Tag Archives: lesbian

Gay Men Reveal the Fetishes They Don’t Want Others to Know About

Kinky gay men who are open and honest with partners are more likely to have better mental health

Photo: torbakhopper / Flickr

Gay men have revealed the fetishes they don’t want others to know about.

XTube surveyed their users to determine and rank which fetishes they get turned most on by.

The winner was ‘partialism’, also known as a fetish for a particular part of the body. This could be anything from feet to a hairy chest.

Role play was second on the list, while narratophilia (or dirty talk) was third on the list.

The answers was collected from over 3,000 gay or bisexual men over the age of 18.


Clothes often play a key part in people’s fetishes | Photo: Differio

The full list:

1. Partialism (9.54%)

2. Role play (8.24%)

3. Narratophilia [or dirty talk] (7.55%)

4. Uniforms [firefighters, soldiers etc] (7.41%)

5. Bondage (7.31%)

6. Submission (7. 3%)

7. Exhibitionism [sex in a place you can get caught] (6.28%)

8. Voyeurism [watching others have sex] (4.7%)

9. Maschalagnia [armpits] (3.4%)

10. Macrophilia [someone being bigger than you] (2.79%)

11. Olfactophilia [smells and odors] (2.52%)

12. Clothing fetishism [leather, rubber] (2.14%)

13. Underwear fetishism [jockstraps, etc] (2.01%)

14. Ablutophilia [baths, showers] (1.78%)

15. Technosexuality [robots, toys etc] (1.4%)

16. Medical fetishism [doctors etc] (1.36%)

17. Podophilia [feet] (1.24%)

18. Coulrophilia [clowns] (1.11%)

19. Sitophilia [food] (1%)

20. Pygophilia [bums] (0.79%)

21. Transvestophilia [wearing clothing typically worn by the opposite gender] (0.65%)

22. Toonophilia [cartoons] (0.3%)

Kink and mental health

If you are kinky, psychotherapists advise to share it with your partners if you already have good communication.

Also, some studies say people who do engage in kink are more likely to have positive mental health.

Deborah Fields, a kink-specialist and psychotherapist, told Gay Star News: ‘[There are studies that say] people who are kinky are more likely to be ok with themselves. People who are kinky tend to have better mental health than people who are not.

‘It’s a hard one to judge. I see a lot of mental health issues. However, do I see any more mental health issues than those outside of the kink community. No.

‘I think what kinky people do is talk more. We have to talk about our shit more than someone that doesn’t. You’re negotiating consent. That community, we, are more likely to discuss things and be open about mental health upfront. The idea of being risk-aware is also including mental health.

‘Research says we’re quite ok. However, there’s no widespread research that has yet to look at the kink community.

New calls for Kink to be added to LGBTI acronym

What do you think?

Should ‘Kink’ be a part of the LGBTI acronym? | Photo: torbakhopper and See-ming Lee / Flickr

There are new calls for the letter ‘K’ (which stands for ‘Kink’) to join the LGBTI initialism.

According The Gay UK, the full all-inclusive list of initials is now: LGBTQQICAAAPF2K+

Breaking this down, the letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Agender, Ally, Pansexual, Polysexual, Friends and Family, Two Spirit and Kink.

But many took to Twitter to respond with confusion to the addition of ‘k’ to the list.

Some called out the fact kink is not a sexuality or a gender identity.

Vonny Leclerk said: ‘There’s now a K for Kink in the LGBT+ acronym. Really? Is kinkiness now viewed as a sexual orientation?’

Twitter user Sister Outrider wrote: ‘Just no. [It] is not a sexual orientation. People with sexual kinks do not face any structural or systematic discrimination as a result of those proclivities.’

‘Isn’t Pride all about celebrating who you have sex with?’

Previous forums on the subject also discuss the appropriateness of adding kink to the acronym.

On a previous MacRumors forum, one user wrote: ‘The queer community is already incredibly sexualized.’

‘One major problem I have with including kink in the LGBTQ+ community is it makes LGBTQ+ spaces inappropriate for minors. LGBTQ+ youth need safe spaces to express themselves and any struggles they may be facing as a result of their identity,’ they said.

But then another came to kink’s defence: ‘Personally, I see the sexual aspect of gay pride parades being the participants giving the finger to the people grossed out by the sexual aspect of their relationship as if that’s the only thing it is about.’

Then another said: ‘Isn’t Pride all about celebrating who you have sex with?’

What do you think?

Who watches the most kink and BDSM porn out of gay, bisexual or straight men?

Other findings include how one in five straight men watches gay porn

Who out of straight, bisexual and gay men is the most interested in kink?

A new study has surveyed the porn-viewing habits of 821 gay, straight and bisexual men from across the US, and the results are very revealing.

One in five straight men watches gay porn and 55% of gay men watches straight porn.

Other findings included how bisexual men were far less interested in kink or BDSM than their straight or gay counterparts.

Dr Martin J Downing, the lead researcher, was surprised to find how 21% of men, who say they only had sex with women, would watch two men having sex together on screen.

He found sexual behavior and sexual identity seems to line up, with straight men having sex with women and (apart from a rare few) gay men having sex with men.

Downing said this ‘identity discrepant viewing’ as ‘some level of evidence’ of fluidity in sexual attraction, at least in the habits of what porn they watch.

Bisexual men displayed different porn-viewing habits to gay or straight men, with bis saying they watch guy-on-guy porn just as must as gay men do and watching guy-on-girl porn almost as much as straight men. They also reported watching a significant amount of ‘bisexual porn’, with two men and one woman or two women and one man.

Downing said this proves bisexual men are not ‘watered down gays or heterosexuals’.

‘[Bisexual men] are more like heterosexual men in some things, and more like gay men in other things, but that’s a reflection of their own unique attractions,’ he wrote in Archives of Sexual Behavior.

‘They’re not identical to either group in terms of their porn viewing, which I think is really interesting for understanding bisexuality.’

Both bi and straight men watched solo masturbation more than gay men (60% compared to less than 50%), and bi men were far less interested in porn involving BDSM or other kinks (13.7%) than straight (24.6%) or gay (27.9%). However, gay men were far more likely to watch videos involving fisting, felching or water sports.


Gay History: Love And Affection: Vintage Photos Of Gay And Lesbian Couples

A couple’s photographic portrait is an affirmation of their relationship. It states for all to see: “We love each other. We care for each other. We are proud of who we are together.”

During the Victorian era many gay and lesbian couples proudly expressed their love for each other in studio portraits. Unlike the common belief that such relationships were “the love that dare not speak its name,” as Oscar Wilde so famously described same sex attraction in his poem “Two Loves,” gays and lesbians often dared to show their love. Indeed, many gay and lesbian couples more or less lived openly together throughout their lives. This was far easier for women than for men as women were expected to live together if they were not married, or to live with the euphemistically termed “female companion.”

Men, no historical surprises here, had their own haunts for meeting like-minded souls. In London these could be found in the “Molly houses” and gentlemen’s clubs or pick-ups haunts at Lincoln’s Inn, or St. James Park or the path on the City’s Moorfields, which was charmingly referred to as “Sodomites Walk.”

Theaters and circuses were also well-known dens of homosexual activity—this can be traced all the way back to Elizabethan England, when male prostitutes plied their trade at theaters.

The armed forces, in particular the Royal Navy was notorious for gay relationships—understandable with all the horny seamen looking for any port in a storm. Apparently word got around.

It is a moot point that the change in public attitude towards homosexuality commenced with the Labouchere Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act in 1885, which “prohibited gross indecency between males.” This was the law under which Wilde was infamously prosecuted and the law that heightened discrimination against gays.

Before that there had been the Buggery Act—against anal penetration and bestiality—which was introduced during the reign of Henry VIII. This led to numerous executions (hangings) and imprisonments. It was briefly repealed, then reinstated by Elizabeth I. However, there were few prosecutions under the act and it was repealed again in 1828—though “buggery” remained a capital offense. James Pratt and John Smith became the last two men to be executed for buggery, in 1835.

The Labouchere Amendment outlawed homosexuality and made it more difficult for gay men to live the lives they desired. Labouchere did not include lesbians in the act as he believed drawing attention to lesbianism would only encourage sapphic desires amongst most Victorian women.

So even when gay relationships were outlawed in England, they still thrived in open secret. In America, the sodomy laws varied from state to state. What one state tolerated or had no opinion about, another state punished. However, as with England in the Victorian era, America gay and lesbian couples would often openly express their love for each other in portrait photographs.

This collection of beautiful, brave people gives us a small visual history of LGBT relationships from the 1860s-1960s. Many of the couples are unidentifiable, but where possible their names have been given. (Editor writes: Mild disclaimer: Of course it’s difficult to say that in all cases these photos are of gay couples.)


Gay History: Photos Of Same-Sex Couples From The 1880s – 1920s

Vintage Gay Love: A Look Back At The Early Gay Pioneers in Photos

The following is a photo tribute to gay couples from the late 19th century and first half of the 20th Century. It is a testament to the early pioneers of the LGBT movement who have made the world a more accepting and compassionate place for everyone today. It is also a reminder that homosexuality has been around since the beginning of mankind and is not something which can be legislated back into the closet.

England, 1875

Unknown location, 1880’s

New York, 1900

Unknown, Early 1900’s

Europe, 1906

New York, 1907

“A friend of mine found this old photograph in a shoe box in his Grandmother’s attic. On the back was written… Aunty Mary and her “friend” Ruth, 1910. I wonder if those quotation marks imply what I think they do, by the look on their faces, I would say they do”

Unknown, 1912

Unknown, 1914

Unknown Lesbian Couple, 1915

WWI couple, England, sometime between 1914-1918

California, 1923

Unknown, 1925




Source: Flickr / gaytwogether.com / and are the property of their owners.


Gay History: The Most Surprising LGBTI Stats And Facts From Around The World

This couple spent a year collecting fascinating LGBTI data to answer every question you can dream of

Pride in London: One couple has gathered LGBTI data from around the world to get to know the crowds better. Photo David Hudson

My husband and I spent a year collecting LGBTI data from hundreds of surveys, polls, reports, studies and monographs.

And the result is our new book, LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers.

Ever wonder how many people around the globe live in countries where same-sex activity remains subject to criminal prosecution? Or how many trans people have been elected to public office? What relationship style lesbians prefer? Which US state was the first to elect an openly bisexual governor? Or what the top-grossing films are with LGBTQ content?

We answer these and about 1,000 other questions.

