The LGBT community has endured a long and painful history to get to the stage they are at today. From being treated as mentally unstable, to being denied basic human rights, being dealt with violently, and being forced to hide their true identities, the LGBT has come a long way in their fight to end this unjust discrimination. Our focus here will be on LGBT discrimination in New York City and we will go on a journey through their difficult beginnings starting around the 1940s, leading to the infamous Stonewall Riots in 1969 and then to the impactful change the riots and activists influenced from then onwards up until today, prompting the creation of many organizations and laws protecting and supporting LGBT rights in NYC.
♦ Anti-LGBT History NY (1940-1969)
-Homosexuals were unwillingly admitted into psychiatric facilities by their families, so that they could be cured of their “sexual illness.”
-The infamous Dr. Walter Freeman, who was known for performing barbaric lobotomies, had 40% of his patients homosexual.
-Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted hearings searching for communists in the U.S. government. Along with communists, anyone believed to be un-American or subversive was considered a security risk. Homosexuals were included in this category by the U.S. State Department based on the idea that due to their “unstable emotions” they were susceptible to blackmail.
-American Psychiatric Association (APA) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder.
-Thousands of gay men and women were publicly humiliated, physically harassed, fired from jobs, unreasonably jailed, and institutionalized in mental hospitals.
-The FBI kept track of known homosexuals, the establishments they frequented, and the names of their friends; The U.S. Post Office kept track of addresses where material pertaining to homosexuality was mailed. There was a complete disregard for their privacy and no sense of respect.
-Bars that catered to homosexuals were shut down and the customers were arrested and exposed in newspapers.
-The city underwent a sweep to rid it’s neighborhoods of gay people. Anyone found wearing clothes of the opposite gender was arrested, because it was outlawed and any university professor suspected of being homosexual was fired.
-Many lived in fear of being who they are and live double lives, forced to hide their true selves from the public and their professional lives. What happened to the land of the free? I think we all missed the fine print that read: “Only applicable to straight white males.”
This horrific Anti-gay video from the 1950s warning boys against homosexuals highlighted the essence of ignorance and discrimination against homosexuals. It labeled homosexual men as sick pedophiles who “demand an intimate relationship with members of their own sex” and are “seemingly normal and friendly”. Why do homosexuals have to seem normal and friendly, why cant we just accept it as the truth?
-A campaign to rid New York City of its gay bars was ordered by Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. and effective.The bars had their liquor licenses revoked and police officers would go inside, undercover, to work and entrap as many homosexual men as possible.
-Entrapment,which is exactly what the name suggests, an undercover cop trapping a homosexual man by starting a conversation. If the conversation led to the idea that the two might leave together or that the officer would buy the man a drink, he would be arrested on the basis of “solicitation”.
-A case came up of a transgender person from NYC who wanted to change their birth certificate gender after going through sex reassignment procedures and surgeries. The NYC Health Department denied them this right, refusing to change it and the court ruled that only a change could be made on the certificate only if there was a mistake recording the gender at birth.
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♦ Stonewall Riots
After silently putting up with such horrible and unjust discrimination the LGBT residents of New York could not take it anymore. On Saturday, June 28, 1969 at 1:20 a.m. at the Stonewall Inn. Gay Bar in Greenwich Village, a historic event took place that would change the face of LGBT discrimination in NY and worldwide. After facing a toxic anti-gay system from the 1940s-1960s the LGBT community was finally putting its foot down and through these series of sporadic, violent demonstrations the point was made.
Very few establishments openly allowed gay people to enter, the few that did were usually bars. One of them was Stonewall Inn and it happened to be owned by the Mafia. The Mafia was dominating in NYC running many of the underground and illegal businesses after the Prohibition. They ran a lot of the bars and alcohol businesses as well and as the gays didn’t really have much of a “respected status” in NY the Mafia came in, running these “on the down low” bars for gays and collecting payments from the gay community to keep these businesses going. Despite being owned by the Mafia, the Stonewall Inn customers were not treated as guest of the Mafia. In fact,the Mafia workers treated the customers very poorly,watered down their alcohol, and overcharged for drinks. However, the only perk was that the Mafia had some insider deals with the police and they paid them to prevent frequent raids of the bar. They were also usually tipped when a raid was about to occur.
In the 60’s, police raids on gay bars were fairly common and routine. They would generally once a month.
During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, and customers were lined up and their identification cards checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Employees and management of the bars were also typically arrested.
After they were lined up, had their ID’s checked, and those that did not comply with the “dress code” were arrested (as if this was a uniformed public school) they went even a step further. The female officers would take the women into the bathroom and check them to verify their sex without any regard for decency and privacy.
