In the 1980s, civil rights movements for women, immigrants, African Americans and homosexuals were growing rapidly. African Americans began to be shown in a better light and received more justices but women, immigrants and gays still had to fight against social injustice and discrimination, some of which sadly still occurs today.

  • Beginning in the 1970's, difficulties with the immigration process in the United States was beginning to receive attention from the government. The government was particularly concerned with illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border into America.
  • Immigrants came to America with hopes of freedom, job opportunities, accesible education, etc. Many people in foreign countries view America as the "land of opportunities". However, when they got to the US, particularly during the 1980s, they were surprised to find that in some regards, America was anything but opportune.
  • Most illegal immigrants were from Latin America or various parts of Asia.
  • In 1978, Congressman Peter Rodino and President Jimmy Carter endorsed a bill that would put severe restrictions on employers' abilities to hire illegal immigrants. Immigrants needed to either become full-fledged citizens (which could take years to achieve) or obtain work visas.
  • Democratic Kentucky congressman Romano Mazzoli and Republican Wyoming senator Alan Simpson presented the Simpson-Mazzoli Bill in 1984 and again in 1985, but each time it was never passed into law.
  • Finally in 1986, the Simpson-Mazzoli bill was finally passed as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).
  • IRCA made it a federal crime for employers to knowingly hire any illegal immigrants. This was done in hopes that people in other countries would stop trying to immigrate illegally when they realized there were no job opportunities unless they had citizenship or at least a work visa or green card.
  • IRCA protected any illegal immigrant that had been working in the US prior to 1982 from losing their jobs and allowed them to become legalized citizens.
  • Many prominent activists opposed IRCA such as Jesse Jackson and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
  • IRCA somewhat solved the problem of illegal immigration: The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reported that illegal immigration counts had greatly declined throughout 1987 and 1988, however by 1989 they were up again.
  • To further resolve the illegal immigration issue, "the INS called for more funds, more personnel and more elaborate ditching and fencing along the Mexican border" (DISCovering US History Data base). Still, Mexican illegal immigrants were only part of the problem. Many illegal immigrants came from Ireland as well, due to a financial depression in Ireland. Irish illegal immigrants came as tourists ad remained in the US long after their visas expired.
  • Irish immigrants, illegal or legal were commonly discriminated against, forced to hold only low-paying jobs with no hope for promotion or salary raise. In response, Irish immigrants started the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM) which advocated for Congress not only to provide Irish illegal immigrants with citizenship but also to let in more Irish immigrants.
  • Massachusetts Congressman, Brian Donnelly, got Congress to provide thousands of visas to immigrants from nations like Ireland who "had been by the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Nationality Act of 1965" (DISCovering History Data base). The IIRM also worked heavily to get the Immigration Act of 1990 passed which increased the amount of immigrants allowed to become legal US citizens per year.
  • For years, immigrants were widely discriminated against. Many Americans refused to hire them, even if they were legal citizens, and many people also debated whether immigrants should be forced to assimilate into American culture. By the late '80s and early '90s, immigrants finally began to receive social justice through organizations like the IIRM and the Immigration Act of 1990.

  • By the early 1980s, feminist groups now not only fought for things like "equal pay in the workplace, an equitable sharing of household and child-care responsibilities and personal control of reproductive decisions" (pg 942, America, A Concise History) like they always had but also for the rights of lesbians and ethnic minority women (black women, Hispanic-American women, immigrant women, etc.)
  • Abortion was a huge issue. Liberal women advocated that every woman had the personal right and liberty to a safe abortion. Conservatives (particularly those belonging to the Republican party or a devout religious faith) stated that the unborn fetus' life was more important than that of the mother and believed that abortion was morally wrong and should be illegal.
  • Those who supported a woman's right to an abortion were deemed to be "pro-choice" supporters and those who were against abortion were called "pro-life". The main pro-life advocates were politically influential fundamentalist Protestants.
  • In response to the highly controversial topic of abortion, state legislatures passed laws requiring pregnant teenage girls to get permission from their parents/guardians in order to have an abortion and placed other regulations on how a woman could obtain a legal abortion.
  • Abortion was and still is a highly controversial debate. Pro-life radicals have even gone as far as to murder doctors and nurses who perform abortions.
  • Abortion was made legal as early as 1973, in the Roe vs. Wade court case but it is still highly debated even to this day.
  • As another benefit to the women's rights movement, Ronald Reagan, while running for president in 1980, pledged dedication to the movement as part of his campaign platform.

