Gay Rights Movement

Main article: Gay rights movement

Although homosexual acts were decriminalized in some parts of the Western world, such as in Denmark in 1933, in Sweden in 1944, in the United Kingdom in 1967, and in Canada in 1969, it was not until the mid-1970s that homosexuals first began to achieve actual, though limited, civil rights in developed countries. A turning point was reached in 1973 when, in a vote decided by a plurality of the membership, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus negating its

Since the 1960s, in part due to their history of shared oppression, many gays and lesbians in the West, particularly those in major metropolitan areas, have developed a so-called "gay culture." To many, gay culture is exemplified by the gay pride movement, with annual parades and displays of rainbow flags. Yet not all gays choose to participate in such displays of "queer culture": some view it to be a frivolous display that perpetuates gay stereotypes and widens the gulf between gay and straight people.

The bewildering death toll wrought by AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s at first seemed to slow the progress of the gay rights movement, but in time it galvanized some parts of the gay community into community service and political action, and challenged the heterosexual community to respond compassionately. Many gay and lesbian groups and individuals organized campaigns to promote efforts in AIDS education, prevention, research, and patient support, and community outreach, as well as to demand government support for these programs. Gay Men's Health Crisis, Project Inform, and ACT UP are notable American examples of the gay community's response to the AIDS crisis. American motion pictures from this period dramatized the response of individuals and communities to the AIDS crisis, including An Early Frost (1985), Longtime Companion (1990), And the Band Played On (1993), Philadelphia (1993), and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), the last referring to the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt last displayed in its entirety on the Mall in Washington, DC in 1996.

Today the Gay Rights Movement in the United States is highly organized and is working through the legal system and political process to secure complete civil rights for homosexuals in matters of employment, adoption, inheritance rights, up to and including gay marriage.

Gay marriage and civil unions

Legislation designed to create provisions for gay marriage in a number of countries has polarized international opinion and led to many well-publicized political debates and court battles. By 2006, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa had legalized same-sex marriage; in the United States, only Massachusetts had legalized gay marriage while the states of Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey allowed civil unions.8 Maine, California, and Hawaii, as well as the District of Columbia, offered domestic partnerships.

The majority of European nations have enacted laws allowing civil unions designed to give gay couples similar rights as married couples concerning legal issues such as inheritance and immigration. In the United States, the framing of the debate around marriage rather than civil unions may have been partly responsible for the defeat of a number of measures by sparking opposition from many conservative and religious groups.

For moderate and conservative religious-minded people, the activism of the Gay Rights Movement in seeking civil rights for themselves up to the point of civil unions may be tolerable, but it becomes objectionable and even threatening when the legal changes they propose alter of the meaning and purpose of marriage, which affects everyone. They maintain that marriage is a specific institution designed as the union of a man and a woman, as a foundation for parenthood and the establishment of a family.

Health and behavioral issues

Many homosexuals recognize the norm of a long-term relationship with one partner. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the homosexual population includes a large percentage whose sexual behavior is aberrant by any standards. The health consequences of promiscuous homosexuality are tragic. In comparison to ordinary heterosexual lifestyles, homosexuals vary on a number of measures including the following:

  • The average homosexual male has 50 different partners in his lifetime, compared to six for the average heterosexual. These numbers are higher among those living in urban centers. The Kinsey Institute published a study of homosexual males living in San Francisco which reported that 43 percent had sex with 500 or more partners; 28 percent had sex with 1000 or more partners; and 79 percent said that over half of their sex partners were strangers.9
  • McWhirter and Mattison, both therapists who are homosexual, conducted a survey of 156 male couples. As reported in their book, The Male Couple, they found that 95 percent of the couples were unfaithful, and the five percent that were faithful had been together five or fewer years. In contrast, surveys of heterosexual couples conducted in the 1990s show rates of infidelity ranging from four percent in a given year, 6.4 percent over a five-year period and 15-17 percent over the life of the marriage.10 These results are opposite to the 95 percent of unfaithful homosexual couples. McWhirter and Mattison themselves stated, “The expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexuals.”11
  • Some homosexual sexual practices are inherently risky, notably anal sex. The skin inside the anus is highly susceptible to tearing, which can create openings for viruses and bacteria to enter the body.
  • A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Task Force on Youth Suicide in 1989 revealed that one-third of all teenage suicides are committed by those who suffer from homosexual problems. This is an extremely high percentage considering that only 1 to 3 percent of the population is homosexual. It was, however, noted that this increased risk of suicide might be attributable at least in part to a "hostile and condemning environment, verbal and physical abuse, rejection and isolation from family and peers".12 Homosexual men are six times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual men.13
  • The United States and several European countries prohibit men who have sex with men from donating blood "because they are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion."14

