Homosexuality refers to sexual behavior with or attraction to people of the same sex, or to a homosexual orientation. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "having sexual and romantic attraction primarily or exclusively to members of oneâ€™s own sex"; "it also refers to an individualâ€™s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them." Homosexaulity, bisexuality, and heterosexuality together make up the three main classifications of sexual orientation and are the factors in the Heterosexual-homosexual continuum. The exact proportion of the population that is homosexual is difficult to estimate reliably, but most recent studies place it at 2â€“7%.
Sexual orientation is also distinguished from other aspects of sexuality, "including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male, female or other), and social gender role (adherence to cultural norms defining feminine and masculine behavior)."
Etymologically, the word homosexual is a Greek and Latin hybrid with homos (sometimes confused with the later Latin meaning of "man", as in Homo sapiens) deriving from the Greek word for same, thus connoting sexual acts and affections between members of the same sex, including lesbianism. The word gay generally refers to male homosexuality, but is sometimes used in a broader sense, especially in the media, to refer to homosexuality in general. In the context of sexuality, the word lesbian always denotes female homosexuality.
There is much evidence of both acceptance and repression of homosexual behavior throughout recorded history. During the last several decades, there has been a trend towards increased visibility, recognition, and legal rights for homosexuals, including marriage and civil unions, parenting rights, and equal access to health care.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Etymology and usage
- 3 Sexuality
- 4 History
- 5 Demographics
- 6 Law, politics, and society
- 7 Military service
- 8 Religion
- 9 Forms of relationships
- 10 Homosexual behavior in animals
- 11 See also
- 12 External links
- 13 Discuss
Homosexuality has been a feature of human culture since earliest history (see History section below). Generally and most famously in ancient Greece, certain forms of erotic attraction and sexual pleasure between males were often an ingrained, accepted part of the cultural norm. Particular sexual activities (such as anal sex in some cultures, or oral sex in others), however, were disapproved of, even as other aspects were accepted and admired. In cultures under the sway of Abrahamic religions, the law and the church established sodomy as a transgression against divine law, a "crime against nature" practiced by choice, and subject to severe penalties, up to capital punishment â€” often inflicted by means of fire so as to purify the unholy action. The condemnation of penetrative sex between males, however, predates Christian belief, as it was frequent in ancient Greece, whence the theme of action "against nature," traceable to Plato, originated.
In the last two decades of the 19th Century, a different view began to predominate in medical and psychiatric circles, judging such behavior as indicative of a type of person with a defined and relatively stable sexual orientation. Karl-Maria Kertbeny coined the term homosexual in 1869 in a pamphlet arguing against a Prussian anti-sodomy law. Richard von Krafft-Ebing's 1886 book Psychopathia Sexualis elaborated on the concept.
In 1897, British physician Havelock Ellis published similar views in his influential book Sexual Inversion. Although medical texts like these (written partly in Latin to obscure the sexual details) were not widely read by the general public, they did lead to the rise of Magnus Hirschfeld's Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which campaigned from 1897 to 1933 against anti-sodomy laws in Germany, as well as a much more informal, unpublicized movement among British intellectuals and writers, led by such figures as Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds.
In the course of the 20th Century, homosexuality became a subject of considerable study and debate in Western societies, especially after the modern gay rights movement began in 1969. Once viewed by authorities as a pathology or mental illness to be cured, homosexuality is now more often investigated as part of a larger impetus to understand the biology, psychology, politics, genetics, history and cultural variations of sexual practice and identity. The legal and social status of people who engage in homosexual acts or identify as gay or lesbian varies enormously across the world, and in some places remains hotly contested in political and religious debate.
Etymology and usage
The adjective homosexual describes behavior, relationships, people, orientation etc. The adjectival form literally means "same sex", being a hybrid formed from the Greek prefix homo- ("same"), and the Latin root sex. Many modern style guides in the U.S. recommend against using homosexual as a noun, instead using gay man or lesbian. Similarly, some recommend completely avoiding usage of homosexual as having a negative and discredited clinical history and because the word only refers to one's sexual behavior, and not to romantic feelings. Gay and lesbian are the most common alternatives. The first letters are frequently combined to create the initialism LGBT (sometimes written as GLBT), in which B and T refer to bisexuals and transgender people. These style guides are not always followed by mainstream media sources.
