Gay Rights and Gay Activism

SummaryThe gay rights movement began as simple attempts to gain fair and equal treatment for gay people. Over the years, gay activism has grown to be a highly-organized, well-funded movement to change public opinion on homosexuality and establish its practices as mainstream. Some of these efforts run counter to traditional moral values and pose a threat to those who want to seek help for unwanted same-sex attractions.

The plight of gay people

Gays and lesbians sometimes suffer unjustly and unfairly. In addition to their difficult internal struggles, they also encounter the ignorance and prejudice of others. Instead of receiving love and support from their families, they are sometimes ostracized. Rather than being involved in supportive church groups, they sometimes find themselves on the outside because even good God-fearing people may not know how to react to someone with same-sex attractions.

Gay people are sometimes evicted by landlords, fired by employers, and even face violent physical attacks. They suffer hate crimes and some people use AIDS as an excuse to show their hatred.1 They are substantially more likely to commit suicide than the average person.2 The collective anger over mistreatment and the frustration caused by their internal struggles are powerful forces behind the gay rights movement.

The beginnings of the gay rights movement

Gay people finally became sick and tired of being mistreated and began to fight back. In the 1960s, they simply wanted the public to leave them alone. They didn’t want to be called names and didn’t want to be arrested for going to gay bars. When dialog and reason didn’t get results, they began to form organizations and develop protest strategies. Following the social protest strategies of the era, they turned social issues into political issues. Although homosexual behavior is as old as history itself, there had not previously been a social identity based entirely on sexual behavior. The gay rights movement took the behavioral definition and expand it to become a definition of a class of people. They began to rewrite history to show that ancient Greece had a gay culture. While it is true the ancient Greeks had a more naturalistic view of life, including homosexuality, there was no gay identity. In fact, the Greek language had no word meaning gay.4 The concept of a homosexual person was created in the nineteenth century.5 Although homosexual behavior was certainly practiced before that time, it was seen as something you did and not who you were.

The watershed event of the gay rights movement in America happened in 1969 at a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, where gay patrons fought police in clashes that continued sporadically for two days.

Gay Activism

Over the years, gay people formed various organizations to further their efforts for equal and fair treatment. Over time, many of these well-meaning efforts went to extremes, often including violence, vandalism, and clandestine efforts to change public opinion and public policy. These extreme efforts are often referred to as gay activism.

Today, a number of highly organized, well-funded organizations attempt to mold public opinion in favor of homosexuality as a normal, alternative sexuality. Two of the larger organizations are the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Lambda Legal Defense and Educational Fund. These and other organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to promote efforts such as those described in this section.

Inborn homosexuality

Gay activism promotes the ideology that homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable. The idea that a person could change his sexual orientation puts into question the very concept of a gay identity. In addition, recognizing that anyone would want to change it is to admit there are those who have moral or value-based objections to homosexuality. Gay activists may go to great lengths to try to disprove anyone who claims to have experienced changes in their sexual orientation, preferences, or behaviors. They may say that such people were never gay in the first place or that they have been brainwashed into believing they have overcome homosexuality. They claim these people will some day realize they are just suppressing their true homosexual nature. It is ironic that gay activists have no problem believing that a straight man may discover his latent homosexuality, but they cannot tolerate the idea that a man with homosexual desires may discover his heterosexual nature. Jeffrey Satinover also noted, "There will always be people who seek to change but are not successful, even after many years of effort. Understandably perhaps, some of these relapse into a vocally gay-activist posture and become hostile toward the ministries they perceive as having failed, or even deluded, them."7

The normalization of homosexuality

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is the organization that determines for the professional community what is normal and what is abnormal. Their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a handbook widely used by clinicians to assist in diagnosing and classifying mental, emotional, and sexual disorders. The first edition of the DSM, published in 1952, listed homosexuality as a mental disorder, a severe form of psychopathology.

By 1968, the gay community had a few organizations in place and one of their first targets was the APA. Over the next few years, protestors interrupted APA conferences, shouting at the speakers and taking control of meetings. After three years of disrupted conventions, the APA agreed to let gay activists be involved in the decision-making process, even though the activists were not professionals in psychiatry or psychology. Finally in 1973, the board of trustees agreed to redefine mental illness in a way that accommodated homosexuality. Previously, disorders had been determined by deviations from an objective norm, but this redefinition said that the norm should be more subjective, and that people should not be considered disordered if they do not experience distress over their condition and if they show no major impairment in social functioning. With this redefinition, homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the DSM-III.

