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The position of lesbians, gays and transgender people has varied consider-ably over time and in different cultures, and still varies strikingly between different countries despite the 2001 UN Declaration for global decriminalization of homosexuality. In 2014, whilst lesbian and gay couples in Britain and an increasing number of states of the USA were celebrating their new right to get married, in some countries gays and lesbians still face the death penalty, and ILGA (International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association) noted in their 2014 world survey of laws that in 2013 there were worrying developments in India, Uganda, Nigeria and Russia. In all countries lesbians, gays and trans can be subjected to bullying and hate crimes, and police violence has often been an issue. The major gains in rights in the west since the 1950s have generally been the result of sustained campaigning for legal change and through the assertion of LGBT identity and community (for example through gay pride marches) and direct action. LGBT activism has become a transnational movement challenging repression and pressing for greater rights and has its own international organizations.

The position on LGBT rights is changing quite quickly. In June 2015 the US Supreme Court ruled (by a majority of five to four) that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, and that therefore state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. There have also been in 2015-16 potentially positive developments in India (see G.3.) and for Trans people (see G.4.a.).

Gay Liberation arose in the context of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the student protests of 1968, resistance to the Vietnam War (see section E.1) and in parallel with the Second Wave of feminism (see section F.1). It reflected the new willingness to challenge long-held beliefs, aspiration for a fundamental change in society, and the adoption of a more confrontational style of campaigning and assertion of identity. The ferment of ideas and protests led to ideological and organizational splits , but this did not undermine the momentum towards cultural and social change in the west (although deep seated attitudes and discrimination are not easily altered, as the Fourth Wave of feminism also testifies). The Gay Liberation movement created bookshops, newspapers and journals, encouraged a new literature and prompted new academic courses.

LGBT activists have often had links with others social movements, most obviously in the overlap between lesbian activists and feminism. There have also been demonstrations of solidarity between movements – for example ACT UP and the Health GAP challenging policies on HIV/AIDS joined a Global Justice Movement protest in Washington DC in April 2000, and earlier the London-based Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) was active during the strike of 1984-45 (for references see A.1.a.ii.). There have also been connections with the peace movement, notably at the Greenham Common Women’s peace camp in the 1980s (see Roseneil, Sasha , Common Women, Uncommon Practices: The Queer Feminism of Greenham London, Cassell, , 2000, pp. 352 )

There is, however, a long history of often more discreet attempts to assert lesbian and gay identity and to achieve legal reforms, partly covered in the next section. We list below a few books providing an introductory overview of historical change and campaigns:

Adam, Barry D., The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement, [1987], revised edn., Boston, Twayne, 1994, pp. 240

Scholarly study of world wide campaigning for gay and lesbian rights, looking at earlier history as well as the militant protests and organizations of the 1960s-1970s.

Bullough, Vern L., Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, New York, Routledge, Harworth Gay and Lesbian Studies, 2002, pp. 464

Survey of gay and lesbian rights issues in USA. Part 1 covers period before 1950, Parts 2 and 3 organizational activists and national figures , and Part 4 ‘Other Voices’.

David, Hugh, On Queer Street: Social History of British Homosexuality, 1895-1995, London, Harper Collins, 1997, pp. 305

Hekma, Gert ; Oosterhuis, Harry, Gay Men and the Sexual History of the Political Left, New York, Harrington Press, 1995, pp. 408

Includes chapters on the often difficult relationship between socialist, anarchist or social democratic movements and homosexuality in countries such as pre-First World War Netherlands, Civil-War Spain, the German Weimar Republic and post-1945 East Germany.

Jivani, Alkarim, Its Not Unusual: History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the 20th Century, Bloomington IN, Indiana University Press, 1997, pp. 224

Looks briefly at early 20th century, focusing on celebrities. But based primarily on interviews with 36 lesbians and gay men and covers changing social and legal contexts of World War Two, 1950s, 1960s-70s and emergence of gay liberation, and setbacks of HIV/AIDS and Section 28 in the 1980s.

Robinson, Lucy, Gay Men and the Left in Post-War Britain: How the Personal got Political, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2011, pp. 232

Stryker, Susan, Transgender History, Berkeley CA, Seal Press, 2008, pp. 208

Survey of US Transgender movement from mid 20th century to early 2000s in chronological order.

Willett, Graham, Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia, St Leonards NSW, Allen and Unwin, 2000, pp. 320

Account of gay and lesbian activism in Australia, from 1950s to 1990s, its successes and contribution to Australian society.

