LGBTQ+ Discrimination: In What Ways Has Society Progressed From The Founding Of Our Country?

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A timeline of LGBTQ+ discrimination:

  • When the first colonies were established by puritans in the United States, people firmly believed in the concept of the “nuclear family unit”.  Sodomy laws were put in place making homosexuality a crime punishable by whipping, banishment, or execution.
  • In 1649, Sarah White Norman and Mary Vincent Hammon were convicted for “lewd behavior” in Plymouth Massachusetts.  They are believed to be the country’s first conviction for lesbian or homosexual behavior. 
  • In 1924 the first gay rights organization- The Society for Human Rights- is founded, but is quickly shut down due to its members getting arrested
  • In 1950, the U.S. Congress issues a report titled “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government” to distribute to its members. That was following a covert investigation by the Federal Government on its employee’s sexual orientation. The report stated that homosexuality was a “security risk” to the nation due to it being a mental illness.
  • On November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk- a San Francisco Supervisor and gay rights activist- was assassinated. 
  • In 1981, the AIDS epidemic began. 583, 298 Americans were killed by the disease, and laws that were put in place created obstacles for gay men for decades to come. 
  • In 1986, a Supreme Court case, Bowers v. Hardwick, decided that sodomy laws in Georgia were not unconstitutional.
  • In 1998, a 21-year-old gay man by the name of Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked and left tied to a fence to die. This murder in Laramie Wyoming is one of the most well-known anti-gay hate crimes.
  • In November 2008, Proposition 8 passed in California defining marriage as between a man and a woman. 
  • More recently, there has been a steady increase in hate crimes towards LGBTQ+ people starting from 2014. The number of incidents, especially towards transgender people, reached its peak in 2020 with 37 deaths resulting from hate crimes (NBC).
  • During the COVID 19 pandemic, many gay people have been denied the right to donate blood to help create a vaccine because of their sexual orientation. (despite the heath risk of AIDS being avoidable, many hospitals decided not to follow FDA guidelines)

What progress has been made?

In the late 1900s, people finally began to discuss the problem of discrimination and inequality towards the LGBTQ+ community. The first change that was made happened in 1925 when sodomy laws were finally challenged. However, Illinois, the first state to remove its sodomy laws, did not do so until 1961 (ACLU). The laws were repealed state by state over the course of the following 4 decades. During the 1950s, the first gay and lesbian rights organizations began to appear such as The Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, and the Daughters of Bilitis in San Fransisco. 

In 1958, the Supreme Court decided that the “One Magazine” (a publication from the Mattachine Society) was protected under the first amendment. Allowing for publications to write about LGBTQ+ issues. Some of the more famous riots such as the Stonewall riots and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot occurred during the 1960s and led to the first gay pride marches in 1970. In 1973, gay rights organizations became legal, and homosexuality was finally removed from the list of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association (CNN). In 1979 the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was held, and in 1993 gay and lesbian people were given the right to serve in the military (as long as they are not “out”). This was changed in 2010 when President Obama allowed gay Americans to openly serve in the military. Finally, in 2015, the Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the right to marry in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

What still needs to change and what can we do to help?

There are still many issues that need to be addressed. Not only have hate crime incidents been increasing, but according to the FBI only 56% of incidents are ever reported. The reason for this most likely being that LGBTQ+ individuals have very few protections under the law. In 17 states and 3 territories, there are no laws which prevent hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender. A majority of states have laws that offer protections for victims of hate crimes because of their sexual orientation, but only half of those states’ laws extend those protections to transgender citizens.  Furthermore, there are even less protections against discrimination. Only 20 states, as well as D.C., say LGBTQ+ people cannot be refused service or entry to businesses. Only 21 states allow full protections against LGBTQ+ discrimination.

In April 2021, State Senate Bill 289 was passed in Arkansas. This is a law that now allows for healthcare workers to refuse to provide care based on their religious beliefs. this will cause LGBTQ+ people to have unequal access to healthcare. Despite all of these large systemic problems, we still have opportunities to help. Currently, the Equal Rights Amendment- a resolution that bans discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation- is close to being passed. If one more state decides to ratify the ERA it can be passed. You can help by contacting your state legislators and urging them to support the Equal Rights Amendment. Other ways to help the problem are donating to organizations like the Trevor Project, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Human Rights Campaign. Voting for government officials who will protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals is also a good way to help promote progress. We have a long way to go to achieve equality, but these steps can help us move in the right direction. 

Works Cited: 



  1. Super strong, data-driven project. I think one of your biggest successes here is offering so much evidence, whether from research studies or examinations of law, that it is impossible for someone to claim that the issue of LGBT+ rights in America is ‘solved’ without challenging the validity of esteemed research centers and universities. People will agree 100% that yeah the LGBT+ community was oppressed 10 years ago, but say that now in 2021 it’s all fine and fair. Which is I think the biggest obstacle to progress, especially with the recent rise of reactionary “joke” movements against the community devaluing and even mocking the experiences of thousands of people.

  2. Juliana, I absolutely loved your project. As someone who’s a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was really surprised to find out the history of discrimination. My school’s Pride Alliance just recently participated in GLSEN’s Day of Silence and it really helped me to feel seen and recognize people that I can feel safe and be myself around. I learned so much from this, thank you & great job!

  3. Hi Juliana!
    Your project genuinely took my breath away. I live in a country where LGBT rights are genuinely against the law, in some cases punishable by death due to Sharia law. Even so, I have a number of friends who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and with all the data in your project, you really helped me understand more of what they are going through and truly facing. I loved that you included a timeline of significant events because it helped really blow into proportion what is happening and the magnitude of it.
    Do you believe that it’s unconstitutional for some states to be offering LGBTQ+ rights protection? I suppose it’s not necessarily in the constitution, but it is in the UN declaration of human rights (freedom of self essentially). Also, do you think that these problems should be addressed on a state level (such that they can tailor it to their population) or do you think that this should be addressed on a national level?
    Thank you so much for sharing your research, it was genuinely so helpful to get a deeper understanding of this topic. Thank you.

    1. Hi Alicia,
      Thank you so much for your response! I’m so glad you enjoyed my project and that it helped you better understand your friends who are a part of the community. For my project, I decided to focus on the US specifically, but the problem is much greater on a global level. To answer your question, I think that addressing this issue on a state level, though technically not unconstitutional, is completely ineffective. I think that the issue should be addressed on a national level, which would hopefully be achieved by passing the ERA. In several states, the passing of anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ+ individuals is prevented by opposition from religious majorities. For example, in Utah, a state with a large population of members of the church of Latter-Day Saints, many laws have been put in place to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. In my opinion, this interferes with the separation of church and state, so a national-level solution would be the most constitutional way to solve this issue. Thank you for the wonderful response and questions!

  4. I loved this project! As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was shocked by the facts and the timeline of how the people in the United States who are part of that community have been treated. We never learn about this in school and I think that we need to start when talking about this era in history.

  5. Hi Juliana, not only is your project fantastic, but from the comments I see that it has had a significant impact on your viewers! You rock!

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