The decision by the APA board was not based on data nor did it represent the professional opinions of the practitioners the APA represents. Surveys show that a majority of mental health professionals believes that homosexuality is not normal.8 In his book Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis, Ronald Bayer describes how clinical decisions are made and the factors that influence those decisions. This subjective standard of normalcy set a dangerous precedent, because without an objective standard nearly any deviation can be considered normal as long as the person is not seriously disturbed by his condition. For example, in the DSM-IV, one of the criteria for diagnosing pedophilia (a disorder in which children are the preferred sexual objects) states, "The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."9 Such changes were also made in the criteria for diagnosing sexual sadism and masochism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and exhibitionism. In their attempt to be politically correct, the psychiatric community has lost the distinction between what is normal and what is right.

Over the years, a growing number of professionals became dissatisfied with the APA’s political commitments and formed organizations that oppose the APA’s advocacy of social issues such as abortion, the environment, affirmative action, gay rights, support of special interest groups, and other issues irrelevant to the profession of psychology.

The elimination of homosexuality as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has also had a negative effect on clinical research in the area of homosexuality. It is difficult to get funding or recognition for research in an area not listed in the DSM. One of the few organizations currently promoting research and documenting clinical successes in treating homosexuality is the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (see the Organizations page).

The movement to deny treatment

Gay activists seek not only to declare homosexuality to be normal, but also to block a person’s attempts to receive therapeutic help for unwanted homosexuality. They believe that such attempts are simply manifestations of the person’s internalized homophobia and self-loathing, and that the only healthy response to homosexual feelings is to accept a gay identity. They seek to make it professionally unethical for therapists to help people grow beyond homosexuality.

The American Psychological Association's Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues Committee lobbied for years against the right of individuals to receive treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions and have pressured the APA to ban scientists from studying the viability of treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions. Through their efforts, some professional associations in the United States have declared that homosexuality is not a disorder. As mentioned above, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Previously, disorders had been determined by deviations from an objective norm, but this redefinition said that the norm should be more subjective, that people should not be considered disordered if they do not experience distress over their condition and if they show no major impairment in social functioning.

Although homosexuality is no longer classified as a disorder, clinicians who treat those who seek treatment for homosexuality are treating within the guidelines in the DSM-IV, section 302.9, "sexual disorders not otherwise specified," "persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation." Notwithstanding, some legislation now makes it unethical for a therapist to offer treatment to those who seek treatment for their distress over homosexual desires.

Therapists who have seen how people can be helped have organized to find ways to protect the rights of patients who seek treatment as well as the rights of the therapists who treat them. For more information, contact the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. While it is true that no one should be coerced into treatment, the reverse is also true that no one should be denied treatment if they want it. Ultimately, it is an issue of personal freedom and self-determination.

Latent homosexuality

Gay activists would like you to believe there is latent homosexuality in all men because it gives credence to their position that homosexuality is natural and occurs to some degree in everyone. What they call latent homosexuality may be nothing more than the natural, right desires for companionship, acceptance, and healthy relationships. The only thing potentially homosexual about it is that if not fulfilled through healthy relationships, it could lead to homosexuality.


Homophobia is defined as an irrational hatred or fear of homosexuality. Although there are legitimate cases of homophobia, the use of the term has been expanded to take on social and political meanings. Even though a phobia is technically a psychotic disorder, it has been redefined in modern times to be “an irrational hatred, disapproval, or fear of homosexuality, homosexual men and lesbians, and their culture” (Microsoft College Dictionary).  Gay activists use it regularly to refer to anyone who disagrees with any aspect of their pro-gay perspective. They consider homophobic those who have moral convictions contrary to their perspective, even though such beliefs are not an indication of psychosis, nor are they necessarily irrational or in any way hateful. They also consider homophobic those who want to resolve their same-sex attractions as well as therapists who try to help them. Some activists have an almost neurotic attitude toward heterosexuals and blame their suffering in life on either social or internalized homophobia.

The truth is, those who are hostile toward gay people are usually prejudiced, meaning that they have an opinion against it without adequate basis—but they are not homophobic. Those who disagree with the pro-gay perspective may do it legitimately out of conviction, which is a strong belief. Those who object to homosexuality on religious or moral grounds do so out of conviction, not because of a phobia or prejudice.

