What’s the biggest source of stress in your life right now? Maybe you have a big decision to make about where to work, which school to attend, or who to invite to your party. Maybe you’re worried about money, or perhaps your car is long overdue for an oil change. The most basic responsibilities in life can be emotionally draining.
Of course, there are probably some things that you don’t give much intentional thought to at all. When you wake up in the morning, you throw on your favorite lavender dress or broken-in jeans, you exchange texts with the person you love, and maybe you even daydream about your future wedding plans.
Imagine for a moment that even your most fundamental rights were constantly being challenged. You can’t wear that dress because you’re biologically male. You can’t even love the person who makes your heart skip a beat because you’re members of the same sex. You may face isolation or violence, simply because of who you are. In a world where human rights include freedom from discrimination and the rights to marriage and family, this is unacceptable. And yet, it happens all the time.
The United States Constitution protects our rights to speak freely, to peaceably assemble, and to dissent. For this reason among many others, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has, at several pivotal moments throughout history, fearlessly defended members of the LGBTQ+ community in their fight for equality.
While members of the LGBTQ+ community still face institutional and systemic discrimination every day, great strides of progress have been made. At Spencer’s, we proudly celebrate these steps toward equality in the realms of employment, education, housing, and more. In recognition of Pride Month, we’d like to reflect on some of the most profound moments in LGBTQ+ history.
1936: The Children’s Hour
Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour is based on the story of two Scottish teachers whose lives are upended when a student accuses them of being in a lesbian relationship. The play premiered in 1934 at a time when the on-stage mention of homosexuality was illegal in the state of New York. Because the play was tremendously successful, authorities chose to turn a blind eye to its controversial subject matter. As the show headed for the stages of Boston, however, it was swiftly banned due to its “lesbian content.”
The ACLU partnered with the play’s producer to challenge the ban in federal court. This became the ACLU’s first “gay rights” case and sparked a public conversation about the censorship of gay and lesbian themes in the arts.
1956: Howl and Other Poems
Before he opened a bookstore and publishing house in 1953, Lawrence Ferlinghetti served in the U.S. Navy and earned a PhD degree in comparative literature from the University of Paris. Both a lover and a writer of poetry, Ferlinghetti took an interest in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems.
In Howl, Ginsberg makes references to gay sex. In 1957, U.S. Customs officials seized the books, deeming their contents obscene. ACLU lawyers successfully defended Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his choice to publish the book, citing the Bible as an example of a work containing erotic content. The trial concluded with a complete acquittal.
1969: Stonewall Riots
In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal in nearly every state. Bars like the Stonewall Inn could face serious consequences simply for hiring gay employees or offering their services to gay patrons.
On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn. It wasn’t the first time they’d raided the Greenwich Village bar, but it was the first time that members of the LGBTQ+ community decided to fight back. When police arrived at the bar and started arresting its patrons, they boldly resisted.
The uprising gave way to a community of LGBTQ+ people who viewed themselves as a united front. The riots have since been considered some of the most influential events in history leading up to the gay liberation movement.
1971: Baker v. Nelson
In 1970, James Michael McConnell (Mike) and Richard John Baker (Jack) applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When their request was denied, the men sought legal support. Gerald Nelson, Clerk of District Court in Hennepin County, had denied Mike and Jack’s request on the simple grounds that they were both men.
In 1971, the ACLU made the very first attempt to seek marriage for same-sex couples in Baker v. Nelson. Unfortunately, Baker v. Nelson was not a success. The trial court ordered the clerk not to issue the marriage license. The ACLU has not backed down in their support of same-sex couples, however, and their fight for marriage equality has forever altered the course of LGBTQ+ history.
2003: Lawrence v. Texas
On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Texas state law criminalizing certain acts of sexual conduct between two consenting same-sex adults.
The decision came after John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, two consenting adult men, were arrested for engaging in sexual intercourse. Their actions were considered illegal in the eyes of the Texas statute, which is now understood to be in direct violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As a result, the sodomy laws in a dozen other states were also called into question and ultimately invalidated. The ACLU played an instrumental role in challenging these laws in several states.
2015: Obergefell v. Hodges
On June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges became a landmark civil rights case. In a stunning victory, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that same-sex couples have the right to marry. This ruling is supported by the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
2020: Bostock v. Clayton County
On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in the workplace. The ruling came after an Atlanta, Georgia man was fired from his position in the Clayton County child welfare services department.
Gerald Bostock had a spotless performance record at work. However, after he joined a gay softball league in 2013, his life was forever changed. Upon hearing of his involvement with a gay softball league, Clayton County fired Bostock for employee misconduct.
Bostock v. Clayton County made it clear that, under federal law, LGBTQ+ employees cannot be fired simply due to their gender identity or sexuality. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex-based discrimination. The Supreme Court determined that this protection extends to LGBTQ+ employees.
The LGBTQ+ community is made up of people whose unique identities, experiences, and stories have shaped its remarkable history. Their resilience is responsible for the advances toward equality.
Spencer’s supports the ACLU in the fight for social justice, civil liberties, and LGBTQ+ rights.
Join us by rounding up your purchase in-store or donating online from June 5th– June 13th, and we will match your generosity with a donation of up to $50,000 to the ACLU.