What it is; its cost; what fuels it
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:
||"hatred of homosexuality"
||"hatred of homosexuals"
||"fear of gays and lesbians"
||"a desire to discriminate against homosexuals"
||"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
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
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.
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:
||Most 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.
||Most gays, lesbians, religious liberals, mental health professionals,
and human sexuality researchers attribute their high suicide rate to the
The Standing Commission on Human Affairs of the Episcopal Church wrote in
"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:
||In 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.
||Also 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
The desire to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and thus to reserve
special privileges to heterosexuals, appears to have many causes. Some are:
||Inability or unwillingness to change the information received during childhood.
||Fear of people who are different.
||Promotion of homophobia by a religious group.
||A 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.
||Actual homosexual feelings that a person cannot acknowledge or handle.
||Low self esteem leading to a need to hate other group(s).
Report of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs of the Episcopal Church to the
1994 General Convention. Available at
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).