Groups directly challenging legal repression and social discrimination against lesbians and male homosexuals arose in a number of countries in the years between 1919 and 1939, but the rise of fascism and Nazism and the outbreak of war brought an end to such campaigning. In countries like Spain and Portugal calling for gay rights was virtually impossible until their dictatorial regimes came to an end in the 1970s. In Spain legalizing of gay and lesbian sexual relations was seen as part of the necessary post-Franco liberalization, and occurred in 1979, when the first Gay Pride march was held in the country. The Nazis had destroyed the Institute for Sexual Research set up by a pioneer of homosexual (and women’s) rights, the German Jew Magnus Hirschfeld, passed a more draconian law against male homosexuals in their amendment of paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code in 1936, and sentenced as estimated 50,000 to imprisonment. Lesbians were less specifically targeted, although some were arrested for ‘prostitution’ or ‘asocial’ behaviour. Of the men arrested it is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps where they forced to wear a pink triangle, and up to 60 per cent may have died. (A reference for this period provided by the American Library Association is: However, after the War homosexual victims of the camps were not acknowledged and a memoir by one survivor, Heger, Heinz , The Men with the Pink Triangle: The True Life-and-Death Story of Homosexuals in the Nazi Death Camps [1980] revised edn., 1994, pp. 120 was not published until 1980. (It has since been re-issued in English and translated into several languages.) In West Germany the Nazi version of paragraph 175, which made it criminal to look at another man ‘in a lewd manner’, was not repealed until 1969. Although East Germany under Communist Party rule was less open to public protest, the regime amended the Nazi version of paragraph 175 in 1950, but the paragraph was not formally repealed until 1968 (though it was not enforced after 1957).

Even after the Second World War, homosexuals were not only stigmatized by widespread social and institutional discrimination, but also in many cases faced legislation prohibiting sexual activity and possible imprisonment or chemical castration. As a result they were subject to police harassment and entrapment, vulnerable to blackmail and vilification in the media and liable to arrest. Some were driven to suicide – as was the celebrated British mathematician, Enigma Code breaker during World War Two and pioneer of computer science, Alan Turing . (He received a retrospective ‘pardon’ for ‘gross indecency’ from the Queen in December 2013, which had been extended to others persecuted in Britain under anti-homosexual legislation - though some have rejected as inappropriate and called for an apology. The genrale pardon was officially enshrined in law - unofficially known as 'Turin's Law' - when the Policing and Official Crime Act received royal assent at the end of January 2017.) During the 1950s campaign organizations focused on seeking legal and social reform, many of these groups (some revivals from the inter-war years) were linked to the transnational ‘homophile’ network. One of the best known organizations was Arcadie in France, founded in 1954, with its own club and publication; it attracted prominent intellectuals like Jean Cocteau and Michel Foucault. In Britain pressure for law reform began in the 1950s, and liberal minded parliamentarians succeeded in passing a Private Members Bill in 1967, which meant that sex in private between men over 21 was no longer illegal in England and Wales – though this only became law in Scotland in 1980 and in Northern Ireland in 1982 (lesbianism had not been previously banned).

Legislation decriminalizing sex between consenting male homosexuals was also passed in Canada in 1967 and came into effect in 1969. In the United States the McCarthyist purges and paranoia of the earlier 1950s tended to repress all nonconformists. Many gay men and lesbians lost government jobs, and although groups were formed to change the law in the later 1960s, at the end of the decade homosexual sex was still illegal in all states except Illinois.

A trigger for change was the June 1969 confrontation at the Stonewall Inn in New York between police and gays (including drag queens who were at the forefront of resisting police). The rapid rise of the Gay Liberation movement afterwards resulted in a much more openly challenging and radical style of protest and organizing, including the spread of Gay Pride marches from 1970, and various forms of direct action, such as occupations of police stations and interrupting church services in Britain. The movement was also diverse, stressing the rights of women as well as men and embracing transgender people and drag queens, although divisions and controversies also arose. Gay Liberation spread rapidly to the UK and Australia and rather more slowly to New Zealand. It also had a strong impact on campaigning for gay and lesbian rights in much of Western Europe. But one difference between the United States movement and Gay Liberation in many other western countries was that the latter were often concerned about their relationships with the socialist left, as some titles below indicate.

Alongside decriminalization of homosexuality there was pressure for demedicalization. Labeling homosexuality as a mental illness meant that lesbians, gays and transgender people could be given psychiatric treatment to change their sexual orientation. At the 1971 American Psychiatric Association convention, gay activist Dr Franklin E. Kameny seized the microphone as part of a long-standing opposition to the diagnosis of homosexuality, and initiated wider gay rights protest. One outcome was a session at the 1972 conference on homosexuality and mental illness entitled ‘Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue’. Kameny was on the panel. Here John E. Fryer made his famous ‘I am a homosexual, I am a psychiatrist’ speech, disguised by a mask and wig and calling himself Dr H. His speech (the first time a psychiatrist publicly admitted to being homosexual) has been cited as a key factor in achieving the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders a year later. Some orthodox psychiatrists fought a rearguard action against what they saw as capitulation to gay activism, and demanded a referendum of all the members, who ratified the decision in 1974. The American Psychological Association followed suit in 1975. However, it took until 1990 for the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its tenth international classification of diseases and health problems (ICD 10).

Altman, Dennis, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, [1971], with new Introduction by Jeffrey Weeks and Afterword by author commenting on his book in light of developments since 1970s., New York, New York University Press, 1993, pp. 304

Key work on early period of Gay Liberation in 1960s/70s in the USA, examining different strands of movement and arguing need for struggle for common goals.

