by pico | 12/11/2008 12:14:00 AM
How well do you know LGBT history in the United States?

I put together a short 15 question quiz addressing different facts, figures, and facets of this long and diverse history. See how many you know, keep track of your answers along the way, then join me for a discussion in the comments section below.

Here we go! To find out the answers, highlight the black boxes underneath each of the questions. No cheating!


1. The first same-sex couple to apply for a state marriage license, and to fight for that right in court, did so in...

a. California
b. Minnesota
c. Hawai'i
d. Massachusetts

b) That honor belongs to Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell of Minnesota. Baker v. Nelson was heard in 1971, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected their appeal "for want of a substantial federal question."

But if you guessed California, you're not far off: in the same year Reverend Elder Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church filed suit in Los Angeles for recognition of same-sex marriages performed in his church.

2. The first riot against police brutality towards the LGBT community took place in...

a. San Francisco
b. New York City
c. New Orleans
d. Los Angeles

a) Though the 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn captured national attention and helped galvanize the movement, it was the transgender victims in San Francisco's Tenderloin district who launched the first ever LGBT riot against the police, at Compton's Cafeteria in 1966.

As a direct result, the San Francisco Police Department established a liaison to improve its relationship with the queer community.

3. Who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the United States?

a. José Sarria
b. Kathy Kozachenko
c. Harvey Milk
d. Elaine Noble

b) Kathy Kozachenko won her race for Ann Arbor city council in 1971, followed by Elaine Noble in 1975 (Massachusetts legislature) and Harvey Milk in 1977 (San Francisco Board of Supervisors).

José Sarria was the first openly gay political candidate, making a failed bid for public office way back in 1961 (San Francisco Board of Supervisors).

4. What was the "Twinkie defense"?

a. A polemic on the dietary habits of lesbians
b. A pamphlet supporting the role of young gay men in the community
c. The legal strategy for lessening the sentence against murderer Dan White
d. None of the above

c) When Dan White assassinated Harvey Milk and San Fransisco mayor Moscone, the defense lawyers argued that White - a former football player, police offer, and fireman - had recently taken to gorging on junk food. They argued this was evidence that his mental health had deteriorated, convincing jurors to convict him of mere misdemeanor, and sparking the White Night riots of 1979.

Contrary to popular belief, the lawyers did not argue that the junk food itself was responsible.

5. Which President's life was saved by a gay man?

a. Gerald Ford
b. Ronald Reagan
c. Richard Nixon
d. George W. Bush

a) Disabled Marine vet Bill Sipple just happened to be on the scene when Sarah Jane Moore pulled a gun on Gerald Ford in 1975, diving at her to deflect the bullet. In the intense media coverage that followed, Sipple was outed as a gay man. Harvey Milk later said that Sipple's homosexuality was the only reason he'd been sent a Thank You note from Ford rather than an outright invitation to visit the White House.

6. What Supreme Court case invalidated sodomy laws across the country?

a. Bowers v. Hardwick
b. Lawrence v. Texas
c. Loving v. Virginia
d. Griswold v. Connecticut

b) After being arrested in Houston for consensual sex, John Geddes Lawrence took his legal challenge all the way to the Supreme Court, and sodomy laws around the country were finally invalidated.

Griswold was the case defining a right to privacy; Bowers was the first unsuccessful attempt to get the SCOTUS to strike down sodomy laws; and Loving was the case that ended laws against interracial marriage.

7. Who was Bayard Rustin?

a. Gay rights activist and organizer of MLK, Jr.'s 1963 rally in Washington, D.C.
b. Author, poet, and painter famous for discussing the queer side of the Harlem Renaissance
c. Octogenarian activist famous for being out since the beginning of the 20th century
d. First NBA player to come out gay, after retirement

a) Rustin is famous for being a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a fellow Civil Rights activist. Rustin was the principle organizer of the march that culminated in King's "I have a dream" speech.

But all of the choices were real figures in queer African American history. b) is Richard Bruce Nugent, author of "Smoke, Lilies, and Jade"; c) is lesbian activist Mabel Hampton, who lived out and proud for over 80 years, and d) is John Ameichi, formerly of the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz, who came out in 2007.

8. The first transgender mayor in the United States was elected in...

a. 1978
b. 1996
c. 2004
d. 2008

d) Just last month, the state of Oregon saw the election of the country's first transgender mayor, Stu Rasmussen. Rasmussen had already served as mayor of Silverton, OR back in the 90s, but came out as transgender before the 2008 election.

9. The first Academy Award given to someone for playing an openly queer character went to...

a. Peter Finch
b. William Hurt
c. John Lithgow
d. Tom Hanks

b) And the Oscar goes to... William Hurt, for 1985's Kiss of the Spider Woman. Finch had been nominated in 1971 for Sunday, Bloody Sunday, as was Lithgow in 1982 for The World According to Garp. Hanks' Philadelphia win came in 1993.

