Living with or around a homophobic person if you are LGBTQ is difficult emotionally and psychologically. Daily, you endure insults and slurs about your sexual orientation. You may have tried to reason with these persons, but nothing you have said has helped. You’ve tried to understand them, knowing that the political and cultural climate encourages homophobia all over the country.
Being exposed to prejudice and discrimination against your sexual orientation is a form of bullying, especially when you have told the person that you don’t like their words or treatment.
When you split the parts of the word “homo-phobia,” what you get is someone who is “afraid” of any member of the LGBTQ population. But, when you think about it, are the attitudes expressed by homophobes “fear” or just prejudice? This is a question that has probably occurred to you already, given what you have experienced from others. When you think about it, it’s probably a little bit of both. Those who treat you badly are afraid of your lifestyle, believing that you “chose” it—that, if you just make the decision again, you can leave homosexuality behind, beginning to feel sexual and romantic attraction to individuals of the opposite gender.
Definition of a Homophobe
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the definition of homophobe is:
“A person who hates or is afraid of homosexuals or treats them badly.” A full definition reads: “A person characterized by homophobia.”
Breaking this down, look at “hates or is afraid of.” The homophobic person possibly looks down on members of the LGBTQ population, believing themselves to be above someone who is living an “alternative lifestyle.”
While it’s not the same, the way a homophobic person treats you is similar to how someone who doesn’t like people of other faiths or races. In this way, it is less a “phobia” and more a dislike of someone who is different. It’s entirely possible that this person sees homosexuals as “less than” when you are actually their equal in just about every definable way.
Oxford’s online dictionary defines homophobia as the “dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people.” “Dislike or prejudice.” This definition is probably much more accurate.
When you see what various state legislatures, as well as our federal legislature, have been doing, writing bills that prevent LGTBQ persons from gaining rights that straight individuals have, you feel like a second-class citizen. You are being treated like a second-class citizen, much like African-Americans and Hispanic Americans have experienced. Same-sex marriage, wedding cakes for same-sex couples, gaining access to the other partner’s insurance benefits. . . and even being able to visit their partner while they are in the hospital are all issues that have been discussed and argued over. Those who want to keep LGTBQ persons from gaining these rights scream that allowing you to marry your partner “endangers the sanctity of marriage.” Bakers don’t want to be made to bake wedding cakes for gay couples because it violates their “religious” right to choose to whom they can offer their services and products. Municipalities all around the country have struggled with the question of offering health and life insurance benefits to same-sex couples. In one well-known case out of El Paso, Texas, Bishop Tom Brown wants gay individuals to to repent of their sins. He does not want them gaining access to taxpayer-financed health benefits. In 2011, he and his congregation started working to ensure that El Paso’s city government would stop giving health insurance benefits to same-sex couples.
As a part of the church’s (Word of Life Church) efforts, he and his congregation unsuccessfully tried to have Mayor John Cook and City Council members Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd recalled. Bishop Brown said, “They want to reward fornicators and they want to reward homosexuals,” according to the Texas Tribune. The resulting referendum banning domestic partner benefits was passed (with 55 percent of the entire vote). Mayor Cook and several City Council members voted to reject the ordinance. In response, Bishop Brown and his group, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, started a petition to have the three city leaders recalled. Mayor Cook filed a lawsuit asking to have the petition stopped.
El Pasoans responded. Retired Army Sergeant Tony Ramos, who works for an HIV and AIDS prevention program, said that they don’t believe gay individuals are an issue. Because of where he works, he hears what both gay and straight people are saying. He reports that El Pasoans are fed up, not wanting their city to be viewed as a “backwards” community. Is Pastor Brown a homophobe? According to the Oxford definition, yes he is, although he may not appreciate being described that way. When you think of the meaning of this word, he and members of his congregation all fit it.
Characteristics of Homophobia
Homophobia doesn’t have to be blatant, with the person declaring they’ll never associate with someone who’s LGBTQ. A person can be homophobic even if they don’t attack someone who is gay, transgender, lesbian, queer or bisexual. What is a homophobe? Someone who fears or acs out in hatred against you. When someone is homophobic, they may say things or act in certain ways that, once you become used to the attitudes, you learn to recognize:
“You’re gay?” Here, the person wants to appear to be sensitive to there groups. If they say something that offends you to your face, it’s likely they’ll say something similar when you aren’t around.
“I have gay friends. . . but” Here, the person knows that what they want to say is wrong, but they’re going to say it anyway. In addition, they are deceiving themselves about their homophobic beliefs.
Following up a statement regarding homosexuality with, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The person who utters this sentence knows good and well that what they just said was wrong.
