Windsor v. The United States Of America
AFFIDAVIT of George Chauncey, Ph.D. in Support re: 28 MOTION for Summary Judgment.. Document filed by Edith Schlain Windsor. (Ehrlich, Andrew)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
EDITH SCHLAIN WINDSOR,
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
EXPERT AFFIDAVIT OF GEORGE CHAUNCEY, PH.D.
I, George Chauncey, hereby depose and state as follows:
Expert Background and Qualifications
I am a Professor of History at Yale University, where I have taught since 2006.
My testimony will relate to my opinions as an expert in the history of the United States in the
twentieth century and gender, homosexuality, sexuality, and civil rights in the United States,
with a particular focus on the history of discrimination experienced by gay men and lesbians in
the United States. I have actual knowledge of the matters stated in this declaration, and could
and would so testify if called as a witness.
My background, experience, and publications are summarized in my curriculum
vitae, which is attached as Exhibit A to this affidavit. In the past four years, I have testified as an
expert – either at trial or through declaration – or been deposed as an expert in Donaldson v.
Montana, No. 10-702 (Mont. 1st Jud. Dist. Ct.), Perry v. Schwarzenegger, No. 09-2292 (N.D.
Cal.); Gill v. Office of Pers. Mgmt., No. 09-10309 (D. Mass.), and Commonwealth of Mass. v.
U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Servs., No. 09-11156 (D. Mass.). I have been retained by
counsel for Plaintiff in both the above-referenced litigation (“Windsor”) and by counsel for the
plaintiffs in Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, et al., Civ. A. No. 310 CV 1750
(VLB) (D. Ct.).
From 1991 to 2006, I was a Professor of History at the University of Chicago. I
am the author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male
World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994), which won the Organization of American
Historians’ Merle Curti Award for the best book in social history and Frederick Jackson Turner
Award for the best first book in any field of history, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in
History, and Lambda Literary Award. I am also the author of Why Marriage? The History
Shaping Today’s Debate over Gay Equality (New York: Basic Books, 2004); coeditor of three
books and special journal issues, including Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and
Lesbian Past (NAL, 1989); and the author of numerous articles, which are listed in my
curriculum vitae, attached to this affidavit as Exhibit A.
I base my opinions on my own research, experience and publications, the work of
other historians and scholars as listed in the attached bibliography, and the general statutes of a
number of states, including New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
Summary of Opinions
It is my professional opinion that the historical record, which is outlined below,
demonstrates that gay and lesbian people have been subject to widespread and significant
discrimination and hostility in the United States.
Through much of the twentieth century, in particular, gay men and lesbians
suffered under the weight of medical theories that treated their desires as a disorder; penal laws
that condemned their consensual adult sexual behavior as a crime; police practices that
suppressed their ability to associate and socialize publicly; censorship codes that prohibited their
depiction on the stage, in the movies, and on television; and federal policies and state regulations
that discriminated against them on the basis of their homosexual status. These state policies and
ideological messages worked together to create and reinforce the belief that gay and lesbian
persons comprised an inferior class to be shunned by other Americans.
Despite social and legal progress in the past thirty years towards greater
acceptance of homosexuality, gay and lesbian people continue to live with the legacy of the antigay measures enacted in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and the attitudes that motivated those
measures. That legacy is evident both in laws that remain on the books and in the many legal
protections that have not been enacted.
Among the many products of the legacy of discrimination in the twentieth
century, the most conspicuous today include Congress’ repeated failure to enact or even
seriously consider federal legislative protections for gay and lesbian people in housing,
employment, and public accommodations; the numerous state statutes and constitutional
amendments that brand gay men and lesbians as second-class citizens by denying them the right
to marry the person they love; and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the
federal government from recognizing such a marriage when it does occur. The legacy of
discrimination is also evident in the demeaning stereotypes and inflammatory rhetoric used by
anti-gay organizations and public officials as they campaign to enact further measures meant to
erode gay people’s civil rights and diminish their status as full citizens of the United States –
campaigns that are, to this day, very often successful.
Today, the limited civil rights enjoyed by gay and lesbian Americans vary
substantially from region to region and are still subject to the vicissitudes of public opinion.
Like other minority groups, gay men and lesbians often must rely on judicial decisions to secure
History of Discrimination Against Gay and Lesbian People in the United States
While there is ample evidence that same-sex love and intimacy have persisted
across the ages, most historians now agree that the concept of the homosexual and the
heterosexual as distinct categories of people emerged only in the late nineteenth century. This
concept had profound effects on the regulation of homosexuality. Early American legislators,
drawing on their understanding of ancient Judeo-Christian prohibitions against sodomy and
“unnatural acts,” penalized a wide range of non-procreative behavior, including many forms of
what would now be called homosexual conduct. While these laws prohibited conduct, it was in
the twentieth century that governments began to classify and discriminate against certain of their
own citizens on the basis of their status or identity as homosexuals.
Official, government-sanctioned hostility and discrimination has had a profound
and enduring negative impact on lesbians and gay men in American society. In the 1920s, the
State of New York prohibited theaters from staging plays with lesbian or gay characters.
Beginning in the 1930s and 1940s, many states prohibited gay people from being served in bars
and restaurants. In the 1950s, the federal government banned the employment of homosexuals
and insisted that its private contractors ferret out and dismiss their gay employees. It also
prohibited gay foreigners from entering the country or securing citizenship. Until the 1960s, all
states penalized sexual intimacy between men. Throughout the twentieth century, many
municipalities launched police campaigns to suppress gay meeting places, and sought to purge
gay civil servants from government employment.
Private hostility and discrimination, often encouraged by government officials,
has had a similarly profound and enduring negative effect on lesbians and gay men in American
society. Until the 1970s, leading physicians and medical researchers claimed that homosexuality
was a pathological condition or disease. In the 1930s, the Hollywood studios enacted a
censorship code that for nearly thirty years prohibited the discussion of gay issues or the
appearance of gay or lesbian characters in the era’s most powerful communications medium. In
the 1940s and 1950s, municipal police officials, state governmental leaders, local newspapers,
and national magazines justified anti-gay discrimination and the suppression of gay meeting
places by fostering frightening stereotypes of homosexuals as child molesters. These stereotypes
have had enduring consequences, and continue to inspire public fears and hostility, especially
concerning gay teachers and parents. In the 1980s, the early press coverage of AIDS reinforced
the view that homosexuals were diseased and threatened other Americans. In the 1990s, many
clergy condemned (and still condemn) homosexuality as sinful. The Southern Baptist
Convention, for example, called for a boycott of all Disney products because Disney offered
domestic partnership benefits to its employees and Disneyland organized gay theme nights.
Also, some anti-gay groups threatened to organize boycotts against the sponsors of network
television shows which included gay characters.
Historically, anti-gay measures often were enacted or strengthened in response to
periods of relative growth in the visibility or tolerance of gay people. For example, the
effervescence and visibility of gay life in the 1920s contributed to the backlash gay and lesbian
people endured during the Great Depression. The increased visibility of gay men and lesbians
during the Second World War helped precipitate a second wave of hostility in the late 1940s and
1950s. The dramatically increased visibility of gay people in the 1970s and 1980s, and their
success in persuading some state and local governments to include sexual orientation in their
anti-discrimination laws, resulted in a wave of referenda and initiatives between 1977 and the
early 1990s that overturned such laws and/or prohibited the enactment of others.
In recent decades, and especially in the last twenty years, many (though not all) of
these discriminatory measures were repealed, but considerable discrimination and animosity
persisted. Given the long history of campaigns demonizing homosexuals as child molesters, it is
unsurprising that in 1977 – the year Anita Bryant launched her “Save Our Children” campaign –
two-thirds of Americans told pollsters they objected to lesbians or gay men being hired as
elementary school teachers. By 1992, after fifteen years of extensive public discussion of this
and other gay issues, opinion had shifted, but half of those parents polled still rejected the idea of
their child having a gay elementary school teacher. By 2002, about forty percent of Americans
still were unwilling to have elementary schools employ gay teachers, and one-third of them
found gay high school teachers unacceptable.
When marriage emerged as the new flashpoint in debates over civil rights for gay
men and lesbians almost two decades ago, the debate was shaped by the legacy of anti-gay
policies and attitudes. Many Americans initially responded to the idea that gay and lesbian
couples should be allowed to marry with the same misgivings and even hostility with which they
once greeted the idea of gay teachers or gay characters on television sitcoms. Opponents of
marriage equality mobilized some of the most enduring anti-gay stereotypes to heighten public
apprehension. For instance, during the 2008 campaign over Proposition 8 – the California ballot
initiative that revoked the marriage rights of gay men and lesbians that the California Supreme
Court had recognized under the state constitution – several television commercials aired by the
supporters of Proposition 8 warned that marriage equality might encourage children to become
homosexuals themselves. The recent campaign to repeal marriage equality in Maine used the
same tactics, including recycling commercials and scripts from the Proposition 8 campaign
because they had been so effective in California. The approval of Proposition 8 in California,
Question 1 in Maine, and similar laws and constitutional amendments in a total of forty-one
states indicates the enduring influence of anti-gay hostility and the persistence of ideas about the
inequality of gay people and their relationships. The civil rights enjoyed by gay and lesbian
people throughout the United States continue to be subject to the vicissitudes of public opinion in
an ever-changing social, political, and cultural landscape.
At several critical junctures, a handful of state and federal courts have been the
only authorities willing to defend the rights of gay people against the antipathy of the majority.
In the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when overwhelming public sentiment supported the
criminalization of gay bars and other meeting places, state courts in California and New York
ruled that gay people had the right to assemble. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled
that the United States Post Office could not ban a gay political magazine from the mails. In the
1990s, when voters in cities and states across the country were voting to ban states and local
municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination protections for gay people, the Supreme Court,
in Romer v. Evans, struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that withdrew from gay
men, lesbians, and bisexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from discrimination.
Sometimes quickly and sometimes more slowly, these decisions played a critical role in shifts in
The Roots of Anti-Gay Discrimination
The first American laws against homosexual conduct were rooted in the earliest
English settlers’ understanding of the religious and secular traditions that prohibited sodomy, and
they reflected the ambiguity of those traditions. Although sodomy included some forms of what
today would be called homosexual conduct, medieval theologians did not use sodomy to refer
systematically and exclusively to such conduct; they usually understood sodomy to include male
anal intercourse, but less frequently oral sex and rarely sex between women.
The English Reformation Parliament of 1533 turned the religious injunction
against sodomy into the secular crime of buggery when it made “the detestable and abominable
vice of buggery committed with mankind or beast” punishable by death. The English courts
interpreted this to apply to sexual intercourse between a human and an animal, and anal
intercourse between a man and woman, as well as anal intercourse between two men.
Colonial American statutes drew on these religious and secular traditions and
shared their imprecision in the definition of the offense. Variously defining the crime as (the
religious) sodomy or (the secular) buggery, they generally proscribed anal sex between men and
men, men and women, and humans and animals, but their details and their rationales varied. The
southern colonies generally adopted the English law against buggery, while the Puritan New
England colonies usually drew on religious traditions to penalize many forms of “carnall
knowledge,” including adultery, fornication, sex with prepubescent girls, and “men lying with
men.” Puritan clergy in the New England colonies were especially vigorous in their
denunciation of sodomitical sins as contrary to God’s will, but their condemnation was motivated
by the pressing need to increase the population and to secure the stability of the family, as well
as their reading of scripture. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sodomy was prohibited from
1641 by a statute taken directly from Leviticus: “If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth
with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to
death.” Although several men were executed for sodomy, the colonies rarely prosecuted men for
this offense, for reasons that still are not entirely clear to historians.
