Africa, Sub-Saharan===All same sex relations are illegal in Angola, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Togo, and Zaire, with penalties varying from a fine to three years imprisonment. Only male-male relations are illegal in Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, with penalties ranging up to five years imprisonment. No relevant laws for consenting adults are found in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Senegal, South Africa, and Swaiziland. In Burkina Faso, the age of consent is higher for same-sex (21) than for heterosexual (13) relations. No official information has been forthcoming from the governments of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome, Principe, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. Visible, active organizations and developed social scenes thrive in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Informal groups are reported in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. With the exception of South Africa and Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa remains largely apart from the international gay and lesbian rights movement. Yet many of the peoples of Africa have long and rich traditions of same-sex relationships. If recent developments in South Africa are any indication, other Africans may be ready to create unique contemporary lesbian and gay subcultures when social and political forces permit them. The history of same-sex relations in Africa is obscured by a host of factors, including the almost ungraspable diversity of cultures on the continent, the lingering effects of colonialism, and the fact that most reports have been written by non-Africans. One type of same-sex relationshop that seems to have been more common in Africa than elsewhere is marriage between two women. Although the form varied from place to place, "women marriages" were generally considered economic unions, often related to trading networks created by African women.
African-Americans===Throughout the 20th century, African-Americans have played a pivotal role in shaping every aspect of the international gay and lesbian subcultures from art, literature, and music, to political activism. At the same time, black gay men and lesbians have also created unique subcultures of their own, ones that have survived despite, and occasionally triumphed over, both homophobia in African-American society and racism in the gay and lesbian communities. Today, black lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men are organized in hundreds of political and social groups across the United States. Pioneering organizations like the Third World Gay Revolution (1971), Salsa Soul Sisters 1974; later African Ancestral Lesbians United For Societal Change), National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (1978), Black And White Men Together (1980; later Men Of All Colors Together and People Of All Colors Together), the African-American Lesbian and Gay Alliance (1986), Gay Men Of African Descent (1986), and Black Gay And Lesbian Leadership Forum (1989) have fostered the growth of more specialized groups. Still, despite the proliferation of black gay and lesbian "safe spaces," many black lesbians and gay men would second writer Bruce Morrow's feeling, expressed in a 1994 New York Times essay: "My life usually feels like I'm balancing on a thin wire strung across the city."
Historians and anthropologists have begun to uncover homoerotic traditions in Africa, but it remains unclear to what extent these traditions were translated to North America in the days of slave trade. As with Americans of European descent, the first body of documented evidence of same-sex desire among African-Americans comes in the form of court and prison records. Historian Jonathan Ned Katz reports that a government document dating from 1880 shows more black men (32) than white men (31) across the United States, despite their making up less than 15 percent of the total population at the time. (That black men and women continue to suffer disproportionately from American homophobia is suggested by military discharge rates for homosexuality.)
Along with Greenwich Village, Harlem was in the 1920's the site of the first multifaceted American gay and lesbian subcultures (see Harlem Renaissance). While white gay men flocked to the lively Harlem clubs of the era, gay bathhouses and bars in other parts of New York--and in most other American cities--remained off limits to people of color. As a result, black lesbians and gay men formed their own friendship networks, meeting sometimes in clubs in black neighborhoods, but more often through parties thrown in private homes.
Long after "whites only" signs were taken down in the South, many gay and lesbian discos, bars, and bathhouses continued to discriminate against black customers, either through quota systems or outright refusal of entry. These discriminatory door policies were among the catalysts to the formation of groups like Salsa Soul Sisters and Black and White Men Together.
A distinctive factor of black lesbian and gay life has been that a higher percentage of African-American lesbians and gay men live outside gay and lesbian ghettos than their white counterparts. Their contributions to the lesbian and gay subcultures, on the other hand, have been disproportionately large, beginning with the writers, musicians, performers, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, extending through James Baldwin and Samuel R. Delany, and continuing through the renaissance of African-American gay and lesbian creativity of the past decades, just a few of whose representatives include Essex Hemphill, Audre Lorde, and Marlon Riggs.
