A short history of gay rights in the U.S. and Minnesota

Hyatt Regency team carried balloon arches.
Members of the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis team carried balloon arches as they lined up for the 2015 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade in Minneapolis June 28, 2015.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

June is LGBT Pride Month — a time to celebrate the LGBT community and remember those who fought, and continue to fight, for equal rights.

The timing is significant — a salute to the Stonewall riots that took place in June 1969.

The Stonewall Inn, a New York City bar known for being a haven for those in the LGBT community, was subject to regular police raids since it first opened in 1967. At the time, it was illegal for those identifying as openly gay to gather and drink alcohol in New York.

The same was true in several other cities across the country, with local regulations deeming dancing and drinking among homosexuals "disorderly conduct."

In the Twin Cities, police raids and harassment were commonplace in and around gay bars and bathhouses throughout the '60s and '70s. With anti-sodomy laws — which were on the books in Minnesota until 2001 — effectively criminalizing homosexuality.

Any bar caught hosting these assemblies risked losing their liquor license, and the bar owners risked being arrested.

Twin Cities Men's Chorus marches in Minneapolis Gay Pride parade, 1986
A men's chorus holds a banner and balloons while marching in Gay Pride parade in Minneapolis, June, 1986.
Courtesy East Calhoun Community Organization via Hennepin County Library

The Stonewall Inn and its patrons were used to dealing with the frequent harassment by police with little incident, but that all changed the night of June 28, 1969.

After another raid, law enforcement started forcing people out of the Stonewall Inn; that's when the rest of the bar started throwing bricks and bottles at the officers. The police, injured and overpowered by the crowd, had to be rescued by support crews.

But it didn't end there. This one pushback resulted in several days of rioting in the city. It was far from the first time the LGBT community had protested against discrimination, but it's the moment that's often credited with launching the gay rights movement.

A year later, the first Pride marches were held in New York and other cities across the nation to commemorate the bold rebellion.

A booth at the GLBT Pride Festival at Loring Park, 1994
A booth at the GLBT Pride Festival at Loring Park in Minneapolis, June, 1994.
Courtesy Leo Treadway via Minnesota Historical Society

The slow and steady march of legislation

Since then, equality in the United States has been moving forward, with hard won victories on the federal level peppering our recent history.

In a 1998 executive order, then-President Bill Clinton prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation when hiring within the Federal civilian workforce.

Minnesota had already taken care of this in a 1993 amendment to the state's Human Rights Act — a move that first appeared as a St. Paul ordinance.

In 1988, the St. Paul City Council proposed an amendment that would ban the use of referendums when repealing ordinances related to human rights — something opponents viewed as a way to protect gay rights legislation, despite the lack of official protections in any existing ordinance.

The amendment eventually failed, but gay rights groups turned their focus to creating a city ordinance that would in plain language protect the LGBT community from discrimination — bracing for the still legal repeal efforts that were sure to follow.

The amendment was adopted in June, 1990, and efforts to remove it were swiftly voted down by St. Paul citizens.

The Obama years

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama and his administration worked toward sweeping changes in equal treatment under the law, though some critics say he moved too slowly in implementing them.

In October 2009, Obama, along with Congress, extended coverage of hate crime laws to include victims attacked because of their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, signed in 2010, insurance companies could no longer deny coverage based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. And in 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen put an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the U.S. military.

Finally, in 2015, a Supreme Court decision secured the right of same-sex couples to get married — again, Minnesota was ahead of the curve, legalizing it in 2013.

While these changes haven't ended the political and cultural battles — some religious and conservative groups are pushing back, especially regarding transgender rights — public opinion is changing.

The majority of young Americans are in favor of LGBT rights, and Pride parades, which once focused solely on legal change have come to encompass a celebration of acceptance and expression within the community and across the country.

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