Modern American History: 1890-1940
Prosecutions for sodomy and related offenses increased dramatically in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a result of the emergence of the idea of the
homosexual as a distinct category of person, the expansion of laws penalizing homosexual
conduct, and the growing influence of religiously-inspired moral reform societies, which insisted
on criminal prosecutions.
These types of prosecutions continued to penalize people on the basis of their
homosexual conduct rather than their identity as homosexuals. Current historical research
suggests that the concept of the homosexual as a distinct category of person developed as
recently as the late nineteenth century. The word “homosexual” appeared for the first time in a
German pamphlet in 1868, and was introduced to the American lexicon only in 1892. Between
the 1920s and 1950s, the government, drawing on long traditions of hostility to same-sex
conduct and responding both to new conceptions of the homosexual as an individual and to the
growing visibility of those individuals, began to classify and discriminate against certain of its
citizens on the basis of their status or identity as homosexuals. This discrimination reached
remarkable, and still largely unrecognized, proportions.
The dramatic growth of American cities in the late nineteenth century permitted
lesbians and gay men to develop a more complex and extensive collective life than was possible
in small towns and rural areas. While everyone was likely to know everyone else’s business in
small towns, the size, complexity, and relative anonymity of cities made it easier for gay people
(and other nonconformists) to forge a collective life with people like themselves, away from the
eyes of hostile outsiders. The early history of the migration of gay people to the relative freedom
of the cities is little understood, but it seems to have increased in the early twentieth century, at
about the same time as growing numbers of African Americans fled the small towns of the Jim
Crow South for the relative freedom of northern cities. Like African Americans, gay people,
both black and white, found that the relative freedom of city life was tempered by continuing
hostility and discrimination.
The emergence of gay and lesbian communities described in this affidavit took
place to varying degrees in every American city studied by historians. Because the field of
lesbian and gay history remains relatively young in 2011 and has been hampered by the legacy of
censorship described below, historians still know most about the history of such communities in
major metropolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and
they will therefore loom large in the history that follows. However, recent studies of the gay
history of smaller cities and communities, ranging from Buffalo, New York, and Portland,
Oregon, to Jackson, Mississippi, and its surrounding rural areas, both confirm the broad outlines
of the history described here and reveal regional variations in that history. Important recent
historical studies of the development of federal and military policies concerning homosexuality
and gay citizens have documented discriminatory laws and policies that had nationwide effects.
New York City provides one of the best documented examples of the emergence
of a distinctive gay world in the early twentieth century. By the 1910s, New York’s “gay world”
included gay residential and commercial enclaves in several immigrant, African American, and
bohemian neighborhoods; widely publicized dances and other social events; and a host of
commercial establishments where gay people gathered, ranging from saloons, speakeasies, and
bars to cheap cafeterias and elegant restaurants. In the 1920s and early 1930s, gay writers and
performers produced a flurry of gay literature and theater. Some gay people were involved in
long-term relationships they called marriages. Most remained very careful to conceal their
homosexuality from non-gay associates, though, for fear of losing their jobs, homes, and respect.
Many Americans responded to the growing visibility of gay life with fascination
and sympathy, regarding it as simply one more sign of the growing complexity and freedom
from tradition of a burgeoning metropolitan culture. Popular fascination with gay culture
reached a crescendo during the Prohibition Era (or Jazz Age), when lesbians ran some of the
most popular tearooms and cafes in bohemian neighborhoods such as New York’s Greenwich
Village and Chicago’s Towertown. That said, the poor, immigrant, African American, and
bohemian neighborhoods where gay life became most visible were regarded as the underside of
city life by “respectable society.”
Hostile Religious and Medical Views Prompted the Escalation of Anti-Gay
Policing in the Early Twentieth Century
Other Americans regarded the growing visibility of lesbian and gay life with
dread. Hostility to homosexuals sometimes was motivated by an underlying uneasiness about
the dramatic changes underway in gender roles at the turn of the last century. In this era – indeed
until 1973 – homosexuality was classified as a disease, defect, or disorder. Conservative
physicians initially argued that the homosexual (or “sexual invert”) was characterized as much
by his or her violation of conventional gender roles as by specifically sexual interests. At a time
when many doctors argued that women should be barred from most jobs because employment
would interfere with their ability to bear children, numerous doctors identified suffragists,
women entering the professions, and other women challenging the limits placed on their sex as
victims of a medical disorder. Thus, doctors explained that “the female possessed of masculine
ideas of independence” was a “degenerate” and that “a decided taste and tolerance for cigars, * *
* [the] dislike and incapacity for needlework * * * and some capacity for athletics” were all
signs of female “sexual inversion.” Similarly, another doctor thought it significant that a male
“pervert” “never smoked and never married; [and] was entirely averse to outdoor games.”
Such views about gender roles lost their credibility once public opinion had come
to accept significant changes in women’s roles in the workplace and political sphere, but doctors
continued for several more decades to identify homosexuality per se as a “disease,” “mental
defect,” “disorder,” or “degeneration.” For generations, such hostile medical pronouncements
provided a powerful source of legitimation to anti-homosexual sentiment, just as medical science
previously had legitimized widely held (and subsequently discarded) beliefs about male
superiority and white racial superiority. The medical profession’s classification of
homosexuality as a defect or disorder also helped spur and legitimate anti-gay law enforcement
activity throughout the country.
Religiously-inspired hostility to homosexuality also inspired an escalation in anti-
gay policing. In the late nineteenth century, native-born Protestants organized numerous “antivice” societies to suppress what they regarded as the sexual immorality and social disorder of the
nation’s burgeoning Catholic and Jewish immigrant neighborhoods. Although these
organizations focused on female prostitution and what they regarded as the weakening of moral
strictures governing relations between men and women, they also opposed the growing visibility
of homosexuality, which they regarded as a particularly egregious sign of the loosening of social
controls on sexual expression under urban conditions. They encouraged the police to step up
harassment of gay life as one more part of their campaigns to shut down dance halls and movie
theaters, prohibit the consumption of alcohol and the use of contraceptives, dissuade restaurants
from serving an interracial mix of customers, and otherwise impose their vision of the proper
social order and sexual morality. In New York City in the 1910s and 1920s, for instance, the
Society for the Suppression of Vice (also known as the Comstock Society) worked closely with
the police to arrest several hundred men for homosexual conduct, and also participated in a raid
on a lesbian-run café and encouraged the deportation of the café’s owner. In Massachusetts, the
Watch and Ward Society, established as the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice,
conducted surveillance on virtually all the popular gay bars and gathering places of the time.
As a result of the pressure from Protestant moral reform organizations, municipal
police forces began using misdemeanor charges, such as disorderly conduct, vagrancy, lewdness,
loitering, and so forth to harass homosexuals. These state misdemeanor or municipal offense
laws, which carried fewer procedural protections than felony sodomy charges, allowed further
harassment of individuals engaged in same-sex intimacy. In some cases, state officials tailored
these laws to strengthen the legal regulation of homosexuals. For example, in 1923, the New
York State legislature specified for the first time that a man’s “frequent[ing] or loiter[ing] about
any public place soliciting men for the purpose of committing a crime against nature or other
lewdness” was a form of disorderly conduct. Many more men were arrested and prosecuted
under this misdemeanor charge than for sodomy. Between 1923 and 1966, when Mayor John
Lindsay ordered the police to stop using entrapment to secure arrests of gay men, there were
more than 50,000 arrests on this charge in New York City alone.
The social marginalization of gay men and lesbians gave both the police and the
public even broader informal authority to harass them. The threat of violence and verbal
harassment deterred many gay people from doing anything that might reveal their homosexuality
in public. Gay people knew that anyone discovered to be homosexual risked the loss of
livelihood and social respect, so most gay people were careful to lead a double life, hiding their
homosexuality from their heterosexual employers and other associates.
The growing visibility of lesbian and gay life in the early twentieth century
precipitated censorship campaigns designed to curtail gay people’s freedom of speech and the
freedom of all Americans to discuss gay issues.
The earliest gay activists fell victim to such campaigns. In 1924, when the police
learned of the country’s earliest known gay political group, which had been established by a
postal worker in Chicago, they raided his home and seized his group’s files and membership list.
After the raid, the group ceased publication of its short-lived magazine, Friendship and Freedom.
In the 1910s and 1920s, a handful of plays included lesbian and gay characters or addressed
homosexual themes. But in 1927, after “The Captive,” a serious drama exploring lesbianism,
opened on Broadway to critical acclaim, New York State passed a “padlock law” that threatened
to shut down for a year any theater that staged a play with lesbian or gay characters. Given
Broadway’s national importance as a staging ground for new plays, this law effectively censored
American theater for a generation.
Theater censorship occurred in other cities in addition to New York. In the early
twentieth century, Boston had a particularly strict culture of “moral purity” censorship, and the
phrase “Banned in Boston” was familiar to people throughout the country. In 1935, for instance,
Boston Mayor Frederick W. Mansfield banned Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” a play
with lesbian themes. Mansfield explained his decision to the press by asserting that the play
“showed moral perversion, the unnatural appetite of two women for each other.”
Such censorship had even wider-reaching effects when it spread to the movies.
A censorship movement led by religious leaders threatened the Hollywood studios with mass
boycotts and restrictive federal legislation if they did not begin censoring their films. Seeking to
avoid federal legislation, the studios established a production code (popularly known as “the
Hays Code”) that from 1934 on prohibited the inclusion of gay or lesbian characters, discussion
of homosexual issues, or even the “inference” of “sex perversion” in Hollywood films. This
censorship code remained in effect for some thirty years and effectively prohibited discussion of
homosexuality in a powerful communications medium. This censorship stymied and delayed
democratic debate about homosexuality for more than a generation.
The Great Depression and the Curtailment of Gay People’s Freedom of
In the early years of the Great Depression, restrictions on gay life intensified. By
depriving millions of men of their role as breadwinners, the Depression transformed alreadyexisting anxiety over gender roles into a crisis in gender and family relations. Federal, state, and
local governments responded to this perceived crisis with policies that directly affected women
and gay people. New Deal public works projects, for instance, which offered jobs only to male
heads of households, were designed in part to restore men’s status in their families and larger
society, even when this meant limiting women’s economic opportunities.
The apparent fragility of the family and gender arrangements made the visibility
of gay life seem more threatening to many people, especially given the long-standing
representation of gay men and lesbians as gender deviants. After a generation in which gay life
had been relatively visible and integrated into urban public life, restrictions on gay life increased.
Gay people were forced into hiding by new laws that pushed gay people out of restaurants and
bars, as well as off the stage and silver screen.
