The History Channel has posted the doc “How We Got Gay” online in its entirety, and it’s a definite must watch for anyone who feels like they should brush up on some gay rights movement 101 now that the Supreme Court has determined marriage is a right — because that certainly wasn’t the only fought battle (or the only one remaining).
The doc — originally airing on Canada’s CBC (a country that legalized same-sex marriage over a decade ago) — essentially tells the story of how gay men and women went from being the ultimate outsiders to occupying the halls of power, with a profound influence on our cultural, political and social lives.
Here’s a lengthy, informative description care of the CBC:
After the battles over civil rights for African Americans, and equal rights for women, the battle over gay rights is the first great fight for freedom in the 21st century. It is succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, with the speed and breadth of the victory stunning its detractors and supporters alike.
It is remarkable that the battle for gay rights in the Western world is advancing the battle over gay rights is the first great fight for freedom in the 21st century. It is succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest imagination,in a fraction of the time that it took the women’s movement and the civil rights movement to achieve similar goals. However, at the heart of the revolution is a tragedy. What drove the gay community to finally demand power was a disease that was decimating its ranks: AIDS.
HOW WE GOT GAY tells the powerful story of the struggle for gay rights, from the 40’s and 50’s to the present day. It takes us inside the secret lives gay people were forced to live, at a time when homosexuality was illegal in every province in Canada and every state in America and police harassment was a fact of life.
Using a rich mix of never before seen archival images and footage and candid interviews with activists and personalities including author Edmund White, and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, the documentary explores what life was like for gay people at a time when homosexuality was seen as a mental illness, and to be openly gay was to live in utter exile from society.
With the social and sexual revolution of the 1960s, gays enjoyed a new found freedom. They also started to fight back. In 1969, the ‘Gay Revolution’ was unleashed with the Stonewall Riots, as an angry mob of gay people rose up against a routine police raid on a Greenwich Village bar.
The film tells the devastating story of AIDS and its dramatic effect on the gay rights movement. What started as a barely noticed outbreak of a rare form of cancer in a small number of homosexual men in 1981 spread to become one of the deadliest pandemics in modern history. When AIDS is treated with indifference and hostility by society, the lack of response gives rise to a new kind of anger and a new kind of gay rights organization: the activist group ACT-UP.
Through an extensive interview with AIDS activist Peter Staley, HOW WE GOT GAY shows how the movement for gay equality becomes consumed with the AIDS crisis, and how the gay community finally got the world’s attention. In the crucible of AIDS, the modern gay rights movement is born.
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By the year 2000, almost 500,000 people in North America have died of AIDS, but gay activists have also pushed for a drug regimen that has transformed AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic disease. Through the work of groups like ACT-UP, AIDS finally forces the issue of homosexual equality, and it leads directly to the increasing embrace and acceptance of gay people into heterosexual society.
HOW WE GOT GAY takes us into the gay rights movement of the 21st century. Now the movement has evolved into a powerful network of disciplined, top-down, media-savvy, Ivy League-staffed organizations that know how to operate the levers of power.
These new gay organizations co-opt conventional political weapons: self-selected candidates, political action committees, black-tie fund-raisers, research institutes and lobbyists. In the words of Fred Sainz, director of Communications at the Human Rights Campaign, “we sell gay rights the way Kellogg’s sells cereal”.
The new generation of gay and lesbian activists is now demanding full equal rights under the law. It is no longer just a fight to be allowed to exist and be left alone. They want marriage and family recognition, equal tax laws, employment protection, and hundreds of other rights denied to homosexuals.
And they are winning.
Today gay people in the Western world live in an era of unimaginable freedom compared to earlier times. With support for gay marriage at an all time high, with antigay laws increasingly going down to defeat in the courts, and with young gay men and women able to come out earlier than ever, it is in many ways a Golden Age of gay liberation.
Watch the whole documentary below: