Historically, people have been reprimanded and punished, imprisoned and killed, simply for expressing their love for someone of the same sex.
Whilst we have undoubtedly made so much progress in terms of homosexuality being legalised in several countries around the world, and same-sex marriage being legalised in some of those countries, it’s important that we don’t get complacent. Read the sentence before the last one again; legalised in ‘several‘ countries, and legalised in ‘some‘ countries. Not ‘all’.
We cannot say that we have equal rights whilst ever there are people being stoned to death, and people being left to rot in prison for being gay. As I wrote in this poem published on my blog last week, ‘Just because something isn’t affecting you, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t real.’ It is real. It is happening. There is still so much work to be done. There is still so much progress to be made, to ensure that, regardless of where you happen to live in the world, you can be yourself and not run the risk of being killed for that…
History of Homosexuality/Timeline of LGBTQ+
- 8000 B.C.- The world’s earliest depictions of homosexuality are found in the ancient San rock paintings of Zimbabwe, Africa.
- 389 A.D.- Rome enacts its first law against homosexual citizens under Christian leadership, (they saw homosexuality as ‘an offence against God’), taking away their right to make or benefit from wills.
- 370 A.D.- The Roman Empire criminalises sex between men with a prescribed penalty of death by burning.
- 632 A.D.- Sharia Law is formulated during the seventh century and gradually established throughout the Islamic world. It punishes homosexuality by flagellation or death by stoning, burning, collapsing a rock wall upon, or throwing off from a high point.
- 780 A.D.- Korean Emperor Hyegong is executed fifteen years after his ascent to the throne when royal subordinates can no longer tolerate his effeminate behavior.
- 1533- King Henry VIII of England establishes the Buggery Act, which replaces the penalty for homosexuality from castration or burning at the stake to public hanging.
- 1791- France introduces a new penal code predicated on the belief that private acts by private individuals are not a matter for state intervention. This is the first western law to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity.
- 1801- New York state increases its prison sentence for sodomy to a mandatory life sentence.
- 1803- Austria decreases the punishment for sodomy to one year in prison.
- 1828- New York state reduces its sodomy penalty from a life sentence to a maximum of ten years in prison.
- 1885- Introduced by Henry Labouchere, Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 makes ‘gross indecency’ between men a crime for the first time with a punishment of imprisonment of at least two years. In effect the crime of ‘gross indecency’ can be interpreted in many ways, and means that any intimacy and/or sexual activity between men, in public or private, is criminalised. In practice the law is used to prosecute intimacy between men when the act of sodomy cannot be proven. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were amongst the many people convicted under section 11.
- 1893- Prohibition against ‘cross-dressing’ for an improper purpose is enacted in Guyana, whereby criminal sanctions are imposed against people whose gender expression does not align with their sex as assigned at birth. Rooted in Sharia Law, “any man who dresses and poses as a woman” and “any woman who dresses and poses as a man” is liable to face a fine of up to$1,000, imprisonment of up to three months, or both.
- 1921- In England and Wales there is an attempt with the Criminal Law Amendment Bill to add a provision criminalising ‘gross indecency’ between females, an offence which has always been limited to males. The amendment is shelved due to a perceived lack of evidence that such acts actually take place. This reveals the general invisibility of female sexuality, particularly same-sex sexuality…
- 1939-1945- Gay men are held in concentration camps by Nazis, and are branded with pink triangle badges, the same branding which is given to sexual predators.
- 1954- The police actively enforce laws prohibiting sexual behaviour between men. By the end of 1954, there are 1,069 gay men in prison in England and Wales. As well as being at risk of being imprisoned in jail, gay men are also at risk of psychiatric lockup, unemployment, and even the loss of custody over their children after courts define gay love as ‘sick’, ‘criminal’, and ‘immoral.’
- 1957- The UK published ‘Wolfenden Report’ recommends that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence. ‘It is not the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens.’ The Committee also rejects the idea that homosexuality is a disease.
- 1967- The Sexual Offences Act decriminalises sex between two men over 21 ‘in private’.
- 1968- Homosexuality is listed as a mental disorder in the DSM-II.
- 1969- Police raid the Stonewall Inn (now a National Historic Landmark), a famous gay bar in New York City. Riots by LGBTQ+ people are sparked in retaliation against the police raid. Activist groups, including the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists’ Alliance (GAA) are formed as a result. The Stonewall riots are now remembered as one of the most important catalysts for modern LGBT movements worldwide.
- 1970- LGBTQ+ community members march through New York City in honour of the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The event is named ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day’ and is now considered the first gay pride parade.
- 1972- The UK’s first Pride march is held in London, on 1st July, the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Sweden enacts the world’s first law legalising transsexual operations.
A comprehensive study of female-female seagull pairing on Santa Barbara Island (California) creates a sensation as the first publicised observation of homosexuality in the animal kingdom.
- 1977- Harvey Milk becomes the United States’ first openly gay elected official.
Florida bans homosexuals from adopting children.
- 1978- Gilbert Baker, an openly gay artist and drag queen, designs the first rainbow flag, a symbol of pride for the gay community. The different colors within the flag represent togetherness and diversity, since LGBT people come in all races, ages and genders, and rainbows are both natural and beautiful.
- 1981- HIV/AIDS is diagnosed for the first time among American homosexual males, causing gay men to become seriously ill and die in ever-increasing numbers as a result.
- 1985- France becomes the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law protecting homosexuals.
- 1986- Trinidad & Tobago expand their criminalising provisions to explicitly include sexual activity between women- a ‘serious indecency’ offence- for the first time, through the Sexual Offences Act 1986.
- 1989- Denmark becomes the first country in the world to establish civil unions for gay couples.
- 1992- The World Health Organisation declassifies homosexuality as a mental illness.
- 1994- The age of consent for same-sex relations between men is lowered to 18.
- 1996- President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as ‘a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.’
- 1999- Brazil becomes the first country to ban ‘conversion therapy’ for gay minors.
- 2000- The ban on lesbian, gay, and bisexual people serving in the army is lifted by the UK Government.
- 2001- The age of consent for same-sex relations between men is lowered again, this time to 16 in alignment with the heterosexual age of consent.
The Netherlands becomes the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
Bertrand Delanoe becomes the first openly gay mayor of a major world city (Paris).
- 2002- Same sex couples in the UK receive equal rights for adoption as straight couples.
- 2004- The Gender Recognition Act passes, which allows transgender people to fully and legally identify with their chosen gender, as well as acquire a new birth certificate.
Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to legalise same-sex marriage.
- 2005- Spain becomes the third country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
Canada becomes the fourth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
The United Kingdom establishes civil unions for gay couples.
- 2006- South Africa becomes the fifth country in the world and the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage.
- 2009- Johanna Siguroardottir becomes the first openly gay head of government (Iceland).
- 2011- New York becomes the sixth U.S. state to legalise same-sex marriage.
The United States lifts its ban on homosexuals serving in the military.
Colombia bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- 2013- Russia enacts “gay propaganda” laws criminalising public support for gay rights or identity.
- 2014- The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act comes into effect in England and Wales, finally making same-sex marriage legal. Scotland follows suit later in the same year.
- 2015- Same-sex marriage is legalised in the United States after its Supreme Court strikes down all same-sex marriage bans.
Conservative U.S. states begin enacting ‘religious liberty’ laws, allowing LGBTI discrimination based on religious views.
- 2016- Conservative U.S. states begin enacting ‘bathroom bills’ to prevent transgenders from using public restrooms matching their gender identity.
- 2019- The World Health Organisation declassifies transgender health issues as a mental illness.
- 2020- Same-sex marriage is legalised in Northern Ireland.
- 2021- Hungary bans LGBT content in its media and schools.
- 2022- Conservative U.S. states enact laws banning LGBT books, public crossdressing, gender-affirming care and LGBT representation in schools.
A new anti-LGBTQ law is signed by President Vladimir Putin, banning ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ to all age groups. According to Russian lawmakers, positive and even neutral depictions of same-sex relations in the media, advertising, books, films, and other sources can be considered ‘propaganda’ in this context and should be forbidden.
- 2023- Uganda becomes the seventh country to punish homosexuality by death.
Estonia becomes the first former Soviet Union country to legalise same-sex marriage.
Nepal legalises same-sex marriage by Supreme Court ruling.
Russia bans health care, marriage and all legal recognition for transgenders.
The progress we have seen has very much been a case of ‘two steps forward, one step back’, as you will see in the timeline of events above. We reach a milestone to be celebrated in one country, only to see human rights revoked in another. The fact is that, until every country in the world can embrace same sex love for what it is- love- the same pure, beautiful thing that we have been encouraging since the beginning of time in heterosexual couples, we cannot say that we are truly ‘free.’
Although it can be disheartening to realise in just how many countries being gay is still a crime (66) and still punishable by death, even (12), we cannot lose sight of the fact that progress we could’ve only dreamed of has been made in many of the countries whereby being gay is not criminalised. Take same sex marriage, for example, and pride marches, two events that actively celebrate same sex love. As little as 50 years ago, both of these things were unimaginable to gay people- it was unimaginable that their love could be accepted, let alone celebrated. And so, yes, there is still much progress to be made, and yes, we cannot get complacent, but in our activism, as we continue to fight the fight, we can carry with us the hope that things can get better, as the history books demonstrate.
We’ve just got to keep pushing;
We’ve got this.
To end with a question for all the people who think that sexuality is a ‘choice’, I want you to ask yourself this (assuming you’re heterosexual); ‘Did I make the conscious decision to be straight, or did I just always know that I was straight?’
‘Could I imagine myself in a same sex relationship?’
(I thought so)…
Being gay is not a ‘choice’, but it is beautiful.