An earlier version of this essay was written as an appendix for a lesson plan for high school psychology teachers called The Psychology of Sexual Orientation: a modular lesson plan/teaching resource for high school psychology teachers (login required). The full lesson plan is part of a series of 19 unit lesson plans developed as a benefit for APA members, which are available in the members-only section of the APA website.
Most historians agree that there is evidence of homosexual activity and same-sex love, whether such relationships were accepted or persecuted, in every documented culture.
A brief history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender social movements/Bonnie J. Morris, PhD
On June 12, 2016, the popular gay dance club Pulse in Orlando was the site of a mass shooting by one assailant. With at least 49 dead and another 50 injured, this hate crime is being called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. It occurred during what was LGBT Pride weekend for towns and cities in and beyond the United States.
The immediate, caring response from mayors, police and FBI authorities, local and national politicians, and the President of the United States, who reached out to express outrage and concern, demonstrates the enormous shift toward acceptance and public support for the LGBT community. Although the LGBT community and individuals remain targets for hate violence and backlash throughout the world, the hard work of activists and allies made it possible to reach this era, where the perpetrators of violence, not the victims, are condemned as sick.
Social movements, organizing around the acceptance and rights of persons who might today identify as LGBT or queer, began as responses to centuries of persecution by church, state and medical authorities.
Where homosexual activity or deviance from established gender roles/dress was banned by law or traditional custom, such condemnation might be communicated through sensational public trials, exile, medical warnings and language from the pulpit.
These paths of persecution entrenched homophobia for centuries—but also alerted entire populations to the existence of difference. Whether an individual recognized they, too, shared this identity and were at risk, or dared to speak out for tolerance and change, there were few organizations or resources before the scientific and political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Gradually, the growth of a public media and ideals of human rights drew together activists from all walks of life, who drew courage from sympathetic medical studies, banned literature, emerging sex research and a climate of greater democracy.
By the 20th century, a movement in recognition of gays and lesbians was underway, abetted by the social climate of feminism and new anthropologies of difference.
However, throughout 150 years of homosexual social movements (roughly from the 1870s to today), leaders and organizers struggled to address the very different concerns and identity issues of gay men, women identifying as lesbians, and others identifying as gender variant or nonbinary.
White, male and Western activists whose groups and theories gained leverage against homophobia did not necessarily represent the range of racial, class and national identities complicating a broader LGBT agenda. Women were often left out altogether.