Influential Homosexuals in History – Sappho

SapphoSappho was a Greek Lyric Poet, born on the island of Lesbos. Her birth was between 630 and 612 BCE, and she died sappho_cmsometime around 570 BCE, making her around 60 years of age when she passed.

The Nine Lyric Poets were a canon of Greek composers deemed worthy of critical study by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria.

Sappho was also considered to be one of nine earthly muses, based on a catalogue of the most respected women poets, collected by a poet from the 1st century BCE, named Antipater of Thessalonica.

images (10)Not much is known or documented about her, and the bulk of Sappho’s poetry has been lost. The only source for her history is through what little remains of her work, which is referred to as ‘Fragments’.

She appears to have been exiled from Lesbos to Sicily sometime between 604 and 594 BCE, because of her family’s political involvement, which was contradictory to the government of Lesbos at the time. It is documented that she possibly had a daughter, Cleis, named after her mother. Other documentation indicates that she had three brothers, Erigyius, Larichus, and Charaxus. She was born into an aristocratic family, and it is widely believed that her father’s name was Scamandronymus, but no surviving fragments of her works refers to him.

Sappho has a long standing history of being a symbol of the female homosexual community. Variations of her name and the island she was born on have come to describe homosexual women (Sapphic and Lesbian). Much of her surviving poetry alludes to ideas of deep passion and love. Sappho’s contemporary Alcaeus described her as “violet-haired, pure, 1350789482honey-smiling Sappho” and it has been written that her relationships among her female friends were of a homosexual nature. 3rd century philosopher Maximus of Tyre wrote:

What else could one call the love of the Lesbian woman than the Socratic art of love? For they seem to me to have practiced love after their own fashion, she the love of women, he of boys. For they said they loved many, and were captivated by all things beautiful. What Alcibiades and Charmides and Phaedrus were to him, Gyrinna and Atthis and Anactoria were to her…

Because she was such an influence in poetry and literature, attempts were made to justify her closeness with women in such a way as to lead away from the idea that she was a lesbian. In the Victorian era, it was told that she ran a boarding school for females, however in the surviving fragments of her works there are no references to teaching, students, or academies. Nowadays, this notion still persists, despite the suggestion that the story was created to make her more acceptable to the genteel classes of Great Britain and other cultures at the time. In fact, the story of Sappho and her ‘girl’s academy’ have transpired to something of a lesbian commune, where students engaged in lesbianism and wrote poetry about it.

Nine books of Sappho’s poetry was collected by the Library of Alexandria. While the remaining collection of her work is small, her work has greatly influenced poetry throughout the ages. Such was her fame that a meter of poetry was named after her, the Sapphic meter.

The Sapphic meter is a verse form containing four lines. Using a “-“ for a long syllable, an “s” for a short syllable and an “f” for a free syllable, the Sapphic meter looks as such:

–  s  –     f     – s s –    s – –

–  s  –     f     – s s –    s – –

–  s  –     f     – s s –    s – –

–  s  s  –  s


220px-Kipling_ndMany famous poets used the Sapphic meter in there writing, including Rudyard Kipling, in a tribute to William Shakespeare, called “The Craftsman”. The first verse is as follows:

Once, after long-drawn revel at The Mermaid

He to the overbearing Boanerges

Jonson, uttered (if half of it were liquor

Blessed be the vintage!)

The Sapphic meter was used in 330 stanzas of Book I of the Alexandrian collection of her works.

Because so much of her work was lost, what we know of Sappho exists from other writers and poets, and from stories handed down throughout the ages. Her influence on literature, the arts, and poetry in particular, is undeniable, despite the mystery that shrouds her. Sappho wrote about love and passion for both men and women alike, and her odes to goddesses show a loving quality that only continues to lend to her legacy as the world’s most famous and influential lesbian poet.


LGBT Site of the Week – The Human Rights Campaign

So this is something new I’ve come up with. I will be featuring a new LGBT website each Wednesday. These sites can be large organizations, like the HRC, or smaller businesses that offer resources for the LGBT community. They can be local or nationwide businesses, publications, anything that provides information and support for us.

If you have any suggestions on any organizations, businesses, or publications you would like to see featured, please just fill out the contact form under ‘About’ on the main page of Uncloseted, and I’ll make sure to research the site and post it as soon as I can.

Again, thank you for your support!


The Human Rights Campaign – established in 1980 by Steve Endean, the HRC has become the largest equal rights Hrc_logo.svgadvocacy group and political lobbying organization for LGBT people.

The HRC consists of two non-profit organizations and a political action committee –

  • The HRC Foundation – focuses on research, advocacy, and education
  • The Human Rights Campaign – focuses on promoting social welfare through lobbying of anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community
  • The HRC Political Action Committee – focuses on supporting political candidates who adhere to the HRC’s position on LGBT rights, as well as raising awareness on LGBT-supportive candidates

Their logo, a yellow equal sign on a blue field, and actually only became the campaign’s logo in 1995. Prior to that, the HRC used a stylized torch as their logo. They recently added an additional logo in support of same-sex marriage, a pink 536453_355588497880603_1673130184_nequal sign on a red field.

The HRC has been instrumental in passing hate crime laws, and in the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. The group also has a number of awards that are presented to individuals who have fought hard for equality.

You can visit their website here:

You can also sign up to become a member of the HRC, and help in the fight for equality.  Read up on current LGBT issues, events, and catch up on the history and victories of a wonderful campaign.






Finding the Rainbow Gene

Since the flip in thought shifted from criminal behavior to psychological disorder to congenital behavior, researchers The-Gay-Gene-Explained-Revealed-Exposed-Science-God-Bible-Homosexuality-Men-Lesbian-Women-Lust-DNA-Made-Born-Originshave been trying to figure out what makes a person a homosexual. People within the GLBT community have wanted a genetic explanation to prove that you can’t ‘pray the gay’ away, and that it is okay in God’s eyes, because He made us this way.

Others hope that proof of a genetic element will stop opponents from saying that sexual attraction is simply a choice.

A study done in 1991 found that 52% of identical male twins and 22% of fraternal male twins were concordant for homosexuality – in other words, 52% of the time, both males were homosexual 15DD5B0E-AB41-23B8-2B1E53E8573428C5_1when it came to identical twins, and 22% of the fraternal twins were both gay. Many studies have been performed regarding the concordance of homosexuality in twins. This is because of the shared genetic makeup of identical twins. In the majority of studies done on twins, similar results were found. Identical twins had a higher likelihood of both being gay than fraternal twins, which strongly suggests a genetic aspect.

Criticisms of twin studies has surfaced, stating that a self-selection bias may occur, where homosexuals with gay siblings are more likely to volunteer for studies. Other criticisms include the fact that enough pairs of twins exhibit different sexual orientation, and because of this, statistics do not firmly state that if one twin is gay, the other will be based on genetic makeup alone.

Other studies have been done to determine a biological basis, and there have been some interesting results. In 1997, a 1-s2.0-S0022519304001924-gr1study was done that reported that each older brother in a family increases the odds of a man being homosexual by 33%. The hypothesis is that male fetuses provoke a maternal immune reaction that becomes stronger with each successive male fetus. The male fetus releases cells that contain HY antigens. The mother’s immune system makes antibodies against the Y protein. These antibodies are able to cross through the blood/brain barrier (BBB) and alter sexual dimorphism, increasing the likelihood that the affected son would be more attracted to men than women.

Physical differences in the brain have also been documented. Studies have been conducted showing differences in neuron count, size of the hypothalamus, and the presence and level of testosterone.

However, none of these studies have specifically located a ‘gay gene’. Some of the results are interesting, however, like the list of physiological and cognitive differences that have been found:


