15 iconic moments in the LGBTQ rights movement from the last decade

Supporters of LGBTQ rights hold placards in front of the US Supreme Court, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Washington. Associated Press

  • The 2010s marked a decade of legal triumph for LGBTQ people, with landmark court cases in issues like same-sex marriage, LGBTQ adoption, and transgender bathroom rights.
  • Marriage equality was legally affirmed by the US Supreme Court in 2015, while issues like workplace protections for LGBTQ people are still being fought over.
  • Here is an overview of advancements in LGBTQ rights throughout the 2010s.
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It’s been 50 years since the first brick was thrown at the Stonewall Inn – a moment some historians have deemed the beginning of the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the US.

In the half-century following the famed Stonewall riots, the landscape of LGBTQ civil rights has completely shifted.

In the last decade alone, many of the issues like marriage equality, same-sex adoption, and the right for transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice have had their day in court and successfully made advancements for the rights of LGBTQ people. Legal victories coupled with the heightened visibility of LGBTQ people in the media make the 2010s a notable decade for the community.

But while this has been a decade of monumental change, it is also important to note that many of the issues the organisers at the Stonewall Inn fought against, like LGBTQ homelessness and safety from assault, remain dire – with transgender women of colour at a disproportionately high risk for violence and assault.

Here is an overview of the landmark court cases, political decisions, and that advanced the rights of LGBTQ people in the US in the 2010s.

Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal ended the state’s ban on gay adoption in 2010.


For over 33 years, Florida barred all gays and lesbians from adopting children. This law ended in 2010 after Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and there was “no rational basis” for it – making Florida the final US state to abolish adoption bans for gays and lesbians.

A federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 in 2010, abolishing California’s ban on same-sex marriage​.


Proposition 8, a California law voted into effect in 2008 that prohibited same-sex marriage, was struck down by Vaughn R. Walker, chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, in 2010.

Walker stated that Prop 8 stood in direct opposition to the Equal Rights Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prevents states from “deny(ing) to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Though the ban of Proposition 8 did not immediately make same-sex marriage in California legal and did not eliminate bans against same-sex marriage in other states, it was a significant step in the overall battle for marriage equality in the US.

In 2010, the US government repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ its ban on openly lesbian, bisexual, and gay people serving in all branches of the military.


Put into effect in 1994 under the Clinton administration, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a policy preventing gay, lesbian, or bisexual military members from disclosing their sexual orientation.

The code stated that disclosing their sexuality “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

Although the policy was enacted to relax the military’s stance on homosexuality at the time, public opinion steadily grew against it over time. After 17 years of lawsuits and organising from grassroots organisations, national organisations, and government representatives, President Obama signed a repeal of the policy on December 22, 2010.

Obama became the first sitting US president to openly support same-sex marriage in 2012.


Following Vice President Joe Biden’s announcement of his support of same-sex marriage, President Barack Obama discussed his “evolution” of views on same-sex marriage during an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. During the interview, he stated that despite his open opposition to it in the past, his views had changed over time to support same-sex marriage.

“I’ve just concluded that – for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that – I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said.

The Democratic Party became the first major US political party to support gay marriage in 2012.


The Democratic Party announced that same-sex marriage would be included in its list of issues for the party’s platform after Obama announced his support of marriage equality earlier in 2012.

Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate in 2012.


Tammy Baldwin broke barriers when she became the first openly gay person elected into Senate in 2012. But this was not the first time Baldwin had made history. She also became the first gay woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1998.

The US Supreme Court ruled against the Defence of Marriage Act Section 3 in 2013, paving the way for same-sex​ spousal rights.

Edith Windsor fought for her spousal rights to be recognised by the state of New York after her wife’s death in 2009. Ida Mae Astute / Getty Images

The Defence of Marriage Act passed by Congress in 1996 defined marriage legally as a union between a man and a woman. For nearly three decades, DOMA’s narrow definition of marriage legally allowed states to put same-sex marriage bans in place and simultaneously allowed states to ignore same-sex marriages that were performed and legally recognised in other states.

DOMA prevented same-sex couples from having the full rights of straight married people in the eyes of the law, barring couples from having rights over their spouses in times of illness and death – which became the primary issue in the landmark case United States v. Windsor.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were a same-sex couple from New York who had been together for over 50 years. In 2007, the pair got married in Toronto because same-sex marriage was legal in Canada and not in the US at the time. Spyer’s death in 2009 prompted a series of lawsuits filed by Windsor due to the state of New York not recognising the couple’s marriage, which in turn required Windsor to pay $US350,000 in federal taxes for her inheritance of Spyer’s estate – a price that would amount to zero dollars if their marriage had been recognised.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union worked with Windsor to file a lawsuit against the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2010, challenging DOMA Section 3, which prevented the federal government from recognising any same-sex marriage under the law, including those legally recognised in specific states.

In 2013, the lawsuit made it to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that DOMA Section 3 was unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. While this ruling did not legalise marriage equality throughout the US, it was a large step in legally recognising the rights of existing same-sex marriages.

The Colorado Civil Rights Division legally affirmed that Coy Mathis, a transgender first-grade girl, has the right to use the girls’ bathroom at her elementary school in 2013.


Colorado first-grader Coy Mathis had been blocked from using the girls’ restroom at her school by Fountain-Fort Carson School District officials, who stated that Mathis, who is transgender, only had the option of using the boys’ restroom, the nurses’ restroom, or staff bathroom.

After Mathis’ family filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school board that made it to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the state ruled in favour of Mathis’ right to use the restroom that corresponds to her gender identity rather than biological sex in 2013.

The decision stated that banning Mathis from using the girls’ bathroom “creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.”

The US Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality in 2015 by ruling that state ‘marriage​ bans’ barring the full rights of same-sex spouses are unconstitutional.


After hearing several same-sex marriage cases, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were to be legally recognised across all 50 states. This ruling gave same-sex couples the same legal rights to marry as partnerships between one man and one woman.

The Pentagon announced it was lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military in 2016 — although the victory was short-lived.


In 2016, Secretary of Defence Ash Carter announced that the Department of Defence’s ban against transgender people serving in the Armed Forces was lifted.

While this was celebrated by many as a step towards equity for transgender people, the victory was short-lived. President Donald Trump announced his ban of transgender people serving in the military in 2018.

In 2016, Washington, DC, began to allow residents to choose the gender-neutral​ option ‘X’ for the gender marker on their identification cards rather than just female or male.


Washington, DC, added a third gender marker option to ID cards in order to give people who identify as neither male or female the ability to correctly gender themselves on government documents. ‘X’ was made an option in addition to male and female.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that applying nondiscrimination laws to religious people showed ‘hostility’ in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, leaving the question of whether or not it is legal for religious people to refuse service to LGBTQ people unanswered.

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store in Lakewood, Colo. Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig went to Lakewood, Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop to place an order for a wedding cake and were denied service by the shop’s owner for being a same-sex couple. Mullins and Craig filed complaints with the Colorado Civil Rights Division stating that this refusal of service stood in direct violation of Colorado state civil rights law.

The division affirmed Mullins and Craig’s claims and found that Masterpiece Cakeshop was in direct violation of state which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexuality. The case then travelled through the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2015, where the same decision was made, ruling in favour of Mullins and Craig.

However, when the US Supreme Court heard the case in 2017, the justices reversed the decision made by the lower courts, stating that the laws in place showed “hostility” toward religious people.

The decision still leaves the question of whether or not businesses can discriminate and refuse service to LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation because of religious beliefs. While the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Masterpiece Cakeshop, more lawsuits dealing with similar cases of discrimination are being fought in the lower courts and could bring the same issue to the Supreme Court in the future.

The US Supreme Court affirmed the ​Trump administration’s effective ban of most transgender people from the military in 2019.


The Trump administration was granted permission by the US Supreme Court to pass an order that effectively bars most transgender people from serving in the military. The order acts as a ban because it dictates that any transgender person who wishes to serve in any branch of the Armed Forces must serve with the gender they were assigned at birth rather than their actual gender identity.

The ban and subsequent Supreme Court affirmation of it have elicited a wave of public outcry against the Trump administration’s treatment of transgender people. While the ban went into effect earlier this year, advocacy groups and politicians alike are working to combat it.

The future of LGBTQ workplace discrimination currently hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court considers arguments heard in October 2019.


On October 8, 2019, the US Supreme Court heard three individual cases – one from a transgender woman and two from gay men – to determine whether or not LGBTQ people are protected from workplace discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This decision will ultimately decide whether it is constitutional to discriminate and fire LGBTQ people on the basis of gender identity or sexuality, and it will affirm or undermine over 20 years of case law, according to the National Centre for Transgender Equality.

The court is expected to make its decision in 2020.

Pete Buttigieg’s Pride month Out magazine cover prompts questions about the future of the fight for LGBTQ rights.


June marks LGBTQ Pride Month around the world, and in 2019 it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots. In honour of the half-century of activism since the rebellion, many publications, including Out magazine, featured important LGBTQ figures on their front covers.

On one of their Pride Month covers, Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay politician and a Democratic presidential candidate, appeared alongside the word’s “Stonewall: Then, Now, Next. Is Pete Buttigieg what we really fought for?”

Buttigieg is the only openly gay candidate running for president, and the question of what his candidacy means for the future LGBTQ rights has been contested by scholars and advocates alike. While some argue that the LGBTQ representation Buttigieg brings to mainstream politics is monumental, others, like Micki McElya, professor at the University of Connecticut, make the point that the activists at Stonewall did not stand for the same politics that Buttigieg represents.

“Gay liberationists didn’t want what straight, middle-class white America had, they wanted a new world, one in which conventional structures of domination were abolished,” McElya wrote in an article about Buttigieg’s campaign for the Boston Review.