Millennial Movements: Gender Non-Conforming

By Trenisha Wiggins

12Genderless1-jumbo-v2“Gender has become one of the most important analytic categories of the academic enterprise of describing the world and the political business of prescribing solutions (Oyewumi, 2002).” Even on a global scale we see the significance and importance of equal representation for all genders. In 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in January of 2014 prohibiting homosexuality and imposing up to a 14-year prison sentence for violators. In that same year, India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a third gender (Pandey, 2014). In the United States Supreme Court declared same sex marriage legal in all 50 states in June of 2015. Even the 2016 United States Presidential Elect Donald Trump made a pledge to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals in his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination (Johnson, 2016). It is apparent that society is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community. In fact, a 2013 survey revealed that 92% of Americas LGBTQ community feel society is becoming more accepting of them in the past decade, and the same number believes that the trend will continue in the decades to come (Taylor, Parker, Kiley, & Lopez, 2013).

“Gender relations become fundamental regulating relations in all social formations that we know of. They are absolutely central for questions of the division of labor, domination, exploitation, ideology, politics, law, religion, morals, sexuality, bodies and senses, and language… In short, no area can be studied in a meaningful way without researching how gender relations both shape it and are shaped by it (“Towards a Theory of Gender Relations, 2011”).”

Presently, sex and gender has been used interchangeably; however, sex is biologically constructed, gender is not. Gender is a concept constructed by society and its perception of how men and women should behave. “It is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s sex (gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither (gender identity) as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors (gender expression) related to that perception, including their gender role (Understanding Gender).”

Gender roles refer to tasks and behaviors that are exclusively limited to either sex according to society’s construct. “Gender roles are the product of the interactions between individuals and their environments… (Blackstone, 2003)” Before we begin elaborating on the history of gender roles, we must first examine the theory of gender and subsequently acknowledge the role of each sex, man and woman, in history.

Strong-e1423015486339Gender identity is the sense of “being” male or female and is not directly connected to the human anatomy. The different ways that a person chooses to express their masculinity or femininity is gender expression, such as the way we wear our clothes and hair to even our speech and movement. Everyone has a gender identity but for some it does not match the assigned sex. Because gender is not directly linked to the human biology, it can be learned through different mediums and experiences. “Upbringing, culture, peers, schools, community, media, and religion are some of the many influences that shape our understanding of this…(Understanding Gender).” Gender expectations are learned from birth. However, most parents are unaware of the effectiveness of gender interactions during childhood. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the age of two children become conscious of the physical differences between boys and girls and by age four they have a stable sense of their gender identity.  According to the Pew Research Center, 12 is the median age at which LGBT adults first felt they might be something other than heterosexual, and for those who know their sexual identification that realization came at the age of 17 (Taylor, Parker, Kiley, & Lopez, 2013).

Because gender is a social construct, it changes over time. Societal views on gender identity and gender expression have greatly throughout history. In the earliest civilizations we observe men as the hunters and women as the gatherers. Each was beneficial to the overall survival of the group; children were raised by both parents. With the rise of agriculture, manufacturing, and industrialization, class systems emerged causing socio-economic inequality in civilizations. As demand grew, work became heavier and harder. Men were more physically fit to endure such exhausting labor and pregnant women could not work at all, thus their economic value to society disintegrated. “As family plots of land gave way to market economies and Kings ceded power to democracies, the notion of marriage transformed (Ghost, 2013).” Marriage became the primary unit of organization. “Wifehood and motherhood were regarded as women’s most significant professions.” The argument stood that women were too gentle in nature and submissive for the “man’s world” and were more suitable for child rearing and kitchen work rather than being involved with politics and etc. like their male counterparts.

Under the common law of England, an unmarried woman could own property, make a contract, or sue and be sued. However, a married woman, defined as being one with her husband, gave up her name, and virtually all her property came under her husband’s control. In the United States, women were virtually owned by their husband. Women were not allowed to vote, hold property, nor serve in the military (“Women’s History in America.”).

The “ideal nuclear family” was the basic social unit; a stay at home mom, a hard working dad, and their children. “The roots of gay sexuality and its subsequent repression can be found in the ever-changing role of the family (Wolf, 2004).” Any behavior that was non-procreative where deemed as “detestable” and “abominable” as the Roman Catholic Church would say. Statutes were put in place to punish homosexual behavior, called sodomy laws. Sodomy could be defined as either sexual orientation between two people of the same gender or any unnatural acts anal or oral intercourse even between husband and wife. British King Henry VIII arranged for Parliament to enact a statute banning homosexual behavior as punishable by death (Freeman, 2004).

Protesters holding signs at gay rights march

Prior to the 19th century, there were few efforts to truly understand homosexuality and the range of human sexual behavior. Most of these efforts came from European doctors and scientists. Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud and German Sexologist Magnus Hirschfield were pioneers in recognizing homo and bisexuality as a natural “occurrence” (Morris). Hirschfield, considered the Einstein of sex, suggested that humans are born bisexual. In his first publication on homosexuality, a pamphlet by the name of Sappho and Socrates, Hirschfield insisted that in the brain there are “rudimentary neural centers” for attraction to males and females. He observed in most males the development of an attraction to females with a regression in attraction to men, and vice versa in females. In fetuses that were to become homosexual the opposite development occurred. Hirschfield was also one of the first to challenge the idea of gender as a binary concept. He insisted that there was no “single male-female continuum along which any individual could be assigned.”

