LGBT history refers to the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender cultures around the world, dating back to the first recorded instances of same-sex love and sexuality within ancient civilizations.
Among historical figures, some were recorded as having relations with others of their own sex — exclusively or together with opposite-sex relations — while others were recorded as only having relations with the opposite sex. However, the history of the former, marked as it is by persecution and misunderstanding, has often been overlooked or suppressed. The field of LGBT history is thus relatively new.
In recent times, some countries have begun to observe "LGBT History Month" to recognize the contributions and events related to LGBT communities.
Among historical figures, some were recorded as having relations with others of their own sex — exclusively or together with opposite-sex relations — while others were recorded as only having relations with the opposite sex. However, there are instances of same-sex love and sexuality within almost all ancient civilizations. Additionally, Transgender and third sex peoples have been recorded in almost all cultures across human history.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The earliest documents concerning same-sex pederastic relationships come from Ancient Greece. Such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman, but occurred before and beside it. A mature man would usually not have a mature male mate (exceptions aside, such as Alexander the Great) but he would be the erastes (lover) to a young eromenos (loved one). The ideal held that both partners would be inspired by love symbolized by Eros, the erastes unselfishly providing education, guidance, and appropriate gifts to his eromenos, who became his devoted pupil and assistant, while the sexuality remained short of penetrative acts. The hoped for result was the mutual improvement of both erastes and eromenos, each doing his best to excel in order to be worthy of the other.
Relationships often fell short of the ideal, as some men merely used the boys sexually and then dumped them when their beauty faded, while others would contract with boys, paying them for their company and sexual services. Such behaviors, however, were regarded as uncultured and brutal. Boys also were often blamed for being cruel to their lovers, or for demanding money.
Kenneth J. Dover, followed by Michel Foucault and Halperin, assumed that it was considered improper for the eromenos to feel desire, as that would not be masculine. However, Dover's claim has been questioned in light of evidence of love poetry which suggests a more emotional connection than earlier researchers liked to acknowledge.
Some research has shown that ancient Greeks believed semen, more specifically sperm, to be the source of knowledge, and that these relationships served to pass wisdom on from the erastes to the eromenos within society. In Ancient Greece and Phrygia, the Goddess Cybele was worshiped by a cult of people who castrated themselves, and thereafter took female dress and referred to themselves as female. These early transsexual figures have also been referred to as early gay role models by several authors.
Ancient China and Japan
Homosexuality has been acknowledged in China since ancient times. Scholar Pan Guangdan (潘光旦) came to the conclusion that nearly every emperor in the Han Dynasty had one or more male sex partners (Catamite). There are also descriptions of lesbians in some history books. It is believed homosexuality was popular in the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. Chinese homosexuals did not experience high-profile persecution as compared with that which was received by homosexuals in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Same-sex love was celebrated in Chinese art, many examples of which have survived the book burnings of the Cultural Revolution. Though no large statues are known to still exist, many hand scrolls and Chinese painting on silk can be found in private collections. 
In Japan, several Heian diaries which contain references to homosexual acts exist as well. Some of these also contain references to emperors involved in homosexual relationships and to "handsome boys retained for sexual purposes" by emperors. In other literary works can be found references to what Leupp has called "problems of gender identity", such as the story of a youth's falling in love with a girl who is actually a cross-dressing male.
Japanese shunga are erotic pictures which include same-sex and opposite-sex love.
In South Asia the Hijra are a caste of third-gender, or transgender group who live a feminine role. Hijra may be born male or intersexed, and some may have been born female. Such third gender roles have been documented in south Asia since antiquity, and acknowledged in Vedic culture, Hinduism and in royal Islamic courts.
The Middle Ages
Same-sex scholarly 'empires of the mind' were common in medieval Arabic and Hebrew cultures, as seen in their poetry on same-sex love.
According to the historian John Boswell, author of Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), there were same-sex Christian monastic communities and other religious orders in which homosexuality thrived. According to Chauncey et al (1989), the book "offered a revolutionary interpretation of the Western tradition, arguing that the Roman Catholic Church had not condemned gay people throughout its history, but rather, at least until the twelfth century, had alternately envinced no special concern about homosexuality or actually celebrated love between men."