African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change===(formerly Salsa Soul Sisters) Oldest organization of African-American lesbians in the U.S., established by Reverend Dolores Jackson with Harriet Austin, Sonia Bailey, Luvenia Pinson, and others in New York City in 1974. One of Jackson's primary objectives was to provide black and Latina lesbians with an alternative to lesbian and gay bars, many of which at the time either had racist door policies or were Mafia-controlled, or both.
Age Of Consent===Age at which law codes deem individuals either permissible sex partners for others who have reached sexual majority, or legally responsible for their own sex acts. Through most of legal history, "age of consent" has referred to the age at which persons might marry, generally fixed at or shortly after the average age of puberty. In the early 19th century, it was legal for children as young as 10 to marry in many parts of the U.S. The so-called purity movements of the second-half of the 19th century played a strong role in changing cultural attitudes toward youth, extending the idea of childhood "innocence" into adolescence. By 1900, most American states and European countries had raised the age of consent to between 14 and 18 and legislated severe penalties for adults who had sexual relations with minors.
As same-sex relations have been decriminalized in much of the world, age of consent has become one of the most hotly contested issues adressed by lesbian and gay activists. The United Kingdom, for example, has maintained a higher age of consent for male-male sex than for sex between male-female or female-female partners in the belief, as expressed in parliamentary debates, that young men are especially vulnerable to being "converted" by older gay men. As a result, the situation existed where and English 18 year-old man may legally have sex with a 16 year-old girl, but can be imprisoned for having sex with a 17 year-old boy. The Netherlands and France are two examples of countries in which activists, after years of protests, obtained legislation revoking discriminatory ages of consent. Today, typical ages of consent range from 14 in most parts of Japan to 15 or 16 in much of Europe to 18 in most of the United States.
Aging===Despite its universality, aging remains one of the least discussed, least studied, and, probably as a result, least celebrated aspects of gay and lesbian lives. Nevertheless, a few relevant sociological and psychological studies as well as testimony from increasingly vocal elders indicate that growing older as a lesbian or gay man is a much more positive phenomenon than is commonly thought.
The vast majority of research on adult development has been linked in some way to traditional notions of the heterosexual nuclear family. Studies of middle-aged women, for example, have tended to focus on the departure of children from the home, return to the workforce, etc. In addition, researchers conducting long-term studies began to ask questions about sexual orientation only in the mid-1970's. In the absence of facts, fictional representations like the pathetic old Aschenbach in Thomas Mann's Death In Venice helped establish stereotypes of older gay men and lesbians as desperately lonely individuals completely cut off from friends and family, not to mention sex and romance. Such gay male slang as "troll," applied sometimes to men who were barely past 30, and humor ("I'm 40--that's 280 in dog years, dead and buried in gay years") served only to reinforce these stereotypes.
There is no question that ageism is rampant in the subculture, especially among gay men. Many clubs have top age limits, and older gay men can be made to feel, if not unwelcome, then invisible in many parts of the gay ghetto. This prejudice notwithstanding, several studies have shown that older gay men actually tend to be better adjusted and more satisfied with their lives than young gay men.
Ageism is exacerbated by a generation gap unique to the gay and lesbian subcultures. Sociologists note enormous attitudinal, even cultural, differences among the three main gay and lesbian "cohorts" active today: men and women who reached sexual maturity before Stonewall, those who came out during the "liberated" 1970's, and those who have come of age since the advent of AIDS in the early 1980's. Representatives of these three cohorts are sometimes divided even in the ways they describe themselves--"homosexual," "gay" or "lesbian," "queer."
On November 2, 1977, Chris Almvig and others founded Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE). Based in New York City, where it provides a wide range of social and support services, SAGE was the first nationwide advocacy agency for aging lesbians and gay men.