The term homophobia means fear or hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice or discrimination against, people who are homosexual. It is sometimes used to mean any sort of opposition to same-sex romance or sexual activity, though this opposition may more accurately be called anti-gay bias.
Homophobia is not a psychiatric term. There is no such thing as clinical homophobia, though the phenomenon of homophobia continues to be studied by groups like the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Some studies have linked deep hatred towards homosexuality to repressed homosexual feelings (see "internalised homophobia", below).
For this reason many feel that it is a loaded term.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Usage of the term
- 3 Consequences of Homophobia
- 4 Causes of homophobia
- 5 Opposition to homophobia
- 6 Homophobia in politics
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Discuss
The word homophobia was coined by psychologist George Weinberg in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual in 1971. It combines the Greek words phobia, meaning "fear", with the prefix homo, which means "the same". The "homo" in homophobia comes from the word homosexual.
A precursor was homoerotophobia, coined by Dr Wainwright Churchill in Homosexual Behavior Among Males in 1967.
Usage of the term
People who regard all opposition to homosexuality as irrationally hateful may use the word in the loose sense of "any opposition to homosexuality". For example, gay rights activist Scott Bidstrup states in a personal essay titled Homophobia: The Fear Behind The Hatred:
- If you look up homophobia in the dictionary, it will probably tell you that it is the fear of homosexuals. While many would take issue with that definition, it is nevertheless true that in many ways, it really is a fear of homosexuality or at least homosexuals. 1
Niclas Berggren, writing in the Independent Gay Forum, agrees:
- It is usually not the case, for homophobic persons, that the basis of their attitudes towards homosexuality is rational reasoning, or intellectual argumentation. Such endeavors have, as a rule, been added afterwards, to try to give the homophobia a nicer and more respectable framing. However, these attempts to argue intellectually against homosexuality are utter failures. 2
Some argue against any use of the term homophobe. For example, mechanical engineering student Jarrod Carter wrote in 1995 in a letter to a student newspaper:
- I'm not homophobic, for those homosexuals out there who still use that line of drivel. You can't explain it away that easily. The word homophobic means, by popular definition, fear of homosexuals or the event of becoming homosexual. I am not afraid of either. 3
Some, including campaigners against gay rights, object to the label, claiming it is inaccurate. This is, they say, because they object to homosexuality on principled or religious grounds rather than irrationally (see Heteronormativity).
Some gay activists respond that it is not believing homosexuality to be wrong which constitutes homophobia, but rather specific positions and actions such as opposing equal rights and protections for gay people. This contrasts with the views of Niclas Berggren, for example, who describes attitudes as homophobic in themselves.
Also, many supporters of gay and lesbian rights argue that there are no rational criticisms of homosexuality per se, and that consequently, there is no argument against homosexuality that is not rooted in homophobia.
Some activists also call homophobia straight supremacism equating it to white supremacism. Anti-gay rights groups see this as an attempt to marginalize those who disapprove of homosexuality.
Consequences of Homophobia
Consequences of homophobia may include internalised homophobia, violence, and discrimination.
Homophobia directed against oneself, called internalised homophobia or ego-dystonic homophobia, can result in lifelong suffering of depression, low self-esteem and a stunted love life and sexuality. Some psychologists and psychiatrists attribute the comparatively high incidence of suicide among gay teenagers to such strongly negative self-evaluations. Others primarily blame homophobic actions taken against them, as described below.
Homosexuals who suffer from internalised homophobia may discriminate or be violent towards other homosexuals in the same way and to the same extent as anyone else with homophobia. Some homosexuals with internalised homophobia may repress their homosexuality, so that they are not fully aware of it. Some people claim that some or most homophobes are repressed homosexuals. Senator Joseph McCarthy and minister Fred Phelps are sometimes presented as examples of this kind of motivation and behavior.
Homosexuals who are opposed to homosexual behaviour (for religious reasons, for example) may suffer many of the same effects, to a lesser extent, as those with internalised homophobia. Some choose chastity in order to avoid conflict between their homosexuality and their beliefs. Others may try to become heterosexual through reparative therapy, though it is generally agreed among mental health professionals that it is impossible to change sexual orientation (See causes of sexual orientation).
Sometimes homosexuals who are opposed to homosexual behaviour or who choose to hide their orientations, particularly public or political figures, are forcibly outed by campaign groups or newspapers who claim that opposing homosexual behaviour while being homosexual is hypocritical and should be exposed. This is a controversial tactic.
