The greatest homophobes of all time include people from ancient times till our own. Homophobes generally don’t limit their animosity to men who conjugate with other men. Their malice extends towards anyone who doesn’t fit the sexual and gender norms of the day. Therefore lesbians often suffered prejudice and persecution throughout history despite the relative rareness of specific criminal sanction.
Despite their systematic erasure from history, LGBTIQ people existed across the length and breadth of the ancient world, documented in Europe, Asia, Africa, Polynesia, and the Americas.
Despite that, the phenomena of homophobia seemed unknown in ancient times.
Homosexuality without homophobia?
How the f*** is that a thing?
Well… there was one notable exception.
Sex and crime
Most ancient civilisations regarded crime as public wrongs such as murder, rape, and theft.
However, one small kingdom extended criminal law into the personal affairs of its citizenry, conflating sex with crime. This led to the criminalisation of private behaviour regarded as unremarkable in other cultures.
The Butterfly Effect
How did the eccentricity of one small ancient tribe end up dictating attitude and law across the modern world?
That small kingdom was Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem. The dictates of Judah’s King Josiah, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, eventually spread to the furthest corners of the Earth.
Firstly, the two great Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, derived their articles of faith from Judaism. Around 54% of the world’s population identify as members of the Abrahamic religions.
Secondly, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity in the fourth century CE. Because of Rome’s dominance in the classical world, it’s influence lives on today.
Many roads still lead back to Rome. Among our inheritance – governance, law, art, language, alphabet, architecture – and the scourge of homophobia.
1 King Josiah – the greatest homophobes of all time
The founding father of homophobia pioneered the tradition of harnessing ‘fear of the other’ to demonise LGBTIQ people for his own benefit.
Josiah inherited the throne of Judah, a vassal state of the Assyrian empire, in the seventh-century BCE.
With the Assyrian empire in decline, he saw an opportunity to gain independence and perhaps even reunite Judah with neighbouring Israel under his rule.
During a renovation of the Temple of Solomon, Josiah’s high priest conveniently discovered a scroll described as ‘the book of the law of Yahweh by the hand of Moses’.
More likely, Josiah and his priests composed the scroll themselves.
(We know it today as the aforementioned book of Deuteronomy.)
Josiah wanted to consolidate power. In a stroke of good fortune, the laws laid down in the scroll enabled him to do just that.
He banned the worship of foreign gods, specifically the Assyrian imports.
Assyrian priests were often homosexual, sometimes wore women’s clothing and the business model of the temple included revenue from the earnings of both male and female temple prostitutes.
So Josiah ordered the gods banished, the pagan priests executed, and the temple prostitutes driven out.
“There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.”
At least that’s how the King James Bible translates the passage from Deuteronomy.
However, the word sodomite only came into use more than a millennium afterward.
In Josiah’s time, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah did not yet include any homosexual context. It was purely concerned with issues of hospitality to visitors. About 700 years passed before other homophobes read between the lines and discovered a supposed homosexual subtext.
Be that as it may, King Josiah invented homophobia and wrote the template for those who followed.
2 Emperor Justinian – the greatest homophobes of all time
Justinian codified laws against LGBTIQ people that still inform civil laws today. He also advocated for intolerance based on the threat of God collectively punishing states that permitted homosexuality.
LGBTIQ citizens of Rome suffered little prejudice during the first few centuries of the empire. Indeed, some Caesars were gay. However, when Constantine declared Christianity the imperial religion early in the fourth century CE, the tide changed.
The bishops resented the power of the eunuchs who controlled the Roman bureaucracy. When the eunuchs proved difficult to usurp, the bishops bullied emperors into enacting laws against homosexuals to employ against the bureaucrats. The laws, however, brought danger to all LGBTIQ people.
Emperor Theodosius, excommunicated by St. Ambrose, agreed to a penance that included an edict punishing male prostitutes with burning to death. Crowds gathered in public squares to cheer the cremation of living people.
However, the greatest harm to LGBTIQ people came from the edicts of the later emperor, Justinian.
