Social Stratification and Homosexuality

Gays and lesbians, especially in the last 20 years, have actively sought to end what they perceive as prejudice and discrimination against them based on their sexual orientation. They have worked at all levels of society to change laws, fight job discrimination and harassment, eliminate homophobia and gay bashing (that is, violence directed toward homosexuals), lobby for funding to fight the AIDS virus, and educate the public about homosexuality and homosexuals. Although many gays and lesbians believe they have come a long way toward achieving their goals, others believe they still have much work to do before achieving true “gay liberation.”

The gay rights movement, as it is popularly known today, came into full swing with the 1969 Stonewall riot. The New York police had a long history of targeting patrons of gay bars for harassment and arrests. In June 1969, they raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village. When the patrons of the bar resisted, a riot followed that lasted into the next day. The incident prompted the formation of numerous gay rights groups and the organization of marches, demonstrations, and yearly commemorative parades and activities, including the Gay Pride March.

Many people incorrectly assume that the gay rights movement began with the Stonewall riot, when in fact more than 40 gay and lesbian organizations were already in place at that time. Two of the more visible groups in the 1950s and 1960s were the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. After the Stonewall riot, gays and lesbians organized into such political groups and service agencies as Act Up, the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Lesbian Rights Project, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Gay Rights Advocates, and Queer Nation, to name only a few.

Finally, on the topic of gay and lesbian political activism, Warren Blumenfeld and Diane Raymond in their 1993 book Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (published by Beacon Press) noted that being politically active is risky, and people with few or compromised rights frequently cannot afford to take risks. Nevertheless, to define activism more broadly, any open affirmation of homosexuality in a predominantly heterosexual society is a political act. And the variety of openly lesbian and gay organizations, political groups, and service agencies in existence demonstrates the movement's success, as well as the development of a sense of identity and community, a “consciousness of kind,” that has grown out of this movement, dramatically improving the quality of life.