Wednesday, August 25, 2010

ANTI-GAY/LESBIAN VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES - Bianca Cody Murphy – Peace Psychology for the 21st Century

Experts from:
Christie, D. J., Wagner, R. V., & Winter, D. A. (Eds.). (2001). 
Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century. 
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Bianca Cody Murphy


…“Hate crimes are words or actions intended to harm or intimidate an individual because of her or his membership in a minority group; they include violent assaults, murder, rape, and property crimes motivated by prejudice, as well as threats of violence and other acts of intimidation” (Finn & McNeil, 1987, p. 2). In the United States, hate crimes are committed against racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities…

…Hate violence is a form of terrorism. Hate violence traumatizes not only the direct victim but all members of the targeted group. Richard Berk, Elizabeth Boyd, and Karl Hamner (1992) note that a key ingredient of hate-motivated violence is the “symbolic status of the victim” (p. 127). As Greg Herek points out, bias crimes “are especially serious because they potentially victimize an entire class of people…they assail the victim’s identity and intimidate other group members” (1989, p. 948)…


But overt acts of violence against lesbian women and gay men are only the most visible and heinous offenses in a pattern of discrimination and oppression. Gay men and lesbian women face structural violence as well as direct episodic violence. The structural violence against gay men and lesbian women is the result of heterosexism. Herek (1992) defines heterosexism as “an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community” (p. 89). Herek distinguishes between psychological heterosexism which is manifested “in individual attitudes and behaviors” and cultural heterosexism which is manifested “in societal customs and institutions, such as religion and the legal system” (p. 89). It is this cultural heterosexism that results in structural violence against lesbian women and gay men.

As a result of cultural heterosexism, gay men, lesbian women, and other sexual minorities suffer discrimination in many areas, including housing and employment…

Only ten states currently offer civil rights protections to lesbian women and gay men. In most 8 states, they have no legal recourse if they are discriminated against. In the last 20 years, with the rise of the gay rights movement, there have been attempts to pass legislation that would protect gay and lesbian civil rights. However, for every effort to increase protections for gay and lesbian civil rights, there have been countermoves to take them away. A recent Vatican statement to U.S. bishops supports discrimination against gay men and lesbian women and urges Catholics to oppose the passage of civil rights for gay men and lesbian women. In 1992, the state of Colorado passed a referendum which prohibits the state and all its agencies from acting on any claim of discrimination by a lesbian or gay man. (Note that the Supreme Court has issued an injunction against it.) That same year, a stronger initiative in Oregon stating that public institutions including the schools “shall assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth that recognizes homosexuality…as abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and…to be discouraged and avoided” [italics added] was defeated but received support from 44 percent of the voters. And, in 1998, opponents of lesbian/gay civil rights successfully sought to repeal a gay civil rights law in Maine.

Not only do gay men and lesbian women have few laws to protect them from discrimination, but many laws themselves are discriminatory. Gary Comstock (1991) points out that U.S. laws have enabled legalized violence against homosexuals. In the past, sodomy laws made same-gendered sex punishable by the death penalty. Although capital punishment for same-sex relations was removed from the books and corporal punishment is no longer in use, engaging in same-gender sexual acts is still illegal in 22 states. In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld the right of states to prosecute adults for engaging in consensual sexual acts with each other in the privacy of their own home (Bowers vs. Hardwick, 1986).

In addition to legal sanctions against lesbians and gays for engaging in same sex acts, there are other discriminatory laws. Gay men and lesbian women have no legal right to marry. Laws prohibit them from disclosing their sexual orientation in the military. They can be denied family health insurance policies and visiting rights in hospitals since they are not legally “family members.”

Theories about Anti-Gay/Lesbian Attitude Formation

…Herek (1984) has defined three functions of attitudes towards homosexuals: ego defensive, experiential, and symbolic. The function of ego defensive attitudes can be seen in the use of the term “homophobia.” It is commonly believed that those who hold negative attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women do so because they feel personally threatened by their own unconscious conflicts about either sexual orientation or gender identity. From a psychodynamic perspective, prejudiced attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women serve to decrease tension aroused by these unconscious conflicts. Franklin (1998) found that many of the perpetrators in her study reported assaulting gay men and lesbian women “to prove their masculine identity by displaying toughness and an endorsement of heterosexuality” (p. 4)…

Experiential attitudes are based on past interactions with known homosexuals. “Experiential attitudes develop when affects and cognitions associated with specific interpersonal interactions are generalized to all lesbians and gay men” (Herek, 1984, p. 8). Herek notes that most people develop their beliefs about gay men and lesbian women from stereotypes and ignorance without any contact with gay men and lesbian women. Franklin found that the largest number of assailants in her study claimed that they were reacting to perceived advances by a person. “Assailants interpret their victims’ words and actions based on their belief that homosexuals are sexual predators….once someone is labeled as homosexual, any glance or conversation by that person is perceived as sexual flirtation. Flirtation, in turn, is viewed as a legitimate reason to assault” (1998, p. 3)…


...A political analysis of violence against lesbian women, gay men, and other sexual minorities considers power dynamics and social institutions rather than just individual attitudes and behaviors...


Educational Responses

It is possible to change social norms through educational campaigns. Schools can combat the dominant cultural norm that says that it is okay to harass someone for being different. Franklin suggests a “(p)roactive intervention against school based harassment and violence. Anti-bias curricula must be introduced as early as kindergarten and must continue through high school” (1998, p. 8). Anti-bias curricula help teachers learn how to recognize such violence and intervene to eliminate it. Children are taught how to work collaboratively, how to have empathy for others, and how to handle feelings of frustration and anger...


… If the twenty-first century is to see a reduction in hate crimes and violence, then it is essential that people (1) attend to structural violence and the social and power dynamics of the patriarchal system in which such violence occurs; (2) recognize that much of what is considered anti-gay/lesbian violence is in fact based on gender politics; (3) acknowledge and affirm the incredible diversity in the lesbian and gay communities in terms of race, ethnicity, age, class, education, disability, and political ideology; (4) use our psychological knowledge to construct interventions to prevent all forms of violence; and, (5) work in coalitions with other oppressed groups using our strengths and training in human behavior and systems theories to create radical social change.
Read complete chapter:

Sexual Orientation: 
Science, Education, and Policy
Gregory Herek

Peace Psychology Book

Peace Psychology 2009 - PowerPoint Presentation

Dan Christie,
Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University

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