The medical problems associated with homosexuality are well-known in the gay community. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association warns gay men about the following:15

  1. HIV/AIDS, Safe Sex: That men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of HIV infection is well known, but the effectiveness of safe sex in reducing the rate of HIV infection is one of the gay community's great success stories.
  2. Substance Abuse: Gay men abuse substances at a higher rate than the general population, and not just in larger communities such as New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
  3. Depression/Anxiety: Depression and anxiety appear to affect gay men at a higher rate than in the general population.
  4. Hepatitis Immunization: Men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of sexually transmitted hepatitis.
  5. STDs: Sexually transmitted diseases (STD)s occur in sexually active gay men at a high rate.
  6. Prostate, Testicular, and Colon Cancer: The cultural sensitivities of gay men may lead them not to avail themselves of recommended screenings, thus putting them at higher risk of death by prostate, testicular, or colon cancer.
  7. Alcohol: It is thought that gay men have higher rates of alcohol dependence and abuse than straight men.
  8. Tobacco: It appears that gay men use tobacco at much higher rates than straight men, reaching nearly 50 percent in several studies. Tobacco-related health problems include lung disease and lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a whole host of other serious problems.
  9. Fitness (Diet and Exercise): Problems with body image are more common among gay men than their straight counterparts. This results in a higher prevalence in gay men of eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. Others overdo exercise and abuse of substances such as anabolic steroids. At the opposite end of the spectrum, overweight and obesity are problems that also affect a large subset of the gay community.
  10. Anal Papilloma: Of all the sexually transmitted infections gay men are at risk for, human papilloma virus-which cause anal and genital warts-is often thought to be little more than an unsightly inconvenience. However, these infections may play a role in the increased rates of anal cancers in gay men.

Yet many homosexuals seem to be ignoring the widespread publicity of these medical risks within the gay community. A CDC study concluded that gay men ignore health warnings to practice "safe sex." According to researchers, "One fourth of the men admitted having had unprotected sex with a "non-main" partner during the 16

Gays in the military

In the close quarters of male barracks and under the pressure of combat, many in the military see the presence of homosexuals as potentially creating problems of troop cohesiveness, discipline and morale. The United States settled on a “Don't ask, don't tell” policy, which requires homosexual soldiers to conceal their orientation and refrain from homosexual behavior. This imperfect compromise between open acceptance and prohibition is intended to enable homosexual men to serve their country honorably and without causing any disruption in the ranks. Difficulties remain: for troop morale, if men who conceal their homosexuality are unable to control their attraction in the barracks, and for responsible homosexuals who have found a satisfying career the military, for whom there is the ever-present risk of being "outed" and discharged.

A few countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands accept openly homosexual individuals into the armed forces. Islamic nations that adhere to the strict interpretation of Sharia remove individuals from their armed forces who are believed to be homosexual and may subject them to legal penalties.

Homosexuality in World Cultures

Sexual customs have varied greatly over time and from one region to another. Modern Western gay culture, largely a product of the loosening of sexual restraints generally in the twentieth century and given widespread social sanction as a result of the contemporary Gay Rights Movement, is a relatively recent manifestation of same-sex desire. It is generally not applicable as a standard when investigating same-gender sex in other cultures and historical periods.


Homosexual expression in sub-Saharan Africa was present that the time of European colonization and took a variety of forms, most often pederasty.17 Anthropologists Murray and Roscoe reported that certain women in Lesotho engaged in socially sanctioned "long term, erotic relationships" named motsoalle.18 These practices were more or less tolerated, until attitudes hardened after the coming of Christianity.


