Homophobia

Homophobia

[hoh-muh-foh-bee-uh]

Homophobia (from Greek homós: one and the same; phóbos: fear, phobia) is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality. Some definitions lack the "irrational" component. Homophobic is the adjective form of this term used to describe the qualities of these characteristics, while homophobe is the noun form given as a title to individuals labeled with homophobic characteristics. Many people like to confuse the meaning of the word "Homophobia" and say that someone who hates homosexuals is homophobic, when the actual definition means to be afraid of homosexuality, not homosexuals.

"Homophobia" was first used with its modern meaning in 1972. It has been criticized as a pejorative against those with differing debatable value positions, with several researchers proposing alternative words to describe prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians. The term "internalized homophobia" is used to describe a prejudice against one's own homosexuality.

Sources of LGBT-based discrimination have been widely studied, and a focus of the LGBT community has been on countering such discrimination.

Etymology and usage

Psychologist and gay activist George Weinberg coined the term homophobia in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, published one year before the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Weinberg's term became an important tool for gay and lesbian activists, advocates, and their allies. He describes the concept as a medical phobia:

a phobia about homosexuals….It was a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for — home and family. It was a religious fear and it had led to great brutality as fear always does.

Conceptualizing prejudice against gays and lesbians as a social problem worthy of scholarly attention was not new, but Weinberg was the first to give it a name.

The construction of the word is comparable to xenophobia, a much older term referring to individual or cultural hostility to foreigners or outsiders. It fails to make sense etymologically, however, as the Greek 'homo' means 'the same', so, literally, 'homophobia' means a fear of things that are the same. The word homophobia was also used early in the 20th century, albeit rarely. It then had the meaning of "fear or hatred of the male sex or humankind." In this use, the word derived from the Latin root homo (Latin, "man" or "human") with the Greek ending -phobia ("fear").

Despite its general shortcomings etymologically, the word can be used to describe the fear of a heterosexual that they will be approached romantically by someone of the same sex. It also can describe the apparently fear-based reactions of recoiling from unintentional close contact with another male or of being in close proximity to other males in certain situations such as while in the restroom. These are typically fear-based reactions, but the fear is usually that of the social stigma of being labelled homosexual.

The word first appeared in print in an article written for the May 23, 1969 edition of the American tabloid Screw, using the word to refer to straight men's fear that others might think they are gay. A possible etymological precursor was homoerotophobia, coined by Wainwright Churchill in Homosexual Behavior Among Males in 1967.

It was first formally used in its modern sense in the press in 1981, when the The New York Times reported a General Synod vote where they refused to condemn homosexuality.

Criticism of the term

The term homophobia is often used collectively with other terms denoting bigotry and discrimination. In a 1998 address, Coretta Scott King asserted that, "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." Likewise, George Yancey, writing in Christian Ethics Today associates "sexism, racism, class distinctions, or homophobia" with one another and views them all as "varieties of discrimination," although he argues that they are not identical.

In 1993, behavioral scientists William O'Donohue and Christine Caselles concluded that the usage of the term "as it is usually used, makes an illegitimately pejorative evaluation of certain open and debatable value positions, much like the former disease construct of homosexuality" itself, arguing that the term may be used as an ad hominem argument against those who advocate values or positions of which the speaker does not approve. The social construct of masculinity is not defined by attraction to females alone but also by negative attraction to males. The addition of a fear of something unmasculine, given the terms scientific etymology, may be used illegitimately to imply that anyone with a different opinion is unmasculine.

The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, an organization affiliated with the ex-gay movement, describes the term homophobia as being "often used inaccurately to describe any person who objects to homosexual behavior on either moral, psychological or medical grounds." They claim that, "Technically, however, the terms actually denotes a person who has a phobia — or irrational fear — of homosexuality. Principled disagreement, therefore, cannot be labeled 'homophobia.'"http://www.narth.com/menus/positionstatements.html N.A.R.T.H.

