Sunday, August 28, 2005

A brief history of gay movements (Part II of V)

Boys and girls, more history lesson for the day. Enjoy!

It was only towards the end of the 19th century when the idea developed that there were `homosexuals', not simply homosexual acts. As Michael Foucault puts it" "Homosexuals was now a species" (The History of Sexuality).

Economic changes in the form of industrial revolution, had freed large numbers of individuals from dependence on family and village, and thus also from the dependence on traditional values and ideas. Homosexuals for once, were able to congregate in the big cities and see for themselves that there were people sharing the same sexual identity as them.

Karl Heinrich Ulrich (1825 – 1895), a pioneer gay rights activist, from Germany, came out in 1862 and wrote a statement of legal and moral support for a man arrested for homosexual offences. This was the first public "coming out" and the first recorded example of gay rights activism.

In 1869, Karl Maria Kertbeny, an Austrian-born Hungarian journalist, memoirist and human rights campaigner first coined the new term `Homosexuality" to mean the group of people who are attracted to members of their own sex and was made known after being adopted by both the medical and non-medical fields.

With the emergence of the identity of homosexuality, institutionalized homophobia quickly followed. There are three main factors that led to the prevalence of homophobia at that time. Firstly, new medical literature emerged with new authoritativeness – science at that time, had taken the liberty to describe omosexual orientation as pathological. Secondly, Individuals publicly identifying themselves as homosexuals in a proactive manner began to claim legitimacy for their identity and desires. Thirdly, new laws were formed in response to the change of social landscape in order to exert new measures of social control.

It first began in England. Influenced by the new Judo-Christian beliefs which is convinced that the only legitimate aim for sex is procreation, heterosexual and homosexual anal intercourse, or "Buggery" was made a crime by the English Parliament in 1534. Acts of "gross indecency", which also included any form of sexual contacts other than the penile-vaginal contact, were banned in England in 1885. In the late 20th century, attempts were made to standardize the English Common Law and the Continental Civil Law, and amendments were made. Sodomy, which was not considered a crime in the other countries in Europe before that, was finally made a crime after the amendments.

The feverish colonialism that swept the world during the 19th and 20th century also exerted a profound effect on the laws of the colonies all over the world. The export of the British Common Law to the British colonies worldwide had changed the face of local legislation completely, without being reflective of the local culture. In countries which were never colonized, e.g. Thailand, law remained free from the homophobic legislation from the United Kingdom.

The first Homosexual Rights Organization, called "The Scientific and Humanitarian Committee", was founded by Dr Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin in 1897. It promoted public education with pamphlets like `What the people should know about the Third Sex" in 1902, conducted polls, organized petitions, tried to secure visiting rights for jailed homosexuals and offered lesbians legal protection from violent husbands. It also delivered medical certificates for cross-dressing members to obtain transvestism permit from police and worked with the `Pedestrian Division' of the Berlin Police to combat blackmailers for homosexuals.

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