Something out of the ordinary happened during a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. Gay people physically fought back against government-sponsored persecution. The so-called Stonewall Riots were a flashpoint in the gay rights movement.
In the 40-plus years since that series of street battles was waged, the push for homosexual men and women to become fully vested participants in the American dream has been a steady struggle for recognition and acceptance.
Bayard Rustin, Cofounder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute
In 1955, Bayard Rustin advised Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1963, he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which King delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” Speech.
While Rustin remained active in the labor movement as the cofounder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and served on many humanitarian missions, he mostly stayed out of the spotlight, fearing attack by the media for being homosexual. In 1986, while speaking in support of New York’s gay rights bill, he observed, “The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it’s the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated.”
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Peter Tatchell, cofounder of OutRage!
Peter Tatchell is an Australian-born British politician and social activist. In both 1999 and 2001 he tried to make a citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe for his denunciation of homosexuality. Tatchell is pictured above at the 2007 Moscow Pride march, at which he was beaten. As a result of his injuries, he suffered brain damage.
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Cleve Jones, cofounder S.F. AIDS Foundation
Cleve Jones is an LGBT rights and AIDS awareness activist who cofounded the San Francisco AIDS foundation in 1983. In 1985 he held a memorial for Harvey Milk, at which he launched the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Today Jones is an organizer for UNITE HERE!, a union that represents workers throughout the U.S. and Canada in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries.
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Frank Kameny, First to Sue Federal Government Based on Sexual Orientation
Frank Kameny was fired from his job with Army Map Services in 1957 for being gay, and was denied future job opportunities in the United States Civil Service. After being turned down by lower courts, Kameny filed a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, arguing that being fired for his sexual orientation was equivalent to being dismissed because of race or gender. Kameny’s petition, the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation, was denied. In 1971, Kameny became the first openly gay politician to run for Congress.
Above, President Obama gives Kameny the pen used to sign a bill providing benefits for same-sex partners of federal government employees in June 2009.
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Dan Savage, Founder of It Gets Better Project
Dan Savage is the outspoken gay rights activist behind the Savage Love advice column in The Stranger and the Savage Love podcast. In 2010 he started the It Gets Better Project to inspire hope for LGBT teenagers facing harassment. Savage also engineered the infamous “Santorum” Google bomb, a jab at conservative politician Rick Santorum.
Savage married his partner, Terry Miller, in Canada in 2005.
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Audre Lorde, author of ‘Coal’ (1976) and ‘The Black Unicorn’ (1978)
Audre Lorde was a writer, poet and equal rights activist. In 1968, she left her job as a librarian and became the writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College. In 1978 she published her most acclaimed work, Black Unicorn, in which she affirmed her lesbianism and focused on the themes of women, racial pride, and motherhood. In 1978 Lourde was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. She was later diagnosed with liver cancer, which she fought until her death in 1992.
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Chad Griffin, President of Human Rights Campaign
In 1992, at age 19, Chad Griffin (in tie) became the youngest White House staffer ever as the Press Office Manager under President Clinton. In 2008 he founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which helped fight California’s Proposition 8. In March of 2012, Griffin was named the President of the Human Rights Campaign.
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Lt. Col. Victor J. Fehrenbach, Highest Ranking Openly Gay Air Force Member
Since 1988, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach has been flying an F15 Strike Eagle for the Air Force. He has flown in countless missions, receiving campaign medals for fighting in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A highly decorated officer, Fehrenbach has also received a meritorious service medal and nine air medals, one of which was for heroism during Mission Iraqi Freedom, in which he protected ground units while being constantly barraged by anti-aircraft artillery fire. While serving as a flight instructor, Fehrenbach was dismissed in 2008 under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” after admitting to a civilian he was gay. He tried to challenge this decision in court and won a termporary reprieve. Thanks to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by Congress in 2010, Fehrenbach will receive his full military benefit for serving 20 years. His retirement is voluntary.
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Mary Daly, Author ‘Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism’
Mary Daly was a lesbian feminist philosopher. She taught classes in feminist ethics, theology and patriarchy at Boston College from 1967 to 1999 and was almost fired for refusing to teach male students in upper division women’s studies classes. In her book Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978) she argued that throughout history men have sought to oppress women and that women ought to govern men.
Harvey Milk, first openly gay man elected in California
Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to serve in public office in California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Milk served in the Navy as a lieutenant during the Korean War (1951-1955). Upon moving to San Francisco in 1972, he quickly became known as the “Mayor of Castro Street” for his strong voice supporting gay businesses. Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by ex-supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978.