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Topics in Sexual Orientation
Homosexuality / Heterosexuality
Bisexuality / Pansexuality
General topics

Biological factors / Choice
Demographics / History
Gender role / Gender identity
Human sexual behavior / Animal sexuality

Societal attitudes
towards homosexuality

Gay rights / Laws / Same-sex marriage
Homophobia / Psychology
Medical science / Gay community
Two-Spirit / Violence against LGBT people
History of the Gay Community

Religion and homosexuality

Christianity / Islam / Judaism
Hinduism / Buddhism / Taoism


Since its coining, the term homosexuality has acquired multiple meanings. In the original sense, it refers to a sexual orientation characterized by aesthetic attraction, romantic love, and sexual desire exclusively for members of the same sex or gender identity. It can also refer to the manifestation of that orientation in the identity of an individual, which may or may not be at odds with that person's sexual behavior. Finally, it can refer to sexual relations with another of the same sex regardless of one's sexual orientation, self-identification or gender identity.

Homosexuality is usually contrasted with heterosexuality and bisexuality (see sexual orientation). Three major forms of homosexual relationships are recognized by anthropologists: egalitarian, gender-structured, and age-structured. Of these, one is usually dominant in a given society at a given time. (See Forms below.) As there are different biological, historical and psycho-social components to sex and gender, no single label or description will fit all individuals. See discussions on sex and gender at sex and Homosexuality and transgender.

Scientific research generally finds that exclusively homosexual or exclusively heterosexual individuals form a minority of the human population, with bisexuality as the norm (not necessarily in overt behavior, but in the form of sexual attraction). As a theoretical matter, from the beginning of the 20th century, psychoanalysis posited original bisexuality in human psychological development. Quantitative studies from Alfred Kinsey's in the 1940s to, for example, Dr Fritz Klein's Klein Grid in the 1980s, find similar distributions. The Kinsey Reports found that approximately four percent of adult Americans were exclusively homosexual for their entire lives, and approximately 10 percent were for some portion of their lives. During the 2000 elections exit polls indicated four percent of American voters self-identified as gay or lesbian in the U.S.

Religions take a varying view of homosexuality. Most religions tend to codify the morality of sexuality with no regard to the gender of one's partner. In contrast, the Abrahamic religions oppose same-sex relations, a view that has been exported worldwide with the spread of these religions to other continents.

Most nations do not impede consensual sex between unrelated individuals above the local age of consent. Some jurisdictions further recognize equal rights, protections and privileges for the family structures of gay couples, including same-sex marriage. Other countries, such as some fundamentalist Islamic countries, mandate that homosexuals and bisexuals restrict themselves to heterosexual relationships (at the extreme, threatening transgressors with capital punishment). Often, significant differences exist between official policy and concrete enforcement.

Zephyrus and Hyacinthus Attic red-figure cup from Tarquinia, circa 480 BCE. Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Zephyrus and Hyacinthus
Attic red-figure cup from Tarquinia, circa 480 BCE. Boston Museum of Fine Arts.


Etymology and usage

Main article: Terminology of homosexuality

The word homosexual translates literally as "of the same sex," being a hybrid of the Greek prefix homo- meaning "same" and the Latin root sex- meaning "sex." The first known appearance of the term homosexual in print is found in an anonymously published 1869 German pamphlet written by the Hungarian Karl-Maria Kertbeny.

The term homosexual can be used as a noun or adjective to describe persons as well as their sexual orientation, sexual history, or self-identification. Since homosexual places emphasis on sexuality, however, it is to be avoided in non-sexual contexts. Some people also feel the term is too clinical and thus somewhat dehumanizing. Thus, when referring to a person (as opposed to a sexual behavior), the terms gay man and lesbian are generally preferred. Some same-sex oriented persons actually prefer the term homosexual to gay, seeing the former as describing a sexual orientation and the latter as describing a cultural or socio-political group with which they do not identify (see [1]).

The term gay may refer to all homosexual people, or only to homosexual men, which is why gay man may be preferred. Lesbian refers to homosexual women.

Although some early writers used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-gender context (such as an all-girls' school), today the term implies a sexual aspect. The term homosocial is now used to describe single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual.

Derogatory terms include fag or faggot, which generally refer to gay men; poof, is used mostly in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth; queer, generally inclusive of anyone who is not exclusively heterosexual, but also reclaimed as affirming by many gays and academics; Gay and homo, common terms of abuse among adolescents; and dyke, which refers to lesbians. See Homophobia

Given how confusing and overloaded various terms can be, when specificity is important new terms are starting to be pressed into service. For example, Men who have sex with men, or MSM for short, is sometimes used in the medical community when specifically discussing sexual behavior (regardless of sexual orientation or self-identification). Same-sex attraction focuses on spontaneous feeling, but de-emphasizes identification with a demographic or cultural group, and also leaves open the possibilty for co-existing opposite-sex attraction. Homoerotic is a synonym for Same-sex attraction, that is used to refer both to personal feelings and works of art. Non-straight is another attempt at neutrality that is gaining currency.



A number of researchers studying the social construction of same-sex relationships have suggested that the concept of homosexuality would best be rendered as "homosexualities." They point out that same-sex relations have been and continue to be organized in distinctly categorical ways by different societies. These variations are grouped by anthropologist Stephen O. Murray into three separate modes of association:

  • Egalitarian, exemplified by relationships currently prevalent in western society between partners of similar age and gender. See Sexual minority cultures
  • Gender structured, exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, as well as shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. See Homosexuality and Islam, Two-Spirit and Hijra
There are recognized gay and lesbian enclaves within some major cities. In the above picture 1,500,000 participate in the world's largest gay festival held  annually in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
There are recognized gay and lesbian enclaves within some major cities. In the above picture 1,500,000 participate in the world's largest gay festival held annually in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Usually in any society one form of homosexuality predominates, though others are likely to co-exist. As historian Rictor Norton points out in his Intergenerational and Egalitarian Models, in Ancient Greece egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and fascination with adolescents can also be found in modern sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual.


Main article: Demographics of sexual orientation.

Estimates of the modern prevalence of homosexuality vary considerably. They are complicated by differing or even ambiguous definitions of homosexuality, and by fluctuations over time and according to location.

Recent estimates on the number of homosexuals (does not include bisexuals) in Western countries, where egalitarian relationships predominate, range from 1% to 10%, confined to a self-identified subculture.

In the United States during the 2004 elections, exit polls indicated 4% of all voters self-identified as gay or lesbian. However, many who are homosexual may not be open in public as evident in the recent forced "outings" of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and Spokane, Washington, Mayor Jim West. CNN 2004 Exit Polls. See Sexual minority cultures

In North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, where gender- and age-structured relationships are the rule, male homosexual practices are reported to be widespread, engaged in by many individuals who do not regard themselves as homosexual. See Homosexuality and Islam

Historically, in areas where same-sex relationships were embedded in the culture, such as Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, parts of Melanesia, Renaissance Italy, and pre-modern Japan, homosexual relationships were engaged in by a majority of the male population. See Pederasty

See Anthropological classification of homosexuality.


