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Life in the 18th century was different for everyone, depending on how you lived. If you were rich, there was a chance that you lived a life of relative luxury. If you were poor, it was an overcrowded existence where many were treated less than fairly.

However, if you were an LGBTQ+ individual, then you lived a very unique and secretive life. During these days, falling into this category meant that you had to be careful who you opened up to because, in many cases, being anything other than cisgendered was the ultimate sin. That is not to say that these individuals didn’t occasionally enjoy their time; their lives were just very different.


So what exactly was it like being LGBTQ+ in the 18th century? How was it different from today, and how have things changed? This brief history is important so we can learn from the lessons of the past to make a brighter future for all.

A Secret Life

During the 18th century, the LGBTQ+ community was kept mostly secret, but that did not mean that it did not exist. Instead, those considered to be of that lifestyle embraced their sexuality and celebrated their differences in brothels and social clubs around the world, especially in London, England. Still, although the community was growing, many considered to be homosexual were often villainized.


In London, those who identified as gay, queer, or bisexual were often referred to as “mollys” or “sodomites.” When not in the privacy of their own home, these individuals would gather in “molly houses,” where they would engage in numerous activities, including sex, stage performances where they dressed in drag, mock marriage ceremonies, and other such pageantry. While those in the community often enjoyed their secret lives, they knew that if they were revealed to be gay, it would be a form of social suicide. Most people in the “mainstream” often demonized gay individuals, with many believing that sodomy was a sin more serious than other, more harmful crimes.


In fact, in most cases, it was illegal to be discovered to be LGBTQ+, with the punishment being more severe if they were caught in the act of engaging in sodomy or other behaviors. A molly house owned by Margaret Clap was once raided, resulting in the arrest of over 30 patrons. Two of these individuals were sentenced to death and many others were sentenced to the pillory, where townsfolk could throw things at them, including mud and dead cats. In 1721, Catharina Margaretha Linck, a transgender individual, was also charged and executed in Germany for “committing sodomy.”


Still, although the lifestyle was considered criminal and dangerous, many LGBTQ+ individuals made a significant cultural impact during the time. Often referred to as the father of art history, Johann Joachim Winckelmann was a gay man who often wrote about homoeroticism in his writings. His masterpiece, "The History of Art in Antiquity" is one of the most important contributions in European literature.


Born towards the latter half of the 18th century, famous traveler Anne Lister, often referred to as "the first modern lesbian," wrote about her trials and tribulations of being gay in her 4-million-word diary. The trials and successes of these and other individuals show that, like today, being such an individual created everyday struggles, but many chose to overcome.

The Situation Improves as Time Goes By

Although the situation has greatly improved since the 18th century, LGBTQ+ individuals are still fighting to be accepted by the world. At this point, there are still 76 countries that go as far as to criminalize adults who engage in sexual activity with the same sex. Even in the United States, these people face harassment at school and work.


The bullying and discrimination can have devastating effects on these individuals, especially children. The youth that experiences these attacks can often suffer physical and psychological harm, along with a constant fear of returning to school, which can result in a lack of proper education. Still, although there is still a mountain to climb, there are groups working to improve civil rights in the LGBTQ+ community, and the future continues to brighten.


Over the last several years, several states across the nation are enacting laws to protect those in vulnerable communities. It's a significant issue, not only for children but also for adults in the workplace, with many afraid to come forward for fear of being treated differently. To combat these issues, 21 states have pushed through legislation to protect employees against discrimination from their employers based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

School Counselors Help to Make Schools More Inclusive

Although LGBTQ+ adults still face struggles with those different from them, children are the most at risk of suffering due to harassment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as 20 states now have laws that aim to quell or completely defeat the bullying of these students. In addition, school counselors around the nation are working to make their schools more inclusive to all students while working to protect their rights.


According to statistics from the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ+ students report being bullied two times as often as their non-LGBTQ counterparts. On top of that, 42 percent of the students say their community is unaccepting of their identity. The first step that counselors are making is the implementation of “safe spaces,” which can be a classroom or an office where the students can get exclusive support from counselors and other school staff.


Counselors are also taking the charge to develop student-led clubs which are open to all sexual orientations and gender identities. In these groups, students engage in activities aimed at student well-being and creating accepting environments. Many schools are also developing educational materials that are informational for both LGBTQ+ students and their supporters. While the counselors are doing what they can, teachers can also do a lot to make their classes accepting to all people, so school staff is incorporating further training to do just that.


No matter how you look at it, the situation for LGBTQ+ individuals has grown by leaps and bounds since the 18th century, and things are only looking up from here.