Some researchers within the field have preferred other terms to "homophobia." For example, Gregory M. Herek, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, compared several related terms: "homophobia", "heterosexism", and "sexual prejudice". In preferring the latter term, he noted that "homophobia" was "probably more widely used and more often criticized", and observed that "Its critics note that homophobia implicitly suggests that antigay attitudes are best understood as an irrational fear and that they represent a form of individual psychopathology rather than a socially reinforced prejudice." He preferred "sexual prejudice" as being descriptive and free of presumptions about motivations, and lacking in value judgments as to the irrationality or immorality of those so labeled.

In 1980 Hudson and Ricketts proposed the term "homonegativity," arguing that "homophobia" was unscientific in its presumption of motivation.

Some recent psychological literature suggested the term homonegativity, reflecting the perspective that behaviors and thoughts that are frequently considered homophobic are not fear-based but instead reflect a disapproval of homosexuality.

Similar terms, such as heterosexism, have been proposed as alternatives that are more morphologically parallel, and which do not have the association with phobia. Heterosexism refers to the presumption that all people are heterosexual and/or to the privileging of heterosexuality over homosexuality.

Seeking to avoid both the focus on individual psychology of "homophobia" and the focus on collective cultural factors of "heterosexism", psychologist Gregory M. Herek has proposed the term "sexual prejudice" as referring to "all negative attitudes based on sexual orientation, whether the target is homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual.

Classification

Homophobia manifests in different forms, and a number of different types have been postulated, among which are internalized homophobia, social homophobia, emotional homophobia, rationalized homophobia, and others. There were also ideas to classify homophobia, racism, and sexism as an intolerant personality disorder.

Homophobia is not mentioned directly in any diseases classifications (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems). For some, homophobia is a non-clinical term.

Internalized homophobia

Internalized homophobia (or egodystonic homophobia) refers to homophobia as a prejudice carried by individuals against homosexual manifestations in themselves and others. It causes severe discomfort with or disapproval of one's own sexual orientation. Internalized homophobia is thus a form of cognitive dissonance; the individual cannot reconcile the conflicting conscious or unconscious sexual desires with values and tenets gained from society, religion or upbringing.

Such a situation may cause extreme repression of homosexual desires. In other cases, a conscious internal struggle may occur for some time, often pitting deeply held religious or social beliefs against strong sexual and emotional desires. This discordance often causes clinical depression, and the unusually high suicide rate among gay teenagers (up to 30 percent of non-heterosexual youth attempt suicide) has been attributed to this phenomenon.

The label of internalized homophobia is sometimes applied to conscious or unconscious behaviors which an observer feels the need to promote or conform to the expectations of heteronormativity or heterosexism. This can include extreme repression and denial coupled with forced outward displays of heteronormative behavior for the purpose of appearing or attempting to feel "normal" or "accepted". This might also include less overt behavior like making assumptions about the gender of a person's romantic partner, or about gender roles. Some also apply this label to LGBT persons who support "compromise" policies, such as those that find civil unions an acceptable alternative to same-sex marriage. Whether this is a tactical judgement call or the result of some kind of internal prejudice (whether in a cause-and-effect fashion, or definitionally) is a matter of some debate.

Some argue that some or most homophobes are repressed homosexuals, but this argument is somewhat controversial. In 1996, a controlled study of 64 heterosexual men (half claimed to be homophobic by experience and self-reported orientation) at the University of Georgia found that men who were found to be homophobic (as measured by the Index of Homophobia) were considerably more likely to experience more erectile responses when exposed to homoerotic images than non-homophobic men.

Fear of being identified as gay (social homophobia)

Theorists including Calvin Thomas and Judith Butler have suggested that homophobia can be rooted in an individual's fear of being identified as gay. At least one study indicates that homophobia in men is correlated with insecurity about masculinity.

