The Facts

new internationalist
issue 201 - November 1989

Homosexuality - The FACTS

Gay moms are great moms.
Ray Hamilton / CAMERA PRESS


Homosexuality means sex between people of the same gender - based on the Greek homo, 'same'. Heterosexuality means sex between people of the opposite gender - from hetero, 'different'. The terms apply to both women and men.

Homosexuality is common amongst the higher mammals. Both homosexual courtships and ongoing homosexual relationships have been observed among lions, porpoises, porcupines, monkeys, and a variety of other animals - despite heterosexual opportunity.1

There is less difference between homosexual and heterosexual practice than many people imagine:

  • Oral sex is practised equally by homosexual and heterosexual couples - about 80% in each case.
  • Anal sex is regularly practised by about 25% of heterosexual couples - about the same as gay couples.
  • Established lesbian and gay couples take more time making love, and place much more emphasis on the exhange of pleasure. Heterosexuals are more 'goal oriented'.1,2,3,4

One in ten people are estimated to be homosexual. But distinctions are not clear cut. In Kinsey's surveys of males, 37% had had some homosexual experience to the point of orgasm but only 4% had been exclusively gay since adolescence.

Many societies have accepted homosexuality.

Acceptance Classical Greece Love between men was idealized. Sappho of Lesbos, a Greek poet of the fifth century BC, gave her name to Lesbianism.

Judeo-Christianity Sacred sodomy was practised up to the time of exile from Babylon and rabbis were often homosexual.5 There is evidence of gay practice being tolerated between early Christian churchmen before 1150.6

The West Pre-Nazi Berlin had the most active gay culture in Europe. Today Holland plays that role with an estimated 80% of the population in favour of homosexual equality. People who discriminate are prosecuted.

Tribal cultures Of 78 cultures that had little contact with Western values, 49 approved of or tolerated homosexuality. In some Polynesian tribes homosexuality is the norm.8

Eastern civilizations Homosexuality flourished in Confucian China in the Middle Ages and was tolerated up to the nineteenth century. Lesbianism prevailed in women's quarters. Some emperors and the Tang poets seem to have been gay. In India medieval Hindu Writers regarded homosexuality as quite common and not a perversion. And the growth of Buddhist monasticism in Japan made sexual relationships between master and disciple common.5

Laws are just one indicator of the level of oppression. Some regimes do not have laws against homosexuality because they do not acknowledge that it exists. Most laws don't even mention lesbians.

Ray Hamilton / CAMERA PRESS

Africa Algeria, Libya, Angola, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco.
Asia India, Singapore,Malaysia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Pakistan. Middle East Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel, Oman.
Americas Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Jamaica, Bermuda, some states in US.
Australasia Australia (3 states - Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia).
Europe Eire, Liechenstein, Romania, USSR9

Burkina Faso (men over 21). Asia Thailand, China. Australasia Aotearoa, Australia (Other states). Americas Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Central America, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, most states in the US. Europe All European countries except those above.9

Europe Scandinavia, Holland, France.
Americas State of California, US; Quebec, Canada. Australasia New South Wales and South Australia.9

The trend in most countries is either static or progressive. China, now at least acknowledges that '100 homosexuals' exist in the country. In the US and the UK however, the trend is regressive.
US 1986 - Supreme court upholds the State of Georgia's reactivation of old laws against sodomy - even between consenting adults.
UK 1988 - Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill makes it illegal for local authorities to 'promote' homosexuality. This particularly affects the way homosexuality is discussed in schools. Gay-bashing in London doubles.9

Millions of people have been murdered because of their sexuality.