The first known appearance of homosexual in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, published anonymously. The prevalence of the concept owes much to the work of the German psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing and his 1886 work Psychopathia Sexualis. As such, the current use of the term has its roots in the broader 19th century tradition of personality taxonomy. These continue to influence the development of the modern concept of sexual orientation, gaining associations with romantic love and identity in addition to its original, exclusively sexual meaning.
Although early writers also used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-sex context (such as an all-girls' school), today the term is used exclusively in reference to sexual attraction and activity. The term homosocial is now used to describe single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual. There is also a word referring to same-sex love, homophilia. Other terms include men who have sex with men or MSM (used in the medical community when specifically discussing sexual activity), homoerotic (referring to works of art), heteroflexible (referring to a person who identifies as heterosexual, but occasionally engages in same-sex sexual activities), and metrosexual (referring to a non-gay man with stereotypically gay tastes in food, fashion, and design). Pejorative terms in English include queer, faggot, fairy, poof, and homo. Beginning in the 1990s, some of these have been "reclaimed" as positive words by gay men and lesbians, as in the usage of queer studies, queer theory, and even the popular American television program Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. As with ethnic slurs and racial slurs, however, the misuse of these terms can still be highly offensive; the range of acceptable use depends on the context and speaker. Conversely, gay, a word originally embraced by homosexual men and women as a positive, affirmative term (as in gay liberation and gay rights), has come into widespread pejorative use among young people.
Homosexuality as a sexual orientation refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions primarily to" people of the same sex; "it also refers to an individualâ€™s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them." The exact proportion of the population that is homosexual is difficult to estimate reliably, but studies place it at 2â€“7%. It is distinguished from a bisexual or heterosexual orientation.
Researchers have looked into a variety of possible causes for a homosexual orientation, including biological influences, prenatal hormones, prenatal stress, fraternal birth order, and environmental influences. The American Psychiatric Association has stated "some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a personâ€™s lifetime." However, the American Psychological Association has stated "most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation."
Homosexuality as a sexual identity refers to sexual identity as a gay or lesbian person. In a narrow sense, gay refers to male homosexuality, but it often is used in its broadest sense, especially in media headlines and reports, to refer to homosexuality in general. Lesbian, however, always denotes female homosexuality.
Homosexuality as a sexual behavior refers to sexual relationships between two people of the same-sex. Studies have found same-sex and opposite-sex couples to be equivalent to each other on measures of relationship satisfaction and commitment. Many lesbians and gay men form durable relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 18% and 28% of gay couples and between 8% and 21% of lesbian couples in the U.S. have lived together 10 or more years.
Societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships vary over time and place, from expecting all males to engage in same-sex relationships, to casual integration, through acceptance, to seeing the practice as a minor sin, repressing it through law enforcement and judicial mechanisms, and to proscribing it under penalty of death.
Most nations do not impede consensual sex between unrelated persons above the local age of consent. Some jurisdictions further recognize identical rights, protections, and privileges for the family structures of same-sex couples, including marriage. Some nations mandate that all individuals restrict themselves to heterosexual relationships; that is, in some jurisdictions homosexual activity is illegal. Offenders face up to the death penalty in some fundamentalist Muslim areas such as Iran and parts of Nigeria. There are, however, often significant differences between official policy and real-world enforcement. See Violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered.
The lives of many historical figures, including Socrates, Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Edward II, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo DaVinci, and Christopher Marlowe included or were centered upon love and sexual relationships with people of their own sex. Terms such as gay or bisexual have been often applied to them; some, such as Michel Foucault, regard this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a contemporary construction of sexuality foreign to their times, though others challenge this.
A common thread of constructionist argument is that no one in antiquity or the Middle Ages experienced homosexuality as an exclusive, permanent, or defining mode of sexuality. John Boswell has countered this argument by citing ancient Greek writings by Plato, which describe individuals exhibiting exclusive homosexuality.
Though often ignored or suppressed by European explorers and colonialists, homosexual expression in native Africa was also present and took a variety of forms. Anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe reported that women in Lesotho engaged in socially sanctioned "long term, erotic relationships," named motsoalle. E. E. Evans-Pritchard also recorded that male Azande warriors (in the northern Congo) routinely took on boy-wives between the ages of twelve and twenty, who helped with household tasks and participated in intercrural sex with their older husbands. The practice had died out by the early 20th century, after Europeans had gained control of African countries, but was recounted to Evans-Pritchard by the elders he spoke to.
