Shoulders to Stand On: LGBTQ Resistance to Discrimination: Past, Present and Future

By Evelyn Bailey


Being gay or trans has not always been a justification for discrimination among peoples of the world, nor people in our own country and state.  Therefore, resistance to prejudicial treatment has not always been a way of life for members of the LGBTQ community.  The younger you are, the less of a resistant, protective lifestyle you have had to practice and live.  However, there are still too many instances where members of the LGBTQ community are not safe!

In a series of articles focusing on “LGBTQ Resistance Movements” past, present and future I will briefly tell the story of how we arrive at the cataclysmic event of Stonewall on June 28, 1969.  Stonewall, identified as the catalyst that began the far-reaching Gay Liberation Movement, did not just happen.  The unwillingness to be harassed, discriminated against, vilified, ostracized, and killed erupted out of the collective energy of thousands at Stonewall who finally had had enough; who spoke with one voice a loud resounding NO! This author would posit that Stonewall was the first visible event of resistance that would open the flood gates of social, political, religious and economic change for the LGBTQ community not only in New York but around the world.

Since the earliest recorded times, 8000 BC to the Dark Ages, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures accommodated homosexuality and crossdressing among a minority of citizenry.  The castration of homosexual slaves and house servants became custom in the Middle East, and Jewish tribes criminalized homosexual behavior.

With the advent of Christianity, homosexuality and crossdressing were criminalized in the Roman Empire but remained widely accepted throughout much of the world.

During the Middle Ages, with the growth of Christianity and the advent of Islam, the criminalization of homosexuality and crossdressing spread across Eurasia and into Africa. Although driven underground, they remained widespread and, in most cases, silently tolerated within the shadows of society. The custom of castration became commonplace in the Byzantine Empire and was introduced into northern China and India. Separated by oceans, American and South Sea Islanders maintained their traditional acceptance of homosexual behavior and crossdressing.

At the turn of the 16th century, Christian Europe waged its greatest assault upon homosexuality to date – burning at the stake and execution. During this period, colonial expeditions into sub-Saharan Africa, Americas, and South Seas revealed an astonishing acceptance of homosexuality and crossdressing among the indigenous people there.  In 1791, France became the first Christian nation to repeal its sodomy laws through a revision of its penal code.  In 1796, New York State replaced hanging for sodomy with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

In the 19th century, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal repealed their sodomy laws along with those of their colonies while Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia only reduced their penalties from death by hanging to long prison sentences. Britain’s harsh sodomy laws were implanted into all its colonies around the world. The Islamic world maintained a mostly silent tolerance of homosexuality and the practice of male castration dissipated in unison with the global slave market.

In 1897, Magnus Hirschfeld, a German Jewish physician and sexologist, ushered in the world’s very first homosexual rights movement, the first organized resistance against social, political, religious and economic discrimination of homosexuality.

As you can see, most homosexual offenses were focused on sexual relations between persons of the same gender described as “sodomy”, “buggery” or “sins of carnal nature”.  Even though sexual behavior is only a part of what defines a homosexual, it seems to be the primary focus of social, political, economic and religious rules, policy, and legislation.

Over the next few months, we will look at the “resistance movements” that worked and continue to work toward creating a society where justice and equality become a reality for all of us.  “Until all of us are free, none of us are free!”


featured image reference: Shapiro, Harvey Alan. The Cambridge Companion to Anchaic Greece. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007. via Revel and Riot

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