  • Gay men and straight women have, on average, equally proportioned brain hemispheres. Lesbian women and straight men have, on average, slightly larger right brain hemispheres.
  • The VIP SCN nucleus of the hypothalamus is larger in men than in women, and larger in gay men than in heterosexual men.
  • Gay men report, on an average, slightly longer and thicker penises than non-gay men.
  •  The average size of the INAH-3 in the brains of gay men is approximately the same size as INAH 3 in women, which is significantly smaller, and the cells more densely packed, than in heterosexual men’s brains.
  • The anterior commissure is larger in women than men and was reported to be larger in gay men than in non-gay men, but a subsequent study found no such difference.
  •  Gay men’s brains respond differently to fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
  • The functioning of the inner ear and the central auditory system in lesbians and bisexual women are more like the functional properties found in men than in non-gay women (the researchers argued this finding was consistent with the prenatal hormonal theory of sexual orientation).
  • The suprachiasmatic nucleus was found by Swaab and Hopffman to be larger in gay men than in non-gay men, the suprachiasmatic nucleus is also known to be larger in men than in women.[59]
  • The startle response (eyeblink following a loud sound) is similarly masculinized in lesbians and bisexual women.
  • Gay and non-gay people’s brains respond differently to two putative sex pheromones (AND, found in male armpit secretions, and EST, found in female urine).
  • The amygdala, a region of the brain, is more active in gay men than non-gay men when exposed to sexually arousing material.
  • Finger length ratios between the index and ring fingers may be different between non-gay and lesbian women.
  •  Gay men and lesbians are significantly more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than non-gay men and women; Simon LeVay argues that because “[h]and preference is observable before birth… [t]he observation of increased non-right-handness in gay people is therefore consistent with the idea that sexual orientation is influenced by prenatal processes,” perhaps heredity.
  • A study of 50 gay men found 23% had counterclockwise hair whorl, as opposed to 8% in the general population. This may correlate with left-handedness.
  • Gay men have increased ridge density in the fingerprints on their left thumbs and pinkies.
  •  Length of limbs and hands of gay men is smaller compared to height than the general population, but only among white men.


  • Gay men and lesbians are more verbally fluent than heterosexuals of the same sex (but two studies did not find this result).
  • Gay men may receive higher scores than non-gay men on tests of object location memory (no difference was found between lesbians and non-gay women).

New research is showing that it’s quite possible that there is no existence of a ‘gay gene’, but something just as biologically important.

It is believed that something known as ‘epigenetics’ are responsible for homosexuality. It is not the genetic makeup, but rather how the genes are expressed, in certain modifications to how and when DNA is activated, that determine the expression of sexual orientation. The new theory suggests that homosexuality is caused by epigenetic markers, or ‘epi-marks’ related to hormonal sensitivity in the womb. They are compounds that rest on DNA and regulate how active or inactive certain genes are.

The theory comes from researchers at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). They believe that gene expression may regulate how a fetus responds to testosterone, and that the epi-marks may buffer levels of testosterone – increasing levels in male fetuses, and decreasing levels in female fetuses. Normally these epi-marks A1_Fig2disappear after they are activated, but if they are passed down to the next generation, the same epi-marks may have alternate effects.

For instance, the epi-marks of the father, that allowed for higher levels of testosterone for him, may also allow for higher levels of testosterone in his female offspring, giving her more masculine characteristics. In mothers, the epi-marks that regulated for lower amounts of testosterone may affect the male offspring, giving him more feminine qualities.

While the fight to prove a genetic basis for homosexuality is important, it also lends to some potential downfalls.

For instance, if a ‘gay gene’ is found, what does that mean for the potential of ‘designer babies’? Is it possible that eventually, the ‘gay gene’ could be manipulated out of a fetus’s genetic structure? If the parents don’t want a gay baby, and had enough money, could they genetically alter the child?

Others within the GLBT community don’t want a genetic explanation, stating that they don’t need to prove their own existence.

While I would love to be able to say “I’m born this way” and have genetic evidence to back it up, I understand the other implications to the possibility of a ‘gay gene’. Perhaps one day, a genetic explanation won’t be needed to prove my equality. Perhaps one day, the fact that I’m a human being will be enough to be considered equal.

Psychology and Homosexuality – or – Those Crazy Gays!

The idea had always been that homosexuality was a criminal behavior, punishable by police and within the court of law. However, in the late 19th century, there was a shift away from this idea, and towards homosexuality as a medical concept. Medico-legal experts began writing literature concerned with determining whether certain people accused of criminal sexual behavior should be considered innocent because of mental illness or defect.

Today, the thought that homosexuality is a mental illness or defect is considered an insult. But back then, any form of homosexuality, even if you were simply suspected to be homosexual, you were punished with fines, imprisonment, and in some cases, death. To suggest that someone with homosexual tendencies was mentally ill and therefore should not be put to death was in essence, considered a saving grace.