Noted economist and professor MV Lee Badgett, of The Williams Institute, says the book is ‘the most comprehensive portrait of LGBTQ life around.’

There are plenty of surprising facts and eye-opening figures.

My husband David Deschamps explains: ‘I was especially struck by the change in attitudes among young people. There has been a huge generational shift in a remarkably short span of time – from revulsion and derision to acceptance and marked casualness.’

Here is some of the most interesting LGBTI data, stats and facts we found:

Shifting attitudes

In 1994, 51% of college freshmen in the US believed lesbians and gay men should try to be heterosexual. Today, an astonishing 31% of 18- to 29-year-olds in the US and a whopping 49% of 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK describe themselves as ‘not 100% heterosexual’.

In 1985, 24% of Americans said they personally knew a lesbian or gay person. By 2015, that number had risen to 88%.

LGBTIs and the law

There is no country on earth in which LGBTI citizens enjoy the same legal rights that their heterosexual counterparts take for granted.

More than 2.7 billion people live in countries where being LGBTI is punishable by imprisonment, violence, or death.

The UN Security Council’s first meeting dedicated to addressing the persecution of LGBTI people took place In August 2015.

73 countries and 5 entities imprison consenting adults for homosexual acts. In 45 of these nations, the law is applied to women as well as men. In 14 countries, including Uganda and India, the potential penalty for engaging in same-sex activity is life in prison.

France became the first European country to decriminalize same-sex activity between consenting adults of the same gender in 1791. The following countries repealed sodomy laws in the years indicated:

  • Brazil in 1830.
  • Mexico in 1871.
  • Russia in 1917 (recriminalized in 1933 and decriminalized in 1993).
  • Poland in 1932.
  • Switzerland in 1942.
  • England in 1967 (partial decriminalization); gay men achieved full decriminalization in 2003.
  • Spain in 1979.
  • All of Australia in 1997.
  • All of the US in 2003.

Homosexuality remains a crime in 37 of the 52 nations that make up the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth).

North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have never had Western-style sodomy laws.

Japan holds the distinction of having one of the shortest-lived sodomy laws in the world. The statute was in place from 1873 to 1883. Samurai warriors, who had a long tradition of same-sex relations, mounted strong opposition to the law and helped to get it repealed.

South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution of 1996 was the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Lesbian, gay and bi people in the armed forces

LGB people can serve openly in the military in 49 countries, including Albania, Germany, Israel, Japan, and Thailand. Two additional countries, Mexico and South Korea, don’t ban LGB people from serving in the military, but they are often harassed and/or discharged.

Transgender people can serve in the military in 19 countries, including Australia, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Shocking HIV stats

Globally, trans women are 49 times more likely to have HIV than other adults of reproductive age.

As a result of homophobic laws, lack of sex education, and the absence of needle-exchange programs, the size of Russia’s HIV-infected population nearly doubled between 2010 (when it stood at 500,000) and 2015 (when it reached 930,000).

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was first unveiled at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on 11 October 1987. It is composed of more than 48,000 panels. Each panel is a tribute to someone who has died of an AIDS-related illness. It is the largest piece of folk art in the world. The quilt covers 1.3 million square feet (or about 50 miles or 80 kilometers) and weighs more than 54 tons. More than 14 million people have seen it at thousands of displays worldwide. It was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Lesbian and gay prime ministers

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
became Iceland’s first female prime minister — and the world’s first openly lesbian head of government — on February 1, 2009. She served until 2013. There have been three other openly LGBT heads of state:

  • Elio Di Rupo, prime minister of Belgium from 2011 to 2014.
  • Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg from 2013 to the present.
  • Leo Varadkar, who at 38 made history in 2017 by becoming Ireland’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister.

The first bisexual governor and trans politicians

On February 18, 2015, Kate Brown became the first openly bisexual governor in American history. Brown was sworn in as Oregon’s governor following the resignation of her predecessor. She became the first openly bisexual person to be elected governor in the US after her victory in a 2016 special election.

According to a Washington Post analysis published in December 2015:

  • Since 1977, 139 transgender candidates have run for more than 200 races in 31 countries.
  • 52 transgender candidates were elected.
  • Nearly 90 percent of these candidates were trans women.
  • As of December 2015, 20 transgender elected officials were in office.

The ‘gay happiness index’ winners are…

In a 2015 study of 115,000 of its members, Planet Romeo – an international social network for GBT men – created a ‘gay happiness index’. It had three criteria:

  • How do gay men feel about society’s view of homosexuality?
  • How do gay men experience the way other people treat them?
  • Are gay men satisfied with their lives, and do they accept themselves?

Based on these criteria, of the 127 countries rated, the top nations in the gay happiness index were:

1 Iceland
2 Norway
3 Denmark
4 Sweden
5 Uruguay
6 Canada
7 Israel
8 Netherlands
(The UK ranked 23rd and the US ranked 26th.)

The lowest-ranked nations (in descending order) were:

8 Cameroon
7 Iran
6 Nigeria
5 Iraq
4 Kyrgyzstan
3 Ethiopia
2 Sudan
1 Uganda

What kind of relationship do lesbian and bi women want?

Lesbian website Autostraddle asked 8,566 self-selected lesbian, bisexual, and trans women about their preferred relationship style in a 2015 survey:

  • 61.7% of respondents chose monogamy.
  • 22% chose ‘mostly monogamy’ – which, in the words of the survey authors, ‘means many different things to many different people’.
  • 6% chose an open relationship.
  • 5.3% chose polyamory.
  • 1.4% chose ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. That means partners are free to do whatever they want with whomever they want as long as it doesn’t become known to the other partner.
  • 0.58% chose polyfidelity. If you are in a relationship with more than one other person and you are all emotionally and sexually faithful to each other.
  • 0.39% chose triad — a closed relationship that involves three people, also called a ‘thruple’.

Where are all the LGBTI families?

The US states with the highest proportion of same-sex couples raising children are:

  • Mississippi – 26%
  • Wyoming – 25%
  • Alaska – 23%
    What LGBTI films are box office hits?

Two LGBTI-themed films share the title of winning the most Oscars. This year Moonlight won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. And in 2006 Brokeback Mountain won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score. The Academy also nominated Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture but it missed out.

At $83,043,761
in US earnings, Brokeback ranks as the fourth-highest-grossing LGBTI film. The Birdcage is first ($124,060,553), Interview with a Vampire comes second ($105,264,608), and The Imitation Game is third ($91,125,683). To date, Moonlight has grossed $27,854,932.

Which city in the world has the biggest Pride?

According to estimates from organizers, police, and media accounts, the largest LGBTI Pride events, calculated by the number of attendees, include:

1 São Paulo Pride Parade (2006) – 3 million people.
2 Madrid Europride Festival (2007) – 2.3 million.
3 New York City Pride Parade (2016) – 2 million.
4 San Francisco Pride Parade (2014) – 1.7 million.
5 New York City Pride Parade (2015) – 1.6 million.
6 Cologne Europride Parade (2002) – 1.4 million.
7 Toronto Pride Festival (2012) – 1.2 million.
8 Madrid National Pride (2012) – 1.2 million

And some ‘firsts’ from LGBTI history

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld founded the first ‘homosexual emancipation organization’ on 15 May 1897. It was called the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and was in Berlin.

The first formally organized LGBTI movement group in the United States was the Society for Human Rights in Illinois in 1924. A few months after its founding, the group ceased to exist in the wake of several members’ arrests.

According to historian Susan Stryker, ‘the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in US history’ took place in August 1966. Transgender people staged a rebellion outside Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to protest mistreatment and abuse by the police.

A world of LGBTI data

LGBTQ Stats: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People by the Numbers is published by The New Press. Husband-and-husband team of David Deschamps and Bennett Singer are the authors


Gay History: When Gay Marriage Was A Rite

Gay marriage does not lead to polygamy according to 6000 years of human history. In countries where polygamy is legal, marriage for gays is often illegal. In countries where same-sex marriage is legal, polygamy is illegal.

St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai.

A Long Tradition Of Gay Marriage

As churches struggle with the issue of homosexuality, a long tradition of same sex marriage indicates that the Christian attitude toward same sex unions may not always have been as “straight” as is now suggested. A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai.

It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman pronubus (best man) overseeing what in a standard Roman icon would be the wedding of a husband and wife. In the icon, Christ is the pronubus. Only one thing is unusual. The husband and wife are in fact two men.

St. Serge and St. Bacchus

Is the icon suggesting that a
homosexual or same sex marriage 
is one sanctified by Christ?

The very idea seems initially shocking. The full answer comes from other sources about the two men featured, St. Serge and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who became Christian martyrs.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly close. Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that “we should not separate in speech [Serge and Bacchus] who were joined in life.” More bluntly, in the definitive 10th century Greek account of their lives, St. Serge is openly described as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus.

In other words, it confirms what the earlier icon implies, that they were a homosexual couple who enjoyed a celebrated gay marriage. Their orientation and relationship was openly accepted by early Christian writers. Furthermore, in an image that to some modern Christian eyes might border on blasphemy, the icon has Christ himself as their pronubus, their best man overseeing their gay marriage.

Professor John Boswell’s Startling Discovery

The very idea of a Christian gay marriage seems incredible. Yet after a twelve year search of Catholic and Orthodox church archives Yale history professor John Boswell has discovered that a type of Christian gay marriage did exist as late as the 18th century.

Contrary to myth, Christianity’s concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has evolved as a concept and as a ritual.

St. Serge and St. Bacchus, a partnered gay couple

Professor Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the “Office of Same Sex Union (10th and 11th century Greek) or the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century). That certainly sounds like gay marriage.

John Boswell

earned the Ph.D. in History from Harvard University in 1975. He became a full professor at Yale University in 1982. Boswell was conversant in 17 languages.

The ceremonies Boswell describes had all the contemporary 
symbols of a marriage.

1 A community gathered in a church

2 A blessing of the couple before the altar

3 Their right hands joined as at heterosexual marriages

4 The participation of a priest

5 The taking of the Eucharist

6 A wedding banquet afterwards

All of these are shown in contemporary drawings of the same sex union of Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867-886) and his companion John. Such homosexual unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th to early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) has recorded.

One Greek 13th century “Order for Solemnization of Same Sex Union,” having invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, called on God to “vouchsafe unto these Thy servants grace to love another and to abide unhated and not cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God and all Thy saints.” The ceremony concludes: “And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded.”