“It was just a joke!” Cracking a homophobic joke in front of you, then declaiming it as “just” a joke is insensitive and hurtful. When you or another LGTBQ person makes a similar joke, you’re using humor to reclaim your power.
Some people are much more overt in their homophobic beliefs—and actions. It’s generally easier to recognize homophobia in this group of people. They become noticeably cold or hostile toward you when they realize you’re LGTBQ. They begin to avoid you. Or, they may threaten physical violence against you if they believe you’ve put a move on them.
Effects of Homophobia on Members of the LGTBQ Population
Now that you’ve realized that you are LGTBQ, you have become aware of the attitudes, words and actions of others, especially when they are homophobic. Homophobia exacts a physical, psychological and emotional toll on its victims. Think about certain church groups that protest, holding large, brightly colored signs that declare, “God hates fags.” Knowing this, it’s easy to see that homophobia has several negative effects on the LGTBQ population:
Become victims of violence more often
Don’t live as long as heterosexuals
More likely to commit suicide
At greater risk of developing a cardiovascular disease
Higher risk of substance abuse
May suffer mental illnesses at a higher rate
Find it difficult to establish long-term relationships
This is even worse in countries where homophobia is a part of the social fabric. Russia and Iran come to mind. The hatred comes from the highest levels of both countries’ governments; Iran’s former president claimed that gays didn’t exist in his country. The effects of homophobia on members of the LGTBQ populations in both countries is devastating and so unnecessary. Rather than having to hide yourself and who you are, you should be able to live normally in your community, accepted, respected and loved for who you are. Period.
When you think about what you can contribute to society, it shouldn’t be defined by your sexuality, but, for too many people, your sexuality defines who you are. This means that, if you want to be a businessperson in your community, your efforts and abilities are often blocked by hateful beliefs that you are “less than,” and therefore, not worthy.
As a result, your self esteem suffers. Think about teens and young adults who identify as LGTBQ. Because their self-identity is so tied into what others think of them, the effects of homophobia and hatred on their self-concept is even worse. These young people may run away, turn to drugs, become prostitutes or attempt suicide. When you’ve taken enough hatred because of your sexual orientation, it can be difficult to recover from, if not almost impossible.
Think about what you can do, then about what you would be able to do in your chosen profession if you didn’t have to deal with the hatred that stems from a lack of knowledge. Too many times, members of the LGTBQ population are accused of being pedophiles, because those who accuse them don’t know—or they don’t care that they are slandering these individuals.
Homophobia is just as destructive as racism. You can’t change your sexuality, no matter what others believe. Nor should you attempt to do so. Love who you love. Be proud of who you are. And resolve that you are going to educate the uneducated. Learn to become strong emotionally so you can turn around and help those who come after you.
Defining Homophobic Slurs
“That’s so gay.” Meaning, “that’s stupid.” To gays, this is offensive, because it’s a word they use to those who are attracted to persons of the same sex.
Other homophobic slurs include “fag, c**ks**king, dyke, lez, queer.” When used by non-LGTBQ persons, even homophobic celebrities, they are insults, especially when they are delivered in anger or with the intent of tearing someone else down. Once you have come out, you become well-versed in defining slurs against you.
When straight people come back with the response of, “Well YOU say it,” that’s an excuse. Someone who is gay or lesbian can use these terms because they aren’t said in a way that insults or singles out another gay or lesbian. Words have meaning, especially when these slurs are shouted at gays and lesbians in the middle of a physical attack. Also, using one of these terms as a substitution for another word is also wrong. If, for instance, someone says “gay” or “fag” while intending to call someone a bitch, they are implying that being a bitch is the same as being gay or a fag. Why do lesbians and gays get to use these terms? Because they share a history or being attacked, then having to respond to those attacks with internal strength.
Parents Who are Homophobic
If you remember the “it Gets Better” campaign, you know that the intended recipients of this message had suffered from years of bullying from their homophobic parents and even their family. Teens who know they are gay, bisexual, lesbian or queer often fear coming out to parents and other relatives. If their parents aren’t able to accept their child’s sexual orientation, they may respond by bullying them, making negative comments, hoping to “make them straight.” But what is actually happening here is that these parents are very likely expressing the beliefs that were taught to them by their own parents.
Over time, the LGTBQ teen’s self esteem falls through the floor because they believe they are worthless—simply because of their sexuality. They become depressed and often turn to drugs to cope. If they are kicked out of their home, they may turn to prostitution to support themselves, especially if they have no place where they can live and be accepted for themselves.
What kinds of messages do gay children hear? “You can’t be a Girl Scout because they let homosexuals be den mothers.” They also hear messages in church, telling them they are perverted and dangerous.
