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Freedom Requires Wings FRW The #1 QUILTBAG opinion blog on the web. We aim to open minds and help the queer community. News, blogs, video, worldwide suicide prevention and more. Worldwide

LGBT History in Harvey Milk's Time

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Life for LGBTQ people in the time of Harvey Milk was vastly different than it is now. After the very liberal ideals of the Roaring Twenties, conservatism returned to America in the 1930s, the decade of Harvey Milk’s birth. Homosexuality went from being a silly tolerated behavior to completely illegal in the United States.

During WWII, many of America’s young men went across the ocean to fight, leaving the work force depleted of its muscle.

This led to a huge increase in women taking over the “men’s jobs”, for it was found that being strong and having a masculine appearance, typical “lesbian traits”, aided in their work in the mechanical and vehicular fields. As found on Wikipedia, “Some recruits [for the Women’s Army Corps] appeared at their inductions wearing men’s clothing and their hair slicked back in the classic butch style of out lesbians of the time”. After the war was over and the male workforce returned to the United States, many women found that declining the traditional gender roles by remaining in the workforce was the beginning of a great shift in the national ideas of what women were supposed to do. As more heterosexual and homosexual women stayed in the working world, the ideas of what was the ideal woman began to shift, feeding the women’s and LGBT liberation movements. 

Such forward progress was marred, however, by the still prevailing laws against homosexuality in a post WWII America. Homosexuality was seen as a disease, something to be cured. It was even added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1952. Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals alike were thought to be ill and had to be fixed. Such methods for “treatment” of homosexuality were castration, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies. Homosexuals could be arrested at the drop of a hat simply for being homosexual, and police were conducting raids on clubs thought to be gay clubs. This, however, would lead to a great turning point in LGBTQ history. 

In the early morning of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a bar in Greenwich Village district called the Stonewall Inn. Police raided the Stonewall Inn with the intention of arresting any homosexuals they could. This raid became a turning point in LGBTQ history because, for the first time, patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back. This was the first major step in the soon-to-follow liberation of the LGBTQ nation. More reading on the Stonewall Riots can be found here.

Even though LGBTQ rights were scant in Harvey Milk’s lifetime, things began to take a definite turn for the better even before his too-early death. The states began to decriminalize homosexuality beginning with Illinois in 1961 and Connecticut in 1969. The decriminalization of the 50 states lasted from 1961 to 2003, including the decriminalization of homosexuality in Milk’s home state of California in 1975. This was an important step in the fight for the rights of all LGBTQ people in the United States. And even though the battle is not yet over, surely Harvey Milk would be proud to see the progress, slow as it may be, that LGBTQ people have created.
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