The term homophobia describes antihomosexual attitudes that stigmatize and denigrate any behaviors, identities, relationships, and communities that are not heterosexual (Van Voorhis & Wagner, 2002). Irrational fears of homosexual people or fear and loathing of homosexual feelings in oneself are also characteristics. Homophobia can be best thought of as a prejudice similar to racism, anti-Semitism, or sexism. Heterosexism is the belief that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality; such a belief can often lead to discrimination and the stigmatization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The recognition of homophobia and heterosexism as the problem represents a significant shift from the view that homosexuality itself was the problem.
The degree of homophobia has lessened greatly in the United States (Ahmad & Bhugra, 2010). For example, a study found that gay athletes who came out between 2008 and 2010 obtained better support from their teammates compared with those who came out between 2000 and 2002 (Anderson, 2011). Unfortunately, homophobia is still common and often plays a big role in the lives of many gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. Its most extreme form is revealed in hate crimes. Hate crimes include assault, robbery, and murder committed because the victim belongs to a certain race, religion, or ethnic group or has a certain sexual orientation (Ghent, 2003; Herek et al., 1999).
Hate crimes are subject to severer sentences than other crimes. In 2009 the U. S. Congress passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which included attacks motivated by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Previously, federal hate crime law pertained only to attacks motivated by race, color, national origin, or religion. Prior to the federal legislation, about 33 states had established hate crime laws.