Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Institutional homophobia (or heterosexism) - Edith Cowan University Western Australia

…Homophobia refers to the many ways in which people are oppressed on the basis of sexual orientation. Sometimes homophobia is intentional, where there is a clear intent to hurt lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Homophobia can also be unintentional, where there is no desire to hurt anyone, but where people are unaware of the consequences of their actions.

There are four distinct but interrelated types of homophobia: personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural. Institutional and cultural homophobia are often referred to as heterosexism.

1. Personal homophobia is prejudice. It is the personal belief that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are sinful, immoral, sick, inferior to heterosexuals, or incomplete women and men. Prejudice towards any group is learned behaviour; people have to be taught to be prejudiced.

Personal homophobia is sometimes experienced as the fear of being perceived as lesbian, gay or bisexual, out of the fear that one will be treated as if they were sinful, immoral, sick or inferior. This fear can lead to trying to “prove” one’s heterosexuality. Anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or preference, can experience personal homophobia; when this happens with lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, it is called internalized homophobia.

Many people believe that there is a positive correlation between sexual orientation and sex roles, that lesbians are masculine and gay men are feminine. Consequently, many people spend a lot of energy and time trying to fit prevailing cultural images of what it means to be female or male as a way of avoiding being perceived as lesbian or gay.

2. Interpersonal homophobia is the fear, dislike or hatred of people believed to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. This hatred or dislike may be expressed as namecalling, verbal and physical harassment, and individual acts of discrimination. Lesbians, gay and bisexual people are regularly attacked for no other reason than their assailants' homophobia. Most people act out their fears of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in non-violent, more commonplace ways. Relatives often shun their lesbian, gay, and bisexual family members; co-workers are distant and cold to lesbian, gay, and bisexual colleagues; lesbians and gay men are in some states legally prevented from becoming foster parents, and attempts have been made to fire lesbian or gay teachers.

3. Institutional homophobia (or heterosexism) refers to the many ways in which government, businesses, churches, and other institutions and organisations discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation. These organisations and institutions set policies, allocate resources, and maintain unwritten standards for the behaviour of their members in ways which discriminate.

For example, most religious organisations have stated policies against lesbian, gay and bisexual people holding offices; most schools fail or refuse to allocate funds and staff for lesbian, gay and bisexual support groups; and most businesses have norms for social events which prevent or discourage lesbian, gay and bisexual employees from bringing their same sex partners while heterosexual employees are encouraged to bring their opposite sex partners.

4. Cultural homophobia (or heterosexism) refers to social standards and norms which dictate that being heterosexual is better or more moral than being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and that everyone is heterosexual or should be. While these standards are not written down as such, they are spelled out every day in television shows and print advertisements where virtually every character is heterosexual, every sexual relationship involves a female and a male; or in the assumption made by most adults in social situations that all "normal" children will eventually be attracted to and marry a person of other sex.

Often, heterosexuals don’t realise that these standards exist, while lesbian, gay and bisexual people are acutely aware of the standards. The feeling which results is one of being an outsider in the society.

In the clinical sense, homophobia is defined as an intense, irrational fear of same sex relationships that becomes overwhelming to the person. In common usage, homophobia is the fear of intimate relationships with persons of the same sex.

Below are listed four negative homophobic levels and four positive levels of attitudes towards lesbian and gay relationships/people. They were developed by Dr. DorothyRiddle, a psychologist from Tucson, Arizona.

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Edith Cowan University Western Australia

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