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Our queerest century: Looking back, and forward, at the LGBTQ+ community’s contributions

Marchers in a parade hold a "Gay Liberation Front" banner
(Associated Press)
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Good morning. It’s Thursday, June 6. I am Defne Karabatur, a fellow at The Times. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

The queerest century ever

A Chicago postal worker named Henry Gerber founded the nation’s first known gay rights organization, Society for Human Rights, a hundred years ago.

Before it could celebrate its first anniversary, Gerber and his associates were arrested on trumped-up charges and subjected to expensive litigation. Gerber escaped a prison sentence but lost everything, including his post office job and life savings.

The backlash Gerber and the Society for Human Rights received echoes today through the ongoing efforts to ban queer books and drag performances and limit conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ issues in public schools.

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But the seed they planted helped usher in what has become our country’s queerest century yet. Since 1924, LGBTQ+ people nationwide have carved out queer spaces and communities, contributing tremendously to arts, entertainment, film, law, democracy and more.

Their efforts have shifted American public opinion on LGBTQ+ issues dramatically.

Marchers carry a large rainbow flag down a street on a sunny day
Thousands gather along Hollywood Boulevard at the 2022 LA Pride Parade.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In a 1985 poll conducted by The Times, 72% of American adults said sexual relations between same-sex adults are always or almost always wrong. That percentage dropped to 28% in a new poll conducted on behalf of The Times this year.

“Queer people should not just be accepted but celebrated,” my colleague Kevin Rector wrote in a Times project that explores the queer history of the last hundred years and the exceptional role LGBTQ+ people have played in helping American society progress.

Bobbi Campbell’s leadership in the fight against AIDS, Hollywood representation, Ernestine Eckstein and countless other queer people of color’s activism complete the picture of American history. Today’s queer youth, who cherish their identities unabashedly, represent a future that looks more queer than ever.

But public opinion toward transgender and nonbinary people hasn’t improved at the same rate — even in California, home to the largest queer population in the U.S.

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The groundbreaking poll reveals how adults throughout the country feel about LGBTQ+ issues, especially those related to transgender and nonbinary people, today.

In the poll, 67% of respondents said they either somewhat or strongly approve of transgender and nonbinary people living as they wish. But that percentage rose to 80% when asked about gay and lesbian people.

The poll also found that Americans are more likely to support queer people if they know a queer person.

While 72% of respondents said they have had a gay or lesbian relative, friend or co-worker come out to them, far fewer — 27% — said the same about a transgender or nonbinary relative, friend or co-worker.

“Ignorance of LGBTQ+ people remains a major threat,” especially for queer youth, who “constantly hear negative things about being LGBTQ+ and have no access to the queer books” or familial support, Kevin wrote.

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More than half of poll respondents said they favor laws to prevent transgender children younger than 18 from receiving gender-affirming care such as surgery or puberty blockers. And approximately 1 in 4 poll respondents said they would be very upset if their child was transgender or nonbinary.

The reality is, the next generation of LGBTQ+ leaders and thinkers “are no longer willing to segment themselves into socially acceptable pieces,” my colleague Jaclyn Cosgrove wrote. Instead, they’re going out and loving the world, the “queerest thing, proudest thing we can do.”

How have your LGBTQ+ friends, family, co-workers and heroes had a positive impact on your life? We want to hear from you. Fill out our survey to let us know.

Read more:

Today’s top stories

A Pakistani youth, right, cools off under a hand pump at sunset
A Pakistani youth, right, cools off under a hand pump at sunset during hot weather in Lahore, Pakistan.
(K.M. Chaudary / Associated Press)

Climate and environment

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Commentary and opinions

Today’s great reads

Two drag queens appear in photos. The one on the left is standing, while the other is sitting in a chair.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times; Rachel Z Photography)

Who are America’s first drag laureates? Californians ready to fight the war on drag. It’s June and Pride Month is in full swing as LGBTQ+ communities around the world celebrate together as well as commemorate the Stonewall Uprising in New York City in 1969. Two prominent voices — the drag laureates of West Hollywood and San Francisco — are booked and busy. There are wigs to coif, dresses to steam and parties to attend.

Other great reads


How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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For your downtime

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park.
(Brian Baer / California State Parks, 2024)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... from our archives

L–R: Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker
“Sex and the City”: Kristin Davis, left, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker.
(Craig Blankenhorn / HBO)

On June 6, 1998, “Sex and the City” began airing on HBO, becoming one of the most popular and influential television series of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

One day before the series premiered, The Times’ Howard Rosenberg wrote about the show’s sophisticated approaches to sex.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

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Defne Karabatur, fellow
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor and Saturday reporter
Christian Orozco, assistant editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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