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social sciences

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Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Portugal

There was no mention of same-sex sexual activity in Portugal's revised criminal code of 1852. Later, under the Salazar dictatorship (1926-1974) such activity was again criminalized, but in the Penal Code of 1982, homosexuality was mentioned only in Article 175 ("Crime of Homosexuality with Minors"), which established 16 as the age of consent for same-sex couples and imposed a penalty of a fine and/or a prison term of up to two years for violations. Article 174 set the same penalty for opposite-sex couples but put the age of consent at 14.

Although the law was eventually liberalized, social attitudes in Portugal remained quite conservative during most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and gay men and lesbians tended to avoid being publicly identified as such.

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Nor were they very visible in literature. The first Portuguese novel to focus on a gay character, O Barão de Lavos ("The Baron of Lavos," 1891) by Abel Botelho, tells the story of the love triangle of a Portuguese nobleman, his wife, and his young male lover. Although the novel ends badly, with the baron sinking into poverty and disgrace, it is noteworthy for its detailed descriptions of cruising and hustling and of the gay quarters of Lisbon. It is not known whether Botelho, a married and at least ostensibly heterosexual man, ever participated in this scene himself.

Among other significant works were the novel A confissão de Lúcio ("The Confession of Lúcio," 1914) by Mario de Sá-Carneiro, Fernando Pessoa's poem (written in English) "Antinous" (1918), and the poetry collection Canções ("Songs," 1922) by the openly gay António Botto.

Under the repressive dictatorship of the mid-twentieth century, freedom of expression was generally limited. When a more liberal administration came to power in 1974 glbtq rights advocates were among the groups to organize. A few glbtq periodicals began appearing later in the decade.

Glbtq Rights Movement

It was not until the 1990s, however, that the glbtq rights movement really gained momentum in Portugal. The Associação ILGA Portugal, an affiliate of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, was founded in 1995 and granted official recognition by the Portuguese government the next year. Based in Lisbon, where it has a community center, the group has worked to gain and defend glbtq rights and to provide education and counseling services. It established a telephone help-line in 1998 to reach out to glbtq people beyond the capital, particularly those who live in rural regions and often experience a sense of extreme isolation due to the lack of support of a local glbtq community.

Beginning in 1997 the Associação ILGA Portugal organized the annual Festival de Cinema Gay e Lésbico. In 2001 a separate group was formed to run the event, but the association remains an important participant in a variety of cultural activities including Lisbon's pride celebration, Arraial Gay e Lésbico, which has also been held every year since 1997.

The internet-based organization O PortugalGay.PT, created in 1996, serves as a source of information to Portuguese speakers worldwide. Members living in Portugal also take part in local cultural events.

Other organizations include Associação Opus Gay, which works to promote gay and lesbian tourism, runs a visitor center in Lisbon, and presents a weekly radio call-in show; Clube Safo, a lesbian association that sponsors both educational and social events; and the Grupo de Mulheres ("Women's Group"), which promotes lesbian rights and also provides social support through activities at the Centro Comunitário Gay e Lésbico in Lisbon.

Recent Legal and Political Developments

The conservative mores of Portuguese society in the area of sexuality made it difficult for glbtq activists to engage the society in an open debate about equality. Consequently, much of the progress that was made in Portugal in the last decade of the twentieth century was in response to the recommendations of the European Union and through recourse to the European Court of Human Rights.

For example, in 1994 an openly gay divorced father whose ex-wife was not allowing him court-ordered visitation rights with their young daughter successfully sued for custody of the child. The mother appealed, however, and prevailed in 1996, in a decision that stated in part, "The child should live in a family environment, a traditional Portuguese family, which is certainly not the set-up her father has decided to enter into, since he is living with another man as if they were man and wife . . . . It is an abnormality, and children should not grow up in the shadow of abnormal situations."

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