They have argued that a person who expresses homophobic thoughts and feelings does so not only to communicate their beliefs about the class of gay people, but also to distance themselves from this class and its social status. Thus, by distancing themselves from gay people, they are reaffirming their role as a heterosexual in a heteronormative culture, thereby attempting to prevent themselves from being labelled and treated as a gay person.

This interpretation alludes to the idea that a person may posit violent opposition to "the Other" as a means of establishing their own identity as part of the majority and thus gaining social validation. This concept is also recurrent in interpretations of racism and xenophobia.

Nancy J. Chodorow states that homophobia can be viewed as a method of protection of male masculinity.

Various psychoanalytic theories explain homophobia as a threat to an individual's own same-sex impulses, whether those impulses are imminent or merely hypothetical. This threat causes repression, denial or reaction formation.

Anti-bourgeois and anti-Western homophobia

Some left-wing thinkers have considered homosexuality a "bourgeois disease", right-wing movement, or a "Western disease".

Vladimir Lenin criticised it as "completely un-Marxist, and moreover, anti-social". One group of leftist writers wrote: "According to Lenin, the very notion of sexual emancipation was typical of capitalist societies and a symptom of bourgeois degeneracy.

The North Korean government condemns homosexuality as a vice caused by the decadence of capitalist society, and denounces Western gay culture as promoting consumerism, classism, and promiscuity. "Violating the rules of collective socialist life" can be punished with up to 2 years imprisonment.

Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe, has waged a violent campaign against homosexuals, arguing that before colonisation Zimbabweans did not engage in homosexual acts. His first major public condemnation of homosexuality came in 1995 during the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in August 1995. He told the audience that homosexuality:

"...Degrades human dignity. It's unnatural and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs. If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings... What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behaviour and we will never allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police!"

In September 1995, Zimbabwe's parliament introduced legislation banning homosexual acts. In 1997, a court found Canaan Banana, Mugabe's predecessor and the first President of Zimbabwe, guilty of 11 counts of sodomy and indecent assault. Banana's trial proved embarrassing for Mugabe, when Banana's accusers alleged that Mugabe knew about Banana's conduct and had done nothing to stop it.

Homophobia as leading to a climate of prejudice

Sexist beliefs

Some gender theorists interpret the fact that male-to-male relationships often incite a stronger reaction in a homophobic person than female-to-female (lesbian) as meaning that the homophobic person feels threatened by the perceived subversion of the gender paradigm in male-to-male sexual activity. According to such theorists as D.A. Miller, male heterosexuality is defined not only by the desire for women but also, and more importantly, by the denial of desire for men. Therefore, expressions of homophobia serve as a means of limiting those who they view as displaced in heteronormativity, and also of accenting their male nature, by isolating the threatening concept of their own potential femininity in gay men, and consequently belittling them, as not real males. They regard the reason male homosexuality is treated worse compared to female homosexuality as sexist in its underlying belief that men are superior to women and therefore for a man to "replace" a woman during intercourse with another man is his own subjection to (non-male) inferiority.

However, this view would imply that only the receptive male partner in homosexual acts would be thought of as "offensive", which is the case in many cultures. Miller's specific claim that male heterosexuality does not require "desire for women" would seem to preclude the possibility of asexuality or bisexuality. Nor is it clear why male heterosexuals would "need" or even fear gay people in order to affirm maleness unless their sexuality was already experienced as threatened by some other cause.

Other theories of the difference in the reactions of homophobes to male-male versus female-female homosexual relationships simply have to do with a common sexual desire. A heterosexual man desires women. For a woman to desire women is thus more understandable than for a man to desire men, as a heterosexual man and homosexual woman share the same desire for women, but a heterosexual man cannot understand or identify with the attraction of one man to another man. Similarly, homosexual men desire men, and thus for a man to desire men is understandable to a woman who has the same desires. Even more simply, same-sex relationships can be more tolerable to members of the opposite sex simply because of the innate attraction of a heterosexual to the opposite sex, and the accompanying modification of emotion.

