United States Queer History

This is a project for the class "Oakes 150: Queer History & Theory in the United States" at UC Santa Cruz. This timeline provides a substantial (but by no means complete!) overview of seminal events of queer history in the US. The timeline has been divided into eras of US history that extend over centuries, beginning with colonization and “ending” at present-day (June 2015). The timeline consists of information primarily from in-class readings, especially Michael Bronski’s “A Queer History of the United States” (2011).

Other projects for this class are the ;xSTx;a href="http://queerarchive2015.tumblr.com";xETx;Queer History Archive;xSTx;/a;xETx; and the ;xSTx;a href="http://queer-theory-and-history-in-the-us.wikia.com/wiki/Queer_Theory_and_History_in_the_US_Wikia";xETx;Queer Glossary;xSTx;/a;xETx;. Check them out!;xNLx;;xSTx;br;xETx;;xNLx;Colonial/Revolutionary Era (1492-1800): European contact with indigenous peoples through the American Revolution.;xNLx;;xNLx;Western Expansion (1802-1860): Colonials move westward.;xNLx;;xNLx;Civil War (1861-1865): North and South fight over slavery.;xNLx;;xNLx;Gilded Age/Rise of Social Purity (1870s-1900): Rapid economic growth in the US, increased wages attracts European immigrants. Rise in movement to abolish sexual immorality.;xNLx;;xNLx;Pre-World Wars/Early 20th Century (1900-1919);xNLx;;xNLx;Roaring Twenties (1920-1928): Distinct cultural edge in major US cities as the economy prospers.;xNLx;;xNLx;Great Depression (1929-1938): World wide economic depression following the stock market crash of September 1929.;xNLx;;xNLx;World War II (1939-1945): Second World War, the US does not enter until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 1941.;xNLx;;xNLx;Post-WWII (1947-1960): The period following World War II, when sexual identity further permeated the mainstream, especially in "science".;xNLx;;xNLx;Civil Rights (1961-1990): Civil rights became a topic of debate - issues of race, gender, and sexuality were discussed, and old norms were questioned. Queerness gained visibility in the mainstream through the media as well as demonstrations.;xNLx;;xNLx;Present (1991-2015): Present-day "advancements" of the past 24 years - noted by changes in laws and increased representation.;xNLx;

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

By Alfred Kinsey - detailed study/interviews with men on their same-sex behavior. 650k-1.6m male soldiers admitted to mostly having sex with other men. This work also included the creation of the Kinsey Scale, a new way in which individuals could describe their sexuality. The Scale ranges from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), and provided one of the first ways of placing a nonbinary label on one's sexuality.

Death penalty for sodomy eliminated

Pennsylvania sodomy law eliminates death penalty for sodomy, replacing it with six months of hard labor and the loss of a third of the individual’s estate.


Philadelphia is established, becomes progressive Quaker city – Quaker views on sexual freedom influence American politics over the next fifty years.

The term "homosexual"

Karl-Maria Kertbeny first coined the term "homosexual" in a pamphlet arguing for changes in Prussian law against sodomy.

Hayes Code

In March 1930, The Production Code, also known as the Hayes Code, was implemented into the Film industry. It forbade adultery, non-marital, and other “sexual perversions” to be presented to the masses. By July 1934, all films required a certificate to prove that they had adhered to the Code's standards before they were released.

"War on the Sex Criminal"

J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, wrote the article “War on the Sex Criminal" - this consequently incited public fear of the homosexual.

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president.

Comstock Act

The Comstock Act banned “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material from the US mail. This included anatomy books, birth control, and sex education material.

Hull House

The first U.S. settlement house opens in Chicago, Hull House, founded by Jane Adams and her companion Ellen Gates Starr. Hull House aimed for social reform and greater opportunities for the working class and for women.

Kiernan - "homosexual"

Dr. James G. Kiernan uses the word “homosexual” for the first recorded time. Describes homosexuals as people with a “general mental state is that of the opposite sex".

The term "lesbian"

Havelock Ellis first used the term “lesbian”, referring to the Isle of Lesbos, the home of Sappho.

Theory of the Leisure Class

Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen, an acclaimed economist and sociologist, claimed “conspicuous consumption” and critiques heterosexual relationships that declares ownership over women similar to the ownership of valuable material objects.

William Julian Dalton

William Julian Dalton, a popular female impersonator, had the subversive ability to expose the cultural construction of gender ideals in many musical comedies on the New York stage.

Maud Allan

Maud Allan, a San Francisco resident, created international headlines with her erotic, scantily clad performance as the title character of Oscar Wilde’s verse play "Salome".