  • Since the beginning of mankind, homosexuality has been considered "wrong" and "immoral" by many people. However, by the 1980's, this was beginning to change in America.
  • The Religious Right (term used to describe a group of extremist conservative right-wing politicians' views on various controversial issues including gay rights) thought homosexual practices to be unacceptable.
  • In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan was running for president against Democratic current president Jimmy Carter. With Republicans and the Religious Right backing Reagan, the Democrats realized that they would seem more popular to younger voters by stating a new policy on homosexuality: "All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation" (quote found ). Since then, gay rights have become a major issue involved in presidential candidates' campaign platforms.
  • Prior to 1984, same-sex couples were not given the same rights as heterosexual couples. This went beyond just marriage/civil union ceremony rights. For example, even today, in many states a partner in a same-sex relationship cannot decide what happens to their partner if that partner is extremely ill and cannot make this health decision for themselves. In a married couple, the spouse is always granted this right. In same-sex relationships, the parent(s) of the partner must make the decision for said partner-this is an issue because first of all the parent may or may not even be available to make this decision for whatever reason and secondly, it is a huge injustice to gay couples. In addition to hospital issues, gay couples were also never granted the same benefits as were given to heterosexual couples.
  • However, in 1984, the City of Berkeley in California changed this by being the very first US district to fully recognize gay couples and grant them the same rights as were given to heterosexual couples. This paved the way for more cities and districts to do the same.
  • The Gay Rights movement of the 1980s also has a lot to do with what the government did to protect and help the gay community deal with the AIDS virus. Starting in the mid-1970s, when more and more men began to "come out of the closet" or openly identify themselves as homosexuals, government-funded scientists began to gain increasing interest in studying "gay health".
  • When the AIDS virus was discovered in 1981 in gay men in Manhattan, "the gay community [became] the most hated minority in America" ( )
  • In response to the "AIDS epidemic" many gay nightclubs were shut down, seemingly in order to prevent the further spread of the virus. Many gays viewed this as an injustice and a violation of their civil rights.
  • From 1981 and onwards, much research has been done to investigate the causes of AIDS. We now know that AIDS is extremely preventable and some treatments have been discovered. However, no cure or vaccine for AIDS has been found yet.
  • The AIDS epidemic in many ways, set the gay rights movement back. Upon seeing the widespread prevalence of AIDS in the gay community, homosexuality was seen as "unhealthy" and "weird" on top of the "immoral" and "wrong" prejudices that people already held against them.
  • Although homosexuals have received some social rights, they still have a lot of political battles to face, specifically in reference to gay marriage. As of May 2010, only 7 of 50 US states allow gay marriage: Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire as well as the District of Columbia.
  • Gays have also had to face horrible social injustices particularly hate crimes. For instance, in 1984, Charlie Howard, a young gay man was beaten and drowned in Bangor, Maine by three other men due to his sexual orientation. Laws have been passed to prevent these horrific hate crimes against homosexuals from occurring, but sadly they still do.
Minorities in Pop Culture
Michael Jackson & MTV
  1. For years, black musicians had been trying to get their music videos onto Music Television (MTV), a television station that plays popular and current music videos.
  2. MTV in the early 80's still refused to play most videos created by African Americans, such as Rick James' "Super Freak". Some videos by black artists were played every once in a while, but never in the regular rotation of played videos-that waexternal image mj-4-billie-jean.jpgs reserved for white musicians' videos. People began to question MTV's refusals to show these music videos, but MTV still blatantly refused to play them.
  3. In 1983, pop singer Michael Jackson attempted to get the video for his hit song "Billie Jean" broadcasted on MTV but was rejected solely because he was African American.
  4. In response to MTV's obvious racism, Walter Yetnikoff, president of CBS Records (Jackson's record label) threatened to take all white CBS records recording artists' videos off of MTV and publicly criticized the station, saying he was "going to go public and [f***ing] tell [the public] about the fact [that MTV doesn't] want to play music by a black guy".
  5. So, MTV, not wanting to be seen as racist and risk losing public appeal, broadcast "Billie Jean" in the regular lineup of played videos. The video as well as the song was extremely popular and in response, MTV played more of Jackson's videos as well as other black musicians' videos.
  6. "The Austin Chronicle" a popular Texas-based tabloid published an article some years later, claiming that Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" getting significant airtime on MTV "broke the color barrier", meaning that it opened doorways for other African American recording artists to get their videos widely played on MTV and therefore, frequently viewed by the American public.

The Cosby Show
  1. The Cosby Show, a situation comedy starring Bill Cosby, premiered in 1984. The show followed an African American family, the Huxtables, which was made up of two parents and five children.
  2. The Cosby Show was notable for being the first television program to show African Americans as being part of the upper-middle-class; until then, African American television families were displayed as having significant financial struggles and little formal education. The Huxtable family was made up of very successful and educated people: the father being a doctor, the mother a lawyer and the eldest daughter being enrolled in college during the first years of the show.
  3. The Cosby Show was praised by many for its ability to be "the golden result of civil rights movement and the fight for racial equality" ( /). Even Coretta Scott King, wife of the infamous peace activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, once stated that the Cosby Show was "the most positive portrayal of black family life that has ever been broadcast"
  4. The Cosby Show in many regards paved the way for other upper-middle-class successful black to be represented on television such as in "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air", a widely popular sitcom of the early '90s that showed the Banks family, an extremely wealthy African American family.

  1. Roseanne was a situation comedy starring Roseanne Barr that was first broadcast in 1988. This show centered around the white middle-class Conner family.
  2. The show was significant because it touched upon serious issues that most other television programs of the day ignored, such as feminism, homosexuality, domestic violence, birth control, etc. Although the show was a comedy, it was praised for its capabilities in handling serious issues.
  3. The show was most known for its portrayal of female characters. On most television shows, females were represented as being calm, compliant and beautiful. The female characters' roles in TV revolved around their being sweet and pretty. Roseanne showed a female lead character who was overweight, not at all interested in being stylish or "girly" and was portrayed as a cynical and brassy person. Roseanne as well as the other women on the show were not depicted as typical TV females.

  1. DISCovering History Database
  2. Graham, Renee. "The Boston Globe" article "The Cosby Show Had a Serious Impact"
  5. America, A Concise History