and intravenous drug users appeared to many on the Right to vindicate their ongoing attacks on both groups as not only sick (now, literally) but dangerous to the nation as well.

While some evangelicals suggested that AIDS was a just punishment for sin, the Reagan administration became notorious for its lack of response, funding, and compassion. At the same time, some historians argue that the crisis gave the gay and lesbian movement direction and forced it into action. The result was important proactive responses such as the Gay Men's Health Crisis, ACT UP, and Queer Nation. At the same time, the United States Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), declaring laws to be constitutional, struck another blow against the equality of glbtq people and bolstered New Right ideology.

In the 1980s the "Culture Wars" escalated. Rooted in the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s, these wars were fought especially on the fronts of public institutions, such as libraries, schools and colleges, and the National Endowments for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. Censorship--of library holdings, public school texts, and artworks funded by the NEA--was a central issue, with gay-friendly books such as Heather Has Two Mommies especially targeted.

In New York City, the 1992 controversy surrounding a proposed Rainbow Curriculum, which sought to teach respect for all families (including glbtq families) gained national attention. Ultimately, the books and sections concerning glbtq families were removed from the curriculum.

Although the election of President Clinton in 1992 seemed to signal a diminishment in New Right political power, its agenda continued to be reflected in Congress, as in Speaker Newt Gingrich's conservative "Contract with America" and the Republican take-over of Congress in 1994. The New Right's influence may have extended also to the Democrats, many of whom felt that their party had become more centrist in response to the ultra-conservative challenge.

Whatever the source, the Clinton administration dealt perhaps its most famous blow to glbtq causes when in 1993 it accepted the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromise after pledging to end the ban against gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. The compromises continued, as with the passage and signing of the Defense of Marriage Act (1996), which outlawed same-sex marriage in the United States, even as an Employment Non-Discrimination Act nearly passed the Senate.

Opposition to same-sex marriage, domestic partnership benefits, and other rights sought by glbtq people continued into the new millennium and reflect the persistence of the New Right's infusion of conservative Christian morality into politics, while an "ex-gay" movement was fueled from similar sources.

While glbtq activists generally see the New Right as a negative force, some argue that it is only against such opposition that glbtq movements have more clearly defined their goals and proposed actions, offering as examples the emergence of such national organizations as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign, effective responses from the movement to the AIDS crisis, and the four national marches on Washington for glbtq rights (1979, 1987, 1993, 2000).

Vicki L. Eaklor


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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

social sciences >> Overview:  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

The socially and politically conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long been antagonistic to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Domestic Partnerships

"Domestic partnership" is the generic term for a variety of forms of legal and institutional recognition of same-sex couples that fall short of same-sex marriage.

social sciences >> Overview:  Evangelical Christians

Evangelical Christians, who tend to be fundamentalists and socially conservative, have not been welcoming to glbtq people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Rights Movement, U. S.

The U.S. gay rights movement has made significant progress toward achieving equality for glbtq Americans, and in the process has become more inclusive and diverse, but much remains to be done.

social sciences >> Overview:  Marches on Washington

Marches on Washington in support of the rights of glbtq people have been a significant part of the modern movement for equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Reparative Therapy

Reparative therapy is a dangerously misguided attempt, supported by homophobic religious organizations, to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

social sciences >> Overview:  Salvation Army

An Evangelical Christian sect founded in the nineteenth century, the Salvation Army has recently become an arm of right-wing conservatism.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sex Education

Sex education programs are vulnerable to the attempts of religious radicals to hijack the sex education movement as a means of disseminating their own repressive blend of intolerance and fear.

social sciences >> Overview:  Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptists have become the most intolerant of the major American religious denominations, especially (but not exclusively) for their opposition to equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

social sciences >> ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project

For more than four decades, the ACLU has been at the forefront of litigation and education designed to secure glbtq rights on a variety of fronts.

social sciences >> ACT UP

Using bold images and confrontational tactics, ACT UP worked to promote awareness of AIDS and challenge the complacency of politicians and government officials in the early years of the epidemic.

social sciences >> Bowers v. Hardwick / Lawrence v. Texas

Two of the most significant Supreme Court decisions regarding constitutional liberty for glbtq people are Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

social sciences >> Bryant, Anita

Former beauty queen, popular singer, and orange juice pitchwoman, Anita Bryant became the poster-girl for homophobia in the late 1970s; her name continues to be a byword for bigotry.

social sciences >> Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, in effect from 1993 until 2011, was a compromise intended to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the U. S. military, but it failed to halt discharges based solely on sexual orientation.

social sciences >> Gingrich-Jones, Candace

Candace Gingrich-Jones, the half-sister of former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, serves as a spokesperson and Senior Youth Outreach Manager for the Human Rights Campaign.

social sciences >> Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

The largest glbtq political organization in the United States, the Human Rights Campaign has emerged as the leading national organization representing glbtq concerns.

social sciences >> National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF)

The oldest continuously operating national glbtq interest group, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has played a significant role in the development of the glbtq movement for equal rights.

social sciences >> Soulforce

Utilizing the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance, Soulforce is an activist organization founded in 1999 to combat the anti-gay rhetoric and polical actions of the religious right

social sciences >> White, James Melville "Mel"

Mel White spent over thirty years serving the Evangelical Christian community; after struggling with his homosexuality for many years, he broke his ties with anti-gay religious leaders and became a glbtq activist.


Berman, William C. America's Right Turn. 2nd ed. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Clendinen, Dudley, and Adam Nagourney. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.

Martin, William. With God on Our Side. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

Wills, Garry. Reagan's America. New York: Doubleday, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Eaklor, Vicki L.  
    Entry Title: New Right  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 12, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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