Freud's "Three Essays"

Freud writes "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality", discussing puberty, childhood sexuality, and perversions.


The term "transvestite" is first coined by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld.

A Young Man's Guide

The widely read "A Young Man’s Guide: Counsels, Reflections, and Prayers for Catholic Young Men" by Reverend F.X. Lasance singled out the sinfulness of masturbation and homosexuality.

"Prison Memoirs" + Desire

Alexander Berkman's "Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist" is widely read and states that “same-sex desire need not be explained through sexological language”

NYC Non-Profits for Women

In New York City, there were 54 women’s residences run by nonprofit organizations with arrangements that would free women from traditional, domestic “women’s work".

Romantic Friendships

Era in which a wide range of middle-class American families participated in “romantic friendships.”

Sodomy laws

The death penalty is reinstated for sodomy.

Jemima Wilkinson

Quaker evangelist who renamed theirself “Publick Universal Friend”, refusing to use gendered pronouns, dressing in “gender-neutral” clothes – one of the first noted in the Revolutionary era to challenge gender.

Deborah Sampson Gannett

Born female, enrolled in the Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtliff, fought for nearly three years - one of the first noted to do so.

Royal Tyler’s The Contrast

The first American-written play produced in the US – encouraged American “manhood”/masculinity.

First & Second Great Awakening

Arguments for and against slavery & same-sex marriages were justified with Biblical context.

Washington Irving

Irving wrote that the root of social change and social discord is when American theater “promoted flirtatious fantasies for all,” as desire was impossible to police since it was mainly unseen by the public.

Louisiana Purchase

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Writes semi-erotic journal entries about a fellow student, Martin Gay. Are they more than just friends?

Womyn in the Army

Era in which a lot of women dressed as men in order to enlist in the army. There were women who fought on the abolitionist side as well as the Confederate side.

Henry David Thoreau

Journal entries become increasingly erotic and homosexual.

Mexican Cession

San Francisco

Only 300 out of 25,000 residents were women; two-thirds of them were prostitutes.

Emily Dickinson

Writes erotic poetry and romantic letters to her long time friend and new sister-in-law Sue Gilbert.


The first YMCA in the United States was built in Boston. They attract many young gay males.

Youngest Gender Reassignment

Bradley Cooper, age 17, becomes Britain’s youngest gender reassignment patient but later regrets the decisions and returns to living as a boy. Sheila Jeffreys uses stories like this to invalidate all trans identities.

War & Gay Soldiers

“Homosexuals” could not enlist (as they were “screened”) - by December that policy was no longer relevant, and women could also enlist.

Lover's Lanes

With the success of the assembly line and the cultural shift to Fordism, the automobile became a symbol of sexual freedom by the 1920s and helped established access to “lover’s lanes” for young people.

Gay design

The rise of the department store, art window designs, and aesthetics was organized and promoted by homosexual men in the wave of consumerism.

Shifting Views on YMCA

Internationally, YMCA became visible as place for homosexual men to meet for sex and socializing.

Public fairy culture

Public “fairy” culture emerged and thrived in New York’s Bowery and Greenwich Village.

Labor contractors & prostitutes

Labor contractors provided male prostitutes for Pacific Coast Asian American cannery workers, thereby confirming the existence of same-sex sexuality among Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers.

"Queer" becomes derogatory

By the 1920s, the term "queer" attained a pejorative context.

The Well of Loneliness

Radclyffe Hall’s "The Well of Loneliness" was influential in shaping American ideas of homosexuality with the character Stephen Gordon, who became the prototype of the “mannish lesbian”.

Camp Trans

Camp Trans protests Michfest and continues to run intermittently.

The Stone Wall

Mary Casal's "The Stone Wall" is published. This was one of the few accounts of what it was like to be a lesbian during the early 20th century.

Shift in terminology

1930s: The terms "faggot", "dyke", and "gay" come into common usage. "Faggot" and "dyke" are pejorative, while "gay" is only used in the community. The terms "fag” and “pansy” used almost exclusively by heterosexuals, aka “normals” (in a derogatory manner) – gay men used “faggot”.


1930s: “The height of popular fascination with gay culture, literally thousands of [people] attended the city’s drag balls …”

Gay bars and prohibition

1930s: Gay bars went to court to challenge prohibition.

Organizing - gay rights

1930s: Groups began organizing in support of gay/lesbian rights.

"Coming out"

1930s: Beginning of the use of the metaphor “gay world”, more common usage of the metaphor “coming out”.

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