LGBT in the United States

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Rainbow gay pride flag flying over Castro Street, San Francisco, June 2005.

The United States is currently in a transition period regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City are often cited as the beginning of the modern gay civil right era although the following decades saw relatively modest improvements in legal rights. Social acceptance progressed faster, especially in the fields of arts and entrainment.[1]

In recent years, the LGBT political debate has tended to center on the issue of same-sex marriage and in the 2000s, the social conservative movement was successful in outlawing same-sex marriage under the rationale of protecting traditional marriage. In recent years, the gay rights movement has had several major successes overturning these laws in the courts.[2] Currently, nineteen states have legal same-sex marriage.[3] Other recent victories include the end of military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and the Obama administration's decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

LGBT history in the United States[edit]

In the pre-Columbian era some native American accepted LGBT members as Two-Spirit people but, with European settlement, Christian mores and legal restrictions severely restricted LGBT rights. Sodomy was a capital offense and cross-dressing was a felony.[4]

LGBT acceptance improved slowly in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century until the Gay Liberation began in the 1960s and the rise of activism because of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s.[5] At the same time a number of writers, artists and entertainers publicly acknowledged their homosexuality and in the 1990s the popular media began including gay characters.[6][7] Official church positions on LGBT issues have been slower to change and mostly among mainstream protestant denominations.[8]

The 1990s saw the rise of social conservatism and two major success on the federal level with the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and the Defense of Marriage Act. In the early 2000s, conservative activists on a state-level successfully passed numerous restrictions of LGBT marital rights. In recent years, a number of these laws have been overturned creating a significant disparity of rights between the states.[9]

LGBT rights[edit]

LGBT rights in the US has evolved over time and varies on a state-by-state basis. Sexual acts between persons of the same sex have been legal nationwide in the U.S. since 2003, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.

Family, marriage, and anti-discrimination laws vary by state. Six states and one district currently offer marriage to same-sex couples.[10] Other states do not offer same-sex marriages but do recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Additionally, some states offer civil unions or other types of recognition which offer some of the legal benefits and protections of marriage.

Twenty states plus one district outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and twelve states plus one district outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.[11] Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are also punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

Adoption policies in regards to gay and lesbian parents also vary greatly from state to state. Some allow adoption by same-sex couples, while others ban all "unmarried couples" from adoption.

Family rights after 1980[edit]

With the withering and downfall of sodomy laws on a state-by-state basis after 1960, LGBT rights activists began to develop increasingly detailed demands and campaigns for legal equality at all levels of government, a process which has been incremental in each jurisdiction. In 1984, Berkeley, California became the first jurisdiction to recognize same-sex unions of any type (then in the form of domestic partnership health benefits for city employees). In 1999, California passed its domestic partnership law, becoming the first state to recognize same-sex unions; Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions (often seen as a reduced version of full marriage rights).

However, following the Stonewall riots, the social conservative movement in the United States became increasingly defined by its opposition against rights for LGBT people. The most pre-eminent laws advocated at the federal level by social conservative politicians in the 1990s include Don't ask, don't tell, a continued restriction upon the service of LGBT persons in the United States Armed Forces, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as a heterosexual-exclusive institution and bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions enacted by municipal, state or foreign governments. These were followed by the passage in the 2000s of state-level statutory and constitutional prohibitions of legal recognition of same-sex marriages or unions of any type.

However, a number of other states have legalized same-sex marriages or other unions, beginning with Massachusetts in 2004. That state was followed by Connecticut (2008), Iowa (2009), District of Columbia (2009), Vermont (2009), New Hampshire (2010) and New York (2011).

The most controversial moment in the history of the movement for same-sex marriage rights took place in California during the period from May 2008, when the State Supreme Court abrogated Proposition 22, which barred the state from legalizing same-sex marriage, as unconstitutional, to November 2008, when Proposition 8, a proposition against the court ruling brought by social conservatives, passed with 53% of the vote. Protests against the vote and its outcome ensued nationwide among pro-LGBT rights activists, media personalities and politicians, resulting in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal lawsuit challenging the legality and constitutionality of Proposition 8. The decision by the judge of the case overturned Proposition 8, but the decision has been stayed pending appeal; the ultimate decision is likely to be made in the Supreme Court of the United States, as are two Massachusetts-sourced cases which challenge the constitutionality of DOMA. Meanwhile, some 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California between May and November 2008 have retained their legality due to an earlier state trial case.

Violence against LGBT people[edit]

Violence against LGBT people in the US is made up of assaults on gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex individuals (LGBTQI), legal responses to such violence, and hate crime statistics in the United States of America. Those targeted by such violence are perceived to violate heteronormative rules and contravene perceived protocols of gender and sexual roles. People who are perceived to be LGBTQI may also be targeted.

In 2004, the FBI reported that 15.6% of hate crimes reported to police were founded on perceived sexual orientation. Sixty-one percent of those attacks were against gay men, 14% against lesbians, 2% against heterosexuals and 1% against bisexuals, while attacks against LGBT people at large made up 20%.[12] Violence based on perceived gender identity was not recorded in the report. By 2008 it had risen to 17.6%.[13]

Hate crimes and anti-bullying activism[edit]

Even after the legalization of same-sex relations in states of the United States, LGBT persons have continued to be targeted by attacks - both violent and non-violent - against themselves by individuals who claim any degree of emotional or religious motivation for their crimes. This phenomenon has been variously attributed to the influence of institutional and authoritarian homophobia in various environments, and the prevention of violent or criminal coercion on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity has become increasingly associated with general anti-bullying and anti-hate crime movements.

The torture and murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998 became a rallying moment for activism against hate crimes, and the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009 under President Barack Obama; the Act was also the first federal legislation of any purpose to specifically refer to transgender persons.

In 2009-2010, a number of suicides by teenage and young adult Americans in relation to sexual orientation- or gender expression-related bullying by fellow students garnered headlines, bringing to the fore a debate on bullying in schools and other environments. In response, Seattle-area opinion columnist and rights activist Dan Savage participated with his husband in the making of a video which encouraged children and teenagers to resist and overcome peer bullying, inaugurating an ongoing series of videos by politicians, media personalities, business leaders, activists and others both within and outside the United States listed under the "It Gets Better Project".

LGBT interest groups[edit]

In the 21st century, defending homosexuals against homophobia and gay bashing and other forms of discrimination is a major element of American gay rights, something gay rights groups see as part of a broader struggle for human rights. Among the voices for the LGBT community are Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF or The Task Force). The ideological split is seen between these two organizations. The Task Force is usually seen as more progressive and left of center, whereas HRC is seen as more centrist. Progressive gay rights organizations include the Empowering Spirits Foundation (Empowering Spirits or ESF),[14] the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Stonewall Democrats, and various local gay community centers. Gay rights organizations include the Log Cabin Republicans, the Independent Gay Forum and even other organizations have arisen such as Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty and the Outright Libertarians. The United States Green Party has an LGBT Lavender Greens caucus. Freedom to Marry is the leading advocate for same-sex marriage. Denominations that have supported same-sex marriage include the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Metropolitan Community Church.

See also[edit]

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