The Thirty Years War
A timeline of the anti-gay movement
© 2005, Southern Poverty Law Center
Born-again singer Anita Bryant campaigns to overturn an anti-discrimination law protecting gay men and lesbians in Dade County, Fla. Inspired by her victory, Bryant founds the first national anti-gay group, Save Our Children, drawing unprecedented attention to gay issues and motivating gay groups to organize in response.
James Dobson, author of 1969 pro-spanking book “Dare To Discipline,” founds Focus on the Family in Arcadia, Calif. Focus will move to Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1991, become America’s wealthiest fundamentalist ministry, and spearhead the campaign against [same-sex] marriage.
Gay activist Harvey Milk, elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, is assassinated on Nov. 27 (along with Mayor George Moscone) by right-wing religious zealot Dan White, a former city supervisor who had resigned in protest after the board passed a gay-rights ordinance.
John Birch Society trainer and “family activist” Tim LaHaye publishes “The Unhappy Gays” (later retitled “What Everyone Should Know About Homosexuality”). Calling gay people “militant, organized” and “vile,” LaHaye anticipates anti-gay arguments to come.
California State Sen. John Briggs floats a ballot initiative allowing local school boards to ban gay teachers. “One third of San Francisco teachers are homosexual,” Briggs says. “I assume most of them are seducing young boys in toilets.” The initiative is defeated, but the campaign inspires anti-gay crusaders like the Rev. Lou Sheldon, who will found the Traditional Values Coalition in 1981.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell founds the Moral Majority, a national effort to stimulate the fundamentalist vote and elect Christian Right candidates. Early fundraising appeals include a “Declaration of War” on homosexuality.
Paul Cameron, former psychology instructor at University of Nebraska, begins publishing pseudo-scientific pamphlets “proving” that gay people commit more serial murders, molest more children, and intentionally spread diseases. Expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 for ethics violations, Cameron will continue to produce bogus “studies” widely cited by anti-gay groups.
Moral Majority allies in Congress propose the Family Protection Act, which would bar giving federal funds to “any organization that suggests that homosexuality can be an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” Despite President Reagan’s endorsement, the bill is defeated.
The Council for National Policy, a highly secretive club of America’s most powerful far-right religious activists, begins meeting quarterly at undisclosed locations. Among the members will be R.J. Rushdoony, who calls for death penalty for homosexuals, and anti-gay crusaders James Dobson, Beverly and Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins and Phyllis Schlafly. George W. Bush will meet with the Council during his first campaign for president.
The U.S. Department of Defense issues a policy stating that homosexuality is “incompatible” with military service. Almost 17,000 gay soldiers will be discharged during the 1980s, though a 1989 Defense Department study will find gay recruits “just as good or better” than heterosexuals.
Pat Buchanan, communications director for President Ronald Reagan, calls AIDS, first identified in 1981, “nature’s revenge on gay men.”
The Coalition on Revival is founded to promote “Christian government” in the U.S. and to agree on theological tenets — including anti-gay principles — that fundamentalists can rally around. Board members include Tim LaHaye, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. Founder Jay Grimstead later tells “The Advocate,” “Homosexuality makes God vomit.”
Addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Paul Cameron uses the AIDS crisis to suggest that “the extermination of homosexuals” might become necessary. The following year, Colorado’s Summit Ministries will publish “Special Report: AIDS.” Co-authored by Cameron, the popular pamphlet blames gay men for the epidemic and calls for a national crackdown on homosexuals.
At the first Congressional hearings on anti-gay violence, Kathleen Sarris of Indianapolis tells of being stalked and assaulted by a “Christian soldier” who held her at gunpoint, beat and raped her for three hours, explaining that “he was acting for God; that what he was doing to me was God’s revenge on me because I was a ‘queer’ and getting rid of me would save children.”
Anti-gay groups cheer the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick holding that state anti-sodomy statutes are constitutional. Four years later, Justice Lewis Powell, the swing vote, will tell New York University law students, “I probably made a mistake in that one.”
