History

The History of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Marriage in the USA

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Wikimedia Commons

The first legal challenges to the ban on same-sex couples marrying in the US came in the early 1970s, without success: Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that a ban on SSM wasn’t unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case regarding SSM in 1972, “for want of a substantial federal question.” That denial blocked lower federal courts from addressing the matter of same-sex marriage for decades.

It wasn’t until 1993 that the notion of same-sex marriage was taken seriously by the courts, when a ruling from the Hawaii Supreme Court in Baehr v. Lewin suggested for the first time that refusing to allow same-sex couples to marry might be unconstitutional. The reaction to Hawaii’s ruling, rather than build momentum to allow SSM, instead resulted in a backlash in congress, who pushed through the Defence of Marriage Act, specifically prohibiting the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Same-Sex Marriage in the UK

Gay wedding a by Stefano Bolognini

“Gay wedding” by Stefano Bolognini. Wikimedia Commons

Civil partnerships have been legal in England and Wales since 2005. CPs granted many of the same rights as marriages, without permitting the use of the word itself. The 2004 Civil Partnership Act also prohibited religious iconography or terminology being used in CP ceremonies. They were strictly secular, robbing LGBT couples of reciting the same time-honoured vows as straight folk. Nonetheless, within the first decade, over 60,000 civil partnerships had been formed.

One couple, Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, who were legally married in British Columbia, Canada, refused to accept the government’s recognition of their marriage as a civil partnership. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Civil Partnerships

Gay Marriage Card Mr. & Mr.

Wikimedia Commons

One of the core aims of the queer emancipation movement, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality, was same-sex partner recognition. Marriage, the state previously reserved for long-term heterosexual domestic partners, has obvious religious connotations, but it also comes with a number of additional rights granted by the state, including but not limited to tax-free inheritance, next-of-kinship (which enables everything from hospital visitation to deciding if it’s time to pull the plug), joint tax filing, joint insurance, joint ownership of property, and so on.

When the AIDS crisis struck in the 1980s, the lack of legal protections for same-sex partners was starkly illustrated in the sheer volume of stories of families who had previously disowned their sons emerging from the woodwork after their deaths and claiming everything they’d built with their partners. It Could Happen to You, Shane Bitney Crone’s heartbreaking short film on the subject, was remarkable only because it was one of many such stories to gain international attention. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Pre-Modern Same-Sex Unions

Axel and Eigil Axgil are commonly considered the first couple who legally entered a same-sex partnership, in Denmark in 1989. The history of legal same-sex unions, however, dates back far beyond the modern era of civil partnerships and gay marriage.

One of Roman emperor Elagabalous’s least eccentric traits was styling himself the wife of one of his slaves and requiring his senators to refer to to said slave as the true emperor. (He once invited a number of distinguised guests to dinner and killed them by dropping enough rose petals on their heads to smother them where they sat.) When he was bored of his first “husband,” Elagabalous married an athlete named Zoticus in an extravagant public ceremony.

Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Legal Challenges

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Royal Navy marching at London Pride 2009. Wikimedia Commons

The queer emancipation movement has had more dealings with the courts than the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of same-sex marriage. First after decriminalisation was an equal age of consent. It took a 1997 ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights to confirm that the UK’s unequal age of consent was a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, a wrong which wasn’t corrected until 2000. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Beyond the Pale

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The early queer rights movement was flawed for many reasons. Not only did it marginalise the most visible members of the community — who had historically born the biggest brunt of discrimination and persecution — they also opted for a soft approach to addressing civil injustices which rankles with hindsight. Most of the early arguments in favour of decriminalising homosexuality posited that queerfolk led sad, miserable lives, and deserved society’s pity, not its contempt. The advocated tolerance, not acceptance. Queerfolk should be allowed to move freely in society, but nobody envisioned them ever being fully part of it. The idea of queerfolk being fully integrated into society was beyond the pale, and too much for the early activists to hope for. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Radicalisation vs Assimilation

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From my Facebook timeline yesterday

For hundreds of years when being queer was criminal in western society, the public face of queerfolk was the most visible members of the community, those who were unable to hide by passing as heterosexual and consequently, those most often brought before the law. Trans* individuals, cross-dressers, and those who eschewed the gender binary were obvious, easy targets. When the political climate became unbearably repressive, and the civil rights movement to emancipate other minorities took off, one of the first acts of the community was to change the image of queerness in the public consciousness. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: The Pride Flag

Screenshot 2015-10-24 07.54.08The original Pride flag was flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on 25th June, 1978. It had been designed by Gilbert Baker, an artist and designer who made silk banners for gay rights and anti-war protest marches. The flag was inspired in part by Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” (Garland had died a few days before the Stonewall uprising), and originally contained eight colours, each with a different meaning, the idea for which came from the Flag of Races used during the 1960s civil rights marches, which consisted of five horizontal stripes in red, black, brown, yellow, and white.

