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The social journey of homosexuality

In the twenty-first century homosexuality is still punishable by prison or the death penalty in more than 70 countries.


Iria Leirós Perez


Homosexuality has existed since ancient times; the Latin poets of ancient Greece believed that all men felt homosexual desire at some point during their lives. However, they did not see feminine homosexuality in the same light: for the ancient Greeks, “women were made for reproduction, but men were made for pleasure”.

The situation wasn’t much different in ancient Rome, where rumours about the homosexual leanings of Julius Caesar were rife. It is said that “he was the husband of all wives, and the wife of all husbands”.

When the young Julius Caesar was sent as ambassador to the court of the Asiatic King Nicomedes, Nicomedes was so shocked by Caesar’s beauty that he invited him into his bedroom and to wait on the royal banquet. The rumours that arose from his stay in Bitinia lead to his enemies calling him “the queen of Bitinia”.

Throughout the centuries, homosexuality has been depicted and defined in many different ways, eventually becoming classified as a mental illness, a classification that was withdrawn in 1974 by the American Psychiatric Association.

Ever since then it has been a subject of study that has generated a multitude of theories, for example, the theory that it is based in social selection, as developed by Roan Roughgarden, professor of biology at the University of Stanford.

Roughgarden denies that sexual diversity can be reduced to merely two sexes: the masculine aggressive and the feminine inhibited. For example, in non-western cultures there are numerous sexual combinations. In fact, in the animal world, there are fish that change sex due to necessity and mammals with both male and female organs.

In the case of human biology, this theory affirms that hermaphrodites, homosexuals and transsexuals are clear examples of the diversity that we can also observe in other animals.

In 1990 The World Health Organisation withdrew homosexuality from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and related Health Problems.

Acceptance, Marriage and Adoption

In spite of the slow normalisation and assimilation by society, there have been hundreds of men and women who have suffered “reconversion” therapies, such as hormone injections, brain surgery or religious interventions based on communication with God. This last method is promoted primarily by the church and represents a negative attitude towards homosexuality based on the interpretation of passages from the bible.

However, not all believers share this position.

In Spain, there is a clandestine organisation named “Betania in Colour” formed by priests and monks who share their feelings liberally. They meet every Wednesday in an area of the Spanish Capital. They are believers and homosexuals, something that according to them is neither contradictory nor sinful, but a “gift from God”.

Regardless of the church’s official opinion, the different governments of the world have taken steps to give more rights to the homosexual community.

The Netherlands was a pioneer in this area, having approved homosexual marriage in 2001, an example that was then followed by Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina.

However, there are more than 70 countries in the world where they not only deny this right, but also make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. These countries include Saudi Arabia and Uganda, whose government intends to approve the death penalty for those found to be “reoffending” homosexuals.

In 2008, France called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality on a world level, a call that was opposed by the Vatican and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. This proposal was put to vote in the United Nations, and obtained the support of 66 countries, including all the members of the European Union, the majority of countries in Latin America, as well as Japan, Israel, Australia, Gabon, and New Zealand.

In contrast, Russia and China did not sign the agreement.

Regardless of the existence of orders, or even capital punishment, against homosexuality, there are thousands of cases of homophobia in countries that classify themselves as “civilised”, where homosexuals are brutally beaten, raped, tortured, discriminated and murdered. These acts are carried out in secrecy or in public, by groups or individuals, often with the tacit consent of an audience that finds it difficult to accept that one person can love another person of the same sex.

If the social acceptance of homosexuality as the right of every person to choose their own sexuality is difficult in certain regions and social sectors, the acceptance of adoption by a homosexual couple is even more so.

As with homosexual marriage, the Netherlands was the first defender of the right to adopt. Germany, Iceland, Norway, The United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and Spain followed suit.

On the American continent only Uruguay allows homosexual couples to adopt, and in the United States, certain states, such as California or New York, and some in the north of Canada, also permit adoption in the majority of their territory.

This advancement continues in the hope that these examples will have a domino effect that will reach the rest of the world.

However, ignorance, prejudice, religious beliefs, intolerance, or simply the incapacity to accept differences, continue making homosexuality a controversial subject, which is not always spoken of openly. Even worse, it generates sentiments that result in acts of indescribable violence, rejection and discrimination.


(Translated by Oliver Harris –  Email:

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