Humans are all heterosexual

Main articles: reparative therapy, National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Exodus International

Some Abrahamic congregations interpret their sacred texts as holding homosexuality to be unnatural and only heterosexuality to be a natural orientation. Some of these groups attempt to cure what they see as a medical disorder. Reparative therapy is psychotherapy aimed at the elimination of homosexual attractions and is employed by people who reject the idea that homosexuality is one variation within human sexual orientation, but rather believe homosexuality to be a disorder. While reparative therapy relies on secular methodologies, transformational ministry believes that homosexual attraction is essentially a sin that can be reversed through a religous approach employing repentance and faith, usually in Jesus. No reputable psychologists advocate reparative therapy. Reparative therapy has never been clinically proven to be successful, and some believe it may cause psychological harm to a homosexual.

Three sexual orientations

Main article: Kinsey Reports

Many modern studies, most notably the Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and the Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) by Alfred Kinsey have found that the majority of humans have had homosexual experiences or sensations and are bisexual. Only a minority of people were found (5-10%) to be exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. Conversely, an even smaller minority of people appear to have had equal sexual experiences with both genders indicating an attraction scale or continuum.

Other studies have disputed Kinsey's methodology and have suggested that these reports overstated the occurrence of bisexuality and homosexuality in human populations. "His figures were undermined when it was revealed that he had disproportionately interviewed homosexuals and prisoners (many sex offenders)."1 2

However, his idea of a sexuality continuum still enjoys broad acceptance today and is supported by findings in the human and animal kingdoms including biological studies of structural brain differences between those belonging to different sexual orientations. His notable finding that four percent of humans are homosexual was replicated during the 2000 US elections in which four percent of voters identified as homosexual.

More modern and accurate research Sex in America: A definitive survey (1995) is now available from NORC and the University of Chicago by Edward O. Laumann, University of Chicago. "Results reported from the study, and included in The Social organization of sexuality, include those related to sexual practices and sexual relationships, number of partners, the rate of homosexuality in the population (which the study reported to be 1.3% for women within the past year, and 4.1% since 18 years; for men, 2.7% within the past year, and 4.9% since 18 years; in all, much lower than the Kinsey report of 10%; pp. 293-296), formative sexual experiences, sexually transmitted diseases, fertility, cohabitation and marriage." (see [2]).

The Roman Catholic Church accepts the three distinct orientation findings and requires homosexuals to practice chastity in the understanding that Christian scripture forbids non-procreative intended sex, calling it a "cross that must be borne". It insists that all are expected to only have heterosexual relations and only in the context of a marriage, describing their homosexual attractions as a disorder and "a trial". (see [3]).

Sexologists have attributed discrepancies in some findings to negative societal attitudes towards homosexuality, for example, people may state different sexual orientations depending on whether their immediate social environment is public or private. Reticence to disclose one's actual sexual orientation is often referred to as "being in the closet". Individuals capable of enjoyable sexual relations with both sexes may feel inclined to restrict themselves to heterosexual relations in societies that stigmatize same-sex relations.

Although the concept of three basic sexual orientations is widely recognized, a small minority maintain that there are other legitimate sexual orientations besides homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality. These may include significant or exclusive orientation towards a particular type of transsexual or transgender individual (e.g. female-to-male transsexual men), intersexed individuals, or those who identify as non-gendered or other-gendered.

Biology, psychology and malleability

Main articles: Sexual orientation, Homosexuality and medical science, Nature versus nurture

Considerable debate exists over what biological and/or psychological factors produce sexual orientation in humans. Candidates include genes and the exposure of fetuses to certain hormones (or levels thereof). Freud and many others psychologists, particularly in psychoanalytic or developmental traditions, speculate that formative childhood experiences help produced sexual orientation. Other scientists and medical professionals, particularly those in biology-oriented disciplines, tend to believe that in-born factors—whether genetic or acquired in utero—produce characteristically homosexual childhood experiences (such as atypical gender behavior experiences), or at the least significantly contribute to them.

The Endocrine Society found that eight percent of sheep are homosexual, and this behavior is correlated with physiological brain structures; some scientists report comparable distinctions in human populations.

Most specialists, in any case, follow the general conclusion of Alfred Kinsey regarding the sexual continuum, according to which a minority of humans are exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, and that the majority are bisexual. The consensus of psychologists is that sexual orientation, in most individuals, is shaped at an early age; and is not voluntarily changeable.

Kinsey himself—along with current queer activist groups— focus on the historicity and fluidity of sexual orientation. Kinsey's studies consistently found sexual orientation to be something that evolves in many directions over a person's lifetime; rarely, but not necessarily, including forming attractions to a new gender. Rarely do individuals radically reorient their sexualities rapidly—and still less do they do so volitionally—but often sexualities expand, shift, and absorb new elements over decades. For example, socially normative "age-appropriate" sexuality requires a shifting object of attraction (especially in the passage through adolescence). Contemporary queer theory, incorporating many ideas from social constructionism, tends to look at sexuality as something that has meaning only within a given historical framework. Sexuality, then, is seen as a participation in a larger social discourse, and, though in some sense fluid, not as something strictly determinable by the individual.

Most individuals, both straight and LGB-identified, report that they discovered their orientation at an early age (often in pre-adolescence). In the case of gay youth, many report initial distress in response to this realization. Their claims are consistent with statistics showing that LGB-identified youth are several times more likely than non-gay youth to attempt suicide.

Apart from the issue of the malleability of an underlying orientation, the manifestation of sexual orientation is subject to a considerable variability. Thus it is common for homosexual individuals in hetero-normative societies to love, marry, and have children with individuals of the opposite sex, a practice that may be done primarily for social reasons in intolerant environments, as a cover for one's orientation (such relationships are known as "beards"). The opposite situation seems to obtain in homo-normative societies, where men whose primary attraction may be to the opposite sex nonetheless engage in the homosexual practices prescribed by their respective culture. Both of these adaptations are forms of situational sexual behavior. A further, and extremely common, manifestation of situational sexual behavior involving homosexuality is seen in prisons and other environments where individuals only encounter members of their own sex for long periods of time. (See prison sex.)

Biological causative explanations

Main article: Fetal hormones and sexual orientation.

One recently researched hypotheses on the formation of sexual orientation is the prenatal hormonal theory. It holds that as prenatal exposure to particular levels of circulating sex hormones determines whether a fetus will acquire male or female traits, so similar exposure determines sexual orientation.

Homosexuality in animals

Main article: Homosexuality in animals
Squawk and Milou Male chinstrap penguins, one of several homosexual pairs at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan. (Picture:Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)
Squawk and Milou
Male chinstrap penguins, one of several homosexual pairs at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan.
(Picture:Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Homosexual behavior is common in the Animal Kingdom, especially in species closer to humans on the evolutionary scale, such as the great apes. Georgetown University professor Janet Mann has specifically theorized that homosexuality, at least in dolphins, is an evolutionary advantage that minimizes intraspecies aggression, especially among males.