Oftentimes, LGTBQ teens don’t fit into the mold their parents expect them to occupy. When the teens try to come out of these molds, their parents lose control, abusing them verbally. If the teen stays at home, they may feel their parents and siblings withdrawing from them, not understanding what they are doing to their child or sibling.
Teens who have homophobic parents have a few options open to them, if they are willing to consider them, then act on them for their own self esteem and good mental health:
- Move away from their parents’ home and live with more accepting relatives
- Move out of their parents’ home and live with friends who accept them for who they are
Quotes on Homophobia
Homophobia is a hot-button topic, inspiring too many misconceptions and beliefs that serve to keep gays and lesbians under the metaphorical thumb of society, “where they belong.” Those who have experienced this hatred have developed their own beliefs about homophobia, expressing these in terms that eventually become quotes:
- “What’s unnatural is homophobia. Homo sapiens is the only species in all of nature that responds with hate to homosexuality.” Written by Alex Sanchez.
- “Each one of us had been starved for love for so long that we wanted to believe that love, once found, was all-powerful. We wanted to believe that it could give word to my inchoate pain and rages; that it could enable Muriel to face the world and get a job; that it could free our writings, cure racism, end homophobia and adolescent acne.” Written by Audre Lorde.
- Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.” Written by Coretta Scott King.
- In every election homophobia has been apart of the landscape and in every campaign I’ve been able to become connected enough to my constituents that they know who I am and that I can be elected on my merits.” Written by Kathleen Wynne.
- Evil is the shadow of angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing and defense, so we have experiences of shadow angels. And we have names for them: racism, sexism, homophobia are all demons—but they’re not out there.” Written by Pauley Perrette.
- “[‘non-white’ gay men] are run over at the intersection of racism and homophobia.” Written by Eric C. Wat.
- “A huge part of what animates homophobia among young people is paranoia and fear of their own capacity to be gay themselves.” Written by Dan Savage.
- “I think that the roots of racism have always been economic, and I think people are desperate and scared. And when you are desperate and scared you scapegoat people. It exacerbates latent tendencies toward—well toward racism or homophobia or anti-Semitism.” Written by Henry Louis Gates.
All of these quotes have the same message: homophobia is wrong. Homophobes fear anyone who is “different,” who is “too much other.” They can’t conceive of anyone developing romantic love for someone of the same gender, much less engaging in sexual acts with someone of the same gender. Then, there is the old, classical psychological explanation that a homophobe is actually afraid of latent homosexual tendencies they may be feeling, though they would never admit to them. Another possible explanation: religion. No, not spirituality or faith in God. People like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones Senior, Junior and the Third all fall back on “the Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination.” All of these televangelists come from the Deep South, where racism still has its claws deeply embedded into the fabric of society. Is this a link? Maybe. Henry Louis Gates’ quotation certainly touches on this.
No matter where the hatred is coming from, you should never have to experience it. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t be exposed to it. Until we, as a society, learn to accept other people just for what and who they are, we will deal with “isms” and fear of other-ness.
Asking Yourself, “Am I Homophobic?
It’s only within the past several decades that homosexuality stopped being considered a mental or psychiatric disorder. It’s true. For much of the 20th century, attraction to a person of the same sex was considered a reason for psychiatric treatment, if not full-out psychiatric hospitalization. A scaled questionnaire developed by Dr. Henry Adams at the University of Georgia actually measures the behaviors, thoughts and feelings of people when they think about homosexuality. Based on the Likert scale, respondents tick one of several numbers for each of 25 questions. Going from one through five, the questionnaire rates a one as “strongly agree,” three as “neither agree nor disagree” and five as “strongly disagree.”
Some of the questions include:
- Gay people make me nervous
- If I discovered a friend was gay I would end the friendship
- I make derogatory remarks about gay people
- Marriage between homosexual individuals is acceptable
- Homosexuality is immoral
- I fear homosexual persons will make sexual advances towards me
- I have damaged property of a gay person, such as “keying” their car
- I would hit a homosexual for coming on to me
- It bothers me to see two homosexual people together in public
- When I meet someone I try to find out if he/she is gay
Two precautions that people should note on this questionnaire: It isn’t scientifically accurate. People should use it only as a rough estimate of the attitudes of straight people toward gays. Also, the higher the person’s score, the more negative their attitudes are about homosexual individuals.
What is Homophilia?