Bayer, Ronald, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 244

Account of 1973 decision by American Psychiatric Association to stop listing homosexuality as a mental disorder and attempts by some psychiatrists to overturn this decision.

Carter, David, Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, [2004], New York, St Martins Press, 2010, pp. 352

Detailed account of protests that erupted on 28 June 1969 when New York police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village (popular among gays), when many others joined in, and demonstrations spread across the city for several days. The ‘riots’ led to the founding of the Gay Liberation Front and the first Gay Pride marches in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco a year later.

D'Emilio, John, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States 1940-1970, [1983], 2nd edn, with new preface and afterword, Chicago IL, Chicago University Press, 1998, pp. 282

Highly regarded book on the American Homophile movement by historian and gay activist, including biographical sketches of prominent lesbian and gay figures.

Gallo, Marcia M., Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Birth of the Lesbian Rights Movement, [2006], Seattle WA, Seal Press (Avalon Publishing), 2007, pp. 274

‘DOB’ was founded in 1955 as a social group in San Francisco, but developed over two decades into a national organization. See also  Martin; Lyon, Lesbian/Woman (G.1. The 'Homophile' Movement and Rise of Gay Liberation in the West: 1950s-1970s) .

Jackson, Julian, Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 336

Account of the French ‘homophile’ organization Arcadie.

Marotta, Toby, The Politics of Homosexuality, Boston MA, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981, pp. 361

Examines struggle for gay rights in USA from 1950s to early 1970s, charting the different political and cultural issues and types of campaigning and the contradictions between political reformism and radical hippy culture. Part III covers the Lesbian Feminist Movement.

Martin, ‘Del’ (Dorothy L. Taliaferro) ; Lyon, Phyllis, Lesbian/Woman, [1972], Volcano CA, Volcano Press, 1993, pp. 384

By two women journalists at forefront of US gay and lesbian rights struggle from the 1950s, founders of Daughters of Bilitis and active in the feminist campaign NOW (National Organization for Women) where they argued that lesbian issues were feminist issues. A couple since the 1950s, they married in San Francisco in February 2004.

McLeod, Donald, Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology 1964-1975, Toronto, ECW Press/Homewood Books, 1996, pp. 302

Covers 12 years of the ‘homophile’ movement, represented by ASK (Association for Social Knowledge) in Vancouver, and early Gay Liberation activity to founding of the National Gay Rights Coalition in 1975. Emphasis on demonstrations, lobbying and other political activities and legal reform, but also covers expressions of lesbian and gay concerns in culture and arts.

Milligan, Don, The Politics of Homosexuality, Studies in Anti-Capitalism series, London, Pluto Press, 1975, pp. 19

Brief survey, which raises issue of how homosexuality should be addressed in the socialist movement.

Nancy, Gregory, The Gay and Lesbian Movement in the United States, In Moyer; McAllister; Finley; Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (K.1. Planning and Development of Campaigns), Gabriola Island, New Society Publishers, pp. 152-164

Analyses the US LGBT movement from 1945-2000 using the model of the Movement Action Plan developed by Moyer.

Ross, Liz, Revolution is for Us: The Left and Gay Liberation in Australia, Melbourne, Interventions, 2013

The author, an active socialist, argues contrary to widely held views that the left and working class supported earlier gay rights campaigns and that the left is central to Gay Liberation.

Rupp, Leila, The Persistence of Transnational Organizing: The Case of the Homophile Movement, American Historical Review, Vol. 116, issue 4 (Oct), 2011, pp. 1014-1039

Study of the reformist groups which were active in Scandinavia, West Germany, France, the UK, Canada and USA, primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, which joined in the International Committee for Sexual Equality (1951-1963) founded by the Dutch COC (the first ‘homophile’ group).

Scasta, D. I., John E. Fryer, MD and the Dr. H. Anonymous Episode, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, Vol. 6, issue 4, 2002, pp. 73-84

Recounts Fryer’s anonymous appearance on stage, at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association session on psychiatry and mental illness, to announce his homosexuality. (He spoke anonymously – as he explained later – through fear of being refused tenure at his university.)

Schilts, Randy, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, [1998], New York, Atlantic Books and St Martins Press, 2009, pp. 480

The career of Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to political office in the USA – as a councilor in San Francisco – reflects the rise of the gay community in the 1970s. He was assassinated in November 1978. His life is also the subject of a 1984 documentary film, ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’, 1984, directed by Rob Epstein, and a feature film ‘Milk’ 2008, directed by Gus Van Sant.

Sibalis, Michael, The Spirit of May ‘68 and the Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement in France, In Frazer, Lessie Jo; Cohen, Deborah , Gender and Sexuality in 1968: Transformative Politics in the Cultural Imagination Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, , 2009, pp. 235-253

See also: Sibalis, Michael , Gay Liberation Comes to France: The Front Homosexuel d’Action Revolutionnaire The George Rudé Society, , 2005, pp. 12

Taylor, Verta ; Whitaker, Nancy E., Collective Identity in Social Movement Communities: Lesbian Feminist Mobilization, In Morris, Aldon ; Mueller, Carol McClure, Frontiers in Social Movement Theory New Haven CT, Yale University Press, , 1992, pp. 104-129

Examines development of lesbian feminism in the US from the early 1970s and explores its collective identity and engagement in range of actions challenging status quo.

Walter, Aubrey, Come Together: The Years of Gay Liberation 1970-73, London, Heretic Books, 1981, pp. 218

Based on articles from the newspaper Come Together. Walter was one of the founders of the British Gay Liberation Front.

Whisnant, Clayton J., Male Homosexuality in West Germany: Between Persecution and Freedom 1945-69, New York, Macmillan Palgrave, 2012, pp. 280

Looks at prejudice and role of police, the homophile movement, the gay scene and the rejection of Paragraph 175 of the Constitutional Code.

The impact of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s created common problems for gays, but we focus here primarily (though not exclusively) on the response in the USA (see G.2.a.). Since the 1980s gays, lesbians and trans have also sought equal civil rights and the right to express their identity. Some common themes have emerged and common forms of protest and celebration of identity – notably in Pride marches. An important common experience has been violent attacks on members of LGBT community which have often not been taken seriously enough by the police, and also examples of brutality by police forces themselves. For US studies see:

Amnesty International, USA: Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct against LGBT People in the US, London, Amnesty International, 2005, pp. 149

Bernstein, Mary, Lavender and Blue: Attitudes About Homosexuality and Behavior Toward Lesbians and Gay Men Among Police Officers, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 18, issue 3 (Aug), 2002, pp. 302-328

Berrill, Kevin T., Anti-Gay Violence and Victimization in the United States: An Overview, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 5, issue 3, 1990, pp. 274-294

There have been significant campaigns to protect and promote LGBT rights in the USA, including a series of National Marches on Washington in 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000, but also in many other western countries, which are not so well covered in English publications. The political, legal , religious and cultural contexts vary, however, between countries, so LGBT communities can face somewhat different problems. (For the UK see G.2.b.)

D'Emilio, John, The World Turned: Essays on Gay History and Politics and Culture, Durham NC, Duke University Press, 2002, pp. 264

A collection of diverse essays, not a comprehensive survey of LGBT history in the US, but explores the movement’s growth and activities from the 1970s to 1990s, the impact of AIDS in increasing resources and organization in the LGBT community, and the role of several organizations, including the influential National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) founded in 1973 to promote grass roots power and its role in resisting hostile referenda and promoting positive legislation. NB. NGLTF records from 1973-2008 are based in the Cornell University library:

Flam, Helena, Pink, Purple, Green: Women’s Religious, Environmental, and Gay/Lesbian Movements in Central Europe Today, New York, Columbia University Press, 2001, pp. 175

Covers variety of movements, but three chapters on problems of gay/lesbian groups in Hungary, Poland and the eastern part of Germany.

Jay, Karla ; Young, Allen, Out of the Closet: Voices of Gay Liberation, New York, New York University Press, 1997, pp. 367

Views and experiences of US activists and their assessment of how much or little had changed since Stonewall.

Martel, Frédéric, Le Rose et le Noir : Les homosexuels en France depuis 1968, [1996], 2nd updated and extended edition, Points, 2008, pp. 772

Original French version. Examines activist lesbian and gay organizations in relation to post-1968 feminism, gay ‘ghettoes’ and the gay press, and explores the impact of AIDS and revival of militancy in the 1990s. Notes influence of American movement, but also stresses differences.

Translations: English
Stone, Amy, Dominant Tactics in Social Movement Tactical Repertoires: Anti-Gay Ballot Measures, 1974-2008, In Coy, Patrick G., Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change Bingley, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, , 2010, pp. 141-174

Examines how LGBT movement responded to over 200 attempts by religious right in US to promote discrimination through anti-gay referenda.

The emergence of AIDS in the 1980s precipitated a shift in global gay activism and the perception of the LGBT community – although outside the west it was not experienced or seen as almost exclusively a problem for gays, it was a focus for gay activism (for example in South Africa). Within this shift there was a re-emergence of direct action groups and a move towards support volunteerism. The impact of the AIDS crisis and the rise of fear affected all and mobilized those who had not previously identified with gay activism. The most notable of the support volunteerism groups was Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) formed in 1981 in the USA in response to the impact on the gay community, which provided a model for support groups elsewhere. GMHC created an AIDS hotline in 1982, as did the People with AIDS foundation (PWA) in 1983. Moreover in the process of providing this support network and opening up a dialogue, the gay community initiated a process of education and self-identity , which had a lasting impact on the gay community and culture.

