LGBTQ+ History - A Whistle Stop Tour!
This week you can read all about some key events or people with LGBTQ+ History. This is by no means the entire of LGBTQ+ history as there is far too much to mention so there’s plenty for you to go and research. If something we’ve touched upon really interests you, then get searching as there’s lots of to discover and learn!
Many people think that LGBTQ+ History is only a recent phenomenon due to the rise in the discussion of sexual orientations the 1850/60s. However, the first documented examples that exist of homosexuality come from Ancient Greece, nearly 3000 years ago! These relationships existed frequently and, in some cases, did not replace different-sex relationships but instead came before or after. The female Greek poet, Sappho, often wrote of her love and infatuation for women causing her home island of Lesbos to be the basis of the term for female same-sex relationships in the 19th century.
LGBTQ+ people were also prevalent in the Roman Empire with the Emperor Hadrian (yes, the one who built the wall!) renowned for his relationship with another man, Antinous. The later Emperor Elagabalus has also been thought of as Transgender by modern historians and preferred to be named as his wife’s mistress. Unfortunately, attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community when the Empire fell under Christian rule.
This isn’t to say LGBTQ+ identities don’t exist in other parts of the world in Ancient History. It was common place in China, India, the America’s as well as in Pacific cultures as well as parts of the Middle East.
During the Middle Ages (from about 500AD-1500AD), LGBTQ+ groups still were prevalent despite the largely religious societies of the time in both Europe and Asia at least until the 13th century. Same-sex monasteries in Christendom have documented cases of homosexuality that were not condemned or persecuted and poets and writers in Islamic lands also wrote of homosexual themes.
However, from about 1200 persecution and oppression of LGBTQ+ groups intensified greatly. Where inquisitions (religious trials) found people guilty of sodomy and fornication alongside other ‘crimes’ such as Satanism. From the 15th century, homosexual activity radically changed from being legal in most of Europe to suddenly punishable by death in vast parts of European lands. This change was largely encouraged by religious thoughts, most notably the Catholic Church. Thousands of people were tried and punished, either by death or other horrifying means, across the period. In England, King Henry VIII passed the Buggery Act in 1553 making all-male same-sex acts punishable by death and many other nations passed similar laws.
From this period of persecution followed centuries of brutal laws and oppression. Psychologists in the 1800’s led the beliefs that homosexuality was a form of degeneracy. Religious groups still upheld that it was a sin. However, it was also during this time that voices started to appear that displayed that LGBTQ+ identities hadn’t disappeared completely and in fact, we're starting to advocate for change.
One notable person was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German lawyer and writer who is largely thought of as the founder of the modern gay rights movement. He visited the various courts and governments around Germany during the 1860’s, debating for changes to laws to prevent the persecution of gay men. He was arrested various times but continued to protest often with little or no success but his work is remembered by the movement today and several streets in Germany are named after him.
There are several other people who brought to light the cruelty of the various anti-LGBTQ+ laws. In the UK, Oscar Wilde, the famous poet, and writer was brought to trial for his homosexuality. The trial brought the issue with these laws to the forefront due to Wilde’s popularity. Anne Lister is another famous British LGBTQ+ figure. She kept diary entries from the beginning of the 19th century in which she documents her lesbian relationships for the rest of her daily life. People such as these show historians that people from the LGBTQ+ community didn’t just disappear when harsh laws were put in place. They may have hidden their sexual orientation and not been openly ‘out’ but they still existed.
Other parts of the world remained particularly harsh towards LGBTQ+ people. In the Middle East (and still to this day in some places) it can be punishable by death. In the USA during the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, they were harassed, beaten or in most severe cases lynched. The most violent case was during the Holocaust by the Nazi’s where homosexuals were also sent to concentration camps. Between 50,000 to 100,000 people were murdered this way.
What we know as the modern gay rights movements all came about largely after the Second World War and were started differently in different countries around the world. For the USA, the StoneWall riots were in response by attempts of New York Police to shut down gay bars across the city. They led to marches of several thousand that led to what we know today as Pride Marches all over the world!
In the UK, Section 28 was introduced in 1988, which prohibited the teaching or promotion of same-sex relationships in schools or local councils. It caused many support groups to limit their activities of close altogether as they would face fines or arrests. The introduction of the law caused large scale protests in the UK and numerous celebrities come out gay or lesbian to support it, most notably Ian McKellen. The law was repealed in 2000 but it wasn’t until 2010, with the Equality Act that it was completely removed.
Even to this day the LGBTQ+ community face significant persecution. It wasn’t until 2014 that Gay marriage was allowed and recognised in the UK but there are still plenty of places around the world where it is not allowed and members of the LGBTQ+ community face threats every day. But this blog is hopefully a quick show of how far the LGBTQ+ rights movement has come and to show that LGBTQ+ history is human history!