Gays as heretics Large-scale persecution of gay people began in twelfth-century Christian Europe. It coincided with the Inquisition and attacks on all forms of religious non-conformity. From 1150 to 1250 thousands of 'sodomites' were burned at the stake and the basis was laid for anti-gay laws that lasted for centuries.6

Gays as criminals Henry VIII of England made sodomy punishable by death in 1533. In sixteenth-century Switzerland, women were drowned for lesbianism. Both women and men convicted of 'sodomy' in seventeenth-century Venice would be stripped, have a nail driven through their genitals then be burned to death outside the city. Until 1829 sailors in the British Navy were hanged for homosexual acts. In some years more men were hanged for buggery than murder.9,10

Gays as a danger to society During the Age of Enlightenment - the eighteenth century - most European countries stopped executing homosexuals. Instead gay people were locked away in lunatic asylums. In the UK, however, hangings continued well into the nineteenth century. The 1885 Labouchere Amendment made all male homosexual acts - whether in private or public - an imprisonable offence. Lesbianism was not mentioned. The law was exported to the British colonies. Not until 1967 was it repealed in the UK - but only for men over 21.9,10.

Gays as freaks Homosexuals were rounded up when the Third Reich seized power in Germany in 1933 and were among the first to be sent to concentration camps. Tens of thousands died. Homosexuals were identifiable by a pink triangle sewn onto their shifts. They were subjected to sexual torture and humiliation. Many were gassed but the general policy was to work them to death.

Gays as subversives
China Gays were rounded up and shot after the revolution. Homosexuality was declared officially non-existent.
Iran Gays were executed in Tehran in 1978 after the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. There is no clear reference to it in the Qu'ran but homosexuality is forbidden by Islamic law and is usually punished by stoning.
Cuba Homosexuals were incarcerated in re-education camps during the 1960s and expelled from the country in 1983.
Chile Setting up lesbian or gay groups is defined by law as an act of terrorism because it 'attacks the family.'3,9


Social attitudes PUBLIC OPINION
A survey of US citizens in 1980 found that:

· 60% believed most gays would be security risks in government jobs

· 40% thought that most homosexuals tend to corrupt their co-workers.

· 75% would deny a homosexual the right to enter the clergy, be a schoolteacher or a judge, and 66% would debar her/him from medical practice or government service.

· 50% agreed that homosexuality could cause a civilization's downfall.

The aim should be to have equal opportunities, and protection against discrimination.

· Gay leftists in Los Angeles form the first political gay organization, the Mattachine Society, and then the lesbian Daughters of Bilitis, in the 1950s.

· Homosexuality is decriminalized in the UK in 1967 for adults over 21.

· The Gay Liberation Front is born out of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York. Gays fight back for the first time when police try to raid a gay bar. Years of intense political activity follow and by 1977 40 cities and counties in the US have passed gay rights laws. In 1974 the American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of pathological diagnoses.

· An openly gay candidate, Harvey Milk, is elected Supervisor of San Francisco. He is assassinated in 1978.

· The Premier of Queensland, Australia, fails in 1986 to extend anti-homosexual laws to include lesbians.and the law against homosexuality in Aotearoa (NZ) is repealed.

· A group of lesbian mothers is formed in Mexico City in 1987 and in Chile the first ever gay meeting is held. Death threats from right-wing groups follow.

· 30,000 lesbians and gays take part in 1988 in the largest gay rights march in the UK to protest against anti-gay 'Clause 28' legislation. A group of lesbians protest by abseiling into the House of Lords.

· The second international lesbian and gay rights conference is held in Vienna in 1989 with representatives from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Bloc.

1 The Homosexual Matrix, Tripp C A, Meridian, 1987.
2 The Philosophy of Sex, Soble A ed., Littlefield Adams, 1980.
3 Human Sexuality and its Problems, Bancroft J, Churchill Livingston, 1980.
4 Male sexuality, Hite S, MacDonald, 1981.
5 Sex in the World's Religions, Sheldon Press, Parrinder G, 1980.
6 Rediscovering Gay History, Boawell J, Gay Christian Movement, 1982.
7 Gay American History, Katz J, Discus, 1976.
8 Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia, Herdt 0, 1984.
9 The Second ILGA Pink Book, ILGA, 1988.
10 Historical Perapectives on Homosexuality', Journal Of Homosexuality, Fall/Winter 1980/81.
11 The Men with the Pink Triangle, Heger H, GMP, 1972.

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