Homophobia is hatred or fear of homosexuality. It can be manifested consciously or unconsciously in words and actions, and is usually coded obliquely within official discourse rather than expressed openly. Homophobia as folk speech includes public denunciation of same-sex orientation and gender variation by politicians and clergy, humiliation and ostracism in social situations, and the encouragement of internalized self-loathing. In addition to condemning same-sex orientation and gender variance, intersex and transpeople whose bodies to not conform to heteronormal standards are either ridiculed or rendered invisible and voiceless.
There was a homophobic tradition of silence dealing with same-sex erotic-romantic behaviors that goes back some 1500 years in Europe. Such behaviors were too horrible to speak out loud. That tradition was broken by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who wrote extensively in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries on homophobia without, however, calling it by that name (the term “homophobia” would be coined well over a century after Bentham’s death). What especially irritated Bentham was the irrational and violent reaction every citizen was expected to have when confronted with homoerotic-romantic relations, which he saw as harmless and no threat at all to the social order. If one did not react with irrational fury whenever homoerotic-romantic or gender-variant expression was mentioned, in fact, one invited suspicion upon oneself as a possible pervert, an experience that Bentham no doubt had when he brought up the subject.
The actual word, “homophobia,” was first used in the late 1960s by the clinical psychologist George Weinberg. In 1969, Gay liberationists Lige Clarke and Jack Nichols used the term in their regular column in the sex tabloid Screw. The term gained currency in the twenty-first century to the point where its power as an insult is so great, even proud homophobes tend to protest when it is used in reference to them.
Institutional homophobia is legal discrimination against LGBTQ people entrenched in civil law. Anti-Gay politicians often use coded language like “protecting the family” and “defense of marriage” to justify discriminatory legislation. These slogans have replaced the 1990s-era catchphrase family values in current political rhetoric because the values have become much more specific, such as opposing same-sex marriage rather than homosexuality in general. These opponents court values voters, a bloc that typically votes according to socially conservative religious beliefs. As such, national politics in the USA is an arena with little inclusion for Gay people in governmental offices. The situation in Canada, however, is much more amenable for LGBTQ representation. Homophobic speech is considered a form of illegal hate speech in Canada.
A controversial area of institutional homophobia in the USA is same-sex marriage. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), designed to protect the institution of marriage from homosexuals, into law. This act defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the dichotomized opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. DOMA also exempted states from recognizing a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other states.
The military is another example of institutional homophobia. During World War II, the U.S. armed forces began explicitly excluding Gay people from enlisting based on the homophobic assumption that Gay men and women were mentally ill and morally weak. Nevertheless, thousands of Gay people continued to serve in a closeted capacity. The exclusion policy remained in place until 1993, when President Clinton campaigned to allow openly Gay people to enlist. As a compromise, the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy prohibited openly Gay people to serve, but supposedly prevented authorities from investigating a serviceperson’s private life. DADT was overturned in 2011.
Homophobia in Religions
Religious law in Abrahamic religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i) is a long-standing source of institutional homophobia. Much of religious homophobia in Judaism and Christianity can be traced to the Torah/Old Testament in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Bereshit/Genesis (which also appears in Islamic discourse) as well as Leviticus 20:13: “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination.”
To a lesser extent than their fundamentalist counterparts in the Abrahamic traditions, fundamentalists in Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, and Jain communities may consider LGBTQ people to be less than ideal. In Buddhism, for example, some denominations hold that sex between men is equivalent to murder, and same-sex orientation is due to misdeeds from a past life. Nevertheless, some liberal Protestant denominations as well as Jewish congregations (Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative), Wiccan/Neo-Pagan communities, Mana-based spiritualities of Moana Nui, Native American/First People/Native Alaskan/Native Mexican traditions, Santeria-Lukumí, Brazilian Candomblé/Umbanda, Haitian Vodou, Buddhist (including Soko Gakkai, Pure Land, American Zen), and Taiwanese Daoist communities accept Gay members, bless same-sex unions, and ordain openly Gay leaders.
