The LGBT community has been a part of the human experience from the earliest known days. Indeed, much debate even among LGBT scholars has been had about the institutions featuring homo-social and/or homosexual behavior around the world since ancient times, and the many cases where gender identity vs. cultural expectation are difficult to determine many centuries later. As a result, what is listed below is only a sprinkling of what exists, or even what is known, and slips away from the questions of many longstanding cultural acceptances in favor of a small number of definable events from the past two or three centuries.
Ottoman Penal Code Article 168 Instituted — 1858
While the Ottoman Empire may not have been the most accepting institution in history, this law, was noticeable when it was ruling over the region known as Israel. Through it, consensual sexual actions between parties of any gender were legalized, and with it, sexual identities are given a little more ability to flourish.
Homosexuality was very well known in the era, and while how widely accepted can be debated, this represented a time when an area seen as one of the cradles of civilization was theoretically accepting of consensual love between any pair. While records from that era are anything but universal in regards to sexual orientation, when the British took control decades later, the presence of both homosexual male and female couplings was noted as something culturally prevalent.
While this acceptance would backside heavily as the British Empire pursued increasing influence over the region in the early 20th century, that fascinating period was something anyone in the community could recognize as special.
The Trial of Oscar Wilde — 1885
While the exact orientation of Oscar Wilde can be debated his status as a gay icon cannot.
His trial is possibly the highest-profile example of one homosexual act in western history. Set off a touchstone change in the world that was less than obvious to start.
While not the proudest moment in the history of the LGBTQ community, the trial did bring the concept of homosexuality to public attention and involve a rather beloved figure in the process.
Further, the difficulty and suffering Wilde experienced during his sentence had an appreciable effect on the world around him. Hard labor was steadily reduced as a sentence to near-nothingness until in 1952 right-wing advocates slipped loopholes into the law allowing judges to arbitrarily treat not working in a prison as a new type of crime.
While much of the reaction in the trial led to increasing hostility, this was far from universal. For many around the world though, it gave a term for their thought and feelings, a comparison to Oscar Wilde now serving as a synonym for homosexual desire.
While not a happy moment in LGBTQ history, the trial cannot be denied as one of particular import.
Rina Natan forces Israel to let her transition — May 25th, 1956
The fight for transgendered individuals has been a definite hardship, even once medical technology allowed transition. While a slow and determined legal battle continues to make such matters easier, the struggle has existed long enough that drastic measures could be required.
Rina Natan was assigned male at birth in 1923. From an early age, she excelled in the arts and showed a tendency to prefer women’s clothing. She served honorably in the military of Israel, and her life was seen as respectable but unremarkable.
By 1953 Rina was wearing women’s clothes frequently enough to have to explain her identity to the authorities, with Attorney General Haim Cohen (who had no medical training) then making it a mission in life to stop her transition. Ignoring the advice of experts and appointed panels, he pushed for testosterone injections and other harsh treatments in response to not only her request but her self-harm from their denial.
On the above-mentioned date, Rina arrived bleeding yet oddly satisfied, having severed part of her anatomy to ensure the hospital would finally help her to transition.
Little is known of Rina’s final years. Two years later while still forced to have a male gender listed on her passport, she made a trip to Switzerland and disappeared. While her exact fate is unknown, the multilingual Ms. Natan likely lived out her years happily in Europeas the woman she fought so hard to prove she was.
It is a shame that Rina Natan never published her memoirs. One woman struggling against a people who had all suffered the shared persecution with her decades prior is a powerful image. While one may not know what happened to the woman, the inspiration her determination and success gives is a gift to us all.
The Election of Harvey Milk — 1978
The fact that Milk’s election led to his assassination is more well-remembered today, yet his accomplishment in the being appeared to public office as an out gay man which serves as a landmark for the community.
Milk’s career did not start overnight. He spent years closeted before the counterculture movement helped to persuade him otherwise, and years more campaigning for one office after another before succeeding.
While in office he worked hard, even helping to create a nondiscrimination ordinance to help the people of the city. Helping the people of his constituency and the whole of the city may have been legacy enough, yet his status was far from so limited. His assassination by a jealous competitor, a man who would go on to admit it was deliberate and calculated, cannot take away from this.
His service to the people of San Francisco’s 5th District as an elected official lasted a mere few months. While ending in tragedy, the very accomplishment of the man in a right-wing nation like the US cannot be denied.
Stonewall Riots — 1969
While the moon landing is likely to forever be the best-remembered event of 1969, another will be on the radar for decades to come.
On June 28th a police raid was conducted upon the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. While such actions were nothing new, something changed. Previously, as the police had come to expect, there would be little resistance and those in a raided location would take some hits and scorn before moving on.
In this case, however, something snapped. As the police action grew sexually and simply physically violent, the people of the community, inside and outside of Stonewall, coalesced into a protest against these actions towards people trying to simply live their lives. While accepting of arresting known Mafia members the crowd grew angrier and angrier as the police brutalized and arrested anyone who had been a simple patron. The police, as was their way, responded with overwhelming force in the coming days hoping to kill in revenge for a minor embarrassment. The fact that fatalities were few was a lucky miracle.
By the next year, Gay Pride marches became commonplace, and news organizations and advocacy groups were springing up regularly. While the police directed by Howard Leary continued their raids, even nearly causing the deaths of the likes of Diego Viñales, the movement had been galvanized from a slow and careful series of actions to a furious Civil Rights struggle.
In recent years the question of what group to credit in the riots has become contentious, with arguments about frequent cross-dressing and its connection to trans identify centering, yet the fact remains that this action by a racially diverse queer group helped to put the gay rights movement on the map in the USA. While the fight has been long and hard, indeed still ongoing, the import of these few days should not be denied.
Netherlands Same-Sex Marriage Legalization — 2000
Equal Marriage rights granted in different places at different times are all victories, yet the year 2000 legislative victory in the Netherlands makes one of the earliest examples codifying this right into law. While strongly opposed by the right-wing Christian Democrat party at the time, these laws succeeded in passing and bringing new rights to Europe.
Indeed the fact the laws passed at the time detailed the fact Civil Unions were not a form of equality reminded the world that a struggle for rights is not achieved by near-enough equivalencies, but instead by making the true legal opportunities available to all.
Marriage equality rulings and regulation changes happen at different times in different parts of the world. Given the law-bending, breaking, and court-packing antics of many right-wing regimes, little actions like this are all the more miraculous. The fact it led to a slow but steady expansion of this right throughout the world only adds to the import rather than subtracts.
LGBTQ history is a series of struggles and setbacks, one has to admire the accomplishments and opportunities of the past. As one looks at the present and sees difficulties ahead or around, the preceding can serve as a reminder of a rocky but beautiful set of moves towards acceptance and equality. Sometimes drastic action was needed, in others, it produced at best-mixed results, still, inspiration and knowledge can be gained from all.