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A Journey of Resilience: The Evolution of LGBTQ Rights Over the Decades

The fight for LGBTQ rights has been a long, arduous journey, marked by moments of profound pain and triumphant progress. From clandestine meetings in the early 20th century to the global pride parades of today, the LGBTQ community's quest for equality has been a testament to resilience, solidarity, and the indomitable human spirit. Throughout this journey, people of color have played pivotal roles, often facing compounded challenges due to their intersectional identities.

The Early Days: 1900s - 1960s

In the early 20th century, being openly LGBTQ was not only socially ostracized but also criminalized in many parts of the world. LGBTQ individuals, especially those of color, often led double lives, meeting in secret and using coded language to communicate. The Harlem Renaissance, for instance, was a period where Black queer artists and writers like Langston Hughes and Bessie Smith made significant cultural contributions despite societal constraints.

LGBTQ individuals often led double lives, meeting in secret and using coded language to communicate. The 1950s saw the rise of organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, which provided support and advocated for the rights of gay men and lesbians, respectively.

Blues singer Gladys Bentley c. 1930

The Ladder, set up by the Daughters of Bilitis, was published from 1956 to 1972.

The Catalyst: 1969 - 1980s

The Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City marked a turning point. Black and Latinx trans women, like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were at the forefront of this act of defiance against police harassment, catalyzing the modern LGBTQ rights movement. The 1970s and 80s saw increased visibility, with the first pride parades and the establishment of advocacy groups. However, the community, particularly queer people of color, faced the devastating AIDS epidemic, which brought both grief and a renewed sense of activism.

An AIDS protest in San Francisco, January 1984. Photo: Steve Ringman / Getty Images.
Act Up Demo protesting AIDS epidemic, New York, June 1994.

The Fight Continues: 1990s - 2000s

The 90s witnessed significant legal and societal progress. Many countries decriminalized homosexuality, and there was increased representation in media. However, the community also faced challenges, such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the U.S. The turn of the century brought forth landmark rulings like the Lawrence v. Texas case, which decriminalized same-sex relations in the U.S., and the legalization of same-sex marriage in various countries.

Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC., June 26, 2015, after the high court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states.Alex Wong/Getty Images
Tanya McCloskey (left) and Marcia Kadish with their marriage certificate outside city hall in Cambridge, Mass.

The Present Day: 2010s - Now

The past decade has been transformative. Same-sex marriage became legal in numerous countries, including the U.S. with the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Transgender rights, with prominent figures like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock leading the way, have also come to the forefront, with increased recognition and protection. However, challenges persist, especially for LGBTQ individuals of color, who often face heightened discrimination.

Tiffany Munroe on a Sunday in Brooklyn during a rally to call attention to violence against transgender people of color. Credit: Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times, 2020.
Disney's employees protest against Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, in Glendale, California, U.S., March 22, 2022. Photo by Ringo Chiu/REUTERS


The journey of LGBTQ rights is a tapestry of countless stories, struggles, and successes. It's a testament to the community's resilience, the allies who have stood in solidarity, and the often underrecognized contributions of LGBTQ people of color. As we reflect on the milestones, we must also recognize the work that remains. The fight for true equality, acceptance, and understanding is ongoing.

Trans Rights Protest. Credit: James Daniel, ACLU

As we journey through LGBTQ History Month, we invite you to delve deeper into the milestones that have shaped the community. Engage with us, share your stories, and let's celebrate the progress while acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead. Together, we can continue the journey towards a more inclusive and equal world.

To further understand and appreciate the journey of LGBTQ rights and the stories that have shaped the community, we recommend exploring the following documentaries:

  • Stonewall (2015): This documentary tells the story of the Stonewall Riots, which marked a turning point in the LGBTQ rights movement. Watch here
  • How to Survive a Plague (2012): Chronicling the early years of the AIDS epidemic, this film delves into the activism of groups like ACT UP and TAG. Watch here
  • Paris is Burning (1990): Dive into the ballroom culture of New York City in the late 1980s and explore the lives of the Black and Latino trans women central to its vibrancy. Watch here
  • Free CeCe (2016): This documentary narrates the story of CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman sentenced to 41 months in prison for manslaughter after defending herself against an attacker. Watch here
  • Disclosure (2020): Explore the representation of transgender people in film and television and its societal impact through this insightful documentary. Watch here
  • Welcome to Chechnya (2020): This harrowing documentary follows activists risking their lives to rescue LGBTQ individuals from persecution and violence in Chechnya. Watch here
  • The Book of Queer (2022): For a fun and campy take on queer history through the ages, check out the Discovery+ series The Book of Queer, produced by queer historian Eric Cervini. Was Abraham Lincoln gay? Watch and decide for yourself! Watch here

These films provide a deeper insight into the struggles, triumphs, and resilience of the LGBTQ community. We encourage you to watch, reflect, and share these stories as we continue to celebrate and understand our rich history during LGBTQ History Month.