Laws specifically targeting queer people were common in the United States for decades and many still remain on the books.
Des Plaines, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, has one such law from the early 1960s remains on the books. The city council just announced they plan to repeal the law that makes it illegal for anyone to “appear in any such place in a dress not belonging to his sex.”
“The existing language is a relic from a different and less accepting time,” Des Plaines Mayor Andrew Goczkowski said. “When it was brought to our attention, it was obvious that it needed to be updated.”
Violating the ordinance was considered “indecent exposure.”
Two nearby towns had similar ordinances and after a local resident notified officials in all three, they’ve been quickly repealed.
Repeal of the law was placed on the council’s “consent agenda,” meaning it won’t get public debate.
“I think the fact that it was placed on the consent agenda speaks to how welcoming the community is,” Goczkowski said.
In the 19th century in the U.S., a wave of cities and states passed laws banning cross-dressing. Transgender people, drag performers, and other queer people from the mid-20th century often recounted how they would wear three articles of clothes of their sex assigned at birth in order to hopefully avoid arrest and how police officers would use the laws as an excuse to “check” the underwear of people assigned female at birth.
1960s drag performer Flawless Sabrina – who was the subject of the 1967 documentary The Queen – said that she was arrested over 100 times for cross-dressing in the U.S.
The Stonewall Riot, considered one of the defining moments of the LGBTQ rights movement, was sparked by a raid intended to enforce a New York City clothing ban. Several drag queens were arrested for wearing women’s clothing.
Four men were arrested in a police raid last month and are facing charges under Maryland’s sodomy law.
Sodomy laws like this one were overturned by the Supreme Court in its landmark 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, which said that states can’t use appeals to morality to justify laws that ban private activity between consenting adults.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office raided the Bush River Books & Video store in Abington on May 20, arresting eight men accused of engaging in sexual acts with other men and one accused of soliciting prostitution. Three of the men are facing a charge of perverted sexual practices and another is facing a charge of perverted sexual practices and a charge of indecent exposure. The others are facing charges of indecent exposure or solicitation of prostitution.
Maryland’s law against perverted sexual practices bans oral sex with other people and animals, as well as any other “unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.”
Like many sodomy laws, the text of this law does not explicitly name gay and bi people – heterosexual couples can also engage in oral sex – but in practice laws like these are only enforced against people having sex with the same sex.