A major concern of some traditions such as Confucianism and Buddhism is less about one’s sexual orientation, and more about the continuation of the family by heteronormal marriage and procreation. In the rich traditions of Hinduism, concerns of heteronormal marriage and gender roles have made things difficult for LGBTQ people, but the stories of Gods and Goddesses contain episodes of homoerotic-romantic love as well as gender fluidity and intersex bodies, narratives used by Gay Hindus to make a place for themselves.
Homophobia in Islam
The Qur’an contains verses in which homosexuality is condemned. Although there may be varying degrees of tolerance, many countries that use the Shari’ah (Muslim law code) as the basis for their legal system will punish homosexual behavior by whipping, and even execution by hanging or being crushed by a falling wall. Middle Eastern countries with legal codes and social custom that are heavily influenced by Sharia Law, such as Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, have harsh laws against homosexuality and governments that resist acknowledging their LGBTQ communities, yet may also have local customs where homosexual people are tolerated. Bahrain, known for being a tolerant Muslim country, has no laws directly forbidding homosexuality, but laws concerning public morality may be interpreted as such. Some Muslim communities in Northern Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia tolerate effeminate men as having a separate identity from heteronormal men. Muslim clerics in Iran allow for sexual reassignment surgery for females and males who feel they have been born in the wrong kind of body. But those who undergo such procedures may still face condemnation from the general public, regardless of what religious authorities decree.
Homophobia in Christianity: Catholicism and Orthodox Christian Communities
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that homosexual tendencies are intrinsically disordered, and asserts chastity as the only acceptable way of dealing with this burden. Homosexual people would logically be ideal candidates for ordination, a quandary for the Church because it refuses to officially accept even sexually-inactive homosexual people as nuns and priests. In 2005, the Vatican released the Instruction, supposedly clarifying its opposition to ordaining Gay priests, perhaps in response to news articles suggesting up to fifty percent of seminary students were homosexual. The Church “may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.” But leniency could be shown if the students in question were “dealing with homosexual tendencies that may be simply the expression of a transitory problem, such as… adolescence not yet complete,” thus expressing in coded language a warning for homosexual seminarians that they be thoroughly closeted.
Scholarly consensus holds that the percentage of men ordained as Catholic priests whose orientation is same-sex is significantly higher than the general population. On average, sources estimate between 25 to 35 percent (in The Changing Face of the Priesthood, author Donald B. Cozzens says 23-58%).
Many conservative denominations differentiate between homosexual desires and the homosexual act itself. The Roman Catholic Church’s “love the sinner, hate the sin” interpretation of scripture is an example: having homosexual desires is not sinful, but acting on them is. The line is not always clear between sinner and sin, however, such as in the writings of the virulently homophobic St. Bernardino of Sienna: he praises the act of executing homosexual men by burning.
In addition to a canonized homophobic saint, there is a folk tradition within the Catholic Church for a patron saint of homosexuals. In 1885-1886, Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions were burnt to death by an evil Ugandan chief who was angry at Christians for condemning homosexuality, a habit he had supposedly picked up from Muslims. Since Lwanga called for boys and young men to resist the advances of the chief, the saint is seen as an appropriate intercessor to combat homosexual feelings.
Similar examples of homophobic discourse can be found in Greek, Russian, Serbian, and Bulgarian Orthodox discourse. Throughout Eastern Europe, many Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders have refused to condemn homophobia, and may even encourage it.
Moderate Protestant churches — notably Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Episcopal — are undecided as to the rights of LGBTQ members and clergy, with liberal factions arguing that doctrine must be relevant and progressive in a changing society, while conservatives claim God’s word supersedes “man’s” (not “human beings” – homophobia is often closely associated with misogyny).
