Homophobia refers to the negative, regressive, and discriminatory attitudes and practices directed at the LGBTQ+ community. It is characterized by prejudice, hate, fear, and misunderstanding toward people with “unconventional” non-heterosexual gender identities.
What Is Homophobia?
The concept 1 of “homophobia” refers to several behaviors, feelings, and negative attitudes towards sexual variations and people identified or perceived as LGBTQIA+. It is also known as transphobia, homoerotophobia, homonegativity, heterosexism, and sexual prejudice.
The term “homophobia” was coined in the 1960s by George Weinberg 1, a Jewish-American psychologist. It combined the word homosexual with the Greek phobos meaning “fear or aversion”.
It came to mean the negative, regressive, and discriminatory attitudes and practices voluntarily directed at the “LGBTQIA+” community comprising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other gender-fluid individuals with gender non-conformity identities, roles, and expectations.
Age of onset and prevalence of homophobia
Homophobic behavior and practices are deep-rooted in conservative religious, political, socio-cultural, and pop-cultural notions and rely on these factors for survival. In the 1960s, homosexuality was considered a “mental illness” subject to ‘treatment’ by therapy, electric shock, institutionalization, etc. Thankfully, the recent decades have seen inclusive changes in our approach toward gender concepts and rights.
Nonetheless, homophobia—with its long-drawn history and ready sanction—continues to be a source of human rights violations, discrimination, and violence across the world.
Recent research 2 shows that homophobia is a serious social problem, with extremely damaging, long-term consequences for the physical and mental health of members of the LGBTQIA+ community. With an early onset in childhood or adolescent years, nearly 70% of this community has reported internalized homophobic attitudes.
What Are The Signs Of Homophobia?
A person or an institution is homophobic when he/she/it espouses:
- Prejudice, misunderstanding, and contempt for the LGBTQIA+ community
- A rigid and regressive set of beliefs and values based on religion, gender notions, sexual orientation, etc.
- Antagonism, hatred, and hostility against members of the LGBTQIA+ community
- Lack of empathy and respect for people with non-conforming genders
- Aversion and irrational fears against the LGBTQIA+ community
- Efforts to block, contrast, impede, and discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity
- A sense of entitlement based on heterosexuality, inflated masculinity 3, etc.
- Homophobic bullying 4
- Humiliating LGBTQIA+ people with practices like outing, homophobic name-calling, etc.
- Sexual violence 5 and aggression 6
- Disregard for human rights and LGBTQIA+ rights
- Denial and lack of remorse for homophobic behavior
Homophobia vs Heterosexism
Being homophobic is a dislike or fear of LGBTQIA+ people. On the other hand, heterosexism involves supporting a system that highlights heterosexuality and its beliefs and practices. Such a system is overwhelmingly discriminatory against homosexuality, trangenderism, etc.
Homophobia vs Transphobia
Transphobia is synonymous with trans-prejudice, which has a spectrum of prejudices against transgender people. Whereas, homophobia is contempt and hate directed at members of the LGBTQIA+” community comprising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other gender-fluid individuals with gender non-conformity identities, roles, and expectations.
Types Of Homophobia
Research 1 shows that there are four distinct types of homophobia:
1. Internalized homophobia (IH)
Internalized homophobia (IH) is popularly defined 7 as the negative feelings and homophobic attitudes experienced by a person belonging to a sexual minority, as a consequence of social bias. Such homophobia signs are inherently connected to external experiences of marginalization. A person suffering from IH:
- Usually feels ashamed of his/her sexuality
- Often plagued by sexual stigma or erotic stigma
- Has a tendency to internalize mental health problems 8
- Shows self-denigration
- Tries to repress his/her sexual desires
- Rejects his/her own sexual orientation
- Attempts to forcefully identify with heterosexual beliefs to reaffirm a conventional social role and gain social validation
2. Interpersonal homophobia
Interpersonal homophobia 1 refers to the ‘external’ homophobia and discrimination that takes place between individuals. People sustain interpersonal homophobia through negative attitudes, emotions as well as religious, political, and cultural values and beliefs.