220px-Karl_Heinrich_Ulrichs_(from_Kennedy)Karl Ulrichs, a German lawyer, wrote in a series of pamphlets from 1864 to 1879 that same sex love was a congenital, hereditary condition, not a matter of immorality. He argued that it was a form of psychosexual hermaphroditism. Outwardly, one would appear male, but inside – mentally, emotionally – he was female. He called himself an ‘Urning’ – a female soul in a male body. Because same sex love was congenital, it should not be criminally prosecuted.

In 1869, Hungarian writer Karl Kertbeny coined the term ‘homosexual’. Prior to that, gay men were250px-Karl_Maria_Kertbeny_(ca_1865) referred to as sodomites. He argued that homosexual attraction was innate, but did not believe all homosexuals were psychologically effeminate. Kertbeny argued against the sodomy laws of Prussian Paragraph 143 (which later became the infamous Paragraph 175), and argued for the ‘rights of man’. He initially presented the idea that homosexuality was inborn and unchangeable, and pointed out famous homosexuals that were great heroes in history.

In 1870, Karl Westphal published an article, using ‘contrary sexual feeling’ to describe the same-sex attraction of an effeminate male and a masculine female. Westphal claimed the sexual sensation was congenital, and it should come under psychiatric care rather than legal prosecution. His terminology of ‘contrary sexual feeling’ would be translated into many different languages. In Italy, Arrigo Tamassia took the diagnosis and translated it into ‘inversion of the sexual instinct’.  French neurologist Jean Martin Charcot later translated it into ‘inversion of the genital sense.’

In Charcot’s work, he labeled homosexuality as a sexual perversion, relying on the theory of hereditary degeneration. He argued that sexual inversion was a neuropsychiatric degenerative condition like hysteria and epilepsy. Charcot believed it was a serious mental illness likely to be associated with other disorders.

The term ‘sexual inversion’ dominated medical texts in terms of a medical definition. Extensive research into a biological basis for homosexuality led to hypotheses that homosexuals were neuro-endocrinological hermaphrodites. Basically, a male had the physical anatomy of a male, but hormonally and mentally, he exhibited feminine qualities.

Richard von Krafft-Ebing was a German physicist, who wrote Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886. In it, he presented 240px-Richard_v._Krafft-Ebing_homosexuality as a severe manifestation of hereditary degeneration. Krafft-Ebing thought procreation was the only purpose of sexual desire, and that any other form of it was a perversion. He defined four categories of “cerebral neuroses”

  • Paradoxia – sexual desire at the wrong time of life
  • Anesthesia – insufficient sexual desire
  • Hyperesthesia – excessive sexual desire
  • Paraesthesia – misdirected sexual desire (homosexuality, bisexuality, fetishism, sadism, masochism, and pedophilia)

The final cerebral neuroses, paraesthesia, has led to the grouping of homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality in arguments against things like legalization of same-sex marriage. It seems it’s a stigma we’ve yet to fully overcome.

However, Krafft-Ebing later argued that homosexuals could be perfectly respectable and functional individuals. This was after meeting a number of homosexuals throughout his life. He also began to argue against sodomy laws and testified in defense of homosexuals.

In the late 1800’s, German physician Magnus Hirschfeld spoke out about his homosexuality, arguing it as an intermediate sex and a natural, biological variant. He founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1897, and also founded the Institute for Sexual Science, which was closed down by the Nazis in 1933. Hirschfeld also argued that failed attempts to ‘convert’ through psychoanalysis proved that homosexuality is physiologically innate, and not a mental condition.

Endocrinologist Eugen Steinach did extensive research with altering the sexual characteristics of rats through castration or testes implants. He was one of the first to attempt to surgically ‘correct’ homosexuality by implanting ‘normal’ testes. His results were inconclusive.

The inversion hypothesis still existed in the 1930’s. Psychiatrist George Henry studied the anatomy of homosexuals, to document the sex-atypicality of their genitals and secondary sex characteristics (the Adam’s apple, facial hair, breast size, etc.). At the time, the brains and nervous systems of homosexuals were assumed to have some cross-gendered traits – different sized parts of the brain, glandular differences, etc.  This idea progressed through the end of the 20th century, when neuroanatomical research on sexual orientation still relied on the inversion hypothesis.  An article by British American neuroscientist Simon LeVay argued that an area of the homosexual man’s hypothalamus was closer in size to that of women than of heterosexual men.

Sigmund Freud wrote of four possible sexual theories on the origins of homosexualitySigmund-Freud-9302400-1-402

  1. Homosexuality arises as an outcome of the Oedipus conflict and the boy’s discovery that his mother is castrated. This creates an intense castration anxiety that causes the boy to turn from his castrated mother to a “woman with a penis” – an effeminate male
  2. In the Three Essays, Freud developed the theory that the homosexual child is so over-attached to his mother that he identifies with her and narcissistically seeks love objects like himself so he can love them like his mother loved him
  3. If a ‘negative’ or ‘inverted’ Oedipus complex occurs, a boy seeks his father’s love and masculine identification by taking on a feminine identification, and reverts to anal eroticism
  4. Finally, homosexuality could result from reaction formation – sadistic jealousy of brothers and father is safely converted into love of other men

Freud believed that homosexuality (or ‘inversion’ as it was called) could be a natural outcome of normal development in some people. He believed in a ‘constitutional bisexuality’: in every individual, there was a certain balance of masculine and feminine tendencies. Life experiences, particularly traumatic ones, allowed for the development of certain tendencies, and in turn, brought about their expression. Because of this, homosexuality was not a mental illness, but an unconflicted expression of an innate instinct.

He did not believe in treating homosexuality, as it was not a mental illness. In 1935, he received a letter from a woman that wanted Freud to ‘cure’ her ‘inverted’ son. His response, which was later published, contained:

“Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too….

“If [your son] is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed….” 

radosmHowever, analyst Sandor Rado had other thoughts. He viewed homosexuality as a sign of development gone awry. He argued against Freud’s hypotheses, stating that the 19th century belief in embryonic hermaphroditism (the idea that every embryo had the potential to become a man or a woman) was what Freud based his constitutional bisexuality on. Since this hypothesis was disproven, Rado argued that heterosexuality was the only non-pathological outcome of human sexual development.

Rado’s views caused a shift in belief to his theory of pathology. Because of this, some analysts began to claim they could ‘cure’ homosexuality. These ‘cures’ consisted of psychoanalysis to get at the root for the same-sex attraction and attempted to change the homosexual’s image of his or her attraction. Physical ‘treatments’ did occur as well, and included bladder washing, rectal massage, castration, and hypnosis.

In 1952, the first edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersimages (9) (DMS-I) classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. It was removed as a mental disorder in 1973.

After this stigma was removed, there was a shift in thought from homosexuality as a pathology toward viewing it as a normal variant of human sexuality. However, the argument that homosexuality is a mental disorder is still used. Reparative therapy, like reestablishing gender roles, and groups like NARTH (National Research & Therapy of Homosexuality) claim they can ‘take the gay away’. Some claim these groups have helped them, others claim they simply try to suppress homosexual attraction through demeaning and belittling the homosexual.

As you can see, psychology has both helped and hurt the cause for equality. Establishing a psychological element to ‘what causes homosexuality’ has also led to a look at the genetic makeup of sexuality. And this is what the next post will take a look at – the possibility of a ‘gay gene’ and the physical make of a homosexual

Christianity and Homosexuality

It’s interesting to note that in most cultures outside of Europe, homosexuality was accepted and openly practiced prior to European colonization. The acceptance of homosexuality from a religious aspect has been debated throughout history.

Christian-Church33Christianity is the largest religion in the world, and is broken into three separate churches, with multiple denominations: The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, and Protestantism.

Because Christianity has so many different denominations, to say that Christianity as a whole does not accept homosexuality is an incorrect statement. In fact, literature exists suggesting that during the Middle Ages, some Christian communities accepted and allowed homosexuality to thrive. John Boswell, an historian and professor at Yale, wrote two books, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality and Same-sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, both arguing that the attitude of the Christian church towards homosexuality has changed throughout time, volleying from complete social acceptance, to total persecution.

Persecution against homosexuality rose during the High Middle Ages (c. 1000 – 1299). During the Medieval 1311548648-191Inquisitions, sodomy and homosexuality were major charges leveled against prominent men during the Trial of the Knights Templar. Much of this was fueled by the works of theologian Thomas Aquinas, who argued that “special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals, and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices.” He also stated that sodomy was second only to murder in the ranking of sins.