At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday June 28, 1969 seven police officers walked into Stonewall Inn. Four of them were undercover, dressed in casual clothing, two of them were in uniform, and one was a Deputy Inspector. They walked into Stonewall for a standard raid, but that is not how the event unfolded that night. That night, those who were dressed as women began refusing to go into the bathroom with the officers and the men lined up were refusing to show their identification cards. While the officers were frisking some of the lesbians, they began assaulting and inappropriately touching them. A frenzied and uncomfortable aura began to emanate within Stonewall Inn. The police decided to round everyone up inside the bar, all 204 customers, and take them to the police station.
Those who were released from the bar, stood outside waiting to see what the outcome would be. They began attracting a crowd, and the 10 people turned into 100 people. When the police officers came out, taking the stonewall customers into the police cars the crowd began to react. As a witness stated:
“The crowd reacted with amusement and general good humor mixed with growing and and intensive hostility.”
One of the bystanders began shouting, “Gay power!”, while another person started singing “We Shall Overcome”. One of the police officers pushed a transgender and she hit him in the head with her purse. Another woman who was being taken away in handcuffs had a scuffle with the officer, he then hit her in the head with his baton and threw her into the back of a police wagon. She yelled to the crowd “WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING!?” and that is the exact moment the crowd became a mob and went berserk! The scene became explosive and violence erupted; all the bottled anger that the LGBT community was harnessing came spewing out.The police tried to restrain some of the crowd, and began attacking the people, knocking some of them to the ground, provoking the crowd even more. Some of the people handcuffed escaped the wagon and the crowd overturned them and slashed their tires. Beer cans and bricks from a next door construction site were being thrown at the cops. The crowd grew to 500-600 people.
The crowd trapped some of the police officers in the bar, and then they lit garbage on fire and threw it into the windows. Additional special forces had to be called to save the policemen and to help with restraining the crowd. Eventually the cops had to retreat, because they were no match for this enormous crowd who was riled up, fighting for their rights, and were not going to back down no matter what. By 4:00 in the morning the streets were almost cleared up.
Thirteen people had been arrested. Some in the crowd were hospitalized, 4 police were injured; Almost everything in the Stonewall Inn was broken. Pay phones, toilets, mirrors, jukeboxes, and cigarette machines were all smashed.
The next day, graffiti appeared on the walls of the rundown, destroyed bar with empowering messages. Statements like “Drag power”, “They invaded our rights”, “Support gay power”, and “Legalize gay bars”. The riots didn’t stop that night however, they persisted as the week went on. During a Wednesday riot a witness proclaimed: “The word is out. Christopher Street shall be liberated! The fags have had it with oppression!” The riot
The tension between the the NYPD and the gay residents of Greenwich village was very high as more riots and protests began forming. The NY Post, the NY Times, and the Daily News all covered the riots and had interviews with witnesses and people involved in the riots; the gay community was finally receiving the spotlight and publicity they needed, but it was sad that violence, people being abused, and beaten by the police had to first be done to give them this opportunity for their voices to be heard.
Eventually, the Greenwich residents organized their feelings and resentments towards coordinated efforts and worked towards creating activist groups and establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested. The gay community was hoping for change in the Greenwich Village but little did they know that their efforts would later be known as the starting point, the birth, of the LGBT Liberation Movement in the whole of America let alone Greenwich Village or even New York!
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♦ Stonewall Achievements
The first gay newspapers were established towards the end of 1969 such as Gay, Come Out!, and Gay Power.
June 28, 1970, on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the First Gay Pride Marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Two of the gay rights groups that were created in 1969, immediately after the Stonewall riots were:
- GLF– Gay liberation Front: aimed at bringing sexual liberation and they targeted the social construction that labeled heterosexuality and nuclear families as the norm. They also went on to fight against militarism, sexism, and racism.
2. GAA– Gay Activist Alliance: was a group of homosexual activist that fought for freedom of expression, and for respect and dignity to be treated as equal human beings with a political approach.
2002 SRLP (Sylvia Rivera Law Project): The organization was named after Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Stonewall figure. It aims to provide legal assistance for the low income and POC LGBT community in NY.
SRLP works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, despite income or race,& without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.
June 1, 2009, President Barack Obama declared June as LGBT Pride Month, citing the riots as a reason to “commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans”
June 23, 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the designation of the Stonewall Inn as a city landmark, making it the first landmark honored for its role in the fight for gay rights.
June 24, 2016, President Obama announced the establishment of the Stonewall National Monument, a 7.7-acre site including Christopher Park, adjacent areas, and the Stonewall Inn within the boundaries of the monument .