In 1897, he and three associates founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, in Berlin, the world’s first gay rights organization. Hirschfield and his constituencies petitioned the German government to lift their sodomy laws (LeVay, 1996). In 1919, Hirschfield founded Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Science, which was an archive of materials on homosexual history, but with the rise of Hitler’s, the Nazi anti-gay regime hindered Hirschfield and his studies. They called his studies “perversions” constantly attacking him and his lover and assistant, Karl Geise. While lecturing in the United States, Hirschfield’s library was destroyed and the books were burned by Nazis in 1933. Nazis also seized the institutes list of client names in which the Gestapo used to compile “pink lists” which led to the arrest of homosexuals and deportation ton concentration camps. Nazis even denounced Hirschfield as one of the leading “Jewish criminals” and he could not return home. Hirschfield moved his studies to the south of France where he eventually died of a stroke. He is still regarded as the Einstein of sex and is one of few pioneers in the struggle for sexual rights as well as queer emancipation (Tatchell, 2015).

In the United State, much like Europe, homosexuals and women experienced experience similar hardships in their plight for equal rights. The Seneca Falls Convention was the first ever convention on women’s rights organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretta Mott in July of 1848. The delegates at the convention adopted the “Declaration of Sentiments” in which 100 people (68 women, 32 men) signed. The effort began as a means of liberating the woman’s role in marriage, but by the end of the 19th century became a movement for women’s suffrage and equal representation. Women had been serving in the military enlisted under false names and disguised as men. Deborah Sampson is regarded as one of the first women to disguise herself to serve in the military, fighting in the American Revolutionary War. Even after acceptance into the military, though, women were still not allowed to serve in combat and were only given auxiliary roles. This social reform movement would become known as the First Wave of Feminism.

The second wave of feminism, an expansion on the first wave, occurred during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and focused more so on reproductive rights (the legal rights and freedoms associated with reproduction and reproductive health) and workplace equality. Women were inspired by civil rights protests and boycotts and eventually sought to create their own organizations and movements for equal rights. It was also during this time that another human rights movement was beginning.

Homophile, “loving the same”, advocacy groups and organizations were created after World War II supporting gay and lesbian relationships. The primary organization that acknowleged gay men as a “cultural” minority was the Mattachine Society founded by Hary Hay and Chuck Rowland in 1950. In 1952, several members of the Mattachine Society formed ONE, Inc. which would publish the first ever homosexual magazine, ONE Magazine. The United States Post Office deemed One Magazine as obscene and would not distribute the publication. The editors of course sued but were met with disappointment losing in the District Court and Appellate court. The Supreme Court accepted the case and reversed the decision, One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371 (1958), marking the first Supreme Court ruling in favor of homosexuals

portrait of two women in an intimate embrace and used for the cover of the lesbian pulp fiction novel, Evil, by photographer PETER BASCH

portrait of two women in an intimate embrace and used for the cover of the lesbian pulp fiction novel, Evil, by photographer PETER BASCH

The first lesbian support network, Daughters of Bilitis, was founded in 1955 by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. “A variety of medical and psychological treatments to “cure” homosexuality were employed, including ice pick lobotomies, electroshock, chemical castration with hormonal treatment or aversive conditioning (Milar, 2011).” In 1953, Dr. Evelyn Hooker won grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study gay men. Her groundbreaking study on “normal homosexuals” led to its removal of homosexuality as a form of psychopathology from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III of the American Psychiatric Association (Morris). However, even after it was established that homosexuality was not a mental illness, gay men and lesbians were still at risk for psychiatric lock up, losing jobs or even losing child custody.

There were not many places for them to go where they could be openly gay. New York, for example, had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public and private businesses. Gay establishments were often raided and shut down. On June 28, 1969 police raided a popular hotel in the Greenwich section of New York City. Police had raided the Stonewall Inn many times, each time the raid was resolved peacefully. However, this raid was different. Patrons resisted arrest and law enforcement soon lost control of the situation. Police barricaded themselves inside the bar while 400 people rioted outside. The barricade was breached and the bar was set ablaze.  When word got out of the demonstrations at Stonewall, patrons of the hotel were joined by other gay men and women who shouting “gay power” as they fought against police (Wolf, 2009).

Crowds reached 1,000 participants; these riots continued for some days. A year following the Stonewall Riots, the anniversary was commemorated with first gay pride parade which took place in New York City. The “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day” march began at the Stonewall Inn and ended in Central Park. At this time being gay in public was considered a crime. Gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals from all races crowded the streets chanting “Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.”  In October of 1979, the first march on Washington for gay rights took place. Over 75,000 gay men and women from across the nation marched in what would be the first political demonstration of gay activism.

