Every year for 15 years, starting in 1971, the New York City Council considered a homosexual rights bill. Every year for 15 years, they rejected it. But in 1986, Mayor Ed Koch reworked the measure’s language, specifying that the bill did not endorse a particular way of life while defining sexual orientation more clearly. Koch spoke in support of the legislation, despite jeers and sometimes violent opposition. The measure passed on March 20, 1986, with a vote of 21 to 14.
New York City had the country’s largest gay population, but it was the 51st city to pass anti-discrimination laws for homosexuals.
The bill forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Violations were punishable by fines of $500 and up to a year in jail. Councilman Noach Dear, who voted against the bill, said, “We are in the initial stages of an insidious crusade.”
Koch said, “It is simply civil rights legislation . . . giving people protections so that your sexual life . . . will no longer be a factor in your getting a job or renting an apartment or going to a restaurant or theater or any public place of accommodation.”