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♦ Further LGBT Achievements in NY
1967 Columbia University officially recognized the gay student group, the Student Homophile League, created by bisexual activist Robert A Martin , making them the first college in the whole of United States to officially recognize a gay student group.
1977 Renee Richards, a transgender woman, was granted entry to the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament after the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor.
1987 LGBT activist Larry Kramer created AIDS coalition advocacy group, ACT UP, at the Gay Center. Its goal was to impact the lives of people with AIDS and the entire AIDS epidemic to bring about legislation, medical research, treatment, and policies to ultimately bring an end to the disease.
1990 Deborah Glick a lesbian from NY, became the first openly-LGBT member of the State House of Representatives.
2005 Pauline Park became the first openly transgender person chosen to be the grand marshal of the New York City Pride March.
2014 both New York State and New York City do not require genital reconstruction surgery to change or get a new birth certificate.
2016 Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a series of regulations to prevent the use of conversion therapy on LGBT minors.
The regulations ban public and private healthcare insurers from covering the practice in the state, and also prohibit various mental health facilities across the state from conducting the practice on minors.
“Conversion therapy is a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice that is counter to everything this state stands for. New York has been at the forefront of acceptance and equality for the LGBT community for decades — and today we are continuing that legacy and leading by example.” – Cuomo
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♦ Supportive Organizations for LGBT
→ Gay Center
“We offer the LGBT communities of NYC health and wellness programs; arts, entertainment and cultural events; recovery, wellness, parenthood and family support services.”
INFORMATION & REFERRAL SPECIALISTS a hub of activity and information on all things LGBT in NYC.
TRANSGENDER ECONOMIC PROGRAMS Connecting transgender community members to resources to address poverty, unemployment ,and inequality.
SUBSTANCE USE TREATMENT Combatting addiction with an outpatient substance use treatment program specifically for LGBT people, including youth ages 13 and older.
LIVELIHOOD & STABILITY ASSISTANCE Providing access to education, jobs and housing resources, with an emphasis on women, the transgender community and LGBT young people.
YOUTH SUPPORT, EDUCATION & LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES Guiding LGBT youth to learn, work and live independently, and be leaders in their own lives.
HIV & AIDS SERVICES Offering free HIV testing, counseling and support groups for people living with and at risk for HIV.
FAMILY BUILDING Helping to build and nurture our families.
ARTS & CULTURE Encouraging art, creativity and expression, both in the building and in the community.
→New York Civil Liberties Union
Established in 1951, NYCLU is an avid fighter for equal rights of all New Yorkers
acknowledging that we all deserve the same rights and protections by the law.
They work to protect LGBT rights in NY.
They want to make sure that all LGBT citizens feel safe and comfortable at home,
work, and school just as all citizens should.
→ Mattachine Society
A California based group that opened its NY chapter in 1955. It was founded by activist Frank Kamney and
it’s objective was to create a support group for gay men, educating them about their rights,
teaching them leadership skills, and assisting them with legal troubles.They want to prove that gays and lesbians were normal people, no different from heterosexuals.
→ Daughters of Bilitis
Formed in San Francisco, it’s NY chapter was established in 1958 and they fought for lesbian civil and political rights.
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♦ Laws and Rights Protecting LGBT
Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act- SONDA (January 16, 2003) – under this act, no citizen of New York State can be discriminated in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
NY Hate Crimes Act (July 10, 2000)- an act taking action against crimes and criminals motivated by hate against a specific group or belief including sexual orientation.
Hate Crime Prevention Act (October 22, 2009)- the definition of hate crime was expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
Gender Identity/ Gender Expression Act ( December 19, 2009)- Governor David Patterson signed this act granting transgenders rights since they weren’t explicitly stated in the SONDA; it prohibits discrimination against any employees of New York State agencies on the basis of their gender identity or expression
Marriage Equality Act (June 24, 2011)- Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the this act making New York the sixth and largest state to give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. (4 Republicans and 29 Democrats)
This video is real courtroom footage of when senators voted for gay marriage.
-It allows them the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits under state and local law enjoyed by opposite-sex couples such as state tax benefits, expanded property rights, parental rights,ability to file joint state tax returns, take spousal deductions on state income taxes, etc.
– Religious institutions are not required to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, but no state employee can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Dignity for All Students Act- DASA ( July 1, 2012)- state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying on school property and in school buses. It was extended to apply to cyberbullying as well.
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♦ LGBT Culture and History in NYC
To get a sense of the LGBT culture in NY click the picture below to see the various establishments spread across NY’s borughs relevant to and reflective of the LGBT community:
“It takes no compromise to give people their rights… it takes no money to respect individuals. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” – Harvey Milk
♦KNOW YOUR LGBT RIGHTS! → (x)
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