Life for gays and lesbians has been very hard in a society where majority of people are heterosexual. It is very hard for many people to come to terms with how somebody can have an affair with another person of the same sex.
This paper will explore the struggle that gays and lesbians have gone through and especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s in order to be recognized as normal human beings and live comfortably with other people without various forms of discrimination like discrimination in places of work or in other places. The contribution of various groups for instance the community, the media and the legal system towards the gay and lesbians fight for their freedom and rights shall also be explored.
To discuss the community’s contribution, the stonewall riot will be used to give important insights. During this period, the community did not appreciate the presence of the gays and lesbians in its midst. Those belonging to the gay community lived this kind of life secretly and did not want to disclose their sexual orientation to anyone else for fear of stigma. This is because, these people were highly stigmatizes and discriminated against in work places and other public places. To avoid this, they thought it was wise to remain silent about their status.
Gays and lesbians have been thought to be people who are sick mentally, engage in promiscuous behavior and notorious for spreading HIV/AIDS among other myths. However, according to people who belong to this group, gays and lesbians are as normal as any other person in a heterosexual relationship.
The only difference is that they find members of the same sex more attractive and choose to start a life time relationship with them just like others do. They are neither mentally ill nor promiscuous because they carry out their relationships the way heterosexual people do and are comfortable in their gay relationships.
Also, contrary to many people’s beliefs, it is not true that those in same sex relationships do so because they have lacked someone of the opposite sex and in case they get one, they would be comfortable to move with them and abandon their gay partners. Due to the stigma that gays and lesbians suffer because of their condition, many have been unable to openly declare that they are gay.
It is not yet very clear what causes one to be in this condition but there have been claims that it could be a combination of both biological and environmental factors. To dispel some myths, for example the claims that they are psychologically ill, this group is comprised with members from all professions for example lawyers, pilots and psychologists among others.
Being a gay or a lesbian is less stigmatizing in the current world than in the past mostly in the 1940’s and 50’s. Members of this community suffered a lot because of discrimination and other forms of harsh treatment from the people and especially when they tried to come out and publicly declare their status and demand their rights as human beings.
Wright (p1) notes that the gay community sought to emancipate itself from these kind of suffering during the stonewall riot. Previously, it was normal for the police to go inside the bar that most gays frequented and arrest people but on June 27, 1969, it was not so.
The people defied orders from the police and shouted slogans to demand their liberation. Due to the commotion that had arisen because of the struggle between the police and the gay members who were resisting arrest, other people gathered and helped the gay community in fighting against the police.
They jeered at the police and mocked them while accusing them of being after money. To show mockery to them, they threw coins to them as they continued with their insults directed towards the police (Wright p1). This was just but the beginning of liberation of the gay community because what followed next were a series of demonstrations as the gays demanded for their rights. People came out in large numbers to support the gays who could not be deterred from their protests even by the police who tried to disperse them.
The media is a powerful tool of influence to the people because many trust the information disseminated to be the absolute truth. This is true also for the information about gays and lesbians that they disseminate. According to Wood (pg1), whether the information is true or prejudiced, it has an effect on those who access it.
The media participated greatly in fighting against the spread of gays and lesbians. In some districts where employment of the gays and lesbians was banned, the newspapers were used to publish the names of those who were arrested and accused of being gay. Details of their place of work were also given. This made it easier for the employers to know the people who were gay in their organization. This was a major blow to those arrested because if the employer saw their names, they were laid off immediately.
The media has portrayed the gays and lesbians as being the ones who are the cause for the rapid spread of dangerous diseases like HIV/AIDS. Many people have been lead to thin that the gay community is to blame for the spread of this disease. At times, this information has been inaccurate because there are a number of ways that it can be spread through and other people too have contributed to its spread.
In the current world, airing of programs with homosexual characters is not very common. In case some programs have such characters, they are portrayed in a negative manner creating a negative impression on the viewers concerning the homosexuals (Dyer pg19).
This image is usually hard to erase because this is how people will continue thinking about the homosexuals and also form stereotypes using the same information because they may never get a chance to interact with a homosexual and rectify their thinking. This shows that the society has not fully accepted these people.