Interpersonal homophobia manifests itself in various forms, depending on how individuals conceptualize and practice homophobia. However, its more common types include:
Lesbophobia is homophobia directed toward lesbians or women who are attracted to women.
Biphobia refers to homophobia directed toward bisexual, non-binary, cisgender, and queer individuals.
It is homophobia directed at trans-sexuals and the larger transgender community.
3. Institutionalized homophobia
Institutionalized homophobia 1 is the homophobia displayed by institutions or organizations—drawn from specific cultural, religious, and prevalent ideologies. It has two subtypes:
I. State-sponsored homophobia
State-sponsored homophobia usually involves homophobia directed by nation-states toward their own citizens. This includes:
- Criminalization of homosexuality
- Persecution of queer people
- Hate speech from government figures
- Denying human rights to the LGBTQIA+ community
- Preventing LGBTQIA+ participation in civic offices, armed forces, etc.
The most ruthless examples of state-sponsored homophobia are drawn from history, involving Nazi Germany, Qing China, Leninist Russia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Brazil, and territories occupied by Islamist militias like ‘Taliban’ Afghanistan.
II. Social homophobia
Social homophobia involves the homophobia displayed by communities, typically on the basis of regressive religious beliefs and practices. This type of homophobia is usually associated with Islamic communities operating under Sharia Law and Christian communities. However, in recent years, world religions 1 are displaying a kinder, even compassionate acceptance of the gender spectrum.
4. Cultural homophobia
Cultural homophobia refers to the homophobia espoused in popular culture. It is based on prevalent sociocultural notions of sexuality and conventional gender norms and is usually transmitted through media like:
- Television shows
- Books and magazines, etc.
Causes Of Homophobia
Homophobic attitudes, behavior, and practices have a long-drawn history 9, fuelled by religious, political, and cultural values and beliefs over centuries. Research attributes the common causes of homophobia to:
Homophobia relies on religion, ‘conservative’ religiosity, and religious beliefs and literature for its perpetration and prevalence. Research 10 reveals that most religious denominations across the globe condemn homosexuality and gender non-conformity by taking proscriptive action against sexual minorities. These include:
- Declaring same-sex sexual behavior as “sinful”, “corrupting”, “deviant” or “abnormal”
- Barring LGBTQIA+ people from leadership roles
- Penalizing gender nonconformity
- Refusing to sanction same-sex ceremonies
- Inciting violence against the LGBTQIA+ community
2. Socio-cultural notions
Recent studies link homophobia to gender prejudices and glorified cultural notions of social heteronormativity, masculinity, patriarchy, etc. Such regressive ideologies 1 unhealthily encourage an aggressive and hostile exhibition of heterosexual behaviors and a distancing from gay people.
In cases of state-sponsored homophobia, such socio-cultural notions are given a political dimension and carefully embedded in the state’s political ideologies, thoughts, and legal procedures.
3. Lack of education
Studies affirm that a lack of or poor education can lead to people developing regressive homophobic attitudes.
4. Repressed homosexual desires
Recent research 11 reveals that repression of homosexual arousal and desires in ‘exclusively heterosexual’ people fuels homophobic behavior. Such people consider homosexuality to be abhorred and sinful behavior and their homophobia arise from the guilt or denial of harboring such tendencies themselves.
Studies 12 also frequently associate people with such repressed homosexuality with higher incidences of sexual assault and sexual crimes (like pedophilia, etc.).
Read More About Homosexuality Here
The Impact Of Homophobia
Homophobic attitudes and practices are associated with a number of physical, mental, and/or somatic disorders 13 in LGBTQIA+ people, in comparison to their heterosexual peers. Such disorders negatively impact their quality of life, career opportunities, financial health, and social development and relationships in the long run.