Extreme cases of homophobia have resulted in cases in which a person was murdered because of their actual or perceived homosexuality. In some of these cases, the defendant argued that their action was due to a moment of panic caused by their belief that the victim was pursuing them sexually. This claim is referred to as the "gay panic defense". The gay panic defense is illegal in some jurisdictions.
Murder is the most extreme manifestation of homophobia, and occurs relatively infrequently (though often homophobically-based attacks are not reported or prosecuted as such). Much more common are cases of non-fatal beatings, shootings, stabbings, and other assaults, including verbal assaults and bullying. Fear of physical violence is widespread among homosexuals, and many of them migrate to urban areas both for the safety and cultural advantages large gay communities offer them (see gay ghetto). Even urban environments are not always safe, as it is not unknown for gangs of youths to travel into gay communities in search of targets.
Homophobia is most often manifested in discrimination. Until recently, discrimination against homosexuals was a function of government in Western countries. The passage of many notable non-discrimination laws and the voluntary changing of policy by many employers has, to a certain extent, improved the situation for homosexuals. However, some anti-gay rights groups contend that many of these laws and policies have, in fact, discriminated against heterosexuals. Gay rights activists do not accept these claims and further state that there is still a great deal of subtle anti-homosexual discrimination. Because of this, many homosexuals still fear being fired from their jobs, denied housing, or harassed in various ways. (See fruit machine.)
Homosexuals were one of the groups persecuted under the Nazi regime. It is believed that as many as 600,000 homosexuals died in the Holocaust. See Homosexuals in Nazi Germany, pink triangle, black triangle.
Effects on straight people
Some argue that homophobia also harms non-gay people as well. Warren J. Blumenfeld has argued that homophobia harms heterosexuals in the following ways:
- Extremist far-right conservative and religious groups use anti-gay bias to further their political goals. Anti-gay bias leads everyone compromise their morals and treat others badly. Anti-gay bias causes everyone to avoid or have trouble forming close relationships with friends of the same sex. Everyone's behaviour is restricted to rigid gender-roles or punished for variance by anti-gay bias. Even if people are in actuality straight, they may be silenced or ridiculed into not fulfilling their potential by avoided the creative fulliling but stigmatized activity. Anti-gay bias causes young people to engage in sexual behaviour earlier in order to prove that they are straight. Anti-gay bias contributed significantly to the spread of the AIDS epidemic. Anti-gay bias inhibits the ability of schools to create effective honest sexual education programs that would save children's lives and prevent STDs. 4
Causes of homophobia
The cause of homophobia in society has been widely debated. Homophobic beliefs and attitudes can be held by people regardless of their own sexual orientation.
Some people believe that the most basic roots of homophobia lie in the instinct of procreation, the most fundamental of instincts. The very thought of a parent that his child may become a gay or lesbian and thus will break the biological chain of generations makes the person to consider gays and lesbians as a source of a potential threat to his family line. Besides religion, the thought that we continue to live in our children and children of our children keeps us at peace with death, and gays and lesbians are perceived to threaten this peace. However, it isn't true that gay and lesbian people would or do pass on their genes far less frequently. Consider the intense pressure to be straight and reproduce over the last few hundred years. Gay people pass on their genes all the time, in fact, gay and lesbian teenagers are twice as likely to impregnate someone or be impregnated (http://www.lesbianinformationservice.org/pregnancy.rtf). See: situational sexual behaviour. Given that, its hard to imagine that parents would be horrified that their children would not procreate, but seemingly disinterested in their children's sinfully deviant socially unacceptable sexual activities or inclinations. Given the common fact of gay people "reproducing", and its common knowledge, fear of "not passing on one's genes" is often considered impossible as a cause.
The procreation-related issues are also traced into religious dogma. The so-called “Abrahamic religions,” (chiefly Judaism, Christianity and Islam) appear to proscribe certain forms of same-sex love and sexuality. Some interpret the Bible as saying that even coitus interruptus was severely punished by God, since the semen was dropped on the ground and did not reach its true destination. Support for this theory comes from when we compare attitudes towards same-sex love in cultures not yet impacted by the effect of these religious creeds. Whether we look back in history at cultures such as the ancient Greeks or the pre-modern Japanese, or we look at present-day Native cultures, such as many North-American tribes, we see societies which understand and integrate the human ability to love and desire someone of one’s own sex.