Some Protestant denominations are steadfast in their homophobia. The Southern Baptist Convention, a large Protestant denomination in the United States, regards homosexuality as sinful. The Baptist Faith and Message asserts in explicit, uncoded language: “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.” The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons), which frames this life and the afterlife as a continuum of family and procreation, is particularly strident in condemning homosexuality as disruptive of man/woman relations, the production of the next generation, and one’s place in the world to come.
When one’s sexual orientation conflicts with one’s religious beliefs, the struggle for self-acceptance can lead to feelings of sinfulness as well as ostracism from one’s religious community. The ex-gay movement, a global network of evangelical Christian ministries that advocate folk-based spiritual healing, claims that Gay people can overcome homosexuality with intensive prayer, Bible study, group therapy, and coercive techniques such as electroshock therapy and ice baths. The American Psychiatric Association has dismissed conversion therapy as ineffective, unnecessary, and potentially harmful.
Homophobia in Academia: The Regnerus Study
Aware that the Supreme Court was hearing the case for marriage equality in 2013, the Witherspoon Institute devised a plan in 2012 to manufacture evidence against marriage equality. Over $700,000 was raised to generate a study indicating that children of Gay parents were worse off than those with Straight parents.
University of Texas Sociology Professor Mark Regnerus signed on to do the study (both Witherspoon Institute and Regnerus have made it clear that homosexuality is wrong according to their Christian principles). He published an article, “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?” Regnerus looked at two groups, one with participants from Straight families and the other from families with same-sex parents. He concluded that children from same-sex households have more problems.
His first group (over 2000 participants raised by Straight parents) was composed entirely of the biological children of stable married couples. No divorces and no single-parent households were in that group. The other group (248 participants, all supposedly children of Gay households) included people with parents that were not married when they were born, people who had gone through foster care, children of single-parent households, and offspring whose biological parents had divorced. Only two of 248 participants were raised their entire childhood by a same-sex couple – few of the others had a same-sex parent for long, and some never lived with a Gay parent at all. The definition of Gay parenthood was likewise faulty: members of the second group belonged to a same-sex household if the participant could remember at least one parent having at least one same-sex relationship, thus making that parent a “gay father or lesbian mother.”
Regnerus said he was not interested in children of stable, married same-sex couples because marriage equality did not exist when the participants in the study had been born. He did not acknowledge that Gay people might marry and be faithful to each other without a certified marriage license.
His questionnaire asked participants about things like poverty, drunkenness and the need for therapy. The tables displayed in the text show higher percentages of all three for children raised by (assumed) Gay parents. The rest of the categories (drugs, sexual promiscuity, suicide, etc.) make it clear that the participants in his same-sex parent group were consistently worse off.
Inappropriate sexual contact, including whether participants were ever “touched sexually by a parent or adult” or forced to have sex against their will, was also in the questionnaire. The figures imply a higher rate of molestation by same-sex parents. Children of “a gay father or lesbian mother” reported more sexual abuse when growing up, giving the Witherspoon Institute its big prize: homosexuals want children so they can rape them. Many Gay-hate organizations picked up on those claims and flaunted them as scientifically proven facts. The study also showed that children raised by same-sex parents were less likely to “identify as heterosexual,” confirming homosexuals-convert-children paranoia without considering the power of the closet: Straight households might not be as accepting of difference as Gay households.
The blind spots of a homophobic researcher sponsored by a Gay-hate organization indicate that the study was not truly academic in nature, but rather hate speech particular to one folk group: homophobic Christians. For example, the people behind the Regnerus study would not characterize a parent in a Gay household as Straight if that person had a heterosexual relationship, even once. The study would have been significantly different if both groups had the same tiny percentage of participants in stable relationships (less than 2%). The sole reliable conclusion of Regnerus’ analysis is that unstable family life, not parental orientation, adversely affects children.
The paper came out in time for the oral arguments on marriage equality before the US Supreme Court in 2013. Justice Antonin Scalia referred to it as proof that children are harmed when raised in same-sex households, as did the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in an amicus brief.
