National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony
July 4, 2015

By Amanda Simpson
Executive Director, U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives

Empowered by the Gay Pioneers’ visibility, activism and success in eliminating the prohibition of federal government employment and homosexuality as a mental illness, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings and the Gay Pioneers laid the groundwork for future activism.

But it was the AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s the emboldened the movement. With the realization that society had little concern about the gay men dying at alarming numbers, gays and lesbians demanded pharmaceutical and governmental action and public awareness. ACT-UP, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, Keith Haring, and Peter Staley, among countless others helped humanize a disease, encourage gays and lesbians to out themselves, stage strategic civil disobedience and dramatically demonstrate the power of individual and communal activism.

Inspired by that example, regionally and nationally LGBT political and social service organizations formed and flourished. As gays and lesbians came out of the shadows in increasingly larger numbers, they made a powerful personal and political statement to family, neighbors, friends and colleagues. 

Service members Legal Defense Network demanded that gays and lesbians be allowed to openly serve their nation.

GLAAD chastised media for homophobic reporting.

GLSEN encouraged the formation of gay straight alliance in high schools and provided these GSAs and teachers with educational resources.

LGBT community centers were founded across the nation.

Lambda Legal, ACLU and GLAD filed lawsuits.

Tim Gill, Jon Stryker and others created foundations to help fund LGBT activism.

Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder shed light on the staggering number of homophobic crimes that were unreported, under-investigated and unpunished.

Grassroots and statewide organizations lobbied for hate crime, workplace and other protections.

Jewish, Protestant and Catholic gays and lesbians began dialogue with their faiths.

Martina Navratilova, Ellen DeGeneres, Barney Frank and countless prominent business, entertainment, religious, sports and political leaders came out.

 And bisexual and transgender issues took hold.

As the highest ranking transgender federal employee, I stand on their shoulders. I feel privileged as a transgender American to use my engineering and military background to defend our nation.

And through this 50 year struggle, the movement followed the non-violence advocated by Frank Kameny. With the exception of Stonewall in 1969, we turned the other check despite horrific hate crimes and those who damned us to hell at our pride festivals and funerals. We remained committed to exercising our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of our grievances. We held firm in our belief in the American promise of equality and equal justice under the law - and like Dr. King believed that we shall overcome.

Photo by Michael Key - Washington Blade


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