Throughout history there have been waves of negative reaction to GLBT individuals and our sexual practices. In spite of the persecution, GLBT people all over the world make their distinctive mark on every society they inhabit. Many books and web sites explore this history. See Links.
The purpose of this page is to mention moments in history when the homophobic establishment targeted GLBT people. They sought to change our behavior and sexuality. They criminalized our lovemaking, and in some times and places, they strove to exterminate us completely.
Much of the persecution began with the Bible. What of the civilizations that came before the ancient Hebrews? Old Testament law draws much of its inspiration and even specific wording from the Summarianís Code of Hammurabi and the Laws of Eshnunna. These legal codes predate the Old Testament and served to inspire many of the laws and even the wording in the Hebrew Scriptures. Punishments and phrases like "an eye for an eye" come directly from these codes.
Even so, it is important to note that neither of these pre-Biblical legal codes makes any reference to specific homosexual activity or punishment for such. In fact, the Epic poem, "Gilgamesh," the earliest known Summarian text and the world's first recorded story, presents two male friends who love each other passionately.
They embraced and made their vow
To stay together always,
No matter what the obstacle.
(from Gilgamesh, translated by Herbert Mason)
It is not until the Assyrian Laws of c. 1450-1250 BCE that a prohibition appears referring to homosexuality. The view of most experts is that the anti-gay reference was added to older law codes which originally pertained to married women.
'If a man has lain with his male friend and a charge is brought and proved against him, the same thing shall be done to him and he shall be made a eunuch.'
From H.W.F Saggs, The Greatest That was Babylon, (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), 212
In the Old Testament law states a similar law, but with a harsher punishment. "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." Leviticus 20:13
Much of the homophobia ever since has been supported by the weight of a handfull of Old Testament passages and New Testament ones.
Homophobia in Late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages
In the year 314 homosexuals could no longer receive the sacrament of holy communion according to the Council of Ancyra in Asia Minor. Less than 80 years later homosexuality became a capital offense by the Emperor Valentinian who ordered all homosexual offenders to be burned at the stake.
In the 6th Century, Byzantine emperor Justinian wrote new laws for the empire. Although many high school text books laud Justinian for his progressive rules, the emperor was especially harsh against homosexuals. The emperor ordered that unrepentant gay man be punished severely through mutilating his genitals. They then dragged the man naked through the streets and finally burnt him at the stake.
By the year 900 it became a civil crime throughout all of Christianized Europe for men to have sex with each other. The Emperor Charlemagne along with the church condemned homosexuality, and only in modern times have the laws been changed.
Homophobia in the "New World"
In the 14 century, the first written prohibition to gay sex was set down in England with a punishment of the death penalty. In most cases though the offender was turned over to a church court to address. This law code and collusion with the church continued in the British colonies and the republic that became known as the United States of America. South Carolina in rebellion to English law refused all British legal codes and became the only colony without a law against homosexuality. Of all the original 12 colonies with sodomy laws, Pennsylvania under the influence of Quakers, was the only one that did not prescribe the death penalty for homosexual acts. Instead, they imprisoned the offender for six months. In every case, the basis for laws against sodomy derived from the Churchís interpretation of the Bible. In fact, the word sodomy comes from the Old Testament story about Sodom and Gomorra.
The Pink Triangle in Nazi Germany
In addition to targeting Jews, the Nazis led a brutal campaign to rid Germany of other citizens that they considered "subhuman." These despised Germans included Gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, adults and children with mental and physical disabilities and GLBT individuals.
In the autumn of 1936, the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin established the Federal Security Department for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality. Henrich Himmler, one of the architects behind the "final solution" to rid Germany of non-Aryans and those they considered inferior morally or physically, publicly announced,
As National Socialists we are not afraid to fight against this plague within our own ranks. Just as we have readopted the ancient Germanic approach to the question of marriage between alien races, so, too, in our judgment of homosexuality-a symptom of racial degeneracy destructive to our race-we have returned to the guiding principle that degenerates should be exterminated.
According to gay holocaust survivor and historian, Richard Plant, between 50,000-63,000 males were convicted of homosexuality between the years 1933-1944. 4,000 of these men were juveniles. In spite of the fact that sex between women was legal throughout this period, the Nazi files reveal that six lesbians were also arrested.
Once arrested, the Nazis forced the gay detainees to wear a pink triangle to designate their crimes from the other prisoners who wore other color triangles based on their specific crimes.
In addition to incarceration, the Nazis attempted to reform homosexuals and reclaim them for the Aryan race. Nazi officers forced Gay men to perform sex with teenage girl prisoners or prostitutes. Other forms of reparative therapy included "salvation through work," a plan to straighten gays out by forcing them to perform heavy labor until they collapsed from exhaustion. Death camp doctors also performed humiliating and at times fatal experiments on gay prisoners. One test consisted of castrating gay men then flooding their system with male hormones.
It is unknown the exact number of gay men who died in the death camps. (Much of this information comes from Richard Plant's excellent book, The Pink Triangle - "The Nazi War Against Homosexuals" New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. 1986.)
Legal Homophobia in contemporary USA
The legal prohibition to gay sex in the US continued until the Supreme Court ruled that all state sodomy laws were unconstitutional because of citizen's right to privacy. Marriage between members of the same sex is still illegal in a majority of the US.
The Ex-Gay Movement in America and Beyond
In 1973 Frank Worthen founded the Love in Action ex-gay ministry outside of San Francisco, CA. Over the next 20 years hundreds of ex-gay ministries popped up all over the US many under the ex-gay umbrella of Exodus International. At the end of last century, Exodus began sending missionaries to Europe and Asia. In spite of repeated failures even among their own leadership, in 2001 Exodus International advertised 105 ministries in the US and Canada and offices in South America, Europe and Asia.
For a 30-year timeline of the "ex-gay" movement, see The Thirty Years War — A timeline of the anti-gay movement at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
For additional information on the history of homophobia and the workings of ex-gay ministries, take a look at the links page.