Justinian I, Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565, attempted to reunite the divided empire under his own rule. His attempts involved much warfare and created many enemies.
The emperor introduced a law he could wield as a weapon against those enemies.
He decreed that men who had sex with men should suffer torture, mutilation, castration and finally execution.
He claimed that God would punish cities that tolerated such men with earthquakes, pestilence, and famine, just as he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Ah yes – Justinian pioneered the grand homophobic tactic of blaming natural disasters on LGBTIQ people.
Natural disasters plagued Justinian’s reign. Noxious fumes in the air, probably caused by far-off volcanoes, blocked the sun causing crop failure and famine. An outbreak of Bubonic plague killed tens of millions of people and an earthquake caused a devastating tsunami in the Mediterranean.
So like some crazed modern-day evangelist, Justinian outlawed not only homosexual acts but also toleration of such. No more ‘turning a blind eye’ and no room for a philosophy of ‘live and let live’.
“For because of such crimes, there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences…. If… we overlook such impious and forbidden conduct, we may provoke the good God to anger and bring ruin upon all.”
Rome becomes a church-state
A sadist, Justinian enjoyed the suffering of others and regarded Christian moral laws as another weapon to deploy against his enemies. He forced his slaves to make accusations of homosexuality against enemies so that he might legally order their torture.
And his ambitious bishops did not sit out the slaughter. They also took advantage of the laws to attack their own enemies and increase their power.
Under Justinian, the empire became a church-state.
Further, the emperor ordered the rewriting of Roman law to make it uniform. What became known as the Code of Justinian today remains the basis of civil law in many countries.
3 Pope Clement V – the greatest homophobes of all time
Over the years, the Holy Roman Church made a tidy profit from homosexuality by confiscating the property of those convicted of the charge and either killed or driven into exile.
It became common for popes to level charges of homosexuality against groups accused of heresy to increase public opprobrium and justify the plundering of their property.
However, Pope Clement V struck gold with the Knights Templar.
The Knights guarded Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre, a church built on the reputed site of both Christ’s crucifixion and his tomb. They also protected Europeans making the pilgrimage to the holy site. They became very rich in doing so.
Indeed, their wealth and manpower made them potential rivals to the church. Clement convinced the perpetually broke King Philip the Fair of France to arrest the knights.
After confessing under torture to heresy, sodomy and various other crimes, over one hundred of the knights were burnt to death in one batch and another 50 later.
Clement and Philip consolidated their power and made a sizeable profit.
4 Balboa – the greatest homophobes of all time
Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa founded the first permanent European settlement in the mainland Americas.
European colonial powers became rich through their plunder of both North and South America.
Spain, in particular, benefitted from the gold, silver and precious gems stolen from the Aztecs and other conquered civilisations.
People we now know by the umbrella term two-spirited are recorded across many indigenous American cultures and often filled particular roles in their communities. With LGBTIQ people by now almost universally condemned in Europe, the invaders looked with astonishment at the widespread acceptance of sexually and gender diverse peoples.
Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, an Italian historian who worked for the Spanish chronicling their exploration and conquest of Central America, recorded one incident involving Balboa.
Thrown alive to dogs
“A brother of the king and other young men, obliging men, dressed effeminately with women’s clothing… went too far with unnatural” temerity.
Balboa threw the forty men alive to his dogs to eat.
D’Anghiera continued that “Only the nobles and the gentlemen practiced that kind of desire.”
Like Josiah, Justinian and Clement before him, Balboa seized the opportunity to appropriate both wealth and power by demonising LGBTIQ people.
D’Anghiera records that the indigenous people then denounced other people guilty of ‘unnatural sin’. He claims they did this because they knew the acts provoked natural disasters.
Of course, the idea of sex acts provoking natural disasters was a European conceit. As no one threw LGBTIQ people to the dogs before the Spaniards arrived, it seems more likely the locals chose to sacrifice the two-spirited people to save their own skins.
Thus commenced the long history of homophobia in the Americas.
