In summer 1969, thousands of gay men and lesbian women protested in the infamous Stonewall riots to draw attention to the invisibility of the community across the nation, giving birth to the LGBT movement we know today. Similarly, the movement came together in the height of the AIDS-crisis to fight the stigma associated with the fatal disease and to demand adequate health protection for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Fast forward to the new millennium, when the LGBT movement in the U.S. received increased societal visibility and political protection. At the same time, technological innovations would greatly impact the activism of the community. With the rise of digital media, LGBT activists would be provided with a new tool to communicate and to organize.
While some may celebrate the online activism of the movement as digital revolution, it is important to keep in mind that some of the greatest battles for LGBT equality are still fought in the streets. In the past weeks and months, media images of Russian LGBT activists protesting in the streets have touched hearts and minds across the globe. In the light of the controversial “gay propaganda law”, the fight for LGBT equality comes at a high price as activists risk political persecution.
Throughout my journey as a PhD student at American University, I want to demonstrate how technological innovations of the past three decades have shaped LGBT activism. Considering the emergence of a global LGBT movement entailed by new information and communication technologies (Castells, 2008), my research analyzes how local activists respond to international issues pertaining to LGBT rights. Discussing the opportunities of digitally enabled activism, my research will also highlight the importance of grassroots efforts, serving as a reminder that we can’t pursue our fight for equality without adopting some of the strategies of the heroes of the early movement – heroes that took to the streets to shape the LGBT movement of tomorrow.
Castells, M. (2008). The new public sphere: Global civil society, communication networks, and global governance. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616(1), 78-93.