  • 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 the United States replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring [4]. German and Japanese zoos have also reported homosexuality among their penguins. This phenomenon has also been reported at Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand. [5]
  • Courtship, mounting, and full anal penetration between bulls is common among American bison. The Mandan nation Okipa festival concludes with a ceremonial enactment of this behavior, to "ensure the return of the buffalo in the coming season [6]." Also, mounting of one female by another is common among cattle. (See also, Freemartin. Freemartins occur because of clearly causal hormonal factors at work during gestation.)
  • Homosexuality in male sheep (found in 6–10% of rams) is associated with variations in cerebral mass distribution and chemical activity. A study reported in Endocrinology concluded that biological factors are in play; this study replicated similar findings in humans. It shows that approximately 10% of males are homosexual and that the brains of homosexual males are different. [7].

Social attitudes

The rainbow flag is widely used as the symbol of gay pride.
The rainbow flag is widely used as the symbol of gay pride.

Societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships, reflected in the attitude of the general population, the state and the church, have varied over the centuries, and from place to place, from expecting and requiring all males to engage in relationships, to casual integration, through acceptance, to seeing the practice as a minor sin, repressing it through law enforcement and judicial mechanisms, to proscribing it under penalty of death. See Violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered

Popular attitude

An estimated 700,000 participants (AFP) march through Paris, France, chanting "Marriage, Adoption, and Equality" during 2005 Gay Pride festivities.
An estimated 700,000 participants (AFP) march through Paris, France, chanting "Marriage, Adoption, and Equality" during 2005 Gay Pride festivities.

Public consciousness of this aspect of human experience continues to vary from region to region and class to class. Generally, males in love with each other need to dissimulate their relationship in most places, especially outside of the centers of major urban centers in the West.

Among the young, allusions to homosexual feelings remain taboo and are the domain of constant invective and disdain. The reasons behind such attitudes continue to be studied, and are attributed to a number of causes. One of these is religious belief, which is often the factor most likely to be associated with disapproval of same-sex relations, although this varies: Unitarian Universalist minister Kenneth W. Phifer denouces opposition to same-sex relations as caused by sexism, ignorance and religious intolerance.

Defensiveness about one's own sexuality has also been suggested as a common source of hostility. A modern study done by Dr. Gregory Herek, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis, found that this motive acounted for 40% of those hostile to homosexuals. This explanation was first postulated in a 1914 essay by Sandor Ferenczi, one of Freud's original followers, who suggested that aversion to gay men is a defense against one's own unresolved desires for other males.

More recently, the French intellectual Michel Tournier postulated that envy is the underlying cause. As he puts it, "The chained dog's hate of the free and solitary wolf." (Les Météores)

Modern law

Homosexuality laws of the world
Homosexuality laws of the world

Main articles: Homosexuality laws of the world & Same-sex Marriage

The relationship between the moral condemnation of the non-heterosexual community and its legal status is complicated. For instance, in England buggery was a crime under medieval canon law (Christian law) because it was banned by the Church. However, prosecutions for this offense died out. Sexual activity between men was formally banned by the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 as one of a range of sexual offenses, alongside sex with girls aged under 16, as part of an expression of a general moral outrage directed against events of that time.

An example of genocide rationalized by a genetically based (rather than religiously-based) doctrine, was the attempted extermination of gays during the Holocaust. The Nazis viewed same-sex attraction as a sign of eugenic weakness (gay gene) rather than as a sin. The situation is further complicated by the homo-erotic sensibility of much Nazi mass-media and propaganda art. According to the theories of depth psychology, when a forbidden impulse becomes strong enough to force its way into consciousness the impulse is frequently made non-threatening by projecting it on other people and attacking its "presence" in them.

By the 19th Century most areas adopting the Code Napoleon (French-based civil law) had no specific ban on same-sex intercourse or pre-coital behavior, while many areas with British-based Common Law systems had anti-sodomy statutes and executed gay men and lesbians even as late as the end of the 1800's. One modern example is the oppression of Alan Turing, an English war hero who is credited with cracking the German's Enigma code during World War 2. After the war ended, he was caught in his private home having sex and was forced to undergo 'chemical castration' via hormone treatment under court order.

In the U.S., many states had laws targeting homosexuals until 2003. Some laws outlawed the sale of liquor to three or more gay men, while others legally mandated that homosexuals refrain from same-sex carnal relations or face penalties including chemical 'castration' via hormone treatment. Police raids on places frequented by those who were not heterosexual was common, the most infamous being the police actions that led to the Stonewall riots. In this instance gay men resisted and fought back. Even at the present time, many states allow employers to fire employees because of their sexual orientations or allow landlords to refuse service to non-heterosexuals.

Beginning in the 20th century, gay rights movements, as part of the broader civil rights movements, and in concert with the development of academic treatments of sexuality in queer studies, have led to changes in social acceptance and in the media portrayal of those who are not heterosexual.

The legalization and legal equality of same-gender sex, together with legal status for same-sex marriage and non-gender-specific civil unions are major goals of the gay rights movement in its attempts to protect the families of gay people.

In recent years, a number of jurisdictions have relaxed or eliminated laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity, including sodomy laws and laws preventing gay citizens from serving in their country's armed forces.

In Bulgaria gay sex between adults (over 18) was legalized in 1968, in Hungary and Czechoslovakia - in 1962. In England and Wales, gay sex was legalized in 1967, for consenting males aged over 21. Scotland followed in 1980, and Northern Ireland in 1982. The age of consent was lowered in 1994 from 21 to 18, and again in 2000 to 16 in mainland Britain and 17 in Northern Ireland. This last change gave it equal treatment with the heterosexual age of consent. However, not until 2003 were the earlier offenses of buggery and gross indecency abolished so that gay sex was treated in the same way as heterosexual sex (previously it was illegal for gay sex to involve more than two people, or for anyone to watch).

The European Parliament of the European Union, which must approve applications for membership, stated in 1998 that it would not allow countries that violated the rights of lesbians and gay men to enter.

In the United States, on June 26, 2003 the landmark U.S. Supreme Court verdict Lawrence v. Texas overturned all remaining sodomy laws in the United States. The court reasoned:

  • "A law branding one class of persons as criminal solely based on the State's moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause, under any standard of review."

No version of the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China articulates that homosexual acts constitute criminal offenses, but before the year 1996, there were cases prosecuted under the clause of "hooliganism". However, the new Criminal Law passed by the National Congress in 1996 gives more details on "hooliganism" which does not include homosexual acts between two consented adults, thus homosexuality has been considered to be completely decriminalized in the PRC. Nevertheless, the majority of the population still have negative feelings toward homosexuality, and there's no law to resort to in protecting the rights of homosexuals, thus they are still discriminated against and even bullied sometimes in Chinese society. In recent years the public (especially the younger generation) have shown more tolerance toward them. In Chinese Hong Kong, homosexuality was also decriminalized as the city approached the end of its colonial era under British rule. After Hong Kong returned to China, further steps were taken by the local supreme court to lower the age of consent for homosexuals down to 16, the same as that for heterosexuals. There is also no law against homosexual acts in Taiwan.

In Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and Cambodia there are no laws against same-sex sexual activity.

Homosexual acts remain illegal in Singapore (see Homosexuality in Singapore and Singapore gay movement), Malaysia, Myanmar, and the Indian subcontinent as a legacy of the Victorian British influence in these countries.

Understudied phenomenon

Despite the emollience of attitudes towards homosexuality and acceptance of it in some societies, in psychology it is considered an 'understudied relationship'. In his book, Understudied Relationships, social psychologist S.W. Duck found that most mainstream research is predisposed towards studying only heterosexuality, in terms of relationships in contemporary Western cultures, implicating that same-sex relationships are neglected and ignored by the majority of psychologists. More research since the 1990s has focused on homosexual relationships, rather than just traditional heterosexual relationships.

Political aspects


Burning of SodomitesThe knight von Hohenberg and his squire, being burned at the stake for the crime of sodomy, Zurich 1482 (Spiezer Schilling)
Burning of Sodomites
The knight von Hohenberg and his squire, being burned at the stake for the crime of sodomy, Zurich 1482 (Spiezer Schilling)

Homosexuality has at times been used as a scapegoat by governments facing problems. Some examples would be Nazi Germany's Holocaust of gay men based on the understanding that they were a threat to masculinity as well as contaminating the Aryan Race with a "gay" gene. Another is the burning of 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry of 8th c. Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture in January 2001, to placate Islamic fundamentalists. During the early 14th century, accusations of homosexual behavior were instrumental in disbanding the Knights Templar by the French court under Philip IV of France (King Philip the Fair). See: Hersey and Pardon of Knights Templar.

Modern Capitalism

Capitalism with its business structures having a great degree of autonomy from a government have often been at the forefront in treating gay men and women equally. In the United States, the level of equal parity is much more common in business structures than governments. As of 2005 approximately 45% of companies within the Fortune 500 offered domestic partner benefits and nine of the top ten companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies.


A soldier joins gay pride events in Jerusalem, Israel. The armed forces of Israel allow service without distinction to sexual orientation.
A soldier joins gay pride events in Jerusalem, Israel. The armed forces of Israel allow service without distinction to sexual orientation.

Main article: Sexual orientation and military service

Homosexuality since ancient times has been documented to be more common in militaries with their strict sex-separation contrasted to society at large. Official attitudes towards this form of sexuality have varied, reflecting their culture's views. Ancient Greece among others, as well as pre-modern Japan's military traditions openly encouraged them as a form of male bonding. Many modern countries (such as the United Kingdom) welcome homosexuals in the armed services and offically support soldiers' participation in gay parades[8]. Others, such as the United States purge them from the force in the belief that they are a threat (see Don't Ask, Don't Tell). This negative attitude was common in the European Middle Ages when the Medieval Templars, a prominent Christian brotherhood of knights during the Crusades was destroyed on accusations of homosexuality.

Militaries have been known to use sexuality in abusive manners such as rape, frequently based on a sexist variant of homophobia. Romans who viewed masculinity based on the penetrative sexual position regardless of the sex of the passive partner used it as a form of dominance, including a means to "conquer" an enemy. T. E. Lawrence, during World War I, claimed to have been raped in a homosexual context by his Ottoman captors.

Youth groups

The Scouts, a group of youth organizations, often emulate the attitude of their home country's military. Thus the Scout Association in the UK welcomes gay members both as members and as leaders, while the Boy Scouts in the US reject them.


Main article: Religion and homosexuality

Religion has played a significant role in forming a culture's views towards homosexuality.

Historically the negative perceptions have been limited to the Abrahamic religions. Groups not influenced by the Abrahamic religions have commonly regarded homosexuality as sacred or neutral. In the wake of colonialism and imperialism undertaken by countries of the Abrahamic faiths some non-Abrahamic religious groups have adopted new attitudes antagonistic towards homosexuality. For example, when India became part of the British Empire sodomy laws were introduced; while there was no basis for them in Hindu faith, this led to persecution of their society and religion. India still retains portions of these laws due to this past foreign influence as of 2005. This experience was also repeated by other Abrahamic religious nations upon their acquisitions throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas.

In brief, Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from positive to neutral or antagonistic. Confucianism has allowed homosexual sex with the precondition of procreation. Abrahamic religions have held varied views of homosexuality, depending on place, time and form of same-sex desire. Islam regards homosexuality as an unnatural act that is negatory of the natural role and aim of sexual activity. Christianity and Judaism have traditionally thought of homosexual love and sex to be unnatural and sinful. Native American religions generally grant gender-variant individuals honored status for their perceived spiritual powers. Buddhism, Greek, Japanese, Melanesian, Roman religion, and Taoism take a positive outlook.

Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists

In societies where a majority religion is opposed to homosexuality, advocates for the rights of non-believers and gay-rights advocates become natural allies on certain political and cultural issues. However, being atheist, agnostic or secularist does not necessarily imply support for gay rights or approval of homosexuality. Various non-believers disapprove of homosexuality for various cultural, personal, and other non-religious reasons, and secular states, such as the countries of the Communist bloc, can at the same time be antagonistic to homosexuality.

Religious people who disagree with the condemnation of sodomy by their religious institution tend to leave their faith in greater numbers than those who agree with it (and thus are more likely to become non-believers, though many simply move to sects which approve of same-sex couples). But as with many religious issues, many dissidents, including lesbian and gay people themselves, maintain their religious affiliation and practice despite their disagreements.


The world's three major Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, have historically been the primary sources condemning homosexuality in the world. The first recorded law against homosexuality is found in the holiness code of Leviticus. Among many other acts, homosexual intercourse between men is a capital offense.

Today some major denominations within these religions, such as Reform Judaism, have accepted homosexuality, arguing that it was originally intended as a means of distinguishing religious worship between Abrahamic and pagan faiths, specifically Greek (Ganymede) and Egyptian (see Torah or Old Testament) rituals that made homosexuality a religious practice and not merely human sexuality, and is thus no longer relevant. "Liberal" Christian denominations such Unitarian-Universalists and many Presbyterian and Anglican churches currently condone homosexuality, and perform same-sex marriages (as do Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism).


Main articles: Homosexuality and Christianity

The attitude of Early Christians toward homosexuality has been much debated. One side has cited denunciations of sodomy in the writings of the era, such as in the Didache and in the writings of Saint Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Eusebius, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and in doctrinal sources such as the "Apostolic Constitutions" - for example, Eusebius of Caesarea's statement which condemns "the union of women with women and men with men". Others claim that passages have been mistranslated or they do not refer to homosexuality. Some Christians maintain that the Bible, principally in Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, denounces homosexual activity as a sin, in the eyes of God an "abomination" — a term used to describe harsh disapproval of a wide range of offenses, from incest and bestiality (sex with animals), to eating shellfish. In Acts 15 (The Council of Jerusalem) explicitly advised that Gentile converts were keep from sexual immorality. Many of the letters of Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, echo this exhortation to "avoid sexual immorality."