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic “Office of the Same Sex Union,” uniting two men or two women, had the couple having their right hands laid on the Gospel while having a cross placed in their left hands. Having kissed the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

Ancient marriage records can be found in libraries across Europe.

Boswell found records of same sex unions in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, Istanbul, and in Sinai, covering a period from the 8th to 18th centuries. Nor is he the first to make such a discovery. The Dominican Jacques Goar (1601-1653) includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek prayer books.

While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, it was only from about the 14th century that anti-homosexual feelings swept western Europe. Yet same sex unions continued to take place.

St. John Lateran Church, Rome

At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church) in 1578, as many as 13 couples were “married” at Mass with the apparent cooperation of the local clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together,” according to a contemporary report.

Gay people have partnered for thousands of years

Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century. Many questionable historical claims about the church have been made by some recent writers in The Irish Times newspaper.

Boswell’s academic study however is so well researched and sourced as to pose fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians concerning their attitude toward homosexuality.

For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be a cowardly cop-out. The evidence shows convincingly that what the modern church claims has been its constant unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is in fact nothing of the sort.

It proves that for much of the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom from Ireland to Istanbul and in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given ability to love and commit to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honoured and blessed both in the name of and through the Eucharist in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Either we’re all equal under the law or we’re not equal.

Gay Marriages really are about equal rights and civil rights.

Everyone should have the right to get married and enjoy the legal protections for their committed faithful partnership which only legal marriage provides.

This Gay Marriage article, originally published on August 11, 1998 is reprinted from The Irish Times, by permission of its author, Jim Duffy of Dublin, Ireland. Photos and Links added by Rick Brentlinger to illustrate the text.

Jim Duffy is an Irish political reporter, commentator and researcher.


Gay History: Born Free, Killed By Hate – The Price Of Being Gay In South Africa

Betty Melamu is still waiting.

She prays that one day she will face the people who killed her daughter and find out why they did it.

“I want to know, that’s the point,” she says. “I want those who did this thing to my child to be arrested, all of them.”

Almost 4 months after Pasca was murdered, no-one has been arrested.

For many LGBTI people and their families in South Africa, safety, justice, and the promise of a truly rainbow nation still feel a long way off.

South Africa’s constitution was the first in the world to protect people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation. The country was also the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage. But after a spate of murders, gay people say more needs to be done to stop hate crimes.

Betty Melamu sits on a brown leather sofa in her living room in the township of Evaton, just south of Johannesburg. She’s cradling a framed picture of her daughter Motshidisi Pascalina, known as Pasca.

In a quiet, wavering voice, she sings Pasca’s favourite song.

“Whenever she would listen to radio or go to church she would sing that song,” she remembers.

When I ask if Pasca was a good singer she says, “Yes,” and laughs – apparently Pasca was more spirited than talented, constantly switching between parts as she sang.

She loved football too, studied hard at school and wanted to be a politician.

“She wanted to do something good,” says Melamu with pride.

But the laughter and happy memories are fleeting, and sadness is etched in her thin, drawn face. Pasca was a lesbian, something her family knew and accepted. She had just turned 21 and completed her final high school exams when she went to a party in December.

“I don’t know what happened after the party,” says Melamu. “But she didn’t come back.”

Two days later Pasca’s body was found in a field in a neighbouring township. She had been beaten and mutilated. At the morgue her family couldn’t recognise her face and could only identify her by a tattoo on her leg.

“At that time I was strong,” Melamu remembers. “But after that I feel like I am crazy woman.”

And as we talk, she repeats one question, over and over.

“Why? Why did this happen to my child?”

Pasca was was born in 1994, the year apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela was elected president – she was one of the first of South Africa’s so-called born free generation.

In his inauguration speech, Mandela promised to “build a society in which all South Africans will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts… a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

But 21 years later, this promise remains largely unfulfilled for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

In a country where crime rates in general are high, black lesbians in poor townships face particular risks and often suffer the most violent crimes.

As women, they’re vulnerable in a country with one of the highest rates of rape in the world. As lesbians in an often homophobic and patriarchal society, they face a further danger – the idea that they can be “changed” and “made into women” through what is known as “corrective rape”.

It’s suspected this may have happened to Pasca, although the post-mortem was unable to determine this.

And when crimes happen, there’s no guarantee that the response will be adequate. Victims say they often face secondary harassment by police or health care workers.

Pasca’s case was assigned to a police officer who was on leave at the time, only returning to work two and a half weeks later.

Frustrated at the delay in this and two other rape cases, in January activists took to the streets of Evaton with rainbow flags and banners. Chanting “Pasca is our sister,” they marched to the local police station to demand justice.

“The police are not doing anything,” Lindiwe Nhlapo told me several weeks later. She’s part of Vaal LGBTI, one of the groups that organised the march. “The police are failing us big time.”

Since then, the police have tried to address concerns about the investigation into Pasca’s death, but frustration with the justice system is a common story.

Lindiwe Nhlapo wants justice for Pasca

In the nearby township of KwaThema, silver drapes and rainbow flags adorn the living room of the small house that’s the headquarters of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee (EPOC).

There’s also a bar down one end and a sign on the wall – Divas and Dykes Lounge. Day or night, this is a safe place for gay and transgender people to socialise.

“I can’t walk with my partner on the street and hold their hand,” says Bontle Kahlo, from EPOC. “I can’t go out at night and say ‘I’m going to dance somewhere,’ because I’m not safe. I might get killed because of who I am, because of who I love.”

Bontle Kahlo (right) with her partner Ntsupe Mohapi

She points to a frame on the wall containing photos of dozens of LGBTI men and women.

“This is our memory wall,” she says. Some of them died of natural causes, but many of the lesbians in the pictures were murdered because of their sexual orientation.

“Women are less than men,” says Kahlo. “If you’re a black woman, you are even less, and if you’re a black lesbian woman you are basically nothing in this country.”

Among the faces on the wall is Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year-old lesbian who was raped, mutilated and murdered in 2011.

Noxolo Nogwaza’s photo is top left – she is wearing a baseball cap and white top

But five years later, no-one has been prosecuted.

“The feeling we got from the police is that they expected us to do all the work for them,” says Kahlo.

“It’s very tiring to be an activist but to also be a police officer and to try as hard as you can, and to have a government which is not supportive.”

Her partner and fellow campaigner Ntuspe Mohapi nods in agreement.

“They’re good at talking but not at acting,” she says.

When they heard about Pasca’s murder, there was a familiar sadness.

“I think it’s getting worse,” Mohapi says. “And these are just the cases of murder that we are talking about. We haven’t started with rape, or hate speech, and the bullying in schools, and the suicides of gay teenagers.”

South African law doesn’t classify hate crimes differently from other crimes, so there are no official statistics to turn to.

The organisation Iranti-org is funded by the EU to document violence against LGBTI people – it has counted more than 30 murders and rapes in the country since 2012.

Pasca was just one of three LGBTI people killed in South Africa during a six week period late last year. The deaths barely received a mention in the mainstream media.

There hasn’t always been a lack of interest though. After the murder of Noxolo Nogwaza and several other lesbians in 2011, there was a global outcry. 170,000 people signed a petition calling on the government to act.

In response, the government set up a National Task Team and drew up a National Intervention Strategy to reduce hate crimes.

It also established a Rapid Response Team to make sure that hate crimes are properly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted. This has had some success in clearing a backlog of murders and other crimes.

Mpaseka “Steve” Letsike says more should be done to change attitudes

But the government is not doing enough says Mpaseka “Steve” Letsike, co-chairwoman of the National Task Team and head of LGBTI organisation Access Chapter 2.

“We are not getting it right. There’s a huge gap. We need to invest our energies into prevention, into conversations, into dialogues.”

The government is doing some of this – funding awareness campaigns and training police and health workers. But “it’s still a drop in the ocean,” says Letsike.

To get a sense of the challenge South Africa faces, I travel to the Johannesburg suburb of Yeoville. It’s home to many migrants from more traditional, rural parts of the country.

In a tiny room, barely big enough for a bed and a fridge, I perch on an upturned bucket and speak to two men. The elder of the two speaks softly, but has a fearsome clarity when our conversation turns to homosexuality.

“Homosexuality is a taboo to us,” he says. “I’ll go back to African traditions, there’s no word for that in our language.”

I ask what would happen if one of his daughters told him she was a lesbian.

“I might kill her myself. That thing is unnatural, it’s awkward, so I cannot accept something that is awkward in my house.

“If someone said choose between keeping this child or killing it, I would kill it.”

His views reflect the gap between the law and the attitude of many South Africans. It shows that the government has failed to create a truly rainbow nation, say activists.

“Conditions for LGBTI people in South Africa have improved substantially since 1994,” says John Jeffery, deputy minister of justice and constitutional development. His department is responsible for the National Intervention Strategy.

“We are trying to educate people about LGBTI rights, that gay rights are human rights,” he says, and adds that he is frustrated with the criticism.

“There’s no use complaining outside that government is not doing enough,” he says. “I unfortunately have not heard proposals from civil society organisations about things we should be doing that we’re not doing. They need to tell us where they think we should be improving.”

While open to suggestions, he says there are limits to what he can do.

“More could be done, but the extent to which we can run awareness programmes would depend on budget and what money we’ve got, and unfortunately government is facing budget cuts.”

The government is currently in the process of preparing legislation to outlaw hate crimes and hate speech, which should allow better monitoring of crimes and, it’s hoped, reduce homophobic abuse.

“There’s no magic solution, it’s a process and that process takes time,” says Jeffery.

Betty Melamu is still waiting.

She prays that one day she will face the people who killed her daughter and find out why they did it.

“I want to know, that’s the point,” she says. “I want those who did this thing to my child to be arrested, all of them.”

Almost 4 months after Pasca was murdered, no-one has been arrested.

For many LGBTI people and their families in South Africa, safety, justice, and the promise of a truly rainbow nation still feel a long way off.


Gay History: There Goes The Gaybourhood; Stories Of Gay Neighbourhoods From Around The World

SYDNEY: Big city gaybourhoods: where they come from and why they still matterIn London, there is Soho; in New York, Chelsea and Greenwich Village; and in San Francisco, there is the Castro. In Sydney, there is Darlinghurst and, more specifically, Oxford Street. These are neighbourhoods of large cities that have, since at least the 1950s and often earlier, developed a reputation as queer spaces.

In more recent years, those reputations have begun to fade and the enduring meanings of the “gaybourhood” have come into question.

But what each of these places represents is the centrality of urban space to the emergence of visible, “out and proud” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identities and communities.

