This article focuses on homophobia, the fear felt by some heterosexuals toward those with alternative sexual orientation. It provides an overview of sexual orientation including gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, and transgendered. It also further defines and discusses homophobia and its origins and goes on to discuss various issues surrounding heterosexism or sexual prejudice such as stigmatization, hate crimes, discrimination in the work place, and AIDS stigma.
Keywords Bisexual; Domestic Partner; Gay; Gender; Gender Bias; Gender Identity; Gender Socialization; Hate Crimes; Heterosexism; Heterosexual; Homophobia; Homosexual; Lesbian; Patriarchy; Sex; Sexual Orientation; Sexual Prejudice; Sodomy; Stigma; Straight; Transgenderism
A person's sexual orientation, whether he or she prefers sexual relationships with members of the same sex, or the opposite sex, is considered by some to be determined at birth or learned, and by others as both biological and social. A person can be heterosexual, preferring to have sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex, or homosexual, preferring to have sexual relationships with members of the same sex. Gays are typically males who prefer to have relationships with other males, while lesbians are women who prefer to have relationships with other women. Straights are heterosexuals, while bisexuals will have sexual relationships with both the same and the opposite sex. Transgenderism refers to cross-dressers and those who do not conform to culturally prescribed norms about what it means to be male or female.
However, having a homosexual or bisexual experience does not necessarily mean that a person is homosexual. For some, particularly young people, homosexual or bisexual experiences are experimental and do not continue. For others, however, homosexuality is a way of life. Researchers have found that gay and bisexual men in particular often believed that they were different from other boys from an early age (Savin-Williams, 2004).
What is Homophobia?
Homophobia, essentially, is the fear of homosexuality. Gays and lesbians experience incidents of homophobia in terms of attacks including verbal assaults, threats, physical and sexual assault, and cyberbullying.
Homophobia includes negative beliefs, attitudes, stereotypes, and behaviors toward gays and lesbians (Espelage, Aragon, Birkett & Koenig, 2008). While homophobia can be defined as heterosexuals' dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals as well as homosexuals' self loathing, homophobia is driven by a rigid gender code (Herek, 2008). Women who break from traditional, culturally defined female roles are often thought of as lesbians, and men who transcend the culturally defined notions of what it means to be male, are punished socially and in the work place (Mottet & Tanis, 2008). Persons of a sexual orientation besides heterosexuality have probably experienced some form of prejudice, or homophobia from heterosexuals.
While sex is biological, referring to genitalia and to secondary sex characteristics such as breasts, or body hair, gender is a cultural phenomenon. In other words, the notion of male or female is defined by the culture and both sexes are expected to adhere to the rules and norms of society regarding their sex and their gender role - the behavior and attitudes that are considered appropriate for each sex - which are taught from birth through the process of gender socialization.
Being gendered, or identified as being one gender or another can affect a person's life every day from how he or she receives tasks and rewards, the types of education and work available to him or her, and how much wealth and power he or she will receive in the course of a lifetime. The belief systems surrounding gender are embedded within a culture's language and ideas, and are reinforced strongly by religion, science, government and law.
There are popular stereotypes about the genders, such as males being strong, independent and not likely to cry, while women are characterized being weak and emotional. These stereotypes also reinforce the cultural ideas and socialization institutions such as the family and religion. For example, as of November 2013 only fourteen states, plus the District of Columbia, recognize same-sex marriage; in November 2013 was also passed in Illinois and Hawaii, but had not yet taken effect. Prior to 2013, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships and allowed states to refuse to recognize them as well, even if the marriages, unions, and partnerships are recognized in other states
In another example, in 2000, Pope John Paul II criticized gay pride activities in Rome as offensive to Christian values and condemned homosexuality publicly, six years after a closed-door meeting of Christians met to plan attacks on the gay rights movement ("They'll Know," 1994).
Coming out, or claiming publicly to be homosexual, is an intimate detail about a person that can have some positive effects and reduce the stigma related to homosexuality. Social scientists have found that lesbians and gay men who "come out of the closet" to their heterosexual friends and family members help to create these more positive attitudes. People who have a gay friend or relative will think better of homosexuality. But personal contact isn't enough. And one homosexual relative or friend doesn't change much, either. Stereotypes tend to be more easily dispelled among heterosexuals who know, or have contact with more than one gay person and if there is openness about the sexual orientation of the others (Herek, 2008).
Coming out also carries danger and risks. Many heterosexual Americans hold strongly negative feelings toward homosexuality, and some commit hate crimes against homosexuals. Hate crimes, or bias crimes, are intended to harm or intimidate people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or other minority group status.
FBI statistics show that in 2011—out of a total of 6, 222 reported hate crimes—20.8 percent of hate crimes were based on sexual orientation. Of all the victims of hate crimes, nearly 40 percent were crimes against property such as robbery, vandalism, theft, or arson. The remaining 60 percent were victims of crimes against persons, such as assault, rape, and murder. These hate crimes are committed the vast majority of the time by young people who have no criminal record, or do not belong to any type of hate group. Their actions are fueled primarily by prejudice and dislike of people who seem different. The offenders tend to believe, too, that their behavior is sanctioned by others, and indeed, with job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation legal in most U.S. states, that notion could be easily believed (Herek, 2008; American Psychological Association, 2004).
Heterosexism, or sexual prejudice, is similar to sexism or racism in that it is an ideology that punishes...
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