Lastly, a common sexual fantasy of heterosexual males, rooted in a desire to be virile and attractive to women, and also rooted in the traditional view of women as objects or possessions, is to engage in sex with multiple women. Thus a lesbian relationship can be seen as an opportunity to indulge in such a fantasy, regardless of any conscious realization of its implausibility.

Distribution/frequency of attitudes in the UK and US

Disapproval of homosexuality and of gay people is not evenly distributed throughout society, but is more or less pronounced according to age, ethnicity, race, sex, social class, education, partisan identification and religious status. According to UK HIV/AIDS charity AVERT, lack of homosexual feelings or experiences, religious views, and lack of interaction with gay people are strongly associated with such views.

One study of white adolescent males conducted at the University of Cincinnati by Janet Baker has been used to argue that negative feelings towards gay people are also associated with other discriminatory behaviors. The study claims to have found that hatred of gay people, anti-Semitism and racism are "likely companions", suggesting it is an abuse of power. A study performed in 2007 in the UK for the charity Stonewall reports that 90 percent of the population support the ban on discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Social institutions can perpetuate homophobic attitudes. Such institutional sources in the black community include:

Sources of homophobia in the white community include:

  • Churches. Pastor John Hagee said in 2006, "I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area, that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. This view was echoed by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, who promote the view that virtually all wars and natural disasters affecting America are God's punishment for tolerating homosexuality.

Professional sports in many countries involves homophobic expressions by star athletes and by fans. Examples in the United States include:

  • Hockey fans. The homophobic chants and attitudes of certain fans, for example the labelling of one fan who frequently dances at games as "Homo Larry", have been protested by attendees of New York Rangers games and by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
  • Basketball players. All-Star National Basketball Association player Tim Hardaway drew criticism after he said on the "790 the Ticket" radio show, "Well, you know, I hate gay people. I let it be known I don’t like gay people. I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. I don’t like it, it shouldn’t be in the world, in the United States, I don’t like it.”

The anxiety of heterosexual individuals that others may identify them as gay, particularly among adolescents whose construction of heterosexual masculinity is factored in part on not being seen as gay, has also been identified by Michael Kimmel as an example of homophobia. The taunting of boys seen as eccentric (and who are not usually gay) is claimed to be endemic in rural and suburban American schools, and has been associated with risk-taking behavior and outbursts of violence (such as a spate of school shootings) by boys seeking revenge or trying to assert their masculinity.

In the United States, attitudes about homosexuals may vary on the basis of partisan identification. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to have negative attitudes about gays and lesbians, according to surveys conducted by the National Election Studies in 2000 through 2004.

The disparity is shown in the graph, below, which is from a book published in 2008 by Joseph Fried. It should be noted that the tendency of Republicans to view gays and lesbians negatively could be based on homophobia, religious beliefs, or conservatism with respect to the traditional family.

Combating homophobia

To combat homophobia, the LGBT community uses events such as gay pride parades and political activism (See gay pride). This is criticized by some as counter-productive though, as gay pride parades showcase what could be seen as more "extreme" sexuality; fetish-based, and gender-variant aspects of LGBT culture. One form of organized resistance to homophobia is the International Day Against Homophobia (or IDAHO), first celebrated May 17, 2005 in related activities in more than 40 countries.

In addition to public expression, legislation has been designed, controversially, to oppose homophobia, as in hate speech, hate crime, and laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Some argue that anti-LGBT prejudice is immoral and goes above and beyond the effects on that class of people. Warren J. Blumenfeld argues that this emotion gains a dimension beyond itself, as a tool for extreme right-wing conservatives and fundamentalist religious groups and as a restricting factor on gender-relations as to the weight associated with performing each role accordingly. Furthermore, Blumenfeld in particular claimed:

Anti-gay bias causes young people to engage in sexual behavior earlier in order to prove that they are straight. Anti-gay bias contributed significantly to the spread of the AIDS epidemic. Anti-gay bias prevents the ability of schools to create effective honest sexual education programs that would save children's lives and prevent STDs.

See also

References

External links

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