June 26, 2019 at 7:07 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Five decades of progress since Stonewall

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which are credited with launching the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Since that time, the country has seen tremendous progress in LGBTQ equality and acceptance. Here is a list of 20 events that have shaped the LGBT rights movement over the last 50 years.

June 28, 1970:

Upwards of 2,000 people took part in New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day that commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This march is seen by many as one of the first Pride events.

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The first Pride parade in New York, 1970. (Photo courtesy Gay and Lesbian Information Center, New York Public Library)

Dec. 15, 1973:

The American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness.

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Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and John Fryer (in disguise). Kameny and Gittings spoke on a 1971 APA panel entitled ‘Gay is Good.’ They returned in ’72, joined by Dr. John Fryer, who appeared anonymously as a ‘homosexual psychiatrist.’ (Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen via Wikimedia Commons)

June 8, 1977:

Voters in Dade County, Fla., repealed a gay rights ordinance the Dade County Commission approved earlier in the year.

Anita Bryant’s campaign against the ordinance ahead of the referendum prompted outrage among LGBT activists across the country and a boycott of Florida orange juice. The Miami-Dade County Commission in 1998 approved a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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Anita Bryant (Photo public domain)

Nov. 27, 1978:

San Francisco Supervisor Dan White assassinated City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone inside San Francisco City Hall.

The assassination of Milk, a pioneering activist who was the first openly gay man elected in California, sparked an outpouring of grief that included a candlelight vigil in which up to 40,000 people participated. White’s sentence for voluntary manslaughter in connection with Milk’s murder sparked what became known as the White Night riots that took place in San Francisco in May 1979.

White Night Riots (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta via Wikimedia Commons)

Oct. 14, 1979:

The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place in D.C. The gathering was the first of several large LGBT rights marches that have taken place since the Stonewall riots.

The 1979 National March on Washington for Gay Rights. (Washington Blade archive photo by John M. Yanson)

July 3, 1981:

The New York Times published an article on a “rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer” that later become known as AIDS.

The AIDS epidemic has killed more than an estimated 600,000 people in the U.S. It also sparked activism that persists to this day, even though medications and access to treatment have allowed many people with HIV/AIDS to live longer lives.

Ray Engebretsen allowed the Blade to document him in the last stages of his life. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

June 30, 1986:

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick ruled the Constitution does not protect consensual same-sex sexual activity. The decision upheld a Georgia law that criminalized oral and anal sex among consenting adults.

(Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Sept. 20, 1996:

President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples that were legally performed.

Edith “Edie” Windsor challenged DOMA after she paid $363,000 in federal estate taxes when her wife passed away in 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 found DOMA unconstitutional.

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Edie Windsor challenged DOMA after she paid $363,000 in federal estate taxes when her wife passed away in 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 found DOMA unconstitutional. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Oct. 12, 1998:

Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student, died after two men brutally beat him and left him tied to a fence.

Shepard’s death sparked outrage across the country. It also prompted his parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, to become vocal LGBT activists through their work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation they created after their son’s murder.

President Obama in 2009 signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law.

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Matthew Shepard (Photo courtesy of the Matthew Shepard Foundation)

June 29, 1999:

James Hormel became the first openly gay U.S. ambassador.

President Clinton named Hormel to represent the U.S. in Luxembourg. More than half a dozen other openly gay men have been named ambassadors since 1999. These include current U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.   

June 26, 2003:

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas ruled sodomy laws are unconstitutional.  

Nov. 2, 2003:

New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop ordained by the Episcopal Church.

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Bishop V. Gene Robinson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

May 17, 2004:

Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Feb. 1, 2009:

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government when she was sworn in as Iceland’s prime minister.

Sigurðardóttir left office in 2013.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel are openly gay, while Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić is a lesbian. Elio Di Rupo, who was Belgium’s prime minister from 2011-2014, is also openly gay.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (Official portrait)

Sept. 20, 2011:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that prohibited openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, was officially repealed.

“As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love,” said then-President Obama. “As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members.”

The Pentagon in 2016 announced it would no longer prohibit openly transgender people from the military. The Trump administration has reinstituted this ban.

President Barack Obama signs the bill repealing the military’s longstanding gay ban known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Dec. 21, 2010. At the 2016 White House Pride reception, Obama quipped, “Today we live in an America where ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ don’t exist no more.” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Nov. 6, 2012:

Tammy Baldwin became the first openly LGBT person elected to the U.S. Senate.

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) became the first openly LGBTQ U.S. senator in 2012. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

June 26, 2015:

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country.

James Obergefell, who was the lead plaintiff in the case, legally married his late-husband, John Arthur, on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in 2013 after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA. The couple’s home state of Ohio did not legally recognize their wedding. 

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LGBT rights supporters celebrate on the steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 — just as the decision by the court to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples becomes public. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

June 12, 2016:

A gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history until a gunman killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others at a Las Vegas concert on Oct. 1, 2017. 

The Pulse nightclub massacre sparked renewed calls for gun control from LGBT rights advocates and their supporters. It also prompted President Trump, who was running for president, to renew his calls to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

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A makeshift memorial outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)​

Nov. 7, 2017:

Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature in the U.S. when she defeated then-Virginia state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), a vocal opponent of LGBT rights.

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State Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William Co.) is sworn in as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates on Jan. 10, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nov. 6, 2018:

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis became the first out person elected governor of a U.S. state.

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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