A short history of Gay Portugal – Middle Ages to Estado Novo

IMG_7071Life under the Inquisition
There are many surviving documents about gay life under the Inquisition, most of it stored in the National Archives of Torre do Tombo.  Although the Inquisition tried hard to quell gay life and culture, there are references to transvestite shows to be found in the archives of the time, and references to men impersonating women as sex workers.

Living under the constant threat of being discovered, gays also started to adopt a specific language (much like the much later Polari found in the UK). Using terms not usually associated with sexual activity, such “hunting” to describe looking for sex or “being in the afternoon” to describe another gay person, prevented people ‘not in the know’ from understanding the verbal code used to communicate.

18/19th Century
The age of enlightenment brought an end to the rule of the Inquisition, and it slowly lost its grip on Portuguese society. However, while the enlightenment brought many advances, wider society was still influenced strongly by Catholic moral ideas and the influence of the Catholic church remained strong.

The reformed penal code of 1852 did not contain any references to homosexual acts, effectively legalising them. However, social morals still remained skewed against gays, although homosexual acts did not lead to the same scandalous consequences as in other countries at the time. This tolerance gave Portugal the status of a comparatively liberal country, at least when compared to countries such as Germany or the UK where gays were openly prosecuted by the police at the time and homosexuality was a crime (e.g. Germany recriminalised homosexual acts in 1871, in the UK, homosexual acts have been illeagal since 1533).

This relative liberal outlook lead to some pioneering works about homosexuality being published within the Portuguese Empire at the time. This included works such as A Inversão Sexual, by Adelino Silva, which, when published in 1895, was one of the first works to analyze ‘scientifically’ the topic of homosexuality (by comparison, Magnus Hirschfeld’s work “Die Homosexualität Des Mannes Und Des Weibes” was published almost twenty years later, in 1914). Despite of this, homosexuality was still often seen as a mental illness which needed to be treated. For example, Egas Moniz, the first Portuguese nobel laureate and inventor of the highly controversial lobotomy, classified homosexuality as a mental illness, and counseled that it should be cured like any other mental illness (which, in his case, presumably involved drilling holes into heads of patients).

The First Republic
The end of the monarchy in Portugal, and the establishment of the First Republic in 1910, didn’t change much in terms of societal attitudes towards gays and homosexuality. While homosexuality remained technically legal, interest in it came mainly from a medical perspective: Assuming that it was an illness and needed treatment. As such, books which appeared to condone homosexuality were often banned or seized. Much in contrast to the more liberal attitudes of the rest of Europe, Portuguese society in the 1920s became more conservative: In fact, Portugal was the only European country not to send any delegates to the World League for sexual Reform initiated by Magnus Hirschfeld in London in 1929.

The Estado Novo

Júlio Fogaça
Júlio Fogaça

After Salazar established the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo in 1933, things took a predictable turn for the worse: Salazar advocated a return to Catholic doctrine and conservative values. Gender roles were reverted to become more traditional, and all expressions of sexuality outside of marriage were frowned upon. Sexual expression was seen as subversive and books, scripts or other artistic works advocating any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and as a means to reproduction were systematically censored, and artists, writers and advocates were criminalized.

In 1954, homosexuality was recriminalised, with people engaging in “crimes against nature” facing being being locked up in mental asylums or condemned to hard labour. The Portuguese secret state police PIDE systematically hunted homosexuals or spread rumors about opposition and resistance fighters, including famously the then president of the opposition Portuguese Communist Party Júlio Fogaça. Fogaça subsequently was expelled by the Communist Party, while serving a prison sentence, in 1961 under the pretext of homosexual conduct.

Please bear in mind that I’m not a historian (nor Portuguese for that matter…), but just compiled this based on my reading. It would be great if you could add any omissions or corrections below! Thanks!…Of course, I also realise that I have mostly focused on gay items. I hope I can find out more about lesbian and trans history in the future and share it here!
>> Next time… The Carnation Revolution to modern-day Portugal.

Resources for Portuguese Learners

FullSizeRender-2I’m trying to have a bit of “Portuguese” immersion in the run up to going to Lisbon – at least as far as I can in between speaking to friends (usually in English) and living in London. Here are a couple of useful sites and links if you are trying to immerse yourself in “Portuguese Portuguese”. Continue reading “Resources for Portuguese Learners”

A short history of Gay Portugal – From Rome to the Inquisition

IMG_7071

The Romans

Much of the early history of homosexuality in Portugal is, of course, intertwined with it being part of the Roman Empire covering parts of the Roman Provinces of Lusitania, Gallaecia and Hispania. Thus, much of the early history of “gay” sexuality is likely to have been similar to that in other Roman provinces. Thus, a distinction was made between Roman citizens – and others. While Roman (male) citizens had the right to practice penetrative sex with other people as the active part, such as with both make and female slaves or prostitutes, Roman morality frowned upon Roman citizens being penetrated. Of course, how this might have been interpreted is subject to many history books, but simply put, homosexuality wasn’t really a sin – as long as the Roman citizen did the penetration. Continue reading “A short history of Gay Portugal – From Rome to the Inquisition”

How to find information about Gay Lisbon – online

Image-1If you haven’t heard much about gay life in Portugal it may be because it is actually quite tricky to find a lot of information online. Sadly, there isn’t an easily accessible array of magazines such as Boyz or QX in London, or Siegessäule in Berlin (with a well maintained English section). And even local websites are often hopelessly out of date (the local TimeOut website used to have events from three years ago… and now just redirects to their facebook page). So… it is a little more tricky to find out what is going on.