Dance to the Berdache
Sac and Fox Nation ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person. George Catlin (1796-1872); Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

In North American Native society, the most common form of same-sex sexuality centers around the figure of the "two-spirit" individual or berdache. Such people seem to have been recognized by the majority of tribes, each of which had its particular term for the role. These individuals are often viewed as having two spirits occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles. They have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes. Typically the two-spirit individual was recognized early in life, given a choice by the parents to follow the path, and if the child accepted the role then raised in the appropriate manner, learning the customs of the chosen gender. Two-spirit individuals were commonly shamans and were revered as having powers beyond those of ordinary shamans. Most of these individuals had relationships with the same, opposite, or either sexes.19 Female-bodied two-spirits usually had sexual relations or marriages with only females.20 Male two-spirit people were often prized as wives because of their greater strength and ability to work. In the Lakota tribe, two-spirits commonly married widowers; in this function they parented their husband's children without any risk of bearing new children that she might give priority to.21

Balboa setting his war dogs upon Indian practitioners of male love in 1513; New York Public Library

The Spanish conquerors were horrified to discover sodomy openly practiced among native peoples, and attempted to crush it out by subjecting the berdaches under their rule to severe penalties, including public execution and burning. In a famous example of homophobic cruelty, in 1513 the conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa:

discovered that the village of Quarequa (in modern-day Panama) was stained by the foulest vice. The king's brother and a number of other courtiers were dressed as women, and according to the accounts of the neighbors shared the same passion. Vasco ordered forty of them to be torn to pieces by dogs. The Spaniards commonly used their dogs in fighting against these naked people, and the dogs threw themselves upon them as though they were wild boars on timid deer.22

East Asia

A woman spying on a pair of male lovers, Qing Dynasty. Chinese Sexual Culture Museum in Shanghai.

In Asia same-sex love has been known since the dawn of history. Early Western travelers were taken aback by its widespread acceptance and open display.

Homosexuality in China, known as the "pleasures of the bitten peach," "the cut sleeve," or "the southern custom," has been recorded since approximately 600 B.C.E. These euphemistic terms were used to describe behaviors, but not identities. In more recent times, the Chinese society adopted the term "brokeback," 斷背 duanbei, due to the success of Chinese director Ang Lee's film Brokeback Mountain. In the past, such relationships were marked by differences in age and social position. However, the instances of same-sex affection and sexual interactions described in the Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber, or Story of the Stone) seem as familiar to observers in the present as do equivalent stories of romances between heterosexuals during the same period.

Homosexuality in Japan, variously known as shudo or nanshoku, terms influenced by Chinese literature, has been documented for over one thousand years. This same-sex love culture gave rise to strong traditions of painting and literature documenting and celebrating such relationships.

In Thailand, Kathoey, or "ladyboys," have been a feature of Thai society for many centuries, and Thai kings had male as well as female lovers. Kathoey are men who dress as women. They are generally accepted by society, and Thailand has never had legal prohibitions against homosexuality or homosexual behavior. Thai Buddhism recognized the existence of this third gender.


Sixth century B.C.E. Athenian cup depicting a man seducing a youth. Antikenmuseum, Berlin

Ancient Greek art, mythology and philosophic works depict a society in which relationships between adult men and adolescent youths were often valued for their pedagogic benefits and as a means of population control, although they were occasionally blamed for causing disorder. Generally these relationships were seen as part of a young man's education before he became an adult, took a wife and formed a heterosexual family. Plato praised the benefits of pederasty in his early writings, but later rejected its erotic character in favor of chaste relationships, what became known as Platonic love.

Socially sanctioned man-boy love continued in the Roman Empire until the coming of Christianity. Emperor Theodosius I decreed a law in 390 C.E. condemning passive homosexuals to be burned at the stake. However, taxes on brothels of boys available for homosexual sex continued to be collected until the end of the reign of Anastasius I in 518. Justinian, towards the end of his reign, expanded the proscription to the active partner as well (in 558) warning that such conduct can lead to the destruction of cities through the "wrath of God."

Accusations of homosexuality have at times been used as a political weapon. For example, during the early fourteenth century, accusations of homosexual behavior were instrumental in disbanding the Knights Templar under Philip IV of France, who profited greatly from confiscating the Templars' wealth.

During the Renaissance, rich cities in northern Italy, Florence and Venice in particular, were renowned for their widespread practice of same-sex love, engaged in by a considerable part of the male (elite) population and constructed along the classical pattern of Ancient Greece and Rome.23 24 The eclipse of this period of relative artistic and erotic freedom was precipitated by the rise to power of the moralizing monk Girolamo Savonarola. In northern Europe the artistic discourse on sodomy was turned against its proponents by artists such as Rembrandt, who in his Rape of Ganymede no longer depicted Ganymede as a willing youth, but as a squalling baby attacked by a rapacious bird of prey.

In seventeenth-century England the homosexual relationships of socially prominent figures, such as King James I and the Duke of Buckingham, were a source of scandal, as described in anonymously authored street pamphlets: "The world is chang'd I know not how, For men Kiss Men, not Women now;… Of J. the First and Buckingham: He, true it is, his Wives Embraces fled, To slabber his lov'd Ganimede;" (Mundus Foppensis, or The Fop Display'd, 1691.)