Boston’s “Gay Community News” publishes a satire of anti-gay propaganda, beginning: “Tremble, Hetero Swine! We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lives. We will raise vast private armies … to defeat … the family unit.” Anti-gay groups seize on the article as proof of a “secret homosexual agenda.”
After a ferocious campaign by the fundamentalist Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), Oregon voters overturn their governor’s executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in state hiring. Led by anti-gay crusader Lon Mabon, OCA claims “promiscuous sodomite activists” have called for “the closing of all churches that oppose them and the total destruction of the family.”
U.S. Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) publishes a landmark anti-gay tome, “Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America.” Calling lesbians and gay men “the ultimate enemy,” Dannemeyer accuses straight people of “surrendering to this growing army without a shot,” and predicts gay rights will “plunge our people, and indeed the entire West, into a dark night of the soul that could last hundreds of years.”
University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney founds Promise Keepers, which holds all-male stadium revivals promoting “traditional masculinity” throughout the 1990s. McCartney calls homosexuals “a group of people who don’t reproduce, yet want to be compared with people who do reproduce,” and says, “Homosexuality is an abomination of Almighty God.”
Pat Robertson founds the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), run by Christian Right attorney Jay Sekulow. ACLJ will be instrumental in fighting [same-sex] marriage, calling it a cancerous “perversion” that “directly attacks the family, which is the most vital cell in society.”
Colorado voters approve Amendment 2, overturning municipal laws protecting lesbians and gay men from discrimination. One of the organizers, Tony Marco, hones a “special rights” argument, claiming that gay people are inordinately wealthy and politically powerful, and neither need nor deserve the rights they “demand.”
“The Gay Agenda,” 20-minute video featuring racy scenes filmed at gay-pride marches, is released by Ty and Jeannette Beeson of the Antelope Valley Springs of Life church in Lancaster, Calif. Aired by Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club,” it will become one of the most widely viewed pieces of anti-gay propaganda.
At the Republican National Convention in Houston, Pat Buchanan famously declares in a prime time speech, “There is a culture war going on in our country for the soul of America.” Cheering audience members wave signs reading “Family Rights Forever, ‘Gay’ Rights Never.”
[The battle over marriage is ignited when the Hawaii Supreme Court rules that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses violates “basic human rights” guaranteed in the state constitution — unless the state legislature can show a “compelling reason” to prevent same-sex marriage.] Anti-gay groups begin a campaign to “defend marriage,” with legal challenges led by ACLJ’s Jay Sekulow.
President Clinton’s proposal to lift the ban on openly gay military personnel sends anti-gay activists into action, shutting down phone lines to Congress with hundreds of thousands of calls in protest. “Honestly,” asks D. James Kennedy in a fundraising letter for Coral Ridge Ministries, “would you want your son, daughter, or grandchild sharing a shower, foxhole, or blood with a homosexual?”
The Cobb County (Ga.) Commission passes a resolution calling homosexuality “incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes.” Organizer Gordon Wysong declares, “We should blame them for every social problem in America.” Cobb County will be dropped as a host for 1996 Atlanta Olympic events because of its anti-gay stance.
More than 40 fundamentalist groups, led by Focus on the Family, hold a summit in Colorado to coordinate a “special rights” argument to oppose gay rights. This strategy is also promoted by the Traditional Values Coalition’s “Gay Rights, Special Rights,” a 40-minute video claiming gay rights will erode the civil rights of African Americans.
“The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party,” by fundamentalist activists Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, claims gays weren’t victimized in the Holocaust, but instead helped mastermind the extermination of Jews. Repudiated by credible historians, the book is nevertheless praised by the Family Research Council and sold by several anti-gay organizations.
The National Pro-Family Forum, dedicated to “one man-one woman” marriage, holds its first secret meeting in a Memphis church cellar with representatives from more than 20 major anti-gay groups. Before the end of the year, forum members successfully push the Defense of Marriage Act, a symbolic measure defining marriage as between a man and a woman, through Congress.
The Southern Baptist Convention announces a boycott of Disney parks and products because the company gives insurance benefits to partners of gay workers and allows “Gay Days” at its theme parks. “Beware of the Magic Kingdom,” Focus on the Family advises parents. Gay Day protests become a staple of the anti-gay movement.
In Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court rules Colorado’s Amendment 2 (see 1992) unconstitutional by a 6-3 vote. The ruling puts an end to 20 years of state and local ballot initiatives aimed at stripping gays of anti-discrimination protections, leaving same-sex marriage as the main issue for anti-gay organizers.
Ellen DeGeneres’ character on the TV sitcom “Ellen” comes out as a lesbian, initiating protests and boycotts of sponsors led by Donald Wildmon and Jerry Falwell, who calls the actor “Ellen Degenerate.”
A coalition of fundamentalist groups led by Coral Ridge Ministries sponsors “Truth in Love,” a million-dollar advertising campaign promoting “ex-gay ministries,” which use discredited psychological methods to “cure” gay people. One day before a second round of “Truth in Love” ads is released, gay college student Matthew Shepard dies after being savagely beaten and left tied to a fence in Wyoming. The murder spurs a national debate about the connection between anti-gay rhetoric and hate crimes.
In a TV interview, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) compares gay people to alcoholics and “kleptomaniacs,” earning praise from anti-gay activists. “Leaders willing to be set apart and stand solidly in the truth are rare in today’s permissive culture,” says James Dobson.
[Vermont Democratic Gov. Howard Dean signs a law offering Civil Unions, entitling same-and, opposite-sex couples to equivalent marital rights and benefits.] Anti-gay leader Gary Bauer calls it “an unmitigated disaster” that is “worse than terrorism.”
“Teletubbies” [puppet] character Tinky Winky is “outed” as gay in a “Parents’ Alert” in Jerry Falwell’s “Liberty Journal,” which asserts, “He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol.”
The U.S. Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Boy Scouts of America can continue to ban gay scoutmasters. Anti-gay activists like Robert Knight of the Family Research Council use the scouting controversy to revive anti-gay “child molester” propaganda. After CBS morning-show host Bryant Gumbel interviews Knight, he is heard on air commenting, “What a fucking idiot.” Anti-gay groups label CBS the “Christian Bashing System” and lobby unsuccessfully for Gumbel’s firing.
On “The 700 Club” two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jerry Falwell blames the tragedy on “the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle.” Host Pat Robertson responds: “Well, I totally concur.”
The Rev. Michael Bray, a convicted abortion clinic bomber and leading advocate of murdering abortion doctors, praises Saudi Arabia for beheading three gay men on New Year’s Day. “Let us give thanks,” Bray proclaims. “Let us welcome these tools of purification. Open the borders! Bring in some agents of cleansing.”
Alan Sears, head of the Alliance Defense Fund, co-authors “The Homosexual Agenda,” a book that asserts gay activists’ ultimate goal is “silencing” conservative Christians. Sears also accuses cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants of being gay.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules 4-3 that gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry. In the “Washington Dispatch,” legendary fundamentalist organizer Paul Weyrich declares marriage “The Final Frontier for Civilization as We Know It.”
The U.S. Supreme Court overturns state anti-sodomy statutes in Lawrence v. Texas, ruling that gay people are entitled to “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.” Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia complains that “the court has largely signed onto the so-called homosexual agenda.”
Constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage pass by wide margins in all 11 states, including Ohio and Oregon. Anti-gay groups meet in Washington, D.C., to plan for 10 more state initiatives in 2005.
James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Action organizes “Mayday for Marriage” rallies in six major cities to promote anti-gay[, anti-]marriage ballot initiatives in 11 states. An estimated 150,000 turn out for October 15 protest in Washington, D.C., where Dobson declares, “[E]verything we care about is on the line. It’s now or never.”
San Francisco officials begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in February, with a handful of other U.S. municipalities following suit. Later that month, President George W. Bush announces his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution.