Shared Histories: The Feminist and Gay Liberation Movements for Freedom in Public

39 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2020

See all articles by Elizabeth Sepper

Elizabeth Sepper

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

Deborah Dinner

Cornell Law School; affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: April 24, 2020


This Symposium on the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion presents the opportunity to evaluate the regulation and deregulation of gender and sexuality in public space. In 1969, LGBTQ people erupted against policing, harassment, and exclusion in public spaces. That same year, the growing feminist movement also launched protests for women's equality in public accommodations.

Our essay analyzes two case studies, from New Jersey in the late 1960s and California in the mid-1980s, to show what we might learn by integrating the histories of LGBTQ and feminist public accommodations activism. These case studies offer two lessons. First, the regulation of cisgender women and LGBTQ people stemmed from common sources of both law and custom. Public authorities and private businesses limited the access of unescorted heterosexual women, gay people, and gender nonconformists to public accommodations and surveilled their gathering in public space. For each of these groups, such policing was justified by fears of sexuality perceived to threaten the hetero-patriarchal family. Second, feminist and LGBTQ people's respective fights for equality in public reinforced one another. Before 1969, no city, state, or federal law prohibited sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity discrimination in public accommodations. Beginning in the 1960s, the LGBTQ and feminist movements pursued court battles and legal reforms. They ensured that liquor licensing no longer targeted cisgender women and LGBTQ people. Over the course of the 1970s and ‘80s, virtually all states came to adopt public accommodations laws prohibiting sex discrimination, and cities and states slowly began to explicitly include sexual orientation as well. Feminist and LGBTQ legal victories evolved in an interdependent rather than isolated manner.

Keywords: LGBTQ, sex, sexual orientation, public accommodations, legal history, social movements, liquor licensing, discrimination

Suggested Citation

Sepper, Elizabeth and Dinner, Deborah and Dinner, Deborah, Shared Histories: The Feminist and Gay Liberation Movements for Freedom in Public (April 24, 2020). 54 U. Richmond L. Rev. 759 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Sepper (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

Deborah Dinner

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell Law School
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-1698 (Phone)

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