The 1978 Mardi Gras march was a key moment for queer urban visibility. AAP/Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Queer Sydney in the ‘Golden Mile’ era

The peak years of Oxford Street’s queer life extended from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s. In the years after the second world war, many gay men in Sydney socialised in CBD hotels, including the Hotel Australia.

A guide to the ‘Golden Mile’ published in the Oxford Weekender News, one of many ‘bar rag’ newspapers that circulated the 1980s queer scene. Author provided

The first LGBTQ clubs on Oxford Street were Ivy’s Birdcage and Capriccio’s, which both opened in 1969. By the beginning of the 1980s, Oxford Street was home to a string of bars, clubs, saunas and cafes and had become known as Sydney’s gay “Golden Mile”.

The emergence of this gay heartland represents extraordinary social change. Male homosexuality remained illegal in New South Wales until 1984. The homosexual men socialising in 1950s CBD hotels were required to do so with discretion – the consequences of discovery could be devastating.

In contrast, the queerness of a venue like Capriccio’s was defiantly visible and undeniable. As more venues were opened along the Golden Mile, the street itself became a gay space, as did the surrounding neighbourhoods where LGBTQ people – particularly gay men – made homes in the terraces and apartments of Darlinghurst and Paddington.

A simple walk along the street became an act of participation in an emerging community.

Ivy’s Birdcage at 191 Oxford Street was one of Darlinghurst’s first drag bars. Sydney Pride History Group, Author provided

Members of a marginalised social group were thus using urban space to resist oppression and build a community. For some, this produced a kind of utopia. In an interview with Sydney’s Pride History Group, DJ Stephen Allkins described his first visit to the Oxford Street disco Patch’s as a teenager in 1976. He remembers:

I was home. That was it. It was the most fabulous place I’d ever been in my life … It’s full of gay people and they’re all dressed to the nines. They’re not hiding under a rock … They’re expressing and happy.

Finding a place in the Queer community

But these feelings of joy at having found such a space can be complicated by a range of factors. The gay community was certainly not free from sexism, racism and transphobia, meaning that some within the LGBTQ community were granted far easier access to these spaces than others.

Indeed, although Golden Mile-era Oxford Street included venues popular with lesbians, including the women-only bar Ruby Reds, the surrounding neighbourhood was more identifiably gay than lesbian.

Inner-west suburbs including Leichhardt and Petersham were far more significant urban spaces in the lives of many queer women. Lesbian share-houses in these neighbourhoods became central sites of feminist politics, activism, sex and romance.

Penny Gulliver, a resident of legendary 1970s share-house “Crystal Street”, has remembered that women “who were just coming out, because there was nothing like a counselling service then, they’d come to Crystal Street”.

Into the new millennium, Oxford Street’s place as the gay heart of Sydney became less certain. As LGBTQ businesses failed and venues closed, questions emerged as to whether a community now more a part of the mainstream still needed its own spaces.

For a time, King Street in Newtown dominated as a queer alternative. In 1983 gay publican Barry Cecchini took over the Milton Hotel on Newtown’s King Street, renamed it Cecchini’s and launched it as the area’s first gay venue. Shortly after, the Newtown Hotel, just across the road, also became a gay pub. Cecchini told the Sydney Morning Herald in 1984 that gays were leaving “the scene” of Oxford Street looking for a “more cosmopolitan mix” in Newtown.

Through the following decades, venues including The Imperial in Erskineville (made famous as the site from which three drag queens launched their adventures in a bus named Priscilla) and the Sly Fox in Enmore, home to a popular lesbian night, further developed the area’s queer reputation.

Protecting Queer space

In recent years, however, a range of factors, including changes to licensing laws, have produced significant challenges for queer socialising in that neighbourhood.

Newtown sits outside the zone of the so-called “lockout laws”. Late-night partiers who might once have ventured to Kings Cross are instead heading to pubs along King Street, and reports of anti-LGBTQ abuse and violence have increased.

In response, a campaign called “Keep Newtown Weird and Safe” has attempted to maintain the queer meanings of this urban space.

Despite changes in Oxford and King streets, efforts to keep Newtown “weird” highlight the continued value of urban space to LGBTQ communities. Indeed, among a younger generation, new forms of queer identity continue to inspire the search for spaces in which to celebrate difference.

In pockets of the inner west, for example, young queer, transgender and genderqueer people are creating spaces of activism, partying, performance and everyday life. This new generation is exploring the fresh possibilities of queer identity and developing their community. Access to urban space remains central to this.

Like the city itself, the LGBTQ community continues to be less a fixed entity than a process of movement, adaptation and change.


An asio report from the 1950s, Homosexuals as Security Risks, includes information from an anonymous man about Melbourne’s secret gay subculture. As well as educating the authorities about queer terminology, the source expresses his hope “to find an affectionate, stable and confiding relationship with another homosexual”. The prospect, he acknowledges, is “a probably unattainable dream-wish”.

His account appears in Camp as . . . Melbourne in the 1950s, a Midsumma Festival exhibition. Through photographs, interviews and historical documents, Camp as provides an insight into what homosexual life was like during a grimly repressive era in which gay men and women had reason to cower in the closet.

Homosexuality was not only socially unacceptable in the 1950s, it was also a criminal offence. By 1957 the state vice squad had dedicated a third of its resources to cracking down on what it perceived as a growing problem in Victoria. Throughout the decade, the number of those arrested and jailed continued to grow as officers raided parties or entrapped gay men in public toilets and other popular beats.

Meanwhile, the Truth newspaper attempted to whip up moral outrage by running lurid scare stories about “prowling pests” and “park menaces”. But Graham Willett, a Melbourne University lecturer and curator of the exhibition, suggests that, despite the fear of discrimination and arrest, a tight-knit gay community still evolved during the 1950s. “We’ve constructed this image of Melbourne back then as this terrible place,” he says, “But what’s quite amazing is that people managed, through courage or circumstances, to find ways of meeting other people like themselves and constructing reasonably nice lives.”

Certainly the exhibition challenges the assumption that gay people of the period led lonely, desperate lives. In one photo, for example, a drag queen flounces defiantly about the stage wearing a pink dress and a flower in his hair. “In the ’50s there was no gay scene in a public way,” Willett says, “but there were still places you could go to in the city that accepted the presence of gay men.”

One of the most surprising gay sanctuaries was the Myer department store, thanks to the director of the store’s display unit, Freddie Asmussen, whose sexuality was an open secret. Bald and bespectacled, Asmussen was renowned for the extravagant decor of his South Yarra home, which boasted 13 chandeliers, a black-and-silver dining room and a colour-coded garden in which he would tolerate only white flowers. His willingness to employ young men of a similar sexual orientation turned Myer into an unlikely haven for the gay community.

Hotel Australia on Collins Street was the closest that Melbourne had to a gay bar. The upstairs area catered to a smart, discreet crowd while the downstairs bar, known as “the snake pit”, was aimed at rough trade. An alternative was Val’s, a bohemian coffee lounge on Swanston Street, with a royal-blue carpet and mauve furniture. Val was a flamboyant lesbian who walked the streets dressed in a homburg hat and tailored suit while brandishing a silver-topped cane.

Willett says that during this era there was more pressure on lesbians to conform to these stereotypes. “Lots of women talk about living as butches or femmes in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says. “But women’s liberation challenged a lot of that. It said, ‘You can be what you want to be. You don’t have to conform to these roles.’ ”

Other fragments of queer culture featured in the exhibition are similarly blatant. In the Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives, Willett discovered a stash of magazines promoting body building as a form of homoerotic stimulation. The cartoons in Physique Pictorial devise utterly ridiculous situations to justify the inevitable displays of male nudity. One features a muscle-bound builder, who falls off a roof and lands on a pile of nails, thereby requiring his workmate to extract them from his buttocks. “It just gets more and more camp,” Willett admits.

The brazen nature of such material would seem to suggest a growing confidence within the community. And yet during the 1950s there was just a single attempt to challenge the legal status quo that failed to gain sufficient support. “For most of these people, the idea of changing the law would have seemed impossible,” Willett says. “It would have just seemed inconceivable that you would do that.”

The gay-rights movement only began to emerge in Australia in the 1960s, developing as part of a broader liberal trend that also sought reform on social issues such as abortion, censorship and Aboriginal rights. Victoria didn’t decriminalise homosexuality until 1980, while Tasmania didn’t suit until 1997. Over the past 50 years, gay culture has undergone a makeover as radical as anything on Queer Eye For A Straight Guy. By exploring the formative days of the community, Willett’s exhibition reinforces how much has changed, while presenting an intriguing social history of Melbourne’s secret past.

CANADA & NORTH AMERICA: Dwindling gaybourhoods

Author Amin Ghaziani looks into the future of North American gay villages

Credit: Paul Dotey

Four and a half years ago, Shawn Ewing and her wife left their apartment in Vancouver’s West End to move to the suburbs. For the Ewings, leaving the gaybourhood for Surrey was a question of simple math.

“Two thousand square feet and a yard versus a little under 700 feet in an apartment,” she says. “Accessibility to the party downtown wasn’t important to us anymore. What was important was a house and having a yard and a garden and all of that good stuff.”

Ewing, a former president of the Vancouver Pride Society, is now vice-president of Surrey’s Pride organization. She says that despite Surrey’s conservative reputation and some early fears that they might have to “straighten up,” her family has had no problems at all.

“We haven’t changed any of our behaviour,” she says. “I don’t have a problem holding my wife’s hand when we’re walking down the street or giving her a kiss in my front yard.”

“I probably got called out more living downtown about being a dyke than I certainly have been in Surrey,” she says.

From Vancouver’s Davie Village to Toronto’s Church Street to Montreal’s Le Village, everyone has their own opinion about Canada’s gay neighbourhoods, but few seem to disagree that they are in decline.

Whichever name you call it — the gaybourhood, gayvenue, gay district, gay mecca, gay ghetto — the question of its future isn’t limited to Canada. Across the border in the United States, many notable gay districts are also fading into shadows of their former selves, from San Francisco’s Castro to Chicago’s Boystown to Seattle’s Capitol Hill to countless more.

In his recently released book There Goes the Gayborhood?, Amin Ghaziani, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, examines the changing face of the gay neighbourhood. His research is based on census data, opinion polls, more than 600 newspaper articles and more than 100 interviews with gaybourhood residents.