5 Henry VIII – the greatest homophobes of all time
Henry VIII never gave a thought to biblical injunctions against sex outside of marriage when he felt inclined to commit adultery – which was often.
But he nevertheless respected the institution of marriage immensely. Because a bastard child could not inherit his kingdom and Henry desired a male heir to perpetuate his glory.
When the pope refused to annul his first marriage for political reasons, the king split with Rome.
He removed the Church of England from allegiance to the Pope and created himself Supreme Head of the English church.
Besides the pope’s intransigence in not granting him a divorce, Henry resented the church’s power and wealth.
So he introduced the Buggery Act.
Previously, ecclesiastical courts presided over sexual offences. However, by the introduction of secular laws, Henry both took power away from the clergy and made the Crown the beneficiary of confiscated property in the church’s stead. That later included monastery lands when clergy found themselves swinging by the neck from a rope for the “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery” based on information gathered by Henry’s spies.
The Buggery Act blighted, and often ended, the lives of LGBTIQ people for centuries later – indeed – up to this very day. The British Empire took the Buggery Act to the world and the law remains in force in some former colonies, long after England itself voted for repeal.
Homophobia conquers the world.
For the next few centuries, homophobia colonised the world as the British and the other colonising empires, along with Christianity and Islam, spread to every corner of the globe.
Aghast at both the existence and tolerance of LGBTIQ peoples in foreign lands, the invaders spread the insidious poison of homophobia.
In conquered countries like India and Uganda, colonial overlords introduced laws to forcibly mandate heteronormativity. However, in countries like Japan, a more passive influence pervaded the previously tolerant culture. The gradual assimilation of Western ideas and a desire to appear ‘civilised’ in the face of Europeans who insisted on the ‘barbarism’ of foreign peoples, resulted in the adoption of homophobic values.
6 Adolf Hitler – the greatest homophobes of all time
LGBTIQ culture flourished in Germany during the 1920s. People knew Berlin as the ‘homosexual capital of Europe’. Gays, lesbians and transgender people all flocked to the gay mecca.
However, the rise of Nazism saw the end of tolerance. Then, with the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor, LGBTIQ people returned to their closets or fled the country.
Incredibly, Hitler rode to power with the crucial assistance of a gay man. Ernst Röhm co-founded and commanded the Nazi militia. However, when Hitler began to see him as a potential rival, he and other homosexual officers ended up dead in the Night of the Long Knives.
Even before Röhm’s death, the Nazis began persecuting LGBTIQ people. They closed venues and organisations, burned books and arrested known homosexuals.
Eventually, they would send thousands of homosexuals to concentration camps along with Jews and other minorities.
Many perished in the gas chambers.
Some died as a result of experimentation as Nazi doctors attempted to ‘cure’ homosexuality by surgical means – a vicious nonsense perpetuated by others beyond the demise of the Nazi regime.
Sadly, after WWII, when Allied forces liberated the concertation camps, many homosexual inmates remained in confinement, unlike other internees, not considered ‘innocent’ victims of the Nazis.
7 Roy Cohn – the greatest homophobes of all time
For many years, the McCarthyism of the 1950s seemed America’s greatest shame. Americans cringed remembering the era of political repression caused by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s branding of opponents as communists, unbridled trampling of democratic norms and disregard for the rule of law.
When I grew up, we learned of McCarthyism as the embodiment of everything that could go wrong in Western democracy.
We don’t hear much of him now though – not in a time when a man who makes him look like a rank amateur holds the highest office in that land of the free.
For much of McCarthy’s reign of terror, he was assisted by a closeted homosexual named Roy Cohn.
Introduced to McCarthy by the also closeted FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, Cohn performed much of McCarthy’s dirty work.
He and McCarthy contrived the Lavender Scare, during which they alleged that homosexuals in the government were communist spies.
As a result, President Eisenhower signed a bill banning homosexuals from employment with the federal government.
Within a few years, homosexuals found themselves denied employment in government departments, diplomatic services, military forces and more across the western world.
So Cohn introduces us to the self-loathing homosexual as homophobe.