Is there an opposite of homophobic? Yes. It’s called homophilia. Individuals who view their homosexual friends in a positive way are homophilic. Urban Dictionary gives two meanings of this term:
- Non-sexual love between two men or two women
- A supportive, brotherly friendship towards gays and lesbians
These individuals are blessed with an open and non-judgmental attitude toward members of the LGBTQ population. This means that, if you have friends who are accepting of you, offering you a warm, welcoming relationship that is non-sexual, this is a homophilic relationship. If you find that your relationships at home are becoming strained and cold, these friends might become a place to where you can retreat when you need acceptance and a place where you feel wanted. If you are a teen struggling with parental non-acceptance of your sexual identity, your accepting friends or relatives might be other options for you to make a home.
Were these people born to be accepting of you and others in the LGTBQ population? Probably not, though they are somehow more able to accept people of other demographic groups. They had to come to an acceptance of African-Americans, Hispanics, the handicapped—and gay people. Before developing their welcoming attitude, they had to ask themselves many questions about what they felt, believed and thought. They needed to learn how to put themselves into your shoes and develop an empathy for what you have experienced and felt at the hands of those who fear and hate your sexuality. Certainly, when you discuss your experiences with them, they will ask you many questions because they want to understand at an even deeper level what it is to be gay in today’s society.
States all across the U.S. have passed “religious freedom” laws that allow businesses in cities and counties to legally discriminate against gays. Bakeries have refused to bake wedding cakes for gay couples getting married; judges have refused to marry gay couples, citing their “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
On the flip side of the coin, county employees and supervisors (Kim Davis) have refused to sign marriage licenses for gay couples, even going to jail because they are so set against the notion of a two people of the same gender getting married. What Mrs. Davis and others overlook is this: Same-sex couples are generally, though not always, unable to be married in church. Churches, such as the Catholic Church, have canon laws that forbid priests from marrying two people of the same gender. So gay couples get married in civil ceremonies.
Coming back to Bishop Brown and the city of El Paso Texas—Brown and the former mayor, John Cook, came to a settlement after nearly five years of legal wrangling. Cook said, “Both sides came to a compromise and as I like to say, compromise is the art of making no one happy,” according to KVIA-ABC7. At issue in this lawsuit was Brown’s efforts to obtain petition signatures illegally. Cook and the City Council supported health insurance for gay and unmarried partners of city employees; Brown and his church opposed this.
At the root of this entire legal fight was homophobia. Brown and members of his church expressed homophobic beliefs, saying that homosexuality is a sin and that gays and lesbians will go to hell. Realizing that this court fight developed from a decision to provide health insurance benefits to the partners of gay city employees rather than extending the right for same-sex couples to marry, you can see just how deeply rooted the prejudice is.
Homophobic People and Psychological Issues
What is a homophobic person? Do they just hate because you’re gay? Does the homophobic person have a psychological condition. According to LiveScience, people who hold negative attitudes about LGTBQ individuals may also score higher on psychopathy scales. In a study conducted at the University of Italy, researchers found that these people may have also developed maladaptive coping skills when compared to someone who is more accepting of gays.
These people aren’t traditionally mentally ill or even psychotic. You’ll notice them more easily because they respond to you with disdain, hatred, anger and aggression. In fact, they may respond in these ways to members of other races as well. Do they have psychological issues? It’s possible.
The study is giving new insight and research possibilities into homophobia, which may truly be a disease. Some studies say that those who are homophobia truly feel disgust toward those who are involved in same-sex relationships. Other factors may include strong religious beliefs, hyper masculinity, sensitivity to disgust and even misogyny. Lead researcher Emmanuele Jannini, who is an endocrinologist and medical sexologist, published an article in the September 8, 2015 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. In this paper, Jannini and his research colleagues say that homophobia is only one of a constellation of factors, such as misogyny.
The study consisted of a questionnaire given to 551 Italian university students, 18 to 30 years of age. The students were required to answer questions about their levels of homophobia. They also answered questions about any potential psychopathology they may have been dealing with—anxiety, psychoticism and depression, for instance. The homophobia scale, again based on the Likert scale, looked similar to the questionnaire developed at the University of Georgia. In addition to the questions about feelings regarding gay people, the students answered questions about their own attachment style: healthy or insecurely attached. Those who reported secure, healthy attachments were comfortable in developing friendships with gays; those who said their attachments to others were insecure tended to avoid intimacy. They also had issues developing trust in other people or became too clingy when they met other people.
At the end of the questionnaire, students responded to questions about how they coped in stressful situations.
When the student was well adjusted mentally, they were much less likely to experience homophobic feelings or reactions to gay people. If the student reported a “fearful-avoidant” style of attachment, they were more likely to report feeling or being homophobic. These students experienced significant issues in close relationships with other people. Also, if the person reported they had unhealthy or immature defense mechanisms, they were more likely to be homophobic. As expected, if the students dealt with excessive levels of anger or hostility (psychoticism), they were more likely to be homophobic.
