What comes to your mind when you think of LGBTQ+? Have you ever wondered exactly what LGBTQ+ means, when it was first introduced to the society, and what actions people are continuing in the society to make people aware of this? Today, as a GSA society, we would like to explore how people’s thoughts on LGBTQ+ have changed with the times and how they’ve been recognizing it.
Firstly, homosexuality has been recognized since ancient times. In the case of ancient Greece, homosexual love was fully accepted and there was no discrimination. Therefore, a number of modern celebrities including writers such as Oscar Wilde and photographers like Wilhelm von Gloeden regarded ancient Greece as a ‘gay utopia.’ However, this is a fantasized view. First, being a society with widespread slavery, a number of slaves were sexually abused by their masters of the same sex. This sexual exploitation of gay people also included pedophilia of older men. Also, as virginity was valued to both women and men, inappropriate sexual relationships of gays were treated harshly as well as the relationship of straight people. Furthermore, many fierce gay affairs led to death;one man killed himself in front of the door of the man who rejected him. Also, one had almost murdered the other man who desired his slave.
Homosexual relationships were also recognized in ancient India which is suggested by various murals and tales. In the Ramayana, there is a well-known tale of two wives of king Dilip who had to love each other in order to breed a child on the command of Lord Shiva as the king died without leaving an heir. Also, ancient India did not only recognized gay love, but also the existence of
a transgender. According to the Mahabharata, a traditional epic of India, Shikhandini, a warrior who killed Bhisma, was a woman who was raised as a prince and married a woman. After Shikhandini’s wife discovered the truth of Shikhandi’s sex, she disgusted Shikandini, and to solve the tragedy, a god bestowed Shikhandini a man’s characteristics limited to night.
During the middle ages, homosexuaility has been recognized through two main views. Through Greco-Roman secular views, homosexuaility was not considered as a crime while not achieving social expectations was considered way more seriously. In other words, the Roman society considered carrying on the family line by marrying more importantly than one’s sexual orientations. They treated the marriage as a duty, rather than a way for sexual fulfillment. Therefore, it was normal for males to find sexual satisfaction from outside the marriage, though females were not, as Roman society was male-centred society.
However, homosexual acts and behaviours became socially unacceptable as Christianity developed. Around 400 A.D., Medieval Early Christians introduced a brand-new religious idea about “holiness” and “purity”. Emerging Christians showed two comparative approaches to sexuality. The minor approach was similar to the Greco-Roman view, which did not question or judge sexuality in terms of heterosexual or homosexual, but only judged the act itself. The aim was to avoid promiscuous sex lives of humans, eventually promoting platonic relationships. Yet, the major approach to Chistian sexuality only viewed sexual acts as a method for survival, considering excessive sexual acts sinful. It was rooted from aspects of antiquated pagan ethics and was at first limited to abstinent Christian writers who were deeply inspired by Hellenistic philosophy. Still, the major approach became the standard of Catholic orthodoxy, being inherited until today.
There was no such clear definition of homosexuality during 16th to 18th century. Homosexuality belonged to the term “sodomy”, sexual relationship with the same gender or animal. The punishment for attempting a sodomy, including homosexuality, was prison, deportation, and fines. Furthermore, sodomy was a civil offense which was punishable by death in 16th century. Homosexuality was highly frowned upon at this time. For example, there was a theory that Antonio in Shakespear’s play “The Merchant of Venice” was homosexual. Because homosexuality was highly banned in the 16th century, it was thought that Antonio had to repress his feelings for his friend Bassanio.
Also, Alan Bray’s book “Homosexuality in Renaissance England” stated that in the 16th century, “homosexuality” did not refer to an individual’s sexual identity but only to specific sexual acts any individual might engage in. Alan Bray also stated: “To talk of an individual of this period as being or not being ‘a homosexual’ is an anachronism and ruinously misleading. … Homosexuality was a sin ‘to which men’s natural corruption and viciousness is prone’ ”.
Like this, Homosexuality remained as an invisible concept until the late 19th century. Then, Karl-Maria Kertbeny, a German Hungarian, coined the word “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” in 1868.
Among other countries, Berlin has been most active in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, a social movement that advocates for LBGTQ+ people in countries such as equal rights. Berlin had many gay bars or nightclubs and even bars where people could enjoy female impersonation, which were usually male dressed up and put on makeup like women, imitating gender roles for entertainment purposes. In 1897, Berlin promoted a campaign against “paragraph 175”, the German Criminal code, in which homosexual acts between males were counted as a crime. Not only was it the first demonstration for gay rights but also tried to raise social awareness of homosexual and transgender people. The committee which organized this campaign spread out into more countries on a small scale, becoming the first international LGBTQ+ organization.
The perception of LGBTQ+ has varied over time. The ancient era was a time of wide-spread
- Blanshard, A. (2017, December 15). Friday essay: the myth of the ancient Greek ‘gay utopia.’ The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-the-myth-of-the-ancient-greek-gay-utopia-88397
- Bray, A. (1996). Homosexuality in Renaissance England. Columbia University Press.
- Dawn Powell, S. (2017, November 24). Queer in the Age of the Queen: Gender and Sexuality of the Mid Modern Period in Victorian England and North America. Molly Brown House Museum. https://mollybrown.org/queer-in-the-age-of-the-queen-gender-and-sexuality-of-the-mid-modern-period-in-victorian-england-and-north-america/
- Homosexuality in ancient India: 10 instances. (2018, July 10). INDIA TODAY.https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/10-instances-of-homosexuality-among-lgbts-in-ancient-india-1281446-2018-07-10
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. (2018, June 12). Paragraph 175. Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/paragraph-175