In the twentieth century, tens of thousands of homosexuals were murdered in the Holocaust, based upon the Nazi proposition that they were a risk of contamination to the "Aryan race."

Middle East and Central Asia

Dance of a bacchá (dancing boy)
Samarkand, (ca. 1905 - 1915), photo Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Among many Middle-Eastern Muslim cultures, homosexual practices were widespread and public. Persian poets, such as Attar (d. 1220), Rumi (d. 1273), Sa'di (d. 1291), Hafez (d. 1389), and Jami (d. 1492), wrote poems replete with homo-erotic allusions. The two most commonly documented forms were commercial sex with transgender males or males enacting transgender roles exemplified by the köçek and the bacchá, and certain Sufi spiritual practices.

In Persia, homosexuality and homo-erotic expressions were tolerated in numerous public places, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, bathhouses, and coffee houses. In the early Safavid era (1501-1723), male houses of prostitution (amrad khane) were legally recognized and paid taxes.

A rich tradition of art and literature sprang up, constructing Middle Eastern homosexuality in ways analogous to the ancient tradition of male love in which Ganymede, cup-bearer to the gods, symbolized the ideal boyfriend. Muslim-often Sufi-poets in medieval Arab lands and in Persia wrote odes to the beautiful Christian wine boys who, they claimed, served them in the taverns and shared their beds at night. In many areas the practice survived into modern times (as documented by Richard Francis Burton, André Gide, and others).

In Central Asia, on the Silk Route, the two traditions of the East and the West met, and gave rise to a strong local culture of same-sex love. In the Turkic-speaking areas, one manifestation of this involved the bacchá, adolescent or adolescent-seeming male entertainers and sex workers.

South Pacific

Same-sex relationships were an integral part of the culture of many Melanesian societies before the introduction of Christianity. Traditional Melanesian insemination rituals existed where a boy, upon reaching a certain age would be paired with an older adolescent who would become his mentor and whom he would ritually fellate over a number of years in order to develop his own masculinity. In certain tribes of Papua New Guinea, it is considered a normal ritual responsibility for a boy to have a relationship in order to accomplish his ascent into manhood. Most of these practices have since died out.

Cultural anthropology

Researchers studying the social construction of same-sex relationships in the various cultures around the world have suggested that the concept of homosexuality would best be rendered as "homosexualities." They document that same-sex relations have been, and continue to be, organized in distinct categories by different societies in different eras. These variations are grouped by cultural anthropologist Stephen O. Murray25 and others26 into (usually) three separate modes of association:

Egalitarianfeatures two partners with no relevance to age. Additionally, both play the same socially-accepted sex role as heterosexuals of their own sex. This is exemplified by relationships currently prevalent in western society between partners of similar age and gender.
Gender structuredfeatures each partner playing a different gender role. This is exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, as well as Two-Spirit or shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. In North America, this is best represented by the butch/femme practice.
Age structuredfeatures partners of different ages, usually one adolescent and the other adult. This is exemplified by pederasty among the Classical Greeks; southern Chinese boy-marriage rites; and Central Asian and Middle Eastern practices.

Gender-structured and age-structured homosexuality typically involve one partner adopting a "passive" and the other an "active" role to a much greater degree than in egalitarian relationships. Among men, being the passive partner often means receiving semen, by performing fellatio or being the receptive partner during anal sex. This is sometimes interpreted as an emphasis on the sexual pleasure of the active partner, although this is disputed. For example, in gender-structured female homosexuality in Thailand, active partners (toms) emphasize the sexual pleasure of the passive partner (dee), and often refuse to allow their dee to pleasure them, while in ancient Greece the pederastic tradition was seen as engendering strong friendships between the partners, and was blamed for predisposing males to continue seeking the "passive" pleasures they experienced as adolescents even after they matured.

Usually in any society one form of homosexuality predominates, though others are likely to co-exist. As historian Rictor Norton says in Ancient Greece egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and sexual fascination with adolescents can also be found among modern homosexuals. Egalitarian homosexuality has emerged as the principal form practiced in the Western world, while age- and gender-structured homosexuality have become less common. As a byproduct of growing Western cultural dominance, this egalitarian homosexuality is spreading from western culture to non-Western societies, although there are still defined differences between the various cultures.