However, the intolerance of homosexuality was constantly fueled by decrees put out by the church. At the start of the Renaissance, homosexuality was once again accepted. Ironically, it was most practiced by those that outwardly spoke of its sin. Upon the rise of Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar turned preacher turned prophet, homosexuals were once again persecuted under religious pretenses. Savonarola spoke out against the decadences of Florence and Venice, focusing a moral persecution on homosexuality. The church began to arrest men suspected of sodomy, and with the instatement of the Officers of the Night, began a list of those men thought to practice homosexuality. Men were fined or jailed, boys were flogged, and the worst punishments included public stoning and burning at the stake. Upon the fall of Savonarola, when he was shown to be a farce, the persecution of homosexuals eased up a bit, but didn’t go away.

When the Spanish conquered the Americas, they were horrified to see that the aboriginal peoples openly practiced homosexuality, and even celebrated it. They immediately brought punishment upon those that practiced, referring to balboathem as berdaches (derived from the French bardache implying a male prostitute), and inflicting punishment that included public execution, burning at the stake, and being torn apart by dogs.

The religious persecution of homosexuality has led to legislation being passed throughout history banning homosexuality and sodomy. Laws are based on morality, and it wasn’t until 2003 that sodomy was decriminalized in the United States.

I focus on Christianity as it is the most widely practiced religion. Their scripture is the Bible, a series of books written by man but said to be ‘God-breathed’. The Old Testament of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek.

It is said that in those languages, there are no words that directly translate to homosexual or homosexuality. The Bible is the most popular book in the world, and the most translated. It has been translated into over 2000 different languages. Various versions omit various books, depending on the belief system of that particular domination.

Passages from the Bible, often from the Old Testament book Leviticus, are used to confirm a belief that homosexuality is indeed a sin. Leviticus 18-22 is the most often used verse, stating that ‘man shall not lie with man as man lies with woman’. This has been used as an argument against homosexuality. However, other interpreters maintain that the passage does not condemn homosexuality, but refers to prostitution, or ‘sex without love’. The argument for this lies in the fact that the original languages that the Old Testament was written in (Hebrew and Aramaic) did not contain words images (8)that directly translate to homosexual.

It is also argued that subsequent translations of the Bible are interpretations, and that words were changed according to a particular bias. It has been likened to a game of ‘Telephone’, where the original message gets garbled and changed according to what a particular person hears, as opposed to what was actually said.

It’s quite probable that a satisfactory explanation for religious intolerance or acceptance will never be achieved. However, as with all things, Christianity continues to change, and more and more Christians are moving toward a model of acceptance and tolerance of their homosexual brethren.

Some religions show the same model of tolerance/intolerance for homosexuality as Christianity. Other religions, like Buddhism, do not preach one way or the other about the issue of homosexuality, but basically adopt a ‘do unto others’ attitude – how do your actions affect others? – in their religious values set.

As it stands, the religious debate will continue until the end of time. To argue right or wrong will not accomplish much. Thus, I offer this post as a sort of objective look at Christianity and homosexuality.

Next, we’ll look at the psychological aspect of homosexuality, and take a peek at the possibility of a genetic explanation, and what that could mean.

A History of Homosexuality – Part 7

Homosexuality in the US – The 20th Century On

Claude Hartland’s autobiography, The Story of a Life, which documented his sexual history, led him to become the first documented homosexual in the United States. The book was an autobiography, written in response to what he saw as the ignorance of doctors and psychologists that failed to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality.

220px-Eddie_Stevenson1In 1908, the first American defense of homosexuality was published. The Intersexes: A History of Similisexualism as a Problem in Social Life by Edward Stevenson, writing under the pseudonym of Xavier Mayare also wrote Imre: A Memorandum which was considered one of the first homosexual novels.

As time went on, society became more aware of the homosexual subculture. At the turn of the 20th century, New York City found itself with a large underground homosexual population. This subculture had a strong sense of self-definition and began identifying with terms like ‘middle class queer’ and ‘fairy’. Anthony Comstock, leader of the YMCA in Connecticut, pressed Congress for stronger censorship laws in an attempt to suppress information regarding members. Because of this, YMCAs across the country saw an increase in homosexual conduct.

