History of the Anti-Gay Movement Since 1977

A timeline of the anti-gay movement


Born-again singer Anita Bryant campaigns to overturn an anti-discrimination law protecting gay men and lesbians in Dade County, Fla. Inspired by her victory, Bryant founds the first national anti-gay group, Save Our Children, drawing unprecedented attention to gay issues and motivating gay groups to organize in response.

James Dobson, author of 1969 pro-spanking book Dare To Discipline, founds Focus on the Family in Arcadia, Calif. Focus will move to Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1991, become America's wealthiest fundamentalist ministry, and spearhead the campaign against gay marriage.


Gay activist Harvey Milk, elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, is assassinated on Nov. 27 (along with Mayor George Moscone) by right-wing religious zealot Dan White, a former city supervisor who had resigned in protest after the board passed a gay-rights ordinance.

John Birch Society trainer and "family activist" Tim LaHaye publishes The Unhappy Gays (later retitled What Everyone Should Know About Homosexuality). Calling gay people "militant, organized" and "vile," LaHaye anticipates anti-gay arguments to come.

California State Sen. John Briggs floats a ballot initiative allowing local school boards to ban gay teachers. "One third of San Francisco teachers are homosexual," Briggs says. "I assume most of them are seducing young boys in toilets." The initiative is defeated, but the campaign inspires anti-gay crusaders like the Rev. Lou Sheldon, who will found the Traditional Values Coalition in 1981.


The Rev. Jerry Falwell founds the Moral Majority, a national effort to stimulate the fundamentalist vote and elect Christian Right candidates. Early fundraising appeals include a "Declaration of War" on homosexuality.


Paul Cameron, former psychology instructor at University of Nebraska, begins publishing pseudo-scientific pamphlets "proving" that gay people commit more serial murders, molest more children, and intentionally spread diseases. Expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 for ethics violations, Cameron will continue to produce bogus "studies" widely cited by anti-gay groups.


Moral Majority allies in Congress propose the Family Protection Act, which would bar giving federal funds to "any organization that suggests that homosexuality can be an acceptable alternative lifestyle." Despite President Reagan's endorsement, the bill is defeated.

The Council for National Policy, a highly secretive club of America's most powerful far-right religious activists, begins meeting quarterly at undisclosed locations. Among the members will be R.J. Rushdoony, who calls for death penalty for homosexuals, and anti-gay crusaders James Dobson, Beverly and Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins and Phyllis Schlafly. George W. Bush will meet with the Council during his first campaign for president.


The U.S. Department of Defense issues a policy stating that homosexuality is "incompatible" with military service. Almost 17,000 gay soldiers will be discharged during the 1980s, though a 1989 Defense Department study will find gay recruits "just as good or better" than heterosexuals.


Pat Buchanan, communications director for President Ronald Reagan, calls AIDS, first identified in 1981, "nature's revenge on gay men."


The Coalition on Revival is founded to promote "Christian government" in the U.S. and to agree on theological tenets — including anti-gay principles — that fundamentalists can rally around. Board members include Tim LaHaye, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. Founder Jay Grimstead later tells The Advocate, "Homosexuality makes God vomit."


Addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Paul Cameron uses the AIDS crisis to suggest that "the extermination of homosexuals" might become necessary. The following year, Colorado's Summit Ministries will publish Special Report: AIDS. Co-authored by Cameron, the popular pamphlet blames gay men for the epidemic and calls for a national crackdown on homosexuals.


At the first Congressional hearings on anti-gay violence, Kathleen Sarris of Indianapolis tells of being stalked and assaulted by a "Christian soldier" who held her at gunpoint, beat and raped her for three hours, explaining that "he was acting for God; that what he was doing to me was God's revenge on me because I was a 'queer' and getting rid of me would save children."

Anti-gay groups cheer the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick holding that state anti-sodomy statutes are constitutional. Four years later, Justice Lewis Powell, the swing vote, will tell New York University law students, "I probably made a mistake in that one."


Boston's Gay Community News publishes a satire of anti-gay propaganda, beginning: "Tremble, Hetero Swine! We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lives. We will raise vast private armies ... to defeat ... the family unit." Anti-gay groups seize on the article as proof of a "secret homosexual agenda."