Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Roberta L. Wollons

Second Advisor

Conevery Bolton Valencius

Third Advisor

Aaron Lecklider


From the Stonewall Riots in 1969 to Marriage Equality in 2015, the gay community has changed dramatically. Prior to the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, gay culture was diffuse in its activism, outlandish in the lifestyle it presented, and denigrated and marginalized by society at large. Today, it is significantly unified, focused on its activism goals, and accepted as a social norm. This thesis is a study of this transformation that began not with the Stonewall Riots, but rather in 1986 with ruling by the United States Supreme Court in the Bowers vs. Hardwick case, which restricted lesbian and gay civil liberties. This thesis is a study of the critical decade from 1986 through 1996, seen through the lens of Boston’s Gay Pride Parades, in which the lesbian and gay community dramatically changed, bringing about a seismic shift in their culture and activism. Because of the AIDS crisis, behavioral changes were already underway. But with the advent of the Hardwick decision, anger and frustration exploded throughout the gay community, propelling gay activists to fight not only for their lives, but their civil liberties as well. This shift to political action increased the visibility and awareness of the lesbian and gay community across American society. With the lesbian and gay community’s intentional public presence, political conservatives and the Religious Right increased their opposition to the gay activist’s call for equal rights. Pushing back, conservatives and the Religious Right accused the gay community of seeking “Special Rights.” In countering their argument, the gay activists developed their “sameness” strategy, say “We’re Just Like You,” to win their fight for equal rights. In doing so, the gay community began to transform, gaining momentum on their issues of expanded civil rights. This thesis will argue how it took the combined elements of the Hardwick decision, the AIDS crisis, conservatism in American politics, and the affront from the Religious Right to bring about this change in gay culture, activism, and its place within American Society.


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