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History of Homosexuality Oppression in America

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Lost Files: The Misconceptions of the History and Identity of Homosexuals in America

Tamia N. Jackson

Barry University

Author Note

Tamia Jackson, Department of Criminology, Barry University.

Correspondence concerning this essay should be addressed to Tamia Jackson, Department of Criminology , Barry University, Miami, Florida 33161.

Contact: tamia.jackson@mymail.barry.edu


Abstract

This paper explores the context of how the views and perceptions of homosexuality in America has changed overtime. This paper analyzes the macro-level, of public opinion, the change in views and how America has increasingly grown to tolerate the LGBTQ community.

 The Misconceptions of the History and Identity of Homosexuals in America

America is the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave” to some, but to many it is a land that constantly changes its views on various issues. For generations America was not a nation willing to accept all people despite of their race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation because of the constant divide between individual and cultural values. However, with time America has grown to be more accepting of the LGBT community. The source of this increase in acceptance is still being researched and discussed. To my experience, the LGBTQ community appears to be more open about their sexuality, which allows people are to gain more knowledge about LGBTQ issues, have personal connections with people of that community, and adjust to this new way of life in the United States. Unfortunately, they fail to have the historical knowledge needed to understand LGBTQ individuals.

Same sex marriages are now legal under the Constitution across the United States, but it is still a topic that has become a prominent and divisive policy issue (Herek, 2006, p. 607).  Society is divided between the supporters and the opposers, in which each group believes that their arguments and actions are justified.  Many of the beliefs held by both parties are a constant debate of human rights and justice versus religious tradition. As states began to establish various laws legalizing same-sex marriages, opposing groups took measures to reverse these decisions, such as DOMA and religious conservatives (Herek, 2006, p. 608). DOMA is the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed in 1996 in Hawaii, which “defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and abolishes the recognition of same-sex marriages in other states” (Herek, 2006, p. 608). These measures has caused the national debate about marriage equality to become broader and primarily based upon public opinions.

According to Brewer there  are “two striking features that characterize the state of public opinion: increasing levels of support and the wide variation across nations in public opinion about gay rights and gay marriage, as well as related attitudes about gay men, lesbians, and homosexuality” (Brewer, 2014, p. 279). As society changes and develops the acceptance of homosexuality increases across the nation. However, researchers still believe that the public opinion is split between legal recognition, public policy, and personal values (Brewer, 2014). According to Brinson (2016), sociologists believe that the modernization of education and personal contact with people of the LGBTQ community have contributed to the tolerance of same-sex marriages in the U.S. Historical periods are also responsible for the growing acceptance of homosexuality because individuals view the issue differently depending on the views of homosexuality that were dominant when they were coming of age. For example, Americans that were born after or during the late 1960s and early 1970s would be more likely to oppose same-sex marriages than the Americans that were born during the 1990s. The concept behind this is social imagination (Brinson, 2016). Brinson argues that social imagination is similar to collective memory since both must be theorized at the individual micro level and the cultural phenomenon theorized at the macro level.  

At the macro level, “social imagination of homosexuality is a collection of processes that create prototypical understandings of same-sex relationships in society” (Brinson, 2016, p. 3). Between the 1960s and 1990s the dominant social imagination changed “from mental illness to deviant behavior and from deviant behavior to collective identity” (Brinson, 2016, p.3).  Both of these drastic changes should be considered turning points and not disconnections because change at a macro level happens when change in public opinion happens cumulatively. These turning points within society were a result of the various changes within the LGBTQ movement. According to Brinson, Americans that grew up between 1969 and 1974 would oppose homosexuality because they were influenced to believe that it was a mental illness due to its institutionalization in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases and the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the practices of institutionalizing and treating lesbians and gays as mentally ill (Brinson,2016).

The Stonewall Riots drastically changed the way that homosexuality would be viewed in the United States. The inability of the U.S. to accept homosexuality caused the LGBT community to develop their own social places to gather and value one another such as clubs and bars. However, New York government officials did not believe that the gathering of homosexuals was orderly; therefore, they shut down majority of the homosexual establishments (Nappo, 2010). The event was a “three-day street riot, which many Americans associate with the modern day liberation of gay rights”(Nappo, 2010, p.3). In today’s modern society “gay activists have used the Stonewall Riots as a tool for inspiration for the creation of a gay identity through understanding the past” (Nappo, 2010, p. 9). According to Nappo, the visible declaration of gay liberation in the streets evolved into meetings to determine how to maintain the momentum created by Stonewall and solidify a sense of identity within the gay community.  Through the Stonewall Riots homosexuals gained more recognition and began to acknowledge and accept themselves publicly through marches and various pride parades, but historians still risked public condemnation. This resulted in a lack of resources that would be readily available for today’s modern gays to understand the history of their sexuality, which led to more activism for LGBTQ. The lack of available LGBTQ history has to actively research and create records about the LGBTQ past. The topic is not often thoroughly discussed in a majority of academic settings,except in spaces that are accepting of LGBTQ, created as an LGBTQ resource, or in colleges or universities that have a culture that embraces diversity and an inclusive community .

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