During the 1920’s, the United States saw a decadent period of partying, and with it, sexual liberation. Several songs were written, including ‘Masculine Women, Feminine Men’ (click to see/hear the song). It was written in 1926 by Edgar Leslie and James Monaco. The recorded version of the lyrics:

Masculine women, feminine men

Which is the rooster, which is the hen?

It’s hard to tell ‘em apart today! And, say!

Sister is busy learning to shave,

Brother just loves his permanent wave,

It’s hard to tell ‘em apart today! Hey! Hey!

Girls were girls and boys were boys when I was a tot,

Now we don’t know who is who, or even what’s what!

Knickers and trousers, baggy and wide,

Nobody knows who’s walking inside

Those masculine women and feminine men!


The 20’s also brought a social acceptance of homosexuality. Up until the 1930’s, many gay clubs were openly operated, and commonly known as ‘pansy clubs’. Famous actors, like William Haines, led openly gay relationships. In 1927, Mae West wrote The Drag, a play about homosexuality, and became an early advocate of gay rights, stating that the issue of sex was a human rights issue.

Unfortunately, as the US progressed into the 1930’s, society saw a reintroduction of Victorian era values, and a shift towards Conservatism. Homosexuality became regarded as a mental disease, and police forces conducted operations to arrest homosexuals. Gays and lesbians were diagnosed as diseased, and ‘treated’ with lobotomies, castration, pudic nerve surgery and shock treatment.

170px-We_Can_Do_It!However, when the United States entered WWII in 1941, women were actively recruited, and nearly 250,000 women served in the Armed Forces, mostly in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC). They were recruited with posters featuring masculine women with short hair in tailored uniforms. Rosie the Riveter has become an icon for lesbians. Women began showing up for their inductions in men’s clothing, with slicked back hair. Lesbians were not turned away from service, and in fact, were specifically recruited for positions as mechanics and motor vehicle operators. After the war, many women did not return to their traditional gender roles. This helped redefine societal expectations, and helped lesbian, black, and gay liberation movements.

Yet again, there was a shift in society, and homosexuals again faced persecution in the eyes of society. In 1959, police forces in New York City began closing down gay bars, largely due to efforts by NY Mirror columnist Lee Mortimer. He claimed that all gay bars were operated by the Mafia, and were operating illegally. While this was true of a large number of gay bars, it was also true about ‘straight bars’ as well, but because of the stigma of homosexuality, gay bars were specifically targeted. The New York State Liquor Authority had passed provisions stating that it was illegal for homosexuals to gather and be served alcoholic beverages in bars.


On April 21, 1966, Dick Leitsch, president of the New York Mattachine Society, and two other members took part in the Sip-in at Julius Bar in Greenwich Village. The Sip-in led to the SLA’s provisions being overturned. Because of this victory, the Mattachine Society then put pressure on NYC’s mayor to answer questions regarding discrimination in employment. Their actions led to changes in policy regarding discrimination. However, the police and fire departments did not approve of the changes and did not follow policy. Police continued to raid gay bars.

Around 1:20 am, on Friday, June 27, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. They gathered patrons in the men and women’s bathrooms, arresting any cross-dressers. As they were brought out to the wagons outside of the 220px-Stonewall_Inn_1969bar, a crowd had gathered. Fueled by the crowd, as well as being fed up by mistreatment, the patrons, and members of the crowd, began to get rowdy. The police responded by violence, and riots broke out. The rioting continued again the following night, and again a few nights later.

These riots are considered a pivotal turning point for the modern gay rights movement. To commemorate the Stonewall Riots, June is considered Pride Month across the country, and many communities hold Pride events throughout the month.

Homosexuality saw a relative acceptance in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It wasn’t until 1986 that all references to homosexuality as a mental illness were removed from psychological text. Acceptance in society took a hit again in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when doctors saw young men being diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a cancer usually associated with elderly men of Mediterranean  ethnicity.

When it was discovered that these young men were all homosexual, the syndrome was dubbed ‘gay cancer’, but this was later changed when other diseases, like pneumocystis pneumonia, were discovered. Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) was the official name given to the disease, and was said to have originated in bath houses in San Francisco. Not much was understood about this aggressive disease, and served to boost homophobia throughout society. It became apparent within the medical community that the disease was not specific to gay men, when it was discovered that others, like blood transfusion patients, intravenous drug users, heterosexual and bisexual women, and newborn babies, had contracted the disease. In 1982, the CDC renamed the syndrome as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, but the stigma still stuck with gay males.


