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Homosexuality is the term used to describe the state of those people who are attracted romantically or sexually to other people of the same gender. The word "homosexual" was first used to describe such a person in Germany in the 19th century; it is derived from the Greek homos, meaning "same", not the Latin homō, meaning "man".


Whilst there existed people attracted to their own gender long before the coining of a term used to describe this state, there existed no specific word in general usage, and accepted by academics, as a term to describe those for whom their own gender represents the predominant object of romantic or sexual desire. In the 1860s, an Austrian born Hungarian writer, Karl Maria Kertbeny, used the term 'homosexual' for the first time in Berlin in anthropological writings about people for whom same gender attraction defined their sexual orientation.[1] As a result of Kertbeny's writings, now generally accepted terms such as heterosexual and bisexual also became a part of general discourse.

Historically many homosexual people sought to conceal their sexuality from others, however there have been examples in history where that has either not been the case, or not been the way that events have transpired for them. For example, Oscar Wilde was a prominent homosexual writer (although he did marry) who was imprisoned at the end of the 19th century for offending public decency.[2] It was Wilde who first referred to homosexual attraction, during his court trial, as "the love that dare not speak its name".[3]

Many people have chosen to seek not to be known as homosexual, for fear of being not accepted or becoming ostracized within society. During the 1920s and 1930s, German homosexuals were quite often open with others in society about their homosexuality. Homosexuals were amongst the groups nominated by the National-Socialist German Workers Party, known commonly as the Nazis, included for internment in work camps in Europe during the Second World War. Other groups of people included in what became referred to by historians as concentration camps at this time included jews, gypsies and political opponents. The various groups in such camps were each assigned a symbol according to their race, religion and/or, in the case of homosexuals, their sexuality. The symbol assigned to be worn by homosexuals in the camps was a pink triangle, made of one half of the two triangles used to form the Star of David on the armband that was worn by Jewish internees. The triangle of cloth was dyed pink and affixed to armbands, worn by all prisoners in the camps, with the point of the triangle pointing downwards. This pink triangle symbol remains a powerful symbol that is now used by gay community groups around the world, in a reclaiming of what had been invented initially by the Nazis as an identity mechanism of homosexual oppression.

Social acceptance of homosexual people in the 20th century progressed slowly at first. For example, in 1967, the UK decriminalized certain homosexual male sexual activities, but initially only in England and Wales.[4] In 1969, a series of violent confrontations, now known as the Stonewall riots, occurred at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where homosexuals, as well as others, fought police in a battle now widely viewed as a beginning of a modern gay rights movement.

Homosexuality today

Since around the mid-20th century, homosexual people have sometimes been referred to by various slang terms including "gay", a term sometimes used to refer exclusively to male homosexuals, and also sometimes more broadly used to refer to GLBT people. Female homosexuals are referred to as lesbians or gay women. Many people now do not seek to conceal their homosexuality and are said to be 'out of the closet' as openly gay - with family, friends and at work - although not all are, and certainly this is not possible for homosexual people in all countries.[5] Homosexual people today experience varying conditions of social and legal acceptance around the world. In some countries such as the United Kingdom for example, gays and lesbians can enter into Civil Partnerships which are seen as equivalent in most respects to marriage. In some countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada, gay marriage is allowed.

Whilst the topic of homosexuality is one that has become more acceptable in certain countries, and homosexual people find greater levels of acceptance, there remains laws in certain countries that punish by imprisonment people proved or thought to be homosexual. There are also groups in some societies around the world who do not accept homosexuality and expressly distinguish homosexual people from homosexuality. For example, some Christian groups do this, and some Muslims consider Islam to be against both homosexuality and homosexual people. In the USA, and around the world, there has been controversy over the ordination of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as an Anglican bishop. [6]

The business sector has increasingly targeted gay consumers with some companies now having dedicated gay marketing campaigns to target homosexual customers as a niche market group.


  1. Gayhistory.com Retrieved: July 29, 2007
  2. The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Douglas O. Linder. University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved: July 29, 2007
  3. The Trial of Oscar Wilde. Book review by Bombay Bar Asssociation. Retrieved: July 29, 2007
  4. Gay 'ordeal' before and after law. BBC News. Retrieved: July 29, 2007
  5. Closet UK: 49% of gay people are too scared to come out at work. The Independent. January 29, 2006. Retrieved: July 29, 2007
  6. Without gay priests Church would be lost claims Bishop Gene. July 27, 2007. Times Online. Retrieved: July 29, 2007