Queer Sense Ecological Model: Historical Context
The historical context has an impact on our attitudes towards sexual orientation. Celebrities who are openly gay such as Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper would have suffered significantly had anyone known their sexual orientation in the early 1900s.
Gay identity has association with the criminalization of sodomy which had once been illegal over centuries. In the United States, the people of seventeenth and eighteenth century did not police the issue of sodomy too well. In the early 1900s arrests increased for sodomy but they were mostly related to cases regarding violent crimes.
By the mid-1900s the arrests for sodomy dramatically increased. The violent crimes were not increasing either. Rather, gays were being targeted. Legislatures pushed for sentences of ten to fifteen years in prison. During the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy lead a witch hunt for communists, and he also lead a crusade against gays. The next decade saw criminalizing laws against gays.
The term sexual psychopath was used and gay people were associated with this term. During the McCarthy era for example, Ohio expanded its laws to cover misdemeanor sexual offenses. In Ohio it was illegal to display any overt sexual conduct such as two men touching hands. Several states made similar changes to their laws. The result was that gay people were regularly arrested and imprisoned. In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional, yet, even today there are still twelve states that have sodomy laws on the books.
We saw the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and homosexuality became synonymous with disease. By the 1990s there was a growing tolerance. President Bill Clinton passed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This gave homosexuals in the military some recognition that they existed even though they must remain silent on their sexual orientation otherwise be dishonorably discharged. In this time period it was safer to remain silent about sexual orientation than be out, and it many circumstances, it continued to be better to blend in as heterosexual.
Now, in 2015, there are thirty states where same-sex marriage is legal. The number of celebrities who are out has drastically increased and continues to grow. Once upon a time young men in only large urban areas like Los Angeles started to explore in their teens or twenties, but in today’s world early teens are coming out gay in rural areas of the South and Midwest. There is a push for more support to be given to our gay youths in terms of community clubs, high school organizations, and access to mentors.
History does make a difference.
And if you are gay, you’re in a good era.
Here are a few more examples of moments in history that drastically altered our political landscape: