Top 10 LGBTI Victories that Changed the Movement:
Dr. Christopher Neff
But what is a victory?
When I was first asked to tackle this public lecture on the “Top Ten LGBTI Victories of the movement” I thought about my 15 years as a lobbyist and “government relations professional” in the Washington D.C. And the first thing you realise in lobbying is that laws are not enough. So then I thought about my PhD in public policy at the University of Sydney and the importance of public perceptions regarding LGBTI issues, but the second I realized is that culture is not enough. Victories can come cheap these days, especially if you look at them one dimensionally or don’t acknowledge the work that got them to that point. Indeed, I could have looked at the movement from the homophile movement from 1950–1969 or the Gay Liberation Movement from 1969 to the contemporary civil rights movement.
But I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I looked at focal events or people’s actions that shook and ultimately changed the trajectory of the LGBTI movement as a whole. This is just my opinion and there are many valid additions. For me, this is about moments that moved the movement and the world from anti-queer attitudes or legislation to pro-queer rights and self-love. These include:
10.) The victory against negotiating the acceptability of our identity.
The 10th most import victory of the LGBTI rights movement was the defeat of the same-sex marriage plebiscite in Australia in 2016. In few other countries could this even have been attempted. Indeed, there were 20 state referendums that banned same-sex marriage in the U.S., including Proposition 8 in California, before it was ruled unconstitutional. In Australia, the LGBTI community took the position that their lives, citizenship, and identity were not up for a public vote. That an anti-queer campaign would hurt young LGBTI people. And that they could wait. They said no. No to using our own identity against us — to discriminate against LGBTI Australians for the purpose of subjugation, shame, and the political opportunity.
9.) The victory of Constitutional Queer rights.
The 9th most important victory in the LGBTI rights movement is the 1996–1997 South African Constitution’s inclusion of sexual orientation in Section 3, which outlines non-discrimination:
The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
South Africa became the first country in the world to include protections for LGBTI community. This act by South Africa stands out and helped South Africa become the Rainbow Nation.
8.) Victory for the North-South East-West divide.
The 8th most important victory of the queer rights movement is the ruling by the Ugandan Supreme Court that the “Kill the Gays Bill” was unconstitutional 2013. Not only did this save the lives of queer Ugandans, it sent a message that LGBTI was not a white identity and that protections for queer rights were not reserved for the Global North.
7.) Victory for being intimately more legal.
The 7th most important victory of the LGBTI movement is also potentially the most fun — consentual sex! The legalization of sexual identity, consentual same-sex sexual activity (such as sodomy) in South Australia in 1975, NSW in 1984, and Tasmania in 1994 transformed the way people could identify in public and build relationships. It would not be until the U.S.’s Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 that same-sex activity in the U.S. would be legal nationwide. This affirmed queer identities in personal and intimate terms that had been used against us. Not only was gay good, queer sex was now great sex.
6.) Victory for gender non-binary.
The 6th most important victory in the LGBTI movement also highlights Australia. In 2014 the High Court of Australia recognized Norrie, as gender non-specific, which set a precedent for noting non-binary identity. In addition, Dutee Chand from India and Caster Semenya from South Africa have pushed the boundaries as we think about non-binary or intersex identities. In short, the courage of these people has helped shift the international consciousness about false gender binary assumptions & gender essentialism.
5.) Victory for safe spaces.
The 5th most important and trajectory changing activity of the LGBTI movement is the establishment of LGBTI bars and pubs. Whether to celebrate identity, organize, or exist authentically. Nothing brought this home more than the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. The movement created a space for itself to grow and be protected and this is important to recognize.
4.) Victory for health care for the LGBTI community.
The 4th victory for the movement came at a terrible cost. The HIV/AIDS plague that had limited treatments until the availability of antiretroviral drugs in 1996 led to a re-conception of the LGBTI movement, and what responsibility Governments had to treating those infected around the world and responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies to ensure access and affordability. This eventually changed the fundamental relationship between LGBTI people and the Government.
3.) Victory for homosexuality as an identity — not an illness.
The 3rd most important moment that the LGBTI movement fought for was the reforms by the American Psychological Association in 1974 & 1990 the World Health Organization in 1990. Here, queer people went from being mentally ill on Monday to just fine and queer on Tuesday. This changed everything for LGBTI people around the world. The diagnostic manual (DSM) for doctors and therapists depathologized sexuality and there continues to be progress for transgender folk.
2.) Victory against police harassment.
The 2nd most important victory in the LGBTI movement is not simply in defying police harassment — but in remembering who fought. From assimilation to disruption and liberation. Transgender prostitute and civil rights leader Silvia Rivera is credited with throwing the second bottle at police officers to set off the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It was the effort of these people, the poor, transgender sex workers that provide many of the protections we all enjoy today and noting these facts makes all the difference to our future.
1.) A victory for a radically intersectional movement.
The 1st most important moment or event of the movement is also a person: Bayard Rustin. An openly gay, socialist, Quaker, pacifist — who also happened to be best of friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was Bayard who organized the 1963 civil rights March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr (where he gave the I have a dream speech). Importantly, what Bayard did was to take two distinct movements and built a bridge of communication that would be vital to success of the LGBTI movement permanently. Bayard Rustin helped make LGBTI rights a different but related struggle to civil rights. His decision to be openly gay changed the civil rights movement and connected race and sexuality in an intersectional way that would later lead Coretta Scott King to be a champion of LGBTI rights noting that her husband said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”