However, a significant proportion of the US gay community believed that support volunteerism promoted by GMHC and PWA could not enact genuine change. Consequently in 1987 the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed in New York, and led to other ACT UP groups in the US and other countries (for example in the UK, Australia and France). Comprising a variety of different protest and pressure groups ACT UP sought to affect public opinion and government policy directly through both political protests and civil disobedience. Perhaps their most famous campaign was Silence=Death, which responded to the media blackout of HIV/AIDS in the gay community. This campaign combined political protest and civil disobedience to place AIDS more centrally in the minds of Americans. Civil disobedience was, for example, directed against the pharmaceutical companies, attempting to get them to invest in alternatives to the drug AZT .

These two distinct approaches – support volunteerism promoting awareness and self help within the community, and direct pressure on the political system through protest and direct action – are still reflected in gay culture today.

ACT UP, Accomplishments and Chronology in Brief: 1987-2012, Vol. 2017, New York, ACT UP New York, 2009

Lists range of nonviolent direct action protests by ACT UP since 1987, involving marches, sit-ins, blockades, political funerals, die-ins, disrupting political occasions and speeches, etc. Main targets have been pharmaceutical companies (for profiteering and failure to produce new drugs or provide adequate access to them in Africa), the medical establishment in the US, health insurance companies, the Catholic Church and President Bush Snr and President Clinton and Vice-President Gore.

Altman, Dennis, AIDS in the Mind of America, New York, Anchor Press, 1986, pp. 240

Altman, Dennis, Power and Community. Organizational and Cultural Responses to AIDS, London and Bristol PA, Taylor and Francis, 1994, pp. 179

Assessment of role of community-based organizations world-wide in responding to AIDS.

Edwards, Jeff, AIDS, Race and the Rise and Decline of a Militant Oppositional Lesbian and Gay Politics in the US, New Political Science, Vol. 22, issue 4, 2000, pp. 485-506

Elbaz, Gilbert, Beyond Anger: The Activist Construction of the AIDS Crisis, Social Justice, Vol. 22, issue 4, 1995, pp. 43-76

Discusses ACT-UP in relation to two contrasting approaches in social movement theory: ‘resource mobilization’ and the ‘identity’ paradigm.

France, David, How To Survive A Plague: The Story Of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS, London, Random House , 2016, pp. 640

Well reviewed inside account of the succesfull battle to halt the AIDS epidemic, this is the incredible story of grassroots activists whose work turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a mangeable disease. France gives account of bureaucratic incompetence and political cowardice in a country where in 1982, 42.6 percent of gay men in San Francisco and 26.8 gay men in New York were infected by AIDS. Almost universally ignored, these men and women learned to become their own researchres, lobbysts, and drug smugglers; established their own newspapaers and research journals, and went on to force reform in the nation's disease fighting agencies. 

Gamson, Josh, Silence, Death and the Invisible Enemy: AIDS Activism and Social Movement “Newness”, Social Problems, Vol. 36, issue 4, 1989, pp. 358-367

Gould, Deborah B., Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 524

Analysis of emergence, development and decline of ACT UP, highlighting emotional dimension in movement politics.

Holt, Martin, Gay Men and Ambivalence about ‘Gay Community’: from Gay Community Attachment to Personal Communities, Culture, Health and Sexuality, Vol. 13, issue 8, 2011, pp. 657-671

Power, Jennifer, Movement, Knowledge, Emotion: Gay Activism and HIV/AIDS in Australia, Canberra, ANU Press, 2011, pp. 204

In three Parts: 1. ‘Fear and Morality’, 2. ‘(Mis)trust of Medicine, 3. ‘Grief and Activism’.

Provides historical background and uses interviews with members of early AIDS Councils and covers role of ACT UP.

Ramirez-Valles, Jesus, Companeros, Latino Activists in the Face of AIDS, Chicago IL, University of Illinois Press, 2011, pp. 192

A professor of community health tells the stories of 80 gay, bisexual and transgender activists and volunteers in Chicago and San Francisco.

Rand, Erin J., Gay Pride and its Queer Discontents: ACT UP and the Political Deployment of Affect, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 98, issue 1, 2012, pp. 75-80

Roth, Benita, Feminist Boundaries in the Feminist-Friendly Organization. The Women’’s Caucus of ACT UP/LA, Gender and Society, Vol. 12, issue 2 (April), 1998, pp. 129-145

Stoller, Nancy, Lessons from the Damned: Queers, Whores and Junkies Respond to AIDS, New York and London, Routledge, 1998, pp. 175

AIDS not only had a disastrous impact on the health and lives of gay men, but influenced public attitudes. In Britain a move towards greater acceptance of the gay community from the 1970s to the early 1980s was undermined by fear and prejudice about what was often projected as a gay plague. This was also a period of harassment by the authorities, symbolized by the 1984 raid by Customs and Excise on the Gay’s The Word bookshop in London.

In the context of a more hostile public opinion the Conservative government enacted in 1988 Section 28, banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities through publications or education (on the assumption that sex education was ‘promoting’ homosexual lifestyles). This was seen by the LGBT community as discriminatory and an encouragement to prejudice and bullying . In response the LGB lobby group Stonewall was formed in 1989 to overturn Section 28, finally achieved, after numerous attempts, under a Labour government in 2003. Stonewall has gone on to lobby for change on other issues, including repealing the ban on gays serving in the military, protection from discrimination in the provision of goods and services and in the workplace, protection from hate speech and hate crime, and same-sex adoption.

