Today, there were Gay Pride parades around the world, and it was unique because this year is the 40th anniversary of the arrests at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. Back in 1969, it was quite common for police to raid gay bars and throw people in jail. I remember, even when I was a child, sodomy was still illegal, and the argument you heard from people when there would be gay rights marches was "Well, look, those people might have a point, but remember: they are criminals." (Actually, the Iranian government is making the same point now about their protests) Back then, there was a whole legal apparatus set up to prosecute "loitering" and other offenses that amounted to cruising for sex- much of which dates back only to the Victorian era, but which intensified after WWII in the United States- and scholars have wondered what effect the legal definition of homosexuality had on public understanding of gay lives.
Perhaps the most interesting book I've found on homosexuality was the one written by the British literary critic John Addington Symonds, who wrote in its defense trying to understand his own desires. He also wrote an essay in 1883 that ranks as one of the first English-language defenses of homosexual behavior. But his autobiographical writings on love between men, which he intended to be published years after his death, are remarkably forthright and forward-thinking for the late 1880s. His criticism and poetry is also first rate.
At any rate, the Stonewall Inn raid that took place forty years ago today was a landmark in gay history because it triggered a spontaneous riot- something that had never happened before. There were gay rights organizations, but not really activism, or even just the outpouring of anger that happened at Stonewall. It was the beginning of the marches and forthright public attempts to change consciousness about homosexuality. It's possible that the repressive apparatus of the time triggered the response, in addition to the fact that 1969 was a good year for social rebellion.
Whatever the causes, this was the beginning of four decades of gay rights marches, movies, activism, and political agitation. Ideally, it should all be over by now. Society has had enough time to get over its progressive era obsession with remaking human beings in a Victorian image. Clearly, gay prohibition worked as badly as alcohol (and drug) prohibition. So, it's fairly absurd that things like Don't Ask Don't Tell (which about 3/4ths of Americans want repealed) still exist in law. For people my age, the argument is over. Let's get over this!
At some point, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people will be legally the same as everyone else and the gay rights struggle will be completed. What will all these organizations do then? Will they exist solely to plan for a big party every year? I think that would be fine.