Homosexuality of the Ancients: The World Before Homophobia


  • For the past several decades, the world has become engaged in a conversation about homosexuality
  • Individuals and activist groups have appealed to their governments around the world, demanding equal rights to love who they choose
  • Within the past several years, many governments have repealed homophobic laws or created legislation protecting the rights of the LGBTQA community
  • However, the world is still hostile towards people of different sexualities, regardless of the legal progress we have made
  • It is still dangerous to be open about your sexuality
  • The world wasn’t always this way
  • Before the rise and spread of Western culture and monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the majority of the world looked at homosexuality as a normal and natural part of life
  • All of the major civilizations of the ancient world were inclusive of different sexualities
  • We live over the ashes of a world that understood that love and gender are not black and white concepts
  • Let’s take a trip around the world


Today: Egypt

  • Human Rights Watch is an advocacy organization that brings attention to issues for the LGBTQA community
  • In September 2014, 7 men were arrested for “inciting debauchery”
    • They were suspected of performing a same sex marriage
  • The Egyptian government has forced those arrested for debauchery to undergo anal medical examinations, where men are “checked” to make sure they haven’t engaged in homosexual activity
  • Despite there being no law banning homosexuality, people convicted of debauchery are sentenced to up to 8 years of jail time

Ancient Egypt

  • Homosexuality and gender fluidity were normal parts of Egyptian life
  • The gods regularly shifted gender and engaged in same sex relationships
  • Horus and Seth
    • Not a romantic relationship, as they were both trying to prove the other was the “passive” member
  • The god’s weren’t the only ones to accept same sex relationships
  • Tombs of the pharaohs and prominent Egyptians depicted normal life, and many of them showed homosexual relationships
  • Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were servants to the Pharaoh, and were buried in a conjoined tomb

Today: China

  • China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 (“hooliganism”)
    • Removed it from the list of mental illnesses in
  • CNN published an article in December of 2014 describing public sentiment towards homosexuality
    • You only have one child so you want your child to be ‘normal’ like everybody else”
      • Xiaogang Wei, Beijing Gender Health Education Institute
  • The article continues, claiming many members of the LGBTQA community get married to the opposite gender anyway, either to pretend to be straight or to produce a child
  • As of 2013, Chinese clinics still offered “shock treatment” as a cure for homosexuality

Ancient China

  • Confucianism was tolerant of homosexuality and same sex relationships
  • According to WomenOfChina, The emperors of the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) were often openly gay and kept male lovers throughout their rule
    • Emperors Wu and Wen were both known to be gay
    • Emperor Ai had slept with his male servant – when he got up he ripped his sleeves so as not to disturb the other man
      • “Relationship of the cut-off sleeves” stems from this story
  • Galeote Pereira, “The greatest fault we do find among the Chinese is sodomy, a vice very common in the meaner sort, and nothing strange among the best
    • The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies

Joel Molero, 19, was brutally murdered for being openly gay

Today: The Americas

  • Argentina Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay have passed legislation allowing gay marriage
  • Many Latin American countries have tried legally protecting LGBTQA rights
    • However, it’s not enough
  • According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 600 people in Latin America were killed between January 2013 and March 2014 from homophobic violence
  • Joel Molero, a 19 year old Peruvian man was murdered and dismembered  in for being openly gay in November of 2012
    • According to HuffPost, information not released by the press until June of 2013
  • In North America, the US and Canada have legalized gay marriage
    • Parts of Mexico allow it
  • Despite legal changes, discrimination still pervades everyday life
  • June 12, 2016 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando
    • One of the worst shootings in our history
  • Approximately 20% of hate crimes in the US in 2012 were on the basis of sexual orientation
  • I’ve witnessed people harassing each other in high school for their sexuality

Tribal Americas

  • Many native South American tribes included same sex relationships in daily life
  • The Moche people of Peru (0 CE – 800 CE) left erotic pottery depicting same sex couples
  • The Incan Empire considered both homosexuality and premarital sex normal parts of life
    • A fact the conquistadors were horrified to find out
  • In “The Construction of Homosexuality,” David Greenberg discusses the commonhomosexuality of the Mayans, as described by Spanish missionaries
  • Most Native American tribes were accepting of homosexuality
  • Navajo tribes considered gay marriage a normal union
  • “Common law marriages” applied to everyone
  • Two spirit” is a common term
    • You are blessed to have the spirit of male and female
      • LGBT tribe members often became religious leaders for that reason
  • Crossdressing and androgyny were both totally acceptable

Today: Africa

  • Multiple African nations have tried to claim that homosexuality is a Western concept brought by slavers and colonists to Africa
  • Bisi Alimi is a Nigerian journalist – he has written about homosexuality in precolonial africa
    • He was forced to emigrate to the UK after receiving death threats for revealing his sexuality
  • South Africa is the ONLY African country to legalize gay marriage
    • Homosexuality itself is still illegal in OVER 30 African countries
    • Jailing, Beatings, and occasionally the death penalty are CURRENT punishments for homosexuality

Tribal Africa

  • Bisi Alimi argues against his government, reminding them that the Yoruban word “adofuro,” meaning homosexuality, has existed long before the colonial era
  • The men of the Zande warrior tribe often married younger men
    • Lived in the region that is now Sudan, where being convicted of homosexuality often means the death penalty
  • King Mwanga II of Uganda was well known for being bisexual – he was open in his rebellion against the Christian colonists who tried to criminalize homosexuality in Ugandan culture


  • Egypt, China, The Americas, and Africa were only 4 of the many many regions that accepted homosexuality as a normal part of life
    • Ancient Rome, India, Russia, and all of the other hubs of culture today were inclusive of different sexualities
  • As of right now, only 26 countries have legalized gay marriage
    • There are 195 countries in the world
  • Hundreds of people are murdered every year for being open about their sexuality
  • Despite the progress that anti-discrimination laws have made, the LGBTQA community is still in physical and emotional danger from the rest of the world
  • Laws and policies will not fix the situation – we need social change to truly make a difference
  • We need to go back to our roots
  • Every ancient civilization was tolerant of homosexuality,including same sex relationships as normal parts of everyday life
  • Gender did not have to be a black and white concept, and neither did sexuality
  • When you are sick, you try to rid yourself of the disease
    • Homophobia is a disease in our global community, and we must get rid of it
  • The ancients recognized the true rules of nature – love is love, regardless of gender
  • Let’s take an active role in changing the world perception, and act like the ancients


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