How LGBT rights have gone Back to the Future
On the day the world catches up with the future predicted in Back to the Future 2… we might not have hoverboards, but a lot has changed.
So we don’t have hoverboards or flying cars, and we don’t have Jaws 19 or self tying shoes (at least not quite yet) but today is the day Marty McFly stepped out of the Delorean and witnessed a very different version of his home town, Hill Valley.
We have made it. We are in the future. And we can all get married now.
But whilst Marty is failing to go to town on his mother, introducing Chuck Berry to Chuck Berry and trying to stop his future son from going to jail, life for the LGBT community of Hill Valley would hardly have been boring.
In the 130-year period Marty and Doc bounced around time, LGBT people – even those from his home town of Hill Valley, California – have gone from suffering under horrific “anti sodomy laws” to relative societal and legal acceptance and protection.
I would say let’s grab our hoverboards and jump into our Deloreans, and explore the realities of being LGBT in Hill Valley through the ages… but we never bothered inventing hoverboards or time machines, because we decided iPhones and Facebook were more important.
Instead you can read this. You’re welcome.
1955, Hill Valley, California
The first trip that Marty and Doc took, of course, was to 1955.
Both volumes of the Kinsey report covering male and female sexuality have been available for a few years and have started a limited form of public discussion.
Lesbian themed pulp novels have sold millions but, admittedly, most of the narratives are portrayed as tragedies thanks to the strict obscenity regulations (BEING ANY KIND OF GAY CANNOT END WELL). On first glance, things may not appear to be as bad as you might expect.
However, two years earlier, President Eisenhower kicked off the ‘lavender scare’ with Executive Order 10450, which banned any lesbian or gay person from working for any agency in the US government, which resulted in the firing of thousands of workers, and this witch hunt was not just limited to the public sector.
Trans people did not have a distinctive movement at this point, and very little was understood, even by trans people themselves.
Chances are any trans residents of Hill Valley would clumsily be included in the “gay men” and “lesbian women” labels as information on what was happening inside of them, and their true nature, would not be understood in the public consciousness until decades later. But still some would find access to healthcare on the underground, if they were lucky enough to stumble upon like minded people and had the funds to do so.
Lesbians were at serious risk of sexual assault by police, and assaults of all horrific flavours against the LGBT community were very common and rarely investigated. Because…LGBT people…meh?
But the first stirrings of the gay liberation movement start here, as gay people and lesbians started to form “homophile rights” groups ;like the Machinette Society, aiming to persuade the straight population that the only real difference between them is who they wanted to sleep with. It would be years before that approach would be abandoned for the “out and proud” post-Stonewall gay lib movement that would start to make real advances.
In Hill Valley, the LGBT population would have to operate in relative secrecy, for fear of serious repercussions on their lives if discovered. The few who were brave enough to come out would find very few collectives to join, and would probably spend many of their days being chased by Biff and his friends. Whilst a well place manure truck may put a temporary hold on their problems, true legal protections and societal acceptance are still decades away.
1985 – Hill Valley, California
Marty’s home turf, and ‘present day’.
Harvey Milk is long dead, but his mark has been left on California as the Gay Liberation movement picks up speed and is starting to make some real advances. The Stonewall riots two decades earlier is often cited as the starter pistol, but Harvey Milk opened the door to power for LGBT people.
The AIDS crisis is at its height, bringing attention both positive and negative to the gay community.
Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS-related illnesses has made the public aware of the crisis, and this triggers a calm, informed reaction from the US Government.
OK, maybe not. AIDS awareness posters would have been seen in public toilets and seedy night clubs around the Hill Valley town square, and standing next to the fundraisers for the broken clock tower, you might have even spotted campaigners collecting money for research into the disease informally known as ‘gay cancer’.
Half of the US still has “anti-Sodomy” laws banning gay sex, but California is thankfully not one of them, having thrown out the law once Marty McFly had already turned eight years old (in 1976).
Trans people would not have enjoyed the same kind of advances, with the movement still in its relative infancy, and invisible aside from being the butt of sitcom jokes. Hill Valley’s trans community would still be nearly indistinguishable from the gay and lesbian communities to the cisgender, straight population.
Several years before, the US government made the decision (based on recommendations by second-wave feminist Janice Raymond) to not cover transgender healthcare under their Medicare and Medicaid programs, which would force many to travel as far as Thailand to get the medical treatment they needed.
Chances are, a lot of Hill Valley’s LGBT community would have left to move to ‘gay ghettos’ like the Castro district of San Francisco – the small pockets of society embracing equality.
2015, Hill Valley, California
Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads… okay, I lied, you do still need roads. Lack of hoverboards aside, Marty’s trip to the future might show him some promising progress.
Equal marriage went national this year, as the Supreme Court decision forced all states to actually allow people to marry whoever they like. Trans people are all over the place and Ellen has her own media empire. Compared to the last sixty years, LGBT citizens of Hill Valley are in a golden age of acceptance.
Many insurance providers, as well as many of the businesses in the town will now cover various level of transgender healthcare, and the number of people forced to make the trip to Thailand and San Francisco will have fallen as social attitudes become more progressive.
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The internet has made it easy for young LGBT people to find information at every step of coming to terms with who they are. As well as hooking up. Now it is possible to meet that Grindr date outside Twin (lone?) Pines mall.
But there are still many battles to be won, as homophobia still exists and occasionally rears it’s ugly head.
It was only a few years back when Hill Valley’s happily married LGB (and some T) people woke up to discover that the state had divorced them thanks to Proposition 8.
Many legal battles and, eventually, a Supreme Court decision brought equal marriage to all 50 states – but there are still ways to go. In most states you can still be fired for being gay or trans – and most of the US Congress (and some Presidential candidates) want it to stay that way.
But in Hill Valley and across the US, the LGBT community is organised, and ready to stand up for its rights.
Chicken? Nobody calls us chicken.