How has the fight for gay rights evolved from its beginnings?

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1 November
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November
2016

The birth of campaigning organisations and the push for decriminalisation were both a result of an emerging LGBTQ community and a factor in further consolidating that community, but a backlash soon followed. The Nazi regime deliberately attempted to exterminate the queer population alongside Jewish people and other groups they deemed contrary to the supposed health of the nation. We must remember, however, that for queer people at the time, the Nazi regime’s attempt at extermination was not an isolated moment of homophobia: it was simply the apogee of a wave of anti-queer persecution by the state which was spreading across the Western world from the 1920s through the 1960s.

In many ways, the movement didn’t progress smoothly: the 20s were rather safer than the 50s for LGBTQ people, but in the 60s, the renewed post-war movement gathers speed.

Across the 1960s, tactics shifted. Large-scale protests strode out on to the streets. Riots against police brutality broke out at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966, and most famously at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969. In 1970, the first Pride marches started, and queers in a handful of U.S. cities paraded through the streets, refusing to be silent and demanding basic human rights. In the following 25 years, the tactic of Pride celebrations would spread to many cities around the world.

In 1981, AIDS hit, and killed hundreds of thousands of queers in the West and over 35 million people worldwide. Homophobes has previously regarded homosexuality itself as a disease; in the homophobic imaginary, AIDS again linked queerness to a fear of a disease. At the same time, the epidemic forced the queer issue into the public eye. That was the point where you had to get off the fence: you either had to respect us, or you had to reject us. Seeing the depth of love, solidarity and care in the face of apocalypse brought many people off the fence in our favour.

Those struggles over the course of the 20th century mobilised a movement that successfully fought for decriminalisation, then legislative protection, then marriage equality in a number of Western countries. 

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