The landmark ruling, Lawrence v. Texas (2003), is often cited as the beginning of the current gay rights movement. Since the time of that ruling, attitudes toward acceptance of gay rights have shown a clear cultural shift. As Kite (2011) notes, the sheer number of polls now tracking issues such as support for gay marriage, gay adoption, and gays in the military surely indicates that attitudes are changing and are likely to continue to do so. Other recent changes include the repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy,” signed into law in 2010 by President Barack Obama, and the Supreme Court rulings overturning portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor, 2013) and the ruling on California’s Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry, 2013) that resulted in gay marriages being resumed in that state. However, national opinion polls also show that acceptance of gay rights is much greater among younger than older people; percentages supporting gay marriage are lowest for those 65 years and older (32%) followed by those 50-64 (37%), those 30-49 (40%), and those 18-29 (59%; Jones, 2009). Other factors that predict anti-gay prejudice include gender, religiosity, and level of education (Herek, 2000). Acceptance of gay civil rights is also becoming more widespread in Western Europe, but remains very low in African and the Middle East (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2007).
Despite these recent visible changes in Western societies, sexual minorities continue to face harassment, criminal victimization, verbal abuse, and other forms of hostility because of their sexual orientation (Herek, 2009). Looking only at recent change also masks the experiences of older sexual minorities who were, historically, largely invisible. For example, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, founders of Daughters of Bilitis, both reported on the National Public Radio Show Fresh Air (2008) that when they realized they were attracted to women, they thought they were the only ones. Other landmark historic events deserve attention, including the Stonewall riots, and Evelyn Hooker’s groundbreaking work demonstrating that mental illness was not more prevalent in gay men than in heterosexual men, and the decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1980). It is important to understand how these events opened the way for the attitude changes we are witnessing today.
American Psychiatric Association (1980). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author
Fresh Air (Producer). (2008, August 29). Lesbian activist, Pioneering journalist Del Martin [Audio]. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94105031
Herek, G. M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 19-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00051
Herek, G. M. (2009). Hate crimes and stigma-related experiences among sexual minority adults in the United States: Prevalence estimates from a national probability sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24, 54-74. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0886260508316477
Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S.___ (2013).
Jones, J. M. (2009). Majority of Americans continue to oppose gay marriage. Princeton, NJ. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/118378/Majority-Americans-Continue-Oppose-Gay-Marriage.aspx
Kite, M. E. (2011). (Some) things are different now: An optimistic look at sexual prejudice. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 415-522. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0361684311414831
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 538 (2003).
Pew Global Attitudes Project (2007). World publics welcome global trade--but not immigration. Retrieved from http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/258topline.pdf
United States v. Windsor 12–307 (2013).