With all the progress that the LGBTQ civil rights movement has made in recent years, it's easy to see acceptance as the way of the future and homophobia as a marker of the past. The problem with this is that it paints all historical people with the same intolerant brush, when, in fact, homophobia is really more of a temporary fad - a violent, oppressive, and surprisingly tenacious fad, but a passing one none the less - and one not shared by all ancient societies. While it's true that queer people through the course of history have been marginalized and oppressed in many cultures, there were many places and times in history when being gay was celebrated - or at least understood as a normal part of life.
The history of homosexuality is actually rather short; the binary of "straight" and "gay" is a relatively new concept, globally speaking, and before the introduction of intolerant religious moral codes, most pre-colonial societies had more fluid concepts of gender roles. As long as there have been humans, there have been same-gender relationships; some societies have just been better about embracing that fact than others. Here's a quick lesson on homosexuality throughout history.
Pharaonic Egypt, 330 BCE-30 CE - Where Even the Gods Were Bumping Uglies with Each Other
"Horus has penetrated Seth's anus with his seed. Seth has penetrated Horus' anus with his seed."
- The Pyramid Texts
The ancient Egyptians were anything but uptight about same-gender relationships. In a society that was known for their sacred concubines, condoning incest, and believing in afterlife intercourse, homosexuality was seen as nothing to get worked up about. The Egyptians didn't view sexuality in binary terms and male-male relationships were accepted under a number of circumstances; there are even stories about the Egyptian gods Horus and Set sleeping with each other, as referenced in the above quotation. While there is little recorded evidence of lesbian relationships in pharaonic Egypt (not to say they didn't happen, just that it isn't mentioned in the limited surviving texts) one god, Hapi, had wives but was also depicted with both male and female characteristics.
Cherry Grove/The Pines, 1950-Present - A Queer Utopia Just Off the New York Coast
New York's Fire Island has been a quiet place for queer people to get loud since New York artists, actors, designers, and bohemians of all types started taking the ferry there in the early '40s. By the 1950s, elite Manhattanites had taken over the small enclave of houses and vacationers included luminaries like Greta Garbo, W. H. Auden, and Xavier Cugat - and an increasing quantity of LGBTQ New Yorkers that wanted somewhere where they could go to be themselves. When former male model John B. Whyte bought a hotel in The Pines in 1959 and began openly courting gay clientele, Fire Island's reputation as a queer paradise became the stuff of legend.
In 1965, Playboy magazine sent Shel Silverstein to do an expose on the culture and his piece, while not PC by any standards, painted - or rather line-drew - a pretty clear picture of the lifestyle on the island at that time. Even when the specter of AIDS muted the party for a time, people didn't stop going to the island. Instead it became a place of refuge for the devastated community, and eventually, the party spirit returned. In spades. Calvin Klein, David Geffen, Michael Musto, and Wanda Sykes have all at times called Fire Island home, and today The Pines and Cherry Grove remain one of the most celebratory places in America for the LGBTQ population.
Tribal Africa, Pre-Colonialization - Where Boys Would Be Boys and Women Would Be Motsoalle
Many present-day African nations have strict anti-homosexuality laws in place, but contrary to assertions by current President of Zimbabwe and internationally renowned insane person Robert Mugabe, homosexuality is not "anti-African" - and far from it. Before Christian ideas of morality were introduced to tribal African cultures in the late 1800's there was little to no stigma attached to homosexuality. Most tribes had unique words for different LGBTQ individuals and practices, and many tribes shared the belief that homosexuality was just something that adolescents engaged in, like a kind of horseplay (but not that kind of horseplay).
Additionally, there are records of long-term erotic relationships between women in Lesotho called motsoalle that were celebrated alongside heterosexual pairings - up until the missionaries came in, that is. It turns out that colonialism brings with it not just slavery, disease, and environmental exploitation, but also homophobia as well. That seems like a fair trade: we'll take your people and natural resources, and in exchange, we'll teach you to hate the gays. Very Christian.
Indigenous Americans, Pre-Colonialization - Respect for the Two-Spirits
The term "two-spirit" was introduced by indigenous Americans in 1990 as an umbrella term used to describe a long-existing caste of individuals that do not fit within traditional gender binaries. Many native tribes have recognized gender as fluid and have held specialized and even sacred roles in their cultures for two-spirit people, such as potters, matchmakers, storytellers, or oral historians.
When the Spanish first came to California in the late 1700s, they did not know what to make of these gender-fluid natives and called them "joyas" or "jewels" because of the female clothing they wore, with one explorer observing:
"I have submitted substantial evidence that those Indian men who, both here and farther inland, are observed in the dress, clothing and character of women - there being two or three such in each village - pass as sodomites by profession.... They are called joyas, and are held in great esteem."
While prostitution was something that some two-spirits engaged in, it was not stigmatized by the native populations the same way that it was by the European explorers, and they were often afforded sexual rights and privileges that other tribe members were not.