Homophobia: the least dealt with -ISM

By Shiva Subbaraman, Office of Human Relations at the University of Maryland

Even progressive practitioners of dialogue with highly articulate and developed analytical and critical skills around issues of Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion, Nationality, Disability and other ?isms frequently falter on the issue of homophobia and heterosexism.

Systems of oppression do interconnect and intersect; and while we have become comfortable invoking the various cross points, we are less comfortable addressing issues of homophobia in ourselves and in others. There are plenty of reasons for this reluctance, particularly when it comes to being able to visualize how sexual orientation intersects with race, class, educational levels, immigration status, and religion.

Here are some commonly held beliefs, stereotypes, and myths:

1. We are generally threatened about issues of sexuality, and for some the mere existence of ?homosexuals? calls their own sexuality/heterosexuality into question.

2. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex oppression is not as serious as other oppressions. At its core, this is a personal bedroom matter, rather than a political or social concern.

3. Unlike many other oppressed groups, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender, and intersex people do not form a cohesive group whose identity is clear from birth. This sometimes late arrival at identity formation, also plays into the most commonly held notion that it is therefore a ?lifestyle choice,? a ?viewpoint,? a ?preference? rather than any immutable characteristic.

4. ?Homosexuality? is a phase that many go through and grow out of. This is not true of race or gender identity which we presumably can not grow out of. At best, this view makes us want to tolerate gay people until such time as people ?grow up? and become normal, or at worst ?straighten? them out through
censure, religious conversions, medical intervention, or other reparative therapies.

5. Transgender people are confused about their ?gender identities,? and it is really a medical disorder. [PFLAG, an organization devoted presumably to increasing awareness around LGBT issues entitles its brochure as ?Gender Identity Disorder.?] It is therefore our compassionate duty to fix them into one or the other identity.

6. Sexual identity changes; look at bisexuals who choose to be ?gay? one day, and ?straight? the next. This proves that sexual orientation is a preference and a choice, and can be controlled by moral precepts.

7. Gay rights are not in ?human rights? or ?civil rights? since it is a personal sexual preference. Since gay people are gay by choice, they do not deserve the same civil rights as other historically oppressed groups, who did not choose to be who they are.

8. ?Gay? means young and old white men with large discretionary incomes, who choose this lifestyle. This of course completely ignores many of us who are women and people of color and working class and poor and disabled and old. Such a mainstream media notion of who constitutes this community completely erases the identities of others, and elides other material social, economic, and political issues that go along with them.

9. ?Homosexuality? is a ?white disease.? This is a common denial strategy within African American, Latina/o, Asian, and South Asian communities. Such a belief system completely denies the histories of same sex love to be found in our own cultures and national groups, and sets up false dilemmas for such groups between ?race? and ?sexual orientation.?


I owe much of my inspiration in this to Barbara Smith, longtime activist, scholar, and truth speaker. See her essay, ?Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?? in The Truth That Never Hurts.


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