Among the prominent Christian figures known to have had same-sex relationships, Richard I of England had a relationship with King Philip II of France, Ralph Archbishop of Tours had his lover John installed as bishop of Orleans with agreement of both the King of France and Pope Urban II, and a number of popes and cardinals, especially during the Renaissance, also shared the popular tastes for handsome youths, so prevalent at the time in northern Italy.

Other Christians of the time were critical of homosexuality. St. Thomas Aquinas denounced sodomy as second only to bestiality (sex with animals) as the worst of all sexual sins, and St. Hildegard's book "Scivias", which was officially approved by Pope Eugenius III, related visions in which same-sex relations are condemned as "perverted forms".

Christianity does, however, have a long standing history of troubles encountered in dealing with homosexuality in the Roman Catholic priesthood and lay churchgoers. This became a topic of worldwide attention in the late 20th and early 21st century, when the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal unfolded. Numerous allegations of sex with boys and young men were brought against priests such as Paul Shanley, who was accused of committing sodomy with teenage boys in his program for homeless youth.

Youth seeking his father's advice on choosing a loverFrom the Haft Awrang of Jami, in the story A Father Advises his Son About Love; See Sufi outlook on male love; The Smithsonian, Washington, DC.
Youth seeking his father's advice on choosing a lover
From the Haft Awrang of Jami, in the story A Father Advises his Son About Love; See Sufi outlook on male love; The Smithsonian, Washington, DC.

Main articles: Homosexuality and Islam and Pederasty

Islamic teachings (in the hadith tradition) presume same-sex attraction, extol abstention and (in the Qur'an) condemn consummation. In concordance with those creeds, in Islamic countries, male desire for attractive male youths is widely expected and condoned as a human characteristic. However, it is thought that restraint from either acting on, or revealing, this desire is rewarded with an afterlife in paradise, where one is attended by perpetually young virgin lovers, women and men, houri and ghilman. (Al-Waqia 56.37, Qur'an) Homosexual intercourse itself has been interpreted to be a form of lust and a violation of the Qur'an. Thus, while homosexuality as an attraction is not against the Sharia (Islamic law, which governs the physical actions, rather than the inner thoughts and feelings), the physical action of same-sex intercourse is punishable under the Sharia.

Same-sex relations between adult males are segregated in a manner analogous to the segregation between the sexes. Thus, the passive role is generally taken on by an underclass of males, often transvestite or transgender who routinely would be entertainers by profession and who would be both despised for their submissive sexual role and admired for their skills. In earlier years these would have had their start through the traditional baccha or kocek roles. The active role is played by men who do not self-identify as homosexual, who typically conform to societal expectation to marry and have children and view their homosexual adventures as further confirmation of their masculinity. While this construction reflects the way Muslim men generally represent the culture to themselves, actual practices may vary a great deal.

The discourse on homosexuality in Islam is primarily concerned with activities between men. Relations between women, if at all problematized, are treated akin to adultery, and al-Tabari records an execution of a harem couple under caliph al-Hadi.

Historically, and with exceptions, punishment for male same-sex relations has been less severe compared to its Abrahamic counterparts: Judaism and Christianity. The Qur'an states that if a person commits the sin they can repent and save their life. Many Islamic cultures, early ones such as the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Canaanites, where homosexuality was well documented to be entrenched in many aspects of their culture by exposure to Hellenistic culture, as well as later cultures such as the Abbasid caliphate and Safavid Persia, were renowned for cultivating a sophisticated homosexual aesthetic reflected in art and literature. They reconciled their love life with their religion using a hadith, from a collection of quotations ascribed to Muhammad, the founder of Islam "He who loves and remains chaste and conceals his secret and dies, dies a martyr". However, later hadiths are harsher: "When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes... Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to." Both ancient and modern fundamentalists have interpreted these injunctions literally, with resulting loss of life.

The result is a religion that allows love between those of the same gender as long as they do not have sexual intercourse. Ibn Hazm, Ibn Daud, Al-Mutamid, Abu Nuwas, and many others used this edict to write extensively and openly of love between men while proclaiming to be chaste. Furthermore, in order for the transgression to be proven, at least four men or eight women must bear witness against the accused, thus making it very difficult to persecute those who do not remain celibate in the privacy of their homes.

The teachings of Islam have themselves been used to justify love and sexual expression between males. In particular, those who argue for the validity of male same-sex love point out that Allah has repeatedly indicated that the male is worth twice as much as the female, as reflected in matters of inheritance and bearing witness (Qur'an, iv. 38; Qur'an, ii. 282; Qur'an, iv. 175), and thus, by a process of induction, they must be worthier objects of desire as well. Debate Between the Wise Woman and the Sage


Main article: Homosexuality and Judaism

The historically prevalent view in Jewish law has been that homosexual intercourse by men and women was sinful, arguing that it was forbidden by the Torah. For men this position is based on an interpretation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, that homosexual intercourse between men is considered on the same level as idolatry, requiring death, and for women it is based on Leviticus 18:2-3, where the Israelites are commanded not to follow the ways of the Egyptians or Canaanites. However, since the late twentieth century this has been a subject of contention between various Jewish groups, and has led to both debate and division among modern Jews.

Reform Judaism argues that homosexuality is a natural attraction, and that the prohibition in the Torah was addressing pagan religious rituals, specifically Egyptian and Canaanite fertility cults and temple prostitution. The official position of Conservative Judaism, formulated in 1992, is that homosexual intercourse is sinful, and the movement does not ordain homosexuals as rabbis or cantors, but insists that homosexual Jews should be welcomed within the movement. In 2003 the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly recognized divisions within the movement, and promised to reevaluate the position in the near future. Orthodox Judaism views homosexual activity as sinful, but halakhic decisors have differed on the causes (and thus severity) of the sin, and on how one should interact with gay Jews. Currently same-sex marriages are forbidden in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, but Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism allow them.

Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism

Main articles: Homosexuality and Buddhism and Homosexuality and Taoism


In Buddhism, the third of the Five Precepts states that one is to refrain from sexual misconduct. Among the many interpretations of what constitutes "sexual misconduct" are: sex outside of marriage (a relatively modern idea), sex with another person without the consent of your life partner, or the historically prevalent view that it was limited to describe rape, incest, and bestiality.

No Buddhist school prior to the European Imperialism that began larely around the 17th Century had ever described homosexuality as "sexual misconduct". Traditionally, however, monks are expected to be celibate and restrain themselves from all sexual activity. For laypersons Buddhist leaders throughout Asia have accepted or even sanctified homosexuality.

Buddhist schools condemning homosexuality for laymen is a recent development and there is no scriptural basis upon which it is to be condemned. The closest would be a few Buddhists who now equate homosexuality to a disability or being a transvestite.article on that The Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism has campaigned against prejudice toward homosexuals, but at the same time has adopted a religious view against non-procreative sex.

In China where believers often belong to Confucianism as well, traditionally exclusive homosexuality was discouraged because it would prevent a son from carrying out his Confucian religious duty to reproduce, whereas non-exclusive homosexuality was permissible and widely practiced. Monogamy was an unusual and foreign idea to many Asians until contact with the West. Chinese traditions attribute homosexuality to the Yellow Emperor, the father of China.