A more radical and controversial campaigning body was OutRage! formed in 1990 at a meeting to commemorate the murder of a gay actor a year earlier. Peter Tatchell, who was vilified for being gay whilst contesting Bermondsey in London for Labour in a 1983 bye-election, and has been a prominent gay activist nationally and internationally, was a founding member and wrote the first draft of its statement of aims. Early actions in 1990 were protests at Hyde Park against Metropolitan Police entrapment of gay men in public toilets, and a ‘kiss-in’ in Piccadilly Circus to challenge police arrests of gay men kissing in public. OutRage! went on to diversify its campaigning and were active in pressing for the age of consent for gay sex (then 21) to be the same as for heterosexual sex – i.e. 16. When the House of Commons debated the issue in 1994, OutRage held a prominent demonstration outside parliament, and when news cam through that equality had been rejected there was – despite the organizers call for a peaceful presence – a near riot. After the vote OutRage! invaded the Labour Party National Executive Committee meeting to protest about the 35 Labour MPs who had voted against equality. The age of consent was not equalized until the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000.

Police attitudes to and treatment of members of the LGBT community was a major issue in the 1980s and 1990s. The Gay London Policing Group (GALOP) created in 1984 provided moral and legal support to individuals in their dealings with the police, and also liaised with the police to promote more tolerant attitudes among new recruits. In 1991 GALOP was part of a coalition of groups – the London Lesbian and Gay Policing Initiative – who met with Scotland Yard to discuss policing in London. By 2007 police officers in uniform were joining Pride marches.

Stonewall, alongside the ‘Equal Love’ campaign (formed by Peter Tatchell) campaigned in 2010 for the right to same sex marriage, and were strongly opposed by organizations upholding traditional marriage and by newly formed groups contesting same-sex marriage, such as Scotland for Marriage and the Coalition for Marriage. In response LGBT groups Out4Marriage and the Coalition for Equal Marriage were created. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013, and same sex couples in England were able to marry from March 2014.

Despite high levels of success by LGBT activists in the UK in the last few decades, transgender rights have lagged behind. The legal right to change gender was introduced in 2005, but the Same Sex Couples Act included a ‘spousal veto’, requiring that the partner’s consent is required for the marriage to continue if a Gender Recognition Certificate is issued to a transgender person. The Coalition for Equal Marriage continued to lobby the government to amend this clause.

For websites covering the history of LGBT campaigning in the UK and the role of various groups, see: and

The Stonewall website also provides historical information, as well as news of current issues and campaigns:

Jeffrey-Poulter, Stephen, Peers, Queers and Commons: The Struggle for Gay Law Reform from 1950 to the Present, London, Routledge, 1991, pp. 320

Detailed account of post-war gay movement using contemporary newspaper reports, articles and letters.

Komhiya, A., Britain: Section 28, In Sears, James Thomas, Youth, Education, and Sexualities: An International Encyclopedia, Volume I, A-J Westport CT, Greenwood Press, , 2005,

Lucas, Ian, OutRage! An Oral History, London, Continuum, 1998, pp. 256

Terrence Higgins Trust, Rewriting History: Key Moments and Issues of the Last 50 Years of British LGBT History, London, Terrence Higgins Trust, 2010, pp. 22

Divided into sections on 1. Campaigns against homo/transphobia; 2.Law and change; 3. Health and wellbeing; and 4. Community and diversity (covering Pride, representation in the media and LGBT communities and spaces). Includes coverage of policing, Section 28, civil partnerships and HIV/AIDS and mental health issues.

Pride marches and festivals were held in many parts of the world on 29 June 2014 to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. But whilst there has been progress towards recognition of LGBT rights and acceptance of gays, lesbians and trans, in some parts of the world – for example Latin America, other regions such as the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East remain generally hostile. (Exceptions are Cuba and South Africa – though in the latter liberal laws conflict with many examples of deep social prejudice and violence.) In some countries the position has got worse. In 2013 the Indian Supreme Court overturned the liberal ruling of the Delhi High Court on section 377 (originally introduced under the British) – effectively re-criminalizing gay sex (the 2013 ruling resulted from a campaign that included right wing politicians and conservative Christian and Muslim groups; a counter campaign by rights activists persuaded the Court to decide on 2 February 2016 to review their 2013 decision). Putin’s Russia passed a law banning homosexual propaganda to minors, providing a basis for clamping down on LGBT organization and activism. The Russian police had for years been breaking up pride demonstrations and assaulting protesters, and the BBC reported on 17 August 2012 that Moscow’s leading court had upheld a ban on gay pride marches in the Russian capital for 100 years.

Widespread international concern was expressed over Uganda’s plans for draconian legislation against lesbians and gays – first proposed in 2009 and widely seen as a response to strong pressure from American Evangelicals. Although the final law, signed by President Museveni in February 2014, did not incorporate the death sentence (as had been indicated earlier) it did propose life sentences for same sex activity, enabled the government to extradite Ugandan gays and lesbians living abroad and made it a criminal offence not to report on those suspected of being lesbian or gay. Archbishop Tutu eloquently attacked the proposed legislation, comparing it with the former apartheid rules on sexual relationships in South Africa (Guardian, 24 February 2014). Rights groups and some MPs took legal action to get the law declared invalid, and judges struck down the law in August 2014, on the grounds that Parliament was not quorate when it passed the bill. However, homosexuality remains illegal under colonial-era law. By the end of 2014 the government was proposing new draconian legislation.

Detailed information on the state of LGBT rights globally is available from ILGA (at: and from ILGA Regional bodies such as ILGA-Europe. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), also publishes reports on individual countries and annual reports on its activities, available at: The UK lobbying group Stonewall includes reports on international developments on its website:

Transnational organizations also engage in various forms of campaigning. IGLHRC engages in advocacy and reporting and gained consultative status at the UN in 2010; ILGA attend conferences of international organizations such as the UN and its agencies, provide speakers and policy papers and issue press releases. In 2013-14 ILGA-Europe also campaigned in the context of EU parliamentary elections, submitted third party interventions to the European Court of Human Rights, ran the ‘No hate Campaign’ jointly with the European Network against Racism, and supported the first Cyprus Pride march and the Belgrade Pride march.

Altman, Dennis, Global Gaze/Global Gays, GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, Vol. 3, issue 4, 1997, pp. 417-436

Altman, Dennis, Globalization, Political Economy and HIV/AIDS, Theory and Society, Vol. 28, 1999, pp. 559-584

Notes threat to developing countries but also potential of new forms of global cooperation through UN AIDS programmes, and discusses how best to analyze the spread and impact of AIDS. See also: Altman, Dennis , Aids and the Globalization of Sexuality World Politics Review, 10/08/2010

Ekine, Sokari ; Abbas, Hakima, The Queer African Reader, Cape Town, Pambazuka Press, 2013, pp. 220

Wide ranging reader including poetry and analysis, personal testimonies, and activist accounts and discussions of strategy. Testament to resistance of LGBT communities across the continent.

Epprecht, Marc, Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance, London, Zed Books, 2013, pp. 220

Covers activism for rights and over HIV. Notes external influences exacerbating position of lesbians, gays and trans, as well as role of some African leaders and cultural influences.

Hochberg, Gil Z., Introduction: Israelis, Palestinians and Queers: Points of Departure, GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, Vol. 16, issue 4, 2010, pp. 493-516

ILGA: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, State Sponsored Homophobia 2016: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition, [2006], Geneva, ILGA, 2016, pp. 193

Provides global overview of LGB legislation and country-by-country summary of states that still criminalize same-sex acts between consenting adults in private. Published annually since 2006.

Manalansan IV, Martin F., In the Shadows of Stonewall: Examining Gay Transnational Politics and the Diasporic Dilemma , GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, Vol. 2, issue 4, 1995, pp. 425-438

Samba, Chesterfield, Solidarity Based on Sexual Orientation: Regional Organising in Africa, In Clark, People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements), London, Pluto Press, pp. 171-176

Discusses attempts to develop African regional organization and activism and difficulties encountered up to 2006.

Taracena, María I., La Caravana de la Resistencia, NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 50, issue 2, 2018, pp. 386-391

Taracena reports on the abuse that people belonging to the LGBTI+ community suffer at home and in Mexican detention centres because of their sexual orientation. She also juxtaposes the violations they encounter during the journey from Honduras to Mexico and portrays their immigration as an act of resistance against transphobia and homophobia.

In addition to Taracena 's report, attached is also an account of the death of a transgender woman, Roxsana Hernández, from Honduras who died in a detention centre in New Mexico who gave rise to LGBTI+ activism in the country. 

Whitaker, Brian, Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, Palo Alto CA, University of California Press, 2006, pp. 264

Argues Middle East moving away from sexual diversity, which is demonized by clerics and persecuted by governments – but notes ‘pockets’ of change and tolerance.

Trans people often experience extreme dangers and difficulties, and their particular problems tend to be peripheral to campaigns for gays and lesbians, although transnational organizations like IGLHRC and ILGA do take up trans cases and support initiatives like the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 1st December for those murdered (the 16th annual remembrance was held in 2014).