New regulations curtailed gay people’s freedom of association. In New York
State, for instance, the State Liquor Authority, established after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933,
issued regulations prohibiting bars, restaurants, cabarets, and other establishments with liquor
licenses from employing or serving homosexuals or even allowing them to congregate on their
premises. The Authority’s rationale was that the mere presence of homosexuals made an
establishment “disorderly,” and when the courts rejected that argument, the Authority began
using evidence of unconventional gender behavior or homosexual solicitation gathered by
plainclothes investigators to provide proof of a bar’s disorderly character. Hundreds of bars
were closed for this reason in the next thirty years in New York City alone.
Similar regulations were introduced around the country in subsequent years. In
California in the 1950s, notes historian Nan Alamilla Boyd, the Alcoholic Beverage Control
Board “collapsed the difference between homosexual status (a state of being) and conduct
(behavior) and suggested that any behavior that signified homosexual status could be construed
as an illegal act. Simple acts such as random touching, mannish attire (in the case of lesbians),
limp wrists, high-pitched voices, and/or tight clothing (in the case of gay men) became evidence
of a bar’s dubious character” and grounds for closing it.
Modern American History: World War II
Changes in the policies of the Armed Forces of the United States during the
Second World War both reflected and expanded the government’s growing campaign of
classifying and discriminating against gay citizens. The military had long made sodomy a
criminal offense (and, indeed, it continues to do so). But the Second World War marked the first
time the military moved beyond criminalizing homosexual conduct to develop policies that
systematically endeavored to exclude personnel on the basis of their identity as homosexuals.
All of the branches of the armed forces put in place screening mechanisms designed to ferret out
homosexuals during the induction process. Thousands of men and women were kept from
serving their country, and often faced public opprobrium as a result. Notwithstanding the new
prohibition, many gay men and lesbians served in the armed forces in the Second World War,
but they had to be careful to whom they disclosed their sexual orientation.
Across the country, the number of lesbian and gay bars and other meeting places
increased during the war years. Military authorities responded to the growth in the number of
gay meeting places by collaborating with civil authorities to close them or at least keep
servicemen from visiting them. The Army and the Navy created a joint Disciplinary Control
Board that worked together with state liquor control agents and municipal police forces to
identify and police bars and night clubs, including almost one hundred in San Francisco alone,
with the intent of harassing and suspending the licenses of those that served a gay clientele.
Military and civilian police also cooperated in anti-vice raids against gay bars and other meeting
places. Servicemen who were caught in these raids risked being discharged, and several
thousand patriotic Americans who honorably served to defend their country were not honorably
discharged solely because of their gay or lesbian identity.
Following the war, the Veterans Administration denied GI Bill benefits to soldiers
who had received undesirable discharges. Eventually most other groups of soldiers discharged in
this way had their benefits restored, but the Veterans Administration steadfastly refused to
restore them to homosexuals. This meant that gay veterans – members of the “Greatest
Generation” – who had risked their lives for their country before being discharged were denied
the educational, housing, and readjustment allowances provided to millions of their peers.
Modern American History: Post-WWII Period
Government Policies in the McCarthy Era
Even the stepped-up policing of gay life in the 1930s and 1940s did not equal the
scale of discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians in the generation following the Second
World War. The persecution of gay men and lesbians dramatically increased at every level of
government after the war.
In 1950, following Senator Joseph McCarthy’s denunciation of the employment
of gay persons in the State Department, the Senate conducted a special investigation into “the
employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts in government.” The Senate Committee
recommended excluding gay men and lesbians from all government service, civilian as well as
military. To support this recommendation, the Committee argued that homosexual acts violated
the law, and it gave its imprimatur to the prejudice that “those who engage in overt acts of
perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons” and that homosexuals “constitute
The Committee also portrayed homosexuals as predators: “[T]he presence of a
sex pervert in a Government agency tends to have a corrosive influence on his fellow employees.
These perverts will frequently attempt to entice normal individuals to engage in perverted
practices. This is particularly true in the case of young and impressionable people who might
come under the influence of a pervert. Government officials have the responsibility of keeping
this type of corrosive influence out of the agencies under their control. . . . One homosexual can
pollute a Government office.”
The Senate investigation and report were only one part of a massive anti-
homosexual campaign launched by the federal government after the war. The Senate Committee
reported that “[a] spot check of the records of the Civil Service Commission indicates that
between January 1, 1947, and August 1, 1950, approximately 1,700 applicants for Federal
positions were denied employment because they had a record of homosexuality or other sex
perversion.” In 1953, President Eisenhower issued an executive order requiring the discharge of
homosexual employees from federal employment, civilian or military. Thousands of men and
women were discharged or forced to resign from civilian and military positions because they
were suspected of being gay or lesbian. At the height of the McCarthy era, the U.S. State
Department discharged more homosexuals than communists. The government’s purge of its gay
employees prompted the founding of some of the earliest gay rights organizations. Frank
Kameny, for one, founded the first gay rights group in Washington, D.C. after he was dismissed
from his job as a government astronomer for being homosexual in 1957.
President Eisenhower’s executive order prohibiting federal employment for
homosexuals also required defense contractors and other private corporations with federal
contracts to ferret out and discharge their homosexual employees. Many other private employers
without federal contracts adopted the federal government’s policy by refusing to hire gay people.
Furthermore, the FBI initiated a widespread system of surveillance to enforce the executive
order. As the historian John D’Emilio has noted, “The FBI sought out friendly vice squad
officers who supplied arrest records on morals charges, regardless of whether convictions had
ensued. Regional FBI officers gathered data on gay bars, compiled lists of other places
frequented by homosexuals, and clipped press articles that provided information about the gay
world. . . . Federal investigators engaged in more than fact-finding; they also exhibited
considerable zeal in using information they collected.”
Two years after the Senate Committee recommended that homosexuals be purged
from government employment, Congress signaled its conviction that homosexuals had no place
in American society in the most palpable way possible: by denying them entry into the country.
In 1952, Congress prohibited homosexuals (whom it called “psychopaths”) from entering the
country, much as it previously had prohibited immigration from Asia and curtailed the
immigration of Jews and Catholics from eastern and southern Europe. In the case of
homosexuals, the prohibition extended beyond people seeking long-term residency or
citizenship; a generation of foreign visitors applying for mere tourist visas had to sign statements
swearing they were not homosexual before they could make even the briefest trip to the United
Many state and local governments followed the federal government’s lead in
seeking to ferret out and discharge their homosexual employees. As a result of these official
policies, countless state employees, teachers, hospital workers, and others lost their jobs.
Beginning in 1958, for instance, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, which had
been established by the legislature in 1956 to investigate and discredit civil rights activists,
turned its attention to homosexuals working in the state’s universities and public schools. Its
initial investigation of the University of Florida resulted in the dismissal of fourteen faculty and
staff members, and in the next five years it interrogated some 320 suspected gay men and
lesbians. It “pressured countless others into relinquishing their teaching positions, and had many
students quietly removed from state universities.” Its 1959 report to the legislature called the
extent of homosexual activity in the state’s school system “absolutely appalling.” In addition, in
a well-publicized 1949 case in Massachusetts, Dr. Miriam Van Waters, long-time superintendent
of the Women’s Reformatory at Framingham, was dismissed by the Commissioner of
Corrections because she had either not known or had known and had not prevented “an
unwholesome relationship” that “existed between inmates of the Reformatory,” which had
“resulted in ‘crushes’, ‘courtships’, and homosexual practises [sic] among the inmates.” She was
then forced to defend her policies in public hearings held by a Massachusetts house committee
over several months.
During this period, both federal and local agencies sought to curtail gay people’s
freedom of speech and the freedom of all people to discuss homosexuality. In 1954, postal
officials in Los Angeles banned an issue of the first gay political magazine, ONE, from the mails,
a ban overturned by the Supreme Court in 1958. In some cities the police continued to shut
down newsstands that dared to carry it. In 1957, San Francisco officials arrested Lawrence
Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao for publishing and selling “Howl,” a poem by Allen Ginsberg that
openly proclaimed his homosexuality.
Censorship, government-sanctioned discrimination, and the fear of both made it
difficult for gay people to organize and speak out on their own behalf. Given the severity of
anti-gay policing, for instance, the Mattachine Society, the most significant gay rights
organization in the 1950s, repeatedly had to reassure its anxious members that the police would
not seize its membership list. In Denver in 1959, a few weeks after Mattachine held its first
press conference during a national convention, the police raided the homes of three of its Denver
organizers; one lost his job and spent sixty days in jail.
The Demonization of Homosexuals
The official harassment of homosexuals received further legitimization from a
series of press and police campaigns in the 1940s and 1950s that fomented demonic stereotypes
of homosexuals as child molesters out to recruit the young into their way of life. In response to a
series of local panics over sex crimes against women and children, in which homosexuals were
almost never identified as the culprits, numerous local newspapers and national magazines
claimed that children faced a growing threat from homosexuals. The press warned that, in
breaking with social convention to the extent necessary to engage in homosexual behavior, a
man had demonstrated the refusal to adjust to social norms that was the hallmark of the
psychopath. In 1950, Coronet, a popular national magazine, asserted: “Once a man assumes the
role of homosexual, he often throws off all moral restraints. . . . Some male sex deviants do not
stop with infecting their often-innocent partners: they descend through perversions to other forms
of depravity, such as drug addiction, burglary, sadism, and even murder.”
The demonization of homosexuals by the press was reinforced by the statements
of public officials. A Special Assistant Attorney General of California claimed in 1949 that
“[t]he sex pervert, in his more innocuous form, is too frequently regarded as merely a queer
individual who never hurts anyone but himself. All too often we lose sight of the fact that the
homosexual is an inveterate seducer of the young of both sexes, and is ever seeking for younger
victims.” Detroit’s prosecuting attorney demanded the authority to arrest, examine, and possibly
confine indefinitely “anyone who exhibited abnormal sexual behavior, whether or not
dangerous.” In 1957, the Hartford Courant reported on comments by a Connecticut judge at a
criminal sentencing. The judge endorsed jail terms for homosexuals because his “observation”
was that homosexuality “ha[d] spread much too far.”
Such press campaigns and official statements created fearsome new stereotypes of
homosexuals as child molesters, which continue to incite public fears about gay teachers and
parents as well as other gay people who come into contact with children. Between the late 1930s
and late 1950s, public hysteria incited by such press campaigns prompted more than half the
state legislatures to enact laws allowing the police to force persons convicted of certain sexual
offenses—or, in some states, merely suspected of being “sexual deviants”—to undergo
psychiatric examinations. These examinations could result in indeterminate civil confinements
for individuals deemed in need of a “cure” for their homosexual “pathology.”
Another Escalation of Anti-Gay Policing
During the postwar era, bars became an especially important meeting place for
lesbians and gay men because they were often the only public spaces in which people dared to be
openly gay. Given their growing importance to gay people as a social center and the growing
pressure on the police to enforce regulations prohibiting bars from serving homosexuals, gay
bars became an important battleground in the postwar years. Despite the prevailing popular
animosity toward homosexuals, state courts in New York and California issued rulings that
curtailed the right of state liquor authorities and the police to discriminate against gay bar
patrons. Official antipathy to homosexuals was so strong, however, that police officials
circumvented or simply disregarded these judicial decisions.
