International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia


That’s tomorrow — May 17.

The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Homophobia and transphobia — or rather, anti-gay and anti-trans thoughts, words, and actions — are deeply rooted in many cultures, including inside the United States. In reality, they need far more than one day of discussion and recognition. One day is not enough.

When I started thinking about this post, I thought of all the ways such sentiments show up in everyday life. It’s so much that I couldn’t possibly write everything. Then I thought some more — this was when Arizona SB1432, the “show your papers to pee” bill, was topping my newsfeeds — and it occurred to me how very much of this discrimination has been coded into law, is being encoded into law even now.

Even then, I had to narrow my search parameters — to the United States, to the relatively recent past. Otherwise, it’s just too much.

And even then, a lot of the bias remains in what’s not covered — people and situations for which the law does not provide. For groups of people who are still discriminated against, harassed, threatened, assaulted, killed by individual citizens or private organizations — this lack of necessary legislation still causes active harm.

This first set examines a number of laws — some national, some state — and Supreme Court rulings from the recent past.

1960 — Is as good a place to start as any. This is because in 1960, every state in the United States maintained laws against sodomy. Illinois was the first state to repeal its statute in 1961; Arizona followed suit 40 years later.

1967 — In Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the United States Supreme Court held that gay folk were included under those “afflicted with psychopathic personality.” They could thus be refused admission — or deported — simply for being gay. This remained in effect until immigration law was reformed in 1990.

1974 — Kentucky enacted an anti-sodomy law that explicitly targeted same-sex encounters. That is, oral or anal sex with a person of a different sex was legal; oral or anal sex with a person of the same sex was a crime. Additionally, since the law did not mention how “sex” was defined, it added an extra layer of uncertainty for gender-nonconforming individuals. The law was struck down in 1992.

1977 — Arkansas enacted a similar sex-specific anti-sodomy law that had the charming bonus of likening same-sex oral and anal sex to bestiality. It was overturned in 2002.

1986 — In Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court — a post-Griswold, post-Eisenstadt, post-Roe court — held that the right to privacy did not extend to the sex in which same-sex couples engaged in their own bedrooms. The decision in Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick in 2003. At that time, 14 states still criminalized oral and/or anal sex between same-sex partners.

1996 — Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (because, you know, there’s a gay war on marriage — or something), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and the benefits that would be accorded to them. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deciding the constitutionality of this law.

2012 — Representative John Ragan introduced a bill into the Tennessee legislature that would have made it illegal for elementary and middle school teachers to discuss sexual activity not “related to natural human reproduction” — which would have effectively banned discussion of non-straight sexual attractions or orientations. The infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill died in the 2012 legislative session, only to be resurrected in 2013. The new, unimproved version of the bill would require school personnel to inform the parents of students they think might be gay, regardless of whether the students wanted their parents to know. Fortunately, the bill never made it out of committee this year.

Although many of these laws — this list, by the way, is not exhaustive — have been repealed, they help demonstrate that many LGBTQ people have lived substantial portions of their lives in a United States where the government has been actively hostile to their rights and to their very humanity. Many of the judges who ruled in these decisions still sit on their bench. Many legislators who enacted these statutes still hold office. Many of the people who first put them there still vote.

Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at current and proposed Arizona statutes and bills.