Homosexuality is a sexual orientation toward people of the same sex. Homosexuality contrasts with heterosexuality, sexual orientation toward people of the opposite sex. People with a sexual orientation toward members of both sexes are called bisexuals . Female homosexuals are frequently called lesbians. In recent years, the term gay has been applied to both homosexual men and women.
Homosexuality appears in virtually all social contexts-within different community settings, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic and religious groups. The number of homosexuals in the population is difficult to determine, and reliable data do not exist. However, current estimates suggest that the term homosexual may apply to 2 to 4 percent of men. Estimates for lesbians are lower. Not all people who engage in homosexual activity necessarily identify themselves as homosexual.
Their attitudes toward homosexual behavior have varied with time and place. In ancient Greece, homosexual relations were acceptable and, in some cases, expected activity in certain segments of society. Later attitudes toward homosexuality in the Western world were determined largely by prevailing Judeo-Christian moral codes, which treat homosexuality as immoral or sinful. But like many other sins, homosexual relations were seen as expressions of the weakness inherent in all human beings, and not as a mental illness or as the behavior of a specific type of person. This latter view, which regarded homosexuality as a pathology, developed in the late 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, psychoanalysts viewed homosexuals as the victims of faulty development, and Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, considered homosexuality a deviant condition. More recently, scientists have searched for a biological explanation for sexual orientation. A study published in 1993 sought to identify a genetic marker for sexual orientation, but the research did not include a cross section of the population and was inconclusive.
During the first half of the 20th century, attitudes toward homosexuality were overwhelmingly negative. Homosexual activities were hidden and spoken of only in whispers, and homosexual behavior, even among consenting adults, was a criminal offense in most of the United States. Homosexuals were subject to stereotypes and prejudice. Gay men were viewed as effeminate, lesbians were portrayed as mannish, and both were seen as being obsessed with sex, with little self-control or morality. Homosexuals frequently were thought to be potential child molesters. In the 1930s and during World War II (1939-1945), homosexuals were targets of persecution in Nazi Germany.
Prejudices against homosexuals in Western societies have only recently begun to change. The first major shift followed the publication of two famous reports, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1952), by American biologist Alfred Charles Kinsey. Although these works contained inflated estimates of the homosexual population and the incidence of behavior, they provided a more realistic picture of homosexuality and helped demystify it. Unlike earlier studies which focused on homosexuals who had sought medical or psychological help, the Kinsey reports described homosexuals outside of clinical settings. Kinsey found homosexuals in all walks of life, growing up in all kinds of families, practicing many different religions. As a result of the ensuing scientific discussion, the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 eliminated homosexuality from its list of mental disorders and, in 1980, dropped it from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
In recent years, people who support homosexual rights have worked and demonstrated to increase those rights. In the United States, the watershed event for homosexual activism was the Stonewall riot, which protested a police raid on a gay bar in New York City in 1969. It was the first public protest by homosexuals against harassment by police. Since then, homosexual communities in the United States have organized to work for gay rights. Such groups include the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a civil rights organization that promotes equality and freedom from prejudice and discrimination for gays and lesbians; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provides legal representation for gays and lesbians; and the Human Rights Campaign Fund, which lobbies state and national legislators. Gay-rights activist groups are also involved in educational and political activities.
One of the greatest challenges to face the homosexual community was the outbreak of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the early 1980s. In the United States, the disease first became prevalent among gay men and spread with devastating effect. When little was known about the disease and how it was spread, AIDS patients and homosexuals experienced an increase in discrimination in housing and health insurance. Many people protested agencies of the U.S. government-including the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration-claiming they were slow to respond and study the disease and search for treatment. More organizations were formed to help educate people about the disease and to help AIDS patients get proper care.
In the 1990s homosexual-rights groups addressed a number of other issues, including the rights of gay and lesbian families. Homosexual marriages are not recognized by any state in the United States, and homosexual couples in long-term relationships do not have the same legal protection as people in heterosexual marriages. Adopting children is also problematic for homosexuals, although some states allow a same-sex partner to adopt the biological child of the other partner. Two states, Florida and New Hampshire, have laws which prevent a homosexual couple from adopting a child who is not the biological child of either partner.
Another area in which activists have worked for change is the policy toward gays and lesbians in the military. Before the Clinton administration altered the policy in 1993, candidates for military service filled out a form that included a question on sexual orientation. Under the new policy, popularly called "don't ask, don't tell," that question has been eliminated. Sexual orientation is now considered a personal matter and not a bar to entry or a cause for separation from the military unless the individual engages in homosexual behavior. However, some people consider the policy inadequate because it still forbids homosexual activity.
As activists have worked to secure the rights of homosexuals, the homosexual community has become a more visible presence in society. National publications, such as Christopher Street and The Advocate, have appeared, and churches to serve the homosexual community have been established. With the advent of gay-rights studies programs at many universities, homosexuals have begun to reclaim their history.
As homosexual communities became more visible, large numbers of homosexuals-including some prominent people-have openly declared their identity as homosexuals and demanded their right to equal and respectful treatment. There are now openly gay representatives in the Congress of the United States, and across the country openly gay officials have pursued and often won office.
- What is so good about a gay partner?
- He never simulates orgasm.
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