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Homophobia

Homophobia (sometimes heterosexism, straight supremacism or gay-bashing) is the fear or hatred of homosexuality and homosexual people. These words are also used to describe disapproval of and prejudice or discrimination against homosexuals.

Homophobia has legal definitions in some countries, for example in the controversial gay panic defense, a form of insanity defense, or in hate crime legislation.

Table of contents

Etymology

The word homophobia is a neologism coined by psychologist George Weinberg in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual in 1972. It can be broken down into the Greek words homo meaning "the same" and phobia which means "fear". It may be seen as a portmanteau of homosexual and phobia. A precursor was homoerotophobia, coined by Dr Wainwright Churchill[?] in Homosexual Behavior Among Males in 1967.

Although the word was coined by a psychologist, homophobia is not a psychiatric term for a mental illness, unlike agoraphobia and some other phobias. 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. New psychiatric studies have linked deep hatred towards homosexuality to repressed homosexual feelings. (see "internalised homophobia", below)

Usage of the term

The term homophobia often implies irrational hatred and fear of homosexuals or homosexuality itself. Some people use the term to describe all disapproval of homophobia, believing that it is all fundamentally based upon this irrational hatred and fear. For example, gay rights advocate Scott Bidstrup states in a personal essay titled Homophobia: The Fear Behind The Hatred:

"The outright fear of homosexuality skews how our culture deals with sex, sexuality, relations with strangers, co-workers and others, dealing with public health issues, and the untold opportunities it presents unscrupulous religionists with the opportunity to appeal to prejudice and call it religion." [1] (http://www.bidstrup.com/phobia.htm)

Others believe that it is possible to have rational reasoning for disapproval, but characterize it as highly unusual. For example, Niclas Berggren argues in the Independent Gay Forum:

"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] (http://www.indegayforum.org/articles/berggren41)

People who are called homophobes in the second sense typically do not accept that label. They believe they have rational and morally sound reasons for opposing homosexuality. For example, 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. What I am, however, is fed up with the amount of limelight that the sexually deviant are receiving in this nation. Homosexuality is not cool, it is morally incorrect." [3] (http://archives.thedaily.washington.edu/1995/102795/hp)

Semantic disputes

Some people, including opponents of the gay rights movement, claim that the terms homophobia and homophobic are used emotively to "blur" the difference between those who actively fear and loathe homosexuals and those who disapprove of homosexuality on principled or religious grounds, in order to shame the latter into abandoning their disapproval. They oppose comments equating rational and irrational opposition to homosexuality, saying that such comments are themselves irrational. Some advocates have cited this "blurring" as a reason for alienation from the gay rights movement.

Some gay rights 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.

Straight Supremacism

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 none or more of: internalised homophobia, violence, and discrimination.

Internalised Homophobia

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 much higher incidence of suicide among gay teenagers as due to this. Others believe it is due to homophobic actions against them, as described below.

Homosexuals with 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 most homophobes are repressed homosexuals.

Homosexuals who are opposed to homosexual behaviour 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 debated whether it is even possible to change sexual orientation (see causes of sexual orientation).

Sometimes homosexuals who are opposed to homosexual behaviour, particularly politicians, are forcibly outed by campaign groups or newspapers. It is claimed that opposing homosexual behaviour while being homosexual is hypocritical[?] and should be exposed. This is a controversial tactic.

Violence

Main article: gay-bashing

Extreme cases of homophobia have resulted in cases of murder in the United States (see hate crime) in which a person was killed due to their perceived homosexuality, although in some cases is it not at all clear the person was actually homosexual. In some of these cases, the defendant argued that their action was due to a moment of panic because they believed the victim was "coming on to them". This phenomenon is generally referred to in the gay community as the "gay panic defense".

Murder of course is the most extreme manifestation of homophobia, and occurs relatively infrequently. Much more common are cases of non-fatal beatings, shootings, stabbings, and so on. 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. 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.

Discrimination

Most often, homophobia manifests itself in discrimination. Up until very recently, discrimination against homosexuals was openly visible in Western countries. The passage of many notable non-discrimination laws and the voluntary changing of policy by many employers has, to a debatable 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 don't believe these claims and further state that there are still a great deal of subtle forms of anti-homosexual discrimination. Because of this, homosexuals still talk about their 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. As many as 600 000 homosexuals died in the Holocaust. See Homosexuals in Nazi Germany, pink triangle.

Causes of homophobia

The cause of homophobia in society has been widely debated. Homophobic beliefs and attitudes can be held by people independent of their sexual orientation.

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.

Psychoanalytic theory has long held that homophobia was the result of repressed homosexual desires. Recent research has shown that homophobic heterosexual men showed signs of sexual arousal from being shown images of homosexual sex, when a control group of non-homophobic heterosexual men did not.

Some groups or individuals have voiced disapproval of homosexuality, or actively oppose it, because of religious principles. These principled advocates 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

To combat homophobia, the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community uses events such as pride parades and political activism[?]. See gay pride.

Many 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.

See also: Transphobia, Xenophobia

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