Homophobia or heterosexism refers to the assumption that everyone should or is heterosexual.
This can create serious prejudices against people who experience same-sex attraction.
In this article, we will replace the term “homophobia” with “heterosexism.” This is because “homophobia” places an emphasis on an individual’s irrational fears, as opposed to the existing systems that affect a person’s health.
Heterosexism does not refer to prejudice and discrimination associated with a person’s gender identity or cissexism.
Learn more about cissexism here.
Understanding what heterosexism is can help people identify it and oppose it when they see it when it is certain to do so.
In this article, we explore what heterosexism is, what internalized heterosexism means, and how to be an ally. We also look at the definition of “outing” and how heterosexism can affect a person’s health.
What does “homophobia” mean?
Homophobia or heterosexism is the assumption that people are heterosexuals.
Planned parenthood note that it is fear, distrust, hatred, or discomfort toward those who experience same-sex attraction.
It can also take many different forms, from using negative and offensive language to more extreme forms such as bullying, abuse, and physical violence.
In addition, homophobia can occur in the form of systematic suppression. An individual may be discriminated against by government, religious institutions, and other companies. Examples include:
- Denial of the right to marry same-sex couples to whom the
- Accommodation is denied due to their sexual orientation
- Dismissed because of their sexual orientation
A person may show homophobic tendencies or thoughts because of their upbringing or conservative religious beliefs.
What is “internalized homophobia”?
Internalized heterosexism is a term that refers to those who experience same-sex attraction yet harbor negative feelings and views about their sexuality.
They may direct their negative feelings toward themselves and have difficulty coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
You can express this conflict in the following ways:
- by expressing their feelings of same-sex attraction
- hide their sexual orientation from the wider community
- Try to “prove” that they are honest by acting stereotypically
- Are discriminatory against them who are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual
and never identify yourself
What is “Outing”?
“Outing” is the practice of making a public statement about a person’s sexuality or gender status without their permission.
This can have a negative impact on people’s lives and result in them becoming victims of abuse, discrimination and, in some cases, physical violence.
How can heterosexism affect a person’s health?
Heterosexism can affect people’s mental and physical health in many ways.
Systematic heterosexism can also limit a person’s access to high-quality healthcare and make it difficult to obtain health insurance.
LGBTQIA+ people may also find it difficult to tell their doctors about their sexual identity.
A study found that 68% of LGBTQIA+ youth said they had not reported their sexual orientation to their doctors, while 90% said they had reservations about doing so. This means people may not receive culturally competent healthcare.
The study finds that this lack of communication with
- inadequate screening for transmissible infections, and
- a lack of health education
Heterosexism can also occur at home and in schools.
The Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS) is a cross-sectional school survey that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct every 2 years.
The YRBS 2019 found that of the lesbian, gay and bisexual youth surveyed:
- 13.5% felt unsafe at school
- 11.9% experienced bullying at school
- 19.4% experienced forced sexual intercourse in their lifetime
Furthermore, those who experience same-sex attraction are likely to experience rejection from their families.
The CDC found that those who experience familial rejection were more likely to:
- Take your own life
- Report that depression
- use illegal drugs
- engage in risky sexual
Practices involve Discrimination in any environment can have a huge impact on a person’s health.
The CDC points out that discrimination can result in:
- increased stress level
- reduced access to emotional support
- escalating incidence of depression and suicide
- impair the chances of long-term relationships and marriage
Mental Health America reports that LGBTQIA+ people use mental health services with 2.5 times the general population.
If you know someone who is at imminent risk of self-harm, suicide, or harm, another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?
- Listen to the person without judgement.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or send TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove weapons, medicines, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 and then 800-273-8255.
Click here for more links and local resources.
How to get support
Help is available for people with heterosexism.
There are gay/straight alliances or GSA clubs at middle and high schools that are connected to college campuses. These organizations give young LGBTQIA+ people the opportunity to get support, build a community, and take action on issues that matter to them.
Many communities have LGBTQIA+ community centers that strive to meet the diverse needs of their employees. According to CenterLink, a service organization for LGBTQIA+ community centers, there are more than 250 such centers in the United States serving 2 million people.
People who don’t have access to a community center or a GSA club can still find a wide range of support online, such as:
- The Trevor Project
- It Gets Better Project
- The Matthew Shepard Foundation
Learn more about the mental health resources available here.
How to be an ally
Will being an ally means being a vocal supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, and that support applies both to a person’s actions and their words.
Individuals interested in making an organizational commitment to fighting homophobia can explore options offered by LGBTQIA+ support organizations.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have more than 400 chapters and 200,000 members across the country.
PFLAG programs include online learning, advocacy, publishing, and media training to promote pride and inclusion.
People can also:
- avoid using offensive language to describe those who identify as LGBTQIA+
- Don’t believe in stereotypes
- Learn about LGBTQIA+ topics
- Respect people’s decisions when and if they want to be openly gay
People can also speak out when they witness heterosexism, such as when a person makes an offensive joke or bullies others.
If an individual chooses to deal with heterosexism, they should ensure that it is safe to do so.
Some factors to consider could include:
- Whether they are in public or not
- Whether they’re with a friend or family member
- Would it be beneficial to address the problem publicly or privately later
- Would it be safer to leave and leave
Heterosexism is a form of prejudice against people who experience same-sex attraction.
This can make it difficult for people who experience same-sex attraction to find healthcare or work. It can also have negative effects on a person’s mental and physical health. However, there are many different support services available.
Straight people can be allies and take a stand against heterosexism.