Heterosexism is widespread and subtle and therefore is very difficult to combat. Adrienne Rich (1983), a prominent scholar of lesbian studies, uses the term heterocentrism to de­scribe the neglect of homosexual existence, even among feminists. Perhaps we can learn from the history of a similar term: ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism refers to the belief that all standards of correct behavior are determined by one’s own cultural background, lead­ing to racism, ethnic bigotry, and even sexism and heterosexism. Although ethnocen – trism is still rampant in American society, it is slowly being eroded by the passage of new laws, the media’s spotlight on abuses, and improved education. Perhaps a similar strategy can be used to combat heterosexism.


Hate crimes legislation targets violence that is committed in response to a victim’s iden­tity, including sexual orientation. As of 2005, 29 states and the District of Columbia punish perpetrators of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation and 7 of these states cover crimes motivated by gender identity (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2005). However, the punishment varies from state to state. Hate crimes are harmful for many reasons, but especially because they provoke retaliatory crimes and cause commu­nity unrest (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2001).

The Hate Crimes Statistics Act was reauthorized by Congress in 1996. This law re­quires the compilation of data on hate crimes so that there is a comprehensive picture of these crimes. In 1998 the Hate Crimes Right to Know Act was passed, which requires college campuses to report all hate crimes. However, it’s important to point out that “monitoring” or “recording” hate crimes does not necessarily mean putting any resources into improving enforcement or prevention. But even laws protecting homosexuals from abuse can be thwarted by homophobia.