Stonewall 50: LGBTQ Movement's Culture War With The Religious Right Persists An uprising around a New York bar, Stonewall Inn, 50 years ago sparked a movement pushing for LGBTQ civil rights. The success of that movement saw a powerful backlash from the modern religious right.
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The Culture Wars Live On Between The LGBTQ Rights Movement And The Religious Right

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The Culture Wars Live On Between The LGBTQ Rights Movement And The Religious Right

The Culture Wars Live On Between The LGBTQ Rights Movement And The Religious Right

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the uprising at a New York bar that gave rise to the movement for LGBTQ civil rights. But the success of that movement brought a powerful backlash from the modern religious right. NPR's Leila Fadel reports that for decades, the two sides have been counteractivists in a culture war that continues today.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The police raid and the protests surrounding the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969 were a seminal moment.

LILLIAN FADERMAN: Movements need icons. Movements need martyrs. Movements need heroes.

FADEL: That's Lillian Faderman, an LGBTQ historian. Stonewall, she says, is that icon.

FADERMAN: It's not, though, the riots themselves that account for the progress that we've made in recent years. It's what followed the riots. Groups began to organize to demand rights. Eventually, allies were on our side and helped us fight for the battle for rights.

FADEL: She points to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, the first pride parades in several cities a year later to commemorate the uprising. And at first, Faderman says, the religious right ignored these events as blips. But then...

FADERMAN: As the gay movement succeeded and as various cities began to pass gay rights ordinances, that woke the religious right up to begin to push back. The real beginning, I think, of the culture wars in earnest was in 1977.

FADEL: That's when Anita Bryant, a pop singer and pageant queen best known at the time as the face of Florida orange juice...

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ANITA BRYANT: (Singing) Orange juice with natural vitamin C from the Florida sunshine tree.

FADEL: ...Began a public campaign to fight an ordinance that passed in Miami-Dade County to protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from housing and employment discrimination. It captured the national media's attention.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Extremely religious, she says she feels that God has single her out to spearhead a crusade to prevent admitted homosexuals from teaching her children.

FADEL: Two to one, voters chose to repeal the ordinance.

EMILY JOHNSON: Her celebrity - because of her efforts on a national scale, this became a national conversation in a way that it hadn't necessarily been.

FADEL: That's Emily Johnson, a historian at Ball State University in Indiana. Her book, "This Is Our Message," profiles female leaders in the modern religious right. Bryant, she says, became an icon in the fight against gay, lesbian and bisexual rights, traveling across the country to oppose similar ordinances.

JOHNSON: As we trace this history from the '70s to the present, we see very much not two separate movements that are each building their own agendas but two movements that are building their agendas and their talking points in relation to and in opposition to one another.

FADEL: From the anti-discrimination ordinances, the fight for marriage equality to today's battles over transgender people's rights to use the bathroom of their choice or continue to serve in the military, each movement is strategizing to counter the other. They are perfect enemies, wrote journalist Chris Bull. That's the title of the book he co-authored on the religious right and the LGBTQ movement. And in the last couple decades...

CHRIS BULL: What we saw was really an amazing string of victories by the LGBTQ rights movement.

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STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Don't Ask Don't Tell is history. That was the military's policy governing gays and lesbians.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry no matter where they are.

FADEL: Today a majority of Americans favor LGBTQ rights, including many people of faith. It's no longer socially acceptable or politically effective, Bull says, to demonize queer people. But...

BULL: There's still many states where you can be fired for being gay. And, perhaps, most significantly, trans people are really being targeted by the Trump administration for discrimination.

FADEL: Groups on the religious right now say this is a freedom of speech and freedom of religion issue, from cake makers to photographers who don't want to serve LGBTQ people and comply with nondiscrimination laws. The battles between the two sides, Bull says, continue, but the lines of that culture war have been redrawn.

Leila Fadel, NPR News.

KELLY: And we'll have more coverage of the Stonewall riots as the anniversary approaches next week.

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