“I myself lived in Chicago’s Boystown district for nearly a decade, starting in 1999. I remember feeling uneasy in those years as I read one headline after another about the alleged demise of my home and other gayborhoods across the country. The sight of more straight bodies on the streets became a daily topic of conversation among my friends — an obsession to be honest,” Ghaziani writes.

“As the years went by, my friends and I bemoaned, perhaps most of all, feeling a little less safe holding hands with our partners, dates, or hookups — even as we walked down what were supposed to be our sheltered streets. I had been called a ‘fag’ on more occasions than I still care to remember, and I was shocked at the disapproving looks that I would receive when walking hand in hand with another man. I knew I could not escape this menacing straight gaze altogether, but I was so angry that I had to deal with it in Boystown. This was supposed to be a safe place,” he writes.

According to statistics, the days where the gay community was drawn to live and work in a single neighbourhood are ending. American census data shows that same-sex-couple households have become “less segregated and less spatially isolated across the United States from 2000 to 2010,” Ghaziani writes. “This is a restlessness that clearly appears in cities across North America. To wonder where gayborhoods are going, debate whether they are worth saving, or question their cultural resonance — all of this announces to us that they are in danger.”

Although gay bars have been around since the start of the 1900s, gaybourhoods are a fairly recent phenomenon. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that they really began to flourish in North America, buoyed first by the thousands of men and women dishonourably discharged from the military for their presumed homosexuality and later by migrating single gay men and lesbians from smaller towns in search of a place to call home. Gaybourhoods promised safety and freedom, as well as places to find love and sex.

Ghaziani points to several factors that are changing these areas today: the increased acceptance of gay men and lesbians by society and under the law, allowing many people to feel safer moving to more spacious accommodations in the suburbs; growing development and gentrification, leading to rising property value and rents, driving some people out of downtown areas; and the increased migration of straight people back into desirable urban areas.

Ron Dutton has lived in Vancouver’s West End for 40 years and has never once wanted to leave. “I like the diversity of people, the sense of openness,” he says. In his opinion, changes are constant, and except for the rapidly increasing cost of living, he doesn’t think the changes are negative.

“Individual businesses come and go, but I don’t see the neighbourhood becoming any less welcoming,” he says. Still, Dutton laments that many seniors on fixed incomes have been leaving the area against their will as rents continue to skyrocket.

As some gay people resist the tide and stay in gay neighbourhoods, many more are undeniably leaving — even as North American cities begin to recognize their cultural and, especially, potential financial value.

The permanent rainbow crosswalks in Vancouver and now in Toronto and the newly installed rainbow LED strip lights in Vancouver are all being used to promote these villages as destinations, to locals and tourists alike. These efforts at urban renewal can also contribute to the gentrification that eventually prices many gays and lesbians out of these areas.

To many, especially to the younger generation, the notion of a single gay district seems antiquated. As gay people, men especially, increasingly turn online to find sexual and romantic connections, their need for gay bars and physical places to meet and hook up diminishes. As the world becomes safer for some sexual minorities, the need for the protective embrace of the gaybourhood also begins to decline. In the early 1990s, there were 16 gay bars in Boston. By 2007, that number had dropped by half.

Ghaziani references these phenomena as part of the “post-gay” era, where gays are being accepted by society and are choosing to assimilate into the mainstream. He says it’s changed the way many of us think about ourselves.

As an example, he points to statistician Nate Silver, who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009. In a 2012 interview with Out magazine, Silver said that his friends saw him as “sexually gay, but ethnically straight.”

Ghaziani’s book defines “post-gay” partly as an assertion that who a man has sex with “is not necessarily related to his self-identity or to the cultural communities in which he participates.” He compares this sort of sexual identity with white ethnic identity: “optional, episodic and situational.”

In reviewing media interviews with various gay people — often couples — who have chosen not to live in gaybourhoods and who say they are fitting in, he notes that their tones are often laced with some shame. He wonders why the opposite of “blending in” is having a “scarlet letter on our heads” or being “those people?”

“Assimilation into the mainstream is always accompanied by infighting within a minority group, especially between those who are eager to blend in and those who are determined to hold on to what makes them different,” he writes.

Interestingly, Ghaziani’s book also includes interviews from some of the straight people living in gaybourhoods. He finds that many are “benignly indifferent” to their gay neighbours, while a minority feel that they are victims of reverse discrimination.

He found the responses of straight people so repetitive and almost rehearsed that it was hard to tell if they were being honest about being indifferent or if they were just being politically correct. One single, straight 28-year-old in Boystown told Ghaziani that he would like to see the rainbow pylons and flags taken down because, in his opinion, self-segregation was hurting the gay movement politically.

Ghaziani argues that even while many outgrow them, gaybourhoods remain “culturally relevant as refuges for queer youth of colour, transgender individuals and queers who hail from small towns, because antigay bigotry still affects their everyday life.”

Despite having left the confines of Vancouver’s gay village, Ewing agrees that there will always be a need for the gaybourhood, but she stresses the importance of it needing to be about more than just bars. She would like to see more places that include non-drinkers and youth.

Ghaziani suggests that it’s unreasonable to expect gaybourhoods — or any neighbourhood, for that matter — to remain stable and unchanged but that it’s equally unreasonable to declare them dead.

Neighbourhoods often move, reform and migrate, he says. Toronto’s “Queer West” and Vancouver’s Commercial Drive are two such examples. Many young queer people may want to live in a gay area, but they settle where they can afford the rents, even if that means congregating in — and queering — new neighbourhoods.

Ghaziani further theorizes that these gay-friendly neighbourhoods could eventually become full-fledged gay neighbourhoods in their own right. If the old gaybourhood was an island, these new models are archipelagos. These new villages may eventually supersede the older ones, or they may all coexist.

Dutton says that while we have gained a lot of freedom under the law, that doesn’t negate the need for the gaybourhood. “I think there is much to be said for an accepting environment where people can feel free to dress unusually or where they can express their affection for one another openly. That would be regretful if those things were lost over time,” he says.

“I don’t think the times have progressed to the point where we’re all just equal,” he continues. “There is much to be said for having a place within the city where people can come from elsewhere and feel that this is home — this is where my people congregate.”

CHICAGO: People from LGBT community face subtle discrimination even in ‘gaybourhoods’

Prejudice and discrimination still exist- it’s just more subtle and difficult to detect.(Shutterstock)

Straight people living in neighbourhoods mostly populated by LGBT folks say they support gay rights in theory, but their street interactions contradict those sentiments.

Gaybourhood, or traditionally gay neighbourhood, still face a subtle form of discrimination from ‘straight’ people. According to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, straight people living in such neighbourhoods, say they support gay rights in theory, but many interact with their gay and lesbian next-door fellas on the street in ways that contradict those sentiments. “There is a mistaken belief that marriage equality means the struggle for gay rights is over,” said Amin Ghaziani, the study’s senior author. “Prejudice and discrimination still exist- it’s just more subtle and difficult to detect.”

The researchers interviewed 53 straight people, who live in two Chicago gaybourhoods – Boystown and Andersonville. They found the majority of residents saying that they support gay people. However, the researchers found their progressive attitudes were misaligned with their actions. While many residents said they don’t care if people are gay or straight, some indicated that they don’t like gay people who are “in your face”.

When asked about resistance from LGBTQ communities to the widespread trend of straight people moving into gaybourhoods, some of the people interviewed responded with accusations of reverse discrimination and described gay people who challenged them as “segregationist” and “hetero-phobic.” Some said they believed they should have open access to cultural gay spaces, and were surprised that they felt “unwelcome” there. “That feeling of surprise, however, exemplifies a misguided belief that gay districts are trendy commodities when they are actually safe spaces for sexual minorities”, added Ghaziani.

When the researchers asked residents if they had done anything to show their support of gay rights, such as marching in the pride parade, donating to an LGBTQ organization, or writing a letter in support of marriage equality to a politician, the majority said they had not. Many also expected their gay and lesbian neighbours to be happy and welcoming of straight people moving into gaybourhoods, expressing sentiments like, “you wanted equality- this is what equality looks like.”

With gay pride celebrations fast approaching around the world, Adriana Brodyn, the study’s lead author, said it is important to pause and reflect on the state of LGBTQ equality. “I hope that our research motivates people against becoming politically complacent or apathetic,” she said. “If we do not motivate ourselves to be aware of this subtle form of prejudice, then it will just continue to perpetuate.” The study appears in the journal City and Community.

REYKJAVIK: Where’s The Gaybourhood?

I’ve asked around. Though the sample size is hardly one that would hold up under intense scrutiny, a pattern has begun to emerge. The question “Where’s the gaybourhood?”, when raised in Reykjavík, will most likely be met with the response (after several, strangely long seconds of quiet contemplation): “Well—it’s a very small city.” Whether my interlocutor is heterosexual, or part of the alphabet soup, the answer is the same.

This strikes me as odd for a number of reasons. The first being that, while yes, relative to some far more populous cities of the world—Shanghai, Istanbul, Lagos, São Paulo, New York City, etc. (thanks, Wikipedia!)—Reykjavík’s approximate 120,000 is rather small. Further, this question also deals greatly with historical population growth over time—go back to 1901, and the population was only a bit over 6,300.

But, still… A population of 120,000 seems significant to me—though to be fair, I did grow up in a small-ish town (15,000 in a good year). And I can think of plenty of cities with populations smaller than Reykjavík’s that foster vibrant gay scenes, if not full-fledged gaybourhoods.

And yeah, the development of “gaybourhoods” was historically aided (though not exclusively) by the existence of a highly trafficked urban space with large international shipping ports, naval and military bases and heavy involvement in major wars, as well as a significant history of cosmopolitanism, internal migration and immigration from abroad, and…

Well, I think I just answered my own question, didn’t I? And it’s nothing against Iceland—that’s just not how things worked here. Historically, at least.

I don’t buy that culture is born exclusively as an act of defiance, or out of need for defence, and thus dies out when the need for shielding is gone.

There are a few historical spaces I was able to read up on. Known to those “in the know,” ya know? Informally, and before LGBT+ was even a conceivable acronym. Walking through Reykjavík, I feel as though I’m surrounded by hidden histories. Historical gay spots, as far as I could find, were highly secretive and unofficial, rarely documented, and limited in number and size out of necessity—this wasn’t especially news to me.

What struck me more, as I learned to accept that a lot of what I was looking for in terms of historical narrative would remain in permanent obscurity, was the following: where exactly were the present scenes? I mean, it’s one thing for a “gaybourhood” to not have existed in the past—but where’s the presence now? Why does it appear as though not much new is forming?

