The Brothers of Kappa Omega Alpha Pre-Law Fraternity
The recent inauguration of President Joe Biden has placed a new focus on LGBTQ+ legal rights. Biden has already begun to pass executive orders, and to show support for bills emphasizing inclusivity for queer individuals. It has not been an easy road getting to this point; LGBTQ+ representation before law has faced numerous wins and losses in the past century. This article aims to give readers a brief roadmap of some of those wins and losses, including landmark legislation, legal cases, and arrests which dictated the queer community’s role in larger society. The story of LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. is one that continues to develop, and while the current administration has made promising commitments, the fight is far from over. The need for queer representation in governemnt is more apparent than ever.
The Arrest of Eve Adams -- 1926
by Mira Bader (She/Her)
In the 1920s, Eve Adams opened a tearoom and after-theater club called “Eve’s Hangout” in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. Eve had immigrated to America from Poland and opened her tearoom as a safe haven primarily for lesbians, but also for Jews and immigrants who were not accepted in mainstream society. Her tearoom was famous for the sign outside that said, “Men are admitted but not welcome.” Eve’s Hangout was popular and goes down in history as one of the first lesbian establishments in the country. In 1926, the New York police got wind of Adams’ book, “Lesbian Love.” An undercover cop infiltrated the tearoom, posed as a potential lover, stole a copy of “Lesbian Love” from Adams’ house, and then arrested her. She was charged with obscenity and and disorderly conduct, and ultimately deported back to Poland where she died during the Holocaust. Although Eve’s life and tearoom were taken too early, her legacy is that of the first safe haven for queer women in New York.
One, Inc. v Olesen -- 1958
by Mira Bader (She/Her)
One, Inc. v. Olesen was the first Supreme Court case to deal with homosexuality in the United States, and set an important precedent. In the 1950s, ONE Inc. was the first openly queer organization to hold office space in the United States. Based in LA, they began publishing a magazine for the LGBTQ+ community. The Los Angeles Postmaster, Otto Olesen, claimed that the magazine was unmailable because it was “obscene” and “filthy.” A lower court sided with the prosecution, verifying that due to the obscenity of the magazine it was, in fact, unmailable. However, the United States Supreme Court reversed that in an extremely quick decision. This case allowed for the magazine to continue publishing and for more like it to follow, leading to a flourishing queer literary culture.
Dyketactics v. The City of Philadelphia -- 1974-’75
by Isabel Zuñiga (She/Her)
In 1974 the Philadelphia City Council held hearings for Bill 1275, which would have added sexual orientation to the city’s Fair Practice Ordinance. This essentially would have outlawed anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. However, as the bill was continuously being debated, it became clear to activists that this bill was going to die in committee. In response, the newly formed group of young feminist lesbians, called “Dyketactics,” staged a protest. On December 4th, they entered City Hall with banners, signs, and megaphones and chanted, “Free 1275!” The Civil Disobedience Squad, a unit of police in plain-clothing, formed to handle protestors, brutally attacking the female protestors. Six of the protestors who were attacked filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia and the police department, arguing excessive use of force. Despite the defendants being found not guilty, this case marked a milestone in the fight for queer rights.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) -- 1993-2011
by Olivia Howard (She/Her)
In 1993, the Department of Defence issued the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” directive, a policy that remained in effect until late 2011. The bill technically lifted a ban on homosexual participation in the military serivce, but only in name. Homosexual service members could only serve if they did not explicitly declare their sexual orientation. Then-President Bill Clinton coined the policy’s namesake, instructing that military personnel, “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, and don’t harass.” Clinton, confronted by pressure from queer activists and military personnel, chose to compromise through silencing identities. By 2009, the military discharged more than 13,000 gay men, lesbians and bisexuals due to “homosexual activity.” Dueing the era of World War II, homosexuality was categorized as a mental and behavioral disorder, making it grounds for discharge. In fact, sodomy has been banned from the military dating back to the Revolutionary War. Following same-sex marriage legalization in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, the Obama Administration and Congress repealed DADT on September 20, 2011. The repeal led to significant historical milestones, such as the Military Equal Opportunity policy incorporating sexual orientation for the first time in 2015.