Among indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to European colonization, the most common form of same-sex sexuality seems to center around the figure of the Two-spirit individual. Such people seem to have been recognized by the majority of tribes, each of which had its particular term for the role. Typically the two-spirit individual was recognized early in life, was given a choice by the parents to follow the path, and if the child accepted the role then the child was raised in the appropriate manner, learning the customs of the gender it had chosen. Two-spirit individuals were commonly shamans and were revered as having powers beyond those of ordinary shamans. Their sexual life would be with the ordinary tribe members of the same sex. Male two-spirit people were prized as wives because of their greater strength and ability to work.
s upon Indian practitioners of male love in 1513; New York Public Library]]Homosexual and transgender individuals were also common among other pre-conquest civilizations in Latin America, such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Quechas, Moches, Zapotecs, and the TupinambÃ¡ of Brazil. The Spanish conquerors were horrified to discover "sodomy" openly practiced among native peoples, and attempted to crush it out by subjecting the berdaches (as the Spanish called them) under their rule to severe penalties, including public execution and burning. In a famous example of cruelty against homosexuals, in 1513 the conquistador Vasco NÃºÃ±ez de Balboa
discovered that the village of Quarequa [in modern-day Panama] was stained by the foulest vice. The kingâ€™s brother and a number of other courtiers were dressed as women, and according to the accounts of the neighbours shared the same passion. Vasco ordered forty of them to be torn to pieces by dogs. The Spaniards commonly used their dogs in fighting against these naked people, and the dogs threw themselves upon them as though they were wild boars on timid deer.
In East Asia, same-sex love has been referred to since the earliest recorded history. Early European travelers were taken aback by its widespread acceptance and open display. None of the East Asian countries today have specific legal prohibitions against homosexuality or homosexual behavior.
Homosexuality in China, known as the pleasures of the bitten peach, the cut sleeve, or the southern custom, has been recorded since approximately 600 BCE. These euphemistic terms were used to describe behaviors, but not identities (recently some fashionable young Chinese tend to euphemistically use the term "brokeback," æ–·èƒŒ duanbei to refer to male homosexuals, from the success of director Ang Lee's film Brokeback Mountain). The relationships were marked by differences in age and social position. However, the instances of same-sex affection and sexual interactions described in the classical novel Dream of the Red Chamber seem as familiar to observers in the present as do equivalent stories of romances between heterosexuals during the same period.
This same-sex love culture gave rise to strong traditions of painting and literature documenting and celebrating such relationships.
Similarly, in Thailand, Kathoey, or "ladyboys," have been a feature of Thai society for many centuries, and Thai kings had male as well as female lovers. While Kathoey may encompass simple effeminacy or transvestism, it most commonly is treated in Thai culture as a third gender. They are generally accepted by society, and Thailand has never had legal prohibitions against homosexuality or homosexual behavior.
The earliest Western documents (in the form of literary works, art objects, as well as mythographic materials) concerning same-sex relationships are derived from ancient Greece. They depict a world in which relationships with women and relationships with youths were the essential foundation of a normal man's love life. Same-sex relationships were a social institution variously constructed over time and from one city to another. The formal practice, an erotic yet often restrained relationship between a free adult male and a free adolescent, was valued for its pedagogic benefits and as a means of population control, though occasionally blamed for causing disorder. Plato praised its benefits in his early writings, but in his late works proposed its prohibition.
In Ancient Rome the situation was reversed. Though the young male body remained a focus of male sexual attention, free boys were off limits as sexual partners. All the emperors with the exception of Claudius took male lovers. The Hellenophile emperor Hadrian is renowned for his relationship with Antinous, but the Christian emperor Theodosius I decreed a law on August 6, 390, condemning passive males to be burned at the stake. Justinian, towards the end of his reign, expanded the proscription to the active partner as well (in 558), warning that such conduct can lead to the destruction of cities through the "wrath of God". Notwithstanding these regulations, taxes on brothels of boys available for homosexual sex continued to be collected until the end of the reign of Anastasius I in 518.
During the Renaissance, rich cities in northern Italy, Florence and Venice in particular, were renowned for their widespread practice of same-sex love, engaged in by a considerable part of the male population and constructed along the classical pattern of Greece and Rome. But even as many of the male population were engaging in same-sex relationships, the authorities, under the aegis of the Officers of the Night court, were prosecuting, fining, and imprisoning a good portion of that population. The eclipse of this period of relative artistic and erotic freedom was precipitated by the rise to power of the moralizing monk Girolamo Savonarola. In northern Europe the artistic discourse on sodomy was turned against its proponents by artists such as Rembrandt, who in his Rape of Ganymede no longer depicted Ganymede as a willing youth, but as a squalling baby attacked by a rapacious bird of prey.
