50 Years of Gays in the Media & in the Streets: The 1970’s

November 6, 2013 in inQueery

70'sWith the social advances made in the 60’s following the stonewall riots, the struggle for LBGT rights in the 70’s was overshadowed by the movement for greater visibility. The 70’s gay media introduced a new direction, including the release of numerous feature films starring gay characters not aimed at portraying the LBGT populace as rapists, pedophiles, or murderers. The movements that developed behind the scenes were equally profound and helped further the dialogue needed for equal treatment of the LBGT community. The following is a non-exhaustive list of films and movements that define the 1970’s and paved the way for a new era of visibility and suffrage in the 1980’s.

The Boys in the Band (1970)
(Warning: NSFW Language)

‘The Boys in the Band’ (1970), originally based off of a stage-play which debuted in 1968, was later turned into a movie. Both the play and film broke new ground in the way they portrayed gay men, yet the film lost some of its appeal with critics for moments that seemed to portray aspects of homosexuality negatively. Critical voices aside, the overwhelming consensus suggested that “The Boys in the Band” remained a campy and fun portrayal of a few gay men who audiences wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.

Three years after the film made its way to theaters, change came at a rapid pace as the controversial decision to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) came about in 1973. In years prior, many gay psychiatrists began to push for change citing the work of Evelyn Hooker (The Adjustment of the Overt Male Homosexual) and Alfred Kinsey (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male/Female (Panelists). While Hooker argued that gay men are no more disturbed than their heterosexual counterparts, Kinsey maintained that same-sex sexual experiences were much more common than the public was led to believe. Both works were used in structuring an argument for taking homosexuality out of the DSM, and while many wanted the decision reversed after it came to fruition, the American Psychological Association (APA) lacked the majority to make such a reinstatement possible.

While homosexuality was removed from the DSM, another term was added to it that referenced lesbian, bisexual, and gay men who had not quite come to terms with their sexuality later in 1980. This ‘condition’ was known as ego-dystonic homosexuality disorder, and describes individuals who struggle with same-sex attractions and seek to change that aspect of themselves. While the omission of homosexuality from the DSM was a great landmark in time, the inclusion of ego-dystonic homosexuality disorder momentarily allowed for damaging ‘reparative’ therapies to manifest in the community.

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

Though “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” didn’t break much new ground as an LBGT film, it did something at the time that many feature films didn’t. The picture used a gay man as a supporting character in the story. This amounted to acknowledging LBGT individuals as living and breathing mainstays of society; a sticking point that the film included and respectfully never put up for debate. Having gay men and women as secondary characters in a feature film may not seem like a bold decision, but it marks a time of greater inclusion and validation which was furthered by events such as the aforementioned decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM.

During the movie’s release,perceptions of the LGBT community were shaped by a sea of change; cities passed new laws and ordinances that sought to assist or condemn homosexuality through legislation. As a result, the LBGT community was receiving the most attention it had garnered in years. One event in politics would shake the landscape and gain even more attention – Harvey Milk’s election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

In previous years, Milk had already made his presence known in San Francisco and was affectionately referred to as ‘The Mayor of Castro Street’ as he galvanized the LBGT community into action (Ma-Mo). When he ran for public office in years prior for a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, he narrowly lost the race by four thousand votes. In 1977 Milk ran again, and won. This made Harvey Milk the first openly gay man elected to public office. Unfortunately, Milk’s time as an elected official was cut short upon his murder at the hands of Dan White in 1978. While his time in public office was short, Milk made a considerable mark in history that made many reflect on LBGT issues at the time.

Manhattan (1979)

Often considered one of Woody Allen’s best films, Manhattan continued the trend of including gay characters into screenplays. This character took the form of Meryl Streep as Jill, Allen’s lesbian ex-wife who planned to publish a tell-all book about the dissolution of their relationship. While the movie itself did not center on the issue of gay rights, it made sure that audiences could not ignore LBGT individuals by prominently featuring one in film. This theme of increased visibility would only be furthered by actions taken by the LBGT community at large later in that very same year in the March on Washington.

The March on Washington marked the single largest gathering of LBGT individuals who demanded equal protections and rights in both the workplace and homes (Tuscon). On October 19th, 1979 over seventy-five thousand LBGT citizens and supporters attended the gathering which sent a clear message to all branches of the government that unequal treatment would not be tolerated. The list of demands included federal protections for LBGT individuals in the workplace, and the repeal of discriminatory legislation that had already been previously established. Some of those protections are still sought after today, but the March on Washington paved the way in the 1980’s for a period of perpetual progress, albeit with some major setbacks.

To be continued…in the 80’s! (For the previous decade: 1960’s)

J.J. Medina is a guest contributor at InQueery.
You can follow J.J.’s personal and business ramblings on Google+


  • 1979 Gay & Lesbian March on Washington d.c.. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://tucsongaymuseum.org/marchonwashington.htm
  • Ma-Mo. (n.d.). Harvey Milk Biography. Retrieved from http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ma-Mo/Milk-Harvey.html
  • Manhattan (trailer) [Web Clip]. (1979). Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coRPXgQLeyU&feature=youtu.be
  • Next Stop, Greenwich Village [Web Clip]. (1976). Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4M_p77j1tQ&feature=youtu.be
  • The Boys in the Band [Web Clip]. (1970). Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOakue0MiZs&feature=youtu.be
  • Panelists Recount Events Leading to Deleting Homosexuality as A Psychiatric Disorder from dsm. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.psychiatricnews.org/pnews/98-07-17/dsm.html