The Stonewall Uprising and the Evangelical Right: 1969 to 1984

The contemporary gay rights movement began forty-two years ago in Greenwich Village with the watershed event know as the Stonewall Uprising (1969). The spontaneous Stonewall refusal to accept society’s unrelenting harassment and humiliation of gays and lesbians opened a new chapter in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

Within a few years of the Stonewall Uprising the LGBT movement was gaining momentum. It took conservative Christians about five years to organize a major response.  Below, I am first listing some major events of the LGBT movement, then I list some conservative Christians responses.

Gay and Lesbian Events

  • 1969 The Stonewall Uprising
  • 1970 The first major Gay Pride events in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco
  • 1971  Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska decriminalize oral sex; Idaho temporarily decriminalizes oral sex
  • 1972  The founding of the parent group PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends
    of Lesbians and Gays)
  • 1973  The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its
    manual of psychiatric disorders
  • 1977  Openly gay business man Harvey Milk is elected to the San Francisco city council
  • 1981  Official announcement by the Center for Disease Control of a strange
    new disease
  • 1982 Wisconsin is first US state to ban discrimination against homosexuals
  • 1984  City of Berkeley adopts domestic partner health benefits for city employees

Conservative Christian Responses

To fight the LGBT civil rights campaign, conservative Christians responded in a concerted effort. This anti-homosexual campaign included 1) the formation of new organizations, 2) a legislative agenda, and 3) the massive involvement of the Christian publishing industry.

  • 1974  American Christian Cause was founded to oppose the “gay agenda”
  • 1977  Anita Bryant began her anti-homosexual-rights campaign in Dade County Florida
  • 1978  Senator John Brigg sponsors Proposition 6 in California, which would prohibit homosexuals, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in public schools
  • 1978  Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated by colleague and gay rights opponent Dan White
  • 1978  The Presbyterian Church (USA) issues an “authoritative interpretation” of
    their constitution forbidding the ordination of “self-affirming, practicing
    homosexuals” as officers of the church
  • 1979  Baptist minister Jerry Falwell and Republican strategist Paul Weyrich found The Moral Majority
  • 1981  The Moral Majority starts its anti-homosexual crusade
  • 1983  AIDS is described as a “gay plague” by Rev. Falwell
  • 1984  Phyllis Schlafly denounces Values Clarification as “a strategy to put
    down the barrier of prejudice toward homosexuals, lesbians, and radicals.”

During the 15 years between the 1969 Stonewall Uprising and the 1984 re-election of Ronald Reagan as president, a host of anti-homosexual books from evangelical publishers flooded the market. Five well-known authors published numerous anti-homosexual books during that eleven-year period.

  • Pat Robertson – 2 books
  • D. James Kennedy – 2 books
  • Phyllis Schlafly – 2 Books
  • Jerry Falwell – 6 Books
  • James Dobson – 8 Books

Shapers of Evangelical CulturalRonald Reagan was swept to re-election by the Religious Right, organized by Republican political strategist Paul Weyrich, Rev. Jerry Falwell and their Moral Majority.  Fueled in part by the growing success of the LGBT civil rights movement, the Religious Right re-elected Reagan, who by some accounts was not anti-homosexual.

As president, Reagan did not support the repeal of anti-gay laws or policies, which would have spelled serious trouble for him as a Republican. Worse than that, he dragged his feet on funding AIDS research, which contributed to the tragic (read: criminal) deaths of hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately he had run on a platform to reduce the government’s role in healthcare and medicine. Thank God for the confrontational and combative strategy of ACT UP. But in 1978, as governor of California, Reagan spoke out against the Briggs Initiative, Prop 8, along with presidents Ford and Carter.

All the events listed above were either highly publicized or easily available to the public. Something else happened in 1984, however. It came with hoopla and fanfare, but its effect on the LGBT civil rights campaign was initially subtle. The influence of that event not only persists to the present day, but will persist far into the future.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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8 Responses to The Stonewall Uprising and the Evangelical Right: 1969 to 1984

  1. Ed Rogosky says:

    Mr. Goetz, there is still much disagreement among scholars about what Paul and even Jesus meant about certain issues in the New Testament. Two posts back you went on your merry way regardng how human government is used by God to do God’s Will. Yet, are all things done by government within the will of God? If that were the case, you may have an argument.

    However, all that it seems to me is that force, the use of force seems to be condoned by both the LGBT community as well as the rest of the world. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke of my kindgom being not of this world, a world where force and others ways of manipulation are all too commonly used to get others to agree. Certainly is an excellent method of manipulation, but is it Christian?


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Several things, Ed. First, I share your distaste for the use of coercive force. Second, of course there is scholarly disagreement–there is scholarly disagreement over the significance of nearly every verse in the Bible! If I had to wait for a scholarly consensus to make a point, well, I’d be waiting a very long time. Regarding human government: all I said was that human government was one of the things Paul used to replace the O.T. Law. I didn’t go into detail about any of the things God gives us to replace the Law (Spirit, love, conscience, human government, or scripture).

      Ed, regarding manipulation: manipulation is a form of influence. There are a host of verbs we can use in place of influence: persuade, convince, woo, exhort, encourage, edify, strengthen, channel, guide, teach, threaten, coerce, and manipulate. The word we choose depends on whether we want to characterize the goal as good or bad. I know you consider at least some of my goals to be undesirable.

      When babies cry or laugh, scream or smile, they are learning how to influence the people in their environment to get what they want and need. It is a natural thing to learn how to influence people.

      The person who never learns how to influence the people around them is a sad and frustrated person, ineffective and powerless.


      • Ron Goetz says:

        Somehow I put the following comment here by accident. My apologies.

        You know, it’s hard to believe that churches like yours really exist. I guess what we call “fundamentalist” here in California really can be different from what others experience. But I only attended the GARB church for three or four years. There was some hell-fire and brimstone though, that’s for sure.

        I still live with the fallout of those years: a certain fundamentalist tone that enters my writing from time to time, a kind of prudishness, and an anger that is morphing into mourning, disappointment, and resignation–but never totally goes away.


  2. Unless your final paragraph above is intended as a end of season cliff-hanger or a tune it at 10:00 for details, it’s not very clear what you are saying. To what are you referring that took place n 1984. or do we need to ask George Orwell?


  3. Ron Goetz says:

    I replied, in a long post and a short one. The long post addresses the anti-gay bias of the NIV in particular, and the shorter one on the anti-homosexual bias of three particular translators.


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