Sexuality Throughout the Ages

Explore the history of sexuality.

Homosexuality in the 20th Century

Since the 1960s, many homosexual people in the West, particularly those in major metropolitan areas, have developed a  gay culture. Gay culture is exemplified by the gay pride movement, with annual parades and displays of rainbow flags. With the outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s, many homosexual groups and individuals organized campaigns to promote efforts in AIDS education, prevention, research, patient support, and community outreach, as well as to demand government support for these programs.The bewildering death toll wrought by the epidemic at first seemed to slow the progress of the gay rights movement, but in time it galvanized some parts of the homosexual community into political action and community service, and challenged the heterosexual community to respond compassionately. Publicly gay politicians have attained numerous government posts, even in countries that had sodomy laws in their recent past. Examples include: Guido Westerwelle,  Peter Mandelson, and Per-Kristian Foss, formerly Norwegian Minister of Finance. Homosexual movements are opposed by a variety of individuals and organizations. Some social conservatives believe that all same sex relationships undermine the traditional family and that children should be reared in homes with both a father and a mother.

In 2006, the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and National Association of Social Workers stated in an Amicus Brief presented to the Supreme Court of the State of California: “Gay men and lesbians form stable, committed relationships that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships in essential respects.

The institution of marriage offers social, psychological, and health benefits that are denied to same-sex couples. By denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the state reinforces and perpetuates the stigma historically associated with homosexuality. Homosexuality remains stigmatized, and this stigma has negative consequences. California’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples reflects and reinforces this stigma”. They concluded: “There is no scientific basis for distinguishing between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples with respect to the legal rights, obligations, benefits, and burdens conferred by civil marriage.”

In many cultures, homosexual people are frequently subject to prejudice and discrimination. A 2011 Dutch study concluded that 49% of Holland’s youth and 58% of youth foreign to the country reject homosexuality. Similar to other minority groups they can also be subject to stereotyping. These attitudes tend to be due to forms of homophobia and heterosexism. Homophobia is a fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexual people. It manifests in different forms, and a number of different types have been postulated, among which are internalized homophobia, social homophobia, emotional homophobia and rationalized homophobia.When such attitudes manifest as crimes they are often called hate crimes.

Negative stereotypes characterize homosexuals as less romantically stable, more promiscuous and more likely to abuse children, but there is no scientific basis to such assertions.

Historically, persecution of homosexuals was mostly limited to male homosexuality, termed “sodomy“. During the medieval and early modern period, the penalty for sodomy was usually death. During the 19th to early 20th century in the western world, the penalty was usually a fine or imprisonment. As of 2009, there remain 80 countries worldwide where homosexual acts remain illegal notably throughout the Middle East,South Asia and in most of Africa, but also in much of the Caribbean and Oceania including five that carry the death penalty.

In the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, twelve have legislation specifically designed for bias based on sexual orientation to be counted as aggravating circumstance in the commission of a crime.

The United States does not have federal legislation marking sexual orientation as criteria for hate crimes, but several states, including the District of Columbia, enforce harsher penalties for crimes where real or perceived sexual orientation may have been a motivator. Among these 12 countries as well, only the United States has criminal law that specifically mentions gender identity, and even then only in 11 states and the District of Colombia. In November 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted 79-70 to remove “sexual orientation” from the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, a list of unjustified reasons for executions, replacing it with “discriminatory reasons on any basis”. The resolution specifically mentions a large number of groups, including race, religion, linguistic differences, refugees, street children and indigenous peoples.

With the creation of the internet homosexual groups have been able to make connections and provide support for one another. Community websites and movements aimed at providing support have been created and are helping people all over the world.

  1. “Sexual Orientation, Homosexuality,and Bisexuality”,
  2. Case No. S147999 in the Supreme Court of the State of California, In re Marriage Cases Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4365
  3. American Psychological Association: Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts
  4. American Psychiatric Association Sexual Orientation

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2012 by in 20TH CENTURY SEXUAL REVOLUTION and tagged , .


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