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LGBTQIA+ History in the US
LGBTQIA+ - LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more. These terms are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (source).
Early documentation of same-sex relationships and non-binary gender identities can be found as far back as Native American cultures prior to European colonization. Substantial evidence also exists that sexuality and gender fluidity existed for plenty of years in other cultures ranging from Albania to Afghanistan to Kenya to Greece. However, European powers enforced their own laws against what was called "sodomy" in the New World. The first known case of a person receiving a death sentence for their sexuality in North America occurred in 1566. National power and the Christian faith continued to bury any understanding of LGBTQIA+ culture in scandal. Gradually, the growth of focus on inclusive human rights drew together activists who fought for conditions of greater democracy.
Urban centers such as NYC's Greenwich Village and Harlem was a place where homosexuality flourished after World War ll. Blues music, the uprooting of soldiers to different parts of the world, Alfred Kinsey's 1947 Kinsey Report, and the Civil Rights Movement were all helpful catalysts in demanding fair treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community in mental health, public policy, and employment. This time period around 1950 would also see the first national gay rights organization enacted, founded by activist Harry Hay and named The Mattachine Society.
Even though there are some periods of change that helped propel the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, oppression of this community continued throughout the revolution. In 1952, The American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality mental health disorder in its first publication of the DSM. It would not be until 1973 that the DSM was updated to remove homosexuality as a mental illness. In the meantime, gay men and lesbians continued to be at risk for psychiatric lockup as well as jail, losing jobs, and/or child custody when courts and clinics defined gayness as a sickness. Around the same period as well, President Eisenhower signs Executive Order 10450, banning homosexuals from working for the federal government.
A significant piece of LGBTQIA+ history resides in 1965, as the civil rights movement won legislation in outlawing racial discrimination. This period is when the first gay rights demonstrations took place in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. These demonstrations were led by longtime activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. The climax towards LGBTQIA+ liberation came in 1969 when patrons of the popular Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village fought back against ongoing police raids of their neighborhood bar. LGBTQIA+ community members clashed with aggressive police officers in the streets, leading to a three-day riot with thousands of protestors. This event will be credited for reigniting the fire behind America's modern gay rights movement. The expansion of a global rights movement suffered a setback during the 1980s, as the gay male community was severely impacted by the AIDS epidemic. In 1987, 6 years after the first report of AIDS, hundreds of thousands of activists take part in the National March on Washington to demand that President Ronald Reagan address the crisis. It was not until the end of his presidency that Reagan speaks publicly about the epidemic.
As a result of the hard work of countless organizations and individuals, the 21st century celebrated new legal gains for gay and lesbian couples. This period of time saw: same-sex civil unions being recognized in Vermont in 2000, Massachusetts becoming the first state to perform same-sex marriages in 2004, and the ending of still-enacted state sodomy laws. The first part of the 21st century also saw a new emphasis on transgender activism and the increasing usage of inclusive terminology, terms that would help question binary gender identification and sexuality. With a 5-4 decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states finally in 2015.
Even as awareness, activism, and inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community grow, it cannot be denied that they continue to face oppression, discrimination, and unequal rights. The United States continues to see intense confrontations and tragedies towards the community through targeted mass shooting events, increased violence towards trans individuals, and once-protective laws continuing to be threatened every day. Attacks on the community's rights continue today as extremist lawmakers in state houses across the country continue advancing a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the state. The ACLU tracks the anti-LGBTQIA+ laws in the country here.
Impact of LGBTQIA+ Oppression
LGBTQIA+ individuals have continued to endure systemic discrimination, marginalization, and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. New research demonstrates that one in four LGBT people reported encountering discrimination in 2016. This ongoing oppression creates chronic stress and a hostile environment, leading to a range of mental health challenges. It's been proven in research that 68.5% of LGBTQIA+ individuals said discrimination at least somewhat negatively affected their psychological well-being. And 35-57% also reported negative effects of discrimination that affected their physical health, spiritual well-being, and environment.
Constant exposure to prejudice and societal rejection can profoundly affect an individual's sense of safety and belonging. The fear of violence, discrimination, or rejection often forces LGBTQIA+ individuals to conceal their identities or live in a state of hypervigilance. LGBTQIA+ people who’ve experienced prejudice in the past year are significantly more likely to alter their lives for fear of intolerance, even deciding where to live and work because of it. This chronic sense of vulnerability can lead to anxiety, hypervigilance, and a constant sense of threat, which can further contribute to the development of psychological, physical, and environmental concerns. It can also cause a deterioration of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance. Internalized stigma and shame may result in a negative self-image and feelings of inadequacy.
In addition, LGBTQIA+ individuals are disproportionately affected by violence, including hate crimes, bullying, and intimate partner violence. This exposure to physical, verbal, or sexual violence can cause profound trauma. The 2015 United States Transgender Survey found that, for transgender people, nearly one in three experienced discrimination or harassment—including being denied services or even being physically attacked. Discriminatory policies and barriers to accessing healthcare, employment, housing, and education further perpetuate a sense of powerlessness and helplessness. In 2010, more than half of LGBT people reported being discriminated against by healthcare providers. More than 25% of transgender respondents reported being refused medical care outright. Unsurprisingly, people in these vulnerable groups are significantly more likely to avoid doctor’s offices, postponing both preventative and needed medical care.
Addressing the mental health needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals requires trauma-informed care that acknowledges the unique challenges they face. It is crucial to create safe, affirming, and inclusive spaces where individuals can seek support without fear of judgment or discrimination. Approaches should focus on providing access to culturally sensitive mental health services, fostering community connections, and advocating for policies that protect the rights and well-being of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Resources for LGBTQIA+
Mental Health Resources:
Action Items For Allies
1. Educate yourself
Start off by consuming information to learn how to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. The Human Rights Campaign, a powerful organization fighting for the rights of this community, has created a helpful guide. Read about the history of the community and their existence in a society that continues to silence them. Learn about their struggles towards equality - past and present. Become acquainted with the historical dehumanization of the LGBTQIA+ community - this includes anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and policies implemented.
2. Be intentional
Being an ally is a process of both learning and unlearning. Affirm why you want to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community and make a commitment to showing up intentionally with that ideology every day. Become comfortable with the idea that challenging bias can be uncomfortable. Learn the desired terms that create inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community. Commit to utilizing more inclusive language and why it's important. Learn resources about rupture repair if you mess it up. Be aware of the organizations you're supporting and who they are supporting.
3. Diversify your information
Follow and share content from LGBTQIA+ leaders in the community. Respect the lived experiences shared by those who have been oppressed. It's important to actively seek out representation in news, events, and resources provided by marginalized communities - LGBTQ Nation is a good place to start. Read books by LBGTQIA+ authors. Consume television and movies created by and starring LGBTQIA+ actors. Share those that you enjoy with others.
4. Give back
Donate and volunteer for organizations that support and protect the LGBTQIA+ community. Protest and advocate for issues that affect LGBTQIA+ people in the world and in your community. Shop at and support small businesses owned by the community. Challenge your loved ones on implicit or explicit anti-gay ideologies. Advocate for the dismantling of systemic, colonized norms in the US. Confer with consultants on how to continue to implement inclusivity into your daily life.