Celebrating LGBT History Month

The evolution of the LGBT movement in audio

In June, we offered glimpses into pivotal moments of the LGBT movement. Now, for LGBT History Month, we’re juxtaposing those moments with more recent news. Read on to learn about LGBT history, now and then.

FILE - In this June 26, 1978 file photo, then San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is seen in San Francisco's seventh annual Gay Freedom parade. (AP Photo/File)
FILE – In this June 26, 1978 file photo, then San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk is seen in San Francisco’s seventh annual Gay Freedom parade. (AP Photo/File)

THEN: Medical classification of homosexuals is in flux

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In a historic discussion from 1958, panelists question the medical classification of homosexuals (The Pacifica Radio Archives). The recording is thought to be the earliest radio program addressing “the problem” of homosexuality.

Psychologist Blanche Baker says few in medicine agree: “[Homosexuality] is a quite controversial subject even in the medical profession… There are those positions who feel that this is definitely a neurotic problem… Many feel it’s hereditary, others feel it may be caused by other factors… I feel that a homosexual is, first of all, a human being.” Needless to say, Baker’s view was progressive for her time.

NOW: Legal rights of homosexuals are in flux

On June 26, 2015, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling by the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states (Illinois Public Media: News). While the decision is a major milestone in LGBT rights, other legal concerns remain.

University of Illinois law professor Sara Benson says that issues like adoption, transgender marriage and employment discrimination are still contentious: “For the gay community in general and for the transgender community in particular, fighting for employment discrimination rights is very important because states vary in their protections for employment discrimination.”


THEN: Homophobia—”the bugaboo of fear”—reigns

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The 1958 panel identifies “the bugaboo of fear” as the key problem facing homosexuals in society. Homophobia remains an issue over the decades.

Talking to members of the Parents Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 1982, Studs Terkel says, “It isn’t prejudice, I think it’s fear.”

A PFLAG member agrees: “It is a matter of education to people who just don’t know enough about it. So when you don’t when you don’t know something about something you generally fear it.” (The WFMT Studs Terkel Radio Archive.)

NOW: Support soars, but homophobia persists

On a recent program from KQED Forum, journalist Michelangelo Signorile explains that while American society, by many measures, is trending towards increasing support for LGBT rights, tolerance is not the same as equality. His book “It’s Not Over” explores how homophobia remains an issue in America.


THEN: The transgender community is in the shadows

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A search for “transgender” in Pop Up Archive turned up almost no results for recordings from before the 21st century. The mentions that come up about cross-dressing are framed as potentially at odds with the gay rights movement as a whole.

Playwright Tennessee Williams in 1976 (Pacifica Radio Archives):
“I do wish that some of these lib movements would not go to the rather bizarre extremes which they go to, which I think hurt, rather than help the situation.

For example, I once had the experience of watching a Gay Lib parade, a motorcade really, in Chicago, and there were these transvestites standing up in Cadillac convertibles, and they looked like travesties! That doesn’t help. It gives the public the impression that homosexuals are freaks. They’re not freaks.”

NOW: Transgender issues are at the forefront

Starting in the 21st century, mentions of transgenderism become abundant in Pop Up Archive’s public audio. Parents like Marlo Mack, creator of the podcast “How to Be a Girl,” describe the experience of raising a transgender girl (Here Be Monsters).

Despite the increased visibility of transgender issues, transgender people still face discrimination from medical, legal, and military institutions.