How WWII Started The Modern Gay Rights Movement

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Long before Stonewall, the quest for community began.

We often attribute the 1969 Stonewall Riots as being the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. But the first time gay people started coalescing was during World War II, according to USC gender studies professor Chris Freeman.

In honor of October’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history month, Freeman explained to HuffPost Live’s Alex Miranda that after the draft began, the army started screening people in the early 1940s for homosexuality. It was a term many had never heard before.

“It helped in a certain way to solidify an identity, or it gave a name to an identity, that they just had feelings for,” Freeman said. “And then, through the context of being in the all-male or all-female environments that they wound up in, they found each other.”

After the war, Freeman explained, many of those homosexual relationships remained, and as people resettled in cities rather than “going back to the farm,” early gay communities were created.

“Public sex and gay people meeting each other for that purpose has been perpetual, forever,” Freeman said. “But forming organizations and forming community around it as a modern identity and a modern community village is really a post-WWII phenomenon.”

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation on gay history here. 

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