The relationships of socially prominent figures, such as King James I and the Duke of Buckingham, served to highlight the issue, including in anonymously authored street pamphlets: "The world is chang'd I know not how, For men Kiss Men, not Women now;...Of J. the First and Buckingham: He, true it is, his Wives Embraces fled, To slabber his lov'd Ganimede;" (Mundus Foppensis, or The Fop Display'd, 1691.)
Love Letters Between a Certain Late Nobleman and the Famous Mr. Wilson was published in 1723 in England and was presumed to be a novel by some modern scholars. The 1749 edition of John Cleland's popular novel Fanny Hill includes a homosexual scene, but this was removed in its 1750 edition. Also in 1749, the earliest extended and serious defense of homosexuality in English, Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified, written by Thomas Cannon, was published, but was suppressed almost immediately. It includes the passage, "Unnatural Desire is a Contradiction in Terms; downright Nonsense. Desire is an amatory Impulse of the inmost human Parts." Around 1785 Jeremy Bentham wrote another defense, but this was not published until 1978. Executions for sodomy continued in the Netherlands until 1803, and in England until 1835.
Between 1864 and 1880 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs published a series of twelve tracts, which he collectively titled Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love. In 1867 he became the first self-proclaimed homosexual person to speak out publicly in defense of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws.
Sir Richard Francis Burton's Terminal Essay, Part IV/D appendix in his translation of The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (1885â€“86) provided an effusive overview of homosexuality in the Middle East and tropics. Sexual Inversion by Havelock Ellis, published in 1896, challenged theories that homosexuality was abnormal, as well as stereotypes, and insisted on the ubiquity of homosexuality and its association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Appendix A included A Problem in Greek Ethics by John Addington Symonds, which had been privately distributed in 1883. Beginning in 1894 with Homogenic Love, Socialist activist and poet Edward Carpenter wrote a string of pro-homosexual articles and pamphlets, and "came out" in 1916 in his book My Days and Dreams.
In 1900, Elisar von Kupffer published an anthology of homosexual literature from antiquity to his own time, Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltliteratur. His aim was to broaden the public perspective of homosexuality beyond it being viewed simply as a medical or biological issue, but also as an ethical and cultural one.
Middle East, South and Central Asia
Among many Middle Eastern Muslim cultures egalitarian or age-structured homosexual practices were, and remain, widespread and thinly veiled. The prevailing pattern of same-sex relationships in the temperate and sub-tropical zone stretching from Northern India to the Western Sahara is one in which the relationships were—and are—either gender-structured or age-structured or both. In recent years, egalitarian relationships modeled on the western pattern have become more frequent, though they remain rare. Same-sex intercourse officially carries the death penalty in several Muslim nations: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, northern Nigeria, Sudan, and Yemen. 
A tradition of art and literature sprang up constructing Middle Eastern homosexuality. Muslim—often Sufi—poets in medieval Arab lands and in Persia wrote odes to the beautiful wine boys who served them in the taverns. In many areas the practice survived into modern times, as documented by Richard Francis Burton, AndrÃ© Gide, and others.
In Persia homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were tolerated in numerous public places, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, bathhouses, and coffee houses. In the early Safavid era (1501â€“1723), male houses of prostitution (amrad khane) were legally recognized and paid taxes. Persian poets, such as Saâ€™di (d. 1291), Hafez (d. 1389), and Jami (d. 1492), wrote poems replete with homoerotic allusions. The two most commonly documented forms were commercial sex with transgender young males or males enacting transgender roles exemplified by the kÃ¶Ã§eks and the bacchÃ¡s, and Sufi spiritual practices in which the practitioner admired the form of a beautiful boy in order to enter ecstatic states and glimpse the beauty of god. Some crossed over from the idealized chaste form of the practice to one in which the desire is consummated.
In the Turkic-speaking areas, one manifestation of this same-sex love was the bacchÃ¡, adolescent or adolescent-seeming male entertainers and sex workers. In other areas male love continues to surface despite efforts to keep it quiet.
Today, governments in the Middle East often ignore, deny the existence of, or criminalize homosexuality. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his famous 2007 speech at Columbia University, asserted that there were no gay people in Iran. Gay people do live in Iran, but most keep their sexuality a secret for fear of government sanction or rejection by their families.
