Gay rights: a long story of struggles Alessandro Vitiello
Status of gay persons

Since the second half of the 20th century gay rights are increasing, but an aspect is clear: not further than a half century ago still the majority of countries did not authorize same-sex relations. 

Homosexual relations were illegal and ''sodomites'' were monetarily sanctioned or imprisoned. That was a critical situation for gay persons that had to face legal consequences if they did not prove they were not homosexuals, and it was a question of ''public offense'', if seen kissing in public places. 

First gay rights recognitions

Since the 60s the first movements were created and the real standing up for gay rights began. That was the scenario in which it could not be possible avoiding riots. The hotspots of such a revolution were obviously New York and San Francisco. The Big Apple knew the most revolutionary riots, well-known remembered as “Stonewall riots”. This marking demonstration is the beginning of a new era for gays and lesbians, influencing also the LGBT culture by taking inspiration from the Greenwich Village, the place of riots, to create a standard and common place of universal recognition of the Gay Community: the “Gay Village”.

Not just riots, but also marches, newspapers, LGBT offices and Gay Villages were developing faster in the following decade. The first Gay pride marches and the first magazines were showing the society the image of a new identity. That could be enough to motivate many countries to retain illegitimate the existing laws, inciting the Canadian icon and advocate of gay rights Pierre Trudeau (who later became Prime Minister), to comment “There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”; following, Norway, many of the US States (like Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine etc.), UK, West Germany, which since then were not sponsoring homophobia anymore, and they were soon followed by many others. This also led to a new rule of the law: Quebec was the first jurisdiction in 1977 to prohibit anti-gay discriminations.

Until the 80s, the fight led to a much more evident visibility of the community, and was on the way to lead to other conquests. The Western civilization has seen much more than any other civilization a slow changing of directions, as countries went from fighting homosexuality to fighting homophobia. It started with the vote of the Netherlands in 1979, in favour of unregistered cohabitation including same-sex couples. But the Gay Liberation movement was not less content to assist Denmark's revolution: in 1989 it was the first country to allow civil unions of modern times, granting most of the rights as married opposite-sex couples. The most significant historical event in terms of rights was obviously the moment in which the Netherlands embedded the first same-sex marriage law ever in 2000, in a time when people were already used to the terms ''gay adoptions''. It was the first of a long series of countries allowing same-sex marriage on the following years, a sign that governments and laws were changing. To give an idea, today in 2013 fifteen countries recognize same-sex marriage and nineteen others allow civil unions (not considering sole jurisdictions like US States).

A social matter

Laws are the most useful instrument to rule in favour of recognitions, but they could be equally helpful to fight discriminations. What are discriminations based on? Hate should be the focusing point, but it could be often a cultural reason, considering that they are more frequent in places in which other social gaps are still not solved.  To fight discriminations could result longer, as we see that a first step should be changing mentalities to create more individualistic societies: a longer way. In South Africa, for example, where same-sex marriage has been allowed since 2006, less than 30% of the population considers that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Why such a division? If we consider the factors that make people disagree with the issue, the education, the age, the city's dimensions and the access to information and technology are the key elements: people in the Universities are susceptible to agree much more with the issue, as much as younger generations, people living in Metropolitan areas and people more used to internet and information. As far as the society will be divided, opinions will be too. But actually, it isn't just a question of development. Attitudes could be divided: where women's rights are less considered, the rate of anti-gay discriminations (or laws) is much higher than in countries where gender gap is inexistent. 

Iceland is the country with the lower gender gap in the world and has recently had an openly-gay Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurðardóttir. To go further, in Australia, the only country which voted for the issue in favour of the addition of ''X sex'' on passports, more than 70% of its population would agree to allow same-sex marriage. But a decisive example is Brazil: the big federation permits since the half of 19th century homosexual relations (due to the fact that the issue, as marriage, was more seen as a Church question), but has remained since then a largely divided society; Brazil has one of the highest discrepancies between rich and poor in the world (following the Gini's Coefficient), and so still 36% of its population is against non-traditional relations.

The gay-friendly societies are the less divided ones, the most evolved in terms of the rule of the law.

Mentalitities are longer to evolve. Even if some people refer to same-sex relations as an abnormal fact, they can stand among people who say ''Yes, I accept it''. There's a difference between tolerating and accepting: both people who tolerate and people who accept agree on support and indifference, but in return, those who tolerate, consider same-sex relations on a different level, as the normality should be the traditional relations, while the abnormality is same-sex relations. This is dividing societies where gay people are integrated, and it is visible in a very wide range of situations. For example, the attribution of roles for genders or the consideration of gay friendships as a stereotype. What can reduce that gap is the promotion of LGBT culture and a stronger presence of LGBT people in all sectors of society.

Opening and changing attitudes

In any cases, the most important point is that societies are shifting their stances. Some more, some less, some already achieved their “transition”, some more than others, some are developing very fast on the issue. Gays and lesbians are a more and more visible minority everywhere in the world. What is evident is that mentalities are more used in some areas than in others. Where visibility is a daily fact, as in modern cities like London, Stockholm, Amsterdam, New York, Toronto, Melbourne, and so forth, the gays and lesbians presence is already part of a standard in the society; nevertheless, it is inevitable that homosexuals will come out in other places very fast in future years, as the world is more prompted to modernize, and focus on individual rights recognitions in spite of following not-in-line-with-the-time traditions.

Some places will take much longer than other to fully socially modernize, places remaining attached to traditions, where the following of political regime's reasons is still strong. Russia, China and the Islamic countries are still waiting for a big change, and will do that just if their legal systems will be changing towards a favouring of the rule of law instead of the political importance of the law. This could be the turn of activists for struggling, marking a new beginning of gay visibility. Could the law change? Is it inevitable they will join the trend in a further future? Well, by now the responses to these questions will only remain in our minds!


The map comprises key data from the UN Human Development Index, Democracy Index, Gay Pride Index, and Legal data.  


Edited by: 
Celeste Concari
Photo Credits: Alessandro Vitiello