This sharp escalation in the policing of gay life after the Second World War
occurred throughout the country. In 1955, for example, the government of Boise, Idaho
launched a fifteen-month investigation of gay men in town, interrogating fourteen hundred
persons and pressuring men known to be gay to reveal the names of other gay men. Police
departments from Seattle and Dallas to New Orleans and Baltimore stepped up their raids on
bars and private parties attended by gay and lesbian persons, and made thousands of arrests for
“disorderly conduct.” By 1950, Philadelphia had a six-man “morals squad” arresting more gay
men than the courts knew how to handle, some 200 a month. In the District of Columbia, there
were more than a thousand arrests every year. In 1965, the Boston City Council’s Committee on
Urban Renewal debated whether to bulldoze several downtown gay bars. A proponent of the
effort, City Councilor Frederick Langone, gave a speech at the meeting calling for the
destruction of “these incubators of homosexuality and indecency and a Bohemian way of life,”
and insisting that “[w]e must uproot these joints so innocent kids won’t be contaminated.” Many
gay bars were razed in the “revitalization” that followed. In 1969, a Councilman in Rocky Hill,
Connecticut called for a nightclub frequented by homosexuals (Alice’s Joker Club) to be closed
as a “public nuisance” because it was a “threat to the morals” of the town’s citizens. From 1933
until the mid 1960s, hundreds of bars that tolerated gay customers were closed in New York City
alone. Some bars in New York and Los Angeles posted signs telling potential gay customers: “If
You Are Gay, Please Stay Away” or, more directly, “We Do Not Serve Homosexuals.”
The Gay Rights Movement and its Opponents in the 1970s and 1980s
Early Successes of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement
The dramatic escalation in policing and suppression in the post-war years failed to
eradicate gay life. In larger cities, lesbians and gay men covertly patronized bars and restaurants,
which they turned into informal meeting places, took over remote sections of public beaches, and
held dances and parties. In many smaller towns, gay life took shape unnoticed in church choirs,
amateur theaters, and women’s softball leagues, and was sustained by closely knit social circles.
Nonetheless, most gay men and lesbians responded to the escalation in policing
after the Second World War by keeping their homosexuality carefully hidden from non-gay
people. They developed elaborate verbal codes that allowed them to communicate with one
another while remaining invisible to hostile outsiders. The word “gay” is a good example of
this: before the 1970s few heterosexuals realized gay people had given it a distinctly homosexual
meaning. But the very success of such subterfuges in concealing gay life made it difficult for
gay people to find one another in the 1950s, and it severely limited the capacity of gay people to
organize on their own behalf.
The earliest gay rights organizations, the Mattachine Society, ONE, and the
Daughters of Bilitis, were founded in the early 1950s at the height of the demonization of
homosexuals as dangerous, irrational, and unstable pariahs who threatened the nation’s children
as well as national security. This initial generation of activists worked to educate and cultivate
allies among sociologists, psychologists, criminologists, and other professionals who had the
credibility to speak on homosexuality that was denied to homosexuals themselves.
Gay rights organizations began to influence public policy in the mid-1960s,
although the pace of change varied enormously across the country. The New York Mattachine
Society’s success in 1966 in persuading Mayor John Lindsay to end the widespread police use of
entrapment had a profound effect on gay male New Yorkers, who for the first time in decades
did not have to worry that the men who approached them in bars and elsewhere were undercover
policemen. New York and California state court rulings finally curtailed the policing of gay bars
and other meeting places in those states in the 1960s, but in some other parts of the country the
police continued to raid gay bars well into the 1970s and 1980s. The growing divergence in the
treatment of gay people in different parts of the country prompted a growing number of gay
people to migrate from hostile areas to New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago,
and other more tolerant cities and regions. This mass migration, in turn, affected the political
and cultural climate of those cities and regions, making them more likely to enact gay rights
legislation and similar policies.
Major institutions that once helped legitimize anti-gay attitudes also began to
change their positions. Medical writers and mental health professionals whose stigmatization of
homosexuality as a disease or disorder had been used to justify discrimination for decades were
among the first to change their views. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association voted to
remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. The American Psychological
Association soon followed suit. However, the American Psychiatric Association’s decision was
fiercely opposed by prominent members of the association such as Charles Socarides and Irving
Bieber, and they and other medical professionals who believed homosexuality was a treatable
psychological disorder continued to receive considerable attention.
Censorship of gay images and speech declined. By the early 1960s, competition
from television led the Hollywood studios to reorganize their nearly thirty-year-old censorship
code, enabling the studios to make films for adult viewers which addressed “serious themes”
such as homosexuality. These themes remained off-limits for television. The studios initially
still included very few gay characters in their features, and the television networks included
virtually none, but ending formal censorship opened a door that resulted in significant cultural
changes in later years.
A small but growing number of municipalities enacted legislation protecting
people from certain forms of discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. In 1972,
East Lansing, Michigan, home to Michigan State University, became the first town to do so.
Within five years, another twenty-seven communities passed such legislation, more than half of
them university towns such as Ann Arbor, Austin, Berkeley, and Madison. They were joined by
a handful of larger cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Detroit. During this
same period, however, a number of states enacted new legislation that criminalized homosexual
sodomy, even as they decriminalized heterosexual sodomy.
Attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuality in some religious
denominations also began to change. Since the 1970s, many mainline Protestant denominations
have issued official statements condemning legal discrimination against homosexuals and
affirming that homosexuals ought to enjoy equal protection under criminal and civil law.
Several of these groups descended from the historically influential denominations whose
religious authority had been invoked to justify colonial statutes against sodomy. The Lutheran
Church in America, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Methodist Church, the
United Church of Christ, the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the United
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. all issued statements in support of civil rights for gay men and
lesbians by 1980.
Those seven denominations, however, account for only 10.3 percent of the
American population. Many more Americans belong to faith traditions that remain strongly
opposed to gay civil rights, including 26.3 percent affiliated with historically white evangelical
Protestant churches and 23.9 percent who are Catholics. Leading clergy and laypeople from
those churches have played a major role in opposing gay rights measures across the country.
Anti-Gay Discrimination in the 1970s and 1980s
Gay men and lesbians continued to suffer discrimination at the hands of
government officials in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, police continued to raid gay bars in
some cities. In 1970, the Connecticut State Motor Vehicle Department refused to renew the
drivers license of a man on the grounds that he was “an admitted homosexual and that his
homosexuality makes him an improper person to hold an operator’s license.”
Beginning in the late 1970s, the initial success of the gay movement in securing
local gay rights legislation, as well as the increasing visibility of gay people in the media,
provoked a vigorous, negative reaction. Anti-gay rights advocates drew on pernicious
stereotypes developed in previous decades to argue that enacting gay rights laws, permitting gay
people to teach, and even simply allowing gay characters to appear on television sitcoms
threatened the security of children and the stability of the family.
The anti-gay rights campaign of this era was effectively launched in 1977, when
Anita Bryant, a prominent Baptist singer and the spokeswoman for the Florida citrus growers,
led a campaign to “Save Our Children” from newly enacted civil rights protections for gay men
and lesbians in Dade County, Florida. Her success in persuading a decisive majority of Miami
voters to vote against the ordinance depended heavily on her use of the still powerful postwar
images of homosexuals as child molesters. Her organization published a full-page advertisement
the day before the vote warning that the “other side of the homosexual coin is a hair-raising
pattern of recruitment and outright seductions and molestation.” Her victory in Miami prompted
groups in other cities to take up the cause, and in the next three years, laws extending civil rights
protections to gay men and lesbians were repealed in more than a half-dozen bitterly fought
referenda stretching from St. Paul, Minnesota to Eugene, Oregon. Gay rights advocates
managed to defeat such referenda only in two elections, in November 1978, when Seattle voted
to preserve its antidiscrimination ordinance and when California rejected the Briggs Initiative.
The Briggs Initiative was a proposal so onerous it would have prohibited public school teachers,
gay or straight, from saying anything that could be construed as “advocating homosexuality.”
The Save Our Children campaign had other far reaching effects. The day after the
Dade County gay rights ordinance was repealed, the governor of Florida signed into law a ban on
adoption by lesbians and gay men, the first such statewide prohibition. Thousands of children
who might otherwise have had loving parents were thus denied the stability of family life.
Similarly, in 1985, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis removed two boys from their
foster care placement with a gay male couple and implemented a policy of preferred placement
in “traditional family settings.” While Massachusetts’ ban was reversed in 1990 as a result of
litigation, the Florida ban remained in effect until 2010.
Across the country, the unfounded fear that homosexuals posed a threat to
children itself threatened some children: those already being raised by lesbians and gay men. In
the 1970s, most children being raised by lesbian or gay parents had been born before their
parents came out as gay. When a parent came out, any dispute over child custody that had to be
resolved in court was likely to be heavily influenced by stereotypes and prejudices. A growing
number of such cases reached the courts in the 1970s and 1980s, and in case after case the courts
took the custody of children away from a mother or father whose estranged husband or wife
raised the parent’s lesbian or gay identity. Some courts confronting early disputes of this nature
articulated a “per se” rule against custody and visitation claims made by gay and lesbian parents,
holding that homosexuality was inherently inconsistent with parenthood as a matter of law.
The long-standing association of homosexuals with disease was reinforced in the
1980s by the media’s initial sensationalist coverage of AIDS, which frequently depicted
homosexuals as bearers of a deadly disease threatening others. Fear of contagion prompted a
new wave of discrimination against gay people in medical care, housing, and employment.
Media coverage and the government’s slow response to the disease also reflected and reinforced
the enduring conviction that homosexuals stood outside the moral boundaries of the nation.
Even after the name AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) replaced the moniker
GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), media reports initially minimized the crisis by
reassuring Americans that the “general public” was not at risk, since the disease only affected
homosexuals and a handful of other groups, as if gay people were not part of the “general
The media coverage of AIDS and the numerous campaigns against local gay
rights laws had a dramatic effect on public opinion. In 1987, six years after the AIDS crisis
unleashed a new wave of fear of homosexuals, public disapproval of homosexuality reached its
peak. Polling data showed virtually no change through the 1970s, but the number of people who
declared that homosexual relations were always wrong climbed from 73 percent in 1980 to 78
percent in 1987. In the 1980s, gay rights activists secured the enactment of gay rights ordinances
in an additional forty cities, counties, and suburbs, including Boston, New York, Chicago, and
Atlanta, bringing the national total to eighty. But these victories often were more difficult to
achieve than they had been in the 1970s. In New York City, for example, the law passed the city
council only after more than a decade of struggle.
National religiously-inspired organizations formed in the 1970s and 1980s, such
as the Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Traditional Values
Coalition, provided national leadership and coordination to the movement against gay rights and
disseminated campaign materials, political strategies, and financial resources to local groups
fighting gay rights ordinances.
The Persistence of Anti-Gay Discrimination from the 1990s to the Present
A. Legal Inequality in State Law
The spread of AIDS and the escalation of debate over gay rights at the local level
fueled a growing polarization of the nation over homosexuality in the 1980s and especially the
1990s. By the end of the 1980s, even cities and states that had managed to pass gay rights laws
found those laws under attack from an increasingly well-organized and well-funded opposition.
