From Oscar Wilde to Elton John

Anne Harsvik

Homosexuals are defined as people who are sexually attracted by other persons of the same sex. It has been proven that homosexuality has existed every since the day human began documenting history, including famous men like Julius Ceasar, Plato and Alexander the great. Still, gays have always experienced discrimination and hardship, which is a violation of human rights. By basic human rights, we mean, among others, the right to freedom of speech and association, liberty and equal treatment. Not only have homosexuals been denied of equal treatment, they have also been victims of violence and harassment. For example, during World War II, Hitler did not only executed Jews, but also homosexuals. Since they do not follow social customs, they are considered “immoral” and because homosexuality violates the basic functions of genitals and contradicts the nature, they are also considered “unnatural”.

Victorian age culture and literature rarely contained homosexual content. It was seen as a taboo, something that should not be discussed because it was regarded a sin and a crime. Through most of the nineteenth century, homosexuality was illegal and punished by death. 80 men were hung in Great Britain in between 1800 to 1834, when this punishment was replaced with life imprisonment.  During this century, other repressive reforms against minorities, such as slavery, were abolished, but homosexuality remained despised and punishable. In Victorian age, it was believed that you could choose whether you wanted to engage in sexual acts with your own gender or not, homosexuality were something you did, not something you was. You can compare this to the opportunity we have to choose between right and wrong, and the people who selected “the wrong” choice, were therefore severely punished. Gays, on the other hand, defend themselves by arguing that homosexuality is a part of their personality, which they are attached in the early childhood, and that they have not chosen their sexual orientation.

Countries in the Western world, particularly America and Britain were strongly opposed homosexuality. “Code Napoleon”, which was a principle that approves all sexual activity among consenting adults, became a familiar concept in France in 1804. Countries such as the Netherlands also joined this concept, without affecting the U.S. and UKs views on homosexuals.

Although men have been practicing homosexual acts far beyond the Victorian age, homosexuality as a descriptive term occurred during the 1860’s. In this time period, a homosexual person was regarded a human without any sort of mental defect. It was also believed that only men were practicing homosexual acts, and Queen Victoria stated that, “ladies would never engage in such despicable acts…”. Although they haven’t been as persecuted under the law as gay men, lesbians have had to put up with a lot of hardships as well.  During the 1860’s, homosexuality became more accepted, and homosexuals were seen more as “perverts” or “social deviants” rather than sinners.

The first ones to create a rudimentary vocabulary to define homosexuality were sexologist that surfaced in Europe towards the end of the 19th century. “Homosexuality” was first used, as mentioned, in 1869, by Karl Maria Kertbeny. Since then, the nature of homosexuality has been debated by sexologists all over the world. In 1886, one famous sexologist, Havelock Ellis, wrote “Sexual inversion”, which claims that homosexuals were created by a combination of biology and upbringing. Also, he wrote that people that were not homosexual by nature could become so if they let themselves be influenced by the “inverts”.  Still believing homosexuality was a disease, doctors and psychologists tried their best to cure the gay people, using therapy such as hypnosis and aversion therapy. Although homosexuality was more accepted towards the end of the 19th century, it was still considered a crime, and it would continue to be throughout the entire century.

Since Victorian times, views on homosexuality have changed a lot, although there still are divided opinions on homosexuality as a lifestyle. It was believed that homosexuality was a disease up until the 1980’s, and even today homosexual marriage is illegal in many countries and states. Sigmund Freud thought it was wrong to separate gays from the rest of society, and stated that homosexuals aren’t social deviants. In some countries, gay people are denied their human rights. They’re among others denied access to church, and they are not allowed to adopt children. The last decade there have been increased efforts to prove that homosexuality is more of a biological lifestyle rather than a chosen one.

In the middle of the twentieth century, homosexuals really began to fight for their rights. However, they were the year of 1980 accused for “starting” the deadly disease AIDS (first known as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), which is an illness that mainly occurs among gay men, but it isn’t relegated solely to that group. One of the reasons why some people are skeptical about homosexuals is religiously based, because of the skepticism that’s expressed in the bible. There are relative few direct references to homosexuality in the bible, but it clearly condemns homosexual acting. Jesus tells the mankind to” go out and have children”, homosexuality is therefore according to the bible a sin, because two people of same sex obviously can’t implement Jesus orders. This is only one explanation of Christian view on gays.

Homosexuals often compare themselves to other minority groups like the Jews or the African Americans. Up until World War two, there were no powerful and effective hay rights movements, but only several years after the war, gays were inspired by African American Civil Rights Movement, which led to more of these movements. One of the most famous and effective ones happened the 26th of June 1969 in New York and are knows as Stonewall riots. This movement had an enormous influence on the national level, and within days, new groups were formed and meetings were held, which contributed to change a part of the mainstream’s cultural view on homosexuality. It resulted in the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1974. This opened up doors for gays and was the first major success of the gay community.

During the eighties, homosexuals were also fighting for their political rights, to be treated as equal citizens. President Clinton was the first to take the pro-gay step. He introduced the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which allowed gay soldiers in the military as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation, and military officials are not allowed to ask soldiers about their sexual orientation. Although this policy is meant to decriminalize homosexuality, it is still discriminating, given the fact that they are taken away their freedom of speech.

Until the question about legalizing gay marriage is solved, gay people are not satisfied.  Marriage has an amount of advantages, and homosexuals want to have equal rights as heterosexuals. Several American states have in the 21st century, if not legalized gay marriage, given gay couple the same rights and advantages, and the status of “domestic partnership” has been introduced.

This is a picture that shows where homosexuality is legal and illegal today:

Homosexuality legal

Same-sex marriage

Other type of partnership (or unregistered cohabitation)

Same-sex marriage recognized, but not performed

Homosexuality legal but same-sex unions not recognized

Homosexuality illegal

Minimal penalty

Large penalty

Life in prison

Death penalty

The struggle for gay equality continued through the 1990s, and it is still ongoing. Gay people don’t really ask for too much, they just want the same rights as heterosexuals. Even today there is a prejudice against gay people, and it may take time before these prejudices disappear and homosexuals are completely accepted in society. The citizens of the world are deeply divided when it comes to questions about homosexuality. As we turn into a new millennium, important decisions are to be made, and we are lucky in Norway to serve as a model for gay equality. To achieve equal rights for homosexuals in the entire world, everybody have to raise their voice and involve in this issue.







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