- Depressive disorders [Read more]
- Anxiety disorders [Read more]
- Anger [Read more]
- Minority stress
- Mood disorders [Read more]
- Eating disorders [Read more]
- Identity disorders
- Isolation and social withdrawal
- Substance use disorders
- Self-harm tendencies [Read more]
- Suicidal tendencies
Tips For The Victims Of Homophobia
Unfortunately, homophobia is a common practice in our society. Nearly 17.4% 16 of hate crimes across the world are directed at the LGBTQIA+ community. If there are signs you are homophobic or you know someone who is dealing with self-directed homophobia or is at the receiving end of homophobic attitudes—consider asking for professional help. Communicate openly with your therapist, family, and friends about your feelings. Always remember that you should not feel sorry about embracing your sexuality.
How To Address Homophobia
Homophobic behavior and practices are rampant across the world owing to hateful propaganda and misunderstanding that surround the gender “spectrum”. Despite the slowly changing conversation around sexual orientations, the long-term effects of homophobia are lingering and damaging.
However, we must not cease our efforts in our fight against homophobia. We must continue in our efforts with the Pride motto “Together, We Resist, Support, and Heal”!
Consider the following tips for dealing with homophobia:
1. Addressing our ‘own’ homophobia
Because of the prevalent heteronormative culture, we inculcate homophobic perspectives from a very young age. This internalizes homophobic attitudes in us and we find it difficult to address as adults even if we know that homophobia is wrong and irrational. We can address our own homophobia by:
- Recognizing our own homophobic biases and practices
- Confronting our own homophobic thoughts and expectations
- Educating ourselves about LGBTQIA+ concepts and rights
- Reading books, seeing films, and attending events focused on LGBTQIA+ issues
- Attending workshops on LGBTQIA+ issues
- Not making assumptions and judgments about people’s sexualities
2. Addressing homophobic behavior around us
We can address homophobic behavior around us, by:
- Raising awareness against homophobia
- Educating people about LGBTQIA+ concepts, LGBTQIA+ myths, and gender rights
- Making it known that homophobic jokes, innuendoes, and teasing are unacceptable
- Reporting homophobic behavior and violence (like homophobic cyberbullying, etc.) to authorities
- Standing up for LGBTQIA+ people when they are facing homophobia
3. Interacting with people from the LGBTQIA+ community
Communicating and interacting with members of the LGBTQIA+ community, including its activists, can help us better understand the issues faced by the community. When adequately informed about their rights and issues, we can help them in their fight against homophobia by:
- Encouraging LGBTQIA+ people to be self-compassionate
- Helping develop guidelines to combat homophobia in both residential and working areas
- Organizing fundraisers, campaigns, pride parades, etc.
- Arranging hotlines and mental health services for the members of the LGBTQIA+ community
- Collaborating with various LGBTQIA+ activist groups and organizations on a daily basis
4. Starting the “conversation”
We can raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ rights and issues by “starting the conversation” against homophobia. We can do this by:
- Gender education in classrooms
- Forming discussion groups about gender issues and rights
- Using inclusive language for such discussions
- Organizing workshops, training programs, awareness campaigns, etc. to highlight LGBTQIA+ issues
- Supporting government initiatives that address LGBTQIA+ issues
Both sexuality and gender are ‘conceptually’ a spectrum and, so, to stick to compartmentalized sexual and gender identities is irrational. To fuel negative and anti-social behavior on the basis of such a narrow and regressive mindset is wrong on all levels of human thought and behavior.
Akin to racism, homophobia is a social problem and stands as a serious violation of human rights and values. The effects of homophobia are damaging and long-drawn, and so it should be effectively addressed to make the world a better place.
At A Glance
- The concept of “homophobia” refers to negative, regressive, and discriminatory attitudes and practices directed at the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Homophobia stands in violation of fundamental human rights and values.
- It is fuelled by prejudice, contempt, apathy, hate, etc. on the basis of sexual orientation.
- It is encouraged by religion, politics, and socio-cultural norms.
- Homophobic behavior is detrimental to the physical and mental health of LGBTQIA+ people.
- It is a social problem and it should be addressed to combat its long-term effects.
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