It wasn’t until 2003 that homosexuality (specifically the act of anal sex) was decriminalized. Landmark court cases proved that homosexual sex was not illegal between consenting adults. The 21st century saw a shift in the legalization of same-sex marriage not only in the world, but in several US states. That fight continues today, and in 2011, the Obama Administration announced that provision 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, and though it would continue to enforce the law, it would no longer defend it in court. The Supreme Court is expected to release a decision on the constitutionality of DOMA at the end of June 2013.


This ends the series A History of Homosexuality. My next post will take a look at homosexuality in various religion, and religion’s impact on the social acceptance of the LGBT community.

A History of Homosexuality – Part 6


I want to give Germany its own post, as there have been both great revolutions and persecutions among homosexuals in Germany’s history.

220px-Karl_Heinrich_Ulrichs_(from_Kennedy)Because of the dramatic suppression of homosexuality, Germany began to see an uprising in activism. In 1867, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs spoke out publicly in defense of homosexuality at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich, pleading for the repeal of anti-homosexual laws in Germany. He became the first self-proclaimed homosexual activist.

In 1896, Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion, which challenged theories that homosexuality was abnormal.13494733_114126109629

Between 1897 and 1933, The Scientific Humanitarian Committee, created by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, campaigned against anti-sodomy laws in Germany. The committee essentially fought for equality for homosexuals and transgenders. They specifically targeted the infamous ‘Paragraph 175’.  Initially the law was to prosecute male sex with underage youths. When the Nazis took over, the law was expanded to include all sexual contact and relationships between males.

Heinrich_HimmlerThe Nazis believed that homosexuality was not conducive to their racial ideology of a ‘pure’ race. Gay males were considered weak, and their ‘effeminate’ nature made them unable to fight for the German nation. They were considered not likely to reproduce, thus not contributing to the growth of the Aryan race. Initially, not much was done to persecute homosexuals, as they were not perceived as a direct threat. But when SS Heinrich Himmler was appointed as Reichführer, he went after homosexuals with a vengeance.

Himmler claimed that homosexuals posed a danger to the Aryan race as it undermined the hierarchical relationships of the Nazi party. The claim that homosexuality created cliques that challenged the ‘racial conscious’ of the ‘new’ German makeup. His attack against homosexuals was fueled by psychiatrists like Albert Moll, who, in 1905, wrote that homosexuality was a mental illness. This stigma stayed until the late 1970s, when it was finally removed as a mental illness.

Paragraph 175 – Paragraph 175 was initially placed into law in 1871, criminalizing sodomy between adult males and male youths. In 1935, the Nazis broadened the law to encompass all sexual acts between men of any ages. The text never specifically targeted women, but lesbians were punished under the law as well. Overall, during the time the law was in place (1871 – 1994), 140,000 men were convicted under Paragraph 175.

TrianglesBetween 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals were placed in concentration camps, where they were isolated and specifically targeted for their sexuality. In many camps, like Dachau, homosexuals were placed in separate barracks. They were forced to wear pink triangles for easy identification, and to further their isolation in the camps. There is evidence that while lesbians were not as well documented as gay males, they were forced to wear black triangles, along with prostitutes and other ‘sexually immoral’ women.

Because of the isolation in separate barracks, and the identifying markers, homosexuals became easy targets, and were often forced to perform sexual acts upon the soldiers, and were targeted for hard labor, often succumbing to dehydration and undernourishment.

The Nazis became interested in finding a ‘cure’ for homosexuality, and experimented on prisoners. Often, in exchange for survival, a homosexual prisoner would agree to castration. The experiments, conducted by SS doctors, often led to mutilation, illness, and death, but yielded no scientific knowledge. Because homosexuals were considered sub-human, they were often the subjects of these horrific experiments.

There are no statistics in regards to how many homosexuals died at the hands of the Nazis in the concentration camps.

You can click on the following link to find a very in-depth work on how the Third Reich viewed homosexuality:

The next installment will discuss homosexuality in the United States in the 20th Century.