In a surprising development, students who reported having neurotic defense mechanisms such as repression, or if they were depressed, their level of homophobia was actually lower.
Does this mean that homophobia is an actual mental condition? No. it’s one of several characteristics found in those with dysfunctional personalities. Still, this isn’t the entire picture.
Culture heavily influences our reactions to members of the LGTBQ population. When people perceive that it is “okay” to act out in a negative way against individuals making up groups such as LGTBQ or other ethnic groups. In today’s political climate, when our political leaders are writing bills that strip such individuals of their rights, society in general also perceives that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against gays, bisexuals, transgendered and lesbian individuals. In some states, laws have been passed that restrict which bathroom a transgendered individual can use—they can only use the restroom that matches their gender at birth, not that with which they identify.
Several American politicians have been caught in compromising situations:
- Larry Craig, arrested in 2007 after being followed by the police, who had received several complaints of Craig’s lewd behavior
- James McGreevey had to come out as a gay man after having a homosexual affair
- Senator Carl Kruger, who voted against marriage equality, was outed after using bribe money to fix up a Brooklyn residence with his intimate partner.
- Troy King, who regularly used anti-gay rhetoric, was caught by his wife in bed with a male employee
- Richard Curtis, who voted against a domestic partnership bill, paid a male for sex and dressed in women’s clothing. The male partner attempted to extort money from him and Curtis reported the incident to Spokane police. The investigation revealed his activities
- Indiana Republican Party Chairman Glenn Murphy, Jr., was charged with a class B felony criminal deviate conduct after being accused of performing oral sex on a man who had passed out after a party. He eventually pled guilty. This ended his political career.
- Representative Mark Foley was caught sending explicit email messages to at least one underage male page. When this information became public, other male pages reporting being sexually intimate with Foley after they had turned 18. Riley resigned in 2006
- In 1964, Walter Jenkins, an aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, was arrested for performing oral sex on a male stranger in a bathroom of the YMCA. At that time, this spelled an end to his career.
- Gerry Studds became the first openly gay Congressman in 1983—after a former page (17 at the time) reported he had had a sexual relationship ten years earlier. Though he was censured by the House for his sexual conduct, Studds was reelected to Congress for six more terms.
- Jim Hinson was arrested for exposing himself at the Iwo Jima memorial back in 1976. Then, in 1981, he was arrested again for having oral sex in a House of Representatives bathroom with a Library of Congress clerk who was ten years younger than him. Both times, Hinson blamed personal problems, turmoil and alcoholism on these acts. After resigning from Congress, he came out as gay and worked as a gay rights activist. When he was 53, he died of respiratory failure that resulted from AIDS.
All of these men felt they had to hide their sexuality, regardless of whether they were caught in 1964 or 2007. Clearly, society’s acceptance of the LGTBQ population has been very slow to develop. As a result, these political figures snuck around, eventually getting caught and being forced to resign from their positions.
The hatred of homosexuals is so ingrained into the fabric of our society that many of these men wrote bills that targeted the gay population, withholding rights that straight people have enjoyed for the past 240 years. If, instead of hatred, our society had accepted the sexual orientation of members of the LGTBQ population, these men may have been able to write bills that would have provided expanded rights to transgendered individuals, gays and lesbians. Looking at the psychological makeup of those who target gays, it seems that our society here in the U.S., as well as around the world, have a long way to go toward understanding and accepting those who feel sexual attraction toward those of their own gender.
Looking at homophobia, acceptance starts at home. People need to begin looking at LGTBQ persons and seeing a human being, not someone who is worthy only of hatred and abuse. Teens who realize they are lesbian, transgender, bisexual or gay may be rightfully afraid of coming out to their families, knowing how they will respond. So they stay in the closet, unhappy because they are living a lie. Eventually, they may turn to alcohol, drugs, cutting or other maladaptive behaviors that help them cope. If they do come out to their parents, they may be stunned when their parents react with anger and even hate. While they have taken a huge step in identifying who they truly are, now, they enter a different level of hell. After months or even years of dealing with put-downs, harsh words and actions that lead to the teen feeling as though they are just as bad as what their parents say they are. Again, to cope, they may turn to alcohol or drugs. If they run away, they are vulnerable to those who prey on runaways, entering prostitution, which exposes them to risky behaviors and deadly illnesses, such as HIV.
For the teen whose family is shocked, but able to accept their child’s sexuality, the road will be only slightly easier; that child still has to face the hate-filled attitudes of society outside their home.