Sadly, a lot of information isn’t available in English. However, the good thing about Portuguese is  that, at least in the written form, you can probably make out the essential words by looking at them.

And for everything else… there is this hopefully somewhat complete and reasonable useful guide… Continue reading “How to find information about Gay Lisbon – online”

Lisbon by Half

What is better than one half? Three halfs! Or at least that is how many half marathons I could find for the next year taking place in Lisbon… All seem to have quite a different flavour – and routes, so it shouldn’t be boring going for all three…. Here is a quick overview:

Lisbon by half (marathons)

A photo posted by Urbangay (@urbangayblog) on

Continue reading “Lisbon by Half”

Lisbon Gay Agenda

More as a convenient list for me really… here are some of the LGBTI+ events taking place (as far as I can find them) in and around Lisbon in 2016:

25 – 30 May 2016 Lisbon Bear Pride

18 June: Pride March Lisbon – the actual march
25 June: Arraial Lisboa Pride – Pride festival on the Terreiro do Paço

7 – 10 July: Hot Season Festival – Trumps Club
14 – 16 July: Pitch Beach – Rugby, Volleyball, Swimming…
28-31 July: Summer Action

August ??

16 – 24 September: Queer Lisboa – Film festival

1 October: Lesboa Party – 10th Anniversary Edition

Others… which come and go:
Conga Club – irregular partiesLisbon Gay Circuit  – guide to places in Lisbon (the regular ones)

Road ahead: Olá Portugal

ptsignSo it is reset time … and while it sadly isn’t as quick and easy to “reset” a life as it is to wipe a blog out of the digital cosmos, the preparation for the final reset is something that is keeping me very busy indeed…

Over the last few years, I had toyed a lot with, one day, moving to Southern Europe. I used to live in Spain almost 20 years ago, which I fondly remember… and so I tried to figure out if it would be a good idea to return to Spain. In a way, returning to a country I know fairly well seemed like the easy option – and also the option that would have probably been easiest. And Spain certainly has a lot to offer in term of lifestyle, weather, food… and I speak the language reasonably ok. However, I fairly quickly realised that returning to Spain would be a little like chasing my time that I spent there as a student. In fact, I quickly became convinced that, for all the nice memories I have looking back, going back twenty years later would be setting me up to fail miserably. Not only  a lot of things would have changed, but also many of the people I was with there were either no longer there, are married etc etc… so in one way or another returning at least to the same city (in my case Barcelona) would be tricky for me.

As you may remember from previous Blog posts, I spent quite some time traveling around different places in Spain over the last few years. While the main purpose of the travels wasn’t to find a new “home”, the thought always played on my mind. To be honest, I couldn’t really say way, but there wasn’t another place that I felt good about in quite the same way as what I remember feeling the first time I was in Barcelona. Sure… I visited some amazing cities, and many are great, in fact, very pretty, have amazing food and lovely people… but there was always a little something that seemed to be missing for it to appeal as a more permanent home.

In an odd way, until a few years ago, I had never been to Portugal. Odd especially, as my mother, although not herself Portuguese, spent quite some time close to Lisbon when she was young. Thus, I always heard about this “magical” place from when I was a child… but somehow never managed to visit it.

This changed three years back, when I was in Portugal for work, or Lisbon to be precise. It was a rather short stay, just a week, so I didn’t really have much time to explore the city or country. But I remember thinking that I thought it was a pretty nice place. Smaller, compact and maybe a little more quiet than London, Madrid or even Barcelona… but it had a very pleasant vibe. And a good vibe that stayed with me, even when I arrived with pretty high expectations based on the tales of childhood.

Last year, again mainly because of coincidences, I ended up again going to Lisbon. This time I had more time and could explore some more. While, of course, those impressions must be pretty superficial, it confirmed to me that Lisbon is a pretty nice place. And that maybe it is exactly the place that offers all the positive things I imagine in terms of weather, food, culture etc – while at the same time being sufficiently different not to constantly invite me to draw conclusions to my memories of Barcelona (ok, I admit, there are a few parallels I can think of …).

So when I started to “reset” it all, I decided at least tentatively to focus on moving to Lisbon. So earlier this year, I made another trip, looked around and tried to discover more places and get a feel of how it would feel like living there… especially living there on my own, even without friends to begin with.

One of the things I immediately figured out was the need to learn the language, of course. After all, it is ok to stay in a place for a few days and not speak the language. But when making this place home, language is essential. I’m a little bit lucky in that I speak Spanish reasonably well – as luckily both languages share many similarities. On the other hand, I’m unlucky to speak Spanish reasonably well,… as both languages are also quite different. And so knowing the one can become quite confusing when trying to speak the other.

The first thing I did was to look for a course: At the moment, I’m enrolled on a language course in London (lots of fun!). It should provide me with some basics, and hopefully make me fluent enough to understand and talk a bit more than just pointing and using some simple words. During my last stay in Lisbon, I also enrolled in a language course there over the summer. I still have a lot of holiday days left while working out my notice period, so I figured I can put them to some good use and get to know a bit more about the place … and learn the language at the same time.

Roughly… this is where I’m at now: Working out my notice period, trying to fix the date I’ll be able to move, learn the language and find out more about this little country on Europe’s west coast… of which I thought I knew quite a bit, but every time I look, I seem to discover lots of new and exciting things. I hope I can share them with you over the next few months… and, if you have any comments or suggestions… please… get in touch!