Heterosexism and Homophobia
For more information on fighting heterosexism or becoming involved as an ally, see our ally page.
Heterosexism and Homophobia
Heterosexism is the devaluation of what is not heterosexual. For example, some individuals believe that being gay is abnormal and something to be pitied or cured, while heterosexuality is the "right" way to be. Others persist in thinking that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are immoral or sick. Yet the American Physiological Association and the American Psychiatric Association declared over two decades ago that homosexuality is not a mental disorder or psychiatric problem. A more subtle form of heterosexism is evident when people assume everyone they meet is straight and eventually wants to marry. Different sexual orientations are treated as if they don't exist, at least "not at my school," church, town, etc.
Homophobia is the irrational fear and dislike of lesbians and gay men. Homophobic jokes, anti-gay graffiti, threats and intimidation as well as assaults against bisexuals, lesbians, and gay men are sad reminders of the fear, bias and hatred in American Culture. Bisexuals face unique discrimination since they are often viewed as outsiders by both gay and straight individuals.
Heterosexism and homophobia are cultural forces that distort perceptions of reality; these must be understood and challenged, along with similar prejudices against class, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and age.
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender students need to both know that Bucknell can be both a challenging and supportive environment. The university community is committed to creating a safe space for all students to flourish. It is the responsibility of each of us to help create a safe and welcoming environment for Bucknell community members of all sexual/gender orientations."
Andrew Dunlap, LSW
Homophobia Hurts Everyone.
- Homophobia locks all people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self-expression.
- Homophobic conditioning compromises the integrity of heterosexual people by pressuring them to treat others badly, actions contrary to their basic humanity.
- Homophobia inhibits one's ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one's own sex.
- Homophobia generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population and, more specifically, limits the family relationships.
- Homophobia is one cause of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- Homophobia combined with sexphobia (fear and repulsion of sex) results in the elimination of any discussion of the life-styles and sexuality of sexual minorities as part of school-based sex education, keeping vital information from all students.
- Homophobia can be used to stigmatize, silence and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as gay, lesbian, or bisexual but who are in actuality heterosexual.
- Homophobia prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by sexual minorities: theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion, to family life, to all facets of society.
- Homophobia inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when anyone of us is demeaned.
- Homophobia diverts energy from more construction endeavors.
Suggestions for Creating a Non-Homophobic Campus Environment (Adapted by Buhrke & Douce, 1991)
- Objects to and eliminate jokes and humor that put down or portray LGBT people in stereotypical ways.
- Counter statements about sexual orientation that are not relevant to decisions or evaluations being made about faculty, staff, or students.
- Invite "out" professionals to conduct seminars and provide guest lectures in your classes and offices. Invite them for both LGBT topics and other topics of their expertise.
- Do not force LGBT people out of the closet nor come out for them to others. The process of coming out is one of enlarging a series of concentric circles of those who know. Initially the process should be in control of the individual until (and if) they consider it public knowledge.
- Don't include sexual orientation information in letters of reference or answer specific or implied questions without first clarifying how "out" the person chooses to be in the specific process in question. Because your environment may be safe does not mean that all environments are safe.
- Recruit and hire "out' gay and lesbian staff and faculty. View sexual orientation as a positive form of diversity that is desired in a multicultural setting. Always question job applicants about their ability to work with LGBT faculty, staff, and students.
- Do not refer all LGBT issues to LGBT staff/faculty. Do not assume their only expertise is LGBT issues. Check with staff about their willingness to consult on LGBT issues with other staff members.
- Be sensitive to issues of oppression and appreciate the strength and struggle it takes to establish a positive LGBT identity. Provide nurturing support to colleagues and students in phases of that process.
- Be prepared. If you truly establish a safe and supportive environment, people that you never thought of will begin to share their personal lives and come out in varying degrees. Secretaries, maintenance personnel, former students, and professional colleagues will respond to the new atmosphere. Ten percent is a lot of people.
- View their creation of this environment as a departmental or agency responsibility, not the responsibility of individual persons who happen to be LGB or T. Always waiting for them to speak, challenge, or act, adds an extra level of responsibility to someone who is already dealing with oppression on many levels.