The article was published in Social Science Research. An investigation of Regnerus and his article by a committee at the University of Texas exonerated Regnerus of any wrongdoing. He continues to teach there. In addition, the Chronicle of Higher Education irresponsibly published an op-ed defending Regnerus from the Gay Agenda (a movement by unreasonable homosexuals who insist that nothing bad should ever be said about them).
Homophobia and Manliness
In the folk speech of insults between men, one theme reiterated in many cultures is the framing of the opposition as effeminate. Obscenities in English-speaking countries reflect this frame in terms of male rape, where one man says, “Fuck you” or “Suck my dick” to verbally assault another man, thus turning that man into a woman. As such, homophobia may be seen as more of a reaction against being perceived as effeminate and therefore weak, as in the hip-hop disclaimer, “no homo,” a warding phrase that is said to make sure nothing previously uttered is taken as homoerotic. It is also why there is a disconnect between masculine male heroes and homosexuality, since a “real man” would never have sex with another man. Such a perception has made things difficult and even dangerous for homosexual male athletes and hip-hop artists to identify as Gay.
That same fear of being perceived as effeminate has generated international insults for millennia. The ancient Romans portrayed the Greeks as effeminate and thus inferior, with important men such as Cato the Elder and Cicero warning that Greek influence would weaken the manly Roman state. In the Middle Ages, Christians would label Muslims as sodomites, and the French would label homosexual people as Bulgarian (bougre, which became the British word bugger). Some people in the USA would have the same opinion of British and French men.
Fear of such insults has led to fears that male homosexuality is a danger to national security. When World War II was on the horizon, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and democratic America all held that homosexuality among men weakened society. In discussions for ending the policy of excluding Gay people from the American military in 2010, some generals have made the claim that Gay men would not fight as hard as Straight men (this argument is not applied to Gay versus Straight women, however). Serbian nationalist discourse with the break-up of Yugoslavia postulated that homosexuality was an anti-Serbian disease brought in by Western governments that crippled national defense and undermined Serbian manhood.
An exception to this rule is the highly-militarized Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), which officially recognizes homosexuality as a genetic trait, states that homosexuals should be treated with respect, and criticizes capitalist regimes such as the USA for persecuting their homosexual populations. Nevertheless, much of popular Gay culture is considered consumerist, promiscuous, and classist, and is therefore discouraged by the government. In the peaceful and predominantly Buddhist country of Bhutan, the penalty for homosexuality is a year or less in prison, but there appears to be no evidence that anyone has ever been jailed for the offense. For all practical purposes, homophobia has not been institutionalized there in terms of government enforcement.
Homosexuality is often seen in Africa as a disease introduced by outsiders, as expressed by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe when he claimed that homosexuality in his country was an un-African vice brought in by Europeans. Historical and anthropological evidence, however, indicates that homophobia rather than homosexuality was introduced by Muslim and Christian colonizers. In a manner that reflects homosexuality as unpatriotic and foreign, Homosexual people were blamed in Namibia for hindering the independence movement from South Africa, perhaps due to the legal acceptance in South Africa of LGBTQ people. African exceptions to the extreme homophobia found in places such as Uganda, northern Nigeria, and Sudan are the more tolerant legal codes of Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Chad, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, São Tomé and Principe, Cabo Verde, and Canary Islands, all of which have either legalized homosexuality or do nothing to enforce laws that could be interpreted as against homosexuality.
Social Homophobia in Speech and Lyrics
Social homophobia is contempt, exclusion, ostracism, or humiliation expressed against perceived homosexuals. It may arise in common speech (“That’s so gay,” “No homo,” or “You’re a fag” as a way of saying something negative) and music lyrics ridiculing a male rival as homosexual or effeminate. Or it could be expressed in violent lyrics found in some rock music songs, particularly underground songs produced by Neo-Nazis and hip-hop as well as virulently homophobic lyrics found in Jamaican dancehall and ragga murder music that call for Gays to be beaten, burned, and shot.