The legal system
The legal system participated very much in trying to do away with the gay community. Prior to the stonewall riot, the police would occasionally raid the bars where they suspected that gay people had gathered to have fun. They would then arrest some of them and also demand for money from them.
Whenever the gay people sensed that the police were around, they would hurriedly stop engaging in any activity that would suggest that they are gay because of fear of being arrested. Due to such incidents, many gay people lived under oppression and fear because they did not know their fate.
It had also been declared by the government that those who claimed to be gay were people who were mentally ill and therefore; they were taken to hospitals where they would be treated for mental illness. The government too failed to recognize that they were normal people and they were discriminated even in places of work.
During the protests that arose after an attempt by the police to arrest members of the gay community, the police were also involved in efforts to try and deter the members of this community from coming out publicly and demand for their liberation.
It never took the community long to see the fruit of their labor. By the beginning of July, talks on how a movement to fight for their rights would be formed had already started. To conclude on the talks and establish an organization, it took them close to a year after which Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed.
Comparison between gay community of the 1940’s and the current gay community
Although the stonewall riot was there many years ago, many gays still consider it a something of great importance to them. It is seem as a symbol of liberation from years of oppression. Although there still remains a lot to be done before there is total liberation of the gay community, there have been major developments that have taken place since the stonewall riots, which was the first attempt to openly and publicly fight for the rights of gays.
For example, in the past, one could not publicly declare that they are gay but nowadays it is possible to do that without raising a lot of suspicion from the community. To further show their pride in their sexual orientation, the gay community engage annually n what is commonly knows as the “gay pride”. During this time, the gay people come out and walk to a designated place where they hold a meeting and discuss their issues.
In the past also, those who were thought of to be gay were punished severely. The harsh treatment of the gay community was seen in the various governments’ decisions to punish even those who they suspected to be gay through simple acts like holding of hands in public between two people of the same sex. However, this has changed drastically and it is possible for the gays to enjoy such freedom like holding of hands without being punished.
In the past, it was generally hard for both gays and lesbians to economically sustain themselves but it was especially hard for women because of how the society views women in same sex relationship. It was harder for the society to accept lesbians and therefore they were majorly affected by the problem of discrimination at work or being terminated from their places of work when the employer learnt of their sexual orientation.
Although there are still problems with this kind of relationships, lesbians are much better economically because the level of stigma they used to suffer in the past has reduced and people have become more tolerant of other people so long as they are able to deliver quality work professionally.
Tolerance to the gay community has been shown by some religious groups like the Anglicans, have even ordained gay bishops and allow gay marriages. Although this has been strongly condemned by other denominations under Christianity, it shows some level of tolerance to emerging cultures compared to the 1940’s when such things were unheard of. Significant change has taken place in the gay community even in the area of religion where many are able to practice their religion just like any other person without feeling like they are the odd one out.
The legal system in many countries has also been reformed concerning its treatment towards the gay community. Such incidents of arrest that were common in the past have reduced and the gay community is able to meet in certain places for recreational purposes without interference by the police.
Although gays and lesbians are living more comfortably these days than in the past, they still have a long way to go before they are completely assimilated in to the community and accepted as part of it. With many people condemning such acts, for example some Christians and other religions, it may be impossible for the gays and lesbians to ever achieve a state of total comfort in the society.
This is because the society still has some issues against same sex relationships with some raising moral issues like how the family unit is to be perpetuated if all people turn to gay or lesbian relationship.
The role of the media in shaping people’s attitude towards the homosexuals cannot be ignored. Acquiring either positive or negative attitude towards the homosexuals can be greatly influenced by the media, among other factors. Religion is another key factor that determines one’s view of the homosexuals, with some harshly condemning those in this community while others showing a more tolerant attitude towards them.
Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation. London: Routledge, 1993.
Wright, Lionel. The Stonewall Riots – 1969 — A Turning Point in the Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Liberation. Seattle : Socialist Alternative, 1999. web. 14 may, 2011
Wood, Matthew. The Portrayal of Gays and Lesbians on TV,and How Viewers React, 1996. Web. 14 may, 2011