Around the world societal attitudes toward homosexuality vary considerably, as we learn in the following Sexuality and Diversity discussion.


Homosexuality in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Attitudes toward homosexuality vary considerably across cultures. A number of stud­ies of other cultures, including ancient ones, have revealed widespread acceptance of homosexual behaviors. For example, over 50% of 225 Native American tribes accepted male homosexuality, and 17% accepted female homosexuality. In ancient Greece homo­sexual relationships between men, especially between men and boys, were considered a

superior intellectual and spiritual expression of love, whereas heterosexuality provided the more pragmatic benefits of children and a family unit (Pomeroy, 1965).

Some societies require their members to engage in homosexual activities. For example, all male members of the Sambia society in the mountains of New Guinea engage in exclu­sively homosexual behaviors from approximately 7 years of age until the late teens or early 20s, when men marry. Sambian men believe that a prepubertal boy becomes a strong war­rior and hunter by drinking as much semen as possible from postpubertal boys’ penises. Once a boy reaches puberty, he must no longer fellate other boys but can experience erotic pleasure from fellatio by boys who cannot yet ejaculate. From the start of their erotic lives and during the years of peak orgasmic capacity, young men engage in frequent obligatory and gratifying homoeroticism. During the same period, looking at or touching females is taboo. Yet as they approach marriage, these youths create powerful erotic daydreams about women. During the first weeks of marriage, they experience only fellatio with their wives; thereafter they make intercourse part of their heterosexual activity. After marriage they stop homosexual activity, experience great sexual desire for women, and engage exclu­sively in heterosexual activity for the rest of their lives (Stoller & Herdt, 1985).

We previously discussed self-identification as asexual, homosexual, bisexual, or het­erosexual as one component of sexual orientation. In the Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan, self-definition is almost completely unrelated to actual sexual behavior. A United States and British Forces research team recently reported on the long-standing cultural tradi­tion of Pashtun men in which they predominantly have sex with prepubertal boys and other adult men. However, even men who have had sex only with other men do not label themselves or their partners as homosexual. Homosexuality is defined narrowly in this Muslim culture as the love of another man, not as the use of another male for sexual gratification. Homosexuality is an enormous sin in Islam, and self-definition as homosexual could be a life-and-death matter (Cardinalli, 2010).

In contrast to accepting same-sex behavior or not defining it as homosexuality, extreme violation of basic human rights for gays and lesbians is common in many places around the globe. Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries and punishable by death in five countries—Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen—and in sections of Nigeria and Somalia (Bruce-Jones & Itaborahy, 2011).

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the government has executed 4,000 people charged with homosexual acts (Shah, 2011). Extreme abuses occur in coun­tries without the death penalty, including "social cleansing" death squads in Colombia, illegal clinics in Ecuador that use physical and mental abuse to attempt to "cure" homo­sexuality, and persecution of gay and AIDS activists in many countries (Luongo, 2007; Romo, 2012; Samuels, 2008). In the United States since 1990, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has granted political asylum to people fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation (Burr, 1996). Currently, most LBGT asylum seekers come from Jamaica, Russia, Grenada, Peru, and Uzbekistan. Few asylum seekers come from the Middle East because it is much more difficult for them to get visas to the United States.

A trend toward increased approval of homosexuality is occurring in most nations around the world (T. Smith, 2011). Events in Cuba demonstrate how a society can make rapid positive changes regarding homosexuality. During the first 35 years of the Communist revolution, lesbians and gay men were seen as deviant antirevolutionaries and were expelled from the Communist Party and from state and university jobs. Some were sent to labor camps. In 1992 Cuban leader Fidel Castro blamed the previous homophobia on ingrained attitudes of machismo. He expressed support for gay rights and described homosexuality as a natural human tendency that must be respected. Cas­tro’s niece, Mariela Castro, has been instrumental in working through a government – funded organization to promote acceptance of lesbians, gay men, and transgendered individuals. As a consequence of this and other efforts, in 2008 Cuba passed a resolution

Critical Thinking Question

How do your religious beliefs, or absence of beliefs, influence your attitudes toward homosexuality?

allowing transgender individuals to undergo sex-reassignment surgeries free of charge (Rowe, 2009).

In other places, equal rights have increased. Countries that are most supportive of homosexual rights tend to have high levels of economic development, advanced levels of education, and lower levels of religiousness (T. Smith, 2011). Fourteen countries, mostly European, have established national laws that protect gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination. (The United States is not included with these countries because it has yet to pass a federal law against discrimination based on sexual orientation.) Domestic partnerships have legal status in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ice­land, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Twenty countries have eliminated bans on gays in the military (Quindlen, 2009a). Notably, in 2011 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution affirming human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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