Sometimes homophobia is manifested in the lack of Gay presence in a cultural arena, such as many professional male sports, even though there is no explicit ban on homosexuals. For the first decade of the twenty-first century, there were no openly Gay male players in the biggest Canadian/American professional sports: football, baseball, basketball and hockey. These team sports tend to prize aggressive masculinity and a strong, almost militaristic folk belief of unit cohesion in which the stereotypical effeminacy of Gay players would be disruptive, shame the team, and prevent the team from winning. Gay players who have come out after retirement have said they delayed coming out because of negative reaction from teammates and fans. As mentioned earlier, it is not unusual for such athletes to say they feared for their lives if their sexual orientation became public. Homophobia against male athletes involved in sports that are less violent and more aesthetically oriented tends to be subtle and less violence-inspiring. But even in sports such as equestrian and figure skating, openly Gay athletes are scarce.
Proportionately, women’s professional sports boast a much larger population of openly Lesbian players than do men’s sports. This discrepancy may result from society’s belief that Gay men are too effeminate and weak to play sports that require brute strength and the desire to win, while Lesbians are more masculine and thus more suited to tomboyish sports. That view allowed some Lesbian athletes to come out and avoid much of the homophobic backlash Gay male athletes of the same caliber would face.
But in the USA, two significant men’s team sports finally have openly gay athletes: basketball player Jason Collins (after being drafted in the NBA in 2013) and football player Michael Sams (drafted in the NFL in 2014)
Implicit or “Stealth” Homophobia, Secret Therapy
In America in the twenty-first century USA, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, it is no longer socially acceptable to use anti-Gay slurs or actively discriminate against people who are perceived as Gay. It is more common to encounter implicit or “stealth” homophobia, a situation in which a Gay person perceives mistreatment but cannot prove it. A same-sex couple being seated at the very back of a restaurant for no apparent reason is an example of perceived implicit homophobia.
Although many localities in America have laws against employment discrimination toward LGBTQ people, Gay workers often endure homophobic comments from co-workers or supervisors. Many companies also have rules against sexual orientation discrimination, but that does not preclude employees from being harassed or fired because they do not seem to fit in a particular company’s culture. LGBTQ people can be victims of executive fire, a process in which management fabricates evidence against an employee to justify the firing.
In addition to stealth homophobia, some families resort to hiding their homosexual/gender variant children by sending them away to clinics to undergo reparative therapy. This system of Christian folk psychology utilizes coercive treatments involving spiritual terror, systematic humiliation, and even physical torture to transform the child from deviant to Straight.
Internalized Homophobia and Post-Gay
Internalized homophobia is an LGBTQ person’s shame resulting from the desire to express one’s gender outside of masculine-feminine norms, or feeling sexually attracted to members of the same sex. It is usually a result of experiencing institutional and social homophobia, often while growing up with homophobic parents.
Homosexuality as an ethically neutral sexual orientation/identity was not conceptualized until the mid-nineteenth century. While some scholars at that time no longer consistently framed homosexuality as immoral, sinful, contagious, or too horrible to be named, homosexuality was still considered a defect by all but a few.
Resisting homophobia, a complex quasi-scientific, largely disapproving font of misinformation, many homosexual people in Europe and North America formed supportive communities in the first half of the twentieth century. After Stonewall, the Gay community became a worldwide political and social force, giving LGBTQ people a means for resistance and self-expression. But many homosexual folks are still conditioned by religious teaching or family dynamics, and they feel a sense of shame and personal failure. They may deny their feelings and seek to assimilate into Straight culture by joining ex-gay organizations, and marrying partners in accordance with Straight definitions of marriage.
Even those Gay people who are comfortable about their identities may nevertheless long for a post-gay world in which difference does not matter. They may see the continuation of a separate set of identities and community affiliation as harmful to human solidarity, and may call for the end of the LGBTQ community once basic rights are achieved. But others celebrate the diversity that the LGBTQ community represents, seeing in the Gay community more than a group that is based upon shared oppression.
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