By the 1980 Democratic Convention, Democrats had added “sexual orientation” to their platform’s anti-discrimination and the Republican platform included a plank supporting “the American family.” As the efforts to ensure equal human rights and anti-discrimination continued, the LGBT community received backlash for their efforts. As the increase in awareness and support continued, so did mass stigmatization and oppression.

During the 1980s, a new disease surfaced. First being described as a form of pneumonia or some type of skin cancer, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was considered the “gay disease” as it was most prevalent in the homosexual community. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) initially called it Gay Related Immune Deficiency Disorder (GRID), but when cases of the virus appeared outside of the homosexual community the name was changed to AIDS. The AIDS epidemic only encouraged individuals to ostracize of homosexuals on a global scale. Gay men and even those suspected of being gay were evicted from their apartments as well as losing their jobs. Hospitals refused to patients and even isolated them.


About 100 demonstrators protested on the steps of New York’s City Hall on Nov. 15, 1985, as a City Council committee considered legislation to bar pupils and teachers with the AIDS virus from public schools. About 100 demonstrators protested on the steps of New York’s City Hall on Nov. 15, 1985, as a City Council committee considered legislation to bar pupils and teachers with the AIDS virus from public schools.

“AIDS made political mobilization a matter of life and death (Garraty, 1991).”  The gay community in returned by creating organizations such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis With a large majority of the cases striking male homosexuals, the gay community in short order created a host of organizations, such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, to provide services and assistance to those infected. “When AIDS struck, priorities changed, and quickly, from hedonism to survival. And, ironically, the advent of AIDS probably advanced gay rights more than anything else in history (Picard, 2014).”

“Before AIDS was identified in 1981, most gay people were not aware of (or interested in) the political implications of their personal lives. In the seventies, the immediate interests of gay people were in coming out, finally feeling free to be themselves, and establishing social and sexual connections with others. Only a handful of political activists at the time were trying to galvanize what was then a very disjointed community. AIDS affected all gay people, rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural. AIDS was a far more concrete concern to many more than, say, sexual freedom. The personal finally became political for a lot of white, middle-class gay men when the disease personally affected them themselves, or their lovers or friend,” says author John-Manuel Andriote in an interview.

Andriote is the author of Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America, a book that archives the impact of AIDS in America as well as its impact on the gay community. It is evident the AIDS epidemic cause a drastic shift in the movement for human rights. Gays came together nationally as well as internationally to bring awareness to an epidemic that was not only affecting their community but the entire world; there was a shared sense of purpose. The LGBT community demanded compassion but more importantly, medical funding. Coalitions such as AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and Queer Nation were formed.

On October 11, 1987, the second march on Washington for gay rights took place. Two hundred thousand gays participated in a six day demonstration including a mass wedding and protest in front of the Internal Revenue Service, and a civil disobedience demonstration in front of the Supreme Court. Organization such as National Latino/a Gay & Lesbian Organization and AT&T’s LGBTQ employee group were in attendance. With AIDS at the forefront of community issues, supporters demanded funding for research and treatment six years after its advent. The march marked the debut of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, occupying two blocks with 2,000 panels commemorating 1,920 fallen victims. The size and impact of this march has led to it being nicknamed “The Great March.” The following year, the march was celebrated as National Coming Out Day an effort lead by Robert Eichsberg and Jean O’Leary (Kohler, 2015).

In this same year the government finally addresses the AIDS epidemic. A brochure entitled “Understading AIDS” was mailed to every household in America by the CDC. However, a different wing of the movement called to end military expulsion of gay and lesbian soldiers. The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy issued by the Department of Defense in 1993 stated that applicants to the military would not be mandated to reveal their homosexuality. Although it was a small step in prohibiting discrimination in the armed forces, the policy still forbade individuals in the service from participating in homosexual acts or telling anyone they are homosexual.

Interracial couple at Defense of Marriage Act Protest

Interracial couple at Defense of Marriage Act Protest

In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act. Signed by then President Bill Clinton, the statute had two main provisions: Section 2 which provided that states were not required to recognize same sex marriages of other states, and Section 3 which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The DOMA did not ban same-sex marriage per se, but more so gave a definition which excluded homosexuals. Marriage was defined as a union of man and woman and a spouse was a person of the opposite sex (McGarrity, 2012). The DOMA excluded homosexual couples from federal benefits as same sex marriage was not nationally valid.

At the turn of the century, the first country legalizes gay union, and it was not the United States. In 2000, Netherlands became the first country to not only legalize same-sex unions but also gave same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce, and adopt children. Massachusetts would be the first in the United States to legalize gay marriage. In the following six years, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa and Washington D.C. will follow suit. Although many gays found themselves fighting for marriage rights, the fact of the matter stood that there were still anti-sodomy laws prohibiting homosexuality, it was still a crime to be gay. In a landmark court decision (Lawrence v. Texas) the United States Supreme Court ruled anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional and in direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, gay Americans were finally free of criminal classification.

Today “there is an once-unthinkable acceptance of same-sex relationships in the Western world: Gay marriage is widely accepted, human-rights protections have been extended to gays and lesbians, and events like World Pride are not only mainstream family activities, but tourist draws (Picard, 2014).”

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