How Quickly Media Support Can Change: LGBTQ+ Equality

For centuries prior, many civilizations considered homosexuality or some non-heterosexual variations to be perfectly normal aspects of society, but America broke this mold, like due to its early strict religious beliefs. The media had always been disparaging of queer sexualities (so much so that “queer” was used as a slur for a long time, but eventually reclaimed), but as Streitmatter puts it “the American news media’s coverage of gay men and lesbians was overwhelmingly negative” during the 20th Century, going so far as to call gay people “perverts” (219). This lasted until the turn of the century, when most news outlets made a complete 180 and began to treat gay people with respect, using their newfound power from major technological enhancements to reach a wider audience and spread acceptance of this “increasingly visible society” (220).

Lawrence v. Texas marked the first major victory for the LGBTQ+ community in the 21st Century, when the Supreme Court abolished all remaining sodomy laws. The case was heavily covered by the news, and many outlets were extremely vocal on their opinions that the justices should rule in favor of decriminalizing sodomy. Massachusetts soon after legalized same-sex marriage, but many states went out of their way to ban it.

Activists also focused on adding sexual orientation to the list of things protected against hate crimes. In 2009, after a hard-fought battle, a bill was signed that declared that crimes driven by prejudice against other sexual orientations were now hate crimes. The final major advance covered in the book is that the public and media now urged LBGTQ+ members of the US Armed Forces to not hide their sexuality, breaking free of the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Key Terms/People
Lawrence v. Texas:
 A landmark 2003 Supreme Court case in which all remaining sodomy laws were abolished.
Michel Martin: ABC reporter vocally supportive of Lawrence v. Texas
Doris Trzcinski and Marie Auger: A lesbian couple that was together for 25 years used as an example by the NYT that homosexual couples were just as faithful as heterosexual ones.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Newspaper that quoted a sociology professor who said children
of same-sex couples developed no differently from heterosexual couples.
Matthew Shepard: University of Wyoming student who was tortured and killed in 1998 for being gay.
Defense of Marriage Act: 1996 legislation that defined marriage only as a union between a man and a woman. Removed after Windsor v. United States
Employment Non-Discrimination Act: Proposed legislation meant to bar employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity that was heavily backed by the media.

            Promotional video created by the ACLU in support of Edie Windsor.                            Property of the ACLU

Discussion Questions:

  • The chapter seems to end in 2015, do you think major advances in LGBTQ+ equality not listed here owe their success in part to media?
  • This chapter noticeably leaves out the Stonewall Riots, why do you think this is? Was this merely an oversight or did media not play a large part in this event?
  • How does media both positively and negatively affect the LGBTQ+ rights movement?
  • Do LGBTQ+ and ally celebrities help the movement through their social media and work?

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