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ABOUT HOMOPHOBIA

What it is; its cost; what fuels it

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What is homophobia?

The suffix "phobia" is derived from the Greek word "phobos". In English, it means either fear or loathing. "Homophobia" has a variety of meanings, including:

bullet"hatred of homosexuality"
bullet"hatred of homosexuals"
bullet"fear of gays and lesbians"
bullet"a desire to discriminate against homosexuals"
bullet"an attempt to discriminate against homosexuals"

The fourth and fifth options appear to be the dominant meanings among the general population. It places "homophobia" in the same class as "racism" and "sexism" where hatred, fear and discrimination are directed against persons of different races, and genders.

For many homophobes (persons who exhibit homophobia) these multiple meanings are not troublesome. An individual who hates homosexuality may well hate homosexuals as well, and probably discriminates against them. Their hatred is typically based on fear. However, many conservative religious folk are distressed when the term is used to define their beliefs and actions. Some state that they (and their God) hate homosexuality but love the homosexual. They do not wish to be lumped with racists and sexists. Others are selective in their discriminatory. They might be in favor of equal civil rights for gays and lesbians in employment and accommodation, while opposing equal rights in marriage or adoption. Again, they do not regard themselves as homophobes, even though they work towards the maintenance of special rights for heterosexuals.

This type of concern mirrors a situation decades ago when some people did not consider themselves to be racists even though they opposed inter-racial marriage. They maintained that they had no hatred against persons of any race; they just wanted to prevent people from marrying outside of their race. Similarly, many people do not consider themselves to be sexist, even though they wish to prohibit women from being ordained as clergy or from sharing power equally with their spouses. They believe that they have no hatred of women; they just want them to be excluded from certain roles. They often feel justified in their beliefs by quoting selected passages on the Bible.

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Homophobia's cost to the youth of North America:

There is general agreement that homosexual youth suffer from much higher levels of suicide and homelessness than the general youth population. The precise cause is a matter of dispute: 

bulletMost religious conservatives regard homosexuality as an abnormal, unnatural, addiction or mental illness. They view the high suicide rate among gays and lesbians as being caused by homosexuality itself.
bulletMost gays, lesbians, religious liberals, mental health professionals, and human sexuality researchers attribute their high suicide rate to the culture's homophobia.

The Standing Commission on Human Affairs of the Episcopal Church wrote in 1994:

"Not only must lesbian and gay youth withstand ridicule and, often, violence from their peers, they risk outright rejection from their parents should they decide to 'come out.' The combination of the culture's condemnation of homosexuality and the alienation from one's home and parents (supposedly a haven of security and support) causes unusually high rate of attempted suicide. 1

According to a US Health and Human Services report:

"gay adolescents were two to three times more likely than peers to attempt suicide, accounting for as many as 30% of completed youth suicides each year....26% percent of gay youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts with their families over their sexual identities. Up to half engage in prostitution to support themselves, greatly increasing their risk for HIV infection." 2

About 5% of youths are gay. If the 30% figure is accurate then their suicide rate is up to six times greater than the general youth population. Using this data, it appears that homophobia, largely maintained by conservative and mainline Christian churches, is responsible for deaths of young gays and lesbians in the United States at a rate greater than the church exterminated "witches" during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

A recent University of Calgary study has confirmed the U.S. studies by finding that gay men are much more likely to attempt suicide than others in society. We are attempting to obtain this report.

The National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYouthAC@aol.com) has referred to two reports on homeless youth:

bulletIn 1988, the Los Angeles County Task Force on Runaway and Homeless Youth, issued a "Report and Recommendations of the Task Force" which estimated that 25 to 35% of street youth in that county are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
bulletAlso in 1988, Seattle Commission on Children and Youth of Seattle, WA issued their "Report on Gay and Lesbian Youth in Seattle" which estimated that 40% of Seattle street youth are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

The National Youth Advocacy Coalition agreed that these figures match their experience.

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What fuels homophobia?

The desire to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and thus to reserve special privileges to heterosexuals, appears to have many causes. Some are:

bulletInability or unwillingness to change the information received during childhood.
bulletFear of people who are different.
bulletPromotion of homophobia by a religious group.
bulletA heterosexual's natural feeling of repulsion at the thought of engaging in same-sex activity. Realizing that homosexual behavior is unnatural for them, some people generalize this feeling into the belief that homosexuality is wrong for everyone.
bulletActual homosexual feelings that a person cannot acknowledge or handle.
bulletLow self esteem leading to a need to hate other group(s).

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References used:

  1. Report of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs of the Episcopal Church to the 1994 General Convention. Available at
    http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/mib/anglican/official/humaff
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, Volume 3: Prevention and Interventions in Youth Suicide", Rockville, MD, 1989 (report suppressed).

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