According to theorists including Calvin Thomas (2000), quoted here, and Judith Butler, "The terror of being mistaken for a queer dominates the straight mind because this terror constitutes the straight mind. It is precisely that culturally produced and reinforced horror of/fascination with abjected homosexuality that produces and maintains 'the straight mind' as such, governing not so much specific sexual practices between men and women (after all, these things happen) as the institution (arguably antisexual) of heteronormativity itself." He continues, "Homophobia entails not only the fear of those who are abjectly identified (and depended on) but also the fear of being abjectly identifiable onself: the fear, as the word most literally means, of being 'the same as'. This latter fear is arguably a much stronger component of homophobia than of, say, sexism or racism (despite the mechanisms of projection and abjection doubtless at work in those forms of hatred), because the sexist male or the racist white is in much less 'danger' of being 'mistaken' for a woman or a nonwhite than the straight is of being 'mistaken' for a queer." Judith Butler recounts, "When they were debating gays in the military on television in the United States a senator got up and laughed, and he said, 'I must say, I know very little about homosexuality. I think I know less about homosexuality than about anything else in the world.' And it was a big announcement of his ignorance of homosexuality. Then he immediately launched into a homophobic diatribe which suggested that he thinks that homosexuals only have sex in public bathrooms, that they are all skinny, that they're all male, etc, etc. So what he actually has is a very aggressive and fairly obsessive relationship to the homosexuality that of course he knows nothing about. At that moment you realise that this person who claims to have nothing to do with homosexuality is in fact utterly preoccupied by it."
Some gender theorists interpret the fact that male/male activities or relationships often incite a stronger reaction in a homophobic person than female/female (lesbian) activities or relationships as meaning that the homophobic person feels threatened by the perceived subversion of the gender paradigm in male/male sexual activity. To quote D.A. Miller, the "only necessary content of male heterosexuality is not a desire for women, but the negation of the desire for men." As Miller continues, this necessary negation is such that "straight men unabashedly need gay men, whom they forcibly recruit (as the object of their blows or, in better circles, their jokes) to enter into a polarization that exorcises the 'woman' in man, by assigning it to a class of man who may be considered to be no 'man' at all." (Thomas 2000)
Psychoanalytic theory has long held that homophobia was the result of repressed homosexual desires. In a recent experiment, a group of homophobic heterosexual men showed more signs of sexual arousal from being shown images of homosexual sex than a control group of non-homophobic heterosexual men; however, anxiety in the former group may explain part of the difference . Similarly, so-called ex-gays, who claim to have "walked away from homosexuality", have often used strong language to condemn the practice (and some have later returned to it). Presently in western countries the group most likely to manifest homophobia is adolescent males.
Some groups or individuals have voiced disapproval of homosexuality, or actively oppose it, because of religious principles. They typically condemn violence toward homosexuals but vary in their opinion about the legal status of homosexuals. Some people believe that these approaches foster homophobia. See Religion and homosexuality.
Some laws have been seen to encourage or legitimise homophobia, as in sodomy laws, Section 28, and differing ages of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals.
Opposition to homophobia
Some religious organizations and denominations support gay rights and oppose homophobia. See Religion and homosexuality.
Some laws have been made to oppose homophobia, as in hate speech, hate crime, and laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Changes to the law are often made in response to pressure from the gay rights movement.
Homophobia in politics
The following politicians have been accused of homophobia:
- Canada: David Chatters, Stockwell Day, Julian Fantino, Cheryl Gallant, Bob Ringma, Roseanne Skoke, Larry Spencer, Tom Wappel, Elsie Wayne
- France: Christine Boutin
- United States: Jesse Helms; Rick Santorum; Trent Lott; George W. Bush; Baptist Church & all Conservative Churches, see, e.g., 
- Wikiquote - Quotes about Homophobia
- New Study Links Homophobia with Homosexual Arousal
- Meanings of the word Homophobia
- Bidstrup, Scott, "Homophobia: The Fear Behind The Hatred". An essay on the origin and nature of homophobia.
- Berggren, Niclas, "Independent Gay Forum"
- Carter, Jarrod, "What do you mean you're not homophobic?". Letter to the Editor.
- Blumenfield, Warren J., "Homophobia: How we all pay the price" (1992)
- Thomas, Calvin, ed. (2000). "Straight with a Twist", Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality, p.27-8. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252068130.
- Bulter, Judith (). Interview by Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, London, 1993. Â© Radical Philosophy Ltd, 1994.
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