People tend to feel good when they have established a daily routine, and a life in general, which complies with the rules of the community they belong, their morals, and personal beliefs. It is perhaps the safety provided to them by the entire societal structure around them that makes them not willing to accept anything “out of the ordinary”, when ordinary is what they have baptized as normal, based on all the aforementioned. With this in mind, being homosexual was definitely something a community could not easily accept. Having sexual drives with a particular focus on same-sex relationships was something unconceivable until very recently. Being homosexual was considered a plague and the homosexuals were perceived as faults of nature, immoral people, and bearers of diseases such as AIDS/HIV. They were excluded from life itself, and were forced to live in secrecy and shame. However, monstrosity is starting to give its place to acceptance and open-mindedness. People seem more willing to accept the homosexuals as their next-door neighbors, without getting annoyed by their presence, and embracing the fact that they also have rights in life.
Homosexuality in late 1890s and 1900s
Homosexuality has been stigmatized for many years. Interestingly, public opinion, as depicted through published papers, polls, and surveys, during the 1990s, is totally different from modern days. According to Herek (1991), institutional policies were discriminating towards the gay men and lesbian, and only two states, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, had forced statutes prohibiting antigay discrimination in housing, employment, and services (60). In addition, government security clearances to gay civilians were easily denied, or would undergo much more thorough investigation, compared to heterosexual applicants; while homosexual military personnel were subject to discharge, if their sexual orientation was revealed, despite their exemplary services (Herek 60). Furthermore, homosexuality was seriously condemned by the American people and was considered a sin, or morally wrong, based on polls of the late 1980s (Herek 60). Moreover, gay men and lesbians were subjected to various assaults by heterosexuals and were physically abused at least one time in their life for their sexual preferences (Herek 60). Not being able to enjoy life and have the freedom to choose a sexual partner that could as well become a partner for life, portrays the quality of life that homosexual partners had to put up with.
Stepping back in time, one can clearly see similar patterns, between the homosexuals and how the black people were living in the US, in the 1800s. Those years were characterized by discrimination of the African Americans, and black people in general. Just like with black people that were considered a lower societal class, if a class at all, and were deprived of fundamental human rights, such as education and decent work similar to the whites’, so did the homosexual people. They also faced significant issues, when trying to be accepted under equal terms from the society they have been members of. Maybe there were no distinctive sections in buses that separate the heterosexuals from the homosexuals, and there may have been schools for all children, regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation and identity, but people like Oscar Wilde would be easily charged with “gross indecency between men” (Somerville 2) for their homosexual preferences. Heterosexuality was a reason to put one behind bars and it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do, back in late 1880s. In fact, Oscar Wilde’s case signaled a series of sermons in churches that exceeded nine hundred in total, only between years 1895-1900 (Somerville 2). The churches in the United States back then, were full of priests preaching against homosexuality, and, of course, had a strong influence on people’s viewpoints and morals. Not only gay men and lesbian women were unwanted in the church of God, because priests considered them immoral and sinful, but the congregation was pushed to regard the homosexuals as a fault of nature and satanic people.
Changes in public opinion and what drives heterosexuals’ negative attitudes
Living a life according to one’s morals and religious beliefs is perfectly acceptable, as long as they do not pose a threat to others, by been fanatics. Fanaticism is the wrong guide and usually leads to destruction, rather than construction. However, societies need to construct solid grounds to allow all citizens that mean no harm, to stand equal among other people. Homosexual individuals are not people living in sin, because they have chosen a same-sex partner. They are just human being that have been demonized, but those that cannot accept the different. They are neither demons nor terrorists that threaten to tear apart the foundations of society or religion. They have never violated anyone’s constitutional rights, or hurt any individual that did not agree with their sexual orientation.
History has shown though that whenever there is discrimination of human rights, there are advocates that try to change things. Women did not have the right to vote or work outside their home, some decades ago, and someone started the feministic movement. When the black people were treated as slaves and third-class beings, someone felt they had to stand out and make things right. It is within the human nature to want what is just. Perhaps, it is a subconscious need based on each one’s religious beliefs: no religion flags unfairness, even if the definition of what is moral or not varies among different religions.
Homophobia is probably another reason that has driven some people in becoming violent and causing physical and emotional harm to gays and lesbians. The Kaiser Foundation (2013) has put together report based on public surveys conducted in fall 2000, in regards the experiences of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the United States, as well as the public opinion considering the policies and issues that relate to sexual orientation. According to their results, the homosexual population has undergone verbal abuse and physical harm at some point in their life (1).
However, also interwoven with other human traits is curiosity and the need to explain the different. When one does not know anything about the different, they usually turn against it, as a means to protect themselves from it. When humans did not know of the fire, they would idolize and worship thunders, while they had grown to feel afraid of it, until the world evolved, and scientists, with the help of technology, managed to explain the different and the unknown. Then people made friends with fire and thunder. The same things happened with homosexuality. It was not something that people were used of, and learned to be afraid of it, especially after it has been seemingly linked to serious diseases, like AIDS/HIV (Somerville 8).
According to empirical research, the attitudes of heterosexuals towards homosexuals are closely linked to socio-demographic and psychological variables (Herek 63). Those heterosexuals that have negative attitudes towards gay people are more likely to be less well-educated and at an older age; most likely live in areas where the norm is the negative attitudes; are less likely to want any interaction or contact whatsoever with homosexual people, and are more likely to be strongly religious and attached to a rather conservative ideology (Herek 63-64). According to Herek (1991), the negative stereotypes about homosexual people do not derive from “cognitive processes that occur in a social vacuum. Rather, they are shaped by historically-evolved cultural ideologies that justify the subjugation of minorities” (67). Therefore, changing public opinion is a slow process that under no circumstances can happen overnight. However, things have indeed changed, and lesbians and gays now have more rights than before and are no longer considered a threat to society.