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- 1996
by Donnie Gloede (He/Him)
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by Congress in 1996, receiving major support from both chambers and forcing President Clinton to sign on a law which he considered “divisive and unnecessary.” The adoption of DOMA legally defined marriage as a union existing between a man and a woman, preventing same-sex couple from enjoying both the legal and emotional benefits of marriage. Same-sex couples were officially barred from adopting children, filing taxes jointly, sharing employment benefits, and inheretence rights. The highly discriminatory clauses of this act, as well as its bipartisan support in Congress, reflected growing opposition in society to the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights.
After the enactment of DOMA in 1996, about 40 states enacted individual legislation limiting the marriage rights of same-sex couples. What's more, DOMA granted states the right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages, even if they were performed in a state where it is legal. Numerous attempts to overturn the act were made, but it wasn’t until United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) that real progress was made. This openly exclusionary act was the defining law for American LGBTQ+ marriage for nearly two decades, making it one of the greatest obstacles our community has shown itself capable of overcoming in the recent past.
Lawrence vs. Texas -- 2003
by Callie Teitelbaum (She/Her)
The 2003 landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas ruled the Texas law which criminalized sodomy between two consenting individuals of the same sex unconstitutional. This case overturned the 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick in which Georgia sodomy laws were deemed constitional. The Lawrence v. Texas case arose when Texas police responded to a neighbors call about a man with a gun “going crazy”–– the police did not have a warrant to enter John Geddes Lawrence’s apartment, and upon entering found Lawrence and his partner Tyron Garner engaging in sex. Both men spent a night in jail and were fined for “deviate sexual intercourse” under Texas law. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, drew on privacy rights and equal protection under the law to defend the opinion that the Texas sodomy law was unconstitutional. Kennedy wrote, “In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home.” Additionally, due to the fact that different-sex couples were not subject to the same scrutiny for the same type of sexual act, the court found same-sex couples were entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. Kennedy wrote, “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.” This landmark case invalidated sodomy laws in 12 other states, and was a major turning point in the LGBTQ+’s community fight for civil rights
U.S. vs. Windsor -- 2013
by Isabel Zuñiga (She/Her)
Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were a same-sex couple from New York who had their marriage recognized by the state of New York in 2008. When Spyer died in 2009 and left her estate to her wife, Windsor sought to claim federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. However, she was banned from doing so by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Windsor subsequently sued the federal government, contending that DOMA violates the principles of equal protection incorporated in the Fifth Amendment. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) intervened to defend the law after the Department of Justice declined to do so. District Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. Her ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Later, the Supreme Court granted certiorari, or an order to review a judgement made by a lower court, in 2012 and handed down its judgement on June 26, 2013. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of declaring Section 3 unconstitutional, in a 5-4 decision. This ruling is a landmark United States Supreme Court LGBTQ+ civil rights case because it changed the definition of marriage to include those not in an opposite-sex relationship. Same-sex spouses earned more equal representation before the law, including the right to inherit property and file taxes jointly.
Obergefell vs. Hodges -- 2015
by Janani Gandhi (She/Her)
Obergefell vs. Hodges was a landmark civil rights case which guaranteed the right to marry for same-sex couples. It required all fifty states, D.C., and territories to perform and recognize marriages of same-sex couples under the same terms, rights, responsibilities, and conditions awarded to the marriages of opposite-sex couples. This Supreme Court case is the consolidation of six lower-court cases, which represented 16 same-sex couples. Each couple was suing because, at the time, DOMA permitted states and territories to refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were married in other states where such union was legal. The 5-4 decision made by the Supreme Court in this case protected the right to marry for all Americans, regardless of sexuality, and stands as a guiding case in determining LGBTQ+ rights of today.
The brothers of Kappa Omega Alpha pre-law/public policy fraternity, in an effort to educate current members and diversify our future member base, gathered a group of 6 brothers representing various identities to create this article. We encourage readers who share our group’s passion for social justice, equity, and public policy to consider rushing KOA! Our virtual mass meeting is February 1st at 7pm, but if you miss this event, no worries! Virtual attendance to this first event is optional, and the rest of our rush schedule can be found on our website, linked below.