It wasn’t long before I started to find various explanations for the lack of gaybourhood, queer scene, or various cultural presence in contemporary Reykjavík via the wonderfully enlightening netherworld of tourist-information websites. One of the more striking quotations I found goes as follows, taken from Guide to Iceland’s website:

As for gay-culture, there isn’t much, because there does not need to be. Gays participate as regular members of society, and in Iceland there are openly gay people in all sectors and levels of society. And as such, there is no gaybourhood…

Forgetting (as much as I’d prefer not to) the use of “gay” in place of a wide variety of different identities and experiences, I wonder how much truth there is to this sentiment. Yes, Iceland is ahead of the curve in many ways in terms of LGBT+ legal rights—impressively so. But legal rights are hardly the same thing as acceptance (which, by the way, is hardly a victory—see the Riddle Scale), and certainly legal rights are not the same thing as actual safety, security, comfort, self-determined expression, etc. I don’t buy that culture is born exclusively as an act of defiance, or out of need for defence, and thus dies out when the need for protection is gone (which, mind you, it certainly is not).

So, to answer my question, the “gaybourhood” as of now exists alongside the straightbourhood (i.e. the World). Reykjavík has the outward appearance of an assimilationist’s utopia—lesbian beside queer beside trans beside intersex beside bisexual beside gay beside straight beside etc., all dancing contentedly in the same small club, no difference between them. Except that there are differences—different experiences, different wants and needs, different discrete identities and worldviews. And there is no way that everyone can or should always exist together like this.

It’s great that all spaces are open to us, and that many (though not all) can feel relatively safe living as ourselves. But no one wants only to co-mingle—with heterosexuals, or with adjacent letters. In speaking to LGBTQ+ persons of Reykjavík (while knowing there are still many more to talk to, and still much, much more to hear), one does seem to detect a want and a need for them to carve out discrete spaces for themselves. Though I wonder how much room here there actually is to do so.

VANCOUVER: ‘Gaybourhoods’ are expanding, not disappearing: UBC study

Sociology professor Amin Ghaziani says as couples diversify, so does where they call home

The corner of Davie Street and Bute Street in Vancouver, B.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

Gay and lesbian spaces, commonly known as “gaybourhoods,” are expanding across cities, rather than disappearing, a new B.C. study says.

Gaybourhoods, such as Vancouver’s Davie Village, are nothing new. A common perception has been that major cities have just one neighbourhood where all gay people live.

But new research by University of British Columbia sociology professor Amin Ghaziani, released Thursday, shows that members of the LGBTQ community are diversifying where they live, choosing what he calls “cultural archipelagos” beyond the gaybourhood. Only 12 per cent of LGBTQ adults live in a gaybourhood, while 72 per cent have never.

Ghaziani used data from the 2010 U.S. census to track location patterns of lesbians, transgender people, same-sex couples with children, and LGBTQ people of color.

He found queer communities of colour have emerged in Chicago and the outer boroughs of New York. That’s because African-American people in same-sex relationships are more likely to live in areas where there are higher populations of other African-Americans, rather than other LGBTQ people, he found.

Rural areas draw more same-sex female couples than male couples, and female couples tend to live where the median housing price per square foot is lower, which Ghaziani attributed to a possible reflection of the gender pay gap.

The study focuses on the U.S., but the findings are similar to data released in the last Canadian census.

There were 73,000 same-sex couples in the country in 2016, an increase of more than half over the last decade.

Meanwhile, major cities that were historically popular for same-sex couples, such as Toronto and Montreal, saw a nearly five per cent dip in the same time period, while areas such as Victoria are seeing an increase.

CANADA: Same-sex marriages rise, as gaybourhoods change

There were nearly 73,000 same-sex couples in 2016 in Canada, about a 61 per cent increase

The number of same-sex couples in Canada increased by more than half in the last decade, with three times more couples choosing to get married, census data shows.

There were nearly 73,000 same-sex couples in 2016 – about a 61 per cent increase from the 43,000 reported in the 2011 census.

The increase in the number of reported same-sex couples could be due to attitudes liberalizing dramatically since gay marriage was approved in 2005 in Canada and 2013 in the U.S., according to Amin Ghaziani, Canada Research Chair in Sexuality and Urban Studies at the University of British Columbia.

New census data shows a rapid increase in same-sex couples tying the knot – with one-third of couples reportedly being married – including Vancouver-area residents Laura and Jen O’Connor.

The pair got married for all the romantic, fairy-tale reasons: after seven years together, they were deeply in love and wanted to start a family. But on another level, they thought it might just make their life together a little easier.

After all, being gay comes with its own unique set of challenges – challenges they hoped might be easier to navigate if they shared a last name.

“It’s one less thing, one less obstacle that you have to deal with,” says Jen, 27, during an interview in a sun-drenched backyard at Laura’s parents’ house in Cloverdale.

They decided to move in to save money after spending $15,000 on three unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization.

The pair are currently saving up to buy a home of their own in the Vancouver area – the third-most popular metropolitan city for same-sex couples to live in across the country, behind Toronto and Montreal.

Gaybourhoods are nothing new, including Vancouver’s Davie Street – a well-known destination for LGBTQ members in B.C., but are seemingly becoming less of the hotspots they once were, according to Ghaziani.

“Acceptance produces more of a dispersion,” he said, adding that cultural and social factors work hand-in-hand with the economics of where same-sex couples and singles look to live.

Acceptance is only one factor in the decision-making process, though, as real estate prices remain high and unaffordable for many, especially those with children.

Lesbians are considered the trailblazers of LGBTQ migration, Ghaziani said, historically finding trendy neighbourhoods that are progressive, cheaper and have nearby sustainable resources like grocery and book stores.

Due to the gender wage gap and 80 per cent of same-sex couples with kids being female, lesbians are usually the first to be pushed out of neighbourhoods once late-stage gentrification begins, he said.

For example, as Davies Street tends to offer single occupancy units at higher rent – leaving the one-eighth of same-sex couples with children most likely looking to more affordable non-urban areas.

And as more traditional gaybourhoods change, others seem to be beginning in other parts of the province. More than 1,200 same-sex couples resided in Victoria in 2016, according to the census data, compared to about 700 in 2006.

With files from Laura Kane from The Canadian Press

AUSTRALIA: Australia’s biggest ‘Gaybourhoods ‘

Australia’s “gaybourhoods” are rapidly changing and relocating. We took a look at some of the most prominent LGBTI locales with the help of Australian Census data on same-sex couples.

1. Potts Point (NSW)

Gone are the days Darlinghurst held the crown as Sydney’s queer capital. While the Oxford Street strip still hosts Sydney’s annual Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, a few suburbs over to the east of the CBD you’ll find the beating heart of the city’s LGBTI culture in Potts Point. In the 2011 Australian Census, Potts Point had the second-highest concentration of male same-sex couples in capital city suburbs, only .1 of a percentage point off the then leader (Darlinghurst).

Potts Point in Sydney (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images).

2. Daylesford (Victoria)

Home to Australia’s largest rural LGBTI festival, ChillOut, Daylesford is a couple of hours outside of Melbourne and is known for its many mineral springs. It’s a popular spot for visitors and mature same-sex couples looking to settle down and invest in a tree-change. People in same-sex couples tend to be more mobile than people in opposite-sex couples. In 2011, 63 per cent of people in same-sex couples lived somewhere else five years ago compared with 40 per cent of people in opposite-sex couples.

A world record attempt at the largest ever simultaneous massage in the popular Victorian spa town of Daylesford in 2010. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

3. New Farm (Queensland)

Found in the inner suburbs of Brisbane alongside its winding river, New Farm plays host to the annual Brisbane Pride Festival and is close to the gay nightlife of Fortitude Valley. Brisbane had more than 3500 self-identifying same-sex couples in the 2011 Census, many of whom call New Farm’s leafy streets home.

New Farm Park in Brisbane (Photo by Glenn Hunt/Getty Images)

4. Brunswick (Victoria)

Brunswick isn’t just a hipster hotspot, it’s home to a great many LGBTI people who’ve traded Prahran’s Chapel Street for the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Its culinary and nightlife options have blossomed as Prahran’s famous Commercial Road strip has dwindled in recent years. It also has a higher proportion of female same-sex couples than its southern rival.

Brunswick, Victoria (Mat Connolley/Wiki Commons).

5. Newtown/Erskineville (NSW)

The Newtown/Erskineville area in Sydney’s Inner West is home to the majority of the nation’s female same-sex couples. In fact, if you were to take in the neighbouring suburbs of St Peters and Enmore, you’d account for a whopping 22.4 per cent of female same-sex couples as a percentage of Australia’s capital cities. Its famous terraces and pocket bars also account for 11 per cent of male same-sex couples.

Cyclists along King St, Newtown (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

LONDON: London’s hottest Gaybourhoods


Revitalised by the gay community “two or three recessions ago”, according to Coote, but now thoroughly commercialised and “de-gayed”, in the words of photographer Adrian Lourie. Still home to a large collection of clubs and pubs, of course — the Admiral Duncan, Shadow Lounge, G-A-Y — and therefore still a mecca for tourists and out-of-towners. The lesbian Candy Bar closed last year but new bar She Soho is “quite seismic in that it’s the first lesbian bar actually on Old Compton Street”, according to Sophie Wilkinson, news editor of The Debrief.


Hot in Vo-zhawl: the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in the heart of SE11 (Pic: Adrian Lourie) ( Adrian Lourie )

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been a welcoming destination for gays since the Second World War, and the adjoining Pleasure Gardens contain a popular canoodling hummock more recently dubbed Brokeback Mountain. Vauxhall — formerly VoHo, now Vo-challe or Vo-zhawl — is now home to a sizeable residential community and a massive nightlife scene based around the clubs, bars and saunas under the railway arches: Barcode, Chariots, Fire etc… Possibly on the turn thanks to rising rents. “Going through Vauxhall recently I saw that a gay specialist leather shop had become a halal butcher’s, which is probably the sort of thing that would keep Mr Farage awake at night,” says Ben Summerskill.


Historically a gay area due to the Heath (before mobile apps made hook-ups easier) and the men’s bathing pond, it’s still beloved of older, wealthier, boho gay residents as well as younger blow-ins or those forced to settle for nearby Kilburn. “It has an upmarket village feel — in a non-Village People way — with a fine housing stock and plentiful high street,” says TV journalist Stefan Levy. There’s also a venerable gay pub, the King William IV (the Willy).


