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Religious Tolerance logo

Using dialogue to resolve people's conflicting LGBT beliefs

Changes in the American culture. Timeline of
events. Why is it such a prominent topic now?

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The term "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

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Change in society's beliefs:

It may be helpful to look at the recent history of homosexuality in North America.

Before the early 1950s, there was a near consensus in North America that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals were mentally disordered individuals engaging in obscene, perverted sexual behavior. Same-gender sexual behavior was considered a criminal act in all states. According to an article about Dr. Evelyn Hooker, an early researcher into homosexuality:

"The legal penalties for homosexual behavior were severe. The psychiatric diagnosis was severe and pervasive emotional disorder. There were simply no [available] scientific data about non-imprisoned, non-patient homosexuals." 1

Bisexuals were often considered to be homosexuals who were too timid to recognize the truth about themselves. Almost all gays, lesbians, and bisexuals remained deeply in "the closet." Very few heterosexuals were unaware of having met one. The webmaster of this web site and author of this essay, a heterosexual, was in his mid 40's before he first knowingly met a gay person. It happened at a distress/crisis center training course. One of the lecturers was from the Homophile Society at the local university. It was surprising to many of the students of the class that he looked and acted rather normal.

Many people's basic attitudes on sexual and other behavioral matters are established early in life and are quite resistant to change. Thus, cultural change within a culture happens slowly. This has been the rule in the past over topics like human slavery, inoculation of children against diseases, allowing women to vote, dismantling racial segregation, permitting contraception, allowing women access to abortion, granting equal rights for women, allowing inter-racial couples to marry, etc. It is true today concerning the death penalty, spanking children, physician assisted suicide, and equal rights for transsexuals and intersexuals.

During the five decades from the early 1950s until now, many people have retained their beliefs about homosexuality and transsexuality unchanged. But others have gradually modified their opinions. It took a full generation from the time that Dr. Evelyn Hooker first started to study homosexuality until the mental health professionals at the American Psychiatric Association decided that homosexuality should no longer be considered a mental illness. It took another generation before a significant percentage of adults, and a larger percentage of youth, started to accept homosexuality as a normal and natural minority sexual orientation.

By 2003, when the first draft of this essay was written, there are diverse beliefs about LGBT topics in North America:

bullet Very substantial numbers of adults considered it to be an abnormal, unnatural, immoral, and degenerate addiction.

bullet A smaller number believe that homosexual acts between consenting adults should be criminalized.

bullet A strong majority of adults believed that gays, lesbians and bisexuals should be given equal protection against hate crimes and discrimination in accommodation and employment.

bullet Fewer adults believed that same-sex relationships should be registered by the government and that the couples should be granted some of the benefits which are routinely given to opposite-sex married couples. This is the civil union option seen in some states in the U.S.

bullet A majority of Canadian adults and a sizeable minority of Americans favored same-sex marriage (SSM), as had already been implemented in Holland, Belgium, and Canada.

As of 2011-SEP, the strong minority of American adults in favor of SSM has grown to be a majority of about 54%, with those opposed totaling about 46%.

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Significant events affecting homosexuals and bisexuals:

Many firsts were recorded in the 1950s and 1960s:

bullet 1953: Dr Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist at UCLA successfully applied to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for a grant to study, for the first time in North America, homosexuals in the real world. Previous research projects were hopelessly biased because they had studied homosexual inmates in penitentiaries and patients in psychiatric clinics, hospitals, and psychiatrists' offices.

bullet 1962: The first American state in the U.S. repealed its "anti-sodomy" laws: Michigan.

bullet 1963: The first significant gay rights demonstration occurred in New York City. Gays were protesting discrimination in the military.

bullet 1965: The first continuing gay rights demonstrations occurred in Washington DC over employment of gays and lesbians in the federal civil service.

bullet 1966: The first gay student organization was formed in New York City.

bullet 1969: Gays, lesbians, transsexuals and some onlookers resisted when police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This was the first of the "Stonewall Riots," and is regarded as the incident that gave birth to the Gay Liberation movement.

Since then, GLBT individuals and groups have actively pursued what is commonly referred to as the "gay agenda." It has two objectives:

bullet To achieve legal rights equal to those enjoyed by heterosexuals, including the right to marry and

bullet To gain public acceptance of persons of minority sexual orientations and gender identities.

LGBT-positive organizations have been active in many areas: human sexuality courses in schools, the right to visit their partner in hospital, an end to discrimination in employment, the right to inherit their partner's assets at death, protection against gay bashing and other hate-motivated crimes, the elimination of laws criminalizing same-sex behavior in private, the freedom to serve openly in the U.S. military, the right to collect alimony, the right to marry, etc.

Many mainline religious denominations have been discussing what has been referred to as "the issue" for many years. Church gatherings have debated whether to bless same-sex unions with a church ritual, and/or whether to consider candidates for ordination who are involved in a sexually-active same-sex relationship. The debate is now so bitter that it threatens to cause schisms in many denominations, much as debates over human slavery did in the 19th century and conflict over female ordination did in the 20th century and continue to do in the 21st.

Thousands of Gay-Straight Alliances have been organized the U.S. These are student-organized and student-run special interest clubs, generally in high schools, in which students representing all three sexual orientations cooperate for mutual support and to reduce the harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in school.

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Why have gay rights become so prominent now?

Equal rights for lesbians, gays and bisexuals has been a topic that has been simmering for many years. Gay-positive groups have gradually attempted to achieve equality: company by company, municipality by municipality, and state by state. The battle accelerated during the summer of 2003 with the unusual coincidence of four important events:

bullet On 2003-JUN-10, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Canada found that the anti-discrimination laws in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution -- conflicted with the Province of Ontario's marriage act. The court ordered the government of Ontario to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to register their marriages.

bullet On 2003-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the right of privacy that a majority of Justices believe is implied in the U.S. Constitution conflicted with an anti-sodomy law in Texas. The court ruling went beyond declaring the law under question to be unconstitutional; it overturned all 13 state anti-sodomy laws. Of potentially greater importance to this action is the ruling by the court that states had limited ability to criminalize private acts which the most people consider to be immoral. This may eventually have a significant impact on same-sex marriage in the U.S.

bullet On 2003-JUL-8, the British Columbia Court of Appeal issued a ruling similar to the Ontario court decision.

bullet A very divided Episcopal Church, USA confirmed the election of Rev. V. Gene Robinson, their first openly gay bishop. Gay bishops had been consecrated previously. However they have all been deeply "in the closet." The denomination also allowed their priests to conduct same-sex union rituals in church. Some believe that a schism in the Episcopal Church or even in the Anglican Communion is likely.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act forbids the Federal Government from extending benefits and protections to same-sex couples who have been legally married. Early in 2011, it was declared unconstitutional in two Federal courts. The Obama administration decided that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the DOMA law to challenges in court. This was regarded by some commentators as a watershed moment; some predicted that it would create a tipping point leading to an acceleration of equal rights for LGBTs in their future. This tipping point seems to have materialized.

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  1. "Evelyn Hooker, Ph.D.," University of California, Davis, at:

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Copyright © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-SEP-4
Latest update: 2011-SEP-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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