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A global perspective of LGBT history
In part two of three, we consider the LGBT experience from the Industrial Revolution until the advent of the Gay Rights movement

by Jack Kirven . Q-Notes staff


In part one of this series we concluded by mentioning briefly the onset of medical and scientific panic as it was related to sexual behavior. Now we shall examine the settings that created sexuality as we know it today. Just as sodomy was invented to suit a cultural need, so too was sexual identity.

The masturbation crisis and Colonial expansion
“Onania” was published in 1715 in London by an anonymous individual posturing as a medical doctor or clergyman. Dr. Bekkers, the nom de plume of this well-intentioned but misguided “priestly physician,” enjoyed several editions of his pamphlet in only a few years and saw his ideas catch on very quickly among the sexually repressed and easily titillated middle class of that era.

Onan, the biblical personage from the Old Testament for whom the book is named, was not guilty of or punished for masturbation. He committed coitus interruptus. For over 1,500 years Onan had served as an example to Christians of the consequences of spilling one’s seed. As a result, although Onan himself was not punished for masturbation, he was struck down for wasting his creative principle, and for that reason his “sin” is equated with all forms of non-procreative sex. See “Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror” by Jean Stengers and Anne van Neck.

Great Britain in time would come to dominate the largest empire in the history of the world under Queen Victoria. Those nations, kingdoms and tribes that were conquered by England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy were forced to submit to penal codes that were influenced by the fears inspired by publications such as “Onania.”

It should be noted that Victorian attitudes spread from England to the rest of Europe because of Queen Victoria herself: Nearly all the royalty in Europe were in some way closely related to her, and thus deferred to her taboos out of respect for her enormous power and influence. In doing so, they passed her values on to their countries and colonies by way of penal codes respecting her sensibilities. See “Homosexualities” by Stephen O. Murray

It is important to not overlook the role the developing and expanding United States’ imperial practices played in decimating LGBT cultures: The two-spirit system that was common throughout the native tribes of North America withered under the influence of American conquest. America’s contact with Japan and other Pacific cultures in the 19th century resulted in similar situations in those areas as well.

The invention of sexuality
In the German-speaking lands, however, a new tide was turning. As the Industrialized nations pushed further into foreign territories they met native peoples who practiced non-heteronormative sex and alternative gender expression. Reports of these traditions trickled back to Europe, and they set some individuals to thinking about the nature of desire and attraction, as well as the blatant contradictions present in the contemporary thoughts concerning sex. The scientific spirit had caught hold in Europe and a need to document, codify, categorize and analyze was extended to human sex practices.

Karl Ulrichs was one of the original pioneers of what we now know today as Gay Rights. Lacking terms to describe himself and people with sentiments similar to his own, Ulrichs invented them. As such, he is the first homosexual as it concerns equating desire and identity. This is a turning point in LGBT history: No longer did a person practice homosexual sex. Now he or she was a practicing homosexual. The difference between the adjective and the noun is subtle, but fundamental to the development of a community. Until Ulrichs, no one said “I am a homosexual.” The concept and the terminology simply did not exist.

Ulrichs coined the terms Urning (male homosexual), Dioning (male heterosexual), as well as terms for female counterparts, bisexuals and “intersexuals.” In about 1866, Ulrichs also became the first homosexual to come out of the closet when he published, under his real name, a statement of legal and moral support in response to a man being arrested for sodomy. In 1867 Ulrichs was the first openly homosexual person to campaign for gay rights when he petitioned the German Jurists in Munich to repeal anti-homosexual codes.

The term “homosexual,” however, did not emerge until two years later in 1869. It was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeney, and in 1870 the subject of “sexual orientation” came into wider discussion when Ulrichs published “Araxes: A call to free the nature of the Urning from Penal Law.”

At the same time Richard von Krafft-Ebing was a pioneer in the study of human sex practices. As the best-trained psychiatrist on the continent he documented and analyzed hundreds of cases involving sexual activities in his seminal work “Psychopathia Sexualis” (1886). It is upon his poorly informed and biased conclusions that many future psychiatrists would base their notions of illness and treatment in regards to sexual behavior. The term “homosexual,” gaining popular recognition because of its use in “Psychopathia Sexualis,” appears in various profiles: “Thus we find homosexual intercourse in impotent masturbators… for every masturbator is more or less timid and cowardly… [so] bestiality is resorted to. Intercourse with the same sex is then near at hand…”

Nearly a century passed between those nascent studies in Germany and the work of American botany professor Alfred Kinsey, which would set the stage for the Nature versus Nurture arguments that still have relevance to us today. Kinsey’s work sought to update the data available concerning sexuality, and would go on to influence the attitudes of people throughout the West. “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (1948) and its companion “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” (1953) remain the top-selling scientific books of all time. As a result of Kinsey’s work the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. See “A Natural History of Homosexuality” by Francis Mark Mondimore, “Psychopathia Sexualis” by Richard von Krafft-Ebing and “The Kinsey Reports” by Alfred Charles Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, et al.