Boswell was also the author of Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York: Villard, 1994) in which he argues that the adelphopoiia liturgy was evidence that attitude of the Christian church towards homosexuality has changed over time, and that early Christians did on occasion accept same-sex relationships.  Unnamed critics dispute Boswell's findings and scholarly rigor.
Bennett and Froide, in "Singlewomen in the European Past", note: "Other singlewomen found emotional comfort and sexual pleasure with women. The history of same-sex relations between women in medieval and early modern Europe is exceedingly difficult to study, but there can be no doubt of its existence. Church leaders worried about lesbian sex; women expressed, practiced, and were sometimes imprisoned or even executed for same-sex love; and some women cross-dressed in order to live with other women as married couples." They go on to note that even the seemingly modern word "lesbian" has been traced back as far as 1732, and discuss lesbian subcultures, but add, "Nevertheless, we certainly should not equate the single state with lesbian practices." While same-sex relationships among men were highly documented and condemned, "Moral theologans did not pay much attention to the question of what we would today call lesbian sex, perhaps because anything that did not involve a phallus did not fall within the bounds of their understanding of the sexual ... Some legislation against lesbian relations can be adduced for the period ... mainly involving the use of "instruments," in other words, dildoes."
Pre-Contact North America
Prior to western contact, many American Native tribes had third gender roles. These include "Berdaches" (a derogatory term for Genetic males who assumed a feminine role) and "Passing women" (genetic females who took on a masculine role). The term Berdache is not a Native American word; rather it was a European definition covering a range of third-gender people in different tribes. Not all Native American tribes had Transgender people.
One female-born Mohave berdache (known as a hwame) is known to have been murdered. Sahaykwisa told other Mohaves that he had been turned into a man by white man's magic, and took several female lovers. Sahaykwisa was raped, and later murdered by a group of men
Katz puts forth that there is documentation of "intimate relationships between two males, often of a lifelong character", and "homosexual relations between adults and youths" (Pederasty)
Late 19th Century
We'wha was a relatively modern Ihamana (Berdache) of the Native American Zuni tribe. She made a trip to Washington in 1886, and later shook President Theodore Roosevelt's Hand. She was revered by her tribe for her skill at weaving and pottery, as well as taking part in community ceremonies and rituals.
The 1920s ushered in a new era of social acceptance of minorities and homosexuals, at least in heavily urbanized areas. This was reflected in many of the films (see Pre-Code) of the decade that openly made references to homosexuality. Even popular songs poked fun at the new social acceptance of homosexuality. One of these songs had the title "Masculine Women, Feminine Men." The song was written by Edgar Leslie (words) and James V. Monaco (music) and featured in Hugh J. Ward's Musical Comedy "Lady Be Good." It was released in 1926 and recorded by numerous artists of the day and included the following lyrics:
- Masculine women, Feminine men
- Which is the rooster, which is the hen?
- It's hard to tell 'em apart today! And, say!
- Sister is busy learning to shave,
- Brother just loves his permanent wave,
- It's hard to tell 'em apart today! Hey, hey!
- Girls were girls and boys were boys when I was a tot,
- Now we don't know who is who, or even what's what!
- Knickers and trousers, baggy and wide,
- Nobody knows who's walking inside,
- Those masculine women and feminine men!
Homosexuals received a level of acceptance that was not seen again until the 1960s. Until the early 1930s, gay clubs were openly operated, commonly known as "pansy clubs". The relative liberalism of the decade is demonstrated by the fact that the actor William Haines, regularly named in newspapers and magazines as the number-one male box-office draw, openly lived in a gay relationship with his lover, Jimmy Shields. Other popular gay actors/actresses of the decade included Alla Nazimova and Ramon Novarro. In 1927, Mae West wrote a play about homosexuality called The Drag, and alluded to the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. It was a box-office success. West regarded talking about sex as a basic human rights issue, and was also an early advocate of gay rights. With the return of conservatism in the 1930s, the public grew intolerant of homosexuality, and gay actors were forced to choose between retiring or agreeing to hide their sexuality.
Late 1930s to Early 1960s
By 1935, the United States had become conservative once again. Victorian values and mores, which had been widely ridiculed during the 1920s became fashionable once again. During this period life was harsh for homosexuals as they were forced to hide their behavior and identity is order to escape ridicule and even imprisonment. Many laws were passed against homosexuals during this period and it was declared to be a mental illness. Many police agencies conducted operations to arrest homosexuals by using young undercover cops to get them to make propositions to them.
1960s and 1970s
A new period of liberalism in the late 1960s began a new era of more social acceptance for homosexuality which lasted until the late 1970s. In the 1970s, the popularity of disco music and its culture in many ways made society more accepting of homosexuality. Late in 1979, a new religious revival ushered in the conservatism that would reign in the United States during the 1980s and made life hard once again for homosexuals.
The 1980s were a dismal period for homosexuals as a new intolerance (and even hatred) against them was manifested by society as they became more conservative. This hatred resulted in many blaming gays for AIDS, which surfaced in the early 1980s. Many conservatives called it a "punishment from God" and blamed homosexuals for their "loose morals."
The emancipation movement in Germany, 1890s-1934
Prior to the Third Reich, Berlin was considered a liberal city, with many gay bars, nightclubs and cabarets. There were even many drag bars where tourists straight and gay would enjoy female impersonation acts. Adolf Hitler decried cultural degeneration, prostitution and syphilis in his book Mein Kampf, blaming at least some of the phenomena on Jews.
Berlin also had the most active LGBT rights movements in the world at the time. Jewish doctor Magnus Hirschfeld had co-founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, WhK) in Berlin in 1897 to campaign against the notorious "Paragraph 175" law that made Men who have sex with men|sex between men illegal. It also sought social recognition of homosexual and transgender men and women. It was the first public gay rights organization.
In 1919, Hirschfeld had also co-founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research), a private sexology research institute. It had a research library and a large archive, and included a marriage and sex counseling office. In addition, the institute was a pioneer worldwide in the call for civil rights and social acceptance for homosexual and transgender people.
Homosexuality records as to the specific reasons for internment are non-existent in many areas making it hard to put an exact number on just how many gay men perished in death camps. Conditions for gay men in the camps was especially rough; they faced not only persecution from German soldiers, but also other prisoners, and many gay men were reported to die of beatings. German soldiers were also known to use the pink triangles that the men were forced to wear for target practice with their weapons.
Female homosexuality was not, technically, a crime and thus gay women were generally not treated as hardly as gay men. Although their are some scattered reports that gay women were sometimes imprisoned for their sexuality, most would have been imprisoned for other reasons, i.e. "anti-social".
In the autumn of 1959, the police force of New York City's Wagner administration began closing down the city's gay bars, which had numbered almost two dozen in Manhattan at the beginning of the year. This crackdown was largely the result of a sustained campaign by the right-wing, ardently homophobic, NY Mirror newspaper columnist Lee Mortimer. Existing gay bars were quickly closed and new ones lasted only a short time.
The election of John Lindsay in 1965 signaled a major shift in city politics, and a new attitude toward sexual mores began changing the social atmosphere of New York.
On April 21, 1966, Dick Leitsch, president of the New York Mattachine Society and two other members staged the Sip-in at Julius bar on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. This resulted in the anti-gay accommodation rules of the NY State Liquor Authority being overturned in subsequent court actions. These SLA provisions declared that it was illegal for homosexuals to congregate and be served alcoholic drinks in bars. An example of when these laws had been upheld is in 1940 when Gloria's, a bar that had been closed for such violations, fought the case in court and lost. Prior to this change in the law, the business of running a gay bar had to involve paying bribes to the police and Mafia. As soon as the law was altered, the SLA ceased closing legally licensed gay bars and such bars could no longer be prosecuted for serving homosexuals.
Mattachine pressed this advantage very quickly and Mayor Lindsay was confronted with the issue of police entrapment in gay bars, resulting in this practice being stopped. On the heels of this victory, the mayor cooperated in getting questions about homosexuality removed from NYC hiring practices. The police and fire departments resisted the new policy, however, and refused to cooperate.
The result of these changes in the law, combined with the open social- and sexual-attitudes of the late Sixties, led to the increased visibility of gay life in New York. Several licensed gay bars were in operation in Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side, as well as illegal, unlicensed places serving alcohol, such as the Stonewall Inn and the Snakepit, both in Greenwich Village.
The Stonewall riots were a series of violent conflicts between homosexuals and police officers in New York City. The first night of rioting began on Friday, June 27, 1969 at about 1:20 a.m., when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar operating without a state license in Greenwich Village. Stonewall is considered a turning point for the modern gay rights movement worldwide. Newspaper coverage of the events was minor in the city, since, in the Sixties, huge marches and mass rioting had become commonplace and the Stonewall disturbances were relatively small. It was the commemorative march one year later, organized by the impetus of Craig Rodwell, owner of the Oscar Wilde Book Shop, which drew 5,000 marchers up New York City's Sixth Avenue, that drew nationwide publicity and put the Stonewall events on the historical map.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there has been a growing movement in a number of countries to regard marriage as a right which should be extended to same-sex couples. Legal recognition of a marital union opens up a wide range of entitlements, including social security, taxation, inheritance and other benefits unavailable to couples unmarried in the eyes of the law. Restricting legal recognition to opposite-sex couples excludes same-sex couples from gaining legal access to these benefits, and while opposite-sex unmarried couples without other legal impediments have the option of marrying in law and so gaining access to these rights, that option is unavailable to same-sex couples. Similarly, though certain rights extending from marriage can be replicated by legal means (for example, by drawing-up contracts), many cannot; thus, despite the presence of legal contracts, same-sex couples may still face insecurity in areas such as inheritance, hospital visitation and immigration. Lack of legal recognition also makes it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children.
The first country to legalize same-sex marriages was the Netherlands (2001), while the first marriages were performed in the Amsterdam city hall on the 1st April, 2001. At present, same-sex marriages are legal nationally in several countries (see map on the left): the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South Africa.
In the United States as of March 2007, only the state of Massachusetts recognizes same-sex marriages, while the states of Vermont, New Jersey, and California offer same-sex partners benefits similar to those of legally married couples. Seventeen other States have constitutional provisions that limit marriages to one man and one woman, while 25 states have statutes containing similar definitions. In the United States, the debate over whether or not to make same-sex marriages legally binding remains one of the most polarizing and divisive political debates of the early 21st century and it is discussed with great passion all over the world. During 2004, 13 US states amended their constitutions to define marriage as being only between one man and one woman. Some people, including many gay rights advocates and some heterosexual same-sex marriage advocates, view restrictions such as these as being an example of the tyranny of the majority in action.
Since the mid-1980s students at high schools and universities have organized LGBT groups, often called Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) at their respective schools. The groups form to provide support for LGBT students and to promote awareness of LGBT issues in the local community. Frequently, such groups have been banned or prohibited from meeting or receiving the same recogniztion as other student groups. For example, in September 2006, Touro University of California briefly attempted to ban the school's GSA, the Touro University Gay-Straight Alliance. After student demonstrations and an outcry of support from the American Medical Student Association, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Vallejo California City Council, Touro University retracted its revocation of the school's GSA. The university went on to reaffirm its commitment to non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- Bullough, Vern L., et al., (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. New York, London, Oxford: Harrington Park Press, 2002. ISBN 978-1560231929
- Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940. New York: BasicBooks, 1994.
- Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990. ISBN 978-0824065447
- Johansson, Warren and Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. New York and London: Haworth Press, 1994. ISBN 978-1560244196
- Meeker, Martin. Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
- Percy, William A. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0252067402
- Stein, Marc, ed. Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered History in America. 3 vols. New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 2003.
- A left-wing analysis of the history of LGBT politics and the state of the movement from International Socialism journal
- The Politics of Homosexuality resources
- "Out Of The Past" PBS Documentary On Gay American History
- BBC - United Kingdom Celebrates Gay History Month
- GLBT Historical Society
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Also see the article on Sexual orientation