In many societies of Melanesia, especially in Papua New Guinea, same-sex relationships were, until the middle of the last century, an integral part of the culture. The Etoro and Marind-anim for example, even viewed heterosexuality as sinful and celebrated homosexuality instead. In many traditional Melanesian cultures a pre-pubertal boy would be paired with an older adolescent who would become his mentor and who would "inseminate" him (orally, anally, or topically, depending on the tribe) over a number of years in order for the younger to also reach puberty. Many Melanesian societies, however, have become hostile towards same-sex relationships since the introduction of Christianity by European missionaries.
Main article: Demographics of sexual orientation
Measuring the prevalence of homosexuality presents a number of difficulties:
- Survey data regarding stigmatized or deeply personal feelings or activities are often inaccurate. Participants often avoid answers which they feel society, the survey-takers, or they themselves dislike.
- The research must measure some characteristic that may or may not be defining of sexual orientation. The class of people with same-sex desires may be larger than the class of people who act on those desires, which in turn may be larger than the class of people who self-identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual.
- In studies measuring sexual activity, respondents may have different ideas about what constitutes a "sexual act."
Reliable data as to the size of the gay and lesbian population is of value in informing public policy. For example, demographics would help in calculating the costs and benefits of domestic partnership benefits, of the impact of legalizing gay adoption, and of the impact of the U.S. military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Further, knowledge of the size of the "gay and lesbian population holds promise for helping social scientists understand a wide array of important questionsâ€”questions about the general nature of labor market choices, accumulation of human capital, specialization within households, discrimination, and decisions about geographic location."
Estimates also vary from one country to another. A 1992 study reported that 6.1% of males in Britain had a homosexual experience, while in France that number was 4.1%.
Law, politics, and society
In many cultures, homosexual people are frequently subject to prejudice and discrimination. Like many other minority groups that are the objects of prejudice, they are also subject to stereotyping. Gay men are seen as effeminate and fashionable, often identified with a lisp or a female-like tone and lilt. They are stereotyped as being promiscuous and unsuccessful in developing enduring romantic relationships, despite research to the contrary. Gay men are also often alleged as having pedophilic tendencies and more likely to commit child sexual abuse than the heterosexual male population, a view rejected by mainstream psychiatric groups and contradicted by research. Claims that there is scientific evidence to support an association between being gay and being a pedophile are based on misuses of those terms and misrepresentation of the actual evidence. Lesbians are seen as butch, and sometimes "man-haters" or radical feminists.
Homosexuality has at times been used as a scapegoat by governments facing problems. For example, during the early 14th century, accusations of homosexual behavior were instrumental in disbanding the Knights Templar under Philip IV of France, who profited greatly from confiscating the Templars' wealth. In the 20th century, Nazi Germany's persecution of homosexual people was based on the proposition that they posed a threat to "normal" masculinity as well as a risk of contamination to the "Aryan race".
In the 1950s, at the height of the Red Scare in the United States, hundreds of federal and state employees were fired because of their homosexuality in the so-called Lavender Scare. (Ironically, politicians opposed to the scare tactics of McCarthyism tried to discredit Senator Joseph McCarthy by hinting during a televised Congressional committee meeting that McCarthy's top aide, Roy Cohn, was homosexual, as he in fact was.)
A recent instance of scapegoating is the burning of 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry of 8th c. Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture in January 2001, to placate Islamic fundamentalists.
Violence against gay and lesbian people
Main article: Violence against LGBT people
In the United States, the FBI reported that 15.6% of hate crimes reported to police in 2004 were based on perceived sexual orientation. Sixty-one percent of these attacks were against gay men. The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student, is one of the most notorious incidents in the U.S.
Homosexual acts are punishable by death in some present-day countries including Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Although homosexual acts were decriminalized in some parts of the Western world, such as in Denmark in 1933, in Sweden in 1944, in the United Kingdom in 1967, and in Canada in 1969, it was not until the mid-1970s that the gay community first began to achieve actual, though limited, civil rights in some developed countries. A turning point was reached in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus negating its previous definition of homosexuality as a clinical mental disorder. In 1977, Quebec became the first state-level jurisdiction in the world to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Since the 1960s, in part due to their history of shared oppression, many LGBT people in the West, particularly those in major metropolitan areas, have developed a so-called gay culture. To many, gay culture is exemplified by the gay pride movement, with annual parades and displays of rainbow flags. Yet not all LGBT people choose to participate in "queer culture", and many gay men and women specifically decline to do so. To some it seems to be a frivolous display, perpetuating gay stereotypes. To some others, the gay culture represents heterophobia and is scorned as widening the gulf between gay and non-gay people.
