Sodomy laws which specifically target the LGBTQ population are nothing new. In fact, the reality is these laws go back thousands of years and examples of their use can be found in ancient Assyrian and Roman history. For millennia, civilizations around the world have used the legal system as a means to justify and enforce desired behaviors and practices while punishing and killing those who did not comply. Most often, LGBTQ individuals have born the brunt of these attacks via anti-sodomy laws in various forms.
The root of these laws and their justification is often grounded in the religious beliefs and practices of that society, banning any sexual practices that were outside of the confines of marriage or for procreation purposes. Historically, the Roman Catholic Church has a long and painful history of prosecuting homosexuality.
Throughout Europe, in the Middle Ages, homosexuality was punishable by death. Even in 2020, the Church stands by their homophobic practices and has harmed many LGBTQ individuals connected to the Church through public shaming and firing of them.
As reported by the ACLU, the late 1960’s saw the reinterpretation of these terrible laws to target gay people and many of these laws are still in effect in the U.S. today. The ACLU describes this practice as it spread across the U.S.: “In nine states, sodomy laws were explicitly rewritten so that they only applied to gay people.
Kansas was the first state to do that in 1969. Kansas was followed in the 1970's by Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas. In two states, Maryland and Oklahoma, courts decided that sodomy laws could not be applied to private heterosexual conduct, leaving what amounted to same-sex only laws in effect.”
As with so many things, the law is only the beginning of a terrible domino effect of discriminatory practices that have a lasting ripple effect on the victims even after the law is removed and can go on to haunt them for the rest of their lives. As the ACLU explains, there is the challenge of trying to find employment with a record, living with a record or trying to adopt or foster children after one of these convictions.
The ACLU provides an even further example of how these laws can effect the public safety of queer people in the U.S. For example, the state of Utah used a sodomy law to find a way around protecting gay people from hate crimes.
Wendi Cooper, a trans woman from New Orleans tells her tragic story of how a sodomy law in her home state of Louisiana almost destroyed her life. In a feature article with Al Jazeera, Ms. Cooper recounts her sad story. In 1999, she had gotten dressed up for a typical night out dancing at a club as she enjoyed doing.
Outside of the club, a cop was cruising in his car and hitting on her. Thinking nothing of it, she started talking to him and got in the car. She said that she wasn’t worried because he was a cop, she thought she would be safe. She recalls how the office “started talking about oral sex and anal sex and stuff like that” and eventually pulled out his badge and arrested her.
Known as a Crime Against Nature statute, Ms. Cooper like many other trans women of color have been persecuted and imprisoned and struggle to find their way back into society after a life behind bars. Her powerful story is one that we should all honor and share, a story of resilience in the face of adversity while shining light on the reality of a barbaric medieval legal system that still is in practice today in contemporary American society.
According to Pink News, 16 states in the U.S. still have sodomy laws in practice. Her story and the stories of other incarcerated courageous women of color can be seen on display at Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane in an exhibition titled: “PER(SISTER): INCARCERATED WOMEN OF LOUISIANA”.