As with Hampstead Heath, above, so with Clapham Common: plus, The Two Brewers nightclub and Kazbar remain pivotal venues on the London gay scene. Gays smitten by the “Vale of Cla’am” and able to get on the property ladder there have stayed amid the rising tide of yummy mummies.


A prime example of pioneering gays subsumed within a wider influx of cool, followed by commercialism. The Joiners Arms was a totemic gay venue when Shoreditch felt like “the middle of nowhere” (Summerskill). Then came the Young British Artists, the hipsters, the pop-ups, the City boys and the big chains. Still an LGBT favourite, though, thanks to a thriving art/design and alternative bar/club scene (Sink the Pink nights, etc), though high rents mean gays and lesbians are more likely to settle in Dalston or Hackney (see below). Sophie Wilkinson says Shoreditch is “one of the few pockets of London where I feel I can walk hand in hand with another woman without fear of attack”, along with Soho, Waterloo and Dalston (there are infrequent lesbian club nights at Dalston Superstore).


Home to a sizeable London lesbian community, with social life focused on the nearby parks and the iconic Blush bar on Cazenove Road. Stoke Newington School pioneered the teaching of LGBT History month.


A mixture of Vauxhall and Shoreditch, minus the club culture (though XXL, the club for “bears, cubs and their admirers”, is a short lollop away). It’s near the river but with a large amount of ex-council accommodation and do-up-able warehouse space, plus a burgeoning foodie culture.


Google “gay Chiswick” and the only result is a car park recommended on a cruising website. But anecdotal reports suggest that many gay air crew — those who can afford it — settle in Chiswick due to its combination of bucolic charm and proximity to Heathrow. One resident claims a W4 postcode is an asset when chatting someone up.

And finally…


“Definitely the next place!” according to Lourie. His view is echoed by QX magazine, which notes the area’s multicultural vibrancy and arty/student scene fed by Goldsmiths and Camberwell, as well as the queer night Garçonne at the Bussey Building and live art nights at The Flying Dutchman, plus LGBT-friendly bars. Wilkinson also mentions Tooting and Nunhead as potential hotspots as all young creative/club types — not just LGBTQ+ ones — are priced out of central north, west and east London. The next gaybourhood? Look south…


Gay History: I Saw The Sign: LGBT Symbols Then And Now: From A Lesbian Perspective.

You’re sitting in your day parlor, sipping a cup of tea and needlepointing a screen with your female relatives. Then, a maid enters the parlor and informs you that you have a visitor waiting for you in the drawing room. You excuse yourself and enter the drawing room where you find Elizabeth Bennett, holding a bouquet of violets that she picked just for you.


JUNE 21, 2012

Welcome to my fantasy. For years I’ve daydreamed about what gift Elizabeth Bennett might bring me to express her true intentions (which ranged from a beautifully-written letter sealed in wax to a corgi puppy in basket), but now I know she would bring me violets. Violets are beautiful and adorable flowers in general, but they’re also one of the more famous symbols of female homosexuality, possibly dating back to a poem in which Sappho describes herself and her lover wearing garlands of violets:

If you forget me, think

of our gifts to Aphrodite

and all the loveliness that we shared

all the violet tiaras

braided rosebuds, dill and

crocus twined around your young neck


In the early 20th century, women used to give each other violets as a way of telling each other, “Hey, I LIKE like you,” in times when it wasn’t easy or accepted to say so in a more overt manner. And, though the historic origins of the violet as a symbol of women liking women may have faded, the color purple is still often associated with homosexuality, particularly in the naming of the Lavender Menace and in the use of the term “lavender lads” to describe gay men during the “Lavender Scare” in the 1950s in the U.S.

Sadly, as we all know, it’s only recently that open displays of homosexuality have begun to be accepted by society, and obviously there are still many places in the world where they are still met with disapproval, violence, and/or legal and social persecution. But! The good thing is that even in unfriendly societies, us homos have always managed to find our way to each other (call it the silver lining in the lavender cloud, if you will). We’ve done so in a variety of ways, though visual symbols are often among the most recognizable. Some of these symbols may be familiar to you, but even if they aren’t, perhaps they’ll give you an idea of how to decorate your messenger bag or expand your tattoo sleeve.

The Greek Symbol “Lambda”

Lambda was selected as a symbol by the Gay Activists Alliance of New York in the 1950s and was declared the international symbol for gay and lesbian rights by the International Gay Rights Congress in 1974. It’s unclear how exactly lambda was adopted by the LGBT community or what it actually means but some popular theories include: the charged energy of the gay and lesbian rights movement (since lambda symbolizes “energy” in chemistry and physics), the Roman interpretation meaning “the light of knowledge shining into the darkness of ignorance,” or “the notion of being on different wavelengths when it comes to sex and sexuality.” There’s also this idea kicking around that lambda appeared on the shields of Spartan and/or Theban warriors in ancient Greece. The Thebes version is more popular because, as legend has it, the city-state organized the Theban Army from groups of idealized lovers, which made them exceptionally fierce and dedicated soldiers–though eventually the army was completely decimated by King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. Lending credence to this theory is the fact that the 1962 version of “300” depicted soldiers with lambdas on their shields. I never saw the 2006 version so someone else will have to confirm or deny the perpetuity of lambda in that whole situation.

The Rainbow Flag(s)

Gilbert Baker

In the 1970s, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker recognized the need for a gay symbol that could be used during the Pride Parade each year. Baker drew inspiration for the first version of the iconic rainbow flag from a variety of sources and came up with a flag with eight color stripes, each representing a different aspect of gay and lesbian life: hot pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. Baker and 30 volunteers hand-dyed and stitched the original flag, but had to remove the pink stripe for mass production due to a lack of commercially-available pink dye. When Harvey Milk was assassinated later that year, the 1979 Pride Parade Committee selected Baker’s flag as the symbol for the gay community to unite in honor of Milk’s memory.

The Original Rainbow Flag

In the 1979 San Francisco Pride Parade, the color indigo was also removed so the colors could be evenly-distributed along the parade route, leaving us with the flag we know today, with stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Today, there are many, many varieties of the rainbow flag–you can stick a lambda on it, a colored triangle, a star of David, whatever you want! People seem particularly fond of the rainbow flag/rainbows in general because they are all-encompassing: a rainbow flag endorses gay rights without making a statement about the person displaying it. And this, to me, is the most rockin’ thing about rainbow flags. If you chose not to, you don’t have to say anything about yourself, your sexytime partners, your experiences, thoughts or feelings–you’re just rocking a rainbow, and under the rainbow we’re all family. Rainbow flags and stickers are often used to denote gay-friendly businesses, gay-friendly health facilities and really, who doesn’t want to paint their face in rainbow colors and go to a parade filled with like-minded rainbow-philes? No one, that’s who. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a member of the LGBT community or simply a supporter of gay rights, rainbows mean love for everyone and are therefore wonderful.

Black Triangles

One of the oldest symbols associated with the LGBT community is the triangle, which originated as one of the symbols used in Hitler’s Nazi concentration camps as a way to label prisoners: male homosexual prisoners were made to wear a pink triangle, while women imprisoned for “arbeitsscheu” (“antisocial behavior”, including feminism, lesbianism and prostitution) were made to wear black triangles. Though there isn’t definitive evidence to prove that the black triangles were worn by lesbians in the same way that pink triangles were worn by gay male prisoners, over time the black triangle has evolved into one of the more prominent symbols of lesbianism, contemporaneously symbolizing defiance against repression and discrimination.


I know you all totally know what a labrys is already, but juuuust in case you don’t: a labrys is a double-headed axe. The labrys was first associated with the Greek goddesses Artemis (goddess of the hunt) and Demeter (goddess of the harvest) and used in battle by Scythian Amazon warriors. The Amazons ruled with a dual-queen system and were known for being ferocious in battle. Though the labrys originally stood for independence/strength/chopping prowess, it has also been appropriated as a symbol of lesbianism.

Note from commenter Nancy: The labrys is actually even older than Artemis as goddess of the hunt, it goes all the way back to the Minoan civilization on crete around the 15th century BCE, although we are not really sure what it meant then because it is sooo long ago! And while there were definitely women warriors in Scythia and nearby regions, it’s super speculative that they had the whole two-queen system and everything…that comes out of some quasi-history written by guys like Herodotus.

Double Venus

The double Venus symbol takes the scientific symbol for “female” (or “Venus”) and doubles it–two females = girl and girl; Bette and Tina; Ellen and Portia, etc.

Bisexuality Symbols

In 1998, the official Bisexuality Flag was designed by Michael Page to represent the bisexual community. The magenta stripe represents same-sex attraction and the blue stripe at the bottom represents opposite-sex attraction, while the smaller deep lavender (lavender!) stripe in the middle represents attraction to both genders. Overlapping pink and blue triangle are also used to symbolize bisexuality.

Transgender Symbols

In 2000, Monica Helms designed the first Transgender Pride flag, which debuted at the Phoenix Pride Parade in Arizona. Helms planned the flag to represent the spectrum of trans* experience. “The light blue is the traditional color for baby boys, pink is for girls, and the white in the middle is for those who are transitioning, those who feel they have a neutral gender or no gender, and those who are intersex. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it will always be correct. This symbolizes us trying to find correctness in our own lives.” Another popular symbol used to identify members of the the transgender community comes from the same roots as the double Venus: a circle with an arrow projecting from the top-right, as per the male symbol, and a cross projecting from the bottom, as per the female symbol, with an additional striked arrow (combining the female cross and male arrow) projecting from the top-left.

The Other Stuff

Purple Rhinoceros: In the 1970s gay activists in Boston chose the rhinoceros as their symbol because, like the gay rights movement, while the rhino is often misunderstood it is actually a docile and intelligent animal until it is attacked–at which point it’s probably going to steamroll your car. And guess what? It’s purple. Bam. Purple rhino.

Hare, Hyena and Weasel: These three animals were mentioned in an apocryphal text of the Bible, Barnabus, in which God warns against eating the flesh of the hare (associating it with anal sex), the hyena, which was at the time was believed to change gender once a year, and the weasel, which was associated with lesbian sex. Why? Who knows. Look how cute, though!

Thumb Rings: Popular culture seems to believe that if a woman wears a silver thumb ring, she’s telling the world she’s a big ole lesbian–though there seems to be some confusion over whether to wear it on the left or right thumb and what that signifies.

