Current State of Gay Culture, 2005
Homosexuality. One word. So much controversy.
Alternative sexuality has been present in the human society for thousands of years. Scientists have found out that 2-10% of any given population is likely to be homosexual or bisexual. All evidence points to the fact that homosexuality was accepted, and flourishing in most cultures of the world. India, for example, had a thriving homoerotic culture, as seen by the sensual engravings and sculptures of lesbians on temples, palaces etc. The Chinese, as well, allowed and accepted same-sex relationships and even marriages. Native American tribes also embraced homosexuality, and allowed warrior women to take wives. The list continues.
Why then, does homosexuality pose so many problems for us in the 21st century, when it was accepted by our ancestors, who could be said to be more conservative than us?
Religion, it would seem, is the answer. A large number of people who oppose homosexuality can be seen to be religious as well. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all seem to condemn homosexuality in their sacred texts. In Genesis, Chapter 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah expresses God's outrage at the homosexual nature of the attempted gang rape, and is widely by fundamentalists used as an argument against gays. Also, texts in Leviticus, Deuteronomy in Old Testament and Romans, Corinthians and Timothy in New Testament are used as evidence that God disapproved of homosexuality. Prophet Muhammad also makes a statement against homosexuality, though nothing is said in the Q'uran about this.
What about those around the world who are not Christian, Jewish or Muslim, one may ask. The answer is complex, but one main factor can be discerned: colonialism. Britain colonised many countries in Asia and America, and spread their Victorian values(influenced by Christianity) to these cultures, who were originally receptive to homosexuality. As a result, homosexuality was seen as wrong, immoral, and as a "Western" thing, not a part of their culture. One of the most respected figures in history, Mahatma Gandhi led a group of followers to destroy the temple art which depicted homosexuality in India, and to erase all evidence of the homoerotic culture. Other people disapprove of homosexuality simply on the basis that it is "unnatural". They also believe that it corrupts the traditionally held view that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman. There is also the stand that since homosexual unions are non-procreative, it is not in keeping with God's design for mankind.
Whatever the cause of homophobia, the results are still damaging. The Gay movement, started in the 1960s and 1970s, have had varying degress of success. At that time, homosexuality was just whispered about, and little was actually known about the phenomenon, which paved the way for fear and misunderstanding.
The historic beginning of the gay rights movement has been timed almost to the instant: about three o'clock in the morning on Saturday, June 28, 1969, at a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. That is when the bar was raided by the police. Instead of passively accepting the raid, as in the past, the bar's two hundered or patrons actively protested in a riot that lasted forty-five minutes. the rebellion continued on succeeding nights, sparked by protest rallies attended by gay patrons and sympathetic residents of the community.
From this historic beginning, it has been a rollercoaster ride that is still continuing for gay rights organisations. Stereotypes and stigma have been plaguing them - a media that portrayed gays as social outcasts and freaks. But perspectives have been changing, as more and more people come out of the closet, and gays are seen to be normal, healthy people, and more prominent people are also seen to be homosexual/bisexual. Through protests, rallies, conventions and others, gays are demanding their rights to love who they want, and be accepted by the society for who they are.
In most countries, homosexual acts are criminalised, if not homosexuality itself in some cases. Most countries still carry a variation of this clause in their constitution, a relic from the days of colonisation:
- "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the natural order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fines".
Sodomy was only decriminalised in the UK last year, and in some states of US. It has also been decriminalised in certain European countries, like France, Netherlands etc.
Homosexuals in all countries face discrimination, and possibly violence. Antigay violence in the US rose by 7% in 1998, even as crime rate overall dropped by 4%. Though it is in the US constitution to protect racial minorities from hate crimes, very few states have extended it to cover homosexuals as well. All over the country, homosexuals are taunted, assaulted, or even killed just because of their sexual orientation. These people do not dare to report these crimes, for fear of discrimination from the authorities, or even prosecution as their orientation is revealed. The case of Matthew Shephard, the gay young man in USA who was brutally beaten to death by a group of homophobes, is but a tip of the ice-berg of hatred against homosexuals. If it is not in the form of open violence, gay youth are often taunted, bullied and ostracised by their peers. This has led to many a gay youth having mental problems, or committing suicide. Families are also a factor: in a survey, 40% of homeless youth were gay, as they were thrown out by their families who did not accept them.
Very few countries have actually legalised homosexual marriage. France, New Zealand and the US state of Vermont allow civil unions between homosexuals. Netherlands, US state of Massachusetts and Canada have given gays legal permission to marry. The USA is study in contradictions, in the case of homosexual rights. Some states have banned same-sex unions through the Marriage Amendment outright, while others give homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals to marry, with all the legal and fiscal benefits. Massachusetts even has a program for gay youth in schools, something that would be dearly opposed in other states. The dichotomy is palpable. In one street, a gay pride march passes by. And in the Church across the same street, a priest preaches that all "deviants" shall be punished by the God. Meanwhile, the Congress is threatening to pass the Marriage Amendment which states that a marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
Another important aspect comes in when gay rights are discussed: gay parenting. 1990s have seen a sharp rise in the number of lesbians and gay men forming their own families through adoption, foster care, artificial insemination and other means. Reserachers estimate that the total number of children nationwide living with at least one gay parent ranges from six to 14 million in the USA. At least 21 states of USA have granted second-parent adoption to lesbian and gay couples. However, most courts holds the heterosexist view that a family environment of same-sex parents, is not condusive for a child's growth and upbringing. Many a homosexual couple have been deprived of their children by the court unfairly, and adoption laws in most cases forbid same-sex couples from adopting a child. Social science studies, have in fact, proven that there are no negative effect on children raised by gay parents. Neither are there any indications that children brought up by gay parents tend to turn out to be homosexual as well.
One might note that all the progress made in LGBT rights has been in Europe and America. True enough, Asia, Middle-East and Africa has not yet heard the wake-up call. Very few, if none at all, have made it as far as decriminalising homosexuality, much less legalise same-sex marriage. To date, the only Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Asia takes place in Tokyo. This can be related to the fact that these people are more conservative, and tend to view homosexuality as a "Western" thing, not something that has always been present in their society. History was made as the first lesbian Indian movie was released a few years ago - Fire. It immediately created a great controversy in the country. Religious fundamentalists claimed that homosexuality was not part of Indian culture, and was "eroding" traditional Indian values. Homosexuality in the Middle-East, made up of predominantly Muslim countries, is much suppressed due to religious reasons.
Overall, the LGBT movement has come a long way, from its initial uprising. 40 years ago, one could not even imagine discussing this topic openly, much less accept it as a part of life. The increased visibility of gays in all walks of life: movie stars, writers, politicians, even gay priests, have managed to slowly change the mindset of many. For the millions of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual people out there, the best thing society can do for them is to treat them equally and accept them for who they are.
- Homosexuality, Helen Cothran 2003 Greenhaven Press
- Homosexuality, Robert E.Dunbard
Written by: Iswarya Ghaurav