Beginning in 1988, and reaching a crescendo from 1992 to 1994, groups in Colorado, Oregon,
Maine, and six other states used anti-gay referenda and initiatives to challenge gay rights laws,
and built local anti-gay rights organizations. In the twenty-five years after Anita Bryant’s
campaign in Florida, anti-gay activists introduced and campaigned for more than sixty anti-gay
rights referenda around the country. Nationwide, gay rights supporters lost almost three-quarters
of these contests. In Oregon alone, there were sixteen local anti-gay initiatives in 1993 and
another eleven in 1994. Oregon’s gay rights supporters lost all but one.
Following Anita Bryant’s lead, anti-gay rights activists frequently fomented voter
fear of gay people by reviving demonic stereotypes of homosexuals as perverts who threatened
the nation’s children and moral character. Two videos that repeatedly were screened in churches
and on cable television, “The Gay Agenda” and “Gay Rights, Special Rights,” juxtaposed
discussions of pedophilia with images of gay teachers and gay parents marching with their
children in Gay Pride parades. With little subterfuge, the videos depicted homosexuals as child
molesters. This message was reinforced by mass mailings and door-to-door distribution of antigay pamphlets, which fostered a climate of hostility and fear during the referenda.
In 1992, voters in Colorado passed Amendment Two, which amended the state
constitution to prohibit any municipality or unit of the government from enacting anti-gay
discrimination ordinances or policies. This amendment repealed the ordinances already enacted
by Denver, Boulder, and Aspen. Moreover, it removed from the political arena any future effort
to secure anti-discrimination legislation for gay people. In the face of public antipathy to gay
people, represented by the success of this and other referenda overturning non-discrimination
laws, several legal groups filed a lawsuit, Romer v. Evans, challenging the constitutionality of
such constitutional amendments. Once again, the courts protected the rights of the minority
against the prejudice of the majority. In 1996, the Supreme Court overturned this state
constitutional amendment because it withdrew specific legal protection from discrimination from
gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, but no others.
Although a number of states now have extended basic anti-discrimination
protections to gay men and lesbians, in twenty-nine states, there is no statutory barrier to firing,
refusing to hire, or demoting a person in private sector employment solely on the basis of their
identity as a gay man or lesbian. In twenty-two states, there is no statutory or administrative
barrier to such discrimination even in state government employment. Similarly, gay men and
lesbians remain without statutory protection from discrimination in housing in thirty states. And,
despite the critical role played by harassment of gay and lesbian meeting places in enforcing
discrimination toward them throughout the twentieth century, gay and lesbian people in twentynine states have no statutory protection from discrimination in public accommodations.
B. Legal Inequality in Federal Law
At the national level, employment discrimination against gay men and lesbians by
federal agencies remained permissible until the late 1990s. Although the outright ban on hiring
gay federal employees was lifted in 1975, federal agencies were free to discriminate against gay
men and lesbians in hiring and employment decisions until former President Clinton issued a
first-of-its-kind executive order forbidding such hiring discrimination in 1998.
In 1992, President Bill Clinton’s proposal to end the armed forces’ policy banning
lesbians and gay men from serving in the military sparked a firestorm in the first months of his
presidency and revealed how deeply divided the nation remained. The public outcry against his
plan (calls to Congress ran a hundred to one against lifting the ban) had been stoked by years of
local anti-gay organizing. Opposition to the new policy by both the Pentagon leadership and the
public led Congress and President Clinton to enact a new law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”
which allowed for the discharge of gay and lesbian soldiers if they acknowledged their sexual
orientation under any circumstances, even in private counseling. Discharge of gay men and
lesbians from the military continued after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became law. According to
the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization dedicated to assisting military
personnel affected by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” “more than 14,000 service members have been
have been fired under the law since 1993.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in December 2010. However, the repeal
will not be implemented until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that repeal will not harm military readiness. After that certification
there is a sixty-day waiting period. Although the conditional repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
in 2010 was an important advance for gay men and lesbians, it did not restore the careers of the
thousands of service members who had been discharged under the policy. Nor does it protect
gay men and lesbians from the significant discrimination that they continue to face in other
domains. After years of effort, gay and lesbian advocates and their allies still have not been able
to enact any federal legislation that prohibits discrimination in schools, employment, housing,
and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. The Employment NonDiscrimination Act, which would extend employment protections on the basis of sexual
orientation, has been introduced regularly since 1994 (and earlier versions as far back as the
1970s) and has never passed both houses of Congress.
Government-sanctioned discrimination against gay men and lesbians still exists in
federal immigration law. Federal law prohibits gay and lesbian Americans from sponsoring their
same-sex spouses or registered partners from other countries for immigration benefits.
C. Discrimination in Adoption, Custody, and Parenting
In the 1990s, lesbian mothers and gay fathers continued to risk their parenting
rights when their former different-sex spouses used their sexual orientation to try to deny them
custody or visitation rights in divorces. By the mid-1990s, courts in most states followed rules
that required individualized assessment of a parent’s fitness. But as Julie Shapiro’s 1996 study
of custody cases around the country demonstrated, many courts continued to infuse those
individualized assessments with their own prejudice against lesbians and gay men. As she
discovered, courts were especially disapproving of lesbians and gay men who were honest about
their sexual orientation with their children. In a widely publicized case, a Virginia trial court in
1993 granted a grandmother’s petition to take Sharon Bottoms’ two-year-old son away from her
because, as the trial court judge explained, her lesbian “conduct is illegal . . . a Class 6 felony in
the Commonwealth of Virginia.” He went on to declare “that it is the opinion of this Court that
her conduct is immoral” and “renders her an unfit parent.” Virginia’s Supreme Court upheld the
trial court’s decision terminating Sharon’s parental rights despite the presumption favoring her as
a natural parent. In doing so, it relied on a wider range of evidence, including the finding that
Bottoms’ lesbianism would subject her child to social condemnation and thus disturb the child’s
relationships with peers and the community at large. Some courts had used similar reasoning to
remove children from the homes of divorced white mothers who had married or lived with black
men, a practice ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1984. In that case, Palmore v.
Sidoti, Chief Justice Warren Burger ruled that “private biases may be outside the reach of the
law, but the law cannot directly, or indirectly, give them effect.” 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984). But
courts in many states continued to give legal effect to the private bias they assumed existed
against lesbian and gay parents by preferring heterosexual parents over gay parents, without
regard to other factors bearing on the child’s best interests.
Gay and lesbian parents continue to be forced by some courts to choose between
hiding their gay identities and losing parental rights. As one Texas attorney commented in 1988,
“unless [a mother] ended her open lesbian relationship I would have little chance of winning a
custody trial.” According to Clifford J. Rosky, in 2004, after ordering a gay father not to expose
his child to his “gay lover(s) and/or gay lifestyle,” a Tennessee trial court sentenced the father to
two days in jail for coming out to the child.
State and popular efforts that began in the 1970s to ban lesbians and gay men
from adopting or serving as foster parents continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s. For
example, in 2000, Mississippi’s legislature passed a ban on adoption by same-sex couples that
was subsequently signed by the governor. As recently as 2008, Arkansas enacted by popular
referendum a ban on foster care and adoption by gay people.
Some states enacted laws that bar recognition of out-of-state adoptions by same-
sex couples. For example, in 2004, Oklahoma passed the “Adoption Invalidation Law,” which
stated that Oklahoma “shall not recognize an adoption by more than one individual of the same
sex from any other state or foreign jurisdiction.”
Some states refuse to allow a biological parent’s same-sex partner to adopt the
children they raise together. For example, as recently as December 2010, the North Carolina
Supreme Court invalidated a second parent adoption by a woman’s same-sex partner, holding
that a non-biological same-sex partner could not be recognized as a legal parent.
During the 1980s and 1990s, gay and lesbian parents continued to face significant
obstacles in custody and visitation disputes. Courts continued to demonstrate harsh judgments
toward gay and lesbian parents even when a child was conceived with two gay or lesbian parents
intending to raise the child jointly. This was especially evident when the courts had to decide
where to place a child when its biological mother died and one of her relatives contested the right
of her surviving partner, the child’s second mother, to continue to raise the child. In a number of
cases, courts granted custody to those relatives despite clear evidence that the child wished to
remain with her surviving mother.
D. Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians in the Media
With the decline in movie and television censorship and the growing interest in
gay people and issues, there was a significant increase in the coverage of gay issues in the media
and in the number of gay characters in movies and on television in the 1990s. By the time the
immensely popular Will & Grace premiered on NBC in 1998, gay and lesbian characters were a
more regular part of the television landscape. This exposure changed the dominant
representation of homosexuals. Gay people usually appeared in the media in the 1950s as
shadowy and dangerous figures, but they now appeared as a diverse and familiar group whose
all-too-human struggles and pleasures drew the interest of large viewing audiences.
It was not only in the media that heterosexuals began to see gay and lesbian
people. Dramatically increasing numbers of lesbians and gay men revealed their homosexuality
to their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers in the 1990s. Polling data suggest the
magnitude of the shift. In 1985, only a quarter of Americans reported that a friend, relative, or
co-worker had personally told them that they were gay, and more than half believed they did not
know anyone gay. Fifteen years later, in 2000, the number of people who knew someone openly
gay had tripled to three-quarters of the population. Acceptance of gay men and lesbians and
support for civil rights protections increased as growing numbers of heterosexuals realized that
some of the people they most loved and respected were gay.
It is important not to overstate the results of this nationwide “coming out”
experience, however. In 2000, a significant majority of Americans still expressed moral
disapproval of homosexuality. Moreover, support for lesbian and gay civil rights and equality
continued to show significant regional differences. Polls showed that public opinion in
Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Hawaii was the most tolerant. Support for civil rights also was
strong in most other states in New England, in New Jersey and New York, and in other regional
clusters: Maryland in the mid-Atlantic, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois in the upper Midwest,
and California, Oregon, and Washington on the West Coast. Anti-gay sentiment was strongest in
southern states and in the lower Midwest and plains states. The effects of these regional
differences could be seen in regional variations in congressional votes on key gay rights issues,
in the treatment of gay couples and individuals by state laws, regulations and court rulings
concerning adoption and foster parenting, parental rights, and in the passage of gay rights laws.
Only two states—Wisconsin in 1982 and Massachusetts in 1989—enacted legislation banning
anti-gay discrimination before 1990. The number rose to eleven by 2000, but eight of the states
were in the Northeast or on the Pacific Coast. The rights of gay people continue to vary
enormously across the nation.
E. Continued Official, Religious, and Private Condemnation of Homosexuality in
Gay people also continue to face discrimination and opprobrium from highly
regarded institutions and officials. The Boy Scouts of America, a federally-chartered
organization, continues to insist that “homosexual conduct is not morally straight,” and refuses to
allow gay men into the organization. Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640, 651 (2000).
Less than a decade ago, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court referred, in a judicial
opinion, to homosexual conduct as “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a
violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this Nation and our laws are
predicated.” Ex Parte H.H., 830 So. 2d 21, 26 (2002) (Moore, C.J., concurring).
Although the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its
list of mental disorders in 1973, dissident psychiatrists and psychologists led by Charles
Socarides and Joseph Nicolosi established the National Association for Research and Therapy of
Homosexuality (NARTH) in 1992. Disagreeing with both the APA and prevailing professional
opinion, NARTH continues to disseminate materials claiming a scientific basis for believing that
homosexuality is a psychological disorder and a “potentially deadly lifestyle,” and that
homosexuals can be “healed.” NARTH also lectures, partners with religious organizations,
supports conversion therapy activities, and files amicus briefs in court cases.
