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social sciences

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Although the intensities of hatred waxed and waned, hostility and fear remained. Inevitably, perhaps, social discrimination and legal repression often gave rise to a distinct identity and a way of expressing this identity began to develop. Interestingly, there is comparative little interest in what women did, and lesbianism is almost ignored in the law and in public discussion in the early modern period.

Some brave individuals, such as Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), argued that consensual sodomy ought not be a crime, but the legal breakthrough came not in England but in France and the rest of Europe. In 1791, the French Revolution decriminalized all sexual acts, providing consent was given and the individuals were of age to give consent.

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Though most of the countries of Europe that came under Napoleon's domination in the early eighteenth century accepted this revision, those parts of Germany that had not been under French occupation, notably Prussia, did not. Neither did English and American law.

After Germany was united in 1871, led by the kings of Prussia, it imposed traditional German anti-sodomy code on the entire country, including those parts that had abandoned it. In response, homosexuals in Germany came out into the open to agitate, unsuccessfully, to repeal this law, known as Paragraph 175. This concern led to an explosion of research into homosexuality and ultimately to the foundation of homosexual rights organizations. Though the demand for rights nearly succeeded during the Weimar republic (1919-1932), the rise of Hitler led to the destruction of the movement and the ultimate arrest and confinement in concentration camps of large numbers of Germans who were identified as homosexuals.

Homophobia increased not only in Germany but also in post-World War II United States, where conservative Senator Joseph McCarthy mounted his campaign against gay men and lesbians as subversive. Not only did a significant number of gay men lose their jobs, but also around the country there was a markedly increased incidence of harassment and arrest of homosexuals by local officials.

The resulting repression had the effect of encouraging some gay men and lesbians to organize and they did so, first in Los Angeles, then in San Francisco, and across the country.

In the late 1940s, American sex researchers, particularly Alfred Kinsey, began to challenge traditional hostility to homosexuality. The study of homosexuality became a dominant theme in sex research from the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century.

By the 1950s, the evidence that discrimination against homosexuality was widespread, and probably unconstitutional, led organizations such as the American Law Institute, the American Friends Service Committee, and the American Civil Liberties Union to agitate for legal change. Their example was followed by changes in attitudes in such professional groups as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association.

Motivating the change was not only new research but increasing pressure from a growing number of gay organizations that argued that homosexuality was simply a part of human behavior, a conclusion that led to challenging many of the laws regulating private sexual conduct. The culmination came in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 United States Supreme Court decision legalizing sodomy.

Homophobia has by no means disappeared, but it is somewhat less respectable to be homophobic now than it was in the past, and the law in most countries no longer underpins homophobia.

In recent years there have been a number of books devoted to historical and cultural studies of homophobia. Particularly important is the work by Byrne Fone.

Vern L. Bullough

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social sciences >> Overview:  France

France, the second largest nation in Western Europe, has a rich, if markedly ambivalent, relationship to glbtq people and cultures.

social sciences >> Overview:  McCarthyism

McCarthyism, which attempted in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers from American public life, made homosexuals the chief scapegoats of the Cold War.

social sciences >> Overview:  Natural Law

Natural law--the reading into nature laws that are not merely descriptive, but prescriptive--actually depends on circular reasoning; it discovers in nature what its adherents already believe is the intention of the Christian God.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

literature >> Bentham, Jeremy

The most notable law reformer in the English-speaking world, English philosopher, jurist, economist, and political scientist Jeremy Bentham argued for a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality in a series of papers first published in full in 1985.

social sciences >> Bowers v. Hardwick / Lawrence v. Texas

Two of the most significant Supreme Court decisions regarding constitutional liberty for glbtq people are Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

social sciences >> Kinsey, Alfred C.

The most important sex researcher of the twentieth century, Alfred C. Kinsey contributed groundbreaking studies of male and female sexual behavior in America.

social sciences >> Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 was the German law prohibiting sex between men; strengthened by the Nazis, it was the statue under which homosexuals were sent to concentration camps.


Bullough, V. L. Sexual Variance in Society and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Fone, Byrne. Homophobia: A History. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000.

Freeman, Mark. "Homophobia: The Psychology of a Social Disease." Body Politic 24 (June 1975): l9.

Smith, T.A. "Homophobia: A Tentative Personality Profile." Psychological Reports 19 (1971): 1091-94.

Weinberg, George. Society and the Healthy Homosexual. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1972.

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. The Anatomy of Prejudice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bullough, Vern L.  
    Entry Title: Homophobia  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 24, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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