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Gay Identity, Gay Rights, and Gay Activism

The terms gay (referring to men), lesbian (referring to women), and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) include not only personal feelings and behaviors, but also describe a political, cultural, and social identity.

Development of a gay identity

Experiencing same-sex attractions and accepting a gay identity are two separate, but related issues. A person may feel the attactions, but not consider himself to be "gay." Being "gay" includes not only personal feelings and behaviors, but also describes a social and political identity.

Gay communities and culture

When people self-identify as "gay," they discover a connection with other gay people. In so doing, they may find a great deal of acceptance and feel—perhaps for the first time in their lives—that they fit in with a group of people. Since they often feel that others have let them down or they feel rejected by others, they turn to each other for support. In this collective community, they feel safe, comfortable, and at home.

Many larger cities have distinct areas where gay people tend to live or congregate for entertainment. Gay-identified people often move to major cities where they can find a larger gay community. They tend to trust and give preference to each other in personal and business dealings and find comfort in the gay community because they feel the acceptance they may never have found previously among their family, church, friends, or classmates.

Discrimination Against Gays

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 and establish homosexuality as mainstream. Some of these efforts attempt to counter traditional values and pose a threat to those who want to seek help for unwanted same-sex attractions.

Gays and lesbians are sometimes treated 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 when people don't know how to include them.

Gays are sometimes evicted by landlords, fired by employers, and even face physical attacks. Some people use AIDS as an excuse to show their hatred. Gays are substantially more likely to commit suicide than the average person. 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 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 rewrote 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. The concept of a homosexual person was created in the nineteenth century. Although homosexual behavior was certainly practiced before that time, it was seen as something you did (sporadic or chronic behaviors) and not who you were (identity)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) are psychological, political, and social constructs created in the 1900s. They are not primarily physical, genetic, or religious constructs. There are certainly areas where these issues overlap with religious doctrines and practices, but they are primarily independent issues. 

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 influence public opinion in favor of homosexuality as a normal, alternative sexuality. Large pro-gay organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to promote their causes.

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.

In 1973, the APA removed homosexuality as a disorder from the DSM-III. Previously, a disorder was identified as a deviation from an objective norm. With the DSM-III, norms became subjective. Conditions are considered a disorder only when people experience distress over their situation and experience major impairment in social functioning.

The Movement to Deny Treatment

Gay activists seek not only to declare homosexuality to be normal, but also to block attempts for therapeutic help for unwanted homosexuality. They claim that when people seek treatment they are simply manifestating their internalized homophobia and self-loathing, and that the only healthy response to homosexual feelings is to act on those feelings. Some gay activists lobby for legislation to make it unethical for therapists to treat people who seek treatment for unwanted homosexuality.

Nevertheless, treatment for persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation is covered within the guidelines of the current DSM-V. See also Professional Ethics.