Civil Rights Movement - LGBT Rights and Gay Liberation

LGBT Rights and Gay Liberation

Since the mid-19th century in Germany, social reformers have used the language of civil rights to argue against the oppression of same-sex sexuality, same-sex emotional intimacy, and gender variance. Largely, but not exclusively, these LGBT movements have characterized gender variant and homosexually-oriented people as a minority group(s); this was the approach taken by the homophile movement of the 1940s, 50s and early 60s. With the rise of secularism in the West, an increasing sexual openness, women's liberation, the 1960s counterculture, and a range of new social movements, the homophile movement underwent a rapid growth and transformation, with a focus on building community and unapologetic activism which came to be known as the Gay Liberation.

The words "Gay Liberation" echoed "Women's Liberation"; the Gay Liberation Front consciously took its name from the "National Liberation Fronts" of Vietnam and Algeria, and the slogan "Gay Power", as a defiant answer to the rights-oriented homophile movement, was inspired by Black Power and Chicano Power. The GLF's statement of purpose explained:

"We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society's attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature."

GLF statement of purpose

GLF activist Martha Shelley wrote,

"We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex-role structure and nuclear family structure."

"Gay is Good", Martha Shelley, 1970

Gay Liberationists aimed at transforming fundamental concepts and institutions of society, such as gender and the family. In order to achieve such liberation, consciousness raising and direct action were employed. Specifically, the word 'gay' was preferred to previous designations such as homosexual or homophile; some saw 'gay' as a rejection of the false dichotomy heterosexual/homosexual. Lesbians and gays were urged to "come out" and publicly reveal their sexuality to family, friends and colleagues as a form of activism, and to counter shame with gay pride. "Gay Lib" groups were formed in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the UK, the US, Italy and elsewhere. The lesbian group Lavender Menace was also formed in the U.S. in response to both the male domination of other Gay Lib groups and the anti-lesbian sentiment in the Women's Movement. Lesbianism was advocated as a feminist choice for women, and the first currents of lesbian separatism began to emerge.

By the late 1970s, the radicalism of Gay Liberation was eclipsed by a return to a more formal movement that became known as the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement.

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