Thirty volunteers hand stitched and dyed the first two flags for the Freedom Day parade. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: The Rainbow Spectrum

Through the 1960s as homophile organisations started to form in defence of queerfolk, the community which was only just forming began to fracture. Societies like the Mattachine wanted to present an assimilationist approach to queer emancipation, representing the white, middle class, straight-passing men who politicians and lawmakers would relate to and find most sympathetic. It wasn’t these men, however, that were being targeted by the police and rounded up by the dozen, but the butch women, effeminate queens, cross-dressers, and trans*folk who were the most visible and obvious targets for prosecution, and the easiest to turn into folk devils and scapegoats. It’s no surprise it was those members who first fought back and put queer emancipation on the political agenda. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Gay Pride

The hundred-year period leading up to 1970 was a hugely significant one for queerfolk. From a series of small, disparate socio-sexual communities with no real sense of wider identity or framework for understanding their orientation, to an established subculture with a naming convention, identity, and political presence. In response to a repressive legal atmosphere in the UK and USA, “homophile organisations” such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis were formed with the aim of politically liberating queerfolk. While other rallys and marches had been organised in the past, it was the uprising following the botched raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York which really provided the catalyst for the modern Pride movement. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: The Mattachine Society

The Mattachine Society was founded in LA in 1950 by Harry Hay and a number of his friends. Hay conceived of  an “international…fraternal order” to serve as “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority”. He had tried to form a similar political activist group in 1948 in support of a Progressive presidential candidate, but it never got off the ground. Over the following two years, Hay worked hard on the model of a queer emancipation group which could be politically engaged on a public stage.

Originally meeting under the banner Society of Fools, the name Mattachine Society — which references anti-monarchy Medieval French societies of masked men who used anonymity in order to be critical of the establishment — was adopted a year later.

Originally the Mattachine’s organisation was modelled after the American Communist Party: different levels of membership required increased commitment and involvement, and information was closely guarded from lower level members. The founders were anonymous, and the society existed as a collection of independent cells. Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Stonewall

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Stonewall Inn, 1969. Wikimedia Commons

Queer bars have existed for centuries, and have been raided by the police for just as long. The Stonewall Inn was no different.

After the Second World War and well into the Cold War, American law enforcement, led by the FBI, deliberately targeted homosexuals for prosecution. In a three-year period from 1947-50, 17000 federal job applications were denied, 4380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 dismissed from government jobs because of suspicions about their sexuality. It was the period known as the Lavender Scare, and plenty of other institutions soon took part. The US Postal Service recorded addresses where “homosexual material” was delivered; local state ordinances were passed to close down gay bars and outlaw cross-dressing, and city police forces did regular “sweeps” to rid the streets of anyone perceived to be homosexual; colleges expelled professors whose teaching was too liberal; and anybody caught in a compromising situation was publicly humiliated in the press and usually jailed or sent to a mental institution.

Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Being Gay

“Gay pride 390 – Marche des fiertés Toulouse 2011” by Guillaume Paumier. Wikimedia Commons

With the shift in understanding of human sexuality from acts to identities, the concept of behaving in a certain way outside the bedroom because of what happens inside began to take hold. Sexologists, busy looking for a “cause” of variant sexualities, began to study every aspect of their patients’ lives looking for common ground, although the debate about nature/nurture and whether or not conforming to stereotypical behaviour is a cause or effect of sexual orientation is still going on today. Initially, nobody had any idea what might make a person queer: the idea was still so new there was no received wisdom to fall back on. Early questionnaires used by sexologists and psychotherapists to try to understand their clients’ orientation show just how different the theories were. Some blamed overbearing mothers and/or absent fathers; others thought the reverse was true. The number of male and female friends a patient had, the amount of sport they played, and what they ate and where they worked were all considered important, but nobody was sure exactly how.

Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Becoming Gay

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Most people know that “gay” originally meant “happy/carefree” and came to refer to (usually, male) homosexuals, but not how or when the change occurred. When we study the etymology of the word, which is twelfth century in origin, it’s clear it had developed sexually suspect connotations as early as the 1500s. By the seventeenth century, its meaning of “carefree” had become specific to a kind of sexual looseness or immorality: a “gay woman” was a prostitute, a “gay man” was a womaniser, and a “gay house” was a brothel. Cities known for their liberal nightlife were described as gay — “gay Paris” — and unmarried men and women were often referred to as gay, in reference to them being sexually available (whether or not they exercised that availability). “Gay” could also refer to the act of sex itself.

In America, the expression “gay cat,” recorded as early as 1893, referred to young men who drifted from place to place and were noted for their lack of sexual discernment. There’s also evidence they were taken advantage of because of their age, and in some cases kept almost as slaves. Sociologists noted that “Homosexual practices are more common than rare in this group,” and in a 1933 dictionary of Underword & Prison Slang, “gay cat” was defined as a “homosexual boy.” Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Drag

Drag is the practice of cross-dressing and pastiching the mannerisms and behaviours of the opposite sex for comic effect. Drag queens run the gamut from over-the-top professional comedians such as Lily Savage, all the way through to serious (and seriously impressive) female impersonators such as RuPaul. Generally speaking, drag is a costume donned for a performance and doesn’t stimulate sexual excitement in the wearer (transvestism), nor does drag implicitly suggest that the performer identifies as trans* although, as with everything, there are always exceptions.

As an expression, “drag” may have been around for a century or two, but the history of men impersonating women for entertainment purposes is of course much longer. Many of Shakespeare’s works played on the fact the actors on stage were men dressed as women (and often the female characters pretend to be male, creating truths within truths which audiences find amusing). Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging