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Jonathan Wolfman

Jonathan Wolfman
Maryland, Northwest of The District,
January 26
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MAY 1, 2012 7:19AM

Mapping ACLU's Defense of LGBT Rights Since 1936

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     Among the reasons I've been an American Civil Liberties Union Member for as long as I have is the organization's understanding that it is our Constitution and not the whims of voters that must, in the end, determine fundamental rights under law.

 This is a brief look, in the ACLU's own words, at how and why the the organization emphasizes LGBT civil rights in its work.

 The ACLU's defense of LGBT rights began as far back as 1936. (More on that early date tomorrow!)

(Check out the link to the map at bottom.)




     "The mission of the  ACLU LGBT Project is the creation of a society in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people enjoy the constitutional rights of equality, privacy and personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association.

     The ACLU has a long history defending the LGBT community. We brought our first LGBT rights case in 1936 and founded the LGBT Project in 1986. The ACLU’s LGBT rights strategy is based on the belief that fighting for the society we want means not just persuading judges and government officials, but ultimately changing the way society thinks about LGBT people. To end discrimination, the ACLU seeks both to change the law and to convince Americans that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is wrong. The ACLU carries out this work in five priority areas:

     Basic Rights and Liberties,


      Relationships and Marriage,

     Youth and Schools, and

     Transgender Discrimination.

Basic Rights and Liberties

     The ACLU works to ensure that LGBT people have equal opportunity to participate fully in civil society. No LGBT person should experience discrimination in employment, housing, or in businesses and public places, or the suppression of their free expression or privacy rights. The ACLU seeks new laws against discrimination in states and at the federal level, and resists all attempts to weaken the impact of existing nondiscrimination laws. With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” our current federal priority is passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.


     Fighting restrictions on parenting by LGBT people is critical because this discrimination causes serious, enduring harm to the lives of LGBT people and their children. The ACLU challenges policies and laws that prevent qualified and caring LGBT people from foster parenting or adopting kids. We also strive to change laws or practices that interfere in custody and visitation relationships between LGBT parents and their children. Our work debunks myths about the undesirability of same-sex couples raising children – myths often heard in the nationwide debate over marriage.

Relationships and Marriage

     The ACLU believes that LGBT people, like everyone else, should have the freedom to build the kinds of personal, intimate relationships most meaningful to them without risking that their families will be disregarded or harmed by the state. Our goal is to obtain full recognition of same-sex relationships through marriage, in every state and at the federal level. In some states, the ACLU works for domestic partnership protections as a first step towards the full recognition and complete protections offered only by marriage.

Youth and Schools

     The Youth and Schools program strives to make public schools and other state institutions for young people safe and bias-free for LGBT kids and teachers. We team up with students to fight for their free expression rights, to establish gay-straight alliances, and to advocate that LGBT kids be able to attend school dances with same-sex dates and dressed in gender nonconforming ways if they choose. We believe that all kids should be taught in an environment respectful of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Discrimination against Transgender People

     The ACLU strives to eliminate discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people and to create a society in which the full range of gender identities and expressions is respected and affirmed. We focus our efforts on ending discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, parenting, and schools. We also challenge legal barriers to transgender people obtaining government identity documents appropriate for their gender identity. Through our legal work, we help transgender people better understand their emerging legal rights and develop public education campaigns to persuade the general public about the importance of treating transgender people fairly.


Additional Resources

LGBT & AIDS Project Cases: Here you’ll find overviews, case documents, and the latest news on all of our ongoing, as well as concluded litigation.

ACLU and the History of LGBT Rights & HIV/AIDS : Beginning with our defense of The Children’s Hour, a play banned in 1936 for a suggested lesbian relationship, this comprehensive timeline illustrates the ACLU’s long history of protecting the rights of LGBT Americans (scheduled to be updated soon).

Windsor v. United States: Edie Windsor Challenges DOMA: Our challenge to Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

LGBT Youth and Schools Library: Some of the best information from the ACLU and other organizations on students' rights and what you can do to make your school a safer, more welcoming place.

Too High a Price: The Case Against Restricting Gay Parenting: The updated second edition of “Too High a Price: The Case Against Restricting Gay Parenting,” compiles decades of social science research, the positions of the major child health and welfare organizations, and government data to show how children are hurt by restrictions on parenting by lesbians and gay men.

Transgender People and the Law: Frequently Asked Questions: This online guide is intended to help you better understand what legal rights transgender people now have throughout the country.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA): Learn more about ENDA, pending federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity."


This map shows the state of play:

Non-Discrimination Laws: State by State Information - Map | American Civil Liberties Union


TOMORROW:  An ACLU-LGBT Timeline, 1936--Present. 

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It's a proud and vital history.
Buncha commies, but I love 'em!
Matt yeah, Our Kind of Commies.... :)
1936 wouldn't have occurred to me in any respect.

This is a very valuable post.
Kosh and I'll detail that '36 a bit more, tomorrow.
You have genuine North American spirit.
Algis I trust that's a good thing. :)
great organization, which defends the constitution equally, whether one agrees or disagrees, they are always consistent and on principal...
ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Foundation are my favs.
Silly humanitarians. ;)
The thing with ACLU is that they stick up for the rights of everyone, even those whose views I find loathesome (like "Illinois Nazis" - Blues Brothers). ACLU - don't leave home without them!!
cc that's bc the ACLU defends the Constitution and not particular causes. :)
A most excellent organization. I have only disagreed a few times.
Thank goodness for the ACLU. It's hard to believe we are still fighting for justice for all people in this world, isn't it? R.
Deborah got to fight for it; yes.
Rated. Congratulate yourself Jonathan, you reminded me to stop procrastinating and get that check out today.
Rated. Congratulate yourself Jonathan, you reminded me to stop procrastinating and get that check out today.
Oh, Lord. Look at the South (on the map). It's all gray! I hope one day we aren't gray. We're more colorful than that.
The ACLU is one heck of an organization!
The ACLU is also a great source for teachers. I used their materials with middle school through graduate students. As a teacher-educator, I shared their resources with many preservice and practicing teachers.