With the outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s, many LGBT groups and individuals organized campaigns to promote efforts in AIDS education, prevention, research, patient support, and community outreach, as well as to demand government support for these programs. Gay Men's Health Crisis, Project Inform, and ACT UP are some notable American examples of the LGBT community's response to the AIDS crisis.
The bewildering death toll wrought by the AIDS epidemic at first seemed to slow the progress of the gay rights movement, but in time it galvanized some parts of the LGBT community into community service and political action, and challenged the heterosexual community to respond compassionately. Major American motion pictures from this period that dramatized the response of individuals and communities to the AIDS crisis include An Early Frost (1985), Longtime Companion (1990), And the Band Played On (1993), Philadelphia (1993), and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), the last referring to the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, last displayed in its entirety on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1996.
During the 1980s and 1990s, most developed countries enacted laws decriminalizing homosexual behavior and prohibiting discrimination against lesbians and gays in employment, housing, and services. Yet as LGBT people slowly gained legal protection and social acceptance, gay bashing and hate crimes also increased due to heterosexism and homophobia (See Violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered).
Publicly gay politicians have attained numerous government posts, even in countries that had sodomy laws or outright mass murder of gays in their recent past.
Gay British politicians include former UK Cabinet ministers Chris Smith (now Lord Smith of Finsbury who is also a rare example of an openly HIV positive statesman) and Nick Brown, and, most famously, Peter Mandelson, a European Commissioner and close friend of Tony Blair. Openly gay Per-Kristian Foss was the Norwegian Minister of Finance until September 2005.
LGBT movements are opposed by a variety of individuals and organizations. Supporters of the traditional marriage movement believe that all sexual relationships with people other than an opposite-sex spouse undermines the traditional family and that children should be reared in homes with both a father and a mother.
There is also concern that gay rights may conflict with individual's freedom of speech, religious freedoms in the workplace, the ability to run churches, charitable organizations and other religious organizations in accordance with one's religious views. There is also concern that the acceptance of homosexual relationships by religious organizations might be forced through threatening to remove the tax-exempt status of churches whose views don't align with those of the government.
Main article: Coming out
Many people who feel attracted to members of their own sex have a so-called "coming out" at some point in their lives. Generally, coming out is described in three phases. The first phase is the phase of "knowing oneself," and the realization or decision emerges that one is open to same-sex relations. This is often described as an internal coming out. The second phase involves one's decision to come out to others, e.g. family, friends, and/or colleagues. This occurs with many people as early as age 11, but others do not clarify their sexual orientation until age 40 or older. The third phase more generally involves living openly as an LGBT person. In the United States today, people often come out during high school or college age. At this age, they may not trust or ask for help from others, especially when their orientation is not accepted in society. Sometimes their own parents are not even informed.
Outing is the practice of publicly revealing the sexual orientation of a closeted person. Notable politicians, celebrities, military service people, and clergy members have been outed, with motives ranging from malice to political or moral beliefs. Many commentators oppose the practice altogether, while some encourage outing public figures who use their positions of influence to harm other gay people.
Many LGB people are parents through various means including adoption, donor insemination, foster parenting, surrogacy, from former relationships and together with an opposite sex spouse in a mixed-orientation marriage. Some children do not know they have a LGB parent.
In the 2000 U.S. Census, 33 percent of female same-sex couple households and 22 percent of male same-sex couple households reported at least one child under the age of 18 living in the home. In January 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that same-sex couples have the right to adopt a child. In the U.S., LGB people can legally adopt in all states except for Florida.
Same-sex parents are supported by the positions of a number of organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the American Bar Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The American Psychological Association has stated that:
there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation: lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their childrenâ€¦research has shown that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourishâ€¦.
Children's Development of Social Competence Across Family Types, a major report prepared by the Department of Justice (Canada) in July 2006 but not released by the government until forced to do so by a request under the Access to Information Act in May 2007, reaches this conclusion:
The strongest conclusion that can be drawn from the empirical literature is that the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers and children living with a mother and father have the same levels of social competence. A few studies suggest that children with two lesbian mothers may have marginally better social competence than children in traditional nuclear families, even fewer studies show the opposite, and most studies fail to find any differences. The very limited body of research on children with two gay fathers supports this same conclusion.
