Essay: Criminalization of Gays in the United States

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Criminalization of Gays in the United States

Introduction- Clinically, homosexuality is the romantic and/or sexual attraction or behavior characteristics towards members of the same gender. It is far more complicated than just sexual preference, but more a pattern or disposition of attraction along with a social identity towards a particular group. The complexities may be explained more by viewing sexual orientation as a continuum; the famous Kinsey scale of 1 to 10, for instance. Rarely is someone either a 1 or a 10, and individuals may find themselves sliding on the scale at different times of their lives, different social or cultural situations, different stages of experimentation, and/or different stages of opportunity or arousal. In fact, there has been a tremendous growth and liberalization of the attitude of the American Psychological Association about sexuality in the last several decades, to where their official view on sexual orientation points to the fact that sexuality is neither a conscious choice nor one that can be voluntarily subdued without adverse consequences (Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality).

Sexuality and Gender Identity (psychology) -- Sexual orientation identity is perhaps at the crux of the debate on the nature vs. nurture argument regarding the continuum of homosexuality. In general, it describes how a person identifies their own sexuality -- how they may choose not to identify, or dis-identify with a particular orientation. For instance, this may or may not actually relate to their true orientation at the time. A 1990 study by the Social Organization of Sexuality found, for instance, that only 16% of women and 36% of men who reported even some level of same-sex attraction had a homosexual or bisexual self-identity (Lauman, Gango and Michael). In fact, most scholarship shows that sexual identity is far more closely related to sexual behavior than sexual orientation. Ninety-Six percent of women and 87% of men with a homosexual or bisexual identity had participated, at least once, in a sexual act with someone of the same gender; in contrast to 32% of women and 43% of men who had same-sex attractions. When these results were statistically analyzed, researchers noted, "Development of self-identification as homosexual or gay is a psychological and socially complex state, something which, in this society, is achieved over time, often with considerable personal struggle and self-doubt, not to mention social discomfort"(Lauman, et.al., 299).

Situational Sexual Behavior- When dealing with the issue of sexual behavior, it is important to note that homosexual experiences are, in a large part, also societally and situationally governed. Situational sexual behavior is different than what a person typically exhibits due to the social environment that permits, encourages, prohibits, or compels certain acts. Some examples of this are individuals who would never think of having sex with prostitutes, but when they visit countries in which the practice is both legal and encouraged, do so. People in prison, the military or single-gender boarding schools might engage in homosexual behaviors as a sexual outlet, but continue to identify as heterosexual. Studies have also shown that many people change or modify their sexual behavior depending on the situation and other life experiences. Bisexuality is rather common in the college and university setting; and adolescents often experiment, leading to the realization that may be classified as heteroflexible, or biflexible (Rosario, Schrimshaw and Hunter; Carroll).

Demographics and Prevalence- as simple as it sounds, it is actual quite difficult and controversial to scientifically measure sexual preference and/or orientation. Sexual research is sensitive, and even in the 21st century, many are reluctant to provide detailed and personal pieces of information on their own identification or sexual preference. Further, depending on how the question is written, or survey managed, often changes the interpretation of orientation and behavior. Another issue is the statistical issues of incidence and prevalence. Studies may agree on a definition of homosexual behavior, some may consider any homosexual experience valid, others only recent (given period of time). Further, just because someone may have had bisexual or homosexual thoughts does not mean they have acted on them, or even have the capacity or desire to actually perform in a physical relationship with the same gender (Worthen).

That being said, despite the famous Kinsey study of the 1940s and 1950s, updated in 1979, modern studies in the United States show that roughly 9-12% of the population (male and female) repot that they had had at least one same-sex experience, with a variance of 5-15% who identify as preference towards same gender relations. Because the scale so widely differs, based on type of survey, organization, etc., most scholarship believes that about 10% of any given population are likely to be homosexual, a far larger number (up to 30-40%) bisexual, and the remaining heterosexual. Additionally, while these are population-based figures, and vary widely from geographic area, most urban areas have about 5% of their population who identify as gay.

Historical Attitudes -- Social and cultural attitudes have varied over human history regarding homosexuality. One of the challenges is that it is incorrect to ascribe modern terminology (homosexual, bisexual, etc.) onto cultures that did not use, or ascribe to those terms. Instead, historical findings not that for most of recorded history, bisexuality was relatively prevalent, although there is historical evidence that homosexual couples existed as far back as Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia; certain in Greece and Rome, and it appears throughout the Ancient World on all continents (Dowson).

Prior to the European colonization of the New World, same-sex behavior was rather common in certain Amerindian tribes; usually ascribed to the Shaman, or Priest figure, and note as the Two-Spirit Individual. Homosexual and transgendered individuals were also quite common in the Aztec, Mayan and Incan civilizations; only to be castigated and punished by the Spanish who found such behaviors so morally reprehensible they often burned, executed, or had these individuals torn to pieces by dogs (GLBTQ).

Homosexuality remained underground "officially" throughout the Colonia Period, and it was not until the post-Civil War period that the U.S. Government, now using public administration to track and analyze households, began to notice that, at times, people organized their homes away from traditional marriages. Often for reasons of convenience and protection, homosexuals tended to congregate in major cities, but increasingly came under the target of medical, psychiatric, and legal intervention. Too, the changing dynamics of the 20th century (Depression, War, urbanization, industrialization) often threw same gendered individuals together so that those with such inclinations were better able to act upon their desires (Eaklor). The large homosexual populations in some of the coastal cities, though, was influenced by a little known U.S. military policy. After WWII, thousands of homosexuals, or those who were caught engaging in homosexual behavior, were dishonorably discharged from the military, many of whom were simply dumped in port cities. At times, several hundred ex-service people were dropped into San Francisco -- they could not go home, so many simply stayed (SafeZone).

After the Kinsey report, and moving into the Cold War Era, homosexuality was at times villainized, as it was in the Eisenhower administration, where it became an executive order than any homosexual activity would result in dismissal, the McCarthy era, in which it was linked to Communism; to a more guarded openness in the 1960s within the new culture of "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." It was not until 1969, though, when a few patrons of a then obscure bar the Stonewall Inn, finally took objection to being hassled by the NYPD and fought back during a raid. This began three days of rioting that transformed a rather quiet sub-culture movement into national prominence and a militant celebration of being gay -- now brought into the living room all around the country (Thorstad).

By the 1970s, homosexuality was no longer closeted in the major urban areas. San Francisco had an openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk. Yet, homosexuality was also abhorrent enough to some that people like Anita Bryant began a vituperative anti-gay campaign. Harvey Milk was assassinated, along with San Francisco Mayor George Mascone, and an all heterosexual jury gave the killer, Dan White, the lightest possible sentence of manslaughter. Shortly thereafter, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control began to notice a number of immune deficience related diseases that seemed to focus on the gay population of major cities; causing a panic and social backlash that would come to be identified as the AIDS scare. In 1986 the Supreme Court found that states may criminalize private sexual behavior, thus opening the way for sodomy to be prosecuted under Bowers v Hardwick (Safezone).

The Gay Disease- Possibly nothing in the modern sociological or cultural framework has changed the way homosexuality is viewed than the HIV virus. HIV is a retrovirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and is transferred in the human population through blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, and sometimes breast milk. Within these bodily fluids, HIV exists as both a free virus particle and as an active virus within infected cellular structures. The four typical transmission routes are unsafe sexual activities, sharing… [END OF PREVIEW]

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