Homosexuality refers to somebody who has a sexual attraction to somebody of the same sex. It’s a topic which is more broadly accepted in society now than it used to be. In the 1900’s, homosexuality was illegal in most countries, and it would be classed as a ‘mental illness’. In modern society, it has made it’s way into the appropriate social norms and in many countries, people accept homosexual behaviour in public. My interest is to figure out how those attitudes have changed, and what still needs to be improved with regards to behaviour towards homosexuals.
Attitudes towards homosexuality differ across cultures. In some countries such as Nigeria and Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death. Whereas in the UK, the Government has created laws in favour of the LGBT community. A recent study based off attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of high school students in Kenya showed shocking results. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya – a prison sentence may be given to anybody who identifies as homosexual. This study had a large sample, with 1,250 high school students participating. This meant an overall average could be created which is able to represent school students attitudes to homosexuality. From students completing a questionnaire on perceptions of homosexuality, they found 95% believed homosexuality is abnormal (Mucherah, Owino, & McCoy, 2016). This will be due to the laws and social norms of the country, and the attitudes influenced by parents who raise children.
Attitudes towards homosexuality also differs across time. Since the 1970’s, the world has become more accepting of homosexual relationships and behaviour. In the UK, to have an attraction to somebody of the same sex was a crime, and was considered a ‘mental condition’ which psychiatrists could ‘cure’. In the 1900’s, homosexuality was illegal and those who were caught were sentenced to death or sent to a mental asylum. A study found that as of May 2017, there were 124 countries without punishments for homosexuality and 72 countries which criminalise same-sex activity.
Many people believed the sexuality was a pathological medical condition, therefore doctors started creating treatments and cures. Psychiatrists preferred being referred homosexuals because they believed they could convert homosexuals to heterosexuals. Treatments included Electric Shock Aversion Therapy – a treatment where electric shocks were given to the client if arousal occurred from watching someone of the same sex undress, Psychoanalysis, Oestrogen treatment, Religious counselling, Hypnosis, Electroconvulsive therapy and more. A study by Smith, Bartlett and King (2004) discusses the treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950’s. They found that individuals have suffered negative long-term effects from society believing same-sex attraction is an illness.
A famous example of negative impacts from treatment is Alan Turing. Turing was an English mathematician and computer scientist who broke the Enigma code for Germany’s cypher machine during the Second World War. He was a homosexual, but he accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison for his punishment. As a result, he committed suicide in 1954. It was said that the humiliation of the prosecution for homosexuality cruel effects of the hormone treatment most likely influenced his state of mind. His impact on ending the War was not recognised until 2009, when the British Prime Minister made an official public apology on behalf of the British Government. Following this, Queen Elizabeth II gave Turing a posthumous pardon for his criminal conviction of homosexuality. It has become apparent that Turing is now not only a hero of the country, but especially for the LGBT community.
The main reason why homosexuality is accepted more widespread is due to changing laws and social norms. The LGBT community is celebrated in the modern society, however it used to be shamed upon. Many homosexuals are positively viewed by others for their courage and passion to stand out from others, but in the 1900’s, members of the LGBT community would have been abused and imprisoned. Younger generations are growing up knowing that homosexuality is common and is accepted. Schools teach children that it’s okay to have different sexual preferences to their friends, and urge them to not hide their sexuality. This is due to an increase of LGBT members being diagnosed with mental health conditions such as depression, social anxiety, substance/alcohol misuse and self-harm. These stem from a range of social factors such as isolation, discrimination and homophobia. There is also the issue of hate crime – homosexuals (approximately 1 in 5) are more likely to experience hate crime than heterosexuals. This means that whilst there are positive attitude changes, the reduction of homophobia will not change.
It it unknown whether the positive change in attitudes towards the LGBT community are the result of a true change in peoples attitudes, or whether people are reluctant to admit negative attitudes to homosexuals. Whilst there are more positive attitudes towards homosexuality, this may be due to the fact there are less explicit negative attitudes. People may still disagree with homosexuality, but not publicly. This means the majority of people may still maintain negative attitudes, without openly expressing their thoughts.