In some capitalist countries, large private sector firms often lead the way in the equal treatment of gay men and lesbians. For instance, more than half of the Fortune 500 offer domestic partnership benefits and 49 of the Fortune 50 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies (only ExxonMobil does not).
Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination stemming from negative societal attitudes toward homosexuality leads to a higher prevalence of mental health disorders among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals compared to their heterosexual peers. However, evidence indicates that the liberalization of these attitudes over the past few decades is associated with a decrease in such mental health risks among younger LGBT people.
Gay and lesbian youth
Gay and lesbian youth bear an increased risk of suicide, substance abuse, school problems, and isolation because of a "hostile and condemning environment, verbal and physical abuse, rejection and isolation from family and peers".
LGB youths are more likely to report psychological and physical abuse by parents or caretakers, and more sexual abuse. Suggested reasons for this disparity are that (1) LGBT youths may be specifically targeted on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender non-conforming appearance, and (2) "risk factors associated with sexual minority status, including discrimination, invisibility, and rejection by family members... may lead to an increase in behaviors that are associated with risk for victimization, such as substance abuse, sex with multiple partners, or running away from home as a teenager."
Crisis centers in larger cities and information sites on the Internet have arisen to help youth and adults. The Trevor Helpline, a suicide prevention helpline for gay youth, was established following the 1998 airing on HBO of the Academy Award winning short film Trevor.
Some ancient and pre-modern societies, such as Greece and Japan, fostered erotic love bonds between experienced warriors and their apprentices. It was believed that a man and youth who were in love with each other would fight harder and with greater morale. A classic example of a military force built upon this belief is the Sacred Band of Thebes.
The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and subsequent predominance of Christianity led to a diminished emphasis on erotic love among military forces. By the time of the Crusades, the military of Europe had largely switched gears, asserting that carnal relations between males were sinful and therefore had no place in an army that served their perception of God's will. The Knights Templar, a prominent military order, was destroyed by accusations (probably fabricated) of sodomy.
The United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel admit openly gay service members, and othersâ€”like the United States, and many nations in South America and the Caribbeanâ€”either quiet or discharge anyone found to be engaging in homosexual relations or openly identifying as gay; the United States is known for its 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The traditional justification for excluding openly gay service members is that it may lead to "harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness". The British military, which removed their restriction against gay service members in 2000, has not experienced any of these feared results.
Religions have had differing views about love and sexual relations between people of the same sex. Presently, a large proportion of the Abrahamic sects view sexual relationships outside of a heterosexual marriage, including homosexual sex, negatively, though there are groups within each faith that disagree with orthodox positions and challenge their doctrinal authority. Opposition to homosexual behavior ranges from quietly discouraging displays and activities to those who explicitly forbid same-sex sexual practices among adherents and actively oppose social acceptance of homosexual relationships. Support of homosexual behavior is reflected in the acceptance of sexually heterodox individuals in all functions of the church, and sanctification of same-sex unions.
Some gay men, lesbians and bisexuals seek to diminish same-sex attractions, avoid same-sex relationships, or change sexual orientation. Some attempted methods include conversion therapy, religious practice, or attendance in ex-gay groups (such as Exodus International). Many Western health and mental health professional organizations believe sexual orientation develops across a personâ€™s lifetime and they respect a personâ€™s right to self-determination. However, neither the effectiveness nor the harm of conversion therapies have been rigorously and scientifically proven, and many Western health and mental health professional organizations recommend that therapists refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation, given concerns of potential harm caused by such attempts. The promotion of ex-gay groups and conversion therapy in schools has led to controversy, but has been allowed by American courts. Recently, an effort of the Roman Catholic church to change the behavior of gay people to become celibate, has come under protest by groups opposed to the practice.
Several churches teach love and compassion towards gay people, regardless of their sexual practices, while still teaching against homosexual relationships. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." The LDS Church denounced gay-bashing and has officially stated that its members "reach out with understanding and respect".
Other churches have changed their doctrine to accommodate homosexual relationships. Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism outside Israel, has begun to facilitate religious same-sex marriages for gay adherents in their synagogues. Jewish Theological Seminary, considered to be the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, decided in March 2007 to begin accepting applicants in homosexual relationships, after scholars who guide the movement lifted the ban on ordaining people in homosexual relationships. In 2005, the United Church of Christ became the largest Christian denomination in the United States to formally endorse same-sex marriage.
