The 1960s saw the civil rights movements, the women’s suffrage movement, and the gay rights movements become full-fledged social movements. All of these movements had key leaders who were persistent, intelligent, and inspiring, and dared to challenge ordinary American society. Although, none of these movement leaders lived long enough to see the fruit of their labor, the effects of their struggle and acts of civil disobedience and unrest, changed the lives of these vulnerable group in beneficial ways. Although all activists had an experience unique to their affiliated social movement, all movements shared certain characteristics, such as, having to wait years to see legislation enacted to address the social injustices and protect them, and having to continue that fight today.
The 1960s were ripe for progressive reforms regarding civil and human rights for women, Blacks, and homosexuals. Although these movements have unique differences, they also share several similarities. These movements were a success and their effects still percolate in society. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done to achieve equality for all these groups.
Gay rights activists have been fighting for social inclusion since the early 1900s. The first nationwide gay rights organization, Mattachine Society, emerged in the late 1940s; and in 1955, the first lesbian rights organization in the country, the Daughters of Bilitis, was created (Bullough, 2005). It took until 1969 for the gay rights movement to erupt. This occurred when the police raided Stonewall Inn – a gay club in New York – which turned into a series of violent protests and demonstrations (CNN, 2015).
The 1970s marked huge success for the movement. In 1973, the American Psychological Association removed “homosexuality” from the list of mental illnesses, in 1977, the first gay character with a recurrent role appeared on the show “Soap,” and in 1978, gay rights activist Harvey Milk became a San Francisco County Supervisor (CNN 2015). Milk was vocally gay and was a champion for gay rights. His election made international headlines, and his influence as an activist grew the movement’s notoriety and membership. Milk marched protesting for civil rights for the gay community, and spoke against California Proposition 6, aimed at terminating any educator who supported gay rights – proposition which failed to pass (Infoplease, 2015). His assassination caused a pro-gay rights march in unprecedented numbers in Washington, D.C.; his legacy encouraged many people to become openly gay (Milk Foundation, n.d.).
Despite the achievements of the gay rights movement, sociopolitical discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) is still rampant in the United States. There is currently no federal regulation that protects LGBT rights in the workplace, and accordingly, this group faces unemployment rates “three times higher than the general population” (Catalyst, 2017). 62 percent of LGBT employees have “heard lesbian and gay jokes” in their workplace (2017). Over half of LGBT employees hide their sexual orientation in the workplace, and 23 percent of them do so due to uncertainty in the impact this would have in their opportunities for work advancements or promotions (Catalyst, 2017). This is a tangible fear, since almost 30 percent LGBT employees have been refused a work, have been terminated, or have passed on for a promotion because of their gender identity (Catalyst, 2017).
Civil rights activists pressured politicians into passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 by employing a mixture of strategies ranging from the non-violent marches and acts of civil disobedience preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and the bus boycott led by Rosa Parks, to the practice of self-defense in the face of brutality fueled by Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. The movement also benefited from the formation of Black Power organizations, such as, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which gave Blacks methods of legally defending their stance. Getting the legal system on board with the struggle was not easy, but alas, in 1954 the Supreme Court decision of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas struck down Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896 – which had ruled it was constitutional to have separate facilities based on skin color. The legal acknowledged of the detriment that “separate but equal” caused to African Americans was a huge sociopolitical success to the movement.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, effectively banning discrimination at the work placed based on race. In 1968, he added to the act a prohibition on discrimination in the housing industry, thereby, outlawing the usage of restrictive covenants that did not allow selling, renting, or negotiating with someone due to color (Georgetown Law, 2017). The movement’s greatest accomplishment was the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This made it unconstitutional for states to prohibit a citizen from voting based on race, color, membership of a minority group, a score on literacy test, or any other voting prerequisites typically used as a deterrent to Black suffrage (History, n.d.). According to the U.S. Government, “By the end of 1965, a quarter of a million new black voters had been registered” (National Archives, n.d.).
Interestingly, this movement arose because women within the abolitionist movement were treated as second class citizens, which ultimately, led to women fighting for their own rights. Susan B. Anthony was one of the main lobbyists for a constitutional amendment allowing women the right to vote. She gave speeches, organized petitions, and participated in protests at the local, state, and federal levels of government asking for female property rights, abolition of slavery, and limitation of alcohol (Patrick, 2016). Elizabeth Stanton was another prominent leader in this movement who advocated for suffrage and justice for women in divorce law (Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, 1991). She also, “helped organize the world’s first women’s rights convention in 1848, and” in 1863 helped Anthony form the National Women’s Loyal League (Foner and Garraty, 1991).
The women suffragists’ efforts culminated with the passage of the 19th amendment, and led to the creation of the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Labor – to ensure gender equality at the work place, and Planned Parenthood -to encourage family planning and women control over pregnancies (Galen College of Nursing, n.d.). However, as illustrated by two NBC news clips, women have yet to achieve equality (2007, 2008). One clip shows U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren being interrupted by her male counterparts while giving a speech on the Senate floor (NBC News, 2008). That coupled with the fact that women still earn about 75 cents to a man’s dollar, makes it easy to see why this country has refused a female president: lack of respect for women.
Whereas, Blacks and homosexuals never had any rights prior to their social movements, a unique feature to the women’s movement was that in some American colonies, such as, New Jersey, women could vote before legislators decided to outlaw it (National Women’s History Museum, 2007). Another difference is that females fighting for suffrage tended to wear white in their protests, whereas, the participants of the other social movements did not dress in a particular way (NBC News, 2008). Nevertheless, the three movements have things in common. They manipulated the media to their favor and used it as a tool for activism and propaganda, and all used symbolism to get their message across – whether it be a rainbow flag, wearing white, or a Black hand. All movements had peaceful protests that turned violent, and for all, change came and continues to come slowly; as it took decades to achieve state or/and federal constitutional protection for all groups. A similarity between the civil rights and gay rights movements entail having admired leaders murdered.
All three movements achieved their main goals, but just because gays can marry, and women and Blacks can vote, does not mean that these human rights issues are all addressed. Although I have never seen homosexual discrimination at any previous or current work place, I know it exists, just as I know that women and African American liberation and equality are still on America’s to-do list. Women, African American, and homosexuals’ rights are still being decided by the federal government. Legislators have the option to decide on issues as abortion and birth control, just as they do about school and labor laws that defend or discriminate against the LGBT community, and on striking down state voting laws that aim to disenfranchise African Americans. As long as racial minorities, women, and LGBT people are widely underrepresented at the federal level, the fight for civil and human rights for all will continue.