The contribution of science
However, science can become a great helping hand and drive people out of ignorance, and consequently fear and defensive/violent outbursts, in matters that relate to the physical, emotional, and medical world. The medical and sexological literature in late 19th century shows a “gradual change in medical models of sexual deviance from a notion of sexual inversion  to a model of homosexuality” (Somerville 16). Homosexuality was slowly starting to be referred as an acceptable behavior. The first in-depth study that was ever published in a medical journal, in the US, during the late 1800s, an article namely Sexual Inversion in Women, was included in the first volume of the book Studies in the Psychology of Sex and became a definite text in all homosexuality investigations of the late 19th century (Somerville 19). Homosexuality was no longer considered a crime, but a congenital physiological abnormality that could not be either prevented or deliberately applied (Somerville 19). In other words, homosexuality had started to become un-demonized.
Havelock Ellis was a British writer, physician and social reformer that has greatly contributed to change what people thought of homosexuality in late 19thcentury. During times when any act of gross indecency between men was strictly prohibited by law, he defended the fact that homosexuality was not a disease, or a stigma, rather than an instinct that for those that possessed it “appeared natural and normal” (Somerville 19). Ellis was one of those that wanted to restore justice, as mentioned before. His work was originally judged as a scandalous libel, and not a scientific work; however, the fact that Ellis had used credible US sources, mainly provided to him by the secretary of the Chicago Academy of Medicine, made his book a valuable reference for all medical and legal practitioners, as well as nonexperts that were seeking for answers to issues related to homosexuality (Somerville 19). Then, came Sigmund Freud, in the 1920s, who also tried to shed some light to the “abnormal” sexual object choice, as conceived back then, of homosexuality (Somerville 20). When he argued that homosexuality was playing a part of everybody’s sexuality, only in different degrees, the world was shaken; yet, the foundations for accepting homosexuality as a normal situation had been set.
Influences from the film industry
The film art also influences the public opinion on various subjects and highly controversial topics over time. Not until recently, all romantic films had a particular happy ending: the two heterosexual partners would marry and live happily ever after. Nothing could even be implied about having two homosexual partners on the screen, not to mention marriage between those two. A novel called Florida Enchantment, by Gunter and Redmond (1891) that was made into a film in 1914, was about a couple, Bessie and Lawrence, where Lawrence was formelly a woman that had a sex change (Somerville 53). In the end, they got married, and the film was judged as tasteless and offensive; however, again, the world was shown another dimension: homosexuals had a right to have a happy life together. Nobody would expect societies to accept marriage between homosexuals to be blessed.
Public opinion in recent days
How did people feel about having homosexual teachers teaching at schools, in 1973? When asked, 48 percent would not want homosexuals to be allowed to teach at schools, colleges, and universities (Herek 61). In 1980, the balance shifted, and 55 percent were in favor of having homosexual teachers at schools, which turned into a 57 percent, by 1988 (Herek 61). Furthermore, 44 percent of people would want a book written by a homosexual to be removed from their public library, in 1973, and by 1988, that percentage dropped down to 36 (Herek 61). A recent poll set out by Washington Post and ABC channel, has shown a profound change in public opinion, in regards homosexuality and gay marriages. It seems that almost 60 percent of Americans believe that homosexual people have the right to marry, just like every heterosexual couple, as opposed to the 55 percent that “favored gay nuptials” (Cohen), a decade ago. It is also apparent that the new generation finds it far easier to accept homosexual people in their communities, while the older ages also appear more supportive to gay marriages and homosexuality in general, than ten years ago (Cohen).
In terms of legislation, today, approximately seventeen states ban discrimination based on gender expression or identity, while twenty-one states ban any discrimination that is based on one’s sexual orientation (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation).
Homosexual individuals used to be forced to live in shame, societal isolation, and public disapproval. They did not have equal rights to housing and employment, and any sexual interaction between them was considered a gross indecency. Furthermore, the homosexual population was perceived to be linked to AIDS/HIV, and a minority of sinners that had no place in communities, not to mention equal rights.
Undeniably, people are afraid of the different and unknown, and homosexuality, as something opposed to the norms, was a threat to many that had developed negative attitudes. But, as soon as the world became to understand homosexuality better, people were gradually feeling less threatened. Of course, history has shown that people generally want what is just and fair; so, there have been people, like Ellis, that fought to reposition the way people thought of the homosexuals.
Now, the public opinion has changed significantly. The young people are more willing to accept the homosexuals as part of their community, see eye to eye with them in regards homosexual marriages, and promote equal treatment. Legislature also supports anti-gay discrimination; people shave started to accept homosexual teachers teach at schools, and the older have started to see things differently. There might be still a long way before the homosexual people are fully integrated with communities; however, the foundations are laid, and the future is nothing but promising.
Cohen, Jon (2013). “Gay marriage support hits new high in Post-ABC poll”. The Washington Post. Web. April 12, 2014 < http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/03/18/gay-marriage-support-hits-new-high-in-post-abc-poll/>
Herek, Gregory, (1991). “Stigma, Prejudice, and Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men”. In John C. Gonsiorek & James D. Weinrich (Eds.) (1991). “Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy” (pp. 60-80). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Somerville, Siobhan (2000). “Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture”. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8233-2443-1
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2013). “Inside-OUT: A Report on the Experiences of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals in America and the Public’s Views on Issues and Policies Related to Sexual Orientation”. Web. April 12, 2014 <http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/new-surveys-on-experiences-of-lesbians-gays-and-bisexuals-and-the-public-s-views-related-to-sexual-orientation-report.pdf>