Sociology LGBT Social Movements
Amy L. Stone, Sarah Davis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0219


The study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) social movements mostly emerges out of the sociological study of social movements, although historians have written a number of texts focusing on the history of the movement. The LGBT movement has transformed dramatically throughout time; contemporary queer politics would be incomprehensible to homophile activists mobilizing after World War II. At any given moment, the movement has diversity within it in terms of participants, agendas, tactics, and collective identities; in the early 1970s, within the one social movement there were lesbian feminists and gay liberationists organizing more radical politics, homophile activists taking more moderate approaches to visibility, and the beginnings of the modern liberal gay rights movements. Scholars tend to focus on the mobilizations, tactics, ideologies, and collective identities of the movements. This bibliography provides an overview of the LGBT movements, sections on major phases of the movement, and sections that provide guidance on law and culture in the movement. The major phases of the movement include the early gay and lesbian homophile organizing, gay liberationist politics, lesbian feminism, AIDS activism, and the modern LGBT movement.

General Overview

There are several overviews of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) social movements ranging from the postwar period to the present day. Those chosen offer a more sociological perspective and analysis, but historical and political influences are thoroughly discussed. From a historical perspective, D’Emilio 1983 offers a chronological history of the gay and lesbian movement from the postwar period to the “spark” of Stonewall; his focus is on how sexual identities formed from sexual politics, later creating various sexual communities. With D’Emilio’s background, Stein 2012 is a great start for beginners wanting a broad overview of the gay and lesbian movement, from homophile activism of the 1950s and 1960s, to gay liberation and lesbian feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, followed by conservative backlash and the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, closing on Queer Nation of the 1990s. Armstrong 2002 is devoted to the same chronological and historical narrative as the former, but with specific attention to San Francisco and gay-identity focused activism. Focusing more on the important role religion and religious groups play in shaping political activism, Fetner 2011 provides a historical, yet critical analysis and contestation between the anti-gay religious right, and lesbian and gay activism—specifically, how one movement largely influenced the political path of the other. While these texts cover and provide a sociological and historical narrative of the gay and lesbian movement as a whole, Adam 1995 is a widely used and respected introduction that presents a national and holistic perspective to contrast the creation of a gay identity in America—with particular attention on the “newness” of social movements (see also Gamson 1989, cited under AIDS Activism). Stone 2012 analyzes the evolution of LGBT activism from gay liberationist to same-sex marriage politics through a focus on law and ballot measures.

  • Adam, B. D. 1995. The rise of a gay and lesbian movement. Farmington Hills, MI: Twayne.

    Originally published in 1987, this highly cited work provides readers with a critical analysis of the New Right, impact of AIDS and AIDS activism, and Queer Nation. With attention to the histories of gay and lesbian activity, and the creation of a gay identity in other countries, Adam highlights social newness as the spark of empowerment—ranging from cultural feminism to queer nationalism.

  • Armstrong, E. A. 2002. Forging gay identities: Organizing sexuality in San Francisco, 1950–1994. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    A chronologically ordered analysis of the gay and lesbian movement in San Francisco from homophile, to gay liberation, followed by gay-identity focused activism. Discusses the change from assimilationist ideologies of the Annual Reminders to a movement focused on identity and individual expression. Attention given to the effects of AIDS, queer activism, and the power behind national organizations like ACT UP and the Human Rights Campaign.

  • D’Emilio, J. D. 1983. Sexual politics, sexual communities. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Chronicling history, D’Emilio provides an account of, and links the emerging gay and lesbian movement to, political activism and change. Readers are shown how social meanings given to sexual acts can often create distinct sexual identities. Specifically, this text shows how social and political influences shaped not only identities, but communities and a collective history—often with opposing views and tactics.

  • Fetner, T. 2011. How the religious right shaped lesbian and gay activism. Brantford, ON: W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library.

    This well-written and chronologically ordered text is an excellent introduction to the religious right and its role in opposing and challenging the lesbian and gay movement; in what many scholars consider a culture war, both the religious right and the lesbian and gay movement fought for the “hearts and minds of America.”

  • Stein, M. 2012. Rethinking the gay and lesbian movement. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203122211

    Stein traces the gay and lesbian movement starting from homophile activism in the early 1950s until the Stonewall Riots of 1969, followed by gay liberation and lesbian feminism until the mid-1970s, and conservative backlash until the early 1980s. From here, readers get an account of the activism during the AIDS crisis until the mid-1990s, when queer politics dominated.

  • Stone, A. L. 2012. Gay rights at the ballot box. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816675470.001.0001

    Qualitative sociological analysis of the history of anti-gay and anti-transgender ballot measures from the early 1970s to the late 2000s with attention to major campaigns like Colorado Amendment 2 and Oregon Ballot Measure 9. Analyzes the relationship between the broader LGBTQ movement and these short-lived intense campaigns that often lose. Notable for its analysis of the impact of the religious right on these campaigns.

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