But there are now groups and projects which focus on trans people. Transgender Europe monitors and lobbies organizations like the EU and the Council of Europe and national governments and launched the Trans Murder Monitoring project, see:

The Trans Awareness Project (a poster and digital media campaign challenging stereotypes and promoting respect for people of all genders) is sponsored by the University of Minnesota, see: A new dedicated journal on trans issues is Transgender Studies Quarterly:

Despite continuing violence and prejudice, public perceptions of trans people are being challenged in social media, and sometimes in films and TV, and a few governments have begun to recognize trans legally, for example in marriage laws or issuing passports. Support groups as are also burgeoning. See:

  • New Internationalist, The transgender revolution New Internationalist, 01/10/2015 covering a range of issues and including a list of organizations and resources.
Arkles, Gabriel ; Gehi, Pooja ; Redfield, Elana, The Role of Lawyers in Trans Liberation: Building a Transformative Movement for Social Change, Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Vol. 8, issue 2 (summer), 2010, pp. 578-641

Broad, K.L., GLB +T?: Gender/Sexuality Movements and Transgender Collective Identity (De)Constructions, International Jorunal of Sexuality and Gender Studies, Vol. 7, issue 4 (October), 2002, pp. 341-364

Brossi, Lionel ; Landa, María Inés ; de Zarate, Amalia Ortíz, The Intersex Movement: Empowering Through New Technologies, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 2, issue 22 (Special Issue), 2012, pp. 64-75

Feinberg, Leslie, Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, Boston MA, Beacon Press, 1998, pp. 147

Collection of speeches by Feinberg (poet and grassroots activist in US) covering range of issues including health care reform and infant genital mutilation.

Hines, Sally, TransForming Gender: Transgender Practices of Identity, Intimacy and Care, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, Policy Press, 2007, pp. 232

Drawing on interviews with transgender people charts impact of changing legislation in UK. Primarily about individual experience and social context, but there is a chapter on: ‘Transgender Care Networks, Social Movements and Citizenship’.

Liminalis, Intersex and Transgender in Movement!, Issue 3, Liminalis, 2009

Includes article on ‘Intersex and Transgender Activism in South Africa’ and interviews with activists from Africa, Latin America and Europe discussing situation of trans people, forms of organization and role transnational organizations in these regions.

Moreno, Aluminé, The Politics of Visibility and the GLTTTBI Movement in Argentina, Feminist Review, Vol. 89, issue 1, 2008, pp. 138-143

Silva de Assis, C., Transgendering the media: Trans Media Watch and the struggle over representations of transgender in the British media, Utrecht, University of Utrecht, Faculty of Humanities Theses, 2014, pp. 100

Stone, Amy, Transgender Movement, In Snow; Della Porta; Klandermans; McAdam, The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements (1.a. Transnational and Continent-wide Movements and Networks), Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell,

Examines evolution of US transgender movement from 1960s as it challenged violence, demanded legal recognition and resisted employment discrimination, poverty and media misrepresentation.

From the late 1980s, in response to the growing acceptance of lesbian and gay identity in mainstream society, the ‘mainstreaming’ of LGBT organizations and at the same time a (perceived) increase in homophobic violence, new queer movements arose, initially in the USA. Queer Nation emerged as an activist group out of ACT-UP, and anonymously distributed a pamphlet at the 1990 New York Pride entitled ‘Queers Read This’ (online at: The movement spread later to Europe and to some other parts of the world, notably Latin America and some countries in Asia, as well as to South Africa.

The term ‘queer’, originally a derogatory term, was reclaimed by queer activists with a new meaning, based on the rejection of fixed identities (the hetero/homo or male/female dichotomies), and opposition to ‘normal-ization’ and respectability and an assimilationist approach to LGBT liberation. Queer politics and queer theory developed along side each other endorsing similar values, though often with an uneasy relationship. Queer activism links queer politics with social justice, anti-racism, feminism and global justice issues, refusing absorption into mainstream society. In addition to Queer Nation groups such as the Lesbian Avengers, Bash Back!, Queeruption, Queer Mutiny and many more evolved to promote radical queer activism. Today queer activism partially overlaps with tran and feminist activism, and is closely linked to some other radical movements (for example queer anarchism).

Gray, Mary L., ”Queer Nation is Dead/Long Live Queer Nation”: The Politics and Poetics of Social Movement and Media Representation, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 26, issue 3, 2009, pp. 212-236

Penedo, Suzana Lopez, Queer Politics in Spain: There is Life after Same-Sex Marriage Legislation, Jindal Global Law Review, Vol. 4, issue 1, 2012, pp. 238-263

Rand, Erin J., Reclaiming Queer Activist and Academic Rhetorics of Resistance, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 2014, pp. 224

See also: Rand, Erin J., A Disunited Nation and a Legacy of Contradiction: Queer Nation Construction of Identity Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2004, pp. 288-306

Sears, Alan, Queer Anti-Capitalism: What’s Left of Lesbian and Gay Liberation?, Science and Society, Vol. 69, issue 1, 2005, pp. 92-117

Wickman, Jan, Queer Activism: What Might That Be?, Trikster, issue 4, 2010

Zimmerman, Bonnie, A Lesbian-Feminist Journey Through Queer Nation’s Construction of Identity, Journal of Lesbian Studies, Vol. 11, issue 1-2, 2007

Websites recommended

Against Equality - 2009,

An anti-capitalist collection of radical queer and trans writers, thinkers and artists

Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) - 2003,

A lot of the early debates (pre-internet) related to queer activism (as opposed to queer theory) took place in zines. The QZAP is aiming to make many of them available online.