In later life, he worked as a lawyer for various mobsters in addition to work for Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. Indeed, he introduced that last pair and is often called Trump’s mentor.
Roger Stone, who currently awaits prosecution on charges arising out of the Mueller investigation, was friends with both Cohn and Trump. Stone denies Cohn’s homosexuality using a rather strange reasoning.
“Roy was not gay. He was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access.”
8 Anita Bryant – the greatest homophobes of all time
Anita Bryant comprises the sole female on our list. Of course, there are female homophobes, but this list is about those who did the most damage to LGBTIQ people throughout the ages, and women rarely possessed the power to do that.
Indeed, often the same men who vilified LGBTIQ people also oppressed women.
An American singer and former beauty queen, Bryant acted as a brand ambassador for the Florida Citrus Commission.
During the 70s she led various campaigns against anti-discrimination ordinances.
She became the first person known first and foremost for their homophobia. She never achieved the fame from singing or other pursuits, that her vilification of LGBTIQ people earnt her.
No one has ever successfully explained why some people choose, as their main motivation in life, a censorious interest in other people’s sex lives.
In the 70s we saw, for the first time, the opportunity for bigots to make a career from their homophobia.
9 John Paul II – the greatest homophobes of all time
John Paul II, pope from 1978 until his death in 2005, and now a saint, described homosexual activity as “intrinsic moral evil.”
He decried modern scientific advances in the understanding of homosexuality.
“The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science.”
Further, he defended violence against LGBTIQ people.
“When civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”
As the reigning pope when the AIDS crisis hit, John Paul II blamed gay people for it. He also refused to relax church teachings on condom use, something which may have saved millions of lives.
Not content to ‘render unto Caesar’ John Paul also advocated for Catholics to oppose civil rights legislation for LGBTIQ people.
10 Ronald Reagan – the greatest homophobes of all time
It’s amusing for those of us who lived through the years of the Reagan presidency to see him rehabilitated as some colossus of democracy. At the time, the man was a joke.
Reagan came to power on the back of the so-called Moral Majority, despite his own previous divorce. As they have now with Donald Trump, the stridently moral then seemed able to excuse much to achieve their aims.
Despite their homosexual friends, Ronald and Nancy Reagan made no effort to do anything when the AIDS crisis hit the United States. Not even, when their old friend Rock Hudson lay dying.
Many claim the Reagans failed to act, not out of homophobia, but because of a political calculation that their political constituency would not wear any assistance to homosexuals.
Reagan’s press secretary made jokes about the crisis, and the administration did nothing.
Indeed, Reagan made no public comment on the health crisis until 1985, by which time, the deaths from AIDS counted in the thousands.
11 Scott Lively – the greatest homophobes of all time
Many evangelists could make this list, but Scott Lively deserves special mention because of his worldwide influence.
Lively could be termed a professional homophobe. He has made a career of opposing LGBTIQ people since the 1990s.
Lively was an early advocate of the ‘gay agenda’, insisting that gay rights legislation was only the first step in a plan to make homosexuality compulsory.
In 1992, he faced prosecution for violently attacking a lesbian at a church where he was promoting the ‘gay agenda’.
Lively’s biggest influence is not in the US, however.
He began traveling to Latvia, Russia and other former Soviet republics in 2006 assisting homophobes in those countries to form anti-LGBTIQ organisations.
In 2009, he traveled to Uganda along with other evangelists to give a series of talks on the ‘gay agenda’.
He later likened those talks to “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.”
After the attendance of Ugandan politicians at the talks, a bill submitted to the Ugandan parliament proposed the death penalty for homosexual acts.
While the parliament ended up not introducing the death penalty, the government increased the persecution of LGBTIQ people, which in turn led to increased extrajudicial violence from both the police and general public.
Many blamed Lively for the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato in 2011.
Just this week Wasswa John, a member of a Ugandan LGBTIQ group, died after being beaten and stabbed by a group wielding machetes and hoes.
QNews reports on the biggest homophobes of the 21st century.
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