Saturday, June 16, 2018

Chicago's gay-rights protest in June of 1977 marked the turning point of Chicago's LGBTQ rights movement.

Highlights of the history of the development of the U.S. LGBTQ communities:

December 10, 1924 — The first gay rights group in the United States is founded at 1710 Crilly Ct. in Chicago and received an Illinois state charter. The organization, started by an itinerant preacher and laundry, railway and postal workers, publishes two issues of a journal before being shut down after the wife of one of the directors learns about the group and calls the Chicago police.

December 1950  As part of the era of McCarthyism, gay men and lesbians are added to the list of people considered security risks, and a purge of government agencies and the military begins.

June 1961  Illinois becomes the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. The Motion Picture Association of America lifts its ban on gay themes in movies to allow "Advise and Consent" to be shown, but negative attitudes toward homosexuality are still evident since the story has the gay character in the movie commit suicide.

June 28, 1969  New York City police raid the Stonewall, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, the sixth gay bar to be raided in Manhattan in three weeks. Gay men and lesbians fight back over four days in what has come to be called the Stonewall Rebellion and was seen as the watershed event that triggered the gay liberation movement.

June 1977  The nation saw former Miss America Anita Bryant – the seemingly good-natured woman who tried to sell them orange juice in Tropicana commercials – initiate a hostile "anti-homosexual" media campaign across the country.
Bryant was outraged at a Dade County, Florida decision to protect sexual orientation as a civil right and vowed to aggressively pursue its repeal. She took to the airwaves with her newly founded Save Our Children organization, a coalition devoted to repealing the act that banned housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The coalition's efforts were successful, and on June 7, Miami area voters took a step backward, reversing the decision.

June 14, 1977 — Anita Bryant landed in Chicago to perform at an event for Shriners Children's Hospital. What transpired that day was an important moment for Chicago's LGBTQ community — 5,000 individuals showed up at Medinah Temple (now a Bloomingdale's outlet store at Wabash and Ohio) to picket the event. The expression of solidarity inspired more and more Chicagoans to rally around the issue of gay rights, and the following year's PRIDE Parade saw a dramatic surge in attendance.
A demonstrator is arrested in front of the Medinah Temple on June 14, 1977, while anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant gives a concert inside.
The concert had been booked months earlier before Bryant achieved new national notoriety as the leader of an anti-LGBTQ initiative in Dade County, Florida, where citizens voted to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance that had been passed by the county commission earlier that year. The law prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, public service, and accommodations. The vote to repeal the law happened on June 7, 1977.
So a group of Chicago LGBTQ activists decided to organize a picket of the June 14 concert in Chicago. They were warned by gay establishment leaders that it would be an embarrassing failure. Back then, it seemed, the only time LGBTQ people turned out en masse was for the Gay Pride Parade.

But a spontaneous, unexpected turnout of 5,000-plus people proved the naysayers wrong. Protesters chanted "pray for Anita" and sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," according to the Tribune's coverage of the event. (Attendees of the concert reportedly sang the same tune.)

According to historian John D'Emilio's account of the protest, demonstrators carried signs that read "Anita is McCarthy in drag," — a reference to Communist scaremonger Joseph McCarthy — and "God drinks wine, not orange juice."
"The gays were noisy but peaceful," a police spokesman told the Tribune, though eight demonstrators were arrested.

It was the first large-scale LGBTQ political demonstration in Chicago.

After the three-hour protest, some of the marchers headed over to Pioneer Court outside Tribune Tower to protest a series of inflammatory, questionably sourced articles co-written by then a Tribune reporter Michael Sneed (now of the Sun-Times) that purported to link a child pornography ring to the gay community in Chicago.

Coverage of the anti-Bryant rally made the Tribune's front page. And though Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign triggered a national conservative backlash movement to defeat gay rights laws around the country, it also helped fuel the growing LGBTQ rights movement.

Bryant's views may have only succeeded in strengthening Chicago's LGBTQ community by giving greater visibility to the discrimination and injustices they faced.

November 28, 1978 — Harvey Milk, elected San Francisco's first openly gay supervisor in 1977, and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, are killed by a disgruntled former supervisor. Milk's death triggers protests, candle-light marches, and new gay activism.

June 5, 1981 — The federal Centers for Disease Control publishes its first report on the unusual occurrence of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five men in Los Angeles, the diagnostic sign that is to become one of the hallmarks of AIDS. No mention, however, is made of the fact that all of the men are homosexuals, for fear of offending the gay community or giving ammunition to anti-gay activists.

October 2, 1985 — Rock Hudson dies of AIDS, and disease that mainstream America thought it could ignore suddenly becomes a household word.

October 11, 1987 — An estimated 500,000 gay men and lesbians march in Washington, D.C., for freedom from discrimination. The march is part of a week of activities that include the first unveiling of the Names Project, a huge quilt with each panel dedicated to a person who has died of AIDS, a ceremony in which 2,000 gay and lesbian couples exchanged marriage vows and a demonstration at the Supreme Court.

December 23, 1988 — The Chicago City Council, by a 28-17 vote, passes a human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, education, and accommodations based on sexual orientation as well as race, sex, age, religion, and other categories. The ordinance was first introduced in the council on July 6, 1973.

June 5, 1989 — San Francisco passes the most comprehensive domestic partners act in the nation. Non-married couples can register their relationship with City Hall. Partners and extended family members of city employees are eligible for health insurance benefits and partners have the bereavement leave and hospital visiting rights of married spouses. Seven other cities have such laws, and a similar bill is pending in Boston.

Progress always provokes a backlash. Sometimes that backlash is vicious and violent, as in the case of the 1978 assassination of Harvey Milk, who had emerged as a national political figure by leading California's resistance to the Bryant campaign. Sometimes it's unimaginably tragic, as in Orlando. The struggle for justice — the struggle against hate — is unending, but relentless. It will not and it must not end. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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