What is homophobia?

For too long homosexuality itself has been thought of as the central problem of gay men and women. In fact, the real issue for gay people is not homosexuality, but homophobia, society’s fear and persecution of them:

“Homophobia is a pervasive, irrational fear of homosexuality. Homophobia includes the fear heterosexuals have of any homosexual feelings within themselves, any overt mannerisms or actions that would suggest homosexuality, and the resulting desire to suppress or stamp out homosexuality. And it also includes the self-hatred and self-denial of homosexuals who know what they are but have been taught all their lives by a heterosexual society that people like themselves are sick, sinful and criminal”,

Up until now gay people have been too apologetic in trying to establish the legitimacy of their sexuality. In fact homosexuality is as valid a lifestyle as any other. There is no reason for gays and lesbians to apologize for themselves and reject the condescending pathological approach implicit in the usual questions asked about homosexuality. Questions like:

  • What are the causes of homosexuality?
  • Can you tell if you are a homosexual?
  • Can homosexuality be cured?

The questions that really need to be asked are:

  • What are the causes of homophobia?
  • How can you tell if you are a homophobe?
  • Can homophobia be cured?

Homosexuality has been practiced in all societies throughout history and has been openly accepted in many cultures. The taboo on homosexuality in Western civilization has largely been the result of the widespread acceptance of the Judaeo-Christian ethic with its general repression of any form of sexuality unrelated to childbearing.

Today the repression of gay sexuality is enforced through the life patterns and institutions that make up our society. Family, educational system, church, government, business, media, legal, medical and psychiatric professions, all effectively combine to enforce the heterosexual model with its rigid role structures. Male supremacy, sexism, and homophobia are society’s reactions to those women and men whose lifestyles challenge its confining aggressive male/passive female sex roles. Gay women challenge male supremacy in our society. By choosing to love and devote most of their energy to other women, lesbians are refusing to feed into a system where power and prestige are based on gender, and where a woman takes her status from the man she is attached to.

Similarly gay men, through their disdain for the usual requirements of manhood and through their integration of attributes like warmth and expressing emotion which have traditionally been considered ‘female characteristics,’ belie the importance of the ‘masculine identity’ others struggle so hard to achieve.

How can you tell if you are a homophobe?

Homophobia—like other kinds of prejudice such as racism and sexism—manifests itself in many ways. Historically the rooting out and murder of homosexuals during the Inquisition and in Nazi Germany have been among the most extreme forms of anti-homosexual oppression. Today there is a whole gamut of homophobic reactions: outright queer-bashing, psychiatry’s attempt to ‘cure’ the homosexual, discriminatory laws and employment practices, inability on the part of social service agencies to deal with the homosexual, the media’s demeaning and stereotypical images of the homosexual, and Pseudo-liberalism’s tolerance of the homosexual so long as she or he remains invisible. All these reactions form a combination of ignorance and fear.

In the face of these pervasive homophobic pressures, a gay person experiences a split between his or her natural sexual preference and what is socially acceptable. And all to often homosexuals themselves, conditioned to think of themselves as inferior, have internalized this homophobia to the point where even self-acceptance is difficult. They accept the stigma attached by others to them without realizing they are oppressed and often see society as justified in keeping them down.

This is borne out by the great numbers of gays who carefully conceal their identity and by many others who actively seek psychiatric help to be ‘cured’ of their homosexuality. In turn psychiatrists largely reinforce this self-oppression by creating each homosexual as a neurotic rather than as a victim of an impossible social structure.

Can homophobia be cured?

“Homosexuality is not the disease to be studied. Homophobia is, because it victimizes, twists and distorts the mental health of homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.”‘

As gays we are naturally concerned with combating homophobia both amongst ourselves and in the world at large. Within our own community many gays are working with each other to overcome our own homophobia history by fostering a positive self-image and by living openly as gays.

Beyond ourselves we are trying to educate and encourage people in the community at large to recognize their own homophobia and to take some responsibility for combating the anti-gay bias that runs through our culture and institutions. In particular social workers, psychologists and doctors, lawyers, teachers, and the clergy must examine their own conceptions of homosexuality in order to be effective in dealing with the gay people they are all in a position to come into contact with. Self education on the part of these individuals through reading and discussion with gays, as well its improved co-operation between their services and gay organizations in matters of counseling and referral, are essential to combating homophobia in these services. A healthy community requires an end to the conspiracy of silence about homosexuality through open discussion and confrontation of homophobia wherever it appears, by gays and straights alike.

As gays our goal cannot be tolerance from straight society…tolerance as inferiors. It is a question, not of the homosexual adjusting to society’s hostility, but of society learning to accept the homosexual as an equal.

Pink Triangle Services Pamphlet Ottawa, Ontario 237-1818