Purple String: In some places, wearing a piece of purple string or hemp around your wrist is a sign of liking other girls: wear it on your left wrist if you are single, right if you are in a relationship. But then sometimes girls from the UK say that this is reversed in Europe, adding to the dilemma of what to do when you go to London on vacay.

Sign Language for “Lesbian”: On one forum I read, a girl said that she and her friends signal “lesbian” by the American Sign Language sign,” which involves making your thumb and forefinger into an ‘L’ and sticking your chin between the two. I find this amusing and wonderful and will use it all the time.

Nautical Star Tattoo: In the 1940s, many lesbians got a nautical star tattooed on their inner wrist to advertise their sexuality. But then so did sailors and punk rockers. Not that the groups are mutually exclusive by any means (if you are lesbian sailor punk rocker, I want to meet you). What does seem to be a defining feature of tattoos indicating lesbianism is that they were often on the inner wrist, so ladies could cover them up with a watch during the day and expose them at night when they were out.

Also, dolphins: In almost every online discussion I read, some sad-sounding girl would chime in to ask, “I thought dolphins were symbols of lesbianism. What about dolphins?” Um, PREACH. Lack of historic precedent be damned, I say if we want dolphins, we can have dolphins. DOLPHINS!

LGBT symbols are ever-evolving as time, culture and civil rights allow. While it’s crucial to give a nod to the historic significance of using LGBT symbols during times and in places where one had to be covert, the use of symbols, raised some interesting questions that maybe you have thoughts about. How effective is an LGBT symbol if members of the community may not recognize what it means? At what point do “symbols” merge into the larger topic of gaydar?

It really depends on what you want, whether it be acknowledging the struggle of the past, your personal feelings about your own present, or pride in and of itself. In the end symbolism and the use of symbols is just that–it’s the user of the symbol who gives it meaning and significance. Ultimately it’s a pretty wonderful thing that in many places, we don’t have to use symbols to say what we mean and feel. But I’m just sayin’–if I see a girl with an Autostraddle ‘A’ sticker on her laptop, I’m going over to say hi.


Gay History: Here are 51 more weird and cool facts from LGBTI history.

Did you know the pope in the 1400s legalized gay sex during the summer months? Discover more here

1 Some of the world’s oldest rock paintings which were discovered in Sicily, made about 10,000 years ago, showed two male phallic figures having sex.

2 Ancient Roman historian Plutarch wrote about The Great Mother, an intersex deity depicted with both sets of genitals. Her sacred priestesses, as found in the earliest civilizations in Babylonia and Akkad, were eunuchs and trans women.

3 In ancient Assyrian society, if a man were to have sex with another man of equal status, it was thought that trouble would leave him and he would have good fortune.

4 A Hindu medical text dating back to at least 600 BC made several explicit references to gay people; kumbhika – men who bottom during anal sex; asekya – men who swallow semen; and sandha – men who speak and act like women. The text also claimed it was possible for two women to create a child together but said it would end up being ‘boneless’.

The Hindu god Shiva is often represented as Ardhanarisvara, a unified entity of him with his consort Parvati. This sculpture is from the Elephanta Caves near Mumbai.

5 In Egypt 1503 BC, Hatshepsut became the second woman to rule and chose to take the title of king. She donned male clothing and wore a false beard.

Statue of Hatshepsut on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

6 Julius Caesar and Claudius were considered ‘abnormal’ for refusing to take male lovers. Julius had, at least, an affair with Nicomedes, the king of Bithymia, as a youth.

7 Ancient Celtic men openly preferred male lovers. According to Diodorus in the 1st century BC, he wrote ‘young men will offer themselves to strangers and are insulted if the offer is refused’. Sex between men was very likely an important ‘bonding ritual’.

8 One of the first Roman emperors, Elagabalus, could have been transgender. Before dying at the age of 18, it was reported the emperor had married a male athlete and would go out disguised as a prostitute.

9 Wales had a gay king. King Maelgwn of Gwynedd of the sixth century was described as ‘addicted very much to the detestable vice of sodomy’.

10 St Thomas Aquinas, a priest from the 1200s, is considered the father of homophobia. At a time when homosexuality was often treated as an ‘open secret’, he preached widely that it was ‘unnatural’, similar to bestiality, and argued sodomy is second only to murder in the ranking of sins.

11 Pope Sixtus IV, of the 1400s, was reported to have legalized sodomy during the summer months.

Posthumous portrait of Pope Sixtus IV by Titian

12 In the Klementi tribe of Albania, first observed in the 1400s, if a virgin swore before 12 witnesses that she would not marry, she was then recognized as male, carried weapons and herded flocks.

13 The French called homosexuality the ‘Italian vice’ in the 16th and 17th centuries, the ‘English vice’ in the 18th century, the ‘Oriental vice’ in the 19th century, and the ‘German vice’ starting from 1870 and into the 20th century.

14 Most people know the origins of the word ‘gay’, but the word ‘lesbian’ was first used from around 1590 to mean a tool – a stick made of lead (from the isle of Lesbos) used by stonemasons. It was flexible so it could be used to measure or mold objects to irregular shapes. A ‘lesbian rule’ was also used to mean being flexible with the law.

15 Julie D’Aubigny was a 17th century bisexual French opera singer and fencing master who fought and won at least 10 life-or-death duels, performed nightly shows on the biggest opera stage in the world and once took the Holy Orders just so she could sneak into a convent and have sex with a nun.

16 An 18th century English term for sex between women was the ‘Game of Flats’.

17 A molly house was an 18th century English term for a room or bar where gay men would meet. Patrons of the molly house would enact mock weddings and children being born.

Molly-houses were often considered as brothels in legal proceedings.[1] A male brothel, illustration by Léon Choubrac (known also as Hope), included in Léo Taxil’s book La prostitution contemporaine, 1884, pg. 384, Plate VII

18 Trans man Albert Cashier fought for the Union in the American Civil War. At one point, he was captured by the Confederates but managed to escape by overpowering a prison guard.

(November, 1864)[1]

19 A Boston marriage, in the 19th century, referred to two women living together financially independent of a man.

Sarah Ponsoby and Lady Eleanor Butler, also known as the Ladies of Llangollen, lived together in a Boston marriage.

20 The word ‘homosexual’ (coined in 1869) is older than the word ‘heterosexual’ (1892).

21 Edward White Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883 to 1896, was thought to have been repressing his homosexuality. His wife, brother-in-law and five of his six children were also gay.

22 Dude used to be a homophobic slur.

23 UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when he was 21, was accused of ‘gross immorality of the Oscar Wilde type’.

24 Doctors in the early 1900s thought bicycles would turn women gay.

25 Wings, the first Oscar-winning film in 1920, featured a man-on-man kiss.

Richard Arlen in Wings

26 In the 1930s, a Disney comic strip showed Mickey Mouse as a violent homophobic thug. In the strip, he beats up an effeminate cat and called him a ‘cream puff inhaler’.

27 The British secret intelligence service tried to spike Hitler’s carrots with female hormones to ‘turn’ him into a woman.

28 Sister Rosetta Thorpe, a bisexual black woman, is credited with inventing rock n roll.

29 World War 2 genius and cryptographer Alan Turing said he had lost a mystery box of treasure in Bletchley Park but could no longer find it as he couldn’t crack his own code.

30 The 1948-53 Kinsey study found a third of men had a homosexual experience.

31 A drag queen was the first openly gay candidate to run for US public office. José Sarria won 6,000 votes in his 1961 campaign for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Jose Sarria dines in Kenmore Square during 2010 visit to Boston

32 The death and funeral of Judy Garland is credited with inspiring the Stonewall Riots.

33 Pride in New York City was never really ‘Gay Pride’. The first was mainly organized by bisexual woman Brenda Howard.

34 The original name for Pride was ‘Gay Power’. Other suggested names included ‘Gay Freedom’, ‘Gay Liberation’ and ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day’.

The Stonewall Inn located in Greenwich Village was the site of the June 1969 Stonewall riots. That event in New York City’s queer history has served as a touchstone for various social movements, as well as the catalyst for Pride parades around the world.

35 Dracula author Bram Stoker married Oscar Wilde’s first girlfriend.

36 One of the first openly gay athletes was Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke in the late 1970s. He told his teammates, who apparently didn’t care, and was officially outed in 1982. He is also credited with creating the high-five.

37 A man who saved President Ford from assassination had his life ruined when the media outed him as gay.

38 L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had a son Quintin who was tasked to take over from the Church of Scientology. When Quintin came out as gay, he died of an ‘apparent suicide’ in 1976.

Geoffrey Quentin McCaully Hubbard

39 Mel Boozer, the African American human rights activist, became the first openly gay person ever nominated for the office of Vice President of the United States in 1980.

Melvin “Mel” Boozer

40 Sally Ride was the first American woman to go into space. She was also the first LGBTI astronaut and remains the youngest American to have traveled to space at the age of 32.

41 In the 1980s, religious groups tried to ban Dungeons and Dragons for being satanic as it ‘promoted homosexuality’.

42 In 1987, Delta Airlines apologized for arguing in plane crash litigation that it should pay less in compensation for the life of a gay passenger than for a heterosexual one because he may have had AIDS.

43 Princess Diana went to a London gay bar, accompanied by Freddie Mercury, disguised as a man.

44 The Etoro tribe in Papua New Guinea is where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuals are excluded. They believe young men only become adults if they have a daily intake of semen to ‘properly mature’.

45 Queen’s The Show Must Go On was recorded as Freddie Mercury was dying due to complications from AIDS. According to Brian May, Mercury said: ‘I’ll fucking do it, darling’ – vodka down – and went in and delivered the incredible vocal.

46 When Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom, Birmingham in Alabama refused to show it. A local LGBTI group sold out a 5,000-seat theatre so people could watch it via satellite.

Ellen DeGeneres, an Emmy winner, came out, as well as her fictional counterpart.

47 Stephen Hillenburg, one of the creators of Spongebob Squarepants, revealed in 2002 that Spongebob is asexual.

48 The couple in Lawrence vs Texas, the case that stopped sodomy being punishable in the US in 2003, didn’t actually have sex. They weren’t even a couple.

49 The country that watches the most gay porn is Kenya, a 2013 study found. In a recent poll, 92% of Kenyans claimed they thought homosexuality should be illegal.

50 Fun Home, the award-winning, lesbian musical, is the first in the history of the Tonys to be written entirely by women.

51 In 2015, it was announced a crater on Pluto’s moon will be named after George Takei’s Star Trek character, Sulu.

An area of Charon will named Sulu