HOMOPHOBIA AND HETEROSEXISM ‘
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals have long been stigmatized. When homosexuality as an illness was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973 (see Chapter 1), negative attitudes toward homosexuality persisted. It was at this time that researchers began to study these negative attitudes and behaviors.
What Is Homophobia?
Many terms have been proposed to describe the negative, often violent, reactions of many people toward homosexuality—antihomosexualism, homoerotophobia, homosexism, homonegativism, and homophobia. The popularity of the term homophobia is unfortunate, for phobia is a medical term describing an extreme, anxiety-provoking, uncontrollable fear accompanied by obsessive avoidance. The word is also used to describe different negative views of homosexuality, including cultural, attitudinal, and personal biases (Fyfe, 1983). Still, the term is generally accepted, and so we will use it here to refer to strongly negative attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuality.
Are people really homophobic? Some might accept homosexuality intellectually and yet still dislike being in the presence of homosexuals, whereas others might object to homosexuality as a practice and yet have acceptable personal relationships with individual homosexuals (Forstein, 1988). When compared with people who hold favorable views of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, people with negative views are less likely to have had contact with homosexuals and bisexuals, and they are more likely to: be older and less well educated; be religious and to subscribe to a conservative religious ideology; have more traditional attitudes toward sex roles and less support for equality of the sexes; be
less permissive sexually; and be authoritarian (Herek, 1984). Overall, heterosexual men have been found to be more negative toward gay men than heterosexual women (Davies, 2004), and African American college students have been found to be significantly more homophobic than Caucasian students (Waldner et al., 1999).
In 2001, Marshall Mathers (a. k.a. Eminem) released an album that contained many negative and hateful things about gay men (see the accompanying Sex in Real Life, “Gay Bashing and Hate Crimes”). Although some people believe that Eminem has the right to sing whatever he pleases, it is also important to note that much of his music encourages violence and hatred. It is interesting that Eminem’s music is geared toward adolescent males—the very group that commits the most hate crimes (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 2000). In addition, research has found that songs with violent lyrics increase aggression-related thoughts and emotions (C. A. Anderson et al.,
It’s important to point out that heterosexuals aren’t the only people to experience homophobia. Homosexuals who harbor negative feelings about homosexuality experience internalized homophobia. Research has shown that homosexuals who have internalized homophobia also have decreased levels of self-esteem and increased levels of shame and psychological distress (Allen & Oleson, 1999; Szymanski et al., 2001).
An even bigger problem for most gay men and lesbians is heterosexism (he-tur-oh – SEK-si-zum). Heterosexism has a sociological rather than a medical implication: it describes the “presumption of heterosexuality” discussed earlier and the social power used
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