On the other hand, the Anglican Communion encountered discord that caused a rift between the African (except Southern Africa) and Asian Anglican churches on the one hand and North American churches on the other, when American and Canadian churches openly ordained gay clergy and began blessing same-sex unions. Other churches such as the Methodist Church had experienced trials of gay clergy who some claimed were a violation of religious principles resulting in mixed verdicts dependent on geography.
Some religious groups have even promoted boycotts of corporations whose policies support the LGBT community. In early 2005, the American Family Association threatened a boycott of Ford products to protest Ford's perceived support of "the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage".
Forms of relationships
People with a homosexual orientation can express their sexuality in a variety of ways, and may or may not express it in their behaviors. Research indicates that many lesbians and gay men want and have committed relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 40% and 60% of gay men and between 45% and 80% of lesbians are currently involved in a romantic relationship. They can have sexual relationships predominately with people of their own gender, the opposite gender, both genders or they can be celibate.
Studies have found same-sex and opposite-sex couples to be equivalent to each other on measures of relationship satisfaction and commitment. Many lesbians and gay men form durable relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 18% and 28% of gay couples and between 8% and 21% of lesbian couples in the U.S. have lived together 10 or more years. The types of relationships vary by region and what is permitted by law.
Scholars who study the social construction of homosexuality investigate the various forms that same-sex relationships have taken in different societies, and look for patterns as well as differences. Their work suggests that the concept of homosexuality would best be rendered as "homosexualities". Anthropologists group these socio-historical variations into three separate categories:
|Egalitarian||Features two partners with no relevance to age. Additionally, both play the same socially accepted sex role as heterosexuals of their own sex. This is exemplified by relationships currently prevalent in Western society between partners of similar age and sex.||Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures|
|Gender-structured||Features each partner playing a different gender role. This is exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, as well as Two-spirit or shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. In North America, this is best represented by the butchâ€“femme practice.||Homosexuality and Islam, Two-spirit, and Hijra|
|Age-structured||Features partners of different ages, usually one adolescent and the other adult. This is exemplified by pederasty among the Classical Greeks or those engaged in by novice samurai with more experienced warriors; southern Chinese boy marriage rites; and ongoing Central Asian and Middle Eastern practices.||Shudo, Pederasty, Historical pederastic couples, and Homosexuality in China|
Usually in any society one form of homosexuality predominates, though others are likely to co-exist. As historian Rictor Norton points out in his Intergenerational and Egalitarian Models, in ancient Greece egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and fascination with adolescents can also be found in modern sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual. Egalitarian homosexuality is the principal form present in the Western world, while age- and gender-structured homosexuality are less common. As a byproduct of growing Western cultural dominance, this egalitarian homosexuality is spreading from Western culture to non-Western societies, although there are still defined differences between the various cultures.
Opposite sex relationships
Many homosexual people have sexual relationships with someone of the opposite sex. Reasons can include discrimination, wishful thinking, real affection, sexual love, desire for family, as well as religious reasons. Many homosexual people and their opposite sex partner enter into a mixed-orientation marriage. While many hide their orientation from their spouse, others develop a positive homosexual identity while maintaining a successful marriage.
Homosexual behavior in animals
Homosexual sexual behavior occurs in the animal kingdom, especially in social species, particularly in marine birds and mammals, monkeys, and the great apes. Homosexual behavior has been observed among 1,500 species, and in 500 of those it is well documented.. This discovery constitutes a major argument against those calling into question the biological legitimacy or naturalness of homosexuality, or those regarding it as a meditated social decision. For example, male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In a well-publicized story from 2004, the Central Park Zoo in the United States replaced one male couple's stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring.
The genetic basis of animal homosexuality has been studied in the fly Drosophila melanogaster. Here, multiple genes have been identified that can cause homosexual courtship and mating. These genes are thought to control behavior through pheromones as well as altering the structure of the animal's brains. These studies have also investigated the influence of environment on the likelihood of flies displaying homosexual behavior.
Georgetown University professor Janet Mann has specifically theorized that homosexual behavior, at least in dolphins, is an evolutionary advantage that minimizes intraspecies aggression, especially among males. Studies indicating prenatal homosexuality in certain animal species have had social and political implications surrounding the gay rights debate.
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