A chart illustrating the Nazi system of triangles, allowing soldiers and gruards to know wxactly which type of prisoner they were dealing with. A single prisoner could have as many as six separate badges.

Nazi Germany and ethnic cleansing
The land that chartered gender and sexuality research also bred a group who sought to use that science to annihilate LGBT people. Adolf Hitler murdered 500,000 LGBT people in addition to the other genocides he waged. These killings were often justified because of the results of “medical research.”

During World War II the Nazis literally labeled people. The most widely recognized badge was the yellow double-triangle worn by Jews. However, there existed a color code to demarcate other undesirables: Black (anarchists and lesbians), brown (Gypsies), purple (Jehovah’s Witnesses), green (criminals, alcoholics and vagrants), red (political prisoners) and pink (male homosexuals). These triangles have since become symbols of solidarity and community struggle.

Communism and homophobia
Throughout the world most LGBT opponents cite faith as their reason for objecting to same-sex loving or transgender peoples. In Communist regimes, however, the priority of the government is productivity for “the good of the people.” To waste one’s procreative abilities is to deny the state and the community a future generation of dedicated workers, and thus undermines the viability of the culture. In China, North Korea and other areas of Asia that harbor entrenched policies of homophobia, the cause may be a symptom of worker policies. This may also be part of the situation influencing gender politics within the Eastern Bloc and Russia. Cuba today, however, is surprisingly tolerant by comparison.

The Third World and homophobia
Poverty breeds hatred. Minorities, especially LGBT communities, are easy targets for scapegoating. Throughout the poorest parts of the world there is a violent and pervasive abhorrence toward LGBT people. During long periods of political occupation, the indigenous cultures of these places were largely erased and forgotten. As these countries gained independence later, their economies and infrastructures were abandoned to ruin. With such disorder left in the wake of national enslavement, various despots came to power over the years. These areas today cling tightly to the worst exports from their former masters: Religious fanaticism, violent law codes and Machiavellian political systems.

It should be noted that the particular strain of fundamentalism currently seen in many Muslim countries throughout the world did not exist on a wide scale until the 20th century. Sharia, Islamic religious law, has been in effect for centuries; however, religious fanatics did not come to dominate Middle Eastern and North African governments until the zealots controlling oil reserves in Arabia received huge sums of money from European and American sources. From 1938-1949 the current phase of instability in the Middle East was set into motion financially by Western powers buying petroleum from the Saudis (whose kingdom uses the Q’ran as their constitution). The Saudis then offered aid to local power figures throughout the region who agreed to follow a stricter form of Islam.

Civil Rights, Sexual Revolution and the emergence of a global movement
While their brothers, husbands and fathers were away fighting in World War II, women here learned to live more independently and were unwilling to give up their new-found freedoms when the menfolk came home. Almost simultaneously, blacks began struggling for civil rights. The atmosphere was ripe for change and a counterculture developed that rejected the value systems that had caused the violence of the world wars. The Sexual Revolution destabilized gender roles. From within this crack in the rock sprang the tiny shoot of the first Gay Rights activists in the United States. Inspired by the developments here, Gay Rights groups began appearing in Europe and Australia as well.

Propelled by a burgeoning queer literary and art scene, LGBT people in the U.S. began a campaign of visibility. The already stressed climate was made even more anxious because of frustrations concerning the Vietnam Conflict. In 1968 rioting occurred around the country because of racial tensions. Bloodshed also broke out on some campuses in response to the war. In the midst of all this tension came a raid on a bar heavily frequented by transgender people and gay men of color. On June 28, 1969 at about 1:20 in the morning the police of New York City raided the Stonewall Inn. Resistance to rough treatment by the police grew quickly into an uprising that lasted days. The worldwide Gay Pride movement had begun.

— Jack Kirven holds an M.F.A. from UCLA, and his research there focused on issues concerning LGBT culture, history, identity, art, performance, political activism and the politics of gender expresssion and sexual identity.


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