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    What Is It?

    Definitions of Homophobia

    The following are three different, but similar, definitions of homophobia which represent the generally accepted meaning of the term.

    • a psychological term coined by psychologist George Weinberg in 1972, refers to an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuality, usually in others but also in oneself (internalised homophobia - see personal homophobia below).
    • any action, attitude, or behaviour that discriminates against or unfairly limits same-sex attracted people because of their sexuality (e.g. preventing a same-sex attracted person from bringing their partner to social functions.)
    • any fear or loathing of homosexuality, homosexual people, lesbian, gay and bisexual identity, and refers to the values and behaviours which express this fear and loathing.


    Types of homophobia

    It is important to understand the different types of homophobia if we are to effectively address homophobic discrimination. Homophobia can take many forms including: 

    Personal (internalised) homophobia 
    This is the individual's belief that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are sinful, immoral or inferior to heterosexuals, or incomplete as women or men. Such views are always learnt, and they may be shared by lesbian, gay and bisexual people themselves. In this case the homophobia is internalised. When a lesbian, gay or bisexual person has internalised the belief that they are sinful, immoral or inferior they may hide their sexuality, try to make it mean less to them, decrease their expectations of life, or engage in behaviours which are harmful to themselves and others. 

    Interpersonal homophobia 
    This is the dislike, fear or hatred of people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. This dislike, fear or hatred may be expressed through name-calling, verbal or physical harassment or acts of discrimination. Interpersonal homophobia can be acted out through shunning, ostracism or low level harassment. But it can also be manifested through verbal and physical assault. Surveys in NSW and Victoria have found that a high percentage of lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience verbal and physical assault at some stage in their lives. 

    Institutional homophobia 
    This refers to the many ways in which government, business, churches and other organisations discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. These organisations set policies, allocate resources and maintain unwritten standards for the behaviour of their members or constituents which discriminate. 

    Cultural homophobia 
    This refers to social standards and norms which dictate that being heterosexual is better than being lesbian, gay or bisexual. These standards and norms are reinforced each day in television shows, movies and print advertisements where virtually every character is heterosexual and every sexual and social relationship involves a female and a male, or in the assumption made by most adults that all children will eventually be attracted to and marry a person of the opposite sex. Often heterosexuals do not realise that these standards exist, while lesbian, gay and bisexual people are acutely aware of them. This results in lesbians, gays and bisexuals feeling like outsiders in society. 

    Am I homophobic? 

    All of us - gay and heterosexual - are socialised into a society in which the idea that homosexuality is inferior to heterosexuality is common. Regardless of how we identify sexually, most of us grow up thinking in ways that are prejudiced and homophobic. It is only when our ideas are challenged that we become aware of our assumptions. If people are never challenged it is easy for them to assume heterosexuality is the only 'natural' or 'normal' sexuality. The good news is that prejudice is learnt and can be easily unlearnt. 

    In day-to-day life, the following are examples of homophobic behaviours and attitudes many of us are guilty of:

    • thinking you can 'spot one'
    • using words like 'poof', 'dyke', 'fag', 'gay', 'lezzo' etc as an insult
    • thinking that a same-sex attracted friend is trying to 'pick you up', if they are friendly towards you
    • not being supportive of a same-sex attracted friend when they break up with their partner
    • making unnecessary or rude comments about, or feeling repulsed by public displays of affection between same-sex partners
    • feeling that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are too outspoken about civil rights
    • assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual
    • assuming that a lesbian is just a woman who couldn't find a man or that a lesbian is a woman who secretly wants to be a man
    • assuming that a gay man is just a man who couldn't find a woman or that a gay man is a man who secretly wants to be a woman
    • assuming bisexual people are confused or want to 'play the field'
    • not confronting a homophobic remark for fear of being labelled as gay



    Is it homophobia or heterosexism? 

    Although homophobia is commonly used to express the full range of anti-LGBT thought and behaviour, as a term it can be seen as problematic. A phobia is an irrational fear that causes one to avoid contact with that which is feared. Expressions of hatred toward LGBT people, however, are seldom completely irrational or inexplicable, and often result in targeting rather than avoiding behaviour. Anti-LGBT bigotry, like other forms of prejudice, is a learned and deliberate condition. Framing prejudice as a phobia pathologises it and removes responsibility from those who hold prejudices for altering their attitudes and behaviour. 

    Moreover, homophobia is most often equated with individual discrimination or acts of violence -a homophobic football coach, for example, or a homophobic attack in the park-that are disconnected from most people's experiences or images of themselves. The use of these terms rarely inspires us to reflect upon the more subtle forms of anti-LGBT prejudice for which we are all culpable, or anti-LGBT discrimination as a shared societal problem rooted in social values and institutions. 

    When describing incidents of discrimination or harassment against LGBT people, then, it may be more precise to use the terms anti-LGBT bias or hate acts. And when discussing the belief, held by so many, that homosexuality is "wrong" or "less than," it may be more accurate to use heterosexism. 

    Heterosexism can be understood as an overt or tacit bias against non-heterosexuals based on a belief in the superiority or, sometimes, the omnipresence of heterosexuality and the notion that homosexuality is psychologically, spiritually, or morally wrong. 

    Since this type of intolerance is frequently levelled against those perceived to be lesbian or gay due to gender expression that transgresses societal norms, the word heterosexism-though not a replacement for homophobia-is a broader term that does not necessarily imply the loathing the latter term suggests, and which can describe seemingly more benign attitudes and behaviour based on the belief that heterosexuality is the norm. 

    From Denial to Denigration Understanding Institutionalized Heterosexism in Our Schools found here.


    Definitions of Heterosexism

    Heterosexism 
    Is the assumption most people make that everyone is heterosexual and those who aren't are abnormal or deviant. 

    Heterosexism 
    Is the belief that heterosexuality and heterosexual people are superior to and more valuable than homosexuality and homosexual people. It is comparable to sexism and racism. No one is born homophobic or heterosexist. These prejudices and chauvinistic beliefs and practices are learnt. 

    Heterosexism 
    Is the belief in the inherent superiority of one type of love and relationship and thereby their right to dominance. 

    Heterosexism 
    Is the set of assumptions that excludes openly homosexual persons from social, religious, and political power. It is a system of coercion that demands heterosexuality in return for first class citizenship. 

    From: Celebrating Diversity in Schools: making schools safer and more inclusive for same sex attracted and transgender students and staff.