In India, Tibet, China, Southeast Asia and Japan, areas where Buddhism was or remains one of the chief religions their cultures have been historically unconcerned with the gender of sexual activity or the object of desire.

Within Japanese traditions homosexuality was "invented" by the Bodhisattva Manjusri of wisdom and the sage Kukai, the founder of Buddhism in Japan. A Japanese Buddhist scholar, Kitamura Kigin, addressing a Christian audience reported that the Japanese interpretations of Buddha at AD 1676 actually said that heterosexuality was to be avoided for priests and homosexuality allowed.


Homosexuality is not forbidden by the Taoist Holy Books (the Tao Te Ching and the Zhuang Zi). However, many Taoists believe that exclusive homosexuality is wrong, but many others see nothing wrong with it.

To understand why this is, one must understand Taoism's intertwined status with Confucianism and Buddhism in many adherents. A great many Taoists combine Confucian thought that requires sons to further the family lineage by reproduction.

Both Taoism and Buddhism do not forbid exclusive homosexuality but Confucianism did by insisting that a son’s religious duty included reproduction to further the family lineage. Taoists who find nothing wrong with exclusive homosexuality usually do not believe in Confucianism or have dropped their requirement of heterosexual relations due to medicinal advancements that allow reproduction without such sex, using IVF and/or surrogacy.

This has been the traditional view of homosexuality in Taoism, that homosexual acts in themselves are not wrong but all men are still required to reproduce. For example, Taoists may have homosexual relations as long as they continue the family tree by having a child with at least one woman.


Monk performing auparashtika on a visiting prince. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.
Monk performing auparashtika on a visiting prince. Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.

Main article: Homosexuality and Hinduism

The Indian Kama Sutra written in the third century CE contains passages describing hijras performing oral sex to men with tips to maximize pleasure. Prior to British colonization of India hijras were not the only homosexual activity, many engaged in a form of pederasty which was openly practiced by Muslims and Sikhs in the north while being overlooked in the south by Hindus. The terms gand-mara (anus beater), gando (ass-taker) and ganga ("anuser") were coined during this time period. During British control Hinduism became markedly antagonistic to homosexuality.

In Hinduism many divinities are androgynous with some changing sex.

Greco-Roman religion

6th century BCE Athenian cup depicting a man seducing a youth. Antikenmuseum, Berlin
6th century BCE Athenian cup depicting a man seducing a youth. Antikenmuseum, Berlin

Main articles: Pederasty, Mythology of same-sex love

In Greco-Roman religion same-sex love was integrated in sacred texts and rituals, reflecting the fact that in antiquity it was considered normal to be open to romantic engagements with either sex. Certain surviving myths depict homosexual bonds (see History), sanctified by divinities modeling such relationships. See Zeus and Ganymede as an example.

The Sumerian religion also held homosexuality sacred. It also was incorporated into various New World religions, such as the Aztec. It is thought to have been common in shamanic practice.

Mythological figures who engaged in same-sex love

Main article: Mythology of same-sex love

Gilgamesh, Enkidu, Poseidon, Pelops, Zeus, Ganymede, Laius, Chrysippus, Iphis, Ianthe, Heracles, Iolaus, Hylas, Abderus, Apollo, Orpheus, Hyacinthus, Cyparissus, Pan, Daphnis, Achilles, Patroclus, Narcissus, Ameinias, Xochipilli


Main article: Anti-gay slogan

Same-sex love practices have been the subject of a continuing debate dating back at least to Classical Greece. In antiquity, and in countries not under the sway of Abrahamic beliefs, the debates usually took the form of debating which love is best, the love of women or the love of boys, unlike more recent discussions which frame the question in terms of "right" and "wrong."

Each camp has made use of a relatively circumscribed arsenal of arguments, some of which have not changed greatly over the past two and a half thousand years. Recent advances in sociological studies and other discourse such as queer theory have brought a measure of scientific rigor to what had been mostly a philosophical debate.


  • "Same-sex love is against nature" This charge dates back to Classical Greece, where it was first articulated by Plato in his "Laws."
  • "It is condemned by God." Expressed by early Christian exegetes (claimed to be the moral of the Sodom and Gomorrah story), and by Muhammad in the Qur'an.
  • "It leads to plagues and natural disasters." Advanced by Christian authorities from late Antiquity through the Renaissance.
  • "It is abuse of the young." Encountered in "Erotes," a dialogue of the early Christian era by "Lucian."
  • "It is a dissipation of one's vital force." Also in Lucian.


  • "It is commonplace in nature." Based on zoologists' observations of many different species (see Bagemihl in References).
  • "Suppressing it alters the balance of nature." A Melanesian belief documented by Bagemihl.
  • "It foments close friendships and independent thinking." Also in Lucian
  • "The male form is superior to the female form." Medieval Arabic text included in the Arabian Nights (The Debate Between the Wise Woman and the Sage).
  • "It is a mark of true masculinity." Claimed by Indian Sufi saint Akhi Jamshed Rajgiri in self defense before the Sultan of Jaunpur for his love of youths. (In Vanita & Kidwai, 2000, p.139)


Main articles: History of sexuality & History of the Gay Community

Sexual customs vary greatly over time, and those shifts, as well as the orientation of particular pre-modern figures are the subject of ongoing study. However, modern Western gay culture as it is currently understood is largely a product of 19th century psychology as well as the years of post-Stonewall gay liberation. It is generally not applicable as a standard when investigating same-gender sex and people's views in past ages.

It may be accepted, for example, that the sex lives of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Hadrian, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Plato, Christopher Marlowe (who coined the term 'quean') and William Shakespeare included or were centred upon relationships with people of their own gender. Terms such as "gay" or "bisexual" might be applied to them in that sense. But many regard this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a modern social construction of sexuality sub-culture that is foreign to their times. For example, their societies might have focused upon the sexual role one took in these encounters, namely active, passive, both, or neither, as a key social marker. This particular system of designation is currently the norm in many areas of Latin America.

While some premodern societies did not employ categories fully comparable to the modern homosexual or heterosexual dichotomy, this does not demonstrate that the polarity is not applicable to those societies. A common thread of constructionist argument is that no one in antiquity or the Middle Ages experienced homosexuality as an exclusive, permanent or defining mode of sexuality. John Boswell has criticized this argument by citing ancient Greek writings by Plato which he says indicate knowledge of exclusive homosexuality.

Michel Foucault and his followers have argued that the homosexual is a modern invention, a mental construct of the last hundred years. While true of homosexuality as a scientific or psychiatric category, there are examples from earlier ages of those viewing their sexuality as a part of a human identity and not merely a sex act. One cited example is the 16th century Italian artist Gianantonio Bazzi who adopted the nickname "Sodoma", viewed by Louis Crompton as something analogous to the modern gay identity.

