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The Path to Gay Rights: How Activism and Coming Out Changed Public Opinion, Jeremiah J. Garretson

Reviewed by Eric R. A. N. Smith

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Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, Americans have undergone a profound shift in their opinions about homosexuality. In the 1980s, only 30 percent to 40 percent of the public thought that homosexuality should be legal. By 2000, a majority held that view. By 2015, support had grown to well over 60 percent. Support for same-sex marriage, which had been at 30 percent, soared to 55 percent. Support for gay adoption likewise increased. Perhaps most telling of all, when pollsters asked parents how upset they would be if their child said he or she was gay in 1983, 61 percent said “very upset.” By 2013, that number had dropped to 19 percent. What caused this astonishing shift in public opinion? Jeremiah J. Garretson answers that question in his impressive study, The Path to Gay Rights.

The argument in a nutshell is that the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to a surge in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) activism. The disease and the activists drew the attention of both the news media and politicians. LGBTQ issues and people began to get news coverage for the first time and politicians began to address the issues. The greater attention to LGBTQ issues did not change public opinion, but it did begin to persuade people to come out in increasing numbers. S

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