What was it like to be LGBTQ+ during the Harlem Renaissance?  What about during the Reagan administration?  Before we had words such as transgender, what were ways people referred to themselves?  Who are the people that helped establish LGBTQ+ rights and put LGBTQ+ issues on the public stage?


In 1981, previously healthy gay men started getting sick and dying. The disease was given the name AIDS in late 1982.  Reagan, well known as a homophobe, responded by ignoring the crisis, defunding public health services, and surrounding himself with people who referred to AIDS as god’s punishment for homosexuality.  Therefore, LGBTQ+ people formed their own life-saving responses, including ACT UP.


The Stonewall Inn was a popular gay bar in New York City.  Police repeatedly raided gay bars and arrested patrons on anti-homosexuality laws in the 1960’s. On June 27th, 1969 patrons fought back against a police raid- and sparked the modern-day Gay Rights movements. 

Magnus Hirshfield

A german physician and sexologist who did extensive research and advocacy in support of sexual minorities – specifically transgender and homosexual individuals.  His research and books were burned by the Nazis in 1935, destroying dozens of thousands of research papers, books, and photographs about transgender healthcare. 

LGBTQ+ civil rights movements

Many countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality, limit jobs or housing opportunities for LGBTQ+ people, bar marriage- or legalize hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people.  The US did not legalize gay marriage until 2015.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

This was the official US military policy regarding gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals during the Clinton administration.  It banned discrimination against closeted service members- but barred openly LGB people from serving in the military.  It barred any LGB person from disclosing their sexual orientation or talking about same-sex acts- and banned superiors from asking individuals about their sexuality.  This policy was seen as progressive, as before DADT, the military banned any homosexual activity or identity.  

Harlem Renaissance

The 1920s in Harlem was a time of expansive art, music, and performance.  Modern vogue, dance, and drag movements have roots in the Harlem Renaissance.  This was a time of more open LGBT identities and relationships, and showcased some popular LGBT performers and artists such as Gladys Bently, Ma Rainey,, and Langston Hughes. 

History of LGBTQ+ related laws

Explore anti-homosexual laws in each state or in different countries, the 14th amendment ratified in 1868, the trial of Oscar Wilde, the US Congress report named “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government”, the 1952 Immigration Act that forbids “homosexuals and sex perverts” to immigrate to the US, Executive order 10450 in 1953, One v. Olesen 1958 Supreme Court Decision, Illinois becomes to the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts between two consenting adults in private in 1962, the 1978 Briggs Initiative, Bowers v. Hardwick 1986 Supreme Court Decision, Lawrence v. Texas 2003 Supreme Court Decision, California’s 2008 Proposition 8, DOMA in 2013, and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. 

The Lavender Scare

Parallel to the Red Scare, homosexual people were dismissed in mass from government positions, seen as national security threats, and were assumed communist sympathizers.  This normalized the prosecution of homosexuals and led to general moral panic. 

Sylvia Rivera

A transgender woman of color who was a leader in NYC activism, including the Gay Liberation Front, Stonewall, and anti-homeless work. 

Marsha P Johnson

A transgender women of color who was a leader in NYC activism.  She founded the Gay Liberation Front, and STAR.  She was a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprisings. 

Charlie Howard

A 23-year-old man who was murdered in Bangor for being gay in 1984.

Mathew Shepard

A 21-year-old man who was murdered for being gay in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Shepard’s murder prompted the passing of national anti-hate crime bills.