It could be noted, on the other hand, that when evidence that a particular historical figure's sexuality pointed exclusively toward an attraction to people of an opposite gender describing them as having a heterosexual orientation rarely evokes such controversy. This tendency among Western historians, to view heterosexuality as an acceptable norm while regarding arguments that a particular historical figure may have had been gay controversial or requiring more evidence than a claim of opposite-sex attraction might warrant, is often attributed to homophobia on the part of historians and is referred to within queer studies as heteronormativity.

In Ancient Times

While homosexuality has been part of almost all societies since the dawn of time, the forms in which it has been found vary widely. Cultural anthropologists who have studied homosexuality distinguish three main types of homosexual practice: gender-structured, age-structured and egalitarian homosexuality.

In gender-structured homosexuality, each partner plays a different gender role. Examples of gender-structured homosexuality include the butch/femme distinction found among some modern Western lesbians (although butch/femme is in decline).

In age-structured homosexuality, the partners are of different ages. Examples of this include pederasty among the ancient Greek elite (sex between adolescents and older men was socially respectable, but sex between grown men much less so) and traditional Melanesian insemination rituals (where adolescents would fellate older males as part of the process of initiation).

Both gender-structured and age-structured homosexuality frequently involve one partner adopting a 'passive' and the other an 'active' role. Among men, being the passive partner often means being the receptacle of semen, i.e. performing fellatio and being the receptive partner in anal sex. This may mean an emphasis on the sexual pleasure of the active partner, although dogmatism about this is unwise. (In gender-structured female homosexuality in Thailand, active partners (toms) emphasise the sexual pleasure of the passive partner (dee), and often refuse to allow their dee to pleasure them.)

In egalitarian homosexuality, the partners are of equal age (or age is of no relevance in the partnership structure) and both play the same socially-accepted sex role as heterosexuals of their own sex. Egalitarian homosexuality is increasingly dominating the Western world, replacing age- and gender-structured homosexuality within it; and from the West egalitarian homosexuality is spreading to non-Western societies as well, although they maintain a much higher incidence of non-egalitarian than the West does.

Some anthropologists have argued for the existence of a fourth type of homosexuality, class-structured homosexuality; but many scholars believe that this has no independent existence from the other three types.


Though frequently denied or ignored by European explorers, homosexual expression in native Africa was widespread and common, and took a variety of forms. Representative examples:

Anthropologists Murray and Roscoe report that women in Lesotho traditionally have engaged in socially sanctioned and celebrated "long term, loving and erotic relationships" named motsoalle.

E. E. Evans-Pritchard reported that Azande warriors (in the northern Congo) routinely married youths who functioned as temporary wives. The practice had died out in the early 20th century but was recounted to him by the elders.

An academic paper by Stephen O. Murray examines the history of descriptions of "Homosexuality in traditional Sub-Saharan Africa".


Dance to the BerdacheSac and Fox nation ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person. George Catlin (1796-1872); Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
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 seems to center around the figure of the two-spirit individual. Such persons seem to have been recognized by the majority of tribes, each of which had its particular term for the role. Typically the two-spirit individual was recognized early in life, was given a choice by the parents to follow the path, and if the child accepted the role then it was raised in the appropriate manner, learning the customs of the gender it had chosen. Two-spirit individuals were commonly shamans and were revered as having powers beyond those of ordinary shamans. Their sexual life would be with the ordinary tribe members of the opposite gender. Male two-spirit people were prized as wives because of their greater strength and ability to work. See Two-spirit

East Asia

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

In China, known as the pleasures of the bitten peach, the cut sleeve, or the southern custom, same-sex relations have been recorded since at least 600 BCE. These euphemistic terms were used to describe behaviors, but not identities. The 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. For more information see Homosexuality in China.

In Japan, the practice, variously known as shudo or nanshoku, terms influenced by Chinese literature, has been documented for over one thousand years and was an integral part of Buddhist monastic life and the samurai tradition. This same-sex love culture gave rise to strong traditions of painting and literature documenting and celebrating such relationships. For more information see Homosexuality in Japan.

Similarly, Thailand had no concept of homosexuality until the late 20th century. Kathoey or ladyboys have been a feature of Thai society for many centuries. They were men who dressed as women. They were generally accepted by society without much question, although a family was often disappointed if one of their sons became a Kathoey. The teachings of Buddhism, dominant in Thai society was accepting of a third gender designation.


Roman man and youth in bed. ca. 30 AD  Found in Estepa, Spain
Roman man and youth in bed. ca. 30 AD Found in Estepa, Spain

The earliest western documents (in the form of literary works, art objects, as well as mythographic materials) concerning same-sex relationships are derived from Ancient Greece. They depict a world in which relationships with women and relationships with youths were the essential foundation of a normal man's love life. Same-sex relationships were a social institution variously constructed over time and from one city to another. (See Pederasty) The practice, a system of relationships between an adult male and an adolescent coming of age, was often valued for its pedagogic benefits and as a means of population control, and occasionally blamed for causing disorder. Plato praised its benefits in his early writings, but in his late works proposed its prohibition, laying out a strategy which uncannily predicts the path by which same-sex love was eventually driven underground. (See Philosophy of pederasty)

The Roman emperor Theodosius decreed a law, on August 6th, 390, condemning passive homosexuals to be burned at the stake. 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." Notwithstanding these regulations, taxes on homosexual boy brothels continued to be collected until the end of the reign of Anastasius in 581.

During the Renaissance, cities in northern Italy, Florence and Venice in particular, were renowned for their widespread practice of same-sex love, engaged in by a majority of the male population and constructed along the classical pattern of Greece and Rome (Ruggiero, 1985; Rocke, 1996). But even as the majority of the male population was engaging in same-sex relationships, the authorities, under the aegis of the Officers of the Night court, were prosecuting, fining and imprisoning a good portion of that population. The eclipse of this period of relative artistic and erotic freedom was precipitated by the rise to power of the moralizing monk Girolamo Savonarola. Throughout all of Europe, fierce conflicts, dating back to the early Middle Ages, raged between proponents and opponents of same sex love. In northern Europe the artistic discourse on sodomy was turned against its proponents by artists like 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.

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.
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, and recent work in queer studies suggests that while their visibility has been much reduced, their frequency has not. The two most commonly documented forms were commercial sex with transgender males or males enacting transgender roles exemplified by the koceks and the bacchas, and Sufi spiritual practices in which the practitioner crossed over from the idealized chaste form of the practice to one in which the desire is consummated.

Around both forms 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 many 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 were the bacchá, adolescent or adolescent-seeming male entertainers and sex workers. In other areas male love continues to surface despite efforts to keep it quiet. After the American invasion of Afghanistan, Central Asian same-sex love customs in which adult men take on adolescent lovers, were widely reported.

Other forms are less well documented. It is reported that in the oasis of Siwa boy marriages were the norm until the middle of the twentieth century, a practice which was coupled with a minimum age for heterosexual marriage of forty for the men, a measure presumed to have been taken to avoid overpopulation. Finally, sexual relations between older and younger boys are said to be frequent in the Middle East as well as in the Maghreb.

The prevailing pattern of same-sex relationships in the temperate and sub-tropical zone stretching from Northern India to the Western Sahara is one in which the relationships were - and are - either gender-structured or age-structured, or both. In recent years, egalitarian relationships modelled on the western pattern have become more frequent, if still rare.

