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Friday, October 6, 2023

October 6, 2023: LGBT Histories: 1970s Advances

[As we begin another LGBT History Month, a series highlighting some important moments across American history in the fight for gay rights and equality. Leading up to a weekend post on the current state of that ongoing battle!]

On three 1973 moments that helped advance the movement in distinct but interconnected ways.

1)      Lambda Legal’s lawsuit: In 1971, New York City lawyer William Thom attempted to incorporate a nonprofit known as Lambda Legal, an organization that would be dedicated to addressing the legal, political, and social needs of LGBTQ Americans and their allies. His application was denied on the grounds that the organization’s goals were “neither benevolent nor charitable,” but fortunately Thom and his allies did not back down. They appealed the decision, and in 1973 the New York Court of Appeals ruled in Lambda’s favor and the organization was officially incorporated as a nonprofit, beginning operations in October. Over the next four decades Lambda has provided vital legal and social services to LGBTQ Americans around the country, and has played a significant role in such landmark legal decisions as 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court ruling (which invalidated all remaining anti-sodomy laws in the US). All of which stems from this crucial 1973 decision.

2)      PFLAG’s origins: On March 26th, 1973, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) held its first official meeting, at Greenwich Village’s Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church. PFLAG’s founder, Jeanne Manford, had over the prior year become the most prominent such parent, as the beating of her gay activist son Morty had prompted her to join him in his efforts and participate in the city’s 1972 Gay Pride march (holding a sign that famously read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support for Our Children”). From those personal and familial origin points sprang an organization that was initially similarly intimate—that March meeting had about 20 attendees, and for the next few years other such small groups began to emerge around the country—but that by 1982 had become substantive enough to be incorporated in California as a non-profit. PFLAG represented a significant advance in a number of ways, but I would especially emphasize the importance of an organization dedicated not to LGBTQ Americans themselves, but rather to their loved ones and social networks. This was another key step in recognizing the full social presence and participation of this American community.

3)      APA Small Steps: As this week’s posts have consistently highlighted, however, civil rights advances can’t and shouldn’t be separated from concurrent questions of discrimination, prejudice, and oppression. I wrote on Wednesday about the American Psychiatric Association’s discriminatory 1953 definition of homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance,” a prominent, frustratingly “scientific” example of such anti-gay prejudice. Two decades later, the APA finally removed that classification in 1973; in 1975 the American Psychological Association agreed, publicly announcing that “homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, reliability or general social and vocational capabilities, and mental health professionals should take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness long associated with homosexual orientation.” These were small steps along the path toward inclusion, but they were steps nonetheless, and ones that complement the advances illustrated and gained by groups like Lambda and PFLAG.

Special post this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Other histories or stories you’d highlight?

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