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LGBTQ+ Rights: Here’s What’s Changed in the Last Decade

Progress on LGBTQ+ rights and protections in the last decade has been somewhat paradoxical.

On one hand it’s astonishing just how rapidly things have improved for the LGBTQ+ community (like gay marriage finally being legalized in all 50 states in 2015).

On the other hand, it’s equally astonishing how backwards things still are in so much of the country (like states trying to enforce outdated gay marriage bans and Trump banning transgender people from serving in the military).

Hands making a heart over gay pride flag.

Violence against LGBTQ+ folks is still a major threat, with one in five hate crimes motivated by LGBTQ bias. This makes it all the more urgent to level the playing field once and for all. Members of the LGBTQ+ community need and deserve equal rights and access to services—and to feel safe, secure, and free to be exactly who they are, wherever they are.

Keep reading for a brief history of the LGBTQ+ fight for rights and inclusion and what’s changed in the last decade.

What Is the LGBTQ+ Community and Who Is a Part of It?

Even the most well-meaning among us are sometimes confused by what the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and others) community is and who it includes.

This is especially true as we’ve grown more aware of the diverse range of experiences around sexual orientation and gender identity—from asexuality (having no sexual attraction to other people), to gender fluidity (not identifying with a single, fixed gender).

It’s up to each of us to use the resources at our disposal (i.e., trusted sources on the internet) to educate ourselves, rather than putting that burden onto LGBTQ+ folks. That said, if you feel comfortable asking someone you care about in the LGBTQ+ community about something that is puzzling you, go for it—just be sensitive.

Historical Milestones

LGBTQ+ folks have always been with us, but in the male-dominated heteronormative culture that has dominated for centuries, until very recently they were more or less forced into hiding under threats of humiliation, disownment, chastisement, and violence. Thankfully, LGBTQ+ folks and their allies have made major inroads in achieving equal rights, protections, and freedoms.

Here are some important milestones (good and bad) in the U.S. over the last century.

  • 1924 - The first documented gay rights organization (The Society for Human Rights) is founded in Chicago.

  • 1953 - President Eisenhower signs an executive order banning homosexuals from working for the federal government, saying they are a security risk.

  • 1961 - Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalize homosexuality by repealing the state’s sodomy laws.

  • 1969 - Police raid the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Protests follow, which spark the gay civil rights movement in the United States.

  • 1970 - The first gay pride parades are held, including one in New York City where community members march through the streets to recognize the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall protests.

  • 1973 - Lambda Legal becomes the first legal organization established to fight for the rights of gay and lesbian people.

  • 1973 - Maryland becomes the first state to ban same-sex marriage.

  • 1973 - The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in the DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

  • 1978 - Harvey Milk is inaugurated as San Francisco city supervisor—the first openly gay man to be elected to a political office in California.

  • 1979 - The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights takes place, drawing an estimated 75,000 to 125,000 participants.

  • 1993 - President Clinton signs “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a military service policy that barred openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual people from military service while also prohibiting military personnel from discriminating against or harassing “closeted” gay or bisexual military members.

  • 1996 - President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

  • 1997 - Comedian Ellen DeGeneres comes out as a lesbian on the cover of Time magazine.

  • 2004 - The first legal same-sex marriage in the United States takes place in Massachusetts.

  • 2008 - Voters approve Proposition 8 in California, which makes same-sex marriage illegal.

  • 2009 - The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act becomes law.

  • 2010 - Proposition 8 is found unconstitutional by a federal judge.

  • 2011 - “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.

  • 2012 - Obama becomes the first sitting US president to publicly support the freedom for LGBTQ couples to marry.

  • 2015 - Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates announces a resolution to remove the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees.

  • 2015 - The U.S. Supreme Court makes same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states (Obergefell v. Hodges).

  • 2016 - The Secretary of Defense lifts the ban on transgender people serving openly in the US military.

  • 2017 - The District of Columbia gives people the option of choosing a gender-neutral option on their driver’s license.