See Pederasty in Central Asia and the Middle East, Kocek, Baccha, Tellak

South Pacific

In many societies of Melanesia same-sex relationships are an integral part of the culture. In some tribes of Papua New Guinea, for example, it is considered a normal ritual responsibility for a boy to have a relationship as a part of his ascent into manhood. Many Melanesian societies, however, have become hostile towards same-sex relationships since the introduction of Christianity by European missionaries.

Modern Developments

Consecration of the Anglican Communion's first openly noncelibate gay Bishop, Gene Robinson on November 2, 2003, in Durham, New Hampshire, United States.
Consecration of the Anglican Communion's first openly noncelibate gay Bishop, Gene Robinson on November 2, 2003, in Durham, New Hampshire, United States.

Shortly after World War II the gay community began to make advancements in civil rights in much of the Western World. A turning point was reached in 1973 when, in a vote decided by a plurality of the membership, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus no longer listing homosexuality as a mental disorder.

During the last few decades, in part due to their history of shared oppression, many gays in the West have developed a shared culture, although not all gays participate in it, and many gay men and women specifically decline to do so. The various approaches to the question of what queer culture should be are exemplified by the gay pride movement. Some gay groups organized campaigns around the AIDS outbreak. As of 2005, four countries have enacted same-sex marriage and other countries, including the majority of Europe, enacted civil unions. Publicly gay politicians have attained numerous government posts, even in countries that had sodomy laws or outright mass murder of gays in their recent past.

The overall trend of greater acceptance of gay men and women in the latter part of the 20th Century was not limited to secular institutions; it was also seen in many religious institutions. Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism outside Israel had begun to facilitate religious weddings for gay adherents in their synagogues. The Anglican Communion, the world's second largest Christian Church in terms of members had nearly fractured due to the Churches in the Western World ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions against the wishes of those in the developing world, where a morality first adopted in colonial times still predominates. (See Post-colonialism) Other Churches such as the Methodist Church had experienced trials of gay clergy who some claimed were a violation of religious principles resulting in mixed verdicts dependent on geography.

These developments have been accompanied by a response from religious organizations, especially in the United States. In various instances, this movement has succeeded in overturning some of the abovementioned legislation and has had an influence on academia. In late 2005, Haworth Press withdrew from publication a volume on homosexuality in classical antiquity titled Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West. This was in response to criticism from American conservative groups which objected to the discussion of positive aspects of classical pederasty, as well as to a chapter by the American academic Bruce Rind which was branded by the critics as advocating pedophilia. (see Anti-gay slogan) The publisher, in a letter to the editors, exonerated Rind from the accusation and conceded that his article was sound, but stood by its decision to withdraw it "to avoid negative press" and "economic repercussions."Article in the Halifax The Chronicle Herald

In Asia, the conflict between homoerotic tradition and a resurgent Islamic fundamentalism continues. Liaquat Ali, a 42 year old Afghan refugee, and Markeen Afridi]] a 16 year old Pakistani boy, reportedly fell in love and got married in a very public ceremony in October of 2005 (The Sidney Morning Herald(Daily Times, Pakistan). However, efforts are afoot to refute the original reports, authored by a reporter from the same tribe that is implicated, and the honor of which is at risk[9].

Art and literature

Main article: Homoeroticism & Same-sex love (visual arts)

Young men sipping tea, reading poetry, and making love Individual panel from a hand scroll on homosexual themes, paint on silk; China, Qing dynasty (18th-19th c.); Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana
Young men sipping tea, reading poetry, and making love
Individual panel from a hand scroll on homosexual themes, paint on silk; China, Qing dynasty (18th-19th c.); Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana

One of the primary social manifestations of same-sex love has been through the medium of literature and art. The aspects of these expressions range across the gamut of the main artistic disciplines. Homoerotic sensibilities are at the foundation of art in the west, to the extent that those roots can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Homer's Iliad was regarded to contain a homosexual relationship by many of its contemporaries. Plato's Symposium also gives readers commentary on the subject, at one point putting forth the claim that homosexual love is 'superior' to heterosexual love..

The European tradition was continued throughout the ages in the works of William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. In Arab populations it was present in figures such as Abu Nuwas. The Tale of Genji, called the "world's first real novel", fostered this tradition in Asian societies.

Icons such as Madonna and Elton John have followed this tradition in modern times. Presently the Japanese anime subgenre, yaoi, commonly features the theme. Artistic nudes have prominently displayed lesbianism. Playwrights have penned popular works such as Angels In America. These sentiments have been pervaded in many movies. A popular television series exploited these perceptions with Queer Eye For The Straight Guy equating gay men with the ancient Greek Muses.

See also



External links


Organizations active for legal protection of same-sex families

Organizations that offer support to gay youth

  • Grupo E-jovem - The biggest gay youth organization in Brazil. Articles, news, columns, forums, comics and attitude. In portuguese.
  • Deviaunce - Forums, profiles, articles, chat, e-mail, horoscopes, links and lots more. A lot of fun for anyone under 25
  • CampWEHO - message boards
  • Mogenic - magazine consisting of various articles, as well as profiles and chat

Organizations that offer support to lesbians and gay men

Organizations that offer support to lesbian and gay families

Organizations which advocate chastity or changing sexual orientation

  • NARTH - The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a secular organization which attempts through voluntary therapy to change the sexual orientation of non-heterosexuals.
  • Courage - Apostolate for Catholics who are not heterosexual, which provides Roman Catholic theological information encouraging celibacy for homosexuals and heterosexual relations in the context of marriage for bisexuals.
  • Exodus - Christian ministry which views non-heterosexual relationships as sinful and attempts to change sexual orientation using spiritual methods.
  • International Healing Foundation - Organization advocating the position that same-sex attraction is neither innate nor a conscious choice, and can be cured by healing psychological wounds believed to cause the attraction.



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  15. Ruggiero, Guido, (1985), The Boundaries of Eros, ISBN 0-91-505696-5
  16. Smith, T.W. (1991). Adult sexual behavior in 1989: Number of partners, frequency of intercourse and risk of AIDS. Family Planning Perspectives 23(3), 102-107.
  17. Bullough et al. (eds.) (1996). Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Garland Publishing. ISBN 0815312873.
  18. Foucault, Michel (1990). The History of Sexuality vol. 1: An Introduction, p.43. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.
  19. James Davidson, London Review of Books, 2 June 2005, "Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs" - detailed review of The Friend, by Alan Bray, a history of same-sex marriage and other same-sex formal bonds
  20. Scientific Gay
  21. Genetics of homosexuality
  22. Brain structure in homosexual sheep
  23. Homosexuality and Transgender Surgery
  24. Fingerprints Study
  25. Androgen Link
  26. Doubt cast on 'gay gene'
  27. Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, Edward O. Laumann, and Gina Kolata. Sex in America: A definitive survey. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995. ISBN 0316075248
  28. The National Health and Social Life Survey ("The Sex Survey")
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