Anti-gay activists also used the appearance of AIDS in the early 1980s to rekindle
the historic associations between homosexuality, disease, and public danger.
F. Anti-Gay Policing and Private Anti-Gay Violence
Although police harassment of gay men and lesbians and their meeting places is
not as common as it was some years ago, it continues to be a problem. In 2009, for example,
there were highly publicized police raids of gay bars in Atlanta, Georgia, and in Ft. Worth,
Texas, where one patron was critically injured.
Gay people also continue to face violence motivated by anti-gay bias. A handful
of horrific incidents have drawn widespread media attention. In 1984, in Bangor, Maine, 23year-old Charlie Howard was targeted by three teens due to his sexual orientation. They attacked
him and, although he protested that he could not swim, threw him off a bridge into the
Kenduskeag Stream, where he drowned. Then, in 1998, Matthew Shepard, a college student in
Laramie, Wyoming, was bound, tied to a fence, beaten with a pistol, and left to die because he
was gay. Ten years later, Lawrence “Larry” Fobes King, a 15-year-old student at E.O. Green
Junior High School in Oxnard, California, was shot and killed in school by a fellow student
because of his sexual orientation. But the problem reaches far beyond these three incidents. The
FBI reported 1,260 hate crime incidents based on perceived sexual orientation in 1998 and 1,265
in 2007. In 2008, the year of Lawrence King’s murder, a national coalition of anti-violence
social service agencies identified twenty-nine murders motivated by the assailants’ hatred of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. The threat of violence continues to lead many gay
people to hide their identities or to avoid such commonplace expressions of affection as holding
hands with their partners in public.
The most vulnerable victims of discrimination are youth. A national study
published in December 2010 found that gay and lesbian teenagers are nearly 40 percent more
likely than heterosexual teenagers to be punished by schools, police, and the courts. According
to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2009 National School Climate Survey
published in 2010, 61.1 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students
surveyed felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; 84.6 percent were verbally
harassed because of their sexual orientation; 40.1 percent were physically harassed in the past
year because of their sexual orientation; and 18.8 percent were physically assaulted because of
their sexual orientation. A recent study sponsored by the New York City Council noted the overrepresentation of LGBT youth among the city’s homeless population. And the recent spate of
suicides among LGBT youth has highlighted the personal consequences of the ostracization and
demonization of gay men and lesbians in American society.
Gay men and lesbians are still prohibited from marrying in the vast majority of
states in this country and the question of marriage rights for same-sex couples remains hotly
contested across-the-board. Some of the arguments made in the debate over the right of gay
couples to marry have echoed those made in earlier debates over the rights of disfavored
minority groups. Fifty years ago, for instance, segregationists often claimed that segregation and
statutes banning interracial marriage reflected God’s plan for humankind. In the 1960s, a Virginia
judge who upheld that state’s law against interracial marriage in the lower-court proceeding in
Loving v. Virginia claimed that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and
red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement
there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did
not intend for the races to mix.”
Opponents of the right of gay people to marry or adopt children also have drawn on
their reading of scripture to justify their positions. As recently as 2002, when the Supreme Court
of Alabama reversed the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals’ decision to grant a lesbian mother
custody of her children, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama used language as strong
as that used by the trial judge in Loving v. Virginia in his concurring opinion: “Homosexuality is
strongly condemned in the common law because it violates both natural and revealed law. The
law of the Old Testament enforced this distinction between the genders by stating that ‘[i]f a man
lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.’
Leviticus 20:13 (King James) . . . The common law designates homosexuality as an inherent evil,
and if a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit
parent.” Ex parte H.H. 830 So.2d 21, 33, 35 (Ala. 2002).
The vigorous opposition to ending discrimination against lesbian and gay couples in
marriage law is the latest example of this pattern. The marriage issue first reached the national
stage in 1993, when Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s ban on marriages between
same-sex couples presumptively violated the state’s equal rights amendment and remanded Baehr,
the lawsuit challenging that ban, to a lower court for review. Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44 (Haw.
1993). By 1996, when a second trial began in the lower court, the prospect of gay couples winning
the right to marry had galvanized considerable opposition. Ultimately, while the litigation was
pending, Hawaii amended its constitution to give the legislature the authority to limit marriage to
different-sex couples, see Haw. Const. art. I, § 23, which it did. The Hawaii Supreme Court then
dismissed the case as moot. Baehr v. Miike, Civ. No. 20371 slip op. at 5-8 (Dec. 9, 1999) (taking
notice of constitutional amendment). In addition, under pressure from organizations proclaiming
support for “traditional family values,” the United States Senate passed the Defense of Marriage Act
(DOMA) on the day the Hawaii trial began. The Act provided a federal definition of marriage as the
union of one man and one woman and declared that no state needed to give “full faith and credit”
to “same-sex marriages” licensed in another state. It also denied federal benefits to such married
couples. Fourteen states passed state-level DOMA statutes that year, and another eleven passed
such statutes the following year. In 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to permit gay
couples to marry, a full thirteen states passed constitutional amendments banning such marriages
even though twelve of those states already had enacted statutory DOMAs.
Indeed, in each state where gay men and lesbians have achieved the right to marry
– either through judicial decision or legislative action – there has been significant and organized
action by those opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples to take that right away.
California provides a good – and especially contentious – example. In February 2004, San
Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom instructed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex
couples. The California Supreme Court ordered the city to stop doing so the following month,
and it later nullified the marriages which had been performed. In 2005, and again in 2007,
California’s legislature approved bills that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples, but both
bills were vetoed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger. In May 2008, the California Supreme
Court decided in In re Marriage Cases, 183 P.3d 384 (Cal. 2008) that the privacy and due process
provisions of state constitution guarantee the basic civil right of marriage to all individuals and
couples, without regard to their sexual orientation. Six months later, on November 4, 2008,
California voters approved Proposition 8, adding to the California Constitution the provision “Only
marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Same-sex couples
immediately sued to prevent the enforcement of Proposition 8, but their efforts were rebuffed by
the California Supreme Court in Strauss v. Horton, 207 P.3d 48 (Cal., June 17, 2009). The court
held that the amendment was lawfully enacted, but that it did not invalidate marriages of same-sex
couples performed in California prior to its effective date. Federal litigation concerning the
constitutionality of Proposition 8 is ongoing.
Opponents of marriage equality who supported Proposition 8 mobilized some of
the most enduring anti-gay stereotypes to heighten public apprehension. Several television
commercials aired by the supporters of Proposition 8, for instance, warned that marriage equality
might encourage children to become homosexuals themselves. The approval of California’s
Proposition 8 along with similar laws and constitutional amendments in forty other states indicates
the enduring influence of anti-gay hostility and the persistence of ideas about the inequality of gay
people and their relationships.
Iowa provides another example. In April 2009, a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court
struck down the exclusion of qualified same-sex couples from civil marriage. In response,
national organizations opposed to marriage for same-sex couples, such as the National
Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association, initiated a campaign for the
removal of three of the judges involved in that decision who were subject to retention elections.
The campaign was successful, and all three judges were ousted from their position on the bench.
Efforts to legislatively repeal marriage for same-sex couples now are underway in Iowa.
Today the civil rights enjoyed by gay and lesbian Americans vary substantially
from region to region and are still subject to the vicissitudes of public opinion. Like other
minority groups, they often must rely on judicial decisions to secure equal rights. The role of the
courts in this dispute is reminiscent of earlier disputes in which courts had to confront public
opposition to minority rights. In 1948, when the California Supreme Court became the first state
supreme court in the nation to overturn a state law banning interracial marriage, it bucked the
tide of white public opposition to such marriages. While the United States Supreme Court
overturned the remaining state bans on interracial marriage in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, it was
not until 2001 that more Americans approved of interracial marriage than disapproved of it.
History has vindicated the judges who had the courage and foresight to uphold the constitutional
rights of disfavored minorities in the face of majoritarian hostility.
Signed under the penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States this
day of Ji/i^f ,2011
Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II
(New York: Free Press, 1992).
Boseman v. Jarrell, 704 S.E.2d 494 (N.C. 2010).
Nan Alamilla Boyd, Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2003).
Robbie Brown, Antipathy Toward Obama Seen as Helping Arkansas Limit Adoption, The New
York Times, Nov. 8, 2008, at A26.
Rob Burnes, Homosexual Law Unchanged, The Billings Gazette, Sept. 3, 1970, at 6.
California Safe Schools Coalition, et al., Safe Place to Learn: Consequences of Harassment
Based on Actual or Perceived Sexual Orientation and Gender Non-Conformity and Steps
for Making Schools Safer (2004).
Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).
David L. Chambers and Nancy D. Polikoff, Family Law and Gay and Lesbian Family Issues in
the Twentieth Century, 33 Family L. Q. 523 (1999).
George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male
World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994).
George Chauncey, Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate over Gay Equality
(New York: Basic Books, 2004).
George Chauncey, Martin Duberman, and Martha Vicinus, eds., Hidden From History:
Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (NAL, 1989).
George Chauncey, “From Sexual Inversion to Homosexuality: Medicine and the Changing
Conceptualization of Female Deviance,” 58-59 Salmagundi 114–46 (Fall 1982–Winter
George Chauncey, “Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the
Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War One Era,” 19 J. of Soc. Hist. 189–
George Chauncey, “The Postwar Sex Crime Panic,” in True Stories from the American Past
(William Graebner ed., McGraw-Hill: 1993), 160–78.
Roger Clawson, Preacher Raises Hell Over Homosexuals, The Billings Gazette, Sept. 2, 1970,
Dudley Clendinin and Adam Nagourney, Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights
Movement in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999).
Councilman Calls for Closing Night Club as Public Nuisance, The Hartford Courant, Nov. 16,
1969, at 42.
John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority,
1940–1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).
Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, A Count of Homeless Youth in New York
City (Empire State Coalition, 2008).
Tanya Erzen, Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics,
and Lipstick Lesbians (New York: Basic Books, 2006).
Estelle B. Freedman, “‘Uncontrolled Desires’: The Response to the Sexual Psychopath, 1920–
1960,” 74 J. of Am. Hist. 83–106 (1987).
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The
Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools,
General Accounting Office, Military Personnel: Financial Costs and Loss of Critical Skills Due
to DOD’s Homosexual Conduct Policy Cannot be Completely Estimated (2005).
Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2002).
The History Project, Improper Bostonians (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).
Jail Terms Urged for Offenders, The Hartford Courant, Sept. 21, 1957, at 3.
Ron Jenkins, Henry Signs Measure On Gay Adoptions, The Associated Press State & Local
Wire, May 4, 2004.
David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the
Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1997).
Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary (New York: Harper & Row,
Ruediger Lautmann, “The Pink Triangle: Homosexuals as ‘Enemies of the State,’” in Michael
Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck, eds., The Holocaust and History (Indiana, 2002).
Eric Marcus, Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights
Martin Meeker, “Behind the Mask of Respectability: Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and
Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s,” 10 J. of the Hist. of Sexuality 78–116
National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, “NARTH Position
Statements,” http://narth.com/menus/positionstatements.html, accessed Feb. 5, 2011.