Gay activists typically brand the motives of those who attempt to address their unwanted same-sex attraction as "internalized homophobia." They perceive such attempts as hatred and bigotry against gays and lesbians. They do not see that people can be legitimately unhappy with their same-sex attraction. For example, they do not realize that the source of the unhappiness can be legitimate, intelligent religious and moral convictions. They see it simply as the result of a so-called "homophobic" society which is forcing guilt upon people who don't conform to a heterosexual ethic.

Free speech

Although activists fight for gay rights, they seem all too eager to limit the free speech of those who don't agree with their agenda. When people of faith speak about homosexual behavior as a sin, or of their view of marriage as only between a man and a woman, it often brings a tidal wave of harsh language branding them as ignorant, homophobic, or bigoted.

Political issues

Gay activists turn social and cultural issues into political ones and through various means gain a legal minority status. They define themselves as a class of people, an oppressed minority fighting for civil rights. They merge being gay with gay rights so that those who oppose gay rights are seen as bigots who hate gay people. This civil rights approach takes on a feeling of a racial equality movement and gives the collective gay community a tremendous amount of power. They support gay or gay-friendly political candidates to help move their causes forward through legistation.

Legal issues

In additional to the legislative process, activists also focus on the judicial process. They identify gay or gay-friendly judges and introduce lawsuits that establish case law in their favor. For example, rather than permitting voters to decide whether to legitimize gay marriage, they seek to have judges dictate that society will have gay marriage whether the majority of society wants it or not. They have obtained many changes by nondemocratic, nonpolitical means. Gay rights have been created by state and federal judges although there is nothing in the express wording, text, or structure of the U. S. Constitution that suggests a fundamental—let alone constitutional—right to sexual expression (whether that expression be heterosexual or homosexual). See the organizations page for information on organizations that are addressing these concerns.

Social issues

The gay activist agenda seeks not only for the right to practice and celebrate homosexuality openly, but wants the endorsement of society. Not content with domestic partnership laws, activists have accomplished the legalization of gay marriage and the redefinition of the traditional family. They work toward more favorable child custody and visitation rights as well as the right to adopt children. They promote moral relativism, saying in effect, "it might be wrong for you, but not for me." They also seek a redefinition of gender, with the goal of giving humans five (or more) genders from which to choose instead of two. When freed of traditional biases, a person can then decide whether to be male, female, homosexual, lesbian, or transgender.10

These efforts present real threats to traditional family values, the divine concept of marriage between a man and a woman, and the divinely-appointed roles of men and women. See the organizations page for information on organizations that support families.

Educational issues

Gay activism pushes for an increase in gay and pro-gay school teachers and counselors who are in positions to influence children’s values. Boys and girls are often confused about sexuality during their adolescent years, and a gay counselor’s attempts to help them come to grips with their "gay identity" may add to their confusion and lead them to decide that they are gay. Gay activists sponsor school counseling programs and school clubs that encourage teens to accept a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity. Such programs typically use exclusively gay-identified counselors and sexually-explicit literature with students. In many school districts, even first-graders are required to read books such as Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate to counter the more traditional values taught in the home. Deborah Glick, a New York state assemblywoman and a lesbian, explained why first grade is the new front line of the pro-gay movement: "Most of the parents themselves have tremendous prejudice and bigotry that have been passed on for generations . . . and the reality is that we as a society, if we are to remain free and just, must provide a counter-balance to what kids are obviously learning at home."11 Such efforts intend to override the teaching of moral values in the home. Pro-gay school programs promote sex education that includes acceptance of homosexuality as a healthy lifestyle and encouragement to explore alternative sexualities. Anti-bullying programs and AIDS education are often avenues for pro-gay indoctrination. Such programs teach "safer sex" but rarely teach abstinence.

When teenagers are confused about sexuality or their gender identity, it is important that they have a safe and neutral person or group to talk with. However, pro-gay school counselors and gay school clubs are seldom safe or neutral. The counselors, club advisors, and guest speakers are not usually supportive of traditional  values. They typically encourage students to "come out of the closet" and accept a gay identity rather than take the time to sort out their feelings and attractions and make an informed decision.

