America society has progressed a lot over the course of last fifty years. But, the country has always boasted of a long tradition of radical advancement, starting with the momentous Declaration of Independence two centuries ago to the more recent mandate for an African American president. While there is no doubt that America is at the forefront of dismantling prejudices and following the path of progress, these victories have not been offered on a plate. This is applicable to the issue of homosexuality as well. Just as in other cases, gay and lesbian Americans had had to persistently struggle for gaining equitable rights. The rest of this essay will assess the underlying causes for this turnaround in people’s attitude toward homosexuality and also ascertain its implications for American culture.
A brief glance at the cultural history of the United States would reveal that minority communities have been discriminated against. This could be racial or ethnic or sexual minorities. While the conclusion of the Civil War precipitated the emancipation of racial minorities in America, the taboo associated with homosexuality took a lot longer to dissolve (Crisp, 2006, p.119). In their efforts to win equal rights, gays and lesbians in the United States experienced many ups and downs. But, whenever they
“assert their demands for equality and exploit occasional chance opportunities to make social and legal gains, such as finding a state supreme court that is receptive to gay-rights arguments, followed by a backlash led by hard-nosed televangelists and political opportunists who tap into homophobic public sentiment to secure donations and votes and cause the progress of gay rights to stall. The certainty of the backlash and the degrading characterization in public discourse of gays and their personal relationships as unnatural and abhorrent discourage many demoralized gays from advocating for their own fundamental rights.” (Friedman, 2007, p.95)
The key event which changed this pattern of assertion and subservience is the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Although racial and ethnic minorities had won equal rights more than a century before this period, it wasn’t until the mass protests of the movement that substantial legal concessions were attained. Issues like women’s equality and desegregation of schools were the dominant themes during this period. But, there weren’t many people openly supporting the cause of gays and lesbians. Yet, the civil rights movement set the tone for future activist movements. The tolerance toward homosexuality that we witness today is in no small measure attributable to the radical activism of the 1960s. (Friedman, 2007, p.95)
But political activism is only one side of the story. Advances in science, especially in the fields of psychology and medicine have shown that homosexuality is not a conscious choice for its practitioners. A combination of nurturing patterns and genetic disposition make a minority of the population inevitably homosexual. Such bold scientific assertions significantly weakened the conservatives’ stance that homosexuality is a deliberate deviant behavior on part of its practitioners. Legislators have also taken cognizance of this emerging knowledge on the nature of homosexuality and have initiated liberal laws pertaining to it (Gross, 2001). Finally, the wider acceptance of gays and lesbians in America has had an effect in areas such as abortion, stem-cell research, affirmative action, etc. Activists of today take inspiration from the success of the gay and lesbian community in gaining ground for their own causes.
Anthis, Kristine S. “Midlife and Aging in Gay America.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 49.7-8 (2003): 411+.
Crisp, Catherine. “The Gay Affirmative Practice Scale (GAP): A New Measure for Assessing Cultural Competence with Gay and Lesbian Clients.” Social Work 51.2 (2006): 115+.
Friedman, Barry D. “Gilreath, Shannon. Sexual Politics: The Gay Person in America Today.” International Social Science Review 82.1-2 (2007): 94+.
Gross, Larry. Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.