National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, “The Three Myths About
Homosexuality,” http://narth.com/menus/myths.html, accessed Feb. 5, 2011.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender People in the United States, 2008 (National Coalition, 2009).
Nat’l Gay & Lesbian Task Force, “State Laws Prohibiting Recognition of Same-Sex
Relationships” (2009), available at http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey”, Feb. 2008.
Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (New York: Holt, 1986).
Amy Ronner, Bottoms v. Bottoms: The Lesbian Mother and the Judicial Perpetuation of
Damaging Stereotypes, 7 Yale J. L. & Feminism 341 (1995).
Clifford J. Rosky, Like Father Like Son: Homosexuality, Parenthood and the Gender of
Homophobia, 20 Yale J .L. & Feminism 257 (2009).
Teemu Ruskola, Minor Disregard: The Legal Construction of the Fantasy that Gay and Lesbian
Youth Do Not Exist, 8 Yale J. L. & Feminism 269 (1996).
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, “About ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” (2011).
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, “About the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network”
Julie Shapiro, Custody and Conduct: How the Law Fails Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their
Children, 71 Indiana L. J. 71 623–627 (1996).
Stan Simon, Homosexual Fights Driving Ban, The Hartford Courant, Nov. 6, 1970 at 17.
US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hate Crime Statistics 1998.
US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hate Crime Statistics 2007.
C. Todd White, Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009).
William H. Whitmore, A Bibliographical Sketch of the Laws of the Massachusetts Colony from
1630 to 1686 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1890).
Department of History
P.O. Box 208324
New Haven, CT 06520-8324
Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University
Co-director, Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities
Professor of History, University of Chicago, 1997-2006.
Visiting Professor of History, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, May 2001.
Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago, 1995-97.
Assistant Professor of History, University of Chicago, 1991-95.
Assistant Professor of History, New York University, 1990-91.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, 1989-90.
Ph.D., Yale University, 1989.
M.Phil., Yale University, 1983.
M.A., Yale University, 1981.
B.A., Yale University, magna cum laude, 1977.
Gay New York was awarded the:
Frederick Jackson Turner Award for the best first book on any topic in American history in 1994
Merle Curti Award for the best book in American social history in 1994 or 1995
(both from the Organization of American Historians),
Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History (1994),
Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Studies (1994),
John Boswell Award of the Committee on Lesbian and
Gay History of the American Historical Association (1995).
Named a New York Times Notable Book of 1994.
Village Voice List: one of the Best Books of 1994.
Lingua Franca List: one of the two best academic books of the 1990s.
Subject of a panel discussion, “Charting Chauncey’s Gay Male World: Reflections on the
Tenth Anniversary of Gay New York,” at the 2004 meeting of the OAH.
As a dissertation, Gay New York received the following prizes from Yale University:
George Washington Egleston Prize in American history (1990),
John Addison Porter Prize, Yale’s highest university-wide dissertation award (1990),
Andrew Gaylord Bourne Gold Medal, the Yale History Department’s
triennial award for a “pioneering work of scholarship” (1992).
New York Academy of History, elected to membership in 2007.
Society of American Historians, elected to membership in 2005.
Community Service Award from the Lesbian Community Cancer Project, Chicago, 2004.
George Chauncey, page 2
Freedom Award from Equality Illinois, the state’s largest gay rights group, 2001.
First James Brudner Memorial Award in Lesbian and Gay Studies, Yale University, 2000.
Centennial Historian of the City of New York, 1998.
Sprague-Todes Literary Award, Gerber-Hart Library, 1997.
BOOKS AND EDITED COLLECTIONS
Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
Basic Books, 1994; paperback, 1995.
British edition published by HarperCollins/U.K., 1995.
French translation by Didier Eribon published by Fayard, 2003.
Chapters reprinted in:
The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics, eds. Larry Gross
and James C. Woods (Columbia, 1999)
The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, ed. Jennifer Scanlon (NYU, 2000)
Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality: Documents and Essays, ed. Kathy Peiss
Sexualities in History, eds. Kim M. Phillips and Barry Reay (Routledge, 2002).
American Queer: Now and Then, ed. David Shneer and Caryn Aviv (Paradigm, 2006).
The Strange Career of the Closet: Gay Culture, Consciousness, and Politics from the Second World War to
the Gay Liberation Era
(in progress, to be published by Basic Books).
Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality (Basic Books, 2004; paperback,
Japanese translation published by Akashi Shoten, 2006.
Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past
(Co-editor, with Martin Duberman and Martha Vicinus; a collection of thirty essays published by New
American Library in 1989).
Turkish translation published by Siyasal, 2002.
Thinking Sexuality Transnationally
(= special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 5:4 (1999), co-editor with Elizabeth
Gender Histories and Heresies
(= special issue of Radical History Review, 52 (1992), co-editor with Barbara Melosh).
ARTICLES IN SCHOLARLY JOURNALS AND COLLECTIONS
“The Trouble with Shame,” in Gay Shame, ed. David Halperin and Valerie Traub (University of Chicago
“How History Mattered: Sodomy Law and Marriage Reform in the United States,” Public Culture 20:1
“Homosexuality, Family, and Society: Historical Perspectives from the United States,” in Homosexuality and
the Law: Essays and Materials from an International Workshop on Sexuality, Policy, and Law (Guangxi
Normal University Press, 2007 [in Chinese and English]), 12-18, 115-23.
“Après Stonewall, le déplacement de la frontière entre le ‘soi’ public et le ‘soi’ privé,” Histoire et Sociétés:
revue européenne d’histoire sociale 3 (2002): 45-59.
“Skapets historie,” Kvinneforskning 24 (2000): 56-71 [“The History of the Closet,” in the Norwegian journal
“Introduction: Thinking Sexuality Transnationally,” with Elizabeth A. Povinelli, in Povinelli and Chauncey,
eds., “Thinking Sexuality Transnationally,” special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 5:4
(Autumn 1999): 439-49.
George Chauncey, page 3
“Gay New York,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 125 (December 1998): 9-14.
[This article and the rest of the special issue on Homosexualités are introduced by Éric Fassin, “Politiques
de l’histoire: Gay New York et l’historiographie homosexuelle aux Étas-Unis,” 3-9.]
“Genres, identités sexuelles et conscience homosexuelle dans l’Amérique du xxe siècle,” in Les études gay et
lesbiennes, ed. Didier Eribon (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 1998), 97-108.
“Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: Female Prostitution and Male Homosexuality in Early Twentieth-Century
America,” GRAAT (Groupes de Recherches Anglo-Americaines de Tours) 17 (1997): 39-54.
“The Queer History and Politics of Lesbian and Gay Studies,” Queer Frontiers: Millennial Geographies,
Genders, and Generations, ed. Joseph Boone, et al. (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), 298-315.
“From Sexual Inversion to Homosexuality: Medicine and the Changing Conceptualization of Female
Deviance,” Salmagundi, no. 58-59 (Fall 1982-Winter 1983): 114-46.
Reprinted in two collections:
Homosexualidad: literatura y politica (Madrid, 1982), in Spanish
Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, ed. Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons (Temple University
“Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual
Boundaries in the World War One Era,” Journal of Social History 19:2 (1985): 189-211.
Reprinted in ten collections:
Onder Mannen, Onder Vrouwen (Amsterdam, 1984), in Dutch
Sodomites, Invertis, Homosexuels: Perspectives Historiques (Paris, 1994), in French
Expanding the Past: Essays from the Journal of Social History
(New York University Press, 1988)
Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (NAL, 1989)
Studies in Homosexuality: History of Homosexuality in Europe and America
Gender in American History Since 1890 (Routledge, 1993)
Que(e)rying Religious Studies (Continuum, 1997)
Same Sex: Debating the Ethics, Culture, and Science of Homosexuality
(Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)
American Sexual Histories (Blackwell, 2001)
Sexual Borderlands: Constructing An American Sexual Past (Ohio University Press,
“‘Privacy Could Only Be Had in Public’: Gay Uses of the Streets,” Stud: Architectures of Masculinity, ed. Joel
Sanders (Princeton Architecture Press, 1996), 224-61.
“The Postwar Sex Crime Panic,” True Stories from the American Past, ed. William Graebner (McGraw-Hill,
“Long-Haired Men and Short-Haired Women: Building a Gay World in the Heart of Bohemia,” Greenwich
Village: Culture and Counterculture, ed. Rick Beard and Leslie Berlowitz (Rutgers University Press, 1993),
“The Policed: Gay Men’s Strategies of Everyday Resistance,” Inventing Times Square: Commerce and
Culture at the Crossroads of the World, 1880-1939, ed. William R. Taylor (Russell Sage, 1991), 315-28.
Reprinted in Creating A Place For Ourselves: Lesbian, Gay`, and Bisexual Community Histories, ed.
Brett Beemyn (Routledge, 1997).
“The National Panic Over Sex Crimes and the Construction of Cold War Sexual Ideology, 1947-1953,”
Sociologische Gids [Amsterdam] 32 (1985): 371-93. [In Dutch; title translated.]
“The Locus of Reproduction: Women’s Labour in the Zambian Copperbelt, 1927-1953,” Journal of
Southern African Studies 7 (1981): 135-64.
George Chauncey, page 4
SELECTED SHORT ESSAYS, REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS, AND ENCYCLOPEDIA ENTRIES
“Last Ban Standing,” New York Times, December 21, 2010, A35.
“Gay at Yale: How Things Changed,” Yale Alumni Magazine (July/August 2009), 32-43.
“George Chauncey: de l’autre côté du placard,” interview conducted by Philippe Mangeot for Vacarme, no.
26 (Winter 2004), 4-12.
“D’une march à l’autre,” interview conducted by Sébastien Chauvin for Têtu (June 2004), 86-87.
Review of James McCourt, “Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985,” New York
Times, December 31, 2003.
“Etats Unis” and “New York,” in Dictionnaire Des Cultures Gays Et Lesbiennes, ed. Didier Eribon, Arnaud
Lerch, Frederic Haboury (Larousee, 2003).
Amici Curiae Brief of Professors of History to the Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence v. Texas
(organizer and primary author; co-signed by nine other historians). Sections reprinted as “Educating the
Court: In Changing the Law of the Land, Six Justices Turned to Its History,” Word for Word column, Week
in Review, New York Times, July 20, 2003, and discussed in “What Gay Studies Taught the Court,”
Washington Post, July 13, 2003. Reprinted in full, with my introduction, in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and
Gay Studies 10.3 (2004): 509-38.
“Introduction,” Homosexuality in the City: A Century of Research at the University of Chicago (University
of Chicago Library, 2000).
“Who is Welcome at Ellis Island? AIDS Activism and the Expanding National Community,” Honoring
With Pride: An Evening Benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research on Ellis Island, program
book, June 21, 2000.
“The Ridicule of Lesbian and Gay Studies Threatens All Academic Inquiry,” back page “Point of View”
column, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 3, 1998.
Review of Charles Kaiser, “The Gay Metropolis, 1940-1996,” New York Times , December 30, 1997.
Review of Daniel Harris, “The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture,” New York Times Book Review, September 7,
“The Joy of No Sex,” part of a Talk-of-the-Town roundtable on the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide,
The New Yorker, April 14, 1997, 31-32.
