Sexes: How Gay Is Gay?

Homosexual men and women are making progress toward equality

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Today the gays lack a recognized leadership: the heads of their organizations speak for only a tiny minority of a minority, and alone among American leaders they have no census of their constituency. The Institute of Sex Research, founded by Alfred C. Kinsey, defines a homosexual as anyone who has had more than six sexual experiences with a member of the same gender. On that basis, the institute estimates that homosexuals constitute 10% of the U.S. population (13% of the males, 5% of the females). Of these, according to gay leaders, perhaps only 1% or so are out of the closet. The rest are still known as homosexuals only to themselves and perhaps a few trusted friends. Until a decade ago, they had nothing in common but their sexual orientation and fear of society's contempt.

The turning point came in the summer of 1969 in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, when 400 gays flooded the streets for several nights to protest police raids on the Stonewall Inn, a homosexual bar on Christopher Street. The anti-Viet Nam, civil rights and women's rights movements all helped galvanize gays into thinking that they, too, could make a claim on society for recognition of their basic rights and point of view. Since then, the gay rights movement has impressed the nation's consciousness strongly enough to gain an ironic tribute: the rise of an alarmed, organized and vehement opposition that includes fundamentalist churches.

The struggle is being fought on many levels. Politically, the movement's victories are now barely balancing its defeats. Thirty-nine cities, towns and counties, including Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, have enacted ordinances forbidding discrimination against homosexuals in jobs and housing, but only five of those communities have been added to the list in the past two years. The city council in supposedly blase and sophisticated New York City defeated such an ordinance in 1978. Last week the Connecticut house of representatives voted down a gay rights bill.

Singer Anita Bryant's well-publicized anti-homosexual crusade in 1977 led to the repeal of gay rights ordinances in Dade County, Fla., Wichita, Kans., St. Paul and Eugene, Ore. But Bryant's efforts also prodded gays by the tens of thousands to join homosexual rights organizations. In Washington, B.C., last fall, the gays organized to help elect Marion Barry as mayor. A staunch gay rights advocate, Barry has expressed gratitude for their support. Says Tom Bostow, president of Washington's Gertrude Stein Democratic Club: "The single person who elected Barry was Anita Bryant." The gays also mobilized enough strength at the polls in California last November to turn down, 3 to 2, a proposition that would have permitted school boards to fire any openly homosexual teachers.

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