10. By what name is the proposed "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act" more commonly known?

a. the Frank-Baldwin Act
b. the Harvey Milk Act
c. the Matthew Shepard Act

c) Democrats in Congress have been trying to expand existing Hate Crimes legislation to the unprotected categories of sex and gender since 1999, when national outrage at the Matthew Shepard murder. It passed both the House and Senate this year as part of a Defense Appropriations bill, but pressure from the President, Congressional Republicans and unsympathetic Democrats led to its being dropped from the final bill.

11. How many openly gay politicians elected to federal office are currently serving?

a. None
b. 3
c. 5
d. 7

b) With the recent election of Jared Polis as freshman Representative from Colorado, the tally now stands at a whopping three: Polis, Barney Frank (D-MA), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). They were preceded by Gerry Studds (D-MA), who served until 2003 and passed away in '06.

There are not and never have been any openly gay Senators.

12. What activist group got its start in 1987 with an act of civil disobedience at Wall Street that led to 17 arrests?

b. OutRage!
c. the Gay Liberation Front

d) ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, was formed to call attention to the conspiracy of silence and stigma surrounding what Jerry Falwell called "the gay plague". They received their greatest notoriety for a mass protest targeting St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1989, due to the Catholic diocese's opposition to AIDS education.

13. Which U.S. president received a visit from We'wha, a Zuni two-spirit widely mistaken for "an Indian princess"?

a. Grover Cleveland
b. William Taft
c. Harry Truman
d. Ronald Reagan

a) Grover Cleveland. A member of the Zuni tribe of present-day New Mexico, We'wha was a sensation in the capitol in the late 19th century. Photographs taken of We'wha give us rare insight into a nearly forgotten history of indigenous attitudes toward gender fluidity.

14. How many countries have legalized same-sex marriage (not civil unions, but the full deal)?

a. 2
b. 4
c. 6
d. 8

c) In order of legalization: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, and Norway.

Due to a recent high court decision, Nepal will be introducing same-sex marriage rights in the near future.

15. Gay performers (often in drag), who attracted a spike in popularity in New York of the 1920s and 30s, were known as...

a. pansies
b. travesties
c. illusionists
d. wildeans

a) From Broadway to Harlem, the popularity of pansy performers in the late 20s and early 30s led to a veritable "Pansy Craze" in New York city.

A turn towards increasingly conservative views of public mores effectively shut these down, but by the 40s the term "pansy" had gained widespread currency as a euphemism for queerness.

Difficult, wasn't it?

My intention in writing this quiz wasn't to dig up the most obscure facts possible, but to show the relatively sparseness of widespread information about LGBT history.

Knowing the exact office of the first openly gay elected official may or may not strike us as vital, but it's important to know that gender fluidity was an accepted part of some Indigenous traditions as far back as recorded evidence goes, or that gay black activists were an integral part of the Civil Rights movement, or that queers have been involved and subsequently erased from some of the most major events of our shared American history.

One of the challenges we face is the lack of an inherited history. Many groups pass shared history on from generation to generation, parent to child, but queer children typically grow up without parents who share that history - forcing us to reinvent the wheel with each new generation.

I hope that this quiz encourages us all to research more about some of the people and events I discuss here. Putting it together was an eye-opener for me, as well.

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Blogger pico on 12/11/2008 12:19 AM:

Greetings, everyone!

Been a while since I posted here, but thanks to Nonpartisan for luring me back. Glad to see the site is chugging along beautifully as always.


Blogger Unknown on 12/11/2008 12:31 AM:

Glad to have you back (and to see that the coding here is as flexible as I had hoped)!


Blogger Ahistoricality on 12/11/2008 8:58 AM:

I got five, which is pretty weak for someone who thinks they're pretty knowledgeable about these things. In fairness, I don't think I'd do too much better on a similar quiz about Jewish American history.....


Blogger cognitive dissident on 12/11/2008 10:30 AM:

Kudos on writing a great quiz, although I must admit to being more than a little embarrassed to have scored 9/15 on a subject that I thought I knew much better than that.

Thanks for making that point about LGBT(Q) youth not inheriting their history, but rather having to discover it. It’s another obstacle to self-knowledge, and one which we could easily remove by teaching a more comprehensive history in schools. (I know it’s unrealistic, but I can dream, can’t I?)


Blogger Unknown on 12/11/2008 3:13 PM:

I got seven, with two total guesses, which is pretty pathetic given that I'm in grad school studying this period of history.

Perhaps more disturbingly, four of the five I knew came from general knowledge, not from anything I've learned in grad school. The exception was #15, where I got an assist from George Chauncey's masterful Gay New York, helpfully assigned by my advisor in a class last year.