“The Present as History,” Out Magazine, February 1997, 69.
“Tea and Sympathy,” Past Imperfect: History According to Hollywood, ed. Mark Carnes (Henry Holt, 1995),
“Gay male community,” in The Encyclopedia of New York City, ed. Kenneth Jackson (Yale, 1995).
“A Gay World, Vibrant and Forgotten,” New York Times Op-Ed Page, Sunday, June 26, 1994.
“Queer Old New York: A Historic Walking Tour,” Village Voice, June 21, 1994, 25-27.
“Homosexuality,” The Encyclopedia of Social History, ed. Peter N. Stearns (Garland, 1993), 323-25.
“Time on Two Crosses: An Interview with Bayard Rustin” (with Lisa Kennedy), Village Voice, June 30, 1987,
“Gay Male Society in the Jazz Age,” Village Voice, July 1, 1986, 29-34.
New York Public Library Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Residential
Princeton University Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies Fellowship, 2004-5 [declined].
Institute for Advanced Study School of Social Science Membership, 2004-5 [declined].
George Chauncey, page 5
Social Science Research Council Sexuality Research Fellowship, two Faculty Advisor Awards, 2002-3.
Social Science Research Council Sexuality Research Fellowship, Faculty Advisor Award, 1999-2000.
Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Indiana University, September 1998.
Social Science Research Council Sexuality Research Fellowship, two Faculty Advisor Awards, 1997-98.
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1996-97.
National Humanities Center Rockefeller Fellowship and Residency, 1996-97.
American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship for Recent Recipients of the Ph.D., 1992-93.
Cornell University Society for the Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1991-92
[declined in order to accept new position at Chicago].
Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1989-90.
New York University School of Law Samuel Golieb Fellowship in Legal History, 1987-88.
Mrs. G. Whiting Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities, 1986-87.
Woodrow Wilson Foundation Research Grant in Women's Studies, 1984.
Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy History Fellowship, 1983-84.
Yale College Prize Teaching Fellowship, 1982-83.
Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellowship, 1979-82.
John Courtney Murray Travelling Fellowship, 1977-78 [supported research in Zambia].
PRIMARY INVESTIGATOR, INSTITUTIONAL GRANTS
Ford Foundation, grant in support of “The Future of the Queer Past: A Transnational History Conference,”
University of Chicago, 2000.
Rockefeller Foundation, grant in support of “The Future of the Queer Past: A Transnational History
Conference,” University of Chicago, 2000.
Illinois Humanities Council, grant in support of “The Future of the Queer Past: A Transnational History
Conference,” University of Chicago, 2000.
Mellon Foundation, grant in support of the Sawyer Seminar on Sexual Identities and Identity Politics in
Transnational Perspective, University of Chicago, 1997-98.
NAMED LECTURES, PLENARY LECTURES, AND SELECTED FOREIGN LECTURES
“Homosexuality and the Postwar City,” Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, University of
Manchester, England, March 2009.
“Homosexuality and the Postwar City,” keynote lecture, Australia-New Zealand American Studies
Association, Sydney, July 2008.
“From Sodomy Laws to Marriage Amendments: A History of Sexual Identity/Politics,” Provost’s Lecture,
University of Maryland, College Park, February 2008.
“Revisiting the Postwar Politics of Sexuality,” keynote lecture (with Joanne Meyerowitz), New England
American Studies Association, Brown University, November 2007.
“From Sodomy Laws to Marriage Amendments: A History of Sexual Identity/Politics,” Presidential Lecture,
Columbia University, April 2007.
“Why ‘Come Out of the Closet’? Secrecy, Authenticity, and the Shifting Boundaries of the Public and Private
Self in the 1950s and 60s,” Vern and Bonnie Bullough Lecture in the History of Sexuality and Gender,
University of Utah, April 2007.
“The Future of Sexuality Studies,” at the plenary session of the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program’s
Capstone Conference (commemorating the conclusion of a ten-year-long fellowship program funded by the
Ford Foundation and administered by the Social Science Research Council), Tamayo Resort, New Mexico,
“Homosexuality, State, and Society: Historical Perspectives from the United States,” at the symposium
“Diversity, Equality and Harmony: International Workshop on Sexuality, Policy and Law,” School of Social
Development and Public Policy, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, January 2006.
George Chauncey, page 6
“How History Mattered: Sodomy Law and Marriage Reform in the United States,” at the conference
“Partisan Histories: Conflicted Pasts and Public Life,” The Australian National University, Canberra,
“From Sodomy Laws to Marriage Amendments: Sexual Identity/Politics Since 1900,” Kaplan Lecture,
University of Pennsylvania, March 2004.
“Reflections on Gay New York and Beyond,” at the symposium “Histoire sexuelle et histoire sociale, à
l’occasion de la traduction française de Gay New York 1890-1940 de George Chauncey,” École normale
supérieure, Paris, December 2003.
“Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Human Rights,” dual keynote address given with Mrs. Coretta Scott King at the
beginning of Outgiving, a conference on gay philanthropy organized by the Gill Foundation, Atlanta,
“Drag Balls as Society Balls: Phil Black’s Funmakers’ Ball and the Changing Rituals of Belonging in African
American Society, 1940-1973,” Mark Ouderkirk Memorial Lecture, Museum of the City of New York,
“A Different West Side Story: Latino Gay Culture and Antigay Politics in Postwar New York City,” Nicholas
Papadopoulos Endowed Lecture in Lesbian and Gay Studies, University of California, San Diego, February
“Why ‘Come Out of the Closet’? Secrecy, Authenticity, and the Shifting Boundaries of the Public and Private
Self in the 1950s and 60s,” The Rahv, Hughes, Manuel and Marcuse Memorial Lecture, Brandeis University,
“Sexual Identity in the Twentieth Century,” Women’s Breakfast, American Historical Association, January
“Sexuality, Intimacy, and History,” Commencement Address, University of Chicago, June 2002.
“Why ‘Come Out of the Closet’? Authenticity, Post/Modernity, and the Shifting Boundaries of the Public
and Private Self in the 1950s and 60s,” at “Histoire de la sexualité: échanges transatlantiques,” at the École
normale supérieure, Paris, May 2001.
“The History of the Closet,” Inaugural George Mosse Memorial Lecture, University of Wisconsin, April
“The History of the Closet,” at the Sexuality 2000 Symposium, Oslo, Norway, August 2000.
“Why ‘Come Out of the Closet’? Authenticity, Post/Modernity, and the Shifting Boundaries of the Public
and Private Self in the 1950s and 60s,” Inaugural Brudner Prize Lecture, Yale University, February 2000.
“Rethinking the History of Homosexuality and the Category of the Homosexual” and “A Research Program
for Lesbian and Gay Studies,” at the First Swedish Conference on Research on Homosexuality and
Lesbianism, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, November 1995.
“The National Panic over Sex Crimes in Cold War America,” Inaugural Mark Ouderkirk Memorial Lecture,
Museum of the City of New York, June 1995.
“Gay Studies on Trial: Queer History/Politics/Studies,” at the Fifth National Graduate Student Conference
on Lesbian and Gay Studies, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, March 1995.
“The Kinsey Scale and the Consolidation of the Hetero-Homosexual Binarism in the Twentieth Century,” at
the Second International Conference on the History of Marriage and the Family, Carleton University,
Ottawa, Canada, 1994.
“European Sexual Cultures in the Immigrant Neighborhoods of New York City, 1890-1940,” at the
International Conference on European Sexual Cultures, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June
“Publish and Perish? Lesbian/Gay Studies, Publishing, and the Academy,” at the plenary session on “New
Directions in Scholarship,” Association of American University Presses, Chicago, June 1992.
George Chauncey, page 7
OTHER INVITED LECTURES SINCE 1989
Chicago History Museum, April 14, 2011.
Columbia University, February 19, 2011.
Rutgers University, May 7, 2010.
University of Antwerp, Belgium, March 20, 2010
University of Amsterdam, March 15, 2010
Middlebury College, October 17, 2008.
The Rothmere American Institute, Oxford University, April 30, 2008.
University of Texas, Austin, April 11, 2008.
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, May 3, 2006.
Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 20, 2006.
Kansas State University, March 10, 2006.
University of Miami, February 27, 2006.
DePaul University, Chicago, February 20, 2006.
Harvard University, February 3, 2006.
University of Massachusetts, Boston, February 3, 2006.
Boston University, February 2, 2006.
Yale University, January 17, 2006.
University of Melbourne, Australia, September 21, 2005.
University of Sydney, Australia, September 7, 2005.
New York University, April 19, 2005.
Chicago Historical Society, May 27, 2004.
University of North Texas, April 17, 2004.
University of Maryland, February 23, 2004.
University of California, Berkeley, September 25, 2003.
University of California, Los Angeles, February 20, 2003.
University of Minnesota, February 15, 2002.
Texas A&M University, April 25, 2001.
William and Mary College, April 18, 2001.
Northwestern University, April 5, 2001.
Harvard University, November 16, 2000.
Trinity College, November 15, 2000.
University of Michigan, April 15, 2000.
University of Connecticut, Storrs, February 17, 2000.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, February 13, 2000.
Chicago Humanities Festival, November 8, 1998.
Indiana University, September 17, 1998.
University of Minnesota, May 22, 1998.
Institute for the Humanities, University of Illinois, Chicago, February 13, 1998.
Pompidou Center, Paris, June 27, 1997.
Colby College, April 10, 1997.
Cornell University, April 8, 1997.
University of California, Los Angeles, February 5, 1997.
University of California, Irvine, February 3-4, 1997.
Northwestern University, December 6, 1996.
Yale University, American Studies and History Departments, November 7, 1996.
Yale School of Architecture Urbanism Series, November 7, 1996.
University of Copenhagen, Denmark, November 3, 1995.
National Danish Lesbian and Gay Organization, Copenhagen, November 3, 1995.
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, MillerComm Lectures, October 23, 24, 1995.
University of Notre Dame, September 9, 10, 1995.
Princeton University, March 9, 1995.
Chicago Teacher’s Institute, December 7, 1994.
New York Academy of Medicine, New York City, November 10, 1994.
University of Chicago New York City Club, Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, October 13, 1994.
George Chauncey, page 8
Northwestern University, May 17, 1994.
New York Public Library, Celeste Bartos Forum, May 3, 1994.
[This lecture was later broadcast on public television.]
New York University, April 29, 1994.
Rutgers University, December 6, 1993.
Newberry Library Social History Seminar, June 8, 1993.
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Center for Twentieth Century Studies, March 25, 1993.
Urban History Seminar of the Chicago Historical Society, January 12, 1993.
University of Illinois at Chicago, November 11, 1992.
New York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, Gregory Kolovakas Memorial Lecture Series,
November 19, 1992.
University of Oregon, April 24, 1992.
Cornell University, February 24, 1992.
University of Chicago Centennial Symposium, Canons in the Age of Mass Culture, February 10, 1992.
Northwestern University, May 30, 1991.
Johns Hopkins University, March 28, 1991.
Sarah Lawrence College, November 27, 1990.
Carleton College, April 5, 1990.
Museum of the City of New York, November 5, 1989.
Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, October 3, 1989.
Rutgers University, Camden, April 6, 1989.