The Environment Before The Stonewall Riots Sociology Essay Example
The Environment Before The Stonewall Riots Sociology Essay Example

The Environment Before The Stonewall Riots Sociology Essay Example

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  • Pages: 8 (2032 words)
  • Published: August 12, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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During the 1950s and 1960s, the legislative environment in the United States, particularly in New York, had a profound impact on the local gay political community and the history of gay political organizations. Unfortunately, this period was characterized as one of the most oppressive for gay individuals in American history due to Senator Joseph McCarthy's influence. McCarthy branded homosexuals as Communists and deemed them security threats during the Cold War era. The Senate conducted an inquiry after Lt. Roy Blick testified that over 5000 government employees were gay. A subcommittee's report asserted that homosexuals were unreliable and lacked emotional stability compared to "normal people." To eliminate homosexuals from civilian agencies, it recommended following the Defense Department's approach, triggering a forceful campaign led by the Civil Service and FBI against them. As per Carter (2004) and Chandler (2006), the Civil Service Commissioner instructed polic


e departments to inform the FBI about any moral concerns they had regarding homosexuality. The FBI then conducted investigations by cross-referencing cases with a list of government employees, checking fingerprint records of job applicants, and reporting their findings to the Civil Service Commission. Prior to these investigations, approximately five homosexual civil service workers were dismissed each month.The number of individuals affected significantly increased to over 60 during the investigation (Chandler, 2006). In 1953, Executive Order 10450 approved by President Eisenhower identified "sexual perversion" as a reason for prohibiting government employment and dismissing homosexuals (Carter, 2004; Jennings, 1994). This was accompanied by widespread outrage about pedophilia and the blaming of homosexuals fueled by prevailing Puritan values (Carter, 2004). California made loitering in public restrooms an offense that led to registration and public record publication.

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Several states introduced or revised laws allowing denial or revocation of professional licenses for gay individuals. Punishments for consensual homosexual activity varied from fines to life imprisonment even if conducted privately. Certain states like California and Pennsylvania allowed indefinite detention of homosexuals in psychiatric institutions while some provinces resorted to emasculation as punishment. In 1941, laws were enacted permitting the use of pharmacological and electrical shock therapies as well as leukotomy as treatments for convicted homosexuals. These laws imposed strict limitations on gay men and women, confining them to specific monitored locations under police surveillance. Electronic devices were used in park benches and spy equipment was installed in public lavatories for monitoring purposes.During the late 1960s, the significance of the Stonewall Riots emerged amid a period of social upheaval. Homosexuals lived in fear as religious institutions condemned them and suppressed their spirituality. Despite this oppression, some gay individuals and cross-dressers resisted by founding the Mattachine Society in 1950. This society sought political change and initiated significant resistance against gay oppression, marking the beginning of the gay movement. The society aimed to unite isolated homosexuals, educate them about creating an "ethical homosexual culture," and engage in political actions for liberation. Their main objective was to demonstrate that homosexuals did not pose a threat to society; they were law-abiding citizens whose only difference lay in their sexual orientation.

Lesbians also formed their own organizations called the Daughters of Bilitis, which provided discussion groups and social gatherings tailored specifically to lesbian needs. Both the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis took a conservative approach towards achieving social change as evidenced by their publication of the monthly magazine called

the Ladder. They sought acceptance through political lobbying efforts and employed orderly and polite picketing as their most aggressive form of protest to avoid arousing suspicion (Matzner, 2004).During this time period, there were numerous movements advocating for civil rights, abortion rights, peace, women's liberation, student activism, and opposition to the Vietnam War. These movements arose due to political controversies surrounding the assassinations of notable figures like the Kennedys (Edwards, 1994; Oppenheimer, 1996). In this charged atmosphere, many gay individuals began questioning why they were subjected to oppression and torment and how long it would persist. A tense situation is captured in a black and white photograph that depicts three uniformed police officers and a man in a suit pushing back a crowd of young men with longer hair wearing jeans and contemporary clothing for that era. On a stoop in the background, other people observe as these questions are answered during the Stonewall riots ("Street Kids," Wikipedia, 2010). The initial collective expression of anger resulting in violent rioting against police raids gave birth to the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which acted as a catalyst for change by providing LGBTQ individuals with an opportunity to unite and assert their rights. The events at Stonewall demonstrated that fighting against oppression encompassed both dignity and identity pursuits. It initiated a political awakening within the community that transformed homosexuality from something shameful into something prideful. This revolution surpassed mere public outcry and evolved into an influential freedom movement.The Stonewall riots heightened the political awareness of many individuals who found happiness in their sexuality, inspiring previously inactive homosexuals to actively resist oppressive forces. In just a month after these disturbances,

the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was established and quickly expanded throughout major cities and states in North America (Edwards, 1994). Unlike previous organizations like the Mattachine Society, GLF placed strong emphasis on affirming one's own dignity and authenticity in both public and private realms. Joyful individuals proudly proclaimed phrases such as "Gay is good," "Gay is love," and "Gay is proud." The term "joyful" was intentionally used by GLF to project a positive self-image that countered prevailing medical stereotypes about homosexuals. Consequently, GLF made significant progress in organizing protests and openly asserting their sexual orientation. Their bold language was a reaction to earlier reformist groups that only sought equal rights for homosexuals. Furthermore, GLF launched its own publication titled "Come Out." During political mass gatherings, the gay community garnered support from heterosexual audiences and intelligence networks by openly questioning politicians about gay oppression. Their goal was not only to bring about political changes but also to achieve personal liberation by connecting individuals' sexual lives with their political lives.However, internal issues led to the division of the organization and the establishment of GAA. GAA aimed to demand freedom and dignity for gay individuals by confronting repression in all forms - economic, social, or political. The text demonstrates how the gay community took action against anti-gay organizations and advocated for change using aggressive tactics, incorporating gay aesthetics and guerrilla theater to highlight issues surrounding homosexual and lesbian rights. By organizing camp events, they gained significant media coverage. This resulted in a voting bloc within the homosexual community that pressured politicians to publicly support changes in laws targeting gays. On March 7, 1970, a demonstration occurred at Snake

Pit, a raided gay bar in New York City. Vinales attempted to evade deportation by jumping out of a window but tragically impaled himself on spikes below the fence. The remaining arrested customers witnessed this activism during the crackdown and responded with anger. The next day, 500 protestors gathered at Christopher Park, where Stonewall riots took place. These demonstrators included members from various gay organizations such as GLF, GAA, Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods (HYMN), and Gay Intransigent (GI).Carter (2004) states that the Stonewall riots had a significant political impact on the gay community, surpassing even the media coverage of the Snake Pit raid. The influence of these riots was felt globally, particularly in Latin America and Western nations. In 1970, London saw the formation of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), while FHAR emerged in France in 1971. Similar organizations were established in countries such as Argentina, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Canada New Zealand and Holland (Weeks ,1977;Green ,1994). These groups drew inspiration from American gay liberation organizations that arose after the Stonewall riots and played a role in changing societal attitudes towards homosexuals.

During this time period, there was also an increase in gay activism and notable accomplishments. For instance, homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 (D'Emilio ,1998). D'Emilio's After Stonewall (2010) highlights remarkable advancements for gay rights during the 1970s. Many states repealed sodomy laws and lifted bans on homosexual employment through actions like those taken by Civil Service Commission. Additionally, anti-discrimination laws were implemented in numerous counties during this decade, and gay activists engaged with governments to address oppressive legislation.In 1974, Elaine Noble

became the first openly gay person to win a seat in the Massachusetts State Legislature. In 1977, Harvey Milk, an openly gay man, was elected City Supervisor in San Francisco and played a crucial role in passing strict gay rights regulations for the city. By 1980, the Democratic Party included a gay rights board in its platform. The recognition of gay rights continued to grow as San Francisco hosted the inaugural Gay Games in 1982.

The emphasis on coming out by gay liberation movements encouraged homosexuals to be more visible and active across various fields such as entertainment, academia, religion, athletics, and other professions. Military and police officers openly declared their sexuality and defended their right to serve (D'Emilio). Homosexual professionals formed caucuses within their respective fields to strengthen their rights and challenge discrimination. Furthermore, openly gay reporters and journalists used their positions to cover news related to homosexuality (D'Emilio, 1998).

After the Stonewall uprising, there was a redefinition of homosexual identity (D'Emilio, 1998). This led to a departure from customary police harassment practices in many American states due to pressure exerted by militant gay movements. As a result of this change, there was an increase in the number of gay bars across different states.Despite the devastating impact of AIDS in the 1980s, gay doctors organized AIDS practices when health establishments refused to help gay individuals. This led to the formation of organizations like ACT UP, which provided information, financial support, and food for AIDS victims (After Stonewall, 2010). The focus on gay pride within the liberation movement also resulted in various community institutions being established - churches, medical services, social venues, professional associations, counseling services, and

non-professional sports leagues were all created by gay individuals (D'Emilio, 1998). Additionally,gay business leaders founded record companies,publishing houses ,travel agencies,fashion brands,and holiday resorts. Various forms of media such as theatre venues,intelligence files,scholarly articles,magazines,and numerous films have depicted a vibrant homosexual culture that goes beyond mere titillation(D'Emilio ,1998). Homosexual and lesbian individuals have also received prestigious awards including but not limited to National Book Award,Grammy Award,and Academy Award for Motion Pictures award ceremonies. Some countries legally recognize same-sex marriages while others offer political asylum options for LGBTQ+ individuals due to homophobia (Jennings, 1994).The first gay pride parade took place in New York City on June 28, 1970, in remembrance of Christopher Street Liberation Day. This event marked the beginning of what is now widely recognized as Gay Pride Month, with annual parades held around the world (Johnson, 2010). Before the Stonewall riots, homosexual individuals faced condemnation on various levels - they were seen as sinners, criminals, and diseased. US laws limited their freedom within societal boundaries and consensual private acts of sodomy were punishable by fines or imprisonment. Harsh forms of treatment including castration, pharmacological and shock therapy, and lobotomy were also implemented (D'Emilio 1998). Law enforcement closely monitored places where homosexuals gathered which led to job loss and restricted opportunities based on sexual orientation. Life for homosexuals in America was often harsh and brutal. However, the Stonewall riots changed this reality forever. Previous opposition against police raids at gay bars had not ignited such a widespread political awakening or fostered a sense of self-worth that ultimately resulted in gay pride activism and LGBTQ liberation like the Stonewall riots did.The impact of the Stonewall riots on

the homosexual community was profound and lasting, leading to significant changes. These events empowered gay individuals to openly embrace their identity and fight for their freedom, which ultimately fostered growth and unity within the global gay subculture. As a result, community organizations were established not only in America but also around the world. Discriminatory laws were repealed, allowing homosexuals to be recognized for their professional accomplishments and contribute to reputable businesses. Today, homosexuality is no longer widely condemned, as evidenced by annual gay pride parades held in many cities globally. The achievements resulting from the groundwork laid by the Stonewall riots confirm that these events were more than just a one-day occurrence.

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