Religious issues

The gay agenda encourages the ordination of gay ministers and a redefinition of theology to accommodate homosexual lifestyles. Gay activists teach that religious opposition to homosexuality is bigotry that must be stopped. Such efforts have begun to establish a legal precedence for granting gay rights over religious rights. The following news item appeared in the April 1988 issue of the Intercessor’s for America Newsletter: "The Washington, D.C. court of appeals has ordered Georgetown University [a private Catholic institution] to support homosexual groups on campus. The court ruled that Georgetown’s policy which denies support to gay organizations because homosexual practice is contrary to Catholic doctrine to be discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation and is a violation of the Washington, D.C. area’s Human Rights Act. The court also declared that ‘homosexual orientation tells nothing about a person’s abilities or commitments concerning religion. The compelling government interest to eliminate discrimination against homosexuals outweighs the freedom of religion.’"12

Militant activism

A small number of political-activist groups are militant in their tactics. Feeling wronged and oppressed, they are now fighting mad and fighting back with vocal, in-your-face tactics. They often threaten or cause property damage or physical injury. Although most gay people are respectable members of society, these militant gays get media attention and give the impression that gay people are on the fringe of society, feeding incorrect stereotypes. (See the section "Gay Activism Promotes Stereotypes" below.)

ACT UP was organized as a civil disobedience organization dedicated to confronting the issues of discrimination against people with HIV infection or AIDS. Queer Nation was organized by several members of ACT UP who wanted to focus their energy specifically on gay and lesbian rights. According to one of the group’s founders, "We wanted to do direct action, to get out on the streets, to scream and yell, to stage very visible protests against anti-gay violence and discrimination."6 Such groups go to radical extremes to shock the public, such as putting up pornographic signs or painting "We’re queer; we’re here" on businesses they target as homophobic. Since words like "queer" and "fag" have been used derogatorily against gay people, these radical groups have reclaimed the words and now use them pro-actively for their shock value.

Some groups have the purpose of "outing." They take it upon themselves to identify people who are gay and force them out of the closet by informing employers, families, and friends that they are gay. Although they do it against the person’s wishes, sometimes ruining careers and breaking up families, they feel it benefits the greater cause of the gay movement by showing that greater numbers of people are gay. Identifying successful, prominent people as gay seems to lend credibility to the cause.

The media

Gay activism seeks equal time and space in the media and encourages writers and producers to include more gay themes and present a positive image of gays. Since there are many liberal, pro-gay producers and journalists, there is a great deal of media exposure.

Gay Activism Promotes Stereotypes

When we have little experience with something, we tend to stereotype. Although many people think that all gays are alike, the truth is that the gay population is about as heterogeneous as the heterosexual population. Unless a person knows a relative or friend who is gay, the only experience they have to draw on is what they see in the media. When they watch a gay parade and see men and women flaunting their sexuality with lewd costumes and behavior, they only see the extremes of the gay population. And when the population at large begins to think that all gays are riotous and lewd, it seems reasonable to ban gays from such things as teaching school or serving in the military. Since most gay people are respectable members of society, gay activism and extremism give the average gay person a reputation he or she doesn't deserve.

Response to Gay Activism

The article "Seven Things I Wish Pro-Gay People Would Admit" lists areas where the extreme pro-gay agenda could be tempered to be more fair to those who are not happy being gay and want to make changes in their lives.

For further reading

Unforgiven Sins by Joe Dallas. This novel about the gay rights movement teaches powerful lessons about facing potentially explosive situations with sensitivity and wisdom.

Desires in Conflict: Hope for Men Who Struggle with Sexual Identity by Joe Dallas. Section 16 gives an insightful description of the genesis of rage in gay activism.


1. "Gay bashing" is usually by white, straight males in their late teens or early twenties, but it occurs at all ages.

2. A 1988 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that gay teens commit suicide at two to three times the rate of other teens and some studies show that 40% of all gay people make attempts on their lives when they are young (as reported in Is it a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gays and Lesbians, Eric Marcus, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 29).

4. See "The Greeks Had No Word For It," Marjorie Rosenberg, The Partisan Review, Spring 1993, vol. 60, no. 2.

5. "Parents and Loved Ones: Is There Hope?," Alan Medinger, Regeneration News, Sep. 1995, p. 2.

6. Is it a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gays and Lesbians, Eric Marcus, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 184.

7. Homosexualityity and the Politics of Truth, Jeffrey Satinover, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1966, chapter thirteen.

8. In 1977, for example, a poll was sent to psychiatrists in the USA. 69% of those responding said they considered homosexuality to be the result of psychological maladaption.

9. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition), American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC, 1994, p. 528.

10. These concepts were formally prepared for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, 30 Aug. to 15 Sep. 1995. See "Gender: The Deconstruction of Women: Analysis of the Gender Perspective in Preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China," 1995, p. 21.

11. The New American, 25 Jan. 1993.

12. Intercessor’s for America Newsletter, Apr. 1988.