Causes of Homosexuality: Nature versus Nurture

A hotly debated topic among biologists, psychologists and anthropologists concerns the causes of homosexuality. The current debate is whether homosexuality is the result of nature-a person's biology and genetics, or of nurture-a person's environment and surroundings. Much about human sexuality remains unknown, and the debate continues to this day without any conclusive resolution. Most likely there are both innate and environmental factors at work.27

This debate is inevitably tied to the moral issue. Many believe that prejudice against gays and lesbians will melt away if the public were to accept the belief that a person's sexual orientation is mainly determined by genes. If genetic, then same-sex orientation is not a choice but something beyond one's control. Moreover, belief that homosexuality is determined by nature predisposes homosexuals to accept their sexual orientation as natural and to live a homosexual lifestyle; furthermore it fosters the belief that they cannot change and live as a heterosexual even if they want to. On the other hand, some homosexuals fear the development of a genetic "cure."

If homosexuality is primarily fostered by the environment, e.g., family upbringing, molestation as a child, or affiliation with a youth sub-culture, then homosexual individuals can change their orientation, either through therapy or by suppressing same-sex attraction and taking on a heterosexual lifestyle. Indeed, they have a moral obligation to do so, in order to reject behavior that is sinful and unhealthy, and find fulfillment in the normative structure of the monogamous heterosexual family. The power of belief to shape an individual's identity would argue that accepting the view that one's homosexuality is genetically determined means to participate in a particular social construction in which that identity becomes permanent.


Much research on the biology of homosexuality has sought to demonstrate an innate biological and even a genetic basis for this sexual orientation. To date the results have been equivocal.

Physiological differences

Several studies, including pioneering work by neuroscientist Simon LeVay, have demonstrated that there are notable differences between the physiology of a heterosexual male and a homosexual male. These differences are primarily found in the brain, inner ear, and olfactory sense. LeVay discovered in his double-blind experiment that the average size of the INAH-3 in the brains of homosexual men was significantly smaller than the average size in heterosexual male brains.28

This study has come under criticism for not taking into account the fact that all of the brains of homosexual men he studied were from men who had died of AIDS, which was not equally true of the heterosexuals whose brains he studied. Therefore, rather than looking at the cause of homosexuality, he may have been observing the effects of HIV/AIDS. Still, similar size differences were found when comparisons were made of the INAH-3 measurements in only the brains of those in each group who died from complications due to AIDS, although that sample group was too small to be definitive. Moreover, currently no evidence has been found to suggest that HIV or the effects of AIDS would result in changes in INAH-3 size.

Some people have interpreted LeVay's work as showing that some people are born homosexual; however, in LeVay's own words:

It's important to stress what I didn't find. I did not prove that homosexuality was genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain. INAH-3 is less likely to be the sole gay nucleus of the brain than a part of a chain of nuclei engaged in men and women's sexual behavior… . Since I looked at adult brains we don't know if the differences I found were there at birth, or if they appeared later.29

Homosexual behavior in animals

Homosexual behavior has been observed in the animal kingdom, especially in social species, particularly marine birds and mammals.30

  • Male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In 2004, the Central Park Zoo in New York City replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring.31 German and Japanese zoos have also reported homosexual behavior among their penguins. This phenomenon has also been reported at Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Homosexual behavior in male sheep (found in 6-10 percent of rams) is associated with variations in cerebral mass distribution and chemical activity. A study reported in Endocrinology concluded that biological and physiological factors are in effect.32

While animal behavior cannot easily be extrapolated to humans, homosexual advocates seize upon this data to suggest that homosexual behavior is part of the order of nature and not contrary to nature. Critics point out that much of the homosexual behavior observed in animals is situational, occurring only when there is no opportunity for heterosexual activity, for example in the crowded conditions of zoos where the animals are penned in, or as a means of social cooperation in raising young. It thus may be analogous to the situational homosexuality found in prison and the military where otherwise heterosexual humans may resort to homosexual activity.

Genetic studies

The strongest evidence for genetic inheritance of a particular trait or condition would be to find higher incidence in identical twins. Bailey and Pillard studied the sexual orientation of male siblings in the same family. They found that if one sibling was homosexual, the chance of the other sibling also being homosexual was 52 percent for an identical twin, 22 percent for a fraternal (non-identical) twin, and 10 percent for adopted or non-twin brothers.33 The study is suggestive, but it is not definitive and has been critiqued for possible sampling errors. A 2000 study of Australian identical twins found a much lower correlation. Well-run studies of identical twins who were separated at birth and raised in different households wi